By David Lias
The Vermillion Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is wrapping up a successful 2013 in the Vermillion School District, and all indicators point to the organization continuing to have a positive local impact in the upcoming new year.
Sharla Krell, who is currently serving her second year at Vermillion PTA president, gave an overview of the organization’s activities and goals at a recent meeting of the Vermillion School Board.
“To serve our missions of community building, we try to do a lot of projects in the schools and in the community throughout the year,” she said.
An activity that the local PTA is particularly proud of is its art block program.
“It’s a long-standing program; it’s a collaboration between the PTA and the Vermillion Area Arts Council. It’s coordinated by past president Judy Zwolak, who started it six or seven years ago,” Krell said. “The program was begun to compensate for the lack of art teachers in local elementary classrooms. It’s a volunteer-supported art curriculum that brings professional art lessons in to all of the students at Jolley Elementary.”
Krell said volunteers from the Vermillion Area Arts Council and art teachers at Vermillion High School create lessons, teach them to PTA volunteers who then bring them into the classrooms.
“It’s a fantastic project; the students really love it,” she said. “Especially at Jolley, they don’t get enough of it, so to have these times that are carved out – they get four lessons per grade, and they usually last about a month – they get a lesson about once a week, so it’s really a fantastic project.”
Two years ago, the PTA also began assisting with art education at Austin Elementary.
“Austin is doing it a little bit differently; they are doing the artist in residency program, so we are able to utilize some of our Vermillion artists which is really fantastic for them,” Krell said. “We bring them in with the little kids and have them do professional art lessons as well. These are two projects that we are really, really proud of.”
Another long-standing program of the Vermillion PTA is its community carnival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year.
“It was bigger and better than ever. We’re headed in that direction again this year; I’m sure it’s going to be another big event,” she said.
The carnival is held every spring at the high school.
“It focuses a lot on our much, much younger kids. We’re targeting this one for Austin (Elementary) students and for kids younger,” Krell said. “This is a great event that really showcases our volunteers; it takes a lot of volunteers to really pull this off, and we have a lot of people who are very willing to give up their time. We get a huge corps for that community carnival.”
Another primary focus of the Vermillion PTA is teacher appreciation.
“Almost monthly, we have something that we do within the schools for the teachers. We have vice presidents in all of the schools that connect daily or weekly with our teachers and administrators to find out what their needs are. They also talk of our teacher grant program, which is something that we started in the last couple years,” Krell told the school board. “Teachers can apply for grants for a classroom level, for a grade level, for a building level, to help supplement areas that they need assistance in. … if it’s something that benefits kids in the classrooms, we will generally accept it. We earmark about $3,000 out of our funds for teacher grants every year.”
Fundraising efforts to support the local PTA’s programs include book fairs that are held in the school district twice a year.
“That’s always been our primary fundraiser, and it supports our mission of education,” she said.
Late this year, the Vermillion PTA added a new fundraising activity – a Boosterthon Fun Run, which was held in the DakotaDome Dec. 3.
“The students walked, they ran, they skipped, they high-fived around the track. It was a really spectacular time,” Krell said. “Students absolutely loved it. We had every Austin and Jolley student there.”
The event help raise funds as students secured pledges, up to a maximum of $35, for the distances they ran on the DakotaDome track.
“We’re working at evaluating the process right now. We really enjoyed it, and we’ve had students and teachers tell us that they really enjoyed it,” she said. “Now we just have to figure out how to make it a permanent place in our year.”
Krell noted that the purpose of the Vermillion PTA is to create a networked community.
“We take our parents, we take teachers, we take community members, we take administrators, and we really try to create a community that will support our children’s educational success,” she told Vermillion School Board members. “So just like you, as you sit here and make decisions that will support them, we do the same things in our meetings to try to support them through the schools and classrooms as well.”
The local PTA focuses its resources and activities in Austin and Jolley elementary schools, and in Vermillion Middle School. “We let booster clubs help out at the high school level,” Krell said. “We focus on the little ones.
“We have an executive board that is made up of officers, committee chairs, and teacher representatives,” she said. “We serve one- to two-year terms; because of that, we’re lucky in that our team is constantly changing and yet we don’t turnover ever all at once, so we’ve always got old blood mixed in with new blood.”
Within the PTA, “nobody stays in the same consecutive position for more than two years. You can come in and out of positions, but you can’t stay put where you were,” Krell said. “I think that makes for a very healthy board and a lot of new faces and new ideas get into the mix as well.”
The Vermillion PTA’s leadership includes vice presidents at Austin Elementary, Jolley Elementary and Vermillion Middle School, along with committee chairs.
Those committees cover such topics and activities as health and wellness, carnival, teacher appreciation, and membership. The organization’s leadership also includes board positions of president, vice president, secretary and treasurer.
“We’re a pretty big group. We also have asked that we have teacher and principal reps at all of the meetings, too. Even though some of our teacher reps also chair committees, we do make sure that we have representatives for all of the buildings that we serve,” Krell said. “We’re a fairly good sized board when we have everybody there – we’re 12 to 15 people – and the route that we’ve gone this year is we hold open board meetings. When we have our monthly meetings, we do our business but we invite anyone who is interested to come and be a part of it as well.
“We usually get an extra five or six people at all of our meetings,” she said. “When we meet, we usually in a group of about 15 to 20 people. That’s good for us, I think.”