Amy Vagnier, principal at Foothills Elementary School, is not afraid to kiss a pig, dance like Hannah Montana or don a baby bonnet and be pushed around school in a stroller.
It’s called motivation.
“It was worth it for the $36,000,” Vagnier said with a laugh.
The motivation to be successful permeates every aspect of the environment at Foothills, according to parents who gathered to talk about the extra efforts they put into their children’s education through the Families and Teachers Organization at the school.
The administration’s willingness to offer a silly incentive to get the children excited is just part of what makes the FTO successful, Vagnier said.
Candy Morgan, one of the chairs of the Raccoon Romp, the FTO’s largest and only fundraiser, said the FTO’s philosophy is that they want to provide above and beyond what the school can provide the teachers and students.
Parent Laura Shamiyeh said the school has a real good base of parents. “They’re super involved,” she said.
Morgan said the FTA has a membership of about 300 families who pay a $5 fee to join. In addition, Morgan estimates that 80 to 85 percent of the families volunteer to do something every year with the organization.
Which is vital, especially since the Raccoon Romp alone needed 60 to 80 volunteers on the day of the event, said Bob Watson, the other chair of the event.
Parents turn out in mass to volunteer for the fundraiser.
Morgan said that between corporate donations and what students collected, the Raccoon Romp walk-a-thon raised $36,000 this year. “Our kids do a great job with the support of their parents,” she said. Leading up to the Romp, the school also has a different theme for each day of the week, including Wacky Tacky Day, Crazy Hat Day and Pajama Day.
“The most important thing is our principal and assistant principal will do just about any stunt,” Watson said.
In past years, students were given incentives that always put Vagnier in a silly situation. One year she kissed a pig when students reached their fundraising goal. Another year she had to dress up as Hannah Montana and do a concert for the kids.
This year’s stunt was in two parts. If the students reached their goal, Vagnier and assistant principal Tammy Hooper would race lawn mowers. The loser of the lawn mower race had to dress up like a baby complete with pajamas, bonnet and pacifier, while the other pushed her around the school. Hooper only wanted one quote from her in this story, and it is as follows:
“The principal and the assistant principal raced, and the assistant principal won,” Hooper said with a laugh.
The FTO doesn’t sit back and relax after the September fundraiser. In addition to working in the classrooms, library and on the FTO committees, parent Beth Pankratz said parents also work to take care of the teachers.
“Once a semester we bring in a hot meal for the teachers,” she said. “At Christmas we bring cookies, and we try to bring enough cookies so they can each take home a dozen cookies to their families.”
The parents also come at the end of the first semester before the holidays and give the teachers the opportunity to spend a couple hours away from school for lunch at a restaurant.
Vagnier said the teachers enjoy their brief time away from school to be with each other uninterrupted.
“Our teachers get an uninterrupted two hours to eat in a restaurant,” she said. “They get to chew and swallow!”
Pankratz said the FTO fundraiser uses the money to fill needs the teachers and administrators see in the school, including such big ticket items as Promethian boards. Foothills now has one in each room. The FTO spends approximately $20,000 to $25,000 each year on the wish lists, depending solely on how much money the Raccoon Romp brings in.
About $1,500 is kept each year as money for the next year, but the rest is used to help the teachers’ wish lists. “These children raise the money, so we want to reward them,” Shamiyeh said.
Belinda Sims said she came from a PTA background where multiple fundraisers occurred annually, but at Foothills they put all their efforts into one. “They have such a well run machine, they have it down. You don’t feel you are giving so many times a year,” she said.
Robin McMillan is a new member of the group. “I wanted to be involved with my children’s education. I think everybody is friendly and accommodating,” she said.
Vagnier said it’s not unusual to see parents and grandparents who try to stay involved even after their children and grandchildren leave.
“The visibility of adults in the school is important,” the principal said. “The children can see the value people put on education.”
Shamiyeh said the administration makes people feel welcome. “Parents are so involved because the organization tries to be accommodating to all parents,” she said. “One way is by finding opportunities for parents who work outside the home to have projects they can do at home.”
Melissa Conner listed some of the other activities the FTO supports. “We have a parent liaison for each class,” Conner explained.
Other projects include Foothills Fitness and Fun Day, recycling projects, outreach projects, book fairs, the “Grand Event” for grandparents and other people important in a child’s life and Family Fun Night.
“As a parent, I would not be here volunteering if it were not for our administration being so welcoming. They’ve cultivated an atmosphere that is so inviting. I don’t do it because I want a thank you note -- although I usually get one. They just make this school so fun,” Pankratz said.