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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

The ABCs for Students' Parents Begin With PTA

September 27, 2003|Spike Dolomite Ward | Spike Dolomite Ward is the founder and executive director of Arts in Education Aid Council Inc. Web site: www.aieac.org.

As soon as my son entered kindergarten four years ago, I peeked in on my first parent-teacher association meeting and was roped in to help right away. I had no idea how important a PTA was to a school until I got involved. By getting involved, I got to know our teachers and administrators, and my respect and appreciation for them grew immensely in a very short time.

Teachers who choose to stay in their profession are the scapegoats in a failing institution. The district fails them by making it harder and harder for them to do their jobs. Families fail them by making them responsible for the actual raising of their children. Society fails them by undervaluing their contribution to our community and paying them far less than what they are worth.

In addition to volunteering with the PTA, I also started a nonprofit to bring arts back into San Fernando Valley schools. I speak at various school sites on arts education. I host public information meetings to help parents get more involved in their children's education. I attend PTA and district parent workshops and meetings. At all of these events, I keep seeing the same faces, year after year.

There are about 200,000 students enrolled in the LAUSD in the San Fernando Valley and only a handful of active parents. Where is everybody? Too busy? Not available? Don't care? Complain and feel proactive?

I am not trying to defend the school district or inept teachers. The point here is to expose the lack of parents' presence in today's educational system. Most parents do not understand how difficult it is to run a school or a classroom. They do not fully understand what a day in the life of a public school teacher or principal is like.

The lack of parental involvement cannot be blamed on economics or single parenting. I know a struggling single mom who volunteers to read to kids in the school library one morning a week before she goes to work. She also arranges play dates in the park on the weekends for her daughter and her classmates. This is a nice contribution to her school community and works well with her budget and schedule.

I am not suggesting that to be a good parent one needs to run out and start a nonprofit or be the president of his or her PTA. (By the way, all PTA presidents are far too busy to take that job on. They do it because if they don't, nobody else will.) Good parents make it their business to understand the school system. Good parents complain less and contribute more.

Get involved. Help your child's teacher out. Join the PTA or booster club. Start one if you have to. Volunteer in the school office. Be a room parent. Help with your child's homework. Bake for the bake sale. Do it for your kid. Do it for all of our kids.

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