Top 10 Tips for Middle School PTA Success

Middle school is different from elementary school for kids—they’re changing classrooms, managing a locker, and meeting new people from other elementary schools. It’s different for parents as well. New activities like band or sports may pull parents who have been involved in PTA at the elementary level away at the middle school level. Here are ten tips on running a successful middle school PTA.

  1. Grab them fast. Parents are at an elementary school for six years; add a second or third kid, and those years can stretch to more than a decade. That’s a lot of time to build a relationship between PTA and a parent, and for that parent to grow into a leadership role. Middle school zips by in three years, and parents may have a year or two off from middle school between kids. That means your PTA has to get parents involved quickly and early in leadership positions. Visit your feeder elementary schools to educate elementary PTA leaders on what the middle school PTA does and how it is different from what they’ve already experienced.
  2. Include them all. Sometimes one elementary PTA will be stronger than the other PTAs feeding into a middle school. Don’t lean on parents from just the dominant PTA for leadership—you’ll alienate those from the other PTAs.
  3. Focus on parent events. Middle school students are beginning to break away from their parents, so student-oriented events like those in elementary school may draw fewer attendees. But that pulling away also means that parents are likely looking to learn more about what is happening at school, since their child is not telling them as much as they used to and the “backpack express” filled with flyers and newsletters is more of a backpack black hole. Shift your meetings to educating parents about what is happening and what is coming up. Be more about communication and less about PTA business.
  4. Embrace the diaspora. As parents become dispersed among various booster groups and other activities in middle school, make sure that they know that the PTA is the one group that addresses the whole school. Have an extracurricular activities fair for incoming students in the spring with the message that middle school provides great opportunities for students to try new things, but that PTA is the way for parents to keep in touch with what’s going on in the school.
  5. Embrace social media. A newsletter or flyer sent home with a middle school student typically ends up on the floor at school, in a trash can, or buried at the bottom of the backpack until the end of the year. You have to reach out to families directly, and Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can help with that.
  6. Cut back on fundraising. Your middle school PTA probably isn’t doing as many events as an elementary PTA and can get by with a smaller budget. Consider having just one big fundraiser, or incorporating your fundraising into your annual dues. How many parents at your school would embrace a PTA membership level of $25 or $50 that means the PTA won’t bother them about money for the rest of the year? Less fundraising means fewer overlaps with booster clubs who are also raising money as well.
  7. Find ways to integrate the PTA into the life of the middle school. Look for opportunities for the PTA to support events that bring families into the school. See if the PTA president can speak to all the parents at open house, consider providing snacks for the band, orchestra, and choir concerts (with a provided by PTA sign), and provide tour guides for new student orientation.
  8. Look for ways to work with other PTAs. Find opportunities to collaborate with your feeder school PTAs as well as the high school PTAs that your students will be going to. Working together helps incoming parents feel welcome and strengthens all of the PTAs.
  9. Cut back on meetings. Parents have often spent much of the day in meetings, so attending another PTA business meeting in the evening isn’t terribly appealing. Your PTA really only needs three general membership business meetings each year. One at the start of the school year to approve your audit and budget, one in the winter to elect your nominating committee, and one at the end of the year to elect your new officers. Add in adopting your updated bylaws at one of those meetings, and the only other thing your membership will need to meet about is amending your budget, which can be done with a quick five-minute meeting before an event or program. Let your board handing the day-to-day running of the PTA, and have your PTA “meetings” focus on parent education.
  10. Build your relationship with the principal and teachers. Just like the PTA, principals and teachers struggle to get information to families about what is happening at school. By building a good relationship with them, your PTA can develop programs and events that help the school keep parents informed and educated.

President’s Corner

As I wind down to the last day there are a few things I would like to express……

As everyone knows being President of the greatest association I have ever know was never on my bucket list but I cannot explain how Jehovah makes things happen and puts them into perspective.

I have never been SO incredibly blessed and honored to work with such an incredible group of people! From all those at the local, district, region, state, and national level of PTA, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your support!!

Our quest is not an easy one and does not come with light decisions. I hope you will keep the torch lit high! Remember EVERY second of everyday that EVERY SINGLE child counts and the best way for them to prepare for a great future is through an awesome education to prepare them to be responsible, kind, loving, knowledgeable and so much more, adults. Of course all of us have our own views and feelings but I truly believe that if we lead with respect for each other’s views, even if we disagree, and love we can accomplish anything.

Thank you for all of you that have had such an everlasting impact on me during my term. I hope I have been able to give you a gift as special as you have given to me. I love you all and wish you the VERY best in all of your future endeavors. It has been such a rewarding experience that until you actually walk in my shoes you cannot understand just how deep it is.

With the upmost honor to serve as your State President,

Matthew John Rodriguez

News from National Convention: Attracting Today’s Parents

PTAs used to be able to simply set up a table with a “Join PTA” sign and have parents line up. But those days are long gone, and today’s PTA needs to provide parents with reasons for joining that resonate with them. At the 2017 National PTA Convention, two events focused on how PTAs can do just that.

