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Union Mill Parents Defend Their School

Upset that their PTA's fund-raising methods were criticized, Union Mill Elementary parents are speaking out in defense of their PTA and their school.

As a fund-raiser, parents bid to have their children's birthday celebrated on the school marquee. Parent Scott Stevenson has no problem with it and doesn't believe it gives families with money an advantage.

"THE PTA should have a part in fund-raising," he said. "And the money received isn't going to the haves vs. the have nots. It goes to help all the children at the school equally. My son's in second grade and he loves Union Mill. His birthday was in January and his name wasn't up on the marquee — and he wasn't emotionally disturbed about it."

Furthermore, Stevenson said he doesn't believe PTA members' children get preferential treatment, as a couple mothers have claimed. "There's no way it affects pupil placement," he said. "Union Mill is a fine school. The haves are not trying to hold the have nots back."

Parent Wendy Zazzero says a PTA's role is to supplement and support its school. Agreeing that PTA members' children do not get special benefits because their parents volunteer, she said all children are treated fairly at Union Mill. "[It's] a socially and economically integrated school, and Mrs. [Principal Molly] Kingma is nothing less than a saint," said Zazzero. "She has done so much for my children — and she helps all children."

As a PTA member herself, she said, "I know they do an absolute, unlimited amount of work to benefit the school and the children. I respect the PTA volunteers' commitment to the school and the effort they put in, and [PTA] President Margot Yost does a fantastic job."

To enrich the student body, said Yost, the PTA provides educational, social, community and technological benefits to the school. "To date this school year, our volunteers have logged more than 6,000 in-school hours," she said. "The PTA works to bridge the gap between home, school and community via service projects, family nights, a spring ice-cream social and other activities."

Union Mill's PTA has 44 committees focusing on arts, humanities, education and service. It sponsors educational assemblies, plus hands-on cultural-arts programs for each grade level. These programs tie into the SOLs and enhance the students' education — and are only possible through PTA fund-raising.

BUT THAT'S not all, said Yost. The PTA helped fund the school playground in 2002 and sponsors programs including Reflections, Odyssey of the Mind, Young Authors, Chess Club, Hands-On-Science, the Walk for the Homeless and Bread Basket — through which students make sandwiches weekly for the Food For Others foodbank.

"The Union Mill PTA provides outstanding service to the community, and the children learn how they're helping others," said Yost. "And the silent auction pretty much funds us for the year. We'd never want to hurt anybody's feelings. We've been doing it for three years, and no one ever said anything against it."

The PTA also sponsors a Special Education committee which, last spring, held an assembly featuring puppets teaching about disabilities, educational and medical differences, social concerns and safety issues. The committee's also working on a resource library for parents of special-needs children.

Mary Zempolich is delighted to co-chair that committee because it lets her raise awareness of special ed within the community. "That's why I joined the PTA — because it gives me a venue to do this," she said. Regarding the fund-raiser, she said, "I spent $20 on the marquee, and my twin with autism just beamed. He thought it was the coolest thing to see his name there."

With so many needs in the school, said Zempolich, "How else are we going to get the money? Let's think of alternatives — but let's not take money away from the kids."