School Year Partners Exceed Expectations in Fall Semester

Boston After School & Beyond’s burgeoning school year community had a successful fall semester, analysis finds. School year partners met or exceeded performance expectations in all measured indicators of program quality. Thirteen of these partners from both Advancing Quality Partnerships (AQP) and the Expanded Learning Opportunities for Teens (Teen ELO) Initiative convened for the AQP Winter Forum on January 15 to share and brainstorm ways to further improve their programming.

Individual programs were given this semester’s PRISM, a report benchmarking their fall semester performance against that of their school-year cohort. This year’s community of practice had notably higher fall baseline scores compared to last year’s, advancing the community toward continuous improvement. Growth was seen in all 15 program quality domains including Social-Emotional Environment; Youth Relations with Adults; and Youth Participation, Engagement, and Behavior, which were measured from a third-party perspective. Some partners in attendance were new to Boston Beyond’s initiatives, and saw their programs contributing to the increase in overall performance.

Measures of program quality can indicate a program’s potential to support their students’ social-emotional skill growth. Boston Beyond’s analysis of program quality is based on the Achieve-Connect-Thrive (ACT) Skills Framework, which outlines the foundational social-emotional skills students need for success in school, college, and career.

To demonstrate our partners’ capacity to promote various social-emotional skills in their programming, Boston Beyond took the average score of indicators that connect directly to skill outcomes. This year’s school-year cohort exceeded the benchmark (a score of three on the 1-4 scale) in six out of nine measurable skills. However, there is room for improvement in the following domains: critical Thinking; teamwork; and youth leadership, choice, and autonomy.

Youth leadership, choice, and autonomy are skills that have been a challenge for partners across all of Boston Beyond’s initiatives. While many programs seek out youth input and involvement in their big-picture planning—a practice that builds leadership and choice in their students—Georgia Hall from the National Institute on Out-of-School Time encouraged partners to further improve program quality by intentionally incorporating practices that promote these skills in their day-to-day activities.

Partners were given the opportunity to brainstorm and share practices that promote student development in critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership. The small group discussions were collaborative and meaningful. General themes from each discussion were shared with the larger cohort, and partners realized that these three skills are largely inter-related—many practices address multiple skills.

Partner collaboration, as exhibited in this activity, was one success of the Winter Forum. Later, Erin Cooley and Jon Sproul, representatives from BPS’ Office of School-Community Partnerships, tapped into the collective knowledge of the forum for feedback on their new school-community partner database, PartnerBPS, as well as a current pilot initiative to measure the effectiveness of school-community partnerships.

Dr. Phil Jackson, Director of the Teen ELO Initiative, said that the small group discussions were his favorite part of the forum—not only to address student skill development, but also during later feedback discussions. This activity, Dr. Jackson said, provided insight on the varying ways in which community programs have relationships with their school partners. He would like to take the conversation further to include the perspective of the schools in these partnerships.

Still, the voices present at the forum represented a variety of perspectives central to Boston Beyond’s work with our partners, says Ellen Dickenson, Director of AQP. The opportunity to convene researchers, educators, and school officials around social-emotional learning continues to be an invaluable asset to the school-year community, which she hopes to expand even further next year. “This is an exemplary group of educators, and there is so much we can learn from each other,” says Ms. Dickenson, “[Boston Beyond] looks forward to expanding the membership of AQP and finding ways of elevating the innovative work of each partner so that we can all improve.”

The success of Boston Beyond’s school year partners this fall is an inspiring step toward closing the opportunity and achievement gaps for Boston youth. Boston Beyond looks forward to working with the AQP and Teen ELO Initiative partners in the upcoming spring semester to continue our measurement and growth.

For more information about joining this community of practice, contact Ellen Dickenson at