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Circle Up: Integrating Academic, Social & Emotional Learning

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Project Name
Circle Up: An Integrated Whole-School Model to Address Learners’ Social-Emotional and Learning Needs

Project Description

Circle Up aims to integrate academic, social, and emotional learning using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework to ensure access and agency for all learners. We will co-design with teachers, coaches, administrators, and other partners a comprehensive model of academic, social, and emotional learning using the UDL framework, the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS) model, and the Check and Connect intervention

In our first year, we will work with a co-design team in Aldine Independent School District to turn this idea into a replicable program, with the goal of making academic, social, and emotional learning accessible for all learners, thereby improving short-term outcomes like stronger student/teacher relationships, increases in self-awareness and sense of belonging, decreases in behavioral referrals, and increased engagement. These short-term outcomes will result in increases in student well-being and academic achievement. 

In addition to the implementation of the Circle Up program, an independent evaluation will examine the impact of the integrated UDL/SEL model on academic, social, emotional, behavioral, and engagement outcomes for 4th and 5th-grade students, as well as teacher self-efficacy especially related to social/emotional learning and collective teacher efficacy.

Circle Up project staff will work with school-based teams on accomplishing the following objectives:

  • Objective 1: to develop a training program and set of materials for Circle Up (Co-Design School)
  • Objective 2: to launch and conduct a pilot of Circle Up with two partner schools from Aldine ISD (Pilot Schools)
  • Objective 3: to conduct an impact study of Circle Up with 24 schools from Aldine ISD (Impact study schools and control schools)
  • Objective 4: to support the dissemination of Circle Up.

The basic premise of UDL is that barriers to learning occur in the interaction between learners’ strengths and challenges and the curricula. Circle Up enhances UDL by developing a model of expert learning that integrates UDL with the latest insights on self-regulation, motivation, and affective neuroscience. Circle Up also leverages the power of UDL, CPS, and Check and Connect to identify barriers in design and reduce them for all learners.


2023 – 2027


U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary & Secondary Education, Education Innovation Research (EIR)


Aldine Independent School District
CASEL: Advancing Social and Emotional Learning
Check and Connect
Lives in the Balance
Education Development Center (EDC)

Project Leadership

Jess Gropen, Project Director
Bill Wilmot, Co-Project Director
Ari Fleisher, Project Manager
Kim Ducharme, Director of Educational User Experience Design


For more information about this project, please contact Ari Fleisher at

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