Leading up to the new school year, we focus so much of our time and energy on making sure our children are prepared to meet their new teachers, navigate a new school building, and learn new routines. But children aren’t the only ones who benefit from a little extra hand-holding at the start of the year. Many parents struggle with acclimating to their children’s schools. Who do they call with questions? How do they connect with other parents? When do the school council and PTO meet? How do they get involved?
Creating a welcome packet is one of the most useful benefits a PTO or PTA can provide to its members. These all-in-one guides are great resources to help answer questions and relieve back-to-school jitters for both new and returning parents.
Lisa Moran, past PTO treasurer for Avery Elementary in Dedham, Mass., says of her board’s welcome guidebook, “We do all of this so people that are new will have an overview of what we do, when we meet, etc. It will help get them interested [in the PTO] and give them a chance to plan.”
Here are some best practices for creating and distributing a welcome packet.
What To Include
Welcome letter. Get personal. Just like kids, parents want to feel like they have a friendly advocate to help them navigate the new school year. The welcome packet should start with a welcome letter from the president or board. Keep the letter short, but do provide an overview of what they can find in the packet. Close with contact information and an invitation to reach out with questions and suggestions.
Key dates. Ask parents what some of their biggest challenges are related to getting and staying involved in their children’s schools, and at least half will say it’s last-minute notices. With advance planning and visibility of the school year and planned activities, schools and parent groups can increase participation rates, and parents can arrange their schedules.
While you can’t plan for a snow day or an impromptu classroom celebration, you can schedule a year’s worth of PTO meetings in advance. A core element of the welcome packet should be a calendar that includes PTO meetings, volunteer orientation dates, holiday celebrations, planned spirit days, family events, and field days. Be sure to also incorporate the district calendar with dates for early releases, school vacations, and standardized test days. For added benefit, create the calendar as a pullout section that can be taped to a refrigerator or pinned on a bulletin board.
Contact information. List the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of all the PTO officers and heads of various committees. Also include a list of all the resources where parents can find information and updates throughout the year. Include the Facebook page, PTO website, Twitter handle, and registration information for email lists and e-newsletters—that way, parents can stay informed using their preferred method of communication.
PTO mission. The welcome packet should tell parents why the PTO exists and what it seeks to accomplish. Include your organization’s mission statement and a one- or two-paragraph overview of what your goals are for the coming school year.
Membership form and dues information. Give parents a reason to join. If you charge dues, use the packet to start your dues collection. Include a membership form and payment information for dues. Outline your fundraising goals for the coming year and provide a summary of where the previous year’s money was spent and what the group was able to accomplish as a result.
Volunteer opportunities. The start of the school year can be a prime time for recruiting volunteers. Parents are eager to get involved and may not be fully committed to other groups yet. Clearly outline the opportunities for volunteering and provide information on any scheduled volunteer orientations. Include contact information for your volunteer coordinator in case parents have questions, and any requirements and paperwork forms for background checks and information on how to volunteer. Don’t forget to include ways for parents to get involved from home (sorting orders, joining a phone tree, collecting box tops and labels, etc.).
Get organized. As a PTO or PTA board, there is so much you want to share with your members, but take care not to overwhelm them at the start of the school year. Before you compile your packet, think through how you will organize the content. Hardy Elementary in Wellesley, Mass., categorizes all of the content in its packet under four headings: About the PTO, About the School, Directory, and Calendar. Whether the packet is printed or electronic, the content can be found easily under the appropriate tab.
Use visual aids. Parents are bombarded with information in the first weeks of the school year. There are medical and emergency contact forms to fill out, registration packets from sports groups and youth activities, and letters from the teachers. Make the welcome packet reader-friendly by providing information in short, bulleted format. Use icons and color-coding for each section of the packet, and link those visual aids to the contents page so parents can easily scan for information.
Go digital. You’ve worked hard and created a fantastic resource for parents; now make sure those parents can access the information. Welcome packets should always be available in paper format for parents who don’t have easy access to the Internet or who prefer a copy they can write on, carry in their purse or briefcase, or keep in their desk or kitchen drawer. However, you should also offer electronic versions. Create a PDF that can be easily emailed and post the content to your school or PTO’s website. Use the same tabs, headings, and visual aids such as logos and icons that you used in the print version to organize the information online. Share links to the packet in email newsletters, on your organization’s Facebook page, and on the school district website.
Think like a salesperson. The welcome packet is often a parent’s first introduction and first impression of your organization. Here’s where you sell yourself! Don’t miss the opportunity to let parents know what you do and why you do it, and some of your key accomplishments. Make sure the packet clearly outlines volunteer opportunities, fundraising needs, how to get involved, and the benefits of joining your group.
Consider community support. Community organizations and businesses are often looking for ways to partner with and market services to parents. Sell advertising in the packet, perhaps on the inside cover or back page, to help offset production and printing costs. Also, ask local businesses whether they have any deals for new families and include them in the packets. By adding these extras, you position your organization as the go-to resource for parents.