Comer School Development Program at Yale Child Study Center Is Featured in Major Report

January 15, 2019

The Comer School Development Program (SDP) at the Yale Child Study Center and its work to support the whole student are included as an exemplary approach to supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development in a report released today by a prestigious national commission.

The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development’s “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope” asserts that our nation is at a turning point, understanding that social, emotional, and cognitive development underpins children’s academic learning. This breakthrough understanding about how people learn is fueling a growing movement to educate children as whole people, with social and emotional as well as academic needs, the report says.

James P. Comer, MD, MPH, Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Child Study Center, and the founder and director of the SDP, was named Honorary Co-chair of the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development in recognition of his pioneering work to put the development of the whole child at the center of the educational enterprise.

Comer said that “we began our work in 1968 in the two lowest income and lowest achieving elementary schools in New Haven—32nd and 33rd of 33—and they eventually rivaled the city's highest income schools, had the best attendance record, and no serious behavior problems. Over the past 50 years more than 1,000 schools have used the SDP. From the beginning our work was based on our idea that development and learning are inextricably linked; and that children that develop well, learn well,” said Comer.  

“A Nation at Hope” emphasizes that translating knowledge about how people learn into practice and helping students develop skills like collaboration, empathy, and perseverance requires systemic change. It offers specific actions in research, practice, and policy to fundamentally shift how we teach children, with the understanding that the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning are mutually reinforcing rather than distinct.

The report recommends taking these key steps:

  • Set a clear vision that broadens the definition of student success to prioritize the whole child.
  • Transform learning settings so they are safe and supportive for all young people.
  • Change instruction to teach students social, emotional, and cognitive skills; embed these skills in academics and school-wide practices.
  • Build adult expertise in child development.
  • Align resources and leverage partners in the community to address the whole child.
  • Forge closer connections between research and practice to generate useful, actionable information for educators.

Nearly 100 organizations that have signed on in support of the report’s conclusions and recommendations as part of an ever-widening coalition committed to advancing the work. This groundswell of support that has surged over the course of the commission’s work, and now supports action across communities following its release, sets the report apart and offers promise for the movement to grow nationwide.

Drawing on input from more than 200 scientists, youth and parent groups, educators and policymakers, the report seeks to accelerate and strengthen efforts in local communities. These recommendations are especially pertinent as states and communities continue to utilize their increased authority on education policy under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The report includes specific strategies that schools, districts, and communities can pursue related to each recommendation and examples of places that are engaged in these efforts. 

The report also outlines evidence that confirms that supporting students’ social, emotional and academic development has a positive impact on their attendance, test scores, success in college and careers, and overall well-being. This approach also improves students’ feelings about school and makes schools safer.

More information is available at NationatHope.org

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For more information about the Comer School Development Program at the Yale Child Study Center, please go to medicine.yale.edu/childstudy/communitypartnerships/comer and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrAMWx3jj96BDan6oNxfP8g.

Submitted by Robert Forman on January 14, 2019