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A Learning Experience at PTA Convention

May 15, 1985|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

They had spent the morning on the arena floor at the Anaheim Convention Center voting on resolutions that would become a part of the state Parent-Teacher Assn.'s agenda in the coming year.

The resolutions--ranging from concern over the location of toxic and hazardous material sites to limiting the sale of alcohol at gas station mini-markets--were of vital importance to the more than 2,000 delegates to the California State PTA convention last week, but the business of proposing amendments and refining the wording of resolutions was largely a dispassionate, orderly process.

Shock and Sadness

That wasn't the case in the afternoon--not when the subject was missing and exploited children and the speaker was John Walsh, the father of the 6-year-old boy whose abduction from a Florida shopping mall and subsequent murder in 1981 were portrayed in the critically acclaimed television docudrama, "Adam."

Walsh had the several hundred delegates who were jammed into a conference room to hear him speak alternately shocked, saddened and outraged as he chronicled the horror stories of missing and exploited children he has encountered since he and his wife, Reve, turned their own anguish into political action nearly four years ago.

Saying he is a "great believer in the PTA," Walsh told the delegates at the outset of his talk that "you are the one PTA in the whole country I really wanted to speak to because of the extent of the problems (regarding missing children) in this state and how little has really been done here."

Walsh, who is special adviser for the federally funded National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, said he wanted to issue the same "strong challenge" to the California PTA that he made to delegates at the national PTA convention last year.

"I said, I read your charter, I know what you're about. Your charter says that you are concerned and care for all children and you're concerned with the quality of their education and their health and a lot of other things.

"And I said the thing you should really be concerned with, No. 1, is their safety, because if they aren't safe and you're the parent of a missing child or a molested child or a murdered child, you're never going to have to worry about the quality of their education or their welfare or their health because you will be spending every nickel you get searching for your child or trying to provide a psychotherapist so they can rebuild the damage done by a molester."

Walsh's conference on missing and exploited children reflects only one of the major concerns of the California State PTA, whose impact as children's advocate was illustrated again and again as the convention unfolded.

Los Angeles psychologist Michael Peck, who is helping develop the curriculum for the Youth School Suicide Prevention Program funded by the state Department of Education, made reference to the organization's impact after being presented with its honorary service award. "The state Legislature," he told the delegates, "would not have passed this program if not for the active efforts of the California PTA."

Honig Lauds Efforts

And state Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig, speaking on the opening day of the convention last Wednesday, lauded the state PTA for its efforts in pushing for the passage of SB813, the landmark 1983 state education finance and reform bill that provided $2.7 billion in additional money for educational reform over a two-year period.

For three days the delegates, the vast majority of whom are parents of school-age children, attended workshops on topics such as child abuse prevention, development of drug and alcohol prevention programs and current state and national legislative issues.

They listened to speakers at four major issues conferences which, in addition to missing and exploited children, included "Excellence in Education--Making it Happen," "Assertive Discipline for Parents" and Peck's talk on "Stress in Youth--Adolescent Suicide."

Delegates also adopted four other resolutions, including restricting the kinds of video materials available to children in stores, encouraging law-related education in the classrooms, encouraging nuclear education for adults and urging television news programs to refrain from broadcasting election result projections before all the polls have closed.

'Enthusiastic About Future'

"The resolutions will set some direction for us in the coming year," said Donnetta Spink of Arleta, state PTA president-elect. "I sense an overwhelming feeling that the delegates are very enthusiastic about the future, that they'll go home and start working on a lot of things."

"We're focusing on issues, we're really trying to encourage our unit delegates to address issues, to get involved in their communities," observed state board member Dorothy Leonard of San Diego. "I see increasing emphasis on safety of children, missing children and latchkey children."

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