FARMINGTON — Organizers with the Franklin County Children’s Task Force say that in this day and age, with parents often strapped for time and resources, children may lack the opportunity to experience all that the community around them has to offer.

But through a new collaboration with Regional School Unit 9, the Children’s Task Force will be pulling educational resources from the surrounding community to bring after-school and summer programming to elementary aged children in hopes of enriching their academic and social experiences.

“That is one of the things that I am most excited about, that this program will give children an opportunity to see how resource rich we are in Franklin County,” Stacie Bourassa, community outreach coordinator for the Franklin County Children’s Task Force, said last week. “We have a lot of strengths that will be highlighted through that enrichment program.”

The program, 21st Century Kids of Franklin, was made possible by a $1.5 million grant that the organization and RSU 9 received earlier this month from Century 21, though the five-year grant will be administered through the Maine Department of Education.

The programming will be based around learning opportunities for children in the areas of science, math, engineering, technology, the arts, health and physical activity.

“It’s a program that is meant to help children increase their academic achievement and introduce them to different enrichment activities that they may not have the opportunity to be introduced to in a regular school setting,” Franklin County Children’s Task Force Executive Director Renee Whitley said.

RSU 9 Superintendent Tom Ward said the district has been moving in the direction of offering more extended programs for students who need extra support, but with cramped budgets, the district hasn’t been able to afford it. This is the first time that the district and the Children’s Task Force have collaborated.

“We do what we can presently on limited resources,” Ward said. “But (the new program) is primarily going to help us to meet the needs of students to get extra help after school in our extended day and extended year programs.”

Ward also said that a major benefit of the grant is its funding of transportation for students to get home from the after-school programs, as Ward said that is a large barrier to after-school care. The new program will be free for RSU 9 families.

“This is a major need in a rural district like ours,” Ward said. “We just have many students in need.”

With the grant providing the funding for personnel, the Children’s Task Force will be hiring new employees to run the program. RSU 9 teachers and ed-techs will play a large part in facilitating the programming and lessons for the activities.

Organizers also say that a big part of facilitating the program will come from community volunteers, whether it is University of Maine professors and students, senior citizens or parents with a unique professional background who were interested in volunteering.

“It shows (children) their community members in a different light … so kids can see a vision for themselves in Franklin County,” Bourassa said.

The after-school portion of the program will begin after the Farmington Fair in September, running through the end of May, and will be based at the W.G. Mallett School in Farmington and at the Academy Hill School in Wilton with students from the Cape Cod Hill School in New Sharon. Specifics for the summer program, which will begin after the 2016-2017 school year, have not yet been established.

The new program is part of the organization’s mission to approach the issue of child abuse and neglect as a community issue. Franklin County has been identified as one of three counties in Maine with the highest rates of child abuse and neglect, Whitley said, with Somerset and Androscoggin being the other two.

Whitley said that the Children’s Task Force wants to focus on preventing abuse and neglect from occurring rather than having to act after the fact by providing families with supports and resources to strengthen their relationships.

“What we identified in our prevention plan was that families lacked protective factors, which include the concrete supports in times of need, the lack of social connections, building parental resilience, (and) understanding your child’s development and emotional needs,” Whitley said. “This program encompasses all of that.”

On top of the educational opportunities, the program will also offer emotional and social skill enrichment opportunities for participating children. Bourassa said that healthy relationship, coping and empathy curriculum will be worked into the program.

While the structure of the after-school program is still being developed by the task force, the program will be blocked into three groups: kindergarten and first grade, second and third grade and fourth and fifth grade.

Once the students get out of school, Whitley envisions them gathering in the cafeteria, having a light snack and unwinding from the day before going off to the different programs scheduled for that afternoon.

“All of these different enrichment activities are going to be staggered throughout the month, and (the children) will have the opportunity to pick what interests them,” Whitley said.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

 


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