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Parent Perspective: PIMA Award Statewide Winner Andrew Niebler on “Just Being Present and Involved”
By Andrew Niebler, 2015 Parent Involvement Matters Award (PIMA) Statewide Winner, Westland Middle School, Montgomery County Public Schools
Being a parent volunteer at Westland Middle School has been an incredibly rewarding experience. One of the most important things I have learned is the value of just being present and getting over the initial hurdle to take the first step. When I agreed to serve on the PTA’s Executive Board as Treasurer, I never imagined that I would find myself so deeply involved in the work of Westland Cares – but by virtue of just being present and involved in other activities at the school, I became aware of an important unmet need in our school community and simultaneously found myself with the opportunity to do something about addressing it.
Westland Cares started as an effort to provide Thanksgiving meals to families in need. Over time, it has evolved into a much more comprehensive inclusion program that seeks to provide students with some measure of food security as well as the same access to school events and extracurricular activities and experiences as their more economically-advantaged peers.
I am so thankful that the Westland Community has embraced the Westland Cares program, and thankful too for all of the small and large contributions that many, many parents make to the program throughout the year. These contributions range from remembering to buy extra food and toiletries so their students can bring them to the food pantry donation boxes, to the volunteers who helped to beautifully display and wrap hundreds of gifts that were donated to Westland’s Holiday House. The generosity of the community has been incredible – and I think I can speak for all of my fellow volunteers at Westland in saying what a rewarding experience it has been to be a part of this.
In addition to the many contributions of our generous parent community, we have been so fortunate at Westland to have such fabulous PTA presidents who have been so supportive of this new initiative. Similarly, Westland Cares could never have achieved its objectives without the support of our amazing administration and staff. Our Principal Alison Serino has been an incredible partner in realizing the full potential of Westland Cares from the day that she joined the Westland community three years ago. When we approached her with the idea of setting up a food pantry, she not only gave us the green light but she helped us scour the school for possible locations and in the end helped us clean out part of a storage closet to create what has now become the Westland Market. The Westland counseling staff has also been absolutely instrumental in communicating with students and their families to let them know about the resources that are available to them through Westland Cares. Finally, a group of passionate and dedicated teachers and staff members have been invaluable in referring students who might benefit from assistance through Westland Cares – and they have done a truly phenomenal job in helping to run the Westland Market.
In short, the reason that Westland Cares works is because over time it has become a true partnership between the parent community, which provides resources to make the support available, and the Westland teachers and staff who have embraced the program and devote themselves to delivering this support to students in need.
Westland Cares could not succeed without both parts, and it therefore truly is a parent-teacher collaboration. These collaborative volunteer efforts are intended to let students in need know that they are not alone and that help is available, and that knowledge and assistance hopefully helps to reduce some of their worries and concerns and to enhance the quality of their educational experiences.
Creating this type of supportive program at Westland has been such a rewarding experience for me personally and for so many other members of our community. I would most definitely encourage parents to think about getting similarly involved in their school communities.
Mr. Niebler is an attorney in Bethesda, Maryland.