Many parent groups are working to bring more science, math, engineering, and technology to their schools. The Briarlake Elementary PTA in Decatur, Ga., took that goal to the next level by collaborating with school leadership to implement programs and activities that not only make STEM part of the culture but also helped the school reach its goal of STEM certification, earning the PTA recognition for Outstanding Focus on Academics and Enrichment.
Efforts to increase STEM learning ran the gamut. A committee made up of the principal, teachers, PTA representatives, the school council, and members of the school’s foundation examined existing activities like field day and assemblies to see how they could incorporate STEM elements. A parent coordinator organized classroom activities and planned a family STEM night and other extracurriculars; another parent, Debbie Martin-Gerstle, took on a leadership role, working with teachers to develop academic challenges throughout the year, bringing a team of students to Reading Bowl and Science Olympiad competitions and creating a coding club, among other efforts.
In addition to helping pay for teachers to take STEM courses, parents attended professional development sessions themselves so they could learn about a STEM curriculum and report back to the school. They researched how it was being implemented at other schools, attended district meetings, and forged partnerships with local museums and parks. “The PTA was amazing in having all of these different committees with parent volunteers taking part in all of the meetings going on,” Martin-Gerstle says.
PTA copresident Sonya Tinsley-Hook says the group tried to see itself as an equal partner and facilitate a collaborative relationship with the school from the get-go as its “extra eyes, ears, and hands.”
“That means not being afraid to take your ideas to the principal and not being afraid to lead,” she says. “I have found when you do that in a [respectful], collaborative way, it’s welcomed and appreciated. Not ‘you should be doing this,’ but saying ‘here’s where I can help.’”