Not your mother’s PTA



Reaching out to working parents and local communities

During tough economic times, the need for parents to partner with their child’s school is even greater. However, with parents already feeling stretched thin by work and other commitments, finding time for volunteering at school can be hard. Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and independent Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs, which are not part of the National PTA structure), share the mission of bringing parents, teachers, and staff together to support their schools. Over the years, the number of parents participating in PTAs has declined, leaving fewer families to close the gaps left by tighter school budgets.


“We are looking to involve as many families in our PTA and PTA activities as we can,” says Chris Rosenberger, PTA president for Montgomery Elementary School. “With the budget cuts in the school districts, it is falling on more organizations like the PTA to pick up the slack.” That is why many parent-teacher groups are looking at how their organizations can accommodate the hectic schedules of today’s families in order to meet the growing needs of their schools.
Rosenberger, a mother and full-time teacher, understands the challenge many parents face when deciding how to find time for the PTA.

Connecting with each other


“People may feel disconnected from the school if they work during the day and a concern we hear is that parents don’t have time to help,” says Rosenberger.
To answer this problem, PTAs are organizing more activities during non-traditional hours, and have put committees in place that can operate over email.


“What makes it possible for me to volunteer for the PTO is the fact that the monthly meetings are during my lunch,” says Tanisha McInerney, whose children attend a parochial school in Highland Falls. McInerney, who works full-time and volunteers for other organizations, adds that email is also a great help for communicating with the rest of the board. “As kids get older, it is harder for parents to get to the meetings with all of their kids’ activities,” says Vivian Durso, PTA president for Valley Central Middle School in Montgomery.


Durso uses email to distribute information about upcoming events in addition to passing along reminders about school happenings to parents who join the PTA.
PTAs are hoping that these changes will attract more parents to volunteer, which is essential for parent-teacher groups as they try to fill the needs in their schools and also in their local communities. “The PTA is becoming more community minded then it ever has been before,” says Rosenberger. “And the more we support the local communities, the more they will support us.”


Comunity Involvement

Community service projects are a worthwhile endeavor for PTAs, according to parents like Jodi Fitzsimmons, whose children attend school in the Wappingers Central School District. Fitzsimmons points to a flu clinic that her PTA hosted which was open to the public as just one way PTAs can reach out to their local communities. Through community service efforts like clothing and food drives and flu clinics, local PTAs fill needs that directly impact their students’ everyday lives.
In turn, parent-teacher groups hope that they can count on the community to participate in their fundraisers to support the programs and financial requests that the groups develop and propose throughout the year.


Funds for field trips, classroom supplies, and special classroom projects, on top of informational programs and larger projects like construction of playgrounds, are typical ways that parent-teacher groups may contribute to closing the gaps that smaller budgets will leave. “A lot of school districts are cancelling field trips because it is too much to ask the families for more money,” says Rosenberger. “The more money we can raise, the more we can fund things like trips.”


Parent-teacher groups have also considered the economics that families are facing at home when planning their fundraisers. Many have turned to money saving coupon card or entertainment book sales in an effort to be more practical in what they are selling to raise funds to support their programs. And the money they raise is also going toward programs like anti-bullying campaigns, educating parents on internet safety and teaching about the dangers of drugs. “All kinds of issues impact schools and PTAs have to educate parents about the dangers and issues that affect all of us,” says Rosenberger.


As this school year begins, many local parent-teacher groups are hoping their efforts to attract more parents to volunteer will help them meet their school’s growing needs. “The schools can’t do it alone,” says Rosenberger. “They need our help.”

 

Janine Boldrin is a freelance writer who lives in West Point, NY with her family.