Science of PTA Membership Growth—Know Your Audience

National PTA Deputy Executive Director Karin Kirchoff and Florida PTA Vice President for Regions and Councils Carolyn Nelson-Goedert shared demographic information, national surveys of parents, the results of PTA surveys and focus groups, and how that information can be used to grow your PTA’s membership.

The demographic information and surveys drew from the Pew Research Center’s Parenting in America study that looked at parenting as a whole and the Leadership Conference Education Fund’s Second Annual New Education Majority Poll that looked the opinions of Black and Latino parents regarding education and their children’s future. The presenters also suggested using Great Schools’ information on individual schools to learn more about your school’s families. Here in Illinois, the Illinois Report Card for schools can also provide additional information.

Looking at the Data

It probably comes as no surprise that the demographic information and polls show that today’s families look quite different from those of the past, with more mothers working, more varied family structures, and more families struggling financially. Likewise, polling shows that all parents of every ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class are concerned about their child’s education and want to be more involved, and that parent involvement declines as children get older.

With this data as background, National PTA started digging in to why parents who want to be more involved in their child’s education don’t do so and why they don’t join PTA. When looking a PTA’s current membership, there is a broad diversity as a whole, but potential room for growth in areas where families need PTA’s mission the most—rural towns and urban communities.

National PTA’s Focus Groups and Surveys

National PTA conducted six focus groups and a national survey to explore parents’ attitudes towards education, schools, and PTA in depth. The focus groups looked at K-5 parents, while the survey targeted K-8 parents. Both activities included both PTA members, former members, and non-members. One of the six focus groups consisted of only African-American parents and another of Spanish-dominant parents. Half of the focus groups were of lower-income parents and half on middle-upper income parents with mixed racial and ethnic populations in all except as noted earlier. The results from the focus groups were used to create the national survey.

Key Findings

From this work, National PTA discovered that parents define membership in many ways, not all of which include paying dues to actually join the PTA. Approximately 18% of those saying they were PTA members only gave their time to the PTA.

The results also showed that members and non-members are very distinct groups. Members are more likely to be more satisfied with their school, have kids who face fewer challenges at school, are generally older (e.g., Gen X), have a higher education level, and generally have a higher household income, often with two parents both working. Non-members tend to be on the other end of the spectrum from members, being less satisfied with their school, having kids facing more challenges, being younger (e.g., Millennials), having less education, and having lower incomes, often with a single income. Not surprisingly, PTA members were quite positive about PTA, with 60% being promoters. Non-members, however, were almost as likely (51%) to be PTA detractors.

PTA Perceptions

When parents are asked about PTA, their perceptions tended to fall into three buckets:

  • What PTA Does: Raises money for school, puts on fun events, family-friendly, easy to get involved
  • What PTA Affects: Building relationships with teachers and administrators, speaking up on critical issues, linking the school and home, bringing the community together
  • What PTA Could Inspire: Hope for the future, empowering families to make a positive change, helping children realize their potential

Using these three buckets that were generated from the focus groups, National PTA conducted a survey to dig into these perceptions. The results showed that PTA is almost exclusively seen as raising money for the school and being family-friendly, with members also citing fun events as a key component of PTA. However, what PTA affects was much less known even among members, and what PTA could inspire was almost completely off the radar.

Breaking the Time Barrier

Parents throughout this process discussed the struggles to find time. Busy jobs, lack of transportation, and work shifts that aren’t the traditional 9 to 5 all prevent participation at meetings and after-school events. However, many parents said that if they are passionate about a cause, they make sure to make the time in their busy schedule.

Acceptance is an Issue

While 73% of those who identified themselves as PTA leaders described their PTA as “welcoming” and 71% said PTA was “for people like me,” non-members had a much different view. Only 36% described the PTA as “welcoming” and only 22% said it was “for people like me.” In the focus groups, some parents tied this to not feeling welcome at the school as well.

The Fundraising Catch-22

One of PTA’s key strengths that was identified in this work was the ability to raise money for school needs. But that fundraising success is also a weakness for PTA because the fundraising message dominates all others and it is often not tied to PTA’s ability to address education issues. In some schools, there are questions about why the money is being raised and how it is being spent. Low-income families also found the fundraising message leaving them feeling like they are not able to participate.

Attracting New Members

The good news from this work by National PTA is that for those who have felt excluded from PTA, put off by the focus on fundraising, or otherwise unwelcome, PTA’s mission resonates strongly with them as a reason to join the PTA. By focusing their message on PTA’s mission:

To make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.

and following through on fulfilling that mission, PTAs can reach those who haven’t joined PTA in the past. Today’s parents need to feel passionate about a cause to devote their time to it, and it is hard to develop a passion for fundraising. By focusing on helping parents help their child be successful, building bridges between the school and families, and being welcoming and inclusive, PTAs can attract those new parents who can be the next generation of PTA leaders.

