Darien PTOs play important role in education
Attending school in Darien can sometimes feel like a fairy tale thanks to the various enrichment programs and gifts the schools receive, but those programs wouldn't be possible without the hard work of Darien PTOs, Darien parents and fundraisers.
Enrichment programs cover any programs brought into the school to supplement and enhance student learning, and gift items cover items that "further enhance and enrich learning or the school environment, yet fall outside of the Board of Education budget," according to Susan Vogel, co-chairman of the Council of Darien School Parents.
"What [the Board of Education, the district administration and PTOs] all strive for when gifting items is parity," Vogel said.
As an example of parity, all of the schools were offered new water fountains a few years ago, according to Katie Stein, co-chairman of the Tokeneke PTO, and Tokeneke declined.
"We were a brand new school, and we didn't need new water fountains," Stein said, "But because of parity they offered it to us. It has to be fair and even, so most of the stuff tends to be here or there that the particular school needs."
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Each of the five Darien elementary schools has its own major fundraiser each year, but all share the same cap. Each school can spend up to $100 per student per year on enrichment programs, depending how much money they raise.
Tokeneke kicked off the year with a wrapping paper sale, according to Stein, and its big fundraiser, the Tokeneke Pumpkin Carnival, is scheduled for Oct. 13.
"It's a fundraiser, but it's also a really big community event," Stein said. "It helps build our community for new parents. It's a great way for them to get included right off the bat."
Some of the enrichment programs at Tokeneke include Art Link, which is an art exchange with students in Africa, a mock election and Ted Sheu the Poetry Guy.
"This year we're having a parent social night and a silent auction to go along with that," Zielanksi said, adding that the outfitter that does Holmes Spiritwear gives a percentage of its money to the PTO.
One of the enrichment programs at Holmes this year a writer in residence Donato D'albis.
"He comes for a few days in the fall, and then later in the spring he comes for a whole week," Zielinkski said. "He teaches classes for the kids in writing. He'll spend a half hour in each class, giving them lessons and homework."
Ox Ridge has several fundraisers, according to co-chairman Sharon Particelli. They kicked off the year with something new, though, a family photo day in September.
"A local photographer went to Tilly Pond Park and took pictures of whoever wanted to sign up, and worked with us to work out a package, and a percentage of what she did went back to our PTO," Patricelli said.
The main fundraiser at Ox Ridge is going to be Oxtoberfest, an adult-only affair with a silent auction held at the Darien Country Club on Oct. 20.
"It's completely run by parents, and that's our big thing," she said.
Something new Hindley is doing this year is a Hindley cookbook instead of a wrapping paper sale.
"Parents and staff and teachers are going to submit recipes, and it's going to have a Hindley-themed cover and we're going to sell them around the holidays," Fitzpatrick said.
Usually, all five elementary schools participate in the Stop and Shop A+ rewards programs, box tops, book fairs and wrapping paper sales.
As for gifts, there have been varying kinds in the past, according to Vogel.
"Playgrounds have been gifted in the past. We once re-did a stage floor. They tend to be tangible items like basketball hoops, art kilns, Mac computers, those kinds of things" Vogel said.
Tokeneke's fifth-grade class gifts an item every year. Last year they gifted a mural in the library featuring prominent literary figures.
"We gifted a sandbox two years ago and new sand this year. We'll probably get new sand every year," Stein said laughing.
Zielinksi said that Holmes PTO takes care of much of supplies for teachers in the classroom.
"We donated a refrigerator to the teacher's lounge last year," Zielanski said. "We've donated stuff for activities for rainy days. We basically work with the school principals to try and address what the school needs within our limits."
Last week Ox Ridge PTO redonated a new audio and video system to Ox Ridge to hopefully be installed in December. According to Patricelli that's the only major gift the PTO has given in the past few years.
And writing a check isn't the only way for parents to give, according to Vogel.
"There's a conscious effort made to provide lots of opportunity, and we encourage lots of different levels of participation," Vogel said.
Stein echoed Vogel's thoughts.
"We live in a community where parents are very engaged," Stein said. "I think we're really fortunate to live where we live and people realize that education is really important. I feel like I'm very lucky to be doing what I'm doing."
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