For the Granby Elementary PTO in Granby, Mass., the focus is on building a sense of community at the town’s two elementary schools, West Street and East Meadow. Whether it’s holding PTO meetings during kids’ soccer games or sponsoring outdoor movie nights, Granby is finding clever ways to encourage the school-home bond. Just look at the ways this PTO keeps parents, teachers, and administrators working as a team.

Movie Under the Stars

The top event hosted by the Granby PTO was Movie Under the Stars in May. Undaunted by the prospect of poor weather, the PTO looked into obtaining a license to show movies (a modest $50) and renting an inflatable screen (a not-so-modest $1,000). To help cover costs, families were asked for a $5 donation.

Students were polled to decide between two movies, with Racing Stripes winning by a narrow margin. The event was well-publicized through posters, flyers, and the school’s automated phone system, which made reminder phone calls to parents on the day of the show.

As families waited for the sky to darken, they were treated to previews that highlighted PTO events and thanked volunteers for their hard work. One computer-savvy dad created a repeating show of photos from field trips, PTO events, and class performances. Volunteers circulated through the crowd in easy-to-identify red shirts.

The event drew nearly 500 people and was so successful that the group is planning to repeat it this fall. Although the cost of the large-format screen was not recouped, the event was easily paid for by earlier PTO fundraisers.

Movie Under the Stars was the last of a series of free family fun nights offered by the Granby PTO. During the winter months, fun nights brought families together on Friday evenings to watch a movie, play games, and make crafts. Each fun night had its own coordinator to allow PTO members to pick a night of interest, and high school students helped out as part of their community service requirement.

“For all of our big events, we include RSVP cards on notices home,” says PTO Chairwoman Sally O’Shea. “These cards have worked well to track both attendance and volunteerism. Although we get a 25 percent no-show rate, which we plan for, most parents mark their calendars for the entire series.”

The RSVP cards are a convenient way for people to volunteer with a minimal amount of effort. “At our craft night, we actually had more parent volunteers than we needed, although we found ways to keep them all busy,” O’Shea says.

The family fun nights also feature raffles of donated items and giveaway bags filled with candy, coupons, and FamilyFun magazines.

Ice Cream Social

At Granby, the PTO funds a $75 stipend for teachers to use for classroom supplies. “In the past, teachers would submit receipts for materials they had purchased, and we would reimburse them a little at a time throughout the school year,” explains O’Shea. “We decided to entice them to our September event by writing a check on the spot.”

The ice cream was a hit, and so was the idea of immediate reimbursement. Nearly half the teachers showed up for the event. Children had fun playing games and getting sticky, and parents got an extra chance to chat with teachers.

Make parent involvement a priority—get our top 10 tips for success

Principal Jim Pietras of East Meadow School, which serves grades 4-6, observes that encouraging the teachers to attend the ice cream social to receive their stipend “connects them to the kickoff activities of the PTO and demonstrates the value of parents and schools working as a team to improve the education of our students.” Plus it eliminates the paperwork involved in tracking receipts.

Funding for the Extras—and More

“The Granby PTO has been extraordinary in providing much-needed funds for field trips, assembly programs, teacher supplies, and year-end events,” says Pam McCauley, principal of the West Street School, which covers kindergarten through third grade. “Without the PTO, our students would not have educational experiences outside the classroom or enriching opportunities in the sciences and arts.”

The Granby PTO raises its base budget of $15,000 via a catalog fundraiser in the fall.

For the first time ever, fundraising has enabled the group to build a $5,000 reserve into its annual budget.

So where do they funnel some of their funds?

  • Field trips (to defray costs to families).
  • In-school programming as determined by teachers and administrators.
  • Special teacher requests. One year, a new teacher requested funding for a special science program. Not only did PTO members provide financial support; they also supplied the names of several community resources eager to support the project.
  • The Connect-ED phone system, an automated system that places calls to students’ homes for emergency announcements and reminders.
  • Training of a narcotics detection dog used by the schools’ resource officer.
  • Recorders and instructional books for third graders as part of the music curriculum.

Superintendent Patricia Stevens notes that the Granby PTO contributes much more than dollars to the school community. “They are key in making a positive connection to the community. By interacting with parents as well as community leaders, we can offer a better educational opportunity for our students, which is the goal of any school.”

Getting the Best From Volunteers

As any PTO knows, volunteers are what make the organization run. The Granby PTO works hard not only to draw volunteers but also to make them feel special.

With so many kids into sports, why not hold PTO meetings on the playing fields? This idea has been used for years in Granby with great success. “Meeting on the soccer fields came about as a result of our overscheduled lives,” O’Shea says. “If we didn’t meet on the playing fields, we wouldn’t have a chance of getting even six or eight parents to attend our meetings.” A large “PTO Meeting” sign is posted in the pavilion next to the playing fields so no one can miss it.

For both indoor and outdoor meetings, free child care is provided to encourage attendance by both moms and dads. Meeting notices are posted on bulletin boards and sent home in monthly school calendars. Many Granby parents opt in to the PTO’s electronic newsletter and meeting reminder service. “We get a lot of parents who can’t attend our meetings but will give us feedback by e-mail, especially when we provide meeting agendas,” O’Shea says.

To recognize all the hard work done by parents, the Granby PTO created a “volunteer of the month” pin that is worn on nametags at events and meetings. The honored volunteer is listed in PTO newsletters and receives up-front parking at open house nights. “Volunteers aren’t looking for that kind of acknowledgement,” says Tammy Rousseau, a recent winner, “but it makes you want to give even more to know that what you do is appreciated!”

Group at a Glance

Name: Granby Elementary PTO
Location: Granby, Mass.
Community: population 6,200; rural/suburban
School size: 326 students, grades K-3 (West Street School); 298 students, grades 4-6 (East Meadow School)
Annual budget: $23,900
Typical meeting attendance: 8 to 14

Celebrating the Principal

A strong working relationship with the principal can be a key to a parent group’s success. The Granby PTO decided to honor Jim Pietras, principal of East Meadow School, by nominating him for the Outstanding Principal of the Year award. The award is presented by the Massachusetts Elementary School Principals Association. The group set aside Feb. 27, the day the nomination was mailed, as Mr. Pietras Day.

When Pietras came to work, he found his office filled with balloons, each signed by a student. Children proudly wore real or paper ties. An original skit written by teachers and performed by students reflected his interests and accomplishments during his 32 years at East Meadow. A slide show followed, featuring photos from babyhood through the present, much to the delight of students. The day culminated with cake served to students by Pietras.

Pietras struggled with the decision to apply for the interim principal job at East Meadow back in 1987. “It meant leaving my sixth grade students midyear. I wasn’t sure if I could make as much of a difference in the lives of children as an administrator. But it was a good move. The PTO nomination is certainly the highlight of my career at Granby.”

5 Good Ideas From Granby PTO

Lines of Communication
Use a variety of media to communicate with parents, teachers, and administrators. Granby’s PTO uses print and electronic newsletters, the monthly school calendar, the school website, and regular flyers home to keep the community informed. In every newsletter, the PTO also details how money is spent.

Making Volunteers a Priority
Granby’s PTO appoints a volunteer coordinator to track parent contact information and call parents for event needs.

Meeting Attendance Made Easy
Vary meeting times and locations to involve more participants. Granby meets on soccer and baseball fields to spur greater meeting attendance.

Letting Everyone Get Involved
Granby PTO offers different levels of involvement, such as baking, coordinating, working on the newsletter, and making phone calls so that parents can help out at all levels.

Event Planning Buddies
The group assigns friends as event coordinators to make it more fun and less stressful than going it alone.