BENNINGTON -- As part of the Quantum Leap program's series of discussion panels, "Moving Bennington Forward," faciliator David Beriau led residents on a discussion of the roles of both parents and schools in raising a child, and how the groups can work together.
Beriau, assistant principal and dean of students at Mount Anthony Union High School, began the discussion by asking the audience to brainstorm with him, "What are some of the biggest challenges kids face today that are different than those we faced in the past?" Technology and social media, a lack of jobs for high school graduates, and the prevalence of drug use and unprotected sex were all brought up by the group, which was a mixture of parents, educators, and Quantum Leap students.
"We, my generation and my parents generation, were brought up with ‘The American Dream' and this promise that kids would have a better life than their parents. This is the first generation for which that really isn't the case," said Beriau.
Beriau also pointed to the problem that parents today often either solve all of the children's problems for them, or demand that the school do so. "We know, here at the high school, that parents love their children," he said, "but there is a difference between entitlement and preparing students to succeed. If we take care of all their problems, and they leave school unable to take care of themselves, we haven't prepared them for life in the outside world.
Beriau called for better communication between parents and educators, and that the staff at the high school is willing to discuss regulations and decisions that parents don't understand or agree with. "We don't want to say, as a school, ‘Because we said so,'" he said, "If we can't justify our directives, then we need to take another look at them." Beriau said, in his experience, parents often take a confrontational tone from the very beginning in dealings with the school, which can be counterproductive. "It all goes back to how parents were treated when they were in school," he said, "When parents were treated badly [by administrators or staff], when they call the school, they're already defensive, or they go immediately on the offensive."
Several audience members asked what were ways that parents and teachers could more closely work together. Beriau pointed out that, while there are parent groups associated with music and sports at the high school, there is no general parent-teacher organization. "We don't have a parent group at the high school, and I think that's something we should do," he said. One person in the audience suggested that, on issues such as the dress code, descriptions of why certain items are banned should be included in the school handbook, rather than simply a list of banned items.
One student in attendence brought up the school's ban on spandex, of which she said, "I just don't understand it, and it saddens me." Beriau explained that in years past, spandex had been allowed, but students would often roll up the legs on spandex shorts to unacceptable levels, then when they were caught, roll them back down, only to roll them back up after the teacher had left. "We just couldn't keep checking in on these students every period to make sure they were meeting the dress code," said Beriau.
Bennington College professor Susan Sgorbati, who was in attendance, agreed that more communication is always better. "If we don't all agree that the rules are there for the benefit of the community," she said, "[some students] are just going to break them. There needs to be an understanding."
"One of the things that I see as hopeful," said Beriau, "is that kids are coming to us with situations and concerns, hopefully in the same way that they can go to their parents." As trust seems to exist between the students and the staff, as well as the students and their parents, the most important piece that is missing, according to Beriau, is that, "We need to bring back some trust between the parents and the schools."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB