Al’s Pals Boosts Social–Emotional Learning and Family Engagement in Galloway Township Public School Preschool Program
CHALLENGE: Pandemic Challenges Solidified the Need for Comprehensive Social–Emotional Curriculum
For Galloway Township Schools (GTS) in New Jersey, the pandemic solidified the need for a comprehensive social–emotional learning curriculum. Stress from the pandemic, combined with school closures and the lack of in-person instruction for long durations, has elevated the importance of providing young children with positive social–emotional skills to prepare for life’s challenges.
Wendy Atkinson, master teacher in the GTS preschool program, saw firsthand how the pandemic had demonstrated her program’s need for a strong social–emotional learning (SEL) curriculum and started evaluating potential solutions. GTS was already using an SEL curriculum to support K-5 children, and although they had a pre-K program, Wendy knew that it wasn’t designed to meet the unique needs of preschool children.
Her top priority became finding a preschool-specific SEL curriculum.
SOLUTION: Finding a Social–Emotional Learning Curriculum Designed to Meet the Unique Needs of Preschool Children
Given the unique developmental stage of preschool children, their social–emotional needs differ from those of older children. Wendy and her colleagues knew that the challenges their program’s preschool children faced required a solution that was made for them:
“The SEL curriculum that we’re using in K-5 has a pre-K program, but it was ‘watered down’ for preschool. That’s not what it was really designed for. Honestly, having an SEL curriculum that was designed for the unique needs of preschool was a must-have for us.”
Luckily, Wendy started exploring the possibility of implementing Al’s Pals and was immediately impressed:
“The fact that Al’s Pals was designed for preschool was absolutely crucial—it was a big shining point for the program. Combined with being easy for teachers and aligned to The Creative Curriculum, Al’s Pals was a no-brainer.”
Easy to Implement and Aligns With The Creative Curriculum
The SEL program that GTS selected needed to integrate seamlessly with their existing curriculum, The Creative Curriculum. Additionally, it had to be easy for teachers, administrators, and families to use. With the stressors of educating during a pandemic, Wendy wasn’t willing to ask her teachers to learn and adapt a complicated new program.
Wendy found that Al’s Pals “effortlessly complemented The Creative Curriculum and would be so easy for our teachers to get started with—the lesson guides and puppet scripts would make it easy from day one, which is what we all need right now.”
Adopting a Whole-Child Approach to Building Resiliency
The preventative, whole-child approach of Al’s Pals was very appealing to Wendy and her teachers: “Al’s Pals covers good and bad choices, good and bad touches, and how children should handle themselves as a whole self. I also love the preventative approach—I didn’t want an SEL program that focused only on stopping unwanted behavior, but rather a total program that focused on providing children with foundational skills.”
Al’s Pals is a nationally recognized and evidence-based, comprehensive social–emotional learning curriculum that provides young children with the skills to prepare for life’s challenges through interactive lessons, engaging puppets, original music, and impactful teaching approaches. Al’s Pals promotes resiliency in children ages 3–6 through the development of social–emotional skills, self-control, problem-solving abilities, and healthy decision-making.
GTS determined that Al’s Pals met all their requirements: it was designed especially for preschool children, it complements The Creative Curriculum, it is easy to implement, it is prevention-focused, and it supports the whole child. GTS decided to move forward with their new SEL curriculum.
RESULTS: Creating Shared Experiences for Children Builds Positive Relationships
Beginning in June 2021, GTS started implementing two Al’s Pals lessons per week in a small cohort of 40 preschool children who were enrolled in their extended day program. This initial rollout would help guide the later broader implementation in all preschool classrooms in the fall.
From the very first lesson, “You’re a Star,” Wendy reported that the teachers found success and the children were engaged. One activity in the lesson has children choose a favorite food and pair it with their name, e.g., Olivia Pizza. Wendy noticed a class was lining up at the playground and one child wasn’t joining the line: “I saw the other children begin calling her name and favorite food to invite her to be with them. The child responded right away, and it was really unique to see the class use their shared experience and language to help their classmate remember the classroom norms. You could tell she felt special and not embarrassed or singled out.”
“You’re a Star” encourages children to value who they are and what makes them special and creates the caring and nurturing environment that lays the foundation for promoting resiliency in young children.
Family Resources Reinforce SEL Concepts at Home
Like many programs, keeping families engaged during the pandemic had been a huge challenge for GTS. But the resources that Al’s Pals provides to reinforce SEL concepts at home have strengthened family connections and created an environment where teachers, families, and children are all speaking the same shared language around SEL.
Al’s Pals family letters, songs, and Al-a-Grams (in English and Spanish) help families stay engaged in their child’s learning, even when health protocols prevent them from coming into school. These resources provide tools and strategies for families to try SEL concepts at home and even digital access to the songs that accompany each lesson. Families are easily informed of children’s efforts during a lesson, keeping them engaged with what their children are experiencing each day.
Wendy understands how important it is to get families involved with the curriculum: “We’re really working hard to involve families with the program. We can only teach so much at school, so we all need to be speaking the same language to really make this work.” So when a mother sent Wendy a video of her child using the skills they had learned using Al’s Pals, Wendy knew the approach to family engagement and SEL was working.
Ready-to-go Resources Work Cohesively With The Creative Curriculum
GTS teachers appreciated how easy it was to implement Al’s Pals. Resources like puppets, songs, family letters, and Al-a-Grams are already prepared and ready to use. One teacher remarked how effortlessly Al’s Pals integrated with The Creative Curriculum: “It’s like they were always meant to go together. I don’t have to change anything to make Al’s Pals fit.”
Al’s Pals fit seamlessly into the teachers’ existing schedules. Provided materials are ready to use, and the teachers found it easy to include them alongside The Creative Curriculum. Teachers noticed right away how receptive the children were to the puppet and song resources, which were also versatile enough to allow for individual teacher creativity.
Implementing Al’s Pals in All GTS Preschool Classrooms This Fall
After the summer program’s successful experience with Al’s Pals, Wendy and the other teachers are excited about what this fall will bring. GTS is implementing Al’s Pals in all preschool classrooms this school year. The pandemic has made it clear to administrators, teachers, and families that one of the best things we can do for young children is to help them build the skills to prepare for life’s challenges through interactive lessons, engaging puppets, original music, and impactful teaching approaches.
With Al’s Pals, every preschool classroom can do just that.