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Empowering Sparks youth
by Garrett Valenzuela
Feb 05, 2013 | 2509 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo -- Meg Bertolino, program director and instructor of Kids Empowering Kids, displays some of the learning materials the new program offers Tuesday at the Alf Sorensen Community Center. The program is designed to help children learn essential life skills like respect and empathy and caters to children in first through fourth grades.
Tribune photo -- Meg Bertolino, program director and instructor of Kids Empowering Kids, displays some of the learning materials the new program offers Tuesday at the Alf Sorensen Community Center. The program is designed to help children learn essential life skills like respect and empathy and caters to children in first through fourth grades.
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SPARKS -- At what age should children be learning to respect the boundaries of those around them, or learn to identify bullying and how to stop it?

The City of Sparks Parks and Recreation Department launched the Kids Empowering Kids Program, a new course aiding children in developing eight critical life skills during their early years. Program Director and Instructor Meg Bertolino said the program is designed to give students extra instruction on certain skills and encourage interaction with other children their age.

“I think it is important to have the kids interact together and hear the ideas of other kids,” Bertolino said Tuesday evening, “Because then they are kind of getting other thought processes and there is a lot of role playing that we do, too, so it is kind of fun to have more than one child.”

The class is tailored to children in the first through fourth grades and focuses on the following skills: maintaining healthy peer connections, identifying and expressing feelings appropriately, understanding and respecting boundaries, managing moods appropriately, recognizing negative peer pressure, self-regulating thoughts, feelings and behavior, restoring motivation and resilience.

Bertolino, a counselor at Sepulveda Elementary School in Sparks, said the curriculum is based on the Camp Make Believe Kids! program to building emotional confidence. Bertolino has brought the program to Sparks through the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and it is held at the Alf Sorensen Community Center in east Sparks on Tuesdays throughout February.

“There is always an activity or an art piece and always a take-home piece with every session so the children are able to get supplemental instruction with their parents,” Bertolino said. “I have heard good things from parents about the home lessons and they especially like the empathy piece of the curriculum. My hope is that they will take these skills outside of here and apply them at home and in their everyday lives.”

Children can receive the first four skills of the curriculum during February and return in March for the final four. Cindy Brantner, recreation specialist for the City of Sparks, said she recruited the program to the Parks and Rec Department to enhance children’s programs in the city.

“I had never heard of the program before (Bertolino) brought it to us and with bullying being such a big problem that was what caught my eye first,” Brantner said. “Bullying is starting to happen at younger ages now and sometimes if you don’t reach the children early they develop their own view of these things and never learn how to handle them.

“With things like peer pressure when children are young I don’t think they really know or understand what it is, and this program will help them recognize it and learn to handle it in the appropriate ways.”

Brantner added that allowing the children to interact with others their own age helps provide additional perspective on certain ideas being taught in the program and keeps them from only identifying with adults. Bertolino said she is most looking forward to seeing the children’s progress, in class and at home, and being able to hear from parents who agree the program has helped.

“The best part for me is the kids having a good time and learning something while they have a good time,” she said, “And I think the parent reaction and them seeing a difference in their kids is an enjoyable thing to watch. I think it is a really fun program for the kids and a fun way to learn the things that help us succeed in life.

“A lot of us don’t have those basic concepts before we move on, and we have to deal with people our whole life and I think having that is the important part of having it as a group is learning to deal with each other.”

The fee for Kids Empowering Kids is $75 for Sparks residents and $90 for all others. Financial assistance is available for youth who cannot otherwise participate due to financial limitations. To find out more or to register, call 775-353-2385.
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