This is a repost of an original article I wrote for BlogHer.com.
My first introduction to the PTA (or Parent Teacher Association) was through my mother’s typewriter.
My mother, co-president of the PTA, had volunteered to type up the recipe submissions for “Koala Kitchen,” a cookbook put together and sold by the PTA as a fundraiser for my elementary school.
Photo Credit: Nick Amoscato via Flickr
She spent hours at the typewriter, compiling all of the pages, making sure each person’s favorite dish was included. The cookbook survives to this day, 30 years later, held together by rubber bands. The yellow cover of “Koala Kitchen” is stained from the splatters of delicious recipes, and its pages are dog-eared, indicating which treats were my family’s favorites.
Today’s PTA may still sell cookbooks — and likely a lot more — to raise much needed monies to help expand the services, field trips, technology, and overall community at schools across the United States. And now that back to school season is upon us, many parents are wondering: is the PTA right for me?
I know a bit about that question. As soon as my kids’ class assignments went out this month, the “Are you going to sign up to be a room parent?” emails started to fly. A room parent at my children’s elementary school is a member of the PTA, who volunteers, along with three to five others, to plan activities for the class of his or her child. Responsibilities include organizing holiday parties (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s Day), creating the class T-shirt for the end of the year Field Day celebration (a big deal at our school), and coordinating a joint class gift to the teacher at the holidays and end of the year.
I’ve been a room parent for the past two years — last year for two classrooms simultaneously. I work outside the home, so the time I have available to volunteer is limited. Being a room parent fits into my “I want to help but don’t have a lot of time to do so” approach to life.
I’m not the only one who has this view about getting involved. In my first year as a room parent, I was one of six parents who offered to help out in my son’s kindergarten teacher — and all of us worked outside the home. Together, we shared room parent duties, and the workload was more than manageable thanks to each person’s contributions.
Being a room parent calls for only a few hours a month of work — especially if you are lucky to be paired with people you can depend upon (hence the emails; you want to volunteer with people who follow through). A lot of that time is spent working with or getting to know other parents of your child’s classmates and your child’s teacher.
If you’re someone who is looking for a greater time commitment than a few hours a month, the PTA has other ways to step up. From Science Night to the annual Art Show, each school has events that bring together children, parents, teachers, and administrators.
It’s a perfect way to spotlight your talents. Are you a whiz at cooking? Sign up (or launch) International Night at your child’s school, with students bringing delicacies that celebrate their cultures (this is one of the most popular events at my kids’ school). Have a background in math? Volunteer to lead math night, where kids come to school in the evening with their parents or guardians to do fun math exercises (my kids love this). Excellent at technology? Run your PTA’s website or put together its weekly newsletter. There are many ways to get involved that fit your background and available time.
PTAs also have leadership roles– officers and committee chairs — who take on a more extensive commitment of time, often several hours a week. At my kids’ school, most of the PTA leaders are stay at home moms, the parents with the most flexibility to make middle of the day meetings. This is one roadblock to getting more involved if your schedule is already jam-packed. Each school and each PTA are different, however; it’s worth investigating the meeting schedule and scope of responsibilities, if you’re interested in these positions.
No matter how much time you have, PTA leaders appreciate the contributions of fellow parents. “Donate as much time as you can, a lot or a little, it all helps,” says Gilda Aliberti of Billerica, MA. Gilda is her third year as president of her the PTO at her kids’ school. (In some towns, the PTA is called the PTO, or the Parent Teacher Organization. You can learn more about the different between the two here. )
As a busy mom, here, and project manager, Gilda makes the PTO a priority, spending an average of four hours a week on this volunteer leader commitment.
“Attending PTO meetings puts you in ‘the know.’ We have the Principal, Assistant Principal, and a teacher at every meeting. They give status updates where you learn a lot about what is going on in the school and in the district,” Gilda says. “I get to know all of the administration and teachers. They know I am involved and that I am there to help them. My kids enjoy helping out, too. They love when I am running an event. I hope I am building future volunteers.”
Whether your motivation is to, like Gilda, build future volunteers, contribute to your child’s school community, or expand your social circle, the PTA may be a good addition to your back to school to do list. Attend one or two PTA meetings before volunteering to understand how the organization works in your community — and if it’s the right fit for you.