Special help has arrived for some special children.
Sparked by parent dynamo Lauren Taboryski, a mostly dormant Parent Teacher Organization for the South County Consortium has been revitalized and is literally beginning to successfully sprout.
The South County Consortium is a group of nine school districts in south Sonoma county that provides education and services for children with moderate to severe disabilities. The consortium is under the umbrella of the Petaluma City Schools District, and staff and teachers are employees of the Petaluma district.
Before the Consortium affiliated with the Petaluma Schools District, south county special needs students were served by the Sonoma County Office of Education, meaning some had to travel as far as Windsor for school classes.
With students spread across 13 sites, the consortium hasn’t benefited from the organized parent-teacher association support that is almost taken for granted at most schools. No longer.
The South County Consortium PTO is again blossoming.
“I can’t tell you how important the PTO is for us,” said Melinda Susan, South County Consortium Director. She explained it isn’t just the material and monetary support the PTO provides, but also something less intangible, but perhaps even more important.
“It is the sense of community that has been missing in the past,” she said. “Parents feel supported, that they are not alone. It is all about collaboration.”
But the new PTO is also about material support. Taboryski had experience forming a parent support group in Marin County, and she brought both her ideas and her infectious enthusiasm to the Sonoma County organization.
“I saw this as an opportunity to make a difference in the community,” she said. “When I found out that each teacher gets only $200 a year for supplies, I felt compelled to reach out to put programs in place to help out.”
Taboryski rallied the parents, and soon projects were happening. One of the most recent and most exciting of the SoCC PTO’s endeavors is a garden project that is providing a garden space with planter boxes for each school site where students can grow vegetables and flowers.
The project is especially important for the special needs students who often need more hands-on sensory learning.
“The garden space provides sensory play and learning therapy through working with tools, math and science study opportunities and the joy of working in the dirt and seeing your own food grow,” said Taboryski. “Hands-on projects like this make such a positive impact on how the children relate to the world.”
The project was particularly rewarding because it included a number of community supporters, including MBT Builders, which provided recycle materials for the garden bed; WM EarthCare, which provided compost; Friedman’s Home Improvement, which provided soil; and volunteer Lisa Nolan, who donated seeds for planting, and many other volunteers.
The planter boxes were made, as much as possible, from recycled products.
The new PTO is also compiling a teacher’s wish list to help provide classroom necessities. On the list are such ordinary, but very necessary and helpful items as paper towel or toilet paper tubes, cardboard, newspapers, flour, paint brushes, tempura and non-toxic washable paint, rubber bands, fabric remnants, books for boys on the preschool to junior high level, baby or toddler clothes, letter-size manila folders, an electric tea kettle, a microwave oven and healthy snacks.