Tag Archives: parent

What Should I Get Out of a Parent-Teacher Conference?

January 27, 2014 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Spring semester parent-teacher conferences are coming up soon, but parents wanting to maximize their return on these quick meetings with their kids’ teachers might want to start a few habits now.

Don’t expect to solve major problems in five minutes

Anna Rempel, a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at Conestoga Public Schools, says she tries to keep individual meetings between five and seven minutes long. Josephine Langbehn, a seventh-grade art educator at Omaha Public School’s Monroe Middle School, says her meetings may average ten minutes.

Serious problems, like acting out in the classroom or demonstrating a need for special education testing, aren’t tackled here. “If a student is struggling, I’ve already e-mailed a parent about it,” Rempel says, adding that school counselors and the principal would handle those concerns.

Parent-teacher conferences, on the other hand, are more along the lines of checkups. Expect to be handed a grade report and discuss:

  • Test average
  • Homework average
  • Overall grade
  • Any missing homework
  • Suggestions for improvement

Take notes

Parents can receive a lot of information in very condensed form during conferences. Rempel says she offers pointers like homework organization or encouraging a student to check against a calculator. Langbehn will discuss more abstract skills, such as a student’s ability to navigate art criticism or form their own ideas about what makes good art.

Whatever the subject, jot down the teacher’s suggestions and refer to them the next time you help your child with homework.

A teacher may even offer insight directly from your child. A few days before conferences, Rempel has her students write three sentences on their own grade reports. “I have sentence starters for them to choose from: I’m doing awesome at blank, I’m not really understanding blank, I participate by blank.” That way parents can hear in a student’s own words what’s going on in class.

Ask how to take grades to the next level

If maintaining a specific grade point is important to you and your child, ask for specifics: “If my child has a B and I want them to have an A, what else could they do?” Paying attention to grades posted online is another way to monitor progress, Rempel says, and note any warning signs in particular subjects.

For improving on concepts like creatively solving for solutions, Langbehn suggests asking the teacher for more self-guided goals and projects to pursue outside the classroom. “That is a life skill now. You have to be able to think creatively.”

Be proactive with your communication

If you or the teacher mentioned concerns during your conference, Rempel strongly encourages contacting the teacher again in a few weeks. Langbehn adds that it’s important to find the best way to reach a particular teacher. “If we need to follow up, how will that happen?” she says. “I personally 
prefer e-mail.”

While Rempel encourages parents to attend at least the first conference of the year (you can usually expect one in fall and another in spring), she suggests sending an e-mail to a teacher if you’re not going to drop by.

“The important thing is that a parent and a teacher work together as a team,” Langbehn says. “It’s not just me telling a parent that your kid needs to do this.”

If all goes well, Rempel says parents can expect to hear, “They’re doing great. I appreciate your involvement in your child’s education, and if there are problems in the future, I will definitely contact you.”

Single Parent: Skip the 
Holiday Hoopla

December 17, 2013 by
Photography by Natalie Jensen Photography

As kids, we got to live the fantasy. But now, as adults, it’s up to us to create the fantasy of the man in the red suit and the wonderment of one’s faith during the holiday.

Being a single parent adds a unique, stressful, and pressure-filled layer all its own. Whether we want to make up for the fact that it’s only one adult doing all of the traditions, decorating, and planning to create those once in a lifetime memories, or even creating a substitute holiday because the kids won’t be there for the actual day—it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to get through the season.

Last year, I knocked it out of the park when it came to Christmas. We went to church Christmas Eve, had the family over for our traditional spaghetti dinner, and I bought everything on my children’s Christmas lists. And guess what? The day after Christmas, I still felt a little disappointed, like something was missing. And might I add, so did my kids. This actually got me angry, but then I had a revelation. Why did I kill myself to do all of these things if it goes unnoticed and unappreciated?

I began to take notice of what did stand out to my kids, and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t the most expensive item they got Christmas morning, but my homemade coupons for extra privileges, the scavenger hunt with cheap items that Grandma does every year, and the cash in the bottom of their stockings. Could it be that the most important and memorable things about the holidays were the heartfelt and thoughtful touches? Lesson learned.

I am relieved that the holidays can be just as special without all the hoopla.

Single Parent: What Does “Family 
Holiday” Mean Now?

