Meet Today’s PTA Advocate:
Each year, National PTA honors its outstanding advocates during its annual Legislative Conference. Last year, the winner of the Shirley Igo Outstanding Advocate Award, one of four categories awarded by National PTA, was Justin Raber, currently the President of West Virginia PTA.
Despite not having children of his own yet, Raber has been an active member of PTA since he was a teenager, seeking educational change while still a student himself. He attended his first National PTA annual convention at the age of 15, and was so inspired to get involved that he successfully petitioned the West Virginia PTA to include a youth member on its Board of Managers. After serving two terms in that position, he was elected Member At-Large for the National PTA Council of States, and was later appointed to the National PTA Diversity Committee, where he served for three years.
In addition to his national duties, Raber continued to volunteer for West Virginia’s PTA as the Membership Chair, and was elected as President-Elect in 2011 while also serving as the Federal Legislative Chair. When he took office as president of West Virginia PTA in 2013, Justin became the youngest person ever elected as President of a state PTA. He has accomplished all of this while working a full-time job and attending law school.
Justin also has extensive knowledge of the legislative system, having spent time on Capitol Hill as an intern, and has built relationships with several of West Virginia’s legislators. His efforts to garner support from Capitol Hill for the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2011 through a grassroots outreach to PTA members helped him win the Shirley Igo Award in 2013. As President, Raber has worked closely with the West Virginia legislature in the hopes of having similar legislation introduced at the state level.
While Raber’s achievements through his involvement with PTA have been extensive and, at times, hard- won, his advice to PTA members also seeking to make a difference is simple: consider your own actions. A parent or family member who joins PTA becomes an advocate simply by signing up. As Raber’s involvement demonstrates, a person does not have to have their own children to be active members of a PTA or champion children’s issues to leaders. One simply has to be willing to get involved for whatever amount of time they can devote.
Parents, families, and community members advocate constantly without realizing it. By speaking with teachers or principals about their children’s progress; joining a committee to fundraise or make improvements to the school building, athletic fields, or cafeteria; or by working with local education officials to protect recess time or implement a new assessment plan, people of every walk of life are advocating on behalf of children. Working with your local PTA unit to assess local needs and come up with a plan are simple ways parents can continue to advocate for every child in their district.
Advocacy does not have to take place in Washington, D.C. to count. However, if you are ready to broaden your advocacy experience, Raber suggests getting involved with your state PTA as a first step. Reach out to your state’s legislative chair to find out how you can support their state or federal legislative priorities at a local, state, and national level.
Regardless of your advocacy experience or the level at which you want to be involved, Raber explains that the most important piece to being a successful PTA advocate is simply caring for children. Children are at the heart of PTA’s mission, and it is PTA’s goal to ensure that every child meets their fullest potential. As a PTA member you can help make this objective a reality.
For more on the PTA Advocacy Awards or to nominate someone you feel is an outstanding PTA advocate, please visit www.pta.org/advocacyawards.For more tips and tools on how to get started on advocating with PTA, please visit www.pta.org/advocacy.
Join fellow PTA advocates for the PTA 2014 Legislative Conference. This exciting three-day event provides in-depth discussion about PTA’s public policy priorities through interactive workshops, keynote speakers, advocacy trainings and more. Registration for the Legislative Conference will open January 17, 2014. Please visit PTA.org/legcon for more information.