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Raise Your Hand

When kids head back to school, many parents also return to an important side project—participation in their children’s school parent-teacher organizations.

If you’re the parent of elementary school children, this can be no small commitment. As districts find it necessary to cut budgets and trim “nonessential” programming, these organizations are working even harder to enhance their children’s—and their neighbors’ children’s—public school experience.

My youngest son is now in his final year of elementary school, which means it’s also my final year of involvement with the projects I really love at his school. Our middle school also has a wonderful parent-teacher group (PTG)—as we call it—but it’s not quite the motherly, well-oiled machine that seems to be required at the elementary level.

And yes, I said “motherly.” I know many dads and other male guardians are very active in local elementary schools—including ours. But the monthly meetings and board positions of our PTG are pretty much mom-centered endeavors. Rumor has it some of the Syracuse City School District groups have many guys as active members.

Admittedly, I’ve been a lightweight contributor to our PTG over the past seven years. Sure, I’ve tied laces at a few roller-skating parties, portioned chips at our annual Welcome Back picnic, reshelved books in the library, served as a “room parent” a few times, helped set up a science fair or two, chaperoned some field trips, and helped with the school Water Olympics. But that’s nothing compared to what some participants and board members do. In any given week they volunteer countless hours to one school-related project or another—all the while wearing warm smiles. Some are now as familiar to the students as the school staff.

My longest PTG commitment has been to our school’s book fair committee, which I co-chaired for a few years. It was lots of fun getting to know students in all the grades, as well as the building teachers, administrators and parents. I loved it, but I decided this year to make way for fresh ideas and new faces. I’ll still volunteer for the committee this year as needed.

Deciding to step back wasn’t easy. After all, what could be more fun than making kids happy by helping them find books they love while earning money for the school? But also I didn’t want to leave the committee short-handed. All of us “older” volunteers have another PTG duty: non-stop recruiting. As a committee chair, I spent many hours encouraging parents new to the school, or with younger children, to get involved. Inevitably, my requests for volunteers were answered by the same five to 10 people. I’ve heard this is fairly typical of other parent-teacher groups, too.

It’s not surprising some parents are reluctant to step up and get involved in what, from the outside, can appear to be a fully staffed organization. As my sons have gone through elementary school, I’ve often heard parents say; “I would like to help, but they don’t seem to need it.”

Trust me, they need it.

The parent-teacher groups are intended to be representative of the families served by that school. And they are a great way for parents to volunteer some time, and meet other parents in the community. I certainly know many more families now than I did when my oldest son started school seven years ago. And there are far worse things that being known by our town’s under-10 crowd as “one of the book fair ladies” (Well, some call me the Crazy Soccer Lady, too … but that’s another story.).

Studies have shown that students whose parents are active in their school tend to do better—academically and socially. The online magazine PTO Today reports that strong home-school connections have measurable benefits for students. And those connections don’t have to be limited to teacher-parent conferences or those unwelcome calls from the school nurse. Children love to see their parents getting involved with the fun events or projects that are part of school life, too. School pride grows when kids feel that their families are part of the wider school community.

When I look back on my own experience, it always felt great when a group of volunteers and I put the lid on another book fair. We knew that the kids enjoyed themselves, the school made some money, and every once in a while I managed to fashion some decorations that did not bring unwarranted shame upon my children. I will never be considered “crafty” and frankly, I can live with that. But I’m pretty sure there are some long-range benefits to having an encyclopedic knowledge of the gazillion craft glues and duct tapes sold at Michaels.

But seriously, it’s through my association with our school’s PTG that I got a full sense of the generosity of parents, the dedication of teachers, the patience of the school principal, and the heroism of the school custodians.

For parents of incoming kindergarteners, joining the parent-teacher organization is one of the easiest ways to integrate into the school community. Parent-teacher groups are modern examples of the old proverb, “Many hands make light work.”

So, step up and get involved in your child’s school—even if it’s just a little bit. And by next year, just like your little one, you won’t be so new to the place anymore.               

Award-winning writer Tammy DiDomenico lives in DeWitt with her husband and two sons.

Photo above: Tammy DiDomenico Photo

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