In January 2022, National PTA awarded grants to local PTAs to enhance Diversity, Equity and Inclusion practices in their schools and communities. Two PTAs in Texas won these grants, and we spoke to them about what DEI looks like on their campuses. Erika Bodoin is President of Bertha Casey Elementary School PTA in Austin ISD, and Meenal McNary is Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Chair of Ridgeview Middle School PTA in Round Rock ISD.
How it started:
Erika Bodoin thinks her PTA just got lucky. “We ended up having very equity-focused board members,” she said. The board members at Bertha Casey Elementary School PTA are constantly challenging themselves to see through an equity lens and asking, ‘whose voice is missing?’ In connecting with the district administration, teachers and parents, Bertha Casey Elementary School PTA is focusing on language access and community feedback.
Meenal McNary’s PTA started its DEI standing committee a couple of years ago. Ridgeview Middle School PTA chose to focus on three action areas of racial equity, special education and Genders and Sexualities Alliances. The PTA recently started hosting listening sessions called “Community Conversations” where they’ve been able to “really get down to the nitty-gritty about what [the community] needs PTA to do,” McNary said. “I don’t think you can fulfill every child’s potential unless you approach it with equity and unless you recognize lived experiences,” she said. Ridgeview Middle School PTA does just that. Notably, the PTA is helping the Genders and Sexualities Alliances group create a guide on common and acceptable language, hosting listening sessions with their diverse community and purchasing black-authored books from local bookstores.
What Bertha Casey Elementary and Ridgeview Middle schools have in common is that they both got early support from the campus and district administration. Specifically, both Bodoin and McNary have worked directly with their district equity departments. Specific district staff are dedicated to these efforts and have been supportive of the PTAs’ work.
How it’s going:
McNary says this work is a “long-time coming.” Ridgeview Middle School PTA is working to connect the dots between recognizing lived experiences and achieving the mission of PTA.
Through understanding the school demographic data, education gaps and racial makeup, both PTAs are growing to understand the direct needs of their communities.
With educators carrying such a heavy load, McNary and Bertha Casey Elementary School PTA focus on supporting and uplifting teachers to fill in the gaps and get closer to fulfilling every child’s potential. For Ridgeview Middle School PTA, this means providing resources and services that help teachers recognize when something is not equitable, fair or accessible.
Although progress can be slow, Bodoin says, “the DEI grant provides a structure for getting even more feedback from historically marginalized groups.” Bertha Casey Elementary School PTA uses that feedback to figure out where the association and school are coming up short. The PTA is considering spending the grant money on a globally understood unifier, food. To Bodoin, providing snacks or a meal at some of these community conversations has the potential to form a more welcoming and relaxed gathering.
For McNary, it’s personal. “Based on personal experience, and what my children have dealt with in school, I feel that it’s important that children be seen and be heard. PTA’s mission that every child reaches their full potential, in my mind, was not being fulfilled. So, I wanted to change that,” she said. McNary and Ridgeview Middle School PTA started with changing the makeup of an all-white executive board – adding men and people of color.
For Bodoin, interest in DEI started in 2014 when she attended an “Undoing Racism” workshop. “It made me see that my dynamic on my campus was affected by me being a white woman,” she said. Through changing community demographics and a mostly brown executive board, Bodoin’s years of antiracism work took on new meaning.
For PTAs looking at starting DEI groups, McNary and Bodoin have some advice. Bodoin has found that the concept doesn’t typically need selling. She explained that people know that related work is needed. Starting DEI groups just requires a thoughtful approach.
Both McNary and Bodoin say that gaining administrator support and listening to the community are the keys to success. Both say that the PTA leaders they work with make a difference as well. “I’ve never worked with such amazing people, and it warms my heart to collaborate so closely with people who feel so strongly about this mission,” McNary said. Bodoin challenges PTAs to ask, ‘Do you feel like your leadership represents your community?’ If not, she encourages PTAs to figure out why.
Looking to the future, the PTAs at Bertha Casey Elementary and Ridgeview Middle schools are poised to have influence.