East Lansing Schools’ community councils face funding difficulties, COVID-19 challenges

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East Lansing elementary, middle and high schools are each represented by a community or parent council/school association. Three are the Marble Community Council, Robert L. Green Parent Council and the Donley School Association, 

Marble Elementary

Tali Hylen, president of Marble Elementary’s Community Council, said the council recently changed its name from “parent council” to “community council.”

“We wanted to make it more inclusive of all caregivers, not just parents. A lot of kids are being raised by different caregivers. Our big goal with our council is to make it more inclusive and welcoming,” she said. 

Due to COVID-19, the council hasn’t met in person for almost two years and won’t be meeting in person soon. 

“It’s just going to be virtual for now.  We’re hearing district recommendations for safety. It’s just nobody wants to risk anything,” Hylen said. “As soon as we can meet in person, we’re going to, but… we can’t even have volunteers in the building. It eliminates a ton of opportunities for us to be engaged commercially. But we just have to wait it out.” 

A huge part of the council’s role is to raise funds to support teachers in the classroom as well as organizing field trips. Marble Elementary has been rebuilt, so the council is now helping students and teachers organize and adjust to the new building. Hylen also said the council has had to cancel all of its fundraisers for the past two years, which can bring upward of $10,000. 

“In the meantime, when we meet, we talk about individual classroom needs. Currently, we’re working on a warm, winter clothing drive and organizing the new building so there are supplies on hand. So that’s a need right now that we’re working on,” she said. “We also partner with our equity team to address some needs such as snacks in the classrooms. We are just piecing things together, being more proactive but reactive to what the needs are in the building right now.” 

Robert L. Green Elementary

Rachel Perez, president of Robert L. Green Elementary’s Parent Council, said her council is not holding in-person meetings, either. 

“We’re doing our meetings through Zoom and it does impact what we are able to do. In some ways, there have been events we have not been able to hold so we push it off until a future date. And in some cases, there have been events where we modify how we were going to do it,” Perez said. 

For instance, she said, the council would host a science night in the winter where it  would serve chili and have everyone inside. The event wouldn’t be feasible right now. 

“But, we are still meeting on a monthly basis with the council so we’re still staying in contact, and we’re still able to do certain fundraisers that we would have done normally,” Perez said. “We will still follow through with those, there will just be a lot more virtual communication.”

The council also provides teachers with a reimbursement each year, which is supplemented through the funds the council raises through fundraisers. 

She said, “Teachers can buy special supplies or resources … and then they bring us the receipt and we will reimburse them.”

The council also offers grants separate from teacher reimbursements. 

“… Usually it’s for a larger amount than the reimbursement amount and it’s for something that would be helpful for an entire classroom or an entire grade…for example, new library books or a new subscription to a “Highlights” magazine, or some type of resource that can be used by most students … Those offerings are still able to continue, so there’s not much change in that,” Perez said. 

Donley Elementary School

Emily Ostrowski, treasurer of Donley School Association, said although COVID-19 has restricted their activities, the association continues to support the school’s teachers and families in need.

She said, “We’ve still been able to be really generous or helpful with the teachers. We are still supporting our teachers. They requested some new classroom books focusing on diversity, so we’ve been able to give them some money towards that. We also helped them with some online programs.”

The association pays for almost all the field trips for any of the students. At the end of October, third graders will go to Potter Park Zoo for a week. Students can have a classroom at the zoo for five days. Ostrowski said the association will cover a significant portion of its cost. 

“We hope to have a fundraiser in the spring… and then accept family and community contributions to keep our bank account going so we can continue to support the classrooms and the teachers and the students next year,” she said. 

Apart from each school’s council, the East Lansing School District has an all-encompassing district parent council. This council operates as a forum for communication between East Lansing schools with representation from all school levels. Communication involves the individual school councils, school staff, and the school board, and the superintendent.

East Lansing association meeting dates are online. 

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