How High-Poverty Schools Can Engage Families

SchoolOfExcellence_LogoAcademic achievement is often correlated with students’ socio-economic status—students from wealthier families tend to do better. But there is an increasing amount of research that shows that high-poverty schools can have students who achieve at the same level as their wealthier counterparts. The key is family engagement.

High-poverty schools have additional hurdles to overcome when engaging families. Many in poverty work several jobs, often with erratic hours. The household may have limited English language skills. Transportation for events during, after school, or in the evening may be an issue. The adults in the family may not have had a positive school experience when they were growing up and are therefore reluctant to engage with the school now.

A recent article at Edutopia, based on the book Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools by William H. Parrett and Kathleen M. Budge, illustrates how schools that actively engage families can improve student performance. The article highlights seven key strategies and practices for schools:

  1. Create Full-Service Schools and Safety Nets
  2. Create Links Between School and Home
  3. Offer Mentoring to Students
  4. Provide Opportunity for Community-Based and Service Learning
  5. Conduct Home Visits
  6. Ensure Effective Two-Way Communication
  7. Use the School as a Community Center

Some of these key strategies might sound familiar to PTA members. They parallel PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. A great way for any school, high-poverty or not, to implement these standards is the National PTA School of Excellence Program. Enroll in the free program before October 1, 2016. Your PTA will receive an online survey to have your school community—families, administrators, and PTA leaders—to create a Family-School Partnership Scan. Submit the scan by November 1, 2016, and your PTA then receives a school-specific Roadmap to Excellence that contains customized recommendations that respond directly to your survey results. The Roadmap to Excellence provides the tools and resources your PTA will need to implement your action plan, telling you exactly what your PTA needs to do to become an National PTA School of Excellence. Implement your action plan, and then submit your completed application by June 1, 2017, then celebrate your success during the following back-to-school season! Sign up or read more today!

10 Great Ways to Get More PTA Volunteers

8975602227_090ce649a2_oPTA is the largest volunteer organization in the world focused on the welfare of children. From the person sitting at a registration table at open house on up to the National PTA president, almost all of the work done by PTA is done by volunteers. Here are XX ways your PTA can get more volunteers.

  1. Target new families to your school.
    New families want to know what is going on at school, so having your PTA reach out to those families can be an important first step towards getting them to volunteer. Consider creating a PTA Welcome Packet for new families.
  1. Toot your PTA’s horn.
    Families aren’t going to know what your PTA is doing if you are not showing them and telling them. Be sure to post invitations to upcoming events on your PTA’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, e-mail list, and in your newsletter. Follow up with pictures and thanks to your volunteers after the event through all of those media. Develop a communications plan for your PTA.
  1. Find the hidden talents in your school.
    The Cub Scout program is another volunteer-led organization that has used a Family Talent Survey to identify the interests and skills that families might be able to share as part of the program. Think about the skills, talents, and interests that parallel what your PTA does to create a family talent survey for your PTA. Use it to find the artist who might be interested in helping with your PTA Reflections program or the designer who might be willing to help create eye-catching flyers and posters.
  1. Ask for feedback after an event.
    Your PTA may have those involved in planning an event review how it went afterwards and consider how it might be improved. Don’t limit your feedback to just your organizers. Survey families at an event to find out what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they would change as well. Be sure to include “I would like to help plan this event next year” and “I would like to volunteer at this event next year” options along with contact information at the bottom.
  1. Keep volunteer shifts short.
    Everybody at a PTA event wants to spend time enjoying it with their family. By keeping your volunteer shifts short, more people are likely to volunteer because they know they won’t be missing much time with their family. Take advantage of the Illinois PTA member benefit that provides your PTA with a free premium upgrade with Volunteer Spot.
  1. Use a procedure book to make volunteering less intimidating.
    A procedure book preserves your PTA’s knowledge about how to run an event or fulfill the duties of a board or officer position. It is also a great volunteer recruiting tool. A well-designed procedure book that includes detailed information on what has been done to plan an event in the past is like a guidebook to a foreign land, providing information on things you shouldn’t miss and potential stumbling blocks.
  1. Be sure to support your volunteers.
    Don’t just hand a volunteer a job description or a procedure book and send them on their way. Be sure to check in to see if they have any questions or issues. Show them that you value the time they are giving the PTA by giving them some of your time and attention.
  1. Talk to those that aren’t volunteering.
    There are many reasons why someone may not be volunteering for your PTA. Many of those reasons may be based on myths about volunteering for your PTA. By talking with those who aren’t volunteering, you can dispel some of those myths and get new volunteers.
  1. Add diversity to your PTA.
    Look at who your PTA leaders and members are. Do they represent the diversity of your school, not just by race, but also by age, gender, language, socioeconomic status, or other measures? If not, you have a pool of potential PTA members and volunteers that you are currently not reaching. Use National PTA’s Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit to reach out to those communities and broaden your PTA.
  1. Thank your volunteers often and publicly.
    Most people aren’t volunteering with the PTA just for personal recognition, but publicly thanking and recognizing your volunteers makes them feel valued and more likely to volunteer again.

