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Second Step Focuses On Social, Emotional Learning

If you walk down the hall at Marion Elementary School and pop your head into a kindergarten or first-grade classroom, you may see Abby Cantello and her friends, Puppy and Snail, leading a lesson.

Puppy and Snail are puppets, but they are not there just to entertain.They are part of Second Step, a national program that teaches students social and emotional skills.

“The kids really connect with the puppets and build a relationship both with me and with the puppets through this teaching tool,” said Cantello, the school counselor at MES.

Second Step focuses on emotional regulation skills such as empathy, emotion management and problem solving. Each lesson is targeted for a specific grade level and often includes pictures, videos and a song. Puppy and Snail are part of the kindergarten and first-grade curriculum.

“Having Miss Cantello come each week and provide this program has been very beneficial to the students,” first-grade teacher Bethany Hendricks said. “They look forward to her class and they love having Snail and Puppy be a part of the conversations. The puppets help the students practice role-playing empathy and managing their emotions. Miss Cantello provides the instruction and a comfortable atmosphere where they are willing to participate.”

A first-grader even made a bracelet as a gift for Puppy.  Cantello placed the bracelet on the puppet’s left leg so it is visible during all lessons.

Cantello is in her second year of teaching Second Step and is seeing the program make a positive impact.

“I think the biggest benefit is the common language that the students and staff began using through Second Step,” Cantello said. “Having that common language and being able to implement it, really helps with teaching social-emotional learning throughout the school.”

MES Principal Dr. Ellen Lloyd said the program helps promote the school’s core values of being respectful, responsible and engaged.

“I think it provides a unique opportunity because it provides every student with lessons in social-emotional learning,” Lloyd said. “I can see how it helps with positive coping strategies like belly breathing. It also helps kids to really name what they are feeling and gives kids the power to say how they feel.”

Kacey Sturtz, a teacher’s aide for second grade, and Tom Weaver also help teach Second Step. Weaver works with Delphi Rise, a non-profit behavioral health agency in Rochester, and teaches life skills to sixth graders. With the school year winding down, Second Step has now entered its final unit on child protection.

The program also provides additional benefits. 

"Part of my job is to create a counseling curriculum for all students,” Cantello said. “This is a Tier 1 program, so it is for everyone in the building. It gets me into classrooms and it allows me to see students that I wouldn’t see under other circumstances. It's a great way to put names with faces and make sure that I, as the school counselor, am interacting with and getting to know all of our students."