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PTA gears up for another year of advocacy

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Behind many after-school programs, district policies and state laws that tackle issues facing students in the East Meadow School District are the members of its PTA Council.

President Veronica Nicastro, Community Liaison Stephanie Ramos and Advisory Chair Tracy Pulice spoke to the Herald on Oct. 18 about their recent accomplishments and goals for the school year. The latter included a number of upcoming events intended to provide children and parents with the knowledge and skills to address issues such as bullying, mental illness and vaping.

One event was scheduled for Wednesday — Unity Day, part of National Bullying Prevention Month — after the Herald went to press. Now in its seventh year, the district-wide event focuses on bullying prevention and spreading kindness. Students wear orange, and in addition to other activities, they planned to create a mural out of paper balloons to go with the theme, “Soaring to New Heights,” which will be on display at the Leon J. Campo Salisbury Center, at 718 The Plain Road in Salisbury.

On Thursday night, the PTA Council was set to partner with the Council of East Meadow Community Organizations and the Nassau County Police Department to host a forum called “Our Children and Vaping,” from 7 to 9 p.m., at East Meadow Fire Department Headquarters, at 197 E. Meadow Ave. Yolanda Turner, from the NCPD’s Office of Community Affairs, was scheduled to speak.

“We have a very strong stance against vaping,” Pulice said. “People don’t understand how dangerous it is and how so many children are getting hooked on it.”

Because of the efforts of PTA members, the district will place “No Vaping” signs in all areas where smoking is banned. And vaping is now prohibited before school events, as is smoking.

Another component of the PTA Council is Project ACCESS (for A Community Committed to Educating Students for Success), which organizes educational workshops for parents. On Nov. 2, it will host a full-day workshop called “Youth Mental Health First Aid” at the Salisbury Center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Participants will learn how to recognize the signs of anxiety, depression, psychosis, eating disorders, ADHD and substance use.

The workshop, sponsored by United Health Care and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will also outline for adults how to help a child exhibiting any of these problems.

The PTA Council is also at the forefront of newly formed district committees geared toward drafting policies to improve students’ learning environment. These include the Safety Task Force, which formed last year. Members meet with district personnel to review building safety plans, to advocate for additional measures to make sure the district is complying with state safety regulations and to ensure that all students and parents are safe.

The PTA is also a member of other district-wide committees, besides our own PTA committees , that work with the school district for the benefit of our students. Such committees include the Strategic Planning committee , the Safety Task Force, the Health and Wellness Committee, and the School Counselor Advisory committee. These committees include PTA members, teachers and administrators all working together to benefit our students.

“It’s all about having cohesiveness with the district, Board of Education and superintendent,” Nicastro said.

The PTA Council doesn’t just work to benefit East Meadow. Its core mission is to advocate for legislation that positively affects children, Nicastro said. She and her colleagues plan to attend the 117th annual New York State PTA Convention Nov. 8-10 in Tarrytown.

Each year before the convention, PTA Council members from across the state draft statements of concern — preliminary versions of resolutions — that they read and submit at the convention. If a statement is approved, it is finalized as a resolution that the state PTA adopts and passes on to the state lawmakers.

Asked if they are lobbyists, Nicastro said that PTA members fall into a broader category. She preferred to call them advocates.

“We want people to know that we’re not just bake sales and book fairs,” Pulice added.

Despite no longer having children in the district, Nicastro remains involved. “That’s the beauty of the PTA — we’re not just doing it for our kids,” she said. “This is a passion. We do this for our children and our country.”