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Conference aims to help parents engage more in children’s education

With the demands of parenthood becoming more challenging every day, one group of Bartow County volunteers is striving to offer help to frazzled parents.

The first Empower and Lead: Family, Schools and Community Engagement Conference has been scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 3, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Georgia Highlands College at 5441 Highway 20 in Cartersville.

The conference, sponsored by Willowbrooke at Tanner, is a free community event for all families who have children attending pre-K through high school in Bartow County to help parents learn how to become more involved in their children’s education.

“I attended a meeting in Rome last spring where the parent involvement coordinator for Floyd County Schools shared information about their county parent engagement conference,” said Annabel Rodriguez, ESOL, immigrant, parent involvement and migrant coordinator for Cartersville City Schools. “She had mentioned that they had the same issues we all faced with low parent participation rates. ... After that meeting, I was excited to come back and share that information with my curriculum director at the time, Diane Hart, who had supported Parent University for the past two years through Cartersville City Schools. I initiated the conference idea at a CARE meeting through Bartow Juvenile Court, and they appointed community leaders to assist in getting this conference started. Bartow County Schools board members attended this meeting as well and asked that we involve their school system and make this a county initiative to reach all families in Bartow County.”

Maria Lauro, enrollment management specialist and adult concierge at Georgia Highlands College (GHC), believes it was only natural for the college to be involved in the conference.

“Empowering the families in the community with the tools necessary to ensure student success is vital to our community’s growth and development,” she said. “Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. Therefore, it makes all the sense in the world for Georgia Highlands College to participate in this event.”   

Families, including middle school and high school students, will have the opportunity to attend four different hourlong sessions during the conference, which is being presented by Cartersville City Schools, Bartow County Schools, Rollins Child Development Center, Willowbrooke at Tanner, Bartow County Juvenile Court, GHC and the Division of Family and Children Services (DFACS).

In choosing what issues to address at the conference, Rodriguez said organizers “sent out proposals to teachers and decided to stick with topics that were already popular through Parent University.”

A light breakfast will be served at 8:30 a.m., followed by the opening session at 9 a.m., conducted by Bartow County Juvenile Court Judge Jamie Averett.

For Session 1, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., choices are The Dangers of Social Media by Bucky Bush, Northwest Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) technical director; Georgia Highlands presenting Concierge Services/Admissions by Maria Lauro, Financial Aid/Scholarships by Lisa Garrett, A Charger/Raising Colts by Will Scott and Boxing Club, Latino Initiatives, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and The High School Student by Evan Snelling (both sessions are for all parents and students in middle or high school); or Bringing Attendance Home by Cartersville City Schools Homeless Liaison Maria Hoffman, Cartersville City Schools social worker Paula Womack and Bartow County Schools Homeless Liaison Kelly Whitmire (for parents and students in pre-K through high school).

Session 2, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., offers Investing in Your Future: Financing College by Todd Glen Jones, GHC vice president for student affairs (for all parents and students in middle or high school); a session by Willowbrooke at Tanner; or Parent’s Skill for Teacher Conferencing by Kathi White, parent engagement facilitator for Cartersville City Schools (for parents of students in pre-K and elementary school).

A free lunch will be served between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and the break includes a 30-minute session called Scream-Free Parenting by Tom Bandy.

Session 3 will run from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., and topics will be Falling Through the Cracks: Understanding RTI, IEP, 504 and Special Education by Emily Green, school psychologist for Cartersville City Schools (for parents and students in elementary, middle or high school); The ROC Clubhouse (Highland Rivers) by Ivette Ellis, clubhouse manager (for parents and students in middle or high school); or The Not-So-Common Common Core Elementary Math by Naomi Strickland, Clear Creek Elementary School math coach (for parents and students in elementary and middle school).

Choices for Session 4, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., are Top 10 Ways to Support Your Child as a Reader by Randi Sonenshine, Cartersville Middle School literacy coach (for all parents); High School 101 by K.K. Smith, Woodland High School counselor (for parents and students in eighth grade or high school); or a session in Spanish on What Should I Know to Help My Son/Daughter Go to School? by Nilsa Lebron, ESOL teacher at Cartersville Elementary School (for parents and students in middle or high school).

The closing session from 2:45 to 3:15 p.m. will feature Doug Belisle, executive director for Bartow Collaborative.

Lauro is hoping the conference will help parents and students deal with some of the issues facing them today.

“Lots of thought and consideration went into planning the Empower and Lead event,” she said. “The break-out session topics were well-planned and touch on challenges that families face. Hopefully, they will take away a sense of renewal and empowerment from the sessions.”

The event is free, but registration is required by this Saturday. Parents can sign up by contacting Rodriguez at 770-387-4732 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visiting https://goo.gl/D49pvi. Interpreters will be available at some of the sessions.
Rodriguez said 25 families have registered for the conference so far, and she and Lauro are hoping to have between 50 and 60 families attend.
“Being that it’s our first community event, we are not sure what to expect,” Rodriguez said. “Unfortunately, the Duck Derby event falls on that same day.”
She also added a spring conference has been planned for March 19, 2016.