Last summer at Launch in Dallas, I was privileged to hear Sheri Doss give her acceptance speech as the new Texas PTA President. There was one part of her speech that really resonated with me. She told us to ask ourselves: who is missing from our PTA?
It has been two years since the Wiley Middle School PTA in Leander ISD established the first Inclusion Committee in our district. And since then it has grown into more than a committee for special needs parents. It is a committee to ensure every child at Wiley has a voice. It has created a culture of inclusion within our school community, allowing parents and students to be heard. It is changing the attitude parents and teachers have toward PTA. And the committee has even inspired us to ask: who is missing?
This past year, I was elected to a second term as President and our goal as a PTA was to truly represent every student, parent, and teacher at Wiley Middle School. Our efforts began by making the Inclusion Chair an Executive Board position and working to make our events accessible to all.
Wiley is a Title 1 school with some families living paycheck to paycheck. So, $30 to participate in an event is not feasible for everyone. The entire Executive Board agreed to make 1 cent the minimum cost to participate in our Color Blast. Not only did we still meet our fundraising goal, but we made sure every child at Wiley could participate in this fun-filled event.
Wiley Middle School has a dedicated group of parents who attend Spanish speaking parent meetings held by our Vice Principal, Lara Hutchinson. With her guidance and support, and with the help of our book fair coordinator Sandy Perez, the PTA was able to transform the Wiley Middle School book fair into a truly welcoming night for all families. Sandy supplied Spanish titles and even stayed late to make sure every family had a chance to visit the book fair. And with the help of both Lara and Sandy, I was able to speak with a group of parents about the mission of PTA. After the meeting, we walked away with seven new members, but more importantly, we started a dialogue with parents who had felt a disconnect from our school community. We found who was missing from our PTA.
In May, I was appointed to the Leander ISD Council of PTAs as the Inclusion Chair. Little did I know that this single committee that formed at Wiley two years ago would quickly lead to a community-wide movement. The role of Council Inclusion Chair had not been filled since 2012 and I began with the expectation that it would take significant time to spread my message. I started with the goal of having five schools establish an Inclusion Committee on campus. I soon realized there was very little information available for PTAs to help guide this process. For a state as diverse as Texas, with 52% of students identifying as Hispanic, we needed to do more to support our PTAs with inclusion education. With the help of Texas PTA and National PTA, I was able to create an Inclusion Resource Guide for Leander ISD to help guide Local PTAs.
Despite the large size of Leander ISD, we now have over 25 schools in the district who have implemented an Inclusion Committee on campus or started the conversation. In addition, Leander ISD Council of PTAs has been assisting schools across Texas to include this committee in their PTA.
Even with the success of Inclusion Committees across our district and Leander ISD elementary schools rolling out the Texas PTA KIDS FIRST program, I was still met with some resistance to change from people within our community. I had to demonstrate to our PTAs, schools, and parents that we have one mission – to make sure our community and events are inclusive for all, to be the voice for every child.
Though frustrating, these conversations allowed me to dismantle the misconception of PTA shared by so many people watching from the sidelines – that only a few select moms “run the show”, focused on baked goods, class parties, and fundraisers. Sure, these activities are as important to PTA as marching to the Capitol, but people miss the true mission of PTA – to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. I still get the occasional eye roll when I say P-T-A, but the public perception is slowly changing, and I will continue to have these conversations to propel the mission of PTA.
As I finish my last year as President of Wiley Middle School PTA and as Council Inclusion Chair, I am filled with joy and happiness and confidence in the future of inclusion across our district and the state – one PTA at a time.
Once a Coyote, always a Coyote!