Education: Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association
Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association (OKPTA) President Elect Brenda Heigal has been active in her local Parent Teacher Association (PTA) for almost 30 years. Now a proud grandmother of a Broken Arrow Elementary School student, Heigal remembers the days when a school’s PTA agenda included making sure classrooms had construction paper and crayons, field trips had moms to help corral the students and fundraisers were held to raise money for a new playground swing set.
“Today,” Heigal said, “yes, the PTA still does the fun stuff. While our mission of advocating for students has not changed, the educational issues we face today and our essential involvement in those issues has changed.”
Founded over 100 years ago with the mission to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children, today’s PTA has evolved into an active voice over concerns such as declining state education funding, increased emphasis on student testing, literacy, bullying and school safety.
“Today’s PTA has now found itself at the state capitol fighting for our education dollars. We will always be in the schools helping to create a nice learning environment for our children. But, we also must keep our parents informed about all current issues which impact our students and schools,” Heigal said.
Boasting a membership of over 60,000, the OKPTA has 53 active PTA units in the Tulsa area. A unit is an individual school, whether a public elementary school, charter school or a private school.
Tulsa Council PTA President Tracye Love remains involved in the association even though her children have graduated from Tulsa Public Schools.
“It gets in your blood. My term as president ends at the end of the year. I am already thinking of ways I can continue my involvement,” she said. “I am a PTA member at five Tulsa schools. Dues are not high, just $6. There is a place for every parent on PTA, whether it be helping make phone calls, holding fundraisers or assisting a teacher in the classroom.”
Like Heigal, Love has seen the role of the PTA change over her 20 years of service. One such change is the decrease in state education funding, leaving some PTAs to resort to raising money to cover a teacher’s salary. While parent groups who do this have their children’s best interests at heart, it can let the Oklahoma State Legislature off the hook. “Steering PTA fundraising dollars toward teacher salaries is not what the PTA is about,” Love said. “We are a student, parent and teacher advocacy group. We have had to redirect our PTAs to stop being the bank account. Granted, we want these schools to be fully staffed, but PTA money is not the answer.”
In addition, Heigal said many schools do not have a parent body with the economic means to raise funds to cover a teacher’s salary, creating inequities across the district. “We understand that each school has their own unique concerns, but in all fairness, the state should fund teacher salaries, not the PTA.”
Under PTA rules, a school holding a fundraiser must also hold three community gatherings or projects for its parents, students and teachers. “That way, the mission of advocacy and education stays the priority of the PTA,” Heigal said.
Carver PTA President Jennifer Brock said the main role of the Carver PTA is communication between the school and families and to provide funds for curriculum enhancements and programs.
Carver PTA keeps parents informed of school and PTA programs through weekly email updates and a monthly newsletter. New PTA members are signed up at Back to School Night, Parent Academies and a Membership Dance for students. Numerous educational sessions and information gatherings for parents on topics such as testing and curriculum are held throughout the school year.
Brock said Carver PTA’s fundraising dollars benefit both the teachers and students. “Each teacher receives $100 to spend for their classroom, and teachers can apply for and receive funds for special classroom projects. We provide t-shirts to students who reach the Million Word Reader goal, and we provide funds for special larger projects. In past years these projects have included a new electronic marquee and laptops.”
Increasing involvement by fathers in PTA is a new trend for the organization. “We are seeing more dads at the school. Some are stay-at-home dads or some are helping mom because she also works. Twenty-two percent of our Oklahoma PTA members are males. At every PTA meeting I attend, I always say ‘Give our dads a hand.’ They deserve applause for their involvement in their child’s school and life,” Love said.
At some schools, dads assist in traffic control and in helping children out of the car during the morning drop off. “Their presence is so helpful and really helps with school safety,” Love said.
Heigal challenges her PTA presidents to come up with programs to increase parental involvement. “Most parents are afraid of going up to school because they might get negative feedback from a teacher about their child. The PTA must come up with ways to make school a friendly and helpful environment for parents and students. Through PTA-sponsored speakers, game nights, movie nights, picnics and other fun events, parents can come to a school for social activities.”
PTA presidents are encouraged to hold meetings at different times so working parents can attend. “An evening meeting can be piggy-backed with a literacy night or a speaker. We must make it worth the parent’s time.”
OKPTA has a diversity program that is assisting schools that have seen an increase in Hispanic students. “We want those parents to be involved in the school and feel like they can advocate for their student,” Love said. “We do not want a person’s language or culture to stop them from being involved in their child’s education.”
To find out more about the OKPTA, go to okpta.org .