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Sign Me Up: How I came to love the PTA. By Holly Korbey for Babble.com.

How I came to love the PTA.

By Holly Korbey |

It was my worst nightmare: a grown woman in a red and black superhero cape and matching mask was “flying” through the aisles of my son’s public school auditorium. As she flapped by, she shouted, “The PTA wants

YOOOOUUU!” I slid down in my seat, hoping we

wouldn’t meet eyes.

I never imagined, looking into the eyes of my tiny baby five years earlier, that one day that baby would enter kindergarten, and I would be subject to the total loserdom of joining the Parent-Teacher Association. The PTA had always conjured up in my mind pictures of tan women in tennis skirts putting an unhealthy amount of energy into the details of the Fun Fair.

I thought that maybe I could get away with being the parent on the sidelines, the cool one. Yet here I was, sitting in the auditorium at the year’s first PTA meeting. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember why I had signed up for the PTA. And Superdork in the cape wasn’t making me feel any better about it.

“Your child needs YOU to be a superhero in his life!” she cheered.

Then I remembered why I was there – my father, a public school history teacher for forty years, insisted I join. “The more involved you are at school, the better Holden will do,” he’d told me.

So here I was, begrudging superhero for my son.

When the superhero tore off the mask and revealed her “true identity” as PTA president, I started to tune out. I was expecting to hear how we’d be doing neat little projects around school, like cupcakes for the holidays, maybe a fundraiser selling those delicious chocolate bars, maybe a spring fair. Everyone does a spring fair, right?

I could not have been more wrong. She began rattling off a list of programs – Art Education, Environment and Beautification, Mentoring, After-School Tutoring, the Book Fair, the Science Fair – that the PTA fully supports. She asked for 400 volunteers straight away to staff the weekend-long House Tour fundraiser – a project that, last year, raised $200,000 for the school. Two hundred grand? I thought I must have misunderstood – thoughts of flat-screen TVs and fancy playground equipment swirled in my head. But, when a parent asked what they did with the money, the PTA president said they bought dry erase boards for each classroom. Before last year’s House Tour, the teachers hadn’t had anything decent to write on.

I could not have been more wrong about what the PTA does.

She also said they needed daily volunteers to come and sit with the kindergarteners at lunch. I raised my hand to ask why they would need help. She told me that lunch was the teachers’ only planning period, so most days there was only one teacher assigned to watch 150 kindergarteners for the entire lunch period. The school did not have the budget to hire more help, and little ones had a difficult time opening milks or ketchup packets by themselves.

No one to help my son open his milk? He definitely did not have the dexterity to open it by himself. I felt myself straighten up in my seat.

Another woman got up to speak. She was not wearing a costume of any sort. Nor was she wearing a tennis skirt. Actually, she kind of looked like me. She introduced herself as Shari, the parent volunteer coordinator.

“Here is the Volunteer Database,” she said and held up a giant black three-ring binder. I thought, Oh, boy, here we go. The black book of over-organization, exactly what I feared from these people. “After you volunteer for anything at the school, please log your hours in this book.” She explained how parent volunteer hours were closely linked with special grants for the school, grants that could buy the school things they desperately needed – like paper, gymnasium equipment, and special classes like music.

Music class for elementary school children is no longer a given? I found myself growing outraged.

She held up a binder. I thought, Here we go.

All these volunteer hours adding up in the big, black book went for things that I had wrongly assumed were extras. Our particular school uses 90% of their yearly budget for teachers’ salaries (which we all know are measly to begin with). The other 10% of the budget has to stretch far enough to take care of everything else. At my first PTA meeting, I realized that blackboards, music class, and basketballs for the gym are things public schools no longer take for granted. And so parents have stepped in.

Many more women followed Shari’s example that night, standing up and explaining their individual projects, each one a massive undertaking, like a reading program for kindergarteners, a Saturday math contest called Math Maniacs, and classroom decorations. (Can you imagine cinder-block kindergarten classrooms with nothing on the walls? They look like prison cells.) The women all seemed extremely competent, well-spoken, and definitely organized. That was it. I totally drank the Kool-Aid.

When the meeting was over and everyone was filing out, I got out of my chair, walked down to the front, and asked which committees needed the most help.

I am semi-proud to say that, in recent months, I have transformed myself from skeptic to zealot. I show up for lunch duty (and recess!) once a week, and I’m helping to put together a book of student artwork and poetry (working title: Reflections). I even volunteered to work the popsicle booth at the Fall Carnival.

