The Benefits of SEL for At-Risk Youth

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a crucial aspect of development for all children and teenagers, but it is especially important for at-risk youth. At-risk youth refers to students who face significant challenges or factors that may hinder their educational success, such as poverty, unstable family situations, academic difficulties, or involvement in risky behaviors, requiring targeted support and intervention.

This is why it’s crucial for schools and districts to invest in a CASEL-aligned, inclusive SEL curriculum that effectively addresses the needs of middle and high school students, especially those identified as at-risk.

In this blog post, we will discuss the benefits of SEL for at-risk youth and why it is a crucial component of their education. We will also go over strategies to maximize the effectiveness of social emotional learning for such adolescents and provide actionable tips to advance their development. 

Key Takeaways:
  • Incorporating SEL into your middle or high school curriculum can improve emotional regulation, foster resilience, promote positive relationships and ultimately support the academic success of at-risk adolescents.
  • Useful strategies for teaching social and emotional skills include cultural inclusion, trauma-informed practices, family and community engagement and navigating peer pressure.
  • Measuring the success of SEL initiatives through standardized assessments and attendance tracking is crucial for the success of the program. 

Key Benefits of an SEL Curriculum for At-Risk Youth

Empowering students to thrive in today’s complex world should be a top priority for all educators. While teachers play a major role in the positive development of at-risk students, there are also numerous benefits of having a dedicated SEL curriculum. Below are some of them. 

Improves Emotional Regulation

SEL helps at-risk youth develop skills to understand and manage their emotions, which can be particularly challenging for those who have experienced traumatic events. By learning techniques for emotional regulation, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and positive self-talk, at-risk youth can better manage stress, anxiety, and anger, leading to improved well-being.

Fosters Resilience

SEL also helps at-risk youth develop resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity. Through SEL activities and lessons, at-risk youth can learn to understand and cope with challenges, develop a growth mindset, and build self-esteem, which are all critical components of resilience.

Promotes Positive Relationships

SEL focuses on developing social and emotional skills that are important for building healthy relationships. At-risk youth can learn how to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and build supportive relationships, which can improve their overall sense of well-being and reduce the risk of negative outcomes.

Supports Academic Success

Finally, SEL has been shown to have a positive impact on academic achievement. By improving emotional regulation, fostering resilience, and promoting positive relationships, at-risk youth can create a more supportive learning environment, which can lead to improved academic performance.

Benefits of Social Emotional Learning
From improved academic performance through reduced behavioral problems to enhanced emotional well-being, dive deeper into the numerous benefits of an engaging SEL curriculum.
social emotional learning

How to Maximize the Effectiveness of SEL for At-Risk Youth?

Having a comprehensive SEL curriculum in place at your school or district is the first step to creating a safe and enriching learning environment. However, there are numerous ways to boost its effectiveness specifically for those most in need. Here are some suggestions on what to focus implementing SEL initiatives for at-risk youth. 

Cultural Sensitivity and Inclusion

For SEL to be effective when working with at-risk youth, it’s important to account for the cultural background of every student. You can consider incorporating examples, stories and activities that resonate with the unique make-up of your classroom. Demonstrating understanding and respect, including accommodations for diverse learners and remaining aware of the sensitive nature of cultural difference is a great way to enhance the learning experience of at-risk youth by making it more relatable and meaningful. 

Trauma-Informed Approach

As we discussed, many at-risk students have experienced traumatic events in the past. Traumatic experiences can have significant consequences for an individual’s ability to regulate emotions and build relationships. This is why it’s important to emphasize trauma-informed practices in your SEL curriculum when working with at-risk youth. Such practices involve understanding the effects of trauma on behavior and learning, and tailoring interventions to create a safe and supporting environment. 

Family and Community Engagement

At-risk youth can greatly benefit from the involvement of family and community members in SEL initiatives. Hosting workshops, providing resources and establishing effective communication channels for families and caregivers can help foster a supportive environment and extend the effectiveness of social emotional learning beyond the classroom. 

Long-term Impact 

The goal of any SEL initiative should be long-term effectiveness. Especially during post-secondary transition, it is important to integrate teaching practices that promote emotional well-being and positive social interactions. This can include regular check-ins or group sessions that address the challenges faced on the way to adulthood and independent living. 

Healthy Peer Relationships

While these are challenges faced by all teenagers, at-risk adolescents are even more susceptible to negative stimuli in their environment. Therefore, it’s important to implement strategies for navigating peer relationships and peer pressure as part of SEL. You can: 

  • Initiate open dialogues in groups and encourage students to share their experiences and concerns, fostering a sense of belonging and promoting peer support. 
  • Integrate role-playing to help students practice assertive communication and learn to say no. 
  • Teach the distinction between healthy and unhealthy peer dynamics and help guide students in identifying positive influences. 
7 Engaging SEL Activities
Discover more actionable tips and strategies to make the most of your SEL curriculum.
Teacher leading an engaging SEL activity.

Measuring the Effectiveness of SEL for At-Risk Youth

The benefits of SEL for at-risk students are undeniable. A comprehensive study by CASEL on the effectiveness of such programs found that student’s who’d taken social and emotional learning classes displayed:

  • 9% decrease in conduct problems, such as classroom misbehavior and aggression
  • 10% decrease in emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression
  • 9% improvement in attitudes about self, others, and school
  • 23% improvement in social and emotional skills 
  • 9% improvement in school and classroom behavior 
  • 11 % improvement in achievement test scores

While these statistics are impressive, many educators still struggle to measure the success of their own SEL initiatives. It’s important to set clear metrics tailored to the objectives of the program from the beginning and to track progress consistently. This can be achieved through standardized assessments that gauge emotional regulation improvements or tracking attendance and engagement for relationship-building.

Ori Learning’s SEL curriculum for middle and high schools not only provides you with engaging, age-appropriate lessons but also gives you the comprehensive monitoring tools you need to reliably track progress and empower achievement. Book a call with us today to discover how you can transform your SEL classes into an enriching and meaningful experience for at-risk and other students. 

See what Ori Learning's SEL solution can do for your school or district

Jon Izak

Jon Izak is the founder and CEO of Ori Learning.