The perks of being a PTA mom

Online managing editor Nadine Silverthorne on her cloak-and-dagger life on the PTA.

Photo: Tony Lanz
Photo: Tony Lanz

Parent-Teacher Association, School Council, Parent Council — whatever you call it, I’m in it. Up to my eyeballs in it. And as a former party girl who once prided herself on being the world travelling chick-about-town, sometimes I’m surprised to find myself enjoying it.

It all started innocently enough. “Come on! It’ll be fun if we do it together,” my friend Kate pleaded. Her eldest was in grade two, mine was in SK. I listed 13 reasons why it wasn’t a good idea. Volunteering for school council sounded like, well, work. Also, wasn’t the PTA something only crazy June Cleaver types joined? Kate persisted. “Fine. I’ll go to one meeting,” I acquiesced. But much like being peer pressured into my first sip of peach schnapps, all it took was a taste, and suddenly there was no way to stop.

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In our first year, we were not yet entrenched, skipping meetings due to sick kids or Grey’s Anatomy, dipping a toe into some fundraising projects. Then we began to learn about things that we weren’t aware of as former non-council parents (while they’re available online, we’re not the type to read minutes). That first May, when the principal announced which teachers were covering which grades for the next school year, we hit volunteer gold. The attempts to try and get a teacher of choice started happening before we’d even cleared away the mugs! What other secrets might this PTA business hold?

The following September, the executive committee nominations were going around, and I felt a hand go up very close to my head. It took a second to realize that it was attached to my own arm — I had enlisted to be secretary. I figured taking notes would keep me engaged in the meeting after a long workday. I was right, but more importantly, it brought me into the inner circle, and executive council emails and texts I wasn’t privy to before. Kate, in the meantime, became our Ward Council representative, which lead her to something far more intriguing: the Parent Council Mafia.

The PCM, as I affectionately refer to them, consists of a core group of school-council junkies. The dons of our “family” of schools (a cluster of junior schools served by the same superintendent) meet once a month and share high-level intel, like who might be in line to replace retiring principals, where there could be hidden school board resources to access and which fundraising initiatives bring in the most moolah.

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Much like a workout, on busy days, the last thing you want is to go to a meeting, but once you’re there you’re glad you made the effort. In tough years, with labour disputes, budget cuts or an administration that didn’t work well with parents, knowing the ins and outs of your school’s problems can be depressing. But, you tell yourself, the school needs us — the kids need us — to make things better.

Fast-forward four years: Kate and I are co-vice chairs and our social lives revolve around the council. We have a good sense of most of the families in our small, inner-city school. We’ve developed relationships with the administration and the teachers that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Monthly meetings have pizza and child care, plus the option of going to the pub afterward! And school drop-offs are infinitely more fun when you feel like you’ve made stuff happen even before your second coffee.

The work takes up a lot of my spare time. Emails fly back and forth as we plan dances, movie nights and fun fairs. The kids going to the track meet need to stay hydrated — can someone pick up bottled water? We need halal hot dogs for Curriculum Night. Oh, and coolers…and can your husband barbecue?

But just when you’re nearing the point of burnout, just when you think you can’t possibly sign up for another year, something magical happens. You see families smiling, you see your kids with their friends giggling and enjoying themselves at a school event, or you get props because your efforts made Scientists in the School or a Ballet Jorgen performance possible. It’s work, yes, but thankless it’s not. And you can’t ever imagine how you would quit now.

A version of this article appeared in our September 2013 issue with the headline “Schoolhouse of cards,” p. 52.

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