Program Goals/Target Population
Al’s Pals: Kids Making Healthy Choices is an early childhood curriculum designed to increase the protective factor of social and emotional competence in young children and to decrease the risk factor of early and persistent aggression or antisocial behavior. The resiliency-based curriculum is designed to provide real-life situations that introduce children to health-promoting concepts and build prosocial skills, such as understanding feelings, accepting differences, caring about others, using self-control, and managing anger.
The program follows the premise that intervening during the early years when children are forming patterns of behaviors and attitudes can reduce the likelihood that they will later develop aggressive, antisocial, or violent behavior. Al’s Pals is based heavily on resiliency research as a framework for developing an intervention. The program curriculum is designed to build resiliency by presenting children with real-life situations that introduce them to health-promoting concepts and prosocial skills. The program also recognizes the ongoing nature of resilience building and trains teachers to use resilience-promoting concepts in their classroom management practices (Lynch, Geller, and Schmidt 2004).
Al’s Pals uses 46 interactive lessons that teach children how to practice positive ways to express feelings, relate to others, communicate, brainstorm ideas, solve problems, and differentiate between safe and unsafe substances and situations. Lessons are delivered twice a week over 23 weeks. Each lesson lasts 15 to 20 minutes and typically consists of two or three activities, including puppet-led discussions, brainstorming, role plays, and guided creative play. Three original puppets (Al, Ty, and Keisha) are used by teachers to reinforce prosocial behavior and express clear messages that the use of violence, drugs, and alcohol is not acceptable. The puppets lead discussions and activities designed to help children practice getting along with others and making safe and healthy choices.
Some of the lessons include parental involvement. Teachers regularly send home curriculum letters from Al to update parents about the skills and lessons their children are learning, and to suggest activities that can be completed at home to reinforce those concepts. “Al-a-Gram” messages can also be sent home so children who display specific Al’s Pals skills, such as using kind words, can be recognized at home by their parents.
Overall, the results were mixed. Lynch, Geller, and Schmidt (2004) found the intervention group improved significantly on measures of social–emotional competence, prosocial skills, and some measures of coping, but there was no improvement in problem behaviors at the posttest. At the same time, the control group showed no significant improvements in measures of social–emotional competence, prosocial skills, and coping, and actually showed higher ratings of problem behaviors at the posttest.
Social–Emotional Competence and Prosocial Skills
From pretest to posttest, classrooms that received the Al’s Pals intervention showed significant positive changes in social–emotional competence and prosocial skills based on measures from the Preschool and Kindergarten Behavior Scale (PKBS) and Child Behavior Rating Scale-30. The control classrooms showed no significant changes on these measures.
The intervention group saw significant positive changes in measures of positive coping and “distract/avoid” from the Teacher Report of Child Coping. However, there was no significant change on the measure of negative coping. The control group did not make any statistically significant changes on any measures of coping.
The intervention classrooms showed no significant changes on any of the problem behavior measures from the PKBS. The control classroom did show significant changes, but in the wrong direction. That is, the control group showed significantly higher average ratings on measures of problem behaviors at the end of the school year than it did at the beginning of the school year.
Lynch, Geller, and Schmidt (2004) conducted an experimental study in a large Head Start program in Lansing, Michigan, during the 1996–1997 school year. Thirty-three classrooms were selected and randomly assigned to receive the Al’s Pals curriculum or to serve as controls. Seventeen classrooms (n=218 children) were randomly assigned to the intervention group and 16 classrooms (n=181 children) were randomly assigned to the control group.
There were no significant differences between the intervention and control groups on age, gender, or race/ethnicity. The average age of the children at program entry was 52.3 months for the intervention group and 52 months for the control group. For the intervention group, the gender breakdown was 50 percent male and 50 percent female, while the control group had 51.5 percent boys and 48.5 percent girls. The entire sample of children was approximately 50 percent white, 25 percent African American, and 25 percent Hispanic, biracial, or of other ethnicities.
