At Haines (Ore.) Elementary, PTO Today’s 2010 Outstanding Parent Group at a Small School, PTCO leaders aren’t afraid to think big. For example, the 2009-10 annual Chili Feed and Raffle served more than 600 guests—more than six times the preK-6 school’s population of 89 students. The event raised $6,000 for the school. Proceeds from the past few years have helped pay for a new playground and a computer lab upgrade at Haines.

The PTCO has created a number of anticipated annual events. The year kicks off in September with an open house and dessert auction. Profits are used to provide each student with supplies and a Haines Hawks logo T-shirt. In November, the group coordinates a Thanksgiving feast for school board members, district employees, and students; the PTCO pays for and prepares the meal, and cleans up, too.

During the holidays, parent group leaders arrange a visit with Santa at the school. The group provides goody bags for Santa to present to each student, containing winter gloves, toys, and homemade popcorn balls.

The PTCO also goes all out for Read Across America Week, providing several opportunities for parents to encourage reading and to get connected at school. The week’s activities include a book fair to raise funds for classroom and library books, plus Muffins With Moms and Doughnuts With Dads events where families are invited to eat breakfast, shop for books, and read together. At an “Evening With Dr. Seuss,” classrooms perform short skits based on Seuss books and families are treated to a Dr. Seuss birthday cake courtesy of the PTCO.

In spring, leaders host a silent art and dessert auction. Parents and community members donate art pieces or decadent desserts as bidding items; proceeds benefit the school’s artist-in-residence program. And last April, several PTCO dads and moms came out to celebrate Earth Day at the school. They worked with students to create a flower garden in the schoolyard.

In addition to these events, the group coordinates a number of family-focused activities, including field trips and a grandparents’ luncheon.

The judges loved: Every month, six families at Haines are each designated a “family of the month.” Students and parents eat lunch at a special table with the principal, and the PTCO provides ice-cream sundaes. The selection rotates throughout the year so that all families are recognized.

Cool fact: Although school families are not affluent—more than half of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches—the group raised more than $11,000 last year to help pay for extras such as classroom supplies for students.