Thursday, November 19, 2015

What is Sport Based Youth Development?

 Don Siegel 

A recent study[1] reports that participating on a sports team can help children, kindergarten to grade 4, to develop healthy dispositions that generalize beyond sports in positive ways, such as by better engaging in classroom activities. The gist of this is that sports involvement, in some way, helps children to develop self-regulation skills, which, in turn, fosters healthy student dispositions. This, along with many other studies over the years, supports the notion that sports have the power to teach kids more than the Xs and Os of a particular game. Unfortunately, such studies are not particularly helpful in providing guidance about the processes within sports that have such an important impact.

In actuality this is another instance of what may be labeled “the mere participation hypothesis”. “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”, or “The way to the boardroom leads through the locker room” are other adages that are representative of the general belief that sports teaches unique lessons to kids that transfer beyond the immediate sports context, and have high value in other contexts such as school or employment. However, for those of us who work with youth in sports, and really wish to maximize the impact that sports have on kid’s lives, we really need to know more about what can be taught and learned in our activities and transferred to other contexts. Mere participation is probably not enough.

A number of years ago sport psychologist Terry Orlick argued that while sport provides a wonderful environment for learning many important life lessons, it also has the potential to be destructive, as he conveyed:

For every positive psychological or social outcome in sports, there are possible negative outcomes. For example, sports can offer a child group membership or group exclusion, acceptance or rejection, positive feedback or negative feedback, a sense of accomplishment or a sense of failure, evidence of self-worth or a lack of evidence of self-worth. Likewise, sports can develop cooperation and a concern for others, but they can also develop intense rivalry and a complete lack of concern for others.

In essence, Orlick is telling us that like most activities in which youth engage, positive or negative outcomes can result. It all depends on what children experience. As with any educational endeavor, positive effects are more likely to ensue in a positive and enriched environment that is overseen by a leader who focuses on and promotes a positive, process-oriented curriculum. But, research has also shown that engaging on teams overseen by irresponsible persons can actually promote moral decay, academic failure and depressed life quality.
In an attempt to provide specifics about the positive attributes that can be taught to youth in sports, and the best strategies for doing so, the Collaborative for Academics, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)[2] provides some excellent guidance. Aggregating the findings from 317 studies involving 324,303 children on the impact of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs, CASEL concluded that programs can and should teach the following:
·  Self-awareness: accurately assessing one’s feelings, interests, values, and strengths; maintaining a well-grounded sense of self-confidence;
·  Self-management: regulating one’s emotions to handle stress, controlling impulses, and persevering in addressing challenges; expressing emotions appropriately; and setting and monitoring progress toward personal and academic goals;
·  Social awareness: being able to take the perspective of and empathize with others; recognizing and appreciating individual and group similarities and differences; and recognizing and making best use of family, school, and community resources;
·  Relationship skills: establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relation- ships based on cooperation; resisting inappropriate social pressure; preventing, managing, and resolving interpersonal conflict; and seeking help when needed; and
·  Responsible decision making: making decisions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate social norms, respect for others, and likely consequences of various actions;
As the report conveys:
Students who appraise themselves and their abilities realistically (self-awareness), regulate their feelings and behaviors appropriately (self-management), interpret social cues accurately (social awareness), resolve interpersonal conflicts effectively (relationship skills), and make good decisions about daily challenges (responsible decision making) are headed on a pathway toward success in school and later life.
Furthermore, CASEL concluded that the most effective youth SEL programs developed these assets when they followed a SAFE pedagogy. That is, they had a curriculum that was:
·  Sequenced: Does the program apply a planned set of activities to develop skills sequentially in a step-by-step fashion?
·  Active: Does the program use active forms of learning such as role-plays and behavioral rehearsal with feedback?
·  Focused: Does the program devote sufficient time exclusively to developing social and emotional skills?
·   Explicit: Does the program target specific social and emotional skills?
What we learn from the CASEL Report is that rather than simply rolling the dice and hoping that something good will come out of kids participating on a sports team, program designers and coaches need to be deliberate about what they wish to teach their players. If they intend to go beyond the Xs and Os and develop their players’ self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationship skills, or capacity to make responsible decisions, then they need to identify and deploy activities that help kids acquire requisite knowledge and develop associated skills. As well, just as coaches teach progressions in technical and tactical skills, they need to be planful about how to teach SEL attributes. For example, if they intend to teach self-management or relationship skills, then they need to be focused and explicit about doing so, and craft progressions that make sense. Surely, the emotional highs and lows occurring within sports are fertile ground for teaching youth techniques to manage emotions better. As well, teaching kids how to be supportive and effective team members, and how to interact in a civil manner with adversaries provide many opportunities for teaching relationship skills. With so many situations and interactions that occur during sports, one would think that it has the power to provide a plethora of teachable moments during which lessons can be repetitively reinforced in meaningful ways. However, as CASEL suggests, there needs to be a degree of explicitness and deliberateness to such teaching if SEL is to occur.

