As parents, we mark the end of summer with a few important rituals. You take the kids shopping for new clothes, pick out school supplies, receive your child’s teacher assignment. The kids become anxious, sad to see the end of vacation but excited about what lies ahead. The summer quickly pushes toward a close, and everyone’s attention turns to school.
The parent group can have a direct role in getting the school year off to a strong start. PTO can spruce things up around the school, help make everyone feel welcome, and encourage parents, students, staff, and faculty to get reacquainted. Internally, the PTO needs to get organized for the year ahead and set expectations for the projects and activities planned.
Your main goal should be to create a community that supports your school, the teachers, the staff, and the children. Whether school’s already started or you’re still gearing up, there are many things you can do now to accomplish that goal successfully. Here are 38 ideas to recharge your PTO engines.
Buy a Little Breakfast
Do something special for the kindergarten parents. Whether sending their first child off to school or their last, kindergarten parents have a heightened sense of emotion. The PTO can acknowledge this special transition with a simple parents-only breakfast on the first day of school. This boo hoo/yahoo breakfast is a great opportunity to introduce new parents to the activities of the PTO and for “old” parents to reassure the first-timers that their babies will be just fine.
Let Them Know How You Feel
Hang a big sign on the school fence, over the front door, or near the bus loop on the first day of school. Add a bundle of helium balloons at each entrance to show this is a special day. Place welcome signs on the classroom doors. Distribute personal notes of well-wishes to each teacher and staff member. Make it clear that your school is a great place to be and that your PTO is proud to support the school.
Be a Part of Open House
Whether your school calls it Open House, Meet the Teacher, or Curriculum Night, be sure the PTO has a presence at this parents-only school event. Staff a display touting the successes of the past and the plans for the future, including the date of your first meeting. Set out committee sign-up sheets and membership forms, if appropriate. Provide samples of your fundraising merchandise. Be sure to have at least one officer on hand to answer any questions and engage parents.
‘Treat’ the Students Right
Make a memorable, positive impression with the students. Have volunteers distribute doughnuts to each classroom at the start of the first day of school, courtesy of the PTO. Or if sweets are taboo, consider a specially printed pencil or folder for each student.
Hold a Special Kickoff Meeting
The Haviland Elementary PTA in Waterford, Mich., sponsors a family ice cream social in conjunction with the first meeting of the year. After ice cream, the parents gather for the business meeting while the children are supervised in the gym.
Distribute a Welcome Packet
You want to make a great first impression with parents, right? Then delay sending home your fundraising appeal and distribute an information packet first.
Prepare a comprehensive packet that includes the PTO’s mission, key projects and plans for the year, the names and phone numbers of the officers and committee chairs, meeting dates and locations, membership information, a volunteer sign-up form, and other appropriate information. Market the PTO!
Make the Teachers Feel Special
The PTO at John S. Hobart Elementary in Shirley, N.Y., sponsors a “Welcome Back Luncheon” for the faculty and staff the day before school opens, complete with small welcome-back gifts.
Set an annual calendar of meetings and events sponsored by the PTO. Post the calendar in the school on the PTO bulletin board and in the school newsletter. If you have monthly meetings, try to follow a consistent pattern (for example, the second Tuesday of every month) so your members can work the meetings into their personal routines.
Don’t Assume They’re Listening
Prepare a list of executive board meeting dates, times, and locations, and distribute a copy to each officer. Don’t assume everyone marked the dates in their day planners.
Post a list of all the officers and committee chairs, along with their phone numbers, in the PTO display case. Update the list as changes occur. Make it easy for parents to know who to call with their questions.
Don’t Scare Them Off
You’re likely to have several new attendees for your first meeting of the year. Make sure this meeting starts and ends on time. Don’t let it get bogged down; you don’t want meeting attendance to seem like a drag. Be sure to explain to the attendees what they can expect from future meetings so they know the value of attending. Set start and end times for all meetings, and work hard to stay on schedule. Your members will appreciate your consideration of their time.
Help Them Make a Commitment
Every PTO has a variety of ways members can get involved. When recruiting volunteers, describe the time commitment and estimated workload so people know what’s expected and can select a job that suits their availability, their interests, and their talents.
Show Off Your Successes
Create a display in the school lobby or other common area where you show ways the PTO has benefited the school in the past.
Consider including photographs of family events, assemblies, and special projects; statistics of fundraising success; lists of items purchased with PTO funds; thank-you notes received; testimonials from members and staff; and more.
If your PTO does not already “own” a prominently located bulletin board or display case, ask to take over an existing case or purchase and install a new one. Assure the principal that the PTO will keep the display current and newsworthy. Our own PTO replaced a faded chess club sign that had filled the primary display case in our main lobby for six months. When we asked for permission, the principal said, “What chess club sign?”