When I was eight-years-old, I remember attending the Bunker Hill Elementary School Fall Fun Festival. I would save every ticket for the stuffed animal game so I could have every possible chance to win the biggest toy. While I was getting my face painted, I remember my mom, dressed as a clown, running around through the event to make sure it was perfect for all the families and children that attended. Everyone waited all year for this activity and I always admired my mom for being the organizer because my friends all thanked me for her doing it. I guess from that moment I knew I was destined to be a PTA mom, too. I was always so proud of her for the many hours she dedicated to my school, and I wanted to be that kind of mom when I grew up. To this day, the best compliment I can receive is being compared to her.
Now that I'm a mom of a 10-year-old girl, I realize how important it is to be involved in our children's education from the moment they step into kindergarten. My first experience with the PTA was attending one of the first meetings at the school because there was going to be a discussion about improving the playground. I was immediately interested and volunteered to be in charge of the project. I was fortunate to secure a $17,000 grant through the West Virginia legislature, and we were able to pave a ¼ mile track as well as a new basketball court. We took out old, unsafe playground equipment as well as installed new equipment from multiple fundraisers sponsored by the PTA in previous years. PTA officers painted fun games on the new court as well as painted existing equipment, and purchased new playground mulch for safety. After a full summer of preparing our new playground, I organized our first ever "Welcome Back to School" event with over 500 people attending. It was a wonderful experience to see how happy the children were from the hard work of our PTA, and I was inspired to do even more because I saw what a group of devoted parents could do.
Over the next few years, I was able to secure a $5,500 library grant to improve our school library, and the following year I secured a $12,000 grant to construct an Outdoor Science and Nature Center through requests from the West Virginia legislature. When my daughter Elizabeth asked me what the difference was between a deciduous and conifer tree, because she was having trouble memorizing the answer from the science book, I took her outside to see it for herself. I realized then how important it was for our children to experience education through hands-on learning and it sparked the idea for the Center. This is how many extraordinary things have evolved for our children, from parents willing to take an idea and devote the time necessary to make it happen.
With the help of many PTA volunteers, we installed a large green house, water garden with fish, bridge, butterfly garden, weather station, sundial, archaeology digging area for fossils and minerals, tree stumps for counting the rings, benches for an outdoor classroom and reading area, and over 60 different plants, shrubs and trees. We also incorporated West Virginia significance by including our state animal, tree, bird, and flower. A large brick walkway runs throughout the center that includes engraved pavers with messages from parents and staff.
During these years of volunteering, I have learned that parental involvement in our schools is the key to our children's success. National PTA believes that family engagement in education is critical for ensuring our children's academic achievement, graduation from high school, and overall success in their life. I am proud to be a part of this initiative on behalf of the National PTA through creating a variety of after-school activities such as Family Fit and Safety Night, Grandparent Appreciation Night, Multicultural Night, and incorporating activities during the school day such as Take a Veteran to School Day and organizing a new Watch DOGS program this past year at Mill Creek Intermediate School. I've seen firsthand the positive outcome these activities provide for families. Each year at our Berkeley County Council PTA Spring Banquet I quote our National PTA co-founder, Alice McLellan Birney, who in 1897 said "What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must be what PTA wants for all children." My passion is serving children and this inspiring statement drives me to ensure our students have the best possible experience in education.
Janelle Sperry has been recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for her work in the PTA.