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Alum Spotlight: Rhonda Ulmer

November 13, 2009

AmeriCorps Alum, Eli Segal Award Winner and all around ‘Woman of Worth’ Rhonda Ulmer is vying to win L’Oreal’s Women of Worth 1st place award. Please tell your family and friends and vote HERE!

“Parents are the foundation of the family. As president of the PTA for my children’s school, I saw that parents were so bogged down, they often couldn’t help their children. We gave them hope. If we can help parents provide for basic family needs, then they can help their children succeed in school.”

When Van Bokkelen Elementary School was placed on the Maryland Department of Education’s takeover list due to its low test scores, Rhonda Ulmer set out to improve student achievement and help families as a whole. Even as she promoted parental involvement through her leadership with the PTA, she felt something was missing. Through a survey, Rhonda discovered that many parents had problems paying bills and feeding their families. Some were facing eviction and others had not graduated from high school.

An AmeriCorps alum and single mother of three, Rhonda understood that when the basic needs of the family are taken care of, parents could concentrate on the academic needs of their children. She received parent leadership training and a grant from the Maryland Parent Leadership Institute to fund the Van Bokkelen Family Network Project. The project enabled parents with children in the elementary school to receive local community resources, obtain their GED, housing, food and health assistance.

By addressing the parents’ needs first, Rhonda fostered a real sense of partnership between the school and the parents. Under her guidance, many other collaborations were developed to help students and families succeed, including those with local Boys and Girls Clubs, the YWCA, Maryland Food Bank, Community Action Partnership and others.

The huge success of the project inspired Rhonda to start the University for Parents, a community organization that provides parents throughout Maryland with the skills and resources to help their family succeed. Interactive and engaging family development classes are conducted in partnership with school communities by parent educators, thereby increasing parental involvement and student academic success.

Five years later, with the support of teachers and the community, Van Bokkelen Elementary families have healthier lifestyles, students have strengthened their math, science, history and other academic skills, and the school has become the hub of the community. PTA membership has grown from 25 inactive members when Rhonda took over as president to over 140 active members, and the school has made adequate yearly progress for five years in a row. That’s why Rhonda is a 2009 Woman of Worth.

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