How Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Went From Maybe to Must Have

While the idea of providing mental health assessment and services for all students was a nice thought for most districts up until March, 2020, it wasn’t always a central focus. As with so many other aspects of education post-pandemic, that concept has been turned inside out. On this episode of EdTech Today, Christine Nicodemus, co-founder and COO of Ascend and now Chief Product Officer at Aperture Education, details the news of her company’s recent acquisition.

Aperture Education, the leading provider of researched-backed social and emotional learning (SEL) assessments for K-12 schools, purchased Charlotte-based Ascend, creator of goal-based student engagement software, last month. The acquisition allows Aperture to expand its SEL offerings for high school by providing districts and out-of-school-time programs with a mobile-friendly software platform to engage students in their own social and emotional learning. The new platform provides students with access to Aperture’s DESSA-Student Self-report, which students use to assess their own SEL skills, as well as access to real-time results and goal-based SEL strategies. The acquisition also marks a period of significant growth for Aperture which now serves nearly 1 million students and 42,000 educators in nearly 500 school districts.

“Social and emotional learning is a fast-growing segment of the education industry, and the pandemic has created even more urgency around the need for reliable, data-driven SEL programs that engage students, especially in high school. Anyone who has or teaches a high school student knows there are unique challenges in helping students improve their SEL skills – from block scheduling to a lack of dedicated time for teachers and students to focus on SEL, as well as a lack of time to train teachers how to incorporate SEL strategies into their daily instruction,” said Jessica Adamson, CEO of Aperture Education. “Ascend’s gamified, goal-setting platform provides the student-engagement piece to help schools get the data they need, and makes it easier to integrate SEL into the school day. Now, with Ascend, we are able to provide an even more well-rounded SEL assessment solution to support students and teachers at the high school level.”

Aperture Education, based outside of Charlotte in Fort Mill, South Carolina, is home to the education industry’s most well-regarded social and emotional learning assessment, the DESSA. Cited in more than 100 research publications, the DESSA is used by school districts and out-of-school-time organizations to measure students’ social and emotional competence in areas such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making.

Ascend, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, creates gamified SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) goal-setting software for schools and out-of-school time programs. Its unique enterprise platform connects all stakeholders in a student’s personal growth: program administration, student mentors and advocates, and the students themselves.

Aperture’s new platform, the Aperture Student Portal draws on the strengths of each company. It gives high school students the ability to take the DESSA self-assessment and receive immediate feedback about their personal social and emotional strengths and growth opportunities and lets students set goals and take on gamified challenges related to their social and emotional growth and other areas of their lives. This solution motivates students and gives program administrators data that incorporates student voice.

“Aperture is a leader in the SEL assessment industry because of its foundation in research-based tools and together Aperture and Ascend provide a one-stop-shop for SEL assessment, reporting, and strategies for high schools and out-of-school time organizations,” said Christine Nicodemus, co-founder and COO of Ascend.  “By having reliable data and understanding students’ personal goals, program administrators can make better decisions about their high school SEL programs, how best to support those students and find creative new ways to engage with them.”

The company has announced several new company partnerships in the past few years and in March 2021 became the sole recipient of a contract with the Connecticut State Department of Education to provide its SEL assessment statewide.

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