Fathers increasingly fill the ranks of local PTAs National group encourages trend

September 27, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Make room for Daddy.

As if men didn't already hold enough positions of power in the world, now they're moving up in what has been a predominantly female institution -- the PTA.

Nick Starace is one example. He's the father of a daughter at Stevens Forest Elementary School, where he's also the new PTA president.

"I've always been a child and education advocate," said Mr. Starace, an Air Force staff sergeant. "I saw a need for my services, and I jumped in."

Men bring diversity to the PTA, he said. And he believes his military training, including skills such as setting goals and being organized, will help him as PTA president.

"I have some high hopes for the school," he said. "It's such a beautiful community. Through it all, I see the kids."

Mr. Starace's involvement is part of a trend toward greater male involvement in children's education, a move encouraged by the PTA nationally.

In Howard County this year, there are eight male PTA presidents and more than 20 other male PTA officers among the county's 54 PTAs, up from six male presidents and 12 male officers last year.

"Men have taken an increasing role in raising children at home," said Lynn Benton, president of the Howard County PTA Council, the PTA umbrella organization. "Now parents are taking on responsibilities and taking on all aspects of their children's lives."

At their inception, PTAs were organizations that gave stay-at-home mothers the chance to get involved with their children's education, Ms. Benton said. Many became volunteers at schools, raising money and helping in the classroom as teachers' aides.

But nowadays, with nearly 60 percent of American women working, many mothers find their jobs competing with more RTC traditional activities, such as PTA.

Women still dominate the PTA, however. Of the 54 county PTA organizations, 46 are headed by women. The PTA council does not know how many of those women are working mothers.

Bob Weigel, past president of the PTA at St. John's Lane Elementary School, said some men avoid the PTA because they prefer the kind of one-on-one work with youngsters that they get by coaching.

But that preference is changing somewhat.

Now part of the PTA council's Citizens Advisory Committee, Mr. Weigel stopped coaching neighborhood soccer when he "felt there were plenty of other dads who were doing that," he said.

Mr. Weigel said he has learned a lot during his five-year PTA tenure -- especially about how county government and Board of Education bureaucracies run.

"It's probably more important than ever that parents get involved with education," he said. "Education is changing. It's not like it was when we went to school. The school system needs input from parents as to what is being taught to their children and how it's being taught."

And while they may be increasingly involved with the PTA, many fathers retain their links to other activities.

Wayne Gold, a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board and father of students at Atholton elementary and McDonogh schools, serves as one of the county PTA council's vice presidents as well as coach of his son's baseball team.

"I have a meeting or a sporting event of some type six out of seven days a week," he says. "Sometimes, they overlap, and I go directly from games to meetings. I juggle. I do what I have to do."

He continues that juggling act to prove something to his children, he says: "I want to make clear to my kids school is just as important as sports."

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