Peer-assisted social learning in urban after-school programs

Sarah A Helseth, Florida International University


This study launches a program of research that targets the unmet mental health needs of children living in urban poverty by infusing evidence-based practices and mental health promotion into peer-mediated recreational activities delivered in community-based after-school programs (ASP). We examined the feasibility and promise of a Peer-Assisted Social Learning (PASL) model to promote social competence among low-income, minority youth. In collaboration with our community partner, we developed and implemented a series of 21 recreational activities designed to generate natural opportunities for peer-facilitated problem solving. Socially skilled children were identified by ASP staff and paired with less-skilled peers to maximize opportunities for social learning and minimize the demands placed on staff. Thirty children at an Experimental site participated in PASL activities, while 31 children at a Comparison ASP participated in recreation-as-usual activities. Five Experimental staff received training and participated in 10 weekly supervision meetings to support PASL implementation. Feasibility was assessed using measures of child and staff attendance, participation, and engagement in PASL, as well as staff adherence to and competence with implementation. Promise was assessed pre- and post-PASL, using measures including staff-reported social skills, children’s problem-solving strategies, and peer reported social standing (i.e., likability ratings, peer nominations, and social network mapping). Strong evidence emerged for fidelity of implementation (adherence, competence) and broader feasibility (attendance, participation, enthusiasm). Promise effects were mixed; children who participated in PASL demonstrated improvements in problem behavior and social skills, but also exhibited increased reliance on aggressive strategies to solve problems and some declines in peer-reported social standing. Implications related to the capacity of ASPs to incorporate evidence-based practices for mental health promotion into natural routines are discussed.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Helseth, Sarah A, "Peer-assisted social learning in urban after-school programs" (2017). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10289161.