With the start of spring, Cleveland area students in grades K-12 are in their fourth and final quarter of the school year. But that end does not mean that activities diminish. From school fundraisers--within and outside school walls--the events keep coming and volunteers are always needed.
The PTA is one of the many organizations where parents can volunteer and partner with teachers in the educational system.
“I got involved with PTA through my friend Sherri,” said Jen Irwin, PTA President of Dodge Intermediate School in Twinsburg, Ohio. “It started with my becoming a Girl Scout leader for my daughter in kindergarten.” As Irwin started helping with different committees, each year she would take on more roles.
Joanne Schaus, PTA President of Bissell Elementary School in Twinsburg, got involved to make a difference and encourages parents to do the same. “I feel that parents need to be involved so they will know what goes on in their child’s school,” said Schaus.
Today volunteers assume PTA roles, thanks to three women who founded the PTA–Alice McLellan Birney, Phoebe Apperson Hearst and Selena Sloan Butler. Birney and Hearst founded the National Congress of Mothers and Butler--the National Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT). Both organizations merged as the National PTA.
I talked with National PTA President Otha Thornton about the importance of the organization. The first African-American male to lead the National PTA, Thornton is a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel. He has traveled the world and has volunteered in many capacities.
On being installed as the National PTA President, Thornton said he emphasized, ‘leadership’. “I’m a grassroots-type person. I’ve worked in non-profits and I understand vision and taking a vision forward,” he added.
It’s that vision Thornton says the three PTA founders had. “They were really courageous women. They formed at a time when they didn’t have a right to vote. But they believed in advocating for children, child labor laws, and public education from Jump Street. I’ve read their personal stories,” he said.
The oldest of seven children, he told me that he grew up in a family where his parents were engaged in their schoolwork. A husband and father of two adult children, Thornton volunteered for the PTA when his daughter and son were in school.
As the leader of the National PTA, Thornton says, “One thing that I emphasize a lot is that we have to speak up for children. We have to stay true to our mission, education policies and safety of kids.”
Thornton encourages parents to be ‘true,’ and get involved in their child’s education. “As parents, we have that responsibility of developing our kids and helping set them up for success,” he said. “If my mom couldn’t get to school, she made sure we had breakfast, got up on time and we were prepared to go to school."