To Teresa Lantigua, involvement means people working together to make a difference—lots of people. Lantigua just retired as copresident at P.S. 24, the Dual Languages School for International Studies in Brooklyn, N.Y. The school includes a host of ethnicities, and thanks to Lantigua’s efforts, so does the Parent Association. “We’re like the United Nations, a melting pot of all races and cultures working together to accomplish one goal,” she says.

That wasn’t the case until a new board took over last year, though. The PA “was not a functional group; it was basically a one-person show,” she reports. Lantigua, a Dominican, says some parents felt they did not fit in because of their race or language. Others shied away from volunteering because they couldn’t fit it into their work schedule or because their time might be wasted listening to gossip. “We had to explain on a one-to-one basis that we were all full-time working parents,” Lantigua remembers. “We promised to make their day productive.” She and copresident Janice Davison established a schedule that allowed parents to volunteer anywhere from 10 minutes to five hours at a time and be given specific duties.

Much of Lantigua’s success came from thinking outside the school. The karate studio, supermarket, church, even community celebrations like Mexican Independence Day were fruitful grounds. Her four children, ages 8 to 19, would often recognize classmates, who were usually accompanied by a parent. Lantigua would seize the opportunity to talk up the all-new, welcoming parent group at P.S. 24. “I would just start a conversation on how important it is to be involved [and] how much the school needs their help.”

By the third Parent Association meeting, almost 60 parents were showing up. More important, “they saw different nationalities involved,” Lantigua says. “Once a person sees or recognizes something familiar, they begin to feel more comfortable, welcomed, and supported.”

Lantigua also worked hard last year to eliminate the “us vs. them” relationship between parents and teachers. In early September, the group hosted a breakfast for teachers, then issued personalized invitations to meetings. “We started to recruit teachers to help us during movie night, the winter carnival, flea market, and our talent show,” she says.

Lantigua’s efforts have caught the eye of Debbie McCabe, a parent support officer with New York City’s Department of Education. McCabe provided advice and support as Lantigua worked to engage parents. “She’s my classic involvement story,” says McCabe. “Her outreach was incredible.”