The end of summer means just one thing to busy parents and caregivers of school-aged children everywhere: back to school. While that annual rite of passage can bring a mix of cheers from weary parents and jeers from those who love the more flexible schedule summer brings, there’s one thing almost all families dread this time of year and that’s the deluge of paperwork that comes home every day during those first early weeks.
And though many of us would be more than happy to ignore the bulk of it, in addition to important information from your child’s teacher there’s another form that deserves an extra bit of attention this year—the letter that gets sent home from your school’s PTO/PTA. As someone who has worked diligently on these types of letters over the years as a member of our elementary school’s PTO board, I’m hoping you’ll give this year’s letter a chance. Not just because I’ve lost hours of my life crafting these documents, but because I believe that there’s value in partnering with schools to help create the best experience possible for everyone who walks through those doors.
What Is a PTO/PTA?
Thanks to memes and admittedly hilarious portrayals in movies and sitcoms, the PTO/PTA has become synonymous with pushy mom cliques, but these groups are so much more than that. The PTO/PTA (which stands for Parent Teacher Organization and Parent Teacher Association, respectively) is responsible for a lot of the unseen labor at your child’s school.
The PTO/PTA is responsible for a lot of the unseen labor at your child’s school.
Each chapter is different, but most of them are made up of a mix of volunteers from the community, including parents, caregivers, school staff, and even some of the administration. Each PTO/PTA is overseen by a board of executive members (also volunteers) who are responsible for creating a budget, drumming up fun ideas for fundraisers, and figuring out how they can help meet the needs of the students and the school with any money they raise.
They also act as a liaison between the school staff and parents, sometimes helping to share information and the occasional complaint.
What Does the PTO/PTA Do?
These groups do everything from organizing some of the exciting community events to funding supplies for students and staff. And while their constant communications asking you to please, please consider signing up for membership this school year may seem overzealous, they have a really good reason for trying to drum up all those extra funds and get their hands on your email address.
Lack of funding in many American public schools leaves teachers and staff having to foot the bill for some of the most basic things they need to do their job (like paying for copies and buying their own paper). Many PTO/PTA’s can help bridge that gap with their fundraising efforts.
Not only does that extra bit of budgetary help stop teachers from having to dig into their own pockets to keep their classroom running, but it also allows schools to use their money to focus on bigger ticket items like repairs, renovations, supplies needed to roll out new curriculum, and even enrichment activities (hello, class field trips).
Why You Should Consider Joining the PTA/PTO
The cost of joining the PTO/PTA is usually relatively small.
One of the ways these organizations pay for everything they do for the students is through membership dues. This is the small fee you pay at the start of each school year and can cost as little as a cup of coffee. While every group is different, generally this fee is a one-time, no-strings-attached cost that allows you to help without having to stretch your already thin schedule any further.
Joining the PTO/PTA presents opportunities, not obligations.
Most PTO/PTAs don’t have a volunteer requirement that comes along with membership. That means that your buy-in doesn’t mean you’ll have to start attending meetings or passing out flyers at the school—a lot of the time your PTO is just happy to have that donation and contact information to share updates about everything that will be going on during the school year.
That being said, if you want your membership to be more than just a once-a-year payment, your PTO/PTA will be more than happy to have you around. Whether it’s through attending meetings, lending a hand at a school event, or serving on a committee to help plan a fundraiser, there are plenty of ways to get involved and make a difference at your child’s school.
It means more active involvement in your child’s education.
We know not everyone has time to do all of the things they want for their children, but volunteering at your child’s school has been shown to have amazing benefits for a child’s social and emotional development. A 2021 study shows that increased parental engagement at school can even improve a child’s educational experience.
And children aren’t the only ones who will benefit, either. By getting involved you will also get to play a part in your child’s education by helping make decisions about what goes on at the school. Additionally, becoming an active member of your school’s PTO/PTA can also help you develop a relationship with the staff and administration, allowing them to put a face to the name if you ever need to reach out with questions or concerns about your own child(ren).
Of course, joining up and getting involved doesn’t mean that you have to volunteer for every event, or peddle chocolate or wrapping paper for every fundraiser. Becoming an active member is often as easy as signing up for your school’s newsletter or joining their Facebook page (did I mention that we really want your contact information).
It offers a way to make new connections with other parents, school staff, and the community.
But above all else, getting involved helps you meet other parents and caregivers within the community. These are the people that you’ll be sharing your kiddo with for the rest of your child’s time in the district. Getting to know the grown-ups responsible for raising kids your child is closest with, whether in person or through their posts on your PTO/PTA’s message boards, will help you feel more comfortable. And who knows, you may even end up making some friends at your child’s school along the way, too.