November 19, 2013 by
Photography by Natalie Jensen Photography

The holiday season. I’m not sure if there is another phrase that can evoke such extreme emotions. In just one moment, it can put smiles on our faces and send chills down our spines. I could write all day long about how we have lost the meaning of the holidays, but I particularly want to talk about how we’ve lost our definition of “family holiday” during this traditional season.

Take Thanksgiving, for example. Before becoming a single parent, you probably cooked for your family—your spouse, your children, maybe even your extended families. Now, you might not even have your children on the actual day, which can be really lonely. We’re supposed to be thankful on this day, but that might be a hard emotion to muster when we’re at odds with our family situations.

This year, I’m challenging all single parents (myself included) to redefine what a “family holiday” is. After all, your definition of family has changed, so why shouldn’t your expectations for the holidays change as well?

One idea is to combine and celebrate with other single families in your situation. It cuts down on costs and is an interesting way to create new traditions. Another option (if it’s not your time with the kids) is to team up with other kid-less adults and enjoy a more adult Thanksgiving meal. Whatever you do, just remember that “family” doesn’t always mean the spouse, the kids, and the white picket fence.

I’m not going to lie. Sometimes, the holidays cannot be over fast enough for me, but I have to remind myself not to glamorize what the holidays used to be like. If I’m honest, they were usually just as stressful for different reasons. So try to see the good, and don’t forget to be thankful.

Single Parent: Consistency

September 24, 2013 by
Photography by Natalie Jensen Photography

“It’s not what we do once in a while that changes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.”  Anthony Robbins 

It’s boring, I know, but consistency is a keyword to success in single parenting. Some of us come by this naturally; to others, consistency represents an uphill battle, especially when managing all of the parenting responsibilities on your own. But like everything else you do, just a little extra effort can result in big rewards.

Success always starts with goal setting. This can seem daunting because, when we first have our babies, we have grand plans and visions of them becoming great athletes or scholars, curing world hunger, and embodying powerful personalities with hearts of gold. And then you get into parenting, and you’re just glad that they can walk, talk, and clean their room. (Okay, most kids don’t clean their room. But when they do, it kind of feels like they cured world hunger.)

These are the goals that I have decided to make consistent in my family life: I want my kids to feel loved, so I make a point of setting aside time each day to tell them they’re special and priceless to me; I want them to look back at their lives and realize they felt safe, so I make sure that I do what I say I’m going to do to build security in them; I want to teach them responsibility, so I check grades every Sunday night to determine if they’re doing what they should be doing; I want faith to be a foundation for them, so we all go to church on Sundays, even when we don’t want to; I want them to live a healthy lifestyle, so we talk about portion control, and we go to the gym. Last but not least, I want them to be able to hold conversations with someone without looking at their phone.

Your idea of successful single parenting might be completely different than mine, but one thing is for sure—consistency is the key to parenting. Creating patterns and habits will determine who your kids will become.

Family Success Story: The Goertzes

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Have you ever seen that family that carts around tons of kids and wondered, “How in the world do they do it?” Look no further than the Goertz family of Bennington.

Larry and Heather Goertz have four kids: Tayler, 20, Zachary, 16, Kassidy, 14, and Amber, 10. That might already sound like a crazy brood, but it gets crazier. You see, the Goertzes are also foster parents to two different sets of kids. There are the four “little ones”—siblings ages 15 mos., 3, 4, and 5—who don’t live with them, but whom they see every few weeks from morning until night. And then there are the “five”—siblings ages 2½, 8, 10, 12, and 15—who are with them full-time. Sound crazy yet?

“There are hard days,” says Heather, who’s an occupational therapist. “But when we’re all together, that’s when it’s the greatest.” She says that getting the okay from their kids was very important to her and Larry when they made the decision to get involved with foster care. “We’re a foster family, not foster parents.”

Their foster care adventure began in 2011 after their oldest daughter, Tayler, graduated from high school. “It was hard letting go of her,” Heather explains. “[But] we looked around and thought, ‘You know what? We’ve got happy, healthy kids. We’re good at this thing. We have a lot to offer.’”

Larry and Heather Goertz

Larry and Heather Goertz

It started with a boy from Latvia. “Unfortunately, we had more bad days than good with him,” she says. He only stayed 28 days with the family before they all realized it wasn’t the right fit. But then the “little ones” found them; the “five,” too. They fit with the Goertzes much better. “Even with 13 kids in the house at times, it kind of comes easily when you’re doing what you love.”

