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The role of the PTA

The PTA is a powerful organization affiliated with many schools across the country. Here's how you can join the club.

By GreatSchools Staff

If you picture the PTA as just a small crew of moms who meet now and then to plan bake sales, you may be in for a big surprise. The Parent Teacher Association, or PTA, is a huge and very influential nationwide organization with state and local affiliates throughout the country. The national PTA is headquartered in Chicago and promotes parent involvement in school communities. It is also a powerful lobbying organization in state legislatures and in Washington, D.C., advocating on behalf of students and schools.

PTA vs. PTO

Schools that do not have PTA affiliations usually have "home and school clubs" or "booster clubs." These clubs serve many of the same functions as PTAs, but operate as independent organizations without state or national linkages. Collectively, these groups are sometimes referred to as parent-teacher organizations, or PTOs.

These groups choose to be independent for any number of reasons. The most common is money; PTOs would rather keep the money raised from dues rather than send a substantial portion to the state and national PTA. Other groups don't want to be bound by the rules and regulations set up by the 105-year-old National PTA, or they don't support its legislative agenda. One thing is clear — the number of PTOs is growing. PTOs even have their own recently formed national association, the National PTO Network(NPN). NPN offers similar benefits to the PTA, such as group insurance packages, a free magazine, trade shows and a Web site.

The role of the local PTA

As the most commonly known PTO, the local PTA sets a standard for these groups as a whole. The main role of the local PTA is to build strong working relationships among parents, teachers and schools, in support of students. This can include recruiting and coordinating volunteers, providing special recognition in awards ceremonies or through other activities, organizing parent education events, planning teacher appreciation activities and much more.

The PTA is sometimes perceived as a fundraising group, but according to the organization, this is not its primary responsibility. Nonetheless, in states where schools face tough budget restrictions, the parents in the local PTA may raise funds for everything from playground equipment to salaries for elementary music teachers. At schools where the PTA raises a significant portion of the school's discretionary money, the PTA has a lot of power to influence which programs are funded. Ideally the PTA will work with the principal and the school site council to decide jointly which programs will most benefit the school.

Local school PTA meetings can serve as venues for discussions about a variety of educational issues. Teachers may talk to the parent community about a new reading program or student discipline issues. Experts from the community may talk about building better relationships with adolescents, or share important information about school reform initiatives. Parents may raise concerns about such things as homework or proposed changes in the school curriculum. The PTA can also provide a powerful mediating function, providing a neutral forum for resolving conflicts that sometimes occur in schools around controversial issues.

