Audra Good, the Brookside PTO co-president, organized her first school event when her eldest daughter started kindergarten. "I remember not knowing anyone and not feeling so welcome," says Good, a mom of three, including a first- and a fourth-grader and a middleschooler.
So Good, new to the school herself, decided to organize a "Kindergarten Welcome Picnic," which has been held every year since. As a PTO president, Good says that welcoming new parents is an important part of her role. "It's important to make people feel part of the school."
As PTO leaders, Good and her co-president, Rebecca Rosa, a mother of a fourth and seventh grader, focus on building a strong parent community at the school. At Brookside, this means reaching out to Hispanic parents--half the students come from Spanish speaking households. The Brookside PTO board includes a bilingual liaison who involves Hispanic parents in events. In addition, the PTO translates flyers into Spanish and provides translators at school events. Good says Brookside parents are proud of their diversity and notes that the Hispanic community alone represents dozens of different countries.
Brookside parents are also "working parents", says Rosa. The PTO presidents understand that parents have limited time to volunteer for the school. Rosa, a preschool teacher in New Canaan, says, "It's hard for me to get into the classroom during the day. Through the board, I am putting in my share." Good assures parents that every little bit helps. "You don't need to be on the board to help out," says Good, who runs a gift basket business. "We all do what we can."
Last Friday, the PTO sponsored a "Harvest Patch" at which students decorated llittle pumpkins with their parents after school. In winter, the PTO sponsors a Snowflake Drive, through which the school collects money for 25 anonymous needy families within the school. All PTO meetings are at night and are coupled with monthly family events like potluck dinners, movie nights and bingo.
Brookside gives each grade $300 at the beginning of the year to support enrichment activities like field trips and special assemblies. They fundraise in traditional ways, such as selling gift-wrapping and candy, and holding a book fair and a silent auction.
Ultimately, being a parent leader is about being involved with your kids, say the co-presidents. "I like knowing what they are doing -- their teachers and the principal," says Good. Rosa says, "I'm invested in my kids, so they are my time."
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