What is Marvin’s Club?


The primary focus of Developmental Connections is to support a dangerously underfunded need – social development. Every year, thousands of socially impaired students graduate from high school with a diploma, but without the social ability to succeed in life. Marvin’s Club was piloted in 2012 as a unique partnership between Developmental Connections and school PTA/PTOs to fill this critical gap and help schools run their own effective social enrichment programs. 


Marvin’s Club aims to ensure the social development for all students by providing an engaging social curriculum, intensive support for children with social learning challenges and training for school staff. This powerful combination creates supportive and inclusive communities, all while supplying the tools students need to build relationships and succeed in their educational career and beyond.


Beginning in 2012 in Cedar Lane Elementary School in Loudoun County, VA, Marvin's Club expanded to three Loudoun County elementary schools in 2013. In 2014, Marvin's Club proudly received the "Recognition in Excellence in Supporting Special Education" award by Loudoun County Public Schools Special Education Advisory Committee. In 2015, Marvin's Club was available in 8 schools, serving nearly 70 students and training close to 40 staff members. In 2016, Marvin's Club will serve 7 elementary schools in Loudoun County.

What Makes Marvin’s Club Different?

Our objective is to enable PTA/PTOs to run effective social skills enrichment programs for their schools.

In our after-school sessions, Marvin’s Club helps students with social learning challenges develop social ability: 

  1. In a dedicated session after the regular school day
  2. In the same environment where students use their social skills
  3. Taught by familiar school staff
  4. Using Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking®

1. A dedicated session after the regular school day. Students with social skills deficits will not develop effective social ability simply by being among their neuro-typical peers. A level of intensity is required to teach these skills before participants can practice these skills with their peers. Unfortunately, finding time for social skills development during the highly academic school day can be very challenging. By partnering with school PTA/PTOs, Marvin’s Club carves out a block of time after school in a fun, recreational, club-like format.

2. In the same environment where students use their social skills. Some students participate in social skills development in nearby therapy centers. Parents report that some students find these settings “awkward and forced” and many others are unable to generalize what they learn to school and other natural environments. In contrast, Marvin’s Club participants engage in social development in their own schools – the place where they use their social skills the most.

3. Taught by familiar school staff. Marvin’s Club makes a great effort to train school staff to run our social skills enrichment programs. First, students make faster and more measurable progress when working with adults that they know and trust. These adults also know these students’ styles and preferences, which further enhances the learning experience. Furthermore, the school staff then upgrades their skills while being in the best position to reinforce these concepts during the school day.

4. Using Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking®. After conducting significant research, Developmental Connections identified Social Thinking® as the best curriculum for Marvin’s Club. By following Michelle Garcia Winner’s principals, we are actually teaching students why and how to “think socially” rather than teaching rote social skills. Students find tools such as Superflex® to be so enticing; they don’t even realize they are learning!

The History of Marvin’s Club

2012: Marvin’s Club Pilot -- Cedar Lane Elementary School, Ashburn, VA


The Marvin’s Club pilot program launched at Cedar Lane Elementary School (Ashburn, Virginia) in the fall of 2012 and ran through the spring of 2013. Cedar Lane was chosen in large part due to the exceptionally supportive administration and the open-minded PTA. In partnership with Developmental Connections, the Cedar Lane PTA assembled a team of dedicated educators to design and run Marvin’s Club. The team was trained directly by Michelle Garcia Winner in the Social Thinking® curriculum (www.socialthinking.com). Leveraging this training and partnering with local provider, Michelle Hurst (M. ed, BCBA and founder of Autism Outreach, Inc.), the team designed an after-school program to build age-appropriate social capabilities for the student participants.

Five elementary school students participated in the pilot for twelve weeks, led by Daphne Papageorge (Special Education Teacher) and Stacey Privman (Speech and Language Pathologist), with training and guidance provided by Michelle Hurst (M. Ed, BCBA). At the end of the twelve-week session, each participant improved on at least one measure. Additionally, 100% of participants and staff agreed to extend the program for another four weeks due to its effectiveness. Overall, we saw measurable improvement of the children’s ability to understand and demonstrate the concepts of social thinking. Furthermore, we saw a surprising amount of interest in Marvin’s Club from the general education population to improve behavior in the classroom and create socially tolerant environments.

