Planting the Seeds to Social and Emotional Learning Success

by | May 9, 2019

This post is attributed to Hello Insight’s featured case study of Trellis’ Food for Thought program posted on May 8, 2019 by Hello Insight and Pamela Wridt.

In the youth development program, Food for Thought, young people are planting the seeds for their own growth. Through working on organic farms, along with community service projects, youth philanthropy, and weekly projects that focus on repurposing materials into sellable products, young people learn how to work with others and develop workforce readiness skills. The Food for Thought approach is intergenerational and rooted in experiential learning — learning helps establish lasting behavior change through a continuous process of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation.

Our program teaches specific skills in gardening and farming – that’s the vehicle for teaching transferable skills, such as what it means to be a healthy and productive adult. – Lisa Faranda, Managing Director, Trellis for Tomorrow

The Food For Thought model, started by Trellis for Tomorrow, is exceptional in promoting social and emotional learning (SEL), making them a 2018 Hello Insight HI Impact Award winner. For the last 15 years, Food for Thought has connected young people ages 13 to 18 to the natural world through a holistic approach to programming that integrates environmental issues and workforce readiness skills.

We have a deep respect for the journey that a young person has to traverse from adolescence to adulthood. We understand how hard they have to work to do that with confidence, to do that successfully and with resilience. That’s what drives us. – Bob Steininger, Director, Chester County Youth Programs

Research-Based Best Practices that Boost SEL
With nearly 40,000 young people in the Hello Insight platform, [they] have strong evidence about the key experiences that young people need to increase their SEL. These look different in every program. Here is how Food for Thought does it.

1: Prioritize Young People
Build meaningful relationships by prioritizing young people by setting high expectations for them and inviting them to share their unique experiences and passions with the program.

Food for Thought engages young people in real life experiences related to farming and sustainable business practices. Adult facilitators are trained to support and encourage young people to reflect on their experiences throughout the day. Once young people have identified and understood their experiences, they are asked to think about what they might do better next time, planning and brainstorming strategies for success.

The active experimentation phase of the learning cycle is where young people try out their ideas and plans, testing them in the real world. As adults and young people work through the experiential learning cycle, they develop strong trusting bonds. Young people often share issues that they are struggling with or are bothering them with their team leaders and the program director. One young man turned to staff to ask advice on how to deal with his parents’ divorce. This only occurred because that staff person had shared his own experience of dealing with divorce when he was a student of similar age. And a former team leader mentioned the following regarding memorable moments from the program: “Those conversations about family, school or the future when young people weren’t playing it up for friends, but seriously connecting or asking for advice.”

2: Engage Young People in Interest Exploration
Provide opportunities for young people to explore potential interests, try new things, broaden their horizons, and take risks in a safe space.

At Food for Thought, learning is a very individualized process, and each young person has a unique learning journey as they move through the experiential learning cycle. Bob stated, “Sometimes the kids are just trying to get through each day; some kids bring a lot more challenges from their home life to the farm. We try to meet them where they are.”

As young people engage in experiences, adult staff encourage them to follow their interests, ask inquiry questions and problem solve along the way. Bob said, “we also ask the young people what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what’s important to them.” Food for Thought empowers young people through experiential, intergenerational activities. Participants were able to explore their interests through an offering of elective activities and stress management activities. Staff offered activities that focused on sustainability, be it related to food production, conservation of natural resources, or every day practices that help the planet. Given these options, young people could choose which topic to explore. Staff also offered a variety of stress management techniques, including sketching, journaling, yoga, and meditation. Again, participants were able to sign up for the activity that interested them most.

3: Peer-to-Peer Engagement
Encourage young people to work with and learn about others with differing backgrounds and perspectives by promoting teamwork, group cohesion, and problem solving.

Food for Thought ensures there are opportunities for young people to get to know one another. To accomplish this, they start each day with an icebreaker and end with a daily reflection. Bob says, “We provide opportunities for kids to learn about each other and what they have in common.” During a reflection activity called “Roses and Thorns,” each young person shares a highlight (a rose) and their least favorite thing (a thorn) from the day. They can choose whatever they want. There are guidelines, however, and nobody can say an individual was their thorn.

This activity provides young people the space and time to learn more about each other — such as their preferences, perspectives and feelings. “Roses and Thorns” also promotes their ideas and voices in the program. Adult facilitators treat every thorn as an opportunity for growth, and young people begin to take responsibility for the health and well-being of the group. Bob says, “We try to encourage them to pick something unique to each day and sometimes the kids don’t have a thorn, which is always awesome. Then some of the leaders or the youth will plant their ‘bud’, which is what are they looking forward to the next day.”

4: Goal Management
Plan activities to give young people the chance to practice setting goals, breaking them down into smaller tasks, develop plans of action, and adjust them as necessary.

Through farm work, young people practice goal management on a daily basis. Lisa explained, “On the farm, young people have goals for each day to accomplish.” At Food for Thought, team leaders work with young people to set their own goals, and to help them meet them through reflection activities at the end of each program session. Lisa says, “Team leaders capitalize on their reflection time with young people, asking questions like: Are you meeting your goals? What changes might you make? That’s a regular part of the daily experience.”

About This Case Study
Each year, the Hello Insight team analyzes the data in [their] growing community of more than 500 programs across 20 states to identify those that are supporting exceptional growth in SEL. Celebrating their success through the HI Impact Awards.

The HI Impact Award winning program Food for Thought engages…young people ages 13 to 18 in gardening, sustainable business practices, environmental issues, and workforce readiness projects that integrate environmental issues…

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