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.

Season 2


  • Episode 28: Lessons with Joel Daniel Harris

    This episode features a conversation with Joel Daniel Harris, Founder and “Executive Dreamer” of TomTod, a nearly ten-year-old youth development nonprofit based in Canton, Ohio that offers summer learning opportunities for middle school aged youth, as well as after school and in-school programming. TomTod provides a variety of community-based, immersive experiences for thousands of youth across northeast Ohio that are deeply influenced by adolescent development and rooted in community and relationships, focusing on what young adolescents are capable of here and now, and not just in the future, which can work to change what most people think of the middle school period. 

    Joel Daniel and Jason talk about the genesis of TomTod, the attributes of summer learning that uniquely resonates with young adolescents, the core elements of the program, which runs throughout the year in and out of school and has a special concentration in the summer months in partnership with an array of community organizations, businesses and institutions. They then talk about the influences of Liberatory Design, positive youth development and social and emotional learning on the program, the complexities of measuring outcomes for programming directed to young adolescents, how TomTod is working to respond to the mental health crisis during this upcoming summer, and what the future holds for the organization in delivering programming as well as building capacity in schools and school systems.

     Additional Readings and Resources

    Episode 28 Quick Listens
  • Episode 27: Lessons with Joyce Pae, Oscar Newman & Shelby Hildreth

    This episode features a conversation with three educators working to remake parts of the middle grades experience in a Chicago public school through a Liberatory Design process. Joyce Pae is principal of The Chicago Academy, or TCA, a preK through eighth grade school in the northwest side of the city. Oscar Newman is a National Board Certified science and math teacher at TCA. Shelby Hildreth is the Director of Program Design on the LiberatED Way team at AUSL, which is facilitating the Liberatory Design work at TCA. The process works to engage educators to reflect on teaching and learning and school environment and policy to advance equity in deep, specific and measurable ways.

    Joyce, Oscar, Shelby and Jason talk about The Chicago Academy and the students and community it serves, some of the immediate challenges educators are facing this year as we continue to work through the pandemic, what the Liberatory Design process is, the way it’s being paired with adolescent development to focus on the middle grades, the application of the design process at TCA, the specific equity challenges that were identified and addressed through the process, the ways TCA worked to amplify youth voice and test new strategies that better aligned with adolescent developmental needs, and how educators across different contexts and environments can utilize Liberatory Design to address their own challenges.

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Episode 27 Quick Listens
  • Episode 26: Lessons with Julie Lammers and Dr. Rahul Choudaha

    This episode features a conversation with Julie Lammers and Rahul Choudaha. Julie is Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Corporate Social Responsibility for American Student Assistance, or ASA, an organization that invests in and advocates for greater career exposure and exploration for youth as early as the middle grades. Rahul is Managing Director, Higher Education at Morning Consult, a firm specializing in survey research and business intelligence. The conversation centers around a soon-to-be-released survey of employers and adolescents around alternative, non-traditional, or non-degree postsecondary education opportunities. 

    Julie, Rahul and Jason talk about how the survey came about, how it was designed to capture both employer and youth perspectives, the partners involved in the effort, what we mean by multiple pathways in the postsecondary space, the perceptions of those pathways that the survey showed, and some of the delicate communication challenges that highlight the value of multiple pathways without setting different expectations for youth driven by certain biases. They then look further into the findings of the survey, specifically addressing the motivations for pursuing alternate pathways, such as the avoidance of debt and accelerating a path to employment, how to change the narrative to better legitimate multiple pathways such that they are not viewed by both employers and youth as riskier than traditional college, and what some of the structural changes that may be necessary are in the K-12 education system, federal policy around postsecondary education financing, and employer hiring practices in order to make multiple pathways more viable and perceived by both employers and youth as more valuable. 

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Episode 26 Quick Listens
  • Episode 25: Lessons with Dr. Clark McKown

    This episode features a conversation with Clark McKown, President and Founder of xSEL Labs and associate professor of behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center. xSEL Labs conducts an array of research in the education and youth field specific to social and emotional learning, or SEL. Notably, xSEL labs also develops assessments for student social and emotional competencies, as well as school climate and SEL for adults. xSEL Labs is currently building a new set of SEL assessments for middle school aged students, which are being designed not only with middle school students in mind but with their direct input.

