Step-Up is a youth development and mental health support program funded by the Robin Hood Foundation and New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) that aims to promote social-emotional development, key life skills, academic achievement, high school graduation, and a positive transition to young adulthood. The program is embedded within two New York City High Schools located in East Harlem and the Bronx.
Developed by McSilver Institute in collaboration with the Center for Collaborative Inner-City Child Mental Health Services Research (CCCR) at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Step-Up was designed for youth experiencing significant environmental, academic, social and emotional challenges. It is a multi-component, youth informed program that offers in-school life skills groups, one-on-one mentoring, mental health supports, structured opportunities for community service, and leadership development.
The program provides supportive services for teens experiencing challenges living within low-resourced communities to promote academic achievement and a positive transition to adulthood. It aims to address ecological stressors that disproportionately affect Black and Latino youth and their families who are impacted by poverty and violence.
Components of Step Up include opportunities to participate in: (1) in-school youth group meetings centered on a life skills curriculum collaboratively developed with teens; (2) one-on-one meetings between diverse Step Up staff and youth; (3) intensive outreach to families and adult supports; (4) incentivized engagement; (5) out-of-school activities, trips, skill-building retreats; and (6) summer internships. Collectively these components build life skills, promote positive youth development, identify and address individual student needs, and sustain engagement via opportunities for interaction with peers and staff throughout the program.
Over the past 11 years, Step-Up has worked in partnership with youth, parents, and staff out of 8 high schools. The program has served over 700 students, 89% are Black or Latino, (38% Black, 50% Latino), and achieved a graduation rate of 85%, among many other positive educational and mental health outcomes.\
Recognition and Impact
Step-Up has frequently been cited as a compelling model by academic and news media. A June 10, 2021 article in Edutopia by Paige Tutt describes the importance of programs like Step-Up in the context of ongoing issues for Black youth mental health. Read “Breaking the Cycle of Silence Around Black Mental Health” at Edutopia.
In May of 2020, the New York City Council’s Committee on Finance invited the McSilver Institute to submit testimony on the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have on the city’s school-aged children, and how NYC schools can address them. The testimony emphasized the successes realized by Step-Up in NYC schools.