Second Step to be studied

UM to look at schools' behavior program

Many have reported success

Children are taught conflict resolution

Anne Arundel

October 09, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

This time next year, University of Maryland researchers will launch a $2 million federal study to find out whether a program being used in Anne Arundel County classrooms can change how children treat one another, school officials told the Board of Education yesterday.

The study will look at the effectiveness of Second Step, a behavior education program used in 15,000 schools nationwide, including more than 50 in Anne Arundel and several in Baltimore.

Programs that teach young pupils skills such as conflict resolution and anger management can affect how they perform academically later, said Professor Gary Gottfredson, who is leading the study.

Grades that pupils receive for citizenship or conduct when they are young are "big, fat predictors of their achievement later on," Gottfredson said.

Many schools have reported successes with Second Step, which uses hand puppets, role-playing and literature to teach children to empathize with others, control their impulses and resolve conflicts. The four-year UM study is intended to quantify the program's effectiveness using independent, scientific methods.

"Historically, we've primarily relied on vendor-driven research," Superintendent Eric J. Smith told the school board. He said positive results from the study would increase his confidence in Second Step, a curriculum developed by a Seattle company and used at two-thirds of the county's elementary schools and most of its middle schools.

Gottfredson said little research on such programs is available and that schools implement them without knowing how effective they are. "That's true of behavior education programs nationwide," he told the board.

The study will look at a dozen county elementary schools not using Second Step: six that will implement it when the study starts and six control schools. Researchers will interview pupils, observe classes, and look at teacher reports and referral and suspension data.

Lucia Martin, a lead guidance counselor for county schools, said the program benefits all children, regardless of background. "It's teaching real basic social skills," Martin said. "It starts with teaching children to recognize and talk about their feelings."

After a 20-minute lesson on a specific subject, teachers continually bring up the concepts. In kindergarten, teachers give a cardboard heart to pupils who show empathy.

Martin said the study also will look at how teachers, principals and counselors can reinforce the lessons by demonstrating good behavior among themselves.

"We've all got to speak respectfully with each other," she said.

In other business yesterday, the board discouraged an Arnold-based charity's hopes of leasing an obsolete school building to use as its headquarters for storing and delivering holiday gifts for thousands of needy county children.

Board President Paul G. Rudolph said he is reluctant to tie up the building because the school system might need it for school construction.

Sharing Foundation also faces such issues as whether its proposed use for the Pasadena school complies with county regulations and a church's petition to buy the property.

John Brewer, the charity's founder, told the board that he might not be able to operate this Christmas if he is not able to move into the old school building by the end of the month.

"The big loser is the county and the children of this county," Brewer said.

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