In summary, this is what sport based youth development is all about. Identifying a set of SEL attributes and teaching them in a coherent fashion within the context of sports. As well, if we expect such learning to generalize beyond sports, we need to be explicit about how this can be done.
A wonderful example of this was revealed a few weeks ago by one of our Project Coach 3rd graders who had been having problems fighting with teammates and classmates in school. He was proud to tell our Project Coach director that his teacher had just named him student of the week, as he had been able to stay out of trouble and also get A’s in all of his work. When asked how this came to be he said that his coach had taught players that when they became upset about something, they should take a few deep breaths and then count to 100 to calm themselves. He said that he started to do this in school, and it helped to keep him out of trouble when he became agitated about something. It also helped him to refocus and concentrate on his work. These are the sorts of connections that make sports into something more than recreation or just learning about the Xs and Os. This is sport based youth development at its best.

[1] Piché, G,  Fitzpatrick, C, and  Pagani, L. (2015, Sep-Oct). Associations Between Extracurricular Activity and Self- Regulation: A Longitudinal Study From 5 to 10 Years of Age. American Journal Of Health Promotion Vol. 30 (1), pp. e32-40.
[2] The positive impact of social and emotional learning for kindergarten to eight-grade students: Findings from three scientific reviews, Technical Report, 2008;

Friday, October 16, 2015

Supercognitives are the Future

Don Siegel

Project Coach has always promoted the development of soft skills. But, we relabeled them supercognitives, because we thought the term soft skills devalued what they actually represent; those social and emotional capabilities that fosters self-awareness, self-regulation, and interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, hard skills connote, higher-level instrumental capabilities that are associated with such things as executive function, cognitive processing, and more of what schools seem to value and assess with regard to academic performance. Yet, we at Project Coach believe that supercognivities deserve more than tangential recognition, as they not only require the integration of many higher level processes, but are also critical for acquiring so many of the hard skills that receive greater status.

Take communications as one example. Effective communications are key to the relationships that we form with others such as teachers, coaches, mentors, peers, and family members. These relationships often determine the sorts of information to which we have access, the direction and feedback that we receive about knowledge and skills that we wish to acquire, and the social connections that provide fulfillment in our daily lives.  Effective communications not only requires processing and assessing various sorts of information, but then thinking critically about it, and determining whether some sort of response is necessary. If so, one needs to determine what to convey, when to do so, the audience, appropriate language, affect to embed, and body language to deploy. In our view, to label such an attribute as communications, which requires such complexity of thought and action as soft seems to diminish its import in the mix of things that youth must know, be able to do, and value.

Now, in a provocative new book Humans are Underrated, Geoff Colvin, contends that the types of knowledge and skills that underlie supercognitives are not simply a means to and end, but ends in themselves. According to Colvin, it is anybody’s guess about how best to prepare youth for future jobs, as technology continues to replace many of the tasks previously performed by people. Just a few years ago computers supported what people in various high level occupations did with regard to problem-solving, judging, valuing, and managing, but Colvin asserts that computer intelligence is now increasingly able to perform many of these sorts of tasks without human colleagues, and the trend is for computers to get even better at doing so. Whether it’s driving a car, grading essays, doing legal research, or making a medical diagnosis, Colvin contends that what we once conceived of as brain tasks are becoming automated, and that humans are not able to, or will not be able to, perform many such tasks as well or as cheaply as computers. On the other hand, his central theme is that humans will always insist that certain jobs be done by other human beings, even if computers are capable of doing those jobs. Colvin makes the point that humans are social animals and the need for social interaction is a survival mechanism derived over thousands of years, and social interaction is not going away anytime soon. This is not to say that technology will become less important in the future, but that our newest challenge will be how to interact with it to make our lives better.

If humans will increasingly be replaced by computers in many of the higher and lower end traditional occupations, then what will be left for us to do? The answer that he provides is that we should be looking at those things that we … will simply insist be performed by other humans, regardless of what computers can do. Citing various research studies related to what employers are increasingly prioritizing in hiring employees, Colvin lists relationship building, teaming, co-creativity, brainstorming, cultural sensitivity, and the ability to manage diverse employees. While he acknowledges that studies do not provide clear guidance on the actual tasks that workers are/will do in various industries and professions, his essential finding is that capacity for engaging in productive personal interaction is critical. On the other hand, jobs characterized as highly cognitive, requiring advanced levels of education, have been stagnant or showing a decline in demand. Colvin acknowledges that this deskilling phenomenon does seem a bit bizarre, given our deep-seated belief in the relationship between education – higher order cognitive capacity – employment, and income, but such an account is consistent with education and employment patterns of the last 15 years.

Overall, Colvin is not really saying that highly educated people will be scorned in the coming economy, but what they possess in the way of interpersonal skills may be more important than what they possess with regard to knowledge or technical skill. An example that he gives about lawyers helps clarify his major arguments. Much of their work is being taken over by computers, and the average lawyer may be facing a bleak future. Yet, lawyers who will thrive are those who are able to negotiate the non-technical aspects of law by dealing with clients whose emotions may get in the way of acting in their own best interests. As he conveys The key to differentiation lies entirely in the most deeply human realms of social interaction: understanding an irrational client, forming the emotional bonds needed to persuade that client to act rationally, rendering the sensing, feeling judgments that clients insist on getting from a human being.  These are things that computers cannot do, and will be essential to the work force of the future.

Other examples that he provides include physicians becoming increasingly dependent on computers for diagnosing illness or on robots for enacting various surgical procedures. Yet, those physicians who are more communicative and empathetic to their patients get better patient compliance to treatments, better outcomes, and fewer malpractice suits. Similarly, software companies with employees who can interact with their customers more effectively to determine what they really want, need, and feel have an edge in producing better products. Even at call centers, American Express learned that dumping standard scripts, and allowing employees to interact with customers in a more personable way resulted in more positive company-customer interactions, less employee attrition, and an increased bottom line. Not surprisingly, waiters who are better able to empathize with their diners earn nearly 20 percent more in tips, and debt collectors with better social skills recover twice as much debt than peers who are less empathetic. The military also has glommed on to this theme, and has been convinced that although combat has been increasingly automated, being able to understand the thoughts and feelings of one’s colleagues and enemies is critical. In fact even though pilots who operate out of sophisticated cockpits and may never even see their adversaries, have learned how critical it is to a mission’s success for trainees to understand the tactics, thoughts and feelings of those targeted on their computer displays.  These are just a few of the examples that Colvin writes about to convince readers that, as his title conveys, human qualities in an increasingly computerized world are underrated, and undervalued.

