SCE Announces New Partnership with Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning

Co-written by the Susan Crown Exchange and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

As we reflect on 2020 and recent events, social and emotional learning (SEL) is more important than ever to support young people, schools, families, and communities. What is the best way to raise awareness about this urgent need—and expand access to SEL?

The challenges of the past year have amplified the mental health crisis in our nation’s young people and educators. According to, 81% of young people report feeling moderately or extremely stressed. According to a survey of 5,000 teachers by CASEL and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, teachers are feeling anxious, fearful, worried, and overwhelmed in response to the pandemic. The greatest factor: transitioning to and from virtual learning.

As these challenges continue alongside traumatic events in the news, SEL can help young people, and the adults who support them, process and understand their emotions, cope with stress, take on different perspectives, build relationships across distance, and work together toward solutions to personal and social problems.

Research has shown that when young people have opportunities to learn and practice social and emotional competencies in safe, supportive learning spaces, they do better in school and in life. Educators with strong social and emotional competencies are also less likely to report burnout, demonstrate higher levels of patience and empathy, and have more positive relationships with students, contributing to their academic, social, and emotional development.

We are proud to announce a new partnership with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to expand awareness of and access to SEL. By sharing digestible, practical information with audiences on the frontline of teaching and learning, we can ensure all young people have high-quality, consistent opportunities to engage in SEL.

Students in a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class work together on a poster about the Lunar New Year. Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

The pandemic has exacerbated challenges and inequities in education that existed long before 2020. COVID-19 has led to an increased concern about racial disparities with academic achievement. Addressing these concerns requires deep attention to how young people learn and develop – students learn best when given opportunities to integrate academic, social, and emotional competencies; when they have supportive relationships; and when they are part of equitable learning environments.

With a targeted investment, all young people, especially those our education system has served most poorly, can have access to the types of SEL-rich experiences and environments that best promote their learning and development.

Having long advocated for greater investment in SEL, CASEL now sees both a huge challenge and a massive opportunity to focus education systems across the country on the competencies and environments that students need to thrive. “SEL is most beneficial when educators enhance both the competencies of young people and the systems in which those competencies are promoted. Poorly implemented SEL runs the risk of negatively impacting youth,” says Karen Niemi, CASEL President & CEO. CASEL is well-positioned to meet urgent needs today and help achieve meaningful, sustainable change for tomorrow.

With SCE’s support, CASEL will strengthen their current outreach to key stakeholders and launch new communications platforms over the next two years. This investment will allow CASEL to build stronger connections with their primary audience of school and school district leaders, while simultaneously expanding their reach to teachers, counselors, and parents who engage with youth every day.

In the first year of the partnership, CASEL will amplify their current efforts with free, monthly webinars featuring SEL leaders and experts and enhance their social media presence to lift up practical guidance best practices. Leveraging insights from their current communications, they will also begin to identify opportunity areas for new forms of outreach to meet the needs of those leading efforts on the ground. The following year, CASEL will implement new, innovative platforms that can best serve key audiences, including an SEL-focused blog.

By increasing communications on practical guidance and best practices for SEL, CASEL can build on the growing interest for SEL nationwide that current events have spurred. SCE is proud to support this emerging effort to advance the field of SEL. Register for CASEL’s free monthly conversations on SEL and follow along on social media for timely, actionable guidance and resources for your communities.

New Partnership with American Institutes for Research Will Help OST Organizations Understand Readiness to Implement SEL

Co-written by the Susan Crown Exchange and the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

New developments in the out-of-school time (OST) field can benefit practitioners and youth alike. So why do youth-serving organizations sometimes struggle to implement initiatives that could improve their programs—and help young people thrive?

According to AIR, implementation readiness can be a major factor. Implementation readiness has been defined as the willingness (i.e., motivation) and capacity to implement an initiative with integrity and quality.

Determining whether an organization could benefit from a new initiative is one thing. Determining whether that organization is ready to launch that initiative is a different challenge entirely. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce a new partnership with AIR and the Wallace Foundation: a tool that will help OST organizations determine their readiness to implement social and emotional learning (SEL).

Image © BellXCel

With the support of SCE and the Wallace Foundation, AIR will build a free tool that enables users to (1) measure their readiness to implement new initiatives and (2) access resources and professional learning aligned with their level of readiness.

Over the next two years, AIR will embark on the following process to create and disseminate this tool:

  1. Establish and facilitate advisory group. Seeking input from across the OST field will inform the direction and improve the design of the tool. It will also create a ready-made group of ambassadors who can share the tool with the OST field who may be ready to measure readiness.
  2. Refine the model. In order to build a tool that helps organizations assess their own readiness, we need to first refine what “readiness” means. The idea of implementation readiness has caught on in other fields like health and defense, but what does it look like for OST organizations? AIR will conduct a literature review and scan of existing readiness models to pull out common practices and key themes, build on prior work to construct a model for readiness in OST.
  3. Review the model. AIR will present the draft model for review to the Advisory Board and to focus groups of OST practitioners, revising the model as necessary along the way.
  4. Build the tool. Leveraging extensive experience in survey design and self-assessment, AIR will develop a tool based on both the model and input from the advisory board and OST organizations. Once the tool is ready, AIR will pilot it among a select group of OST practitioners. Want to participate in the pilot? Email to connect with the AIR team.
  5. Move the tool online. An easy-to-access platform will allow each user to create an account, use the tool, receive a report, and access resources that are aligned with how ready they are.
  6. Compile existing resources. A single tool won’t ensure a successful implementation. While this new tool will be an excellent resource for organizations seeking to understand and build their own readiness, it is best used in conjunction with many other resources that already exist for OST organizations. Users will be able to learn more about these other resources alongside AIR’s tool on the online platform.
  7. Develop professional learning opportunities. AIR will host free webinars and provide trainings on topics including “readiness 101,” user guidelines for the tool, and an overview of the other resources on the platform.
  8. Disseminate the toolkit. AIR’s mission is to make research relevant; in this case, they’ll deliberately engage the diverse groups within the OST field that will benefit most from this tool.
Image © After-School All-Stars

SCE envisions a future where OST organizations nationwide can successfully implement SEL-informed programming that prepares youth to thrive. To make this future possible, those organizations must be able to understand and build readiness to implement SEL initiatives—and ensure they’ll be successful.

