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Parenting: Parent-teacher organizations aren’t just for kids

They’re known at school as the group of parents who orchestrate everything from Halloween parties to book fairs, but a parent-teacher organization isn’t just for kids.

Parents join a PTO for all kinds of reasons. It’s helped some revitalize their job skills, share their passions, find job opportunities, and appease the desert of middle-aged friends, all while ensuring the kids have fun.

“I thought it was important for my kids to see that I thought they were important and their education was important,” said Judy Walters, recalling her days as a stay-at-home mom raising two little girls. “But really, I wanted to meet people and have a life.”

The PTO was where Walters met some of the people she still considers best friends. “I got close to a number of people from my bedroom, and I met a lot of relatives that I wasn’t close to but still liked a lot,” she says.

PTO is a common acronym for the group of parents and teachers who work together to raise funds, plan activities and provide additional enrichment to students. The term may be used interchangeably with the Parent Teacher Association, a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, or the PTC, or parent-teacher council.

When the kids go back to school this fall, you might see flyers or emails asking parents to get involved. PTOs play an important role as school boards face tough budget choices, especially for “extras” not directly related to the curriculum.

Especially as schools and families emerge from pandemic shutdowns, people are looking for ways to connect. PTOs can provide this at a time in life when making new friends usually slows down due to work and family.

Sara Dean, 46, signed up for her school’s PTA, nervous about assimilating into what she considered an established group. But in the spring, she was happy to have made new friends.

Dean hosts “The Shameless Mom Academy” podcast, which is all about female empowerment and balancing parenthood and work. She dedicated an episode to what she learned while working as PTA president at her child’s school outside of Seattle.

“Link building opportunities happen faster,” she said of her work on the PTA. “There’s more camaraderie and an ease in building relationships that I didn’t expect, but it was a great experience.”

She also didn’t expect to learn career development skills.

Dean was used to working independently, as a writer, host and podcast producer. As president of the PTA, she was tasked with building teams, helping everyone get along, and finding solutions to problems the school was facing – skills that could easily translate into American companies or worldwide non-profit organizations.

“It’s not why I signed up, but it’s a perk that’s really cool,” she said.

The same goes for Colleen Nolan. The eight years she spent in various roles at a PTO elementary school led, she said, to two nonprofit board positions — at a city food bank and a group neighborhood improvement – ​​and a paid part-time job as a record keeper.

“I met people in the neighborhood and over the years they recognized me as someone who was a ‘doer,'” Nolan said. “People saw me as someone who could answer questions and they used me as a resource.”

Many parents bring their passion projects to the PTO, said elementary school principal Andy Garlick. These can include personal finances, diversity or cultural customs of another country, for example. Parents bring what they know to the table.

“There are a lot of people who want to use what little free time they have to do good in their community,” he said.

There are criticisms and jokes, of course. In the 2018 comedy “Bad Moms,” Christina Applegate and Mila Kunis argue over who is the best candidate for president of the PTA. And the Netflix series “Ginny & Georgia” shows a snooty mother from “Wellsbury, Massachusetts” arguing with a stranger from Texas over the best way to raise money for the PTA.

In fact, wealthy neighborhoods tend to have much more parental involvement and fundraising power than areas without such wealth. This leads to more enrichment opportunities for students and more educational necessities like books or tech gadgets. Some say it is worsening inequality in the United States

And PTO parents often spend their own money. Some organizations have dues and some don’t, but many parent volunteers end up paying for projects and events.

Kimberly Rae Miller joined the PTA to get more involved and was surprised to find out how much money it took out of her own pocket.

But, she says, “If you have the time and financial resources to participate, it’s a great way to gain access to a part of your children’s lives that you don’t always have access to.”