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Strategies to help New York City’s million-plus public school children become socially and academically successful were the focus of the eighth annual UFT parent conferences held in each borough and the thousands of parents, grandparents and guardians who attended them this fall.
“Every year I attend and learn more and more about how to support my children at school and how to protect them from some of the risks they face in the world today,” said Arnette Anthony, a mother of two who was at the Staten Island conference at New Dorp HS on Oct. 21. This year, she said, she learned strategies to deal with cyberbullying and picked up valuable information on the opioid crisis.
Like all the daylong Saturday conferences, the Staten Island event was designed to form positive alliances within the school community to support student achievement.
Adrienne Abbate, the executive director of the Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness, and Chief Assistant District Attorney Paul Capofari, discussed the opioid addiction problem on the island, new drug programs and ways to raise awareness. A popular “arts in the schools” workshop had parents role-playing to demonstrate the integral role of the arts in learning.
At the Manhattan conference at union headquarters on the same day, 614 participants attended workshops on topics as varied as understanding school budgets and preparing children for college.
Parent Maura McGovern was impressed by the quality and variety of exhibits at the Manhattan gathering. “The Street Basketball Program showed us a way to keep our kids off the streets and engaged in something they enjoy,” she said. McGovern said she learned about college scholarships and the Year Up program, which provides paid internships for new high school graduates who are not sure what they want to do next.
The Bronx conference on Nov. 18 at the UFT borough office focused on health issues, many of which affect students’ school attendance. Professionals from St. Barnabas Hospital facilitated workshops for the 600 participants on the importance of dental screenings and on how to help children deal with bullying, improper sexual contact, drug addiction and hypertension. The American Diabetes Association also conducted a workshop designed to raise awareness about the epidemic of child obesity in the Bronx.
A group of Brooklyn parents worked for eight months helping to organize their borough’s conference, held at PS 140 on Nov. 4. Charles Johnson, one of the nearly 600 participants, called on parents to “stand up and be counted and not wait until you have a problem before you show up at school.” The PTA activist said the conference’s keynote speaker, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Laporte, “made it very clear how important our voices are.” On that theme, one of the 18 workshops at the Brooklyn conference provided a civics lesson in enlisting elected officials to help with local issues, including education, housing and health.
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At the conference at the UFT’s Queens borough office on the same day, Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman was the keynote speaker and a role model as she challenged parents to become education advocates. To help the 200 parents meet that challenge, the Queens conference offered workshops to help develop advocacy skills, build relationships and communication skills and boost self-esteem.
The large turnouts at all five conferences are a testament to the union’s decades-long outreach to parents as partners in education. A recent New York Daily News article reported an upturn in parent involvement in New York City public schools — in PTA membership, school-based workshops and returned phone calls — and cited the 2014 UFT-DOE contract in which the union won more time for parent engagement and parent-teacher conferences.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew addressed the parents at each conference. Each time, he stressed the importance of the connection between parents and teachers to ensure students thrive in the classroom and the union’s continuing efforts to strengthen that bond.
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