The tool AIR will develop will bring the OST field a big step closer to making that vision a reality. We’re proud to support this work.

Want to learn more about this partnership — and how you can gain access to this tool once it’s ready? Email the American Institutes for Research:

SCE Announces 2020 Catalyst Grants

Each year, our staff and board nominate 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 by a global pandemic, an economic crisis, a contentious election, and a growing movement for racial justice, the work of these 27 organizations feels urgent and critical. We’re proud to support their exemplary work.

  • Arts and Culture: The Barat Foundation, Free Write Arts & Literacy, the National Museum of Mexican Art
  • Community and Economic Development: Bunker Labs, I Grow Chicago, PCs for People, Resurrection Project, Southern Smoke Foundation
  • Education: Communities in Schools of Chicago, Get Schooled, Global Nomads
  • Environment: California Fires Foundation, The Ocean Project, Urban Growers Collective
  • Health and Human Services: Between Friends Chicago, CareMessage, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
  • Immigration: RAICES Texas
  • Journalism and Civic Engagement: Living Room Conversations, Rock the Vote
  • Social Justice: Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY), It Gets Better Project, TrueChild, Uptown People’s Law Center
  • Youth Development: Chicago Voyagers, The Conscious Kid, Sports Shed


The Barat Foundation: Animodules Peace Project: This project’s mission is to beautify public space, unite communities and empower under-represented youth through collaborative public art. “Public art by the public” promotes peace making through the arts, diversity, inclusion and creative placemaking, highlighting a city’s unique history and culture. The Newark Animodule™ program serves as a model of civil rejuvenation through collaborative art that can be implemented in other cities and municipalities.

Free Write Arts & Literacy: Free Write Arts & Literacy engages incarcerated and criminalized youth and young adults in the performing, visual, and literary arts so that they become the narrators of their own stories and the authors of their futures. By co-designing with their students, Free Write supports them as they develop educational and career opportunities that reduce recidivism.

National Museum of Mexican Art: Yollocallí Arts Reach: Located in the heart of Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, the museum serves as an open community center with studio spaces, a computer lab, radio production studio, a large art library. The award-winning Yollocallí Arts Reach has a creative, supportive staff that helps, encourages, and inspires young people through a variety of arts and media programs.


Bunker Labs: Bunker Labs is a national network of veteran and milspouse entrepreneurs dedicated to helping the military connected community start businesses. Since 2014, they’ve helped more than 6,000 veterans and military families found enterprises that have raised more than $135M in revenue.

I Grow Chicago: The mission of I Grow Chicago is to grow the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood from surviving to thriving through community connection, skill building, and opportunity. Using a tailored, culturally-competent approach, they identify and remove the barriers to success in a person’s life, empowering them to change their outcomes and giving them the tools to change the outcomes of their community as well. They serve 3,000 Englewood residents each year.

PCs for People: PCs for People provides affordable computers and low-cost internet eligible individuals and nonprofits. Through an unwavering commitment to the communities they serve, they have distributed over 115,000 computers, subscribed 96,000 of families to low-cost internet, and recycled 7 millions of pounds of electronics.

The Resurrection Project: The Resurrection Project provides services that stabilize and protect families, help them acquire assets and improve their financial health, and mobilize them to advocate for long-lasting, positive change. To a network of largely Latinx, low-income, and/or immigrant families, they offer financial wellness workshops, legal counsel, and affordable housing.

Southern Smoke Foundation: Chicago Restaurant Workers’ Relief Fund: Southern Smoke is a nonprofit 501c3 foundation created to raise funds for those in the food and beverage community and their suppliers. This fund provides emergency relief grants to Chicago restaurant and bar employees who have lost wages or employment due to the shutdown for the pandemic.


Communities in Schools of Chicago: Through several interconnected programs, Communities in Schools decreases dropout rates and increases graduation rates – helping students stay in school and succeed in life. Their Partnership Program links essential support programs and services, provided by a strong network of community partners, to public schools across the city. Their Intensive Program places a dedicated staff person in a school to provide one-on-one and group counseling to specific students.

Get Schooled: Get Schooled helps young people get to college, find first jobs, and succeed in both. Founded in 2010 through a strategic partnership between Viacom and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Get Schooled has helped more than one million young people on their path to college and first jobs, targeting youth from low-income families, racial minorities, and first-generation college students.

Global Nomads: Global Nomads leverages technology to foster authentic, global, youth-driven dialogue. Their programs focus on storytelling, an interdisciplinary and powerful vehicle for young people to build empathy, global awareness, and action orientation skills. By exchanging their personal stories with one another, youth reflect on their families, cultures, communities, and contexts and allow them to make global issues personal, relevant, and actionable.


California Fire Foundation: The California Fire Foundation brings immediate, short-term relief to victims of fire and other natural disasters throughout California. Through this program, frontline firefighters in California provide $250 gift cards to eligible victims of fire and natural disasters so they may purchase basic necessities such as food, clothing or medicine.

The Ocean Foundation: Ocean Project: The Ocean Project supports youth leaders and others in a network of partners to accelerate youth engagement and leadership, with a special focus on the World Oceans Day Youth Advisory Council, aquarium and zoo partners, and many other youth leaders and youth-serving organizations worldwide.

Urban Growers Collective: Urban Growers Collective is a Black- and women-led non-profit farm in Chicago, Illinois working to build a just and equitable local food system. They cultivate eight urban farms on 11 acres of land, predominantly located on Chicago’s South Side. On these farms, they primarily employ young Black and brown men from areas suffering high rates of gun violence.


