Creating Connections in Chicago

After years of virtual gatherings, we are energized after being able to convene not one but two Challenge cohorts in-person in Chicago! Convenings built around creating connections, sharing learnings, challenges and best practices with peers are at the core of our exchange model and while Zoom can connect some of these dots, there is something magical about making those connections face-to-face.

Million Coaches Challenge Convening

First in May, we gathered the Million Coaches community (our largest cohort to-date!) in Chicago. Outside of the group outing to the Cubs game, the group got straight to work discussing various challenges and opportunities in the youth sports training space including:

  • How to effectively communicate the benefits of social and emotional learning and youth development techniques to parents, coaches and beyond
  • Ways this community could work together to engage state and national policy for in-school and out-of-school youth sports coaching
  • How to address the bias that exists within training and sports programs in order to better support and enable coaches to build spaces of belonging
  • How to develop curricula to provide a necessary solid foundation and meet the varying needs and levels of experience of coaches

We are inspired by this group’s energy around coming together to make impactful changes in a very segmented landscape. We look forward to convening the group again in November to build upon the foundation set in May. Stay tuned for more learnings to be shared from this group via blog posts, webinars and more. 

Youth Voice in a Digital Age Final Convening

In June, we were able to gather the Youth Voice in a Digital Age cohort in Chicago for their last convening. After two years meeting on Zoom, it was energizing to be able to bring connections to life and celebrate the successes and pivots of this group. All of their learnings and resources have culminated into a new website coming soon! The site will include youth perspectives on digital well-being, learn how to support young people in their digital life and resources to support designing your own ways for implementing youth voice in your programming. 

Here are a few preview highlights from the initiatives represented in this group:

LISTEN | Young people talk about digital issues

Beam Center Podcast

Digital Harbor Podcast

Spy Hop Podcast

LEARN | How to support young people in their digital life

Project Zero Well-Being Toolkit

InspireEd Playbook

Although this group met for the last time, their work has solidified our belief that youth voice is a critical piece in all conversations involving young people but especially across topics of digital well-being. This belief will be imprinted on our work in our Tech and Society program area moving forward. 

The Power of In-Person

We don’t know what the future holds as far as in-person meetings, but we are so grateful to have been able to convene these groups face-to-face. There was an indescribable energy among these groups, an exchange of not only information but of true connections. We saw side conversations sparked beside the coffee station that are now becoming collaborative projects furthering the positive impact for our young people. We were delighted to see connections made that make reaching out from across the country or on the other side of a screen that much easier. Ultimately, we saw the human need for connection coming to life in a way that will certainly transfer to supporting our young people to thrive. 

SEL: Pause, Celebrate, Imagine

This year on International Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Day, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate how far this field has come and to envision what the future of this field could be. Our mission at SCE is to prepare youth to thrive in a rapidly changing world and we’ve seen high quality SEL as a critical lever in that mission. SEL supports young people’s sense of empathy, curiosity and resilience among many other critical life skills. We are proud to have seen the field grow and are encouraged by many efforts to sustain and bring the field into the future. 

A moment of celebration

It’s been eight years since SCE launched our SEL program which was, at the time, a burgeoning field. SEL has grown exponentially in that time. In the past few years alone, the field has grown in adoption – with more funders, practitioners, a multitude of implementation strategies in place and over $765 million spent per year on SEL.

We would be remiss not to celebrate several of our SEL partners in the past 8 years, who have been on the ground carrying this movement forward. The truth is, the movement has grown in adoption because…it supports young people’s ability to thrive and be resilient during times of hardship. 

SCE’s SEL Challenge PartnersSCE launched our SEL program with the Social and Emotional Learning Challenge. This was a collaboration between SCE, exemplary youth workers selected through an open national competition, and a team of expert researchers setting out to explore how youth are best supported in cultivating teamwork, resilience, agency and empathy skills in informal learning environments. This work culminated into resources for implementing SEL through SELpractices.org and the Preparing Youth to Thrive guide

Partners included: AHA! (Attitude, Harmony, Achievement), Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, The Possibility Project, Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, Voyageur Outward Bound School, Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, Wyman, Youth on Board and YWCA Boston. 

