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New Social-Emotional Learning Program Supports Preschoolers, Aids Teachers

Posted on December 13, 2021

Johnstown, PA (Dec. 13, 2021) – Research demonstrates that programs aimed at helping children develop strong social-emotional skills increase higher academic performance and lower levels of emotional distress, disruptive behaviors, and even drug and alcohol use down the road. And that is true even among young children.

To increase positive interactions and reduce problem behaviors among its youngest students, The Learning Lamp is piloting Second Step, a 28-week, research-based curriculum, across all of its preschool classrooms. The social-emotional learning (SEL) program helps children prepare for kindergarten by teaching short, digestible lessons. Skills include self-regulation, self-awareness, social awareness and empathy, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, and learning how to “self-talk,” a technique youngsters use inside their head to focus and become more confident. 

The program was made possible with funding from the Cambria County Drug & Alcohol Program and Somerset Single County Authority for Drug and Alcohol, as well as United Way dollars from chapters in Bedford and Blair counties. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2019 survey, Teen Substance Use & Risks, almost 50% of high schoolers report using substances such as alcohol and marijuana and 14% report using illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. New data shows targeted SEL programs delivered as early as preschool lower alcohol and drug use as youth transition into and out of high school.

“Developing the skills to manage emotions and to interact with others in a constructive way protects against unhealthy coping mechanisms, including substance use,” said Fred Oliveros, administrator at the Cambria County Drug & Alcohol Program. “We are pleased to partner with The Learning Lamp in implementing these primary prevention strategies throughout the region.”

Second Step is a user-friendly resource for teachers and includes easy ways to help children adapt to the classroom, learn to common routines and expectations, and ease into new interactions with peers and adults.

“Children benefit from learning skills that help them cope, build positive relationships with peers, and adjust to school,” said Melissa Gerber, preschool program manager at The Learning Lamp. “Our teachers are seeing positive results and children enjoy the lessons.”

Gerber said the daily routine of clean-up time, for instance, is often a time where challenging behaviors happen. By using Second Step techniques, teachers have made clean-up a time for playful songs that children enjoy. This eases the transition, resulting in fewer meltdowns.

Karen Machak, child care program manager, was integral in selecting the program over a two-year vetting process. She says that in these early years, children are building a social and emotional foundation that will help them learn and grow in elementary school.

“They will have the coping skills to deal with a new environment and new routines and a toolbox to take with them and be more successful in kindergarten and beyond,” explained Machak.

Because parent involvement is critical to a child’s success in school, Second Step builds in an at-home component so practice of concepts can continue outside of the classroom. Teachers send home a parent-child activity each week, usually involving a small story, that parents can do with their child to supplement learning during the school day. For more information about The Learning Lamp’s preschool programs, visit thelearninglamp.org or call Melissa at 814-262-0732 ext. 289.


The Learning Lamp is a nonprofit organization with a mission to engage all children in the support they need to succeed. We deliver high quality programs that are affordable and accessible to families of all income levels. In 2020, The Learning Lamp served 28,938 youth/adults from 51 public school districts and 36 other schools and organizations in 13 Pennsylvania counties. 

Our programs include child care and preschool, after school programs, tutoring, SAT prep, school staffing, alternative education programs for at-risk students, online learning, credit recovery, drug and alcohol prevention programs, and grant writing and project consulting for schools.

The latest on Instagram:

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