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Volunteer efforts keep a tradition rolling

Submitted by on 1, June 11, 2010 – 5:00 amOne Comment

Sandra Paz takes me on the lightning tour of ancient Greece, China and Egypt. Mesoamerica is in the corner of the Encinal High School gym, complete with cobra-topped towers with light-up eyes.

Tonight, the gym will be filled with Encinal graduates, whose all-night graduation party will mark the culmination of six weeks’ worth of preparation on Paz’s part and the fruits of dozens of volunteers’ labor – and the continuation of decades of tradition.

“A lot of these things are being done by people whose kids do not go here,” Paz said of the volunteer effort for the party. A mother of three, including a graduate who will attend tonight’s party, she herself has managed the décor for the event for four years, and she helped manage middle school graduation festivities for two years before that.

Paz’s work is emblematic of the volunteer efforts parents across the school district perform every day to support the schools. Earlier this week, Parent Teacher Association Council President Christine Strena read the school board a laundry list of tasks that parents throughout the district voluntarily perform and offered her thanks. She said PTA members alone provided about 120,000 hours of volunteer service at Alameda’s schools this year, at an estimated value of $2.8 million.

“While some in the community will always say parents should do more for the schools, I would like to point out that parents are doing more,” Strena said. “It is my hope that by sharing (those) efforts, more people will see how much more (they) are already doing to support Alameda’s schools.”

Paz’s experience as a parent of schoolkids here in Alameda stands in stark contrast to what she witnessed during her family’s four years in suburban Roswell, Georgia. There, she said, the schools had so many parents queued up to volunteer that parents were limited to working a single party a year.

Here, she says, “there’s just need everywhere.”

Roswell had more stay-at-home moms, and the lower cost of living there meant families had more disposable income, she says. And education there is given much more than here, she says.

Paz’s decorating budget for the all-night party is $600. But she has collected an impressive cache of pre-owned materials to help enhance that special night, and has also employed a barter system with other local schools to share items and help save money.

Bases of Greek columns were made with thick, industrial rubber that Paz culled from a reuse center that once sat at Alameda Point. The foam core for the pillars came from a show at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, which recycles items from the shows it hosts. Curtains are from the Four Seasons hotel in San Francisco, which offered them to the school after a remodel. Poker tables the school employed last year will be lent to Alameda High for its party this year.

The parents’ sweat equity is another cash-saver. The room is ringed with Paz’s paintings, and more paintings she has traced out and worked with others to create, including a large rendering of the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an, which Paz helped a student create.

“People associate great events with money,” Paz says. But being creative and working together provides “a sense of accomplishment.”

One Comment »

  • Barbara M says:

    When people say parents should do more for the schools I tend to take everything else they say as an assumption. Just like watching meetings and looking at the website to really see how the school district is doing with that they have, you need to go to a school for a day or go to a PTA meeting to get any glimmer of how much happens because parents really are there for the kids.

    Sandra just happens to be an amazingly talented artist and visionary along with a great parent. To give you an idea how she excels at both you have to meet her son. Last night at the beginning of the party, without his mom anywhere around her sweet guy went around to tons of volunteers and thanked them for helping his mom get all of it done. It was so kind and genuine.

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