Parents Getting Schooled
Last spring, Dr. Lisa Carruthers, Director of Counseling and Student Support, and Dr. Jim Holland, Westridge’s Research Initiative Coordinator, began thinking ahead to this December, when author and psychologist Lisa Damour is scheduled to speak about her 2019 book, Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, which was also the assigned summer reading for faculty and staff. Their meeting ended with a proposal to create a platform for parents to engage and discuss the book.
“We expected to get 12 or 15 people showing up,” said Holland. But when the class was released over the summer, an unexpected 130 parents signed up to attend. In the past, attendance at various parent-ed opportunities has been minimal, but the enthusiasm for this event was immediate and overwhelming.
“I think it says something about the topic,” Holland articulated, “which is pressure for girls in adolecence. It’s really a very central part of the experience of the students and the parents.” This positive response compelled Holland and Carruthers to rethink the structure and organization of the course in order to accommodate as many interested parents as possible.
Instead of grouping all the parents together, they chose to create six sections for the course. The small class size of 15 parents each, typical of student classes on campus, was also an integral aspect of their vision for parents. For Carruthers, the goal was to “create a conversation where people feel safe and comfortable sharing about their own experiences.”
“We did not want it to be a lecture on the content of the book from us to the parents,” Holland explained, but rather “an opportunity for them to build relationships with one another and really take the ideas in the book and make them very personal to their own experience.”
The course also encourages parents to get to know one another and build connections. Because Holland and Carruthers assigned parents to specific sections without regarding the age or grade of their student, the classes consist of parents ranging from fourth through twelfth grade. “We’re not just focusing on Upper School ideas,” noted Holland. They want to foster an inclusive environment, which Carruthers has already noticed in parents’ eagerness to offer advice to others.
“All conversations are confidential, but knowing that other parents have similar concerns and experiences, as well as hearing some techniques to manage anxiety is helpful,” noted Westridge Parent Ruth Coyne. “Mental health issues need the same type of support as physical ailments. This is a great start and shows that the Westridge community is doing what it can to provide parents with education and support.”
Although only halfway finished with the course, Holland and Carruthers have introduced an important book and topic that resonate with the larger Westridge community. “It’s really parallel to the themes of empathy and connection for the year,” explained Holland. “We’re trying to allow the parents to experience those feelings.”