Crystal Casal's daughter Londyn was nervous about going to kindergarten.
As a preschool teacher, Casal understood the angst of first-time students and their parents. She too felt uneasy last spring about sending her then-preschooler to Egremont Elementary School this academic year.
Casal and her first-born overcame the trepidation about the first day of school, though, thanks to the annual Pre-K Day, held in May at all eight elementary schools in the Pittsfield Public Schools system.
"Parents and students get to meet all the professionals, talk with the principals and school adjustment counselors and tour the buildings," said Donna Manns, a kindergarten teacher at Williams Elementary School.
Casal says advance introduction to Egremont proved beneficial to Londyn on the first day of classes in September.
"She was excited because she knew where she was going," said Casal. "For me, it's helpful to know who is with your child."
Casal and Manns are also members of the Pittsfield Transition Team, a group of school educators and parents charged with helping would-be kindergartners prepare for the start of 13 years of public education. The team, which coordinates Pre-K Day, is one of numerous groups, programs and services within Berkshire County school districts that engage parents in their children's education and help students navigate their way to a high school diploma.
In the Berkshire Hills Regional School District in Great Barrington, the Parent Mentoring Program helps build a support network for moms and dads of elementary, middle and high school students.
Since the program debuted two years ago, district officials have trained parents to mentor other parents and conduct monthly community forums. The programs have ranged from making parents aware of the cultural diversity in the school system to helping them understand the role of technology in raising their children.
Susan and Jeremy Higa, parents of a kindergartner, a second- and seventh-grader, recently attended a forum titled, "Navigating the Digital Age." They said the open and frank discussion with other parents and district educators will help the couple deal with what and how much technology is appropriate for their offspring.
"While we have our own fears of too much screen time, it's about setting up values and limits [for our children]," Susan Higa said.
The Parent Mentoring Program also breaks down the disconnect that has developed over the years among parents, and between parents and school administrators, according to Ed Abrahams, father of 2-, 13- and 16-year-olds.
"When my daughter had an eighth-grade graduation party, she had 45 kids over, some for the first time," he recalled. "Only one parent walked up my driveway to make sure an adult was there [to supervise]."
For busy, working parents, they have come to rely on school districts to keep their children active and in learning-mode long after the final bell has sounded for the day.
Athletics, drama, clubs, and homework assistance are among the numerous activities and services that involve 65 to 75 percent of students and teachers, grades 7 through 12, at Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield, according to school officials. The middle and high school, serving the five-town Southern Berkshire Regional School District, offers extracurricular activities that cater to student interests and give their parents peace of mind.
"These kids don't go home after school," said Mount Everett Student Support Coordinator Paul Collins. "They want to stay here -- it's a safety net."
Ian Stone cites how his 18-year-old son, senior Cooper Stone, has benefited since moving to the district four years ago.
"I had some luck in [that] Cooper was a good fit for [Mount Everett]," said the father. "As college came on the horizon, he had informative and helpful conversations with teachers that have helped us both."
In addition, Mount Everett has the Student Advisory Program, whereby up to 10 students are assigned to a teacher, who in turn provide guidance or simply lend an ear on the topic or issue of concern. Mount Everett's middle school team leader, Jesse Carpenter, says student advisers help students forge better relationships with adults. This in turn can help improve communication at home, keeping parents informed of and involved in their child's learning.
"Support of parents has become a new job of schools," Carpenter said. "We're all in [education] together. And if we're all on the same page, it helps. I think parents recognize that."
Parents are also starting to recognize planning for life beyond high school begins long before Graduation Day.
Amy and Tom Consolati and their oldest, Andrew Consolati, started college hunting while he was in seventh grade at Lee Middle and High School. Now a senior, Andrew has been accepted to four colleges by staying focused in school with the help of his parents and teachers.
"He's had a lot of positive mentors, including Dan who has been fantastic," said Amy Consolati, referring to Lee High guidance counselor Dan Korte.
Korte says Andrew Consolati is among the many students who have availed themselves of classes and activities that prepare them for college, the workforce or the military. From personality assessments taken by freshman to resume writing and Career Fair Day during the junior year, students get a sense of the "real world" before entering 12th grade, he said.
"The process alleviates a lot of anxiety for kids," said Korte. "They feel more confident of plans in their senior year."
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.
Upcoming school dates for parents
n Pittsfield Public Schools
Kindergarten registration for the 2014-15 school year is at the Mercer Building, 269 First St., Pittsfield. The dates are March 3, 4 and 5 for children whose last names begin with J-R; March 10,11 and 12 for last name S-Z. Monday registrations are from 8-11 a.m.; Tuesday registrations are from 1-3 p.m.; Wednesday registrations are 4-6 p.m. Registration for children with last names beginning A through I was Feb. 24-26.
The School Readiness Fair is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., April 12, at the Berkshire Mall. The program is open to all parents of 3- and 6-year-olds in Berkshire County.
n Adams' St. Stanislaus Kostka
The registration and open house at St. Stanislaus Kostka School is from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on March 2. Call (413) 743-1091 for more information.
n Adams-Cheshire Regional School District
Prescreening for Adams and Cheshire 3- and 4-year-olds is March 12 and 13 at Cheshire Elementary School. For an appointment, call (413) 743-5202, ext. 1107, by March 10.
n Central Berkshire Regional School District
Kindergarten registration and hearing and vision screening for 2014-2015 school year is March 6-7 at Becket Washington School; March 4 and 6 at Berkshire Trail Elementary School (Cummington and Windsor); March 3-7 at Craneville School in Dalton; and March 3-4 at Kittredge School (Hinsdale and Peru).
n Lee Public Schools
The Career Fair Day is from 9-11:30 a.m., April 17, at Lee Middle and High School. (Lee students only.)
n Williamstown Elementary School
Annual screening for Williamstown pre-schoolers is March 13 and 14 at St. Patrick and Raphael Parish Center. For an appointment, call (413) 458-5707, ext. 3034.