As Project GRAD Los Angeles has matured as a college access practitioner, we came to realize that the traditional interventions of exposure, inspiration, financial aid assistance, and information were not proving effective enough in helping our students graduate college. Though our Scholars complete college at a rate three times the national average for comparable populations (low income, first generation, minority), forty percent of our students do not graduate within six years.
We know the barriers to college success our students face: poverty (and the accompanying risk factors), academic under-preparedness, low parental academic achievement, and inadequate college access information.
However, an emerging body of research from Angela Duckworth, Martin Seligman, Carol Dweck and others indicates that successful students from similar backgrounds have learned how to overcome these challenges—with enhanced social emotional learning skills.
Project GRAD’s model incorporates college access components consistent with recommended best practices. Complementing these core components, our model integrates programs and activities designed to teach students five key social emotional skills—Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Self-Management.
Broadly, social emotional learning (SEL) is defined as the processes through which people acquire and effectively apply the attitudes, knowledge, and skills necessary to understand and manage their own emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
In an academic context, research shows SEL helps adolescents: handle stressful situations constructively; focus their attention on one thing at a time; set realistic academic goals and modify their behaviors to achieve them; establish and maintain positive relationships; and make sound decisions.
Project GRAD Los Angeles provides an after-school class that teaches students these essential social emotional skills. In partnership with the University of Washington, we are implementing a pioneering curriculum that has already begun to show results for our students. We see greater motivation to learn, increased time devoted to schoolwork, improved attendance, and improved grades and test scores, which we expect will translate into improved college persistency and graduation rates.
 Payton et. al. 2008, Durlak et. al. 2011