Community Spirit

At first, Mette Waldron didn’t want to join the PTA. Then, she didn’t want to become president. But since taking the helm of the Eastwood Elementary PTA two years ago, she has doubled the number of volunteers and created several groundbreaking programs to help this tight-knit community flourish even more. Waldron (originally from Denmark), her husband and two sons moved from Chicago to Irvine six years ago. Their youngest son, Nikolaj, is a sixth grader at Eastwood Elementary.

Q. How did you get started with the PTA?

A. Coming to California, I knew nothing about the PTA because we’d only used private schools. Whenever I saw a PTA booth, I tried to avoid them like, “What do you want from me?” I didn’t know what they did. Then I became a room parent when Nikolaj was in first grade. And that connection with other parents gave me an “aha” moment because I could see how it benefited the kids.

Q. You’re known around Eastwood Village for handing out coffee and homemade pastries. What’s that all about?

A. We host a monthly Grab and Go Coffee with the PTA for parents at Eastwood Elementary. After parents drop off their kids, they can walk over for a cup of coffee and a fresh-baked treat that I make. This month, I’m making 80 scones with homemade strawberry jam. We talk to parents and answer any questions they have. Parents have amazing ideas, which I take to our meetings.

Q. So what does the PTA do?

A. We’re basically a group of volunteers who host programs for students, their families and teachers. Our goal is to create a sense of community.

Q. How do you do that?

A. This year, we’re hosting 18 programs– from Back to School Nights, to Lego S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering Art & Math) Nights, to Halloween Scavenger Hunts, to our 100 Mile Running Club.

Q. Your PTA is known for coming up with some unique ideas at Eastwood. What are they?

A. Well, in addition to the Grab and Go Coffee, we host A Taste of Eastwood and a Family Night at Angel Stadium. For that, we buy a block of Angels tickets and sell them to families. We all sit together as a school – 200 kids, families, teachers and even our principal. It really brings families together. You’re sitting in your seat and hear someone yell out your kid’s name and then you’re talking to their parents. It’s a way to connect families in a fun environment.

Q. And what’s A Taste of Eastwood?

A. We’re such a culturally diverse school with people who’ve lived all over the world with different customs. So, we started an annual dinner where families come and enjoy food from as many as 14 countries. You can enjoy children performing, say, an Indian dance or an Estonian dance while you’re eating dinner. We provide canopies, tables and tablecloths, but this year, we’re thinking of inviting families to bring a blanket where they can spread out on the field if they like.

Q. How did you become PTA president?

A. I actually didn’t think I could do it. The rest of the board talked me into it because I was always at school helping with things. It really was our principal, Aaron Jetzer, and a teacher, Mr. Bedley, who told me that I needed to believe in myself and that I could do it. Now they say, “Remember we had this talk? And look at you now.” So, that’s very rewarding. They believed in me.”

Q. Irvine was master-planned as a city of villages centered around schools. Do you see this in Eastwood?

A. Absolutely. We live two blocks from school, so our son can walk or bike to school. When he was younger, we walked to school as a family, and you’re surrounded by other families walking to school. I’d drop him off and chat with other parents. And sometimes, we’d all walk over to the park to continue our conversations, because these connections are very solid.

Q. Does this sense of community extend beyond the school?

A. Yes. It’s amazing. Our family has a pattern of moving about every five years, but how can we now? This is the first time we’ve ever felt this way. And it goes back to the master-planned city, from how the homes are laid out to all these things you can do as a family in the community. We just created our own team.

Q. When you step down as PTA president, what will you remember?

A. Oh, my goodness. I know it’s going to be hard. Because when you see the benefit it has for the kids and their happiness and excitement, it’s just heartwarming. I don’t know how to describe it. It beats everything else. It’s so priceless.

Irvine PTAs: The power of parent volunteers

Each year, over 15,000 Irvine parents – equal to the entire population of La Palma – pitch in to support Irvine schools.

Together, they volunteer 200,000 hours for the Irvine Unified School District’s 36,000 students. They organize field trips, family nights, soccer tournaments, talent shows, astronomy nights and more.

Connie Stone is president of the Irvine Unified Council PTA.

“The whole point is to build community to make a great experience for students and families,” says Connie Stone, president of the Irvine Unified Council PTA, which oversees the district’s 42 PTAs. “There are not enough words to thank them.”

Founded in 1897, the national PTA celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. It has helped create kindergarten and elementary school hot-lunch programs.