When last we spoke with Principal Kari Kirchner in the spring of 2012, she had
used Title 1 funds to buy Second Step kits for her school, Mary Todd Elementary in Lexington, Kentucky.
In early 2015, we checked in with her to see how things had changed in the intervening three years. For one
thing, the school’s enrollment had increased to 482 students, 94 percent of whom qualified for free or reduced
Kirchner and her social-emotional learning team, which includes a behavior specialist, social worker, and guidance
counselor as well as all teachers, use Second Step as part of their overall schoolwide SEL strategy.
During the 2011–2012 school year (immediately before they began Second Step implementation), the
school had 396 behavior referrals. In 2013–14, despite their enrollment swelling by 50 students, the referrals
had plummeted to less than half of their previous levels (171), and they had only 131 for the first six months
of the 2014–15 school year.
As for academics, those had soared. Before implementing the Second Step, Mary Todd ranked in the fifth
percentile in the state for academic achievement scores. After a year of Second Step implementation, the
school leaped to the 21st percentile. Since then, the measurement index has changed, but Kirchner says, “Our
test scores have risen the last two consecutive years,” and when asked if their increased efforts in SEL
have had anything to do with it, she replies in the affirmative: “I think that the SEL plus more consistent
schoolwide expectations are making a marked improvement in our academics.”
Kirchner credits her staff for improving the school’s climate by embracing the program and extending the lessons
into all parts of the school day: “The staff is following through with the lessons that are taught during
the SEL instruction. The Second Step skills that are being nurtured in the students are also being modeled
by most staff.”
The last three years truly have brought marked improvements at Mary Todd Elementary. Kirchner explains, “The
school culture has improved, and the students’ behavior is indicative of a strong SEL program and consistent
expectations in both the common areas and the classrooms.” All of which adds up to a safe, supportive school
where students can do their best.
Learn more about Second Step Social-Emotional Learning.
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