Empowering Families event held for Glastonbury students

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Mar. 28, 2013
Members of the Youth Advisory Council hold a panel discussion on the transition from middle school to high school during an Empowering Families event on March 25. Photo by Steve Smith.
Members of the Youth Advisory Council hold a panel discussion on the transition from middle school to high school during an Empowering Families event on March 25. Photo by Steve Smith.

Empowering Families has been an annual event, put on by the Glastonbury Public Schools, the Glastonbury Police Department Youth Division and Glastonbury Youth and Family Services. It is aimed at helping strengthen the lines of communication between teens and parents, just at the point at which young people are getting ready to enter high school. The event features workshops and this year's Empowering Families, which took place on March 26, included a youth-lead session by the Youth Advisory Council, aimed at answering some questions about the transitions from middle school to high school.

In the first part of the workshop, YAC President and GHS senior Alex Bzdyra asked volunteers from the audience to come up to the front of the class. He then asked them to do some simple-but-silly, tasks, such as put their hands over their heads and hop in a circle on one foot, and then bark like a dog and meow like a cat. Afterward, he explained.

“Basically, what we just showed was peer pressure,” he said. “We asked them to do something and they did it, without thinking about it.” Bzdyra asked some of the participants how they felt about meowing like a cat.

“Awkward,” replied one of them.

“It's not really the people you don't know who are going to pressure you to do drugs,” explained YAC member Emil Atz. “It's going to be when you're hanging out at a friend's house – a whole bunch of you having a good time and someone brings a little beer.”

Sometimes, the YAC members said, teens can be doing nothing wrong, but then find themselves in photos from a party where other kids are drinking, and that can be damaging to one's reputation. “You might not even see it until a little later,” Atz said, “but you're joking around in the background and those pictures can show up on facebook.”

The group played a few short videos for the audience, and asked them to identify the messages in them. One video showed a chain reaction of small acts of kindness. The message was that doing the right thing gets one noticed just as much or moreso than the popular thing.

“There's also something called positive peer pressure, where you can implore someone else to do good in the world, instead of bad,” said YAC member Stephanie Consoli. “It's also important to say 'no' to the little things, so that when it does get into something big like drugs or alcohol, you're confident in saying no and making that decision.”

The YAC members then formed a panel and allowed questions on any topic from the attendees.

YAC member Paige Cantwell said a lot of high school students feel pressure to do things because they feel like they need to go to college having experienced certain things. “A lot of people in late senior year and even late junior year start adopting the motto that 'I have to do this, this, and this before I graduate,'” Cantwell said. “They'll do things that they were totally against [before], just because they think they need to go into college with that experience.”

Nicholas Bremmer, an eighth grade YAC member, said he has already learned to give his long-term goals higher priority over his short-term gratification. “The best advice I can give someone is to set goals for yourself,” he said, adding that if someone's goal is to get into Harvard, they would be more likely to say no to drugs or other things that could hinder that process. “If they have personal drive – even little things like making the JV team – I think that will allow them to think clearly and realize they have something to do and something to work for.”

Cantwell, who is also a GHS senior, has taken part in the Empowering Families program for the past four years. She said she gets good feedback from the younger students, even if it's subtle. “I like that it's a different group every time,” she said. “I like when the kids are leaving and they feel like they can smile at you. You can tell that something resonated and they connected with you enough to give you an acknowledgement.”

Cantwell added that she feels like affecting those kids in families that come to the events has a lasting, pay-it-forward type of effect on the school. “I think these kids are already on the right track because they are here with their parents,” she said. “So, I'm not worried about them. I'm excited by the fact that they can help their friends. The 50 who I might see tonight are 50 kids who can help 50 different groups of friends, and hopefully help a large majority of the incoming freshman class.”

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