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PTO ~ are you involved?

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 

I'm the recording secretary for my kids' school PTO.  Currently, we're having a really hard time getting parents to volunteer or even show up for meetings.  The PTO runs the school library (all volunteers), the school art program (again, all parent volunteers), gives a $50 gift for classroom supplies to every teacher/specialist, sets up and pays for special programs for the school (plays, science programs), as well as hosting myriad other activities for the school (Spring Fling, Family Reading Night, Book Fair, room parties for Halloween, Christmas and Valentine's Day).  Meetings are 1x a month for an hour, in the evening, free childcare is provided.  Last night, ONE parent showed up.  There are over 700 students and the school and ONE parent could be bothered?????  Am I expecting too much?  Is this unusual or par for the course?  Tell me, if you're involved in your child's school PTO, what is it like?

post #2 of 28

I'll be honest here and please don't think I'm suggesting that YOU and YOUR situation is like this. I'm just sharing what my experiences have been in volunteer organizations (and there have been many) and why I specifically avoid the PTA. The PTA's in our areas are not hospitable places. Yes, they do good things. Yes, they involve some passionate moms who work hard. However, they also attract some personalities that don't play well with others and those personalities cling to the power and never leave. I did try the PTA. I was given a position but no one really wanted to give up the reigns of it. I'd be placed in charge of planning a party for teachers. I'd do all the footwork. I'd show up to the meeting where we were supposed to vote on what direction to take only to find that the president already put a down payment on the caterer that SHE wanted. There was very clear ways they wanted things done but no one actually SHARED that information with new volunteers and so you spent the first year doing everything "wrong." The steadies took all the creative jobs and left new volunteers to empty garbage cans. I resigned after that year and worked directly with teachers and the principal privately developing academic enrichment and tutoring on my own. I tried again with my second child's elementary PTA and again when my eldest moved to middle school. Different people... same old situation.

 

Like I said, I have a lot of experience being a volunteer and leading volunteer organizations. It comes down to this.... if you want people to volunteer, they have to FEEL GOOD about what they are doing. They need to have FUN. When I'm in charge, I take the worst jobs. *I* empty the garbage cans and my newbies are passing out cupcakes. I find that before long, THEY are volunteering to take out the trash and I get a little cupcake passing too. When a person has a position, I trust them with it. If they falter, I'm there for support. I give them some guidelines to what has worked in the past but if they decide to do it a different way, I let them try. Even if the event fails, THAT volunteer will learn and they will STAY. It's hard sometimes. I've decorated a lot of theatre lobbies and cringed at how some mom decorated a case. However, *I* gave her that job and so I needed to let her do it. She was excited about it. She did her best. She was proud of it and she felt good helping. She tells her friends it's fun. She AND her friends come back next time and her skills develop. Yes, I could have made that one case look better then but that would have involved overriding this women and making her feel inadequate. Instead, I allowed an ugly case one show and gained 5 long term, passionate volunteers who now sign-up for the "not so fun jobs" and still have a great time! These days, I have no trouble filling the hundreds of volunteer slots and the 13 committees I need to fill at my children's large youth theatre.

 

It takes time especially when there were difficult personalities leading prior but my advice is to really focus on the few volunteers you have feeling good about what they are doing... I'm not talking certificates of appreciation... I mean they actually feel like they have a voice and are valued. Before you know it, you have hundreds and have to feel bad that you don't have enough for them to do.

post #3 of 28

I am extremely involved in the PTA at our kids' school.  We have over 900 students, and over 300 members, but really for evening meetings I'd say we're lucky if 10 people show up *unless* we have something fun/interesting going on.  Let's face it, only a special kind of person is really interested in votes/budget/biz meetings (I'm one of those nerdy special people but I know I'm weird, so.).  Yes, it's only for an hour, but that is a lot to ask people to do when they are tired from work, running the kids around, ect.  Even if you have free childcare.  I am active, I'm there for every meeting, and even *I* really could think of better things to do than put my ass down in a chair for an hour or two.

