Ignite Summer Toolkit: YOUTH AT THE CENTER

Spotlight on SEL, Culture & Identity, Community & Family

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Summer is full of exciting possibilities for young people.

It’s a time when they can explore interests, discover new passions and achieve new personal or academic milestones. That’s critical work for a young person’s development.

It’s work that flourishes in a positive, welcoming environment that is attuned to social-emotional learning (SEL), responsive to a young person’s culture, and engages community and family.

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How will your program intentionally put young people's SEL, culture and identity, as well as community and family at the center?


  • How are young people able to identify their hopes and dreams and set their own goals? What skills and knowledge do they want to acquire, and how will we nurture that?
  • How do our program activities provide opportunities for SEL skill development?
  • How can we actively embrace the culture(s) of young people, their families, and their communities?
  • How will we connect with families and communities throughout the program?
  • How does our program meet young people "where they are at"? Do we give young people space to go deep into new topics, or safely try on new identities? Are we creating space for them to fulfill their hopes, dreams, and goals?
  • Does program staff reflect the diverse race, gender, culture, sexual orientation, language, and special needs of the young people being served?
  • At the end of the summer, how will we ask young people to reflect on their accomplishments? What about evaluations from families and community members?


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Youth can have a transformative summer experience when they are at the center.

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Social-emotional learning is a life-long complex and dynamic process. It’s how children, young people and adults acquire the knowledge and skills to:

  • Understand and manage emotions
  • Set and achieve positive goals
  • Feel and show empathy for others
  • Establish and maintain positive relationships
  • Make responsible decisions

SEL is so critical to a young person’s development that Ignite Afterschool undertook Propel SEL, a three-year journey into better understanding the role of SEL in afterschool programs. One of our big take-aways is that there is no “one size fits all” SEL Framework that works for every context, culture, and community. To that end, we’ve gathered a list of some of our favorite SEL-related resources.

How might these support your program’s needs and goals?

CASEL SEL Framework Their “CASEL Wheel” may look familiar — this is the model used by MDE and many schools throughout Minnesota.  This site is packed with information on SEL skills and tools to help embed them into youth programming. The “SEL 101” video is a great place to start.

Partnerships In Education and Resilience (PEAR) Their Clover Model provides tools that start with a young person’s strengths as a launching point for building their overall SEL development.

Preparing Youth to Thrive This site features a downloadable field guide to staff practices, supports and curriculum designed to build SEL skills in the areas of emotion management, empathy, teamwork, responsibility, initiative, and problem solving.

MHA Labs Check out their Skill Building Blocks for core social, emotional and cognitive skills for success in college, career and life. They offer a variety of free and low-cost tools, including a free mix-and-match toolkit with 45 skill building worksheets, checklists and training supports.

American Institutes of Research Although their Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) Alliance doesn’t call out SEL by name, it can be particularly useful to outdoor and nature-based youth programs.

Search Institute Their Development Relationships Framework explores five elements — expressed in 20 actions — that create powerful relationships in young people’s lives.

SEL Resource Bank When you’re ready for specific ideas on how to bring SEL into your summer program, check out this robust SEL RESOURCE BANK from Summer Rising.

One-on-One Wellness Checks Another great SEL resource comes from Panorama Education. They’ve created this list of questions that can be used for guided one-on-one emotional wellness checks throughout the summer.

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A young person’s culture, family, and personal history are core to their identity formation. And when a young person’s identity is valued and validated, they are better positioned to learn and grow.

Ready For Rigor

The Ready for Rigor Framework is a helpful tool for viewing your program through a lens of culture and identity.

Believe It. Build It.

Our own Believe It. Build It. guide can help. Building Block 4 focuses on Responsiveness to Culture and Identity and gives ideas for what effective practices in this area might look like. (Download the full guide for all the reflection and improvement tools!)

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How young people “show up” for programming is influenced by their family and community. So engaging with families and communities with authentic, ongoing connection is an important part of creating a sense of belonging and expanding a young person’s network of supports.

Believe It. Build It.

In Believe It. Build It.’s Building Block 5, we take a deeper dive into Community and Family Engagement. Download the full guide, or take a quick peek at just Building Block 5

You for Youth (Y4Y) “Learn: Family Engagement.

This user-friendly content comes from Y4Y.ed.gov, the online resource for 21st Century Community Learning Centers. These fantastic tools are open for anyone to use. It includes templates, trainings, videos, and more. Make sure to explore “Teach: Family Engagement” and “Tools: Family Engagement.”

Beyond the Bell

We just love this Family Engagement and Interest Survey from Beyond the Bell. You could use it as is, or modify for your program, and uncover some surprises about what hidden talents and supports families may be willing to contribute to your program!

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Tactical Toolbox

There are so many ways to build relationships with families and communities and strengthen ties between school and home. Which tactics will you use?

Weekly Note and/or Phone Call Home
Communication home should be ongoing, not just reserved for “bad news.” Regularly communicate positive updates, using family members’ preferred language.
Family/Community Education Nights
Supports for adults (like classes in cooking, fitness or budgeting) paired with simultaneous youth activities
Youth-led Program Showcases
Opportunities for families and other caring adults to drop in and see the work of young people in the program. Food is always a plus!
Open Houses/Community Info Fair
Invite community partners to display/demonstrate their business or services.
Special Events/Celebrations
Welcome/Preview night, in-person Mid-Session Check Ins & End of Year Celebrations
Youth/Family Surveys
Online or in-person surveys, suggestion boxes, a big white board with a marker…provide options for families and young people to continuously provide input
Volunteer Opportunities
Need expertise, extra hands or chaperones? Invite families and community partners to help fill program needs.
Has your program developed some other tactics?