SCE’s SEL Challenge Partners (Round 2)This phase of the SEL Challenge focused on demonstrating how the Preparing Youth to Thrive content, training, performance measures and practices can be integrated into youth serving organizations across the country to improve SEL practice. Learn more about the findings and case studies here

The partners included: David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, School’s Out Washington (Seattle), Sprockets (St. Paul), After-school All Stars (Los Angeles), Beyond the Bell (Milwaukee) and Wyman.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) – One critical force that has spurred growth of SEL is the work of CASEL. More and more communities are seeking resources on SEL, particularly as the pandemic wears on, and SCE has worked closely with this expert organization to meet that demand by launching new communications initiatives, such as this webinar series.

OST System Partners – In 2019, SCE provided grants to five OST organizations to build capacity and implement high quality SEL in a variety of ways. These initiatives included developing virtual programming during the pandemic, adding staff specifically focused on enhancing adult learning experiences and expanding to new segments such as behavioral health networks and parents. 

Partners included: After-School All-Stars, Wings for Kids, BellXcel, Wyman and Y-USA

Envisioning the future of SEL

The pandemic has further accelerated the recognition that SEL is foundational to life preparation, satisfaction and success. The pandemic and racial justice movements have also highlighted many opportunities for SEL to adapt, grow and learn. A few key opportunities SCE sees for lifting SEL up in the future:

Cohesiveness of SEL practices across young people’s day

When schools shut down, young people looked to coaches and out-of-school providers for these skills and even before the pandemic, young people saw these adults as mentors. The expansion of SEL as a field has also infiltrated many out-of-school time programs but has yet to take a stronghold in youth sports. It’s critical that the future of SEL includes the training of youth sports coaches which is why we’ve partnered with ten organizations for the Million Coaches Challenge – to close the training gap and make SEL practices a part of every aspect in a young person’s life. 

Implementing equity in a more tangible way

From the start, SEL was focused on creating equitable outcomes for all students. While equity has been top of mind for years, it would be diminishing to say that the racial justice movement across the country didn’t spur a sense of urgency to review SEL implementation strategies with an equity lens.

Recently, there has been a movement among educators, practitioners, researchers and the funder community to explore ways that SEL implementation could be more equitable. It has been brought to light that SEL curriculum is not immune to the same inequities that abound in other aspects of education systems such as not being culturally responsive and not including BIPOC voices or lived experiences. In some cases, SEL is focused on personal “resilience” without taking into consideration the historical inequities and collective trauma of BIPOC students and adults.

The future of SEL needs to be culturally relevant and include trauma-informed practices. Success has been shown when partnering with families and communities to develop culturally responsive approaches. When SEL is taught absent of cultural relevance and as a means solely of self-regulation, it can unintentionally reaffirm oppressive systems.

Encouraging youth voice

Integrating youth voices, when done correctly, can empower young people with a stronger sense of agency, identity and belonging. There are many resources on adult practice and youth skills but there is a gap in information about how to create environments and experiences that focus on shared power and youth agency. There is a need to widen the set of voices that contribute to SEL and in particular, include the lived experiences of young people. 

Relationships at the core of SEL teachings

As an element of high quality SEL implementation, we’ve known there is great value in adult and peer relationships for young people. A consistent, caring adult being present in a young person’s life is linked to greater SEL and general life outcomes including resilience. We also see a strong link between relationships and connection and belonging. This pandemic has highlighted relationships as an important piece in young people developing strong social and emotional skills. This is why we’re currently supporting Making Caring Common in its relationship mapping efforts so every child has access to a consistent, caring adult and Search Institute to research the value of peer-to-peer relationships.

It’s been a long road to get to where the field is today and there’s a long road ahead but we are feeling optimistic and hopeful that young people will thrive if we continue to support the development of their social and emotional skills.

SCE Announces 2021 Catalyst Grants

Each year, our staff and board nominate several organizations to receive Catalyst Grants: one-time contributions made as part of our year-end giving. These organizations typically work on issues beyond our primary program areas. What unites them is their distinct and promising approaches to chronic social problems.

In a year marked again by a global pandemic and a growing movement for racial justice, the work of these 26 organizations feels urgent and critical. We’re proud to support their exemplary work.

