MONTREAL, JUNE 13, 2012 – During the 2011 – 2012 school year, Westmount Park Elementary School (15 Park Place) was the first primary school in the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) to offer the Strengthening Black Families program. On Wednesday, June 20 (6 p.m.), these families will graduate, empowered and ready to take on a new lease on family life.
As the first school to offer the program in the EMSB, the 14-week initiative is designed to bring parents and their children together and give both the opportunity to share thoughts and feelings and establish stronger communication skills.
Involving multiple families, the weekly session involves two parent and child trainers. Working individually at the beginning of each session and then together, the trainers empower parents with the necessary tools to become entrenched in their child’s lives, both at home and at school.
By being in an environment with other parents, they have the opportunity to express emotions with others who are experiencing the same difficulties. Likewise, the children can do the same with their trainer.
“The program builds on the strengths of the families,” said Coleen Cadogan, a teacher at Westmount Park Elementary School and co-coordinator of the Strengthening Black Families program. “It teachers positivity, ensures parents realize to recognize their child’s good behavior and to cater more to their needs.”
While all the breakout tools are tailored to the age of the child, one of the most successful exercises used is role playing, where the families act out real-life situations together while the trainers help correct any negative thinking or actions.
“One situation involved a family of four having only $25 to spend on entertainment and they had to decide what to do with it,” said Terri-Ann Dufeal, co-coordinator of the Strengthening Black Families program. “They could not all go to a movie, so we discussed renting a movie, buying popcorn and having a fun afternoon at home. It not only teaches families to work together, but it provides for practical ideas that they will actually use.”
In addition to the time with the trainers, the weekly sessions includes a family dinner, whereas Strengthening Black Families provides the food, so that the families can spend all their time together during the meal. The goal is that the weekly meal will translate into consistent family dinners at home.
Ensuring the consistency translates to home, Strengthening Black Families ensures that there are home visits by the trainers as well. Although the graduation on June 20 will mark the end of the in-school sessions, enough funding has been secured that the home sessions will continue during the summer.
“By having the trainers come during the summers, it reinforces the fact that the parents are not alone,” added Dufeal. “After 14 great weeks, we do not want everything to be lost. Hopefully come September, the parents will be able to handle things on their own, but there will be booster sessions if necessary to maintain the progress.”
While Strengthening Black Families and Westmount Park Elementary have provided the support, for any community program, the commitment from the families serves as the ultimate litmus test. With graduation on the horizon, there has yet to be a dropout. Clearly, the message has been embraced.
“All it takes is for parents to go into the world of their child for 15 minutes and spend some time with them,” added Cadogan. “This quality time invigorates the children and we see the benefits at school. It’s something they look forward to. What child doesn’t want to spend time with their mother or father?”
“Parents are learning from each other in a no judgment environment,” said Dufeal. “They are being taught to become role models for their children. They are all wonderful parents, but we are simply empowering them to be even better.”