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Family-To-Family Conversations

Each month, families from the Maryland and Pennsylvania advisory councils provide tips and strategies on questions submitted by families across the two states. Their responses to this month’s questions are below:

If you have a question you would like answered, please fill out this questionnaire and it will be considered for our next newsletter.

Each month, families from the Maryland and Pennsylvania advisory councils provide tips and strategies on questions submitted by families across the two states. Their responses to this month’s questions are below:

If you have a question you would like answered, please fill out this questionnaire and it will be considered for our next newsletter.


QUESTION 1: What does the PTA do?

REPLY: When my oldest started kindergarten, I wondered that too. I’m a mom who showed up to help at an after school teacher appreciation and ended up as a local, state and National PTA leader for the next 14 years. Here’s what I’ve learned about the Parent Teacher Association (PTA): simply put, the PTA advocates for children. It is the nation’s oldest and largest advocacy organization for children, with a described mission: “to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.” PTA successfully convinced lawmakers to provide hot and healthy school lunch, address mental and physical health, enact child labor laws and TV ratings, and so much more. We lobby local school boards, state education leaders and Congress to do what’s best for children. You can check out these lists to learn what we have accomplished and what we are working on this year.

Some people think PTA is mostly about fundraisers. It’s not. When we raise money, it’s not just to pad the bank account and have parties. It’s for a specific purpose – to create and support programs that help children succeed. For example, my elementary school raised money to pay for extra buses so students without a ride home could participate in afterschool activities.

Most, but not all, PTAs are connected to a school. We also have statewide PTAs and those that focus on specific areas like special needs students. 

Here’s a little-known secret: the Parent Teacher Association isn’t just for parents and teachers! Anyone who cares about kids is welcome. Our members include grandparents and other relatives, neighbors, business and government leaders. Maryland had the nation’s first “Grandfamilies PTA.” It’s no longer active – now grandparents and others who support children can simply join your school PTA. My mom did. She loved helping with our “Moms and Muffins” breakfast. (Many PTAs now use a more inclusive title, since every child doesn’t have a mom at home or available. We’re big on diversity and inclusion.)

Here’s something else you may not know: students can join PTA! I’ve worked with a bunch of them. They’re smart, motivated, inspiring – and there’s no one better to tell adults what’s really happening at school and what they really need. Many middle and high schools add an “S” for students (“PT(S)A”). But students can join any PTA.

PTAs engage and support families. Soon you’ll see us at Back-to-School events answering questions for new and returning families. In February many PTAs invite families to “Take Your Family to School Week.” PTA do fun things to bring families together, like carnivals and family nights. We educate families by bringing in speakers and interactive activities. For example, my PTA brought in someone from the state’s attorney’s office to teach parents how to keep their children safe online. PTAs sponsor math or science night to show you what your child is learning and how to help with homework. More PTAs are doing these events in your neighborhood, not just at the school.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, PTAs all over the country jumped into action to collect grocery cards, provide food, show parents where to find jobs, offer mental health support, provide tutoring, and organize no/low-cost “learning pods” for families who couldn’t afford private ones. The National PTA gave out $1.5 million in emergency grants to local PTAs to help fund these activities. 

PTA works with teachers and school staff. Every year in May we honor educators during “Teacher Appreciation Week.” We sponsor book fairs and provide grants for great ideas that aren’t in the school budget. For example, my middle school PTA partnered with the school to take every 8th grader to see the movie “Selma.” Then we brought in family members, neighbors, and others in our community who lived through the civil rights era to talk with students after the movie. Another PTA worked with teachers to create a fun “Escape Room” family night to teach math concepts from class. 

Local PTA advocates are very involved in making sure school budgets reflect what our schools need. We work with school leaders behind the scenes to help create budgets. We testify about the condition of school buildings, the need for more teachers and support staff and other issues. One of my proudest moments as a PTA leader was working with other parents to save a reading program and get our school a new roof and renovated science wing. 

PTA provides college scholarships and after school activities. For example, our county PTA teamed up with Junior Achievement to create an afterschool “create your own business” program for middle schoolers. In the first year, 12 schools and hundreds of students participated.

I serve on the National PTA Programs Committee and have really enjoyed spreading the word about our 50-year-old Reflections student art competition. We also offer interactive STEM projects that you can do at home if your child is interested in science and related fields. Our Family Reading Experience helps you help your child enjoy literacy. And we’re rolling out a new mental health initiative. Here’s more on our PTA programs and resources for families, including our very cool podcast!

Bet you didn’t know PTA does all that!

Here’s something else many people don’t know: you never have to attend meetings or volunteer to be a PTA member. We love when you do, but that’s not required. We are parents and other caregivers here to serve you. So if you only have time to look at what’s sent home, show up at family night every now and then or maybe check out the podcast, that’s perfectly fine. You determine how involved you can be. Becoming a member simply says, “I care about my child.“ That means a lot when we’re on Capitol Hill or at your local school board advocating for your child. Decision-makers want to know that when we talk, there are lots of people behind those ideas. There are currently 1.7 million PTA members in 20,000+ PTAs in the US, Europe and Asia. When you join your local PTA, you’re connected to all of them. Every voice matters.

I hope you now know a lot more about PTA and consider joining. It’s a great way to support your child.

Tracie Potts is a parent advocate in Montgomery County. She is a local and National PTA leader, mother of three, and grandmother of two.

Question 2: What is the PT(S)A?

REPLY:  The primary role of a Parent Teacher (Student) Association, or PT(S)A, is to advocate for all children within a school so all students can achieve their full potential. PT(S)As work toward this goal by partnering with schools to advance programs that strive to achieve equity for all students by increasing support of traditionally underserved portions of the community. As stated by our parent National PTA organization, “PTA strives to make every child’s potential a reality.”

PT(S)As are also key partners for building and growing school-family relationships. Parents, staff, and students should feel welcome to raise issues through the PT(S)A. The PT(S)A can then aggregate similar concerns for presentation and discussion with the school administration. Many of these issues can be publicly discussed during a monthly general meeting open to all PT(S)A members and the greater parent, staff, and student community. All PT(S)A general meetings are open to the entire school community, where important information from the school is shared and discussed; and everyone should take advantage of these meetings regardless of membership status. PT(S)A members have access to PT(S)A discounts and information, and can vote in meetings. Membership proceeds are the primary source of revenue to support PT(S)A programs. 

Finally, PT(S)A is a program that supports all students in K-12 schools. There is a common misconception that PT(S)As diminish as our students progress out of elementary school. However, the issues and programs discussed at PT(S)A for the middle and high school levels impact students well into adulthood. Middle and High School issues commonly discussed at PT(S)A cover the range of big kids/big problems items such as mental health, substance abuse, responsible online behavior, and others…but also include the responsible transition into becoming independent young adults through safe driving, practicing financial responsibility, and college and career preparations.

Randall MacGill is a proud Montgomery County parent to two current (4th and 10th grade), and one former MCPS student (college Sophomore).  Randall has been a member of several middle school and high school PT(S)A Executive Boards since 2015, and is currently the PTSA President at Magruder HS.

If you have a question you would like answered, please fill out this survey and it will be considered for our next newsletter.



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