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WEST BRATTLEBORO — A few puppets stopped by Academy School to teach students how to more smoothly process anxiety.

“I got this!” kindergartners and first graders shouted in unison during the show.

They also collectively said they feel “empowered” by tools meant to push away worry, promote kindness and identify adults they can trust to confide in if needed.

On Thursday, students at Academy School were treated to social emotional learning workshops or puppet shows presented by Vermont Family Network. The programs catered to different groupings of grade levels.

“Our bodies and brains have a built-in alarm system that tells us when there is a problem,” states an information sheet from Vermont Family Network. “Sometimes our alarm system goes off too often or when it is not necessary. When we feel stressed, we may be unkind to others, or others may be unkind to us.”

The group suggested worry can be managed by standing up to it, calm breathing, talking to an adult, moving your body or staying busy with puzzles, games or other work.

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The mission of Vermont Family Network is “to empower and support all Vermont children, youth, and families, especially those with disabilities or special health needs.”

Kate Williams, master puppeteer with the group, said tips have been shared with students in performances in Vermont, upstate New York and Massachusetts. Programming is available via in-person and virtual formats.

Karen Sharpwolf, master puppeteer with the group, said the show performed at Academy School had been developed before the COVID-19 pandemic and became “very important” to offer to schools afterwards. Teachers in general have been reporting that students are acting out and have requested the group combine the subject matters of kindness and anxiety in its programming.

“Kids are just under so much distress from the pandemic,” said Sarah Vogelsang-Card, master puppeteer with the group.

Anxiety is personified by an octopus in the puppet show. Two characters, Natalie and Adam, discuss different issues, then students are surveyed about their own feelings or experiences.

Vogelsang-Card estimated Vermont Family Network reaches about 7,000 to 10,000 children a year. She said the group complements what schools are already doing and also offers programming on sexual abuse.


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