Featured, Local News

Program aims to ease transition to middle school

PROSPER Team Leader Kimberly Griffin, right, hands out information about the PROSPER program during the eclipse party in Brandon on Monday, Aug. 21.

By Lee J. Kahrs

BRANDON—A new program designed to help parents and kids communicate is being offered to fifth and sixth graders and their families in the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union (RNeSU).

Those years bridging elementary school and middle school can be tough, and the PROSPER program has come to RNeSU to help parents and kids facilitate that time by improving communication and problem-solving skills.

A USDA federally-funded program, PROSPER stands for Promoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience. It ‘s being offered through a partnership between the University of Vermont Extension and RNeSU and is part of the Strengthening Families program.

The goal was to sign up 12 to 15 fifth and sixth grade students and their parents or guardians by the end of August. RNeSU schools include Leicester Central School, Lothrop Elementary, Neshobe Elementary, Otter Valley Union School, Sudbury County School and Whiting Elementary, which feed into Otter Valley Union High School (OVUHS). Those in the program will visit OVUHS every Wednesday night starting on Sept. 20 for seven weeks. Each week will begin with a group dinner at 5 p.m. Then, students and parents will split up for individual sessions for an hour based on weekly themes like “Using Love and Limits,” “Encouraging Good Behavior,” and “Building Bridges.” Then the students and parents will reconnect for a one-hour family session to talk about what they learned and put it into practice.

The program is free to participants. The Wednesday night sessions will feature a free dinner, childcare for younger siblings if needed, and transportation if necessary.

Kimberly Griffin is the PROSPER team leader with the UVM Extension and is based in Rutland. She has spent the summer gathering stakeholders within RNeSU and forming the community council that will help shepherd the program over the next three years. The council includes Otter Valley Substance Abuse Counselor Katie Wallett, RNeSU Home/School Coordinator Haley Cotrupi, OV Middle School Principal Geoff Lawrence, School Resource Officer Ann Bandy, RNeSU Director of Curriculum Andy Kepes, and OV Middle School Guidance Counselor Claudia Larrow.

Griffin was staffing an information table at the Great American Eclipse Party at Estabrook Field in Brandon on Monday, Aug. 21, handing out literature and talking to parents and kids.

“I’m excited to launch this program in RNeSU,” she said. “My biggest message is that every single family can utilize these tools. By coming to a program that is focused on strengthening families, it doesn’t mean you have a weak family.”
Griffin said that the world children are growing up in is constantly changing with many challenges, such as substance abuse, poverty, violence and bullying. Parents need help, she said.

“We’re helping parents parent,” she said. “Especially in a world where we are constantly coming up against new challenges with our kids, it’s important to have a solid foundation.”

Neshobe School Principal Judi Pulsifer said in an interview last week that she was very impressed with Griffin when the two met to discuss the PROSPER   program last month.

“I can just see families gravitating toward her,” she said. “In my view, it helps families and children to communicate and solve problems together. I would have been interested in this as a parent.”

Pulsifer said she has seen an increasing problem with her elementary schools students who are not talking about issues at home.

“My big concern is that we have kids that aren’t telling things that are happening,” she said. “Home should be your safest place, and that’s not the reality these days.”

Katie Wallett is equally excited about the launch of the PROSPER program. She said what makes it different is the cooperative parent/student component and the community council.

Wallett said the key to PROSPER is communication. “It’s unique to adults and humans in general,” she said. “Communication. Quality communication. How can you communicate with your child, and let’s practice that together. It’s a great model.”

Only two other schools in the state, Camel’s Hump Middle School in Richmond and the Lyndon Town School, are implementing the PROSPER program this year. Griffin said ultimately, her goal is to get the program into every school in the state of Vermont.

For Wallett, the model of students and parents working together is the key to success in the Prosper program.

“To me, it’s just providing a nice opportunity to get together with your kid and engage with them,” she said. “A lot of times in life these days, there’s no time to just be together. To a have  designated time to focus on each other is really cool and only good can come from that.”

For more information, or to sign up for the PROSPER program, contact Kimberly Griffin at 802-773-3349.

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