PTSAs struggle to adapt as schools remain closed
Various aspects of education have been heavily impacted by COVID-19 this year, ranging from remote learning to limited extracurriculars. Parent Teacher Student Associations (PTSAs), which usually provide funding and run events alongside other school programs, have also found themselves rushing to adapt to the needs of online school ever since the lockdown began in March.
PTSAs typically support their affiliated school through the funding of materials, such as lab equipment for science classes or instruments for band, or through programs including field trips and extracurriculars, as well as events like school dances and assemblies. Teachers can also apply for grants from the PTSA.
Yet, this year, membership, donations numbers and participation for PTSAs have significantly decreased.
PTSAs at Dickinson Elementary and Eastlake High have about 80 to 90 percent the participation level of previous years, while Inglewood Middle School’s PTSA has about 400 members compared to 700 and 900 in the previous two years. Participation is also down at membership meetings, which may present a problem because a certain minimum number of members must be present to have a quorum for voting.
“The biggest challenge is to reach the people,” said Sambhrama Mundkur, the Fundraising VP at Evergreen Middle School PTSA. “Because parents are also getting a lot of emails… so how do we break through that clutter and reach them, that’s the main goal. I feel like if people see that we are doing this, they will be inclined to join.”
This decline in participation has also impacted the ability of PTSAs to fundraise.
“I think we’re almost down to one-half of what we would have received by this time last year,” said Jay Pulacode, co-president of the PTSA at Tesla STEM High School. “We didn’t want to push it at all, because everyone is having a hard time this year.”
Other schools appear to be facing the same crisis, with Dickinson Elementary having raised about $5,000, compared to $30,000 last year. Some schools have done slightly better. Eastlake High reports 80 to 90 percent of last year’s take, and Evergreen Middle School says that they have raised about 75 percent. Inglewood has raised about $13,000 of their $20,000 goal. This goal has not changed from previous years.
One of the main reasons is that several methods of fundraising have been cut due to COVID-19 restrictions. Whereas auctions, Fun Runs, PTSA events, and affinity programs, in which a donation is made after somebody makes a purchase at a participating store or restaurant, were common before the pandemic, most PTSAs are solely relying on Pass the Hat donations now, in which families donate whatever they can.
“We’re concerned that, with people not being in school, they’re not seeing the value of the PTSA, or the word is not getting out,” said Megan Anderson, co-president of the Dickinson PTSA.
Reserve funds are also being drawn out, which is a source of concern for Anderson.
“If we’re depending on a minimum of $30-40,000 per year, and we’re running on $5,000, we’re going to have to look at cutting some programs, if we can’t get back up and running again next year,” Anderson said. “It hasn’t made a big impact yet, because we don’t have field trips, so we don’t have to pay for them.”
Other PTSA members agree that their spending priorities have shifted.
“Right now, with students not being at school, funding physical items has obviously kind of fallen away,” said Katja Wright, president of the Inglewood Middle School PTSA. “We’re trying to figure out ways to fund things that make sense right now.”
Many PTSAs have shifted to direct support for families that are struggling financially. They have been organizing gift card collections and then giving these gift cards to counselors who provide them to families in need.
From an activities standpoint, PTSA boards at local schools are trying to reach out to families who might be feeling disconnected, and organizing virtual activities and programs.
At Dickinson Elementary, the PTSA used to do a coffee hour, where parents would come in through the library to mix and mingle.
“Now we have to do that online… where you bring your coffee, sit in front of your computer, get to know some of the other parents,” said Anderson, the Dickinson PTSA co-president.
Evergreen PTSA started a series of small online programs, such as a Halloween costume photo contest and a family Kahoot night, said Mundkur, its PTSA Fundraising VP.
PTSAs are also doing educational events for parents on topics such as mental health, and hosting yoga nights. They are prioritizing ways to bridge social distance and maintain a sense of community.
Anderson admits that everyone is still trying to figure out how to adapt.
“One important thing is that PTSAs want to know what people are thinking,” she said. “If anyone has any ideas…now is the time where we’re being very flexible, and we would love to hear from our communities.”