Civic Leadership programs use a robust and accessible concept of leadership to engage and transform participants, and the Middle School Success program provides an opportunity for students to learn how to lead by developing and practicing their social emotional learning skills. The activity that drives this learning includes:
Building solidarity and practicing ethical cooperation with a cohort and team
Identifying and analyzing community problems and resources for addressing these problems
Planning and executing a group project that benefits the community
Assessing and presenting publicly on this project
Students develop as ethical leaders through conscious and monitored practice, by repeatedly applying social emotional skills and reflecting on the results within a framework of ethical inquiry.
The major vehicle for this approach to SEL is project-based learning, emphasizing active, experiential learning on real tasks, applied to real problem-solving situations. Project-based learning is associated with better student performance on assessments of content knowledge. It is associated with crucial socio-affective skills, such as students’ ability to regulate their own learning, to collaborate, and to think critically and elaborate reasons for their actions. Students need such skills to experience any kind of success in school and in the workplace.
Project-based learning has been shown to improve other social emotional skills and dispositions needed for academic success, including raising levels of students’ interest in content, improving their research skills, and developing expertise in a variety of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, social science, engineering, and others.
Social Emotional Learning
Students acquire and develop important social emotional learning skills during project-based learning, such as motivation and engagement with learning , persistence on tasks and ability to manage their time and effort, willingness to embark on ill-defined tasks, cooperativeness, creativity and initiative, and self-regulation and autonomy. The program is designed to reinforce the development of resilience, by offering students opportunities to practice setting, breaking down, and revising long-term goals.
Resilience allows people to achieve difficult and complex goals that consist of many shorter-term sub-goals and that require struggle, sacrifice, and an ability to postpone gratification. CLF’s curricular framework encourages youth to reflect critically on their goals, to assess the resources available to them, and to revise goals strategically so that they can be used to drive youth to succeed in school and beyond.
The Middle School Success curriculum emphasizes civic engagement as a means of reconnecting youth to their communities and increasing their chances of becoming ethical and engaged citizens. An abundance of research suggests that participation in civic engagement activities enhances the development and well-being, and consequently the capacity for academic and economic success, of young people (particularly those from lower socio-economic communities). For example, research suggests that low-income students’ participation in civic action improves their connectedness to their communities. It enhances their self-esteem, political efficacy, academic engagement, and, as a result, increases their academic performance. Community-based civic engagement activities have also been shown to be effective in the development of ethical thinking and empathy.
The overall objective for promoting social and civic engagement in urban youths is to enable them to experience a sense of empowerment and control over the trajectory of their lives.
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