I got my copy of Our Children in the mail the other day (they send it to PTA leaders but I'm sure anyone can get one). They have many good articles and there was a lengthy one about the WA State PTA's efforts to pass Simple Majority. But there were a couple of article that sort of cancelled each other out and made me wonder about what is happening at other schools.
The first article was about a PTA in an elementary school in Portland. The article was about how 96% of the school's parent base and entire staff are communicating online via a free, private social networking platform. So all communication - the PTA directory, back-to-school packets, newsletters - is all online. (It's a little unclear but I assume hardcopies are available. However, their weekly newsletter is only available online.) Also, there are online discussions about school improvement, curriculum, etc. with parents and teachers.
So my first point is the issue of going all e-mail/online for communications. That in itself seems a little elitist. I have had this discussion with more than one school because the district (and the schools) want to believe that EVERYONE has e-mail and/or access to a computer. It is not so even in technology-savvy Seattle (and yes, I do get the irony of me saying this on a blog). What about that 4% of parents in that school who are virtually excluded?
On the other hand, it is saving the PTA thousands of dollars in postage AND saving the environment. That's no small thing.
Then there's an article, a good one, called Let's Make Sure ALL Parents Feel Welcome. Now we can all differ in what we feel good about when we walk into a school versus what is off-putting. This article details how even good efforts might not be good for everyone especially when you are trying to reach parents who don't speak English well or don't understand American school systems or having school events that may pose unintentional barriers to participation by all families.
For example, one school had an auction where the tickets were $25. Okay, so it is not possible to hold an event like this without charging something. But then, the article went on to say that it was held at the principal's brother's mansion which he had graciously donated for the evening. So then you create perhaps an even larger number of people who might not go, not just for the cost but because they may not have proper attire or feel out of place. From the article:
"But couldn't the same amount (of money) have been raised by an event appealing to a broader base? A broader base of support gives more peoplein the community a sense of ownership in the school and its mission and avoids the appearance of elitism."
So what is elitism in fundraising? Does it matter?
The other issue, which has raised its anonymous head here again and again, is the issue of fundraising. And I believe some of the fundraising efforts in this district relate directly to class. It is a struggle to not have these auctions which can raise so much money for the school (and, in the end, all the kids benefit from them) but are people feeling left out? Are there parents who feel quietly humiliated on the Monday after an event when others are talking about how fun the auction was or how much they spent? Many classes make items that are then auctioned off. What if you didn't even get the chance to see the object your child worked on? (In my son's 3rd grade class they made a huge serving plate with drawing of a cat depicting each child. The mom who won it generously lent it to any family who wanted it for a week so that everyone could see it.)
But many families never show up for any events even if they are held at the school. Should we assume that there are parents who really don't care one way or another and are grateful that there are parents out there who do raise the money?
Also, if your school raises a lot of money, do you feel like the staff/teachers take your efforts for granted or as a given because that's the way it's always been? Does your PTA get a public thank-you from teachers and staff for your efforts?