Tara Bone, contributing writer
If you’re a parent, you’ve most likely lived these scenarios: It’s Back-to-School-Night and the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or Parent Organization (PO) table is set up and they’re asking for support, or an older child brings home a note asking for help with an extracurricular activity. What do you do? Do you avoid the PTA or PO table, or conveniently forget the note?
Let’s be honest, time is precious and parents are juggling a lot. But teachers and students just survived a tough COVID year and never before have they needed more support. As membership in parent volunteer organizations declines, now is a perfect time to evaluate the negative myths about volunteering in schools and bust them.
After talking to many parents, PTA and PO leaders, and K-12 teachers, one thing is clear: Teachers and students in Cache Valley schools need parental and community support. This support may look different depending on each family’s circumstance, but every volunteer effort adds up to huge dividends for all children. Though volunteering in classrooms was restricted with COVID last year, Becca Crookston, our area’s Region 21 PTA director says this year Logan and Cache County School Districts are excited to welcome volunteers back into classrooms with a few precautions.
MYTH #1: NOT ENOUGH TIME
Stacey Mollinet, Utah PTA president says, “Find a way to help where you are at. Maybe it is donating supplies to the classroom, maybe it is writing a note to thank the teacher for all they do, maybe it’s finding an hour to volunteer in the class, or maybe it’s joining the PTA board and doing a little more.”
There are a variety of things that need to be done in a school; find what fits your schedule and interests. There are volunteer opportunities that can be done at home — talk to your child’s teacher. Remember, just by joining your school’s PTA or PO, your donation supports school-wide activities. PTA membership fees support advocacy in the community and at the legislature. There’s no volunteer requirement just to join. Another tip: If you have young children, trade babysitting with other classroom volunteers.
You are the master of your schedule! Advice from experienced volunteers: Determine how much time you have, schedule it, make it a priority, and stick to it. If there is a PTA or PO meeting or activity and you can stay 1 hour, make it known at the beginning of the meeting that you’ll leave in 1 hour.
MYTH #2: I’M JUST ONE PERSON
Every individual who supports schools in any way, big or small, is valuable. Remember the big picture. Stephanie Nixon of Smithfield is a former Salt Lake County social worker with a unique perspective on building strong schools through volunteerism. She started volunteering with PTA six years ago
when her son started school and today serves as the Sunrise Elementary PTA President. Stephanie has seen firsthand that schools not only educate but also protect children. “Our schools literally save lives,” Stephanie said. “I’m passionate about enriching our community and our schools because our children — our future — is there.”
MYTH #3: QUEEN BEE MENTALITY
Stephanie said what she calls the “Queen Bee” mentality made her hesitant to join PTA. “Society makes it seem you have to scratch your way to the top and I wondered if PTA was a power struggle,” Stephanie said. She believes that many wonder, “Is there room for me?” Her answer is a big YES! After volunteering, she realized that PTA was a team effort and those involved were just grateful for the help. Give your PTA or PO a chance. They need you!
MYTH #4: MY BIG KID’S SCHOOL DOESN’T NEED HELP
Even in junior high or high school, teachers need support from parents. Newsletters, graduation parties, homecoming help, and teacher meals during parent-teacher conferences are just a few things parent organizations can provide. Multiple extracurricular activities in high schools often require volunteers. Logan Brown has taught for 13 years and coached for 18 years at two local high schools, Logan High School and Green Canyon High School. He believes parent volunteers can really make an impact in the behind-the-scenes work that goes into high school activities, and that parents can help create amazing student experiences. His advice to high school parents: “Don’t be afraid to ask educators or coaches how they can help and/or what they need.”
MYTH #5: HAVEN’T BEEN ASKED
Becca Crookston believes many parents, grandparents, and community members just haven’t been asked to help or know where to go. Start by talking to your school’s front office, as some schools participate in PTA and others have independent parent organizations.
Join PTA at utahpta.org/join or email Becca with PTA questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.