CINCINNATI – If someone asked, "What are your strengths?", many would give answers such as, "I’m a techno-wiz." or "I do math really well." But what about the ability to work as part of a team, build relationships, compromise and adapt to changing situations?
Many think these "soft skills," also known as social-emotional competencies, come naturally, but the reality is that these skills are formed during childhood. Studies have shown students who receive social and emotional instruction have improved academic achievement, and employers agree soft skills are an important part of an employee’s performance.
United Way of Greater Cincinnati is leading a cross-sector collaborative partnership of United Way-funded youth-serving programs to measure and improve social-emotional competencies of children in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. In 2012, United Way youth-serving programs piloted a tool that would allow United Way and partners to have a unified language to express the importance and impact of these programs in the region.
The results of the first year of the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment-mini show the social-emotional skills of children served by participating programs improved over time. Even more, participating children developed better than the national standards. The pilot testing included over 4,100 children from kindergarten through eighth grade at 21 programs around the region.
"This first year has allowed us to gather baseline data. Upcoming years will give us the opportunity to examine the factors that influence the results, deepen the collective learning and continue to increase capacity to build the social-emotional skills of the children in our region," says Patricia Nagelkirk, community impact director, United Way of Greater Cincinnati.
The second year of data collection is already underway with more than 4,600 children being screened.
"Our end goal is to use this work to increase the social-emotional competencies of children and youth in our region. In the future, we hope that social-emotional measures are valued just as highly in our region as measures of academic success, physical health, and employment," Nagelkirk says.
The DESSA-mini was chosen because of its validity and reliability, ease of use, and low cost to providers. Youth-serving providers purchase the screen forms. United Way staff drives the work, collects and analyzes aggregate data, convenes providers for continuous improvement, and consults with the Devereux Center for Resilient Children to guide the work.
United Way agencies in the partnership are Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati, Boy Scouts of America Dan Beard Council, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati, Brighton Center, Inc., Center for Greater Neighborhoods of Covington, Central Clinic, Children, Inc., The Children’s Home of Cincinnati Ohio, Cincinnati Early Learning Centers, Inc., Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, FamiliesFORWARD, Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road Council, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, Holly Hill Children’s Services, Jewish Family Service of the Cincinnati Area, LifePoint Solutions, Redwood, The Salvation Army of Greater Cincinnati, Santa Maria Community Services, Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, and YMCA of Greater Cincinnati.