Judges' Choice: Focusing on Families' Needs

A new group that focuses on families earns the Judges' Choice award in the 2015 Parent Group of the Year search.

by Poornima Apte


Hardly anybody at PS 23 Elementary in Brooklyn, N.Y., remembers the school ever having had a parent group. This struck Yulermina (Julie) Luna especially hard. Having forged fond childhood memories from when she was a student at PS 23, Luna decided that the only way her own kids would enjoy similar experiences would be if she took matters into her own hands.

Spread the word—schools thrive because of hard-working parent groups

Nearly a third of the students live in shelters and temporary accommodations in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbor­hood, and money is tight. With the help of a couple of small donations, “Miss Julie,” as the kids affectionately call her, got the ball rolling with a Christmas concert bake sale. Luna’s infectious enthusiasm and tenacity drew in additional volunteers, and the PTA now has six core members.

Depending mostly on small donations from parents and community members, the group hosted a series of successful and popular events during the 2014-15 school year. These included a fall dance, a holiday shop, an Easter egg hunt, and more. Spirit days such as crazy hair day, wacky tacky day, and the American Heart Association’s Wear Red Day don’t require much money and are popular community-enhancing events.

Keeping the school demographics in mind, the PTA established a school newsletter and set up a community information table by the main entrance. Leaders keep this stocked with flyers on educational and employment opportunities, low-income assistance, health care assistance, children’s activities, a list of food pantries in the area, and general school information. To help its underprivileged students, the PTA asked schools in more affluent parts of Brooklyn to conduct winter- wear clothing drives for PS 23 students. The donations, says treasurer Gigi Matthews, were overwhelming.

The school community’s response to the PTA, which has set up camp in a vacant classroom, has been positive. The PTA maintains a small supply of canned food and gently used children’s clothing, which school officials distribute as needed. The PTA room has become a gathering place for anyone looking for a cup of tea and a smile. It helps foster a sense of community, Matthews says.

The lesson, Luna says, is to not wait to effect change. “You’ve got to take things into your hands,” she says. Matthews agrees. “One person can make a difference,” she points out, “and that one person can be you.”

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