So your school has a PTA. AWESOME. Really, this is amazing. An active PTA can really be an asset to any school. Seriously. No one, NO ONE wants to tick off a strong PTA, and your local officials are very likely to listen to a card carrying member. If you think of your school as the smallest government in your life, the PTA is the only lobbying group in that place. It can have a remarkable amount of power.
And power can be used for good or for evil. Think of your PTA like a knife. Some are old and rusty, some are just for show, but some are super sharp, and the knife will cut where you direct it to cut.
It is weird to think about the PTA hurting kids, especially if you think of the organization as mostly a bunch of well intentioned moms. How could a group of moms hurt anyone? The short answer is: I don’t think they are doing it on purpose, but not all kids need what their kids need. Moms tend to advocate for their particular child, and either they don’t care, or they don’t understand about the needs of all the kids in the building.
If you are in a PTA, if your kid is in a school with a PTA, you have the unique opportunity to have major impact on the lives of all kiddos. This is primarily an excercise in asking the right questions.
Are the meetings at a time where most parents can attend? Here is the deal. There are REASONS and there are excuses. Reasons are real, excuses are what you say when you would rather sit on your couch and watch Game of Thrones (ask me how I know…ahem.) If your PTA meetings are at a time that is only convenient for those who are not working during the day, and then you say that the other parents don’t care, you are keeping the working parents at the meeting AND THEN blaming them for the fact they can’t come. You are wrong for that. Additionally, if a parent is working a job that has no flex time (you don’t show up you don’t get paid) then you are asking maybe way too much of those parents. If they have to choose between feeding their kiddos and coming to the PTA meeting, guess which one the good parent is going to do?
Are the prices set so that ALL students can have the experience? If not is there help that is readily offered? The PTA generally sets the price for things. How much is a t-shirt going to be? How much is a candy gram going to be? Can everyone afford them? How are you going to advertise the fundraisers you are doing? I once worked at a school that was really big on raising money for pennies for patients. Don’t get me wrong, this is an awesome cause, but the kids collecting the cans would shame any class that didn’t donate money, calling them selfish and without school spirit. It got shut down real quick but it still happened. Money is tricky and if only the people who have it are making up the activities, these activities often become impossible for the poor kids to do. The culture of the school becomes that really only the haves belong. It might not be anyone’s intentions, but it does happen if you aren’t careful.
Whose Voices are Being Amplified? Are there guest speakers? Are they all white? Are the people on the agenda all friends with the PTA president? Look, PTA can be as bad as middle school. I know a women who came to the PTA meeting for two years, every time asking for the prohibitive cost of something to be considered. She never even made it onto the agenda. Look, the kids with privilege tend to hang out with the kids with privilege. If all the kids taking all the AP classes all have parents running the PTA, guess what kind of thing gets all the funding? It isn’t the remedial tutoring program. It isn’t always this bad, but it can be so pay attention to who gets to talk the most.
So What Can You Do? Join the PTA and pay attention. Ask the school social workers who needs the most help, what are their most pressing needs? Get to know your principal and her vision for the school. If you are at a high school there are likely “tracks” so make sure all tracks are being advocated for.
Mostly, just imagine that you are the poor mom, that your kid is the poor kid. What would you want done for them, do that. What would you NOT want done? Even if it benefits your kid personally, maybe don’t do that. The PTA is a great tool. Just make sure it is being used for the good.