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Must-see TV -- for mom

For Cely Constanza, parenting in the age of COVID-19 and school closures has meant taking on several new roles.

Amid her usual tasks of working and juggling her own schoolwork as a BYU-Idaho online student, Cely is one of thousands of parents in the Rogue Valley who’s been overseeing her children’s learning and physical and mental well-being with pandemic restrictions still in place.

“It has changed a lot,” she said. “All the summer camps have been canceled and taekwondo has been canceled. We can’t even go and hug the people that we care about. So that has been a lot.”

The mother of three worries at times — about her son Cristian, who has been struggling with some negative emotions, headaches and low energy. A passionate advocate for maintaining mental health, Cely said she has wondered where the balance lies between pushing her kids to continue making academic progress and appreciating that all the stress and disruption may push other needs to the forefront.

To address those and other parenting anxieties and stresses, the Medford School District and the Children’s Advocacy Center recently teamed up on a project. MSD TV, the remote-learning programming that the district pioneered early in the school closure, added a new repertoire in the past week to its typically student-centered content by airing a few shows specifically for parents.

The intended beneficiaries of the shows, which feature three Medford parents sharing their questions and fears with a therapist from the Children’s Advocacy Center, are twofold — providing support to struggling parents contributes to creating safe environments for children, whose time at home has substantially increased with schools closed.

Tammi Pitzen, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center, said families of all backgrounds have been grappling with enormous changes over the past couple of months.

“This does put stress there that wasn’t there before,” Pitzen said.

Like Cely, Pitzen is a mother to a student displaced from his classroom. She described the disruption of the past few months as “stressful under the best of circumstances.”

Beyond that, though, Pitzen said that many parents are also dealing with financial burdens, unemployment, health worries and other increased tensions. All of those circumstances can heighten stress to a level at which abusive behaviors become more likely.

Limited child care options can make for another vulnerability to abuse, Pitzen said. Fewer available caretakers may mean that children are placed in less-than-ideal care situations so their parents can continue earning needed income.

And amid those circumstances, abuse reporting is down, Pitzen said. Experts nationwide agree that the lack of daily contact between school staff and students is likely to result in a surge in unreported abuse.

Because of that, Pitzen said, “we’re really focusing on primary prevention.”

It starts with education. And during this particularly isolated time, that might look as simple and powerful as communicating to parents: You are not the only one having a hard time. With help, you can find healthful ways to deal with these things.

Cynthia Wright, chair of the Medford School Board, was the catalyst for the partnership between the Children’s Advocacy Center and the MSD TV initiative.

“I was just worried about our kids and what they’re experiencing,” she said.

Wright has been a volunteer with the nonprofit for many years, and has led several of its “Darkness to Light” training programs across the valley. The training is about preventing and reporting child sexual abuse.

Leveraging her connections with both school district staff and the Children’s Advocacy Center to kickstart the TV idea, Wright helped pull together a couple of the parents willing to share their own questions and concerns about how to parent when school is out.

“One of the questions was, how much pressure do parents put on their kids right now to do really well academically?’” Wright said. “We don’t want families stressing out and adding to their stress to make sure everything’s done perfectly. That’s not what we’re concerned about right now. We want kids to be protected, that’s our bigger concern.”

Cely, a close friend of Wright’s and a parent featured in the MSD TV episodes that aired on partner TV stations this week, said she was grateful for the chance to participate. She already knew Catherine Zern, the Children’s Advocacy Center therapist who led the discussions with each parent.

“I really like the way she said to be grounded,” she said. “It gives me a sense of security. Recognize that it’s real ... that it’s affecting us. But how are we going to react?”

Cely leans on her faith to maintain hope, she said. But while she remains in a phase of parenting unfamiliar to her, any kind of support helps keep her whole family healthy, she said.

For the Children’s Advocacy Center, the episodes provided an outlet even as the usual in-person trainings remain off the table.

“So much of the work that we do is secondary,” Pitzen said. “This is an opportunity to partner with a local school district and to get this messaging out. And actually, the access is much greater than just for Medford School District.”

For those who have missed the broadcasts this week, the episodes for parents along with all shows from MSD TV can be found on the Medford School District YouTube channel.

More information about the Child Advocacy Center can be found at its website, www.cacjc.org.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Cely Contanza and her children Christian, Marely and Lesly in front of their Medford home. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune