PTAs Fill a Gap, But Is It Enough to Leap the Fjord?

By Jon Konen

Parent-Teacher Associations are invaluable to our schools, enhancing student learning in a multitude of ways.

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The PTAs In Great Falls provide creative, meaningful, and needed resources for students, as well as connective events for families. In many schools, they fill a gap in funding that has been depleted or cut over the years.

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As schools increasingly rely on them, PTAs themselves need help, both in manpower and funds. In telling the tale of one PTA and celebrating the many things they do for our school, I am struck by the gap left in schools without an active or strong PTA.

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My story will bring warmth to your heart and hopefully make you want to take action when you vote, volunteer, or make a donation.

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Nine years ago I took over the principal position at Lincoln Elementary. Though I was not new to an administrative role, I was new to working with an active PTA. I knew Lincoln had the reputation and good fortune of having a strong PTA.

The president, Julie Pachek, was new to her position but was fabulous and motivated.

She connected people, inspired others to volunteer, and turned a cadre of what seemed like four of us into an entire group of like-minded servants.

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We took on many of the traditions that PTA members had generated before us, including the likes of Bob Kelly, our current mayor of Great Falls.

We surveyed staff and PTA parents to determine how the PTA could best support the school. We organized fundraisers, delegated jobs, and formulated a yearlong plan. We were lucky enough to start with the list of events the previous PTA boards had produced and were able to build on that toward our own vision and mission of our current PTA.

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We grew stronger and were rewarded by more people wanting to come aboard. Businesses and community members continued to join our efforts and contribute to the many projects our PTA took on each year.

As a PTA, we asked the staff what would be the best use of our funds for the highest dollar impact each year, including perhaps a big-ticket item. Their purchase requests were and continue to be significant, ranging in cost from $8,000-$15,000 and including desktop computers, Chromebooks, a digital outdoor marquee, playground equipment, lockers, and more. Our PTA also gives teachers stipends that pay for supplies, field trips, materials, and other needs.

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Incredibly, the PTA also pays for assemblies, presentations, new library books, supplies for the engineer, and even the offsetting of yearbook costs.

While these endeavors are significant, the most influential projects the PTA tackles are sometimes invisible. They have created and nurtured a culture of giving that sustains students and families who are struggling.

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Each year they allocate funds for me to spend on students in need. The names remain anonymous to the PTA, but clothes, food, and other necessities are provided to these students and their families.

My administrative assistant and I collect or purchase the items and see that the families are cared for as needed. The PTA additionally supplies multiple families with meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas. All the while, we work to empower families and not enable them.

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Our members talk about how we can sustain through compassion and empathy, and then they do just that. PTAs indeed can play a powerful role in the culture of a school.

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I recognize that I am fortunate to be part of a strong PTA at Lincoln. Knowing this, I am encouraging our students to reach outside of our Lincoln Lion Den to serve and help others in our community.

We do service projects once a month, with many of the proceeds going to causes around our community.

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These all are sponsored by the PTA with the collaborative help of parents and teachers.

While all of this sounds amazing—and it is—PTA involvement and funding are as varied as the schools themselves. In a couple of Great Falls schools, the teachers lead the PTA and many times are the only active participants.

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This obviously impacts the funding they can offer to students and teachers, as well as leaving a gap in parent involvement.

We need to be cognizant and empathetic in our understanding that many Great Falls schools do not get funding or resources from PTA.

Conversely, some PTAs are even more active than Lincoln’s with their financial and community backing.

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Some schools only have a PTA with their school staff and one or two parents. They struggle to meet their schools needs and demands. As a community, let’s reach out to all our schools and continue to ask how we can better help our fellow school partners.

Unfortunately, the funding problems in education will continue to exist, and schools will continue to rely heavily on their PTAs to help pay for technology, library books, new lockers, new playground equipment, and other needs.

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PTAs will continue to fill the gap, providing resources to our local schools, teachers, and students in more and varied ways.

Most importantly, I urge you to take on a role in your PTA and support the students in your school community.

You can do that in so many different ways.

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Many people think of volunteering time as the only thing your PTA wants from you.  Yes, you can volunteer time, but you also can do a straight donation to the school.

Schools understand that many families have parents or guardians holding down multiple jobs and carrying a myriad of responsibilities. Each PTA and school have other ways that you can help students.

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Let’s continue to build our PTAs in Great Falls and ask how we can contribute to one another!