Cold spaghetti. Bad coffee. Movies with poor sound. Carnivals with homemade games that break down far too frequently.

Do you recognize any of those maladies? I don’t mean to hurt any feelings, but most PTO and PTA events aren’t held at the Ritz and don’t yet have Dolby super surround sound or Disney-esque rides. And you know what? I wouldn’t have them any other way.

Public opinions about the proper role of a school parent group vary, but they often center on either fundraising or advocacy (being the voice for parents in areas of important school policy). I agree that both of those are important. But looking back on my years working with PTOs and PTAs, I’d say with confidence (and pride) that parent groups have the largest impact in a seemingly much more mundane arena—creating community around their school. In this day when teachers and principals are asked to focus more than ever on test scores and rubrics and adequate yearly progress, our schools would be cold, cold places without something adding life.

That something is our parent groups, and we should all be proud of that role. I can speak from personal experience that I wouldn’t want my kids at a school that didn’t invite families in to surround the kids and support the school. I’ve met the parents of most of my kids’ friends over a tray of cookies at one PTO event or another. Those relationships are valuable—even if they are formed over spaghetti that wasn’t quite as steaming when it was served to the last people as the first, or coffee that came out a little weak because the 16-cup coffeemaker is acting up again.

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Do your kids talk about “the school” or “our school”? The school as a key center of our family’s life; school friends and their parents as a central part of our social sphere; parents interacting with and collaborating with the teachers—these are the things that happen over cold spaghetti and spelling bees. These are the things that create “our.” And these are the things that PTOs and PTAs are so good at.

Yes, some people downplay the value of these family events and connections and claim that PTOs and PTAs should be higher-minded or that spaghetti suppers (or the like) are pointless and a waste of time. But those people fail to recognize that the connections forged at these events and over the years create parent empowerment.

When there is that policy that needs changing or that key town vote coming up, schools that have successfully connected with parents and created that sense of community I love so much are in a far better position than those that have not. The good friends, the relationships, the email lists, and the trust that’s been developed through good old-fashioned (and sometimes criticized) PTO and PTA events are just the ingredients needed for advocacy, as well.

My kids’ school had a haunted house this year for Halloween. I couldn’t make it, but I’m told that the makeshift “house” (sheets hanging from ropes) collapsed about halfway through the night. The event basically became a bunch of kids trying to scare one another while the moms and dads drank orange punch and, of course, cold coffee. Everyone had a ball.

I’m pretty sure most of the families really love our school. Great teachers and a supportive principal play a big role in that, but so do the many family activities that dot the calendar. That’s a very good combination.

Here’s to tons and tons of cold pasta and gallons and gallons of bad coffee in your future. It’s all well worth it.