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McKee students, parents learn new skills

| Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Jeannette High School and former JAYS' student Mercades Bone spoke to the Strengthening Families Program participants about her experiences in high school. Bone is pictured with Penny Turner, who is the coordinator for the JAYS Program.
PHOTOS: Margie Stanislaw | The Jeannette Spirit
Grandmother Dee McAuliffe joins her grandchildren, Trent Marciniak and Mary Ellen McAuliffe, and her daughter, Candice McAuliffe, and Candice’s fiance Ralph Galbraith for a family meal at the Strengthening Families Program.
Gina Maier and son Caleb enjoy making family shields while attending the Strengthening Families Program.
Holly and Dalton Whitefield enjoy family meal time at the Strengthening Families Program Holly Whitefield said, “It was a good program. It helps you get close to your kids.”

Jeannette students and their parents gathered in the McKee Elementary and Middle School cafeteria this spring for a special meal and graduation celebration as part of the Strengthening Families Program for Parents and Youth, offered through the Penn State Extension.

The Strengthening Families Program is a seven-session evidence based program that works with youth ages 10 through 14 and their families to address teen behavioral problems and issues of substance abuse.

This is the third time that the class has been offered at the school. This session worked with 12 families and 14 students.

Candice McAuliffe and her mother, Dee McAuliffe, have attended the session with Candice's children, Trent Marciniak and Mary Ellen McAuliffe.

“I found out about the program at open house,” said McAuliffe. “I want to learn what to expect about drug usage and peer pressure and how to handle it. I've been through it myself, but it's different when your kids are going through it.”

The evening starts with a family meal.

“We serve a well-balanced nutritional meal and the families sit down together and enjoy that family meal time, which sometimes doesn't happen anymore,” said Anne Lail, Penn State Extension Educator.

After the meal, the parents and children meet separately with Penn State Extension educators — with adults learning and discussing parenting techniques to help them deal with their children during adolescence.

Parents review subjects that include parental love and limits, making rules, encouraging good behavior, using consequences, protecting against substance abuse and getting help through community resources.

Gina Maier and her son, Caleb, attended the sessions. Caleb is a middle school student and also attends the Jays after school program.

“We were going through a tough time and it (the classes) came at a time when we could do this together and help each other,” said Maier. “We learned to understand each other a lot better. I learned better ways to talk to my son.”

During student time, subjects such as having goals and dreams, appreciating parents, dealing with stress, following rules, dealing with peer pressure and reaching out to others were discussed. Caleb said he “liked everything.”

There were also family sessions, informative videos and, at the last session, a panel of high school students spoke to the youth about going to high school in Jeannette and what to expect.

Panel members included Cody Streussnig, Nicholas Clemens, Yolanda Stape and Mercades Bone. Yolanda Stape said the students were asked to participate because they can be “good role models.”

The Strengthening Families Program for Parents and Youth will be offered at Jeannette McKee Middle School again in October and is open to Jeannette families.

The program is thoroughly researched and shows good outcomes for families and youth who attend. It is reported through Penn State that youth who attend the program increase refusal skills 56 percent in regard to negative peer pressure and increase stress coping skills by 53 percent.

The program is also looking for facilitators, teen assistants, child care providers and fidelity observers to rate the curriculum delivery.

There will be a facilitator training and certification workshop for the Jeannette site on June 10, 11 and 12, at Penn State Extension. This training is free.

Anyone interested in the positions or the facilitator training, should contact Anne Lail at Penn State Extension, at 724-837-1402 or by email at

Margie Stanislaw is a contributing writer.