A recent article by staff writer Keith Farner praised PTA volunteers and the countless hours they spend working for their schools. I always paid my PTA dues, but I was too much of a free spirit to commit to a committee. I was more inclined to pop in to chaperone trips, tutor kids or file papers. And of course, the PTA could always count on me to bake cupcakes.
I recently talked with Melissa Martin, Parent Instructional Support Coordinator at Berkmar Middle and was surprised how things have changed. Due to new policies concerning privacy, security and health, many of the things I did in the last century may no longer be performed by volunteers. She assured me schools can still use "extra eyes" to chaperone trips and direct hall traffic on picture day and "extra hands" to shelve books in the library and stuff envelopes in the office. But one thing they don't need anymore is cupcakes.
"With one out of three children being either overweight or obese, we no longer want parents sending cupcakes or candy to classrooms for a reward. It is a revolutionary idea," Martin said.
Martin pointed out that Dana Griffith, 2011-12 Atlanta Falcons P.E. Teacher of the Year, has come with something better than cupcakes or brownies to keep kids motivated and to keep parents involved.
Griffith started the Fit Family Club on Wednesdays after school to encourage parents to volunteer to become better educated on healthy living.
"In order for behavior change to occur we need to involve the parents. We can't do this in an isolated environment," Griffith said.
Family Fitness Club has gained support from the community, including Rachel Payne from House of Payne and Chef Michael McEvoy from Peachtree Ridge High School who taught parents and student how to make healthy snacks. The session was also videotaped to show in health classes.
"We want to send a clear, consistent message to everyone,"Griffith said.
Part of this revolution at Berkmar Middle is to use only physical activity as a reward. For example, their Walk and Talk program rewards achievement by allowing students to spend 10 to 15 minutes during connections time just walking and talking with their friends.
This incentive scored really big last year during the Falcons Food Drive. For 10 cans of food, students could earn a 20-minute exercise break. This little bit of "down" time was all it took for Berkmar Middle to place second in the state. Students collected 6000 pounds of canned goods without any promise of a cupcake. With the food drive kicking off again next week, Berkmar Middle has high hopes of not only coming in first this year, but of the entire student body becoming more physically fit.
Walk and Talk is teacher-directed and there is no need for parent volunteers on campus. However, parents can always bring it home and volunteer to put on their sneakers and say to their child, "Let's walk and talk."
Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.