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Parents have vital role in children's education

By Kristine Hazzard, President and CEO, Berkshire United Way

The beginning of a new school year presents a number of opportunities for children to learn, both in and out of the classroom. 

 “School readiness is more than just knowing all your numbers and letters. All children need to manage their feelings, form relationships with adults and peers, solve social problems, and most importantly, they need to attend and engage in learning with curiosity and motivation,” says Karen Vogel, community impact manager with Berkshire United Way.  Vogel adds, “These social and emotional skills are learned from positive adult role models, parents and caregivers, as well as teachers.  Parents and caregivers play the biggest role in school success.  Setting regular bedtimes and eating a healthy breakfast set children up for a ‘good day’.  And, making your home a supportive learning environment is setting your child up for a lifetime of success.”

September symbolizes more than just being back in school and establishing new routines – it also happens to be Attendance Awareness Month. In addition to the steps you can take at home to help set your child up for academic success, ensuring that they actually make it to school can make a big difference. 

The importance of regular attendance begins in preschool. Starting early sets up a good habit for life. Studies show that children who miss too many days in kindergarten and first grade can struggle academically in later years. They often have trouble mastering reading by the end of third grade.  By middle and high school, chronic absenteeism is one of the leading warning signs that a student will drop out of school.

Some absences are unavoidable. We understand that children get sick and need to stay home on occasion. But if too many absences occur, even if they are excused absences, the resulting lost learning time in the classroom can be a problem.

As you look to support your children in reaching high school graduation, there are obstacles that can derail them, namely, substance use and teen pregnancy. Research indicates that parents are the greatest influence on their child's decision making.

However, as a parent it can be difficult to initiate and sustain conversations about healthy decision making, which is why Berkshire United Way invests in workshops and resources to support parents and caregivers in opening those conversations and setting expectations.  Open lines of communication between parents and children help establish family and individual values, enabling young people to make healthier, safer and better-informed decisions.

For example, we know parents often find it difficult and uncomfortable to talk with their children about sexuality; conversations that should start early, not just when you think they may be sexually active.  Berkshire United Way’s Face the Facts coalition, and all of the positive youth development programs funded by Berkshire United Way, offer workshops in “Let's Be Honest: Communication in Families That Keeps Kids Healthy.”  This program is designed to help parents and other trusted caregivers create an environment of trust and comfort in talking with their children about sex and sexuality.  

Workshops in Active Parenting and Guiding Good Choices, supported by the Berkshire United Way led Pittsfield Prevention Partnership coalition, help parents raise responsible, cooperative children who are able to resist negative peer pressure and thrive in the 21st century.

These curriculums are designed to help parents talk to their kids about risky behaviors, things they are going to be exposed to and have to make their own decisions about.  Decisions related to sex, alcohol and drugs are some of the biggest challenges for young people; they also carry some of the greatest consequences. 

It takes a village to raise a child.  For additional information on workshops that help promote positive youth development, please email Berkshire United Way at or call us at 413-442-6948.