Between Friends Chicago: Between Friends is dedicated to breaking the cycle of domestic violence and building a community free of abuse. In the past year, they have supported over 700 survivors with legal cases, helped more than 2,000 people through their hotline, and educated more than 3,000 teens about healthy relationships.

CareMessage: CareMessage leverages technology to bridge the needs of safety net organizations and underserved populations. CareMessage is the largest patient engagement platform for low-income populations in the United States, reaching millions of patients every month.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is the only non-profit in Illinois dedicated to advocating for public policies that curb and can ultimately end homelessness. Since 1980, the organization has led strategic campaigns, community outreach, and public policy initiatives that target the lack of affordable housing in metropolitan Chicago and across Illinois.


RAICES Texas: RAICES promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees. With legal services, social programs, bond assistance, and an advocacy team focused on changing the narrative around immigration in this country, RAICES is operating on the national frontlines of the fight for immigration rights.


Mediators Foundation: Living Room Conversations: Living Room Conversations are conversations developed by dialogue experts to facilitate connection between people despite their differences, and even identify areas of common ground and shared understanding. They have developed over 100 conversation guides on various contentious topics.

Rock the Vote: Rock the Vote is the most trusted and effective nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building the political power of young people. Founded by music industry executives, Rock the Vote draws on decades of experience to deploy the most effective and impactful messages, tactics, and technology to uplift and empower the largest, most diverse generation in U.S. history.


Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY): FLY’s mission is to prevent juvenile crime and incarceration through legal education, leadership training, and one-on-one mentoring. They are one of the Bay Area’s longest-standing, most respected agencies working with youth who are currently, formerly, or at risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system.

It Gets Better Project: The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ youth worldwide. What began as a wildly successful social media campaign to provide hope and encouragement to young LGBTQ+ people has evolved into a major, multi-media platform that reaches millions of young people every year.

TrueChild: TrueChild is a network of experts and reseachers dedicated to helping funders, policy-makers, and practitioners challenge rigid gender norms through intersectional approaches that reconnect race, class and gender. TrueChild is especially interested in structural inequality and its impact on at-risk youth, including those who are people of color, live in low-income communities, and/or identify as LGBTQ+.

Uptown People’s Law Center: UPLC was founded in 1975 by former coal miners and their widows in an effort to secure black lung benefits for disabled workers. Over the years, UPLC grew into a full-service, community based, legal clinic. Its lawyers and support staff now advocate for prisoners, tenants, and disabled people denied public benefits.


Chicago Voyagers: Chicago Voyagers offers outdoor adventure programs that promote key SEL skills like confidence, communication skills, teamwork, and personal responsibility. Each year, Chicago Voyagers serves more than 400 at-risk teens from Chicago and the surrounding area. 

The Conscious Kid: The Conscious Kid is an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth. This nonprofit supports organizations, families, and educators in taking action to disrupt racism in young children.

The Sports Shed: Youth sports are on the decline in urban areas due to the high cost of uniforms, footwear and equipment necessary to outfit a team. In response, the Sports Shed provides quality sports gear and resources to schools and organizations who lack the funding to provide safe and successful sports programs.

Guest Blog from Wyman Center: A Focus on Connections – Now, and Beyond the Pandemic

This article is a guest post from our partner Wyman Center. The piece can also be found on

I barely interact with people and I’m always cooped up inside the house.”

“For me [a challenge] is just being social again. Like when I didn’t see nobody, it was like, now I don’t feel like talking to anybody anymore. So…, when somebody talks to me,…I don’t want to talk back.”

“My heart drops thinking about COVID because I know I won’t be able to experience the college experience I would have had if COVID wasn’t there.”

Like youth development agencies across the country, Wyman teams quickly pivoted youth program delivery from in-person to virtual as the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. As we adjusted our efforts and worked to meet youth needs, we knew that hearing directly from teens about their experiences and the impact of the pandemic was essential.

Through focus groups and surveys, nearly 300 teens shared their experiences, with approximately two-thirds of surveyed youth reporting the most substantial impacts on their feelings of connection to others, their feelings of connection to school, and their hopefulness about the future. Teens shared that COVID-19 was increasing levels of stress, anxiety and loneliness, and they repeatedly described a craving for continued connection to Wyman programs and, in particular, to their Wyman peers.

The experiences described by Wyman teens mirror findings highlighted from several recent national youth surveys about the pandemic’s impact on youth well-being. From national data, it is clear that, as a result of the pandemic, many of our nation’s young people are facing an educational and mental health crisis—they are disconnected from peers and school, they feel depressed, and they are worried about their health, well-being and futures. And, the teens’ responses reinforce a uniquely human truth about effective youth programs – they are built on a foundation of caring and consistent relationships and connections.

The Power of Connections

While we are living in unprecedented times, the power of connections and healthy relationships is not unprecedented. Connection to others is so foundational to healthy development and overall well-being, we may not fully appreciate its power, and may often take it for granted. This time of crisis reminds us of the critical nature of connection and the potential harm that can be done when it is absent. External evidence and our own experience informs us that:

  • Social isolation and lack of social connections can drastically affect well-being and health. A recent study shows long-term positive impacts of connection on well-being : higher levels of connectedness as a teen were related to as much as a 66% lower risk in areas of mental health, violence, sexual risks, and substance use in adulthood. Study authors recommend positive youth development activities as a key way to promote connections, and to reduce the risks for chronic stress, and the onset of chronic health conditions.
  • Youth programs focused on connections lead to positive outcomes. Wyman’s Teen Connection Project (TCP), for example, is designed specifically to enhance the quality of peer relationships. A rigorous study of TCP conducted by Dr. Joe Allen and colleagues (2020) showed that participating youth reported significantly increased quality of peer relationships, compared to youth who were not in the program. At a 4-month follow-up, TCP participants also displayed higher levels of academic engagement and social coping, and lower levels of depressive symptoms.
  • Relationships with caring and trusted adults make a difference for youth. Youth who perceive their adult program facilitators as supportive, accepting and caring are more likely to show decreased academic risk behavior (e.g., failing grades, suspensions) and improvements in social and emotional learning at the end of the program. These findings from over 3,000 youth who participated in Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program nationwide add to the existing literature suggesting that strong, supportive adult-youth relationships provide a foundation for promoting positive youth outcomes.
A Call to Action

