Host Joel Gagne talks with Elsa Huxley, former president of the Maury Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, or PTA. The two answer the question “What is a PTA?” while also covering the basics of how PTAs and PTOs work as well as why PTAs are so important.

Joel starts by asking Elsa what made her decide to be so supportive of public schools.

“I really feel that every child should have access to a good, free education in a safe environment with teachers who really care about them,” Elsa says.

She says that as she saw their PTA growing and thriving, she recognized it was a great way for the parents to have a voice with the teachers and administration.

“By being able to harness the power of all the different talents of the parents at our school, we were able to create something that’s really valuable to support the day-to-day experience of the teachers and the administration,” Elsa says.

When Joel asks “What is a PTA or a PTO?” Elsa gives a bit of background and explains what makes PTOs and PTAs so important.

Elsa says that PTAs are made up of a group of dedicated parents who want to help out and see that this is a good avenue to support their children.

She explains that their school’s PTA has grown significantly in budget and reach since she first started working with the PTA.

Elsa says that a great part of their PTA is the active committees that help support events and initiatives, and she explains a bit more on their PTA committees as well as the executive structure and how meetings work.

She says the biggest chunk of money that the PTA receives through fundraising goes directly to aides to support teachers in the classroom. (Read more about this from Elsa on supporting instructional aides with this article in the Washington Post.)

Joel points out that some people may be confused on what is a PTA versus a school board. He explains that a school board does policy, while the PTA is a more of a communication apparatus to help map out the future of the school.

The two agree that all schools have their unique challenges, and PTAs help identify those challenges and support what each school needs.

Elsa says that two signs of a great PTA or PTO are communication and transparency. She says a good working relationship with the administration is also a great thing to check for.

Joel asks how the Maury Elementary PTA keeps people engaged and connected. She says their email list is a great way to keep people engaged. Social media is also a help for them in communicating, but they try to be cognizant that not everyone communicates electronically, so they also have options to communicate outside the internet.

Joel agrees that reaching the community with actual paper is still a great way to communicate.

Elsa says that their 5th grade Space Camp and the support that the PTA gives the group of 5th graders every year is one success story from the Maury Elementary PTA.

Joel is really impressed with the 5th grade Space Camp trip and asks for listeners to email him if they’ve got a similar program.

Elsa says her big wish for public schools would be that everybody would have a great environment in every school regardless of income level.

When asked what book she would recommend to our listeners, Elsa suggests both “A Gentleman in Moscow” and “We were Eight Years in Power.”

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