"Welcome to your house," Barbara Bush said recently as she greeted a group of about 100 Washington parents, politicians, lawyers and corporate representatives at the vice president's house.
The occasion was a tea that also launched the second year of fund raising for the Washington Parent Group Fund, formed to provide D.C. public schools in Southeast with enrichment programs. Under the program, money raised by parents is matched two-to-one by corporate contributors. Westinghouse Electric Corp. and the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., sponsors of the tea, are primarily responsible for soliciting corporate donations.
Bush endorsed the program last year after reading about the project in newspaper reports, and Roderick V. O. Boggs, executive director of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the group that administers the fund, described her support as "pivotal."
"I just want to thank all of you who have contributed to this project so far," Bush said, "and to remind you how much difference even a small amount can make."
Two of the nine elementary schools that participate in the project used last year's money for a visiting nurse one day a week. "That's something every school should have," Bush said. "It is so important that we all become involved in this."
The emphasis has been on elementary schools, Joseph Sellers, counsel for the fund, told the group, because of "parental interest and involvment" in those schools, and because "we think that primary school is the place where the school [has] the largest role in its students' lives."
Each school received approximately $850 last year, which it used for a variety of programs or activities. Simon Elementary, Fourth Street and Mississippi Avenue SE, sponsored a Reading Is fundamental program, which provided students with books. Congress Heights, Sixth Street and Alabama Avenue SE, bought audio-visual materials. Friendship, South Capitol Street and Livingston Road SE, helped to underwrite a visual instructional program that uses closed-circuit television.
Tony Jones Jr., principal of Randle Highlands, 30th and R streets SE, said students in kindergarten through third grade at his school are involved in a special phonetics program to improve reading comprehension and that the school's science program has benefited by the acquisition of metric Kits. "It gave them hands-on learning experience," Jones said, "and that's extremely important. It reinforces their classroom experience."
"I don't know how the schools survived without this," said Willie Mae Mickel, whose grandson is a student at Turner Elementary, Stanton Road and Alabama Avenue SE. "If we'd had this kind of help when I was growing up, I would have been so much better off."
This year, Mickel said, the parent group funds are providing a guidance counselor who works two hours a day with disruptive children. "We're very pleased with what he's doing," she said. "He is really needed."
She said that parents who previously hadn't been actively involved with their childrens' schools said they have realized what a difference increased involvement can make.
Working through the Washington Parent Group Fund, Mickel said, "has really opened our eyes to the many good things we can accomplish. I can see how these kids are progressing, and it just fills my heart with joy."