“You guys aren’t just about tea and crumpets, are you?”
“I thought PTA was just for fundraising.”
These are two quotes that I distinctly remember from my time as a district president with the California State PTA as we worked with the County Office of Education and the Urban League on efforts to improve educational success for African-American students in San Diego County.
The County Office of Education, the San Diego Urban League, and Ninth District PTA collaborated on a series of events designed to improve teaching for black students in the region and to holding a parent involvement event targeted at African-American parents. We also participated in a presentation to a group of County Board of Education trustees, County superintendents, and National leaders from throughout California at an event in Palm Springs. The events included a presentation from a linguistics expert on the origins of Black English and methods for teaching these youngsters to code switch as appropriate for the situations they are in. We also had a presentation for educators from a very successful administrator of a school that had a substantial majority of African-American students. Both of these speakers provided insight on ways to improve academic success for African-American students.
Ninth District PTA also participated in the new era (Everyone Recommitting to Academic Achievement) back to school events targeted at students in Title I schools in the San Diego Unified School District. We had the good fortune of receiving a large number of backpacks and school supplies from the Office Depot Foundation that we could donate to the event. The back-to-school event served 3000 students and parents in August with a series of workshops for parents and students with the aim of preparing students and families for the upcoming school year. During the second year of our participation in this event, National PTA president Jan Harp Domene spoke to several hundred participants in the opening session.
Going back to the first quote, I was explaining to a representative of the Urban League that California State PTA sponsored legislation to require parental notification when the police sought to interview or interrogate a student at school. Given the disproportionate contact of minority and low-income students with police agencies, this gentleman understood that the benefit of this effort would reach students that the urban league also placed as a high-priority.
With regard to the second quote, the Urban League representative and I were teaching a class about advocacy to a group of parents at the parent event we organized. We were interrupted early in the presentation by a teacher who said, “I thought PTA was just about fundraising.” I took the opportunity to go off script and give a brief history of PTA’s advocacy legacy and reminded the audience that PTA came into existence to advocate on behalf of children. This was news to the teacher and to some other parents in a room. We explained to the room that advocacy was simply speaking up for children with their teachers, principals and other people in authority who come in contact with their children. Speaking up for children seemed a lot less scary to the participants than the word advocacy.
Benefits of participation with these groups included a greater understanding that PTA is relevant in all communities where kids attend school. Our involvement in these events helped create a great understanding that PTA is relevant in all communities, seeks to engage families of all walks of life, and that our message of every child, one voice actually does include all children.
Brian Bonner currently serves as California PTA’s Federal Legislative Chair and as the Vice Chair of the National PTA Legislative Committee.
Want to learn more about how to advocate in your community? Check out National PTA’s Advocacy Toolkit. Check out these blog pieces to learn how to create an advocacy plan and engage local families and communities in activism.
The 2014 National PTA Legislative Conference occurs March 11-13 in Washington, D.C.! Consider joining this event to learn how to advocate at all levels and to speak with your members of Congress!