Monday, March 3, 2014

Comparing Parent Council Events

They are part of my work day and my volunteer nights. 
Both of these involve working with SACs (School Advisory Councils) and CSACs (Catholic School Advisory Councils). At work, I am one of the teacher liaisons for our school's SAC, because I am one of the chairs. At home, I am the CSAC chair for my children's school. Both council groups recently had a big community event and I thought it'd be interesting to report and compare.

Read-a-thon Fundraiser

At the school where I work, the Parent Council organized a Read-a-thon. Originally, some parents wanted to conduct chocolate sales, but the principal encouraged them to try something different that would link to positive lessons for the students (i.e. encouraging reading, instead of promoting unhealthy snack choices). Students collected sponsors and every day in school from February 18-28, we had a "Drop Everything And Read" time, signaled by certain music over the PA. Everyone that collected $20 or more automatically received a prize (a school lanyard along with another token of appreciation) and those that collected $50 or more had their name entered into daily draws for bigger prizes. The class with the most funds (divided by the amount of students in class, to make it equitable) received a pizza party, and the top twenty collectors had their names entered in the grand prize draw for a $200 Best Buy gift card. The culminating event was a Snuggle Up and Read / Pajamas day, where parents were invited into the school to read with their children in the classroom (or in the library, if they had multiple children in different classes). The fundraiser earned over $6000 for the school to help pay for new band instruments and team jerseys.

Family Movie Night

At my children's school, the Parent Council chose to set up a Family Movie Night. The main purpose for the event was a community-building exercise, but fundraising was a secondary goal. Tickets were $2 per family (regardless of family size) and buying a ticket entered the group into a raffle. One of our parents did a great job soliciting donations from local businesses and we had some attractive prizes, such as McDonalds Happy Meals for a year and a Starbucks treat basket. The school also ordered healthy snacks to sell during the movie at our school concession stand. Thirty families (101 people) came out on February 28 to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. We don't have the results from the snack sales as yet.


1) The principal played an important role.
At my school, the principal bought prizes, drew names for the draw, delegated responsibilities to parents (counting money, setting up a reception for parents after the PJ Day), assigned teachers to tasks (managing the progress thermometers, taking photographs of the winners) and handled any challenges that came up. At my children's school, the principal bought snacks, MC'd the event, coordinated the finances (collecting ticket sale funds), gave advice, and also handled any challenges that arose. As the leader of the building, they have an important say in how the event proceeds.

2) Think about the money, honey.
Although "the purpose of the school council is ... to improve pupil achievement and to enhance the accountability of the education system to parents" (People for Education newsletter, Volume 17 Issue 1, September 26, 2013), 81% of school councils are involved in fundraising activities (ibid). Raising money is concrete and quantitative, easily measured and can be clearly conveyed to other stakeholders. . Each of these events had a social bonding aspect to it, in addition to the financial rationale; the CSAC event wasn't primarily about getting money, but every little bit helps

3) Community involvement is key.
Without the parents, these events would've flopped. It's not just the parents involved with the organization - those people were vital to the success of the event - but it was also those who chose to attend. The public school event was during the day but we still had dozens of adults come to read with their family members. The Catholic school event was in the evening and several families postponed dinner until 8:30 p.m. so they could come and show support. 


1) The amount of time available to chat vs the amount of chatting.
Watching a movie doesn't always lend itself well to prolonged conversations, but there was a lot of socializing happening in the hallway and near the concession stand between parents. While parents waited in the library for the signal to enter their children's classrooms to read with them, it was very quiet, despite having a large crowd. This may have been due to language barriers between families (because we have Cantonese, Mandarin, and Tamil speaking groups) or could be possibly attributed to our very shy adults in "official" school space. For any future events, we need to make sure parents have time and are encouraged to talk with each other. Maybe SAC members need to help facilitate those ice breaking conversations. 

2) During school time vs after hours.
Even though the CSAC event was at 7:00 p.m., three teachers stayed to watch the movie and support the cause with donations and their presence. The SAC event at my school was held during instructional hours, where all teachers agreed to give 15 minutes of their teaching time every day for two weeks to silent reading. Could this discrepancy be related to last year's "pause" (which impacted public schools but not Catholic schools)? I know that as a chairperson, I am much more sensitive now to asking or demanding things from the staff, because they are not required to stay longer. 

We took photos of both events but I don't have permission to share them here. Both events were a lot of work but were very successful. I hope it leads to increased parent engagement for both organizations. 

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