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The Journal Gazette

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Tuesday, January 02, 2018 1:00 am

PTAs, similar groups offer platform for voicing ideas

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

PTA by thenumbers

• 4 million members

• 24,000 local units

• 16.5 million students served

• 59 percent students of color

• 55 percent Title I schools

Source: National PTA

Before the State Board of Education voted in December to institute additional graduation requirements, Anna Ross encouraged fellow Southwest Allen County Schools parents to speak up.

Ross isn't a school board member or an educator, but she had a platform to share information and present a call to action – the Woodside Middle School Parent Teacher Club.

The organization, which supports teachers and the school, also keeps parents informed about local and statewide issues, said Ross, its president.

“We want to do what's best for our students,” she said. “We keep our students' interests at the core of what we're doing.”

Parent-teacher groups – which are also known as Parent Teacher Organizations and Parent Teacher Associations – remain active at many Allen County schools. The groups function similarly, but PTA – a national organization headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia – is more active legislatively, representatives said.

There's a push from the Indiana PTA to increase statewide membership by 500 members this academic year. Monthly incentives are planned through April to help reach 18,505 members. As of early November, membership was at 14,372 – or 78 percent of the target.

The organization did not return requests for comment.

Locally, each Fort Wayne Community school is associated with a PTA, though some are stronger than others, said Kim Craighead, president of the Fort Wayne Area PTA Council. She said the difference is noticeable.

“It gets the kids excited and motivated when they see parents in there, doing things for them,” Craighead said, adding some students will call PTA members mom and dad. “It's very rewarding to the volunteers as well.”

The nonprofit association, which has a 120-year history, empowers families with a voice that becomes stronger when part of a collective, National PTA President Jim Accomando said. It has advocated for such issues as kindergarten classes, child labor laws, hot and healthy lunch programs, mandatory immunization, arts in education and school safety.

“It really gives you that voice you can hear,” Accomando said.

Participation in parent-teacher groups may require some financial investment. The Indiana PTA collects $5.25 in dues from each member, with $3 designated for the state and $2.25 for the national portion, according to its website.

Fort Wayne Community Schools parent Pam Stouder has been involved in PTA since her oldest son – now a college senior – was in kindergarten. It was a way for the non-Fort Wayne native to meet other families.

“It's a really great way for parents to connect and also to know what's going on in your child's school,” said Stouder, president of the Bunche-Towles Montessori PTA.

With its budget, the PTA annually provides $3,000 for teacher grants, Stouder said, noting the group has one major fundraiser each year. It also generates money for the schools through such programs as Box Tops for Education, which lets schools redeem clippings on various food and non-food products for cash.

Brad Bakle, an East Allen County principal, said his school's PTO also offers financial support, but he doesn't consider fundraising the group's primary purpose.

Its first purpose is serving as another connection between school and home, he said. The PTO offers parents, particularly of kindergartners, a good starting point to get involved with the school.

“It's almost like a bridge,” the Cedarville Elementary School principal said. “What I don't want is families to think there's an 'us' and a 'we.' It's just a 'we.'”

Parents and caregivers can have great influence by working with their child's school or district, Accomando said, adding a PTA's voice becomes stronger with greater participation and the better organized it is.

“It works,” the national president said, noting he has nearly two decades of PTA experience. “It works fabulously.”