State award puts school volunteer in the spotlight

Denys Kang of Hinsdale said she was shocked and humbled to learn that her volunteer work at Oak School was being recognized with an Illinois State Board of Education Those Who Excel award.

"I was in complete disbelief. I stood in my kitchen wiping away tears of gratitude," said Kang, a member of the Oak School Parent Teacher Organization. The annual awards recognize non-teachers who work within their local schools. District 181 had winners in all five categories.

Kang said she didn't even know of the award until hearing that she would be recognized at the April school board meeting. She also was honored with a sign bearing her name outside Oak School and a tribute at the start of the school talent show.

"It was very sweet," she said, even if it was beyond her comfort zone.

A volunteer with the Oak School PTO since 2014, Kang said she prefers to remain behind the scenes. Most of her volunteer hours are spent coordinating Oak School's hot lunch program. Because the school has no kitchen from which to provide hot lunches for students, Kang and the PTO bring in hot lunch twice a week. The lunches serve as a welcome treat for students, as well as a fundraiser that allows the PTO to provide things like special school assemblies, school supplies for teachers and birthday lunches with the principal - things to make school a little more fun and that enrich the learning experience.

If a child can't afford the hot lunches, the PTO provides for them, as well, Kang said.

Most of the hot lunches that Kang coordinates are delivered to the school, but there are times when her minivan performs short duty as a catering truck.

Enhancing school life for students became especially difficult during the pandemic, Kang said. But she and the rest of the PTO found ways to let Oak School students know they were remembered and supported throughout the school year. They held a virtual science fair and planned monthly activities children could enjoy at home. Many of those activities required doorstep delivery of supplies.

"In December we did gingerbread house kits. We dropped them off to over 250 families," Kang said.

Kang, who also coordinates teacher appreciation week events each year, said she was completely unfamiliar with the role of the PTO when her boys started school.

"I quickly found that being part of the PTO was the easiest way to connect with Oak, get to know the staff and meet other parents," she said. And it's for those same reasons that she will be involved with the Hinsdale Middle School PTO.

Kang said no special talents or requirements are needed to be part of the PTO. All that's needed is some time and a desire to make your child's school a better place.

"It makes me proud knowing that I contributed to organizing events that are unique only to Oak in our community. When I have students, parents, and staff thanking me in the hallways, I know my commitment to the school has been worth it," she said.

- story by Sandy Illian Bosch, photo by Jim Slonoff