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Seminar Trains PTA Newbies, Urges More Involvement

Sept. 20, 2008 — About a dozen parents turned out at a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) training session at the Windward Passage Hotel on St. Thomas Saturday, the scant number unfortunately reflecting what Deborah Gonzales calls a lack of parental involvement in education.
Gonzales is interim president of the USVI PTSA (the territory includes an "s" for students in the organizational name, but the national umbrella organization does not). She is hoping to build enthusiasm among parents and anyone interested in education, to join a PTA and support children in the territory.
"Parents are the first educators, the first advocates for their children's success," said Gonzales. "What better way to do it than through the PTA and volunteering at the school. They need to speak on behalf of their children."
While membership in local PTAs has grown in recent years, according to Margarita Benjamin, the past president of the local PTSA and a member of the national PTA board, most schools don't have their own chapter. Only 13 of 34 public schools in the territory have a nationally affiliated PTA.
"I don’t have a child in the public school system for the past five years," said Gonzales. "But I'm still here, for the Virgin Islands and for the children in the territory."
Gonzales joined Benjamin, who led attendees at Saturday's four-hour training, through the ins and outs of establishing and running a parent teacher organization. She spoke of the resources, programming materials and funding available from the national level.
A PTA, Benjamin explained, is a self-governing organization, which plans programs and activities to meet community needs, and which works at the school itself, as well as in homes and in the community for all children.
Each parent pays $3.75 to become a voting member of a PTA. Membership at each school must reach 50 in order to be become a participating member of the national organization and receive benefits. However, according to Gonzales, some smaller schools can be founded with just 25 members.
Daina Collazo, pen and pad in hand, was busy gleaning tips from Saturday's presentation as she prepares to become the vice president of the PTA at the J. Antonio Jarvis Elementary School. Collazo said there is no music, band or Spanish programs at the school, where her two children attend, and she'd like to see that changed.
"The first plan is to have more parents involved," Collazo said. "There's a lack of involvement right now. We had a back-to-school night and 20 parents out of 200 children showed up."
Collazo spends about two hours each morning at the school, helping teachers, students and doing whatever is needed.
The volunteer opportunities, and the extent to which PTA members can become involved, range from doing Xeroxing to leading the organizations themselves, according to Gonzales.
"You don't have to be a parent to become a PTA member," said Gonzales. "Anybody in the community can join — anybody who has concerns for children, and it should be all of us."
For more information about joining or forming a PTA, Gonzales can be reached at usvi_pres@pta.org. The next organizing meeting for PTA officers is on St. Croix on Sept. 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in room 505 of the Melvin H. Evans Center at the University of the Virgin Islands.
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