OJAI : Parents Find Help a Phone Call Away

Parents Helpline, a computerized program to help parents with troublesome teen-agers, began taking calls last week at Matilija Junior High School in Ojai.

A simple phone call gives parents instant advice on coping with their children's behavior problems.

"As far as we know, it's unique in the United States, if not the whole, wide world," said Principal Jim Berube, who teamed with Marty Babayco, director of special education and psychologist for the Ojai Unified School District, to design and implement the service.

Parents can dial 640-4394 for tips on coping with such problems as substance abuse, mood swings, aggressive behavior, not completing homework, talking back or swearing. Parents must have a code from the school to use the service.

"The messages are not meant to be solutions or long-term answers, but to give parents a jump-start to deal with the situation," Babayco said.

Helpline is in addition to the Homework Hotline, which allows parents to call for recorded information on homework assignments, classroom projects, school activities, PTA meetings and counseling. Since Homework Hotline was initiated in January, about 20,000 calls have been logged.

The school purchased the computerized phone system and homework software from Tennessee-based Advanced Voice Technology for about $11,000 last year.

The Parent Helpline is uniquely Ojai's, however. Berube believes it will bolster performance of students by increasing parental involvement.

He calls the combined Homework/Helpline systems the missing link in parent-school communications.

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