Although the Goertzes’ youngest daughter, Amber, had to learn quickly that she was no longer the baby in the family, Heather believes the adjustment went smoothly. “We’re still getting to know each other, but we intentionally try to have dinner together three nights a week to become a closer family.”

“We’re a foster family, not foster parents.” – Heather Goertz

Sometimes, however, dinner presents a challenge for Heather (in fact, she’d say meals in general present a challenge). “Our ‘normal’ is healthy food every day and junk food occasionally. The foster kids’ ‘normal’ is the opposite. It’s a struggle to raise these kids without letting my personal health views get in the way. I’m supposed to keep them safe and healthy, but to what standard?”

Even though she wants to help her foster kids live healthier lifestyles, she thinks that forcing them to change their lifestyles when they’ve already faced trauma isn’t helpful. “It all comes through in its own timing,” she says.

One of her favorite stories about their food struggles is about one of the “five” trying broccoli for the first time. “I told him he could have a quarter if he tried it. He said make it a dollar, so I made him a deal that if he ate all of his broccoli, then he could have a dollar. After he did it, he used that dollar to buy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos,” she laughs.

Kassidy, Tayler, Zachary, and Amber Goertz

Kassidy, Tayler, Zachary, and Amber Goertz

Nevertheless, when times get tough, Larry and Heather have their solid marriage. After 17 years together, they’ve found their relationship to be at the core of everything. “We’ve felt numb before, and we’ve worked through some really hard stuff, but every marriage that sticks together has its ups and downs. Still, our purpose always comes back to family and whatever children God gives us or brings to our doorstep,” she says.

Of course, Heather feels a strong faith and a positive attitude are the main components of getting through the challenges each day presents. “I’m constantly in prayer,” she adds. “I try to focus on the good things…Sometimes, I’ll just turn up the radio and start twirling in the kitchen. You just have to break that negative energy and let go of how you think things should be.”

So why do the Goertzes take on such a challenging opportunity? For one, they’re risk-takers. “We’d rather take risks to do what’s right,” says Heather. But mostly, it’s because they’ve been blessed with a good life, and they want to extend that good life to others. “This is our mission work right here.

“As these kids come, they aren’t just here for a little while. They’re in our hearts forever. And we know in some ways we’ll be with them forever.”

Single Parent

Photography by Natalie Jensen Photography

“There are only two ways to live your life—one is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as if everything is.” – Albert Einstein

Single parenting comes in all shapes and sizes. Maybe it was because of a surprising divorce, the death of a spouse, or an unexpected, unwed pregnancy. Most of us don’t grow up dreaming about being a single parent. Usually, our dreams consist of a white picket fence, a harmonious house that smells of bread baking, a loving husband, and perfect children quietly playing in the background. Well, that life isn’t reality for a growing group of single parents in 2013. I’m hoping my column will give you a new perspective on single parenthood, as well as some much-needed relief.

I personally awoke from my fairytale five years ago. Suddenly, I was balancing my lack of income, providing a home, putting food on the table, and creating a consistent routine for three small children—not to mention walking my children through the effects of divorce and the stigma of being from a “divorced family.” My path consisted of living with my parents for three years while I finished my college degree. After those long and sacrificial years, I was able to buy a house and provide for my children on my own again.

Being thrown into the role of a single mom developed a sudden closeness between my kids and me. Not only did we share a room practically piled on top of each other, but we talked about things we’d never talked about before. It became a time of healing, but I also found out more than I would’ve ever known about my children if we had all been tucked away in our separate rooms.

Not having extra money led to playing a lot of cards, long walks, bike rides, and watching old movies together. But most importantly, the lessons about life that they have learned are the most valuable. Pain doesn’t last forever. Prayer gives you strength. They watched me go through the process of starting over with strength and determination. Those lessons have been the unknown benefit of losing all my material things and becoming a single mom because what we do have is each other, and that turned out to be a better dream than I could’ve ever imagined.

Concussions and Young Athletes

Here’s a question for parents—Can you describe a concussion? It’s more than a headache or a momentary blackout. Doctors consider it a traumatic brain injury, ranging from mild to severe, caused by a blow or jolt to the head. With young athletes back on the field, Kody Moffatt, M.D., a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, wants parents, coaches, and trainers to know the signs.

