Strengthening families for healthier youths and communities

  • Published: Monday, March 22, 2021

FREDERICKTOWN, Mo. – “Why not give it a try?” Sarah Kelly thought as she looked over the letter from her children’s Fredericktown middle school. The pressures of everyday life — and the easy escape that technology provides — make it harder for families to spend time together and connect.

“We can all use all the help we can these days in getting closer as a family,” the Madison County mother thought as she read about the Strengthening Families program.

The Kelly A. Burlison Middle School, in partnership with University of Missouri Extension, is the first in Missouri to pilot the program, which is recognized for its success in helping preteens transition into healthier adolescents and adults.

“I believe this program is of great value to all of our families,” said Dana Barton, a social worker at Burlison Middle School. “The program provides strategies to resist peer pressure, reduce stress, improve communication skills and effective problem-solving. It also teaches us about goal setting and how to understand each other better. Not only are these skills important to become a stronger family, but they help us to become a better person, parent, spouse, sibling, student and friend. I hope our families continue to use what works for them for years to come.”

Kelly and her two children, Talyn and Richard Miller, completed the first session in January. During the school day, sixth and seventh grade students learn skills in communication, listening, building positive self-esteem, resilience and more. Parents and guardians then join the children for seven evening sessions that reinforce what their children learn in school.

The eye-opener for Sarah Garcia was the importance of changing patterns of communication with her 12-year-old son Greyson — “realizing he is not a little kid anymore and how to talk with your preteen on a different level instead of sounding like a mad parent.” Handouts, resources and role-playing reinforce tips for building more constructive and respectful relationships with children as they grow into adults.

“Every topic around issues that kids face was covered in a really interesting way with a lot of really good tips,” Kelly said. “And the information wasn’t just around disciplinary issues but also about how to be more understanding, more open, how to get closer together as a family. The kids loved it. I loved it. We all took so much away from that class.”

Strengthening Families 10-14 is part of PROSPER (Promoting School-community-university Partnership to Enhance Resilience), an evidence-based model developed at Iowa State University that embeds life skills and community and family support efforts into middle school.

The Fredericktown pilot serves as the model for PROSPER programs that will expand to five more Missouri communities through a $1.1 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for MU Extension’s Building Capacity for Recovery-Friendly Communities.

For more information, explore the PROSPER team’s Facebook page, Families Flourishing FredMO. For questions, contact MU Extension in Madison County at 573-783-3303.

Photos available:
Sarah Kelly, left, completes an exercise with daughter Talyn and son Richard.
Sarah Garcia and her son Greyson participate in a Strengthening Families activity to improve communication.
Talyn and Richard Miller work on filling in their family tree with their mother, Sarah Kelly.

Writer: Katherine Foran

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