Social-Emotional Learning Gets $100 Million Boost

National University System received the largest donation in the network’s 17-year history today: $100 million from banking magnate T. Denny Sanford. The donation brings Sanford’s total support of the system to an estimated $170 million.

This most recent gift is aimed at ensuring that social-emotional learning opportunities are available in every public school and nonprofit serving students from pre-K to the sixth grade throughout the country. Social-emotional learning refers to a vision of education, championed by Sanford, that emphasizes diversity and inclusion, empathy and critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and peer relationships.

The offerings will be made more available primarily through the expansion of the Sanford Harmony program, one of three system programs that bears Sanford’s name. The program has been adopted by both private and public schools and organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America affiliates.

Social-emotional learning is currently available to 1.5 million children. The gift will expand that number to 30 million children, according to a system release. The gift additionally allows for a digital spin on the program through online learning and game-based applications and allows for global application with editions in Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Portuguese along with a preexisting Spanish version.

“The long-term goals of the program are to ultimately reduce divorce, abuse and bullying and increase cooperation, collaboration, respect and inclusion among all children,” Sanford said in the announcement. “The response and acceptance from teachers nationwide is overwhelming, and it gives me great confidence knowing that these young children will grow up to have stronger and healthier relationships into their adult lives.”

The gift will also lead to the creation of the Sanford Harmony Research Institute. The institute will feature an inaugural class of fellows that will provide annual research projects and findings around areas in which to impact substantial numbers of individuals. Gifts, scholarships, and awards to help teachers learn more about social-emotional learning and recognize educational excellence will also be funded by the gift.

“Denny Sanford is a truly remarkable individual who believes strongly in the power of supportive, collaborative relationships to strengthen families, communities and society at large,” said Michael R. Cunningham, Ph.D, chancellor of the system. “Denny’s vision of creating a better world starts with addressing these issues at the youngest ages, and it could not come at a more crucial time when the nation faces increasing challenges in our schools, homes and in the workplace.”