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Life Lessons

Life Lessons: Emotional learning

Life Lessons

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Educators talk a lot about kids being ready to learn when they go to school.

Now an innovative program in the Allentown School District aims to make sure kids are emotionally ready for the classroom.

It's not about reading, writing and math; this program is about responding, feeling and relating to others.

Allentown School District officials say the program is making positive changes for kids, so much so that it is now set up in 12 elementary and four middle schools in the district.

It is a district-wide effort called the Social and Emotional Learning Initiative.

It began three years ago and is getting national recognition for the changes teachers are seeing in the classroom.

Two ASD elementary schools-- Muhlenberg and Roosevelt -- were selected as national models for the successful implementation of the program.

At a recent visit to Muhlenberg Elementary School, kindergarten teacher Shelia Harkins says she has noticed many changes in her students.

"Oh this has made a world of a difference. My classroom is a community of learners. They are so eager to help each other and support each other," says Harkins.

The idea is that kids need to understand and control their emotions to be able to concentrate on learning.

The program has been implemented with the help of Devereux Center for Resilient Children, a company out of Villanova, Montgomery County, that works to promote social and emotional development in kids.

"We often think that these kinds of skills come naturally, but they don't and anyone who has ever driven on the Schuylkill Expressway knows that adults can't always control their emotions so these aren't things that come naturally. These are things that need to be taught, just like any other skill set we want kids to have," says Paul LeBuffe, director of the Devereux Center for Resilient Children.

And the action plan is very specific. 

"It's all about teaching skills so these aren't general notions about how kids should behave. These are specific skills children need to do well in school and then to do well in the community," says LeBuffe.

Devereux is also assessing outcomes and says in year one of the program, Allentown students showed positive improvements in their social and emotional competencies and better test scores.

"When they're emotionally ready and they feel safe, then they're ready to learn. This keeps behavior problems to a minimum," says Harkins.

District-wide, more than 11,000 kids are being touched by this program.

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Allentown, PA 18102




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