A parent initiative at Oak Park and River Forest High School has improved communication and understanding between parents and teachers and is aiding PTO/Booster funding disbursements.
The PTO Liaison Program has also gotten parents more involved at the school, something traditionally thought to wane by upper grades.
"I think it's a great idea because the high school becomes a hard place for parents to figure out how they can help," said Jill Baskin, one of more than 40 PTO members serving as liaisons to OPRF organizations and divisions. "This is a good way for [teachers and administrators] to tell us how they need help."
Baskin served as the liaison to the dean counselors in this, the first full year the program has been in operation. She'll continue in the same role in the fall.
Parent volunteers are assigned to divisions (academic and administrative) and student organizations. Liaisons attend regular meetings, or keep up with contacts, and report items of interest back to the PTO at meetings and on a special place on the PTO's website.
"It was an idea just sitting out there waiting to happen," said Donna D'Oro Anderson, program chair?#34;waiting, that is, for Vanessa Willey to introduce the concept to the PTO.
"The idea was to build trust so you could understand someone else's viewpoint to have a true exchange of ideas," Willey said in a voicemail message. "I think education in general has become polarized because people try to skip the trust step and the understanding step. Certainly a parent's viewpoint and an educator's viewpoint are different. Their goal is the same, but where they're coming from is a different place totally."
Not everyone has been enthused about the Liaison Program. Some divisions have yet to completely warm to the idea, volunteers said.
The program almost didn't get off the ground. When first approached with the idea, Principal/Supt. Sue Bridge needed clarification. Was the program a way for parents to assert control over school operations or needle teachers for better grades for their children?
"I'm not trying to use this as a personal anything," Baskin said. "I'm not doing this to help my kid out in any way."
When parents made it clear that they wanted in to help and it meant better funding for the school, Bridge green-lighted the initiative.
"Who could say no to that?" Bridge said. "It's been a really wonderful program for us."
PTO liaisons helped in the annual distribution of PTO and Booster Club funds by relaying an understanding of why a particular group needed a particular item requested. What exactly is a "4,000 g electronic balance" and why did the science division need two of them? Parents were there to explain.
Last week the PTO and Booster Club announced nearly $80,000 in combined funding for school divisions and groups (see sidebar).
"It's a simple concept and a simple program, but it's been something that has been very meaningful for a lot of parents," D'Oro Anderson said.
"The most important part to the program is that parents find they have a foot in the door at the high school," she said, adding that parents typically find it harder to be involved at OPRF than at elementary schools, and that teens rarely come home to report what's going on at school.
"There's an increased sense of what's going on because of the program," D'Oro Anderson said.
So far the liaison program has started the Celebrations! Books! Program, which aims to boost library holdings with purchased donations, and an evening program last fall to help freshman parents with math. A guide to youth sports programs and a booklet of high school international travel and science programs will be published this summer.
Also ahead is a student weekend activity program next year, and database of scientist parents and community members who might come into the classroom or host students at their place of work for unique learning opportuities.
Bridge said OPRF is lucky to have a PTO, as the organizations are rare at high schools.
"We're delighted ours is as vibrant and involved at the high school at it is."