Parent Leadership Academy Participants Learn About Childhood Safety, Behavioral Issues and Eating Disorders

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Fellow

This year’s Parent Leadership Academy (PLA) class learned how to help children with behavioral issues and eating disorders, and got advice about keeping their children safe in person and online during Session V, held Feb. 7, 2019 at The University of Alabama’s Bryant Conference Center.

“Tonight is school safety night,” said PTLA Middle School Facilitator Kaye Ridgway. “We will discuss everything from the role of a school resource officer to suicide prevention, just several different subject areas.”

Speakers included Sergeant Jeff Judd, with the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Department; Chris Jenks, director of technology for Tuscaloosa City Schools; Linda Knol, PhD, RD, director of human nutrition and culinary medicine at UA; and Jacqueline S. Hudgins, director of accountability for the Tuscaloosa County School System, who previously worked as an in-school interventionist and as a counselor.

“I’m here to explain how school resource officers interact with the kids, what they do and their role, versus what the role of an administration is, along with safety and crisis plans that we have in place at each school,” Judd said.

The Parent Teacher Leadership Academy, housed within UA’s Center for Community-Partnerships, utilizes research-based practices to provide professional development to parent and teacher leaders who use their knowledge to support students’ achievement through strong family/school partnerships.

“My main topics tonight are suicide, bullying and the mental health of young people. I will discuss trends and cyberbullying and what parents can do to intervene. Some of our topics will overlap,” Hudgins said. “We want parents and teachers to be aware of the resources available in the school.”

PLA includes the following groups: Elementary Parent Leadership Academy (EPLA), Hispanic Parent Leadership Academy (HPLA), Pre-K Parent Leadership Academy (PKPLA), and Middle School Parent Leadership Academy. All four held individual meetings Feb. 7, with the speakers rotating to each room.

Catanya Stager is the parent of a student at Maxwell Elementary School in Tuscaloosa County. The educational psychology doctoral student at UA found out about the program two years ago, but had to wait for a chance to join the class.

“I wanted to be able to understand how better to help within the community as well as at the school,” Stager said. “I enjoy the interaction with other parents and teachers and getting on the same page with them. I’ve gotten to know the administration at the school a little bit better.”

She said the program has shown her how to interact better with her children and foster conversation while playing board games, such as Monopoly.

In addition to hearing from the speakers, class members divided into individual school groups to work on their projects.

Stager said her group has decided to help teachers create lesson plans for character development.

“We will do kindness and have the teachers discuss with the children what kindness looks like in the classroom,” she said.

Academy participants Stepfon and Javelin Lewis have a daughter at Eastwood Middle School within the Tuscaloosa City School System.

“We’ve learned about the school leadership and have been enlightened about programs available at the school,” Javelin said. “I’ve shared information with parents who have children who attend other schools. We really enjoy the program.”

“We were already pretty hands-on, but with us on the group floor we have learned how parents can be more involved in the education of their child,” Stepfon said.

Rochelle Coleman, a parent who is also a Headstart teacher, said she enjoys the program because she knows she is learning things that will help her children, her students and her community.

“I’ve learned about things I can do to help my children retain more over the summer and how to ask detailed questions of my kids to find out what they are actually doing in school,” said Coleman, who said she shares the information she learns with other parents.

For more information about PTLA call Program Manager Whitney Sewell at (205) 348-5743, or email