Sunday, November 28, 2010
A CURIOUS SHIFT IN STATEN ISLAND’S PTA LEADERSHIP
By AMY PADNANI
Eddie Wu wasn’t sure he fit the part.
He worked full time, he’s not much of a brownie baker and, oh yeah, he’s a man.
But the Port Richmond father of three got over his fears and became the president of the Parent-Teacher Association at P.S. 65, Tompkinsville.
“I had my trepidations, believe me,” said Wu, who works for the city Department of Sanitation. “I was nervous about how others would see me, how others would judge me. A lot of people expect a certain thing for a PTA president. I’m just a garbage man who loves his kids.”
He is one of the swelling ranks of men taking leadership roles at Staten Island PTAs, bucking the traditional image of the stay-at-home Martha Stewart mom. Currently there are eight men leading PTAs at public schools across the borough.
Outgoing Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said on the rare occasion he meets male PTA presidents, he commends them for getting involved.
“I think it’s terrific because it sends such a powerful message,” he told the Advance. “It’s particularly exciting getting more men involved. When I go to a PTA meeting or a talk, whatever men are there, I assign them to bring in more men. I say ‘you’ve got to go out and get three more.’“
Wu wasn’t recruited to join P.S. 65’s PTA. Rather, he began volunteering three years ago when he saw how much fun his kids were having at school events.
“I’d do anything for my kids,” he said. “So if your kids are in the same school as my kids, I’d do anything for them, too.”
He decided to lead the PTA once he learned it would be disbanded because not enough people were joining in. Since taking leadership, participation has shot up with the most recent event, a Halloween party, drawing 248 people.
Though Wu, 39, still sticks out among the crowd as one of the only fathers, he’s grown to enjoy the camaraderie of working with other parents.
“I always get the same look of shock or surprise when people introduce me as the PTA president. They always ask me why I do it,” he said. “And I say ‘I just do.’
Though it’s a “slow period of social evolution,” fathers are taking on more domestic activities than ever before — and they’re enjoying it, said Miles Groth, Ph.D., a professor in Wagner College’s Department of Psychology and director of the school’s new men’s center.
“Mothers have, for some time now, been mothering their kids as well as having jobs. Fathers are just now beginning to catch up,” he said. “There is a certain prejudice that fathers can’t do mothering as well as mothers...but the amount of nurturing is the same as perceived by the kid. It’s just a different style of nurturing.”
Groth said the impact on children is strong; it could change their entire perception of what a man should be, giving higher expectations to girls once they decide to seek a mate, and creating more well-rounded boys as they grow older.
“They’re seeing their fathers as whole human beings, not just disciplinarians, not just the man who comes to dinner,” he said. “They’re seeing their fathers can be empathetic as well.”
Donald DeRosa, the president of the Susan E. Wagner High School PTA, said he believes his involvement has inspired his son to take on leadership roles.
“A couple of years ago, he spoke up at a community board meeting because they were going to put a catering hall at LaTourette golf course,” said DeRosa, a stay-at-home dad who quit his job as a yacht captain once he got married. “He’s looked up organizations to donate toys and money all on his own. I’ve never imposed this on him.”
DeRosa, 63, has been involved with his son’s PTAs in elementary and middle school as well. He thought once his son hit adolescence, he would have to back off. But he was surprised once he asked for his son’s opinion.
“He actually thinks it’s a little cool,” DeRosa said. “I always joke if there’s a PTA in college, I’d be there.”
Men who have taken leadership roles in their children’s schools say it often makes sense when they have discussions with their wives.
George Leicht, the PTA president at the Hungerford School at The Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School, New Springville, had retired on disability from the Department of Sanitation after losing the lower half of his left leg in an accident.
“I’m sitting home and she said to me, ‘Listen I’ve got to work, why don’t you go to all these meetings?’ I didn’t mind,” the one-time salesman said. “I’m very good at working with people. They tell me I could sell ice in the winter.”
The school’s annual golf outing became his focus and, before he knew it, he and his team turned it into a major fundraising event, earning $17,000. The experience has been nothing short of rewarding once he sees how the money helps the District 75 school in educating its students with special needs.
“I love going to see the kids. They make me laugh, they make me cry. They see you in the hallway and give you a high five,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
Sidebar: MEN AT THE HELM OF ISLAND PTAs
Here are the Staten Island schools that have men as president of their PTAs:
* Ron Selznick, co-president, Michael J. Petrides School;
* Aaron Bogad, president, P.S. 5;
* Christopher DiForte, president, Morris Intermediate School;
* James Curd, president, Laurie Intermediate School;
* Jessup Reid, president, P.S. 74;
* Eddie Wu, president, P.S. 65;
* George Leicht, president, Hungerford School at the Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School, New Springville;
* Donald DeRosa, Susan Wagner High School.