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PEDALS Gears Up for a Second Act

2014-June 25
by Nick Randell, Program Officer 

As I write this, a group of childcare administrators has come together at a hotel conference room in Amherst, New York to celebrate their successes as participants in PEDALS (Positive Emotional Development and Learning skills).  PEDALS closes out a two-year run this spring, but will re-launch in the fall.   The PEDALS program was developed to address troubling deficits in kindergarten readiness.  The premise:  a social-emotional curriculum, when implemented correctly, can help three and four year-olds with calming techniques, problem solving, social interactions, and emotional control.  Skills that set the table for a readiness to learn in kindergarten and beyond.

PEDALS started in the fall of 2012 with eight partnering childcare centers in Erie and Niagara Counties.  Centers could select from several evidence-based social-emotional curricula.   Second Step proved the most popular, though several centers selected PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) and had good success with it.  Both programs feature puppet characters, interactive lessons, stories, songs, and other activities based on weekly themes (like "Speaking Up" or "Having Fun With Friends").  PEDALS paid for classroom curriculum kits for 48 classrooms, representing over 850 kids in each of the program's two years.

But PEDALS was a lot more than classroom tool kits.  Expert coaches were assigned to every classroom to support implementation of the chosen curriculum and promote effective classroom management practices.  PEDALS also provided teacher training in PATHS and Second Step, conducted learning retreats for teachers and administrators, and held a series of webinars to share best practices and parent engagement strategies.  Grant dollars were distributed to every center, earmarked for books and instructional materials aligned with the social and emotional lessons featured in the curriculum.  PEDALS classroom teachers also used DECA (Devereux Early Childhood Assessment) to record social-emotional baseline scores and track personal development for every student in the program.

For The Tower Foundation, PEDALS was a big departure from the norm.  We have not typically run programs.  But with PEDALS, we partnered with our co-funder, the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York (HFWCNY) to design, staff, and run a fairly complicated initiative.  Collaborating with another funder on this level turned out to be a great learning experience, with benefits that far outweighed the challenges.  One of the reasons that we were able to put together such an effective coaching/management team was the fact that the foundations, together, had a more extensive network to draw from than either would have had working independently.

So was PEDALS a success?  Teachers certainly embraced the program.   A third-party evaluation pegged teacher commitment to continue with Second Step or PATHS at 100%.   Perhaps more importantly, the DECA assessments showed significant gains for the kids.  At the beginning of the program, baseline scores surpassed the national average (16%) for children in the needs range for each of three protective factors that DECA measures:  initiative (25% at need); self control (16% at need); and attachment (21% at need).   By the end of the school year, the number of children at need fell by 60% in the initiative category, by 31% in the self control category, and 48% in the attachment category.

At this morning's gathering, childcare center administrators and lead teachers shared successes and best practices in supporting organizational change, implementing a new curriculum with fidelity, parent involvement, and sustainability planning.  It was a nice way to cap off the first two years of PEDALS.  The Tower Foundation and HFWCNY have decided to introduce PEDALS to new classrooms in the fall of 2014.  We will be paying special attention to modifications to the model that make it more user friendly and, to some degree, more standardized.  In the not too distant future, we'd like to ditch the training wheels and take PEDALS for a spin in our funding communities in Essex County and the Cape Cod area.


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