Why I Volunteer

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Even at 40 years old, I still get scared. Driving out of town to a place I have never been before, going to exercise class for the first time, even flying on airplanes can give me a little anxiety. I say things to myself like:

  • You’re going to get lost.
  • You’re going to look stupid.
  • This plane could go down and there are still wet clothes in the washing machine.

But when my kids are scared I hear myself say things like:

  • This is an adventure!
  • You’ll make new friends!
  • Flying is safer than driving!

I know the right things to say to help them be brave, but I don’t say those things to myself.

The first time I volunteered to help with a PTA function, I was nervous. I had offered to help mount artwork for the Reflections program, only to find out the other volunteers were getting together at 11 a.m. at the school (But I work fulltime downtown?!).

I felt I couldn’t back out so I used vacation time. I got my orange “Volunteer” sticker at the office and met the other volunteers for the first time. They showed me where the PTA room was and we worked together for a couple of hours marveling at the little masterpieces. I remember finding my daughter’s painting in a pile with other kindergarten pieces and taping it to black paper. It was a fun day.

A few months later, I decided I would give volunteering another try. I showed up at the spring Carnival (not knowing anyone) and I was assigned to the cash register at the concessions table. I had worked the cash register one time as an employee at Bed, Bath & Beyond and I was a disaster (they kept me in the bedding department after that).

The cash register should have been the worst assignment at the PTA event. Except it wasn’t. Instead, I stood around and chatted with other moms and we all laughed every time I had to do math in my head and tried to count change. I made a lot of mistakes. But no one said I was stupid and they didn’t audit my register. People even thanked me for volunteering. After that, I knew I could do anything.

Fast forward five years and I still volunteer at most PTA events. And now that my kids are older, they always come with me. I still work full time, but I look forward to volunteering in the evening and on the weekends because I know I can bring my kids with me. I don’t have to sacrifice time with them in order to be involved at their school. And they can help too! (Or they can at least run around the cafeteria with their friends while the moms and dads are working.) Most importantly, I have made a lot of friends and my kids are friends with their kids.

If you have never volunteered for PTA, know this: It’s an adventure and you’ll make new friends! The wet clothes in the washing machine can wait.


Heather Zirke is the president of Grindstone PTA and mom to Aurelia, a fourth grader, and Kip, a second grader.

Engaging Parents in 21st Century Classrooms

education, elementary school, learning, technology and people concept - close up of school kids with tablet pc computers having fun and playing on break in classroom

This blog was originally published on P21’s Blogazine.
Let’s face it—classrooms are very different today than when most of us were in school. Smart boards have replaced chalkboards and projectors. Computers, tablets and smartphones are increasingly being used instead of paper, pencils and books.
Technology and the internet have created countless new opportunities for education. Children like yours and mine can now read about virtually any subject from anywhere and connect with people and places around the world. Teachers are harnessing the power of the technology to bring curriculum alive and personalize instruction to meet the unique needs of every child. Digital learning is essential for the development of skills students need to thrive.
Technology also provides important opportunities for us as families to be more involved in our children’s education as well as for families, teachers and school staff to engage in regular and meaningful communication about student learning.
As the new year gets into full swing, it is important that we as parents are aware of the technology our school uses and how we in turn can use these tools to support our children’s success in the classroom.
Here’s how schools can help:
BE TRANSPARENT
Share with parents the online systems, portals or apps your school is using. Make sure they know how to access these tools and use them to track their child’s progress and ensure they are receiving the right supports.
UTILIZE TECHNOLOGY TO COMMUNICATE IN REAL TIME
Technology provides a variety of ways for families, educators and schools to share information with one another and keep in touch. Technology allows families to access information quickly, easily and when it is most convenient for them. It is important that multiple mediums, platforms and dissemination tools are used for real-time dialogue and parent-school communication.
ENGAGE PARENTS THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA
Many parents are active on social media. And through social media, relevant information can be communicated in a timely fashion. Use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to deliver news and important updates, share pictures and encourage parent engagement.
VALUE AND SEEK PARENT INPUT
It’s important that families have a seat at the table and the opportunity to provide input when decisions are made that impact their children and schools. When families are included in all stages of technology decision-making and implementation, they better understand the benefits for their children and are invested in the outcome.
EVALUATE AND ELIMINATE BARRIERS TO ENGAGEMENT
While technology provides great opportunities for family involvement and parent-school communication, it can be a barrier to engagement. For example, a preponderance of portals and apps require parents to register and save passwords again and again frustrating the parent until they shut down. Equally frustrating, some systems are not mobile-friendly. These factors can be a hindrance for parents when it comes to using these tools. It is imperative to evaluate and eliminate such barriers to increase access to and use of technology among families.

