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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

An Interview with the PTA Presidents

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Whether you are a parent/guardian of a kindergarten, elementary school, upper elementary, middle, or high school student, each year there is an opportunity to join the PTA or PTSA at the school or schools where your children are enrolled. The PTA, Parent Teacher Association and the PTSA, Parent Teacher Student Association, were formed to encourage educational success, health, and well-being and acknowledge the potential of all children. This is Rutherford spoke to this year's PTA Presidents about why the PTA is vital to each school and reasons why they encourage families to get involved.

TIR: As a new school year begins, why would you strongly encourage parents to join the PTA/ PTSA (Rutherford High School)?

Meredith Hadrava and her family

Meredith Hadrava (Kindergarten PTA President): As a parent, we all want to see our children thrive in their educational pursuits. Joining the PTA allows the ability to engage with your children, their activities as well as their friendships. At this early stage of their lives, it's important for children to know that their parents are involved and excited to be a part of their learning experience.

Haydee Garripoli (Washington School PTA President): I strongly encourage every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, and/or friend to join the PTA and get involved! In order to serve lunch, be a class parent or volunteer at a PTA-sponsored event, you must be a member and the PTA. Without PTA membership or volunteers, we are not able to hold our events.

Jennifer Byrne (Lincoln School PTA President): I strongly encourage all parents to join the PTA so you are involved in your child’s school. The kids just love seeing family/guardians during the day and at school events. It makes everyone smile and you get to participate in their activities. In addition to daytime events, there are opportunities after school.

Tracy Leigh (Pierrepont School PTA President): Joining the PTA is a way to be involved not only in your child's life but also in the school district and the community. If you're new to Rutherford, it's a great way to meet other families in town. If you're interested in volunteering at your children's school for daytime and/or nighttime activities, joining the PTA will keep you informed of these opportunities. There is no better way to get connected and know what's happening at your children’s schools.

Alyssa Dimitroff (Union Middle School PTA President): I would encourage everyone to join the PTA. Through your membership, you are supporting our children, the school, and the teachers. When you volunteer at events and for school lunches, you will meet teachers and see your kids interact with their peers. Through purchasing a membership in the PTA you are supporting our fundraising efforts, as Membership is actually a PTA fundraiser.

Gina Smith (Rutherford High School PTA/PTSA): The PTA provides programs on strengthening family-school partnerships, and provides resources for members. Being a part of an association that can advocate on behalf of children and educators at the local, state, and national levels is important.

TIR: What are some of the benefits of being a member of the PTA/ PTSA?

MH: Joining the PTA not only allows you the ability to volunteer for the various committees where you will interact with the children during school hours but it also serves as a great way to meet new parents and forge your own new friendships. For many of our parents at the Kindergarten Center, this may be their first opportunity to get involved with their children and their learning journey.

Haydee Garripoli and her family

HG: There are so many benefits of being a PTA member! There’s no better feeling than seeing your child’s eyes light up when they see you volunteering at a school event. Another benefit is being informed on what’s going on at school and of course daily reminders on our private PTA Facebook group. Another amazing benefit is that you also have a chance to meet your child’s friend’s parents. Some of the best friends that I have made while living in town have been through the PTA. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!

JB: All the fundraising the PTA does throughout the year benefits the teachers and students. Joining the PTA is the best way to help fundraise for programs that benefit our children. Some fun examples the kids love include serving lunch, being a class parent, chaperoning field trips, being at the Halloween and Valentine socials after school, helping at Field Day and the End of the Year party, setting up the art show, and creating the 3rd-grade yearbook.

TL: Being a PTA Member comes with several benefits. You are kept informed about PTA-sponsored events throughout the year. We also send out several reminders to order our very popular PTA lunches! In order to get these timely reminders 😁 we need your contact information. How do we get your contact information? We get it when you join the PTA! It's $10 per person and 60% goes to our local chapter and 40% goes towards local and national dues.

AD: As a member, you are part of an organization that benefits the school and most importantly our children. You will have the opportunity to plan and volunteer at some of the most fun events of the school year. Attending PTA meetings will give you a chance to hear directly from our principal, Mr. Schweitzer, and hear updates about events going on at the school. Participating in the PTA and related events and fundraisers can be a rewarding experience where you will meet new people and gain a better understanding of our role in the schools.

GS: There's no better way to know what's happening in your student's school than joining the PTA. This is also a great opportunity to show your student how to be a good role model.

TIR: As President this year, what are some of your goals for the upcoming school year?

