2023 Grants Challenge

Nurturing Hearts and Minds

The EduCare Foundation and the LA STEM Collective are teaming up to provide transformative STEM and social-emotional learning (SEL) programming, bringing hands-on experiences to underserved schools, while fostering curiosity, creativity, and growth among youth. The initiative will intentionally highlight the inherent social-emotional skills in STEM activities with the goals of strengthening SEL and STEM learning in high school students and strengthening the SEL and STEM practices of program facilitators.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

K-12 STEAM Education

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

Central LA

East LA

San Fernando Valley

South LA

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Pilot or new project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Students across the US are reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety at record rates. In California, an estimated 33% of 7th and 9th graders and 50% of 11th graders experienced chronic sadness in the 2020-2021 school year and an estimated 1 in 10 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 suffered from at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Nurturing students' social-emotional skills is crucial to addressing these historic well-being needs. At the same time, across academic progress indicators, students of color, low-income students, English Learners, foster youth, students with disabilities, and homeless students have been set back further than their more advantaged peers since the pandemic. These students also often have less access to STEM learning experiences especially as schools deemphasized STEM in recent years. In particular, only 38% of Local Control and Accountability Plans for schools in California prioritize STEM learning.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

Social-emotional skill development is vital to addressing student mental health. Hands-on STEM learning experiences, while addressing a number of academic priorities, provide inherent SEL skill practice, such as teamwork, conflict resolution, and mindfulness, that often is unnoticed to both students and STEM facilitators. STEM also is appealing to students, yet may students of color, low-income youth, and English language learners have limited access to STEM experiences. The proposed pilot program will bring STEM learning to students while also intentionally strengthening the SEL embedded in STEM activities. Further, the program will professionally develop STEM learning facilitators by evaluating their practice and building their awareness of the connections between SEL and STEM. The pilot will see EduCare Foundation staff deliver their proven ACE Program, which directly focuses on SEL, as a backbone. EduCare's ACE Program provides deep SEL activities to high school students throughout a semester. A select group of LA STEM Collective members, including museums and aquariums, will then provide hands-on STEM learning activities, covering topics from aerospace to oceans. These STEM activities also will highlight SEL practices being emphasized in ACE. A formal evaluation will explore that connection and its effect on student outcomes. The pilot program proposes to work with 8 EduCare ACE Initiative schools over the course of 9 weeks in the Spring 2024 semester.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

A recent survey saw students in LA County listing mental health as their number one concern. The pilot program seeks to address this need by providing social-emotional learning to students both directly and through STEM activities, giving educators more tools to address this concern of students. STEM activities motivate and appeal to students of all backgrounds. Strengthening the SEL aspects of STEM learning can help fill the gap in programs that address nurturing students' social and emotional development. The pilot program will explore the connection between SEL and STEM while building the skills of program facilitators in both categories and providing rich learning experiences for students. The goal is to build upon the lessons learned from the pilot to then develop a large-scale program initiative that intentionally combines STEM and SEL for students, especially students of color, low-income students and English language learners, across LA County.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

The proposed pilot program seeks to gain an understanding of the connection between SEL and STEM learning activities and how providing both can nurture students. A successful program will provide the partner organizations insights and data into these priorities, so that a larger-scale initiative could be developed. A formal evaluation will be developed and implemented to gauge the effects of the program. Pre- and post-program questionnaires will track student outcomes. As a baseline, a 2016-2017 study of EduCare's ACE Program revealed that participants, compared to a matched control group, showed improved academic outcomes including a 35.7 higher average score in English Language Arts and a 30.9 higher average score in math on state standardized tests.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 575

Indirect Impact: 10,709

Describe the role of collaborating organizations on this project.

EduCare Foundation will host the proposed services at EduCare's ACE Initiative (AI) Schools. EduCare will provide participating students with the ACE Program, a trauma-informed, restorative, and culturally responsive SEL program that consists of 3 consecutive-day workshops comprised of structured SEL, team building, and experiential activities as well as professional development in SEL for LA STEM Collective facilitators. The LA STEM Collective serves as the "hub" of a Los Angeles regional learning ecosystem as well as an intermediary organization coordinating work and resources for a growing membership of dozens of community-based organizations, higher ed, and industry partners. Members of the Collective will be developing and delivering STEM learning experiences on a variety of topics.