    Clark and Jason talk about the history of xSEL Labs, the key differences of social and emotional learning for adolescents versus for younger children, and the evidence-based methods xSEL Labs uses to develop SEL measures as well as when and where and how in school environments the measures are administered. They then address important ways to factor racial and cultural inputs into SEL measures, Clark’s views on the current state of the SEL field and where it’s going, as well as emerging ways xSEL Labs is looking to provide more support to educators to implement SEL programming most effectively.

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Remaking Middle School is launching a Middle School Listening Tour! If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, youth development professional, policy maker, or youth advocate of middle grade students, we would love to hear from you. Please visit http://RemakingMiddleSchool.org and click “Sign Up” for the Listening Tour.

    Episode 25 Quick Listens
  • Episode 24: Lessons with Dr. Nathaniel Kendall-Taylor

    This episode features a conversation with Nat Kendall-Taylor, CEO of FrameWorks Institute. FrameWorks plays a unique role in the social sector. It uses the science behind how human beings learn about and understand the world around them in order to position or frame social causes in ways that compel people to take positive action or change. For a number of years, FrameWorks has been developing strategies and resources to help educators and advocates reframe adolescence in ways that better call out aspects of exploration, discovery and openness, which balance out traditional messages of angst and risky behaviors.

    Nat and Jason talk about how FrameWorks got its start and the role it plays in the social sector, the research-based process it uses to develop compelling narratives for important issues and topics, and how FrameWorks has used that process to reframe adolescence. They also talk about some of the ways FrameWorks supports organizations and the broader field to use the most effective language and channels of communication to showcase the opportunity of adolescence, how to help parents and families balance their understanding and impressions of their own adolescent children, the power of positive examples and stories of adolescents, the role of framing in bridging polarization and the cultural and political divides in education as well as other domains, and some of the new areas FrameWorks is looking to expand into or go deeper in.

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Remaking Middle School is launching a Middle School Listening Tour! If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, youth development professional, policy maker, or youth advocate of middle grade students, we would love to hear from you. Please visit http://RemakingMiddleSchool.org and click “Sign Up” for the Listening Tour.

    Episode 24 Quick Listens
  • Episode 23: Lessons with Daquan Oliver

    This episode features a conversation with Daquan Oliver, Founder and CEO of WeThrive. Still in the first decade of his career, Daquan has earned prestigious professional fellowships in the social sector, with Ashoka and Echoing Green, and was featured as one of Forbes magazine’s thirty under thirty social entrepreneurs. WeThrive is the social enterprise Daquan founded in 2014. WeThrive offers middle and high school youth programming and seed money to develop real, revenue-generating businesses, bolstered by an array of skill-building curriculum and experiences around financial literacy, problem-solving and leadership, as well as opportunities to develop social capital through a network of mentors and advisors. WeThrive seeks to make entrepreneurship education and the opportunities it can bring equitably accessible, and in doing so really reframes how we even talk about and view youth, not as under-resourced, but rather, under-estimated.

    Daquan and Jason talk about his own experience as a young adolescent and how it inspired him to make entrepreneurism and youth service the core mission of his work. They then discuss how WeThrive was created, the under-estimated youth it is designed to serve, and the core elements of the program from curriculum through the launch of student-developed micro-enterprises. They also address WeThrive’s effect on youth, how WeThrive builds not only practical skills but also senses of agency and self-worth, why and how students gravitate toward building businesses that solve social problems in their school, their community, and the world, and how Daquan thinks about scale and where WeThrive goes next within the evolving education and youth-serving landscape.

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Remaking Middle School is launching a Middle School Listening Tour! If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, youth development professional, policy maker, or youth advocate of middle grade students, we would love to hear from you. Please visit http://RemakingMiddleSchool.org and click “Sign Up” for the Listening Tour.

    Episode 23 Quick Listens
  • Episode 22: Lessons with Stephanie Simpson, Ashley Hemmy and Julie DiPilato

    This episode features a conversation with three authors of “Career Exploration in the Middle Grades: A Playbook for Educators,” which was developed in partnership between the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) and American Student Assistance (ASA). Stephanie Simpson is CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based AMLE, which represents tens of thousands of middle level educators across the country and offers a variety of resources, training and convenings for the field. Ashley Hemmy is manager of program engagement at Boston-based ASA, a 60 year-old national nonprofit and student loan guarantor organization which has expanded its mission to develop and invest in resources and tools to help students as early as middle school to explore their long-term career and educational goals. Julie DiPilato is a seventh grade science teacher in Barnstable, Massachusetts, where she developed an array of career exploration programming in her school. 

