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 A supply cabinet stocked with school supplies, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies at Hillside Elementary School is one initiative Hillside PTA board members have created with their $5,000 COVID-19 relief funds.

A supply cabinet stocked with school supplies, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies at Hillside Elementary School is one initiative Hillside PTA board members have created with their $5,000 COVID-19 relief funds.

Photo by provided by Courtney Chang

Hillside PTA awarded $5,000 in COVID-19 relief funding

Only PTA in Michigan to receive phase one funding

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published July 27, 2020


FARMINGTON HILLS — Hillside Parent Teacher Association board members are celebrating a $5,000 COVID-19 relief grant from the National PTA and social media app Tik Tok, and for being the only PTA in Michigan to receive funding under the grant’s first phase.

“It feels wonderful. I’m thrilled on behalf of the Hillside (Elementary School) community that’s going to be able to benefit from this, but particularly knowing that we were the only school in Michigan. It’s really an honor and a great responsibility to go forward with this funding and try to make a difference for our students and families,” Hillside PTA Board President Katie Rusak said.

Exactly 110 schools were awarded a total of $1.25 million under phase one of the grant, which was only open to schools that carried the PTA School of Excellence distinction. Hillside PTA Board Treasurer Courtney Chang said she applied in May.

Of the four areas — food security, distance learning, internet and device access, and social-emotional support — PTA boards could apply for, Rusak said the Hillside PTA chose distance learning and social-emotional support after it became obvious those were the highest areas of concern among the school community.

“When we informally polled administrators, teachers and other parents, it became really clear that there was a theme of concern that students would be lacking connection,” she said. “Even though remote learning in the spring was not ideal by a lot of people’s standards … it was at least consistent and reliable. It was something the student could hold onto and have some connection, even if they might groan about it.”

Rusak realized quickly that between virtual learning this past spring and returning to instruction in the fall, as well as camps and the library being closed, students were going to be entirely devoid of connection during the summer. The option to save the money for the school year was off the desk also, with the grant parameters and deadlines for when and how the money could be spent.

Rusak and Chang said they have several ideas on how they’d like to spend the money, some more concrete than others.

One initiative already established is a supply cabinet on the elementary school’s grounds that Hillside families can grab from, which is stocked with school supplies, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies that might be harder for some families to find or buy right now.

“Understanding that not everyone may have the availability or transportation to get to the school, we are also doing a direct mail option for these same types of things,” Chang said. “Whether it be a school supplies kit, different workbooks or disposable masks, we are using the funds from the grant to be able to provide those items to members of the Hillside community.”

Other possible initiatives include organizing a Zoom meeting for each grade, hosting read-alouds on YouTube featuring recognizable faces from the school and/or community, a pen pal program between students, and attempting to offer a safe, socially distant in-person hangout where families will be met by a ice cream or a Kona Ice truck in their subdivision.

“Hopefully, students could come with their families, get an ice cream cone, and wave to a friend or teacher from across the street. That’s something we’re hoping we can pull off,” Rusak said.

The pair didn’t forget about the parents and the support they need, either.

Rusak said the PTA board is working with the district’s social-emotional learning coordinator to disseminate resources to parents via Facebook on how to support their children and keep them engaged through the summer. That initiative began July 15.

After shutting down their fundraising upon schools closing in March, Chang said the $5,000 “makes a huge impact” and makes up for some of the money not raised during the last quarter of the year.

“I think from an overall perspective, we usually do pretty well because we are a larger school,” Chang said, adding that last year’s budget from fundraising and grants was $38,000, “but we need that amount to support the programs and different items we facilitate for the school.”

A third phase of funding will be available for schools in the fall to continue to support their initiatives. Chang said the PTA board is definitely considering applying once they know the expectations and requirements of that phase of the grant.

Until then, Rusak is just trying to keep her ears open.

“We’re open to ideas. For us, it’s about listening to the community and realizing, ‘Oh, we hadn’t thought about that. Let’s try it!’”