PTA with many hands lends some to another Chattanooga school

PTA with many hands lends some to another Chattanooga school

December 27th, 2011 by Kevin Hardy in News

Latoshia Gustus, right, walks her four children home from East Lake Elementary School in this file photo.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

It's the little things -- copying, stapling, cutting and laminating -- that can quickly pile up into hours of extra work for teachers.

And it's those types of tasks that some dedicated parents are completing at East Lake Elementary School to help relieve the burden of busy work so teachers can focus more on teaching.

"We just take some of the stress off teachers," said parent Mendi Catlett. "The teachers really need to have time to teach."

But the parents who volunteer don't have any children at East Lake. In fact, their kids are about 20 miles away at Ganns Middle Valley Elementary School. The Parent-Teacher Association at Ganns began sending volunteers to East Lake a few months ago after hearing how the school struggled with parent involvement.

The 500-member Ganns PTA now is looking to adopt the East Lake PTA after the holidays in hopes of fostering membership and involvement there.

After sending out a volunteer form, Ganns PTA members heard from nearly 300 parents willing to help there. With so many available volunteers, Catlett said they decided to help an urban school that gets little help from students' moms and dads.

"It's time to take care of the community," said Catlett, former PTA president at Ganns. "Everybody wants to complain about inner-city schools. But nobody wants to be part of the solution."

Catlett said most PTA members work at their children's schools. But she thinks more people would help out at any school if they knew how to get involved.

"There are such good people out there and if they knew what schools like East Lake needed, they'd love to help," she said.

In 2012, Catlett said, Ganns parents want to do more than just continue to help at East Lake once a month. They hope to show the struggling East Lake what has worked at Ganns. Other successful PTAs across the county could replicate that to help inner-city or struggling parent groups, she said.

"That makes all the children of Hamilton County more successful instead of just one specific school," Catlett said.

Tennessee PTA President Karen Davis, of Knox County, said PTAs often help out at another school, especially when a new group is first starting. She said successful PTAs have helped launch groups in inner-city or rural schools, where most parents just aren't familiar with ways to help.

Communication might be a barrier for some parents, too, she said. When parents aren't in touch with teachers and administrators, it can make it hard to want to be involved, Davis said.

"Parents have trouble becoming engaged when they don't feel welcome," she said.

Short on parent help

East Lake's PTA has about a dozen members, including teacher members. The PTA restarted last year after being defunct for more than a decade.

E'tienne Easley, the school's family partnership specialist, said parents slowly are becoming more involved. But she suspects some don't even know how to help.

"It's not about not having a big heart," she said. "It's about not even knowing there's a need in the first place."

Easley said the Ganns PTA members will show East Lake parents how easy it is to help.

"I think it will show parents that volunteering time doesn't take a lot," she said. "It doesn't require a whole, whole bunch of time."

Working multiple jobs or having young children often are obstacles to volunteering in school. But Easley said the school is working on removing barriers by letting people bring in their youngsters and communicating school needs.

"Our PTA is trying to grow in that direction," Easley said.

East Lake PTA President Tracey Korynas said some parents who want to help can't get there. A bus ride from some neighborhoods can take more than an hour, she said.

A high poverty level the East Lake neighborhood may also make it harder for parents to volunteer, she said.

At East Lake, more than 95 percent of students are classified as impoverished, according to the Tennessee Report Card. At Ganns Middle Valley Elementary, that number is about 50 percent.

Still, Korynas thinks that with proper communication, more parents can be coaxed into helping out at school.

"And it's not just parents and teachers," she said. "It's for anybody who wants to do something for that school and be involved."

She said the mentorship of the Ganns PTA should inspire more helping hands.

"A larger PTA really has the opportunity to teach other people," she said. "I think if that motivation was brought to our school it would really help in generating membership.

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