At the turn of a century of advocacy for children, the Maryland PTA welcomed a new president to engage parents in their children's education.
After serving two years as president-elect, Elizabeth Ysla Leight, of Russett, became the Maryland PTA's president on Saturday, July 18, at its annual convention in Rockville.
In addition other past positions with the state PTA as vice president of legislation and federal legislative chair, Leight has also taken part in the National PTA Legislative Committee.
As a parent of three in Anne Arundel County, she served on local educational committees for more than 25 years.
"When you look at leadership, you just don't look at where the individual is right now," said Esther Parker, a former Maryland PTA president. "Elizabeth brings to the table a well-rounded individual who understands advocacy."
Parker, who also serves on a National PTA Committee, said Leight got her start on the PTA when her children were young, like most in her line of work.
"It first starts about our child, but we quickly understand it's not just our child, it's all the children,"Parker said.
Julie Hummer, a longtime friend of Leight and at-large member on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, said Leight will excel in her new role, because she is a great listener, organized and reliable.
"If Elizabeth says she is going to do something, it is done immediately," Hummer said. "You don't have to do a follow up phone call or anything, because she already has it done and planned."
Leight, a lawyer, is the first Hispanic president of the statewide association and serves on the governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs. She said this has allowed her to see that the state is undergoing a widespread shift in diversity.
"We are on the cusp of change in Maryland," Leight said. "Many of our counties are majority-minority counties, and I want to make sure that we harness the power of all the parents to lead and advocate for all the children in our state."
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Working in PTA at the local level, Leight said she worked to make Hispanic families who might not speak English feel welcome in their children's schools by providing translators.
"We try to meet people where we are and make everything better to the extent we can," she said.
It's time to "embrace the future" and "embrace the diversity" of the state and its families, she said. In addition to minorities, students from different educational and socioeconomic backgrounds also need to be advocated for, Leight said.
She said parents can make change, and she has seen it happen. While students' families might feel unwanted or unneeded, she said, it's not the case.
"The families are the cornerstone of every school," she said. "We want to make sure that we collaborate with our schools, but also, we have a commitment to our families to welcome them into our schools to engage them in the education of their children."
Leight said increased family engagement is the most important goal of her organization and she hopes to pursue it full force as president.
"The children may only be 25 percent of the population at one point, but they will definitely be 100 percent of our future, so we want to make sure they get a good start," Leight said.