Supporting the Whole Child Over the Long Term

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Horizons programs have always employed a whole-learner approach, introducing young people to academic enrichment, STEM, experiential learning, field trips, swimming, and much more. And this doesn’t just happen over one summer – it happens week after week and year after year, so young people develop relationships with teachers, staff, mentors, and friends. 

At the heart of Horizons’ approach is social and emotional learning (SEL), the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions (CASEL). CASEL underscores that supporting the whole learner and SEL leads to many positive outcomes for students in every school and community, including increased academic performance, improved mental health, strengthened social skills, and positive behavior. 

Horizons has partnered with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to implement social-emotional learning across all aspects of programs, helping to increase educational equity by establishing trusting, collaborative learning environments. SEL empowers both students and adults to co-create and contribute to safe, just communities. Many Horizons sites use Yale RULER “Charters” with students and staff, bringing each class and sometimes the whole community together to explicitly identify how they want to “feel” while they are at Horizons. This allows students to have a voice in how they want to experience Horizons, and also how they agree to support others’ experiences. Ongoing opportunities for young people to use their voices, acknowledge and encourage each other, and collaborate allow them to take an active role in their learning, while prioritizing relationships and healthy identity development.

Horizons has always focused on social-emotional development, but in the face of the trauma and uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic, SEL has never been more vital. In the summer of 2020, using tools like Yale RULER's Mood Meter and small-group open shares, over 70% of programs explicitly addressed:

  • Strategies to reduce anxiety
  • Self-management skills
  • Mindsets
  • Creating a sense of belonging 
  • Self-esteem 

This summer, Horizons sites across the country are again prioritizing the social and emotional well-being of their students and families. After a challenging year, chances to connect with teachers and peers, provide program input, and express themselves in a safe space will be essential for students’ healthy social and emotional recovery from the COVID pandemic.

Learn how Horizons established SEL-rich communities virtually in the summer of 2020, and subscribe to our blog to learn more about how they are being created again during #6WeeksOfHappiness 2021!