Both now, and when the pandemic has passed and we return to in-person interactions, our nation’s youth deserve the supports and opportunities to develop connections and healthy relationships with one another and with adults. Now and in the future, we can most effectively support youth by:

  • Prioritizing relationships and utilizing staff practices proven to support youth. Even in virtual learning spaces, relationship cultivation, support, and development can occur through intentional relationship-building experiences. Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices for Social and Emotional Learning identifies specific staff practices as key to successfully supporting youth’s social and emotional development. Examples include providing structure for check-ins to actively listen to and receive feedback from youth, and coaching youth in real time as they experience challenges. Training the adults who work directly with youth to recognize and utilize proven practices enhances relationships, and provides teens with stronger social and emotional supports.
  • Delivering programs or activities specifically designed to nurture and develop healthy connections. A series of well-sequenced activities, for example, are used in Wyman’s Teen Connection Project to gradually support the development of deeper, more trusting relationships. Youth responses to programs such as TCP remind us of the value they bring.
  • Supporting the adults, too. Supporting the emotional well-being of staff can help minimize burnout. Staff members are also living through this challenging crisis – supporting themselves and their loved ones in addition to youth. Targeted trainings can enhance staff feelings of preparedness to deliver virtual programming and to support youth through the challenges the pandemic presents. Staff who are supported to grow professionally can be more energized and present for the relationship work with young people.

Once we move past the pandemic and return to more typical ways of interacting with one another, we may begin to take the importance of connections for granted again. As youth serving professionals, we are called to recognize that healthy connections truly are the foundation of growth and healing, and a path to helping our youth find hope about their futures.

“I was able to open up in this group and get to know others I normally wouldn’t speak to in the halls or class.”

“I was able to learn more about my peers and we all got a little closer; I was also able to be myself.”

About Wyman

Wyman is a nonprofit organization based in St. Louis, MO that has been dedicated to serving youth for 122 years. Wyman’s mission is to empower teens from economically disadvantaged circumstances to lead successful lives and build strong communities. Through Wyman’s programs, young people create consistent, positive relationship with adults who help them build life skills, develop a positive sense of self, and make healthy connections with others and the community. They become leaders, focus on the future and give back. Wyman is a proud partner with the Susan Crown Exchange’s SEL Challenge. To learn more about Wyman, please visit

All photos © Wyman Center

Convening Our Youth Voice Cohort… Virtually

By the Susan Crown Exchange, featuring insights from the Stanford

When we launch a Challenge, we do so with the intent of building a cohort of organizations that work together towards a common goal. This cohort serves as a community of practice where each partner can learn from the others and all can share common insights. 

We assembled our Tech and Society Youth Voice 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?

By the time we convened the nine organizations in this cohort for the first time, this question had gained newfound importance. Most of our partners’ staff were working remotely, and the young people they served were almost entirely in online school. 

The state of the human-tech paradigm was on everyone’s minds—and the need to improve it was more urgent than ever.

When we began planning our first convening of our Youth Voice cohort, we were faced with a unique challenge. How could we create a space that facilitates connection, surfaces learning, and elevates youth voice—all in an entirely virtual environment?

We’re going on a virtual “road trip!”

The Convening

Based on a strong proposal that highlighted creative, tech-enabled solutions for a virtual convening, we selected the Stanford as our facilitators. After a series of empathy interviews with the cohort members, we set three primary goals for this first convening: 1) authentically incorporate youth voice; 2) focus on community and trust; and 3) spark moments of joy.

This convening is an initial step in a two-year process: in addition to running programs for hundreds of young people across the country, these nine organizations will convene twice more, share collective insights, and contribute to resources that aim to support a nascent field. But in order to ensure that we can achieve these outcomes, we felt that an initial focus on community-building was the best first step.

Elevating youth voice

While engaging youth as leaders in their own solutions is a critical effort, it’s also a challenge. When young people and adults work together, power dynamics between them can make young people feel uncomfortable speaking up. On the other hand, separating youth from adults entirely can lead to valuable insights being “lost in translation.”’s solution was to leverage both approaches. The week before the convening, they organized an Unconference—a virtual event where young people set the agenda and led their own discussion groups. 

We quickly saw the value of this effort. opened the Unconference with an exercise where young people articulated the world they desired and worked backwards to imagine the resources and tools they would need to create that space. 

The youth then transitioned into small discussion groups structured around self-selected topics. They chose issues that we wouldn’t necessarily have linked to tech, such as climate change and racial justice. However, we soon learned that young people saw clear connections between those issues and the role of technology—connections that mirrored how seamlessly young people integrate that technology into every part of their lives.

The dedicated an entire hour of the larger convening to sharing learnings like these with the full group. They also created additional space for youth perspectives, including one-on-one conversations between adults and youth and a larger “fishbowl” space where young people took the stage. This ensured that youth had several types of platforms in which they could truly speak for themselves.

Building Community

While we knew how important it was to foster community within the cohort, we were initially torn on how to do so. Namely, how should we balance this goal with our other objectives of sharing learning and creating resources that would build a stronger field? 

Ultimately, we decided to focus convening #1 almost entirely on community and relationships. Most of these organizations didn’t know one another before the convening; by creating a space of trust from day one, we hoped that each organization would feel comfortable enough to later share the vulnerable stories that inspire authentic learning. 

