Monday, September 21, 2009

The PTO at Whittier School is very active. Comments made by the Whittier PTO President, Chris Setti, over at EmergePeoria, proves just how parents who volunteer for sports teams can make all the difference in a primary school having a sports program or not.

What I found really special in Mr. Setti’s comments was the outreach effort being made to include parents who live outside of the neighborhood school boundries. Take note:

At Whittier we have had soccer for at least three years (that's how long I have been a coach). It is led by an all-volunteer coaching staff and last year we transformed it into the West Bluff Indoor Soccer Club.

Last year, we fielded 6 teams: A Pre-K/K team, 3 1st/2nd grade teams and 2 3rd/4th grade teams. We play at the Soccer Centre in Peoria Heights from Oct thru April. Whittier allows us to use their gym to practice, but otherwise all costs are borne by parents and donations (last year, Haddads, AMT, John Biehl and Avantis).

Whittier also offered martial arts as an after-school program and may also have had a basketball team. We don't work magic at Whittier, but we are blessed by great parents, great teachers and staff, and great kids. I wish I knew how to duplicate what we do for other schools, but the formula is pretty simple.

Last I checked, we had about 65% of our kids from low-income families, so our success is not the same as Kellar, Charter Oak or Dunlap schools. I imagine that poverty % will go up this year because we've had an influx of former Tyng kids. We are excited about welcoming these new families and children and hope to show that whatever it is we do at Whittier works for everyone.

From a parental involvement stand point (I'm the president of the PTO), our policy is to just invite people to get involved. We are trying to make that easier this year by having a second PTO meeting during the day each month and also holding some of our meetings at the Proctor Center, which is closer to many of our new families.

We have a long way to go, but we are headed in the right direction. I reject the notion that many of our parents are unconcerned about their children's education. When the Tyng boundaries were redrawn, we saw Southside families (the ones usually saddled with that incorrect and unfortunate label) move into the new Whittier boundaries. If that doesn't mean they are paying attention, I don't know what is.

I can see how a PTO can look and feel like a clique. We do our best at Whittier to reach out, but it is usually the same 20 people over and over again. That's why we dropped the $5 membership fee this year (it only really served as a barrier) and are trying out the second meeting at Proctor Center.

That said, we also make it very clear that there are lots of volunteer opportunities that are not PTO-related. The PTO couldn't possibly create and control every parent-classroom opportunity. Even at Whittier the PTO emphasis is on fundraising (a huge need) and then on larger group activities. We have become more advocacy oriented and were successful in retaining our librarian (in concert with other schools and parents) and getting an extra 2nd Grade teacher this year (our class sizes have exploded).

I would love to see the PTO do more, and I am working with our members to make it more of a resource. But the PTO should only ever be one mechanism for involvement and not seek to be all powerful.



Peoria Parents said...

When I saw Mr. Setti's comments on EmergePeoria, I was really moved by their efforts to make their school a better place for the students. Their program is definitely worth noting.

Chris Setti said...

Thanks for the compliments. All we try to do at Whittier is give people a structure to work with, if that is what they need. As I said, PTOs only need be a resources, not the only game in town.

An example: One of our mom's has decided to organize a group of parents to serve as "AR volunteers." Accelerated Reading (AR) is really big at Whittier, and now that school is starting later, there is time to take tests before the first bell. Brooke wanted to recruit other parents to work with her in the computer lab, helping kids take tests. She didn't need the PTO to "bless" the project -- she just asked our help spreading the word.

Here is something else I'm trying to put together: Last year, I tried to have lunch at Whittier, with my daughter's class, once a month. It was great -- the kids treat you like you are famous. I'm trying to start a lunch club whereby dads agree to have lunch one Friday a month. Again, no big deal, but the presence of men at the school is important.

Keep up the good work.