By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff
A citizen in Mississippi creates a community mentoring program. A librarian launches a book drive for a New Orleans school. A San Francisco mom organizes the first PTA at her daughter's school. In Georgia, a mom starts a filmmaking club in an elementary school. These are a few of the many innovative ways ordinary people - parents and community members just like you - are digging in to improve education for children in their communities.
These examples of engagement in schools (and many more) are collected on Once Upon a School, a Web site created by Dave Eggers, the best-selling author of such books as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What Is the What.
In February 2008, Eggers was honored with the TED Prize, given annually to three individuals chosen by TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design), an organization with the mission of spreading ideas. According to their Web site, TED believes "passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world."
The list of previous TED winners includes Bono, Bill Clinton, Karen Armstrong and other thought leaders and experts from a wide range of fields. Each winner receives $100,000, plus the granting of "One Wish to Change the World." Eggers' wish is that "you personally and every creative individual and organization you know will find a way to directly engage with a public school in your area and that you'll then tell the story of how you got involved, so that within a year we have 1,000 examples of innovative public-private partnerships."
The Once Upon a School site was created as the repository of these stories. The stories already collected tell of tutoring centers, of programs that motivate more parents to become involved in their children's schools, of academic coaches helping students to become the first in their families to go to college, of individuals encouraging American students to help students in Ethiopia, of citizens creating afterschool programs.
Here are four stories we've selected from Once Upon a School. In their own words, four citizens from around the country describe their original plans, the pitfalls and the successes they experienced as they executed their plans, and, finally, the results. (Note: Some of the writers refer to themselves in the third person, some in the first person.)
"Last October, I learned that my 5-year-old son's elementary school had never had a PTA. He attends an underperforming school in San Francisco's Western Addition housing projects. With a new principal and a new bilingual track, the school has a chance to turn around. The goal was to build a bridge between home and school, and to foster a cohesive (though diverse) school community for the benefit of all.
"I had no real plan. I was at a 'Principal Chat' one morning before work and learned that there was no PTA, and that a prior attempt to form one had failed. Without thinking, I raised my hand and said 'I'll do it.' I thought I'd call the National PTA, fill out a few forms, open a bank account and promote meetings.
"In reality, it was much harder. I held a series of research sessions with parents, the new principal, staff and community members. The PTA bylaws are relatively complex (more so than starting a company!). With tremendous help from the district PTA, the school's parent liaison and another active parent, I learned how to get the PTA approved and how to negotiate the public school system. At school, I'm known as the 'crazy lady' - for handing out fliers and for organizing free dinners (homemade soup) and childcare on the night of the meeting.
"We were granted membership into the National PTA. We have 36 charter members, including a local city supervisor, several staff, community members and a diverse collection of magnificent parents. We have elected our leadership and are already developing plans for a jazz music program. We are also installing an edible garden (multi-year project) and a community barbecue to close out this academic year."
Sign up for our free newsletter and we'll send you
more just like it every week.
Thank you! You will begin to receive newsletters from us shortly.
Great work! Only one more step. Now we just need you to verify your email address. Please click on the link in the email we just sent you to complete your registration.
Great work! Only one more step. Now we just need you to verify your email address. Please click on the link in the email we just sent you to submit your review.
Please click on the link in the verification email we just sent you to complete your change of email address.
Whoops! It looks like we still need to verify your email. To do so, please click on the link in the email we sent you. Can't find the e-mail? Click the button below and we'll send you a new one.
Thanks for registering. Welcome to GreatSchools, the largest online community committed to improving educational outcomes through parental involvement.
Thanks for verifying your updated email address.
Oops! You haven't verified your email address yet. To do so, please click on the link in the email we sent you. Can't find the email? Click the button below to receive a new one.
Oops! That email verification link has expired. Please click the button below to receive a new one.
Create an account to submit your answers.
Sign in with an existing GreatSchools account or using Facebook:
Your review has been posted to GreatSchools.
Share with friends! Post your opinion of on Facebook.
Welcome to GreatSchools!
For principals and school officials, we offer a special Enhanced School Profile (ESP) which allows you to update and add information about your school, as well as respond to reviews. If you are a school official, click Continue to start.
Please note that it can take up to 48 hours for your comment to be posted to our site. While you're here, we'd like to invite you to fill out a survey on your school's programs, activities, and extracurriculars. It only takes a few minutes and will help parents get a full picture of your school.
Get started now! You have successfully registered and can now start updating your Official School Profile. The information you provide is extremely valuable in helping parents and students learn more about your school, so thanks for taking the time!
Thank you for registering as a school leader. We just need to verify your email address. We've sent you an email - please click on the link in that message to get started editing your school's information!
Thanks! We just sent you an email – please click on the link in the email to post your answers.
Get timely updates for , including performance data and recently posted user reviews.