Written by Heather Riggleman for the Kearney Hub
KEARNEY — “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” — and more than 100 children at the YMCA of Kearney chimed in Monday morning with Lt. Gov. Mike Foley and Sue Klein, the YMCA’s Child Care Center director.
“It’s nice to be in Kearney and be outside of Lincoln. The governor and I feel it’s important to interact with the public all over the state of Nebraska, including with little children. It’s important to teach children curriculum like the Second Step program so they know how to communicate and how to interact,” Foley said.
The children were warming up to review what they’ve been learning in the Second Step program, which was spearheaded by Mark Foradori, the United Against Violence Coalition coordinator.
“We began the program after consistently seeing about 20 percent of high school students stating in surveys they were bullied over the last few years. We knew we needed to do something,” Foradori said.
“We started Second Step last August. We can see the difference in the children. It helps them work on social and emotional concepts,” Klein said.
Klein said teachers see a difference because the program helps children understand empathy and compassion and to learn self-control when it comes to their emotions.
In Monday’s program, Foley used puppets to show emotions. The children responded with answers about how to cope with feelings such as sadness or when someone doesn’t share or in the case of one little boy, what to with his feelings if a wolf breaks into his house.
Foley took the comments in stride and told how he taught his six children about social and emotional issues.
“Today’s parents and youth face different obstacles due to the influence of technology. I look forward to working with young people in the Kearney area to learn how decision-making programs can build resilient kids,” said Foley.
He said he was honored to do his first puppet presentation as lieutenant governor. Foley has advocated for bullying prevention and educating youths about responsibility.
Second Step was selected by the United Against Coalition as the best fit for the community because of its low cost, ease of implementation and positive feedback from schools using the curriculum, according to a recent press release by Buffalo County Community Partners.
The teaching units of Second Step provide developmentally appropriate instruction in emotion management, friendship skills, empathy, conflict resolution, bullying prevention and substance abuse prevention.
“The violence prevention program of Buffalo County Community Partners was looking for a way to help kids to learn to work together to prevent bullying. When we spoke with educators in the beginning stages of implementing the program, they said the earlier we can educate, the better off the kids will be,” Foradori said.
Second Step curriculum is currently being used in five school systems and seven community based Childcare Centers in Buffalo County including the preschools at First Baptist Church and St. James Church.
“The Second Step curriculum is also the key to the reduction in youth violence and youth reports of bully behaviors in school and community. If we find success in programs like this as children, hopefully we’ll find the same success as adults,” Foradori said.
The curriculum is funded through a CHI Health Mission and Ministry grant awarded to United Against Violence to reduce youth-reported incidents of bullying and electronic bullying. The effort is meant to keep costs down by keeping people from having to go to the emergency room because of violence.