​​​​The Problem

A growing body of research, including a University of Chicago study, Foundations for Young Adult Success, has linked social and emotional learning – which is also known by terms including non-cognitive skills, inter-/intrapersonal skills, soft skills and character development – to success later in life. However, it is not yet known how school and out-of-school experiences can be strengthened, aligned and delivered in real-world, urban settings to help children develop these skills.

​​How We Are Tackling It

Through a new, four-year project, The Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI), The Wallace Foundation seeks to explore whether and how children will benefit if adults in schools and afterschool programs work together to align and improve experiences and climate to foster social and emotional learning. This includes helping children develop skills such as such as self-control, teamwork, persistence and goal-setting.

In the first phase, nine urban school districts and their afterschool partners were awarded grants to help the partners collaborate on developing a plan to improve adult practices that support the development of students’ social and emotional skills.

In the current phase, six communities (who will be named when grants are finalized) have been chosen to receive four-year implementation grants. Each of these communities has previously committed to develop social and emotional learning opportunities for children. Sites were chosen based on fit with the foundation’s dual goals of helping local partners to strengthen their capacity and developing new knowledge that will be useful to the field.

In the first year of the initiative, each district/out-of-school-time intermediary pair will share grants ranging from $1 million to $1.5 million. In addition, participating communities will also receive other non-monetary support, such as inclusion in a professional learning community, regular convenings with other cities in the initiative, supports to integrate and apply SEL data to continuous improvement systems, communications counsel, and other technical assistance provided by national experts such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the Forum for Youth Investment, the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality and others. 

The initiative will provide programs to roughly 15,000 children in kindergarten through fifth grade through a phased approach involving up to seven pilot schools in each city.

As in all of its work, Wallace seeks to meet two goals: directly benefiting organizations that receive our grants and those they serve; and, gathering evidence that benefits the field as a whole, in this case on whether and how aligning school / afterschool practices on social and emotional learning helps students. Anticipated local benefits include:

  • increased opportunities for social and emotional learning;
  • improvements in adult practices, learning environments, and instruction; and
  • stronger partnerships between the school districts and out-of-school-time (OST) providers.

To identify relevant findings and create field benefits, the initiative includes a multi-year research study by the RAND Corporation that will produce public reports for policymakers and practitioners that shed light on:

  • what system-level supports are important for school districts and OST organizations to provide
  • what enables progress, and what impedes it
  • effective ways to enhance the social and emotional skills of adults in schools and afterschool programs
  • specific practices and factors that are key to improving children’s outcomes
  • what roles partnerships play
  • outcome evidence on improvements in children’s SEL and other measures of student success

The new initiative grew out of The Wallace Foundation’s years of work in youth development, including a dozen-year effort to encourage citywide coordination for  afterschool that yielded more than 40 publications and found, according to a study by RAND, “that organizations across cities could work together toward increasing access, quality, data-based decision making and sustainability.”

In May, a new Wallace-commissioned guide to 25 evidence-based SEL programs was released, offering detailed information about curricular content and programmatic features that practitioners can use to make informed choices about what to use to develop key skills and competencies. Written by Harvard education researcher Stephanie Jones, Navigating SEL from the Inside Out: Looking Inside & Across 25 Leading SEL Programs: A Practical Resource for Schools and OST Providers also explains how the SEL programs can be adapted to out-of-school-time settings, such as afterschool and summer programs.

Additionally, Wallace also supported a special issue of the journal The Future of Children that examines the development of social and emotional learning in school and afterschool settings, finding that these skills are essential for children and that teachers and OST staff need professional development to help children acquire them. 


 Supplementary Materials