Jan. 17, 2023 --
Imagine an organization whose main purpose is to foster community among school children and their families. They offer after-school enrichment opportunities, schedule assemblies and field trips, plan gatherings designed to bring people together. Now imagine that same organization existing through a pandemic that lasts for multiple years and keeps everyone sequestered in their own homes, behind closed doors and computer screens.
The district’s elementary school PTAs have had to work extra hard over the past few years to maintain a sense of purpose and a sense of community. But as our lives and routines become increasingly normal, the Fairfax School PTA, like so many others, is emerging stronger and more excited for their future than ever.
“We’ve really had to start from scratch,” said current President Janet Fleck Griffith. “So many of the parents who’d been leading the PTA for the past decade moved on to middle school” during the pandemic. “While there was a structure and traditions in place, we had to re-engage with new volunteers, new executive committee members, and a new school community.”
The PTA is doing just that as they actively work to enhance the school experience for all Fairfax children and families. From after-school programming, which currently boasts fifteen different offerings, to an expanded online presence, Ms. Griffith, her predecessor Jen Yaichs-Park and her successor Kelly Manekar, are really proud of the work the Fairfax PTA is doing.
They’ve moved plenty of events outdoors, from the Fall Festival to recent Halloween celebrations, this year expanding on a trunk-or-treat idea they started in 2021. Worried about community spread last fall, they moved the traditional parade-around-the-block to a party on the playground. This year, they built on the event by inviting community partners to participate. Heights Libraries, the Cleveland Heights Police Department and the Fire Department all had vehicles and treats to share with the costumed children.
Even those typical PTA events like bake sales can be surprisingly special. “This really gives us the chance to connect with the community and see people we wouldn’t otherwise see,” said Ms. Griffith of the voters with whom they interact on Election Day. “I can’t tell you how many people stopped to say, ‘Oh, I used to work at this Bake Sale when my kids went to Fairfax.’” In addition to building community, the PTA raised $1,500 this year thanks to the generosity (and hunger!) of voters.
Some of that money goes to after-school enrichment programming, which includes everything from chess and drama to dance and basketball for children in kindergarten to 5th grade. Ms. Griffith describes how the PTA worked hard to encourage the participation of a wide swath of Fairfax’s student body. After talking to a group of girls on the playground who had created their own dance-off competition complete with teams, t-shirts, and judges, the PTA added a dance class. And those girls all signed up.
In addition to doubling the PTA budget for after-school scholarships, they are also relying on teachers and support staff to recommend students for various programs. “They know them best,” says Ms. Yaich-Parks. It seems to be working. When 30 children signed up for an after-school STEM class that was capped at 15, an extra instructor was brought in to make room for them all.
Many of the children signing up for after-school enrichment and other PTA events are kindergartners, reflecting the engagement of their families. “Kindergarten families are super involved,” said Ms. Yaich-Parks. “This bodes well not just for our PTA but for the entire school community.”
That entire school community is looking forward to its capstone biennial event, The Fairfax Cabaret. Light years beyond a mere talent show, this night showcases the incredible talents of staff, students and alumni. With the last Cabaret held mere weeks before the 2020 shutdown, only half of the current student body has ever had the opportunity to experience the evening celebration.
As with so many other school events, the entire Heights community is invited to attend the Fairfax Cabaret, which will take place on the Heights High stage on February 24. As Ms. Menaker said, “The greatest thing about the PTA is the collaboration between school and community. We want to make it feel welcome to everyone.”