Facebook Live Symposium

The above information was reinforced in a symposium at the 2017 National PTA Convention that was shared on Facebook Live (event starts at about 13:45 or -1:40:10 into the video). Called Today’s Parents, Tomorrow’s Leaders: Growing a New Generation of PTA Champions, the symposium featured a presentation by Amanda Slavin, CEO and founder of CatalystCreativ, and a panel discussion with Ms. Slavin, PTA leaders from California, Kansas, and Oregon, and Heather Pressley, Senior Vice President for Girls on the Run International.

Both Ms. Slavin’s presentation and the panel discussion that followed emphasized the importance of engaging the passion of today’s parents for the PTA mission as the key to getting them to join PTA and participate. Ms. Slavin noted that even non-millennial parents are often “millennial minded,” seeking a network, socially connected, passionate about quality education, and emphasizing advocacy for all children.

As a result, to engage these parents to become members and PTA leaders, PTAs need to focus recruitment, activities, and goals to serve parents’ needs, not on what the PTA has always done in the past. Communication and opportunities to participate need to focus on the user, so that a PTA math event becomes a time to share and learn with your child, not to just tell you about the new math curriculum. This also means that PTAs need to facilitate and curate experiences for parents rather than dictating them, providing an inclusive, accepting, and non-judgmental space for parents and families to share their experiences and knowledge.

 

News from National Convention: Resolutions

PTA resolutions are a way for the membership of the association to express its opinion and intent to address issues affecting the lives of children and youth. They focus and formalize the position of the PTA on a variety of issues. At the 2017 National PTA convention in Las Vegas, the delegates adopted one resolution and added one more resolved clause to an existing resolution.

Resolution on Healthy Sleep for Adolescents

Any parent of a teenager knows how hard it can be to get them in bed at a decent hour, much less get them out of bed the next morning to get them to school. Research confirms this, noting that adolescents have their sleep patterns shift from those of their younger years, having difficulty falling asleep before 11:00pm and functioning at their best when allowed to sleep until 8:00am.

Unfortunately, many teens are not getting the 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep that they need each night. More than two-thirds get less than 8 hours of sleep on school nights. The reasons for this chronic sleep deprivation in teens is varied, but include large amounts of homework, busy extracurricular and work schedules, poor sleep routines (including using cell phones and other backlit screens shortly before bed that can disrupt the ability to fall asleep), and early school start times. Approximately 40% of high schools in the United States start at 8:00am or earlier.

The result of this sleep deprivation in teens results in increased risks in many aspects of their lives, including an increased likelihood of accidents due to impaired driving, an increased risk of depression and suicide, and an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic dysfunction, and other physical health problems in adulthood.

Early school start times have been identified as a key, but easily modified, component of adolescent sleep deprivation. Schools that have moved start times later for their older students have seen not only decreases in tardiness, absences, and discipline issues but also increases in student performance and greater participation in extracurricular activities.

To address these issues, the resolution calls on PTAs to educate youth, parents, educators, school personnel, school boards, athletic coaches, athletic organizations, state board of education members, and the community about the positive impact that sufficient, quality sleep has for teens’ health, safety, academic success, and future earnings.

PTAs are also encouraged (modified by the delegates from “urged” in the proposed resolution to address areas of the country with limited daylight hours during part of the year) to collaborate with other stakeholders and policymakers to develop solutions and policies that allow teens to get sufficient, quality sleep. National PTA is directed to work with the Department of Education to encourage states and school districts to incorporate standards regarding sleep needs and patterns, potential risks of insufficient sleep, signs of sleep related difficulties, and healthy sleep habits into existing health, science, physical education, and other appropriate curricula.

Proposed Amendment to Resolution on Sale, Resale and Destruction of Firearms

In 1996, the National PTA passed a resolution on the sale, resale, and destruction of firearms. Later that year, the Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that included the Dickey Amendment, an amendment that prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from using funds for injury prevention and control to advocate or promote gun control. In the same bill, $2.6 million, the exact amount that had been allocated for firearms research the previous year, was earmarked for traumatic brain injury research.

The Dickey Amendment has been interpreted to mean that the CDC cannot conduct research into gun violence, and appropriations for the CDC since 1996 have continued to include the amendment. The Obama administration and Democrats in Congress attempted to remove the amendment in 2015, but were unsuccessful. It is also important to note that Jay Dickey, the representative for whom the amendment is named, has since stated that the CDC should be allowed to research the causes of gun violence, noting that “doing nothing is no longer an option.”

The amendment to the 1996 resolution inserts a new resolved clause that states: “That the National PTA and its constituent bodies shall seek and support legislation for state and federal funding initiatives for the research of the causes and effects of gun violence.” The delegate body voted to split the amendment into two resolved clauses, one directing the National PTA to work for federal legislation and funding and one directing state PTAs to do the same on the state level.

The National PTA legislation team that submitted the amendment stated that the reason for amending rather than submitting a completely new resolution was that the 1996 resolution specifically mentioned CDC research, but since that time, there has been extremely limited research to fully support a new resolution.