Wisdom Workout

Plain Speaking

Mark Dressler, a drama teacher extraordinaire who has supplied leadership for the drama programs at Laguna Beach schools for many years, took the time to write a note to the editor in response to my column of a few weeks ago about the “Think It Over” parenting project at Thurston Middle School.

As a result, I got the opportunity to follow up with Penny Dressler, who brought this experiential and educational program to Thurston.

Penny is Mark’s wife. She is an educator with a vision and a strong commitment to match. She is dedicated to maintaining high standards of health education for our seventh and eighth graders that foster a basis for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Mrs. Dressler has a strong, consistent message that underlies everything she does with her students. “I want them to understand that choices have consequences,” she said. “Choices produce results. Sometimes good results and sometimes bad.”

I asked what was the main thing that her students reported learning from their weekend parenting project. “They often remark on what society’s response is to seeing teenagers with a baby in their arms,” she answered. “They also become highly aware of what sacrifices their parents have had to make to raise them. They realize that they only had to give up a weekend with friends and they found it very difficult, demanding and time-consuming. The program brings home the facts that parenting takes time, restricts freedom and costs money.”

Mrs. Dressler currently has her students involved in a comprehensive research project. She divides her students into mixed groups that take on a specific issue that is prevalent in our society today. Each group will be gathering concrete data and exploring their personal views on such topics as bullying and cyber-bullying, alcohol and drugs, tobacco, sexual promiscuity, eating disorders, and depression.

The health program is an academic subject. It used to be housed under the science department, but in order to do the curriculum justice, it has a place of its own in the physical education department.

It was such a delight to experience the boundless energy and enthusiasm Mrs. Dressler has for her students and the important work she is doing. When I mentioned that her approach seems to be refreshingly grounded in values clarification, she responded, “I think it is so important to help prepare our children with information to help them make discerning choices. I guess if I were to put a name to it, I would call it ethics.”

As we discussed the job of parenting and how complex it is, we touched on the subject of parenting and the role of communication with our children. It seems that some of us are hesitant to directly communicate our wants and desires to our children. We tend to get caught in “parenting around” rather than direct parenting practices, assuming that our children “must know” what we want for them and from them. We figure it is obvious. We want them to be healthy, wealthy, wise, loving and caring adults who function well in the world. When they are teenagers, trying to talk directly to them about touchy issues can be like yelling down a well. Often the response is a grunt and an eye-roll.

Mrs. Dressler stated more than once that the real truth is that our children do not want to disappoint us. I think this is a powerful point to remember. “Clearly communicating what your desires are for your children regarding drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, etc. and letting them know the real and direct consequences they will receive, gives them clear direction,” she explained.

Thanks Penny. We are really lucky to have such a dedicated educator in our community.


Susan Velasquez is a local author and seminar producer. Her book, “Beyond Intellect” is available in our local bookstores and at Amazon.com. Learn more at www.susanvelasquez.com or contact her at (949) 494-7773.



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