Once again, the employed creative facilitation techniques towards this goal. They opened day one with a “jigsaw” activity in which a representative from each organization had a one-on-one conversation with at least one person from every other organization. Second, they facilitated a conversation around equity that encouraged us to think critically about how our personal identities informed our work. And lastly, they encouraged us to share stories of success rather than challenges—recognizing that collective problem-solving can be valuable, but only when it’s approached from a place of deep trust.

One of our favorite stories came from PeaceCasters, an organization based in Louisville, Kentucky. The PeaceCasters team shared the example of a program that encourages young people born in other countries to tell their migration stories. The two students they highlighted supported each other at every step of the months-long program, from helping one another with English to giving each other the courage to share their experiences to a room full of adults. By fostering a program culture rooted in mutual support and authentic peer-to-peer leadership, PeaceCasters created what they call an “environment of empowerment.”

By the end of day two, we were blown away by the openness and honesty displayed by each and every person at our convening. We feel strongly that an initial focus on community-building built a foundation of trust that will inspire valuable learning in future gatherings. 

Moments of Joy

While we are grateful for the technology that allowed us to convene at all, we were concerned that a virtual convening might pale in comparison to an in-person gathering. took steps to address this, leveraging technology both to recreate an in-person convening and to create experiences that wouldn’t be possible in an analog world. layered a metaphor of a “road trip” into the entire convening—from mailing a box of snacks to each participant to a “virtual carpool” through Zion National Park that each of us shared with another attendee. They also created an “online town” that mimicked the spontaneous mingling that happens in the hallways, breaks, and happy hours at a real conference. 

The creativity and magic that infused into the event was the “special sauce” that pulled the whole thing together. By ensuring that participants enjoyed the experience, fostered a collective goodwill that contributed greatly to a sense of community ownership of this work. 

A moment of joy: our convening’s “online town.”

What did we learn?

We never expected our first Tech and Society convening to be…well, so dependent on technology. But by leveraging tech to interrogate our own relationships to it, we may have achieved insights that were even more prescient. Here are our main takeaways from the first convening of the Youth Voice cohort.

  1. Online convenings can work. Virtual events need not be pale imitations of in-person gatherings. When approached with creativity, they can promote connection and spark joy in ways that wouldn’t be possible in person.
  2. Meaningful inclusion of youth is critical. When designing solutions for young people, it’s not enough to simply ask them to weigh in. We must think creatively about how they can participate in every aspect of the design process—and make sure they feel comfortable speaking up.
  3. Focusing on the positives builds trust. We were tempted to dive straight into a discussion around common challenges. We’re glad we didn’t. Focusing on success stories first ensured that we built a foundation of trust—a foundation that will make future discussions more robust.
  4. Those closest to the problems are closest to the solutions. We invited several participants from each of our partners: a member of the leadership team, a member of the programs team, and a young person participating in the program. Each of these people comes to the table with a distinct point of view; by bringing all of these perspectives together, we can build a stronger solution.
  5. We must always look at this work through a lens of equity and inclusion. Our identities play a hugely important role in how we relate to technology. If we don’t prioritize diverse working groups and marginalized voices, we risk designing solutions that don’t work for everyone.
  6. “Youth-led” means different things to different people. Some of these projects engage young people as researchers, some as designers, some as facilitators, and some as all three. All are equally valid forms of leadership. What unites these projects is their genuine commitment to valuing youth perspectives and elevating youth voice.
After the convening, participants shared what they learned on postcards.

What’s next?

For the nine members of our cohort, the work continues. Beyond the convening, each of these organizations is running a program where young people research, design, discuss, and implement solutions that foster positive and productive relationships with technology. All of these projects are well underway; we look forward to sharing updates from select organizations over the coming months. 

On our end, now that we’ve built a strong foundation of trust among participating organizations, we will work with the to design consultancies: one-off projects where cohort members can partner around common challenges and work towards shared solutions. Beyond that, we look forward to planning our second convening for the summer of 2021, where we hope to gather in person.

In a world where so many of our interactions have moved online, we are eager to learn from the practitioners and youth who are true experts in this subject. We look forward to sharing their wisdom with others interested in this emerging field.

Ryan Banks Academy: Opening Doors through Education on Chicago’s South Side

Before transferring to the Ryan Banks Academy, Malyk struggled in school.

“I used to be really wild,” says Malyk, reflecting on his experience in the Chicago public school system (CPS). “It was something I couldn’t control.”

Many CPS students—especially in South and West side neighborhoods that suffer from chronic disinvestment—face the issues that Malyk confronted at school. Predominantly Black and Latino schools in these neighborhoods suffer from an enrollment crisis that leaves them in a puzzling paradox of being both underfunded and underpopulated. In addition, during the 2018-2019 school year, 152 schools had year-long teacher vacancies. None of those schools were majority white.

Furthermore, problems outside of the school often bleed over into the classroom. “There is so much violence in our neighborhoods,” Malyk says. He’s right. Between January and July of this year, 440 people were killed in Chicago—the majority of them in low-income neighborhoods like the one where he lives.

Since September 2018, the Ryan Banks Academy has given kids like Malyk opportunities to gain the education they deserve. Their mission is to transform urban education in Chicago by cultivating the talents of potential at-risk students. The school meets students and families where they are with the investment required to help each student thrive.

SCE’s Catalyst Grants address society’s most pressing issues by supporting organizations that approach them in innovative and promising ways. We were proud to support the exemplary work of Ryan Banks Academy with a Catalyst Grant.

Founder Valerie Groth pursued a Master’s degree in social work with the goal of becoming a therapist. But within a few days of her first internship as a CPS social worker, she realized her career would be quite different than she had imagined.

“My main role was a crisis counselor—all day, every day,” Valerie reflects. “I dealt with students who had witnessed homicides firsthand. I met kids who self-injured in order to go to the psychiatric hospital, because that hospital would give them the basic needs that they didn’t have at home.”

