Partner Spotlight: Student Success Network
  • By admin
  • August 27, 2019

By Grace Shelton



Recently, Resonant Education’s partner Student Success Network (SSN) released a report synthesizing new information on how social-emotional learning (SEL) growth affects academic outcomes, how young people’s personal identities, socio-economic status, and special education status interact with their SEL growth, and promising practices to improve youth SEL. This report and its impressive data are both a result of Resonant Education and SSN collaborating to produce successful surveys for SSN’s member organizations to learn their own participants’ SEL strengths and needs, and to identify sites where youth SEL is increasing in order to learn from practitioners what accounts for that growth.

The report, in conjunction with an interview with Kavya Beheraj, Program Manager of Data & Analytics at SSN, and Alexandra Lotero, Director of Knowledge and Learning at SSN, reveal new insights into both the impacts of SEL and the impressive ways in which SSN leverages their partnership with Resonant Education to produce actionable and meaningful insights.

The Story of Student Success Network: Who They Are and What They Do  

Student Success Network formed in 2011 when a group of 15 nonprofit leaders in NYC decided it was time to shift their focus beyond traditional academic skills to include social-emotional learning (SEL). After some exploration and collective impact approaches, these leaders created an SEL measurement tool to compare results across programs and discover new promising practices. Today, SSN is a self-governing community of 65 member organizations providing direct service to more than 200,000 low-income middle and high school students.  “We are a community and network that works together to close the opportunity gap” states Kavya Beheraj, Program Manager of Data & Analytics at SSN.

One pillar of SSN’s work is to provide survey tools and data to their partner organizations. It is important to SSN members, as stated in their research pamphlet, that the data they collect is timely, unbiased, and above all, accurate. “Resonant [Education] has been really key in helping to make [survey administration] possible,” said Alexandra Lotero, Director of Knowledge and Learning at SSN, “it has been a true partnership in that we both work together to build this platform for members.” Once partners complete the survey, they are given a research report to review. SSN provides hands-on assistance in interpreting this data and finding ways to utilize it. “We look through a basic level. We ask, what do your results mean in the context of the program? What are the root causes? What is driving those results and what next steps do you want to take?” Lotero states, “It’s an inquiry process that guides them from a report to action.”

A Success Story in Survey Administration 

Among partners of Resonant Education, SSN has always stood out for its members’ ability to successfully administer surveys to all participants. As survey administration goes, it can be difficult to engage stakeholders in taking the survey and utilizing the resulting data in a way that addresses a real need. SSN has always done this well. “I would say that [SSN] is one of our most successful partnerships because their membership is so widespread and they’ve done so much with their data,” Katherine Canon, Director of Project Management at Resonant Education states, “Currently, we send survey reports out and we want to make sure they’re utilized. SSN has done that to the extreme. They know the value of the information their members are getting from their students.”

When asked about their strategies and success, Lotero and Beheraj each provided interesting insights into how they engage partners in survey taking. “The survey is always being developed. It is always becoming more responsive to the needs of both practitioners and young people. We are pushed by them to make it increasingly useful,” Lotero states.

One thing in particular that truly defines SSN’s survey approach is their commitment to engaging young people in the survey. SSN strives to speak directly to students to find out what ways they can improve the survey, and how to continue to motivate students to take them. Through these discussions, it became clear that students needed to be informed of the why of taking surveys in general. “They want to know why they take this, what’s going to be done with it. Otherwise, they won’t take it seriously. As a result, we worked with our youth interns, who are high schoolers participating in member programs, to create a youth-informed survey administration guide” Lotero explains.

“It all starts in the way we frame the survey” Beheraj elaborates,

“it is one of our foundational principles that data is for improvement, not for evaluation.  The data that our members collect is framed in terms of their own learning and growth…

Additionally, we provide logistical support to our members from day one.” Survey taking, Beheraj explains, is not a requirement for membership with SSN, but framed as an opportunity. “That message of data for improvement and not evaluation is absolutely crucial,” Lotero states.

