Parents & Schools: Achieve Your School Year Goals With Volunteer Power

National PTA Schools of Excellence show how it’s done.

National PTA Schools of Excellence show how it’s done.
By Jim Accomando
Principal, January/February 2018. Volume 97, Number 3.

As a school leader, you know that it takes the whole school community—principals, teachers, parents, and community leaders—working together so every child can learn, grow, and thrive.

However, with evolving family and community structures and needs—and hectic schedules that come with raising a family—school principals and teachers must be more intentional in cultivating a healthy family-school partnership throughout the school year. Family engagement doesn’t look the same for every family in today’s parenting.

If you can effectively harness the power of your volunteers and tap into programs that work, it will have a transformative effect on your entire school community. National PTA Schools of Excellence have shown us how to do this well.

Harness the Power of Volunteers

In recent years, some school leaders have struggled to keep consistent volunteers because the cultural approach to volunteering has shifted. The key is to appeal to every parent’s universal desire to make sure their child is in a healthy and safe learning environment, and is exposed to every opportunity to make their potential a reality.

Here’s how to leverage your families:

Communicate often. Regularly communicate with families and work with the parent group in your school to help reach all families. When a school reaches families inside and outside the school community, they build trust. It also helps you better understand the unique needs of all families to better support them during the busy school year.

At Cobb Middle School in Frisco, Texas, parent and school leaders heard the needs within their community and coordinated food drives for families of children who suffer from food insecurity while away from school. The school staff also worked with their PTA to improve the response time to parents’ questions and concerns.

Include families in the decision-​making process. When school leaders give parents a seat at the table when discussing issues that affect their children and solicit parent feedback for school improvement efforts, it fosters a willingness for parents to be more involved.

At Maritime and Science Technology Academy (MAST) in Key Biscayne, Florida, school leaders “share power.” Parents, teachers, students, and administrators all serve on the Educational Excellence School Advisory Council, which develops the School Improvement Plan. The principal meets with parent and student leaders weekly and regularly seeks to expand learning opportunities.

“The MAST PTSA is truly an extension of our school, and their support and dedication to our students and faculty is unremitting,” says principal Josephine Otero.

Involved parents understand the challenges schools face and become part of the solution. Developing a closer relationship with parents improves student achievement, and the school develops a positive reputation in the community.

Tap into proven programs. With a committed group of parent volunteers, you can implement a variety of programs that will enrich the educational experience for all students—and get more parents involved. Even better, there are grants available to help fund these efforts.

  • Arts Education. PTA’s student arts recognition program, Reflections, celebrates arts education. Every year thousands of students reflect on a common theme and create original works of art in seven categories. The program is open to students of all levels of artistic ability.

    Christine Shaw, mom of 2017 National Reflections Special Artist Winner Dylan James Shaw, shares, “This program definitely changed Dylan more than anything he’s done in his nine years. Reflections has given him confidence, spark, inspiration, excitement, hope, and joy.”

  • STEM for All. National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative ensures all students have the family and community support they need to access and pursue STEM opportunities and careers. The program fosters passion for science, technology, engineering, and math through fun activities and by involving families in these experiences together.

    One STEM + Families Math Night participant says, “It was a great way to spend time together and learn in a dynamic atmos­phere.” A principal at the event shared, “Math can be a lot of fun! Doing math games with your child creates bonding.”

Get men involved. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when fathers are involved in the lives of their children, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior. Even when fathers—and other male role models—do not share a home with their children, their active involvement can have a lasting and positive impact.

The PTA at Floranada Elementary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., created a Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) group, enlisting male family role models to volunteer at least one full school day during the year. Participation increased exponentially by midyear through student recommendation, and ultimately became so successful that the group continued the following school year.

You know that family and community dynamics are changing. School leaders must change with them to be relevant. If you are intentional and flexible, you will have passionate volunteers and high-quality programs that will have a positive and lasting impact on your entire school community.

Jim Accomando is president of National PTA and has been an active parent leader at his children’s public school and throughout Connecticut for nearly 20 years.

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