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Elementary students in Farmington offered seven habits of healthy kids

Union Leader Correspondent

May 21. 2013 7:42PM
Farmington Police Chief Kevin Willey learned more about the seven habits for happy kids from these third grade students who were playing a game which incorporated the concepts Monday as part of the Leader in Me program at Valley View Community School in Farmington. (JOHN QUINN PHOTO)

FARMINGTON — A new grant-funded program for Valley View Community Schoo is making a big impression on everyone from the youngest student to the most experienced teacher.

Principal Cynthia Sparks said the school, which educates students in kindergarten through grade 3, was the only school in the state to receive the three-year grant last in July from the I Am A Leader Foundation.

The Leader in Me program builds on the Seven Habits of Healthy Kids, based on the book — "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey.

Sparks said the school received a $43,000 grant to train the staff the first year and could receive about $9,000 to review the program next year.

Sparks said officials are committed to the effort and have allocated $5,000 from the school budget to continue the program into the future.

Sparks and a team of staffers, including art teacher Kimberly J.B. Smith, third grade teachers Pam Skeffington and Cindy Hunn, first grade reacher Wanda Pelkey and reading specialist Carol O.Connell, worked closely to organize the program throughout the year.

O'Connell said the program is a year-long effort, which began with a five-day conference before the school year started.

Teachers would introduce one of the seven habits and the entire school would spend a month re-enforcing it with students.

On Monday, students escorted local and state officials around the school to see the results of the program. Students explained the seven steps, which include: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek first to understand then be understood, synergize and sharpen the saw.

Afterwards fellow classmates performed a song-rap and a dance that further re-enforced the seven habits.

O'Connell said Monday's presentation, which took two weeks of preparation and rehearsing, was a product of all the hard work of teachers, staff and students. She added that all of the presentations, tours and explanations were entirely student-led.

"They're living it (the seven habits) now by being leaders today," O'Connell said.

Third graders Kylie Locke, 8, and Cole Bedard, 9, both of Farmington, were two students who acted as tour guides for the visitors, which included members of the school board, town officials, parents and volunteers.

Although they had to keep the groups moving, Kylie Locke said she was happy to show people around the classrooms, where fellow students were reading, practicing math or learning about science.

Cole Bedard said they had to overcome a little anxiety, especially since they were guiding around Police Chief Kevin Willey. Cole said he eventually became more confident as they had to get visitors around the school and back to the library before classes ended for the day.

Pegi Merriman, who teaches first grade, said many people, especially long-time staffers, were inspired by the success of the program and how the students embraced the habits.

"It's character — it's not just academics," Merriman said.

Skeffington, who helped write the grant last year, said the program evolved beyond lessons and became a source of pride and positive energy for the school, the district and the communities of Farmington and Middleton.

"That's why I get so passionate about it," Skeffington said, adding that as a result of the program, behavioral problems are down and teachers hope test scores will go up.

Former Selectman Paul Parker, who serves on the planning board, said the program is a great opportunity for the community and for a district that has two other schools that received School in Need of Improvement (SINI) grants.

"They deserve a lot more credit than they get," Parker said, adding schools must be evaluated as a whole and not just by a few tests.

Jessica Cowan, of Farmington, who will soon be taking over as president of the Parent-Teacher Association, agreed that the program is great for the community.

"It's the way to teach kids and change the attitude of the whole school," Cowan said, adding the habits are lessons students can bring home and be used for all aspects of their lives.

Cowan said the habits encourage students — including her son Joseph Nolan, 8 who is a second — to do their homework and be responsible, even if they grumble about it from time to time.

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