Wesley Chapel schools earn national PTA distinction

Wesley Chapel’s Double Branch Elementary School and Dr. John Long Middle School each have been named a 2018-2020 National PTA School of Excellence.

The National PTA organization has a program with specific criteria, allowing schools around the country to be acknowledged for their service to students.

The year-long process includes choosing one of three areas of focus: education, health and safety, or arts. Once that is selected, a PTA can choose a more specific topic to work on.

Dr. John Long Middle School is one of two Wesley Chapel schools to be recognized with the 2018-2020 National PTA School of Excellence award. (Brian Fernandes)

Local officials were gratified by the recognition for programs and actions taken on their campuses last school year.

“We have a great school,” said Jennifer Kanyok, PTSA member at John Long Middle School. “It’s wonderful to be recognized for what our PTA does. It’s a great honor.”

“It really is about the community coming together to support the needs of the students,” said Vaughnette Chandler, principal of Double Branch Elementary School.

As a middle school, John Long offers a Parent-Teacher-Student Association(PTSA) program.

The association gives students the opportunity to act as liaisons on behalf of the school, by attending PTSA meetings and offering their input. Each grade level has four to five student representatives.

“That’s really the purpose behind PTSA, to bring students’ voice[s] to the forefront,” said John Long’s principal Christine Wolff.

Various speakers have been brought to John Long Middle, as well, to address issues such as bullying, and cyber safety when using the internet and cellphones.

Double Branch Elementary chose to focus on health and safety — zeroing in on the issue of bullying.

The school would set out for the next year identifying what bullying is, addressing it and helping to eliminate it.

As part of its program, Double Branch implemented a “kindness initiative,” which involved different departments, including the student council, said Double Branch’s PTA president Courtney Wine.

The school selected a ‘Rancher of the Quarter’ to acknowledge students who exemplified kindness.

The title was bestowed for exceptional acts in class, in the cafeteria and on the bus.

Over the summer, Double Branch also hosted the Fifth-Grade Leadership Academy, designed to help the older students develop into responsible leaders for the younger ones.

“The message there is, kind acts lead to kinder acts,” Chandler said.

The school used its television show, called The News Show, to recognize student acts of generosity.

Double Branch’s agenda for kindness is not exclusive to just parents, students and administration.

“We welcome community partners to come in,” said Wine, who has witnessed an outpouring of support from outside the school. “The more people we have together, the stronger our voice is for what our kids need.”

Kid-friendly businesses have partnered with the PTA in its efforts. Local dentists and tutoring services, including Mathnasium and Life Skills in Action, have taken part.

The John Long PTSA has also partnered with the community, offering a number of fundraisers throughout the academic year.

In addition to working with Toys for Tots, it had a jeans drive, as well as collecting personal hygiene items to contribute to another community school.

“Those are all positive messages that kids learn,” Wolff said. “If you have the opportunity to give to somebody else, you should do that as well.”

Working with the school’s English department has also been important for the PTSA.

Together, they have hosted a summer reading program to better engage children in literature. Upon completion, students are rewarded with an ice cream party.

Both schools also engage their students in the National PTA Reflections Art Program, which offers singing, dance choreography and literature to name a few options.

Kanyok, a six-year PTSA member, has a daughter with a love for drawing. She motivates her to use Reflections as a way of presenting her art to the public.

Leaders at both schools agree that parents do not need to join the PTA to be effective advocates for their children — they just need to lend their voices to issues that matter to them.

The school encourages not only parents, but other family members and members of the community to volunteer.

“We encourage grandparents, aunts and uncles,” said Kanyok. “The more parent involvement we have, the better we run, the better our school runs.”

While being grateful for the recognition, leaders at both schools said the focus remains on serving students.

“The purpose wasn’t to get the award,” said Wolff. “The purpose was to do what was behind the purpose of the award, which was to make sure there were good processes in place for kids.”

Published September 19, 2018

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