 

For awhile we assumed that nobody showed up because nobody cared--but that's not really true either.  We surveyed our membership and did a forum to figure out what we could do better and got a lot of feedback.  When we invited the GET program (our state's buy-your-college-tuition-credits-now program) we had huge attendance.  We've had good attendance for other interesting parent education programming as well (nutritionist, ask-a-pediatrician, bullying, specialist teacher presentations about what happens/what's the purpose of music/PE/ect come to mind).  We have had requests and are considering a family dinner night as well (which will then roll into the meeting).

 

My advice would not assume anything.  maybe people do have something against the leadership, maybe not.  Maybe people are just happy to donate/volunteer for things but have no interest in meetings.  Have you done a survey/reached out to people directly to ask?  If not, it's probably time to do it (not a bad idea to do it every year or other year!).  Sometimes when you're doing things because "that's the way they've always been done" or you're assuming the needs/desires of the community without asking, you're going to be frustrated because unless you actually ask people what it would take to get them to a meeting, honestly, you're never going to really know.  Don't fall into the trap of thinking negatively about people who don't attend.

 

Getting involved in established groups is intimidating.  People don't want to feel like they're crashing, and a business meeting often makes newcomers feel like they're crashing.  People like to be *invited*, they like to get something out of it, they need to have their time respected.

 

Are you reaching out to all your communities?  We started having more teachers attend when we specifically invited them, made sure they knew about the agenda (and since a lot of our member teachers are also parents, that was quite nice).  Our administration is always invited and shows up, at least for a little while.  We've also asked our teachers to identify active people in their classroom had have sent personal invites to those folks as well.

 

Do people think that if they show up for a meeting they're going to be stuck with a job/committment?  You have to check that too.  That's why to get out of that stereotype we're trying to make our meetings more a service to the community rather than thinking that if they cared about what we were doing they'd come put out for us.  So we try to do minimum of biz/begging for $$/volunteers and make it more fun.  Then people are more likely to be positive/favorable when we do (personally) reach out to them for help.

post #4 of 28

What do you do at your meetings? What incentive is there for people to come?

 

My experience has been that people need a personal invitation and a reason to come. Our attendance really started improving after we left some time for discussing implications of budget issues for the school and ways that we, as a PTO, could help. If it's just a listing of committee reports with no chance for input from the audience it's pretty boring. I no longer go to meetings very often because my kids have sports practices on the evenings when they meet, and my husband has an active role in our church this year and often has meetings on those nights. I still volunteer, but I can't do the meetings. The PTO is more than the meetings.

 

In addition, you really have to watch out for the perception that your group is cliquey. It may not be the case, but if that perception is out there, it's very hard to overcome. I was president of our PTO for 2 years. My main goals for those 2 years?

1. To have everyone on the board speaking to each other when I left. (They weren't when I started)

2. To demonstrate that this was not a life sentence and that you could step down after 2 years. I deliberately told people from the beginning that I wasn't going to be there forever.

 

Luckily, I had a good group of 3 people who came on with me. One of our new officers was very mindful of making sure everyone was welcome. We ALL wore nametags and started every meeting by introducing ourselves. Everyone made an effort to greet new people and talk to them. (This was actually hardest for me, because as president I had a lot of people vying for my time, so I was really glad the others were up for it.)

 

Things that really helped us rebuild were to go to a lot of school sponsored functions and have people there talking (so back-to-school night, grade-level music programs, etc.) Our secretary did an amazing job of making sure the meeting minutes got sent home to everyone in the school so they knew what we were doing. The more specific, personal and open you are, the more people will eventually come.

 

I found the info at PTO Today (www.ptotoday.com, I think) very helpful.

post #5 of 28

Maybe they're just tired caffix.gif (especially if most parents work) and think someone else will be there since things get done somehow.

 

My children go to a charter with no transportation--I dread having to drive all the way back there. I don't think our school even tries PTA meetings anymore. I do volunteer for at least half of the events they solicit for though.

 

Maybe you could try having the meetings right after dismissal; put a big sandwhich board announcing the meeting time/location at the pick-up lane. Or perhaps try an online meeting.

 

If what you need most is volunteers, perhaps this would help http://www.parentbooker.com/

post #6 of 28

I agree with Tigerchild. I think it would be worth finding out why participation is low and make some adjustments if possible.  Don't make assumptions.  Most people care about what goes on at their child's school and want to help but probably have various reasons why they can't/won't participate. 

