Looking for some giant ways to connect families to your school? The Thomas Elementary PTO in Gretna, Neb., can help. Parent group leaders have watched family involvement grow like a magical beanstalk in just a few months. We talked to PTO president Patty Samuelson to find out just how popular her group has become with families—and why.
Those are some incredibly large dice and Yahtzee cards. Just how big, exactly, are the kids at Thomas Elementary?
Oh, the students here are your average-size 3rd through 5th graders; the game pieces are actually just props from our PTO's Family Giant Board Game Night.
How did your group pull that off?
First we created a giant Twister game by cutting out red, blue, yellow, and green squares and then arranging them in a pattern and taping them to the gym floor. The Twister board ended up being 13-foot-by-14-foot rows, large enough for 30 to 40 kids to play at a time. Our principal called out "right foot!" here and "left foot!" there all night long. We also constructed giant Yahtzee, Sorry, Scrabble, and Pictionary games. We ended up with nearly 40 feet of paper.
What other events have you held?
We held a newcomer's picnic at the beginning of the year to welcome families. (Hint: Putting colored stars to designate each student's classroom is a great icebreaker for parents, students, and teachers.) We managed to pull off a Night at the Races, where kids raced tricycles, and a sock hop.
Sounds like fun. Any big challenges this year?
Our school opened last year with one building that houses grades K-2 and another that houses grades 3-5. The first year, we had one PTO serving both campuses. This year, we split into two separate PTOs so that proper time and attention could be given to each school. The Thomas Elementary PTO began with all new officers, and no one really had any idea of what they were supposed to be doing. We have since written job descriptions.
So what do you know now?
We now know that tie-dying several hundred T-shirts is really painful on your wrists; a nacho machine only works when a volunteer remembers to turn the heat on before the event; and serving blue-and-red Sno-Kones at an event the night before class pictures is a giant no-no.
Thomas Elementary PTO, Gretna, Neb.
School size: 470 students, grades 3-5
Fundraisers: Catalog sales and outreach to local businesses, to pay for teachers' wish lists
Group philosophy: It's all about the kids!
One of our best ideas:
Project Community Support, where we asked community business owners to sponsor our family fun nights. This year, we raised $2,500.