Cara McDonough of the United Way of Greater New Haven sent in this report on Saturday’s Parent University session at Gateway Community College.
Attending Parent University on Saturday, a daylong session of workshops and speeches focusing on issues faced by many New Haven-area parents, meant setting the alarm clock for a weekend morning and braving relentless rain.
That didn’t keep the motivated participants away, however.
The New Haven Public School system created Parent University because they knew that for children to succeed, they needed more guidance and support from their parents. In turn, many parents themselves needed help creating an intellectually stimulating environment in which children learned to value education.
As Superintendent Garth Harries said of the event: “We all know that when parents get involved in their children’s lives, they do better in school and have brighter futures. Parent University empowers mothers and fathers and grandparents to help their children be successful in life.”
The event, held at Gateway College Saturday, drew roughly 200 parents and caregivers, who signed up for a variety of free workshops – offered in Spanish and English – on issues like understanding the new Common Core standards at public schools, improving college gradation rates for African-American and Latino students, cyberbullying and nutrition.
Parent University, with previous sessions held in the fall of 2012 and two times in 2013, is made possible by a partnership between New Haven Public Schools, the city of New Haven, Boost! (itself a partnership with the city, the school department, and United Way of Greater New Haven) and New Haven Promise.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Brett Rayford, director of adolescent and juvenile justice services at the state Department of Children and Families, Harries and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp all gave opening remarks. And New Haven parents were definitely getting the messages they needed.
Rayford said that children become “intellectual warriors” by following a parental model. “What you project about education in our home is the thing that your child will inherit,” he said. He urged parents to “tell your child that it is cool to be booksmart, over and over again.”
“We come every year,” said Cassandra Ashe, parent of a ninth-grader. “They always have great resources to alert parents of what’s going on in the city, whether it’s going to college, or whether it’s about financial assistance.”
Jenine Wilson and Deborah Edwards (pictured), sitting together in the front of the room, were repeat attendees, as well.
“I learned a lot of tips to help my children with school, behavior and college,” said Wilson. “They are often things that you wish somebody had told your parents.”
Edwards, Ashe and other parents – many who’d dropped younger children off for free childcare nearby at the Co-Op Arts and Humanities High School – gathered for breakfast and speeches in Gateway’s community room before breaking up for smaller group sessions.
Mayor Harp earned both laughter and applause sharing stories from her youth, and from her experience as a mother of three children. “I want you to remember when you feel love for your child, they can feel that, and when you are angry about something else in your life, they can feel that, too,” she said.
Parents then dispersed to the workshops, followed by lunch and resource tables, afternoon workshops and discussion groups.
In the Family Budgeting and Credit Management workshop offered under the “College Prep” heading – one of the morning’s most popular speakers – Laurel Laster, a Store Manager at Wells Fargo bank—asked the attentive group how many had family budgets in place. Only a few raised their hands.
When she asked them about the biggest challenges in financial planning, the response was more unanimous: “Unexpected expenses.”
During Laster’s hour and 15-minute workshop, she talked about financial planning methods, utilizing hands-on tools like the budget worksheet she provided to all participants.
Financial planning should be a household task, she said, including children. “Including them in the process will help them buy into why you want to do this,” said Laster. Children learn quickly that eating out less, for instance, might mean more money for a family vacation, or a computer.
More importantly, she said, if kids don’t learn financial management skills from their parents, they might not learn them at all.
She suggested all participants begin with a basic monthly budget, setting aside money for certain financial goals.
People are often scared to take that first step, she added, terrified that listing their monthly income and expenses might result in a “not so pretty” outcome. But doing can change everything for the better: “Where you are right now doesn’t always feel good, but if you don’t put a plan in place you’ll never feel good.”
In various rooms at Gateway throughout the day, participants discussed other workshop topics, like, “Fatherlessness: A Mother’s Guide to Raising Men,” and “Digital Literacy for Early Learners: A Primer for Parents.”
No matter the subject, the goal was facilitating better communication, and arming young people with tools for success. As Wilson said at the outset of the day, “All children want to learn, you just need to know how to teach them.”
To learn more about Parent University, click here.