2013-2014: Marvin’s Club Thrives in 3 Elementary Schools

For the 2013-2014 school year, Marvin’s Club expanded to three Loudoun County schools: Cedar Lane Elementary School, Discovery Elementary School and Moorefield Station Elementary School. In addition to running effective after-school Marvin’s Club sessions, Developmental Connections partnered with the school PTO/PTAs to train all staff members on the Social Thinking® curriculum in order to help entire student populations with social development. The Social Thinking® curriculum appears in five-minute “mini lessons” in the classroom during the school day, as well as other ways, which help students with and without social learning challenges improve their social skills.

2014-2015 Marvin’s Club Expands to 8 Schools

Marvin’s Club took place in eight schools for the 2014-2015 school year, with five additional schools: Countryside Elementary School, Hillside Elementary, Rosa Lee Carter Elementary School, Sycolin Creek Elementary School, and Belmont Ridge Middle School. As the demand for Marvin’s Club has grown, Developmental Connections continues to discover ways to help students with social learning challenges and their communities excel in their educational and recreational environments.

Results of Marvin’s Club

For the 2013-2014 school year, we used a participant performance-rating tool to evaluate the students’ social improvement in Marvin’s Club, across three schools. We measure students’ social ability with a ten-question tool, which focuses on a student's ability to maintain conversations, keep eye contact, self-awareness, and other aspects of the Social Thinking® curriculum. The tool is administered at the beginning of the Club by classroom teachers, parents and Club Leads and again at the end of Marvin’s Club’s 20 sessions. The rating tool measures the following aspects on a five-point scale:

  1. Initiates social interaction with peers
  2. Is aware of how he/she is perceived by others
  3. Observes and processes social cues
  4. Participates in group activities/work effectively
  5. Interprets the thoughts and emotions of others
  6. Asks for help when he/she needs it
  7. Uses eye contact to understand others’ messages
  8. Interprets figurative/abstract language
  9. Recognizes and solves his/her problems
  10. Focuses on larger concepts rather than details

The results we found included:

  • Approximately 70% of participants improved their average score by at least one point (on a five point scale).
  • Some of the most significant increases for the students’ improvements were developing awareness, recognizing and solving problems, and focusing on the big picture or larger concepts rather than details.
  • Metrics like eye contact and asking for help appear more difficult for the participants.

What are people saying about Marvin’s Club?

We are proud to share some of the feedback we received from families whose students participated in Marvin’s Club:

  • “Jonny has improved in using an appropriate voice level in class and episodes of frustration have declined.”
  • “He seems better able to look at the appropriate behavior of his classmates and adjust his own.”
  • “Jane thoroughly enjoyed it. She is very proud about the reward that you gave her at the end. She has it proudly displayed on the shelf in her bedroom, where she keeps all of her most precious items.”
  • “I love this program, thank you!”
  • “Bobby has become more aware of his behaviors and they might affect how people treat him.”

How do we become a Marvin’s Club school?

Schools interested in starting a Marvin’s Club should contact us for more information.

About Michelle Garcia Winner and Social Thinking®

Michelle Garcia Winner is a Congressional-award winning speech-language pathologist who specializes in treating students who are experiencing social and communication challenges. The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders published research supporting her Social Thinking® approach for high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome and her methods have assisted students with other diagnoses, such as ADHD, and those who have no diagnosis. She runs a clinic, has authored numerous books on Social Thinking® and speaks internationally. She serves on the panel of professional advisers of the Autism Society of America. Michelle's goal is to help educators and parents appreciate how crucial developing Social Thinking® and related social skills is to a student's success and growth throughout life.

Funding for Marvin’s Club – Social Skills in Schools

Funding for Marvin’s Club comes from private donations and fundraisers. Your generous donations go to support teacher training, materials and enrollment subsidies for students who cannot afford to participate. In order to make it possible for more schools to participate in Marvin’s Club, we have organized Kids Connect 5K to unite schools, businesses and communities for social growth in our schools.

We thank our supporters for improving the future of students with social impairments, one school at a time. For more information about donations and funding, please visit our donate page and our Kids Connect 5K page.

Who is Marvin?

Marvin's Club was named in memory of a very special friend and supporter of Developmental Connections. His life-long work as an educator and his philosophy of building knowledge (versus teaching skills) inspires and informs our work everyday.

Marvin's Club

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