Parent Teacher Association (PTA) presidents and board members from Alpine School District attended the 2020 conference wearing masks and sitting six feet apart, but they came ready to pivot and support children and teachers in the looming school year amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
“PTA speaks for every child. Whether someone is doing dual-enrollment or totally online, we want them to know they’re still connected,” said Stacy Bateman, PTA Director of Region 9 in Utah and member of the National PTA Board. “I think we learned in Spring when schools shut down that we need to dial down and really think about the focus of PTA. When all the big, fun, events can’t happen, we need to figure out how to advocate for each child so they can reach their full potential,” Bateman continued.
The PTA Conference was held over two days, Monday and Tuesday, August 3-4, at Skyridge High School. Instead of serving breakfast and lunch and offering dozens of classes, the conference was scaled down to classes for presidents, vice-presidents, treasurers, and Reflections, as well as a mental health class with new training on suicide prevention. “I was concerned that people would refuse to wear masks or would insist on sitting closer together, but everyone has followed protocol and had a great attitude. No one has complained at all,” said Bateman.
“The PTA Conference is always amazing. They hype us up and feed us and it’s the best. This year we are quieter, and we got a bag of snacks and water and we had to spread out, but it has still been inspiring,” said Sharra Call, Lehi Council PTA President.
PTA presidents and boards are adjusting programs like Reflections so that families can do everything online. Even volunteer judges can do their job online. “Reflections will probably be bigger this year than before. It’s a program that kids can work on at home and now they can fill out their entry information and hand in their projects online. That was a seamless adjustment and with so many changes it was nice to keep Reflections fairly normal. Any time we can spotlight a child, we’re going to do it,” Bateman explained.
Before the conference, elementary school PTA presidents and boards came prepared to change things like having a take-home carnival and organizing online STEM nights. “Everyone just wants to make this year as great for kids as they can,” said Bateman. During elementary years, PTA advocates for children even though the child may not realize they need it. As the child gets to junior high and high school, the parents take a back seat and children advocate for themselves.
One important aspect of education is making sure children are receiving the nutrition they need so they can focus. Members of the PTA can follow legislation on the state and federal level that affects children like the Child Nutrition Act, which authorizes all the federal school meal and child nutrition programs. “When kids go from elementary to junior high, they may not realize that the number they used for free lunch is the same. I worked with a junior high student years ago who didn’t eat lunch for six months because he didn’t realize he just had to give the same number. That’s one of the ways we can advocate for kids, we need to observe them and ask them the right questions,” Bateman continued. With the possibility of schools shutting down again during the pandemic, getting computers or tablets into the hands of each child and making sure they know how to connect has also become important.
“Going forward, I hope that we’ll keep evaluating what is working and what isn’t working. I hope we’ll be brave and get rid of programs that aren’t working anymore. We need to figure out what the best version of PTA is and put our energy in the right places,” said Bateman. “It’s definitely a different feeling, but there’s a real sense that we’ve got this. We may not have the answers, but we’re willing to figure this out together. We’re going to be okay.”