 

Graphic © 2013 by Pump Aid Pictures under Creative Commons license.

Recognize Your PTA Volunteers to Keep Them Coming Back

Thank-you-word-cloudOne of the most important ways a PTA can get the most from its volunteers is to acknowledge their efforts. Perhaps your school had a volunteer recognition event back in April during National Volunteer Week. As your PTA year wraps up, be sure to thank your volunteers both publicly and privately for their work, and don’t forget to share with your administration what all those volunteer hours mean for your school. Independent Sector, a leadership network for nonprofits, estimates that the value of volunteer time for 2015 is $23.56/hour.

When recognizing volunteers, you can always go with the nice suitable-for-framing certificate, a small gift card, or a donation to the Illinois PTA Scholarship Fund. Instead of the $10 gift card or simple certificate, consider making simple volunteer recognition awards that acknowledge the hard work and importance of your volunteers in a fun way. Remember, with these sorts of awards, the presentation is as important as the award itself, so ham it up!

Awards can be easily made with simple hobby or hardware store items—a small painted plaque, a decorative item, and a little bit of hot glue are all you need. Here are some award suggestions:

  • Our Eyes Are On You: For the leader who sets the example (button eyes on a large felt U)
  • Order of the Spare Marble: For the person who’s lost them (a marble glued to a small piece of wood or to a string )
  • Spark Plug Award: For the person who is the spark of a project (a spark plug)
  • Berry Good Job: For the person who did a “Berry Good Job” (a wax or plastic berry (any kind))
  • Measure Up Award: For the person who’s performance sets the standard (a ruler)
  • Nuts About the Job Award: For the person who had to be nuts to take on the job (2 or 3 peanuts glued to a piece of wood)
  • Order of the Bear: For those that bear up under pressure (a plastic bear with a tire gauge)
  • Life Saver Award: For that person who saved you (a Lifesaver on a string)
  • Banana Award: For the person with great appeal (a wax or plastic banana)
  • Bright Idea Award: For those who had a bright idea (a light bulb)
  • Helping Hand Award: For those who was willing to help (trace a hand on construction paper mounted to a piece of cardboard)
  • Hat’s Off Award: For someone we take our hats off to (an old hat mounted on a piece of wood)
  • Right Foot Award: For those who got us off on the right foot (Trace a RIGHT foot –use caution some may not know left from right)
  • Big Heart Award: For those who always seem to have one (heart shaped craft material of any kind, then decorated)
  • “Egg”cellent job/idea /etc. Award: For those who did an excellent job (fake egg)
  • Heartfelt Thanks Award: Self-explanatory (large heart cut from felt with “Thanks” on it)
  • Thanks a Million Award: For the person you’d pay a million dollars for to have them volunteering in your PTA (a million dollars in play money or a million-dollar bill)
  • “Shell” of a Job Award: For the person who did a great job (seashell)
  • Hung in There Award: For the person who stuck through a tough job (anything hanging from something (try to get a picture of the person))
  • Worked Like a Dog Award: For the person who did just that (dog biscuit or bone)
  • Tee-rific Award: For the person who did a terrific job (a golf tee or tea bag)
  • The Coveted Dime-and-Pin Award: For those you would give a diamond pin to if the PTA budget could afford it (glue a pin to a dime)
  • Rose to the Occasion Award: For the person who really stepped up (an artificial or ribbon rose)
  • It’s “Bean” Wonderful Award: For the person leaving your PTA (a lima or other large bean)
  • Knocked Yourself Out Award: For the person who gave their all (a small hammer, mini baseball bat, or mini boxing glove)
  • Shining Example Award: For those who best exemplify your PTA (a small flashlight)
  • Hornblower Award: For those who never blow their own horn (a plastic bicycle horn or party horn)
  • Megaphone Award: For those who are soft spoken but get the job done or who never shout
  • The Band-Aid Award: For those who can fix anything
  • The Rock Award: For those who are the rock of the group
  • The Rope Award: For those who always tie up the loose ends (a piece of manila/sisal/hemp rope with the ends whipped)
  • The Crutch Award: For those you can lean on
  • Key to Success Award: For those who were key to making it happen
  • Whale Award: For those who did a whale of job
  • Football Award: For the person who always is willing to tackle a job (a small football or football player)
  • Cone Award: For the person who can lick any job (an ice cream cone)

