Lansing at Large

‘Family navigator’ helps parents help students

Serena Ward (above) is Racker’s “family navigator,” assigned to Lansing Schools to support parents as they support their children at school.
Serena Ward (above) is Racker’s “family navigator,” assigned to Lansing Schools to support parents as they support their children at school.
Photo provided

Parents of struggling students in the Lansing Schools have a new resource to draw on, a “Family Navigator” assigned to the district on contract from Racker who can support them as they work with school officials and help them identify the resources they need to help their student.

School-Based Family Navigator Serena Ward is new to Lansing, but she is also very familiar with the problems parents face in working with students who need help to succeed.

“I came to this job as a parent of a kid who struggles,” Ward said. “When my 11-year-old was little and we lived somewhere else, she exhibited behaviors that made it hard to be a normal family. A playground visit turned into a disaster. We felt isolated, like we were the only family in this situation. People don’t talk about it - they are ashamed or embarrassed.”

The external view is what the public sees, Ward said, calling this view the “Facebook family” that looks perfect on the outside. But the public doesn’t talk about the hard stuff, she said.

“When we moved here, Racker got us connected with early intervention right away,” she said. “I started paying attention to that world. It was instrumental in helping us. She still struggles, but being connected to other families is helpful to us.”

Ward began her work in 2015 as a community-based family navigator, working across Tompkins County. Now, as a school-based resource, she builds bridges between families and their schools and tries to foster a positive partnership.

“Our job is to sit side-by-side with the parent,” Ward said. “Our kids may have various kinds of support, but the parents are left feeling unsupported. We might come with a parent to a school meeting, but I don’t even open my mouth. I sit beside them as a neutral party and take notes and be there with them afterwards to process the meeting.”

Ward said that many parents, especially those who may have had a bad experience in school themselves, might not want to engage with the school as adults. She is there to help.

“The meetings can be intense,” she said. “Often, parents are overwhelmed, and I can help them prepare. Sometimes, parents come to me when they are angry, and I help them plan how to approach the school in a positive way.”

Ward stressed that she doesn’t report back to the school about what she sees while interacting with the families.

“I am supervised by a clinical social worker who helps me when there are hard stories,” Ward said. “I share themes but never personal stories.”

Beyond basic emotional support, Ward also helps people find resources.

“It is never about ‘this is what you need to do’ but ‘what do you think you need?’” Ward said.

Ward said that, no matter the help she can provide, she tries to meet families where they are, connecting however they are most comfortable.

“We can do it on the phone, by email, over texts,” Ward said. “We can have coffee out in the community. I don’t have a space at Lansing, but often families don’t want to come to the school for ‘one more meeting.’ Sometimes, it is easier to meet somewhere else.”

It can be hard to make the call, Ward said.

“I get referrals from a variety of places,” Ward said. “School personnel reach out to me and say ‘there is a family that you could support,’ but I would ask them to check in with the family first and see if they want me to call them.”
That’s because when kids are struggling, so are their parents, Ward said.
“When parents feel supported, kids are more successful in school and in life,” she said.

Racker notes that families do not have to “qualify” in any way to receive support. No diagnosis is required, and all services are free. The only “qualification” is that a parent has a desire to connect with Ward or Racker.

In Brief:

Library’s Artisan Fair Announced

The 11th Annual Lansing Artisan Fair will be held Friday, Dec. 6, from 3 to 6 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lansing Community Library and the Lansing Community Center.

More than 20 local artisans will be selling handicrafts, including jewelry and accessories, home decor, gourmet goodies, sustainable clothing, holiday bling and much more. Enjoy a free treat and hot beverage while shopping. Part of the proceeds benefit the Friends of Lansing Community Library.

Thanksgiving Feast Volunteers Needed

The R.C. Buckley Elementary School is seeking volunteers to help with its annual “Thanksgiving Feast” Nov. 22. This beloved tradition requires many volunteers to be a success. Caregivers and community members can sign up for a shift by going to

Cookies and Carols Dec. 2

Come hear music by the third and fourth grade Chorus, Middle School Holiday Band and the High School Show Choir while enjoying holiday cookies and beverages.

Cookies and Carols will be Monday, Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m., in the Middle School auditorium. There will be raffles for valuable prizes including local area restaurant gift cards, sports tickets and more.

To buy tickets or help by bringing cookies or volunteering the day of the event, go to (Please no nuts or nut spreads.)
Cookies and Carols is LTAPA’s biggest fundraiser of the year, helping pay for theater and musicians’ needs such as microphones, curtains, lights, scholarships and trips.


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