MH: As President of the PTA I would like to see each child have a family member join the PTA to reap the benefits of being a part of our community. I'd like to ensure an inclusive environment that allows all parents to have an opportunity to contribute regardless of their work schedules or other commitments, volunteering comes in all shapes and forms and we appreciate the support. One goal is to introduce a new fundraising program that can provide additional funding but also a differentiated experience for our children.

HG: My number one goal this year is to have 100% membership from our parents, guardians, and teachers. I’m also hoping to have successful fundraisers so that we can continue to support our school in any way that we can!

Jennifer Byrne and her family

JB: This year I’m hoping to get back more of the activities and programs we lost during Covid.

TL: Our main goal is to support our children at Pierrepont School. Our fundraising plays an important role in the school's social events as well as curriculum-based programs. We currently sponsor the school's Book Creator App, which is an online tool that creates digital books. We’re also funding new playground games on the blacktop. We fill in the financial gaps where needed!

AD: Our biggest goal is to provide the students with fun, memorable, enriching events that will make their experience at Union School the best it can be. We would love to see as many parents as possible participate in planning events as well as volunteering to serve lunches. Even if your schedule doesn't allow you to be at the school during the day, there are other ways to help. We will need lots of creative minds and planning skills to help organize events, especially when it comes to the 8th grade!

GS: The RHS PTSA is hoping to host a few guest speakers during our meetings. Last year we had the Director of Guidance speak at our April meeting regarding Naviance, an important tool in a student's college search.

TIR: What is the PTA/ PTSA responsible for in your particular school?

MH: The Kindergarten Center PTA is responsible for many fun & exciting activities including Dance-a-thons, Scholastic Book Fairs, Holiday Crafts & Feasts, Decorating the School Seasonally as well as offering an in-school lunch option.

HG: The Washington School PTA pays for assemblies throughout the year, RAZ kids (a digital reading subscription), field day, discovery day, third-grade carnival and breakfast, Friday fun nights, our annual Halloween social, book fairs, and holiday boutiques. We also have fundraisers like PTA lunches, Spiritwear sales, DoubleGood Popcorn, and this year we are bringing back the walk-a-thon!

JB: The PTA is responsible for the PTA lunches which are served 5 days a week, we fund assemblies and author visits, we sponsor a kindness week in January, have a Giving Tree in December which collects donations for animal shelters, assist teachers buy supplies for their classrooms, fund all socials, and field day (just to name some).

Tracy Leigh and her family

TL: The Pierrepont PTA raises funds for many school-wide activities including Class Socials, Assemblies, Author Visits, our annual Books and Beyond event, Fitness Days, the School Musical, Pierrepont Pride Breakfast, Field Trips, and the big 6th Grade End of the Year Carnival. All of these events are financially supported by the PTA with the fundraisers that take place throughout the year. We also participate in charity-based programs. Pierrepont students donate during the holidays to our annual Silver Bells program which is led by our school nurse, Mrs. Frattarola. The PTA helps collect student donations to benefit families in need.

AD: We are responsible for all of the fundraisers that support events such as school assemblies, school socials, field days, and all the end-of-year 8th-grade events including the dinner dance, yearbook breakfast, and after-graduation party. We also host appreciation events for the school staff throughout the year. They work really hard for our kids! Our biggest, most successful fundraiser is our lunch program. Families purchase lunches through an online platform called Boonli. In order for us to be able to continue to fund the fun events listed above, we need parent volunteers to help us serve lunches so that we can sustain the lunch program, both as a service to our families and as a fundraiser.

GS: Our PTSA is responsible for the PTA Reflections program, Teacher/Staff Appreciation, the Baccalaureate, and student scholarships.

TIR: How long have been involved in the PTA/PTSA? Have you held other leadership positions on the PTA/PTSA?

MH: I have been a member of the PTA since 2019 but this is the first year that I am holding a leadership position.

HG: I have been involved in the PTA since 2018 when my oldest son started kindergarten. I have been Corresponding Secretary at Washington School and The Kindergarten Center. This is my first year as the PTA President!

JB: This is my 6th year on the Lincoln School PTA. I have also held board positions at the Kindergarten Center, Pierrepont School, and RCDN.

TL: I've been involved with the Rutherford PTAs since my oldest daughter, Madison was in Kindergarten. I started as the Kindergarten Center PTA President and served 2 non-consecutive years in 2016 and 2018. At Washington School I served on several committees, was Vice President for a year and I just completed 2 years as PTA President. At Pierrepont School, I was the Treasurer for 2 years before taking on my role as PTA President this year. I'll be President at Pierrepont for the next 2 years. I also manage all of the PTA Lunch Programs through Switching to this online ordering platform has allowed our PTAs to coordinate our lunch program with local restaurants in town and provide our children with favorite lunch options as well as consistently fundraise throughout the year. A huge thank you to Chris’s Pizza, Jim Dandy’s, Mambo Empanadas, and Rutherford Bagels for participating in our popular PTA lunch program.

Alyssa Dimitroff and her family

AD: I have been involved with the PTA for about 8 years since my oldest child was in 1st grade. I started by volunteering to serve lunches and being a class parent and eventually began chairing events such as lunches, Square 1 Art, and the Book Fair. I've always enjoyed being in the school, meeting the staff, and seeing my children during the day. I have been Vice President at the Kindergarten Center, Vice President and President at Washington School, Parliamentarian at Pierrepont School, and am currently beginning my second year as President at Union School.

GS: I have been involved with the PTA/PTSA in one way or another since my daughter started Washington School. She is now 23. I was the PTA President at Union School for two years and the corresponding secretary at Pierrepont School for two years. I have also held numerous chairperson positions throughout both of my children's school careers.

TIR: Who are your PTA/ PTSA Board members this year?

MH: President - Meredith Hadrava, Vice President - Billy Cunningham, Treasurer - Jennifer O'Rourke, Corresponding Secretary - Melissa Amorim, and Recording Secretary - Bernadette Innis

HG: We have a great board this year! Tara Giacalone is our Vice President, returning as our Treasurer is Jennifer Ahearn, new to the board this year we have Stephanie Bennett as Corresponding Secretary and Kirsten Szalkiewicz will be the Recording Secretary and Kelly Talty is our Parliamentarian.

JB: New Board for 2022-2023 School year: President – Jennifer Byrne, VP – Danielle Kuenzle, VP – Jennifer O’Rourke, Treasurer - Jessica Reicherz, Corresponding Secretary - Lauren Oszmanski, Recording Secretary – Kim Wilton, Parliamentarian – Devon Soriano, and Chair of Fundraising – Angela DeCarlo.

TL: We have a whole new board this year with some new faces and some returning members. Devon Soriano is our Vice President and new to Pierrepont School is Jennifer Ahearn as Treasurer and Dina Gifkins as Corresponding Secretary. Returning this year is Carissa Cokeley as Recording Secretary and Kelly Lancaster as Parliamentarian. I look forward to an awesome year with them.

AD: I'm happy to be part of a really amazing board this year! Lori Griffin is our Vice President, Jason Cone is our Treasurer, Jennifer Ersalesi is our Corresponding Secretary and Jennifer Mazone is our Recording Secretary.

Gina Smith and her family

GS: Jenn Mazone, VP, Milissa Else, Treasurer, Susana Rojas, Recording Secretary and Sabrina Piscotta, Corresponding Secretary.

TIR: What else would you like TIR readers to know about PTA/ PTSA?

MH: The PTA, while it is called a Parent Teacher Association, is not just for parents, but can include grandparents, aunts, uncles, caregivers - think about anyone that is important and involved in your child's lives - welcome them to be a part of the PTA.

HG: I’d like everyone to know how important it is to be involved! Whether it’s helping out at a book, serving lunches, or volunteering for a Friday fun night event. There’s something for everyone and it really is rewarding to help out!

JB: I have four kids in three different Rutherford Schools this year. Some of their greatest memories are from PTA events. I can’t wait for another exciting year when we give our children more unforgettable experiences.

TL: Everyone belongs in the PTA! It's not just for parents and guardians. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family members all can join. It truly does take a village to raise our children, and the PTA has been a dedicated village in Rutherford and a great presence in all of our schools. I want to thank the Rutherford Board of Education Trustees, Superintendent, Jack Hurley as well as all of the school principals, administrators, teachers, and staff for always welcoming the PTAs and volunteers into our schools. It’s been a rewarding experience being a part of the PTA and I look forward to this new school year!

AD: We are all volunteers and do our best to get information out to all families. If you ever have a question information can be found on our PTA website on the Rutherford Schools page. You can also email with any questions.

Here are the links to join each PTA:

First Meeting Dates:

Kindergarten Center PTA: October 6th, 7 pm

Lincoln School PTA: October 13th, 7 pm

Washington School PTA: October 4th, 7 pm

Pierrepont School PTA: October 5th, 7 pm

Union Middle School PTA: October 6th, 6 pm

Rutherford High School PTSA: October 12th, 7:30 pm

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