Sanford Harmony is a social emotional learning (SEL) program being used in schools and organizations across the United States. The program was developed and initially evaluated at Arizona State University (ASU) prior to its migration to National University for the purposes of continued development, dissemination, and evaluation.

“SEL interventions that address the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)’s five core competencies like Sanford Harmony have been shown to increase students’ academic performance by 13%.”

Three rigorous evaluations of Sanford Harmony’s components have been conducted since the program’s inception in 2008. Two studies focused on fifth grade students participating in relationship-building activities and the other study evaluated the impact of the “Buddy Up” everyday activities on preschool peer relations. All three studies utilized quasi-experimental design and found the Sanford Harmony components to have positive impact on children’s peer relations when compared to control groups.

In the first evaluation of 631 fifth graders from six different elementary schools, students participating in Sanford Harmony reported significantly more diverse friends than did those from control groups. Furthermore, these peer influences were related to improved writing and math performance in classrooms using Sanford Harmony, but not in control classrooms (DeLay, et al., 2016). A second study compared the social and academic behaviors of 368 fifth graders participating in Sanford Harmony’s relationship building activities to 259 fifth graders in control classrooms (Miller, et al., 2017). And, the third evaluation found that preschool children who participated in the “Buddy Up” everyday activities had more peer interactions and were more likely to engage in play with a wider array of peers than did children in the control classrooms (Martin et al., 2017).

Together these studies suggest that students participating in both the relationship building activities and everyday activities of Sanford Harmony benefit both social and academically. The studies reveal promising gains in both social emotional development and academic performance over those in control groups.

While each of these types of activities were evaluated separately, in different grades, other researchers have suggested that the combination of skill building (relationship building activities) and changing the classroom contexts and opportunities (everyday activities) will lead to even greater social and academic benefits (Meyer et al., 2014).

In addition to these empirical results, it is worth noting that the rapid adoption of the program across multiple states provides anecdotal evidence of both perceived value and relevance of the approach as assessed by teachers and administrators.



DeLay, D., Zhang, L., Hanish. L. D., Miller, C. F., Fabes, R. A., & Martin, C. L., Kochel, K. P., & Updegraff, K.A. (2016). Peer influence on academic performance: A social network analysis of social-emotional intervention effects. Prevention Science, 17(8), 903–913.

Hanish, L. D., Martin, C. L., Miller, C.F., Fabes, R. (2016). Social harmony in schools: A framework for understanding peer experiences and their effects. In K. R. Wentzel & G. B. Ramani (Eds.), Handbook of Social Influences in School Contexts: Social-Emotional, Motivation, and Cognitive Outcomes, pp. 48-62, New York: Taylor & Francis.

Martin, C. L., Fabes, R. A., Hanish, L. D., Gaertner, B., Miller, C.F., Foster, S., & Updegraff, K. A. (2017).  Using an intergroup contact approach to improve gender relationships: A case study of a classroom-based intervention. In A. Rutland, D. Nesdale, & C. S. Brown (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Group Processes in Children and Adolescents (pp. 437-454). John Wiley & Sons.

Meyers, A. B., & Hickey, A. M. (2014). Multilevel prospective dynamics in school-based social and emotional learning programs. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 13(2), 218-231.

Miller, C. F., Kochel, K. P., Wheeler, L. A., Updegraff, K. A., Fabes, R. A., Martin, C. L., & Hanish, L. D. (2017). The efficacy of a relationship building intervention in 5th grade. Journal of School Psychology, 61, 75-88.