“We know much more about concussions today than we did even a year or two ago. A concussion in a child or teenager is different than in an adult. The impact on the developing brain can be a real problem,” says Dr. Moffatt.

Football poses a risk, particularly when players tackle with their heads down.

“I tell parents that football, in general, is a safe sport as long as young people don’t lead with the head,” he explains. “Coaches in our area have been really good about teaching young, developing players to use the shoulder or chest as the first point of contact.”

Symptoms of a concussion are as individual as children themselves. Visible signs of a suspected concussion are:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slow to get up
  • Unsteady on feet, falling over, or trouble balancing
  • Dazed or blank look
  • Confused, not able to remember plays or events

Dr. Moffatt says athletes with a suspected concussion should not return to the field. They need to see a doctor. Immediate emergency care should be provided when the player is vomiting, has a seizure, experiences neck pain, is increasingly confused, or is unable to stay awake.

Nationally and across all levels of play, from professional to recreational leagues, the emphasis has been on “return to play.” This focus surrounds the safe return to the game following diagnosis and treatment. This fall, “return to learn” will receive increased attention, too.

“Before young athletes are returning to play, we need to get them back in the classroom symptom-free and able to learn like they did before the concussion,” says Dr. Moffatt. “We have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with a brain injury. This can result in learning problems that impact a student athlete’s academic performance.”

The new Sports Medicine Clinic at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center will work with student athletes, their families, and teachers to customize a “return to learn” plan. Dr. Moffatt considers it to be an important part of the recovery process.

“Return to learn is a significant step, in my mind. We’re considering cognitive function and how we help the brain heal,” he says. “We’ll work with schools to help kids get back on track in the classroom.”

The Sports Medicine Clinic at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center is open to families by appointment. No physician referral is needed. To make an appointment, call 402-955-PLAY (7529). For more information, visit ChildrensOmaha.org/SportsMedicine.

Passionate about pediatric sports medicine, Dr. Kody Moffatt is a highly regarded, well-known expert in the field. An athletic trainer turned pediatrician, he holds a Master of Science degree in orthopaedic surgery and is a Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Moffatt helps shape sports medicine policy on a state and national level as an advisor to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Nebraska High School Activities Association.

Project Everlast

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The first time Akeeme Halliburton was placed in foster care, he was in middle school. His infant brother had been born with drugs in his system, so he and his siblings were removed from their mother’s care and taken into protective custody until alternate care was found. He and his younger brother jumped between foster homes for a few years before they were allowed to return home. But when Halliburton was attending Central High School, his mom became physically abusive, so he called Child Protective Services, who placed him and his siblings back into the system.

“There were good memories and also some bad,” Halliburton, now 20, says of his years in foster care. “When I was younger, I was more of a rebel. I didn’t know why I was in foster care, and I just wanted to go home. When I was older, I just wanted to make a good impression so I could find a better home.”

Halliburton was placed with a foster mom the first time, though their relationship was often strained. “I volunteered at Creighton [Hospital] a lot and always got home pretty late, so she called the cops on me.”

The second time was with a foster dad, who let him volunteer and have more freedom, but Halliburton only received one meal a day, never had proper clothing for winter, and spent a lot of his time alone.

Fortunately, the last foster home he was in was with a woman who provided quality care. “She understood and listened,” he says. “I was a lot more obedient, too, because of the good environment. She didn’t just want me there for money; she cared about me.” But, eventually, Halliburton grew old enough that he was no longer able to remain in foster care.

“When I was younger, I was more of a rebel. I didn’t know why I was in foster care, and I just wanted to go home. When I was older, I just wanted to make a good impression so I could find a better home.” – Akeeme Halliburton, former foster child

While there is always concern for children within the foster care system, there has been a surprising lack of concern in what happens to the youth who age out of foster care when they turn 19. It’s a frightening thought for many former foster care youth, who no longer have a home, steady income, emotional support, medical care, transportation, or education. Worse, the statistics are against them. One in five young people who age out of foster care will be homeless before age 21.

Fortunately, Halliburton heard about Project Everlast, a grassroots effort that promotes community resources to improve a youth’s opportunities and networks for housing, transportation, and health care during the transition to adulthood.

Project Everlast formed in 2007, when the Nebraska Children & Families Foundation met with a steering committee of Omaha youth, the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services, the Sherwood Foundation, and the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation. Together, the youth and the representatives of the organizations developed an innovative plan to help aged-out foster care youth with resources for housing, transportation, health care, education, employment, personal and community engagement, and daily living.

