In Between: Middle Schools as Centers for Positive Youth Development (2012)

Viewing middle school through the lens of positive youth development reveals the disconnect between what we know about youth and the ways schooling is designed and delivered. The confluence of new knowledge on youth assets with the shortcomings of middle school education in the U.S. suggests this is the time for redesign, innovation, and evaluation of new models. Youth-Nex seeks to transform middle schools into developmentally-informed settings that provide supportive relationships and learning contexts which foster the capacity of early adolescents.

Early in Youth-Nex's development, we saw a need to examine developmental issues of early adolescence, the intersection with educational programming, and best methods to promote effective youth development. To do so we explored the context of middle school in the event titled, "In Between: Middle Schools as Centers for Positive Youth Development." The 2012 conference brought together leaders from across the country including scholars, practitioners, and policy professionals to focus on the future of middle schools in the context of Positive Youth Development. 'We had unprecedented focus on middle school youth as capable and middle schools as the center of approaching their development from this view, said Director Patrick Tolan. We had leadership in education at national and state levels, leading advocates and scholars, and local practitioners in a vigorous and productive discussion. We are excited about what this can mean for youth and for the Youth-Nex center's mission.' We tried to foster a multidimensional understanding of critical elements promoting positive youth development specifically in middle schools, including physical and mental health, engaged citizenship, and beneficial relationships. Mrs. Alma Powell, of America’s Promise Alliance, gave the keynote address. Dr. Jacquelynne Eccles, a leading scholar in this topic provided opening remarks.

View the interactive digital book for summaries of the panels. 


  • Plenary Presentations

    Opening remarks by Alma J. Powell, Chair, America's Promise Alliance; Jacquelynne Eccles; and Patrick Tolan

  • Innovative Training and Science for Middle School

    Panel 1: Patrick Tolan, Jane Close Conoley, Randy W. Kamphaus, and Lynn Okagaki

  • Developmentally Informing Curricula and Teaching

    Panel 2: Stephanie van Hover, Vincent Anfara, Jr., Penny Bishop, and Jay Giedd

  • Students and Peers as Resources

    Panel 3: Nancy Deutsch, Philip M. Brown, Michael Karcher, Clea McNeely, and Linda Scott

  • Partnership of Parents and Schools

    Panel 4: Sara Rimm-Kaufman, Nancy Hill, Charles Smith, and Otha Thornton

  • Connecting Community and School

    Panel 5: Noelle Hurd, L. Bernard Hairston, R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy, Milbrey McLaughlin, and Bill Milliken

  • Making Middle Schools Centers for PYD

    Panel 6: Patrick Tolan, Deborah Kasak, Joseph Mahoney, and Michael Yudin


  • Patrick Tolan and Alma Powell

    Patrick Tolan, Youth-Nex Director & Alma Powell, Keynote Speaker, Chair of America's Promise Alliance

  • Fascinating Panels

    Panels were scheduled over the two days and focused on topics ranging from the importance of peer groups to the parent and school partnership.

  • Conference Drew from Across the Country

    The conference brought together leaders from all over the country including scholars, practitioners, and policy professionals.

  • Not Your Average Conference

    Attendees were encouraged to interact with panelists and ask questions, facilitating discussions and critical thinking.

About Youth-Nex

Youth-Nex, The UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, is a trans-disciplinary center that aims to expand and apply the science of positive youth development to address fundamental challenges facing societies around the world.