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Not the PTA Mom Type?

Photograph by Twenty20

I don't know anyone who would deny that the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is a great organization with the best intentions. Established in 1897 to support the involvement of parents, most agree a thriving PTA is vital to the success of a school and community, and yet their membership numbers have dropped in the past 10 years. Most parents I know, for one reason or another, just aren't participating.

RELATED: The Great Thing About Annoying Parents on the PTA

Explanations for lack of parental involvement in PTA meetings and PTA-sponsored events range, but here are just a few common reasons parents choose to sit it out:

  • Introverted or shy personalities may find meeting and interacting with new people to be too draining.
  • Lack of time or conflicting obligations — such as a child's evening activities and the parent's work schedule — are common issues for today's busy families, as well as for single parents.
  • Already-established cliques within the organization or individuals who seem unwelcoming are a huge deterrent. According to Clinical Psychologist Dr. Karen Caraballo, who worked in an elementary school for nine years, "Sometimes with so many personalities there can be drama. Members can have difficulties navigating the relationships, making their voice heard and negotiating. This can create unnecessary stress."
  • For parents who speak English as a second language, their inability to fully understand and be understood can be a source of discouragement and even shame. "Parents who speak English as a second language often feel inadequate and remain as outsiders," says Dr. Caraballo.
  • Previous bad experiences, such as being pressured to overcommit or running into PTA parents from hell, keep some parents from returning even if they once participated in the PTA.

Notice that none of the reasons included involved the parent not wanting to support their child's school. So what can you do if you want to contribute but, for whatever reason, the PTA just isn't for you?

1. Donate financially.
Some of us have more money than we do time available to volunteer. Both are equally valuable and necessary for an organization like the PTA to function.

2. Volunteer in your child's classroom or in the school library.
Chaperone on field trips. "Volunteer to share cultural or ethnic celebrations with your child's class," suggests Dr. Caraballo.

RELATED: The Great Volunteer Debate

3. Send in snacks or other supplies
Most PTA events require some sort of food or other donation. If you're shy or can't attend, contact the person in charge via email and volunteer to send something in with your child. Ask where or who they should leave it with.

4. Donate books to the school library.
If you'll be purchasing books specifically for this purpose, ask the librarian if he or she has a wish list. Teachers are also happy to point out books in the Scholastic magazine you could buy for the class.

5. Clean up.
You don't have to attend a formal PTA-sponsored event to make a difference. Grab a trash bag and your family members to pick up litter on the school's playground one day after school, or offer to clean up after an event. Cleaning up is just as important as setting up, and you'll earn the gratitude of tired parents who planned and ran the event.

6. Offer your skills or services from home.
Are you bilingual? Let the school know you're willing to translate any flyers or announcements for them. This is a great help to teachers attempting to keep open communication with parents who may not speak English well, and it takes some of the burden off the Spanish-language teacher or any other bilingual staff who are often tasked with translating in addition to their regular responsibilities.

7. Simply be an involved parent.
Helping with homework, filling out and returning emergency cards on time, meeting teachers at back-to-school night, attending your child's band concerts or sporting events, raising your child to be respectful, talking with your child about appropriate school behavior, and other things you may consider "the basics" of good parenting actually go a long way in making things easier for teachers and administrators, and will ultimately benefit your child, too.

In the end, "Not everyone is suited for the same type of involvement," says Dr. Caraballo, "You may have to 'try on' a few activities before you find something that feels right."

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RELATED: The Great Volunteer Debate: Part 2

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