Graphic ©2015 by Ashashyou under Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Membership Recruitment, Retention, and Engagement

conv logo 2Illinois PTA understands there are challenges to PTAs in recruiting and retaining members. We believe we can best address these challenges by communicating with you, the local unit members, in finding out what works for your PTA and what doesn’t. Through online conference events and convention networking workshops, we have discovered some of the challenges you face and have brainstormed together some suggested ideas for meeting those challenges. Most recently at our 114th Annual Convention, we offered a “Recruitment, Retention, Engagement–Membership Networking Workshop.” Challenges and solution ideas expressed in a past web conference were presented and added to by the participants in the workshop.

Why Join PTA?

Why do people join PTA? What does PTA offer them? PTA offers families the opportunity to get involved in their child’s education, to volunteer to make the educational experience for the kids in their community the best it can be. Studies show that family involvement is one of the most valuable assets to a child’s success in school. Along with family involvement, PTA encourages local units to reach out and partner with their communities (businesses, city councils, service clubs, chambers of commerce, etc.) to be involved in supporting their efforts on behalf of children, families, and schools. Many people take advantage of PTA leadership development opportunities and assistance with resources for advocacy on behalf of children at the local, state, and federal levels.

Why Don’t People Join PTA?

At the workshop, participants were asked to share their experiences on why people don’t join PTA? Here are the challenges that were discussed:

  • Fear of being asked to volunteer for anything or everything
  • Parents volunteer at school but don’t feel the need to join PTA
  • Too many PTA meetings to attend
  • Cultural differences
  • Busy with other volunteer activities (e.g., sports, Scouts, dance, place of worship, etc.)
  • English as second language–can’t understand and participate in meetings or activities
  • Parents working full time can’t volunteer during the school day
  • Lack of awareness of PTA or what we do
  • Unable to pay dues
  • Uncomfortable with interaction with administration of school

The workshop participants then brainstormed ideas to deal with each challenge.

Fear of Being Asked to Volunteer or Parents Volunteer but Don’t Join PTA

  • Be sure to inform parents that while we welcome those who are able to volunteer, membership in PTA helps support your unit financially and more members provides PTA a larger voice in local, state, and national advocacy with governments and other policy makers.
  • Offer a program where you ask for a commitment of only a few hours each year from each member (e.g., PTA’s Three for Me Program). That way members are assured they won’t have to work at every event.
  • Offer a contest and reward parents for volunteering the most hours. Keep track of each volunteer’s hours either monthly or yearly. Hold a volunteer appreciation event and either just acknowledge the hours volunteered by each member or give out little awards. Many businesses are happy to donate items that can be used for this purpose.
  • What about and incentive like “reserved parking!” One school started a program where each year they place the name of every member who joins into a drawing. At a PTA meeting before a special school event, a name is drawn and the lucky winner gets preferred parking reserved at the school for that event. It was very successful in recruiting new and keeping returning members. What about doing this with a few reserved seats at the event? This would promote partnership with the school leadership. What about requiring that the winner be present at the PTA meeting to be awarded the incentive? Would that perhaps increase attendance at meetings?

Too Many PTA Meetings to Attend

  • PTAs do not have to have a meeting every month throughout the year. Your local PTA bylaws dictate how many meetings you have to hold each year. Amend your bylaws to reduce the number of meetings your general membership has to hold each year. General membership meetings are only needed to approve the audit report, to adopt or amend the budget, to elect a nominating committee, or to elect new officers.
  • Pick months for your meetings when you can involve the children in a short program or performance. Everyone enjoys coming out to see the kids perform. Ask for help from your choral or band departments on ideas for programs. Use one meeting to highlight students’ artwork. If your school participates in the PTA Reflections Program, hold a meeting to recognize the students’ achievements.
  • Pick months where you can supply a light meal or snacks. Many participants in the workshop voiced that members really enjoy coming to meetings where there is some sort of treat!

