CTC pinpoints focuses from PAYS data
The Communities That Care group met Dec. 21, 2018, at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Whitehall, to discuss its future priorities and other business.
Using the Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) data, the group has been able to identify specific areas on which to focus for the next few years. These priorities include educating youth on the risks associated with drug and alcohol use, increasing parental knowledge about their role in keeping youth safe from drug and alcohol use, increasing opportunities for youths to be positively involved in and recognized by the community, decreasing hunger among students in the school district and increasing commitment to school and planning for the future.
A large portion of the discussion centered around how to increase a student’s commitment to school and how to aid his or her planning for the future. Chad Stefanyak, guidance counselor at Whitehall High School, reported school officials are working on identifying high-priority careers and occupations to help the students focus on different options. It was suggested to expand the annual career fair at the high school to include more trades. Mayor Michael Harakal Jr. suggested they talk with labor unions to get an idea of what occupations or industries will be in the most need of workers and to utilize those networks to connect with the students. Whitehall-Coplay School District also partners with Whitehall Rotary Club to hold mock interviews. According to Stefanyak, students take a class to help identify future goals and to increase career knowledge. He is hoping to expand upon this education.
In regard to increasing parental and adult knowledge, the group discussed continuing its push to increase awareness of the dangers of social hosting. Denise Continenza, CTC coordinator, reminded the group that the lower grades reported more permissive parental attitudes toward anti-social behaviors in the PAYS data. She mentioned this needs to be addressed, but the group has had trouble with parental involvement in programs in the past.
Continenza also mentioned the good work done in the Strengthening Families program. This program is a parenting and family skills training program. It is unique because the whole family attends and can practice new relationship skills together in family groups. It is based on engaging families, programs and communities in building five protective factors: parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need and the social and emotional competence of children.
Continenza is meeting with the school board in January to present the PAYS data with the group’s analysis.
Michelle Khouri, district registrar and new community relations contact for the district, provided an overview of her goals. She is planning to create more of a relationship between the school district and the community. She also wants more recognition for students and the teachers in the community. This will help with the CTC priority regarding student recognition and connection to the community.
As part of her new position, Khouri went to the apartment complexes in the township. She dropped off fliers and paperwork to be accessible and talked with many of the apartment managers about connecting with the school district. She reported that language barriers were a problem, so she is translating the enrollment paperwork and other important informational documents bilingually to connect with more people.
She reported she also wants the new school district website to be more of a community resource and not solely academically focused. There are links under the community tab on the website to connect with Whitehall Township, Coplay Borough and Whitehall Township Public Library, as well as a source to find food pantries and programs. There is a list of local day cares and a bilingual list of important community resources, such as emergency numbers, adult education, counseling, health insurance and much more. Khouri discussed meeting with Continenza to get the CTC information on the website as well.
Khouri also reported wanting to invite the community in to more of the district’s events and, conversely, getting the students out in the community more.
Shari Noctor, chair of Whitehall-Coplay Hunger Initiative, provided an update on the work the Hunger Initiative is doing. She reported Lehigh Valley Health Network will again sponsor Kellyn Foundation to teach the district’s third-, fourth- and fifth-graders about healthy eating. Each year focuses on a different aspect and provides a well-rounded approach to nutritional education.
The school garden program will be occurring again as well. This allows the younger students to learn about growing their own food. The students plant, care for and harvest different vegetables and fruits. At the end of the program, the students get to eat a salad with the food they have grown. This not only teaches important lessons to the students, but allows them a sense of accomplishment when it’s finished.
According to Noctor, the Snack Pack Pals program is now feeding almost 200 students. She also reported there were 96 people at the last free community meal. Noctor mentioned the group is looking to have tables set up at the meals to provide information on various social services available.
The CTC’s annual meeting will be held 4-6 p.m. Jan. 17 at Fellowship Community, Whitehall. There will be a speaker from Center for Children’s Justice.