The gist of this is that while computers, with enhanced artificial intelligence, will be able to do many of the higher and lower end tasks now done by workers across the spectrum, those who are better able to communicate more effectively, and promote more positive social interactions and relationships will become the most valued people in society. In essence, those who will thrive in the future will be relationship workers who are less likely to be replaced by a computer than the knowledge workers of the twentieth century.

The question that we are left with is how best to prepare youth today for the relationship work that they will do in the future. Schools, for the most part, seem more focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math - the hard skills), and have not really devoted much effort to teaching SEL (Social Emotional Learning - the soft skills). Teaching SEL is where out-of-school programs, such as Project Coach, excel.  Through coaching, we teach relational work explicitly and deliberately, and if Colvin’s assessment is accurate, our kids will be greatly valued in a world in which high tech and high touch are so interdependent. It just may be that supercognivities  will be the hard skills of tomorrow.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Were Orville and Wilbur Wright At Risk?

Don Siegel
From my last post, I have been thinking about ways that we in PC can enrich our neighborhood and create more positive interactions between staff and youth. When I pondered this, it immediately became evident to me that how we use language is critical. As a case in point, over the years I have cringed when I heard staff refer to PCers as at risk youth. I wondered how it would feel if I were a PCer and heard others refer to me as at risk. Clearly, this term connotes troubled or on the precipice of spiraling downward into some netherworld of hopelessness.  As a thought experiment, I pondered what such a label would mean to me today if I were referred to as at risk, and listed some things that came to mind. Being 67, I am at risk of succumbing to many things such as senility, a heart attack, or various forms of cancer. Actually, when one thinks about it, we are all at risk for something(s). But, for the most part, we aren’t typically labeled as at risk, do not wish to be defined as such, and do not want to live our lives just trying to avoid threats to our well-being. Instead, I prefer to think of myself more positively, as one working toward building, or, at least, maintaining capabilities that I believe will help me to thrive. I suspect that this is the more productive way for PCers to view themselves. Staff using the term at risk to describe kids sends the wrong message to them.
In essence, living a healthy and productive life entails actively seeking challenges that require acquiring new knowledge and skills, without being overwhelmed by the risks associated with such activities. As a case in point, I just finished reading David McCullough’s new book The Wright Brothers. In it he shows two brothers who were dreamers, self-taught engineers, entrepreneurs, and risk managers. Over multiple years they were certainly at risk of killing themselves on multiple occasions in an airplane crash. While they were at risk I don’t think that they defined themselves by the risks involved in building and testing airplanes, but by the successes they achieved in getting them to fly, and subsequently building a company that produced and sold them to others. I suspect that if, on the other hand, they had defined themselves as at risk and lived their days simply trying to reduce it, they probably would have stayed on the ground in Dayton, and spent more time selling and fixing bicycles, than venturing year after year to test their new designs on the sands of Kitty Hawk.  
Again, my point is not to deny the existence of risk to the Wright brothers, or to the underserved adolescents that we work with in Project Coach, but to assert that risk is a part of life, and living one’s life as a builder of assets, is more productive than living one’s life with the intent of simply reducing it. Consequently, I contend that it is much more productive to help our kids develop identities in which they see themselves, like the Wright Brothers, as energized, creative, enterprising people, whose approach to life is to acquire new knowledge and skills in order to change their worlds. I doubt that the Wright’s would have achieved much of anything had they viewed themselves as deficit prone, and encouraged by the people around them to spend their days fixing themselves rather than fixing the aircraft that they crashed on numerous occasions.

I believe that how kids think about themselves plays a large part in how they develop and who they become as adults. The language used by those around them to describe who they are is critical in shaping who they become. To this end, I contend that we should stop using deficit language such as at risk and help kids build identities more like the Wright Brothers who were called such things as brave, curious, excited, hard workers, smart, friendly, amazing, resourceful, and honest by Ms. Sullivan’s 3rd grade class. In contrast, the term at risk connotes such labels as: urban, poor, ghetto, inner-city, minority[1], troubled, school drop-out, drugs, gangs, and teen pregnancy[2]. Now, which descriptors do you think a kid would, and should be, identified with if helping them to thrive is our goal? How one thinks about one’s self is intricately connected to one’s feelings and behavior. If we want kids to thrive we need to help them to create identities like Orville and Wilbur. My guess is that the term hard working risk taker or resourceful risk taker would be a better way to view oneself than at risk.

