Jaffrey-Rindge community conversations focus on early childhood development

Parents and teachers Courtney and Andy Schultz and River Center Director Margaret Nelson discuss questions that parents of young children might have during a community conversation at the Conant Middle High School on Tuesday.

Parents and teachers Courtney and Andy Schultz and River Center Director Margaret Nelson discuss questions that parents of young children might have during a community conversation at the Conant Middle High School on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI


Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 04-11-2024 8:31 AM

As part of a grant focused on preschool development and community schools planning, the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District has been holding an ongoing series of community conversations about growing access to resources for families with young children.

During the most-recent conversation in the series, led by Susan Shaw-Sarles, community schools planning coordinator for the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District, community members were encouraged Tuesday night to discuss the kinds of questions parents of young children, particularly new parents, might have. The goal is to turn those queries into resources for the community.

Some questions focused on things like milestones, access to health and dental care and insurance and access to assistance with formula or breastfeeding, while others focused on family activities such as stroller-friendly trails or neighborhoods, day care and places to go with a preschool child.

The district has already been joined by multiple community partners to start implementing programs supported by the grant. Among them is the new Baby Time at the Jaffrey Public Library, and the new Families Together morning mingle on Thursdays for Jaffrey and Rindge preschoolers.

Shaw-Sarles said the Baby Time at the library was the first “boots-on-the-ground” result of the planning grant, and came out of a conversation with Library Director Julie Perrin, who during a community conversation mentioned she often has mothers with very young babies or toddlers attending story time, and wanted an offering that was suitable for their age level. However, she said she didn’t have the staff to support an extra offering.

In partnership with The River Center, which has helped to provide that staff, there is now a regular time for that age group, Shaw-Sarles explained, and the program, though new, has drawn an average of about five families. The program is held on Wednesdays at 1 p.m.

Grant funds are also being used to pay two student interns at the Conant Middle High School’s Little Orioles daycare, which provides care for children of district staff members and is a new program this year.

Shaw-Sarles said the efforts to put the brainstorming into action are ongoing.

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“The next one we’re trying to get off the ground is Families Together, which is more targeted at a preschool age,” Shaw-Sarles said.

The program will have locations in Jaffrey and in Rindge, and offer a free drop-in time for families of preschool children from birth up to 6 years old. In Jaffrey, the program is every Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Jaffrey Grade School. The activities will be led by Kelli Tourgee and Nicole Daniels, educators from The River Center.

The Rindge program will also be held on Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the Rindge Meetinghouse, and will also be led by Tourgee and Daniels. No registration is required, and families may join for part of the session or all of it, and come once or every week.

The Families Together programs will run through May 30.

These programs and others already planned were the result of a series of forums held with community members, as part of the planning grant.

“We asked things like ‘What makes you glad you’re rasing your child in this community?’ and ‘What would you do if you had three wishes for building on services for young children?’” said Shaw-Sarles. “And we’ve used those answers to develop our discussion.”

One of the other outcomes of the grant has been compiling resources for new families, including directing parents to The River Center’s Fact Book, available at rivercenternh.org/fact-book.html, and activities at monadnocknh.com or discovermonadnock.com/events.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.