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Social and Emotional Learning


From the very start AYD has recognized the importance of teaching our at-risk youth to manage their emotions, fortify their character strengths, make responsible decisions, and set and achieve positive goals.  Long before “social and emotional learning” became a widely used term, AYD emphasized this important form of educational enrichment and wove this training into all of our activities.  While this philosophy draws from our roots as a Christian-based organization, its practical application has been guided by research and evidence.  Our earliest programming was based on the well-known Resilient Children studies of Emmy Werner and the protective factors that her research identified. In 2008, research studies by Roy Baumeister, Angela Duckworth and others advised our development of the Self-Control Project at AYD in collaboration with Pittsburgh psychologist Dr. David O. Saénz, Ph.D., Ed.M., LLC.

In the latter half of 2017, AYD built a partnership with research psychologist Jamie Hansen, Ph.D., and the University of Pittsburgh LIFE Lab to develop strategies for strengthening and evaluating our SEL program, with the goals of better serving our students and building a replicable program model.

AYD offers an array of high-interest recreational and extra-curricular activities that combine to maintain our students’ attendance and long-term enrollment through high school graduation, while developing the Strong Kids SEL character traits.  These traits help them thrive as they advance through life and to face new personal challenges.  As demonstrated by research, teaching these skills is particularly important to youth who grow up in a low-income, single parent environment in communities with high crime rates, that have subjected their communities to the a cycle of poverty. This approach is founded on the premise that our students want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, cultivate what is best within themselves, and enhance their life experiences. 

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