Denver, CO

SEL Helps Kids Build Bridge to Better Future

Although graduation rates generally have been on the rise across the nation, data indicates that 90 percent of youth living in public housing still aren’t graduating from high school. The Bridge Project—a community collaboration with the University of Denver (DU), private contributors, and the Denver Housing Authority—aims to improve that statistic with educational after-school and summer programs that provide youth with positive role models and a continuum of support.

“We exist to support youth, help them overcome barriers to their education, and gain the skills they need to graduate from high school and succeed as adults,” says Miranda Cook, program director of the Bridge Project. To that end, the Bridge Project adopted Second Step Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in 2012. And according to staff, the results have been impressive.

Positive Results, Quantified

Researchers from DU’s School of Social Work, in consultation with the Bridge Project Research Committee, conducted a study in 2014 to observe and rate 87 kindergarten through fifth-grade students from four Bridge Project sites, using the Second Step edition of the Devereaux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA-SSE). The students were rated once in the fall, before being taught Second Step lessons, and again in the spring, after participating in the program.

Jeff Jenson, PhD, a DU professor who helped to oversee the study, says that the findings are important, because evidence suggests that social-emotional skills are positively related to academic performance and low rates of problem behavior, such as delinquency and substance abuse.

Specifically, measurements showed that the children significantly improved their social, emotional, and behavioral skills. More than 55 percent of the students improved their overall DESSA scores by at least five points from fall to spring, and collectively results showed improvements in problem-solving (12.03%), skills for learning (10.89%), empathy (10.62%), and emotion management (8.16%).

Skills for Everyday Success

“Social and emotional learning through Second Step really helps build the foundation for a child’s life skills and academic learning experiences,” says Tiffany Barrios, a graduate student and one of the teachers at the Bridge Project. Another graduate student/teacher, Andrea Jennings, says, “Second Step puts into words the feelings and emotions that kids have and sometimes don’t know how to express. It gives them practical applications in dealing with everyday situations.”

The smiles on the kids’ faces are the true testament to the success of the Bridge Project and Second Step SEL. “We’re creating a place where these at-risk youth feel safe, physically and emotionally, so they can learn the skills that will help them grow to be well-adjusted, self-sufficient, connected members of society,” says Cook, adding that Second Step SEL has been an important component of the Bridge Project’s success.