Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Sara over at Crazy Little Thing Called... Life has posted her answers to my questions from the 5 Questions meme. Please go check it out!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Getting Involved

Last night I went to my first PTSO meeting. PTSO stands for "Parent, Teacher, & Student Organization." Back when I was a kid, it was called "The PTA" and parents and teachers at a school supposedly worked together to improve conditions there. I think I have been to exactly one other PTSO/PTA meeting in my life, at my own grammar school. I was probably only 6 or 7, and I was with my parents, or at least with my mom. I remember it was in the school's gym/auditorium/lunchroom. Metal folding chairs had been set up, and it seemed like the room was completely full. Quite a contrast to last night's meeting of "The PTSO."

We arrived early, and were greeted by a sign directing us to the Fine-Arts teacher's classroom, rather that the library, where I guess the meetings are usually held, because a larger group needed that space. We (my husband, Ben and I) sat down at a table. There were three other women, one who had her two daughters with her, at another table. Shortly thereafter the principal came into the room, and then I realized that this was it - this was the entire constituency for this meeting of the PTSO: two officers, the school's principal, three parents, two students, and one toddler. There were no representatives from the student body, and the only representative from the school's staff was the principal, who has to be there regardless. We moved to the table with the other women.

This was the last meeting of the year, but in all honesty, I only recall hearing about one other meeting which I couldn't attend because of work. I asked when the meetings are usually held and was told that every other month a general meeting is held, with board meetings held the alternating months. We were handed the minutes of the previous meeting along with the annual budget showing posted earnings and losses. I learned that the two main money-makers for the PTSO are the annual Fall and Spring Fund Drives. "What are the fund drives?" I asked, and the events coordinator held up the same glossy brochure I had placed in a stack of recyleables not too long ago.

Does your child's school do this, these fund drives? Usually there are some magazines, wrapping paper, mugs, etc., etc. that the kids solicit to friends and family (it is stressed that kids MAY NOT go door to door with this stuff) and depending on how much they sell, they can win a prize. In the fall, I bought some wrapping paper and a stationery item, my mother-in-law renewed a couple of magazines, and Ben won a grotesque sticky-bug thing and a cool little flashlight ring. This spring's brochure went into the recycle bin after laying on the coffee table for about a week.

The thing is, I had absolutely no idea that this was a PTSO fundraiser. And I'm still not sure where all the money earned is spent. Some of it, I was told, is spent on promotional materials intended to build school spirit: i.e., car window clings, sweatshirts, t-shirts or water bottles with the school's name and mascot printed on them, you get the idea. Some of the money goes back into money-making activities: popcorn for popcorn sales, ice cream for ice cream sales, etc. And there are PTSO sponsored events like movie night, bingo night, and swim night, which apparently suffered dismal attendance this year. This week's movie night has been cancelled due to lack of interest on the part of the volunteer responsible for organizing it.

While the three other women present seemed genuinely enthusiastic about their involvement, only one of them regularly attended these meetings in the capacity of "Parent." All of them were shocked, though pleasantly so, to see my husband and me there, and were even happier when we offered to help out with the end of the year picnic/bbq - my husband offered to scout around for a "dunk tank" to be stocked with teachers for the students pleasure. I signed up as a PTSO volunteer last fall, before school even began. I was called only once, at the last minute, to help out with the Scholastic Book Fair & Sale because the mom originally signed up to work that shift was unable to. I had a great time working the sale, and I even told the coordinator, and mentioned that I'd be happy to work it again. I was not called for this spring's book fair.

Almost all of the PTSO events and meetings are publicised in school bulletins sent home with the students. I am willing to bet that the vast majority of parents never even see, let alone read these bulletins. I know I don't always read them. If the attendance at last night's meeting is any indication, it looks like most of the parents are unaware that their involvement is deperately needed or possibly just don't care, though I find such a degree of apathy hard to believe. So here are my questions to you:

How does a school inspire its Parents, Teachers and Students to get involved? What does your child's school do? Should student officers be required to attendt PTSO meetings?

I would really love some feedback, because clearly something needs to change here. There weren't even enough people there to elect a full body of officers. We were asked if we wanted to run for office, but both my husband and I declined, adding that we would be active Parent participants, but felt we could not guarantee our attendance 100%.

In truth, it seems to me like the school and PTSO have not made much of an effort to drum up parental involvement. Whether it's through deficit of interest or insight, I couldn't say, but the absence of PTSO information has bothered me all year, and I've recently been considering looking into alternative schools for Ben - there's a Montessori School about 30 minutes away and I'd like to check into it as I feel Ben might thrive in that sort of environment. Plus I hate standardized testing, and WASL is mandatory at all Washington State public schools.

On a lighter note, Ben gave me my Mother's Day present yesterday which he made at school...

It's a pencil and pen holder made from a tin can covered in popsicle sticks and "Fruity Pebbles!" Apparently it also served as a snack, as evidenced by the bare patches of glue.
I will treasure it always. Especially at breakfast time.