Press Release

Report Explores Young People’s Views on Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Learning

The report and companion guide, based on interviews with more than 100 youth across the country, offer action steps for engaging young people in conversation and change.

WASHINGTON—A new report concludes that explicitly using approaches that integrate social, emotional, and cognitive learning nurtures young people’s sense of themselves as valued, multi-dimensional community members.

“All of Who I Am: Perspectives from Young People about Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Learning,” was written by the Center for Promise, the research division of America’s Promise Alliance. While more and more leaders are expressing support for a holistic approach to learning and development—the goal of the How Learning Happens initiative at America’s Promise—less is known about how young people themselves perceive and experience these approaches.

“Understanding youth perspectives is an essential aspect of advancing better learning opportunities and experiences,” said Dennis Vega, the interim president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “These findings affirm that a diverse group of young people are benefiting in many of the ways that youth-supporting adults and other experts envision in advocating for the conditions that support how learning happens. At the same time, the young people’s insights offer important considerations for future research, practice, and policy.”

The researchers conducted semi-structured group interviews with more than 100 young people across six exemplar learning settings that are leaders in using approaches that prioritize and integrate social, emotional, and cognitive development. The young people are primarily youth of color and many of them speak a second language at home. Their voices are captured in a series of videos that accompany the release of the report.

Six interconnected themes emerged from listening to the young people across the research sites. All six—relationships, belonging, meaningful learning, intentionality, agency, and identity development—are important aspects of young people’s learning experiences, both individually and working in concert with one another.

Based on the interviews, the report recommends:

  • Fostering supportive, relationship-rich environments that embrace young people for all of who they are
  • Creating new pathways for listening to and engaging young people as a foundation for sustained youth-adult collaboration
  • Co-constructing learning opportunities that are meaningful to young people’s circumstances, future goals, and identity development
  • Adopting more holistic ways of assessing progress and success

A companion guide, “Engaging Young People in How Learning Happens: 10 Steps for Success” offers considerations and action steps for organizing conversations that are modeled on the group interviews used for the report. Adults who are responsible for policies or practices affecting young people can use the guide as a roadmap for eliciting youth feedback.

“This publication offers a practical guide to how adults might prepare for, organize, and reflect on similar conversations with young people in school or community settings,” Vega added. “Any community, school or program leader can take steps toward understanding young people’s perspectives about learning environments.”

The six research sites in the report include three public high schools, two out-of-school time programs, and one after-school partner embedded in a public school. They are:

  • Casco Bay High School for Expeditionary Learning, a public school in Portland, Maine;
  • Centro de Cultura, Arte, Trabajo y Educación (CCATE), an after-school program in Norristown, Pa.;
  • Developing K.I.D.S., an after-school program in Detroit;
  • EduCare Foundation/Social Justice Humanitas Academy at Cesar Chavez Learning; Academies, a partnership between a school and a community organization in Los Angeles;
  • River Bluff High School, a public school in Lexington, S.C.; and
  • Tacoma School of the Arts, a public school in Tacoma, Wash.

“All of Who I Am” is the second publication in the multi-part How Learning Happens research series. The first publication, “The State of Young People during COVID-19,” was released earlier this summer, and outlines the findings from a nationally representative survey of high school youth regarding their perceptions of the pandemic’s impact on their lives. The third publication will be released later this year and will analyze the findings from a quantitative study to examine how young people across the nation are experiencing these holistic approaches to learning and development.


America’s Promise Alliance is the driving force behind a nationwide movement to improve the lives and futures of America’s children and youth. Bringing together national nonprofits, businesses, community and civic leaders, educators, citizens, and young people, America’s Promise leads campaigns and initiatives that spark collective action to overcome the barriers that stand in the way of young people’s success. Through these efforts, the Alliance does what no single organization alone can do: catalyze change on a scale that reaches millions of young people. The Center for Promise is the applied research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, dedicated to understanding what young people need to thrive and how to create the conditions of success for all young people.