Lisa-Ann Burnett is a giver. Whether it’s assisting students with reading assignments and math problems or organizing events such as field day and culture day, the irrepressible mom’s smiling face and helping hands are inevitably involved. She even donned fake eyelashes, a bright-pink wig, and a matching boa to help advertise a family dance at Lehua Elementary, which her daughter and son, Amir and Amos, attend.
But in 2005, it was Burnett who was on the receiving end of incredible generosity from the Pearl City, Hawaii, community. After battling lupus for 18 years, she underwent a kidney transplant facilitated through a paired-donor exchange: Burnett’s husband, Amos, gave a kidney to another woman from Hawaii; the woman’s fiancé, in turn, donated his kidney to Lisa-Ann.
Families and staff members at Lehua Elementary rallied in support of Burnett, a cafeteria worker and former PTA president, organizing a blood drive for the four adults undergoing the surgery. Afterward, Burnett couldn’t wait to start volunteering at the school again. “My doctor said, ‘No way!’” she reports, but a few weeks later she was greeting students in the hallways, organizing a sock hop, and coordinating the school’s spring carnival.
It would have been hard to stay away—when news reached students that Mrs. Burnett had finally received her new kidney, she recalls, “they kept asking me, ‘When [are you] coming back?’”
A New Beginning
At 67, Billy Foust is not your average father of elementary school children. In fact, with two sons now grown, Foust is raising what he calls his “second generation”: adopted children Khristina, 10, and Samuel, 8.
A mechanic who owns an automotive repair shop, Foust was in the U.S. Navy while his two older children, both now in their 40s, were growing up. He never got to participate much in their education. You might say he’s making up for lost time; he’s become a fixture at Austin Peay Elementary in Covington, Tenn.
You can spot Foust directing parking lot traffic or toting children around in his recreational four-wheeler at the annual Fall Fun Fest. He’s one of the most popular parents in the school on career day—he brings his tow truck. And he particularly enjoyed helping build sets for a school play. “It was very, very rewarding,” he recalls. “It was a beautiful play.”
Foust even served a term as president of the PTO. Among the group’s accomplishments were helping the school acquire new computer-based reading and phonics programs and erecting playground equipment.
“I’d do anything [school officials] tell me,” he says. “We support them and make sure they have everything they need.”
Foust believes getting involved at school has played a part in his children’s success. Sam, a 2nd grader, is “a natural-born leader” and a straight-A student who reads at the 6th grade level. Khristina is a budding actor and “a naturalist who can tell you anything about animals,” Foust boasts. “They enjoy having [me] around at school.”
PHOTO BY ANGELA KAREN
A Hearty Welcome
Playing different roles is nothing new to Stacy Flippen; she’s a mother of two, a former kindergarten teacher, and a small-business owner. But in Homewood, Ala., she is perhaps best known as the Sign Fairy.
It happened three years ago, when Flippen’s older daughter was starting kindergarten. “I felt like we needed to get the kids excited about entering [school],” she recalls. “I wanted to acknowledge everyone that was entering kindergarten.” At the time, a mayoral race was under way, and the campaign ads littering lawns inspired the project.
Now, thanks to Flippen, each of the youngest incoming students at Homewood’s Shades Cahaba Elementary wakes up to a big surprise one morning before school starts: a sign on their lawn that reads “Shades Cahaba Loves You! Welcome to Kindergarten!” Flippen, her husband, and their 6- and 8-year-old daughters deliver the signs two weeks before school starts. They have become much anticipated among kindergarten families.
“I have had a very positive reaction to the signs,” she says. “I’ve received many phone calls asking where their child’s sign is—because the sign has a big heart printed on it that allows the child to feel loved and that they have a friend at Shades Cahaba.”
The Accidental Leader
Single dad Dennis Schremp is proud of his daughter, Amy; a 5th grader, she’s an A student and is enrolled in her school district’s program for gifted students. “I credit most of that to the fact that she’s had some fantastic teachers,” Schremp says, “but I honestly think that a big part of her success is the fact that her mom and I take a very active role in her school.”
That “active role” began with a surprising twist. The very first time Schremp had enough nerve to speak up at a parent group meeting at Sherwood Elementary in Arnold, Mo., he didn’t exactly give administrators and parent leaders a pat on the back. “I took my turn and spent the next 15 minutes telling them what their problems were,” he says. That same night, much to his surprise, he was elected as the group’s president.
Since then, Schremp has been busy chipping away at the school’s involvement barriers, primarily its communication challenges with parents. The self-professed computer nerd began by creating a website; families can now go online to find out about events and volunteer opportunities, as well as make payments for activities. Next on the agenda is repairing and updating the school’s computers.
“I’d really love to spend time next year helping the kids out in the lab,” he says, “but we have to get it up and running first.”
Schremp says Amy often tells him how great it is that he’s involved in her school. “She also likes the fact that I’m friends with the principal and teachers so she gets to see them as real people,” he says.
PHOTO BY CINDY GREENSTEIN
Karen Wald freely admits she is addicted to TV home improvement shows. Among her favorite projects: painting on furniture, walls, and accessories. “There isn’t a surface that shouldn’t be painted!” she declares.
The Sharon, Mass., mother of two directs her passion to benefit her children’s school, Heights Elementary. Wald recently painted the doors to the school’s office and library in preparation for a summer mural project. And last winter, she and a few other local artists painted a series of Adirondack chairs for the Heights parent-teacher organization’s annual auction fundraiser. The vibrantly decorated chairs were displayed throughout town to advertise the event, then sold to the highest bidder. Wald’s chair brought in $200.
Before the birth of her children, 9-year-old Amy and 6-year-old Jonathan, Wald gained professional experience in media and website production, and she’s currently producing an IMAX film about gravity and weightlessness. Her work experience exposed her to graphic design, another interest she’s pursued while aiding the school. “I’ve picked up quite a bit of graphic design lingo and tips from my colleagues,” she says. “I started doing a lot of graphic design for the PTO when I suggested that I could spruce up the newsletter.” That “sprucing up” turned into two years of producing newsletters, flyers, raffle tickets, forms, and a website for the Adirondack chairs project.
Although she assists with many PTO activities throughout the year, including the annual fashion show fundraiser, Wald most enjoys helping the school by using her creative skills. She’s currently working with the school’s art teacher on that large mural, and she painted a foursquare box, a hopscotch grid, and a map of the United States on the playground’s blacktop while students were on summer break. Not only that, she says, “We’re buying 10 new Adirondack chairs to be painted for next year’s auction. My paintbrush never gets a rest!”
Wald’s artistic contributions dotting the campus brighten up school spaces, but for daughter Amy the benefit is much closer to home. “I really like it,” she says of the time Wald spends at the school, “because I get to see my mom more often during the day.”