Metro's 19th Annual Parent Conference Empowers MEF Families

The Metro Achievement Center for Girls hosted its 17th annual Parent Conference on Saturday, April 22nd. Midtown and Metro parents gathered at the center for a day of riveting talks from retired grade school principal Gladys Davis, members of the Discover Financial team and the Pilgrim Christakis law team, MEF Board Member Patti Lechner, and retired Chicago Police Lieutenant Joe Serb. 

Gladys Davis, a mother of six and grandmother of twelve, opened the conference with a talk on the importance of family, offering ideas for bringing the family together (including engaging the family in the work of the home, satisfying family meals without technology, and embracing the extended family when possible). Center director Erin Aldrich then reinforced Davis’ speaking points with personal stories from her upbringing, expressing how they still currently affect her as an adult today.

The Discover Financial and Pilgrim Christakis teams generously provided donuts for all attendees before parents split up to attend various workshops. Each presentation offered valuable insights, as well as a forum for parents to talk with each other and ask questions. Below is a brief recap of each immersive workshop.

Navigating Credit Reports and the Financial Aid Process


Presented by: Discover Finance Team - Andrew Budish, David Curcio, Sulejman Dizdarevic, Timothy Kaiser, Jessica Scheppmann, Jeffrey Wood; Pilgrim Christakis - John Crees, Matthew Stromquist.

The Discover Financial team partnered with credit lawyers from Pilgrim Christakis to present a workshop on financial responsibility and navigating the college financial aid process. After an overview of personal credit with advice on how to improve and monitor credit scores, the team provided a roadmap for enrolling into college. This included explaining different types of financial aid, loans, grants and scholarships available to students and families, as well as important dates and a timeline of the entire process.

As many Midtown and Metro students are first-generation college students (and often first-in-family), this advice proved priceless for families looking ahead to the often daunting task of college enrollment. After the workshop, the team handed out packets to each family, which recapped the presentation and provided valuable links for scholarships and financial aid (also explaining how to identify scam websites along the way). At the conclusion of each session, the entire team also stayed to talk with families and address individual financial questions.

Valuable websites with resources for parents: - A legit website and resource, which provides a free credit report once per year. - The Illinois Student Assistance Commission website provides direct assistance to students and families in navigating the college-going and financial aid process.

Family Communication in a Digital Age

Presented by: Patti Lechner (Mother of six children, Metro teacher, MEF Board Member)

Former Metro teacher and MEF Board member Patti Lechner gave a fascinating talk on the importance of properly harnessing and monitoring technology in the lives of both parents and children in this digital age. Technology is a topic that often comes up at Midtown and Metro Parent Program events. Lechner provided many insights on the importance of controlling technology rather than letting it control us as well as the critical need for person-to-person communication within the family. She was able to support these claims with impressive findings from professors, cyber security experts, and even a biologist which helped parents to see the far-reaching effects technology can have on children as developing individuals and as members of the family unit.

Parents were able to ask Lechner questions pertaining to specific personal challenges with regard to their children’s technology use which opened up a fantastic discussion between parents where best practices were shared. Tips and tricks were exchanged to help get kids off the computer and engaged in the world around them in light of homework moving toward being predominantly internet based. Lechner pressed upon the idea that as long as the internet is being used to learn and create it is serving a great purpose. However, when we begin to use the internet and social media to supplant human interactions and to gain validation and self-esteem, we begin to run into trouble.

Valuable websites with resources for parents to limit, govern, and guide children’s internet use and ensure that predators are not engaging your children online: (Formerly Spector)

Loving the Home, Loving the World

Presented by: Joe Serb (Retired Chicago Police Lieutenant, Father of six)

Retired Chicago Police Lieutenant Joe Serb spoke of his life as a Chicago police officer, his relationship with his wife of 30 years, and the challenges he has faced as a parent of six. Serb opened with a quote, "Experience is something you gain right after you need it," before showing a picture of his own family and stating, "This is where I gained the most experience."

Parents identified with Serb's humble, self-deprecating approach, as he told stories of mistakes, patience through tough times and leaning on God and one's family to persevere through these tough times.

Parenting can be like juggling a bowling ball, a golf club and a stick of dynamite, all at the same time.
— Joe Serb, presenter at Metro Parent Conference

Serb referenced Joseph as his hero many times, as 'an imperfect man, trying to raise a perfect family.' He spoke of Joseph's many trials in raising Jesus, and how he always listened to God, even when he did not understand the plan. "God's plan isn't always the same as ours. You'll go through a lot of tough times with your children, but trust God, and his plan."

Serb did not sugarcoat the difficulties in raising a family, stating "Parenting can be like juggling a bowling ball, a golf club and a stick of dynamite, all at the same time." He encouraged taking a big-picture view when raising children and for parents to 'discipline with charity,' focusing on making choices to help them be eventual successful  adults, rather than 'trying to be their friend every step of the way.'

Serb offered many practical points during his talk, which included: 

1. Everyone has a vote, and everyone has free will, including our children. Drawing from a saying from his days with the police force, Serb emphasized that in any situation where a person is trying to get another person to cooperate, the other person has a choice in the matter, including our children. It's important to respect that, but also maintain one's role as a parent.
2. Good or bad, you set the example for your children. Serb stopped watching certain shows because he realized he is always the example for his children. Serb stated that if he deems something inappropriate for them, it is most likely inappropriate for him as well.
3. Pick your battles, and wage them lovingly. There may be times where you know something about your child's behavior, but you do not always have to bring it up. It's also okay to bring up tough things to talk about, but through any confrontation or argument, always keep communication lines open, as they will still need a parent as a lifeline to come back to.
4. The time we spend with our children is among of the most important parts of parenting.  Providing for your family is important, but contact time is what they will remember. Constantly remind them that you are there, and even when you cannot be there, get them contact time with people whom you respect.

Throughout the year, Midtown and Metro's Parent Program serves the families of students who attend the programs with discussions, lessons, and virtues that mirror student curriculum. The Annual Parent Conference is a capstone event in this annual program.