Community and Economic Development: Project Return, The Dovetail Project, New Story, DivInc, Humble Design
Education: Alternatives, Braven, Liberation Library, One Million Degrees
Environment: Plant Chicago, Blue Forest, Justice Outside
Health and Human Services: Free Root Operation, GatherFor, Benefits Data Trust, For the Frontlines, Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Watsi
Immigration: RefugeeOne, Alianza Americas
Journalism and Civic Engagement: The 19th News
Youth Development: Heph Foundation

Arts and Culture

Poetry in America: Created by Elisa New in partnership with celebrity guest interpreters, Poetry in America draws students of all ages into conversations about poetry. It also features free lessons for middle and high school youth on PBS Learning Media and offers for-credit college course opportunities to high school students across the country and around the world. 

PopShift (a project of Pathos Labs): PopShift brings Hollywood’s leading television writers together with the country’s most fascinating and insightful minds to inspire content that can bring our world towards a better future by evoking the collective imagination as far as what’s possible.

StoryCorps: StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. They’ve recorded with over half a million people of all backgrounds and beliefs, preserving them in the first and the largest born-digital collections of human voices. Particularly of note, The American Pathways collection features stories of refugees and immigrants and their experiences coming to the US.

Young Chicago Authors: Young Chicago Authors (YCA) transforms the lives of young people by cultivating their voices through writing, publication, and performance education. Through in-school classes, workshops, open mics, poetry festivals, and summer programs, each year YCA helps young people from all backgrounds to understand the importance of their own stories and those of others.

Community and Economic Development

Project Return: Project Return’s mission is to provide services and connect people with resources needed to return successfully to work and community after incarceration. Through PRO Employment,  formerly incarcerated individuals gain real-world work experience and income as Project Return transitional employees, and then go on to become the proud and successful employees of other companies. Through, PRO Housing, Project Return creates affordable rental homes for hard-working men and women who’ve left prison behind.

The Dovetail Project: The Dovetail Project gives young African American and Hispanic fathers – ages 17 to 24 – the skills and support they need to be better fathers for their children and better men in their communities. The Dovetail Project’s 12‐week curriculum educates fathers about the roles, rights, and responsibilities of fatherhood. The program also includes a component addressing Felony Street Law to help young men avoid incarceration and stay present in their kids’ lives.

DivInc: DivInc’s mission is to empower people of color and women entrepreneurs, helping them build successful high growth businesses by providing them with access to education, mentorship, and vital networks. Focused on early-stage startups, they’ve provided 64 founders and 49 tech and tech enabled companies with critical strategies to succeed and grow their startups.

New Story: New Story pioneers solutions to end global homelessness, then shares those solutions so we can all build better. New Story provides homes and 3D printed homes to people living with inadequate shelter. The organization was founded in 2014 and has helped fund community projects in four countries, building over 2,200+ homes.

Humble Design: Humble Design’s mission is to provide families in need with dignified, clean, and welcoming home interiors. They minimize the impact on the environment by matching clients with donated & gently used household goods. Their warehouses are curated by design teams that personalize homes based on their clients’ needs and preferences.

Education

Alternatives: Alternatives supports and empowers Chicago youth to build safer and more vibrant communities through a combination of restorative justice and behavioral health services. Alternatives is a comprehensive, multi-cultural youth development organization that operates as a support system for more than 3,000 of Chicago’s young people and their families each year.

Liberation Library: Liberation Library (LL) provides books to youth in prison to encourage imagination, self-determination, and connection to outside worlds of their choosing. LL’s readers fill out order forms that volunteers fill at twice monthly packing days. Once the book is selected, volunteers write personalized notes to each reader, and the books that the young people receive are theirs to keep. This model encourages readers to have choice and ownership in a world where they are often devoid of both.

One Million Degrees: One Million Degrees accelerates community college students’ progress on career pathways to economic mobility. 65% of Illinois public college students attend community college, but only one in four of them will graduate with a degree within three years. One Million Degrees is the only organization in Illinois providing wrap-around supports to highly motivated community college students to help them succeed in school, in work, and in life. From tutors and coaches to financial assistance and professional development, OMD offers the support to ~700 students per year that empowers scholars to transform their lives and those around them for generations.

