Willow Springs PTA president honored for her innovative thinking during pandemicSep 07, 2021 02:55PM ● By Julie Slama
Willow Springs PTA president Karen Hunter, seen here with BYU’s Cosmo who came to visit students, received the PTA Volunteer of the Year for the state. (Photo courtesy of Heidi Hunter)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Not everyone would look at a full school year during the COVID-19 pandemic as an adventure, but last year, Willow Springs PTA President Karen Hunter did.
Hunter was nominated for the PTA Volunteer of the Year by several parents and Willow Springs PTA board members who let her guide them through the year following the school theme, “Adventure Awaits!” Her nomination not only won at the local and regional levels; but also, she won the award from the state.
“It was shocking,” Hunter said, saying that a board member oversaw the awards, so she didn’t know she had initially won. “I was going to my treasurer’s house (to sign a reimbursement check for a volunteer) and I was surprised with lot of people there. They had a big banner and balloons and…it made me cry, of course.”
She also was recognized by the state board at the state PTA conference; it meant a lot to her to be recognized amongst her peers.
“It was so sweet, and I was really shocked, because to me, I felt like I had a really easy year because of COVID. I mean, we weren’t able to do our typical programs, but we came up with some other things to do,” Hunter said. “So, I was really surprised.”
For example, instead of holding the typical jog-a-thon fundraiser where not only the students run, but also the community, the PTA had the students first watch character building videos and then, with school T-shirts to promote school pride, students were able to have dance parties in their classrooms and have the community pledge them or give donations.
“It was a guided program of what they were doing, but they got exercise and we gave out prizes that week,” she said. “It was a good alternative, and we were really pleased with how that went.”
Barb Cluff, who served on the nomination committee, said that Hunter “is just absolutely amazing. She is a true leader. She gets the big picture. She is a calm leader and through COVID, nothing ruffled her. Things kept getting canceled, things had to change. The big fundraiser—we couldn’t do the normal jog-a-thon—so she scrambled to figure out how to have a totally successful fundraiser without doing the actual jog-a-thon. She doesn’t get flustered. She said, ‘If we can’t do that, let’s try this.’ Nothing is a big deal and she just figured out something else and went forward. She’s a master of simplicity.”
In the spring, the PTA introduced a simple and fun interaction to raise students’ spirits, Hunter said.
Once volunteers and visitors could return to helping in the schools, the PTA arranged for Cosmo, Brigham Young University’s mascot, to visit during the lunch recess for their diversity week.
“He just hung out with the kids and played some kinds of games, like Red Light, Green Light. He did all sorts of flips and tricks for them. I was surprised how much the kids loved it, even the kids (who like the) U of U loved having that interaction,” she said, adding that kids, faculty and PTA wore different college team shirts. “We did have a lot of diverse teams represented and the kids loved it and had a great time. I think that’s something Willow Springs will probably do in the future.”
Another thing the PTA encouraged was dads or male role models to walk their kids to school since Watch DOG wasn’t able to happen in its traditional sense.
Hunter was glad she was able to increase appreciation for the teachers.
“We really focused on a lot on teacher appreciation,” she said, saying they doubled their budget, which helped to provide catered individually wrapped meals for teachers during parent-teacher conferences. “We also gave them a monthly small gift or token.”
Some of what she has done hasn’t been in the limelight.
For example, recruiting new members was difficult in a year without a back-to-school night push or even volunteers being allowed in school most of the year. Willow Springs PTA membership vice president Dixie Lewis recalled, “just when I was ready to throw in the towel, Karen found a way to do one more final membership push, which motivated me to finish the year off strong and significantly increase our numbers.”
Lewis said, “Karen is the leader we needed to guide us through this challenging year. She chose the theme, ‘Adventure Awaits!’ which reflected her attitude about the challenges and difficulties we have faced as a PTA. She has been encouraging and flexible as we have each faced different hurdles in accomplishing our tasks this year.”
While last year’s treasurer, Kim Anselmo, said that Hunter was able to help her learn about the role of treasurer and important deadlines because of her firsthand knowledge, she also found Hunter’s passion for PTA to be inspirational.
“She builds other up and is very complimentary and grateful for each of us,” Anselmo wrote in her nomination. “She really cares about the people she works with, and it shows in her words and actions. She is a natural problem-solver and positive thinker. She is great at including us all in her ideas and looks to us to help implement them.”
Hunter said many of the activities they did this past year were run by her staff and often times, they “ran the show,” so she didn’t have to even enter the school.
“The best thing I did was get really good people on my board,” she said. “It kind of feels like kind of tooting your own horn because the people that helped out last year, even those whose programs were put on hold, were still really helpful in their ideas and suggestions. I just worked with amazing people, and we had an amazing year. I don’t necessarily take all the credit for that. It’s just these wonderful people. Everyone was just fantastic…and chomping at the bit because they want to help out more.”
Two others, June Larsen and Kim Peterson, from Willow Springs received regional PTA awards. Larsen was named Outstanding Support Staff Award-winner and Peterson, School Educator Award-winner.
Hunter, who has previously run the Willow Springs chess program and supported buying the group an online alternative this past year, has been on the board at the school for seven years, serving as treasurer as well as treasurer at Draper Park Middle School. Now that her children have “graduated” from Willow Springs, she plans to help more at DPMS and Corner Canyon High.
“I’m actually quite sad. I drive by Willow Springs and now I don’t have a reason to go there anymore,” Hunter said, adding that she will help be a source for the current PTA if they need anything. “It’s funny. When we’ve asked people to get involved in PTA, a lot of time, their perception, I think, they think it’s going to take so much time. They don’t know what the rewards are; I’ve met so many awesome people in the PTA; I’ve made great friends as well as being able to help the kids.”