Kids’ Orchestra: Where Social-Emotional Learning and Music Education Harmonize | By: Committee for Children Kids’ Orchestra is a Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based after-school program with a mission to build a community of creative, confident, and socially engaged students through music education. We sat down with Education Director Sam Trevathan and Program Manager Blakelynn Prettelt to talk about their experience incorporating Second Step® Out-of-School Time into their program. Sam and Blakelynn, thank you both for offering your perspective to other providers who are also looking to incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL) into their after-school programs. What led Kids’ Orchestra to bring Second Step® Out-of-School Time to its program sites? We were familiar with Committee for Children and some of the Second Step® products designed for the classroom. We had purchased Second Step® Elementary classroom kits as a 21st Century Community Learning Centers provider when we first started incorporating SEL into our program, but we were looking for something that made more sense for the out-of-school time (OST) model. When we heard from Committee for Children about its new OST program, I was really excited. I brought it to our team and got the green light from leadership to do a pilot. We rolled out the program with the Dufrocq School in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. It happened quickly and organically, and we were so excited about it. They have some fresh initiatives and were rolling out SEL, so it was a wonderful, organic fit. What was your previous experience with SEL and how was implementing this program different? We previously did some SEL work under the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, but it was only at specific sites and was a different, school-based model using classroom kits, with four days a week and more time for different levels of content delivery. This time we implemented it using materials designed for OST and incorporated it into a two-day-a-week program. There was a before-school snack and homework element, and then after school we met from 3:30–5:00 and included a Kids’ Orchestra 50-minute music lesson. We recognized we needed to find more time for SEL because we were really interested in finding how it could fit within our programming and with our staff to support our youth, so we decided to add more time to our site day. We went from a 3:30–5:00 day to a 3:30–5:15 day. We carved out a 20-minute window that previously didn’t exist in our traditional program model. That’s where we inserted all of the scope and sequence of the pilot, and we were thrilled with the outcome. What did it take to implement the program? The Second Step resources made everything very accessible and digestible for us. Knowing that there was a Staff Training presentation deck for us to use to quickly introduce and take steps toward facilitating the program with our team helped. I sat everyone down and went through the training and support resources the program provides, which is not always something we get as an after-school provider. [We don’t always get] all the levels of support to quickly give the staff what they need to get started. So that was very handy. Once it was time to start doing the lessons, it was easy to introduce the information to the kids. The lesson plans themselves are intuitive and the structure isn’t overwhelming. There’s nothing more there than exactly what you need. There are even a few adaptations and hints provided that help you adjust to your specific scenario in case you’re lacking space or a resource. All the physical materials are things you can find in a typical classroom. It’s very easy to get started. Once it was time to start doing the lessons, it was easy to introduce the information to the kids. The lesson plans themselves are intuitive and the structure isn’t overwhelming. There’s nothing more there than exactly what you need.—Blakelynn Prettelt, Program Manager How did it work for your staff? Onsite, the teachers typically show up 15 to 20 minutes before class starts. That gives them time to read through the lesson, so they’re ready to roll. It isn’t too hard to digest. From the administrative perspective, in the after-school network it’s not uncommon to have staff turnover. In the pandemic climate, turnover and staff shortages are everywhere. It’s good that the lessons are easy to prepare for. What about buy-in? Was there any hesitation to overcome? We did have to create some moments for buy-in. Educating our teachers and other stakeholders is a continuous pursuit. Engaging families to make sure everyone fully understands what social-emotional learning actually is removes the kind of confusion that might lead to questioning or hesitancy. There are different levels of buy-in. We had the opportunity to talk about the benefits that can exist between music making and social-emotional learning. There’s that cross-pollination, the beautiful cross-curricular moments that happen. As an organization that’s socially driven at its core, we believe social-emotional learning is embedded within the music-making process and can be embedded within any arts experience. That’s why we have this instinct to create more intentional space for social-emotional learning. Throughout the pandemic, our staff increasingly embraced social-emotional learning because they were seeing all the things young people were going through day to day … [They’d have] 20 minutes set aside for the kids to be kids for a while, to play, to be active with each other, to be social, to talk. That’s not always cultivated during the school day, but the after-school space is perfect for that. As that focus on SEL continued, our staff saw their relationships with students and student-to-student relationships improve, as did the culture of the site. As that focus on SEL continued, our staff saw their relationships with students and student-to-student relationships improve, as did the culture of the site.