When we moved to Oregon, I was desperate to meet other people and feel connected with our new community. I decided to try a parent-teacher organization (PTO) meeting at our new school. Thanks to TV and movies, I was fairly certain joining the PTO would feel a lot like returning to my freshmen year of high school. I wasn’t interested in joining a clique or feeling ousted by “mean girls.” Been there. Done that. Burned the tee-shirt. I was thrilled when I pulled up a kid-sized chair in the school library and quickly realized this was not that.
Showing up for that meeting was one of the best decisions I made in those early months after the move. Not only did I meet a group of lovely moms living in my neighborhood, but I immediately felt needed. If you’ve ever been the “new girl” in an unfamiliar space, you know what a gift that is. Right away I was able to share my ideas and get plugged into the amazing ways the PTO was supporting the teachers and students in our school. I had no idea that 95% of the events at the school were put on by this group of parent volunteers. They needed me and I needed them. It was the perfect fit.
There are all sorts of reasons to join the PTO. Keeping tabs on your kiddos or staying in-the-know on the happenings at school are most people’s primary motivations for jumping on board. You can search the world wide web and find all sorts of statistics and testimonies for why PTO is worth your time. However, after volunteering at our PTO for a couple of years, I’d like to offer three reasons you may not have considered:
1. We need your perspective.
One of the things we talk about often in our home is the importance of making sure everyone has a seat at the table. We consider places in our community where people may be left out because of lack of access or disability or socioeconomic restraints. When I attend a PTO meeting, that is one of the lenses I bring with me. Last month, when I was asked to update the PTO info board, I realized all of our flyers were only presented in English. Our school has a high population of Spanish-speaking families. We were inviting everyone to be a part of our team, but our invitation was only understood by some. I was able to re-design the board to include Spanish as well as English.
You have a lens, too. You have experiences and training and education that is needed to help make your kids’ school the best it can be for everyone attending. Bring your lens into the room.
2. Many hands make the load light.
The Fun Runs, book fairs, yearbooks, end-of-the-year carnivals, and more don’t just magically come together. Those events you and your kids enjoy throughout the year are planned and executed and cleaned up by fellow parents who are just as busy and overly-committed as you. Maybe you can’t build the carnival game booth or maybe your work schedule doesn’t allow you to help count laps at the Fun Run. I guarantee there is something you CAN do to make a significant impact in lessening the workload for everyone. Do you have scissors or tape or staplers? Ask if you can help with making decorations at home. Do you have a phone or computer? There are always vendors and donors and other volunteers who need to be called or emailed. Ask for the list and knock it out during lunch or while you’re waiting in the pick-up line after school.
I promise you the “I’m too busy” excuse is something the PTO can work around.
3. You’ll make connections you might have otherwise missed.
We had our first PTO meeting of the new school year last night and it was so fun to see the new parents connecting with each other. Shared interests and experiences and kiddos of the same age are all great catalysts for friendships which are hard to create in the chaos of school drop off and pick up. It’s one hour, once a month, where you can show up already having at least one thing in common with the others in the room: We all care about our kids and our school.