Braven: Braven’s mission is to empower promising first-generation college students, students from low-income backgrounds, and students of color—with the skills, confidence, experiences, and networks necessary to transition from college to strong first jobs. Before the pandemic, only 30% of the 1.3 million low-income or first-generation college students who enrolled each year graduated and secured a strong first job or entered graduate school. Braven partners with public universities in Chicago, the Bay Area and Newark to provide ~1,000 students per year a network of supporters and sense of belonging.

Environment

Plant Chicago: Plant Chicago’s mission is to cultivate local circular economies by equipping people and businesses with the tools to live more sustainably through community-driven, hands-on programs and innovative research projects. Plant Chicago was established in 2011 as a collaborative community of food businesses on the southwest side of Chicago and now hosts education programs, a farmer’s market, local produce boxes for low-income residents, and a network for small business owners to be more sustainable.

Blue Forest: Blue Forest creates sustainable financial solutions to meet pressing environmental challenges. Their flagship financial product, the Forest Resilience Bond (FRB), deploys private capital to finance forest restoration projects on private and public lands to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires across the West.

Justice Outside: Justice Outside advances racial justice and equity in the outdoor and environmental movement by shifting resources to, building power with, and centering the voices and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Justice Outside’s programs provide outdoor professionals with culturally relevant skills through an Outdoor Educators Institute, Rising Leaders Fellowship and grantmaking to small community-led environmental projects.

Health and Human Services

Free Root Operation: Founded in 2015 by a then high school senior, Free Root Operation intercepts poverty induced gun violence by investing in the healing and empowerment of Black and Brown communities in Chicago and beyond. FRO runs the South Shore Data Project, a community needs and assets assessment in the South Shore aimed at creating a collective vision informed by residents. Programs now include a food pairing program, activist fund, and education programs for residents in the South Shore.

GatherFor: GatherFor organizes and resources teams of neighbors experiencing job, food, or housing insecurity to support each other like a family would. Neighbors support each other by providing funds or resources for food, financial assistance, housing, healthcare, mental health, and digital connectivity.

Benefits Data Trust: Benefits Data Trust is a national nonprofit that harnesses the power of data, technology, and policy to provide efficient and dignified access to assistance. Public benefits like SNAP, WIC, CHIP, and Medicaid can help families in need pay for food, healthcare, housing, and more. By streamlining access to benefits proven to improve health and advance opportunity today, we can build pathways to economic mobility and a more equitable future.

For the Frontlines: For the Frontlines provides free crisis counseling to health care professionals and essential workers via text. In effort to support health care professionals and essential workers who are increasingly putting their lives at risk during the coronavirus pandemic, Crisis Text Line, and its affiliate partners Kids Help Phone, and Shout, created the For the Frontlines to raise awareness about their free crisis counseling service. 

Black Mamas Matter Alliance: Black Mamas Matter Alliance is a Black women-led cross-sectoral alliance. They center Black mamas to advocate, drive research, build power, and shift culture for Black maternal health, rights, and justice. BMMA also provides technical assistance, trainings, and capacity building for grassroots organizations, maternity care service providers (e.g. clinicians, midwives, doula networks and community health workers), academia, and the public health industry.

Watsi: Watsi is a nonprofit healthcare crowdsourcing platform that enables individual donors to directly fund medical care for individuals in developing countries without access to affordable medical care. Watsi utilizes a trusted network of medical partners to connect patients and donors. Donors read patient profiles to find a match and receive patient updates following a donation.

Immigration

RefugeeOne: RefugeeOne creates opportunity for refugees fleeing war, terror, and persecution to build new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance. RefugeeOne walks alongside refugees from the moment they land at O’Hare —welcoming them to Chicago and providing furnished apartments, English classes, job search support, mental health care, youth programming, and mentors to help them adjust to life in the U.S.

Alianza Americas – Leadership Institute: Alianza Americas is a network of migrant-led organizations working in the United States and transnationally to create an inclusive, equitable and sustainable way of life for communities across North, Central and South America. The Alianza Americas Leadership Institute is a year-long leadership development program designed to bolster the collective capacity of US-based migrant-serving organizations. The goal of the Institute is to equip local immigrant leaders with a global perspective of the policies, realities, and contexts that shape migration, building a generation of local leaders with cross-issue, cross-border perspectives.

