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School district to participate in UNH pilot program for middle schoolers

TUFTONBORO CENTRAL SCHOOL’S The Rock Breakers performed “I’m Gonna Break Your Rock” to the popular tune of Taio Cruz and Ludicris’s “I’m Gonna Break Your Heart” at the Governor Wentworth Regional School Board meeting Monday, Nov. 7. Each year the fifth grade students study rocks and minerals and as an end-of-the-unit performance they get hold a rock concert where each science group is transformed to a rock band and challenged to write and perform an original song or rewrite the words of a well known song that demonstrates their newfound knowledge of rocks and minerals. Because the performance occurs in the spring and the board typically visits the school in the fall, a few sixth graders who did the performance last spring were asked to reprise their roles for the board to see. Principal Koukal said Rock Band is “a great way to see what the kids have learned from what could be a very dry science unit of rocks and minerals.” Performing are (l-r) Emma Abraham, Burke Ruel, Eileen McKenna and Ashtyn Cameron. (Heather Terragni photo) (click for larger version)
November 10, 2011
TUFTONBORO — This past Monday, Nov. 7, Tuftonboro Central School Principal Cathy Koukal hosted the Governor Wentworth Regional School Board's November meeting where it was announced that the middle school would participate in the University of New Hampshire's Courage to Care pilot program.

Having been approached by Dr. Malcolm Smith, a family life and family policy specialist at the UNH Cooperative Extension, about a program that he wanted to offer the school, Assistant Superintendent Kathleen Cuddy-Egbert and the middle school administration agreed the program seemed like it could be advantageous to students.

While the school does not have a bullying problem itself now Cuddy-Egbert explained, "anything that we can do to foster an environment of respect, responsibility and kindness is something that we want to do."

Fifty students will participate in the nine-week program for 50 minutes per week, replacing one period of health class each time. This will correspond with the bullying unit already integrated into the curriculum. The students, along with a group of 50 students who will not take part in the program, will take a pre- and post-test to compare the program's effectiveness.

The Courage to Care program is based on four core areas: Courage concepts, courage quotations, video clips, and courage practice, all which generate student-led discussions. There are eight topics covered over the nine-week period, including respect and kindness, power use and abuse, non-verbal messages, and cliques and stereotypes.

If the program proves effective, the goal for the school district would be to put all the middle school students through the program. The long-range goal for Smith would be to market the program throughout the state.

Four middle school staff will receive training in the program at no cost to the district.

Middle school Principal Rusty Ross and Vice Principal Suzanne Onufry said the program has generated a lot of interest amongst the staff.

"Middle school certainly from my perspective is a real classic time to do [a program like this]," explained Ross, "because it's when students are really trying to find themselves and find where they fit in and as a result it's also a place where bullying and that kind of behavior can be very troubling."

And it's because the students this year are so great and that there is no bullying problem in the school that this year is a great time to do it added Onufry.

"If we were having a struggling year with kids and bullying that would not be the time to do it, so I think this is a great year to do it," she said.

Only two other schools in the state, in the Gorham and Fall Mountain districts, are participating in this pilot program. Smith approached Governor Wentworth because of its current anti-bullying programs and the work it has already done to promote kindness, caring and tolerance.

In response to concern regarding Smith's personal agenda and seemingly negative attitude towards local school districts, Superintendent Jack Robertson assured that regardless of Smith's intent, the program has the potential of really working for the kids and he is in favor of supporting anti-bullying activities throughout the district.

"I'm very proud of this school district because I think it has worked very hard to address the issue of bullying. We're not perfect, but we work very hard at it. Our interest in this particular program is that we think it does have some merit."

Additionally Ross said that he and his staff would monitor the program and that the board would receive a follow up regarding the outcomes.

Other business

Because "technology marches on," the board authorized Robertson to allow staff to purchase iPads through a payroll deduction program. If ordered in bulk the district will receive a discount bringing down the cost for each to about $470. iPads, Robertson said, are particularly useful in education.

Work continues on the Kingswood complex renovation and expansion project though the checklist of uncompleted items is getting smaller and smaller joked board member Ernie Brown.

"We're making progress and it's a pleasure to behold."

Several parts of the buildings, including the high school cafeteria and gymnasium, are expected to be turned over to the district by the month's end and the high school kitchen is anticipated to be completed by the first week of January.

Jennifer Coulter, whose children have been in the school district for the past 14 years now, read aloud a letter she wrote to the board.

In the letter Coulter asked that more recognition be given to individual students at the middle school level. She said that in the past the school had held team awards to recognize each student and wondered why this was done away with.

As a parent Coulter asked that ways be found within the school to support students and recognize them for their successes whether they are academic, effort or citizenship related. While she said she enjoys reading the Super Knight award that is currently given on a monthly basis to a handful of students, she would like to see this kind of recognition for each deserving student throughout the year.

From her experience having children that attended Tuftonboro Central School where she said a lot of praise and recognition is given to each kid, it has been difficult to transition to a school that rarely recognizes its students.

It's during these difficult preteen and teen years that students could really benefit from any type of positive reinforcement and recognition, she noted.

The board thanked Coulter for her comments and will pass the letter along to the district's Student Recognition Committee.

Watch this meeting in its entirety at http://wolfeborocommunitytelevision.com.

The Governor Wentworth Regional School Board will meet next on Monday, Dec. 5 beginning at 7 p.m. at Carpenter Elementary School.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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