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School superheroes: Volunteers bring education basics, behind-the-scenes

Mount Si High School PTSA members Stephen Kangas, Laurie Edwards, Beth Burrows and Liz Piekarczyk paint a fresh pawprint at the school entrance. Formed three years ago, the parent, teacher and student volunteer group, like many PTAs in the Valley, supports school activities behind the scenes. - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Mount Si High School PTSA members Stephen Kangas, Laurie Edwards, Beth Burrows and Liz Piekarczyk paint a fresh pawprint at the school entrance. Formed three years ago, the parent, teacher and student volunteer group, like many PTAs in the Valley, supports school activities behind the scenes.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

As Mount Si High School students and teachers handled the big stuff, like full classes, fresh faces and new technology, Liz Piekarczyk handled the tissues.

With more than a hundred students shuffling in and out of every classes daily, many with summer-cold sniffles, the Mount Si PTSA co-president’s deliveries of tissues, part of a teacher wish list program, were a vital but potentially overlooked necessity.

“It’s amazing how much of a difference the small stuff makes,” said Beth Burrows, fundraising chairwoman and past president of the high school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association, formed three years ago. “With budget cuts, they might run out of tissues and sanitizer. We step in and make sure they’ve got that, so sick kids don’t keep spreading it around.”

Mount Si’s PTSA is among a dozen parent-teacher and volunteer groups that play big behind-the-scenes roles in local schools, providing important teacher grants as well as small necessities. Volunteers can be found helping schools run smoothly and be livable places for staff and students alike.

“So many little things make a better experience for kids,” Burrows said.

Local burden

As state funding has dwindled as a part of school budgets, levies have been increasingly used to pay for basic education needs. That means that groups like PTSAs often take on what’s left to provide a well-rounded education.

At Chief Kanim Middle School, the PTSA has taken a big role in maintaining the school library. With cuts in librarian hours, volunteers become trained library assistants, checking and shelving books and directing students to appropriate materials.

“They’ve really stepped up in the last couple of years,” said Kirk Dunckel, principal at Chief Kanim. “We couldn’t do a lot of school-wide functioning without their help.”

Several Valley PTSAs are now gearing up for their biggest fundraisers of the year, the Walk-A-Thons. These annual events, which have replaced magazine drives as centerpiece fundraisers, challenge young people to seek sponsorships for a walking marathon held at school. At Chief Kanim, proceeds are split between the Associated Student Body and the PTSA, which uses funding for teacher grants. Grants pay for everything from supplemental math materials to reading texts.

The extras?

Meadowbrook Way, the Mount Si High School literary magazine, is entering its 10th year in publication. The magazine offers students an attractive package to print ther poetry, short stories, art and essays. School counselor Joe Galagan, who oversees the magazine, said Meadowbrook Way is an important outlet for teens.

“It draws students in, gives them pride in their work,” Galagan said.

Since its inception, Meadowbrook Way has relied on funding from volunteer groups such as the Snoqualmie Valley Schools Foundation and the PTSA.

“Without the hard work of all the volunteers, all the fundraising, this kind of stuff just doesn’t happen,” Galagan said. “There’s not enough money in the building to support it.”

At Chief Kanim Middle School, grants have provided more than $30,000 in special funding over the last five years.

“When our budget’s tapped, it’s kind of a perk to have that extra money,” Dunckel said. “It’s been really beneficial. All of our teachers have benefited from PTSA money. No stone’s been overlooked.”

Wider role

Parent volunteers at Mount Si help keep the campus attractive, fill the wish list and help at parent-teacher conferences, handing out report cards and bringing food for a teacher meal. They also stay connected with their children’s lives and education.

“Parent involvement at the high school is just as important and necessary as it is in kindergarten,” said Piekarczyk. “No contribution is too large or too small. If someone can only manage an hour or two, we’ll find somewhere to use them.”

Going beyond their local role, PTSAs are part of a statewide organization that lobbies for increased school funding in Olympia. Members of Mount Si PTSA travel to the state capitol for yearly gatherings that stress the importance of school support.

Burrows got started as a PTA member 12 years ago when her daughter started school. She chose to become involved to get a real sense of what is happening in Valley schools

“I am terribly nosy,” Burrows said. “I want to know everything that’s going on.”

As a volunteer, “you find out the truth,” she added.

When Burrows noticed a litter problem, she advocated for a campus beautification effort.

“I don’t complain, I set about changing it,” she said.

Volunteer needs

Valley schools rely on many volunteer organizations and parent groups to make local education better. The following volunteer needs are just some of the ways that locals can help:

Snoqualmie Elementary

Parent, business and community volunteers are welcomed by the Snoqualmie Elementary PTSA, which runs a Reading Buddy and Watch D.O.G.S. program at the school.

Watch D.O.G.S., or Dads of Great Students, are fathers and guardians who make a one-day commitment to visit classrooms, go to lunch and recess and interact with children.

To get involved, contact President Monique Kruyt at mkruy@mail.com or visit septsa.com.

Tolt Middle School

At Tolt Middle School in Carnation, PTSA volunteers work monthly in the student store, act as lunch room monitors, help during the fall book fair, picture day and ASB magazine drive. Volunteers are also needed to help at the school talent show, chaperone dances, put together entries for the annual school art show, and teach single after-school enrichment classes for teachers. To get involved, e-mail to Kaarin Sharman at bkbsharm@hotmail.com

Opstad Elementary

The primary need for volunteer help at the beginning of the school year at North Bend's Opstad Elementary is the Walk-A-Thon. This fundraiser supports the rest of the PTA activities and programs through the year, including extra instructional support in classrooms, library books, field trips and grade level activities, PE equipment and grants to teachers.

Another need at both Opstad and the district is in the VISTA program, which matches volunteers with students who need reading practice. Students and volunteers meet once a week for 30 minutes. Volunteers get training and work with the same student over the year.

To learn more about VISTAs, visit www.svsd410.org/parents/VISTAS/index.asp. Learn about the Opstad PTA at www.opstadpta.org or e-mail to opstadpta@yahoo.com.

Fall City Elementary

Like Opstad, PTSA volunteers play a big role in the annual walkathon, set for Thursday, Sept. 30. Volunteers are also needed to help with grant writing, staff appreciation, the spring raffle and creation of a student directory.

Fall City is among Valley schools that promote literacy thanks to Reading Buddies, volunteers who give 30 minutes each week to read with a student 'buddy.' The program makes a big impact on children, helping students strengthen their reading skills with one-on-one attention. Interested volunteers can contact Susan Harris texas3step@comcast.net for more information.

To learn more about involvement in the Fall City PTSA, e-mail to carrie@ericahlstrom.com.

Mount Si PTSA

On Sept. 13, the PTSA hosts a forum on "Coping Skills for High School," 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13, at the Mount Si library. In October, the group plans a coffee with Principal Randy Taylor and representatives of student groups, focusing on how the school is handling harassment and bullying.

Mount Si's PTSA is selling raffle tickets through September 13. Ten winners receive reserved parking tickets to major Mount Si sporting events. Proceeds provide teacher grants.

The PTSA's volunteer network lists all committees and open positions on the Mount Si Web site. To get involved, interested residents can visit www.mshsptsa.com.

Mount Si PTSA dues are $20 for a family, $15 for a single, $12 for a student membership.

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