Volume 17 • Issue 29 | Dec. 10 -16, 2004


P.T.A. tales from a seasoned veteran

By Angela Benfield

When my daughter first started kindergarten, I attended my first P.T.A. meeting. Before I arrived, I had imagined that I would be greeted by smiling parents, arms wide open, just waiting to meet me and ask my opinions about child rearing, education, cooking and baking. Little did I realize, I had a better chance of marrying Tom Cruise (and he was still with Nicole at the time).

What followed was not what I expected at all. After a short speech from the principal after which she immediately dashed out of the auditorium (kind of like Houdini), someone asked a question.

“What is being done about the lice situation?” he said. There was a rumble through the crowd at P.S. 234.

“There’s a ‘lice situation?’” someone asked.

“Are they situating in my child’s hair?” said someone else. My head began to itch. After forty-five minutes of outrage followed by an explanation that lice can sometimes be brought back from children who attend sleepover camps, and after another forty-five minutes of different remedies of tea tree oils being shared, I came to the conclusion that P.T.A. meetings were not for me.

But, the P.T.A. was not going to let me get away that easily. While picking my daughter up from a playdate one day, I opened my big mouth to her friend’s mother that I once did a little bookkeeping. Her mother happened to be the chair of the fund-raising committee that year. Apparently, she decided to take this information and put it in the back of her little memory file. Six months later, while the nominating committee was selecting members, she asked if I would be interested in being treasurer.

“Because you have experience,” she said.

“No! No! No!” is what my mind was screaming, but what came out of my mouth was “Maybe.” Apparently, a “maybe” was close enough to a “yes” for her.

Today, after having served six years on three different P.T.A.’s in just about every position, I understand more than any human should be allowed to know about it. What continues to amaze me is that the P.T.A. can function at all. It’s run by parents that are overworked and unpaid. At least in a monetary way.

We get compensated by listening to our children tell us how much they are being ignored because we are working on the computer instead of playing Candyland with them. One parent I know even had a poem written by her son about how much he appreciates her being on the P.T.A. He surprised her by reciting it in front of all the other parents and the whole class:

Typing, typing

I’m hungry

Typing, typing

Make my dinner

We also get paid back for all our hard work through the support of parents that tell us how much better the last fund-raising event could have been if we had only thought to get better hors d’oeuvres.

As if this wasn’t rewarding enough, we get to come home and look at our empty refrigerators, rapidly growing legion of dust bunnies and enormous piles of laundry that may as well be able to stand up and say, “Look at how big you let me get! You’re a failure as a parent!”

The events of this past week brought back reminders of that first meeting I attended so many years ago. A child in one of the kindergarten classes at P.S. 89 had contracted Hepatitis A. The child’s doctor reported it to the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, as required, and they in turn contacted the parents of the other children in that class. While Hepatitis A, the mildest form of hepatitis, can only be transferred through intimate contact, parents of children in the other classes decided that this was a fast spreading epidemic that the P.T.A. was conspiring to cover up.

At a P.T.A. meeting, the principal announced that the school followed the Health Department’s recommendation NOT to notify all of the parents because no other children except the ones in that particular class were at risk. Then came the shouting of questions that had already been answered, and comments that are obvious to everyone, especially other parents.

“Why weren’t we notified?”

“Health and safety comes first!”

“They need to be taught to wash their hands!”

This went on close to an hour. Then, someone came up with the idea that the P.T.A. should send out a notice about it. I’m not sure who they think is qualified enough on the P.T.A. to send out information regarding Hepatitis A or any other illness. We are only parents, just like them, doing our best to help the school.

We want to help because we’d like our children to have a lot more than what the Dept. of Education gives them, and that’s why we do it. Perhaps instead of asking what the P.T.A. can do for them, they should ask what they could do for the P.T.A.

Anyway, just my two and a half cents.

Angela Benfield is co-president of the P.T.A. at P.S. 89 and I.S. 89 in Battery Park City.

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