For educational success, we must address both social and emotional needs of students


As the 2018 school year winds down, educators, nonprofit education leaders and funders for social good are planning programs, initiatives and curriculum for the upcoming school year as well as farther into the future. The underlying focus is that helping students to succeed academically in an encouraging environment is necessary.

According to the The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development, in order to foster an environment for students to thrive in school and informal education environments, the development of social and emotional skills must be a part of curriculum and instruction.

{mosads}These skills reduce violence, delinquent behavior and reduce mental health problems as well as provide internal support for children who express the stress of poverty and trauma. 


Collaborative environments centered in guided real-life situations offer an open dialogue on how to treat one another with dignity and self-respect through disagreements. Educational policy and investment need to support these efforts.  

The whole student’s well-being — including mental and emotional health — cannot be an after-thought. 

A new study published in the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. shows more than one in 20 U.S. children and teens, or 2.6 million, have anxiety or depression. This is important to note in Mental Health Awareness month. According to experts, anxiety and depression are often rooted in the inability to cope with being bullied and the feeling of being unable to deal with a lack of acceptance by peers.

Students also face challenges to stay motivated in learning if extreme poverty is a family concern. A student’s desire to have a quality education and excel in school is difficult while also taking on the burden of helping the family financially.  

I was approached by a student in the Young Women’s STEM Leadership Initiative at Frontiers of Flight Museum that she wants help to provide for her family while in high school. Paid internships can address that economic need.

Students in underserved communities of color face challenges to fit in while not wanting to lose a sense of culture identity. Culturally immersive experiences across the nation in K-12 classrooms assist students who otherwise may be ill-equipped to accept the cultural differences of others. But a growing need for culturally diverse and inclusive nonprofit programs exists.

Nonprofits in the education fields are competing for limited funding to serve underserved communities. According to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, approximately one-third of funding came from 250 large foundations that prioritized underserved communities.

Close to half, or 47 percent of funding to nonprofits prioritizing underserved communities came from 1,700 smaller foundations. The majority of large foundations are not prioritizing underserved communities.

The narrative in grant proposals from nonprofits seeking funding from foundations, then, needs to identify with the true challenges of students to be served. The logic models created as supporting supplemental materials for programs and initiatives in proposals must create actionable goals and activities for students to achieve sustainable life changes.

These life changes can align with the 4CS Research series for 21st century skills development that includes collaboration and teamwork, creativity and imagination, critical thinking and problem solving.

Evaluation methods and assessments optimally will include feedback from students on how well programs are working and what improvements are necessary. Equally important is that nonprofits partnering with school districts, educators and business leaders in the community take this information to connect the practical application of what students are learning into mentoring, college readiness and job training programs. 

About one-third of the modern workforce is made up of racial minorities. To level the playing, field, education policies and job readiness programs must review implicit biases that create practices for limited equal opportunity for all. The whole student’s life experiences need to be addressed. Students need more personalized opportunities that support a growth mindset within collaborative environments where problem solving is welcomed. 

Working with students across cultures and life experiences is a constant reminder that life success moves far beyond academics. As leaders creating safe havens for students to express themselves and learn by doing, they need to always see that they have an opportunity within reach.

The achievement of high participation in after-school programs and community outreach can be indicators of an organization’s success. Yet equally important are the individual successes of students who recognize that they are seen as a whole person. This sets them up to make a true difference in the world.  

Alicia Morgan is the vice president of Education and Programs at Frontiers of Flight Museum, a TEDx Speaker and Women of Color in STEM Conference K-12 Promotion of Education honoree. She is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.

Tags Education emotional development social development

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