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New study highlights how trusting relationships provide the necessary foundation for academic success

New study highlights how trusting relationships provide the necessary foundation for academic success

Baltimore, MDThe Dynamics of City Year Interactions with Students and How They Contribute to Social-Emotional Learning and Academic Outcomes, a report by Tarsha Herelle and Mariko Yoshisato, postdoctoral fellows with the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins School of Education, illuminates the critical role that City Year AmeriCorps Members (ACMs) play in supporting student developmental outcomes across classroom, school, and community contexts.

Analysis of City Year ACMs’ service year experiences and interactions with students yielded new insights about the importance of trust-building and holistic relationships, the effects of the learning environment, and the value of in-the-moment interactions in supporting students’

academic progress and social-emotional growth. By prioritizing these components, City Year ACMs established the necessary foundation to effectively support youths’ academic and social-emotional development.

“This study offered insight into the valuable roles of City Year ACMs in school communities, and how their work as “near-peers” contributed to student development,” Tarsha Herelle and Mariko Yoshisato explain. “We learned how ACMs are uniquely well-positioned to respond to students’ immediate needs within and beyond the classroom. Their in-the-moment interactions, relationship-building processes, and holistic youth-centered approaches positively impacted students’ academic and social-emotional growth. Broadly, this points to the importance of connecting youth with trusted adults who can provide immediate support, opportunities for fun, and problem-solving strategies as students navigate daily schooling experiences.”

Building upon findings from a previous Every Graduates Center study that identified that the more time student’s spent with a City Year ACM, the more their social-emotional skills developed, which in turn led to academic improvements, this study highlighted how City Year ACMs engaged in developing positive relationships with students through trust-building, including engaging with students as “people first, students second,” creating opportunities for fun, providing a consistent presence, grounding relationships in honesty and authenticity, setting appropriate boundaries, and being flexible to respond to student needs in the moment. These practices enabled ACMs to build positive relationships with students despite variations in learning environments and norms across geographic regions. The insights gained from this study point to approaches school adults can use to build relationships with students to provide social and emotional supports that promote increased student well-being and achievement.


Tarsha Herelle is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.  As an interdisciplinary scholar of educational policy, sociology of education, and gender and women’s studies, her research interests broadly examine educational policies of diversity and inclusion, belonging, and student success and outcomes in PK – 20.

Mariko Yoshisato Cavey is a postdoctoral fellow with the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Her work supports universities, schools, and communities in leveraging research-practice partnerships to collaboratively advance educational equity, by building connections within and across systems to co-design solutions to shared challenges.

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