—Sam Trevathan, Education Director Just taking a moment to slow down, listen, and learn more about each other can be so difficult and challenging. It’s the beautiful obstacle that we are tasked with as an after-school provider: to take a moment to play and learn how to coexist in the space together, grow together, and learn about our social-emotional selves. We found that Second Step Out-of-School Time is a great vehicle for that. Recognizing OST program providers already implicitly incorporate SEL, what would you say to them about the value of addressing SEL more explicitly and intentionally with a program like this? One of our biggest responsibilities as after-school providers is to provide a safe and inclusive environment that allows for young people to benefit from the programming we provide. And from there, there’s a wraparound “village” mentality of making sure there are additional opportunities for a young person in those vulnerable hours. We have our frontline staff out there connecting with these young people, whether that’s through a mentorship or teacher-student type of relationship. In doing so, adults have SEL as a part of their lives as well. We as adults need to always be mindful of how we build relationships and be intentional about what our communication skills are, such as collaboration and responsible decision-making. That has to trickle down if we’re going to be good role models, and mentors, and teachers, and administrators, and believers in these young people. It’s all embedded in our innate responsibility as after-school providers and there needs to be intentional space set aside for that. Each program needs to unpack what an intentional approach to SEL means for its staff. It just so happens that our program is a vehicle for music, and that’s where we found natural pairing. I think every program is unique and has its own way of pairing up with SEL, which is a wonderful thing. You have to take into account your own community. Every community is different. Every school is different. I think it’s a wonderful, beautiful puzzle to kind of dissect and bring back and then you can make a case and advocate for that. SEL really added another offering for us. It became its own class and space. For us to have an additional offering that we can pair up with what we’re already offering strengthens what we’re known for and what we offer.—Sam Trevathan, Education Director SEL really added another offering for us. It became its own class and space. For us to have an additional offering that we can pair up with what we’re already offering strengthens what we’re known for and what we offer. It also adds value in how we connect with what the school-day staff is working on during those school hours. We know working families are not coming to get their kids until 5:00 or 5:30. So, what’s happening in that hour and a half or two hours? As after-school providers, we know that SEL is a big effort for districts we’re working with and we can support that effort. The mental health crisis we’re facing … was a big thing for us as providers. How do we create moments where we can unpack the emotions young people are having to deal with so they can be safe and secure? So they can analyze and process those things in a healthy way instead of being told they’re not allowed to be angry because it’s time to sit down and listen and learn? Everyone gets angry and upset. Let’s unpack that and figure out how we can move forward in a positive direction. All these issues and possibilities we were facing made us move forward with SEL. It makes sense. Did you see a change in your students after you implemented the program? We’ve been using the program for about a year. In the beginning the kids were all coming together from different places and didn’t have experience with SEL before. But the program provides an opportunity for community building, for students to get to know each other and figure out how to interact. Now they know how to react to each other and they reference what we talked about in Second Step Out-of-School Time. They’re able to ask, “Is this empathy and kindness?” “Is this how we want to treat each other?” “Is this respect?” Did families appreciate learning about SEL? I don’t think we’ve seen any pushback from families. Four or five years ago, when we first communicated about SEL to families, there was misunderstanding. There were responses like, “I’m signing my child up to learn about music, not for social-emotional learning,” which from the parent’s perspective sometimes means “you’re trying to tell me how to be a better parent.” Any time we might be unpacking what responsible decision-making means for a young person, questions about SEL can come up. But we haven’t been faced with any of that beyond the first communication. SEL has been welcomed and appreciated by families, especially when we we’ve shared the success of it. —Sam Trevathan, Education Director SEL has been welcomed and appreciated by families, especially when we we’ve shared the success of it. We put together a highlight video and shared it at a fundraiser as a moment for us to say, SEL is a part of our program. And then we shared it at the end-of-the-year concert, when we had all the families and students there as audience members or as performers and the kids got to see themselves. What the families see is that their child is happy, playing, and interacting with other young people in a productive way. What parent, what adult, what community stakeholder, what leader or policy maker wouldn’t be excited about that? Committee for Children has done a good job of creating a program that’s easy to plug and play, and then allows us to make advancements as a program and make connections with our community and stakeholders. Do you think staff benefit from teaching the materials? I do. We have a diverse level of experience among staff, as all after-school providers do. Oftentimes young professionals are cutting their teeth with their first classroom experiences or their first youth development job. Maybe they start with a logistical position and they benefit from seeing a simple, laid-out lesson plan and how things can be easily adjusted. The program provides tips to adjust for your environment and the materials you have on hand. It’s helpful because after-school is often controlled chaos, or unpredictable because we don’t always have our own space. Classrooms can change, materials can disappear. So, having those mechanisms and those supports at your fingertips that are digestible, no matter what level of experience you’re at, is valuable. Do you have any exciting wins that stood out for you while using the program? Staff buy-in is something that we’re faced with every year and any time we bring a new programmatic element in. We’ve heard from all the participating staff in this pilot that Second Step Out-of-School Time is incredibly beneficial to their time with the kids, their relationships with the kids, and their relationships with each other. That’s a big win. We’ve taken this experience, gone to our executive director and to the board, and said, look, we want to roll out SEL at all sites in the same way we did with the Dufrocq School. We’ve gotten the go-ahead to extend our program at all our future partner schools until 5:30 instead of 5:00 to allow for a 20-minute window of SEL, because we saw so much success on so many different fronts at the Dufrocq School. That also happened to coincide with what the East Baton Rouge Parish School System is doing with SEL, and they’re going to support our efforts as well. We’re taking steps toward that kind of wraparound support to kids and connecting to school day resources. The school system also has a relationship with Second Step programs, so it’s a good, unified effort. In the upcoming year, possibly 12 to 15 schools will be involved. There’s a lot of exciting work ahead of us. The school system also has a relationship with Second Step® programs, so it’s a good, unified effort. In the upcoming year, possibly 12 to 15 schools will be involved. There’s a lot of exciting work ahead of us.