I arrived at school for volunteer lunch duty one day and parked behind a minivan with a bumper sticker that read, “Get involved! The world is run by people who show up.” A few months ago, I would have scoffed. Now I thought, Amen, sister.

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About Holly Korbey

bchollykorbey

Holly Korbey

Holly Korbey is an actress, writer, and mother of two. Her work has appeared on McSweeneys.net and in "How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel, and Other Misadventures While Traveling with Kids," edited by Sarah Franklin. She lives with her family in Dallas, Texas.

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9 thoughts on “Sign Me Up: How I came to love the PTA. By Holly Korbey for Babble.com.

  1. Shan says:

    Truly, I’m glad for your school and your son. But it does really strike me as wrong that schools are now so dependent on PTA fundraising (let’s actually be clear: parents’ wallets, because although some fundraising goes past the school, most of it doesn’t) for core programs. I wonder if this amount of organization and effort wouldn’t be better spent in lobbying for properly funded schools.

  2. bummed says:

    That’s great that you can be so involved, but us working parents just can’t show up for lunch duty or to help tutor afterschool in the library. Articles like this just make me feel bad for not doing my part, but I can’t.

  3. a homeroom mom says:

    Working parents CAN be involved. I was asked to join the PTA when my first one was enrolled in Kindergarten, and so I did. I’ve been homeroom mom ever since. My best help is from my working homeroom moms. All you have to do is tell your child’s homeroom mom to add you to their list of moms who wish to be e-mailed with updates about their child’s classroom needs and all upcoming projects. They send me what’s needed most for our class parties. We couldn’t do it without you.

  4. hand says:

    Thank you for this essay, which puts the often maligned PTA in great light.My school’s PTA actually does have its fair share of tennis outfits, but when I’m waiting at the bus stop with a neighbor who is PTA president, I am truly grateful to her when I hear her rattle off some of the onerous and demanding tasks she’s got planned for the day–all necessary to fund the kids’ field trips, enrichment activities, libraries, computer resources, etc. Our school is clearly not as desperately in need of additional funds as yours is, but the PTA’s contributions undoubtedly make it a better place. As a working mom, I’m not able to participate to the extent that my neighbor does, but there are always envelopes that can be stuffed at home in the evening, monetary donations that can be made, weekend activities that can be staffed, teacher appreciations that can be prepared in advance, etc. And more involved PTA members who can be thanked for doing a job most of us honestly don’t want.

  5. Peony says:

    What a deal! You not only get to look like a “super-hero” to your kid, you get to meet his friends at lunch and get to know them. Definitely sounds like a good investment of a couple of hours a month! Shan, PTAs DO lobby for and advocate for and write letters for adequate funding for schools. This is something working parents can absolutely do to help all the kids.bummed – To make you feel better, being involved in your child’s education doesn’t mean you MUST volunteer at the school. Show up to teacher conferences, email the teacher to find out what’s happening in the classroom and ask how you can reinforce that at home, let the teacher know what is happening in your child’s life. It is nice to join the PTA, though to meet your kid’s friends’ parents so you have an idea of who they may visit.getting off my soapbox now….

  6. lr1536 says:

    Good for you, Holly. It seems that the quality of a public school is strongly related to parent involvement. My daughter just started first grade (skipped kindergarten) and we are loving her public school. I can’t volunteer this year because I’m pregnant (puking until 24 weeks, bed rest starting at 26), but next year I will definitely get involved.

  7. Pharme627 says:

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  8. Karen Gilliard Pynes says:

    What an awesome article on the value of PTA! While this article highlights the value of volunteering at your child’s school, PTA does so much more, including advocating for all children and parent education. Simply joining a local PTA benefits all children – be sure to sign up!

  9. Sara Cantu says:

    Bummed – Working parents can do so much when it comes to volunteering with the PTA. I’m about to start my 3rd year on the executive board, second as the secretary. I know we are always asking for donations. There are also many opportunities to volunteer outside of school hours. On the executive board, even, we have working parents. They come to the monthly meetings and volunteer for what they can volunteer for. If you really want to volunteer, I suggest you contact a member of the executive board and let them know that you want to want to volunteer. We have a book we keep of parents/guardians who want to volunteer. When we have a need for volunteers we turn to our volunteer book and start calling. If they are not available to volunteer, they don’t if they are, then they do. I’m not sure how your school does it, but the executive board members have the opportunity to go to conferences and have “general how-to’s” on most subjects. I really think you could have a great time with the PTA if you just let them know you are willing to volunteer around your work schedule.

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