ENTHUSIASM FOR LEARNING
April 03, 2012
Every school could use a goodwill ambassador, and Ponderosa Elementary School of Mathematics in Fayetteville, N.C., has found one in Ed Bala. He's been volunteering there for more than 12 years, remaining long after his own two children moved onto other schools. His resume is long and varied— classroom volunteer, five-time PTO president, chess club enthusiast, communications specialist— but it's the joie de vivre infusing all he does that endears him to students, staff, and parents alike.
Perhaps it's his impish sense of humor that captivates and wins him fans. Bala is known for trotting out a wide variety of costumes for every holiday and school event. Many a morning you'll find him in front of the school greeting students dressed alternately as an elf, a clown, an astronaut, a math wizard, or some other creative ensemble. This practice has earned him such nicknames as "Costume Guy" and "Father Ponderosa." "I like to keep 'em guessing as to what I'll come in as next!" Bala says.
Wacky costumes aside, Bala is actually retired military and as such likes things organized. In that vein, he devised a PTO handbook and continues to update it yearly. Communication has always been a priority. Five years ago he started a weekly email update service to keep parents, teachers, and community leaders in the loop about happenings at Ponderosa. It served as an invaluable lifeline, too, after a tornado swept through Fayetteville in April 2011. He upgraded his emails to daily status reports and provided people with valuable emergency information after the storm.
Another endeavor he's proud of is his stewardship of the Ponderosa chess club. "I wanted students to learn how to make their own decisions, and chess is full of life lessons, you know," Bala says. He's been sharing his passion for and knowledge of the game with dozens of eager students since 2003. Some years he's had as many as 70 kids from kindergarten through 5th grade participating. He's even gone further afield and instructed children at neighboring schools in order to stage competitions between campuses.
Bala currently holds the position of PTO secretary, although he admits he's not much into titles. "If there's something that needs to be done, I'll step up and do it," he says. His frequent presence at school has led some people to mistakenly believe he's employed there! Whether it's as mundane as sharpening pencils or as involved as creating a reading incentive program, Bala is up to the task. "For me, the smile on someone's face says it all. For someone to come up and say thanks for letting me know about that upcoming event or...I didn't know my child was doing this in school. That's it....That says it all for me."
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo: Angelita Ballada