Journalism and Civic Engagement

The 19th News: The 19th News is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting on gender, politics and policy.They provide free-to-consume and free-to-republish, non-partisan journalism that reimagines politics and policy coverage through a gender lens and a newsroom that reflects the racial, ideological, socioeconomic and gender diversity of American voters, and is devoted to covering everyone with empathy.

Youth Development

Heph Foundation: Heph Foundation’s mission is to help learners find STEM-related pathways for success in school and the future workforce. Heph Foundation gamifies learning with immersive STEM curricula that help disenfranchised learners prepare for and excel in the future of work. They offer in-school, after-school, and summer programs across Chicago teaching via video games, sports, dance, comics etc.

Introducing HX: Human Experience in a Tech-Infused World

We are at an inflection point; one that re-examines our relationship to and with technology. Not only is society still grappling with the uncertainty of how and how long COVID-19 will alter our daily routines, the Facebook Files and other reporting has elevated this conversation into the public sphere. Research is emerging on two competing ends: Some is demonstrating how social media served as a critical lifeline for many young people during the pandemic. Other research is exploring the potential negative connection between our well-being and tech. 

From relationships to mental health to identity, the way we integrate tech into our lives can have profound effects on our most fundamental human needs. It’s increasingly clear that the challenges of the digital age are more complex and more urgent than anticipated. 

Yet our conversations remain stuck on superficial indicators like screen time, and the debate about tech is often reduced to polarizing stances. We still lack the language, protocols, and supports to help navigate a tech-infused world, particularly for young people. And worse yet, too many of us feel alone or powerless in the pursuit of a healthier digital era.

But there’s good news. We have what it takes. New problems require new alliances. 

And new ideas. 

In partnership with seven organizations and inspired by the voices of young people, last month SCE announced the HX Project, a ground up effort to introduce common language and connect existing fields that are all working toward making our relationships to technology healthier and more equitable. We are honored to be a part of this collaboration between All Tech is Human, Aspen Institute, Data & Society, Headstream, Harvard’s Project Zero, Pivotal Ventures, the University of California Irvine’s Connected Learning Lab and Connected Camps, and a team of young people. 

What is HX?

HX is our north star in a tech-infused world. It’s a new lens on the complex challenges of the digital age and an approach that guides us toward constructive conversations and solutions. 

Short for Human Experience, HX is an approach to talking about, engaging with, and designing technology that is centered on our needs as humans — not users. 

HX offers shared language, values, and goals for creating healthier connections with our tech and more inclusive digital spaces. The concept emerged from the intersection of many areas of work — including digital citizenship, digital wellbeing, humane tech, ethical tech, and responsible tech — that are all creating ways to make our online lives more human – but are not always acting together. We hope HX can be a connective tissue for the interdisciplinary and emerging coalition of stakeholders that cares deeply about the lived experiences of youth. Together, we can ask new questions, create new resources, and craft a new vision that’s motivated by one question: How can we improve our HX?

Read more in this CNN feature or this TechCrunch op-ed.

What’s Next?

This is just the beginning. We’re currently at the start of what will be an open and collaborative experience. As part of the HX Project, we hope to call in and foster collaboration among anyone who wants to advocate for and contribute to the creation of a better HX. We aren’t the first to identify this opportunity to create a better HX, but we are eager to facilitate and steward the collaboration necessary to make this happen.

For more information on how this group formed and our philosophy, please read this great blog post from our partners at Connected Learning Alliance, Project Zero, and Data & Society. Additionally, hear from our partners at Aspen Institute here and David Ryan Polgar from All Tech is Human here

So, what’s the path to a better HX? It’s going to take all of us. From here the project will evolve, expand, and share the HX concept so it can be used to better understand, articulate, and improve the human experience. If your work sounds like it fits into HX or you’d like to learn more, please visit hxproject.org and contact us at info@hxproject.org. We hope you join us!

After-School All-Stars: Adapting to Support Students’ Needs

It is no surprise that over the past year-and-a-half afterschool programming has shifted dramatically due to the pandemic. Just as “in-school” time has mostly been virtual, out-of-school activities were paused or virtual as well.

