Giving Compass' Take:

• The Wings program is a nonprofit organization that teaches students social-emotional skills using after-school programs. 

• How can donors help expand these partnerships between nonprofits and school districts? 

• Learn about how to measure social-emotional learning.

Bridget Laird still remembers the red ink scrawled across the top of her grant application. Laird had requested funds for Wings for Kids, a nonprofit that taught students social-emotional skills like self-awareness and communication. But the person who reviewed her application wasn’t impressed.

“Who cares how a child feels about themselves if they can’t read or write?” Laird recalled the words denying her application.

That was nearly two decades ago. Laird, who is now the CEO of the $5.5 million-a-year Charleston-based nonprofit, has spent those years trying to prove why feelings actually do matter when it comes to learning. Her free program, which gets support from private and government grants, has since taught 10,000 elementary school students from 11 low-income schools in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina how to manage their feelings through afterschool games and lessons.

A new study of Wings supports Laird’s mission. A randomized controlled trial — considered the gold standard in research — found that after two years, kindergartners and first-graders who participated in Wings improved in skills like self-awareness, self-regulation and decision-making. The students also boosted their reading and vocabulary skills, compared with their peers who hadn’t been in the Wings program. Researchers did not find any effects in math.

The study provides a look into a rare but growing venue for teaching social-emotional skills: afterschool programs. As interest in social-emotional learning grows, so too does interest in teaching these skills outside the classroom. As one of the oldest afterschool programs focused on this work, Wings is starting to share what it’s learned with others.

Read the full article about social-emotional learning by Kate Stringer at The 74.