Transforming the Landscape of Education through Social Emotional Health

What if professionals used effective strategies to develop social emotional health in all children so they could reach their full potential?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Our work began in 1920 when the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, a service organization of more than 600 business and community leaders, launched the mission of Momentous Institute. Our services, rooted in mental health, have evolved over the years but our goal remains: to change the odds for children impacted by poverty through family-centered mental health and educational programming. We are deeply concerned about the widening achievement gap, the impact of poverty on education and the growing mental health needs of children that remain unmet. Momentous Institute’s foundation in research, implementation of evidence-based programming to improve social emotional health and solid outcomes have allowed us to shift the conversation regarding effective ways to ensure that children residing in poverty have every chance to succeed. Our direct services have created sustainable change for children and families that leads to a lifetime of well-being and success. Longitudinal outcomes of Momentous School alumni demonstrate that prioritizing trauma-informed, social emotional health strategies lays the foundation for long-term academic achievement of students. Our strong outcomes coupled with emerging knowledge in neurobiology have created a sense of responsibility and urgency to make our proven strategies widely accessible to others. Education professionals across the country are eager for the dissemination of our practices, helping us to serve children we will never meet.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)
  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Texas

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Texas

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Our direct services in education and mental health are provided to more than 6,000 children and family members in North Texas. Research and professional training efforts currently are provided across the country.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

• The toxic stress of poverty poses significant threats to young children’s emotional and behavioral development, as well as their academic success. Toxic stress in early childhood creates a distinct disadvantage in the development of neuron connections in the brain and inhibits learning and memory. • 50% of Texas children ages 0 to 17 experience one or more Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). Nearly one in eight children have experienced three or more adverse life events associated with levels of stress that pose imminent damage to their physical and mental health. • Developing social emotional health improves life outcomes. A longitudinal study found that early childhood social emotional health increases the likelihood of positive education and employment outcomes and decreases the probability of criminal behavior, substance abuse and mental health issues into adulthood.

We work to transform the landscape of education by prioritizing social emotional health in school culture and classrooms, so that all children have the chance to succeed.  Due to advancements in neuroscience, we have learned that the impact of early toxic stress on the brain is largely reversible. Promoting social emotional health in children creates a buffer to such toxic stress.  Therefore, the solution to the dire needs our children face is to invest in research and training to broadly disseminate best practices in building and repairing social emotional health.

Traditional academic settings are not equipped to build or repair social emotional health though a deficit in social emotional health is the biggest barrier to long-term success.  The standard public education system responds bluntly to children who have experienced adverse conditions through aggressive disciplinary measures.  These measures are not only ineffective for children who have experienced toxic stress, they actually escalate the baseline damage.  Psychological research indicates that these behaviors are not acts of defiance, but rather indicators of stress and expressions of a core need for validation and safe connection.

Momentous Institute’s foundation in research, trauma informed approach, and implementation of evidence-based programming to improve social emotional health and solid outcomes have allowed us to shift the conversation regarding effective ways to ensure that children residing in poverty have every chance to succeed. Our direct services have created sustainable change for children and families and lead to a lifetime of well-being and success.

Our work and research indicates that teachers can foster a classroom environment that promotes neural plasticity within the student's brain, facilitating the brain's flexibility and willingness to grow and become more complex.  A trauma-informed, social emotional focus in the classroom allows children to acquire self-regulation strategies and creates the necessary safe attachment within the classroom and with the teacher.  The factors that have caused the child’s stress do not disappear, but the child acquires coping mechanisms to be successful in the face of external stressors. 

Our urban laboratory school serves low-income children from 3 years of age through 5th grade and provides a rigorous academic environment with a focus on social emotional learning. The following long-term academic outcomes of students are directly attributed to the prioritization of social emotional health in the classroom:

  • 99% of students who graduate from Momentous School after fifth grade finish high school on time.
  • 86% of students who graduate from Momentous School enroll in college and 87% of those remain enrolled into their sophomore year.

Our most recently adopted strategic goal is to effectively scale programming in school settings by investing in the dissemination of research and training throughout North Texas and the nation.  Our Innovation & Impact Department is deploying training teams to provide intensive instruction and coaching on our model across North Texas and beyond.  The training team consists of an education trainer, mental health trainer and research staff and works to equip educators and mental health professionals with the skills and knowledge to integrate our trauma-sensitive practices into their services.  The strategy allows us to scale programming, serving children we would never meet, so that they can achieve their full potential.  

