Numbers That Really Add Up

The powerhouse Parent Teacher Involvement Committee at Roxborough (Colo.) Primary and Intermediate School has more than 86 volunteers leading more than 40 committees; the PTIC organizes dozens of programs and events and raises a significant amount of money, too. This big group with an even bigger heart was selected as the 2015 National Parent Group of the Year. Academics and enrichment activities flourish throughout the grade levels; the group also nurtures neighborhood connections with events that welcome the greater community. It sponsors philanthropic programs and hosts opportunities for families to relax and have fun. While energy is devoted to holding fundraising events, just as much energy—if not more—is directed toward enrichment activities and community functions as well as philanthropic drives and memorymaking events.

 

Enjoying the Outdoors as a Family

The White Bear Lake (Minn.) Early Childhood PTA extended its longtime nature-theme spring event to the entire community with the idea of making family memories, a worthy recipient of the 2015 Parent Group of the Year award for Outstanding Family Event. Through a variety of indoor and outdoor activities, the event provided an opportunity for families to spend quality time enjoying nature and each other. Activities at the spring event included a scavenger hunt, a nature talk, games, and crafts. Local scouts set up a camp site and helped run the activities. The cost to families for this educational event was just $2 and the donation of a food item for a local food bank.

 

A Week Spent Honoring Veterans

For one week in fall 2013, Pioneer Heritage Middle School in Frisco, Texas, was transformed as the entire 900-student school community honored military heroes. The PTO-sponsored Veterans Week combined lessons in civics with community service, raising money for a local veterans memorial in the process. This single-minded focus earned the PTO the 2014 Parent Group of the Year award for Outstanding Community Service Project. Activities included classroom presentations from local veterans groups (complete with props like gas masks and jumpsuits from one vet’s days in the Air Force), a 1-mile run/walk, a silent auction, flag-folding ceremonies, and students writing letters of thanks that were presented to vets. Throughout the week, 300 flags adorned the school grounds and trees were decorated with yellow as well as red, white, and blue ribbons, and a check for $3,235 was presented to the local VFW post.

 

Committed Dads With a Vision

The St. Joseph School Men’s Club, PTO Today’s 2013 Outstanding Parent Group at a Private or Parochial School, grew from two founding members to an impressive 100-plus-member roster in only nine months. The men’s group at the Wilmette, Ill., Catholic school launched a membership drive through social gatherings like poker night and NBA tournament watch parties and immediately began attracting dads who were eager to help with the vision to bring a fellowship of capable men into a school support role. The group’s first project featured the head football coach from a local college talking about self-esteem, peer pressure, and being a role model, still hot topics in schools today, and member jumped in to take on longtime traditions and new ones alike.

 

Service to the School and Beyond

For some parent groups, it’s not a question of what they get done—it’s more a question of what they don't manage to achieve. The PTO at Mason-Rice Elementary in Newton, Mass., the 2012 National Parent Group of the Year, achieved a dizzying list of accomplishments, managing more than 50 committees that involved some 150 parent volunteers and 50 faculty members. An array of some 25 academic and enrichment activities followed, ranging from school programs like a kindergarten welcome program and a science week to child assault prevention workshops. And the PTO’s efforts extended well beyond the school walls: The group’s commitment to social action and environmentalism led to significant changes and good works in the community.

 

Saving the School They Love

Parents at Holy Trinity Episcopal School in Houston decided not to accept the stunning news that their 120-student school was to close at the end of the first semester—instead, they joined forces, combined their formidable business skills, and went to work to save the school. Within 10 days, the campaign had gathered more than $200,000 in pledges. The head of school solicited a single donation of $150,000, and a story on the local news brought in another $50,000 in large and small contributions. Those donations and others, plus a widespread parent-led marketing effort and many volunteer hours, kept the school from closing—and earned the group the 2011 award for Outstanding Effort To Overcome Adversity.

 

Wearing Many Hats

At a school with 83 percent of students qualifying for the free or reduced-price lunch programs and the school itself struggling financially, parent leaders know they have to get down to business and provide some of the basic necessities for students. For the Gypsy School PTA of Depew, Okla., the 2011 Outstanding Parent Group at a Small School, this meant raising money for the library, holding community-building events like a Family Literacy Night—and even, after their custodian’s retirement, cleaning the bathrooms and mowing the lawn.

 

A Remarkable Memorial

The death of a student is the most tragic, emotional experience a school community can endure. The chance discovery of six memorial stones, inscribed with the names and dates of birth and death of former students at Stanfield (N.C) Elementary, led to the construction of a remarkable tribute that earned the school’s PTO the 2011 award for Outstanding Job on a Completed Major Project. Ultimately 14 children are represented in the Stanfield Elementary Wall of Angels, for which the PTO raised $2,000 and parents completed all labor.

 

Coffee Mornings Make Everyone Feel Welcome


Cinda Lark

Welcoming all families is a crucial task of any parent group, and those who serve a multicultural community must rise to the challenge of doing so in schools where sometimes many languages are spoken. The Bemis Elementary PTO in Troy, Mich., the 2010 Parent Group of the Year for Outstanding Outreach to a Multicultural Parent Base, launched monthly Cultural Coffee Mornings to create a comfortable atmosphere for non-English-speaking parents to practice conversational English. The meetings helped parents from numerous countries assimilate at Bemis, as well as encouraged them to get more involved.

