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November Partner & Volunteer Highlight: ACPS PTAs Promote Family Engagement

November Partner & Volunteer Highlight: ACPS PTAs Promote Family Engagement

The Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) affiliated with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) help carry out the work of family engagement within the division. This month, we spotlight our school PTAs and Alexandria PTA Council (PTAC) as they share how they engage families.

“When the whole community surrounding our students gives of their talents, time and other resources, the school has the best chance to thrive,” said Sara Mercado Mathews, PTA president at Charles Barrett Elementary School (Charles Barrett). She adds that the community support works both ways, “I think that is the secret sauce of the PTA — you always get more than you give.”

Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy (LCTA) PTA President Matias Palavecino sees the PTA as a way to get acquainted with the school community. “We always love getting together with members of our community and having new friends meet and connect across classes and grades.” He explains that the LCTA PTA weekly email provides school news and amplifies key ACPS messages. Its active online parents group shares information, answers questions and welcomes diverse perspectives.

“When families engage, they have a better understanding of what their children are experiencing and how their teachers are getting them excited to learn, and they can support their kids at home in ways that reinforce what's happening at school,’ explains Marina Carter, Mount Vernon Community School (MVCS) PTA president. Carter sees the school PTA as “a bridge for our school and families, creating a village of support that helps provide kids with the welcoming environment they need to do and be their best.”

At Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School (Jefferson-Houston), PTA president Natalie Clewell says family engagement focuses on community, students/families and advocacy. “Families are welcome to participate in any way they want and as much as they want in whatever ways they are most comfortable,” Clewell explains. She adds that while some families help put together activities, others choose to advocate for teachers and students with division leadership.

Family engagement is a key part in ensuring every child is supported in their education and life journeys. That’s how Meta Viers, William Ramsay Elementary School (William Ramsay) PTA president sees it. “Strong relationships between students, families, and teachers make it more likely that students and their families can get the help and resources they need inside and outside of the classroom,” Viers noted. She believes family engagement can also lead to children going to school happier, regularly and more motivated to do well academically.

The Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology’s (Cora Kelly) PTA underscores the value of bringing families together with school staff and administration in order to provide an enriching student experience. Bonnie Naugle, Cora Kelly PTA spokesperson, says all families are welcome to join and help plan and take part in events that support the school, its teachers and students. She said that, amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year, for example, the PTA donated 100 thermometers for the school to distribute to families who needed them to check for a fever before bringing children to school.

Family engagement comes in many forms, from supporting fundraisers to taking part in fun runs and other events at 18 ACPS schools. Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) president Katy Matthews says, “I volunteer so ACPS teachers have educational programming resources via PTSA grants, snacks during marathon parent-teacher conferences, rewards for the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programming and support them when it feels like the outside world doesn’t.” George Washington Middle School (GWMS) PTA President Joy Pochatila remarked, “Our GWMS staff has a really good finger on the pulse of what our families need and the PTA is responding by supporting their efforts as much as possible.”

PTAC President Missy Santoro Estabrook is proud of the PTAs from nearby schools that partner on family engagement events. Santoro Estabrook says this not only lowers the cost for each PTA but also helps connect neighbors. “The coalition building that comes from this is invaluable as we advocate for our families,” she notes. Last spring, the PTAs from three schools — James K. Polk Elementary School (Polk), Patrick Henry K-8 School (Patrick Henry) and Douglas MacArthur Elementary School (MacArthur) — worked together to stage a fun run. The Polk and Patrick Henry PTAs hosted a joint movie night. Polk PTA President Chaaron Pearson references the very diverse population at Polk and says that family engagement is a PTA core value. “We have the most success getting families excited about engaging with our school community when there is an opportunity to eat together and learn together,” she added. Patrick Henry PTA leader Jenica Patterson feels these events are vital in bringing families together to work and play.

Following a pause for in-person events due to COVID-19, PTAs are now focused on connecting in person and showing appreciation for teachers and school staff. Some snapshots include:

  • LCTA International Night highlights the community’s rich diversity. “These events allow us to show the strength we have as a community when we all come together to support one another and enjoy our time together as a community, '' said Palavecino.
  • Cora Kelly touts the success of its PTA Harvest Festival and how they joined forces with ACHS, recruiting student volunteers to assist with the booths and activities.
  • The Charles Barrett PTA created a welcoming atmosphere for families and fosters community connections with its “Boo Hoo Breakfast” following students’ drop-off on the first day of school.
  • Bingo Night is a fall highlight at William Ramsay and helps bring the community together. Viers says the PTA has also helped launch the spirit wear store this year to raise funds to support interactive learning.
  • Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School (FTD) PTA hosted an art workshop-ice cream social with story time which PTA President Alioune Diallo called a “dream come true” for many FTD students. “One of our goals this year is to support our students, especially those that are struggling with English to improve their language skills through family engagement so that they can successfully pass all their tests, complete the school year, and, for those who are in fifth grade, to be promoted at the end of the year,” said Diallo.

Research indicates that family engagement plays a major role in helping students succeed. “Students whose families are engaged are more likely to attend school, avoid discipline problems, excel academically and graduate on time,” Santoro Estabrook noted. The PTAC president adds that Alexandria City PTA leadership strives to plan inclusive, individualized and dynamic programs that embrace diverse perspectives, meet the unique needs of every child and strengthen the connection between school and home life. “I’m really proud of what our PTAs have done this year to empower families in advocating for their children’s needs and ensure that their family engagement events and programs all focus on bringing joy to our kids and helping to make their potential a reality,” said Santoro Estabrook.

For more information on how PTAs are leading the way on transformative family engagement, check out The Center for Family Engagement | National PTA and find out more about your local PTA on your school website or at the PTAC website.

  • 2022-23
  • Alexandria PTA Council
  • Partner & Volunteer Highlight
  • family engagement