 

My husband and I don't participate in the PTA at my daughter's school but not because we can't be bothered. I'd really like to, but the meetings are just not at times we can make. And even if one of us could make the meetings, we don't have much time to give otherwise. We give money for fundraisers, but that's about all we can do right now. 

post #7 of 28

I forgot to mention one thing I've heard that has worked well for the PTA at my daughter's school is to alternate between morning and evening meetings.  So one month they have a morning meeting that starts ten minutes after school starts and the next month they have an early evening meeting. 

post #8 of 28

OP - Our PTO does as much as yours. Our school district is horrible, funding is horrible, and if we didn't have a money-making PTO then our school would look very different.

 

I am the volunteer coordinator. Our meetings average about 10 parents, pretty much always the same people. The principal always comes, teachers don't come unless they are requesting money for something. The same 10-12 people always volunteer for everything. It can be really discouraging. I was feeling pretty discouraged after the last event (Earth Day carnival) because I couldn't get volunteers. And then as I was approaching a group of parents to ask them to signup to help, one woman scoffed and said with total attitude "Nope, not me, I want to have fun at the carnival". Um, there wouldn't be a carnival if PTO wasn't putting one on and I'm asking for 30 minutes of your time for a 3-hour event. If you don't want to fine, but lose the attitude.

 

I'm 2 years into it and I"m pretty discouraged. I spend all our school events running around like a chicken with my head cut off while others are dancing and playing and hula hooping with their children.

 

Also, I totally agree with whatsnextmom - I am an outsider on this PTO and I have heard complaints from a friend that she's not helping anymore because really they all want to do it their way anyway.

 

So, vent away.

 

FWIW, I understand people are super busy. I work 30+ hours a week myself. But lots of people are attending these events and not many are helping.

post #9 of 28

JayGee, why do you want parents to show up?

 

Is it a concern for lack of participation in governance, or are you hoping for more volunteers?

 

I've never gone to a PTO meeting.  The governance is done well, and I see no problems with how money is allocated.  It's all quite transparent, with information available online about where every last dime goes.  As far as I'm aware, attendance at our meetings is about close to zero besides the principal and officers.   I have no need to hang out with them in the evening, and the meeting times conflict with my running schedule.

 

As far as I'm aware, there is little struggle to get parents to volunteer.  The PTO sends out a volunteer booklet at the end of each school year, and provides a booklet to each parent registering a new child for kindergarten.  In it, they describe each need for volunteers, how many hours a week, which weeks of the year, and whether or not they are on school grounds or during school hours.  Evening and from home volunteer options are highlighted with a special symbol to make them easy to locate.  Each one has a rating for how intense the job is and the level of responsibility.  Parents then sign up for what they want to do, they get added to an automatic email list to given a committee chair, and they get told when to show up and where.  Maybe once a year, the school-wide email system will send out a request for parent volunteers for an event, but it's not very frequent.

 

I last heard that 40-50% of all families have at least one parent participating throughout the year.  That ranges from running the major fundraiser to standing on the street corner for 10 minutes in the morning on Walk to School days.

post #10 of 28

 

I'm 2 years into it and I"m pretty discouraged. I spend all our school events running around like a chicken with my head cut off while others are dancing and playing and hula hooping with their children.

 

 

This is why I avoid being involved with the day-to-day events of the PTO. I don't really like the corporate-backed fundraisers they put on (Boosterthon, Scholastic Book Fair), and I sure as heck am not willing to be working during my children's special events.

 

I spend about 6 hours/week volunteering at my children's school, as a tutor and classroom aide. I am very, very gung-ho about parent involvement to help stretch the meager financial and manpower resources of public schools.  And the volunteer carnival that sucked me into to doing all this free work for the school was a PTO event. orngtongue.gif OP, maybe that would be an approach that could work for you next year? The volunteer fair was right after dropoff in the morning (thus cleverly winnowing the crowd down to SAHPs and WOHPs with some flexibility in their schedule), and the range of stuff offered was huge. Plenty of people who would never in a million years go to an evening meeting of the PTO were willing to browse through the stations and sign up for jobs that they felt they'd enjoy and do well at. Lots of people even signed up for the loathsome (to me) book fair, and the nightmarish (to me) Boosterthon. I'm sure some of those ladies enjoy making posters and are horrified at the idea of tutoring an at-risk student. It takes all kinds to make a comprehensive volunteer force. 