At the high school level, the PTA can become the Parent Teacher Student Association, or PTSA, as adults encourage students to offer their perspectives and get involved in the decision-making process.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/11/2009:
"I would like to salut all who are reading my complaint. I like the fact that there are multiples of programs for kids to succed. But, I believe that we need a program in School for Bullies or even after School. This is a matter that should be taken seriously, and the ones to tak full responsibilty is us adults. We need to protect our kids. If we heavy up, there will be less suicidle Kids & Teens. I hope everyone agree. Please I want to see comments. Bad or Good, I'm able to accept critisism. This is what we need to teach our kids. They will grow up sucessful only if they are able to learn how to accept critisim. Bullies will always be around. Lets teach our Children that not everyone will accept them. Thanks to all for taking your precious time to read my post. GOD BLESS!!!"
06/8/2009:
"Are there any descriptions or guidelines governing teacher involvement with the PTA Executive Board?"
02/24/2009:
"I am a father of 5 children who i have raised succesfully,although i didnt take a major stance by being involved with the pta or any other school function while raising my kids,because of having to provide for them,i now would like to volunteer my time as a parent and realize the importance of organizations such as pta-pto:s etc. it is paramount that each child receive the education he or she needs to succeed today,it is our responsibility as parents n adults to see to this through involvement in their lives,education."
10/23/2008:
"To the poster on 9/3/08 I just read you post and I work with the North American Booster Club Assoc. We are the governing body for all Booster Clubs. You can go to www.boosterclubs.org and click on club resources. Or if you'd like someone to work with click on contact us and call or email requesting your local reps info. We're glad to help. "
09/3/2008:
"I am desparately trying to find a handbook with the rules and regulations for establishing a Parent Booster Club at my school. Do you know where I can locate this information, more importatant, a website. I would like to pass this information on to the parents. Thanks for your assistance."
01/14/2008:
"In response to the parent to mentioned her lack of a call might be because of her skin-color....she could not be further from the truth. The fact is, right or wrong, the school does need tons of help but people are not calling volunteers, but putting volunteers to work who show up. PTA needs doers who will jump in without a personal engraved invitation. Speak with your child's teacher for a contact at the PTA who you can reach out to. The front office staff often is not the best source of this information. Be seen at key PTA functions and get to know the board - they will put you to work."
01/10/2008:
"In response to several of the comments saying that PTA does not have the children's best interest at heart...not true in every school. Our PTA is currently fighting the principal and teachers because THEY do not have our kid's BEST interest at heart. We fight for every single thing we want, and we usually win because of our shear numbers! Get involved and fight. If we don't fight for our kids who will?"
12/10/2007:
"If you really think the PTA works in the interest of the children, go to a meeting and suggest that you start a committee to investigate whether your kids are getting a solid phonics-based reading program or a math program that is based on skill mastery than fluffy theories. You'll quickly learn about who the PTA serves -- and it sure ain't the kids. Just try to find a PTA anywhere that has taken a stand in opposition to that of the teachers or the administration."
09/11/2007:
"To the woman who left a message on 08/01/2007. Please don't assume anything! I, too, am a minority. It hasn't stopped me. If you have a strong desire to be involved in the PTA, don't wait for them to call you. You call them! And visit. Call every day and show them that you're interested in participating, and aren't just a name and number. Persistance provides results! Good luck!"
09/5/2007:
"I am a mother of a 1st grader and a 6th grader and am excited because my son wants to see me more involved in his school (parent programs) i am very much involved in his academics. I want to be on the board or on the PTA and I am going to sign up today. "
08/1/2007:
"The very first time the PTO held a sign up for volunteers I gave them my name, phone number, and address. The ladies at the desk said that they needed all the help that they could get. I told them that I was available most days, and to just contact when they needed me. I never heard a peep out of them. I don't want to say that it was because I'm Black. I don't know what's going on. And I'm questioning whether I'll ever try to get involved with them in the following years. Since it seems that they do need help. But for whatever reason, they don't need mine."
11/13/2006:
"This article makes PTSA sound great. I haven't found this to be true at my kid's high school. It's true, they do provide great support for several school activities: PTA staff lunch, Academic Awards,etc. However, I have several issues with this group. 1. They will only have meetings at 10:00am, never earlier, later, or even in the evening so working parents can attend. 2. They will not post their minutes on the school web site- so working parents can read them. The last time it was updated was 2004! 3. They insist they can't have night meetings because the students participate. The students are ASB members that come in, state their currect task, grab all the refreshments the parents didn't eat, & leave. They don't stay for the whole meeting. We could get a written report, and have meetings at a time more convenient for the parents. 4. Money - they ask for donations & hold fund raisers.They don't have any goals in mind. After the money is collected, they ask the principal what the school needs. Some items are purchased, only the parents who can attend these 10:00am meetings know what the money was spent on. The school really needs money to improve technology but this group wouldn't raise money for it. The meeting I attended last year, the 'speaker' for the morning spoke on alcohol problems. Then the PTSA president got up and with pride spoke about how much money the well-stocked mini-bar was going to earn at the upcoming PTSA fundraiser. I can't support this type of fund raising. I think these people should have participated in the WASC Accreditation process at our school, but I don't think any of them did. Have any of you faced similiar problems with your high school PTA/PTSA? Suggestions?"
11/10/2006:
"I was just at the Florida PTA Convention in Orlando and we as a National PTA will be Celebraiting our 110th Birthday at our next Founders Day Celebration."
10/13/2006:
"I have found that alot of people either don't really know or are mislead about PTA. Year before last, I served as secretary on the executive board, last year I was PTA President, and this year I am 1st Vice President. I absolutly love being on the executive board. I never really knew what PTA was until my son, now in 3rd grade, started aschool. I always thought that the PTA and the school were all in the same. But they aren't. A schools PTA is a whole other thing. It is amazing all the things that PTA has accomplished. A couple of years ago, our executive board decided to get t-shirts to wear at PTA functions, and on Fridays (our spirit day). On the front it said J.O.Davis PTA. On the back it said, 'We MAKE the difference! Ask me how' You wouldn't believe how many people walked up to me and said, 'How?' Of course sometimes I didn't have a clue what they were talking about, until they would say,'Your shirt says to ask you how' And that's all it took. I would te! ll them exactly how our PTA made the difference at our school. I also made some very good friends through PTA. Everyone is always so willing to help each other with anything. We have had a great PTA Executive Board in the last several years. Each year, the people that serve on the board, all leave a little bit of themselves for future PTA board members. It is a wonderful organization. I am very thankful and proud to be a part of such a great association and wonderful people. So, if you haven't joined, do it today!! It really does make a difference!! "
09/6/2006:
"It's never too early to get involved! I am the President of the PTA at my daughter's preschool and our parents are excited to be a part of the group. It not only makes parents comfortable with having an active role in their child's school but it's fun and makes us feel good to support our school."
09/5/2006:
"PTA is a wonderful way for parents to be/become involved. I have been active in PTA/Parents Groups for the last 15 years and find the work very, very rewarding. Recently, I served as president of our neighborhood middle school's PTA for five years after my grandchildren graduated; they left the school but I didn't. I now serve on the Board of our District PTA. I love PTA and wish every parent would become involved. My core belief is - when parents are involved, children do better in school and children attend better schools."
03/28/2003:
"I serve as a boardmember in our school district and see what a wonderful job our PTO, and other organizations do for our children, however In this small communittee the businesses are overwelmed by the requests of these organizations, I'm thinking if the efforts of all organizations were combined somehow this would be more effective use of time. What do you think or has this been done before? Thanks for listening. "
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