Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Heart O'My Town: The PTA

"We are more than a bake sale," deadpans Karen Wolowski, President of the PTA Council of Mt. Lebanon and goodness knows she means it.  Having spent the better part of two decades immersed in the PTA's activities and mission, Ms. Wolowski knows better than most how vital the organization is to a community.

"The national PTA is more than a hundred years old," notes Wolowski.  "It started when two women put a notice in newspapers to discuss child development issues.  They were hoping that a hundred or so people would show up when in actuality, over two thousand came to that first meeting in Washington, D.C."

The group was quickly up and running and took the lead on issues such as the juvenile justice system and child labor laws.  Over the years, the PTA has pushed for kindergarten in the schools and school lunch programs and in the 1980s, paved the way on HIV education in the schools.  Always looking to the welfare of our kids, it was the PTA's petitioning of state goverments across the U.S. that led to a maximum price limit for milk in grocery stores.

On a local level, the PTA has encouraged the Mt. Lebanon School District to have health aides on hand daily at schools throughout the district.  It has also led the charge on playground safety and championed advance community notification of pesticide use on school campuses.  Near and dear to Wolowski's heart is the PTA's vision screening program at preschools throughout the community.  "We use volunteers trained by the Blind Association and over the years we've saved the eyesight of many kids," she says.  "Some conditions must be caught at the preschool age in order for them to be reversed."  These screenings are provided free to the community.  The local chapter has also been providing scholarships to graduating seniors for 75 years and has run a parent education program since the 1950s.

With a mission of promoting the health and welfare of children in their home, school, community and place of worship, the PTA is mindful of its role as an advocate for those it serves.  "As advocates, the end result of our efforts will benefit our constituency, not the PTA itself.  We are a non-partisan organization and our efforts shouldn't be construed as lobbying," says Wolowski.  The PTA's community outreach extends to hosting non-partisan candidate forums for both local and statewide political candidates as well as voicing opposition to the state's Keystone Exams for graduating Pennsylvania seniors.  "Twelve years of education cannot be summed up in one exam," notes Wolowski.  "What if you're just having a bad day?"

Helping the PTA can take on many forms, according to Wolowski.  "You don't have to be a hand-raiser or even someone who likes to be asked.  Some people can't take on a high level of involvement.  Simply collecting box tops or soup can labels helps the organization tremendously."  Another program Wolowski is excited about is XGEN XPERIENCE, where anyone from working parents to empty nesters can come into the schools as a guest lecturer, math facts coach, musician or science whiz.  "We have a unique community with extraordinary talent," enthuses Wolowski.  "We want to tap into that."  More information on the program can be found here.

Ever the good neighbor, the PTA is hoping to pay it forward next year, making a student musical trio available for community events or offering up teachers to retirement communities to lead a discussion on current events.  But then, this is a group that's been putting its money where its mouth is for years.

"The PTA has been the largest donor to the Mt. Lebanon School District for years, by far," says Wolowski proudly.  "The money we raise benefits the kids and their classrooms directly.  We buy books, help needy families...our angel fund is directed by the principals at the schools and if they see a need that must be addressed, all they have to do is ask."

Yet another good reason why the PTA is the Heart O'My Town.