Middle school changes the rules for a PTO. The classroom parties and reading nights, some of the biggest successes of elementary school days, won’t cut it on the middle school level.
The challenges that middle school presents were evident this week during a Twitter discussion called #PTchat with parents and educators. The discussion centered on the big question of how to foster parent involvement to benefit the kids, parents and the school (and not embarrass or upset anyone along the way!).
We know these issues make a PTO’s mission really tricky. If you are about to enter this new territory of middle school, or are even in the thick of it now, here are some things to keep in mind:
For starters, embrace the fact that the job of a middle school PTO will be different. Often, middle school PTOs find themselves helping parents in new ways, such as giving them information to support kids outside of school, on such matters as cyberbullying, drugs or sex. Workshops or parent nights on those subjects can be a big draw.
When it comes to planning events, don’t think you know best. The kids do and a key success factor is to let the kids come up with event ideas. If they think it’s cool, they’ll want to attend.
Keep in mind that after-school clubs and enrichment programs are big in middle school. PTOs can bolster a community spirit (and help parents better connect with their kids) by fostering good relationships with these clubs.
It’s also important to remember that some things won’t change. Working on a good relationship with the principal still matters and the basics of running a group, such as a good organizational system and sound financial practices, are still key.
During this week’s #PTchat discussion, which is hosted by Joe Mazza, principal of Knapp Elementary School in in Lansdale, Penn., and an active voice on Twitter, participants raised questions about how to maintain a community when so many folks are actually starting to disengage from their kid’s school.
Some participants put forth good ideas you might want to consider:
- Try an off-site event that’s interesting to kids. Make it stress-free and low-key. One idea was a family fishing day.
- Make events authentic and casual, like having a get together at a local pizza shop for families rather than hosting a more serious event like a workshop where parents learn how to engage appropriately.
- School pride days can be a safe way for families to engage. A cleanup day that involves lots of outdoor work can be considered fun (or at least not too uncool) for lots of kids.
- Reach out to adults beyond the parents, including grandparents and community members, when hosting an event. This gives the kids access to additional good role models, who can be helpful when communications between parents and kids can at times be strained.
- Have parents do fun jobs that aren’t too high profile for events, such as running valet parking. This keeps them in the loop but not in the spotlight (which is what can sometimes make kids uncomfortable).