post #11 of 28

       Quote:

Originally Posted by Smithie View Post

And the volunteer carnival that sucked me into to doing all this free work for the school was a PTO event. orngtongue.gif OP, maybe that would be an approach that could work for you next year? The volunteer fair was right after dropoff in the morning (thus cleverly winnowing the crowd down to SAHPs and WOHPs with some flexibility in their schedule), and the range of stuff offered was huge. Plenty of people who would never in a million years go to an evening meeting of the PTO were willing to browse through the stations and sign up for jobs that they felt they'd enjoy and do well at. Lots of people even signed up for the loathsome (to me) book fair, and the nightmarish (to me) Boosterthon. I'm sure some of those ladies enjoy making posters and are horrified at the idea of tutoring an at-risk student. It takes all kinds to make a comprehensive volunteer force. 


This just reminded me that the PTA at my daughter's school sent home a volunteer form in each child's folder at the beginning of the year outlining pretty much every possible way of volunteering at the school for the year.  Parents could check off what they were interested in and send it back in the folder.  Not quite a carnival but another possible way of reaching out to parents. 

 

post #12 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Geofizz View Post

 

 

As far as I'm aware, there is little struggle to get parents to volunteer.  The PTO sends out a volunteer booklet at the end of each school year, and provides a booklet to each parent registering a new child for kindergarten.  In it, they describe each need for volunteers, how many hours a week, which weeks of the year, and whether or not they are on school grounds or during school hours.  Evening and from home volunteer options are highlighted with a special symbol to make them easy to locate.  Each one has a rating for how intense the job is and the level of responsibility.  Parents then sign up for what they want to do, they get added to an automatic email list to given a committee chair, and they get told when to show up and where.  Maybe once a year, the school-wide email system will send out a request for parent volunteers for an event, but it's not very frequent.

 

I last heard that 40-50% of all families have at least one parent participating throughout the year.  That ranges from running the major fundraiser to standing on the street corner for 10 minutes in the morning on Walk to School days.



That's great that your school doesn't struggle to get volunteers. We also have those volunteer forms. From my experience about 90% of the people who fill them out don't usually sign up to help for events. Many more may help in the classroom. Although, I'm told at the monthly homeroom parents meetings usually only a few people show up and we have at least 25 classrooms.  The governing board is more a Site Council job in our state.   

post #13 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smithie View Post

 

I'm 2 years into it and I"m pretty discouraged. I spend all our school events running around like a chicken with my head cut off while others are dancing and playing and hula hooping with their children.

 

 

This is why I avoid being involved with the day-to-day events of the PTO. I don't really like the corporate-backed fundraisers they put on (Boosterthon, Scholastic Book Fair), and I sure as heck am not willing to be working during my children's special events.

 

 


I get that. I don't like a lot of the fundraiser products either. But they help us keep our art teacher and buy needed things for the school. I live in a harsh district. Last year our principal wasn't even there more than 3 days a week because she was furloughed.

 

post #14 of 28

I almost feel guilty confessing this, but while I've always joined the PTO (it's the only way to get the annual directory of families in the school, which is invaluable for play-dates, etc.), I rarely attend meetings.  Instead, I sign up for specific volunteer positions and participate in those.  

 

Now I'm wondering why I do this?  When my kids were in co-op preschool, I went to every meeting - and some months there might be 3 or 4 of them!  I loved them.  I craved the social interaction with adults and the sense that it was OK to spend all that time with friends.  After all, it couldn't possibly be construed as selfishly taking advantage of my mother for babysitting, since we were accomplishing something - we were running a school!  Why doesn't PTO feel the same way?  Maybe it's just me.  I'm older and married.  I'm not isolated with two little kids, craving time with other adults.  I don't feel guilty when I go out with my friends without a constructive reason.  Our kids' elementary, middle and high schools have been progressively larger than their preschool, so there's not the same sense of community - holding meetings in each others' homes, signing up to bring meals when someone had a baby or lost a parent.

