Aug 23, 2023 · 5 min read

Schools To Research The Impact of Their Environments on Students

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announces support for projects at USC and Yale to help schools drive academic achievement and unlock student potential by measuring the impact of their environments on students.

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Students engage with their teacher at school | Photograph by monkeybusinessimages via iStockPhoto
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Students today face a number of mental and emotional stressors both inside and outside of the classroom. While research has shown that student well-being is one of several critical conditions for learning that impact academic performance, most classrooms lack effective, research-backed tools to help educators understand the development of well-being in their students, in support of their academic success.

Today, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced grant support for two university-led programs that are collaborating with educators to develop and implement tools that measure student growth more broadly, including the development of life skills and mindsets. These tools, developed at Yale University and the University of Southern California, provide educators with a holistic, contextualized picture of students’ academic success and personal development, helping them make more informed decisions about their approach to teaching and supporting young learners.

“These grants are part of our work to address classroom challenges confronted by educators daily,” said Sandra Liu Huang, head of education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “Partnerships between researchers and educators are demonstrating that when schools have access to the right tools they can improve school climate and safety, student behavior, academic achievement, and can reduce student stress.”

Project Flourish

At Yale’s Education Collaboratory, Dr. Christina Cipriano, is leading a team of researchers focused on advancing the skills and mindsets involved in the social process of learning and development. Their work examines social and emotional factors with links to well-being and academic success, like the skills and strategies related to self-regulation and resilience, with a focus on historically underserved communities. This research is just one element of Project Flourish — a CZI supported effort to develop measurement tools that help K-12 schools and families better understand and support their students.

Project Flourish has developed an integrated suite of assessment tools that K-12 schools and families can use to foster the development of healthy emotion management for children and adults to help young people develop their individuality, to learn problem-solving, and to form healthy relationships with their family members, peers, and teachers. To date, through Project Flourish these tools have reached more than 3,500 students and helped educators better understand the academic and emotional needs of students across seven schools in New York City and Los Angeles.

“We’re committed to helping educators support the well-being of their students, their classrooms, schools and districts,” said Dr. Christina Cipriano, Assistant Professor at the Yale Child Study Center and the Director of the Education Collaboratory at Yale University. “Our hope is that these measurement tools will help educators advocate for the needs of their students and provide administrators with invaluable insights to inform their decision making — leading to the healthy development of, thoughtful, and compassionate students.”

USC CANDLE

At the University of Southern California Center for Affective Neuroscience, Development, Learning and Education (USC CANDLE), researchers are collaborating with educators at the New Village Girls Academy and the Da Vinci RISE high schools in Los Angeles, and other schools across the country, to develop new ways of understanding educational approaches that support students’ development, particularly for the most vulnerable, like foster youth, those impacted by the justice system, and others.

Based on their prior research that suggests that teenagers’ attitudes towards civic engagement and community involvement can influence their brain development, USC CANDLE is collaborating with educators to help them better understand teenagers’ emotional, cognitive and social development, and how teaching strategies can enhance students’ mental and social growth. The research emphasizes the significance of fostering a healthy mindset in young adults, encouraging them to contemplate important topics related to themselves and the world around them. The USC team has identified that “dispositions of mind,” a teenager’s inclinations to reflect on important issues and ideas, when nurtured, can promote brain development linked to life satisfaction during early adulthood. Ultimately, researchers hope to identify teaching practices that encourage positive civic and academic engagement among students, unlocking student potential and paving the way for long-term success.

“Nurturing young people’s ability to respond to challenging situations in healthy ways has been associated with increased well-being and beneficial brain development, as well as with scholarly learning,” said Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at USC Rossier School of Education and Director of USC CANDLE. “With this grant from CZI, we will continue to collaborate with teachers and administrators to lift up practices and developmental knowledge about how they can best support and engage students to help them reach their full personal and academic potential.”

These grants are part of CZI’s Research to Practice portfolio which aims to support the implementation of promising research-backed tools in schools. In line with CZI’s commitment to bring work in this portfolio to key milestones over the next two years, CZI supports The Education Collaboratory and USC CANDLE to partner with teachers, students, and families to use what they are learning to improve classroom and school learning environments that support their personal and academic growth.

“Part of the equation is addressing the wellbeing and engagement strategies of the teachers themselves, to help them manage their difficult work in adaptive ways, and model healthy patterns for each other and their students,” added Immordino-Yang. “This work rests on the realization that teachers are people too.”

CZI is working to build education tools that integrate high-quality research, practices, and content to help address chronic educator challenges and unlock the full potential of every student, no matter who they are or where they live. For more information about how CZI and our grant partners are supporting student and teacher well-being, visit chanzuckerberg.com/education/.

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About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease and improving education, to addressing the needs of our communities. Through collaboration, providing resources and building technology, our mission is to help build a more inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit chanzuckerberg.com.

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