Parent Center Launched in Ulster County

On November 14th, 2013, Ulster County officially opened the doors to the first Parent Center in the Kingston City School District. The Parent Center is a physical location on campus that is devoted to offering resources, educational opportunities, and workshops for parents throughout the school year and into the summer. In addition to being a hub for resources, the Parent Center is designed to be responsive to the needs of all parents in the area in supporting the educational goals of their children (from www.kingstoncityschools.org).
Although the Parent Center was just launched in late Fall 2013, the activities and the planning for the center started in mid-2012, when the Principal of Kingston High School, Dr. Adrian C. Manuel, had a conversation with Dr. Carol Smith, Commissioner of the Ulster County Dept. of Health and Mental Health. In their discussions, Dr. Manuel described the Parent Center that had been established at his former school in the Bronx, and expressed his desire to create something similar in the Kingston City School District.

At the same time, the county was in the process of creating their community health plan and trying to identify opportunities for outreach and collaboration between local providers and families. The Ulster System of Care held a Parent Forum, at which parents and providers were able to come together and have an open discussion about the current state of services in the community. With the assistance of a representative from Families Together NYS (FTNYS), the forum allowed providers to hear directly from parents about some of the largest barriers they encountered when trying to access services for their children. In this forum, several core areas for improvement were identified:

  • Parents feeling disengaged/not connected to the school district
  • Bullying prevention
  • Helping youth transition beyond high school

As a result of the Parent Forum, the Ulster SOC was able to receive valuable input from families on the types of resources the county would eventually supply at the Parent Center. Additionally, with the assistance of the mini-grant received as being a Phase I Community with the NYS Success Network, the Ulster SOC also provided a series of webinars based around the key topic areas identified by parents. Webinar topics include parent advocacy, helping to de-escalate conflict in the home, and helping youth in transition.

However, despite the success of the Parent Forum, SOC leaders saw that driving parent engagement was still an issue, and the idea for the Parent Center seemed to be a perfect solution. Dr. Manuel put together a team of community leaders and supporters to help move the project forward, and in late summer 2013, the location for the Center was identified. The group decided to utilize some unused space in the 9th grade academy, primarily due to the transition into high school can be a very important period for many youth and families. In order to make the space useful and welcoming to parents, it was outfitted with donated furniture, posters, a children’s area with toys, a coffee cart, and a computer with Internet access.

In early fall 2013, the Ulster County SOC created a Parent Center Advisory committee that would be tasked with the upkeep and the activities at the center. At the same time, the center had a “soft launch” that coincided with the 2013 Open House, during which parents and students were introduced to the center.

The official launch, which followed in November also coincided with the launch of Ulster’s Suicide Prevention Committee’s suicide prevention app, and was announced at a press conference held right at the Parent Center.

Since the “grand opening” of the Parent Center, the center has been utilized in many different ways by the families and youth of the community. A Parent Pot Luck was hosted at the center, at which Ulster SOC representatives were available to talk to parents, and to provide family resources and information. Additionally, the Parent Center Advisory Committee created a parent survey to assess needs from the parents’ perspective and get their feedback on how they would like to see the center’s space used. This survey was distributed at the Pot Luck, at which they received around 50 responses (with more still coming in).

The center has also been home to several trainings and roundtables since its opening, including a cyber-safety training for parents, providers, and youth, and an informal roundtable with parents and the Director of the Ulster Prevention Council. In May, the center will be home to an anti-bullying conference for parents, during which they will be able to participate in mini-workshops on various topics.

When the center is not being utilized for planned activities, it is open for public use throughout the school year (and on an as-needed basis beyond that), and is home to resources from all around the Ulster System of Care.

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For questions related to the Parent Center or other SOC activities taking place in Ulster County, please contact Judy Dagirmanjian at jdag@co.ulster.ny.us or Jessica Pierce at jpierce@familyofwoodstockinc.org