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Green Mountain College Provides Online Course For Parents Of First-Year Students

Nina Keck
Green Mountain College in Poultney is offering an online course for parents of first-year students in order to help them adjust to and support their child in college.

This fall, more than 20 million students are expected to attend college in the United States. For first-year students and their parents, it's an especially exciting and bittersweet time.

For parents who have not been to college themselves, however, it can be confusing and unclear how best to be supportive. And for parents who may be too involved with their kids – the so-called "helicopter parents" – it can be hard to let go.

That's why for the first time, Green Mountain College in Poultney has an online course for parents to help them adjust to and better support their child in college. 

As colleges go, Green Mountain is small. Its lush green lawns, stately red brick buildings and sustainable farm are nestled between the Taconic and Green Mountains. Slightly more than 400 students live on campus.  Another 130 commute or are in graduate studies.

For those in the dorms, this past Friday was move-in day.

Kathy Bradley of Perkinsville helped her son Michael unload boxes, while junior Cody Bradshaw, a student dorm advisor, helped out.

Michael Bradley pointed to his new twin bed with a doubtful look toward his mom. At 6 feet, 5 inches, it's clear he'll need something longer.

"I was going to say, I think you're going to hang off that bed, Mike," laughed Kathy.

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
Kathy Bradley helps her son Michael move in to his new dorm room at Green Mountain College. While she has another son who graduated from college, she likes that Green Mountain College is offering an online course specifically for parents.

Bradshaw nodded.  

"I'll work on it," Bradshaw said. "I just have to contact Chris in our office who has a lot of the extended frames, so we'll figure it out."  

With the bed issue temporarily addressed, mother and son go back to bringing in boxes and putting away hang-ups.

This is not Kathy Bradley's first time seeing a child off to college. She says her oldest son just graduated from Castleton and she attended Green Mountain College herself years ago. 

Still, when it's mentioned the college has created a new online course specifically designed for parents, she's interested.

"I would take the course," she says.  "Just for more information. It makes you feel more at ease."

"I'm probably an overprotective mother," Kathy Bradley admits, “but any time I'm entrusting my child to someone else, the more information I can have about where he's at and what he's doing and what they're expecting from him, you can all be on the same page.”

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
A banner welcomes students to Bogue Hall, one of the residence halls at Green Mountain College, last Friday.

Upstairs, more first-years are welcomed and given the lay of the land. Lucas and Bernadette Foster of Lowell, Massachusetts are moving in their only daughter, Sera.

Lucas Foster says he's not sure how helpful a parents' course would be to him. But his wife Bernadette Foster likes the idea. She completed college a few years ago as an adult and never experienced what it was like to live on campus.

"I think it would have been more helpful for us in particular if we would have been offered something earlier in the stages of getting to this point," she says. "Because that's where we've had our most difficulties – like, we've commuted four hours and we didn't have all the things we needed when we got here."

"And that was confusing," Bernadette Foster admits. “And I couldn't really provide [Sera] with help because I had no idea. I'm looking at her to tell me what we need."

Besides providing information on course work, faculty and campus life, the online parents' course also provides tips on how best to support a college student without over-parenting. There's even an optional quiz.

Luke Krueger is in charge of residence life at Green Mountain College.  He says uber-involved parents can be frustrating, but he says college administrators are starting to look at the phenomenon differently now. 

"We look at helicopter parents as an asset. You want parents who are connected and involved; you need to utilize the energy somehow." — Luke Krueger, Green Mountain College Director of Residential Life

"We look at helicopter parents as an asset," Krueger says. "You want parents who are connected and involved; you need to utilize the energy somehow."  

He says Virginia Commonwealth University gave a workshop on this at a conference he attended last year and he says they talked about an online course they created for first-year parents, which really impressed him.

Heather Keith, a philosophy professor and Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Green Mountain College, liked the concept as well. She led the team that designed the new parents' course for their school.?

"[We're] not just giving them a web page with information, but really giving them an opportunity to learn about the college and the education students are getting," Keith says.

Keith says the college wants students to learn to advocate for themselves and be resilient, so the course provides parents with tips on how to encourage that, as well.

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
Tina Guarin, Micah Mills and Miranda Bailey-Russomano, all Green Mountain College juniors, staff an information table last Friday – the day many first-year students moved to campus.

Irena Martin drove up from Long Island and was thrilled to hear about the course for parents. She grew up in Russia and had gone to college there, which she says was a very different experience from what her daughter will likely get in Vermont.

"That's why I'm like, blindfolded," Martin admits, shaking her head. "I am discovering everything the way she is and unfortunately, I'm not the best person to advise her on certain things because I've never done it. So this program is, for people like me, actually the best."

But today, she says, is hard. Martin's eyes tear up as she talks about heading back to Long Island without her daughter. 

"We've been together 18 years, and now I have to let her go. I can't stop crying," she says, shaking her head. "It's embarrassing."

Now if colleges could just design a class to make those goodbyes a bit easier.

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