Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 34° Partly Cloudy
News >  Washington Voices

Second Step Helps Schoolkids Channel Emotions

The seven boys stood in a knot and studied their problem. They had to decide which teammate would not run in the relay race.

The taller boy leaned over one of his teammates. He was insistent.

“You’re faster than he is,” he hissed. His hands were clenched; his body language said: “Do it my way.”

Left to their own devices, these fourth-graders might have settled the question with shouts, shoves or - even that traditional badge of boyhood honor - a bloody nose.

But at Orchard Center Elementary School, teacher Dave Harmon’s class was in the middle of a lesson designed to teach kids how to read body language and think about others’ feelings.

Counseling assistant Marcy Hoggatt interrupted the spat.

“How can we help them decide?” Hoggatt asked the other students.

Hands flew. Suggestions went up on the board.

The boys chose the game paper, rock and scissors.

It was decided. Kyle got to run, Brian took the role of helper.

This five-minute scene occurred during a session of Second Step, a program in West Valley elementary schools that teaches empathy, self-control and anger management.

West Valley, Central Valley and East Valley, like many other school districts, take classroom time to teach what was once the province of parents.

“Our society has changed,” said counselor Suzanne Scott.

A lot of kids today come to school impulsive and quick to anger, Orchard Center Principal Fred Traher said.

“It’s not their fault. They’re coming to school without the training. Somewhere they’ve got to be given the chance to learn how to control anger, how to make a choice,” Traher said.

It’s not so much inside classrooms where educators see the difference made by programs such as Second Step.

In fact, a study on Second Step, which has been used in many schools around the country, determined that teachers and parents found little change in student behavior. Only trained observers noticed a decrease in aggressive behavior.

On the playground, on the school bus - those are the places, Traher said, where his students are learning that aggression is not the only way to solve a problem.

Schools have plenty of packaged anti-aggression programs to choose from.

This year, West Valley is focusing on activities with a built-in problem to solve. The idea is to give students practice in defusing their own tense moments. That way, educators hope, when the students run into a problem on the playground, they’ll remember that they have tools other than anger and fists.

At Orchard Center, this week’s lesson in reading body language included a couple of challenges for the kids. When it came time to divide themselves into equal teams, Hoggatt gave them minimal instructions.

They had to figure out how many members per team, how to group themselves. An all-girl team was the first group done.

“Congratulations. Give yourselves a pat on the back. Some of the other classes never even got to the relay race because they couldn’t cooperate enough to get into teams,” Hoggatt said.

In Central Valley, schools tailor their own programs, built around the district’s central theme of respect.

And at East Valley’s Otis Orchards Elementary School, Principal Sig Brannon said Love and Logic is just one of the programs that her “community of children” is learning from.

“Usually by this time of year, I would have had 35 or 40 kids on referral (for discipline),” Brannon said. “This year my file has barely a dozen. I think our kids are really starting to learn.”

, DataTimes

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.