Finding Your Place in the PTA
Don’t get lost in the list of opportunities. Use these tips to choose what suits you.
Choosing a volunteer job with your school’s PTA can be as daunting as selecting a college major. At some schools, the list of available PTA positions can be two pages long – single-spaced. Should you lead school tours or help check out books in the media center? Run the annual school festival or man the greeter desk in the school lobby? Regardless of your choice, PTA leaders say it’s important that parents find a way to connect.
“Children need to see their parents actively involved in school,” says Harold Dixon, 2014-15 president of the Mecklenburg PTA Council.
PTA positions can help parents learn about the school and how it operates. Getting involved also is a good way to befriend other parents, and the school staff and administration.
“I enjoy volunteering because it gives me a chance to get to know their teachers and staff in a different light,” says Karen Brown, South Mecklenburg High School PTSA president. “I always come away with a greater appreciation for all that teachers and administrators do daily above and beyond their ‘job.’”
Finding Your Niche
There are many ways to go about choosing a PTA job. Many groups send out interest lists in the fall and can help match parents with volunteer roles. Volunteer jobs are available to fit almost any skill set and time availability. Some require a significant commitment, such as overseeing book fairs, while others call for one-time assistance, such as bringing snacks for teacher-planning session.
Brown has been involved with parent-teacher organizations for seven years. Sometimes she took jobs directly related to her interests and her children’s classrooms, and other times she worked where she knew the school needed help.
“Do what you enjoy or where you feel a special connection,” she says. “There really is a place for every parent to become engaged in their school.” That could mean helping children with special needs, tutoring children in reading or math, or working with other parents to plan special school events.
Alan Hendrix, PTA president of Irwin Academic Center, says any volunteer job that enhances the school is well worth the effort.
“Your child’s education is one of the most critical aspects of their lives, and helping to ensure the quality of that education is time well spent for any family,” he says.
Who Can Volunteer
PTA and school leaders have made efforts in recent years to widen the scope of volunteers.
“The myth is that only the stay-at-home mom or dad can participate,” Dixon says. “That’s not true.”
Some PTAs are reaching out to minority communities and finding volunteer translators to help them communicate. For parents who work full-time or have little ones at home, more and more PTAs are offering ways to help outside of school hours, such as creating a school newsletter.
At some schools, as many as 200 dads have formed volunteer groups. Men tutor in classrooms, hold fundraisers and do handyman work around the school. John Auman got involved at Highland Creek Elementary when his son started there six years ago. He’s done everything from lead the yearbook committee to serving as PTA treasurer. He fondly remembers the look on his son’s face when he learned that Auman was part of the PTA.
“He smiled so big and was so happy to see me in the school,” Auman says. “Just get involved and do what you can. You’ll feel better, you’ll love it and your children will have a new respect for you as well.”
The Pay Off
Schools generally are better when parents are connected. “We’ve found that when parents are involved and engaged, test scores are higher, student performance is better and discipline is better,” Dixon says.
For schools that struggle financially, parent involvement can be key for providing much needed assistance around the school. Regardless of the school’s socio-economic status, the PTA always is looking for volunteers.
Wanda O’Shea, 2015-16 Mecklenburg County PTA Council president and longtime PTA volunteer, says that volunteering is about serving all children, not just your own child. “No matter how much time you afford to give it goes a long way,” she says. “We lead by example and if children see us engaging and assisting others they will do the same.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer who lives in Charlotte.
What Kind of PTA Parent Are You?
Busy all day. With a full-time job or a baby at home, you just don’t have time to volunteer during school hours. Ask if your child’s teacher has a take-home project you can help. Schools also have weekend volunteer opportunities.
The PTA professional. Skill sets that pay at the office can also help the school. An accountant is a good candidate for PTA treasurer, and corporate managers excel at running the school store or organizing school-wide festivals or walk-to-school days.
Keeping the kids close. You find letting go to be hard. There are many jobs within the school during school hours, such as helping out in the lunchroom or teaching character education in a classroom, that keep you closely connected to your child’s school environment.
Behind the scenes, please. Want to avoid possible drama or politics between school parents? Make an impact quietly by shelving books in the media center or baking cookies for school staff meetings.