Creative events, heartwarming service, and fun tips from entries in the 2013 Parent Group of the Year search.


From the Heart

For a community service project that truly had heart, children from Ritchie Elementary in Wheeling, W.Va., made valentines for veterans. The program’s theme was “Thank You,” and teachers encouraged students of all ages to par­ticipate. Younger students at the K-5 school drew pictures and wrote the words “thank you,” while older kids got creative with markers, stickers, and glitter. It was a group effort that hit home, as well—West Virginia has the highest number of veterans per capita in the nation, and many students at Ritchie have veterans in their families. In the end, students created 264 cards, which were mailed to the veterans hospital in nearby Pittsburgh, Pa., for Valentine’s Day.

Cakes Make for a Warm Welcome

In an effort to help new families be a part of their school community, the Parents Club at Queen of the Rosary School in Elk Grove Village, Ill., formed a welcome committee of parents representing different grades. Each parent volunteer gets a list of new families’ names and contact information over the summer and is encouraged to call them before school starts. And as a sweet touch, each new family is given a “welcome cake” during the first few weeks of school. Last year, more than 40 homemade cakes were delivered.

Shirts You Can Count On

For its 50th anniversary celebration, Golden Meadow (La.) Upper Elementary encouraged students to wear 50 of any item on a T-shirt. Students let their creative juices flow—decorations ranged from safety pins and taped paper clips to fuzzy balls and pennies. All students who participated had their picture taken for a commemorative book. Similar to what many schools do for the 100th day of school, this is a simple idea that could be used to mark any anniversary or special occasion.

Straight Talk With Soldiers

With a high population of military families, the J.E.J. Moore Middle School in Disputanta, Va., emphasizes the importance of honoring those who have served. Each November, in conjunction with Veterans Day, the school holds a “Straight Talk With Soldiers” event, where soldiers from nearby Fort Lee visit the school to talk with students and answer questions. Before the event, the students create Veterans Day artwork for display, and afterward, the soldiers, teachers, and staff members who are veterans attend a banquet held in their honor. The PTO provides the main dish and parents donate side dishes, desserts, and beverages. As well, several classes write thank-you notes that the soldiers receive during the banquet; extra notes are mailed to the local veterans hospital and VFW chapter.

A Day Off—at School?

Students at Mary H. Matula Elementary in La Plata, Md., had school on Columbus Day. But knowing that it was a federal holiday and that many fathers had the day off, the PTO used the opportunity to invite them to a special Doughnuts With Dads event. Held just before the school day started, the event drew some 150 fathers—a far cry from the 10 or 12 that planners were originally expecting!

Nightmare on School Street

The community of Peyton, Colo., is spread out and rural, so there’s not a safe and easy way for children to trick or treat at Halloween. Peyton Elementary Parents, the parent group at the school, provides a fun and safe option by partnering with National Honor Society students. Volunteers decorate the school halls to create a spooky route, then dress in costumes to hand out candy as the children work their way through the halls. Trick-or-treating is followed by a fun carnival in the gym, with traditional favorites like musical cakes, ring toss, and pie-in-the-face. The event even includes a haunted hayride!

Splash of Fun

To add a bright spot to their Wisconsin winters, the Country Meadows Elementary PTO in Muskego, Wis., throws a winter pool party. Held at the local high school pool, the event draws about 100 children who love the chance to splash around together on a cold Friday night in January. Free to families, the party is funded by proceeds from a bake sale held at the school’s winter concert.

A Dozen Thank-Yous

For 12 days before the winter break, PTO volunteers at Morgan Elementary in Shelby Township, Mich., left little gifts for the teachers with a small poem. The parents donated such items as clipboards, popcorn, markers, paper clips, candy canes, and hot chocolate packets. The gifts were delivered at night when the teachers weren’t around. What fun for teachers to see what new treat was mysteriously left in their classrooms each day!

At Ease, 5th Graders

To help ease incoming students’ anxieties about moving up, the Parent Council at C.S. Porter Middle School in Missoula, Mont., encourages families with 5th graders to attend its family social. The event features carnival games and a spaghetti supper, giving the future students an opportunity to see the school in a fun, relaxed setting.

Handled With Care

With school shootings in the news, the PTO at Maude Bishop Elementary in Topeka, Kan., brought in its district’s head of campus security as a guest speaker to address concerns and questions from families and teachers. Attendees were served a free dinner, and children were provided with craft activities in another room. Planners said that the event helped open their eyes to ways PTOs can help schools and that it was a much-appreciated meeting where parents and teachers walked away feeling comforted and informed.

Reading Has Its Rewards

One of the most successful events at the Gilbert Campus in Eveleth, Minn., is the annual book fair, which they open up to the whole community. The PTO adds a special touch by donating “Book Fair Bucks,” which can be used to purchase books at the book fair, as prizes for the top readers in each class. What better reward for eager readers?

Daily Drawings

The Rosa Parks Elementary PTO in Woodbridge, Va., planned a very special Teacher Appreciation Week. The group solicited its community and collected almost $800 worth of gift cards from local restaurants. The PTO then contributed another $525, making it possible to draw every teacher’s name that week. The gift cards ranged from $10 to $50; one even offered a lunch for four. Volunteers announced the winners’ names in front of their classes so their students could cheer them on, as well as listed them daily in the teachers lounge on a dry-erase board.

Fancy Feet Fete

As a fun twist to a basket raffle fund­raiser event, the George H. Mitchell Elementary Parent Association in Bridgewater, Mass., has a tradition with its family Sock Hop contest. Families decorate socks at home and wear them to the event, which is held during the basket raffle. Kids and parents go all out to be creative, and this year more than 500 people attended the combined event.

Pack and Stack

Carroll Lutheran School Family Partnership Program in Westminster, Md., combined fun and goodwill with Pack the Pavilion, an event that included activities, live music, and a children’s chorus. Attendees donated household items and food to pack “the pavilion”—the school’s indoor auditorium—to help feed hungry families in Carroll County.

A Welcome for Teachers

Back-to-school time isn’t just busy for students and families—teachers are gearing up for the new year, too. As a friendly and informative “welcome back” for school staff at Warren Elementary in St. Peters, Mo., PTO members put snacks in the lounge during teacher work days and give them folders of PTO information.

A Galaxy of Appreciation

The Parent and Faculty Association at Montclair Elementary in Orange Park, Fla., adds highly personal touches to teacher appreciation. Early in the school year, the PFA surveys teachers about their likes and interests, such as hobbies, authors, and restaurants. They then make stars with each item listed on the front and the teacher’s name on the back, and they post the stars outside that teacher’s door. Flyers at Open House explain that anyone can choose a star and purchase the item and then send it to school for the teacher.

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