    Stephanie, Ashley, Julie and Jason talk about the career exploration playbook, how it came about, why career exploration is a perfect match for young adolescents and where it fits within schools. They then paint a picture of what career exploration looks like in the middle grades, how educators can use it to enhance their teaching, the ways AMLE and ASA are promoting the larger scale adoption of this practice, and the opportunities for career exploration in the field of education long-term.

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Remaking Middle School is launching a Middle School Listening Tour! If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, youth development professional, policy maker, or youth advocate of middle grade students, we would love to hear from you. Please visit http://RemakingMiddleSchool.org and click “Sign Up” for the Listening Tour.

    Episode 22 Quick Listens
  • Episode 21: Lessons with Youth Participants in Mikva Challenge

    This episode features a series of comments and reflections and perspectives on the power of youth voice in helping young adolescents figure out what they care about and who they are, and the worth they see in themselves. First, we hear from Juleny Santa Cruz, Youth Council and Project Manager for Mikva Challenge, a Chicago-based organization that pioneered a type of experiential civics learning programming they call “action civics.” We also hear from researchers and program professionals from the University of Virginia’s Youth-Nex Center for Effective Youth Development: Abby Gillespie, Director of Strategy and Engagement, and postdoctoral research associates Faith Zabek and Ashlee Sjogren. Together, they share the core elements of the Mikva program as well as some of the broader research base on youth voice, calling out its importance in early adolescent development, the role of educators in making room for and amplifying youth voice, and setting up learning environments where youth voice can be elevated to authentic youth participation. We then mostly hear from young people. Ten young adolescents - Hailey, Da’una, Amya, Nelly, Liz, Honesty, Michelle, Xitlali, Luis, and Laurice - talk about their experiences participating in the Mikva Challenge program. They share how Mikva offers a venue for them to engage in issues important to them and their community, for fostering positive relationships, and for developing confidence and a positive self concept. 

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Remaking Middle School is launching a Middle School Listening Tour! If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, youth development professional, policy maker, or youth advocate of middle grade students, we would love to hear from you. Please visit http://RemakingMiddleSchool.org and click “Sign Up” for the Listening Tour.

    Episode 21 Quick Listen
  • Episode 20: Lessons with Dr. Daren Graves

    This episode features a conversation with Daren Graves, Associate Professor of Education and Social Work at Simmons University and Adjunct Lecturer of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Daren’s work centers on racial identity development among youth. His most recent work is Schooling for Critical Consciousness, which shows “how schools can help Black and Latinx youth resist the negative effects of racial injustice and challenge its root causes,” a circumstance that has some particular relevance to Daren’s research focus on black boys.

    Daren and Jason talk about the core features of racial identity development from the research literature, the concept of critical consciousness - plus what it means and does not mean in learning settings - the adultification of black boys and their resulting disproportionate representation in disciplinary incidents, how to best train pre-service teachers for a societal and educational landscape that is changing rapidly with respect to the racial composition of school-aged children, the intersection of racial identity development and social and emotional skill development, and the role of hip hop in the education of youth of color.

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Dr. Graves will be giving a Youth-Nex Talk on Friday March 18th at 11 AM ET on "Schooling for Critical Consciousness: Tools to help cultivate Youth Resilience and Agency." To attend in person or virtually, please visit the event website for more information as it becomes available. 

    Remaking Middle School is launching a Middle School Listening Tour! If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, youth development professional, policy maker, or youth advocate of middle grade students, we would love to hear from you. Please visit http://RemakingMiddleSchool.org and click “Sign Up” for the Listening Tour.

    Episode 20 Quick Listens
  • Episode 19: Lessons with Dr. Nate Pietrini and Yolanda Luna-Mroz

    This episode features a conversation with Nate Pietrini and Yolanda Luna-Mroz from High Jump, a 30-year-old academic enrichment program offered to high achieving but under-resourced students in Chicago. Nate is a former teacher and principal, and now High Jump’s Executive Director. Yolanda is Chief Programs Officer, having also been an educator and school leader. Both are working to expand High Jump’s programming to more students in the middle grades to support their learning and development and better prepare them for the transition into high school, which a great many students find hard to do well.

    Nate, Yolanda and Jason talk about the history and evolution of High Jump, how it blends academic enrichment and support with social and emotional skill development and self exploration, specific programming to help students prepare for the transition to high school, the various ways High Jump measures success, both near-term and long-term and both academic and social and emotional development, and the value programs like High Jump play in the emerging Covid-recovery and eventually post-Covid landscape.

