Janelle Sperry was the President of West Virginia PTA from 2015-2017 and has served on the Board of Managers for the last six years. She has held the offices of Vice President and Scholarship Chair, and is the Lead for the WV College and Career Readiness Initiative. In Berkeley County, she volunteers with the County Council PTA serving as the Banquet Chairperson, serves as the Technical Director for the Berkeley County Schools Scholarship Pageant which has raised over $150,000 in scholarships for graduating seniors, and is on the R.S. Dispanet Scholarship Board of Directors. Janelle has served on the WV Department of Education STEM Committee, ESSA Stakeholders Task Force, and Families Leading Change. She has received the National PTA Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2012, was named a “Champion of Change” by the White House for her dedication to PTA and children. She is a graduate of Shepherd University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting.
West Virginia PTA
Outdoor Science and Nature Center
Problem: Children don’t have enough hands-on experiences with science and nature. This center gives them ample opportunities to explore the outdoors as well as have the perfect setting for reading.
Project Description: To provide students with hands-on learning, our PTA constructed an outdoor science and nature center at Bunker Hill Elementary School. It included a large greenhouse, waterfall and fish pond with bridge, reading area, fossil digging area (with matching fossils in the library so students could research what they found), bird feeders, sun dial, weather station, rock garden, tree trunks to count the rings, and hundreds of plants. To promote West Virginia, we included a black bear sanctuary (for our state animal), bird feeders for the state bird (cardinal) planted rhododendrons, and sugar maple trees. We also included a brick walkway in which parents could purchase memorial bricks. This nature center is one of a kind!
How the project got started: I wrote a proposal to our Delegate in our school’s district, and received $12,000.00 for the project. After drafting out a basic design, we ordered materials, built the greenhouse, and slowly added each other feature in stages. This center was constructed by approximately 6 volunteers and took over six months to construct because these PTA volunteers only worked on weekends and evenings when possible. It took more time, but saved thousands of dollars to allow the volunteers to work when they could rather than hire a contractor. We also reached out to boy scouts wanting to complete their eagle scout projects for assistance.
5 steps to start this project:
- Determine the features you want in the center, and develop a budget.
- Research costs involved with all materials and determine what fits in your range.
- Draft a completed design, and then present to your school and set up a schedule and ask for volunteers.
- Oversee the stages of the project. Don’t try to do everything at once! Do small projects with the center so it’s not so overwhelming. For example, complete the gazebo in its entirety before moving on to the next feature.
- Stay on task and try to manage your volunteers. Get incentives, food, drink, music, and make it a fun experience for your parents and include activities that the students can do so they appreciate the work involved (planting flowers, mulching, carrying supplies)
What did you learn? Treat your volunteers right and give them a lot of appreciation! This involves getting your hands dirty and physical work, so you want to show your volunteers as much love as possible!
Did you have a “A-Ha or Light Bulb” Moment? Realizing how important it was to include the students in the physical work. Even the smallest things can be done by children and they felt a part of the process. It was worth delaying the projects timeline to allow children to help.
What was the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it? The biggest challenge was waiting on volunteers to do the work, but you have to be patient and work with your volunteer’s schedules.
How have you engaged the following partners in your strategy?
…parents and grandparents? Asking their help with maintaining the center, keeping it clean
…students? Asking students, boy scouts, girl scouts, etc., to weed and keep the area maintained
…teachers and support staff? ? Encourage them to utilize the center for science and reading areas
…business/labor/community partners? Sponsor supplies for upkeep and help maintaining it