On November 17, 2023, Jill Vasbinder Morrison, Hampstead Hill Academy (HHA) Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) President, received the Baltimore Family Alliance 2023 “Parent of the Year” Award at the BFA Stoop Soirée: Charm City Gala. Jill was recognized for her tireless volunteer service at HHA for the past eight years. A Baltimore School for the Arts graduate who teaches dance at UMBC, Jill has daughters at HHA in 7th and 4th grades, respectively.
Below are her inspiring words about her passion for the PTO, her recent recognition, and why parent involvement is so essential to creating a vibrant school community.
I’ve been active in the HHA PTO for eight years and president for one year of a two-year term. When my oldest daughter was in Kindergarten at HHA, I showed up for the first general PTO meeting of the year. We were brand new to the school, and it felt like there was a need to support events. At the time, there was a small group of parents doing all the work. By the end of the year, I was volunteer coordinator for the spring fundraiser and joined the PTO board. I also became the school’s liaison for BUILD. Matt Hornbeck [HHA Principal] found me at the right moment, when I said ‘yes’ to everything. I also lead the Strong Schools Team of Ten for HHA. Both BUILD and this taught me not only how to engage other parents, but help them develop as leaders too.
Early on, I worked with Felicia German, who was HHA’s first Latino Community Outreach Coordinator. We had gone to high school together at Baltimore School for the Arts. We realized that there was a need to bridge the language barrier between our Hispanic and non-Hispanic families. She created a language exchange program that became Padres Unidos/Parents United.
My husband, Sean Morrison, was PTO President before me from 2019 to 2021. I was still on the PTO board and was able to support him in his role. He did an amazing job, and found ways to connect parents, kids, and the HHA faculty and staff during COVID.
The PTO fills the space of helping to build community and financially supports teachers through field trips and classroom equipment. My board is awesome! They all take on the responsibility and work and share my vision that we are not just there to raise money and host social events, but to create a strong school community.
When parents are involved the whole community benefits. Teachers have what they need to teach and connect with their students. The administration can push forward initiatives with the support (physically, financially, mentally) of the parent community.
Our events are designed to build community. Every first Wednesday of the month, the morning after the PTO meeting, we host coffee and bagels at school during dropoff. We also do a family social event every other month for parents and students to be with friends and meet new people. We host monthly restaurant nights, too, at businesses owned by HHA families or who support the school in some fashion.
My favorite event this year was the BeeFit Color Run. We met our fundraising goals for BeeFit, so Principal Hornbeck let us ‘slime’ him. The entire school was together, Pre-K through 8, on the green top. The laughter, smiles, and excitement from the children was amazing, beyond anything I have seen. There was so much happiness. This event is just one moment, but this and every PTO event is about what I love most in my role: connecting community members, easing the stress of new parents coming into the HHA community, easing the teachers jobs when they know they are supported and appreciated, and creating opportunities for other parents to lead and succeed.
When I got the email notification about the BFA award, I cried and got really emotional. I don’t do all these things to be in the spotlight, but to feel that others saw what I have been doing, it felt so validating. I could feel that all this work and time was making a difference. I know I am not the only parent in Baltimore making a difference, so sometimes it feels weird to say I am ‘Parent of the Year,’ but I am honored just the same.
I am a volunteer for many organizations and bring others into leading these communities. In addition to the HHA PTO, I work with BUILD, Strong Schools Maryland, Girl Scouts (I have been a leader for 6 years), Maryland Dance Education Association, Partners in Education (PIE), Baltimore School for the Arts TWIGS program, and have just joined the Restorative Schools Maryland campaign.
Thanks, Jill, for your incredible service and thank you for all you are doing for HHA!
Read more about the Baltimore Family Alliance and its community partnership with BCP.