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Parents offered advice, urged to ‘dream big’ for children at annual conference

Mike Jones from Educational Employees Credit Union gives a presentation to parents about how to teach their children about money during the Parent Institute “Dream Big” conference at Golden Valley High School in Merced on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017.
Mike Jones from Educational Employees Credit Union gives a presentation to parents about how to teach their children about money during the Parent Institute “Dream Big” conference at Golden Valley High School in Merced on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. bcalix@mercedsun-star.com

Switching smoothly between English and Spanish, Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch on Saturday told a theater full of Merced County parents and community members that, as a child, her parents had a bigger dream for her.

Castillo Kickbusch recounted the words of her mother, who had said: “I may be just a maid, but I’m not just any maid. I’m a world-class maid.

“I have bigger dreams for you,” she had said, with tears streaming down her face. “I don’t want you to clean toilets. So when you do something, be the best. I have a bigger dream, so I’ll clean toilets so you don’t have to.”

Castillo Kickbusch encouraged parents to have bigger dreams for their children, too, during her talk as the keynote speaker of the fourth annual Parent Institute “Dream Big” conference. Castillo Kickbusch told the story of her life, growing up in Texas with 10 siblings, and paid tribute to her late parents, who lived in a box car for a period of time.

She started her speech on a lighter note, joking that she went into STEM subjects “because my mother was the creator of the laser-guided ‘chancla,’ ” she said, referring to the flip-flop or slipper that some children know as a weapon of discipline.

The Army veteran’s message appealed to parents and the teens in the audience, and she encouraged them to partner with schools to create a bright future for Merced’s children.

“The district is not them and you,” she said. “It’s all of us. You are an equal partner.”

The annual daylong conference, held at Golden Valley High School, is geared toward helping parents become engaged in the community and their students’ education. It brings together more than 100 exhibitors to provide information on resources for parents and includes 25 workshops in English, Spanish and Hmong. This year’s keynote speakers were Castillo Kickbusch, who also is an author, and Francisco Reveles, a university educator.

Kevin Swartwood, Golden Valley’s principal, reassured parents that school staff want to help them. “We know there’s no handbook that tells you how to be a parent,” he said.

School officials also told parents – many of whom listened to messages translated into Spanish through headsets – not to fear for their children’s safety or about schools sharing their children’s information regarding immigration status.

Steve Tietjen, Merced County superintendent of schools, said the county board of education last week passed a resolution committing to not share student information with anyone other than parents.

“I know there’s a lot of controversy in our country right now about student safety on campus and information security,” Tietjen said. “I want you all to feel secure when you’re called and asked to go to school and have a parent conference. You’re being asked to come because we want you to interact with the school. Your children are safe at school.”

This year’s conference added a new element designed for teens. In past years, many parents wanted to bring along their teens, said Rosa Barragan, a founder and organizer of the conference. This year, about 40 teens participated in their own branch of the conference, which was organized by high school students.

Hundreds of people attended, many returning for their second or third year.

The workshops were tailored to help parents support their children in and out of school. One was led by Mike Jones from the Educational Employees Credit Union. He gave a presentation with age-appropriate tips parents can use to teach children about money. It’s important for parents to make cash purchases when their children are young and to take their children to work to see how money is earned, he said.

“Let them make choices, even if you know they’re going to fail,” he said.

A parent returning to the conference this year was Ana Mijares, who said she wanted to make sure the college financial aid process hadn’t changed as her youngest child prepared for college.

Last year, she found a workshop on gangs particularly helpful.

“I’m from Dos Palos, and lately there’s been a lot of gang problems,” she said. “Some of my son’s schoolmates have been killed. These are kids I’ve known since they were in kindergarten.”

Mijares said she also appreciated the motivational speakers.

“I like that they share about their lives,” she said. “They tell us that if you put your mind to something, you can do it.”

Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477

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