My two sons, Yakko and Wakko, are in elementary school right now. Yakko is in second grade and Wakko is in Kindergarten. However, they attend different elementary schools. This has given us an opportunity to see how the two schools in the district are similar and where they differ. One of the key similarities is with the PTO at each school. I think I must have an idealized view of what a parent-teacher organization should do. In my view, there is a collaboration between parents and teachers in developing the educational experience for our children. One of the complaints I’ve heard from friends that are educators is how frustrated they get that parents do not take an active role in their children’s learning. They believe that parents today take a hands-off approach and expect the teachers to raise their children.
I see the PTO as the structure that should be bridging the gap between parents and educators. What I’ve seen instead at both schools is an organization whose primary purpose is to raise money and their view of helping the students learn is by hosting holiday parties, purchasing special T-shirts to wear during testing weeks and water bottles to use during class. Considering that the school principal and a teacher representative serve on the PTO Board, my expectation is that they are taking the activities that the PTO are discussing back to the teachers to see how they can build an educational component into their curriculum. I also expect them to bring forward the current curriculum and see what programs the PTO can sponsor that enhance learning outside of the standard classroom setting. Unfortunately this is not currently happening. The schools don’t want to give up any “control” of the learning environment and parents are afraid to overstep their bounds into the classroom. We’ve managed to create an adversarial environment rather than one that allows for open discussion and idea sharing.
Here are some of my ideas for educational activities that can be implemented by a PTO and embraced by educators for the educational opportunities the events offer:
1. Film Festival. Children see things in very unique ways to you and me. A film festival as a way for kids to tell a story from their point of view. When you think about it, a film is simply digital storytelling. We ask students to write stories in class everyday. Creating a short film (no longer than 5 min) is a way to use current technology to help tell that story. The benefit in creating a film is that it reinforces reading, research and technology skills. For this to truly be successful, some of the teachers would have to incorporate making a film into their curriculum for the year and the school would have to provide resources for students to use in the creation and development of their films. taken that back to the teachers and talked about what they could do to add educational value to the program.
2. Art Show. Certainly a strength of elementary school students is their unlimited creativity. An Art Show and Sale is a way to showcase students’ imagination and let them “sell” their artwork. The idea is that throughout the year, students who wanted to participate would create a portfolio of work and showcase it at the Art Show. It would enhance their creativity and give them the ability to work toward a goal. The sale also allows the ever-important fundraising component to sneak into the event and gives the students pride as their artwork sold (even if it was only for $1).
3. Family Picnic. This is a family event where we encourage parents and kids to work together on games (simple things like three-legged race, egg toss, etc). It provides quality family interaction in a fun, picnic environment. What bothers me about the typical Fun Fest that both of my children’s schools have hosted is that there is no parent-child interaction. The games are designed only for kids and I’ve noticed that most parents take the opportunity to drop the kids off at the front door and use the time for themselves. The kids are left to roam free with not enough staff to help enforce appropriate behavior. A family picnic encourages spending time together and allows the opportunity for educational elements to be built into the program.
4. Quiz Bowl. This event would require some collaboration with other school PTO’s in the district. The basic idea is to host an area-wide contest similar to a Quiz Bowl to see which school would get the “banner” to hang in their gym. The teams would consist of students and parents from each grade and they would compete with age-appropriate questions. It reinforces the knowledge being taught in the classroom and gets the PTO organizations to talk together which hopefully would encourage idea sharing within the district with teachers and parents.
Of course, these ideas are only to spark the discussion. Depending on the current curriculum and educational goals, these events may not work. But the key here isn’t the events, its starting the dialog between parents and educators to share in the development and growth of our children. It’s then the responsibility of all parties involved to take the time and effort in developing programs that do more than entertain.