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Towson High School parent earns county's nomination for state award

Towson High School parent earns county's nomination for state award
Towson High School parent Cheri Pegues is Baltimore County's nominee for a state award that recognizes parental involvement in schools. Pegues established an Adopt-a-Family program at Towson High. (Staff Photo / Staff photo by Rachael Pacella)

A simple concept, well-executed, has earned Towson High School parent Cheri Pegues a Maryland Parent Involvement Matters Award nomination.

Pegues, working with the high school's social worker, Laura Kogelschatz, created a program that matched families in need with families with resources to give. To her, it was common sense.

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"We're just pairing them together," Pegues said.

As a result, 28 students at Towson High who needed basics, such as food, clothing and toiletries, didn't go without during the Thanksgiving and holiday seasons, Pegues said.

Pegues is one of 25 finalists for the statewide Parent Involvement Matters Award, which will be given Friday at a state education department ceremony.

"Parent involvement just makes or breaks a school, I really believe that," said Pegues, 56. "Even if you have just a little bit of time, I think everyone can do something."

Pegues, whose son, Brenton, is a junior at the 1,400-student school, was nominated by Principal Charlene DiMino at the county level. She is Baltimore County's nominee.

"Ms. Pegues consistently demonstrates an unselfish nature," DiMino said in an email. "She puts the needs of others ahead of her own and strives to assist students."

In its ninth year, the Parent Involvement Matters Award program looks at achievements in the categories of communication, volunteering, learning, decision making and community collaboration.

"A strong school is often a direct reflection of the tireless volunteer work that parents provide," Jack Smith, the state's outgoing interim school superintendent, said in a statement.

Last year, Andrew Niebler of Montgomery County won for starting a program that provided food, toiletries and scholarships for after-school activities at Westland Middle School in Bethesda.

Pegues' program, simply called Adopt-a-Family, began as an idea about four years ago, when she was Parent Teacher Student Association president at Dumbarton Middle School, in Towson.

"People generally think because Towson is a pretty affluent area, that we don't have students in need, and that is absolutely untrue," said Pergues, a retired dental office manager.

When she became the Towson High School PTSA president this year, she was determined to make the program a reality. She started by sorting through a parent directory and using her knowledge of local families to identify people who would be willing to give.

She sent an email to about 50 families, she said, unsure of what the response would be.

The response was positive. Apart from food, people gave items that were specific to needs, such as clothing that matched the exact size required.

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"The giving was very unique, customized to the family. It was very successful," Pegues said.

Cathy Burgess, director of the Assistance Center of Towson Churches, said the Towson community has families requiring assistance. According to U.S. Census data, about 11 percent of families in the area live at or below the poverty line.

"These children are in our area," Burgess said. "These families do live in crisis and are very close every month to facing eviction or shut off."

Burgess said her center has a program that provides 200 backpacks a month to students at Loch Raven High School, Ridgely Middle, Hampton Elementary School and other schools to provide weekend meals for students.

With that program, and Adopt-A-Family, consideration is given to the privacy of the children, Burgess said.

"We don't want any child to feel pointed to or embarrassed," Burgess said. "These are conditions beyond their control."

For the Adopt-a-Family program, the school's social worker identified families, and from there the process was anonymous — donations were channeled through the social worker.

High school is a particularly difficult age to be without basic necessities, Pegues said.

"I think being able to show them an act of compassion or kindness can really be a turning point for them in their lives, and it really could change the way they see the future," Pegues said. "They can really see hope."

Kogelschatz said it is likely that some needy students at Towson weren't identified, but every student who was identified got some form of help.

Pegues will serve a second term as Towson High PTSA president in the 2016-2017 school year and hopes to expand the program.

She also would like to create a pantry at the school, stocking items such as food and toiletries. The Assistance Center of Towson Churches, at 120 W. Pennsylvania Ave., already operates a pantry.

Kogelschatz, the school social worker, said they hope to expand the Adopt-a-Family program to function year-round, not just during holidays.

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