School's P.E.T.A.L.S. going county-wide

Photo by Curt Yeomans
Etorsha Reese (standing), the founder and executive director of Producing Excellence That Always Leads to Success (P.E.T.A.L.S.), explains to parents why she established the group at Hawthorne Elementary School.

Photo by Curt Yeomans Etorsha Reese (standing), the founder and executive director of Producing Excellence That Always Leads to Success (P.E.T.A.L.S.), explains to parents why she established the group at Hawthorne Elementary School.

What started as a small, "garden" of female, Hawthorne Elementary School students, looks to be on the verge of becoming a county-wide "field" of similar pupils.

Since the 2006-2007 school year, Hawthorne has had a mentoring organization for its fourth-and fifth-grade, female students, which is officially called Producing Excellence That Always Leads to Success. The group, whose symbol is a rose, is more commonly referred to by its acronym –– P.E.T.A.L.S.

The members of the group learn etiquette, the ins and outs of running a business, and how to be more self-confident, through a variety of activities, including business expose, mother-daughter fashion shows and teas, and the group's annual spring debutante ball.

"It gives them an early start on things they should be learning already, but are not learning until later in life," said Nicole Reese, a fifth-grade teacher at Hawthorne, and the faculty advisor for the group.

P.E.T.A.L.S.' founder and executive director, Etorsha Reese (not related to Nicole Reese), said she is taking the group beyond Hawthorne's walls for the first time this year. The founder is a former teacher at the school. She explained that the lady-building group is beginning the 2010-2011 school year by making the transition from after-school club, to county-wide non-profit organization.

Etorsha Reese said a P.E.T.A.L.S. interest meeting will be held on Saturday, at 10:30 a.m., at Hawthorne Elementary School, for parents, or guardians, of any female fourth-graders and fifth-graders in Clayton County schools, who might be interested in joining the group.

The school is located at 10750 English Road, in Hampton. "It's open to just whoever wants to come," she said.

It will cost $50, per student, to sign up, the founder told parents during a meeting, on Thursday, for just Hawthorne students and their parents. Etorsha Reese explained that the fee covers purchasing the organization's curriculum, the cost of field trips and activities, and the purchase of the group's official shirt. She said pay-by-installment plans are available. "They can pay $25 now, and $25 later," she said.

In addition to becoming a non-profit organization, the group is facing another change, because this will be the first time it has had a structured curriculum. The P.E.T.A.L.S. founder told parents at Thursday's meeting that the curriculum has been added as part of the group's conversion to a non-profit organization.

She said there are some new activities being added, also, including an end-of-the-year slumber party, a "Daddy-Daughter Day," in which members, and their fathers, go bowling together.

The group's leaders also said there will be a day-trip to visit Spelman College, in Atlanta, and Agnes Scott College, in Decatur.

"We want to give them exposure to a college campus early on, rather than waiting until they are in high school to make their first visit to a campus," Hawthorne faculty advisor, Nicole Reese, said.

"Some kids get it in their minds that they don't want to go to college," she said. "But, then they visit their first college campus, and they realize, ‘Hey, I can still have fun while attending Spelman. I'm going to get my grades up so I can go to college.'"

For this school year, P.E.T.A.L.S. will operate as one umbrella organization, with two groups holding meetings once every two weeks.

There will be a group made up of just Hawthorne Elementary students. That group will meet on Thursdays, immediately after school. Another group, made up of students from the rest of the county, will meet two days later, on Saturdays, at Hawthorne.

Everyone in the organization will follow the same curriculum, Etorsha Reese said.

After the meeting at Hawthorne, on Thursday, some of the parents expressed enthusiasm about getting their daughters involved in the organization.

"I like it," said Kimberly Imes, who said she is going to enroll her two daughters, fourth-grader, Tayla Robinson, and fifth-grader, Tajah Robinson. Her family is already familiar with the group, she said. "My oldest daughter, Tajah, was in P.E.T.A.L.S. last year ... She's very shy, and it opened her up, and helped her become more vocal," the mother added.

Another Hawthorne parent, Carla Heath, was not as familiar with the group before Thursday, so she asked Etorsha Reese several questions about P.E.T.A.L.S., and what it stood for. Afterward, Heath said she liked the group, and planned to sign up her daughter, fourth-grader, Kiera.

"I think it is certainly a good idea," she said. "It is what I've been looking for, for my daughter, to give her some structure, just to understand the basics of being successful."

For more information on P.E.T.A.L.S., go online to www.petalsandroses.org/, or call Etorsha Reese, at (770) 864-6108.