[1] Pica-Smith, Cinzia, & Veloria, Carmen, At risk means a minority kid:” Deconstructing deficit discourses in the study of risk in education and human services. Pedagogy and the Human Sciences, 1, No. 2, 2012, pp. 33-48.

[2] Dobizl, J. K. (2002). Understanding at-risk youth and intervention programs that help them succeed in school. Unpublished masters thesis, University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Monday, June 22, 2015

It’s Easier to Swim Downstream than Upstream

Don Siegel

In 1951 Solomon Ash conducted what has become a classic study in social psychology[1]. Ash set-up a testing situation in which a subject was shown a vertical line on the left side of a screen, and asked to match which of three lines on the right side of the screen was the same length. For the most part, this was a relatively easy task, as was shown in a control condition. Subjects easily detected the correct line. But, Ash was interested in determining how social influence affected an individual’s judgment. So unbeknownst to the real subject, he had 3-4 confederates give their responses prior to the actual subject giving his. On 12 of 18 trials they gave a clearly incorrect response. On 75% of these trials the actual subject went along with the confederates and made the incorrect judgment. Subsequent interviews with subjects found that most conformed to the confederates in order to fit in with the group. While there have been many critiques of this particular paradigm over the years, Ash clearly demonstrated how powerful normative group behavior can be in shaping the behavior of individuals in the group.[2] In essence, conforming to what others in a group do is easier than asserting individuality.

Then there was Nathan Pritikin who was a self-made entrepreneur-inventor, who after being diagnosed with heart disease in 1957, was determined to find a holistic cure to his malady.  He scoured the scientific and anthropological literature and developed a low-fat diet that was correlated with having a healthy heart. It was based on unrefined carbohydrates like vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains. He also included moderate amounts of aerobic exercise in his program. This formula helped him to reverse his condition, and he set out to help others with similar medical conditions that resulted from poor health behaviors.[3] In 1976, he created the Pritikin Longevity Center, where people could go for several weeks or months and learn about and live a Pritikin Lifestyle.[4] Without debating the virtues of the Pritikin Program, people who attend the residential site report how transformative the experience is and how relative easy it is to follow what some have observed to be a very restrictive and hard to follow diet. What is there about being in residence that makes conforming to Pritikin’s regimen possible? I think that the same reason that Ash’s subjects conformed to confederates is at play here. Everyone on the Pritikin staff, which includes dieticians, exercise physiologists, medical doctors, psychologists, and trainers, along with guests, behave in accordance with the program’s diet and exercise tenets. When everyone is aligned, and the environment is self-contained, behavioral change is relatively simple. However, each year, many adherents return to get re-inoculated with the Pritikin Program, as they disappointingly revert back to their pre-Pritikin behaviors once they go home, and reconnect with the people and environment that produced the symptomology that led them to Pritikin in the first place. Like Ash, Pritikin shows us that it is much easier to swim downstream than upstream when significant behavioral change is a goal.

