Emily Coomes, a PTA parent at Lexington's Athens-Chilesburg Elementary School, got the idea for "sister schools," or one school helping another, as she watched the Fayette County redistricting committee come to a realization:
The committee redrawing attendance boundaries won't significantly change the economic divide that exists among various Fayette schools because it rejected measures such as busing that would have put a mix of family incomes into a given school.
The amount of money parents and students raise for trips, extra academic supplies and equipment varies by thousands of dollars from school to school, often because of the economic status of parents.
"Throughout all the talk about redistricting it kind of opened a lot of people's eyes to the fact that there were such" differences among schools, Coomes said.
She and others in the PTA at ACE, as her school is commonly called, decided to begin a sister school relationship with Yates Elementary. That means parents and students at both schools will join forces on fundraising, and parents at ACE could volunteer at Yates, which is on East New Circle Road in northeast Lexington, less than 6 miles from ACE.
Seventy-five percent of the students at Yates are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, compared to 20 percent at ACE, which is off Todds Road in a growing suburban area of southeast Lexington.
While the sister school concept is somewhat new to Fayette County, redistricting committee chairman Alan Stein said that panel was considering making a recommendation in a few weeks that the district implement a sister school program.
ACE is classified in the state's accountability system as "distinguished/progressing," and Yates as "needs improvement/progressing."
In one project, ACE parents and students have worked together with their peers at Yates to collect plastic bottle caps that were recycled and made into a garden bench. Yates is placing it in an outdoor courtyard where students have classes.
ACE parents covered the $200 cost of the bench and went to Indiana to pick it up, Yates Family Resource Center coordinator Laura Hartman said.
The bench is "the talk of the school," said Hartman. "The kids love it."
In an upcoming project, both schools will have a clothing drive in a few weeks to help Yates students with the uniforms they wear. Coomes hopes that will be followed by drives for school supplies and for books to give Yates students to read during the summer.
Julie Wallace, a member of the ACE sister school committee and the redistricting committee, said ACE has a strong parent volunteer base that could help Yates.
The volunteers are "what helps make a school better," said Wallace. "I feel like if we could partner our volunteers it could really help out."
Said Hartman: "We know our school is wonderful and our kids are fabulous, and we want everybody else to know it. It would be nice to get others in here and help our kids reach their potential.'
Twanjua Jones, principal at Yates, said she thought other schools "would truly benefit" from the same kind of sister school collaboration
"I do think it could have an impact across the district," she said.
Coomes said she talked with Francine Todes, director of the Sister School Solution program for the Council of PTAs in Texas' Spring Branch Independent School District. That program began about seven years ago and involves everything from coat drives to book fairs to car washes.
The program has grown from a handful of schools to 20 partnering schools, Todes said in an interview.
"I'm hoping it takes off here," Coomes said.