4, 2012) On Tuesday, May 22, the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Board of Education
officially adopted district policy 7552, the Dignity for All Students Act,
which will go into effect on July 1 in accordance with state law. But for
sixth graders at RCS Middle School, the Second Step program is already
helping to cultivate a culture of tolerance and respect.
The Second Step program is facilitated by the Addictions Care Center of Albany, a non-profit agency that has been working to combat addiction and educate youth and support healthy communities in the Capital Region since 1967. The research-based pilot program brings ACCA counselor Caitlin Appleby into the middle school twice a week to guide participating sixth-graders through interactive lessons in the program’s five focus areas: empathy and communication, bullying prevention, emotion management, problem solving and substance abuse prevention.
“Our goal is to catch kids early and help them make strong choices in life,” said RCS Spanish teacher and program liaison Nathaniel Koester. “I really believe in the program. It’s been such a great success, we’re hoping to extend Second Step to more middle school students next year, and to bring some of the ACCA’s other great programs into the high school.”
On Friday, June 1, one of Appleby’s Second Step classes met in the library for a session of the eight-week program that focused on perspective and problem solving. The sixth-graders watched a brief video, which presented a scenario—two friends borrowed a brother’s treasured signed Frisbee without asking and got it stuck up on the roof of the school—and then worked in small groups to analyze the problem and identify the best solution.
The lesson focused on using empathy to consider the problem from each boy’s perspective, developing a neutral problem statement that stated the problem without directing blame, brainstorming possible solutions, considering the safety, ethics and possible consequences of each proposed solution and, finally, deciding on the best resolution.
Eager participants volunteered perspectives on the problem that often began with the empathetic perception, “if I were Tony I’d feel. . . ” They offered solutions ranging from “get Superman,” to “get a ladder,” and, after weighing the pros and cons of each option, finally decided they would try to find a custodian to ask for help—and probably shouldn’t borrow valued possessions again without asking.
Designed to decrease aggression, bullying and substance abuse, and to increase students’ social skills and school success, Second Step provides a foundation for creating a safe, respectful learning environment. The curriculum aims to strengthen student’s skills in areas ranging from active listening and respectful disagreement to goal setting, bullying response and emotional control.
While there is a substance abuse prevention component to ACCA’s programming, the primary focus of Second Step is bullying prevention. “Research has proven that kids who are bullied and kids who are bullies are more likely to use substances,” said Appleby. “It’s a coping mechanism, and we’re trying to give them better tools for coping.”
Pieter B. Coeymans and A.W. Becker schools are also collaborating with ACCA to bring the Apple a Day program to RCS elementary schools. Apple a Day integrates literacy skills with character education and substance abuse prevention to nurture resiliency and promote a lifetime of healthy choices.
“The district has a very comprehensive prevention program,” said Appleby. The Apple a Day program lays the foundation for concepts like diversity, empathy and communication in grades K-5. The Second Step program complements that nicely by reinforcing and building on those ideas at the middle school level.”
With the implementation of the Dignity for All Students act on the horizon, the ACCA programs offer a valuable tool for combating bullying, encouraging individual success, and building a respectful school community. “The Dignity Act is hugely increasing the demand for our programming,” said Appleby. “We’ve started having to refer people to other agencies. But RCS has already made it a priority to help students develop these values and skills. ”
The measures of success are subtle, said Appleby, but teachers have told her they’ve noticed students handling issues on their own more often, thanks to honed independent problem solving skills. And, Appbley said, “I hear their vocabulary change. In the halls they’ll start using works like bystander, or encouraging someone to calm down. That’s how we really know it’s making an impact.”