WALLENPAUPACK - Stress tends to be a part of life, but the Wallenpaupack School District believes there are ways to manage it. Through the Strengthening Families program, Wallenpaupack Assistant Superintendent Keith Gunuskey said families are receiving a “toolbox” to address their stress.  


Through sessions, Gunuskey said the parents and children will get a better understanding of each other, as they learn the reasoning for each other’s decisions because of how they communicate. This is the third time the district has hosted the program that was developed by Iowa State University, but has been adopted by the Penn State Cooperative Extension.  


From parents thus far, Gunuskey said some have said the program has “eliminated the mystery of parenting” and now many are comfortable talking with their children about sensitive topics. Through the program, an understanding has been created as parents found that their children were unaware of their responsibilities as a parent.  


Gunuskey said this Strengthening Families program, is a “difference maker in the community” and it will be the first step to address the opioid problem in the region. This program is different than past, because of the immediate results and evidence he feels. For instance, for every dollar spent on the program, there is a $9.60 return that includes kids not going into drug and alcohol programs or families staying together rather than going into the court system. The return, he said, is “pretty remarkable.” 


To address the “opioid crisis,” Gunuskey said the community must give children “tools” so they aren’t susceptible to peer pressure and succumb to stress. Since this program isn’t just taught in the classroom and the district is collaborating with families, a bridge is built and a “bond between” the school, parents and the students is formed. 


In the past the district has been “very proactive” by trying to network with parents through events, but Gunuskey said for various reasons they didn’t work. Now however, with culinary students providing a full dinner and childcare students watching the younger children, the parents and older children can focus on the goal at hand and not worry about those responsibilities at the moment.  


Gunuskey said Pike County Commissioner Matt Osterberg suggested Wallenpaupack, Delaware Valley and East Stroudsburg districts take part in the program while it has already been happening in Lackawanna County for years. As of yet, the program will not be happening in the South School because of a lack of response from families. The district is doing the program in conjunction with Penn State Cooperative Extension, but Gunuskey said many organizations are covering the cost.  


The initial response from parents, when the program was first proposed, Gunuskey said wasn’t good; but once the students were shown what the program would consist of, families got involved. For participating, children get incentives that include, but are not limited to being able to leave lunch early or shooting hoops with the school resource officers and having lunch with the principal. 


In the course of the evening, over the seven weeks, trained facilitators lead youth, parent and family sessions where there is talking and no cellphones. At dinner, everyone is talking, and it is that “active engagement” that Gunuskey feels is very important. 


Some of the families are single parents, but not all. From what he has seen, Gunuskey said it seems as though parents aren’t sure what to expect, but they know their child wants to participate. The reality is that, “there’s no manual for being a parent” but, Gunuskey feels the program is the closest thing to one. 


The differences he has seen in children, Gunuskey said was clear as many were more sociable and confident. From last spring to this fall, there were some children with “discipline concerns” that weren’t an issue later in the year, as they seemed to be “making better decisions.” Gunuskey himself, has used some of the skills he learned with his own children and he and his wife are parenting better together. 


At the first session, during the parent portion, a facilitator Middle School Counselor Cara Dougherty told the parents the Strengthening Families program, gives kids the “framework to say no” in a way that works for them. Through the program, setting family limits and having a balance is established, since everything can’t be a rule or fun, so figuring a balance between the two is a key lesson. 


A video in the parent session said the program is about “love and limits.” Stresses sixth graders encounter can be anything from fitting in with peers to dealing with social media. But then at home, they must think of their homework and grades. Also, there is home stresses that may mean death, divorce or moving. The parents made a list of stresses kids encounter today, the only stress parents didn’t encounter as kids, was the stress of social media. 


During the children’s portion, each child created a treasure map that showed their favorite hobbies without naming themselves. During the family session, the parents then had to choose which was their child’s. The children’s session, Gunuskey said has to be hands on and interactive, which was shown in their maps.

Through talking, parents learned about their children’s goals with one child wanting to someday become an animator and another a farmer. The children then laid out steps to accomplish their goals, such as how to build a barn or how to become a veterinarian. 


To see how well they know their children, the parents wrote down what their child’s favorite activity was, which the child then answered. One child said they liked playing with their cat, but their mother thought it was watching YouTube videos. Whereas another child said they liked reading or playing video games; their parent answered reading.

If the child were to have $50, what would they spend it on. One child said jewelry, but her mother said a phone because she had been asking for that. Another child said he would buy hunting equipment, but his mother said a remote-control boat that he had been saving for.

Julie and David Yakobski were at the program with their 11-year-old son Tyler because they want to “learn new techniques” David said. Julie said the evening was “great” because they had to think about how they were parenting and what they have to do to “make things better.” While Julie was surprised by Tyler’s answers, David was only partially. Talking, Julie said is good because it made them learn more. That one evening, Tyler said he learned a lot about his parents, such as shared interests he had with his dad. David though, said he learned more parenting techniques and how to react to things differently. The Yakobskis decided to participate in the program, Julie said because Tyler is the oldest of three children and so, the parents wanted to learn additional ways of handling situations.

Denise Beck was at the program with her son Colby, because she figured a family strengthening program could give the family “pointers” she said. Being a single mom with three children, can be hard and with so much to do, the idea of strengthening her family was appealing. 

Kerry Marcus, was at the program with her 11-year-old son Daniel. The program, Kerry said sounded “fun” as it would be an opportunity for families to meet others. The idea of the new tools, was “cool” because her son is a preteen. As well, Kerry liked getting feedback on her parenting and how to better handle situations. As a single parent, any additional tool that could help would be a resource she said. 


The program will conclude in November, but before the end, the families will have a large Thanksgiving dinner together. 
For more information visit http://www.wallenpaupack.org/.