Why Every Parent with School Age Kids Should Think About Joining the PTA

by Namee Oberst - Monday, October 5th, 2015 @ 3:17 PM

For parents with school age children, it’s a yearly ritual. Every fall or late summer, parents sit eagerly at the school orientation meeting anxiously hoping to gather information about what the new school year will bring for their kids. Amidst presentations by the principal and various teachers about the academic programs, the extracurricular activities, and the school cafeteria, there is invariably the friendly PTA representative who asks parents to sign up and volunteer. Particularly for newbie parents, however, Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) can seem intimidating. Does it require a lot of commitment? Does one have to be a gung-ho Tiger Parent to be involved? So what’s a PTA and what’s it about?

PTA’s are volunteer organizations generally run by parents of the school with involvement by the teacher representatives who work collaboratively to enhance various aspects of the school. For example, a PTA can organize and host carnivals, staff appreciation days, cultural awareness days and other social events for students. In addition, most PTA’s are heavily involved in fund-raising so that they can host various academic and social events and purchase school supplies that are not usually in the school’s budget. In New York City, for example, parents at the Anderson School, a highly regarded K-8 on the Upper West Side for gifted and talented students, were able to raise over $1 million in a single school year.

The Parent Teacher Organization for the Lincoln School in Westfield, New Jersey was able to support its school with the purchase of iPads for every classroom and other tech purchases as well as an additional $3000 in books and supplies, etc. Although not all PTA’s are able to draw on the financial clout of their wealthy student body, other PTA’s are still able to provide scholarships for special research projects for students or teachers or ice cream socials for families. In addition, in schools where there are no school cafeterias, the PTA’s often step up to run lunch programs for its students.

All this activity requires a lot of dedication, commitment and hard work by the parent volunteers in the PTA. Some heavily involved parents work as much as 25 to 40 hours per week on PTA duties. This is not usually the case, however. PTA’s can offer volunteer opportunities of all scope and sizes. In fact, most parents start being involved by taking on less time-consuming, concrete tasks. One working mom in New York volunteers 2 hours every other week at the school store, selling school supplies and school gear. Another mom in Beijing, China volunteers at her daughter’s international school manning concession stands during school sporting events about once a month on the weekends. Even the heavily involved PTA parents started with discrete tasks before taking on larger roles such as being the President or the Treasurer. According to Diane Gurden, a PTA parent in Scarsdale, New York, who currently serves as the Treasurer for the Greenacres Elementary School, “There are jobs of all sizes on the PTA. You can start with something small and then see if you want to take on more responsibility.”

If excessive time commitment is not the necessary element to being a successful parent, then what is? Soo Sang, a PTA parent from Westfield, New Jersey, believes that the most important ingredients to being a successful PTA parent are the “desire to help or improve and effect change in a positive way” and “a sense of commitment and willingness to be actively engaged in shaping your child’s school experience.” Soo adds, “Most importantly, a willingness to try! Do not feel that you can’t participate in something or even run a committee because you have never done it before in your life. You will be amazed at what you are able to do!”

It is important to note that PTA’s are not all about hard work. They offer social outlets as well, especially for parents who are looking to build connections in a new community. One of the most often cited benefits of joining the PTA is “meeting other parents who have dynamic, interesting, varied backgrounds.” Particularly for working parents and parents with smaller young children, it can often be difficult to connect with other parents in the school. Joining the PTA can be extremely helpful in building friendships with other parents who are actively involved and plugged in with the school. Another PTA parent reflects, “I have met wonderful parents every year, which has resulted in having an amazing group of supportive moms that I can call true friends whom I can rely upon – which is really a nice thing to have in a time when people often do not even really know their neighbors!”

The value of an active PTA organization cannot be understated. Consider the example of a young middle school student whose mother took an active part in the Mothers Club of his school and organized a rummage sale to buy a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric computer for the school’s students. Thanks to the role of his school’s PTA, the young man was able to become actively involved in computer programming, wrote his first computer program on that machine, and developed a life-long passion for computing. He then went on to start one of the most important companies in the world: Microsoft.


About the Author

Namee Oberst Namee Oberst

Namee Oberst is the Marketing Director of English Hound (www.EnglishHound.com), a NY based distance learning company specializing in tutoring K - 12th grade students in reading and writing. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Michigan School of Law. She lives in NY with her husband and son.

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