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Study Shows Student Gains When Exposed to City Year in Schools

A new national study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and involving nearly 40,000 students, is the first large-scale study to explore the connection between social-emotional skills and student outcomes.

Titled “Connecting Social-Emotional Development, Academic Achievement, and On-Track Outcomes: A Multi-District Study of Grades 3 to 10 Students Supported by City Year AmeriCorps Members,” the study which includes grades, test scores and attendance, focused on students receiving support from City Year AmeriCorps – a peer mentorship program that partners with lots of D.C. schools — as well as gains made in social-emotional skills during an entire school year.

“This study shows the importance of close connections between students and near-peer role models during the school day,” City Year CEO Jim Balfanz said in a statement. “In fact, the students who were furthest behind saw the biggest gains from the support of City Year AmeriCorps members. This should be a signal to schools, districts and states that having AmeriCorps members serve as Student Success Coaches who work alongside teachers to provide students with social, emotional and academic support — whether through City Year or through other programs — can be life-changing for students.”

The study, which took into consideration third- through 10th-graders at 326 under-resourced elementary, middle and high schools in 20 states, advances the argument that social-emotional skill development grounded in strong relationships is essential to student success — particularly as millions of students face returning to school with learning loss due to disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the study which found that making gains in social-emotional learning is equal to an entire school year of academic growth in math or English, are particularly strong for 9th grade students.

The study further found that students who spent the typical amount of time with an AmeriCorps member were 42 percent less likely to be off track in English, compared to one-third less likely to be behind in math, and 41 percent less likely to be off track in attendance.

“The results from this multi-district sample — representative of the types of schools and students that state and federal agencies most typically identify as needing support in order to raise student outcomes — suggest that these findings can be applied at a large scale and are not the result of extraordinary efforts in a unique setting,” said Vaughan Byrnes, co-author of the study.

Other pertinent findings of the study revealed that students who attend City Year partner schools are 50 percent Black and 38 percent Hispanic, and that nearly 90 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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