PTO: Pathway to Involvement

At each of the elementary schools at ECS, you’ll find a hardworking, dedicated group of adults who are committed to supporting the partnership between families and schools, through PTOs (parent teacher organizations, also referred to as PTAs: parent teacher association, or PACs: parent activity council).

Each of them shares the sentiment – it takes a village – to make schools the best they can be for the hundreds of students who walk through the doors each morning.

According to Eastwood PTA co-president Megan Hess, “PTOs are a great way for parents to get involved, and to get to know the staff and other parents whose children attend the school. We understand that everyone’s lives are so busy these days, and even if a parent can only donate an hour or two, it’s appreciated. We have a great group of volunteers who go above and beyond for the school.”

“Without parents, the Parent Activity Council can’t exist and many fundraisers wouldn’t be possible,” said Woodland PAC president Sharon Erdos. “Their presence and volunteering makes a difference in their child’s school. The students are always excited when they see volunteers in and out of school. Parents are a vital, necessary part of every PAC.”

Pinewood PTO president Rachel Fletcher agrees. “It’s important to for parents to be involved because it really does take a village. Parents and teachers working together makes our school the best it can be for our children. We encourage parents to get involved by coming to a PTO meeting, getting informed, and understanding what we do and why. Additionally, we’re always in need of volunteers for organizing and planning events.”

At Mary Feeser, PTO president Julie Tyrakowski sees it as a great way to keep informed and set a positive example for her kids. “Parents in PTO tend to be more informed of what is happening in the school and the district. We interact on a weekly, at minimum, basis with staff and are able to see how things are run. We can see what amazing things are occurring; we can also see things that we might want to address. It’s a great line of communication. I love walking in the school and having so many kids say ‘Hi, Cade’s Mom’ or ‘Camryn’s mom.’ It also helps to teach our own kids the benefits of volunteering, time management, budget, and social interaction on a larger scale.”

At Eastwood, there are many ways to volunteer, according to Hess. “Parents can take on a role of a committee chair or volunteer a shift at different events like the Family Fun Fair, Book Fair, or VIP Day. Parents can help by participating in fundraisers like selling flowers or pies, or donate items to the rooms as requested by the room moms. Lastly, parents can be a voice at the monthly PTA meetings. There are so many great ways to get involved, both for working parents and non-working parents.”

At schools at the district, PTOs are in place to keep relationships strong between parents, teachers, and administrators. But for many of them, there are additional opportunities to help at the school. At Eastwood, the PTA uses their fundraising to help support teacher needs in the classroom, contribute to field trip costs, provide uniforms/equipment for extracurricular activities, organize special events, and promote a sense of community among all students and school community.

According to Mary Feeser’s PTO president, Julie Tyrakowski, “PTOs can help alleviate some of the stresses from teacher for fundraising efforts; our fundraisers provide classroom supplies, supplemental curriculum, field trips, and helps families when in need. We also pay for athletics and student activities. The general public might not know that there is no funding for athletics at the elementary level except coach pay. Uniforms and equipment are provided by PTOs, parents, or donors. We are also able to fundraise and filter money more easily than the schools, as they have strict board policies and need board approval for every fundraiser.”

Events vary from school to school, but many parent organizations host a major event like a carnival, dance, or festival. Some are active in beginning of the year events like “welcome back” parties, some are active in helping celebrate the conclusion of a successful year with “game days.” Some play a part in supporting school events like peace walks, awards, VIP days, school photos, and assemblies throughout the year. Some play a critical role in helping with tasks like stuffing student folders, blowing up balloons, or sorting donations. Regardless of the event or activity, parent-teacher organizations are a great way for children to see that their parents are involved and care about the school.

For Hess, her favorite event at Eastwood is the annual Family Fun Fair. “Even though it requires the most work and stress, it also reaps the biggest rewards. It’s so great to see everyone reconnect after summer and see the kids excited to be back at school with their friends. It’s a great way to kick off the new school year.”

At Pinewood, where the PTO is full of fresh officers, Fletcher is most looking forward to their upcoming March Madness. “It’s a big deal for our students and families. It’s a lot of fun for all ages.”

For Erdos, she most enjoys the Woodland Book Fair and helping kids pick out their next book. “I also love the Holiday Shop and the look on the students’ faces as they pick out gifts for their family. I love the excitement in their eyes over slushies on Frosty Fruit Fridays.”

All three presidents are advocates for getting involved in some way.

“We need parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, older sisters and brothers,” said Erdos. “Their involvement is vital. Our PAC welcomes young children that are not school age, as well.
Please reach out to the PAC at your child’s school and ask if they need help, I promise they do. Even if you can only commit an hour a week to volunteering, it makes a difference in your school and with the students. I got involved with the PAC at Woodland because my son came home and told me I needed to save slushie day.”

“I encourage parents to get involved with their PTA/PTO/PAC,” said Hess. “The commitment can be what you want it to be, you decide. It’s a great way to learn what is going on in your school. Without all of our volunteers and PTA members, we wouldn’t be able to do the things we do for Eastwood.”

Fletcher agrees and sees potential beyond the walls of Pinewood, “Help out in the community. Elkhart always has something going on to get involved with your families.”

Hess is the parent of Gavin (6th grade) and Isabella (1st grade), and supported by co-president Anne Bell, treasurer Jen Cline, and secretary Megan Hartman.

Erdos is the parent of a first grader at Woodland, as well as an incoming kindergarten student. She is supported by treasurer Sherry Schwartz and Brenda Moore, the retired president who is still active and a wealth of knowledge and guidance.

Fletcher is the parent of two daughters at Pinewood, as well as a daughter at Elkhart Central. She is supported by vice president Kristin Powell, secretary Dani Madea, and co-treasurers Deanna Foster and Janine Doot.

Tyrakowski is the parent of Cade (6th grade) and Camryn (3rd grade), and is supported by co-vice presidents Amy Kehoe and Kim Hashberger, and treasurer Tanesha Scott.

Thank you to our incredible parent organizations for your commitment to Elkhart students!