Faced with the challenge of motivating more volunteers to take advantage of the wealth of advocacy resources from National PTA, the Pennsylvania PTA planned a “campaign caper” to launch at the April 2015 convention in Erie, PA. The campaign’s purpose was threefold:
- Encourage delegates to subscribe to the National PTA e-advocacy platform called “Engage”
- Motivate PTA members to have a greater voice in timely federal issues such as the Family Engagement Act and the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) Act
- Create a fun, interactive model of engagement strategies that state delegates could replicate in their local units and councils
Armed with data for schools in Pennsylvania, I presented a federal legislative update reminding delegates of the key federal programs and initiatives that were impacting schools, including examples of federal dollar allocations that directly supported student instruction in random districts. Projected on a large screen in the convention hall, delegates were taken step by step through the sign-up process on the PTA Takes Action Network.
As with any fun caper, props were unveiled such as those at the podium who teased and flashed large battery operated “diamond rings” as delegates were urged to become “engaged.” Deborah Dunstone, 2013-2015 state president, revealed a six-foot banner she had made at Staples, a NPTA member benefits provider. The banner featured a large illustration of a diamond engagement ring with the theme, “Let’s Get Engaged! Join the PTA Takes Action Network Today.” Could that have been music in the background that sounded like Beyonce singing, “Single Ladies”? If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it! Well, the PTA did like it and was further inspired by Charles Scott, National PTA board member from Tennessee, and Ethan Clark, manager of National PTA arts in education programs.
Interacting with the convention body, Charles and Ethan distributed “faux” diamond engagement rings in small organdy drawstring bags to each delegate. In traditional style, Charles chose to propose on bended knee, while Ethan’s proposal style appeared to resemble a vendor throwing peanuts at a baseball game! Priceless. The delegates “rocked” to Beyonce and then willingly made their formal commitment to the oath administered by Ms. Zelno to become partners with the PTA Takes Action Network and become more fully engaged in National PTA advocacy. Their resounding, “I will!” was followed up by the PA PTA Legislation and Advocacy Committee who were “gems” and staffed a table in the exhibit area, armed with laptops. Delegates who subscribed that weekend were given an additional promotional button from NPTA.
The engagement campaign was extremely timely for the pending reauthorization of ESEA which authorizes funding of school districts and educational programs in PA and will also be responsible for policies around school improvement—policies such as standards, assessment, and parent involvement where PTA members have been extremely vocal. “Let’s Get Engaged” was fun relief from the otherwise serious business of a convention body and was successful in drawing greater attention to the importance of advocacy at the federal level. While the diamonds were only a symbolic token, they represented the real need for PTA members to have a greater voice in policy for America’s children. The value of this exercise won’t be judged by cut, clarity, color or carat, but by whether the PTA provided resources to its members to become better advocates.
Sandy Zelno is the federal legislation chair at Pennsylvania PTA.