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Tuesdays with Greensburg Salem students brings understanding, wisdom to parents

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 9:39 p.m.

Tuesdays with Samantha have been enlightening.

For the past six Tuesday evenings, Pellegrino Fiore and his 12-year-old daughter, Samantha, have gone their separate ways inside Greensburg Salem Middle School to better learn about one another.

They were among the parents and children who took part in PROSPER, a program coordinated by the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office in an effort to improve communication and listening skills between middle school children and their parents.

“It definitely gives you a lot more tools to work with at home,” said Fiore, a Greensburg dad.

During the free program, held over a total of seven Tuesday evenings, parents and children sit with their peer group for a one-hour session and learn about themselves and their families.

They then meet for another hour with their families.

Before they even begin, parents and children sit down for a family meal.

The PROSPER curriculum “Strengthening Families” has been used for three years in Greensburg Salem. This year's group will hold a graduation ceremony on Tuesday.

Organizers intend to expand the program by offering it to fifth-graders and their parents in late January.

“We offer parents a lot of skills,” said Anne Lail, PROSPER team leader. “We don't anticipate the parents will use all the skills, but we give a broad range of skills they can use.”

At the fifth session, parents learned to avoid harsh criticism, to listen to their children's feelings and to meet their kids' basic needs in a positive way.

Their children learned that drugs and alcohol will keep them from reaching their goals and they heard about ways to resist peer pressure.

The program shows positive results, organizers said, such as higher academic success, greater involvement in school, and less hostility and less substance abuse.

PROSPER, which started in 2001, now involves about 5,000 Pennsylvania students each year. Grants pays for the programs in the schools.

It reaches students at a critical time, according to Greensburg Salem Superintendent Eileen Amato.

“Middle school is a challenging time for many families as children begin to challenge their parents' or caregivers' authority and want to bring more of their own voice to decisions,” she said.

“I think the PROSPER program allows for conversations to occur in a friendly environment without being a battleground simply because others are involved,” Amato said.

Keith and Tawnya Faulk of Salem attended sessions with their children, Jonah, 11, and Elias, 10.

Keith Faulk said he learned about himself while learning about his children.

“It's fun,” Elias said. “We get to do a lot of stuff and play games.”

At first, Jonah didn't want to attend classes, his father said.

“(After) the first meeting, he came out with a big smile on his face,” Keith Faulk said. “He had fun. They enjoyed it. It's set up for the kids to open up about themselves.”

Program instructor Lynna Thomas was assigned to the parents for the fifth session.

“I think it's an amazing program,” said Thomas, a part-time counselor at Westmoreland County Community College. “This is my fifth year as a facilitator. I think the materials are fantastic, and I think what people go away with is great.”

Brandon Bower, a cyberschool teacher in Pittsburgh, taught the children for that session.

“I think the strategies kids learn are easy to work into their everyday life,” Bower said. “I wish we got more families involved.”

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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