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Parent apathy frustrating to PTA president

August 09, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The president of the Washington County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations said Sunday he is growing increasingly frustrated with the low level of parent involvement in school and PTA activities in Washington County Public Schools.

When Scott Nicewarner's children entered public school, he did not hesitate to get involved in PTA, first at Bester Elementary School and then on the county PTA Council. He is in his third year as PTA president.

But he apparently is the exception.

Nicewarner, 39, whose father was a teacher and a principal in Bridgeport, W.Va., said he remembers attending PTA activities 25 to 30 years ago that drew 100 to 200 people.

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But times have changed and the days when parents scheduled their lives around school and PTA activities seem to be gone, he said.

It is unusual if more than 10 people attend school or county PTA events, whether the Washington County delegation of the Maryland General Assembly speaks about legislation involving education or a program on bike safety is presented, he said.

Providing free food at PTA activities used to guarantee at least some people would come, but even that does not work anymore, he said.

The change is partially because more families now have two working parents and more extracurricular activities are offered for children, he said.

He doesn't mean his comment as a "slam against active parents," but the level of participation now is sometimes embarrassing compared to the past, he said.

The problem is being felt by parent-teacher associations across the country as leaders ask, "Why can't we get parents involved?" he said.

"The less informed parents are of what their kids are doing in school, the more they will miss out on important parts of their kids' education," he said.

He urged people to, at a minimum, be aware of changes at their child's school and what is happening in their classes.

They can control how much time they want to spend with PTA or back-to-school events, but to not go at all is a mistake, he said.

"PTA gives every parent a voice and every child a voice," he said.

Many parents are involved in activities during the school day, but attendance is lacking at parent-teacher activities after the school day ends.

What seems to happen instead is that parents don't get involved until they are directly affected, as was the case when the Washington County Board of Education was considering school consolidations.

Edward Forrest, president of the Washington County Board of Education, said he has noticed the same trend: Parents don't attend PTA events unless something is wrong.

In separate interviews, Nicewarner and Forrest said they did not know what to do about the complicated problem.

Forrest said he supports one suggestion made by Nicewarner: Assemble a task force with representatives of the PTA, the school system, parents and students and see if they can figure out how to increase parental involvement.

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