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'Communities of One' aims to create safer schools, perfect planning

The fourth element focuses on mental health services and, for the first time, said McQueen, will provide all elementary students within the five school districts, with free, voluntary emotional wellness screenings. In addition, parents who wish to have their child receive services off-site will be given that option as well, she said.

The fifth and final element consists of a focus on early childhood development and emotional learning. Free developmental screenings, weekly parent-child learning groups and parenting education are being offered to handle that component, said McQueen.

NAC elementary school counselor Christine Brudvig, who also serves as the school's Communities of One site coordinator, said she's excited about the project. The Adventure-Based Learning portion of the project has been in place since early March and has already made an impact by teaching students how to cooperate with others through various group activities.

"Our student participants and their families have shared very positive comments about the program," said Brudvig. "The children are excited to be engaged with activities and our teachers are observing an increase in the confidence level of students."

Other programs such as "Too Good for Drugs" and "Keep a Clear Mind," which are school-based and home-based drug education and prevention programs, respectively, will begin with the 2009-10 school year. Families and Schools Together, a family strengthening and parent involvement program, is also expected to be implemented this fall.

"We are eager to see the impact of these research-based programs," said Brudvig.

Mary LoTemplio, a school counselor and site coordinator with the Saranac Central School District, said in addition to the benefits it has for students and their families, the program has also made school personnel such as herself better acquainted with service providers in the community.

"I've come to a greater understanding of how agencies in our community work," she said. "I know, going down the road, whatever happens with the grant, were are going to be able to work together in a better way, a more productive way, to benefit our students."

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