Stronger Social-Emotional Skills And More Resilient Kids: PEDALS Impact Continues To Grow

At the Health Foundation, we truly enjoy highlighting our grantee partners and the amazing work that they do. Here is a spotlight from our 2021 annual report: Connections.

The data is clear: when children have healthy and strong social-emotional skills, they are better at recognizing and managing their emotions, showing empathy for others, maintaining positive relationships, and making responsible decisions. These skills are especially important for kindergarten readiness, and can have a long-term impact on mental health, academics, and success in adulthood. Social-emotional learning is more important than ever after the disruptions and stress families have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Positive Emotional Development and Learning Skills program, or PEDALS, was launched in 2012 to bring training and resources for these skills to early childhood teachers. Initially developed in western New York through a partnership between the Health Foundation and the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, the program was later brought to Onondaga County in central New York, and to Southeast Michigan by our partners at the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.

This multi-year initiative was designed to improve the social and emotional well-being of children by introducing developmental screening, evidence-based curricula, and quality improvement methods to early childhood teachers. The training gives teachers the resources to use music, activities, and stories in short daily lessons to help students learn compassionate methods for managing their emotions and communicating their needs. In 2019, with generous support and partnership from the Wilson Foundation, a strategic planning process for PEDALS began. A group of PEDALS funders and stakeholders came together to review accomplishments and determine long-term goals, including representatives from the Wilson Foundation, the Health Foundation, the Peter & Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, Community Connections of New York, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, and PEDALS (NY and MI). The group began plans to scale up PEDALS to reach more children and child care providers.

In 2020, the Health Foundation built on this progress by committing to expanding into new counties in central New York—a commitment that reflects our mid-term goal that children have access to high-quality social-emotional learning support. The CNY hub began this expansion work in 2021 with Child Care Solutions serving as lead organization in the region.

Lori Schakow, Executive Director of Child Care Solutions, notes that organizations across central New York have frequently reached out to them for technical help with social-emotional learning—and that the long-term approach of PEDALS programming sets it apart. “The coaching is a key part of what makes PEDALS different,” said Lori. “The ongoing teaching and development of skills for teachers helps change behaviors for a long-term impact.”

The PEDALS expansion into several new central New York counties comes at a time when many initiatives related to early childhood are growing in coordination in the region. In 2019, Child Care Solutions and frequent collaborator Early Childhood Alliance Onondaga (ECA) partnered on a Health Foundation-funded report to examine early childhood needs in the county. As a result of the report findings, Onondaga County leadership made a commitment to investing in early childhood initiatives, including Help Me Grow, Talking Is Teaching, and the Child Care Quality Improvement pilot. The 2019 report also included a recommendation that PEDALS should be expanded to more child care centers throughout the community. “What I love about PEDALS’ expansion in central New York is the natural alignment with the work that has already been happening,” said Laurie Black, Director of the ECA.

Pamela Buddendeck is the Principal of Park Hill School, a pre-K in Onondaga County’s East Syracuse Minoa Central School District. PEDALS has been integrated in their four-year-old classroom since 2019, and the impact of this work is felt among teachers, students, and even other classrooms. “The biggest impact is we are teaching the students to independently use these strategies in any social situation—how to calm down, how to share, how to make safe choices,” said Pam. “We see kids using these tools and skills in other settings, like the gym, and we hear from parents that they’ll use it at home—and even teach the parents what they’ve learned!” Pam noted they have received feedback from kindergarten teachers that many children who had PEDALS-trained staff in pre-K are continuing to use those social-emotional skills in their new classrooms.

Megan Wagner-Flynn, Director of Early Learning Strategy for the ECA, notes that the long-term impact of PEDALS reaches beyond teachers and students. “Talking about social-emotional skills is not something that comes naturally to everyone,” said Megan. “PEDALS gives us a shared language to start to have those conversations. Investing in the social-emotional health of our children will lead to greater community resiliency and capacity.”