The PTA: How it Works, How to Get Involved

To celebrate International Volunteer Day on December 5, we look at the contribution that parent volunteers are making to one of Singapore’s largest international schools – the Singapore American School.
The PTA: How it Works, How to Get Involved
By Carli Allan
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Parents are a willing workforce in Singapore’s international schools. Walk onto any campus here and you’ll see parents fundraising, organising school-wide events such as International Day and the Christmas Fair, running uniform and stationery shops, co-ordinating school bus services, hosting speakers on topics including health, technology and parenting, and maintaining scholarship funds.

The majority of international schools in Singapore have an active parent teacher association or group. These groups of dedicated (and mostly unpaid) parent volunteers are key to building a close-knit school community – from giving new families a warm welcome at back-to-school events to thanking teachers at annual appreciation breakfast.

The importance of these grassroots organisations is widely recognised by school inspectors; Ofsted, the UK schools’ inspectorate, has found that “joint working between the home and the school led to much better outcomes for pupils”.

A survey of UK schools by PTA UK in 2017 also highlighted the impact of parental engagement within a school. Six out of 10 teachers said that it improves academic achievement (62%) and pupil behaviour (59%), while a third (32%) felt that when parent views are shared, it has a positive impact on school decision-making.

Other key findings included:

  • 68% said building trust and improving relationships between parents and teachers is the biggest benefit of parental engagement
  • 53% believe it helps to develop a shared school ethos and culture
  • 44% believe it reduces absenteeism

Across Singapore, there are many examples of how parents are getting actively involved in the running of their child’s school.

With a student body of more than 4,000, Singapore American School (SAS) has one of the largest campuses in the region. A benefit of having such a large student body is that there is no shortage of parent volunteers. As well as running fundraising and social events, parents are so invested in the school that they volunteer as crossing guards on school mornings to ensure pedestrian safety on Woodgrove Avenue.

SAS talks to WhichSchoolAdvisor about how this school is built on a strong community of parent volunteers.

The PTA office at Singapore American School

How can parents get involved with school activities?

Within the Singapore American School PTA there are a myriad of ways to get involved in school activities. Almost every week, the PTA advertises volunteer opportunities within the weekly school newsletter. Examples of PTA volunteer opportunities include elementary classroom parent, taking a shift in the PTA Cafe and Store, or offering a few hours to support a specific event like the Book Fair or International Fair.

For someone who is interested in a larger PTA role, they can contact the president for board roles that span an entire year. Classroom teachers also offer specific ways that parents can be involved by participating in story time or providing a craft activity during a holiday. And, with 85,000 books, our elementary library always welcomes volunteers to help shelve and organise books. If your prefer to help after school or on the weekends, many of the club sports need parents to help support games and large tournaments.

What are the benefits for parents and their families for getting involved at the school?

Involved parents have insight into the daily interactions between students, teachers, and the administration, which can make your whole family’s transition easier. While new students make friends quickly, it is often harder for adults to make connections. Volunteering at school gives an opportunity to make new connections, build a community, and create lasting friendships.

Parent volunteers at SAS

How do you make new families feel welcome at the school?

Our PTA’s specific mission is community building. Therefore, we have an extensive programme for new families, which begins over the summer. First, we assign Buddy Families to all new families that request one. Buddy Families provide support and can answer questions during your transition. The week before school starts, we open our PTA Store and Cafe to sell sportswear and answer questions about life in Singapore and school at SAS, provide PTA outreach during formal school orientation sessions, and we host a fun ice cream social.

Once the school year starts, we host both schoolwide and divisional welcome events. As a part of the schoolwide welcome coffee, we hold a volunteer fair so parents can ask questions about upcoming events and register their interest in volunteering. Around the same time, we host a schoolwide Welcome BBQ for all families, which is free and purely for fun! Moving countries and schools can be exhausting, and the Welcome BBQ is a time for everyone to relax and connect.

The PTA also provides school tours for new families to help navigate the school and answer questions. Finally, we have an exclusive evening event for parents of new families so they can network with other new families.

Parents can volunteer their time in the SAS library

What advice can you offer parents who are new to the country to help them settle into your school community?

Get involved! Don’t be shy. Attend all the welcome events, school coffees, and activities. Try on multiple roles until you find the one that best suits your talents and interests. While you may feel overwhelmed with unpacking and settling in, volunteering is the best way to start making friends and plugging into your new community.

How does the school encourage parental engagement?

At SAS parents are encouraged to stay engaged, connect, and contribute through parent coffees, community workshops, volunteering as room parents, helping in the libraries or International Fair, or serving on the school board, or PTA and Booster Club organisations.

What are the benefits of parental engagement? How does it have a positive impact on the school?

A strong supportive parent community has always been one of the defining features of Singapore American School. Parent engagement is important to student learning, community building, and fundraising. Parent PTA fundraising events provide the means to sponsor scholarships for high school interim semester trips and graduating seniors, visiting educational speakers and artists, school projects, and library enhancements.

How does the school give parents a voice?

We have hosted a series of Listening Sessions where our superintendent asks a series of questions to various groups of parents. He then uses their collective voices to inform his recommendation to the school board. The school board is elected by the parents, and therefore also represents the parents voice.

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