School officials in Hemingford, Neb., have taken a proactive approach to prevent school violence with an anti-violence curriculum to address bullying in elementary school classes.

The Second Step program at Hemingford Elementary School is based on a widely used curriculum created by the National Committee for Children. That program is aimed at teaching children to change attitudes and behaviors that contribute to violence.

The curriculum teaches social skills to reduce impulsive and aggressive behavior in children and increase their level of social competence through role-playing and class discussions. The program, available for students from preschool to junior high, teaches the same three skill units at each grade level: empathy, impulse control, and anger management. The content of the lessons varies according to the grade level.

Hemingford Elementary began using the program two years ago, when it implemented its first counseling program. The key to picking the Second Step program was the school’s new counselor, who had used the program in other schools.

Hemingford Elementary’s principal, Todd Burns, says the school didn’t have problems with bullying, but with all the talk of school violence, school officials felt it was time to take a proactive step.

The program is taught for a half hour each week in every class. The school counselor teaches the program. There is no additional teacher training, but teachers sit in when the counselor comes to the classes and are asked to join in. The program lasts 18 weeks, with most lessons revolving around role-playing. “The kids love it,” Burns says.

Burns sees the benefits of the program every day. “Kids come into the counselor’s office when they have a conflict. They want to role-play.” Instead of arguing with each other, Burns says the children say, “This is not the way I want to be treated.”

Burns couldn’t be happier with the program. “There’s no downside, other than the fact that people today want a quick fix to problems. At times, 18 weeks can seem like a long time, but anything quicker would just gloss over important lessons.”

According to Burns, the school counselor had looked at and used several other programs, but went with Second Step as the best choice. What school officials liked about the program was that lessons dealt with specific topics and did not have to be taught in sequence. “If there is bullying in the classroom, we can pull those specific lessons,” Burns says. “When we built a new playground, we had to discuss new rules, so we pulled those specific lessons and taught them right away.”

According to the National Committee for Children, the Second Step curriculum for preschool and elementary students consist of three kits: Preschool/Kindergarten, Grades 1-3, and Grades 4-5. In these kits, the main lesson format is the use of 11-inch by 17-inch photo lesson cards. The teacher shows the photographs to the class and follows the lesson outline on the reverse of the card. The lesson techniques include discussion, teacher modeling of the skills, and role-playing.

Parents, Burns says, are hearing about the program at home but are not involved in any way. He says he’s never heard from parents concerning how they feel about the program.

Hemingford Elementary has approximately 210 students. Burns says this small class size–and a small, close-knit community–is helpful: “We know each other’s families.”

In addition to the classroom benefits, Burns says the Second Step program helps satisfy safety laws for the school.

Information on the Second Step program and other National Committee for Children programs, third-party research, and violence prevention links can be found at the National Committee for Children’s web site.

Examples of Second Step lessons

Empathy Training
Students learn how to identify and predict the feelings of others and provide an appropriate emotional response. Examples of Empathy lesson topics include:

  • Pre-K: “Feelings Change,” “I Care”
  • Grades 1-3: “Similarities and Differences,” “Communicating Feelings”
  • Grades 4-5: “Perceptions,” “Accepting Differences”
  • Middle School/Junior High: “Reducing Labeling and Stereotyping,” “Communicating and Listening”

Anger Management
Students learn techniques to reduce stress and redirect angry feelings in order to prevent violent reactions. Examples of Anger Management lesson topics include:

  • Pre-K: “Am I Angry?,” “Dealing with Name Calling”
  • Grades 1-3: “Anger Triggers,” “Self-Talk,” “Dealing with Being Left Out”
  • Grades 4-5: “Calming Down,” “Dealing with an Accusation”
  • Middle School/Junior High: “Anatomy of Anger,” “Reducing Anger”

Impulse Control
Students learn skills in problem-solving and effective communication, and they receive training in applying these skills to specific social behaviors. Examples of Impulse Control lesson topics include:

  • Pre-K: “Slow Down – Stop and Think,” “Taking Turns”
  • Grades 1-3: “Identifying a Problem,” “Joining in at the Right Time”
  • Grades 4-5: “Choosing a Solution,” “Resisting the Temptation to Cheat”
  • Middle School/Junior High: “Dealing with Bullying,” “Dealing with Peer Pressure”

(Source: National Committee for Children)


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