Programs aim for healthy choices

Published 8:39 am Wednesday, September 23, 2009

SUFFOLK—Children are bombarded with less-than-wholesome images from the music they listen to, their favorite television show and even their peers at school.

However, the Western Tidewater Community Services Board is working to cement healthy lifestyles and smart decision-making in the minds of children this school year by offering programs to encourage children at local schools and day care centers.

Students in selected classrooms at J.P. King Middle School in Franklin will be participating in the LifeSkills Training program, which is being offered for the first time this school year. LifeSkills teaches students to resist pressures to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs and offers information about the health problems caused by these substances.

“LifeSkills Training provides valuable skills to help children learn to lead healthy lifestyles and avoid peer pressure as teens,” said Corrine Walker, educational and training services manager for the WTCSB. LifeSkills also teaches children how to cope with anxiety and how to better communicate and build friendships.

In addition to the LifeSkills program, the WTCSB is offering the Al’s Pals program to children at Gingerbread House Day Care in Franklin and Head Start in Franklin and Southampton County, as well as all Isle of Wight County public elementary schools.

Al’s Pals helps develop personal, social and emotional skills in children ages 3 to 8 through 46 brief interactive lessons utilizing puppets, music and highly engaging activities that teach children to be good decision-makers.

“I love it,” said Kristen Cooke of the Gingerbread House Day Care Center in Franklin. “It teaches children about health and how to interact with different children.”

She said that the Gingerbread House has been participating in the Al’s Pals program for three years.

“It’s a very good program,” Cooke said.

Walker said that local children participating in the Al’s Pals program last school year exhibited significant improvements in social skills, problem solving and the demonstration of positive behaviors.

The programs are funded by a $48,947 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation. The VTSF is a division of the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, a foundation that leads statewide efforts to reduce and prevent youth tobacco use and childhood obesity.