Lessons in Adolescence Podcast


Join us in exploring the many facets of adolescence from the adverse, to the awkward, to the awesome! Host Jason Cascarino and his guests, including educators, researchers, developmental scientists, thought leaders, and other caring adults, tell us why middle school can and should be awesome.

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Early adolescence is an extraordinary opportunity for long-lasting, positive learning and development, if approached at the right time and in the right way. The great challenge is making sure the middle school experience is in sync with the needs and interests of the middle schoolers who attend them. Lessons in Adolescence offers actionable insights about young adolescent learning and development from in-school and out-of-school educators, researchers and developmental scientists, thought leaders, and other caring adults. Each episode focuses on a specific, timely and relevant topic, encouraging listeners to better understand the developmental needs of young adolescents and unleash the full potential of the middle school years.

The Lesson in Adolescence podcast is a production of Remaking Middle School, an initiative that seeks to transform the learning and development experience for young adolescents in the middle school years. Remaking Middle School brings together good educational practice (in-school and out of school) with the latest developmental science. You can learn about Remaking Middle School at www.remakingmiddleschool.org or through the founding partner organizations, the University of Virginia’s Youth-Nex Center website or on Twitter @Youth_Nex, and the Association for Middle Level Education website or on Twitter @AMLE.

Lessons in Adolescence is hosted by Jason Cascarino, strategic advisor and consultant to the Remaking Middle School founding partners. The podcast is produced by Abby Gillespie and Jason Cascarino.

Lessons in Adolescence Podcasts


  • Episode 7: Lessons with Dr. Elizabeth Santiago

    This episode features a conversation with Elizabeth Santiago, Chief Program Officer of MENTOR National, the Boston-based nonprofit that champions and advances the field of mentoring for youth. Liz’s personal experience as a young adolescent in middle school, and as a child of an under-resourced family who migrated from Puerto Rico to Boston, is a key driver in her professional work and showcases the potential that mentoring relationships can have in supporting young people who, like she once did, feel disconnected and disengaged and stop showing up.

    Liz and Jason talk about the need young people have for representation of voices like their own, the gaps in mentoring opportunities for youth and ways MENTOR is addressing them, how the organization works with school systems and companies to set up and expand mentoring programs, and how to support mentors and mentees who hail from different backgrounds and communities from each other to engage in challenging conversations about our world, like racial inequity and political strife.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 6: Lessons with Dr. Kent Pekel

    This episode features a conversation with Kent Pekel, CEO of Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit research organization focused on studying the factors that drive youth success. Under Kent’s leadership, Search Institute has engaged in a singular focus on relationships, which he and the organization see as the foundational ingredient in the learning and development of young people.

    Kent and Jason talk about how Search Institute conducts its research, working in partnership with youth organizations in schools and communities to learn while also making an impact, the five core elements of relationship-building derived from this research that structures Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships framework, and the types of approaches and practical activities that educators, youth workers and parents and families can use to intentionally develop and foster positive relationships.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 5: Lessons with Ashley Leonard and Jen Ciok

    This episode features a conversation with Ashley Leonard and Jen Ciok from the University of Chicago. Ashley is the associate director of the To&Through Project Middle Grades Network, an initiative within the University’s Urban Education Institute. Jen is a school coach, working with Ashley to offer middle grades educators in a cohort of Chicago public schools support in solving problems of practice specific to the middle grades, using the University’s extensive data and research resources.

    Ashley, Jen and Jason talk about some of the specific research and tools the University of Chicago has produced around young adolescent learning and development that they are able to offer their partner schools, how they selected schools to participate in the project and what they are doing to set up educators to work within and across schools on problems of practice specific to middle grades, the challenges and opportunities their school partners are wrestling with, and what they are learning that could be helpful to the broader field.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 4: Lessons with Chris Balme

    This episode features a conversation with Chris Balme, Founder of Argonaut, a new live online community that offers young adolescents opportunities for hands-on experiences to develop wisdom, kindness and real-world skill. Chris has founded a handful of successful organizations, all centered on the learning and development of young adolescents, including the Spark Program and Millennium School. His drive to build new and different opportunities for middle schoolers comes in part from his own unhappy experience in those years, and a frustration he has with the low expectations commonly ascribed to middle school.

    Chris and Jason talk about Chris's strong feeling that the middle school experience needs to be more relevant for young adolescents and cater to what young adolescents are “here to do,” the advantages of creating a laboratory school in the middle grades with freedom to experiment and then share things of use to the field, his approach to translating the science of learning and development into specific educational practices, and what fuels his unsatiated entrepreneurial proclivities.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 3: Lessons with Dr. Robert J. Jagers

    This episode features a conversation with Rob Jagers, Vice President for Research at CASEL: The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, the leading resource for the knowledge, practice and policy around SEL. From the start of his career to his current position, Rob has had a particular interest in the role SEL plays in the learning and development of young people of color, and how it can best be seen as used as a resource to promote racial equity.

    Rob and Jason talk about how young people receive SEL in different ways, and which ways are more constructive and effective than others, how focusing on SEL for adults is just as important as for youth, why the field of education as a whole needs a new paradigm for research, and why CASEL formulated guidance for schools reopening in fall 2020 - after being shut down or remote since the spring - on the foundation of relationships.

    Note that Rob and Jason talked just before the start of the 2020-2021 school year, but the guidance on meaningfully using SEL is salient now and for the foreseeable future.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 2: Lessons with Laura Ross

    This episode features a conversation with Laura Ross, a school counselor for Five Forks Middle School in the Gwinnett County Public School District in Georgia and the 2020 School Counselor of the Year. Laura has been touted for her work at Five Forks, particularly in the areas of discipline and restorative justice, and for creating what she calls a “connectedness culture.”

    Laura and Jason talk about how her early experiences working with incarcerated adults motivated her to work with young people, how she and her colleagues have managed to engage their middle school students in a time of pandemic, remote learning and racial dialog, and how people’s unclear perceptions of the role of school counselors may be driving the current lack of investment in counseling as a whole, despite it being an essential support for youth in the early adolescent years.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 1: Lessons with Dr. Joanna Lee Williams

    This episode features a conversation with Joanna Lee Williams, associate professor at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University. 

    Joanna and Jason cover how young adolescents are impacted by bias-motivated violence, why media surrounding events like Charlottesville amplify this type of violence, and how these events have a cumulative effect on young people, especially young people of color, in their formative years. 

    Professor Williams recently served on the academic committee to develop the Promise of Adolescence, a report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Math. She also recently released some of her own research on the reaction of young adolescents to the 2017 Unite the Right white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and what it may tell us about engaging middle schoolers in conversations about race. 

    Additional Readings and Resources

    From Apathy To Vigilance: Middle School Students' Reactions To The 2017 Unite The Right Rally,” a presentation by Joanna Lee Williams, Ph.D., with co-authors Haley Johnson, Lauren Mims, Kimalee Dickerson, Andrea Negrete, & Miray Seward for the Center for Race and Public Education in the South, March 5, 2019.

    The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Students, National Academies of Science, Engineering and Math, 2019.


The Remaking Middle School initiative is an emerging partnership working to build and steward a new collective effort for young adolescent learning and development. Founding partners include the University of Virginia Youth-Nex Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), the Altria Group, and the New York Life Foundation. We are seeking to ignite conversation, action, and a movement to re-envision and remake the middle school experience in a way that recognizes the strengths of young adolescents and ensures all students thrive and grow from their experiences in the middle grades.