With a new school year starting, you’re probably flooded with flyers and forms, school lunch menus, supply lists, and announcements. As you sort through the stacks of paper deciding what to keep and what to toss, chances are you’ll come across a letter inviting you to join your school parent-teacher group. Hold onto that one. That letter is a keeper.

The Role of Parent Groups

For many people, the first introduction to their school parent group is through a product fundraiser catalog. And while it’s true that a mission for many PTOs and PTAs is to bring money into the school to pay for extras like playground equipment and cultural arts programs, parent groups contribute much more. They support teachers and staff, enrich the educational experiences of students, and improve schools. Through their efforts, these parent groups turn what could be a mere collection of individuals into a strong and supportive school community.

Parent groups work closely with the principal and teachers to learn what will make their schools better, then they find ways to help make those improvements. Sometimes the solution is straightforward and can be solved with cash. For example, the PTO might spring for a new set of risers so the chorus kids in the back row can see the director (and just as important, their parents can see them from the audience).

Other times, the PTO will tackle more complex problems. Schools that struggle with low parent involvement because of language differences, for example, have asked their PTOs to help create a climate where everyone feels welcome. Parent groups have responded to the call in a variety of creative ways: They’ve translated flyers and other materials from English; invited parents to join one another for social breakfasts at the school; sponsored information nights that address the specific concerns of minority families; even provided mentoring and spoken translation services. Through their efforts, PTOs have lowered language and cultural barriers to make it clear that their schools need all parents, not just a few.

Getting Parents Connected

Among the most important roles of a parent group is to draw mothers and fathers into the school. Parent involvement is vital for the success of children as well as for those who teach them. Studies consistently show that students whose parents are involved with their education tend to do better academically. They’re more likely to earn their high school diplomas and go on to higher education. Schools with heavy parent involvement are vibrant places where teachers and staff feel supported and students benefit from the attention of so many caring adults.

Yet many parents are afraid that if they go to a PTO meeting or help out at an event, they’ll be pulled into a bottomless hole of volunteering. If you’ve avoided your school’s parent group for this reason, keep in mind that you don’t have to agree to every request that comes your way. Figure out beforehand how much time you’d like to give, what skills and talents you have to offer, and which sorts of activities most interest you. Many parent groups send home a list of volunteer opportunities toward the beginning of the year or post volunteer assignments on their websites. Work with your PTO leaders to find a way to be involved that feels manageable to you.

For example, you might sign up for a one-shot assignment, such as running the cash register at the school’s annual book fair. Or you may prefer to take on a task that you can do in the evenings—updating the PTO website, for example. More important than how you get involved is that you get involved with your child’s school. The payback is enormous. You’ll get to know your fellow parents, you’ll learn what’s happening at the school, and you’ll have a hand in making it a stronger and more exciting place to learn. Plus, when you become an active member of the school community, your child learns that education is worth his time and attention. And that message is a keeper.


You Make a Difference

Volunteering at school is a great way to show your child that school is an important part of your family’s life. So is helping with math homework or reading a book together. In fact, any way you demonstrate to your child that you value education can make a difference. When you do, research shows there are some real benefits.

Higher grades. Kids whose parents are involved in their education get better grades and have higher test scores. And the more parents are involved, the more their children seem to benefit.

Better behavior. Children develop better social skills and show improved behavior at school. Studies have shown that kids are less likely to skip school, are less disruptive in class, and are more likely to do their homework when their parents are involved.

Improved education. Research shows that parent involvement can help improve the quality of schools, raise teacher morale, and boost a school’s reputation. Involved parents gain the respect of teachers; as a result, teachers have higher expectations of their children.

Increased confidence. When students feel supported at home and school, they develop more positive attitudes, have more self-confidence, and place a higher priority on doing well. Children of involved parents are more likely to feel included and respected.

Parents benefit, too. When parents get involved, they become more comfortable in the school building, gain confidence in their parenting skills, and feel more capable of helping their children learn. They’re also more likely to continue their own education.