Photo of a Step Up student with a camera around his neck



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.

Our Approach

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.


Students Served
Black or Latino
Graduate High School

Related News

Fun collage of Step Up students standing outside of their school buildings holding laptops

Date: August 17, 2020

Step-Up Students Get Laptops to Help With Distance Learning
The digital divide has widened during the pandemic. Students participating in McSilver’s Step-Up program received laptops this summer to support their education needs.
Read more Step-Up Students Get Laptops to Help With Distance Learning
Photo of the Statue of Liberty in New York

Date: May 22, 2020

McSilver’s Testimony To NYC Council Finance Committee Cites Step-Up
The institute testified about its Step-Up program and the need for more mental health services in schools amid the fallout of COVID-19.
Read more McSilver’s Testimony To NYC Council Finance Committee Cites Step-Up
Dr. Lindsey appearing in a video interview broadcast of CBSN in October 2019

Date: December 6, 2021

Recent Media Coverage for the McSilver Institute
The McSilver Institute’s research, policy recommendations, and accomplishments have recently been noted by news outlets across the media spectrum. Check out some of the highlights! (This list was last updated on December 6, 2021.)
Read more Recent Media Coverage for the McSilver Institute