Local organizations are joining forces to give parents the tools they need to gain control over their troubled children.

Pastoral Counseling Service, a nonprofit mental health agency, is hosting a free breakfast with community members and leaders Wednesday to begin discussing its countywide implementation of the Parent Project.

The Parent Project is a free program that teaches parents how to raise difficult or out-of-control children.

“We want it to be a community collaboration,” said DeAnna Christian, director of community psychiatric supportive treatment services at the counseling service. “I think it could be a good collaboration and hopefully make a change in some of the problems facing Summit County.”

The service, a nonprofit mental health agency, currently partners with a number of school districts to provide in-school support services, including Akron Public Schools.

The Parent Project comes to the area at a time when the number of verbal and physical assaults by students against others in Akron Public Schools has “noticeably intensified” in the past year, according to a newsletter from the Akron Education Association teachers union.

Punching, kicking, biting and name-calling are just some of the problematic classroom behaviors that teachers reported to the union in the last three months of 2017.

It’s a problem that’s been a continuing point of tension between the union and the school board as the district works to cut back on suspensions and replace them with more effective consequences.

Pat Shipe, the president of the teachers union, said the union does not have a comment at this time.

Akron school board President Patrick Bravo said the board takes the issue of student discipline “very seriously.”

“We also have the very difficult task of balancing the need to work with our students in a restorative manner, while balancing the need to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff,” he said. “With recent changes in state law and board policy regarding discipline, we continue to evaluate whether what we’re doing is effective, including discussions with our administration, staff, parents and other stakeholders.”

School suspensions, which have long been a go-to form of discipline, have fallen under scrutiny in recent years. There is little evidence of their efficacy, and in the end, they just lead to more children missing out on learning opportunities, said Dan Rambler, the Director of School Climate and Student Support Services and Security at Akron Public Schools.

Akron Public Schools began making a more concerted effort to reduce suspensions in 2013, and they’ve since decreased the number by the thousands by implementing mentoring programs and climate control specialists in nearly half the district’s schools. The district ranks eighth in the state for suspensions, but it has gradually improved its ranking over the years.

Teachers have also reduced suspension rates with unique strategies. Some give troubled students extra responsibilities. Others play a game called PAX that dishes out rewards for good behavior throughout the day — an initiative that was funded by the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADM) Board of Summit County as a way to target the opioid crisis through early childhood learning.

Still, fewer suspensions don’t necessarily equal fewer behavioral issues.

“I would say that our behavior is probably what it always has been,” Rambler said. “I think kids are kids — they screw up.”

Having strong, positive adults around is the key to making a real difference in that behavior, Rambler said.

Parent involvement

Finding those positive adults starts at home with parents, who just may be the solution to kids behaving better both in and out of the classroom.

The goal of the Parent Project is to engage adults by putting the power over problematic children back into their hands.

The program was developed in Los Angeles nearly 30 years ago, and it continues to evolve as parents provide feedback. More than half a million people nationwide have completed the program so far.

“This is about [the parents]. We want them to take responsibility and ownership for their family,” Christian said. “It’ll be open to any parent who wants to improve themselves.”

The program is for parents of children of all ages, but Christian wants to target kids 10 and older.

Christian said she hopes the counseling service can start facilitating classes in March or April of this year, depending on the number of community organizations that jump on board to help get the program off the ground.

Classes run at least 10 weeks — though they often go longer depending on what the parents’ needs are, Christian said — and they teach parents how to deal with a variety of issues, from teen drug use and youth gangs to family conflict and poor school performances.

For Christian, the program has potential to do more than just reduce classroom outbursts. She hopes to solve some of the largest issues facing Summit County, including crime, violence and drug activity.

“Hopefully, we can make a dent in the opioid crisis,” Christian said.

Megan Raber, a prevention coordinator with Pastoral Counseling, said she facilitated the program a few years ago with a group of parents in southern Ohio.

“What parents like the most is that they don’t have to argue with their kids anymore,” Raber said. “It really opens up that communication piece with the parents, and it teaches them how to bring love back into the parent-child relationship.”

Wednesday’s breakfast will serve as a community introduction to the program, as well as a networking opportunity to recruit community partners. Christian said she hopes to get law enforcement involved, as well as social agencies and other local organizations.

Once funds are in place, parents will be able to start signing up for the free classes.

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.