It's not your mom's PTA
By Donna Krache
PTA President Anna Weselak addresses the organization's convention delegates.
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(CNN) -- They come from all walks of life to the searing desert heat in Phoenix, Arizona: parents, some who are also teachers; administrators and school board representatives.
Many have traveled from faraway places like Alaska and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Yet if you ask them why they are here, the answer is always the same: It's for the kids.
A generation ago, the mention of PTA parents -- primarily mothers -- conjured up images of bake sales and fund-raisers.
At the 110th National PTA Convention, moms are still predominant, but there are also some dads. The issues on the minds of parents and teachers go far beyond bake sales and are as diverse as the students in American classrooms.
For example, Anna Weselak, president of the national PTA, said some of the important topics as the new school year looms are the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind act, parent-principal collaboration, and healthy lifestyles.
No Child Left Behind
The National PTA "supports many provisions of NCLB [No Child Left Behind act] such as those that expand parent-involvement policies, improve the targeting of resources to students and schools most in need, and increase the authorization of funds for NCLB programs," Weselak said.
But she adds, "National PTA is concerned the law relies too heavily on testing as the primary measure of accountability without looking at other important indicators that help assess school performance, such as equity of resources, physical infrastructure, class size, instructional methods and parent involvement."
The focus on testing is a concern throughout the exhibition hall and meetings.
Betty Armwood, a parent from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, says she is worried that "teachers may be concentrating more on helping kids pass tests and their test scores than on the education they should be getting."
Home and school
Three principals take part in a workshop to promote to explore ways for parents, teachers and administrators to work together.
In the 2004 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, 73 percent of new teachers said that too many parents treat schools and teachers as adversaries.
What often starts as an adversarial relationship doesn't need to be, said principal Randy Jensen of American Falls, Idaho.
He encourages teachers to make regular positive phone calls to parents to set the tone. Jensen asks school personnel to realize that "your parent group isn't just your fund-raising arm" but needs to be part of school decision-making as well.
Principal Matthew Welker of Miami-Dade County, Florida, agrees. He urges his colleagues to use the Internet as well as personal contact to enhance positive communication between school and home.
Many agree that parental involvement in education begins at home.
Brenda Grasmick of Pojoaque, New Mexico, offers advice for moms and dads working multiple jobs who can't always attend school events. "Parent involvement also means being ready with breakfast in the morning for your child or a jacket when it's cold outside. This contributes to the success of that child."
In March, the National PTA launched its Rescuing Recess program, a seven-week letter writing campaign to save recess.
Another concern among delegates to the convention, including Kim Kerschen of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is children's health.
Two convention resolutions on the ballot deal directly with health. One urges training for at least two school staff members in diabetes care and emergency procedures, and the other encourages schools to develop school health councils.
The debate over the diabetes resolution raises lively discussion. Parents whose children have diabetes naturally support the resolution. Some speakers, however, question whether state laws might prevent the resolution from becoming reality.
Other delegates ask how much school personnel can be expected to do. But the resolution passes with minor modifications, as does the school health council resolution.
The convention has its share of speakers, awards, seminars and meetings. There is a moving tribute to the National PTA for its support of Gulf Coast PTAs and schools in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The power of the organization is evident not only in its advocacy of children's issues, but also in its ability to muster resources and respond quickly in a time of crisis.
The nation's oldest child advocacy organization is aiming to prove its 21st century mission is far beyond fund-raising. As parent Kim Riffle of Alamogordo, New Mexico, said: "With 6 million members, when the PTA speaks, people listen."
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