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"Every day I strive to be an outstanding student. Today I will be respectable, responsible and ready. Today I will focus on achieving my goals."

– A segment of the Kelly Miller Middle School Creed

The day at Kelly Miller Middle School begins with morning announcements. Two students take turns speaking into the microphone of the school’s PA system. One student recites the school creed and the pledge of allegiance, the other reports what the cafeteria is serving for lunch and uses the word of the day in a sentence, spelling bee-style: “DeQuan’s cookie consumption grows exponentially during the holiday season.”  

Kelly Miller Middle School is about four miles due east of the U.S. Capitol – a straight shot down East Capitol Street, across the Anacostia River and almost to the Maryland border. There is no one name associated with the school’s neighborhood, though it draws its 500 students from Deanwood, Burrville, Grant Park, Lincoln Heights and Fairmont Heights. The school, which was built just 10 years ago, is a gleaming structure of brick and glass. It sits a hundred yards back from a busy street in a mixed-income residential neighborhood, where the streets are lined with modest brick row houses. Of the school’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders, 97 percent are African-American, and 99 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

This school, like the majority of schools City Year partners with, has struggled academically. Though the school’s performance has improved in recent years, it remains among the lowest 40 performing schools in the district. Last year, for example, only 35 percent of students had mastered grade-level standards, or were considered “proficient,” on the D.C. assessment, a score that demonstrates significant progress: the proficiency rate has nearly doubled since 2010.  

Abdullah Zaki, the principal at Kelly Miller since 2010, has created a strict culture around student behavior that’s resulted in a very orderly building: students, in their maroon and khaki uniforms, are expected to walk in straight lines in the hallways, stay seated during lunch and remain silent during transition periods. Teachers and staff seem to have a sixth sense for trouble – when groups of students congregate in the hall they appear to kindly but firmly keep kids moving along. “No, baby, you go on and get to class,” a teacher says to a student. Two other schools in the neighborhood were closed this year, so many students are new Kelly Miller and its culture. Principal Zaki relies on the City Year team to reinforce his high expectations, but he’s also given corps members the space to celebrate positive behavior.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

Social emotional learning is acquiring and applying the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Why is Social Emotional Learning Important?

Kids who grow up in poverty experience stress that can alter their brains. But researchers have determined that it’s possible to help kids overcome that stress by helping them hone skills associated with social-emotional development, including concentration, emotional regulation and goal-setting.


What is City Year's approach to S.E.L?

City Year helps a school expand its capacity for SEL, by supporting and adding to the interventions school staff do already. Our AmeriCorps members recognize kids for doing the right thing – staying focused on an exercise, raising their hands, participating productively – and give the kids who are struggling an outlet to vent their frustrations.