Cultural Differences

  • Find ways to reach out to parents of different cultures and help them feel welcome. Educate them that parents are able to participate in school activities.
  • Host workshops to help educate these parents and families about participating in PTA and school activities. Consider holding these workshops at different times of the week and day to allow more people to fit them into their schedule.
  • Hold an event highlighting the different cultures in your school. One PTA suggested that having an event where children from each of the cultures represented in their school did a presentation demonstrating aspects of their culture. Some used dance and song, others used language activities, and others used a sampling of their culture’s food. It is a huge success and is done every year now. What a great idea!

Busy with Other Volunteer Activities or Parents Working Full Time Can’t Volunteer During School Day

A great way to include parents and families who cannot volunteer during the school day is to provide opportunities for them to assist with things for which they do not have to be present:

  • Make a treat for a party or special event and let their child bring it in that day
  • Simply ask those parents who cannot be present to send in the paper goods. Again, allow the child to bring the items the day of the party. (Allowing the kiddos to bring the items in allows them a sense that their parents are contributing and supporting them as much as those parents who are able to be physically present.)
  • Send home craft work needed for PTA events and allow parents to cut, fold, staple, color, sort, etc., during any free time they have outside of work or other activities. Be sure to do this well in advance of the event to allow parents time to finish without feeling stressed.

English as a Second Language

  • Consider holding two separate meetings: one for English speaking members and a separate meeting for individuals who may need more time understanding the meeting discussion.
  • Have the agenda translated into their language.
  • If possible, have someone who speaks the language of those in attendance to assist.

Lack of Awareness of PTA or What We Do

  • Toot your own horn! Be sure to have information available about all the good things you do for kids. Don’t just think in terms of fundraising; talk about all the events you hold for families and children as well as the hours your members volunteer to assist at school.
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation or video showing what your PTA does throughout the year. Show the presentation or video at kindergarten or back-to-school orientation.
  • Be sure to host and advertise parent education on topics of interest to your community.
  • Inform members about the advocacy successes of Illinois and National PTA.
  • Take advantage of Illinois PTA and National PTA training. Many interesting webinars are available online. Training courses are for all members, not just PTA officers.
  • If your school has a mail-in registration, ask if your PTA can include information about what your PTA does and membership in your PTA with the mailing.
  • Check out the PTA Back-to-School Kit at www.ptakit.org. The section on Membership contains a wealth of resources for promoting PTA.

Unable to Pay Dues

  • This is a difficult challenge for PTAs. One suggestion is to find community partners who might be able to contribute funds to sponsor families to become members of PTA who may need assistance with dues.
  • Title I funds can be used to pay PTA dues for those families receiving free or reduced lunches.

Uncomfortable with Interaction with Administrators of School

  • Get parents to interact at school by inviting parents to participate in parent-led enrichment activities during the school day. Parents volunteer one hour per week to come in and teach an enrichment course about an area of their interest/expertise. These could also be implemented as an after-school club.
  • Host “breakfasts,” “coffees,” or “sack lunches” for informal times that parents can meet with administrators and express concerns or ask questions.
  • Invite an administrator to attend your PTA meetings to talk informally about things going on at your school. This may help alleviate any discomfort as members get to know the administrators.

General Ideas for Engaging Families–Including Some Programs Ready to Go!

  • “Donuts for Dads” and “Muffins for Moms”: Host quick morning events for parents as they drop off children for school.
  • “Curbside Bagel Hello”: One participant indicated that the process for dropping children off at school was such that parents could not park and come into the building for a quick morning event. The suggestion was a “curbside bagel hello.” Literally stand out by where parents drop off children and hand them a bagel and a “Hello” from PTA. This is true thinking outside the box!
  • A family movie night is a very popular event to engage families. This involves some expense by the PTA to purchase the license to show a movie, but then you can engage the community by finding partners to donate pizza, ice cream, popcorn, drinks, etc.
  • Find successful programs ready to use on the Illinois PTA website under Programs then Programs to Go.
  • National PTA has programs with everything you need to promote and administer a family event for a PTA Back to Sports Night Program or a Family Reading Experience.

If you have ideas on any of the items listed or if you have challenges and solutions you would like to share, please send them to the Illinois PTA Membership Marketing Director, Rhonda Jenkins, at rjenkins@illinoispta.org. We will share these ideas in future One Voice Illinois posts, on Facebook, and on the Illinois PTA Membership Page.