This month’s installment of “Meet Today’s PTA Advocate” features Deborah Dunstone, the current President of the Pennsylvania PTA. Ms. Dunstone was installed as Pennsylvania’s PTA President in April after nearly two decades of outstanding work at all levels of PTA. From her beginnings as the chair of the hospitality committee in her local unit to becoming a recognized child advocate at both the state and national levels, Ms. Dunstone has allowed her experience with PTA to transform her own view of herself as a PTA member and shape her understanding of advocacy.
As a result of her exemplary reputation as a child advocate, Pennsylvania PTA President Deborah Dunstone was contacted late this summer by the president of The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC), an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit organization based in Harrisburg. The EPLC coordinates The Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP) in Pennsylvania, a professional development program of which Ms. Dunstone is a graduate. Ms. Dunstone was asked to be a panelist on the September episode of PCNTV (Pennsylvania Cable Network’s) monthly hour-long program, “Focus on Education,” with the topic “Parents as Education Advocates.” Focus on Education is dedicated to raising awareness about current education issues that affect Pennsylvania’s students and taxpayers and, ultimately, the future of the country’s workforce and communities.
While appearing on the show, Ms. Dunstone spoke of the need to educate families on their ability to affect change in their children’s education, both at school and at home, as well as the need for teachers to be trained in engaging families. She explained that family engagement works, and that PTA seeks to involve families in decision making about education policy at all levels. She was also able to give examples of specific PTA resources, such as the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships; the Schools of Excellence program; and the “Connect for Respect” anti-bullying program that families and schools can utilize to provide students with a better educational experience. Her appearance garnered publicity for both National and Pennsylvania PTA, furthered the cause of family engagement in education, and provided a powerful example of how PTA is still relevant and needed today.
Ms. Dunstone success is resultant partially from her willingness to take on new roles within the association. When starting with her local unit, she asserts that she never thought she would have anything to do with state or national advocacy. But as she became more involved, she discovered that PTA members are advocates just by being a part of the association. As she learned how to organize at a local school level, she was able to develop the skills necessary for doing so at a state and national level. Whether the parent of a kindergarten student getting involved in PTA for the first time, or a veteran member, there are always new skills to be learned and new challenges to take on.
She also feels that part of becoming a good advocate is the willingness to “get your hands dirty and find what’s relevant to your association.” PTA members, units, and state affiliates seeking to broaden their advocacy activities should surround themselves with knowledgeable people. Build relationships with other PTA members, child advocates at partner organizations, and legislative leaders. PTA advocates have a whole network of knowledgeable members to reach out to at the local, state, and national levels, as well as the staff at National PTA to help with their advocacy activities and needs.
But, as Ms. Dunstone learned all those years ago when joining her first PTA unit, you just have to be willing to take the first step. An open mind, a willingness to learn new skills, and the drive to take on different positions within the association will go far in cultivating achievement as a PTA advocate.
Know an outstanding advocate that you feel deserves recognition? Please contact National PTA’s Advocacy Coordinator, Erica Lue, at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also nominate them for a 2014 Advocacy Award, at www.pta.org/advocacyawards.