Laurel resident honored for school involvement
Parent given inaugural JoAnne L. Carter Memorial Award for her efforts
For West Laurel resident Kristen Ruiz, volunteering as a music teacher at Bond Mill Elementary is just one note in her composition titled "Parental Involvement."
Ruiz is the Parent Teacher Association president at Laurel High School and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Beltsville and the Parent Teacher Organization president at Bond Mill Elementary.
Because of her efforts, Ruiz, 42, was recently named one of the 24 state semifinalists for the 2009 Comcast Parent Involvement Matters Award, a collaboration between Comcast and the Maryland State Department of Education that recognizes parents and guardians for their support of public education.
Although she did not win first place, on May 8 she was given the inaugural JoAnne L. Carter Memorial Award — named after the MSDE's former Deputy State Superintendent who died of cancer in February — for her parental involvement and work at three county schools.
"I was overwhelmed and it was totally unexpected," Ruiz said.
William Reinhardt, MSDE spokesman, said Carter was all about family involvement in improving schools.
"We were looking for a way to honor her and someone who embodied her spirit and we found that person in Kristen Ruiz, who seems to be in all places at once," he said. "We had never heard of someone who was president of three PTAs, and she seems to do it and do it well."
Ruiz said in order for any school or parent organization to succeed, everyone must participate.
"To make the school the best, it has to be the administration, teachers and parents working together," she said. "I want Prince George's County schools to be the best and looked at being the best."
Ruiz began her stint with the PTA at Bond Mill in 2003, and has been involved ever since as her three children — Michael, 15, Katie, 13, and Maria, 9, — have all attended the school, where Maria still goes.
On top of starting the drama club at the school in 2005, Ruiz said she helps coordinate about 20 committees and programs at the school.
Currently in her second year as president at King Middle, she helped revamp the entire library by adding new books and computer. In her first year at Laurel High School, she said she helped centralize the money provided for clubs and boosters to the PTSA, to take the burden off the administration there.
For Ruiz, the current economic climate is a perfect opportunity for all PTAs and PTOs.
"At a time when budgets are tight, schools cannot get the things they normally could. And that's when the PTA steps in," she said.
Bond Mill Principal Justin FitzGerald said that when he was asked to nominate someone for the award, his first thought was Ruiz.
"She is one of the most dedicated, hardworking individuals I have ever met," he said. "She's here so many days from the morning until the evening that where she finds time to rest and keep her sanity I'll never understand that."
E-mail Timmy Gelles at firstname.lastname@example.org.