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Open Circle Curriculum

Ages 5-10

Rating: Level 3


Open Circle Curriculum is a classroom primary prevention program for elementary schools students (kindergarten through fifth grade). It is the classroom component of the Reach Out to Schools: Social Competency Program (SCP, or the Open Circle Social Competency Program). The multiyear, comprehensive program has three goals: to strengthen students’ social competency skills in communication, self-control, and interpersonal problem-solving; to promote the creation of growth-fostering relationships among students and between students and the adults in their lives; and to build a sense of community in classrooms and schools by providing a common “language” that fosters communication among students and between students and their teachers and other adults.

The design and methodology of the Open Circle Curriculum were informed by research on social competency skills development, social and emotional learning, and recognition of the role of social relationships in the academic and social success of children. The program takes a holistic approach and provides training to teachers, parents, and other adults in the community (as well as to the children).

In fortnightly lessons lasting 15 to 30 minutes, teachers conduct “Open Circles” with their students. These meetings are the setting for the 42 regular and 33 supplemental curriculum lessons on topics, including communication, self-control, and social problem-solving. The Open Circle serves as a forum for providing students with opportunities to develop and practice their social competency skills, for building positive relationships among students and teachers, and for creating a strong sense of community in the classroom. During these meetings, topics such as being a good listener, including one another, speaking up, calming down, and problem-solving are discussed. Then students join in an activity, such as a role-play or a game, that reinforces the topic discussed. Students are also asked to identify and resolve conflicts. The Open Circle structure provides an opportunity for troubled or excluded children to feel more connected to their classmates and teachers and less alone to face their problems. This process creates a safer, more inclusive classroom and school community.


Preliminary evaluations have provided evidence for the beneficial effects of SCP on elementary school–aged children. Teachers trained in SCP reported that the curriculum fosters social skills (including empathy, collaborative problem-solving, responsibility, and consideration for others), a greater sense of self-worth and empowerment, increased classroom participation and time spent on academics, and a reduction in problem behaviors. These studies, however, relied on self-reports from those delivering the program, thus informants may not have been objective about the program’s impact. In addition, preliminary studies did not assess long-term impact. Additional research was needed to address these concerns.

The evaluation was designed to assess the effects of the program on students as they enter middle school (sixth grade). The sample included 277 sixth grade students in a community where children have participated in SCP. All sixth grade students in the community were asked to participate, but 17 declined or were otherwise unavailable. Since the curriculum had not been used throughout the school system, the sample included students with varying levels of exposure to SCP. Of the sample, 191 students had 2 or more years of exposure, and 86 students had 1 year of exposure or less. The sample was half female, 79 percent white, and 88 percent from two-parent homes.

In an attempt to measure observable differences in students’ behavior and functioning, data collected for this evaluation included students’ self-reports of how they perceived their school transition and social skills and parents’ and teachers’ perceptions of the children’s social skills and adjustment to middle school. Survey measures used with students included participation in SCP, middle school adjustment, and social skills.

Participation was measured by questions on the years of participation in SCP. Middle school adjustment was measured using a modified version of the Survey of Adaptation Tasks—Middle School and addressed issues related to peer relationships, substance abuse, and interpersonal conflict. Social skills were measured using the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS), which concentrates on cooperation, assertion, empathy, and self-control. Teacher and parent assessments of the middle school adjustment of students were collected through questions with scaled responses. Teachers and parents also completed the SSRS to assess students’ social skills.


Findings from this evaluation suggest that 2 or more years of exposure to SCP has an impact on social adjustment even after participation in the program ends. Statistically significant effects were found for girls in middle school adjustment. Girls who had received 2 or more years of SCP were less likely to report adjustment problems than those who had less exposure to SCP. Teacher evaluations of girls mirrored this trend. There was a statistically significant effect for boys with regard to the single survey item on fighting behavior—those who had received 2 or more years of SCP were less likely to report physical fighting than those with less exposure. There were also positive outcomes in social skills. Girls with more exposure to SCP exhibited higher levels of self-assertiveness than those with less exposure.

Risk Factors


  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Lack of guilt and empathy

Protective Factors


  • High expectations
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Department of Education


Kress, Jeffrey S., Jacqueline A. Norris, Dena A. Schoenholz, Maurice J. Elias, and Pamela Seigle. 2004. “Bringing Together Educational Standards and Social and Emotional Learning: Making the Case for Educators.” American Journal of Education 111:68–89.

Taylor, Catherine A., Belle Liang, Allison J. Tracy, Linda M. Williams, and Pamela Seigle. 2002. “Gender Differences in Middle School Adjustment, Physical Fighting, and Social Skills: Evaluation of a Social Competency Program.” The Journal of Primary Prevention 23(2):259–72.


Open Circle Program
106 Central Street
The Stone Center, Wellesley College
Wellesley, MA 02481
Phone: (781) 283-3277
Fax: (781) 283-3717
Web site: