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Students enjoyed bounce houses at Wilder family fun night hosted by the Wilder Parent Teacher Organization in 2020.

Looking for a way to get involved this school year? Whether you’re a student or parent/guardian, there are countless opportunities with an “open door,” according to one local PTO president.

High school students likely had an introduction to the possibilities during that building’s open house, said Lee Nelson, activities director for the Indianola Community School District.

Involvement goes far beyond passing the time, he added.

“Activities are an extension of the classroom. Being involved in activities comes with a great deal of responsibility and accountability,” said Nelson. “With that, we also hope it comes with a great experience and enjoyment for everyone who participates.”

Athletics and fine arts tend to be well-known options, but even a glance at the activities page of the ICSD website paints a bigger picture. From creative writing to environmental activism, there are clubs for a wide range of interests.

Disappointed there’s not a chess club listed? Nelson has a couple bits of good news.

First, any student may start a club if he or she is able to find a faculty sponsor, he said. And then, the roster of offered activities is always evolving, so it’s possible that a certain club of interest may newly exist but not be reflected yet on the website.

“We generally advertise during the year when an activity is starting up,” Nelson explained. “Our list changes quite a bit, so I’m guessing it isn’t always complete.”

Students don’t have to wait until high school to dive in, either. According to Nelson, this year’s planned activities at the Indianola Middle School include mock trial, fine arts, yearbook, student council, geography club and the spring play.

GROWN-UP GO-GETTERS

Getting involved also isn’t limited to students. Each elementary school in Indianola has a Parent-Teacher Organization where parents and guardians can pitch in, whether they’re able to commit regularly or just as their schedule allows.

Meetings are usually held once a month at each building. Attendees work on projects like fundraisers so that teachers may purchase classroom items not in the budget otherwise.

They also plan special events for students or staff, like the Purple Palooza at Irving or “thank-you breakfasts” during Teacher Appreciation Week.

“The parents and teachers that are involved in the PTO have a strong sense of duty to help both the teachers and students have the best school year,” said Hannah Paul, president of the Emerson PTO. “It’s a great way to meet other parents and form friendships.”

News specific to each PTO can be found in school emails or newsletters, or at each building’s page on the ICSD website. Each group also maintains a Facebook page that's just a click away: Emerson, Whittier, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Irving.

According to Lora Duncan Patton, president of the Whittier PTO, the invitation to take part extends beyond parents-only “because every family is made up differently.” Guardians or others who serve as the primary adults in students’ lives are welcome.

“It’s an open door, so they’re welcome to come. We’ll try to keep them about an hour long,” she said of meetings, “so it’s not a huge commitment — just lots of opportunities to meet other families and then get involved however and at whatever level people want to.”

And it can all add up to big results for the kids’ schools. Stacia Kleene, president of the Irving PTO, recalled how her group’s fall fundraiser gave students a much-needed technology boost thanks to the generosity of donors.

“We worked to get iPads for the classrooms so there was one for every two kids. We raised over $30,000 in one fell swoop to get to that point,” she said. “Originally there was four per classroom, or something like that.”

Any investment in a classroom can make it a little easier for teachers to teach and students to learn. Leaders of the PTO at Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary had that in mind while pinpointing their group’s emphasis this year.

“We raise money to spend in teachers’ classrooms on materials that they need to improve student achievement,” said Sara Brown, who serves as co-president with Megan Gustafson. “This year, we plan to support the needs of teachers in their classrooms.”

Of course, getting started with a new group can be as nerve-racking for an adult as a student. But across the board, PTO organizers said to expect a low-key, friendly bunch. Some even offer Zoom options if that’s better for schedules or comfort levels amid COVID.

“Super laid back,” Kleene said of the Irving PTO. “We just give them (attendees) as much information as we can and let them ask questions. We don’t put pressure on anybody to talk if they don’t want to.”

“I believe we have a welcoming and positive vibe,” added Brown, speaking of LIW’s.

After all, another consensus among all the PTOs is that they’re looking for more members. Whatever their schedules allow, or their area of interest or expertise, there’s a place for them.

“This year, our goal is to have more parent involvement in the PTO and to have parent representatives for each grade,” Paul said of Emerson.

“Families can be involved at any level,” said Patton, representing Whittier. “They don’t have to be an officer or in charge of things. If they can just show up and be a helping hand, it supports the teachers, which supports the classroom, which supports our kids.”

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