Pinelands’ school district strengthens ties within families

Seven-week program covers many areas in life of kids, parents

The Pinelands Regional School District is again offering a free, seven-week program to help families strengthen communication with their adolescents, among other goals.

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The school-based Youth Services Family Program builds on the strengths in a  family to create stronger connections in an open and non-judgmental environment. Developed at Iowa State University, the Strengthening Families Program is funded by the state and the Pinelands’ board of education. 

Directed by Janelle Gonzales – who oversees both the district’s junior high school and high school – School Based Youth Services (SBYS) is offered to the district’s sixth through eighth grade students and their parents. SBYS runs its family workshop with a staff of seven, all trained at Iowa State. The program was recertified last spring.

“It is the best family program that I have ever witnessed or been a part of in the 25 plus years I have been in this field, and it can benefit any family,” said Gonzales.

The Strengthening Families Program is evidence based and has stood the test of time. Teenage students gain vital skills  essential for adulthood and the sociology of a family as well. It covers a multitude of areas in the life of kids and parents as individuals, and collectively as a family.

The program kicks off Jan. 11 and each session is two-and-a-half hours, beginning with a complimentary dinner at 6 p.m. and an hour of breakout sessions from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. It  concludes with an hour of family time beginning at 7:30 p.m. 

This program focuses on getting kids and their families together to hone communication skills as the former become more independent. It also reestablishes the memories and feelings of the adults, allowing them to learn about the behaviors of their children and understand that in most cases, they are typical at a tough age.

What began as a state-funded endeavor associated with the New Jersey Department of Prevention for Drug and Substance Abuse, the Strengthening Families Program now gets financial help from the Pinelands’ Municipal Alliance Committee. Its aim is to bring families together and help them understand one another.

“More often than not, that’s what we see with the families,” Gonzales observed. “We see a lot more growth, a lot of connection. For me, not only is it helpful for the families themselves, but I feel a significant connection with the families that end up going through this family program, because we spend seven weeks with them and develop a level of trust and respect for one another.”


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