Parent Leadership Academy Sessions Cover Safety and Health in Schools

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By Joon Yea Lee
CCBP Graduate Assistant


The fifth PLA session of the school year focused on how to keep children from pre-kindergarten to middle school safe and healthy. Local community partners and selected University of Alabama’s faculty specialists shared their knowledge on diverse topics from healthy eating, cyber bullying to dealing with children with behavior issues. The sessions took place on Thursday, February 1 at UA’s Bryant Conference Center.

Dr. Holly Morgan, director of community education in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, welcomed participating parents following dinner.

Each PLA sessions, divided by grades into four groups. Pre-Kindergarten Parent Leadership Academy (PKPLA), Elementary Parent Leadership Academy (EPLA), Hispanic Parent Leadership Academy (HPLA) and Middle School Parent Leadership Academy (MPLA) heard two presentations each addressing nutrition and safety of children in and out of schools. Here is a summary of the presentations:

  • PKPLA members heard from Caliste Chong, Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative (ECELC) project coordinator at the Alabama Partnership for Children (APC), on nurturing healthy eating. Dr. Kimberly Blitch, assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at UA, spoke during the second session on how to raise empathic children to prevent bullying in early childhood.
  • EPLA members learned about various perspectives on students with behavior issues from Dr. Sara McDaniel, UA associate professor in the Department of Special Education and Multiple Abilities and director of the Alabama Positive Behavior Support Office (APBSO). The second session was on drug culture in schools by Derek Osborn, executive director of Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE).
  • HPLA members were introduced to healthier activities and nutritional dining options that parents can consider from Julia Sosa, prenatal outreach coordinator for Whatley Health Services, Inc. Chris Jenks, director of technology for Tuscaloosa City Schools, shared insight on how parents can help their children to be an responsible digital citizen as well as how to protect children on the Internet.
  • MPLA sessions were focused on bullying offline and online. Greg Hurst, director of Student Services at Tuscaloosa County School System, explained how to recognized bullied children and what parents and school can do to resolve issues. Sergeant Jeff Judd from the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Department represented School Resource Officers (SRO) and explained what SROs do and what parents can do to keep children safe in school as well as in cyber space as more children have access to smartphones and social media.

Addressing behavior and bullying in school, McDaniel introduced how all schools are required to have multi-tiered support systems as part of a national regulation. McDaniel said most schools are good in terms of having a “Response to Intervention (RtI)” multi-tiered support system in place, which is more reactive then focusing on preventive system like “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)” multi-tiered support system.

And while in many schools where RtI teams also meet to discuss PBIS plans in this type of multi-tiered support systems, Dr. McDaniel said, “In tier one PBIS team especially, there should be parent representatives working with the PBIS team. And all this information about the systems and framework should be available to the parents as well.”

Some features of a PBIS school-wide discipline plan include the following:

  1. Common & consistent approach
  2. Set of expected positive behaviors across environments
  3. Procedures for teaching expectations
  4. Continuum of procedures to encourage expected behaviors & discourage inappropriate behaviors
  5. On-going monitoring of the plans’ effectiveness

Among PBIS plans, McDaniel stressed the importance of keeping consistency in what is expected, required and encouraged in school and at home. In order to do so, parents should take proactive role in understanding classroom and school expectations and making sure their children also understand these expectations by practicing and making routines to follow both in school as well as at home.

McDaniel also emphasized that parents should be aware of administrative procedures when a child shows behavioral problems. But most importantly, parents should advocate for their child by being on the same page as the school and being firm and loving at home.

Reflecting today’s extensive use of smartphones and social media, both sessions for MPLA focused on bullying with the second session focusing on SROs and cyber bullying. Judd, representing SROs, explained that their duties not only include keeping the school grounds safe, but also include gathering information to detect potential spill-over of threats, drug activity and bullying by maintaining a vigilant watch and building relationships with the teaching staff and students.

Judd introduced the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff mobile app available for all mobile devices that can be used to access crime reports as well as submit an anonymous tip. Citing the National Center for Education Statistics that reported 28% of 12-18-year-old students having been bullied at school during the previous six months Judd said, “We are in the age of social media, so I came up with ‘See Something, Say Something’ campaign.” As part of the campaign, the sheriff’s department posted promotional banners at school events and sports games. Judd shared several examples where the sheriff’s office received anonymous tips that led the department to solve bullying, drug and domestic violence cases.

All participating MPLA members expressed concern regarding their children using smartphones and social media as they said they have checked their children’s phones at least once in the past month.

Molly Booth, Hillcrest Middle School parent, said having a child who owns a cell phone, the TCS free mobile app seems to be very useful. “I was not aware of the app but I will definitely download it.” Booth also added that “clarification on the code of conduct and the processes that are used for discipline in schools were helpful.”

For Carolyn Roshell-Erby, a parent from Eastwood Middle School, Judd reinforced what she had already known. “I realized there are more things that we need to bring in, not only to make parents become more aware, but to allow them the opportunity to find out that this is not just a group of children that may be a part of the problem,” said Roshell-Erby. “(I realized that) we expect our school to educate our children, but we as parents must also be a part of that educational process. That was very informative along with the fact that when it comes to discipline and the law… what alternatives the school systems are offering the children so that they still remain a part of the society and they can become productive.”

Following information sessions, PLA members met with their school groups to work on their PTLA project action plans in preparation for a poster presentation session that will be on Thursday, March 8.