We spoke with one of our partners, After-School All-Stars (ASAS), to learn more about what shifted due to the pandemic but more so about what needs to happen moving forward to support students’ recovery socially and emotionally. In many areas of the country, students are returning to school for the first time in over a year. While the majority attended classes virtually, a significant number (especially those in marginalized communities) were completely disconnected and unreachable. To anticipate the needs of both partially and fully disconnected students, ASAS is offering special support to help navigate educational and social environments that have drastically changed.

Here are a few of After-School All-Stars’ goals and creative methods for supporting students:

Reconnect Students with the Education System in a More Lasting Way

Increased Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Trauma Support
It is clear that SEL and trauma-informed practices will be even more critical. ASAS has piloted an SEL-integrated curriculum in several cities and has trained staff from all chapters on implementing SEL curricula. These workshops focused on both the well-being of staff members themselves, how to support students through trauma and how to implement SEL into current programming.

Focus and Enhance Mentorship Practices
In order to counter the impact of student isolation, ASAS is continuing to find ways to be more intentional in enhancing mentorship practices. The relationships built through their programs are some of the strongest relationships many of the young people have and are a fruitful opportunity for practicing SEL skills.

Encourage Self-Expression
Through their All-Star Academies – a new model of intensive skill-building courses – ASAS elevates youth voice and creativity while supporting young people’s self expression through spoken word, music, storytelling, animation and more. For a closer look into All-Star Academies, learn more about their Cartoon Academy here. As students return after a period of isolation and universal trauma offering safe spaces for self-expression will support their social and emotional health.

Students learning how to create cartoons in a remote session of After-School All-Stars’ Cartoon Academy.

Re-engage the Disconnected

Wellness Check, Needs Assessments and Family Outreach Process
At the onset of the pandemic, ASAS started conducting wellness checks to keep in contact with students’ families and connect them with basic resources. As part of COVID recovery, ASAS is assessing the specific needs in each chapter and adapting wellness checks as indicated to provide continued support. Above and beyond typical programming, ASAS is also conducting needs assessments of their students, families, and communities so that they can be connected to any resources that would be useful.

Shift from School Focus to Community Focus
ASAS plans to reach displaced students by expanding services and incorporating new program locations to meet students where they are, including not only schools but also nontraditional sites such as affordable housing communities, recreation centers, and libraries.

The educational landscape has shifted due to the pandemic but ASAS and other afterschool organizations remain an important part of young people’s day and have gone above and beyond to meet students where they are, understand their needs, and provide further support. We are grateful to be able to learn alongside organizations such as After-School All-Stars as they pivot to meet the changing needs of our young people and allow them to thrive even in trying times.

About After-School All-Stars
Founded in 1992 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, After-School All-Stars is a leading national provider of free, comprehensive afterschool programs. The organization’s mission is to keep children safe and help them succeed in school and in life. All-Star students and families are disproportionately impacted by multiple layers of crises during this pandemic. ASAS programming provides solutions to basic needs for families, improves students’ learning experience, and amplifies youth voice. For more information, please visit: www.afterschoolallstars.org

Youth Voice in the Digital Age Cohort: Convening Two

It was time again to convene our Youth Voice cohort for (hopefully) the last virtual gathering. We originally assembled our Tech and Society ‘Youth Voice in the Digital Age’ cohort in pursuit of the answer to a single question: How can young people inspire their peers to use technology in healthy ways and make digital spaces better for everyone? At the time, we didn’t know just how much of an impact technology would have on our lives during the pandemic, and each organization has made creative pivots to address the challenges that last year brought. 

Our first convening, hosted last October, focused on community building within the cohort and best practices for elevating youth voice in programming. During convening two we continued our road trip, with the theme being “speed bumps:” challenges that youth are facing in their pursuit of digital well-being and challenges that adults encounter in authentically engaging youth around these issues. As a community, we are building towards the third convening, where we will collectively identify the most promising opportunities to foster peer-to-peer action around digital well-being.

Though our road trip is not yet done, we are proud to see early victories from each organization. Above all, we are learning that youth feel agency and a sense of urgency around issues of digital well-being, and our cohort members are responding in kind. Here are just a few examples of the ways youth are using their voices in this conversation.

