One day every year, local parents and people who care about Newtown’s children go back to school to learn about the latest trends, issues and concerns facing families and the community at the Parent Connection’s Parent Empowerment University.
This year’s event, presented on March 22 in partnership with Brookfield CARES, was by far the best attended in its history according to Parent Connection Co-Founder Dorrie Carolan. She said she saw more than 220 registered attendees on hand, and at least 100 children tagging along for fun activities.
While all those kids laughed, played, and socialized in the Newtown Middle School gym, and enjoyed a pizza party luncheon, their parents and grandparents heard from a variety of experts about managing anxiety, being more tech-savvy, handling trauma fatigue, creating compassion, and raising healthy children.
Keynote speaker Jane Nelson, EdD, an educator and child counselor who came in from her home in Utah, had a standing-room crowd for her talk entitled “How to Empower Your Children & Yourselves.” Ms Carolan told The Newtown Bee that Dr Nelson’s presentation was very well received.
During her session, Dr Nelson reinforced her concepts about positive discipline that help mitigate issues involving spoiled children, bullying, school violence, power struggles, lack of cooperation, back talking, and disrespect.
Ms Carolan said she heard from a number of attendees following the “Kids Speak Out” session led by John Hamilton from Recovery Network Programs. Mr Hamilton had with him several young people who each struggled with addiction and shared their stories of survival and recovery.
“The parents who attended said these kids were amazing and inspiring with their stories about how they turned their lives around,” Ms Carolan said.
Others at PEU had the choice of going to a workshop on creating compassion led by Western Connecticut State University Professor Chris Kukk, PhD. It was so affecting, said Ms Carolan, that many attendees have asked the Parent Connection to bring him back for a future workshop all his own.
Longtime Parent Connection board member and volunteer Joe Hemingway said he attended most of Dr Nelson’s keynote and was impressed by her philosophy and methods of positive discipline.
“She was very well received and had many parents gathering around her when she was finished to ask questions and get additional information,” Mr Hemingway said.
He also visited several breakout sessions.
Charlie Manos, MS, LMFT, director of special services, Brookfield Public Schools, and a nationally certified school psychologist, helped parents unravel the mysteries of understanding today’s children and teens while building relationships of trust, respect, collaboration, connection, and healthy parameters.
“I witnessed some great interaction between Charlie Manos and the group in his session, as well as Mary Ronan and Maggie Gavin’s session; everyone seemed really engaged and enthusiastic in both of those workshops,” Mr Hemingway said.
Newtown’s incoming superintendent Joe Erardi was on hand, as well as Brookfield Superintendent of Schools Anthony Bivona.
“Dr Erardi told me that he thought Dr Nelson’s presentation was very meaningful and timely no matter what community a parent was from,” Mr Hemingway said.
Dr Erardi, who currently heads the Southington School District, told The Bee following the event that he was impressed with the variety of experts on hand as well as the robust attendance.
“The Parent Connection consortium really has their thumb spot-on the issue,” Dr Erardi observed.
The incoming Newtown superintendent said he appreciates how Parent Empowerment University and its organizers promote an “all in” concept to attack the issue of drug use and abuse among local young people.
“They are doing some real heavy lifting,” Dr Erardi said. “But the agenda of Parent University definitely left everyone who attended in a much better place.”
Among other presenters were the mother-daughter team of Mary Ronan, RN, a family life and sex educator, and Maggie Ronan Gavin, BFA, a senior yoga instructor at the Perri Institute for Mind and Body, who explored issues that arise in families — addressing them using a five-step approach of clarity, kindness, confidence, mindfulness, and awareness.
Presenter Dawn DeCosta, owner of Tech Savvy, a technology consulting firm in Brookfield, even brought a couple of boxes of donuts to help illustrate to parents the many ways their children are navigating through and revealing themselves in cyberspace.
Lori Leyden, PhD, MBA, an internationally known stress and trauma healing professional, taught attendees to her workshop a powerful, proven stress relief practice known as emotional freedom technique (EFT), while Sarah Jones, MSW, LCSW, a social worker with the Brookfield school district and private psychotherapist, examined the roots of anxiety in children and youth, and ways families can help children manage the pressures of contemporary life.
The most positive feedback Mr Hemingway said he heard was from parents who were appreciative of the job done by the “Kids University” crew, led by Rob Ryder, who were happily challenged keeping well over 100 youngsters entertained and engaged for more than six hours while their parents attended talks and workshops.
Learn more about support services available to parents and caregivers, as well as future Parent Connection activities by visiting newtownparentconnection.org.