Sustainable Implementation of Evidence-Based Social Emotional Learning and Bullying Prevention Programs in Philadelphia Schools

Stoneleigh Fellow: Lisa Jones, 2012-2015

Children need to feel safe at school before they can focus on learning.  Unfortunately, this is a challenge for the 10 to 25 percent of youth affected by bullying in the United States each year.  In addition to poor academic outcomes, research has shown that bullying can lead to behavioral problems, drug and alcohol use, absenteeism, and mental and physical health issues.  And these youth are often multiply traumatized: victims of bullying are more likely to have abuse histories and higher rates of exposure to domestic and community violence.

While a number of low-cost, evidence-based prevention strategies are available to address these issues, successful implementation is a challenge at a time when urban school districts are under enormous pressure to meet rigorous academic goals with limited resources.  Though it’s clear that eliminating victimization is critical to creating an environment in which children can learn, schools too often lack the time and expertise to successfully implement the kinds of evidence-based models that could make a difference.

To address this gap between research and practice, Lisa Jones spent her three-year fellowship examining factors related to successful prevention program implementation for schools in large urban districts.  Lisa completed this work in close partnership with the Committee for Children (CFC), which has developed evidence-based programs proven to reduce bullying and violence (Bullying Prevention Unit) and improve social emotional learning (Second Step).  These programs have the potential to improve child well-being and safety on a large scale, but it is necessary to understand more about the factors that support school-level and district-wide implementation.

The specific goals of Lisa’s fellowship project were to:

1.)    Identify district-level factors that are related to successful social emotional learning and bullying prevention program implementation.

Lisa reviewed research related to successful implementation of evidence-based bullying prevention programming and interviewed other large districts about implementation strategies.  Lisa and Committee for Children also organized a trip for a multidisciplinary team (including members of the School District of Philadelphia) to visit the Chicago school district, which is widely recognized as a model for district-wide commitment to social emotional learning implementation.    

2.)    Understand the factors that indicate a school’s readiness for implementing evidence-based programming.

Lisa conducted research on a Second Step and Bullying Prevention Unit implementation pilot at six schools in Philadelphia.  A range of quantitative and qualitative data was collected from schools, including: 1) discipline and academic statistics; 2) anonymous school-wide student surveys on climate and safety; and 3) teacher data on program implementation fidelity.

Lisa also collaborated with the School District of Philadelphia’s research office to administer a district-wide School Readiness Survey to elementary and middle school principals.  The survey gathered information on the range of prevention and safety efforts already taking place in schools across the district as well as school leaders’ perspectives on the benefits and barriers to implementing prevention programming.  These data will be used to provide baseline information for tracking future improvements in school climate and safety.

3.)    Provide guidance to district and school leaders in Philadelphia around supporting and expanding bullying prevention programs.

After identifying the key factors in implementation success, Lisa provided detailed recommendations to the School District of Philadelphia and each of the pilot schools to improve implementation.  The project’s findings were also disseminated to national audiences to inform future research on bullying and violence prevention program implementation and sustainability.