Our comprehensive 2015 strategic plan includes the following five strategic goals:

  • Strengthen the social emotional health of 6,000 children and family members who are impacted by poverty, trauma or abuse through services that integrate education and mental health on an annual basis.
  • Sustain positive change through successful transfer of social emotional health strategies to home and school.
  • Research how best to improve student and client success.
  • Inspire people, organizations and communities to invest in social emotional health.
  • Train 4,000 education and mental health professionals across the country to help countless children we will never meet on an annual basis.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

A research study is being conducted with Fort Worth ISD, including teacher professional development and coaching on the integration of Momentous Institute’s PreK Social Emotional Health Curriculum. Ms. Smith is a PreK teacher who has taught for over 10 years, predominately at the upper elementary level. Initially, she lacked confidence working with four-year olds, was easily distracted and did not work well with her aide. At the end of year 1, Ms. Smith showed improved self-efficacy and both she and her aide became more student-focused. By the end of year 2, she and her aide developed a supportive relationship. Ms. Smith was more focused and her CLASS scores increased from the mid-range to the high range across all dimensions targeted.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2015, Momentous Institute provided training and coaching on our model to more than 7,800 professionals from 26 states and 136 cities, conservatively impacting about 200,000 children indirectly. Training and coaching on our PreK curriculum with Fort Worth ISD demonstrated significantly higher executive functioning in students, reduced negative classroom climate and increased teachers’ regard for student perspective after one year of intervention. - 71% of students’ cognitive self-regulation improved. - 78% of students’ emotional self-regulation improved. - 71% of students’ social skills improved. Six professional development sessions on our social emotional health model at a KIPP elementary school showed that students whose teachers received the training demonstrated greater improvement on social-emotional competence and cognitive self-regulation than those in the control group.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • over $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Salesmanship Club of Dallas and our Board of Directors have made sustaining all programming a financial priority. While we are a sustainable organization due to the support of Salesmanship Club, 25% of our budget MUST be raised through development efforts to maintain our base programs and project-based training and research initiatives. To secure the 25%, we seek funding from private foundations, corporations and individual donors.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Today’s conversation about education reform continues to focus on strengthening instruction and academic curriculum. What is largely missing from the conversation is the opportunity to develop the whole child: to prioritize social emotional competency building at the same level as academic achievement. Our model addresses a critical need for trauma-informed practices that are deeper than traditional social emotional learning models and utilizes neuroscience and mindfulness strategies to develop self-motivated, resilient learners with extraordinary long-term results.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

TurnAround Schools is an impressive model focusing on building new pathways to change and success at the highest need schools. We are particularly intrigued by the multi-level intervention and evaluation framework. Their approach to providing data coaching, professional development and mental health support to students, teachers and school leaders thereby creating systemic change and significantly impacting children’s well-being and educational outcomes is inspiring. We are also encouraged by the increasing national awareness of the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on life outcomes.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Program Design Clarity

Our main community for our therapy work and our school if families managing poverty or trauma. Our community for training and research is much more broad. We use what we are learning in our direct work with families to inform our training and research and vice versa. Our training teams include a therapist and an educator who work with schools, districts, after school groups, nonprofits etc. We may see them for one day or do training with them all year long. Training focuses on trauma, toxic stress and strategies for developing social emotional health.

Community Leadership

E.g. 1) We privilege the voices of the families we serve- many of whom feel marginalized or invisible - to co-develop treatment plans in therapy or structure parent involvement at the school. We do not have traditional PTA - instead the parents have a Parent Center and do classes for each other, etc. 2) We worked for two years incorporating the voices and opinions of teachers working in a large urban district prior to finalizing curriculum.

Age of Children Impacted

  • Pregnancy - 0
  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

Main strategy is working with adults who are already face-to-face with kids in hopes of exponential impact. Key connections include universitiy-based programs like Harvard Center for the Developing Child; National Institutes of Health; National Center of Children in Poverty; policy makers; Australian Childhood Foundation; UN Human Rights; Turnaround for Children; Holistic Life Foundation.....

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Our model is based on the idea that kids experiencing toxic stress and trauma need safe relationships/attachment/belonging in order to thrive. Kids with a strong sense of self, an understanding of others and - first and foremost - the capacity to self regulate will go on to be changemakers themselves. Research has shown that children with these skills have better long term outcomes in most every category.

Leadership Story

For 96 years we have been devoted to children and have been on an iterative path. For decades we worked with teenagers in residential treatment. Our learning led to three key changes: 1) Start younger; 2) Involve family and 3) Don't remove kids from their homes or schools. In 1997, we started our lab school that exists to prove up that kids growing up in poverty can have great long term outcomes with strong starts that prioritize social emotional health. In 2011, we began investing even more in training and research in hopes of collaborating and helping countless kids we will never meet.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

SMU Luminary Award; CNM Connect CEO of the Year; Featured in Can Do Workplace; Contributor to Ashoka's Changemakers: Educating with Purpose book; Featured in MH channel/PBS documentary

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 75%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 25%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 75%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 0%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 25%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 50%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 50%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 75%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 0%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 25%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 50%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 50%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 0%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 100%


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Photo of Thảo Vân

Looking forward to reading more.. Great post. Really Cool

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