“We don’t have a school problem today; we have a village problem. We have a village of teachers who are not teaching.” – John McKnight
As we shared in prior posts, Mrs. Ethel T. Overby, who was the first female African American principle in Richmond and who served at Norrell Elementary from 1950-1958 has become one of our guides as we seek to discover how stories of our past can help us shape our future.
As we saw in the first two stories we shared from her autobiography, Mrs. Overby was masterful at both engaging her school in supporting the goals of the broader community such increasing voter registration. However, she was also effective at engaging the community in a way that served the goals of the school as was demonstrated through her handling of the challenges she faced during massive resistance.
I think Mrs. Overby was a masterful asset-based community organizer though I am not sure she would have described herself that way. One thing I think we all would agree on is that healthy schools are effective at engaging parents and the broader community in the education of children. This was true during Mrs. Overby’s tenure at Norrell and is a theme we have found repeated in stories we have heard throughout the Brookland Park community. The community was a village and every child was cared for by the village.
Mrs. Overby writes, “I had felt for some time that we should have paid PTA workers in our schools.” She goes on to tell the story of how she went about hiring her first PTA organizer and the impact of that investment.
Evidence of the effectiveness of the PTA under her leadership is found in the 1954 Norrell Elementary School Newsletter in which she wrote,
“The school year 1953-54 has been a most successful one for the Albert V. Norrell P.T.A. Each month programs have followed the theme selected by the teachers at their organizational meetings. Attendance at the meetings has been most impressive. At several meetings we had capacity audiences — in fact there was “standing room only” on two occasions.
As a result of these programs parents have been enormously enlightened on the problems which they and the teachers face in adequately meeting the needs of the children. In addition to coordinating four committees (Hospitality, Social, Building and Teacher Appreciation), 43 mothers agreed to represent the 18 classes in our school.”
This high level of parental engagement carried on from the 1950’s and into the 1990’s as shared by two of our long-time community residents – Mrs. Lavern Winfree and Mrs. Florence Jackson.
Mrs. Laverne Winfree resident of the Historic Brookland Park area since 1962.
“When my children were babies, before they started school, (Honor was 1 and Hope was 2) my family asked me to care for their child. My sister in law, Helen had a friend at work who was having a baby. Her name was Ms. Phipps. The baby’s name was Emma. She came when she was 6 weeks old, and I kept her until she was 3 years old.
When I got my license, I specialized in babies, infant care. I hired other young women to help.
Once when I was president of the PTA at JEB Stuart school, Ms. Mildred Bruce was the Principal. It was an exciting time to be among so many beautiful children. This was about in the year 1981, at that time, the community of parents were very present and ready to be a complete faithful part in their children’s activities and adventures. We were as a family. The PTA meeting and activities really had their attention. At this time, I had 2 daughters, Hope and Honor in the schools. Of course, that added more time and planning—for my daughters and for the PTA. I had suggested to Mrs. Bruce that we could have a mini-math and science center at that school, knowing that all of the children may not get to the big math and science center across town. We had a fun time with the children at lunch and in the classroom.
When my granddaughter was 4, I volunteered for 6 months in her early childhood classroom. As a volunteer in the classroom, this was another time to share concern, care and love, to begin education skills. To see the children growing was very special time in my life, and I had the opportunity to see my daughters grow up to be great women!
As you can tell, I am a child’s advocate. I love them.”
Mrs. Florence Jackson, resident of the Historic Brookland Park area since 1965.
“My son, Kyle Jackson, attended Chandler Middle School from 1992 to 1995. While he was there I participated with the PTA. I felt like I was a part of his education. I could give my input on some of the activities they did at the school. I remember that we did various activities to raise funds for the kids at school. One of the ones I remember was a fundraiser in the spring of 1995. We did a Fun Day. We created games by using homemade things. We took empty soda bottles and put water in them and gave people small bean bags to knock them down!
We used chalk to draw games on the ground. We sold food. We sold things like popcorn, hot dogs, candy and drinks. It was held on the school playground. I remember it was a busy day; we started early that morning—it was a Saturday morning. And we didn’t end until dusk. I remember the people were slow to come in the beginning but, in the end, we had to ask them to leave. It turned out to be a really great fundraiser. We made good money, and I thought it was a really rewarding experience. this was the beginning of my working with the school system and their extra-curricular activities. When Kyle graduated from Chandler, he went to high school, and I went with him. I was secretary of the PTA at his high school—John Marshall High School. Once he graduated, I was lost. There was nothing left to do! He went on to college at Virginia State University and played football. For five years, I was in attendance at the games! Now he coaches football at Henrico High School, and I go to those games. I am the loudest one there!”
We believe those who volunteer in our schools or in our communities helping young people grow into healthy thriving adults are among the unsung heroes of our community. If you know of volunteers who freely give of their time in this way, we would love to honor them and share their story.
Need Snapshot of Today
Need a story from a principle or PTA rep about parent involvement today