Supporting Summer Social and Emotional Learning

By: Ana Kay Yaghoubian, Director, Building for Success in School and Life 

Summer break brings the need for summer programs that keep kids engaged and give parents peace of mind that their kids are safe while they are at work. Since 2020, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Welcome Back Sumer funding opportunity has supported summer programs across the region. This year, with generous support from our funding partners, $1 million will be invested in summer programs across the region, deepening our commitment to building for success in school and life. 

Welcome Back Summer is an opportunity to consistently assess the needs of our partners. With the data collected we use our resources to address those needs so our agency partners can focus on feeding, clothing and educating their community’s kids in an emotionally safe space. 

This year, program staff at Welcome Back Summer locations are gearing up to deepen their expertise in culturally affirming social and emotional learning, (SEL) which supports student’s self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making. Research shows that SEL improves academic performance as well as skills, attitudes, and behaviors, such as student self-efficacy, self-esteem, mindset, perseverance, and optimism, among others.  

This will be Welcome Back Summer’s fifth year of providing our region’s children with safe places to learn, grow and, of course, have fun. In response to feedback from our partner agencies, we determined that providing SEL training would be incredibly valuable for program staff and would be a huge benefit to the kids who attend their programs. The training is especially valuable for teen and college-aged summer staff who haven’t worked with children and youth before. 

Thanks to funding from the Staunton Farm Foundation, we will offer three training sessions tailored specifically for our Welcome Back Summer program staff. These sessions will equip participants with the tools and techniques necessary to foster culturally affirming social and emotional growth in the children they serve every day. 

The training sessions will be held in three locations across Allegheny, Butler and Westmoreland counties and will be led by experienced trainers from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. Program staff will gain a grounding in SEL through a racial equity lens, with a focus on healing and self-care. Learning will also focus on increasing racial awareness and cultural competency, learning restorative approaches to address challenges in an equitable way, and practicing conflict resolution and mediation skills. 

Each full-day session will provide invaluable insights into culturally informative social learning, empowering staff to tailor their approach to the unique needs of the populations they serve. Participants will also have the chance to network and exchange ideas with colleagues from various agencies, fulfilling our goal of intentionally creating community among out-of-school time providers in our region. 

As we prepare for another great year of Welcome Back Summer, we are committed to this enhanced focus on social and emotional learning because it will contribute to a more enriching experience for everyone – most importantly, the children and youth who take part in the dynamic and innovative programs we are funding across the region. 

For more information about the SEL training sessions or United Way’s Welcome Back Summer, please contact Ana Kay at If you are interested in attending, please register here by May 24, 2024.