Comer School Development Program celebrates 50 years of work in education

The program will mark a half century of pioneering work in child development with a two-day symposium at the Omni Hotel in New Haven on Oct. 22-23.

The Yale Child Study Center’s Comer School Development Program (SDP) is hosting two events at the Omni Hotel in New Haven on Oct. 22-23 in celebration of its 50th anniversary. There will be a celebratory dinner followed by a day-long symposium called, “Why Are We Still Waiting?:  The School Development Program: Looking Back, Looking Forward.” This symposium will be an opportunity for the program to both take stock of the past five decades of accomplishments and put forth a vision for the work still ahead, according to Dr. James Comer, creator of the program and the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Child Study Center.

Launched in 1968 in the two lowest-achieving, lowest-income elementary schools in New Haven, the Comer SDP is a model that applies the principles of child development to improve student development, behavior, and academic learning in schools. Over the next several years, the model helped those schools completely turn around their performance, and in the decades since, the Comer SDP has been successfully implemented in more than 1000 other schools worldwide.

As the Comer SDP website explains, the program is not “a project or add-on, but rather an operating system — a way of managing, organizing, coordinating, and integrating programs and activities … that fosters positive school and classroom climate and creates optimal conditions for teaching and learning, and emphasizes the alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.”

In a commentary for YaleNews last year, Comer wrote that at the symposium the program hopes to “renew our longstanding commitment to our position that the missing piece in education reform is the centrality of child development; and its integration with academic learning.” Local, state, and national thought leaders in education are expected to attend and participate in helping to “turn a half century of research and intervention into pervasive everyday use, particularly for the benefit of our most vulnerable young.”

The keynote speaker for the dinner is Tim Shriver B.A. ’81, chair of Special Olympics, and for the symposium is Linda Darling-Hammond B.A. ’73, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute; both are the co-chairs of the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, on which Comer himself is an honorary chair. Darling-Hammond will provide a critical review of the Comer SDP’s impact and implications based on “With the Whole Child in Mind,” a new book about the Comer SDP written by Darling-Hammond and colleagues at the Learning Policy Institute. 

Slideshow: New Haven’s Martin Luther King Jr. School

Now one of over 1,000 schools where the Comer SDP has been implemented, the Martin Luther King Jr. School in New Haven was one of the sites where Comer and his colleagues at the Yale Child Study Center developed the program. These photos show students, teachers, and parents at the school during the program’s early days. 

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