Approaches, events, and tips we love from the 2011 Parent Group of the Year search.


Into the Wild

More than 300 mothers and sons turned out for the annual “Into the Wild” fundraiser event at Limestone Creek Elementary in Jupiter, Fla. The event took place in a wooded area behind the school; PTO leaders set up mazes, obstacle courses, and silly games for mothers and sons to get through together. Other activities included a “make your own mud pie” challenge with gooey toppings and tasty treats. This year’s event, which included a DJ, raffles, and a silent auction, raised $3,500 for the PTO. Although it has been a successful fundraiser, leaders say the focus of the event is for moms and their boys to have fun together and build lasting memories.

Happy Birthday!

Parents at the Rocky Mountain Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., can make their child’s birthday special while supporting the PTO. For a $5 donation, a birthday greeting will be posted on the school’s marquee.

Spring Break Fun

At the St. Thomas More School in Cincinnati, PTO leaders created a spring break week for families not leaving town. Activities included hikes in a local nature preserve, hands-on activities at a doughnut shop, mini golf and go-karts, and a picnic lunch at a park/playground. The amusements were offered at varying times of day so that parents who had to work that week might still get a chance to participate with their families.

A New Step for Families

HSA leaders at the Sacred Heart School in Lyndhurst, N.J., showcased some homespun games at last year’s family fun night. For “Step by Step,” players advanced three steps if they graduated from the school, and two more steps if they graduated with the kindergarten teacher. More steps could be taken if a player’s bed was made before school that morning, but players had to take one step backward if they didn’t make it themselves. In another game called “Connect Four,” families had to link arms according to the caller’s request—e.g., with a member of student council, a 3rd grader, a class mom, or a Sacred Heart graduate. Once the family had a link of four people, they had to race to the stage and ring the bell. Winning families received a mini trophy and bragging rights. A DJ played game show music during the games and dance music during the breaks. More than 175 people attended the event. Leaders charged $5 per family and offered refreshments in the cafeteria; proceeds benefited the 8th grade graduation project.

Saying Thanks

The Pembroke (N.C.) Elementary PTO offered a free movie night to families as a thank-you for all of their support throughout the year. Leaders sent home flyers inviting families to enjoy a free movie in the gym along with a dinner of hot dogs, chips, drinks, and dessert. The PTO kept the evening simple and did not sell any fundraising items; parents were just told to bring chairs and blankets. Leaders say the best part of the evening was watching students and families sit together and spend quality time at school.


PTO leaders at Durbin Creek Elementary in Saint Johns, Fla., kicked off the year with a huge tailgate party. The football-theme event featured the high school’s drum line and an appearance by two cheerleaders from the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team. The school’s principal used the event to encourage students to “tackle a good book” and to reinforce the importance of exercising each day. More than 600 students and families attended the party and participated in football-throwing challenges, Zumba dance, obstacle course races, and more.

Can’t Beat Books

Families at McDonald Elementary in North Platte, Neb., were feeling the love for the PTO when leaders held an “I Love Books” family fun night last February. Each family donated one book as the admission cost; attendees played games such as a toilet paper toss, bingo, and bean bag toss. Students earned tickets by playing the games and could redeem them for books that were purchased by the PTO. The 150 books donated by families were distributed to the North Platte Police Department for their Books on the Beat program, which supplies police cruisers with books so officers can give them out to children in need.

Meetings—Family Style!

Families at John Nevins Andrews Elementary in Takoma Park, Md., actually look forward to parent group meetings at the school. Attendees first participate in a multicultural family worship hour of song and music (with sign language), prayer, and games. Parents then go to another room for the Parent-Teacher Partnership meeting while their children enjoy games in the gym. The meeting features presentations on a variety of topics such as understanding temperaments, learning styles, and multiple intelligences. The meetings have been a great way to engage families new to the school, and attendance has doubled in the past year.

You Never Know Who You Know

Leaders of the Oriole Park School parent group in Chicago are working on gathering data on the school’s alumni so they can be included in mailings and newsletters; among the list of alumni they’ve gathered so far: a Nobel laureate and a retired federal judge.