Now, with youth-driven councils all across Nebraska—in Omaha, Lincoln, Norfolk, Grand Island, North Platte, Scottsbluff, Geneva, and Kearney—Project Everlast is able to provide a source of peer-to-peer support and mentoring to members, as well as allow foster care youth to have a voice in advocating for changes in agencies and systems, locally and statewide. The councils are open to any youth or young adult with foster care experience between the ages of 14-24 and are supported by a Youth Advisor, who provides training and support.

Project Everlast also has several community partners in Omaha that work with them to create a network of support for youth in transition, including Family Housing Advisory Services, Child Saving Institute, Central Plains Center for Services, Omaha Home for Boys, Lutheran Family Services, Heartland Family Service, and Youth Emergency Services.

“Foster care can be a very isolating experience, and decreasing that isolation is a vitally important part of our work.” – Rosey Higgs, associate vice president of Project Everlast

“My foster mom told me about [Project Everlast],” Halliburton says. “I didn’t know what it was, but I had seen some fliers outside of my school. We went to a group one day, and after that, I just started going more often and getting more involved. They gave me all kinds of numbers to call for help and resources on how to age out of foster care. If I hadn’t found them, I wouldn’t have aged out with as many benefits.”

“Our work is guided by young people in foster care and alumni of foster care,” says Rosey Higgs, associate vice president of Project Everlast.

Higgs, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, had some past experience in launching new initiatives for domestic violence, homelessness, and HIV prevention. When she heard about Project Everlast, she jumped at the chance to be a part of it and add child welfare into her career expertise. “I was instantly drawn to its philosophy and was really energized by the amazing group of young people who were involved,” she adds.

Although she provides oversight and direction to the Project Everlast initiative of the Nebraska Children & Families Foundation, Higgs’ primary responsibility is to convene with community members, nonprofit agencies, the government, and young people to address barriers faced by youth in transition from foster care to adulthood.

“While there is still work to be done, we are well on our way to creating a culture that seeks out and honors the inputs of [those with foster care familiarity] in administering services for youth in foster care and alumni…People who have experienced foster care have important insight to share as we write child welfare policy and create new programs.”

Other organizations focused on foster care often talk about transitioning foster care youth to adulthood through achievements of independence, but Higgs thinks that’s inaccurate. “Hardly anyone lives independently,” she states. “Most people have a network of trusted friends and family that they depend on for advice from time to time or even just for a social outlet. Foster care can be a very isolating experience, and decreasing that isolation is a vitally important part of our work.”

“Young people aging out of foster care require ongoing support so they can reach their full potential and take advantage of the opportunities Nebraska offers to other children their age,” says Mary Jo Pankoke, president of the Nebraska Children & Families Foundation.

Pankoke, who holds an undergraduate degree in education and a graduate degree in psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been with the foundation from the beginning of its creation in the 1990s. “We bring public and private sectors together throughout the state to prevent problems that threaten the well-being of our children. It’s a wonderful mission that motivates me every day.”

“Young people aging out of foster care require ongoing support so they can reach their full potential and take advantage of the opportunities Nebraska offers to other children their age.” – Mary Jo Pankoke, president of Nebraska Children & Families Foundation.

Having seen the results of Project Everlast’s work, Pankoke knows the initiative is going in the right direction. “In just two years, measuring success in Omaha, more youth received a high school diploma or GED and went on for more training…the number of youth with a paying job [went] from 55 percent before Project Everlast to 68 percent…[and] an increase in youth having full-time, stable employment [went] from 26 percent to 53 percent.”

Higgs and Pankoke both believe that it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure that all youth have a fair shot at becoming successful adults.

“I always encourage people to think about how they support their own children as they prepare for adulthood—youth in transition from foster care need exactly the same things,” says Higgs.

“We all win if youth can receive a high school diploma, prepare for meaningful work, find emotional support and connection when they need it, and have a safety net when money or housing becomes an issue,” says Pankoke.

As for Halliburton, his time in foster care and with Project Everlast has left quite the impression. He’s currently looking at colleges where he could study sociology and social work. “[Project Everlast] has been phenomenal,” he says. “Everything they’re doing is for the good of foster care…Any kids aging out of foster care should really think about coming in and getting involved because it’s a great asset.”

For more information, visit projecteverlastomaha.org.