Youth Transformation: Exploring the Power of Social Emotional Learning for Equity

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Pfister, Theresa, Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Rimm-Kaufman, Sara, ED-EDLF Department, University of Virginia
Deutsch, Nancy, ED-EDLF Department, University of Virginia

While our marginalized youth are experiencing unprecedented challenges, roadblocks, and violence against their mental and physical selves, they are not only still growing and learning, but many are actively fighting against the status quo. From climate change to Black Lives Matter to mass shootings in schools, youth are on the front lines demanding change. Whether we use the terms youth activism, dissent, or social justice, each contributes to what I consider youth transformation.

I conceptualize youth transformation as the envisioning, acting upon, and working to transform the world into a more equitable place: one in which safety, justice, and opportunities to thrive are valued human rights and therefore available to all. While similar to concepts like youth activism, I argue the uniqueness of youth transformation lies in its integration of adolescent development, social emotional learning, and critical socio-political development (SPD). Taken together, we can better understand all the components that lead to and make youth transformation possible. Indeed, it is our task to not only understand how youth are accomplishing this, but to find ways to support them in this critical work.

The three papers of my dissertation contribute to a body of work striving to identify answers to these three youth transformation questions: 1. How are children and youth experiencing a world rife with inequality and injustice? 2. What skills do they have and need to not only navigate but dismantle these oppressive systems? 3. How can we as educators support them in navigating and dismantling these oppressive systems? I address these question in three papers that describe students’ perspectives of what they can and indeed doing. In paper one, we explore civic efficacy: "I can and should make a difference." Paper two explores empathy: "I can see and respond to the humanity of others." Paper three explores the skills contributing to critical reflection: "I can see the world as it is and hope for something better."

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
adolescence, middle school, civic efficacy, empathy, critical consciousness, social-emotional learning, equity
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