Valerie’s experience reflects a chronic issue with Chicago’s public school system. In many school districts, each social worker has a caseload of 250 to 300 students. In Chicago, it’s often more like one to 1,000. Many social workers in Chicago—like Valerie—serve multiple schools, and are too overwhelmed to support students in all but the most extreme cases.

For years, Valerie felt torn between her desire to help students and the chronic issues that made helping difficult. The death of her student Ryan Banks brought this conflict into sharp, painful focus. Twelve-year-old Ryan was playing with his brother around the corner from his house when he was struck by several bullets. Few details are known about why he was shot. He died that night.

For seven years, Valerie had counseled students who experienced abuse, homelessness, hunger, neglect, and chronic violence. In the weeks and months following Ryan’s death, Valerie began to envision an education system that could better serve students like Ryan—a network of schools that provided potentially at-risk youth with a high-quality education while meeting their social and emotional needs.

Ultimately, Valerie decided to build that system herself—and founded the Ryan Banks Academy in honor of the student she had lost.

Ryan Banks Academy opened its doors in September 2018 as a private, tuition-free middle school. They offer a rigorous academic program with a focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). In addition to this core curriculum, all students can pursue their own interests through a guided experiential learning program. In addition to participating in regular field trips, students take one semester to pursue a topic entirely of their own choosing.

Funded entirely by private donations, Ryan Banks Academy is able to waive tuition for all students and reach students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. They are the only non-religious private school in the city to offer a tuition-free education to low-income students without any government funding.

Acknowledging that many of their students experience a great deal of trauma outside the school’s walls, Ryan Banks Academy has implemented both a trauma-informed approach and a focus on social and emotional learning. They maintain a 1 to 30 counselor to student ratio, ensuring that trained professionals can help students deal with their immediate trauma while simultaneously building resilience and promoting well-being.

The school also recognizes the critical role that parents and caregivers play in a student’s growth. Through ongoing communication with families, dinners where staff and families can connect, and regular events where families can celebrate students’ success, Ryan Banks Academy engages parents as collaborators in their children’s education.

Like many schools, Ryan Banks Academy looks a lot different in the era of COVID-19. The school has gone fully remote, with students and teachers meeting over video instead of in person. The school’s families have been hit hard by the pandemic: many are struggling economically, and several more have lost loved ones.

COVID-19 has also posed challenges for the school’s growth. Before the pandemic, the school’s administrators had proposed a bill in the Illinois state legislature that would allow the school to receive state funding and fuel its development into a boarding school. With legislators now meeting less frequently, this bill has been put on hold.

But while they could never have expected a crisis of this magnitude, the Ryan Banks Academy community was well-prepared. The school’s STEAM curriculum had set students up for success with remote learning, and they doubled down by giving each student a Chromebook. “Our students were used to using technology, and we were able to pivot easily,” says Valerie. The school also launched a crisis fund, and was quickly able to give each of its families $1,000 in cash.

Even as it helps its community weather the current crisis, Ryan Banks Academy looks toward the future. It’s currently accepting applications for 7th through 9th grade and looks forward to opening its doors to welcome students in person once it’s safe. It also continues to work towards its eventual goal of becoming a boarding school—a transition that will allow it to further protect its students from trauma and build still-deeper connections.

Through challenging times, Ryan Banks Academy never loses sight of its students—an effort that isn’t lost on kids like Malyk. “RBA is fabulous because it is what I would call an escape, a safe haven from troubles that kids go through at home,” he says. “I love the teachers because they do great lesson plans to ensure we are always ahead.”

To learn more about the Ryan Banks Academy or make a donation, visit their website. Photos © Ryan Banks Academy.

FAQs: The Million Coaches Challenge


What are the key steps to this process?

All interested candidates must follow the steps below to be considered for this funding opportunity.

  1. LOI Stage (through January 2021): All candidates must submit a letter of inquiry (LOI) in our Foundant portal prior to the deadline of 5:00pm CST on January 29, 2021.
  2. Application Stage (February-April 2021): Following a review period, SCE will contact the most promising candidates in February to request a formal application (i.e. grant proposal). Candidates will have approximately 4-6 weeks to complete the application. We will provide specific dates later in the process. SCE will review submitted applications and contact applicants with clarifying questions or requests for additional information as needed.
  3. Decision Stage (May 2021): All grantees require approval by SCE’s Board of Directors. Candidates who make it to this stage will be notified of the funding decision in May 2021. SCE will provide specific dates later in the process.

Do I need to create an account in Foundant to access the LOI?

Foundant is SCE’s grant management system. If you have not previously created a Foundant account, you will be prompted to do so prior to submitting the LOI.

Do I need to submit the LOI in Foundant, or will you accept Word/PDF versions?

Letters of inquiry must be submitted in Foundant. If you are invited to complete a formal application (i.e. grant proposal), this will also need to be submitted in Foundant. We do, however, encourage you to type out your responses in Word and then copy/paste them into Foundant.

Who do I reach out to with questions?

For issues related to Foundant, please reach out directly to Kevin Connors ( For clarifying questions related to the Challenge, please email and include “Million Coaches Challenge Application” in the subject line.

Together with the Aspen Institute’s Project Play and Positive Coaching Alliance, we will be hosting an informational webinar on November 18th. Please sign up for the webinar here.


I have a project in mind, but I’m not sure if it is a good fit for this initiative. Would it be possible to connect with SCE to determine whether I should submit an LOI?

To be fair to all candidates, we are not able to discuss the merits of potential proposals. We encourage you to submit an LOI if you think your project may align with this initiative.

My project is longer than three years. Can I still submit an LOI?

Yes. We request that you include the full budget for your project but clearly articulate which parts of the budget will be supported by SCE funds. SCE will provide funding for up to three years.

Does SCE have an Indirect Cost Policy?

Yes. SCE’s indirect cost policy provides that the indirect cost rate may not exceed 10% of the direct costs of the project.