Technology is a powerful tool for teaching, learning, connecting and communicating. It is critical that parents are empowered with opportunities to be engaged as well as with the tools and information to support their children in the classroom and beyond.


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students. National PTA is dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement.

 National PTA is a proud supporter of the Future Ready Schools initiative, which is aimed at maximizing digital learning opportunities so all students can achieve their full potential. Schools that are Future Ready understand that parents play an instrumental role in the learning environment, and as such, need to be highly engaged and recognized as a vital part of the school community. National PTA echoes the recommendations and characteristics of parent engagement in Future Ready Schools.

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Our Children Magazine Is Now Digital and Free for Everyone

At National PTA, we recognize that one of the most important things we can do as an association is offer families and educators the resources they need to provide for their students’ success. For more than 100 years, Our Children magazine has been one of the best tools National PTA offers. Each issue includes information and in-depth analyses of current education issues, plus plenty of advice on how to run a strong, effective PTA.

Up to now, Our Children was directly available only to PTA leaders. Although many of our leaders regularly make copies of articles and hand them out at meetings, we want to make sure every member can rely on us for timely, relevant information.

To better serve all our members and the public at large, Our Children magazine is now available in a digital edition at PTA.org that is open to everyone free of charge. Not only will the online version duplicate the print issue, but it will also contain bonus content, with e-mail links and live URLs that lead to even more resources. The digital edition is easy to navigate; it allows you to skip through pages through the table of content and to share information with your social media networks with a click of a button.

We’re excited about Our Children’s new digital format, and we invite you to visit PTA.org/pta_magazine.asp to see for yourself!

The latest Our Children issue is available now! The October/November 2012 issue “Fundraisers, Start Your Engines” features multiple articles on fundraising during challenging economic times, as well as information about legal issues surrounding corporate sponsorships. Other articles include information about flu vaccinations, possible federal budget cuts to education, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education.

Here’s what we have coming up:

  • December 2012/January 2013: Education in the Age of Technology
  • February/March 2013: What IS Education Reform?
  • April/May 2013: Here’s to Teachers!

Emily Karsnak is a Marketing and Communications Specialist for the National PTA in Alexandria, VA.  Contact Emily at ekarsnak@pta.org.

We need Statesmen, not Politicians!


I have a pop quiz for you! Name one community that is not facing serious funding issues with their educational system?

Educational funding is the focus of the day. As parents, teachers, administrators, school board members and supporters of education, we all share a common concern, when will the bleeding stop?

When we band together and seek support from our decision makers, usually those who serve in our state legislatures, we receive little comfort. In most cases we hear our elected leaders say “I don’t know what to do.” They say we have no money, yet they continue to fund local projects or cut taxes even more. An example from my state of South Carolina, a short time ago the state legislature traded a property tax source for a penny sales tax increase. This legislation, called Act 388, has been a disaster for education. School districts have suffered several multi-million dollar hits to our budget which, left un-addressed, will eventually have a painful impact on the classroom.

When we try to resolve these issues with the decision makers in our state capitals, we usually hear, “we need to use all available funds for economic development.” What in the world is a high quality learning environment? Is it not seen as economic development?

You’ve probably heard me say this before, but . . .

When a business looks to build in a community, its leadership looks at the schools and roads. If both are not top quality they look elsewhere. Employers know that their employees are going to look for the best schools. They are going to look for a school that is safe; secure; healthy; technologically equal and modern; an environment that helps make learning fun and successful. That’s economic development. Support schools and support growth.

Now, how does this tie into the title? The answer is easy. For far too many years we have been forced to elect politicians who choose to ignore the toughest issues of today. They would rather point fingers, and blame. Long gone are the days when we elected elder statesmen who would find solutions, not excuses. We, as parents and community supporters of education, need to start today in finding those who will take on the hard topics of today and deal with them. We need to elect officials who care more about dealing with problems head-on and not the next election or fund-raiser. Until we collectively address these issues year after year we’re going to see education take a back seat to other interests. If left un-addressed everyone will suffer.

Find a statesman!

Until next time,
Charles J. “Chuck” Saylors- president, National PTA