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PTOs make the fun go round

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As soon as the cut ribbon hit the wood chips, the fifth graders at St. Michael School in Annandale raced onto the new playground, eager to test out each ladder and slide. For years, only the preschoolers and kindergartners had a playground. But recently the Parent-Teacher Organization raised more than $20,000 to help build a playground for the older students, too. 

“The climbing rope and the monkey bars — that's my favorite part,” said fifth grader Susie Spickelmier. “I was excited for today because there was something better to do than stand and run on the blacktop.”

PTOs have always found ways to support teachers and students, but since the pandemic, many have stepped up their game to continue providing opportunities for fun and fellowship despite the circumstances. 

Annie Fernandez, principal of St. Michael, admits she was skeptical that the PTO would be able to raise enough money for the new playground during a pandemic. Receiving a $15,000 grant gave them the jump-start they needed. “Our PTO is so dedicated to our St. Michael School and they’re very cooperative,” said Fernandez. “The events they came up with — so creative.”

To raise money for the playground and other initiatives, the PTO sold Valentine’s Day candy grams with messages attached to lollipops, poinsettias around Christmas and snacks during socially distanced outdoor movie nights. Because the school stopped having hot lunches during the pandemic, the PTO picked two Fridays this fall to give each student a free slice of pizza and charged $1 for extra slices. 

When they couldn’t have the spring auction in 2020, they raffled off the prizes. The next year, they had an in-person and virtual auction with socially distanced tables and a food truck. They raised almost $12,000. “That was a huge success. It's because of their efforts,” said Fernandez. 

The PTO also has events just for fun, such as a T-shirt design contest for the annual Turkey Trot. “The kids all got to submit a drawing and got to vote on their favorite design. The design that got the most votes was the pattern we used for the shirts that year,” said Angela Hughes, PTO president. “The winner got a free shirt and anyone who wanted one could buy one to wear to the Turkey Trot.” The kids also got to vote on what colors the playground would be — green, blue and yellow. 

With organizing fundraisers, contests, teacher luncheons and service projects, the PTO members stay busy, said Hughes. “We want to make everyone’s experience better and fun,” she said. “It’s worth it in the end, even the days where it’s a lot of work.”

At St. Theresa School in Ashburn, PTO members believe their work advances the mission of the school. “(We’re) a partnership between the teachers, the faculty, the administrators and the parents to enhance the faith-based education that our kids get at St. Theresa School,” said Shannon Glaws, PTO president, whose mother also served as St. Theresa School PTO president when Shannon was a student there years ago. “Our teachers and staff want to make learning fun for the kids and really get them engaged in things and unfortunately, things cost money. That’s what we’re here for — to help the teachers take any ideas they have and help that come to fruition.”

Recently, the PTO hosted a St. Francis of Assisi-inspired “Reptile Wonders” show where students could see snakes and turtles up close. “One of our computer teachers found this and brought it to us,” said Glaws. “Kids love field trips but with pandemic time, logistically it’s difficult to work it out. So this is one of the creative ways our teachers and our PTO have come up with enabling the kids to have something special.”

Other St. Theresa PTO activities include an annual auction, fall festival for the students, family movie nights, Halloween Trunk or Treat, bingo nights and parent coffee gatherings. Though many of the usual activities were adapted for the pandemic, it was important that they continue, said Erin O’Malley, principal. “(We made) sure we didn’t lose anything with our community along the way,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s about the students. There’s nothing like seeing the joy all these activities bring.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021