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Remaking Middle School is launching a Middle School Listening Tour! If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, youth development professional, policy maker, or youth advocate of middle grade students, we would love to hear from you. Please visit http://RemakingMiddleSchool.org and click “Sign Up” for the Listening Tour.

    Episode 19 Quick Listens
  • Episode 18: Lessons with Nadia K. Selby and Dr. Elizabeth Micci

    This episode features a conversation with Nadia Selby and Elizabeth Micci from Citizen Schools, a 25-year-old Boston-based nonprofit that offers middle-school aged youth experiential learning opportunities through a blend of out-of-school time programming, in-school professional development, and community partnership. Nadia is a veteran of the organization, having worked there for some 14 years, and is currently Vice President of Programs. Elizabeth is Managing Director of Catalyst, Citizen Schools’ teacher development model. The driving force behind all of Citizen Schools’ work is embedding experiential learning opportunities into the educational experience, both in school and out of school, which is a powerful way to keep youth in the middle grades engaged and on-track.

    Nadia, Elizabeth and Jason talk about the history of Citizen Schools and how it has evolved over time - including spanning both the out-of-school and in-school domains - the ways in which the organization establishes partnerships with educators, mentors, schools and companies to deliver real world experiential learning, how they develop high quality talent and mentors to serve as a “second shift” of educators, and how out-of-school time programming, people and resources can be leveraged to expand the capacity of schools.

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Remaking Middle School is launching a Middle School Listening Tour! If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, youth development professional, policy maker, or youth advocate of middle grade students, we would love to hear from you. Please visit http://RemakingMiddleSchool.org and click “Sign Up” for the Listening Tour.

    Episode 18 Quick Listens
  • Episode 17: Lessons with Dr. Christine Bae, Tracyee Hogans Foster and Michael Stange

    This episode features a conversation with Dr. Christine Bae of Virginia Commonwealth University, Tracyee Hogans Foster of Richmond Public Schools, and Michael Stange of Chesterfield County Public Schools. The three are engaged in a 5-year-long initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to examine student engagement in science instruction in the middle grades through a method called "authentic science discourse."

    Christine, Tracyee, Mike and Jason talk about the research base around student motivation in learning, why science is a particularly good subject in which to study student motivation, what educators are experiencing this year in terms of student motivation in general after a year of long-term remote learning, and the practice of science discourse as a way to inspire and compel students to engage more with the content. They also talk about what science discourse looks like in virtual and in-person learning settings, how the practice can be sustained over time, and the value of research-practice partnerships - like the one they are participating in - to educators and to the field as a whole.

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Episode 17 Quick Listens
  • Episode 16: Lessons with Lynsey Wood Jeffries and Nyasha Rusununguko

    This episode features a conversation with Lynsey Wood Jeffries and Nyasha Rusununguko from Higher Achievement. Lynsey is CEO and Nyasha Director of Program Operations for the 45-year-old, Washington DC-based nonprofit serving middle-school age youth in the out-of-school-time space with a blend of academic enrichment, mentoring, and community-building, culminating in high school and ultimately college preparation. Higher Achievement serves students in communities in and around Washington, DC, Baltimore and Richmond.

    Lynsey, Nyasha and Jason talk about the history and program model of Higher Achievement, emphasizing literacy, social and emotional learning, and high school readiness. They look at the results the organization is seeing in terms of student academic and other outcomes. They delve into the ways Higher Achievement staff and mentors deliver a meaningful student experience, the changes they had to make during virtual programming amid the pandemic, and which of those they will keep. And they discuss what the pandemic showed about the essential role out-of-school-time programs have in education going forward.

    Additional Readings and Resources

    Episode 16 Quick Listens

Season 1


  • Season One Recap

    We're excited to announce that production on the second season of the "Lessons in Adolescence" podcast is officially underway! Our first episode will be available for listening on your preferred podcast platform Wednesday October 20th. Season two will be packed with new guests, more lessons, and fresh showcases of research, practice and advocacy all focused on young adolescent learning and development. 

