Kirkwood Elementary Finds Solutions to Pressing Problems

Social-emotional learning program to be rolled out in all classrooms

TOPPENISH, Wash., Nov. 24, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) team at Kirkwood Elementary recently took a hard look at the school's needs: achievement gaps in social skills and math, and physical aggression and defiance in the classroom. They determined that these seemingly unrelated problems all have the same main solution: social-emotional learning (SEL).

As Principal Shelby Robins puts it, "It was becoming very clear that if staff were to close the achievement gap in math, they would need to get the students safely to the table to do math first." The school, whose student population is largely Native American and Hispanic with 99% free and reduced lunch, needed a way to teach all students they have a voice and that others care about their feelings and needs.

It became clear to the PBIS team that the students' inability to calm down and solve problems, combined with the teachers' lack of resources to teach such critical skills, was contributing greatly to Kirkwood's distressingly high office referral rate. And after the recent suicide of a middle school student, which devastated the small community, the PBIS team wanted to put support systems in place for K-5 students who were in need of SEL and bullying prevention skills such as coping, resilience and problem solving.

So, after careful consideration, the team chose to implement the Second Step program and its accompanying Bullying Prevention Unit, which teaches skills for learning, empathy, emotion management and problem solving through lessons, videos, class discussions and games. Kirkwood will receive the curriculum this week, and the PBIS team looks forward to seeing all 700 students have access to social-emotional learning in every classroom throughout the school. The PBIS team predicts that fewer students will resort to physical aggression if they have the skills to problem solve, calm down and self-advocate.

Johnson O'Malley tribal parent organization leader Laura Day says, "Kids need to learn how to respect each other, and a lot of kids don't have the support they need at home." Day, whose kids attend Kirkwood, adds that she is "one of those parents who believes that it all starts at home, and we need to get parents involved with building social skills. But it doesn't always work out that way. That's why we're glad our kids are getting these skills at school."

John Ramos, Kirkwood PTO president and father of three Kirkwood students, is confident of the power of social-emotional learning: "The earlier we can teach these skills to kids, the more they will be able to use them in life and the better they will do in school."

About Kirkwood Elementary

Located in Toppenish, WA, Kirkwood Elementary's mission is to build a partnership with families and the community to provide a quality education that empowers students to achieve academic excellence in order to be responsible and productive citizens. To learn more, go to

About Committee for Children

Seattle-based nonprofit Committee for Children's research-based educational programs, including the award-winning Second Step program, teach social-emotional skills to prevent bullying, violence, and abuse and improve academics. Their curricula are used in over 26,000 schools across the United States and around the world. To learn more, go to

Photo caption:

Christol Brown works on a Second Step lesson on managing anger with Kirkwood kindergartener Kailum Tadena. The Second Step program teaches skills for learning, self-regulation, empathy, emotion management, and problem-solving. Kirkwood Elementary is in the process of rolling out the program in all its classrooms.

A photo accompanying this release is available at:

Kirkwood Second Step Press Release Photo

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