 

The Whole Community Pitches In


Sara Press

Trying to achieve a goal without a lot of cash is something many parent groups are familiar with. When the Malabar Elementary Parent Club in Los Angeles, the 2010 winner for Outstanding Job on a Completed Major Project, set out to improve the school grounds, the group didn’t have much money. But members did have a clear goal and a devotion to making their school better. First they recruited more than 250 volunteers to convert a vacant lot next to the school into a reading garden. After that success, parent club leaders planned a second Beautification Day event that attracted more than 1,500 participants, a crew that was able to clean up the school grounds in two hours.

 

Creative Approach Restarts Fading Group


Mary Jane Carrion

In 2008, the Grace Patterson Elementary PTO in Vallejo, Calif., was on the brink of disbanding. But things began to change when a dedicated group of parents and teachers met and decided to restructure the PTO, resulting in the 2010 award for Outstanding Effort To Overcome Adversity. Interested members were invited to attend monthly planning meetings to help plan community-building events like a games night and multicultural potluck and support learning opportunities for students. At the end of the year, leaders held an awards assembly followed by a brunch for 50 parent volunteers. The special recognition created a buzz among students whose parents were honored.

 

Parent Efforts Help School Achieve


Lee Prohofsky

Even parent leaders at small schools can achieve big things. The PTO at the 120-student International Spanish Language Academy in Minnetonka, Minn., the 2009 Outstanding Parent Group at a Small School, helped its Spanish-immersion school bring the language and culture to its students by offering after-school activities and other events as well as holding a four-day community rummage sale, using the profits to bring teaching assistants to the school from Spanish-speaking countries.

 

Fun Family Events Help Build Unity


Bruce Brown

At Holly Oak Elementary in San Jose, Calif., the PTA prides itself on creating ways for families to connect with the school. Their success in doing that via a variety of family events held after school and during the evenings—all at no cost to students and their families—helped make them the 2009 National Parent Group of the Year. Such events included a “pumpkins and poems” Halloween event, a stargazing party, a talent showcase, and even a "No TV! It's Family Game Night." What’s more, it supported lots of extracurriculars like a homework club and choir and dance clubs—important offerings at a Title I school where the art and music programs were cut.

 

Dads Create Resource Room


Citywide Photography

Although the PTA at the Thirteenth Avenue School in Newark, N.J., encouraged dads to get involved through its Fathers Club, those dads didn’t necessarily feel connected to the larger group. Parent leaders wanted to change that, so they got the Fathers Club excited about a new initiative: creating a comfortable resource room for all parents. Completing the project earned the group the 2008 award for Outstanding Job on a Completed Major Project, as well as made the Fathers Club a key focus of parent involvement at the school.

 

Knitting for a Cause


Craig Harrold

Traditionally, 5th graders at Catharine Blaine K-8 School in Seattle make an art project to be auctioned off. Combining the school’s annual auction with a community service project meaningful to students made the school’s PTA the 2008 winner for Outstanding Community Service Project. PTA leaders taught the students how to knit hats, and they made—and donated—some 400 of them to Seattle Children’s Hospital. “This project made [the 5th graders] feel good about themselves,” says parent Annette Godon. “These kids sacrificed their lunchtime and many recesses to make hats for sick kids.”

 

Overcoming Embezzlement


James Schnepf

Embezzlement in a parent group is always devastating, but how a group overcomes it can determine its future. When the outgoing treasurer of the Parent Association of Lincoln School in Port Washington, Wis., stole almost $40,000, leaders kept their focus on the group: They went ahead with plans like family events and a courtyard renovation, and started new clubs and a fundraiser. Recovering from the trauma was a long and difficult process, but it also resulted in a districtwide revision of policies related to how parent groups handle money—as well as the 2007 award for Outstanding Effort To Overcome Adversity.

 

Low Cost, Big Fun


David Hartig

Big fun doesn’t always have to cost big bucks, or take a lot of time to plan. The 2007 Outstanding Family Event winner, the Hilltop Drive Elementary PTA of Chula Vista, Calif., plans a low-cost Family Campout near the end of the school year that draws 250 people. Families park motor homes or pitch tents on school grounds. They have dinner and take part in a wide range of activities. Best of all? It’s free for families.

 

Lending a Hand After Devastation


Bob Mason

“When appropriate, help someone else” is one of five simple rules practiced by Emily Brittain Elementary in Butler, Pa. Following that credo in helping other schools recover from Hurricane Katrina earned the group recognition for an Outstanding Job on a Completed Major Project in 2006. In late fall 2005, Emily Brittain adopted Saucier Elementary in Mississippi as part of the school’s Kids Helping Kids project. Organizers collected goods that overflowed boxes, and within months, shipments were arriving not only from Emily Brittain but from five other Butler schools that Emily Brittain’s parent group leaders had reached out to. All told, Emily Brittain managed to collect and ship nearly 11 tons of goods to Saucier—so much that Saucier began distributing extra items to other schools in need.

 

Sports Program Sparks Interest in Other Involvement

The 2006 winner for Outstanding Focus on Involvement started a program with a few soccer teams that has emerged as a sports program that other schools want to emulate. Oklahoma City’s Wilson Elementary has 10 soccer and 10 baseball that teams compete in the city league, and parents serve as coaches—in fact, participation in athletics frequently acts as a springboard for other types of PTA involvement, as well as a good way to involve fathers. The involvement of a wide spectrum of children and parents is particularly notable at this inner-city school at which 70 percent of students participate in the federal lunch program.

Read more stories about these and other PTO Today Parent Group of the Year winners in the Parent Group Hall of Fame, and enter the 2016 search to tell us about your group.