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Left Hand Laurel – Shana Oehmke

Series: Left Hand Laurel | Story 23

This month's recipient of the Left Hand Laurel is Shana Oehmke, uber-parent volunteer at Heatherwood Elementary School (HES). Living just three blocks away from the school for the last 15 years, the Oehmke children had an easy commute to HES; Henry is a third-grader this year, Charlotte is in seventh grade at Platt Middle School, and Amelia is a sophomore at Fairview High.

HES school office manager Marlys Lietz wrote, "Shana has worked hard to keep our school finances in order and has been especially attentive during this year of the pandemic when we were unable to hold our usual school fundraisers. She is quick, smart, and always serves with a smile."

Oehmke grew up in Tennessee, earned an undergraduate degree in psychology in Pennsylvania and then attended graduate school at the University of Michigan and Michigan State where she and husband Bob met. She was studying school psychology when she had her first child and decided it was more fun to stay home and play with the baby than any other option. Bob's job as a computer scientist with NCAR prompted the move from Michigan to Gunbarrel.

It comes as no surprise that with a love for children and an interest in school psychology. Shana's caring about kids and their education continued to figure prominently in her life.

"When Amelia was in kindergarten, I got my first Heatherwood volunteering job," Oehmke said. "I volunteered in the kindergarten classroom working with small groups of kids."

This year marks her eleventh year of giving time and energy to HES.

Lots of teacher directed classroom tasks and preparing dinners for parent-teacher conference nights were ways in which she'd pitch in. Working in the school library also became a focus for Oehmke. Her younger children would come along, keeping busy with quiet activities while Oehmke helped students find and check out books.

Three years ago, much to her surprise, Oehmke became HES's Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) treasurer.

"I never thought I'd get involved in PTO because I thought, 'Oh, that's for all the political go-getters and I like my little job of shelving books in the library where it's quiet and I see the kids.'"

With the encouragement of other parents, Oehmke applied for the treasurer's position, was elected, and has since found it very interesting to be part of the inner workings of the school budget, fundraising, and helping the school maintain fiscal responsibility.The job is a two-year position, but because of COVID all members of the PTO board continued in their positions.

In her treasurer's role, Oehmke manages all aspects of the PTO's money. She had experience doing her family's finances, but no formal background in accounting. Still, Oehmke got her arms around the tasks she needed to perform.

As a board member, one of Oehmke's responsibilities is to assist in fundraising in order to supplement the school district's budget. In a typical year, the PTO facilitates numerous fundraisers like the Boosterthon running event and auctions. In lieu of in-person events, other creative virtual fundraising events took place over the last year, including a dance party, along with game night and yoga events.

In particular, Oehmke said, the majority of the funds raised are needed to ensure the school has more para educators on hand. Para educators support teachers in numerous ways such as facilitating break-out math and reading groups, supervising on playgrounds, and offering individual attention.

Funding also goes toward enrichment programs such as the outdoor education program and a new program called No Place for Hate, as well as helping to shore up classroom supplies for students who are unable to afford them.

Elections were held in early May and Oehmke will be passing on the treasurer's position to another parent volunteer before school begins next fall. Going forward, she'd like to take on other volunteer positions within HES, especially in classrooms again.

Volunteering at HES is a family affair. Bob Oehmke serves on the school accountability committee. The committee includes parents, teachers, the principal, and community members, who assess school performance, recommend improvements to the school, and evaluate the school budget. Shana's mother, Sheila Hunter, who also lives in Heatherwood, is a retired teacher volunteering in the HES health room.

"We love volunteering at school, our whole family does," Oehmke said. "I think that partnership between school and home is so important, and we've really learned that this year. Once everybody had to be at home, it definitely was a whole involvement of parents and staff working together to keep the kids interested and progressing in school."

In addition to giving time to HES, Oehmke has a love for music and sings in her church (Immaculate Conception in Lafayette) choir and has recently joined the Virtuosity Choir run by Stephen Ross of FACE. She's a hiker, reader, baker, and knitter. She just rejoined the Boulder Community Knitting Group, meeting once a month to make warm items which are donated to local charities.


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