Understanding Your Local PTA

Published May 10, 2008 |
Learn about how your local PTA works and how getting involved can help your community.
The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is a nationwide network of parents and teachers working together in national, state, and local organizations to improve the lives of children. Membership at the local level is open to anyone who has an interest in children. There are now close to 6 million members in 23,000 local chapters. Joining the PTA is an excellent way for parents to get involved in their children's education. Local PTAs throughout the country are making a difference in the quality of children's education.

A local PTA chapter is part of a national network of organizations working together for children's interests. Most parents join a local unit, which automatically gives them membership in the state and national PTAs. The local unit can represent a single school or a group of schools. Local units have autonomy to establish their own priorities, select the national programs in which they will participate, assess the needs of the school, and decide how to raise needed funds.
Local units frequently hold fundraisers, the proceeds from which go to support school programs, building maintenance or improvements, and educational events. The following are examples of how local PTAs can improve a child's education.
● The children at Washington Elementary School in San Gabriel, California, are enjoying their art classes once again this year, thanks to a $6,000 donation by the school's PTA. Art is not a required subject in the district, so no state funding was available. Knowing that there will be further cuts in the California budget for next year, the PTA is already holding fundraising events in an effort to continue and expand the art education. In a recent fundraiser, first through fifth graders raised funds by soliciting pledges for each lap they walked around the school playground. Participating students said that they supported the event because they enjoy the art lessons.
● In Howard County, Maryland, the PTA Council joins forces with the Police Department to keep students safe on prom night. The partnership was formed in response to an incident on prom night in 2001 in which one teen was killed and another seriously injured. The Police Department reminds hotels in which proms are held that they must strictly enforce hotel policies prohibiting anyone under age 21 from renting a room. The Department also disseminates information on the consequences of underage drinking to students and parents. For the second year, the PTAs will sponsor after-prom celebrations for the 12 public high schools. The purpose of the parties is to discourage students from having private parties at which alcohol and drugs may be present. The PTA sponsored parties have food, music, activities, and door prizes. At 4:30 am, students are bused to the school where their parents can pick them up. The party for one high school costs $15,000, all funds raised by the school's PTA.
● The PTA of Salisbury Elementary School in Massachusetts has a reputation of raising more than $50,000 per year for school enrichment programs such as field trips. In 2006-2007, in response to severe budget cuts, the PTA raised $135,000, part of which was devoted to furnishing classroom and teaching supplies, material, and equipment. The funds also provided enrichment activities, teachers' luncheons, and books for the library. The PTA mounted an aggressive fundraising effort, including raffling off a Mustang, selling gifts, recycling cans, holding craft and book fairs, saving box tops, ice cream socials, and other events. The PTA is on target to raise a similar amount for 2007-2008. "We want the kids to know how important they are," stated Salisbury's outgoing PTA president. They also hope to serve as examples so that their children will become adults who will serve their children and community in the same manner.
Schools are unique and have their own students, needs, and goals. For example, some schools need basic school supplies whereas others need enrichment programs.
By participating in a local PTA, parents are able to identify what the needs and to work together with teachers to provide the best possible education for their children. 
A Voice in Local Policies
Just as the National PTA lobbies Congress and the general public about federal legislation involving children, local PTAs speak up for children on local issues. For example, when the school district superintendent announced that Shadybend Elementary School would be closed at the end of this school year due to declining enrollment, the school's PTA members spoke out forcefully to the media in favor of keeping the school open. They pointed out that the school has shown considerable academic progress. They expressed concern about students being bused out of the local area and about children from the same families being separated. The parents plan to press their case at informational meetings scheduled by the superintendent and at the school board meeting.
School districts are always making decisions that entail some kind of change in the existing order. For example, some districts may decide to move the sixth grade from elementary school to middle school, to discontinue an athletic program, or to renovate an existing school rather than build a new one. Parents have every right to be informed about school board policies and to express their views about proposed changes. Speaking out can be more effective when done as a group rather than on an individual basis. Local PTAs are ideal vehicles for expressing parents' positions on educational issues.
Benefits of Joining a Local PTA
Numerous studies have proven that children have more success in school when their parents are involved in their education. Becoming a member of a local PTA is one of the best ways for parents to get involved. Working in the PTA, parents meet the principals, the teachers, and the parents of their children's friends. By getting the input of others, parents gain greater insight into the school's strengths and weaknesses.
The major advantage of being a PTA member is that you will have a chance to evaluate how to improve your child's school and to participate in providing the school with much needed resources. You can be certain that your involvement will help your child to achieve greater success in school. As a PTA member, you will receive a national parenting magazine and newsletters on parenting and legislative issues. You will also have access to a wealth of online parenting resources.
A local PTA member has options regarding for the level of involvement. Parents can attend meetings, spearhead fundraisers, serve as spokespersons, or become an officer of the local unit. Local PTA members can also attend the National PTA Annual Convention and vote on the national leaders. Thus, even parents with busy schedules can easily find a way to participate.
Many parents know that parental involvement in their child's school is important but don't really know where to begin. Joining the PTA is an easy way to get involved. By joining with teachers and other parents, you can help your child succeed and work to provide benefits to improve the school for all the students.

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