Family University


Natalie Garson, Contributing Writer

Because teenagers in Hastings and beyond have struggled with mental health and substance abuse, the Hastings School District has relaunched the Family University program. 

The program aims to educate parents and students about substance abuse and mental health, and, in the long-term, to ameliorate the rates of teenage substance abuse in Hastings.

Family University was started in 2018 and continued for two consecutive years until the pandemic disrupted it. This year, it was resumed on April 20th in a virtual format.

Though the virtual format altered the program, in many ways, it resembled its original form, which had been a great success, according to Mr. Adipietro, HHS principal. Instead of a keynote speaker for parents and students, which was a feature of the pre-pandemic program, there was a presentation, giving an overview of the Youth Drug and Alcohol Survey results. Then, parents and students chose a specialized workshop with a specific topic, ranging from how to employ mindfulness practices to understanding teen drug use.

There were some unique benefits to the virtual format. 

“If people are running late, all they have to do is go home and turn their computer on and go to a link, as opposed to worrying about finding parking, and then coming in and trying to figure out where the workshop is,” said Christina Repp, a member of the WAY Coalition and a HHS social worker.

The topics of the workshops change slightly from year to year, but the overall message has stayed the same. Mr. Adipietro said, “The goals are always focused around mental health, social, emotional learning, drugs and alcohol, [but] we may be heavier one year on a certain topic.”

As Linda Fosina, the WAY Coalition coordinator, put it, “[Family University hopes] to bring the community together, and to provide education for youth and their parents.”

Over the years, the program has achieved success. In 2018 and 2019, over 300 people attended, and attendance has grown each year. According to Fosina, “It has been a very popular event.” 

The program, originated  in the Katonah-Lewisboro district around twenty years ago, has since been adopted by many districts. New Rochelle ran a Family University program while Fosina was there, so when she came to Hastings, she brought up the idea of the program to the school. In addition to Family University, the WAY Coalition works in multiple ways to try to drive down rates of teenage substance abuse in Hastings. For example, the coalition, as part of the Drug Free Communities grant that it operates under, is required to administer a Youth Survey every two years to “determine patterns of substance use, perceptions of harm and risk and protective factors… and [help analyze] trends over time.”

Hastings rates of alcohol and marijuana use, according to the survey, exceed the national average, but its rates of e-cigarette and prescription drug use are lower or similar to the national average.  Recently, the numbers have been trending down. Whether or not the pandemic affected them has yet to be determined.

The WAY Coalition also “raises awareness and educates the community through weekly social media posts,” said Fosina.

Family University is certainly not the only way that the village and the district address mental health and substance abuse, but it has proven to be both an important and effective tool. For any student or parent who was not able to attend this year’s program, a recording of the entire program will be shared and available for all students.