Behind nearly every elementary or middle school event in Hall and Gainesville schools are a group of parents working behind the scenes to make it happen.
Most parent volunteers are a part of a school’s Parent Teacher Association or Parent Teacher Organization. While the two operate similarly, a PTA is registered with the Georgia PTA, while a PTO is an independent organization.
Technicalities aside, teachers appreciate the extra support.
“It makes a difference in the school’s climate and the way teachers feel,” Joy Guildford, a teacher at C.W. Davis Middle School, said. “We’re finding that they really boost the morale with teachers, which ultimately trickles down to the kids.”
Although parent involvement can look different from school to school, all groups strive to make the lives of students, teachers and school staff a little easier.
Crystal Brown, principal at Mundy Mill Learning Academy, said her school’s PTA bolsters the school by serving as a contact point to get volunteer help with functions, offering financial backing for events and programs, and showing up whenever a teacher needs a hand.
If a teacher at Mundy Mill needs supplies for a lesson or activity, they can apply for a grant through the PTA.
This year the school started a character education initiative with the help of the PTA, which funded its incentives. Each month they select a character trait to focus on, something like trustworthiness, respect and kindness.
The teachers nominate a student from each class who exhibits that month’s particular character trait.
“PTA offers grants to any staff member in the school who wants to do something above and beyond for students,” Brown said. “Everything ties together to support students.”
What PTO looks like at one local middle school
C.W. Davis Middle’s PTO went on a hiatus for years until a group of parents decided to pick it up again in 2018.
Deana Brooks, the school’s PTO president, said they started with $0 when she jumped on board. Slowly but surely, the organization generated money from fundraisers.
Unlike a PTA where dues are taken from members each year, most PTOs don’t require a fee.
Last school year they cooked soups and chili for teachers during Super Bowl season, held a school dance and delivered goodies to classrooms on teacher appreciation days.
“We try to promote that we want to be one with our community,” Principal Mike McQueen said. “It takes a partnership, and it’s good for our students to see that parents are actually involved and working together.”
This year, the PTO is hosting a tailgate party with raffle items, preparing pumpkin desserts for teachers and holding another winter school dance.
Nichole Beard, a member of the PTO, said she finds that her role in the organization has helped her son with his transition from elementary to middle school.
“The kids are at an age where they’re finding their place, and some enjoy seeing their parents,” Beard said. “It has really opened my eyes to seeing the difference within a middle school, and I really enjoy getting involved and helping out.”
Guildford said for some students, having a parent figure in the school makes them more comfortable.
“Some of the kids’ parents can’t be here, so we’re really fortunate to have them (PTO),” she said. “We have a lot of (kids on) free and reduced lunch here, so the ones that are here are super happy to have the moms and dads help out.”
Beard and Brooks said they find the most challenging aspect of running a PTO is finding volunteers. Brooks suspects recruiting participants is more difficult on a middle school level than at an elementary school.
“Parents have participated all through elementary school for six years,” she said. “Maybe they’re just done when they get to middle school.”
Even if a parent can contribute a little bit of time each year toward the PTO, she said it makes all the difference.
Last year C.W. Davis teachers wrote thank you cards to the PTO.
“I think they take notice because it has been a long time since these middle school teachers have had parental PTO support,” Brooks said. “It’s really all for the teachers because at the end of the day, they’re with our children more than we are.”
What PTA looks like at one elementary school
When Rona Falls moved to Hall County from the Philippines, she searched for ways to immerse herself in the community. Joining the PTA at her daughter’s elementary school seemed like the perfect fit.
Doors quickly began to open for her while serving in Mundy Mill’s PTA. Falls started making friends with parents and teachers, networking with other business owners and became a leader with the school’s Girl Scouts troop.
For her volunteer contributions to the school, Falls was awarded in the summer with the Georgia Parent Leadership Award by the state Department of Education and the Georgia PTA.
This year Falls took on the role as the PTA’s president.
“I thought being in a leadership role for parents would give me more of an opportunity to lead by example and help other parents,” Falls said. “I made a lot of friends and built a community around me that I know I can depend on.”
Coming from a school system in the Philippines, Falls said she realized how lucky kids are in Hall and Gainesville school systems to receive funding from the state.
Although help is available to schools in Georgia, she said there’s still a need for physical assistance with day-to-day operations.
Sometimes teachers simply need an extra hand for an activity in class.
“Being active at school and having a PTA that’s solid, it has impacted teachers,” she said. “They’re very appreciative of it and go out of their way to thank the PTA for what they’re doing.”
Last year Mundy Mill’s PTA held a coin drive that raised over $1,200 to go back into the school. This year the coin drive’s earnings will be used for Mundy Mill’s PTA teacher grants and school clubs.
Falls encourages parents interested in joining the PTA to “just do it.”
Participation in the association doesn’t require a weekly effort. Involvement can entail different levels, like giving donations, taking hour shifts at school events or attending one of the PTA meetings.
The only financial responsibility in Mundy Mill’s PTA is annual membership dues of $11.
For Falls, volunteering at the school has positively affected her daughter, who is in the second grade. She gets excited and involved in school activities because she knows her mother is participating, too.
“As a parent, being able to help that other person that’s guiding your child in whatever stage of life they are, I think that’s truly going to impact your parenthood and relationship with your child,” Falls said. “It is time and effort, but that’s what volunteer work is.”