Can I submit multiple LOIs?

Yes. If you have multiple projects that you would like considered, you may submit multiple letters of inquiry. If projects are related enough to be bundled into a single LOI, we encourage you to do so.

Are fiscally-sponsored organizations eligible?

Only 501 (c)(3) organizations are eligible to apply, though we will also accept applications from programs that have a fiscal sponsor.

What types of organizations are eligible to apply? Are school districts eligible?

We welcome proposals from a range of actors, including but not limited to youth sports providers, coach providers, coach training organizations, intermediaries, and governing bodies. This includes school districts and state athletic associations. All applicants must be a 501 (c)(3).

Is this initiative limited to certain cities or regions?

No. Susan Crown Exchange is a nationally-focused foundation, and the Million Coaches Challenge is a national initiative. We invite proposals from organizations across the United States. We will not accept submissions from organizations based outside of the U.S.

Can you provide additional clarification on the eligible age range?

Our intention is to reach coaches who are supporting young athletes between the ages of 5-18. If you are an organization who also supports young people outside of that range, please ensure that your application is primarily focused on coaches who support athletes ages 5-18.

How are you defining “organized sport”?
For this initiative, we are defining organized sport as physical activity that is directed by adult or youth leaders and involves rules and formal practice and competition. School and club sports are included in this definition. Physical education classes at schools do not typically fall into the category of organized sport. This definition derives from a report in the Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics entitled “Organized Sports for Children, Preadolescents, and Adolescents.”

Are you prioritizing specific sports?
No. We welcome applications for coaches working in any organized sport setting, whether team-based or individual-based sports, competitive or non-competitive, and free, low-cost, or fee-based. You will see in the LOI that we ask a series of questions to gain a better understanding of who you serve, but please know your answers to these questions won’t impact your evaluation.

Does e-sports qualify?
Given the increasing popularity of competitive e-sports and the role that coaches play in supporting young people, we welcome applications from initiatives that include e-sports.

I already train coaches in these techniques. Can I count them towards the goal of reaching one million?

First, and most important, thank you! Thank you for your current efforts to train coaches. For this Challenge, our goal is to reach an additional one million coaches. If a grant from SCE would enable you to grow from 10,000 coaches to 25,000, we will consider funding to support the entire training effort but only count the additional 15,000 toward the goal.

I see that your goal is to reach an “additional” one million coaches with training. Can coaches who have been trained before be counted towards this goal?
For this initiative, we are focusing on coaches who have not been trained in the past three years. If your proposal also includes coaches who were more recently trained, you are still eligible to apply, but we will not count these recently trained coaches towards the goal of one million.

Do the coaches need to be “new to my organization” in order to be counted toward the goal of one million?

No. You may count coaches who are new to you organization (i.e. you are expanding your reach), as well as coaches who are already in your network, so long as they have not received high quality SEL/youth development training in the past three years. For instance, if you currently train 5,000 coaches on health and safety and this grant would allow you to add high quality SEL/youth development content, you may count these 5,000 coaches toward the goal.  As a general rule of thumb, if a coach has not been trained in the last three years, they may be counted.

My organization is not able to reach a total of 5,000 coaches over the three year grant period. What should I do?

We recognize that many effective organizations will not be able to meet the minimum number of coaches required by this initiative. In these cases, we encourage you to consider two approaches:

  1. Apply with partners. Think about applying to the Challenge in partnership with other organizations to increase your reach. If your combined number of coaches trained meets the 5,000 coach minimum, we’ll consider your application.
  2. Ask an intermediary, governing body, or network to apply on your behalf: If there are not any viable partnership opportunities, we encourage you to share this funding opportunity with any intermediaries, governing bodies, or networks with whom you may be affiliated. For example, while an individual school may not meet the coaching requirement, the school district might. In this case, the district may apply for funding on behalf of all schools.

If I plan to partner with other organizations for this initiative, should we each submit an LOI?

No. In the case that you do work with a partner, we request that one organization serves as the “lead organization” and submit a single LOI on behalf of the group.

Can I start a new training program with these grant funds or is this opportunity only open to organizations with already established programs?

We invite submissions for both new and existing programs. We will also consider projects that seek to enhance current training efforts by adding youth development-aligned content to the current curriculum. If an existing training program, please share any data that speaks to your impact. If new, please share your rationale for why you believe it will be an effective program and the evidence-base for its approach.

Are you requiring a certain training program?
No. Applicants are able to choose their own training partners or curriculum, so long as the content and quality meet the standards laid out for this initiative.

You mention the phrase “high quality training.” What does that mean in this context?

Quality is critical, and it is an essential part of a competitive application. At the same time, we recognize that there is not an established or common definition of quality coach training in the youth sports sector. Therefore, we will evaluate the quality of your program based on the principles of effective professional development that are widely used in other sectors, particularly K-12 education. While there are multiple frameworks available, we commonly reference The Learning Policy Institute’s “7 Elements of Highly Effective Professional Development” and the U.S. Department of Education’s “Checklist for Online Professional Learning.” At the LOI stage, we simply ask you to summarize your training design and briefly articulate how you ensure it is of high quality. During the full application stage, we will ask you to analyze your training design and practices based on The Learning Policy Institute’s framework.

You mention the phrases “youth development” and “social and emotional learning” throughout the LOI. How are you defining these?

We agree that the language is important. In the Challenge question, we broadly use the term “youth development” to cast a wide net for this initiative. Social and emotional learning, positive youth development, and trauma-informed care – just to name a few – are all uniquely important approaches and all aligned to this Challenge.

In the LOI, we ask you to describe how your training content aligns to credible, evidence-based frameworks. We commonly reference the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASELCompetencies, David P. Weikart Center’s Preparing Youth to Thrive guide, or the Aspen Institute’s Calls for Coaches, but you are welcome to reference different frameworks in your submission.