 

With a school of 700 kids, you can't very well hold meetings in your homes.  So I'm wondering how else you might approximate the feel of co-op?

 

At co-op, parental involvement was mandatory.  Even if you paid tuition like clockwork, you could be kicked out if you didn't fill a minimum number of volunteer hours (and it wasn't that small).  Here, public grade schools aren't allowed to require that students wear uniforms, but based on studies of the effect of uniforms on student performance, most schools try to get voluntary compliance.  Our neighborhood school had pretty good success (at least 80% voluntary compliance on any given day).  They discussed uniforms as though they were mandatory; the principal discussed with parents at the beginning of the year the importance of modeling respect of the school's expectations; and they gave out random prizes.  If your name was drawn that day and you happened to be wearing your uniform, you might get a gift certificate for a free ice cream at a local place, or pizza for lunch at a special table with your friends.  Could you offer some sort of reward to kids whose parents attend PTO meetings?  If attendance is really bad, the incentive would have to be more than random.  If your school has uniforms, every parent who shows up could get a non-uniform pass for each of their kids at the school...or a homework pass...or a voucher for a treat from the cafeteria at lunch?

 

I'd also suggest getting things out from under the PTO umbrella.  The library volunteer staff could be its own entity.  Quiet moms who don't want to (or can't) attend chatty monthly meetings could put their names on a sign-up sheet for the library, during enrollment and the main librarian could make monthly schedules and e-mail the moms when it's their turn.  Creative moms who are too busy for monthly meetings might carve out time, once a year, to put on the school play.  The art program could be separate, too.  I think fundraisers, carnivals, guest speakers and spending money for teachers are standard PTO fare, though.

 

I just read Smithie's suggestion about a volunteer fair.  That's almost necessary.  Our kids' elementary school had a giant fair, a couple days before school, where classroom placements are revealed, you can buy spirit-wear, sign up for sports and fall after-school activities...and parents can join the PTO, sign up to volunteer in the classroom, and see what all the other volunteers opportunities are.

 

Both our elementary and middle schools have really strong Dads' Clubs.  They do independent fund-raising and sponsor independent family activities at school, mostly on weekends.  It's a chicken-and-egg thing.  Do we have Dads' Clubs because parents at our schools tend to be pretty involved?  Or are the dads attracted to the idea of hanging out with other guys and having a beer...with their wives' blessing, because they're planning stuff for the kids?  I can definitely vouch for the fact that divorced dads like having a specific appeal for paternal involvement!  In any event, having an active Dads' Club puts pressure on moms to stay/get involved.  Let's be honest, the PTO tends to be a primarily female organization.

post #15 of 28
We don't have a PTO, it is called Parent Circle. Teachers and parents attend and just discuss issues, events, etc... And yes we have very poor involvement.. In the 3 years I have been involved it has been the make handful of parents regardless of what time the meetings are held or where. I don't always attend, but try very hard to do but our meetings are very infrequent, we have had 3 this year. I agend, but I rarely ever volunteer, with 4 small children, I just can't become child free to do things.
post #16 of 28

I last heard that 40-50% of all families have at least one parent participating throughout the year. 

 

 

Wow. Very much not the case at my kids' school. The school is economically and racially integrated by design (i.e. bussing, kids being driven long distances to attend), and the PTO is a yuppie-run organization. If I were forced to guess, I'd say 10-20% participation throughout the year, with another cohort participating once or twice - and that counts people like me who would have to be dragged into a PTO meeting at gunpoint. 

post #17 of 28

Nothing wrong with joining the PTO!  I am member but I've never been to a meeting.  My neighbor is the President so I am on the e-mail list.  They send out e-mails when the need volunteers.  

 

The reality is for most places that you will always have the same 20% of parents doing all the work.  I don't mind that much but I am not sure people realize that you don't have to commit to everything.  

 

Our PTO recently did a Volunteer night at a local coffee shop where they bought you a free drink and showed you all of the places they needed people.  You could chair a committee of show up to help the kindergarteners in their first few days in the school cafeteria.  

