A 15-year crusade for the safety of schoolchildren will become a mandatory attendance notification program this fall in eight Lockport city district elementary and middle schools.
In 1982, past president of the Niagara District Parent-Teacher Association Teresa Emmert began working with Lockport Council PTA leader Rachel D'Agostino on a committee to make sure that children walking to school reached their classrooms safely.
Now, working with Ms. Emmert, Patricia Schiavone of the PTA and district Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Paul R. Pignataro, Lockport's city schools are taking over the PTA's efforts.
For this and other work, Ms. Emmert, who has held numerous leadership positions in local and Niagara District PTAs, was recently recognized with the district's Mary Ruth Ulrich Outstanding Service Award.
With the implementation of the safe arrival program, PTA volunteers who had called parents whose children were absent without excuses will be replaced by breakfast monitors, who will be paid to work an extra hour to make the calls.
Instead of sending a note or trying to remember to call school in the mornings, parents will be able to leave messages on school nurses' answering machines at any time.
For Ms. Emmert, the campaign to keep track of students on their way to school began when her son started walking to classes at Washington Hunt Elementary School in Lockport in the early 1980s. "You have to give of your time and effort for kids, to make it safer for them, and a better environment for them to receive a better education," she said.
Kathleen G. Ganz, Lockport City Schools public information coordinator, said state education law mandates that parents or guardians of elementary school students be notified if the child is absent without a valid excuse.
"School safety is such an issue now, unfortunately. There are kids being abducted, and parents, a lot of times, aren't home after they send the kids to school," Ms. Ganz said. "Unfortunately, it's very easy for them to lose track. We want to make sure kids are safe and they're attending school."
Local Parent-Teacher Associations have offered to help pay for answering machines to be placed on school nurses' office telephone lines. They are also funding student-designed refrigerator magnets with the names and phone numbers of various nurses' offices in the district with the slogan, "Feeling sick? Call in quick."
"If a parent finds out the child won't be coming in, they can call in the night before, and in theory, they will leave a message including the name, grade and how many days the child will be out, what the excuse is," Ms.
Breakfast monitors will work one extra hour in the morning, matching homeroom teachers' attendance lists with a list of students whose parents have called or written excuses for them. "The monitor will call the parents (or guardian) . . . if the child appears to be home alone or to be having some type of problem," Ms. Ganz said. In case of a problem, school administration or, in some cases, a social worker, will be notified "to help solve any potential problems."
The cost of keeping breakfast monitors for an extra hour, estimated at about $10,000, is already allotted in the school district's budget for this year, Ms. Ganz said.
Ms. Ganz credits the efforts and enthusiasm of PTA members like Ms. Schiavone and Ms. Emmert for reviving the program.
Ms. Emmert became a winning candidate for the Mary Ruth Ulrich award through her work on programs like the student absentee notification effort, combined with recommendations from PTA officers, said Ronald P. Moore. Moore chaired the district's award committee at the time Ms. Emmert was chosen for the award.
"We give the award to an individual who has exemplified the dedication and service Mary Ruth Ulrich gave in 35 years-plus to the Niagara District PTA, for giving more of yourself than is actually required and for dedication to the organization and its programs. Terri has done that," Moore said.
The award was created in the late 1970s to honor Ms. Ulrich, who died about 20 years later. Ms. Emmert credits Ms. Ulrich, whom she briefly worked with on some PTA activities, and Ms. D'Agostino as inspirations for her work on student absentee notification and numerous other issues.
Her desire to take part in her own son's and daughter's education and a goal, never achieved, of becoming a teacher when she attended Belmont College in Nashville, Tenn., for one and a half years in the early 1970s, have also inspired her work with schools, Ms. Emmert said.
She sees her efforts as those of a volunteer, taking a leadership role but achieving her goals only with others' help.
"A volunteer -- that's me. I could not do it without all these other people, not just my family, for support, but without all my friends, school administrators and PTA members I came to know," she said.
Ms. Emmert, a North Tonawanda native, will achieve another goal in September when she starts work as a teacher aide in an Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Education Services classroom for children with disabilities, located at Emmet Belknap Middle School.