Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Adapting child-rearing to a changing society

Expert advises valley on how to better support youth development

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Community Drug Coalition announced the winners of its annual Unsung Heroes Community Awards at Saturdayís Creating a Healthy Community conference. Award winners, from left holding the plates, are Outstanding Youth MentorJoey Altermatt, Outstanding Adult Mentor Nichole Britt, Outstanding Youth Neighbor Esteban Palencia, Outstanding Adult Neighbor Mitzi Mecham, Youth Zone Award winner and Toniís Ice Cream owner Toni Bogue, and Healthy Choices/Prevention Award winner Tod Gunter. Coalition Executive Director Terry Basolo stands to the right, with Hailey Elementary School Principal Tom Bailey to the left. Photo by Willy Cook

Schools are being asked to do everything, says James Vollbracht. No longer are teachers merely explaining the standard subjects of math, English and the sciences—they're being asked to lay out life lessons on drugs, work ethic and values.

Vollbracht was the keynote speaker on Saturday for the annual Creating a Healthy Community conference at the Community Campus in Hailey.

"We can have the greatest schools and greatest teachers, but unless we have relationships, not a lot is going to happen," said Vollbracht, who went much further into detail, giving specific examples of how parents and society, in general, need to be more proactive in raising youths. He also examined the losses children have undergone in terms of healthy resources for guidance.

He said that in 1950, half of children had grandparents nearby.

"That's the life blood. That's how wisdom is transmitted," he said.

These days, only two out of 25 children have grandparents within reach, losing key role models and sources of wisdom relied upon since the beginning of mankind.

"This loss of neighborhood is huge. Our kids are desperate for significant trusted adult resources, to make that connection," said Vollbracht, spelling out an acronym, STAR, used repeatedly in his speech.

The conference was organized by St. Luke's Center for Community Health and the Blaine County Community Drug Coalition. Vollbracht has 20 years of experience in supporting the healthy development of youth. He wrote "Stopping at Every Lemonade Stand: How To Create a Culture That Cares for Kids."

Vollbracht emphasized that children are in need of "intentional" interaction, illustrating his point with a story from his early childhood, which was obviously impactful because of his vivid retelling. Vollbracht said he was called down to the office at school, obviously thinking he was in trouble. When he got there, the counselor—who was also his baseball coach—called him in. The counselor asked him how he thought the baseball team was doing, if he liked being leadoff batter and if he'd change the lineup. They proceeded to have a conversation, not as counselor and student or coach and player, but as people.

"It blew my mind. An adult was asking my opinion," he said, later adding, "One of my biggest concerns these days is that we're turning our kids into recipients and not participants. Everybody needs to be needed."

Vollbracht went on to discuss something else parents, teachers and everyone else interacting with children should do: promote children's assets and focus less on their shortcomings. He provided the example of teachers' calling home when students misbehave, and suggested that teachers also call home when students do something exceptional. He told of a teacher who did that when a student picked up a piece of trash and put it in the garbage can. Soon, students were following her around trying to get the call home. He said that could be done outside of school, such as parents' calling the parents of their children's friends.

Vollbracht pointed out that calling home when a child is in trouble can still be done, but this way it's more likely to prompt the child to change his or her ways.

"When you put deposits in the bank over and over again, you're able to withdraw when you need to," he said.

Trevon Milliard:

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