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Published on November 18th, 2019 | by Deb Wolf

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Do You Know Where Your Fifth Grader Is?

Current prEvents — November 15, 2019 — The Times Argus

By AMELIA SHERMAN

Raising a family is a full-time job. It’s a challenge for parents to continuously keep up with the ever-changing needs and stages of development of their children. It’s also challenging to keep track of all the friends of one’s child. Peer influence is a key factor affecting behavior, so it’s helpful to know who your child’s friends are. According to Geoff Beyer, Project Manager for a new grant-funded program for parents and caregivers of fifth grade students, “If they’re important in your child’s life, you want your kid to know that they’re important to you, too!” This new program is called Parents C.A.N. Make a Difference (C.A.N. is an acronym for “Child Affinity Network”). Parents C.A.N. is a project intended to connect parents with the families of their child’s ten closest school friends in order to increase protective factors for children. Building strategic relationships with other parents while children are still in fifth grade is helpful with community-building now and will be very influential in the coming crucial years for teens.

Why fifth graders? Fifth grade is the year that students are new to the middle school in Montpelier, and it’s a great time to have effective conversations with your child about values, expectations, and hopes for the future. This is also a great time to develop a parent-to-parent network to rely on and derive support from while parenting during the upcoming teenage years.

One notable societal challenge that makes it increasingly difficult for families to meet the complex developmental needs of their children is that extended families often no longer live in the same household; in fact, they are often spread across the country. Furthermore, many nuclear families are fractured by divorce, legal problems, substance use related issues, and other illnesses, leaving parents (especially single parents) with greatly reduced resources of all kinds to raise children. For some families, there are often fewer ears for listening, fewer laps to sit on, fewer family members available to spend time with, and reduced financial and emotional resources. All this can result in less support for building and maintaining positive relationships, setting healthy boundaries, and initiating experiences that nurture thriving young people. As a consequence, parents are under more pressure, and schools have experienced more societal push to “fill in” by performing more support roles and taking on the traditional responsibilities historically handled by extended families, churches, and the “village.”

Parents C.A.N. will provide strategies and skills for parents to create successful parent-to-parent networks. Parents will gather ideas on topics that are important to them and their families and share these ideas with others in order to form a supportive community for all their children. Kids are most successful when they’re provided with clear guidelines and expectations, and their behavior is monitored to help them grow in alignment with the goals set by themselves, their families, and their communities.

By fostering a culture of mutual support, building family networks, and sharing resources, Parents C.A.N. will provide a significantly expanded cushion of support for parents. Youth benefit greatly when their parents get the support they need to strengthen family values, support, and skills.

Project Manager Geoff Beyer has a wide range of experience and skills that have prepared him for this project, including work at a group home for teens, two years leading groups of adjudicated teens in a leading-edge wilderness therapy program, five years as a youth and family counselor, six years as a school counselor, a year as a professional foster parent, as well as having raised three daughters. On top of that experience, he has twenty plus years as the Director of Montpelier Parks where he led efforts that involved engaging hundreds of area at-risk youth in job training and community service, using the parks as a medium to engage youth in learning skills while showing youth how they have the power and skills to improve their own community.

The first meeting of Parents C.A.N. will happen on Wednesday, November 20th from 6:00-7:00 pm at Main Street Middle School in the library. This event will be co-facilitated by Project Manager Geoff Beyer and Mary Bechtel, Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator for Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools. The evening will focus on identifying how parents of fifth graders can effectively network to increase protective factors for children, as well as discussing data from the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and Iceland’s successful strategies for dramatically reducing risk behaviors and dangers among Icelandic children. The event is free, and childcare and light dinner will be available. To RSVP or receive more information, contact Geoff Beyer at 802-249-2424 or at ParentsCanVermont@gmail.com

Amelia Sherman is a freelance writer located in Montpelier and works with Central Vermont New Directions Coalition on Substance Use Prevention and Youth Resiliency.

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