Right after my second daughter was born, I made an appointment to tour what would one day become my children’s high school. It was 2007. Class of 2022 and 2025 seemed extremely far away. But I was ready. I was prepared, and I was so excited.
I was excited for my children to experience it because school was a very big part of my childhood. Growing up as a principal’s daughter means that you spend a lot of time on campus. I grew up surrounded by a very big chosen family of educators. I was very lucky to grow up surrounded by the support system I had. I wanted to make sure my children had a similar experience. I knew I was going to have to get involved.
A few years later, as the first day of kindergarten approached, I found myself flooded with excitement. The first day outfits had been handmade and displayed on top of the guest bed for at least a month. New shoes were acquired and finally, the alarms were set. The day dawned and I was Christmas morning-level excited. I signed up for everything – room parent, field trip chaperone, and Girl Scout leader. But, what about PTA? I remembered my mother being in PTA. I remember her going to meetings after school or baking cookies for a bake sale. I remember her staying late at the school the nights of the talent show. Surely, I could bake a few cookies and clap loudly at a talent show? I signed up.
A few weeks later, I was asked if I was interested in joining the PTA executive board at our campus. Sure. Why not? I was ready to be involved. I remember the PTA president driving over to my house and handing me a large, heavy binder. It was more of a scrapbook detailing my new job as a board member. It was beautifully crafted and so organized. I immediately felt like I was way over my head. I couldn’t do this! I wasn’t organized. I wasn’t crafty. I didn’t even own a glue stick. I called her that night and said I couldn’t do it. I told her I thought I was signing up to help bake brownies and clap loudly at the talent show. I was overwhelmed. She assured me that I didn’t have to be crafty or organized and that I just had to be myself. She said, “Carolyn, please just show up. I know it seems like a lot and in some ways it is. Just show up, you’ll see.”
Skeptical and still unsure of my abilities, I stayed on, and I showed up. I went to the first meeting. Many of the parents at the meeting seemed to know each other. They were laughing at inside jokes and the principal was sitting with them. I felt like an outsider. I was a young mom. I was new. I had a two-year-old on my hip. I stood out. I had immediate imposter syndrome. The meeting was exciting. They weren’t just talking about bake sales. They were talking about getting care packages for underprivileged kids. They were talking about creating an afterschool reading club. They were discussing funding field trips and inviting a congressman to campus. This was interesting to me, so I stuck around and kept showing up.
After a few meetings I understood the inside jokes. I got to know the principal. I was on three committees, and I was excited. I also understood I was in for a lot more than just brownies and clapping. PTA was bigger, more involved, more important, and beyond anything I dreamed. It was hard for me to explain to others, so instead of explaining it, I started just asking folks to show up.
There are many preconceived notions about PTA. People generally think of bake sales, gossip, and bedazzled shirts. Once, someone asked me if I joined PTA because I didn’t have anything better to do. PTA is so much deeper than any stereotype or stigma attached to it. PTA doesn’t function as it is depicted on TV shows or movies. A PTA is more than just selling tickets to a fall fest or chaperoning dances. A PTA is the important connection of parents, teachers, and community members. This association comes together and shows up to improve and support the educational process of this upcoming generation.
My very first PTA president told me that a PTA was about showing up. I didn’t need to be crafty or be able to make a spreadsheet. I just needed to show up. Sometimes showing up looks like greeting people at the door. Sometimes it looks like gathering school supplies for a child who is without their own, or writing letters and emails to representatives to inform them that you do think that public education is important. Sometimes we march. Sometimes we go to board meetings instead of helping with dinner. Sometimes we stay after school to read to a kid that is not our own. We show up. We make a difference.
It can be a thankless job. Other parents don’t always realize that the reason their kids get to go on that field trip is because of the PTA. Students don’t understand that the reason they get to meet an author is because of the PTA. Some community members don’t realize the reason why we have a carnival is because of the PTA. Sometimes, the world doesn’t realize that laws have changed and been made because of the PTA. Invite them to show up. Invite them to join the PTA so they can understand all the things we are about. We aren’t just making brownies. We are a thunderous voice made up of stay-at-home parents, working parents, grandparents, caregivers, community members, educators, staff members, and friends who all share a vision. We all want to create an environment where students can succeed.
There is no force or voice like a strong PTA. I have the incredible opportunity to visit dozens and dozens of campuses every typical school year and within minutes I can tell two things. I can tell if they have a strong administrative team, and I can tell if they have a strong PTA. A strong PTA can create magic out of four white walls. A strong PTA can take a rained-out field day and create an indoor obstacle course in the cafeteria in under an hour. A strong PTA can come together and turn a stressful testing week into a game. A strong PTA can clothe a student whose clothes don’t fit and make them walk away a little taller. A strong PTA can change a school, change a life, and change a mind. The mission can sometimes look a little daunting, but a strong PTA can always bring the magic.
As LAUNCH approaches, I find myself with renewed excitement. I have always looked forward to this summer training event. I enjoy seeing old friends and making new ones. This year, however, I am literally counting down the days. I cannot wait to see what mountains our PTAs will climb this year. We have all endured a challenging time. However, we are ready, and we will show up like never before. After almost two years of zoom meetings and drive-by celebrations, I am so excited to show up.
I have had the honor to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many PTAs over the years. When we come together, we have a thunderous voice. When we get loud, there is no choice but to hear us. We make a difference. We show up. We create change, and we make one heck of a brownie.
See y’all at LAUNCH!