New National Report Validates Higher Achievement’s Efforts in SEL

The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development recently released a major national report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation of Hope.  Drawing on input from more than 200 scientists, youth and parent groups, educators, and policymakers, the report provides a series of recommendations to accelerate and strengthen efforts to educate the whole child.  Higher Achievement has long been an advocate of social emotional learning (SEL) through the development of deep, multiyear relationships with scholars and their families to enable scholars to build self-efficacy, a sense of belonging, and problem-solving skills that are essential to learning.

We are proud to work in partnership with the Aspen Institute.  In connection with Learning Heroes in Baltimore, Higher Achievement was the subject of a case study for the Aspen Institute’s report, which implemented market-tested communications around SEL with families.  For example, instead of using education jargon like “growth mindset” or “self-efficacy,” it makes more sense to use terms that resonate with families, like “self-esteem” and “hard work.”  Higher Achievement staff also utilized the Learning Heroes communication play book when engaging our Baltimore families in the high school placement process, a process which relies on critical social emotional skill development.  Our work was deemed an exemplary practice by the Novo Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisory and will be profiled later this month at a conference in San Diego.  We look forward to further participation in the Aspen Institute’s work as Higher Achievement continues to put the findings of their groundbreaking report into practice.

“Middle school is a pivotal, at times vulnerable, moment in the college pipeline.  Moreover, middle school is a time that is ripe for student engagement as the brains of middle schoolers are developing at a fast pace similar to that of early childhood,” said Higher Achievement CEO Lynsey Wood Jeffries.  “As the Aspen Institute report shows, SEL skills are the key to success in college, and Higher Achievement is committed to helping our middle school scholars develop specific SEL skills that are fundamental for first generation college student success.  These skills include goal-setting, engagement in school, self-efficacy, and the development of a sense of belonging.”

In addition to our collaboration with the Aspen Institute, Higher Achievement continues to weave our SEL practices throughout our academic enrichment model.  While many organizations are operating either in the social emotional space or the academic space, we are intentionally integrating the two.  Higher Achievement partnered with American Institutes of Research to create a series of bite-sized, practical online trainings in SEL for our staff and volunteers.  We have also drafted a three-part webinar series on middle school best practices, which offers practical, research-based guidance on six common scenarios that practitioners face.  For example, one scenario is: In the middle of study hall you notice that a scholar has her head down and is sleeping.  This is not the first time she’s done this, and you’ve mentioned this to her as a problem before.  The webinars offers stages of practitioner guidance that incorporate early adolescent neuroscience, youth development practices, and SEL.  Our goal is to make these webinars available to other organizations in fall of 2019.

To learn more about Higher Achievement’s efforts in the area of SEL and academic development, please email us at