Early March – a time I love at the home office of National PTA. It’s the time when our mission springs to life in front of our eyes: advocates streaming into town from every part of the country for our National PTA Legislative Conference; news stories airing about local PTAs hosting their PTA Family Reading Experiences and PTA Take Your Family to School Week events; and the incredible PTA Reflections® artwork arriving from thousands of student artists who qualified for national round judging.
This is my third March with National PTA. Each spring, I’ve enjoyed pouring through the Reflections finalists – reading, listening, watching – the art appeals to so many of my senses and nurtures my own creative spirit. It just amazes me how students of all ages capture our annual theme in such unique and poignant ways.
But this year it’s different. This year, I see more than the creativity and interpretation of our student artists. This year, thanks to Pinellas County Council PTA, I see each submission as a masterpiece in family engagement.
A Warm Night Despite the Polar Vortex
In January, during the coldest day of the year when even Florida suffered from the bite of the Polar Vortex, I attended the Pinellas County Council PTA’s Reflections Celebration. This was my first local PTA Reflections celebration. It was incredible! The PTA Council, led by President Michelle Alfred, hosted an awards ceremony, exhibit and reception at Pinellas Park High School.
I arrived bundled up and shuffling to the door with a shiver and a grumble. But when the door opened, I gasped with pride at the sight of a room so full of families. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, little brothers and sisters – all there for one reason – to celebrate and support their student artists. It was so inviting and celebratory in that standing-room-only auditorium! I was wrapped in its warmth in a way that gives you goose bumps. I had goose bumps all night. Then I realized this is family engagement in action: PTA welcoming families into the school and engaging them in something we know supports student success – arts participation.
I had the honor of sitting with the PTA Pinellas County Council Board, as well as long-time PTA volunteer and Pinellas County School Board Chair Carol J. Cook. As we waited for the event to begin, Chairwoman Cook shared with me her PTA experience and how PTA really helped to shape her civic leadership experience. Later, she greeted the students and mingled with the families. Through this celebration, families gained access to an important school decision-maker and they showed her by their presence – how much families care about arts in education.
PTA Volunteers Pave the Way for Family Engagement Through the Arts
Debi Klein, Chair of the Reflections Committee for the Pinellas County Council PTA, hosted the recognition ceremony. She and the Reflections Committee recruited 33 schools to participate this year, which is an incredible accomplishment. She’s been involved with PTA for nearly a decade and chaired the Council’s Reflections Committee for five years.
“I love seeing the creativity that students produce,” Debi told me. “And without the local PTA unit chairs, students wouldn’t be able to participate in this program.”
Debi is right. There are thousands of PTA volunteers across the country who support this program. Volunteers who give forth so many nights, so many weekends, so much energy and enthusiasm to support arts in education opportunities through PTA’s Reflections program. These volunteers are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, educators, community arts leaders and advocates speaking up for every child at their school and collaborating with the community to increase access to arts participation.
When National PTA celebrates our student artists in June, we will celebrate all of you who are Reflections Chairs! You provide a critical path for family engagement through this program. And more than 300,000 students and families across the country and in US schools overseas benefit from your commitment.
Believe, Dream, Inspire.
When I sat in the audience that night, I couldn’t help but wear two hats – National PTA staff person and the mom of students in Pinellas County. My heart beamed with joy each time a child swept passed me with their nervous run to the stage to accept their well-deserved award. I couldn’t help but to look back and admire the families – their love, their pride, their snapping phone cameras. I savored each hug I saw – each “I’m proud of you” I heard. And I daydreamed about the day when I will celebrate one of my children in a similar way.
Working at the national level, I don’t get to feel the “mission moment” goose bumps all the time. But when I do – I treasure them. And that’s why I love March – March is full of them!
Do you want to become a PTA Reflections volunteer and encourage student artists to reflect on the theme: “The world would be a better place if…”? Visit PTA.org/reflections to learn more. Or make an online donation to support the Reflections program at: http://www.pta.org/about/donate.cfm?navItemNumber=3355.
Mary Pat King, MS is the director of programs and partnerships for the National PTA. She is also the proud mom of Mason, 5, and Jenna Bea, 4. She and her husband, Eric, are new members of the Cypress Woods Elementary School PTA in Pinellas County, FL.