RenÌ©e Wilson, a mom of two, didn't think she'd have the time to get involved in school volunteering until she jumped in and realized that it doesn't have to be hard-core.
It’s a Monday night and the parent advisory council (PAC) of my school assembles around a makeshift boardroom table in the school library. It’s my first meeting and I’m already wondering where the bored, ex-corporate stay-at-home moms with control issues are because, contrary to the stereotype, they sure aren’t in this room. I’m mingling with a math teacher, a social worker, two nurses, the former buyer for a major Canadian retailer, a professional singer, an autism specialist and a drama teacher.
Like me, it turns out that these parents are here because they believe what the research shows: When parents are involved in their children’s education, their children are more successful in school. “Parent involvement creates a sense of ownership and confidence in the education system,” says Ann Whiteaker, president of the British Columbia Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (a volunteer organization that supports over 800 PACs and district parent advisory councils across the province) and a mom of three, who began volunteering on the PAC at her kids’ school 11 years ago. She adds, “Schools are communities, and families thrive in a community environment.”
At its essence a PAC gives parents input at the school level. Within the first 30 days of the new school year, PAC elections take place and the executive team and voting members are established. At our school the executive consists of two co-chairs, a treasurer, a fundraising coordinator, a public relations coordinator, one teacher representative, one student council representative and 11 voting members. The principal and vice-principal attend all meetings, which typically run for one hour once a month during the school year. You don’t have to be a voting member to attend a meeting, and you can volunteer as your interests suit.
Kathy Mighton of Toronto is on the board of both her five-year-old daughter’s daycare and her school. “I jumped in with both feet because I wanted to be a part of the two major influencing factors in my daughter’s life,” she says. “I thought it would be a good way to connect with parents like me who feel it is important to be involved in their child’s environment.”
As for getting along with all the members, Mighton admits that just like any other organization, it can be hard to like everyone. “I find that there are those who talk the talk but keep their heads down when it’s time to work and then those who just roll up their sleeves and pitch right in.”
Admittedly, some council meetings are yawners — like the time ours laboured for almost an hour to approve spending $360 on an egg incubator so that the primary kids could experience chicks hatching in the spring. We debated saving the money by making our own, but seeing as our council’s treasurer distributed a financial statement reflecting a balance of nearly $15,000 for us to spend on school needs, it seemed crazy to consider such a project that had the potential to go very wrong.
But some meetings are inspiring — like when we voted to spend council money on much-needed musical instruments, state-of-the-art computer equipment and innovative tools for the Eco Club. It feels great to cast votes in those areas that make such a difference for the students.
Our council tackles fundraising events as if we’re on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. For example, in only 12 weeks a six-person subcommittee coordinates the biggest party of the school year: the Fun Fair. We host nearly 600 guests and work well into the wee hours of the morning to figure out how to move it all inside in the event of a torrential rainstorm. The list of items we’ve drummed up for the silent auction reads like a prize table at a corporate banquet. Last year the event ended up raising almost $5,000 for the school.
Turns out that we’re the most efficient unpaid organization I know of. In fact, peel back the layers of every fun fair, parade, festival, recital, practice and picture day and you’ll likely find a PAC member. As for being catty and cliquey, sorry, our PAC just isn’t. I think we’re all too busy.