Podcasts and Gaming as a Safe Space

Youth are eager for opportunities to reflect and share their experiences with technology in a positive, safe space, but creating those spaces authentically can be challenging. Thankfully, many of the teams, such as those at the Beam Center, Spy Hop Productions, Digital Harbor Foundation, and Games for Change are working to create safe spaces for youth to grapple with pressing digital well-being topics. Podcasts and gaming are two venues that are proving to be relatable and effective outlets for young people. For instance, Digital Harbor Foundation’s Critical Tech Podcast program has empowered Baltimore City youth to lead community discussions about the most pressing technology issues facing youth today. Listen to the first 13 episodes here. In another example, Youth Avenue is a podcast produced by the Healthy Digital Futures Youth Research Team at the Beam Center. It examines issues around digital spaces and the way youth interact with them. Youth Avenue is backed by original research completed by youth research teams during the summer of 2020. Listen to the first episodes on virtual learning and cancel culture here. 

Empowering Youth to Design their Own Solutions

Digital life can be overwhelming. Unfettered access, a constant spotlight, social comparison, fear of being cancelled…the list goes on. Gen Z knows this all too well. Another speed bump identified by members of the cohort was the general overwhelm and struggle youth feel in trying to find balance in digital life and experiences. For example, not knowing when to take a technology break, losing self-esteem because of social comparison, staying up to date on current events and speaking intelligently about them, worrying about self-perceptions and cancel culture. This feeling of overwhelm, along with many other factors in not feeling as if youth have agency around their digital experience or the ability to change it, can lead to feelings of powerlessness. 

The teams at Peacecasters, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and YES are empowering youth to prioritize the issues that matter to them, find solutions and act on them through the development of curriculum or localized projects. In one such project from a Yale inspirED team, students identified safety as an area for growth in their school, citing new concerns due to COVID-19 and mask-wearing on the buses and other common spaces. They created and distributed a Google survey to compare feelings of safety between the in-person and distance learning students and look for action steps to help everyone feel safe.

“Our team has been so impressed by the inspirED students’ consistent compassion for others. When offered the opportunity to advocate for any change at their school that they wish, they continue to surprise us with their concern for their peers and willingness to use their position to help those around them.”

Jessica D. Hoffmann, Ph.D. Associate Research Scientist, Yale Child Study Center & Director of Adolescent Initiatives, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

From Research to Practice

Two of the cohort projects from Project Zero and Erikson Institute are focused on integrating youth in the process of research, data collection, and analysis. Youth are then producing toolkits to share these findings with a broader audience. Based on key insights from youth focus groups, the team at Erikson Institute is empowering high school students to deliver content in an informal learning space rather than formal settings (e.g. school) or through adult facilitators. They are truly meeting youth where they’re at and working to ensure that youth voice is at the center of program design, content development, and delivery. 

As we all know, challenges have been plenty this past year and yet we are inspired by the momentum of this cohort in taking the opportunity to connect with youth digitally (how meta!) and in some cases to reach broader audiences. Along the way, this diverse group of organizations and projects have approached a few speed bumps but have continued to their road trip destinations. 

We look forward to next summer’s, dare we say, in-person convening focused on opportunities! We see a lot of opportunity for these projects, the Youth Voice cohort as a whole and for all of the youth participants. 

Announcing SCE’s Million Coaches Challenge Partners

When we announced our Million Coaches Challenge last Fall the world was at the height of the pandemic and nearly all youth sports were halted. Even pre-pandemic, fewer kids play sports each year. When many team environments place more emphasis on winning than on having fun, that’s unsurprising. A good coach can play a transformational role in a child’s experience. The solution? Train one million coaches in youth development techniques by 2025.

Now as the world gets closer to “normal” and more sports and activities resume, high-quality youth development training for coaches becomes even more critical. The last year has been challenging for youth and their families and they are aching to return to sports. Sports are a place for building community, exploring interests, physical activity, and increasingly, healing from trauma and stress. They can also be an ideal context to develop critical life skills, teaching kids how to work together, celebrate success, manage failure, and build healthy relationships with peers and adults. Each of these benefits has become increasingly valued as the pandemic wears on.

