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Program Helps Children Problem Solve, Connect With Others

A new program in some of Southern New England schools is having quite the impact on young students, with some educators calling it life-changing.

It’s called conscious discipline.

"It looks at safety and connections,” said Patty Carosotto, a preschool teacher at Pleasant View Elementary School in Providence. “This is the soul of teaching. Do kids feel safe? Do they feel connected?”

It was in her classroom five years ago this program was piloted through the Autism Project of Rhode Island.

"Our focus has changed,” said Joanne Quinn, who is the executive director of the Autism Project. "Right now, probably 50 to 60 percent of our work is for all kids in the area of social, emotional, executive functioning, anxiety -- because what works for kids on the spectrum works for all kids."

The program, which is thanks to federal funding administered by the state, is now in three school districts and about 15 classrooms.

"This is all about setting our kids up for success,” said Lisa Vura-Weis, who is the acting secretary of the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services. “They need much more than just the academics to be a strong member of society, to be resilient, to be able to deal with adversity.”

Quinn shared similar sentiments.

"It approaches the adult so that we can calm ourselves, so when we walk into a situation where it's pure mayhem, we can say, ‘OK, I've got the skills. I know what to do,’” said Quinn.

Carosotto agreed.

"If they learn right away how to problem-solve, how to work with each other, how to engage with each other when they're having a hard time doing their academics, how are they going to get through that? This is teaching them those skills to do it themselves,” said Carosotto.

The two-year funding runs out in June but the conscious discipline program is a train the trainer model, which means those who've gone through extensive training can train others.

So far, about 1,300 adults, including parents and educators, have been trained.