—Sam Trevathan, Education Director Everyone’s pulling in the same direction now and the possibilities for the young people, and for our adults and staff, are limitless in the years to come. For a lot of OST providers, funding is an issue. What would you say to others who may see the value of what you get for the price but need to find the funding? As far as value, look at the scale of the kids reached by whatever you’re purchasing. A curriculum can be used year to year. Knowing that if we purchase Second Step Out-of-School Time for a school and it can be used year to year, that value is going to continue adding up for us. It’s an investment and a worthy cause. We think about musical instruments that way: they continue to be put in new hands every year, and that’s what a curriculum is. It’s put in the hands of a new teacher every year and then experienced by the young person it’s reaching. Curriculum is a serious investment. There are funding obstacles that all after-school nonprofits face. We have to make a case internally, to our board, and externally, to the school districts we’re serving other external partners. We keep it focused on the kids, but embedded in research. There are also grants and other opportunities out there. One that we’re looking at is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, which comes down to every state with support every year. To after-school providers out there not aware of this grant, it provides amazing funding to your state that could support your efforts. There might be some possibility for shared costs and shared resources from other local partners, whether a school or the school district or even someone in your community who believes in the work and might want to provide funding. There are people out there who believe in youth development and will get on board with what social-emotional learning is. You just need to know how to advocate for and use your story. That’s probably the most important advice I would give as an administrator: remember your stories, and your awesome program will sell itself. Is there something you did when you implemented Second Step® Out-of-School Time that you’ve learned from and that you’d want to share with another provider that’s just getting started? Definitely take a look at the materials list and get those things on your site in a box, or in little bags: things like coloring supplies, tape, erasers, scissors, and sticky notes. Those are the most commonly used items in the program. It’s good for those resources to be portable. I’d suggest keeping them in a bag or a box because with OST, we’re not guaranteed a consistent space. The second suggestion is more of an observation about sequence. When we had it structured as SEL first and then our 50-minute music lesson, it was sort of the climax of the day at the very beginning, then the students had to sit down and try to learn their instrument for 50 minutes. So, the kids suggested swapping the SEL to the end of the day because it’s interactive and playful and they can look forward to it as a release or a reward for doing well in music class. As we move into this next year we’re going to be mindful of where SEL fits into the schedule, and it might be something we continue to experiment with. That’s the brilliance of the way Second Step Out-of-School Time is set up: you can adapt your schedule and maneuver things around. As long as you have space and your staff is willing to be flexible and adaptable, you can plug and play those lessons with a 15- or 20-minute window. Plug and play is a brilliant thing for all educational providers, no matter if they’re in a school day or after-school setting. Another thing we’re taking away from staff feedback, as a music provider and thinking about connections to the arts and music making, is that we should try to find some more intentional moments to integrate and not compartmentalize SEL and music too much. For a good music education classroom to exist, SEL needs to exist underneath that, and music can be embedded into some of those SEL activities. Kids should observe and see the organic connections there. We’re excited to try to capitalize on these learnings as we move forward into the upcoming academic year. How do you feel about your program, youth development, and SEL on a personal level? How does it relate to your “why”? Relationships and emotions are innate part of the human experience. You can’t separate those things from life. It’s necessary to teach kids how to deal with those things. Just the sheer awareness that they exist and that we should be dealing with them is a big step. Kids’ Orchestra’s mission is to build a community of creative, confident, and socially engaged students through music education. For OST providers to lift up creative, confident, and socially engaged youth, we have to find programs that present opportunities to kids that help them enrich themselves, become responsible young people and citizens, and support one another. We have to provide healthy environments where kids can work on who they are and support their identities in a safe and secure place. In our current climate, where kids have to worry about their own safety and are having a difficult time processing that, and are not sure what that means to them, equipping them with the means to try to explore and better understand their emotions gives them a lot of help they need.—Sam Trevathan, Education Director In our current climate, where kids have to worry about their own safety and are having a difficult time processing that, and are not sure what that means to them, equipping them with the means to try to explore and better understand their emotions gives them a lot of help they need. Our vision as an organization is to bring Louisiana together through music. We all know that the arts, music, food, and culture are great vehicles for people to come together. The human experience is rooted in relationships. Any time we can find something to support that with young people makes sense, and you can’t argue that. Whether it’s called social-emotional learning, or character building, or grit, or whatever term is out there for folks, as long as it’s creating a safe place for kids to come together and be enriched and enjoy themselves, that’s something I want to be part of and provide for young people out there. Any other words of advice? One piece of advice for any providers who are kind of hesitant, whether about social-emotional learning, or making the ask for funding, or finding a time and space in your program: take a risk. We live in a day and age when people are scared to take a risk or make an ask. We have to do that now. If you care about education and young people and the opportunities they get and supporting music and culture, be on the offensive rather than the defensive. Take a risk, get yourself out there. With that risk will hopefully come great reward. I would challenge anyone and everyone to try to do that for their cause.