    Before we dive into season two, host Jason Cascarino shares some highlights from season one, including episodes that deal with issues of developing positive relationships, delivering effective youth programming during the pandemic, and helping young people navigate systemic racism and engage in racial justice. Highlighted conversations feature:

    • Dr. Lisa Harrison, Associate Professor of teacher education at Ohio University
    • Dr. Kent Pekel, former CEO of Search Institute
    • Dr. Elizabeth Santiago, former Chief Program Officer of MENTOR
    • Dr. Joanna Lee Williams, Associate Professor of school psychology, Rutgers University
    • Breakthrough Collaborative CEO, Elissa Vanaver, Birmingham Executive Director, Mariohn Michele, and San Juan Capistrano Executive Director, Alex Serna
    • Aim High CEO, Alec Lee and Vice President of Programs, Terrence Riley
  • Episode 15: Lessons with Kiana Dixon and Janikaa Jackson

    This episode features a conversation with Kiana Dixon and Janikaa Jackson. Kiana and Janikaa are students at Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, New York and are alumni of the Peer Group Connection (PGC) program offered by the Center for Supportive Schools (CSS). PGC positions upper classmen and women in high school to mentor incoming 9th graders transitioning into high school from middle school. They are both now consultants with CSS, helping develop new programming and curriculum, and providing professional learning for educators on practices that incorporate authentic student voice.

    Kiana, Janikaa and Jason talk about their own middle school years and their experience being bullied, their transition into high school and finding their own path, and details of their work as upper class women mentoring incoming freshmen and women and the impact having a mentor has on young adolescents transitioning from middle school. They also touch upon their experience as consultants with CSS, developing a youth advisory board to amplify youth voice, developing accessible programming during the pandemic, providing professional development to teachers and helping them make adjustments to their curriculum to align with student needs, and what they think works best to keep students engaged; plus, Kiana and Janikaa reveal what they see for their own futures.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 14: Lessons with Elissa Vanaver, Mariohn Michel and Alex Serna

    This episode features a conversation with three leaders of one of the largest and longest standing summer learning programs geared toward middle-school aged youth: Breakthrough Collaborative. Elissa Vanaver is Breakthrough’s CEO, who has led the organization through a new strategy that looks to codify its programming and solidify its large network of local affiliates across the country serving more than 10,000 students annually. Mariohn Michel and Alex Serna are two of Breakthrough’s local executive directors. Mariohn heads Breakthrough Birmingham in Birmingham, Alabama and Alex heads Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano in Southern California.

    Elissa, Mariohn, Alex and Jason talk about Breakthrough’s programming for middle schoolers and how that national model takes shape in various local contexts with individual needs, Breakthrough’s human capital strategy to bring talented college students in various fields into education and what effect they have on young adolescents, and vice versa, and Breakthrough’s approach to remote programming, including which elements might stick post-pandemic.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 13: Lessons with Dr. Jennifer Sloan McCombs and Dr. Nancy L. Deutsch

    This episode features a conversation with Jennifer McCombs and Nancy Deutsch. Jennifer is a Senior Policy Researcher and Director of the Behavioral and Policy Sciences Department for the RAND Corporation, one of the world’s leading research institutes. She has been one of the main authors of several works building the knowledge base on summer learning, including a series funded by the Wallace Foundation. Nancy is a professor of education at the University of Virginia and Director of UVA’s Youth-Nex Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, a founding partner in the Remaking Middle School Initiative. Nancy’s research expertise is around adolescent development, particularly in out-of-school-time spaces.

    Jennifer, Nancy and Jason talk about the reasons to study summer learning and what we want to learn from the research, specifically for young adolescents and their identity development; understanding the elements of structural inequities in summer learning and how that effects young adolescents; the best practices from research around the practical issues of implementing summer programs effectively; the reframing of summer learning from a time to make up gaps in learning to instead best capture the combination of academics and enrichment in a way that motivates and engages young adolescents, and the research interests for this upcoming summer and the next few summers to understand the potential of summertime to support the whole child, academically, socially and emotionally, psychologically, and otherwise.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 12: Lessons with Alec Lee and Terrence Riley

    This episode features a conversation with Alec Lee and Terrence Riley. Alec is co-founder and CEO of the 35-year-old Aim High summer learning program for middle school youth. Terrence is an alumnus of the program, and now Vice President of Programs for the organization. Aim High offers a mix of academic classes and interest-driven enrichment activities for middle school students during the summers leading into, during and transitioning out of the middle grades. Like other summer learning programs in the summer of 2020, Aim High needed to pivot from its traditional in-person model to a virtual one, called Aim High at Home, which had some advantages that the program intends to keep going forward even as they steadily transition back to in-person programming.