Child outcomes were measured using the Child Behavior Rating Scale-30 (CBRS-30), the Teacher Report of Child Coping (TRCC), and the Preschool and Kindergarten Behavior Scale (PKBS). The CBRS-30 is comprised of 30 items and is a revised version of the CBRS-20. The instrument assesses aspects of children’s behavior reflecting social–emotional competence. Sample items assessed include appropriate expression of feelings, demonstration of self-control, and use of prosocial methods of interpersonal problem solving. The TRCC measures changes in children’s coping styles over the course of the study. Scale items describe five different coping strategies (Seeking Support, Instrumental Coping, Venting, Aggression, and Distract/Avoid). The PKBS comprises 76 items and two major scales measuring Social Skills and Problem Behaviors. All three instruments measure child behaviors on Likert scales.
Results were examined through three sets of analyses. The first was independent t-tests, which assessed differences between the intervention and control groups on each of the measures at the study's outset. The second was paired t-tests, which examined within-group changes from pretest to posttest. Finally, repeated measures analysis of variance determined whether the two groups changed similarly across time on each of the measures, from pretest to posttest. The unit of analysis was classroom means. The pretest was administered at the beginning of the school year and the posttest was administered at the end of the school year.
There is no cost information available for this program.
Al’s Pals training is provided by Wingspan, the developer and national distributor of the program. The core training is required for all educators who will deliver the program. Information on the training can be found on the company’s Web site. Training is available in two formats: 1) face-to-face training conducted over 2 days, or 2) live, online training consisting of seven sessions, each lasting approximately 2 hours. Both options are available for individuals and groups.
Curriculum materials are distributed upon completion of the core training. Each classroom requires its own curriculum kit. The kit includes two complete sets of the 46-lesson curriculum; 3 original puppets; easy-to-follow puppet scripts; 12 original songs on CD; an oversized songbook; 38 color photographs of real-life situations; 14 sets of parent letters (also available in Spanish); 8 different “Al-a-Grams”; Calm Down and Problem-Solving posters; 2 children’s books; and color certificates of program completion for the children.
Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:Study 1Lynch, Kathleen Bodisch, Susan R. Geller, and Melinda G. Schmidt. 2004. “Multi-Year Evaluation of the Effectiveness of a Resilience-Based Prevention Program for Young Children.” The Journal of Primary Prevention 24(3):335–53.
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:Lynch, Kathleen Bodisch. 1998. Results of Michigan Replication Study 1996–97: Child Outcomes. Al’s Pals: Kids Making Healthy Choices. Richmond, Va.: Virginia Institute for Development Disabilities, Virginia Commonwealth University.Lynch, Kathleen Bodisch, Susan R. Geller, and Denise R. Hunt. 1998. “Successful Program Development Using Implementation Evaluation.” Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community 17(2):51–64.
Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:School-Based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs
Designed to foster the development of five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies, in order to provide a foundation for better adjustment and academic performance in students, which can result in more positive social behaviors, fewer conduct problems, and less emotional distress. The practice was rated Effective in reducing students’ conduct problems and emotional stress.Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Universal School-Based Social Information Processing Interventions for Aggression
| ||Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Multiple juvenile problem/at-risk behaviors|
| ||Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Internalizing behavior|
School-based violence prevention interventions that target social information-processing difficulties in students, aiming to reduce the aggressive and disruptive behavior of school-aged children. The practice is rated Promising for reducing aggressive behavior in school-aged children.Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Targeted School-Based Social Information-Processing Interventions for Aggression
| ||Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Aggression|
This practice examines targeted prevention efforts for particular students that attempt to improve one or more aspects of the students’ social information processing, aiming to prevent and/or reduce aggressive or violent behavior in school-aged children. The practice is rated Effective for reducing aggressive behavior in school-aged children.Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Early Self-Control Improvement Programs for Children
| ||Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Aggression|
This practice consists of programs designed to increase self-control and reduce child behavior problems (e.g., conduct problems, antisocial behavior, and delinquency) with children up to age 10. Program types include social skills development, cognitive coping strategies, training/role playing, and relaxation training. This practice is rated Effective for improving self-control and reducing delinquency.Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
| ||Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Self-Control|
| ||Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types|