What criteria will you use to determine who receives a grant?

In the letter of inquiry stage, we are interested in the most compelling ideas that bring high quality youth development and social and emotional training to coaches. Your letter of inquiry should clearly articulate why you are uniquely positioned to solve the Challenge, give us confidence in the quality and alignment of your training efforts, and make us want to read more.

If you are invited to the application (i.e. grant proposal) stage, we will consider a range of criteria when evaluating proposals. This includes: leadership capacity, organizational stability, alignment with the initiative’s challenge question, potential for impact, quality of the training and curriculum, quality of the implementation plan, financial sustainability/stability of the program, and the ability to measure outcomes. We have a rigorous selection process, and all grantees require approval by the SCE Board of Directors.

Image © Positive Coaching Alliance

Back to School: Youth Perspectives on COVID-Era Education

In-person, remote, and hybrid learning. Tech access for students. “Learning pods.”

As students across the country go back to school, community leaders debate how to keep both students and teachers safe while making sure that kids don’t fall further behind. However, one group has been conspicuously absent from this conversation: youth themselves.

When asked, more than half of young people share that they don’t feel safe to go back to school in person. More than two-thirds fear bringing the virus home to their families. Sixty-nine percent are worried about sacrificing the quality of their education. And 70% of students report increasing concern about their mental health in the context of COVID-19.

Young people’s lives have been completely upended by the pandemic. But when it comes to designing the solutions they need, youth perspectives are rarely included.

Three months ago, we spoke to youth across the country as they dealt with the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, we caught up with two of those young people as they prepared to go back to school.

As it turns out, they had a lot to say. We covered topics that SCE is really interested in—COVID-19, education, and tech, to name a few.

Some of their answers really surprised us. All of them demonstrate why it is so, so important for the adults in the room to design solutions with—not for—young people.

Back to school

When we last spoke to Khymari and Susi, they had major concerns about how COVID-19 would affect their education.

Khymari, a graduating senior at the time, was navigating a landscape of college applications and scholarship deadlines that didn’t really make sense. “Because of COVID-19, scholarships are pushing back their application dates and the dates when you’ll hear back, so seniors have to choose which school they’re going to without knowing whether they’ve gotten a scholarship.”

Susi, who was a junior in high school, was struggling with an abrupt transition to online learning. “For me, it’s more difficult,” she said. “I’m a very studious person, and even I’m procrastinating a lot. Normally I have lots of people pushing me, but now I have to be my own advocate.”

Three months later, their concerns look different. We were surprised to learn that Khymari and Susi were less worried about the direct impacts of the pandemic. Rather, they were more concerned about managing difficult course schedules—just like they would have been any other year.

“It makes me nervous, but it’s exciting because everything is a challenge,” said Susi, now a rising senior. “I’m nervous about taking five AP and honors classes! Everything else might be different, but those classes will be just as hard.”

Khymari had similar feelings about starting college. “I’m worried about college and what it’s going to be like, not necessarily about how COVID will make it different.”

Friends and family

In the early days of the pandemic, Khymari and Susi found strength and steadiness in the people around them when everything else was hard to predict. “I was really down the first week…but talking to my teacher made me realize that people did care, including the adults in my life,” said Susi.

Khymari added, “My friends and I…are still making plans for prom and graduation. We know that they aren’t going to happen, but it still boosts our spirits.”

Today, close relationships continue to support Susi when she needs them. “I’ve begun to open up more about everything,” she says. “A few friendships have faded, but this challenge taught me who my true friends are.”

Khymari loves living in a busy household. However, lockdown has definitely posed some challenges. “My siblings have been attending Zoom summer camps, and I have to help them sit still and pay attention,” she says. “And that is not IT!”


Both Khymari and Susi spoke at length about two forms of technology: virtual learning and social media.

For the former, both students definitely feel some Zoom fatigue after three months of online school and remote work. “Between class, work, and social media, I’m getting so sick of staring at a screen,” says Susi. “I’m always hunched over!”

Khymari agreed. “I’m so over it!” she said. “I’ve had lots of tech issues—I didn’t have WiFi for two weeks, so I had to use my phone to call into meetings for my summer job. It’s hard to participate when you can’t see who you’re talking to.”

When we last spoke, Khymari mentioned how she had seen misinformation spread on social media—especially among older relatives on Facebook. Three months later, Susi sees the same thing happening among her peers. “So many people use Instagram to vent or spread fake news,” she says. “Sometimes when I go on there, I just want to see my puppy posts!”

What we’re learning

Khymari and Susi are at the center of so many issues that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront. Their education has been drastically changed by the pandemic. They live in communities deeply affected by both the virus and the subsequent economic fallout. Unsurprisingly, they have some great ideas about how people in power should respond.

  • “We can’t take anyone for granted. While I haven’t lost anyone close to me personally, my parents lost someone close to them to the virus.” – Susi
  • “Every household needs WiFi, a Chromebook, and headphones—for every student. In lots of families, many people share one device. In my house, everyone uses my computer! And not every house has a quiet space where students can work or attend online class, so headphones are really important, too.” – Khymari
  • “Food access! Many CPS students eat most of their meals at school. Now that all of us are at home, we’re going through three times as much food as usual. That’s hard for a lot of families.” – Khymari
  • “If you’re expecting people to go to classes in person, you need to offer free COVID testing to everyone!” – Khymari

Khymari and Susi, like many of us, have begun adjusting to the “new normal” of a post-COVID world. But adjusting to a pandemic isn’t the same as finding it easy. These young people have lots of ideas about how to make COVID-era education more effective, empathetic, and safe. It’s up to us to listen.

Our latest Challenge, Youth Voice in the Digital Age, supports creative solutions from nonprofits that elevate the perspectives of young people like Khymari and Susi. We look forward to learning from the nine members of our Youth Voice cohort—and the young people they serve—as they launch their programs this fall.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash