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‘It’s like getting wrapped up in a hug every day’

Parent group provides continuous support to school community

Byron Center Ashley Stubblefield, Abby Liniger, Andrea Wiltrakis and Kristi Maines have a good sense of what Brown Elementary School teachers need: classroom supplies, food on days when they are too busy for a break, and everyday gestures of support and appreciation.

The board members on Parents Undertaking Projects, the school’s parent-teacher association, devote endless hours volunteering for their children’s school, dotting every “I” and crossing every “T” for big events, programs and activities.

They plan – with the help of other parents – the huge annual fall fun run that serves as the school’s sole fundraiser; they organize the massive free-to-families school carnival, from which every student goes home with prizes and many line up to dunk their teachers or Principal Jack Gitler in a tank filled with water. And they are the crew behind the popular school tailgate event during football season.

But what’s perhaps most appreciated on a day-to-day basis is their continuous support of the staff. The group allocated $300 worth of supplies – some in reimbursements for items teachers have paid for out of pocket – to every teacher in the school. 

They also lay out spreads of pizza, subs, soup and salad to feed frazzled teachers during conferences. “It’s just one less thing for them to worry about,” Stubblefield said.

And they provide funds for March is Reading Month, when teachers transform their halls and classrooms into book-related posters, banners and other decorations and tie events and activities to reading.

The annual fall tailgate is another effort of the PUP group

‘They are Valued and Appreciated”

Stubblefield said her reason for contributing is about both “bringing a smile and a joy” to students, and showing her appreciation to the teachers that do so much for her children every day. She is thankful for them and the constant support of Gitler.

“They go above and beyond. We want them to know they are appreciated; they are valued and their work is amazing,’ she said. “They are making a difference.”

Wiltrakis agreed, saying it’s about giving back to those who support so many. “I think we have the best teachers, literally. I couldn’t pick one that I love the most,” she said. “I just love them all.”

Liniger said she sees the connections teachers make with students by what they choose for their prizes at the carnival: special time with the staff members. “It’s a testament to them how many kids use their raffle tickets on having lunch with a teacher,” she said. 

Teacher Support Week, coordinated by another devoted parent, Jenna Kape, is the biggest gesture of appreciation made for teachers. For five days in May, the group showers teachers with gift cards, meals, prizes supplies, coffee and treats. They also chalk the sidewalks outside Brown with uplifting messages.

Supporting the school has taken a different shape over the past two years with the added stress of the pandemic. Last year, there were no events and parents’ time in the building was limited, but they showed up in different ways. They gifted teachers monthly with special feel-good items.

A fun run, Bulldog Bash, is the school’s signature fundraiser

A Positive Presence

Brown Elementary librarian Linda Grit said the parents’ role is huge for the school.

“It’s not just the support; they come in here as friends. They are always thinking of the many ways they can help kids and us. It’s a constant presence.” 

She continued: “It’s like getting wrapped up in a hug every day with these ladies. They come in the door and I just smile, because I know they are here doing something wonderful again.”

Kindergarten teacher Tracy Ferguson said the group makes sure she has everything she needs to support her students. “As a teacher at Brown Elementary, I feel absolutely spoiled with everything our PUP group provides for us,” she said.  “I have so many things more than I need and that all comes from the PUP group. My cupboards are full.”

Fourth-grade teacher Tina Mysliwiec said the parents make school great for all. 

“They do an awesome job at building school community,” she said. “Everyone feels like they are invited; everyone feels like they are included. Everyone feels like they can come, even if they can’t afford a certain thing… As a teacher, we know we can go to them for anything and they are so willing to help us out.”

Parents organize many school events including the Bulldog Bash fun run
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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