Western NY

Head Start Success with SEL and PEDALS

A Transformation in Western New York

Isaac lives in a profoundly poor Buffalo neighborhood. When he started in the Head Start program, his lack of social-emotional development showed in his classroom behavior. He wouldn’t join the class circle, and he had a hard time verbalizing his feelings. As the months progressed, he started developing better conversational skills with the other children and retaining many of the Second Step lessons he was learning in class. During his second year in Head Start, he was a role model for other students.

Isaac is one of many children in Western New York who have blossomed thanks to the Positive Emotional Development and Learning Skills (PEDALS) program. A partnership between the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York and The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, PEDALS uses Second Step to teach young children to be ready for kindergarten—not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well.

Implementation Where It’s Needed Most

Before PEDALS, the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls saw approximately 5 percent of their students removed from kindergarten classrooms because of problem behaviors. Left unchecked, these problems will worsen as children age, placing children at a greater risk for ultimately dropping out of school and potentially facing a lifetime of adversity.

“One of our foundation’s main focus areas is on improving the lives of young children in poverty,” said Kate McLaughlin, communications director for the Health Foundation. “Many of these kids have already had experiences they shouldn’t have, and they start out with social skills that are below that of their peers.”

Coaches in the Classroom

Students in PEDALS are taught all the Second Step Weekly Themes in order, repeating them as needed. In the first year of implementation, each teacher meets an average of nine times with an assigned coach, who provides ongoing guidance and support. PEDALS coaches use a strengths-based approach to assist teachers with Second Step implementation by modeling curriculum strategies and techniques. This in turn helps teachers manage behaviors in the classroom more effectively. “We take a collaborative approach with teachers to help them become more confident in implementing the Second Step program. Over time, the teachers are better able to manage behaviors and we see a decrease in referrals for challenging behaviors,” said Meghan Guinnee, PEDALS project director.

With regular classroom visits, PEDALS coaches see the progress for themselves. “Because Second Step provides the curriculum connections and practice opportunities, often, by the end of the year, we’re seeing students use the language and implement strategies on their own,” said Jaimee Ferraro, one of the PEDALS coaches.

Measuring Progress

Since its inception in 2012, PEDALS has reached over 5,500 students. After one year, there was a remarkable 57 percent decrease in the number of children in PEDALS who had social-emotional needs as measured by the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA). In addition, 93 percent of the PEDALS teachers said that the curriculum improved the social-emotional development of their children.

Having proven its efficacy and benefits, PEDALS is expanding to more classrooms and children in Western New York. “There is no shortage of classrooms that want this, and we’re expanding as fast as our resources will allow,” Guinnee said.