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What you need to know about the PTO

Get involved in your child's school

Whether you are joining your school's PTO or PTA, Katie Randall says that the goal is to connect parents to the school. "The teachers and administration cannot possibly do everything a school needs," says Randall, the 37-year-old mom who is a volunteer webmaster for the Wappingers School District and says that she donates about two to three hours a month. "The parents must be involved and the PTA is essential."

Establish connections & address concerns
At Arlington's LaGrange Middle School, sixth-grade teacher Laurie Bryant agrees that joining whatever organization your school has is a great way for parents to feel connected to the school.

"If someone wants to know what is going on in a building or has
concerns, being a part of these groups is a great way to feel connected," she says. "We have our principal at meetings and many teachers try to attend when they can. It's a nice backbone for a school, to know there are parents who are involved and working for the betterment of our kids and building. Those parents are the first in the administration's ear regarding issues, and information flows in both directions. It's good for everyone."

Bryant explains that her school's PTA organizes programs such as
collecting leftover candy at Halloween and donates it to other places in the area as part of their health initiative.

"The class that donates the most candy gets extra recess or gym time," says Bryant. "Last year we collected 900 pounds of candy.

Bryant also volunteers as webmaster for the school and keeps up the Facebook page for their PTA and our website/emails.

READ MORE: Learn more about the PTA

What does the PTO do?
"I post my own things on Facebook that I think the parents would want to interact with and I post what other PTA members want to talk to parents about," she says. "We organize the sixth grade play which is put on for the school, maintain the school gardens and set up appreciation breakfasts for the teachers and school employees."

They also organize educational assemblies with local law enforcement on bullying, magic shows, science shows etc. "These programs probably would not have funding or come to the school without the PTA," says Bryant.

Nicole Hepler is a mom of two children - 14-year-old Abigail and 11-year-old Ben and she volunteers as a board member and vice president for LaGrange Middle School and is a member of the PTA of Arlington High School.

"It's all about open communication between you and your children," says Hepler. "You will know what's going on in your child's school by being involved and building relationships with teachers. They'll know your face and it helps your child. You'll also know what works and doesn't
work and you can listen and help to make changes."

She has helped on Spirit Week, and with bake sale, author visitors, book fairs. "These are an essential part of our volunteer work, but that's not where it stops."

In the middle school, Hepler says that everything is teacher-based. "This means if the children are going to have a bake sale to raise money, the teachers of that team contact the students who do everything," she said. "They then sell the items during lunch to each other."

READ MORE: How can you find support within a SEPTA

Get involved
If a parent is interested in getting involved in the PTA or the PTO, Hepler suggests they come to at least one meeting first. "Our school has meetings once a month, so you can come to one of those and find out what's going on in the district and see what's happening in your child's school," she says.

She admits that she was one of those parents who thought that these organizations weren't really for her. "I had to give it a shot and other parents should too," she says. "Your children can come to the meetings and meet new friends too."

She also admits that some PTOs and PTAs can be 'cliquey' "The groups have to make sure not to present it like that, so that all parents feel
welcome," she says.

According to the PTO, committed, generous volunteers are the common denominator between PTOs and PTAs. Whether it's through a PTA, a PTO or another mechanism, as long as those volunteers continue to
support their schools, then children - all children - will be the winners."
Visit PTOToday.com for more information.

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer based in Poughkeepsie. Her latest book, On Location: A film & TV Lover's Travel Guide, will be published February, 2018 by Globe Pequot Press.