This is the fourth article in a five-part series of insights from Newark Trust for Education’s Director of P-12 Strategy, Stephanie Parry, on the value of social emotional learning (SEL).

Often overlooked players in the SEL ecosystem are program providers that are contracted to work in schools and districts. Though experts agree that integrated and embedded district-wide systems and practices are most effective, many schools find it helpful to partner with outside agencies to bring SEL programs to their students and staff.

This is especially true in states and districts with high ratios of support staff to students. In under-resourced districts such as Newark, NJ, philanthropic dollars often support SEL-related partnerships, with varying implementation models and outcomes.

The federal government recently acknowledged the insufficient supply of on-site mental health professionals in schools and has earmarked millions of dollars for innovative partnerships to help fill these gaps. While this is a step in the right direction, the influx of other federal funds for broader SEL-related services threatens to exacerbate what is sometimes called the “jumbled schoolhouse” effect, allowing more providers to enter schools in an uncoordinated way.

The added expertise of providers from fields such as mental health, social work, and youth mentoring bring tremendous value to schools. However, partnerships between schools and external SEL providers are frequently ad hoc, often challenging practitioners from fields outside of education to adapt to unique school environments. It is unclear how districts evaluate the outcomes of these partnerships and to what extent we understand the collaborative practices that make them most effective.

Further research into basic definitions of high-quality program provider partnerships will help schools and providers create relationships that lead to clear results for students. This, in combination with proactive measures such as comprehensive state standards, robust adult SEL initiatives, and local input from families, students and communities for tailored implementation, will elevate the SEL conversation to the level it deserves and debunk misleading information which can be found practically everywhere you look online.

Ms. Parry is responsible for leading the Trust's P-12 strategy: aligning perspectives, strategies, resources, and policies within the ecosystem to ensure all Newark students have access to high-quality public education. In addition to identifying and promoting research-based practice, she provides information to stakeholders, creates forums for the exchange of ideas, and works with partners throughout the city and state to promote equitable learning conditions.