New report illustrates demand for schools to increase student wellbeing and heal divides

WASHINGTON (April 13, 2021) — A new report validates educators and parents countrywide who view social and emotional learning as a solution to the wide-ranging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half of parents and teachers surveyed say social and emotional learning (SEL) and service-learning (SL) are equally important to academic instruction, and many assert that emotional skills are more beneficial than academic ones this school year.

These findings are among others uncovered in Ready to Engage: Perspectives of Teachers and Parents on Social and Emotional Learning and Service-Learning  from Civic in partnership with Hart Research Associates and made possible by The Allstate Foundation.

“The findings in this report show that parents and teachers overwhelmingly support a holistic approach to education and success that goes beyond traditional academics,” said John Bridgeland, Founder & CEO of Civic. “Acting as a booster rocket to everything we already measure, social and emotional learning and service learning should be central for schools and districts as they plan the use of American Rescue Plan funding.”

Ready to Engage provides a unique view into parent and teacher perspectives on these programs from two nationally representative surveys and online discussion boards that capture heightened need during the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice movement. Among the findings:

Parents and teachers endorse a holistic view of learning.

  • 99% of parents say it’s “very” or “fairly” important to develop good character, integrity and find happiness, more than getting a good job or preparing for college.
  • The vast majority of adults believe a focus on SEL will help children develop into good citizens, prepared to positively impact their communities.

Parents and teachers believe SEL and SL are mutually beneficial strategies that develop the whole child.

  • 70% of teachers and 63% of parents believe service-learning has the ability to improve students’ SEL skills, particularly the ability to get along with and understand people who are different from them. One teacher described service-learning as “the groundwork that begins to allow this country to heal.”

Demand for SEL and SL opportunities in schools continues to outpace implementation.   

  • 70% of teachers believe schools should emphasize SEL skills, yet only 23% report SEL opportunities school wide.
  • 86% of teachers believe schools need more SL opportunities, but only 16% say their schools provide them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made SEL and SL even more essential to education.

  • Nearly 75% of teachers feel their morale is lower than before the pandemic.
  • Parents and teachers believe SEL skills are more important than academic ones right now, as they can help students cope with unprecedented challenges.

Low-income and rural schools are less likely to have access to SEL and SL.

  • 38% of above-average income parents stated their child’s school has a service-learning program, compared to only 19% of below-average income parents.
  • 20% of teachers in urban schools reported a formal service-learning program, compared to 11% of rural teachers.

“The evidence is clear that social and emotional learning and service-learning support success in school, the future workplace, and civic life,” said Francie Schnipke Richards, vice president, social responsibility and the Allstate Foundation. “But, knowing the importance of these learning experiences isn’t enough: we need to support schools with equitable access and implementation support so that all youth can be empowered.”  

The report further enforced that parents and teachers view SEL and SL as having a reciprocal, mutually reinforcing relationship. Encouragingly, teachers at schools with more low-income students are especially likely to believe in the positive impacts of SL programs. Programs like America’s Promise Alliance’s Power of Youth Challenge help youth build important SEL skills by participating in volunteer and civic engagement activities.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen young people step up in remarkable ways to navigate disruptions to their learning and to call for racial healing,” said Mike O’Brien, CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “Our Power of Youth Challenge provides young people who are promoting racial equity in their communities with financial support and coaching. Young people need more service learning and social and emotional learning opportunities like this to help them meet and respond to the challenges of this important moment.”

Ready to Engage clearly demonstrates SEL and SL’s impact, which strengthens the nation’s education system and prepares diverse youth to build a generation of innovative leaders.

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