Other Examples

Recently, important data have been reported on two initiatives that reinforce the importance of group values, assets, and behaviors on an individual’s economic prospects and well-being. The first entails a government initiative called Moving to Opportunity (MTO), which attempts to answer the question of whether moving from a high-poverty neighborhood to a lower-poverty community improves the social and economic prospects of low-income families. In essence, the government set-up a controlled experiment in which rental assistance vouchers were provided to a subset of low income families to relocate from high-poverty public housing projects to a low poverty area in five major cities.  Initial results of MTO showed that such a move improved the mental and physical health of adults[5]. However, such a move had little or no impact on their economic outcomes. But, more recent work that is able to examine the effects of such a move on the children in these families shows that they, unlike their parents, benefitted economically as adults. In fact, researchers Chetty and Hendersen[6] found that duration of exposure is a critical factor, and that every year a child spent in the better neighborhood increased the child’s income as an adult. They concluded that “moving a child out of public housing to a low-poverty area when young (at age 8 on average) using a subsidized voucher like the MTO experimental voucher will increase the child's total lifetime earnings by about $302,000.” Other researchers corroborate such effects, and estimate financial returns of $635,000 to children who are born into a bottom income quartile neighborhood and are raised in a top-quartile neighborhood.[7] Such data provide another variation of the group and community effects shown by Ash and Pritikin. Whether explicitly or implicitly one’s behavior is affected by the norms of the community in which one lives.

A final example of such effects entails that of average community longevity that I wrote about in a past post. The Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University has been mapping average longevity in neighborhoods in various cities across America[8], and has reported disparities as great as 20 years in communities separated by only a few miles. Not surprisingly, such longevity differences are highly correlated with the wealth and lifestyles of inhabitants. But, as Dan Buettner, a researcher who has studied what has become known as Blue Zones, where people live significantly longer and healthier lives explains there are specific lessons to be learned from such research that can be applied to other communities. Interestingly, he debunks the notion that individuals have the fortitude to change health behaviors related to diet and exercise on their own over the long-term. While he acknowledges that individuals may be successful in the short-term, data shows that they invariably revert back to their pre-diet and exercise selves. Buettner attributes 80% of the Blue Zone effect to environmental causes that are a function of community wide factors. Again, it appears that for individuals seeking significant change in their lives, whether it be economic, health, or psycho-social well-being, swimming downstream with one’s cohorts is a lot more effective than trying to swim upstream against the prevailing social-environmental currents that exist.

What Does All Of This Have To Do With Youth Development?

So what does all of this mean to those of us who work in youth development programs? While such studies span the fields of psychology, health, economics, and sociology, a common theme is that social influence is powerful, and that the communities in which we grow-up and live are among the most influential factors determining whether we will thrive. Clearly, as research shows us, growing-up in some communities have advantages over growing-up in other communities.

While the MTO initiative illustrates the power of moving from a poorer community to a wealthier one for children, it seems unlikely that we will be having such mass migrations of families anytime soon. Consequently, those of us doing youth development work might think more strategically about how we can construct environments within environments in order to provide as much exposure to our youth of those things that they would get in a wealthier and healthier community if they had the opportunity to do so. This is like having a Pritikin Longevity Institute or a Blue Zone transported and reconstructed in other locales. In many ways, whether by design or not, this is what the best youth development programs are already doing. It is more than their themes, curriculums, or buildings that make them great. It is how their communities work. The question then becomes, how does a program create a Pritikin-like, MTO-like, higher longevity-like, neighborhood that helps kids to thrive beyond what they would normally achieve had such a program not existed?

  Clearly, there are lots of good ideas about how to answer such a question, with lists of properties that researchers have identified over the years.[9] It makes sense that on a basic level that these neighborhoods need to be places that are physically and psychologically safe. This provides the prerequisites for any environment where positive youth development occurs. They also need to be places that are inclusive, irrespective of a child’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socio-cultural-economic identity. In essence, they are friendly and safe places where warm and supportive relationships can be developed among peers, and between adult staff and youth. Such relationships can be equated with those in a family in that staff are willing to show unconditional love for participants. Like good parents, they attempt to expose children to enriching experiences, celebrate their successes, and are willing to forgive them for periodically going off the rails. As well, peers, like siblings, support one another and will re-embrace each other after inevitable conflicts. Everyone will also celebrate noteworthy events and accomplishments of each participant, whether they are birthdays, an improving grade, or success in an extracurricular endeavor. Community members will also be supportive and sympathetic to those experiencing personal setbacks. In essence, such neighborhoods are places that promote building strong social bonds among kids and adult mentors; where all feel valued, supported, and connected to one another.

