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Whole Child Conference at Mallett School on Saturday

Organizers of the Whole Child Conference include

Organizers of the Whole Child Conference include (in the front row) Doug Saunders of Franklin County Children's Task Force, Principal Tracy Williams, Erika Neal, Victoria Petersen, (in the second row) Stacey Augustine, Emily Schanck, (in the third row) Wendy Oakley, Vicky Cohen, Joann Meyer, (in the back row) Chlorissa Plaisted, Mindy Cousineau, Nicole Ball and Vicki Foster.

FARMINGTON - A local partnership is seeking to equip families with educational and emotional tools to allow them to better engage with their children's education, through a collection of free workshops that will take place on April 2.

W.G. Mallett School and the Franklin County Children's Task Force will be presenting the Whole Child Conference at the elementary school on Saturday, April 2, from 8:30 a.m. until noon. There will be an opportunity to attend three out of 14 workshop sessions being offered by Mallett staff or FCCTF coordinators. There is no cost to attend the conference, and parents from Mt. Blue Regional School District towns and beyond are welcome. The conference is also valuable for care-givers, daycare providers, prospective parents and grandparents.

Free childcare will be provided to allow parents to take part in the workshops. Refreshments will be available, and take home bags containing magnets, small books and other educational gifts will be provided. Door prizes are also available, including gift certificates to Hannaford, Walmart and other local establishments, as well as family games and Mallett t-shirts.

The sessions will focus on ways that parents can interact with their pre-Kindergarten to early elementary school children educationally, in relation to both math and literacy development. The sessions will introduce activities that provide the opportunity for entertainment and education, Principal Tracy Williams said. She said there would be no educational jargon, but instead a focus on fun ways families can contribute to their child's education.

With the rise of technology and mandated standards throughout modern schools, Williams said, it was important to also make time for the "songs, chants and rhymes" that provide a more hands-on, "playful" education for young children. The Mallett teachers and specialists will be hosting 10 sessions, focusing on different activities and disciplines.

For example, one session will demonstrate how parents can organize a project session with their children. Attendees will get a project kit to take home.

"The focus is on enabling parents," Williams said.

Meanwhile, the Children's Task Force will be hosting four sessions. According to FCCTF coordinator Doug Saunders, the theme of those sessions will be "resilience." Oftentimes, Saunders said, adverse childhoods can result in adverse adulthoods, with those parents struggling in turn to cope with the needs of their children. Through teaching coping skills, conflict resolution and stress management techniques, FCCTF hopes to break that cycle.

"Rather than trying to treat each individual, it's preventative," Saunders said of the FCCTF's approach. "Think of it as an inoculation against chronic stress." Adversity will happen in day-to-day life, Saunders noted, and it was important to have strategies to deal with it.

Meanwhile, throughout the hallways of the elementary school will be stations for guests to visit during the breaks in between the sessions. Representatives of the University of Maine at Farmington's the Kalikow Center will be providing curriculum material and demonstrations of assisted learning tools and devices, for example; other stations will be staffed by the Healthy Community Coalition, Mallett Parent Teacher Association, Community Dental and Community Concepts, among others.

The obvious dilemma, both Williams and Saunders agreed, was that many of the parents that could most benefit from the Whole Child Conference were also less likely to attend. Organizers are focusing on lowering as many potential barriers in a bid to address that issue, providing free child care and refreshments. A previous conference, focusing purely on literacy, drew approximately 30 people a few years ago when it coincided with a winter storm; organizers have pushed the Whole Child Conference back to April to avoid bad weather.

"I think we just have to keep trying," Williams said. "The school itself can be a barrier; school can be really threatening for people." The focus on fun, family activities - as opposed to education jargon - is designed to reach families that might otherwise steer clear of an educational conference.

"You have to keep plugging away," Saunders said.

Organizers will be putting up flyers to advertise the program, as well as reaching out to local pre-K and childcare services to let parents know about the opportunity.

The Whole Child Conference will be held on Saturday, April 2 from 8:30 a.m. until noon at the W.G. Mallett School. The focus is on parents with children from pre-K to age 7. For more information, Mallett School can be reached at 778-3529.

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  1. What a great partnership!