Children's activist adds national PTA role Ellicott woman becomes vice president HOWARD COUNTY EDUCATION


Beer trucks and protesters lined the street leading to Wisconsin's capital one day in 1985 when Joan Dykstra came to lobby state legislators to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21.

People heckled and threw beer cans at the children's advocate, who now lives in Ellicott City and who this past summer was elected first vice president for the National PTA.

"It was one of those David and Goliath situations where we were never supposed to win," recalled Ms. Dykstra. "Everybody told us we should give up."

But Wisconsin, a big beer brewing state and headquarters to the producers of Miller and Old Milwaukee beers, eventually raised the legal drinking age to 21, becoming one of the last states in the nation to do so.

That experience -- and the victory by supporters of the higher drinking age -- has not been forgotten by Ms. Dykstra, who brings a zest for high-profile activism to her national PTA job.

"Being on the front-line of the action is a wonderful feeling," she said. "I'm proud when I stand before the General Assembly and give them testimony, and that testimony has been strong and valid enough for the legislators to say, 'You know, she's right.' "

Ms. Dykstra, whose two children are now grown, came to Howard County almost two years ago from Racine, Wis., where she was born and reared and where she got her start in the PTA.

She has served as a school PTA president, Wisconsin PTA president, a vice president of the regional organization and national vice president for leadership, among other roles. She is a member of the Maryland PTA's board of directors and holds honorary life memberships in 16 states.

As the second in charge of the 7 million-member National PTA, ZTC she represents the organization at various meetings and functions across the United States.

Outside of her PTA work, Ms. Dykstra has worked with children's theaters and been recognized as Citizen of the Year and Woman of the Year of Wisconsin. She also was given an Outstanding Service award from the Wisconsin state superintendent.

She is part of a family of PTA activists, who include her mother and her aunts. After she married and became a mother, she joined the PTA organization to be "in the forefront, the cutting edge of reform," she said.

"I felt it was an opportunity to be a part of the educational community and all the changes," she said.

She cites violence in schools as a prime concern.

"When I sent my kids to school, that thought never entered my mind, that they would not be safe," Ms. Dykstra said. "For those school districts that have had those tragedies, my heart goes out to them."

If she had her way, she would make it mandatory that all parents become involved with their children's education.

"Every parent needs to be involved in some way in building self-esteem and making them successful," she said. "When parents are involved, the research shows that kids do better in school. Kids do better in life when they have a support system."

Ms. Dykstra said she believes education is more important now than ever before, and said that every child must be well-fed and healthy enough to learn.

"Today's children are going to grow up in a very different world," she said. "We have to be sure we teach them so they can meet those challenges. Our world is not the same as it was 20 years ago."

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