Getting time-crunched parents to volunteer in schools can be hard, but once they do, they see the effect their involvement has on their children's education and want to do more, according to new National PTA president Linda Hodge. Attracting and keeping involved parents, and reaching out to underrepresented parent populations, are among the priorities for Hodge's term. Included: Ideas for reaching out to parents.
Hodge recently talked with Education World about her plans for her two-year term as president, which began in June.
Education World: Why did you want to be the National PTA president?
Linda Hodge: When I became active in the PTA at my children's school years ago, I never imagined I'd eventually become the National PTA president. I started my work with the PTA because I wanted to make a difference. I continued to increase my activity with the association because I strongly believe in the people I work with at all levels of PTA, and in what we can do for the future of our children.
EW: What are your goals for your two-year term?
Hodge: National PTA recently launched an Hispanic Outreach Initiative. I'd like to take what we've learned from that program and develop additional tools to help PTAs at all levels [appeal to different populations] and diversify their memberships.
Another focus of mine during the next two years will be nutrition and exercise programs. With obesity in children becoming increasingly common, it's important that we make parents aware of the risks and help them develop healthy habits for their children.
Since parent involvement always is a top priority for National PTA, we will continue to develop parent involvement tools for PTAs and schools, and to urge parents to take on active roles. We'll also continue our efforts to educate parents about the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind, so they can understand how it might affect their children and their schools.
EW: What is the PTA doing to increase the number of minorities in its ranks?
Hodge: As a first step for the Hispanic Outreach Initiative, we built an advisory board of prominent Hispanic leaders within and outside PTA to help develop outreach efforts. The advisory board established three goals: to encourage greater involvement in their children's lives by Hispanic parents, to identify and nurture future Hispanic PTA leaders, and to expand PTA membership within the Hispanic community. By early September 2002, the Hispanic Outreach Initiative had launched in three pilot states -- Florida, California and Texas -- and [the initiative] has seen great success to date. We are taking what we learn from this initiative and applying that knowledge to other populations.
EW: How can the PTA increase its overall membership?
Hodge: I think it will help if we get our current PTA members to be better at informing their communities about what they do. Many people still associate the PTA with bake sales and fundraisers, but we are about so much more than that. PTAs everywhere are really making a difference in children's lives. We also need to continue to reach out to underserved communities to become a relevant resource for them and fit into their lives and culture.
EW: Once you get parents to join, what do you think will help increase parental involvement in the schools?
Hodge: Presenting parents with a welcoming atmosphere is the number one priority for every PTA. There are a number of ways to go about doing that, all of which come back to a willingness to be flexible and to listen to the wants and needs of the parents. Some PTAs have found the use of a mentor program to be successful. Others might develop clearly defined responsibilities, based on the interests of the parents and availability of time. Equating the parents' responsibilities with how they are making a difference for their children also is very important. Once parents see the results of their actions, they are eager to contribute even more.
EW: How can the PTA make the jobs of educators easier?
Hodge: By getting parents involved as partners in their schools, PTA helps parents understand where their schools need their help. Whether it's by chaperoning an event, helping with administrative duties, talking to legislators about funding, or chatting with other parents to encourage support, parents involved with their PTA are more aware of their children's teachers' needs and of the importance of communication with their school.
PTA also helps parents better develop their parenting skills, so that they know how to partner with teachers to increase their child's success. They learn the importance of all six parent involvement standards -- communicating, parenting, student learning, volunteering, school decision making and advocacy, and collaborating with community -- and the importance of sending their children to school healthy, fed, with completed homework, and ready to learn. Parents can be the teacher's and school's greatest supporters, and in turn, their children's greatest advocates.
This e-interview with Linda Hodge is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Copyright © 2003 Education World