There are many notable charitable organizations working diligently to improve Rappahannock County, many of whom choose willingly to fly under the radar and let their works speak for themselves. One organization flying lower than most, however, is the Rappahannock County Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).
“We want to be more than minivan-driving, bake sale moms,” laughs information officer Lindsey Wangsgard, one of four women who compose the PTO’s board.
Wangsgard, a former Fauquier County teacher, is joined by PTO president Crystal Smith (“a returning teacher,” Wangsgard notes); vice-president Courtney Atkins (“a Rappahannock mom” and the high school’s volleyball coach); and treasurer Stacey Whitt.
This current iteration of the PTO is still relatively new, Wangsgard notes, as it was reformed in the fall of 2011 after being temporarily disbanded. “We held an interest meeting and a good group of people showed up,” Wangsgard explains. “It’s bigger now than it has been in years.”
Since re-establishing itself, the all-volunteer organization has wasted little time in helping improve the elementary and high school. Most recently, after a heartfelt PowerPoint presentation from RCES art teacher Elizabeth Botha, the PTO gave her $3,000 to put toward all new sinks and storage areas in her art room.
Botha will be receiving two new sinks this summer, Wangsgard says — one high and one low, as she teaches smaller children and middle school students — as well as a new counter, supply storage area and more. “I’m also fairly certain we are getting her hot water,” says Wangsgard.
“The old art sink was way outdated and had major issues and was in horrible condition. When I saw the photographs, as a parent, I was shocked.”
Volunteers have also recently done some minor upgrades in the elementary school lobby, consisting of new potted plants, two new wooden benches and a makeover of an outdated board that had very old plaques. “We kept the original frame and turned the front into a magnetic chalk surface that we change month to month with a school calendar of events and reminders, etc.”
Perhaps the best-received PTO improvement, however, is two new water fountains with filtration systems and water bottle-filling stations. Requested heavily by students, one was installed in the elementary school cafeteria, while the other went in the high school.
Brought to their attention by mother Lynnie Gehno, and obtained and installed last summer, Wangsgard notes that local plumber Adam Jenkins donated his time to help install the fountains. There are already requests for more from the elementary school, Wangsgard adds.
“As a kid, I’d love one too,” she laughs.
“Our PTO is a perfect example of of teachers and parents working together to benefit our students,” says elementary school principal Cathy Jones. “They’re the best PTO I’ve ever worked with. I say I need something, they ask, ‘Where should we put it?’ We’re very thankful for them.”
Importantly, Wangsgard says the PTO is trying to divide its time between the two schools and make the organization an all-inclusive one, rather than “a Kindergarten through seventh grade” PTO.
“High school parents sort of lose interest or feed into the athletic programs,” Wangsgard says, “and I totally understand that. But we want to be for the entire school system. We want to grow to K-through-12 . . . because kids are going to feed into [the high school] anyway.”
Last year, at the request of facilities director Jimmy Swindler, the PTO purchased a new, upgraded wireless sound system for the high school gym. “The old system was outdated by decades,” Wangsgard says.
“Our PTO has been incredibly helpful to our schools — and I do say ‘schools’ because they’ve helped at the high school too — by funding facilities improvements,” says Swindler. “They’re very receptive, they’re effective fundraisers and they’re effective spenders.”
The PTO contributes numerous other things to the school system, including annual kindergarten supplies, breakfast for teachers during “Teacher Appreciation Week,” twice-annual teacher dinners on parent-teacher conference nights, moon-bounce rentals at the elementary school’s D.A.R.E. Day event, the annual alumni basketball tournament and more.
This year marks the first time the organization presented a $1,000 scholarship (to graduating senior Paige Paul) — a practice Wangsgard says the PTO is committed to repeating annually. This year’s selection process was “a generic essay prompt,” but Wangsgard says the PTO is looking at refining the process and possibly even increasing the award to two separate $1,000 scholarships.
Back in March, certified fitness instructors Wangsgard and Donna Comer decided to donate their time to lead twice-weekly cardio-strength-building classes for other PTO members. The suggested $3-per-class donations (“Or what you desire,” Wangsgard says) are meant to help raise funds year-round for PTO activities. The one-hour class has attracted enough regular attendees to max out the two dozen or so donated steps the group started with — and enabled them to order another 14.
It has also allowed the group to open the class to anyone interested in not having to drive a half hour or more to a fitness class. The music starts at 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at the RCES gymnatorium. “Everyone is welcome; just bring your mat!”
Wangsgard says PTO RappFit is just one of the many ways the organization tries to raise funds. The single largest is usually a catalog fundraiser in the fall, Wangsgard says, while others include Box Tops (which is primarily concentrated in the elementary school, though Wangsgard says the PTO is trying to get traction for it in the high school as well), a “Cash for Trash” program and a “holiday shop,” which unexpectedly raised $4,000 last year thanks to a generous donation from a Rappahannock grandparent.
“We also have a plethora of people who volunteer,” Wangsgard says proudly, “but we’re always in need of more. One thing I’d like people to understand is that you don’t have to take on a major project [to help the PTO]; we need manpower behind so many different things.”
The PTO meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first Monday of every month at the elementary school. The next meeting is Sept. 8. In the meantime, anyone interested in joining or supporting the PTO should email PTO@rappahannockschools.us or visit the group’s Facebook page.