By BEN ROWE
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Feeding goats and good grades were just two of the topics at a unique parent-teacher conference held recently at Bankers Orchard.
The third-annual All Together Fall Educational Festival welcomed parents, students and educators from around the North Country to gather at the orchard for a free afternoon of fun and conversation.
While the children enjoyed face-painting and visiting farm animals, their parents spoke with teachers about how they could work together to better assist students.
Saranac High School science teacher Michele Bushey organized the first festival in 2011 in an effort to bring parents and educators together to talk in a casual environment.
Based on the positive response the event received, she hopes not only to continue hosting it but to expand it to twice a year if possible.
School districts represented at the event included Ausable Valley, Beekmantown, Chazy, Malone, Moriah, Plattsburgh, Peru, Saranac and Saranac Lake.
One of the main goals that Bushey said she had for the festival was to reinforce the idea that parents and teachers share similar goals for the educational environment in New York state and to empower parents to work with educators and become more involved in their children’s education.
“Parents have the ability to come together and say, ‘This is how this is impacting my child. What can we do to make this program work and still meet the challenges of today’s world?’” Bushey said.
Heidi Dennis of Chazy had attended the 2012 event and said she came back this year to discuss the Common Core Learning Standards that are being used to teach her children.
She was frustrated when the new Learning Standards were put in place and she realized her son, Caden, was expected to know material in second grade that he had not been taught in kindergarten and first grade.
“I can see my daughter in first grade is getting a foundation that (Caden) doesn’t have in second grade,” she said.
Educational standards and standardized testing were common topics of discussion at the event.
Though many parents said they understand the value of standards for students to work toward, they agreed that those in place now are often confusing or unrealistic.
The chance to educate these parents was a major part of the festival for Kathryn Brown, an English teacher at Chazy Central Rural School.
She said she tries not to force her own views on parents, but rather to provide them with the same information that she knows in order to make their own decisions on the standardization debate.
“We’re finding, as teachers and parents, that a lot of people just don’t have the information and are not quite sure where to find the information or they’re getting mixed messages in the media about education and our schools,” Brown said.
She invited parents to attend a public forum set for 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, in room 200 of Yokum Hall at SUNY Plattsburgh to discuss topics that include standardized tests, school funding and Common Core curriculum.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey will deliver the keynote address at the event, which Brown said is designed to encourage parents to express their concerns, find common issues and work together to develop solutions.
Although many conversations at the recent event centered on problems with local schools, Bushey said it is equally important for the community to highlight and praise what the schools are doing correctly.
“It’s about being positive and looking at what’s good and working well,” she said.
With this goal in mind, the festival showcased student artwork from Saranac High School and has featured performances from student musicians.
Bushey said she tried to give particular attention to art and music since these programs are often the most vulnerable to budget cuts despite their value to a student’s overall education.
The Fall Festival was sponsored by the North Country Alliance for Public Education, North Country Educators, Northeast Central Labor Council and Alliance for Quality Education.