Guilt-Free PTO

At Riverview Elementary in Marion, Ind., leaders make it clear to families that all volunteering takes place in a “no guilt” zone. They send timely updates to families by email and make sure that parents feel welcome to give any amount of time they can to help the school.

Turning Trash Into Treasure

Last year, families at WISH Charter Elementary in Los Angeles took up trash and took in cash. Parent leaders partnered with Heal the Bay, a nonprofit that works to help clean Southern California’s beaches and watersheds, and conducted a cleanup fundraiser at a local beach. Families collected pledges, then trash; the event raised thousands of dollars for the school, and a donation was made to Heal the Bay. Volunteers recycled what items they could, and some of the trash was used in a schoolwide art project.

Heartists at Work

Last March, students at Cedar Hill Elementary in Towaco, N.J., teamed up with Hearts of Hope, a New Jersey nonprofit program that distributes small keepsake ceramic hearts. The hearts are decorated and delivered to patients in hospitals and cancer centers, bereaved family members, and men and women in the military. Here’s how it worked: Parents contributed $3, which covers the cost of the heart, the paint, and the gift packaging. Over two days in class, students were given 30 minutes to decorate their ceramic hearts and write their gift cards; they painted uplifting designs including rainbows, butterflies, peace signs, and hearts, and wrote their names and a brief introduction about themselves along with a caring message to each recipient.

After-School Care

The Kids Care Club, operated by two parents and a teacher at the Henry School in Ballwin, Mo., is a unique after-school program created to teach students about philanthropy. This year, more than 20 kids took part in the program’s activities, which included making blankets for needy infants, building outdoor houses for injured wildlife, and creating papier-mâché toys for animals at the St. Louis Zoo.


PTO leaders at Central Elementary in Lebanon, Ind., offer teachers beginning-of-the-year “bonus” checks. Teachers get an opportunity to earn their bonuses by working a Market Day pickup one day a year or creating and working a game during the carnival fundraiser. Things aren’t too crummy later in the year, either; in December, parents participate in a cookie extravaganza and bake a variety of treats for teachers as a thank-you for their hard work.

Teachers Are a Prize

Kids had extra incentive to turn in pledges at this year’s fun run put on by the Doherty Elementary PTO in West Bloomfield, Mich. A few of the prizes: lunch with the teacher and a friend, a trip with the teacher to a local frozen yogurt shop, and a sleepover party at school with the principal.

Retired—but Not From Reading!

Here’s a novel way that the Clearview Elementary PTA in Clear Lake, Minn., is supporting literacy while also forging special bonds between students and their elders. A team of about 50 1st and 2nd graders are paired with 35 seniors at two retirement centers. Each student reads at least two books to the seniors on each visit. The idea for the intergenerational reading program was inspired by John Bowden, a foster grandparent at the school. The school was able to secure a grant that covered bus and material costs (around $5,400). The PTA has offered to fund the program when the grant runs out. Since the program began, teachers at the school have noted that there’s been an improvement in students’ reading skills.

Reading Challenge

Thanks to the combined efforts of the school’s principal and the PTA, Fernbrook Elementary in Randolph, N.J., had 100 percent student participation in last year’s Fernbrook Reading Is Essential Schoolwide challenge. From February through April, students logged the hours they read outside of school, and parents verified the hours by sending in a signed form at the end of each week. PTA leaders hung giant measuring sticks in the school’s entrance to delineate each grade’s reading hours, which were logged and tallied every Friday. Students gathered daily to see which class was leading the competition. By the end of the program, students had read a total of 6,597 hours. The PTA awarded weekly prizes to the top readers; the program ended with a family carnival featuring crafts, games, yummy food, and treats courtesy of the PTA.

Two Dozen Dads a-Mulching

A team of more than 24 dads showed up for this year’s Dads Clean Up day coordinated by the Kirby Smith Middle School PTSA in Jacksonville, Fla. The dads put down mulch, trimmed trees and hedges, and painted a fountain.