 

I get the whole clique thing.  Right now, most of the people on the PTO are my friends but I can completely understand how new or shy people can feel shut out.  It's how this group felt when the last group was in "power".  

post #18 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeannine View PostI just read Smithie's suggestion about a volunteer fair.  That's almost necessary.  Our kids' elementary school had a giant fair, a couple days before school, where classroom placements are revealed, you can buy spirit-wear, sign up for sports and fall after-school activities...and parents can join the PTO, sign up to volunteer in the classroom, and see what all the other volunteers opportunities are.

 

Our school has that "fair" (though they call it orientation); there is a table separate from the PTO table that has volunteer sign-up forms for every predicted event, from Veteran's Day to eye screening day; plus tables for whatever else needs to be passed out, uniform shirt pick-up, school supply drop off/class placement. The registration packet also has that parent background check form (needed to volunteer at school/fieldtrips), a "talent" sheet if the parent has particular knowledge or skill to offer, and a general "I want to volunteer for stuff--call me" form. There is also a section on the school website to volunteer for other things, like the library. Our school also sends home a permission slip for just about every unusual/party-like event; there is usually an "I would/would not like to volunteer form at the bottom of those too.

 

At our last school I think that for the carnival a schedule was made for running the class booth with all the parents on it, and you contacted the teacher if the time was bad or you couldn't participate at all.

 

I don't know what our volunteer rate is but since our school is a charter it requires a lot of parent support. I'm a SAHM but I'm also in school so I tend to do the one-off type events that are after school and field trips. Though for Veteran's Day I traced/cut-out 20 giant ribbons at home and dropped them off when I was done.


Edited by Emmeline II - 4/13/12 at 6:45am
post #19 of 28
Thread Starter 

Thanks so much for all the comments and insight.  It seems that I'm expecting too much, and that our PTO needs to do a much better job of marketing itself and making the opportunities better known.  I'm thankful that the board and the membership is not clique-y or snobbish.  That sounds just miserable!  I've taken notes on all the great posts here and will suggest some new ways of getting the word out.  I think my expectation that more than one parent actually show up for a boring meeting is probably too high.  I love the idea of having events and speakers for parents though!  Unfortunately, we have no art teacher so all the lessons are taught and supervised by parents through the PTO.  We also have only a district librarian (she runs the libraries of the 6 elementary and 2 junior high schools in the district).  All the hands on library work is done by parents through the PTO as well.  Thanks again for the comments and suggestions!

post #20 of 28

JayGee, if you're interested, I'd be happy to send you the survey we did for our PTA (also with a Spanish translation if that would be useful for your school).  We kept it to 10 questions (so we could utilize the free survey at surveymonkey) to put on our website/FB but also had lots of paper copies as a lot of people at our school do not have internet access.  I'd be more than happy to share!  It was not meeting specific, more of a "what are we doing well, what could be improved" that we then pulled into an evening forum (where we got more ideas for meeting changes, ect.).

 

I'm glad that you're keeping an open mind.  In my observation, good PTA/PTOs often take a turn for the negative because a few people do everything, new people look at that and think that if they try to help out THEY will become like that (doing everything) so they don't step forward, the active people get burnt out (partially because they won't let things fail or take a step back) and then get resentful/bitter and things go on down the negativity spiral.  We were in danger of that a couple of years ago, but are now on the right track (IMO).  The very first step to stepping on to that negativity death spiral is to think "if people cared about their school they would come to this meeting/volunteer for this event/ect."  So totally untrue.  I have really had my eyes opened in that regard.

 

I think PTOs may be slightly different in that they don't (to my knowledge) have an advocacy component unless a particular group wants to, but I know in PTA training it is drilled into executive officers heads over and over again that you do not have to be a volunteer/donor to be valuable (if the executive officers take advantage of that training, unfortunately many do not).  PTO literature emphasizes that quite a bit (my kids co-op alternative ed program has a PTO membership since we like their insurance/and their resources are better than nothing), but since at least in our area there are not leadership training opportunities via PTO it never sunk in until I attended a class on helping struggling PTAs.  If parents join, it means that they ARE interested in their school and do care about it, so you should consider how best to meet their needs (and back off if they are satisfied with the membership card), not think about how they are not meeting yours.  When we have implemented changes with *that* philosophy in mind, we've found that it works wonders.  We still struggle for volunteers and $$, don't get me wrong, but are on the right path with new suggestions and new people and more and more diversity.

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