Almost 400 parents and grandparents gathered Sunday on the lower level of the Marriot Frenchman’s Reef Hotel to learn how to help their youngsters to succeed in the new school year.
According to the Department of Education, which hosted the fifth annual Parent Conference, organizers expected approximately 250 people to attend, but were pleasantly surprised by the large numbers of parents that showed up to learn and become equipped for the upcoming school year.
The surge in attendance required additional seating, food and beverage to be provided, something Racquel Berry-Benjamin, deputy superintendent, described as “a good problem to have.”
“As I visited the various sessions being conducted, I could see the parents were all very engaged,” Berry-Benjamin added. “I am excited about the year ahead.”
District Superintendent Dionne Wells-Hedrington also praised the large turnout and said her office is committed to providing parents with the support they need to be successful. She encouraged parents to get involved and volunteer at their children’s schools, adding that the 2015-16 school year will see a greater sense of partnership between the district and its parents.
A highlight of the event, which convened at 8 a.m. and concluded at 3:30 p.m., was the keynote presentation by Andres Lara, widely known as “The Cuban Guy.” The renowned motivational speaker captivated the audience with his "rags to riches" story, which began with him entering the U.S. as a 16-year-old Cuban refugee not knowing how to speak English, and concluded with his emerging as a top national speaker, international-selling author and millionaire by the age of 24, the department’s news release said.
In his presentation, Lara encouraged parents to listen to their children in order to help young people steer clear of destructive choices and affiliations. He said parents should pursue their own dreams, no matter how late in life, so their children can see the value of never giving up.
Sen. Jean Forde, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development, was also on hand.
“I am extremely happy with the turnout. It shows we have a lot of good parents who care about their children and want to learn how to become better parents,” he said. Forde also encouraged parents to remain actively involved in their children’s education.
Elvis Sprauve, whose two children will attend Ivanna Eudora Kean High School this year, said both he and his wife were pleased with the information they received at the conference.
“We had a wonderful experience and learned a lot, particularly that we should be monitoring our children’s Facebook pages and online activity,” he said.
Parent Kendra Prosper also shared Sprauve’s sentiments.
“Everything was good. The motivational speaker was wonderful and I look forward to the workshops,” she said.
The day’s workshops included sessions on Internet dangers, age-appropriate messages for children, health and nutrition, gang awareness and jail prevention, and others. There were also musical selections by the EBO Steel Owls Orchestra. A host of community vendors also participated, including Family Resource Center, My Brother’s Workshop, VIPD, Parents Matters and more.