Thinking Outside the Gift Box

Rather than hitting up families for monetary donations or holding a catalog fundraiser during the busy holiday season, PTA leaders at Pershing Hill Elementary in Fort Meade, Md., tried a different tactic. Families were invited to donate time to wrap gifts at a local mall and keep a certain fee as profit; the group raised $1,000 in two sessions. The activity was so successful that 5th graders plan on doing it next year as a class fundraiser.

In the Know and Raising Dough

Last year, the PTO board at Pier Elementary in Fond du Lac, Wis., was looking for new and creative ways to raise funds to update the school’s computer lab. So board members planned a “knowledgeathon.” Leaders solicited area businesses to sponsor T-shirts for each student, then each class was given grade-appropriate questions to work on. The teachers incorporated the questions into their lesson plans to help the children study, and students solicited friends and family for pledges based on correct answers. On quiz day, parent and community volunteers individually quizzed 420 children. The children were rewarded for their participation with additional recesses, extra gym time, pizza, and ice cream with the principal. Leaders raised more than IQs as a result of the event; they took in more than $9,000 for the school’s technology initiative.

A+ for Appreciation

The Rosinton School PTO in Robertsdale, Ala., knows how to treat its teachers. During last year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, PTO leaders arranged for a local cosmetology school to do manicures, facials, and eyebrow waxing free of charge for the entire staff. The PTO also worked with community businesses to secure more than 60 gift cards, prizes, coupons, and food donations to distribute that week.

Pierogi Power

Parent leaders at Saint Anthony of Padua School in Lorain, Ohio, know that their community is crazy about pierogis (traditional Eastern European dumplings, usually filled with potato or ground meat.) So each year, the school’s parent group takes to the task of preparing 100,000 of them as part of its annual pierogi fundraiser. At last year’s sale, PTU leaders raised a whopping $30,000 to help the school.

Sweet as Pie

For five years running, HSA board members at Saint Helen Catholic School in Vero Beach, Fla., have worked with the school’s 3rd grade teacher and a room parent to help each student bake a homemade pumpkin pie. The tasty treats are then hand-delivered by HSA board members, parents, and 3rd graders to local Vero Beach police officers and firefighters.

Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

The Pastry for Parents group at Samoset Elementary in Bradenton, Fla., does more than satisfy a few sweet tooth cravings at the school. Last year, its members organized an exchange visit with a sister school in Honduras and then held an elaborate multicultural night at the school. The event featured food, decorations, and dance from Mexico, Guatemala, and Africa, among others countries.

Hot Funds in the Summer Time

The St. Pius X School HSA in Broomall, Pa., raised nearly $10,000 by operating a summer enrichment program. Activities for children included everything from crafts and snacks to obstacle courses and water play. The program runs from the end of June through the beginning of August, filling a need for parents who require child care at a time when summer camps aren’t offered in the area. The group is looking to add more selections to the program, such as academic prep, field hockey, soccer, cooking, and technology.

Locked Up for the Night

For $5, students in grades 3 through 5 at Summit Academy North Elementary in Romulus, Mich., could be locked in at the school. But it was by no means a punishment—it was for an evening of fun put on by their school’s parent group. Among the nightlong activities taking place in various rooms at school: nail-painting, Lego play, karaoke, movies, video games, and sports activities in the gym. Parent leaders planned the event to coincide with a free family movie night. The next morning, students woke up to a pancake breakfast provided by parent volunteers.

No Summer Slackers Here

PTO leaders at William E. Norris Elementary in Southampton, Mass., send home a summer newsletter wishing families a safe vacation and providing updates and information about the coming school year. Additionally, the board has instituted weekly summer “play dates” at the school playground. The gatherings serve as a great way to help incoming kindergartners and their families feel comfortable at the school.

Civil War Day

The Three Oaks Elementary PTO in Fort Myers, Fla., helps fund materials for a Civil War Day for students. During the event, kids learn about the war and important historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, General Robert E. Lee, and Clara Barton.

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