Valley Kids Belong program promotes social skills, decision-making

Valley Kids Belong held its graduation at Derby Middle School where participants were awarded certificates of completion for the four week summer program, designed to enhance social skills and decision-making for children ages 6-14.

Dominik Jones, Michael Corso, Kobe Marroquin, and Alexandra Amaning use their knowledge and imagination to create a funnel out of soda bottles.

Dominik Jones, Michael Corso, Kobe Marroquin, and Alexandra Amaning use their knowledge and imagination to create a funnel out of soda bottles.

PCRC was awarded a Connecticut Health Foundation Children’s Mental Health Grant for the purpose of implementing a community-based system of early identification and intervention over five years. Now in its final year, the summer program has found its highest success with an altered curriculum.

In prior years, the summer program encompassed fifteen different topics. This year, each week presented a different topic, including self-esteem, emotions and bullying. Within those pieces, students focus on problem-solving, decision-making, coping skills and teamwork.

“We felt the kids were able to grasp the ideas better than picking a different topic each day,” said Desiree Caporaso, program director. “Fewer topics allowed the students time to tie them in with each other. The smaller setting was better to focus on interpreting relationships and working better together, and to give each student specific attention depending on what their need is.”

Field trips

During the fourth program week, the group went on a field trip to Wells Hollow Creamery in Shelton where participants were introduced to farm animals. The program also

VKB Program Director Desiree Caporaso hands a certificate and bag to student Michael Corso to take home after completing the summer program.

VKB Program Director Desiree Caporaso hands a certificate and bag to student Michael Corso to take home after completing the summer program.

allowed the children two opportunities to interact with preschool students with special needs. During the final week, program participants helped these children complete activities, from making jewelry to origami.

This new curriculum has demonstrated success, according to Tracy Cerravone, a parent of VKB program graduate, Trevor.

“Trevor was disappointed it was his last day. He loved it. To keep their attention at this age is fantastic,” Cerravone said. “He came home everyday excited and talked about the activities he was involved in. He’s done numerous programs by himself and with the family, and it’s been a great success.”

Tutoring

Students also found success through tutoring when they read a book and completed interactive projects by comparing animals; one of the groups generated an idea for a new product and came up with a selling pitch. Other activities during the program included self-expression through artwork, Zumba, team-building through sports, and igniting their curiosity with science experiments. Science experiments included making lava lamps and learning the effect of Mentos on soda.

“Over the past four years, Valley Kids Belong has had an excellent record of helping children develop social and emotional skills that will help them for a lifetime, at home, in school and at work,” said Michael J. Wynne, chief executive officer at PCRC.

VKB works with school systems to determine qualifications of prospective student participants in the program, involving all who are connected with the students, including parents, teachers and counselors.

An underlying purpose of VKB is to increase awareness of mental health on a larger scale. Through PCRC programming, students are able to address problem-solving issues before they progress.

Desiree Caporaso, program director of Valley Kids Belong, prepares to hand student Aleksa Granillo her award after giving a presentation.

Desiree Caporaso, program director of Valley Kids Belong, prepares to hand student Aleksa Granillo her award after giving a presentation.

Confidence-building

“Students can learn coping skills and build confidence to be able to handle social skills and decision making better. The other part is to reduce involvement in the juvenile justice system,” said Caporaso. “While it cannot be predetermined that a child may get involved with the court system, we do know that if children are resilient, have confidence in themselves and are able to effectively problem solve, the chances of court involvement is reduced. There’s nothing like VKB in the area — our program is all free to families.”

VKB offers after-school programs, summer programs, Families & Schools Together (FAST), and Triple P Positive Parenting Programs. These programs cover ages 0-18.

VKB is a grant-funded, collaborative project whose goal is to create change in the community that helps foster resilience in kids and families. The program works directly with children, parents and families to provide support in order to build social and emotional skills and to improve family and community relationships

PCRC is the leading provider of behavioral health services to children and families in the Lower Naugatuck Valley.

Programs — including the Child Guidance Clinic, Family Enrichment Service, Therapeutic Mentoring Program, Intensive Outpatient Program, and the Prevention through Early Intervention Program — help children and their families so that they may develop to their fullest potential.

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