Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Educational Administration and Leadership

First Advisor

Robert Calvert

First Committee Member

Laura Hallberg

Second Committee Member

Rod P. Githens


Today’s elementary school students face myriad traumatic issues including poverty, violence, physical and emotional abuse, homelessness, and parental substance abuse. These adverse childhood experiences are responsible for an increased risk of academic failure and behavioral problems in childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood. Social-emotional learning (SEL) programs, provided through school and community partnerships, attempt to address these needs in both school-based and out-of-school-time (OST) learning settings. The purpose of this action research study was to examine one northern California-based nonprofit organization’s OST SEL program for third through fifth grade students and determine actions and interventions for greater program effectiveness.

Students, parent/guardians, site administrators, school-staff, and community members engaged in focus groups, completed surveys, participated in validation groups, and acted as research associates throughout the iterative plan, act, observe, reflect action research cycle conducted during the winter of 2020. Qualitative data from focus group meetings included identified themes from authenticated and coded transcripts while quantitative data included descriptive statistical analysis of pre-program and end-of-program surveys. As the lead researcher for the study, I worked with action research participants to make program modifications and identify new actions for program improvement.

Based on themes and data trends, as well as the application of self-determination theory’s basic psychological needs theory, findings demonstrate that student self-management skills improved during the 4-week action research cycle, as did their sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. At the same time, findings suggest additional growth opportunities in the areas of responsible decision-making and program improvement through development and implementation of integrated and universal SEL supports in classrooms, schools, families, and the larger community.

Linking the literature to these findings, recommendations for future action research cycles include age and developmental considerations regarding instruction and application of responsible decision-making skills, and integration of all five SEL competencies for greater harmonization of emotion and thought. To that end, the nonprofit organization’s educational design team and I have begun redesigning the curriculum. Program modifications address child development of perceptual and higher-level memory and cognitive skills, and intentional integration of instruction and practice in all five SEL competencies throughout each program module. Teaching, combined with real-time application of planning and decision-making skills, will include opportunities for active role-playing, adult guidance, and experiences in which students learn and grow from mistakes.

In addition to student program modifications to build responsible decision-making skills, literature supports the call for universal SEL in the form of partnerships between schools, families, and community organizations for resource coordination resulting in more positive youth outcomes. Again working with the educational design team, the nonprofit organization and I have taken initial steps to establish a city wellness task force, bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders to partner in wellness for children and families in the community. We also continue to iterate as we develop a community of practice for educators, focused on building SEL knowledge and practice.

By focusing on continuous improvement through an ongoing action research process, this study not only serves as an opportunity to celebrate successes, but highlight growth opportunities to advance the work of the northern California-based nonprofit organization and its programs. Utilizing study findings in combination with supporting literature, we are taking immediate action towards more positive outcomes for those we serve. This study also provides tools and guidance for other community partners in their design and implementation of effective SEL programs for the social and emotional well-being of elementary school students and families, and the communities in which they live.