Emotions flooded Denise Kennedy when she began talking about what she learned during graduation ceremonies for the Strengthening Families 10-14 class at Windsor Middle School on Wednesday night.
Kennedy of Windsor, who had been a stay-at-home mom for 12 years until taking a kindergarten teaching job at Grandview Elementary School in Windsor this school year, told the participating families during the ceremony that there is only so much time they have with their kids and to make the most of it.
“They’ve had a mom that’s been home for 12 years, and I think a big piece that we’re taking away is that even in lives that are changing we have to be able to communicate and keep family first,” said Denise, who participated in the program with her husband, Chris, and daughters, Karleigh, 12, and Ryleigh, 10. “That’s been a struggle for us this year just finding that balance, and I think that’s where my emotions came from, just trying to find the balance being back teaching and still being the mom that I was last year. I think just finding that balance and using their strategies through love and logic has been awesome.”
The program is sponsored through Weld County Prevention Partners, who are staff members of North Range Behavioral Health in Greeley, and 12 families — 18 kids and 18 parents — participated in Windsor, the first time it was held there. Classes have been held the past five years in Greeley at Bella Romero Middle School, John Evans Middle School, Franklin Middle School, Brentwood Middle School, as well as at Platte Valley Middle School in Kersey and Milliken Middle School.
Strengthening Families 10-14 is a free, seven-week national program designed to improve the overall family experience. It’s for kids 10 to 14 years of age, and their parents. Families learn how to solve problems, bond together as a family, grow and have fun through a series of exercises and classroom discussions taught by trained facilitators from the Greeley area. The program’s teachers took a three-day training course from staff at Iowa State University.
The two-hour classes once a week are taught in English and Spanish, and a free light meal is provided at every session. Free childcare for children ages 9 and under is also available. Three full classes are held per year, and a four-week booster class is held for families who have graduated from the seven-week program. The Windsor High School catering class provided three meals and the graduation cake for the families in the program.
Denise’s husband, Chris, said the program met his expectations.
“We took away some new strategies and some coping mechanisms from it,” Chris said. “I think there were some different aspects we didn’t expect to get information on or new ideas from, but we certainly did.”
Denise said the program fostered an environment of listening to her kids.
“I feel like parents of teenagers all have that same struggle of, ‘My kids aren’t talking to me and I can’t get anything out of them.’ I think a program like this gives us strategies to get them to talk so they don’t feel so defensive. I love it. I think it’s awesome.”
Karleigh, a seventh-grader at Severance Middle School, said it’s really important to be able to communicate with her parents.
Karleigh’s little sister, Ryleigh, a fifth-grader at Grandview, said it was special because she got to spend a lot of time with her family.
“I got to learn a lot about them that I didn’t know about,” Ryleigh said. “This was pretty cool.”
Strengthening Families 10-14 class coordinator Nancy Haffner said the program is for all families. “We’re giving them additional tools through those middle school years,” she said. “They’re in that transition stage. We’re talking about having family meetings, respect, communication, we spent two nights on peer pressure and how to handle situations. Some kids kind of have a clue on what to do. Some kids freeze up. Not using drugs and alcohol, helping out at home.”
Haffner said that families have been very receptive toward the program.
“Once they get into the program, they love it,” she said.
Shari Anderson of Windsor and her daughter, Sami, 12, both said it was worthwhile.
“With this era of so much peer pressure and drugs and everything that’s going on in their lives right now, I just want to be a part of it and learn the tools to help her navigate through it and help us as parents navigate through it, too, so it does strengthen our family,” said Shari, whose husband, Tim, also attended some classes when he wasn’t working. “I am glad we did it, and my husband said the same thing. He’s not big into things like this, but I think he got a lot out of it, too.”
Morgan Grubbs, 11, a sixth-grader at Windsor Middle School, attending the program with her parents, Dave and Kim Grubbs.
“I really liked it because it helped me get more organized with my family and homework,” Morgan said.
Dave, the principal at Grandview Elementary School, said he originally assumed that the program was for families who were struggling with their kids, but that assumption quickly changed.
“I didn’t think we were struggling, but it was a really great experience,” Dave said. “We have a more organized family routine. We meet once a week, look at the calendar and talk about goals and how to help and support one another. I might have been struggling more than I thought as the head of a family. It was a great opportunity.”
Kim said the program was poignant to realize how to balance love with setting limits that benefits the kids.
“Helping them realize how it benefits them as children to have those limits is a part of a loving relationship,” Kim said.
Debbie Uhrich of Severance, who attended the program with her son, Cade, 10, said she got some tools to help her family better communicate their feelings to each other and see things from each family member’s point of view.
“It was very beneficial. I think it brought my husband and I closer and on the same page as far as how we are going to parent and the decisions we make concerning our kids,” Debbie said.