Data Shows SEL Growth for NC YMCA Afterschool Youth Participants

children and Y staff leader at YMCA afterschool program doing STEM activity

YMCA associations across the state have participated in social and emotional learning (SEL) professional development training and peer cohort meetings this year, thanks to a grant the Alliance received from the NC Department of Public Instruction. (See this January 2022 article.) 

  • 87% of young people at the 14 participating Y associations were successful in growing in at least one SEL capacity (academic self-efficacy, contribution, positive identity, self-management, and social skills) for youth in grades 3-5, with two-thirds (66%) developing in two or more SEL capacities.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the youth specifically thrived in developing academic self-efficacy, supporting their COVID learning loss. This means they developed their motivation and perceived mastery over their own learning, school performance and potential to attain academic success.

Data-driven Training and SEL Integration

One of the most exciting aspects of this work has been the capacity to understand young people’s SEL needs and assets at the beginning of a program, plan and implement data-driven professional development and also measure SEL growth via Hello Insight’s assessment tools.  Research has proven that when we support a young person’s SEL, we are boosting their ability to thrive – reach their greatest potential as noted in strong academic and career performance, greater health and wellness and overall positive behaviors. (CASEL 2022)

Through the grant, the Alliance provided free Hello Insight subscriptions for the participating Ys to conduct pre- and post-assessments for youth in afterschool program and for staff working with youth so that they could measure outcomes of this intentional focus on SEL. 

Promoting peer bonds weighs heavily in young people’s SEL development, and this was identified as need for staff. After the trainings: 

  • 69% of young people at our Ys experienced opportunities for them to work together and help each other. 
  • 70% were able to engage with people different from themselves; and 
  • 69% experienced a safe place to learn about people who are different from themselves.  

According to Hello Insight, percentages (of youth received) in the 70s are strong, and higher percentages are hard to achieve. 

As a core fundamental in quality youth development, NC Y staff were particularly strong at engaging young people authentically, especially in reminding young people that they are expected to try hard and do their best. Eight-four (84) percent of young people provided feedback that they experienced this positive youth development research-based practice.

Research shows that when positive youth development strategies such as engaging authentically and promoting peer bonds are integrated into youth programs (afterschool, sports, camp, etc.), young people develop short-term outcomes such as increased academic self-efficacy, social skills and more. 

In our ongoing pandemic situation, development of SEL skills is critical for young people’s success. Research also shows that young people with SEL thrive with long-term outcomes such as increased academic performance, career readiness, and other positive outcomes. 

Equipped with data about their programs, Ys are now able to focus on their top scores to keep those positive youth development practices going and focus on one or two lower scores as areas for staff to work towards improvement. With nearly 90% of young people developing in SEL during another challenging COVID year, the NC Ys provided high-quality engagement of youth as proven by feedback directly from youth in Y programs.  Yet in their own growth mindset and valuing youth voice, NC Ys are also identifying areas for improvement for their summer and upcoming school year programs, such as more work on “creating a sense of team or group identity.” (6/15/22)

Hello Insights graphic about how SEL supports youth outcomes


(Graphic courtesy of Hello Insight)