    Alec, Terrence and Jason talk about the genesis of the Aim High program, the specific components of the experience, the types of students who participate, how the organization recruits and trains its staff, which includes local teachers-in-training and also alumni of the program, and the outcomes they are seeing across academic, social and emotional domains as well as the students’ transition into high school and even longer term. They then go into the pivot that Aim High had to make to deliver programming during the pandemic, creating Aim High at Home, how they shifted the levels of emphasis on different aspects of the programming to build belonging and community, and how they ramped up training for summer educators. They also address what they anticipate this upcoming summer will look like and its outsized importance given Covid recovery efforts, and what the future of summer learning looks like longer term.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 11: Lessons with Aaron Dworkin

    This episode features a conversation with Aaron Dworkin, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, the nation’s leading champion, connector and supporter of summer learning programming. Aaron has a long history in youth service and has brought a new energy and ambition to the work of NSLA. This comes at a unique moment for the field of summer learning, as the global pandemic and worries about learning loss and mental health give heightened purpose to learning opportunities this particular summer. While that is true, it is also the case that summer learning plays a big role in the learning and development for youth in any circumstance, including creating valuable spaces and relationships specific to young adolescents in middle school.

    Aaron and Jason talk about the genesis and work of NSLA, where summer learning fits within the broader ecosystem of education and youth, and more about the unique features of summer learning for young adolescents in middle school. They also address the future of summer learning - in the near-term, what summer learning is shaping up to be this year as our country looks to rebuild from the pandemic and address concerns of learning loss and mental health; in the long term, how summer learning can be better leveraged as a full partner in learning and what educators at the school and districts levels can do to forge those partnerships.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 10: Lessons with Rachel Graham

    This episode features a conversation with Rachel Graham, Director of Programs at the Lefkofsky Family Foundation in Chicago, founded by Liz and Eric Lefkofsky. The Foundation has made middle grades a singular focus for its education funding, important in a city where young adolescents have the opportunity to apply to enroll in one of many selective and specialty high schools outside their neighborhood. The Foundation’s Success Bound program helps Chicago K-8 elementary schools use developmental science to better prepare their middle grades students to be thoughtful and planful of their futures as they make consequential decisions in their choice of high school.

    Jason and Rachel talk about why the Foundation chose to focus on middle grades, how the Success Bound program came to be, how the Foundation works with educators in communities of practice to integrate the programming schoolwide, what the Foundation is learning about changes in practices, behaviors and student outcomes tied to young adolescent development and the transition into high school, and how middle school can become more central to the national education agenda, and why philanthropy should see young adolescents in middle schools as an opportunity for investment.

    Note for transparency, the Lefkofksy Family Foundation is a funder of Remaking Middle School.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 9: Lessons with Dr. Lisa Harrison

    This episode features a conversation with Lisa Harrison, associate professor of middle childhood education at the Patton School of Education at Ohio University. Lisa is a teacher of teachers, preparing professionals for middle school classrooms. She is also a researcher, with a core area of focus on young adolescent black girls, a somewhat under-addressed topic in the research literature. She has examined the influences of social context on their identity development, including common negative images of black girls compared to their white young adolescent girl peers, as well as the experiences they have in school, often affected by adult perceptions of them that are embedded in some fundamental inequities.

    Lisa and Jason talk about her research that extends into the inequitable experiences young adolescent black girls have with school discipline policies; how the national dialog around race over the past several months has impacted the way she thinks about preparing her teachers-in-training, including the importance for them to engage young adolescents in racial dialog more routinely, rather than just around big moments; the latest update of the position paper from the Association for Middle Level Education, or AMLE, called the Successful Middle School, which Lisa co-authored, that outlines core attributes and characteristics for middle schools; and how educators, as well as parents and families and other caring adults in the community can use the book to improve the learning and development experience for young adolescents.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • Episode 8: Lessons with Jodi Grant

    This episode features a conversation with Jodi Grant, Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance, the nation’s preeminent advocacy organization for afterschool programming. A veteran of public policy, Jodi has led the group for the last 15 years. In that time, the Afterschool Alliance has produced multiple updates of its “America After 3 PM” Report, the most comprehensive examination of the afterschool field, including a recent look at some of the specific challenges and opportunities of afterschool programs for middle school aged youth.

    Jodi and Jason talk about how the demand for afterschool programming, which has never been higher, is not being met with adequate funding - especially for middle and high school aged youth - the inequities in afterschool that have been perpetuated by the COVID pandemic, how afterschool plays an essential supportive role as young adolescents explore opportunities for their futures as well as navigate the complexities of the current world, and an exciting new funding opportunity specifically for middle school afterschool programs being awarded in partnership between the Afterschool Alliance and the New York Life Foundation.

    Additional Readings and Resources

  • 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.

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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.