They warmly welcome new families during back-to-school events, organise a calendar of events, and express gratitude to teachers through annual appreciation breakfasts. Gone are the days of stereotypical "do-gooder" and meddlesome PTA moms; these modern parent associations (such as the GAAPA at GEMS American Academy - Abu Dhabi, pictured above) are focused on addressing important matters that enhance the school environment and foster a stronger home-school partnership.
Joining your school's Parent Association can bring numerous benefits. Georgina AlFarden, Chair of the parent group PARIS at Raffles International School, explains why:
“Being part of a Parent Association (PA) gives you the opportunity to actively engage in your child’s education and stay informed about your child’s school life. You will gain insights into the educational system and the chance to contribute to your child’s learning experience.
"Parent associations also create a platform for parents to connect with other parents who share common interests. By joining the PA, you will give yourself a voice. PAs advocate for parent interests and concerns at the school advisory council level. The PA has the potential to influence school policy in a way that benefits parents and their children.”
For parents who are new to the country, joining the parent association can help them settle into the school community and make friends. While it may feel overwhelming as you settle in, volunteering a small amount of time for your child's school can be the best way to start making friends and plugging into your new community.
Laura Shamsutdinova, Chair of PADIAB at Dubai International Academy Al Barsha, adds:
"Being a full PADIAB member or short-term volunteer, you model what makes a real community, enhance social well-being, and motivate students to make a difference by personal example.
"With their various skills and expertise, parents can contribute to decision-making processes to improve the school. You can get involved with parent-student, parent-teacher and parent-teacher-student initiatives, real-life projects, and fun activities for all."
Parents' contribution to their school can include fundraising for events such as the Year 6 leavers' party, organising school-wide events such as International Day, quiz nights and the Winter Fair, running second-hand uniform sales, and hosting coffee mornings for new parents.
Across the UAE, there are many examples of how parents are getting actively involved in their child’s school and community.
The Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) at American School of Dubai organises events such as the Fall Harvest Festival and a Tree Lighting event; it also houses a Falcon Business Network, which brings the ASD business community together for networking.
The Friends of Aquila School organise workshops such as Learning Arabic for Parents, Kitchen Garden, and Dubai 30×30 Family Fitness. Arcadia School hosts an annual Ramadan Cares programme, as well as parent craft fairs and healthy eating stalls for sports day. And the Parent Friends Association at Jumeira Baccalaureate School runs a monthly market selling pre-loved books and uniforms, and also featuring student-led initiatives.
Maha Younes, Booster Club President and former GAAPA President of GEMS American Academy - Abu Dhabi, says parents can get involved with a wide range of social, sporting and arts activities
"GAAPA, as the school’s parent association is commonly referred to, focuses on exciting school-wide events that raise school spirit and promote a sense of community. Booster Club, meanwhile, helps support our athletics and arts departments by organising and volunteering at various sports-related events throughout the year.
"GAAPA hosts coffee mornings, Fall Festival, International Food Festival, socials outside of school, teacher appreciation occasions, and fun in-school events for students. Booster Club hosts the end-of-year sports banquet and the coaches’ luncheon. It also sells sports items, operates the Snack Shack at all tournaments and events, and provides awards for athletes."
Most schools will promote their parent group on their website, where you will find a webpage about their PA. At the start of term, you'll probably be given a welcome pack by your school which should also give you details about your PA and how to contact them.
And, if you have any doubts, Maha Younes (GEMS American Academy - Abu Dhabi), has this friendly advice.
"Parents are able to give back to the community and act as role models for their children, demonstrating what a positive contributing member of society looks like. Getting involved fosters friendships and builds networks and connections. It also creates a strong rapport between school and parents – after all, we are in this together!"