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East County Wednesday, Sep. 2, 2020 6 months ago

East County PTOs adjust to new normal

Lakewood Ranch-area Parent-Teacher Organizations are coming up with ways to host fundraisers and events.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Normally, Kristin Pomeroy, the parent-teacher organization president for B.D. Gullett Elementary School, would spend the summer organizing the school’s Halloween and holiday events. 

Due to COVID-19 and the uncertainty going into this school year, Pomeroy and the PTO’s planning efforts have been at a halt.

“It’s tough because usually, we’re kicking off this big fundraiser, and right now we’re trying to be mindful of what’s happening,” she said. “We’re on quite a standstill trying to figure out which direction we want to go.”

The same goes for PTOs across East County schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and School District of Manatee County protocols are restricting fundraisers PTOs can have, events that can be hosted and ways to support teachers.

“We want to be saying, ‘Here’s all these fun events we’re doing,’ and we can’t,” Pomeroy said. “I just put our calendar events together, and there was barely anything on there. That’s the struggle.”

Amy Hammon, PTO president at Robert E. Willis Elementary School, said the organization is looking at hosting virtual events.

“I’m open to any small businesses that have things we could do as an art project or a fun project,” Hammon said. “We would love to support our local community. We know small businesses are having a hard time, and we want to support them.”

Hammon said Willis’ PTO is focusing on giving back to the community and the school’s families because COVID-19 could have financially impacted them.

“We want people to feel they are not alone, and we are going to pull together and do this,” she said. “This is the year that’s pushed us to our limits, and we’re going to have to lean on each other and rise. We’re not going to survive it. We’re going to thrive.”

A challenge will be balancing students’ expectations of events they’ve seen in the past with reality, Hammon said.

“As a board, we are trying to find other opportunities to give them a fun experience,” Hammon said. “The hardest part is not wanting to disappoint our children but also in this new environment adjusting to things not being the same but still being great.”

Hammon is hoping the PTO can create an Amazing Gecko Race, for which families can remain in their cars while doing a scavenger hunt throughout Manatee County to find hidden geckos.

For some PTOs, such as the organization at Dr. Mona Jain Middle School, COVID-19 is causing a financial impact on the PTO. 

Mona Jain Middle’s PTO was started last year, so the organization doesn’t have reserves and depends on any fundraisers it can have this year.

“It’s been a challenge for us because if you think about it, we only had three quarters where we were able to do things kind of the normal way,” said Josie Purcell, PTO president at Mona Jain. “Some of the things we had hoped to do toward the latter part of last year to set us up for this year fund-wise, we weren’t able to do.”

Lack of funding means not being able to have as many events or help at the school as much as the PTO had hoped.

Allison Boccaccio and Amy Hammon, vice president and president of Robert E. Willis Elementary's Parent-Teacher Organization, participate in the PTO's spring fundraiser. Courtesy photo.

Parents and volunteers are not allowed inside the schools, which means PTO members can’t go into the schools to support teachers or volunteer in the classroom.

“You want to be there to help with extra needs they have, like taking temperatures and helping to clean, because right now they’re being pulled in so many directions that normally they would have volunteers or additional staff to help them,” Pomeroy said. “That’s a bummer.”

Hammon said members of the organization spend between 10 and 15 hours per week volunteering inside the schools. Now they have to find creative ways to continue to support teachers while staying at home. That can be with tasks including purchasing packaged materials and supplies.

Both Hammon and Pomeroy want to reach out to other PTO presidents in East County to help one another brainstorm ideas for this year and see how they can support one another.

“The common thread every PTO has is we are just parents, and we want our children to be happy and safe,” Hammon said. “We all could use kindness and grace, and if we can do that, we can thrive.”

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