PTOs perform a vital function in many public schools, providing support and raising funds to further the educational and community goals of the school. Whether you are a parent, teacher, or friend of the school, you can make a valuable contribution to the education of the children and improve both the facilities and the spirit of the school. If you haven’t considered taking up a place on a PTO committee, or volunteering your services, you could be missing out on both a personally rewarding experience and the chance to make a better future for your children.
What kinds of projects do PTOs get involved with?
A PTO will work with the school under the guidance of the governing board on any undertaking that will enhance the learning environment and improve the prospects of the attending children. Examples include:
Libraries: raising funds for books, helping to run the library, and assisting with improving literacy by, for example, listening to children read. Libraries are generally underfunded, despite being an important resource for information gathering and aiding literacy by fostering a love of books and reading. If you thought libraries had had their day, find out why you’re mistaken by researching the work that modern library services do. One of the most important roles of librarians in all sectors is the teaching of information literacy, which means showing children – and adults – how to find the best quality information resources online.
With the Internet being the primary information resource for so many purposes, it’s essential that people understand how to tell the authoritative sources that can be trusted from the low-quality, scam and deliberately misinformative sites. PTO members can help fill the gaps in funding for stock and systems, and if suitably qualified or experienced can make a big difference to how well the library is used by the school.
School gardens: The importance of knowing where food comes from has been more widely recognized in recent years, and schools are encouraged to get their children involved in growing their own vegetables and fruits. Again, it’s an aspect of the school that may need help with funding, and volunteers who can share their gardening knowledge with the children. It’s very rewarding for kids to grow plants from seeds, showing them how their food is produced and the life cycle of plants. Many parents have skills in this area, from building raised beds and putting up greenhouses, to showing children the best ways to grow plants from seed and care for them to produce a good harvest.
Themed areas around the school: PTOs are very good at taking a neglected or tired building and transforming it into something beautiful and useful. Say you had an old outside classroom that was in need of some TLC; the PTO can fund and organize repairs, decoration and repurposing for these types of buildings, based on a theme chosen by the children. For example, an underwater seascape, so you would have the building painted blue and green like the sea, and add paintings of creatures and plants, and maybe a wrecked pirate ship. You could then add seashell mosaics, maybe hang fishing nets and lobster pots from the roof, and make the environment safe and interesting for the children to use. Or you could create a story-telling area with a carved oak chair surrounded by bleachers or log seats for the children to listen to stories in the sunshine.
One of the most important aspects of the PTO’s work will be fundraising. This can be achieved by organizing events like cake sales, raffles, Christmas fairs, summer barbecues, and car boot sales. Sponsorship can be a very effective way of raising money, and PTO members often have a wealth of talents that lend themselves to money-raising activities like sponsored walks, runs, and swims. Many PTO members will put their own money into school projects, especially if they feel passionate about them. For example, you might get a librarian who is devoted to running the school library, and happily buys books when they can. It’s not unknown for PTO members to take out online loans to get the ball rolling on a major project, and this can be a good solution to cashflow problems that are hindering progress. In many cases these advance payments can be reimbursed at a later date when sufficient funds have been acquired. Grants and donations are also well worth exploring, and PTO members are tireless in their pursuit of both. They can represent large investments of money into the school, so the work involved is well worthwhile.
One of the main barriers to progress with PTOs is that parents and teachers are sometimes reluctant to commit themselves. Not unreasonably, most people already have very busy lives and little time to include even more activities in their schedules. The impression of PTO work is that it can be very time-consuming, and thus people feel they could be taking on too much. It’s vital that new members get recruited to the PTO, and the more people who join, the less there is for everyone to do individually. Selling the idea needs careful and consistent marketing by the organization, stressing the benefits of membership to all eligible people. If you have found yourself feeling wary of committing yourself to a PTO, see if you can find a couple of friends and all join at once. You’ll normally find that there is no obligation to go to every meeting or help with every event; everyone will be happy with any contribution, however small.
Parent-teacher organizations add a tremendous amount to the quality of the school, and if empowered to do so will be able to achieve significant and long-lasting results from their labors. By joining in, you will be adding to the abilities of the PTO to take on projects and fundraisers, and all this will be important and highly relevant to your children. Without the PTO, schools would find it hard to create such an educationally nurturing environment, so if you haven’t done so already, find out how to get involved with your local PTO.