However, less than one third of the country’s six million coaches have been trained in youth development practices. This is a missed opportunity. So, we have selected the boldest, most innovative actors to close this gap.

We’re proud to partner with 10 exemplary organizations to train one million coaches by 2025 and build a future where all youth are equipped with the skills they need to thrive. Over the next three years, we’re excited to collaborate with this cohort, learn from their expertise, and share our learning with the field.

Read on to learn more about our Million Coaches Challenge partners.

Center for Healing & Justice Through Sport – The Center for Healing and Justice Through Sport’s mission is to make sport healing for all youth, everywhere, through training, consulting, and movement building. Their project will expand healing-centered coaching through training and dynamic support tools in order to reach 15,000 sport practitioners and 250 organizations. In addition to the expansion of trainings offered, CHJS will produce resources complementary to trainings including a Healing-Centered Sport Toolkit and CHJS Office Hours.

Girls on the Run International – Girls on the Run’s mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running. Their three-year initiative will enhance the Girls on the Run National Coach Training model, allowing GOTRI to reach and train 70,000 new coaches across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA – Laureus Sport for Good Foundation was founded in response to Nelson Mandela’s challenge, issued at the first Laureus World Sports Awards in 2000, that “sport has the power to change the world.” Their vision is to use sport as a powerful and cost-effective tool to help children and young people overcome violence, discrimination, and disadvantage in their lives. Through their initiative, they will train 10,500 youth sport coaches throughout the US in sports-based youth development, including positive youth development & social-emotional learning approaches.

Little League International – Founded in 1939, Little League International is the world’s largest organized youth sports program, with millions of players. Little League believes in the power of youth baseball and softball to teach life lessons that build stronger individuals and communities. Their initiative will ensure proper coaching preparation by level and division focusing on age-appropriate youth development, SEL, and inclusion. Little League endeavors to train 120,000 coaches across the country by 2025.

LiFEsports at The Ohio State University – Since 2009, LiFEsports, held at The Ohio State University, has grown to address the ever-changing needs of our community’s youth and the field of sport-based positive youth development (PYD). Through in-person and online Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) trainings and modules, they will reach at least 15,000 coaches from across Ohio with this initiative.

Positive Coaching Alliance – Founded in 1998, the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) mission is to transform the youth sports culture into a positive youth “Development Zone” where all youth and high school athletes have a positive, character-building experience in which they can develop social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. As an anchor partner of Million Coaches Challenge, PCA will train over 400,000 youth sports coaches to incorporate SEL and PYD into their coaching practices.

U.S. Soccer Foundation – The mission of the U.S. Soccer Foundation is to provide underserved communities access to innovative play spaces and evidence-based soccer programs that instill hope, foster well-being, and help youth achieve their fullest potential. In the next three years, 30,000 adults will be trained as coach-mentors.

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Foundation – The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Foundation serves as the primary source of philanthropic resources for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC). This critical financial support allows the USOPC to invest in areas that promote excellence and innovation for Team USA. Founded in 1894, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee is focused on protecting, supporting and empowering America’s athletes, and is responsible for fielding U.S. teams for the Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, Pan American and Parapan American Games. The USOPC will work individually with National Governing Bodies to create supplemental sport-specific materials to further enhance the learning opportunity and promote the initiative to over 250,000 coaches nationwide, training 40,000 over a three-year period.

USA Fencing, USA Triathlon, and USA Weightlifting – USA Fencing, USA Triathlon, and USA Weightlifting are the National Governing Bodies (NGBs) for their respective sports and are headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They will work together to create a grassroots SEL Program, including an online coach Module, Refresher Course, and in-person Clinic. Through this initiative, they will train 6,000 coaches in their organizations and work collaboratively with other NGBs to implement SEL coach training that utilizes best practices in adult learning. 

Washington Interscholastic Activities Association – The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) is the governing body of athletics and activities for secondary education schools in the state of Washington. CoachUp! Washington is a collaborative initiative between the WIAA and the University of Washington’s Center for Leadership in Athletics that will bring foundational SEL training to 44,000 middle and high school coaches in WA State, provide opportunities for coaches to deepen SEL practice and bring more women into the coaching profession.