In Partnership with The 74

Partnership between Inglewood Unified and City Year L.A. helping to build social-emotional learning, student success

Thelma Meléndez and Mary Jane Stevenson | September 4, 2019



City Year team of “near-peer” mentors at Los Angeles Unified’s Locke High School (City Year)

Every morning, City Year AmeriCorps member Lizette Martinez scanned the sea of faces as she greeted students streaming through the doors of Locke High School. She wanted to be sure to spot Arthur, a quiet student who she noticed was skipping class often.

After the first bell, City Year AmeriCorps member Christina Oluwole noticed if Arthur (not his real name) trailed away from his English class. If he wandered away, she redirected him by walking with him to class where she could tutor him.

Throughout the day, Arthur encountered City Year members in the lunch area or in the hallways who encouraged him to “get to class.”

These seemingly small interactions led to big changes in Arthur by building strong connections and creating a sense of belonging.

At first, Arthur reluctantly attended class. But soon he became more engaged as Christina and Lizette provided him with individual support when he got stuck. By the end of the school year, and after connecting with the City Year team over Japanese comic books and advice on how to handle high school drama, Arthur was eager to go to class and began working independently.

Arthur’s story illustrates what extensive research has already proven: Supporting the success of students goes far beyond just making sure they know how to add fractions or write a persuasive essay. Students also need to develop social-emotional skills to learn how to make responsible decisions, problem solve and work toward a goal.

The cultivation of social-emotional learning has emerged as a top priority for schools to advance both student achievement and whole school improvement goals. Social-emotional skills are also increasingly in demand by employers, including self-management, self-confidence and optimistic thinking. Yet in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, millions of talented children experience adversity that affects their readiness to learn.

In Arthur’s case, he went from being a quiet kid who flew under the radar, to a highly visible student who was consistently being engaged by City Year’s “near-peer” mentors — young adults mature enough to offer guidance and young enough to relate to students’ perspectives.

A City Year mentor talks with a student outside Locke High School. (City Year)

As the Inglewood Unified School District works to improve schools and better support students and teachers, we are proud to partner with City Year Los Angeles at Crozier Middle School and Woodworth-Monroe Academy to implement a “Whole School Whole Child” approach to student success — including a strong focus on social-emotional learning.

City Year AmeriCorps members serve as tutors, mentors and role models in schools every day in 29 cities nationally, providing students with critical academic and social-emotional supports — and the encouragement they need — to help them attend class, work hard, dream big and graduate from high school, on time and on track for future success.

City Year’s approach directly aligns with Inglewood’s mission to nurture, educate, and graduate students who are self-responsible and self-disciplined. Moreover, a 2015 study found that schools that partnered with City Year were two to three times more likely to improve on standardized English and math tests than schools who did not.

So, what does social-emotional learning look like?

Learning doesn’t happen in silos, in order to develop the whole child, learning needs to work a lot like the process of weaving together different skills to build strong “skills ropes.” All of us pull together strands of various skills to solve problems, work with others, formulate and express our ideas, and learn from mistakes. We continuously weave together academic or cognitive skills with social and emotional skills, such as self-management or conflict resolution.

For example, to complete a research project in school, a student might need skills in planning, conducting research, reading and writing. Each of these skills — or strands — is equally important for learning. This approach is based on a growing body of evidence about how students learn and how caring adults can support the learning and growing process of students.

Collaborating with Inglewood’s dedicated teachers and principals, City Year AmeriCorps members will be another adult that students can rely on to help them strengthen their social, emotional and academic skill ropes, which are essential for success in and out of school, and ensure students feel valued, supported and invested in their learning.

City Year AmeriCorps members receive ongoing professional development throughout their service year, including formal training, coaching, observation, guided reflection and peer learning. Working in teams, they become embedded in the fabric of the school and are uniquely positioned to form relationships with the students they serve every day.

Over the past several years, Inglewood schools have made tremendous progress — six primary schools have been designated as California Distinguished Schools and one has earned the national Blue-Ribbon school distinction. In fall of 2019, four elementary schools will expand and ultimately become K-8 schools, and our high school graduates continue to raise the bar of achievement for all students.

Yet we know there is room for improvement. Together with City Year, we believe that developing the social-emotional skills and mindsets of all children and young adults will contribute to a stronger, more vibrant Inglewood for all.

Thelma Meléndez is the Inglewood Unified School District state administrator and Mary Jane Stevenson is the City Year executive director. 

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