PTAs and PTSAs at the middle school and high school level often struggle. It’s not that families are no longer involved with the school, it’s that they are now spread out among athletic boosters, band, orchestra, drama, and other groups as well as the PTA. Here are some ideas to fire up families to engage with your middle or high school PTA.
- Focus on Communication
Middle and high school students are notoriously uncommunicative about what goes on at school, and a newsletter would likely end up buried on the bottom of a backpack until the end of the school year. That means that families are hungry for information about what is happening at the school, and PTA is in the perfect position to be that information source.
Create an e-mail list to send information out to families and students. Having a laptop at registration, open house, and other events where people can type in their e-mail addresses will save you having to decipher handwriting and avoid bounced e-mails. Work with your school administration to see if the daily announcements can be e-mailed out to families. It may be easier to set it up so a school secretary can send it out once the announcement sheet is ready.
- Make Your PTA Meetings Informative Rather than “Business-y”
Adults already sit in lots of business meetings all day, and adding another one in the evening is not very appealing. Turn your PTA meetings into sources of information rather than conducting lots of business at them. General membership meetings are only needed to approve the annual audit, to adopt or amend the budget, to amend the bylaws, to elect a nominating committee, and to elect officers. Move all other business matters to your PTA board meetings or committee meetings. Highlight what it going on at the school both academically and with extra-curricular activities. Consider having a “vendor fair” of all the clubs and sports at the school. Have teachers spotlight new curriculum or interesting class projects. Provide presentations on student and family needs, such as staying on the college-ready path through middle and high school, how to apply to college, how to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or families role in driver’s education.
- Cut Back or Eliminate Fundraising
Just as middle and high school families are spread out among many student organizations, those organizations are often all raising funds for their activities, many of them at the start of the school year. Avoid the competition and fundraising fatigue by cutting back or eliminating PTA fundraising.
PTAs should always plan their program year before determining how much money they need to raise to implement that program. Changing your PTA’s focus from buying things for the school to doing things for the school, students, and families can reduce the amount of money your PTA needs to raise. Consider making your membership dues sufficient to meet your budget. While some families may be concerned about the higher dues, many are happy to join when told that the PTA will not be coming to them with fundraising programs during the year. Look at non-dues sources of revenue such as PTA member benefits from Illinois PTA and National PTA, affiliate programs from national or local stores (e.g., a percent of each purchase is donated to the PTA), or restaurant dine-out nights. Remember that to protect their 501(c)3 status, PTAs cannot endorse commercial entities (e.g., “Eat at X restaurant because they’re giving PTA 10% of sales tonight.”) but can state that businesses are supporters of the PTA (e.g., “X restaurant is sponsoring a Lincoln PTA night tomorrow by donating 10% of all orders.”). In other words, you can’t tell people to support a business, but you can say the business is supporting the PTA.
- Make It Clear that Joining PTA is to Support the PTA
Many parents, especially those fresh from active elementary school PTAs, have a fear of being asked to do things and cite that as a reason not to join the PTA. Make it clear to your families that joining the PTA is solely to support your PTA and the programs you provide. Let them know that signing up for the PTA e-mail list isn’t limited to PTA members (you’re providing information to all families, and once they see all the good things your PTA is doing, they are more likely to join). You can still do the occasional ask for help through your e-mail list, but be sure to break it down into small bits (e.g., donating paper products, plastic utensils, a dish, or drinks for a teacher appreciation breakfast).
- Don’t Forget the Students
Think about becoming a PTSA if you are not one already. Middle and high school students are beginning to take more responsibility and also looking for activities that look good on college applications. Consider adding a student representative (or one from each grade) to your PTSA board. Use teacher and administrator recommendations for potential representatives, as they know which students are well-connected with their peers and what is going on in the student population. Have the student representative share what students are concerned about at your meetings. Let students sign up for the PTA e-mail list as well, since they may not be able to hear the morning announcements well in their first-period classroom.
Photo © 2008 by David Shankbone under Creative Commons license.