While all sorts of thematic groups can form such connections, the distinguishing quality of those that promote positive youth development is that they develop and reinforce positive behavior by the pervasive social norms that permeate their culture. An example of this in Project Coach is our deep-rooted belief in the growth mindset [10], which asserts that development as coaches, students, and citizens normally comes from learning, practicing, and expending effort, rather than from ethereal innate gifts. We recognize that mistakes are a part of learning, and that taking calculated risks, such as attempting to learn a more difficult skill or enrolling in a more challenging class at school, is to be encouraged despite the increased possibility of failure. Our program culture consistently reinforces such beliefs and behaviors, and recognizes participants for being industrious, enthusiastic, and showing initiative. Other pervasive qualities that Project Coach fosters encompass empathy, friendship, loyalty, self-control, cooperation, and community development. We also value democratic decision-making with regard to selecting staff, program activities, and choosing community projects. By engaging youth in this process we have found that it enhances their sense of efficacy and beliefs about effecting change in their own lives and that of their community. Of critical importance in building and maintaining such a culture is explicitly recognizing what a program stands for, and operationalizing such through its day-to-day activities.

Once such a framework is created, virtually anything else is possible. Having a theme around which such a culture is built is fairly typical of youth development programs. Sports, arts, music, dance, theater, media, environment, and many other activities provide the core that draws everyone together. These thematic activities can also provide opportunities to bridge outward across neighborhoods and to reduce the isolation and social distances between poor and wealthier areas. We have seen underserved kids playing squash at Harvard, others broadcasting their commentary on NPR, and others visiting corporate offices in Boston to deliver art works. We have also seen kids traveling nationally and internationally to work with other kids on various projects. The point here being that enriched neighborhoods are not segregated and insular, but ones that promote connections across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic strata. In essence, this captures some of the benefits of MTOs and other beneficial environmental supports to development, without having to create massive government initiatives that transplant large numbers of families.

In aggregate I have attempted to describe another critical aspect of excellent youth development programs. It is like the spaces between notes in a great piece of music or the pauses and inflections of voice manifested by great actors. They are not as readily emphasized as the notes played by the musician or the words uttered by a thespian, but they make all the difference in the quality of a performance. Barton Hirsch captured the essence of what this quality is in his book entitled A Place to Call Home[11]. Call it a culture, a neighborhood, or a home, but the basic message is that transformative programs for youth need to be more than their themes, curriculum, or physical plants. They need to be places that resemble families, and which have the capacity to instantiate its security, values, and behavioral norms while supporting the growth of its members. When a child becomes part of such a community, good things generally happen, as we have learned, it is a lot easier to swim with the pack, than to swim against it.


[1] Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment. In H. Guetzkow (ed.) Groups, leadership and men. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.
[2] For a good overview of Ash’s work see the following YouTube video at:
[3] The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise. Bantam. ISBN 978-0553271928 co-authored with Patrick M. McGrady (1979).
[5] Ludwig, Jens, Greg J. Duncan, Lisa A. Gennetian, Lawrence F. Katz, Ronald C. Kessler, Jeffrey R. Kling, and Lisa Sanbonmatsu. 2013. “Long-Term Neighborhood Effects on Low-Income Families: Evidence from Moving to Opportunity.” American Economic Review P&P 103(3): 226-31.
[6] Chetty, R, and Hendersen, N. (2015) The impacts of neighborhoods on tentergenerational mobility: childhood exposure effects and county-level estimates.
[7] Rothwell, J., and Massey, D. (2015). Geographic effects on intergenerational income mobility. Economic Geography, volume 91 (1), 83-106.
[10] Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset : The new psychology of success (Ballantine Books). New York: Ballantine Books.
[11] Hirsch, B. J. (2005). A place to call home: After-school programs for urban youth.\ Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association; New York, NY, US: Teachers College Press.