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Emphasis Is the Parent in Simi Valley PTA

Advice: The local council sponsors annual seminars for mothers and fathers on topics such as homework and nutrition.


SIMI VALLEY — While many PTAs spend their money on extras--special tutors for the kids or fans for hot campuses--the Simi Valley PTA Council's finances are earmarked toward serving parents.

"We want to educate the community so that they can be better parents," said Sandy Barnett, president of the council and a 28-year PTA member. "PTAs have generally been known for their fund-raising over cookies and punch. But through the years, it's become an education force."

To that end, the 12,000-member council--which includes members from PTAs at all 25 schools in the district--is again offering its annual series of parent seminars, a service officials believe is not provided to such an extent in any other school district in Ventura County.

The next seminar, on Jan. 14, will be led by dietitian Alicia Calvo, who will discuss the parental dilemma posed by junk food.

The first talk this year, held in November, was geared toward helping parents understand how to motivate their children to do homework and give them proper study skills to complete school assignments.

Parents who attended that meeting were attentive, many of them copiously taking notes and asking serious questions of the homework expert from the Sylvan Learning Center in Simi Valley.

"What do you do with a 12-year-old boy who hates school and has no pride?" asked one mother. The answer she received: Tell him he is not pulling his weight and that he needs to be held accountable--don't give him money to go out on the weekend, said Patricia Elias, director of education at the learning center.


Parent Sharon Ehrlich said she found the seminar on homework helpful. "I definitely can use some help with my son and homework," said Ehrlich, whose 7-year-old son, Aaron, attends Township Elementary School.

Among ideas she found useful was Elias' suggestion that parents keep a box at home set aside for school assignments to prevent homework from scattering around the house.

For more than a decade, the Simi Valley PTA Council has been holding these parent seminars, though the topics change from year to year. An especially hot issue presented last year included a discussion on how to prevent children from becoming gang members.

The council invites its speakers based on returned questionnaires and feedback from individual PTA school representatives.

Because the seminar lecturers have donated their time, the PTA Council has the rest of its $12,000 budget to spend on other educational ventures: state workshops, national conferences, training programs.

Aside from periodic parent seminars, other PTA councils have chosen to spend their resources on holding school board candidate forums, training PTA officers and hosting communitywide workshops on topics such as disaster and safety, said Betty Roark, president of Ventura County's regional PTA.

In the Conejo Valley, this year the PTA Council is focusing on art. It sponsored a nationally recognized show of students' work at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Dec. 11. The Camarillo PTA Council usually sponsors authors' fairs.

"Simi is unique because it is the only PTA to regularly offer the parent seminars," Roark said. "And that's the main thrust of the PTA, keeping the parents informed."

It is the individual school PTAs that are more likely to raise funds for particular campuses, help gather food for needy families and provide scholarships for high school students.

The parenting aspect is a huge component of being in the PTA, but there are just so many activities offered today in which members also can engage, Barnett said.

Though the Simi Valley council is proud of what it is already doing, PTA members wish they could do more.

"If we actually had more money, we would like to video the parent seminars and keep them as a resource for a video library," Barnett said.


Parent Seminars

All taks are free and will be Boys & Girls Club at 2850 Lemon Drive at 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 14: "Junk Food? Yes or No." Dietitian Alicia Calvo will discuss what foods are good for children.

Feb. 18: "Social Sensitivity." Charles Howard, president of the Ventura County Cultural Diversity Board, will discuss how children can better appreciate diversity.

March 18: "Bullies." Talk will discuss ways to help build self-esteem and help children resist becoming bullies or becoming victimized by them.

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