This year SCEF funds helped place full-time counselors in all six elementary and middle schools. In addition, a $20,000 grant from the SCEF Educator Innovation Fund enabled counselors to roll out a new program called Second Step to all students in the district. The Second Step program is a universal, classroom-based curriculum that focuses on four key areas needed to have healthy social and emotional growth, which include: skills for listening, developing empathy, emotion management and effective problem solving. The goal of the Second Step program is to instill these critical life skills in students now, with yearly reinforcement as they progress to each new grade level.
Every week counselors teach 30 minute Second Step lessons to students in kindergarten, first, second and third grade, and to fourth graders once a month. In middle school, students receive 40 minute weekly lessons. The Second Step program encourages student participation in order to practice the skills being taught; whether it’s role-playing between pairs of students, brain based games to practice skills, or a lively all-class discussion. This fall, Brittan Acres kindergarten and first grade classes received lessons on being safe. In one of the safety lessons taught, a beloved puppy puppet named Rufus reviewed the “never never rules” with students, such as never petting an animal without asking an adult first. Students practiced assertiveness skills by asking the counselor for permission to pet Rufus. Rufus shared that he was pushed by another dog, and students discussed safe and unsafe touches. They brainstormed what to do if they were pushed on the playground such as reporting it to an adult and saying words that mean “no.” Meanwhile, students in third grade reviewed the meaning of empathy and watched a video of a boy who spilled chocolate milk on a girl at lunchtime. Students discussed how the girl felt and how the boy showed empathy when he apologized and helped her clean up.
Second Step lessons are designed to build upon the skills learned in prior years. By the time students reach eighth grade, they will have already learned and practiced important skills for managing anxiety, dealing with peer pressure, handling put downs, and understanding different perspectives. Second Step also encourages teachers and parents to reinforce lessons taught by the counselors. Teachers are given follow-through cards to connect each lesson’s concept to situations in their classroom or on the playground. Parents can access the Second Step “home links” online to learn about and practice the skills taught at school.
Social and emotional learning goes beyond the basics of learning reading, writing and arithmetic in school, yet these skills are just as crucial for building a healthy mindset in students. School counselors, in partnership with the Second Step program, are teaching students effective strategies for managing their emotions and resolving conflicts, which in turn makes school a safe and supportive place where everyone can learn. With these social and emotional skills added to their tool kit, students district-wide will be better equipped to reach their full potential in grade school and beyond.
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