Does Your PTO Portray Your School Community?

When you look around your parent association meeting, who is there? Do you have all parties involved represented? I mean ALL parties, circles, groups, neighborhoods, communities…ALL. As we elect our new board members, I think it is important to remember to include all lenses, not only on our board – but as voices in our meetings and partners in the planning and running of events/activities. As a parent association, it is our responsibility to represent our schools.

When I look at many boards (including the one I belong to), I see a small group represented. I love our team and appreciate their efforts and time, but we represent less than half of our families. We are growing in diversity recently – but until I see every neighborhood, grade, ethnicity, religion, language, learning support/gifted classes,  staff, district admin, school board and community members, I will not be content. How can we accurately make decisions affecting all of our children, if we don’t know what their concerns or wishes are?

We have a large school with diverse cultures and socio-economic conditions…so there are lots of families to represent. There is no way to represent all of those families unless they are present. By present, I don’t mean strictly at our monthly meetings. They could be a class captain (if your captains are used as a resource/liaison), just as long as they are part of the discussions. I know some people feel that it is up to those individuals to jump in. But sometimes we need to extend that hand, put out the welcome mat and offer them a cup of coffee in order to get them to initially participate.  We need to start with the personal, face to face interaction. Give them someone to connect with. Someone they can recognize at the next event or meeting. From there, we can use all the pieces of technology and social media to keep in regular contact….stay fresh in their mind, and build the relationship.  Many of us start off as a small piece of the puzzle (something in their comfort zone, related to their child) and gradually grow to become a larger section of the puzzle (being a voice, leading).

I know the administrators, school board and community members might not have children at our school, and their participation may be a stretch – but they’re making decisions that can affect our children, so it only makes sense that they see firsthand what families are concerned with. A few months ago, our group was lucky to have our assistant superintendent join us. This is the first time I have been at one of our home & school meetings where someone from the district joined in. I must say, it was such a positive addition. Not only does it help to build the relationship between people who see each other so seldom, it gave a voice to the district. There were a few questions/comments that came up that we (school level) didn’t have the answer for, and she was able to provide that – right then and there. I can only imagine a school board member and members of the community could also add that nice balance.

All of these people are key pieces in our puzzle to build a strong, cohesive community. It is important to look to include them all as we go forward.

image credit: sxc.hu

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About Gwen Pescatore

Mom of 3 ~ #PTchat co-moderator ~ @Edutopia community facilitator ~ @MomCorps Marketing Mgr ~ #ParentCamp ~ Co-host of ParentED at http://goo.gl/lS1xDu View all posts by Gwen Pescatore

4 responses to “Does Your PTO Portray Your School Community?

  • SStewart

    Thanks, Gwen. Yes, there is a lot to consider (if not debate) – not always easy. We had a good, related discussion about this here, if you wish to check it out:

    http://discuss.peopleforeducation.ca/forum/topics/should-boards-pay-parent-involvement-coordinators

    • Gwen Pescatore

      I love this, Sheila! With our communities being a melting pot of the world, it is increasingly more difficult for busy, working parents to step in and serve the parent association in a way that best represents their school. Since I don’t believe (at least in the US) that our school districts will be paying for “parent involvement coordinators”, it is all that more important for boards to have voices from as many of the lens’ represented. One person might not have the expertise/knowledge to represent all of the families – but together they can share the role.

      For now I believe our role is to project a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. One where we are open to learning from others, and then use that knowledge to better serve our communities.

  • SStewart

    I appreciate your focus on inclusion, Gwen, and considering other ways to outreach. Ultimately though, who should be responsible for this representation and outreach? What level (s) should support? Who should support the volunteers doing it?
    Thanks for sharing this story.

    • Gwen Pescatore

      Hi Sheila….I don’t think this is an easy task. It’s not just about recruiting new members in this case – but building relationships that chances are, don’t exist already…at least on a larger scale. Those relationships are between parents, parents and teachers, and then parents and the principal. So who should support it? I believe you need everyone, but I don’t believe that you need to have everyone to get started. I think you can start it with a relationship between any two people who believe in the possibilities of a diverse board. For me personally? It’s asking the families that I have formed that personal relationship with to join ME…because I know that they are more likely to join because I asked them as a friend, as opposed to the school where they’ve yet to form a bond.

      As far as who is responsible? That depends on each school individually. Who in their community is passionate about it? Who already believes in its benefits? And…who has the time to learn about how to reach out to these families and then put it into action.

      Unlike a job, there are no monetary benefits to being a volunteer, so it’s that much more important to follow your heart and do what you love.

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