Harrisburg community leaders discuss ways to help students overcome obstacles

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A panel discussion held Tuesday at John Harris High School sought to find ways to teach resilience to children so that they could overcome obstacles.

When you look at the difficulties of educating children, educators say some of the biggest challenges come from within the home, but experts say connecting families to helpful resources is also a struggle.

"They are communities with wonderful resources that are disconnected to the students and families that need them the most," Ryan Riley, state director of Communities In Schools Pennsylvania, said. "And what that endures over a period of time is toxic stress, and that toxic stress has a phenomenal impact on the way our students learn and therefore the way our families succeed in our community."

The panel screened a documentary called "Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope," which argues that outside circumstances like poverty, hunger and abuse may not necessarily be things a child remembers in the mind, but the body does, and it needs training on how to respond.

"Living just in the present means that you cannot change things as they happen," Hector Ortiz, a professor at Central Penn College, said. "You cannot change them; the only thing that one can change is how you respond to the things that happen to you."

One of the long-term goals is to be able to teach children how to be resilient so they can overcome obstacles to succeed not only in school, but beyond.

"What sources we have, what resources the community has in order to recover themselves from any struggles that we may face, particularly difficulties that happen in life every single day," Ortiz said.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the Communities In Schools organization, which organized the panel with Mission Central, works toward dropout prevention in school districts across the state, and says it wants to give families the tools they need to get ahead.

"They didn't choose to be poor, they didn't choose for their parents to be under-educated, or under-employed, they didn't choose poverty, so how do you remove those challenges and allow those students to succeed," Riley said.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.