Looks to Recruit More Males, Minorities
Most members are women; group steps up outreach plans across
by Ben Feller, The Associated Press, October 28, 2003
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When Alaina Kwan
was in kindergarten a few years ago, her father would drive her
to school, wait with other parents to greet the teachers and
take his stand in no man's land.
"So there I am, and it's 15 mothers and me," recalled Frank
Kwan, communications director for the Los Angeles County Office
of Education. "And they're looking at me funny, as if to say,
'Do you have a real job?' It took a little bit of adjustment."
Soon, other fathers approached Kwan when they found out he was
the only dad who volunteered in Alaina's class in Glendale,
Calif. By the end of the school year, 10 fathers joined in as
classroom helpers, thanks in part to Kwan's pitch: Just give it
Such outreach is happening across the country as the PTA aims to
recruit members and develop leaders among groups not widely
represented, particularly men and Hispanics.
Nine of 10 PTA members are women and more than eight in 10 are
white, the organization estimates. Hispanics, the country's
largest minority, are projected to account for almost one in
four public school children by 2020, yet they make up only 4
percent of the PTA's 6.2 million members.
The group was founded as the National Congress of Mothers more
than a century ago and later changed its name to the
Parent-Teacher Association. The PTA has realized that to back up
its slogan -- "Every Child, One Voice" -- it needs some fresh
voices of its own.
"You can't be a parent organization, a really strong, vibrant
one, if you're not reflective of all the parents," said National
PTA President Linda Hodge of Colchester, Conn. "It's imperative
for the organization to make that happen."
The PTA's national agenda over the years has ranged from
promoting polio vaccinations to teaching parenting skills. At
the local level, PTAs often pay for field trips, computer
software and textbooks the school system could not otherwise
afford, along with getting volunteers to help in classrooms or
with school projects.
With 26,000 local chapters, the PTA is active in more than one
of every four public schools. Yet more diversity is needed for
the organization to remain relevant, strengthen its base and
build its clout, leaders said.
All that leads to the top goal: helping more kids succeed by
getting parents or guardians involved in schools. Research on
fathers, for example, shows children do better in class when
fathers get involved.
"Historically, a school has been a place where the women go in,
help out the teacher, help out in the office and, if you want to
go further back, do the bake sales," said Renata Witte,
immediate past president of the New Mexico PTA. "As dads have
become more of a partner in the raising of children, I'm not
sure we've changed that school culture."
The New Mexico PTA sent every school in the state a brochure of
activities for dads, featuring a clip-and-send form for fathers
who want to read in class. Every school also got posters
promoting participation by dads, Witte said, designed to make
sure male visitors don't feel like intruders.
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