Parenting conference looks to bring out into the open issues kids face in their daily lives

The Waterloo Region District School Board wants parents to become more involved in their kids’ school lives.

The Parent Involvement Committee (PIC) is hosting a daylong conference at Bluevale Collegiate Institute in Waterloo on Apr. 16, with guest speakers who will be touching on topics that affect students in today’s classrooms.

One of the many talks scheduled for the event surrounds a subject that students in Elmira are all too familiar with – drug overdose training. Three years ago this month, Elmira District Secondary School student Austin Padaric passed away after an accidental drug overdose. His mother, Christine, will be on hand to share her message of education and communication, trying to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else’s child.

Currently, EDSS is the only school in the district that offers students drug overdose awareness training, and Padaric hopes to see the program in every school at some point.

“It is just a really unique opportunity for parents to receive information, especially on the teen years, because that can be a really challenging time,” she said, adding that she will be speaking at the conference in tandem with Kathy McKenna, a Region of Waterloo public health nurse with the sexual health and harm reduction program. “I have been doing the training at EDSS on Monday and Tuesday, and (Saturday) will be a very similar program that we provide to the students. We are going to tweak it a bit to be geared more towards the parents. I think that this is a really good way for the word to get out about it and for other parents to learn and encourage their school administrators to have the training provided for all students.”

Overdose training and harm reduction are just two of the many topics on tap at the Strengthening Family-School Relationships: Achieving Excellence and Well-Being for all Students conference this weekend.

Barbara Dowling is one of the organizers of the event, and she says one of the most popular topics at the annual conference this year is anxiety.

“It is really about engaging parents more in their child’s school experience. When parents are disengaged, that is when kids are falling off the rails in their grades, or falling off the rails with anxiety and emotionally,” she said. “My particular passion right now, is to get the whole mental health thing out in the open, because it’s not. People still aren’t talking. We have to keep talking, because I think there are a lot of lives that need to be saved, and if we don’t start talking now, we are going to be losing people. It is interesting because the sessions at the conference that filled up the fastest were the ones about anxiety in kids. The response has been huge.”

With some sessions already fully booked with preregistrations, Dowling says organizers have had to ask speakers to repeat their talks later in the day for another audience.

“That has never happened before, but there is still room,” she said, adding that some of the other topics covered at the conference include how to raise motivated and confident kids, how food affects behaviour, homework help, the transition between Grade 8 and secondary school and emotional intelligence, among others. “I think the topics are just resonating with parents.”

She says that times have changed since parents were in high school themselves, and now, they want to learn as much as they can about the current school climate.

“It is a lot different than previous generations. It is definitely a scary thing out there. Parents can be unaware of the drugs that are out there. Thinking back to their day, maybe they smoked a joint here and there, so they think it isn’t a big deal, but it is,” she said. “ There are whole new issues that are coming up that parents tend to kind of go, ‘well, you are in high school now, I will lay off.’ And I don’t think that is necessarily correct. I think a lot of it has to do with the technology age. Technology is great, but it is also kind of disengages people from really communicating.”

To register for the conference and specific talking engagements, to view the full list of event speakers, or just to find out more information, visit www.wrdsb.ca/pic.

The event is free to parents, and for $4, attendees will be served a bagged lunch.

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