Whether the topic was building a strong family unit, teaching kids to save money, Internet safety etiquette, bullying or dating violence, nearly 250 adults were able to gather a myriad of helpful information at the Vision & Voice Family Engagement Conference on Saturday at The Well.
The conference was inspired by a similar forum in Athens last year that the Georgia Department of Education spearheaded, said Floyd County Schools Parental Involvement Specialist Tina Black.
“It’s based on a conference that we went to last year in Athens that (State Superintendent) Dr. John Barge did, and it actually gives parents the opportunity to be in on the decision-making in what’s happening with their children,” Black said. “For educators, it gives us the opportunity to let them know what we need, and at the same time we find out what are the barriers in today’s economy that are facing parents to see what we need to do different.”
The conference, she said, was a collaboration of many local community agencies that united under the common idea that they all could come together and help guide Rome and Floyd County’s children and youth.
“It’s not just a county or city school program, it’s all of our local agencies,” Black said.
State Superintendent John Barge was present at the conference, and during lunch he commended the community on their efforts to boost youth development and growth.
“The people here, the parent involvement coordinators that went to that conference (in Athens), they took it upon themselves to come back to this community so inspired and said we need to do something like this in our community for our parents,” Barge said during a pre-conference interview. “This is a great community.”
“This is amazing, what this community has done,” he added of the conference. “We have not seen anything like this anywhere else in the state.”
He emphasized, that instead of simply being involved with a child’s growth into adulthood, parents need to be actively a part of that process.
“We’re trying to communicate that for children to be successful, it’s really more than parent involvement,” he said. “It’s parent engagement, and there’s a difference between being involved and being engaged. We, as educators, can’t raise your children for you. It is a partnership and we have to work together.”
Conference-goers could choose from nearly 30 workshops that took place in 45-minute sessions.
While many parents and educators attended the conference, interested community members went as well and Adrianna Phillpot, a Berry College psychology major, said she learned valuable information on Saturday.
“I learned a lot of really good statistics,” Phillpot said as she was leaving a workshop on sexual bullying and teen dating violence. “I feel like I’ve seen this topic a lot in my classes, but I feel like you get a brief overview in class.”
Phillpot said she planned to use the information not only in her college classes, but in the future as well.
“I love going to events like these, and I’ve been to a couple in the past year.,” she said. “I think, especially these conferences, they have so many different topics, that it’s just going to help me get a little bit of insight into these topics and be able to take that information out into a professional career.”
Black said that, hopefully, the conference would yield better parenting results and even better teaching strategies.
“I think parents will have a clearer understanding of what educators are facing, with having to meet test scores. Then at the same time, we’re going to find out from parents what they need us to assist them with,” she said, adding that the two groups could work together to find a common ground.
But it’s not just about teachers, parents and schools, she said. Parents need to be kept up-to-date on how fast the world surrounding their children is changing
“(I)t’s about our community at large,” Black said. “What are our youth facing? We hope to enlighten families on the changing times. With the media and what children face today, (it) is so different than what children faced 20 years ago.”
A bullied child now goes home and can continue to be bullied through the internet or phones or even if they move from state to state, Black continued.
“Twenty years ago, that wasn’t possible. At least a child got a break when they left school, if that’s where the bullying was going on,” she said. “With the world changing as it has, and so fast, we need to enlighten the parents on what’s going on and we need them to enlighten us on what maybe we’re not seeing.”
She said the flipside of all that is, based on parents’ feedback, local agencies can begin to build programs that fit the parents, rather than trying to fit parents into programs that were previously built.
“We hope we inspire and engage and lead parents to some other ways of working together,” she said.