Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The PTA is Back at Margaret Brent

By Erin Colligan

After a two-year absence, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School is once again active and thriving. A group of motivated parents began meeting last summer and by fall were officially incorporated. PTA is a national organization that provides technical assistance to local groups in exchange for nominal dues. President Lakiya Emerson and Vice President Debra Mathews lead Margaret Brent’s chapter. Mathews explained that the PTA’s goal is to support the students and teachers at Margaret Brent and to empower parents to be involved in their children’s education. Mathews, who has two children enrolled at Margaret Brent, notes that the school has “blossomed” in the past five years and that it “really feels like a community school.” The PTA seeks to help Margaret Brent “continue on its current trajectory and become an even better place.”

Some of the improvement Mathews observes can be attributed to more financial investment in the school. Margaret Brent has received support through Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood Community Partners Initiative (HCPI). HCPI lists education as one of its focuses and is particularly interested in Margaret Brent and Barclay. As Hopkins president Ronald Daniels acknowledged at the project’s launch, “The future of Johns Hopkins is inextricably linked to that of the community.”

Mathews is especially enthusiastic about Margaret Brent’s arts-integrated curriculum. The school has artists-in-residence through the nonprofit Young Audiences of MD; a full-time arts teacher, Rachel Prince; and theatre programs through Single Carrot. Mathews believes that the arts-integrated program is a great way for students learn more effectively. Margaret Brent has also incorporated the Support Success for All reading curriculum and the SABIS engineering curriculum. They even had a Science Olympiad team that made it to the state finals.

Most of Remington, except for a few blocks in the southern end, are served by Margaret Brent, as is a little less than half of Charles Village. Enrollment at Margaret Brent has increased from 260 in 2006 to 340 kids in 2015. Despite this growth, Mathews recognizes that many parents in the neighborhood still have reservations about sending their children to public schools in the city. Mathews hopes the PTA can help parents become more comfortable with the idea. She believes that if they can get people through the door, they’ll realize what an “adorable little place” Margaret Brent is and that it does not fit the stereotype of a Baltimore public school.

The PTA’s main challenge, however, is parent engagement. With competing job and family demands, it is difficult for many parents to carve out time to participate in the PTA. Mathews and the rest of the PTA board are doing their best to make it possible for parents to get involved in whatever capacity they can. They recently ran an incentive program for students in which classes nominated kids who best demonstrated “character” and these students were able to go to the gym for an hour of fun activities. Parents could contribute by planning the event or participating on the day of by refereeing games.

The PTA also collects box tops to raise funds and makes trips to Annapolis to advocate for Baltimore City public schools. Additionally, It has a set of committees so parents can take leadership roles and get involved in the issues that interest them most. Mathews said the PTA board’s philosophy is empowering parents to come up with ideas rather than using a top-down approach to get them engaged and invested.

So far, the approach is working. The PTA steering committee needed 25 paying members for incorporation and they had 35. They usually have around 20 parents at their monthly meetings. If you want to join the Margaret Brent PTA, the dues are $7.50 annually for an individual with one vote and $10 for a family with 2 votes. Meetings are the 2nd Thursday of the month in the school’s cafeteria at 5:45pm. Mathews said there is a great deal of excitement at the school and she would love the community to know about it. Margaret Brent has been growing not just in enrollment but in the kinds of things they have to offer students. As Mathews remarks, “great things are happening” and getting involved in the PTA is an excellent way to ensure they continue.