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Universal Benefits of School Programs that Bolster the Behavioral Health and Educational Success of Our Youth

Congressional Remarks

On April 19, 2023, The National Prevention Science Coalition, the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, and the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center (PRC) at Penn State University hosted a congressional briefing on the benefits to children of school-based programs designed to foster social, behavioral, and emotional development. People competent in these domains tend to do better in every aspect of life—from health to wealth. Federal and state educational policies that support the provision of these programs will ensure our children are instilled with the skills needed for them to succeed throughout life.

Children across the country have faced grief, uncertainty, and instability throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to unprecedented rates of learning difficulties and problems with mental and behavioral health. Because the brains and bodies of children and adolescents are continuously developing, their health and well-being can be negatively impacted by challenging circumstances, such as the COVID crisis. In the short-term, our children may have difficulty learning, developing healthy relationships, and managing their emotions. Longer term, such adversity increases risk for mental health disorders, substance abuse, unemployment, unstable relationships, and even chronic disease.

Alarmingly, even before the pandemic, the United States was seeing an uptick in youth mental health issues, with youth suicidal ideation or behavior up 44% between 2009 and 2018. And now, in the mist of the pandemic, rates have risen even further with nearly half reporting depression and other mental health symptoms, including thoughts or attempts of suicide. In tandem, young people feel disconnected from schools, even after returning to in-person learning. As seen in this figure, the costs of neglecting this issue are enormous.

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Schools have a critical role to play in preventing these problems by supporting students’ emotional development and resilience through programs that build social, behavioral, and emotional competencies. Throughout the school day and outside of school, teachers can work with families to educate children in the five core competencies: self-awareness, situational awareness, ability to regulate emotion and stress, healthy relationship skills, and better decision-making. Incorporating such competencies into school routines curricula has been demonstrated to sustainably improve students’ abilities to achieve developmental and academic milestones, cope with stress, maintain quality relationships, and prevent mental and behavioral health problems, including substance misuse, violence, and suicide. These competencies have been successfully integrated into school systems across the country, from Texas to New York, and a variety of curricula are available that are acceptable to groups across the political spectrum.

More Information About the Speakers:

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Dr. Aaliyah Samuel

Keynote: Dr. Aaliyah Samuel is currently President & CEO at Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), spearheading initiatives alongside other educators, researchers, and policy leaders to expand social and emotional learning (SEL) nationwide and serving as a leading voice for children’s education. Dr. Samuel is a bilingual executive leader with expertise from early childhood through higher education. She previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary, Local, State and National Engagement at the U.S. Department of Education, as a Senior Fellow at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, and former Executive Vice President of Government Affairs & Partnerships at NWEA. Prior to NWEA, Dr. Samuel was the Director of Education at the National Governors Association (NGA). She has worked with diverse constituents, philanthropies, and national partners. Dr. Samuel holds an undergraduate degree from Tuskegee University, a Masters from University of South Florida, and a Specialist and Doctorate Degree from NOVA Southeastern.


Dr. Catherine Bradshaw

Dr. Catherine Bradshaw is the Senior Associate Dean for Research & Faculty Affairs Development and a University Professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. Her primary research interests focus on the development of aggressive behavior and school-based prevention. She has led federally funded randomized trials of school-based prevention programs, including Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and SEL. She also has expertise in implementation science and coaching models. She served on the White House panel on bullying prevention and co-organized studies for the IOM/National Academy of Sciences. She recently chaired and is currently part of a second What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guide on positive behavior support and is involved in other WWC reviews of classroom management and SEL programs. Dr. Bradshaw works with the Maryland State Department of Education and several other states and school districts to support the development and implementation of programs and policies to prevent bullying and school violence, and to foster safe and supportive learning environments. She collaborates on federally-funded research grants supported by the NIMH, NIDA, CDC, NIJ, U.S. Department of Education, and the Institute of Education Sciences, with awards totaling over 50M. She is the co-director of the IES-funded National Center for Rural School Mental Health. She has published over 300 peer-reviewed articles and chapters in edited volumes. She was previously the associate editor for the Journal of Research on Adolescence and is currently the editor of Prevention Science.

