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Second Step: A Violence Prevention Curriculum

Date Published: 
The Second Step Program
The Second Step program for early learning through middle school is designed to increase students’ school success and decrease problem behaviors by promoting social-emotional competence and self-regulation. It teaches skills that strengthen students’ ability to learn, have empathy, manage emotions, and solve problems. The Second Step program targets key risk and protective factors linked to a range of problem behaviors. Equipping students with Second Step skills helps a school create a safer, more respectful learning environment that promotes school success for all.
Special Populations/Available Adaptations: 

The Second Step program has been found to be effective in geographically diverse areas, across diverse ethnic/racial and socioeconomic student groups, and has been used in the U.S. and Canada and adapted and translated for use in 15 partner countries around the world.  Evaluations of Second Step’s effects on African American and Latino children have been positive.

Program Components: 

The program contains separate sets of lessons for use in prekindergarten through eighth grade implemented in 13 to 28 weeks each year, depending on grade level.  The core units across grade levels are Empathy, Emotion Management, and Problem-Solving.  The Early Learning Program includes units on Skills for Learning and Transitioning to Kindergarten. 

Second Step uses four key strategies to reinforce skill development: brain builder games (to build executive function), weekly theme activities, reinforcing activities, and home links. Teachers are encouraged to give children daily opportunities to practice. Second Step also connects new skills to other areas in the curriculum (e.g., literacy, arts, dramatic arts) and provides a structure for each day of the week. The first day contains a script and main lesson. The second day includes a story and discussion. The third and fourth days involve practice activities in small and large groups. On the fifth day students read a book connected to the overall unit theme, and teachers send home a “Home Link” activity that gives students an opportunity to practice new skills with their caregivers. Second Step lessons and accompanying photographs incorporate a variety of cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Home Link activities are available in English and Spanish. Initial training for Second Step typically lasts one to four hours and is not required. 

Second Step is designed for use by school personnel, agency personnel, and those trained to work with children/adolescents in classrooms, after-school programs, mental health and agency settings. A program kit contains all needed materials.

Training and Technical Assistance: 

The Second Step Program includes online training for educators implementing the program as well as a comprehensive set of multi-media online resources to support implementation. Committee for Children’s Client Support Services provides free technical support.  Free webinars provide overviews of the program as well as topic-based information.

Contact Information: 

Client Support Services
Committee for Children
2815 2nd Ave, Suite 400
Seattle, WA 98121
Toll-Free: (800) 634-4449 (x200)
Web site: 

Program and Training Costs: 
Curriculum units are sold separately by grade level
  • Early Learning-Grade 5 $309-$35
  • Middle School Level I Kit $359
Evaluation Results: 

A number of evaluations of the Second Step program have been conducted over the past several years. These evaluations have been done in various grades across the country examining the impact on several different student outcomes. Outlined below are the results of these studies.

Decreases in Aggression

A randomized control trial of the Second Step curriculum was conducted to examine the impact of the program on aggression and positive social behavior among elementary school students (N=790). Observations of students' behavior and teacher reports were used to assess program impact over a one-year period. Observational data indicated that physical aggression decreased among students in the Second Step classrooms when compared to students in the control classrooms. Six months post-program completion, students in Second Step classrooms continued to show lower levels of aggression. Students receiving Second Step lessons also showed increased prosocial behaviors at post-test when compared to children in the control classrooms (Grossman, et al., 1997).

Gains in Prosocial Skills and Behavior

A pre-post design of 455 fourth and fifth grade students in a small urban school district was studied to evaluate the efficacy of the Second Step curriculum. Students who received the Second Step program showed significant gains in knowledge about empathy, anger management, impulse control, and bully-proofing. Report card data also revealed modest gains in prosocial behavior (Edwards, Hunt, Meyers, Grogg, & Jarrett, 2005).

A separate study conducted with 149 African American students in 5th through 8th grade found similar results as the previous study. Using the same pre- post- design, the findings revealed significant increases in self-reported knowledge and skills related to violence, self-reported empathy, and teacher-reported prosocial behavior after the students received the Second Step program (McMachon & Washburn, 2003).

Increased Social Competence

A quasi-experimental evaluation of the Second Step curriculum was conducted with 87 third- through fifth-grade students in a rural elementary school. Compared to the control group, students who received Second Step lessons had an increase in social competence and decrease in antisocial behavior. Observational data further validated that program students showed higher levels of peer interaction skills and rule-adherence compared to control students (Taub, 2002).

Another study examined the effects of the Second Step program on 1,253 2nd through 4th grade children. When compared to children in a control group, those who participated in the Second Step program showed greater improvement in teacher ratings of their social competence, were less aggressive, and were more likely to choose positive goals (Frey, Nolen, Edstrom, & Hirschstein, 2005).

Increased Knowledge of Social Skills

The effectiveness of the Second Step program in improving social-skills knowledge and social competence was examined among 109 urban low-income, ethnically diverse children in preschool and kindergarten. Teacher ratings, child reports, and observational data were used to assess children's social-skills knowledge and social competence over a year. After one year of program involvement, children demonstrated increased knowledge of social skills (McMahon et al., 2000).

Evaluation Components: 

Committee for Children recommends developing a plan to include evaluation early in the process of program adoption. Tools to support program evaluation are included in the online program resources.


Edwards, D., Hunt, M. H., Meyers, J., Grogg, K. R., & Jarrett, O. (2005). Acceptability and student outcomes of a violence prevention curriculum. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 26, 401–418.

Frey, K. S., Nolen, S. B., Edstrom, L. V., & Hirschstein, M. K. (2005). Effects of a school-based social-emotional competence program: Linking children's goals, attributions, and behavior. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 171–200.

Grossman, D. C., Neckerman, H. J., Koepsell, T. D., Liu, P. Y., Asher, K. N., Beland, K., Frey, K., and Rivara, F. P. (1997). Effectiveness of a violence prevention curriculum among children in elementary school: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 277(20), 1605–1611.

McMahon, S. D., Washburn, J., Felix, E. D., Yakin, J., & Childrey, G. (2000). Violence prevention: Program effects on urban preschool and kindergarten children. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 9, 271–281.

McMahon, S. D., & Washburn, J. J. (2003). Violence prevention: An evaluation of program effects with urban African American students. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 24, 43-62.

Taub, J. (2002). Evaluation of the Second Step violence prevention program at a rural elementary school. School Psychology Review, 31(2), 186–200.