However, very little incentivizing is really necessary. SSN provides access to free data and tools that help their partner organizations improve—something that nonprofit organizations want and need. While most schools are practically drowning in data, nonprofit organizations generally lack it. In some cases, SSN’s survey data is the only data they’re collecting for programmatic improvement.

2019 Research Findings and A Bright Spot 

In their 2019 research pamphlet, SSN describes some of the findings from an analysis of member surveys conducted by their partner Research Alliance for NYC Schools and their interviews with practitioners at member sites. Firstly, it became clear that while SEL practices have the potential to impact students in positive ways, there are certain conditions that allow for these practices to be effective. The pamphlet discusses the importance of fostering a culture of care where staff and students benefit from safe spaces for open dialogue, utilizing inclusive decision making where students and staff work together to create change, and giving students personalized attention in their learning and personal goals.

An example successful member journey is SSN’s collaboration with City Squash, a program offering after school academic and social supports for students. Not only is the organization highlighted in the pamphlet for their participants’ SEL growth, but when asked directly about bright spots among their partners, both Lotero and Beheraj pointed to City Squash as well. Through survey administration and the subsequent data reports from SSN and Resonant Education, City Squash discovered developing a growth mindset as an area of improvement for their students. They then put these results into action and developed a program that would excite and engage students in their own development. Students were given seven weeks to learn a skill of their choosing through YouTube videos.

“With input from other organizations participating in one of our continuous improvement working groups, called collabs, they were able to design an activity that paired growth mindset lessons and a YouTube challenge– a fun way for students to practice growth mindset. Students could choose and learn a skill they didn’t know—the fun twist was that they got to learn it using YouTube” Lotero explains. City Squash staff shared their learnings and tools to adapt the “Growth Mindset YouTube Challenge” in a training for other Network members. It was a great example of a member identifying their students’ needs, developing a plan, seeing it through to implementation and student growth, and sharing their learnings with others, according to Lotero and Beheraj.

Insightful Findings

Additional findings from the research pamphlet revealed key student characteristics that correlate to differing SEL-related outcomes. For example, SSN found that female students experience higher levels of growth in interpersonal skills and growth mindset, while male students tended to grow more in academic self-efficacy. Additionally, Black students experienced greater growth than Latino students in academic self-efficacy and high school students show more growth than middle school students in multiple factors such as belonging and problem-solving (for more on these findings, refer to SSN’s recent research pamphlet). SSN sees these findings as a starting point for understanding structural barriers that lead to differences in outcomes, and for designing support tailored to specific student experiences.

Findings and data like this are key in communities focused on improvement like SSN. Not only do they reveal important information regarding SEL best practices, but SSN uses this data to set an agenda for future work. In particular, SSN states that they will focus future attention on seeking out racial disparities and promising practices to address these potential barriers to equity.

Takeaways and The Importance of SEL 

SEL practices, as mentioned in previous blog posts, have been very successful in the past. Allowing young people an opportunity to grow outside of academics can yield positive gains both in and out of the classroom. Student Success Network knows this, and in order to close the “opportunity gap” mentioned by Beheraj, they have worked together to provide actionable data to organizations seeking to partner with students to improve academic and social-emotional outcomes. As a result, the community SSN has built has positively impacted students all over the New York City area.

“One impact that I see is how empowering data can be for our practitioners. One of our principles is that the solution is in the room– we value practitioner expertise. We want our members to feel like this data is one piece of the puzzle. The tools we provide and the support we give extends the capacity of our members” Kavya Beheraj concludes. Alexandra Lotero explains, “It has been powerful to invite young people and educators into the process of designing and using measurement tools. Asking them about how they feel about using data, how would they get more invested in the survey. Deep, ongoing community engagement has made our survey increasingly accurate and relevant.”

SSN’s success, therefore, is in their messaging and commitment to act in partnership with their members. They firmly believe that by working together with practitioners and young people, they can make a positive impact on the lives of NYC’s youth.  Resonant Education is proud of the success of this partnership and believes that SSN provides a shining example of the importance and urgency of actionable data.


LEARN MORE about the Student Success Network

LEARN MORE about Resonant Education