by Jim Baehler
The PTA is the primary funder of the school’s enrichment programs, which include art, gardening, dance, literature, and drama.
According to the school, giving or pledging through a payment plan by October 31 will enable the school to finalize enrichment programs and professional development planning for this academic year.
Board of Ed
The Board of Education provides little or no funding for enrichment programs, forcing City schools to look elsewhere for such monies. At PS/IS 217, as in a lot of other New York City schools, the PTA assesses need and then finds ways to provide the necessary funds.
As school budget cuts have gotten more and more severe, PTAs have had to step in to contribute more. In fact, PTAs pay for all or part of every enrichment program that schools offer, including the instructors. Upper East Side stalwart PS 6 raised $4.3 million between 2007 and 2012. For this school year, PS 6 wants to raise $800,000, and their suggested donation is $1,200 per child. The West Village’s PS 41 is trying to raise $600,000, and requests a contribution of $700 per family. Hunter College Elementary School wants $1,750 per student.
A big priority is 100% participation. Grant-giving organizations like to know that their money will go to efforts that are fully supported by the affected parents. The Roosevelt Island school suggests $500 per family, but prefers that every family give what it can; even a $5 or $10 donation will help the school obtain large grants. The PTA is organized as a non-profit under Section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code, which means that donations are tax-deductible, and may be eligible for matching grants from employers that have such programs.
The Roosevelt Island school also gets money from the General Purpose Fund administered by RIOC. Charitable organizations that support school activities provide some grants, but the principal source of funding is contributions from parents with children enrolled at PS/IS 217.
The Co-Presidents of the PS/IS 217 PTA are Natalia Starkova and Olga Shchuchinov. Neither is new to the PTA. In fact, Shchuchinov has served as President or Co-President for the past six years. Starkova was treasurer and website manager.
They’re responsible for designing the fund-raising effort at our school. They started this school year’s push at the end of last school year, with a presentation at the New Families’ Orientation. In the school’s packed cafeteria, they explained where the $500 per family goes. Additionally, they passed around folders to every family listing upcoming activities, ways to volunteer, and the basis for the projected PTA expenses.
The PTA hosted a picnic on the Saturday before school started, and a welcome breakfast at Al Lewis Playground on the first day of school.
It’s not all about soliciting contributions; the PTA raises money in other ways. The school is hosting the Scholastic Book Fair October 6 through 10. This year’s fair will have a medieval theme. The school hosts Halloween Carnivals, Thanksgiving Pie Sales, Pizza Parties, Movie Nights, Concerts, Valentine’s Day Parties, Auctions, International Dinners – many of which are open to the community at large. Many of these activities are advertised on the kiosks. Otherwise, families can sign up to be on the PTA email list, or like the PTA on Facebook, or follow it on Twitter.
Co-Presidents Starkova and Shchuchinov encourage parents to donate their time, too. “Money isn’t everything. We need new people with new ideas to join the PTA. Like most people who have been doing something for a while, we can get into a rut. We welcome newcomers who bring a fresh way of looking at things, and have new ideas on how to solve our problems and reach our goals.”
Parents are encouraged to sign up as classroom aides, their schedules permitting. “We have children here from 96 different countries, some of whom have little or no facility with English, and properly trained teacher aides can make a big difference. We are extremely fortunate in having Daniel Hirsch as our English as a Second Language instructor. He is fluent in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and a number of other languages, and it is so gratifying to see him put an apprehensive child at ease by speaking in that child’s native language.”
A parent who is interested in becoming a teacher’s aide will undergo a background check, and will need to complete a training program of one or two days.
Some of the programs wholly or partially financed by the PTA include:
• Ballroom Dancing for grades 5 through 8.
• The Third Grade Band, in which parents pay for the instruments but the PTA covers funding for parents who cannot afford to pay. The PTA also finances music books and the maintenance and repair of the instruments.
• All grades participate in the school’s gardening program, A Living Library, at various Island locations. The PTA’s Shchuchinov reports, “The children just love it. They are so fascinated to see things grow and to learn how that happens.”
• Yoga and Movement Classes for grades K-2; the instructors are from the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance.
• Fourth graders participate in Gold Opera, where the class creates and performs its own original opera.
• Shakespeare in Schools is a 7th-grade program. The students analyze plays, act out scenes, and learn about the world of Shakespeare.
A full listing of enrichment programs sponsored by the PTA is on its website at www.217pta.com.
Islanders wishing to contribute to the PTA can write a check to PS/IS 217 PTA and submit it at the school office. Alternatively, a donation can be made online at www217pta.com.