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Where, When and How does Learning Happen?

How can schools and youth development organizations better align to increase their communities’ understanding of the importance of focusing on the whole learner? Broaden access to high-quality learning opportunities that support comprehensive development?  Strengthen adult social and emotional learning practice?

Youth development leaders gathered recently in Washington, D.C. to address these questions and more. The event (link to live stream), convened by the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (Commission), focused on the release of a new brief from its Youth Development Work Group (YDWG) offering insights and recommendations on these important topics.

The Commission is engaging and energizing communities to re-envision what constitutes success in our schools, and is made up of leaders from education, research, policy, business and the military. The YDWG, under the leadership of Commissioner and Forum President & CEO Karen Pittman, was convened to ensure that the critical perspective of the youth development sector is reflected in the recommendations being put forth by the Commission. Its almost 40 members include organizations such as the Afterschool Alliance, the American Youth Policy Forum, MENTOR, National 4-H Council, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Communities In Schools, National Summer Learning Association and the Urban Libraries Council.

The brief, "Building Partnerships: In Support of Where, When, and How Learning Happens," authored by the Forum’s Karen Pittman and Priscilla Little, presents a framework and a new powerful graphic (below) for broadening our understanding of how, when and where students learn, both in and out of school and during the summer. The graphic emphasizes three points that the YDWG felt critical for discussions about improving learning opportunities so they are more socially and emotionally rich.

  • Learning happens everywhere.  In homes, with peers, and in community organizations that, like schools, have a commitment to learning and development.
  • Adults from these settings show up everywhere.  Terms like school and out of school mask the fact that families, community-based professionals and volunteers are in schools during the school day and that teachers and other school personnel extend their reach into the out-of-school hours (e.g., leading extracurricular activities, doing home visits).
  • The specific opportunities to learn and practice social, emotional and cognitive skills vary within the school building as well as in the community.  Spaces like playgrounds, cafeterias, school libraries, nurses’ offices as well as extracurricular activities can and should be seen as providing rich opportunities for learning.

Building on this framework, the brief recommends ways for educators, policymakers and funders to partner with youth development organizations and to capitalize on formal and informal learning settings that support young people’s growth and development. The recommendations are:

  • Include youth development partners in setting a clear vision.
  • Strengthen and expand adult capacity.
  • Create and support engaging learning settings throughout the day and the year.
  • Provide systems and supports to maintain partnerships.
  • Leverage resources efficiently and equitably.


The brief also highlights examples from across the country of local partnerships that support youth, such as the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative and Denver’s cross-sector partnership of the Denver Afterschool Alliance and Denver Public Schools.  Many more examples, organized against the five recommendations, can be found in a companion piece.

The event brought some of these examples to life in two panel discussions.  The first gave three community-level providers – Portland (ME) Public Library, the Urban Alliance and Jefferson County 4-H – an opportunity to explain how their partnerships with schools came about and what they mean for students, schools and the broader community.  The second gave three leaders from  organizations that support district- or community-level planning, coordination and resource development – United Way Worldwide, Tulsa Public Schools and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware – an opportunity to explain why including youth development organizations in partnering efforts   at that level is also important.  Combined, these panels painted a rich, complex picture of how communities across the country are rethinking partnerships to take greater shared responsibility for where and how learning happens.

Download a full PDF of the brief "Building Partnerships: In Support of Where, When, and How Learning Happens” here and click here to view the recording of the livestream. Stay tuned for ongoing engagement opportunities offered through 2019 to connect with these ideas.

Publishing Date: 
November 6, 2018