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Dr. Dorothy


Dr. Dorothy Espelage is a William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Espelage is the recipient of the APA Lifetime Achievement Award in Prevention Science and the 2016 APA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research in Public Policy, and is a Fellow of APS, APA, and AERA and an elected member of the National Academy of Education.  Over the last 25 years, she has authored over 300 peer- reviewed articles, seven edited books, and 90 chapters on bullying, homophobic teasing, sexual harassment, dating violence, and gang violence. Her research focuses on translating empirical findings into prevention and intervention programming and she has secured over $22 million of external funding. She advises members of Congress and Senate on bully prevention legislation. She conducts regular webinars for CDC, NIH, and NIJ to disseminate research. She has conducted randomized clinical trials to evaluate K-12 school-based programs to reduce youth aggression, peer-led interventions to address sexual violence and suicidal behaviors, and virtual reality-based bully prevention programs. Findings of her research are guiding state, national, and international efforts to prevent youth violence and promote positive school climates. She authored a 2011 White House Brief on bullying among LGBTQ youth and attended the White House Conference in 2011, and has been a consultant on the website and consultant to the National Anti-bullying Campaign, Health Resources and Services Administration  (HRSA) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). She has presented multiple times at the Federal Partnership to End Bullying Summit and Conference. She is a consultant to the National Institutes of Health Pathways to Prevention Initiative to address bullying and youth suicide. Dr. Espelage has appeared on many television news and talk shows, including The Today Show; CNN; CBS Evening News; The Oprah Winfrey Show, Anderson, Anderson 360 and has been quoted in the national print press, including Time Magazine, USA Today, People, Boston Globe, and the Wall Street Journal.

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Dr. Mark Van


Dr. Mark Van Ryzin is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Oregon. His core research interest is the development and integration of streamlined, efficient prevention strategies into large-scale delivery systems, particularly K-12 educational systems. His current focus is evaluating the impact of small-group instruction on positive peer relations, and subsequent cascading effects on student behavior, social-emotional skill development, and mental health. His long-term goal is to develop an easy-to-use technology platform to support teachers in delivering small-group instruction with fidelity to core design principles in a widely accessible, scalable, and sustainable manner. He has led or participated in numerous grant projects centered on small-group instruction from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), and the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES), and has published dozens of articles in peer-reviewed and practitioner journals targeting issues such as equity and inclusion, racial/ethnic disparities, and instructional models that support the integration of students with disabilities into mainstream classrooms.

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Lakeisha Steele

Discussant: Lakeisha Steele is currently Vice President of Policy at Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).  Steele brings a wealth of experience in education policy at the federal level. She most recently served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs at the U.S. Department of Education. Prior to joining the Department of Education, Steele served eight years in the Legislative Branch between the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, including leading K-12 education on the House Committee on Education and Labor. Steele is guided by a key tenet that all children are entitled to equal educational opportunity. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and a Master of Public Administration from American University.


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  • Multi-tiered System of Supports Plans for Bullying Prevention for Students with Disabilities: Perspectives from an Elementary Teacher Professional Development (Link)

  • Teacher Identity and Bullying: Perspectives from Teachers During Professional Development (Link)

  • Pilot Evaluation of Disability Anti-bullying (DIAL) Training for Elementary Special and General Education Teachers (Link)

  • Development of the Disability Anti-bullying (DIAL) Training (Link)


  • Student Mental Health And Well-being: A Review Of Evidence And Emerging Solutions (Center on Reinventing Public Education, 2023)  (LINK)

  • Addressing the Long-Term Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Children and Families |The National Academies Press (2023) (LINK)


Summary of findings on cooperative learning written for practitioners

By: Mark Van Ryzin

Published: December 1, 2021

How cooperative learning can contribute to diversity, equity, and inclusion

By: Mark Van Ryzin

Published: November 14, 2020

Research Articles

  • Van Ryzin, M. J., Roseth, C. J., & McClure, H. (2020). The Effects of Cooperative Learning on Peer Relations, Academic Support, and Engagement in Learning Among Students of Color. The Journal of educational research, 113(4), 283–291.

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