ACEs Program: Tools and Training to Help Kids Thrive
Agnes Gray Elementary School is a PreK-4 school located in West Paris, a friendly rural community in the foothills of western Maine. It’s based in Oxford County, one of the largest geographic districts in Maine, where 26 percent of students have reported three or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Three-quarters of Agnes Gray’s 137 students live at or below the poverty level and all receive free lunch and breakfast daily.
“We know there is a strong connection between a child’s health and a positive school and home environment. We’re fortunate to work alongside dedicated mental health providers, educators, community partners and families to help build a strong foundation for children,” said Margaret “Marty” Burns, RN, PhD, Western Maine Health’s (WMH) Chief Nursing Officer.
MaineHealth has created an ACEs toolkit that includes screening tools for pediatric practices, as well as resiliency building techniques and resources to support families and communities. In collaboration with WMH’s Healthy Oxford Hills and the Oxford County Wellness Collaborative and Resiliency Project, educators at Agnes Gray School have received ACEs training and resources to help foster resiliency and healthy development of their students.
“Childhood is different today, but children aren’t. They come to us with many different stories and experiences, but are the same little beings, full of hope, wonder and promise,” said Agnes Gray Principal Beth Clarke. “Every morning we gather as a school community and make a promise to ourselves and to each other that our minds will be engaged, our bodies will be healthy and our hearts will be kind and respectful.”
In additional to traditional classroom teaching, the school has built a post-and-beam outdoor classroom, where children can explore, help plant a garden, or tend an orchard. There’s a book pantry for students to build a home library, and a food pantry, where children can “shop” and bring groceries home on the bus. Students learn relaxation techniques, such as taking mindful breaks, to foster healthy problem-solving in a safe and supportive environment.
“Children are resilient, and providing the tools and strategies to help them thrive today and into adulthood is what this partnership is all about,” said Burns.
For more info, visit mainehealth.org/aces.