One of the greatest difficulties facing P&Cs is a lack of volunteers, so when Council asked to talk to P&Cs about their volunteer woes, we were delighted to hear from Helen Bell, P&C President at Turner School, who asked if we also wanted to talk to P&Cs with lots of amazing volunteers.
“Yes!” we said. “How do you do it?”
“Five or six years ago, there was a feeling that the P&C was on its way out,” Helen told us “but we’ve turned it around. We now have a group of people who really get something out of it and want to be there. We all have paid jobs, and juggle our P&C commitments, but we get enough back that we are happy to keep doing it.”
The key? A change in focus from fundraising to fun.
“Fundraising is such a drag on the community, so we only do it to cover our expenses and where there are specific purposes in line with our priorities,” explained Helen. “What we do now is build social connections between the school, parents and community, while having fun. That’s our role, our mission at the school.”
“There was some tension between the P&C and the Board and we sat down and thought about the P&C role. It seemed that social networking was the thing that the P&C could do well and add value to the community.”
“It is actually a clear mission we have all taken on board and work towards,” she said.
“We need to build opportunities for people to be involved. We have a diverse school community, so it is important that everyone gets the chance to meet each other. We have a lot of new families joining the school each year, particularly with embassies and ANU accommodation in our catchment. We create events that are tailored to the children and community. You can’t expect people to come to help at a BBQ or work in a canteen as the only way of connecting to the school. You need to create opportunities for people to socialise.”
“We also started up a Class Parent Contact Network,” Helen said. “It is working really well. Each class representative keeps a list of parent contact details and they can then organise class-level things like playdates, pizza nights or flowers for a teacher with a new baby. They can have a more focused interaction with that group, rather than the P&C trying to be across all the details.”
“We have 30 classes, with 30 class-reps, so we also have a parent who co-ordinates the Network as well as organising the big events. It takes a lot of the pressure off the President’s job”.
“The parent network organises a Big Afternoon Tea at the end of each semester. Families are invited to meet at the school playground, bringing a plate to share. We set up tables for each year group, so people can easily mingle with parents with kids of similar ages. Last time we also ran a plant sale, a sausage sizzle and one of the Year 1 girls had a jelly stall. About 250 came. It’s not much work to run but is a lot of fun.”
The P&C started to approach local businesses with a different mindset too.
“Instead of asking all the local businesses for donations for prizes and so on, we stepped back and looked for businesses who could benefit from the connection with the school, explains Helen. “Our focus is on building community partnerships so that both the school and the businesses benefit, rather than just fundraising. It is much more of a true sponsorship approach.”
“A good example is our arrangement with Dickson Park Dental Surgery, who sponsor our fruit stall at the fete and our trivia night. They offer a dental package for Turner parents, which is promoted as part of the events. Another is the Rugby Union Club at Turner, which sponsored our trivia night and the pizza stall at the fete. We advertise the Club’s promotions and it has become a meeting place for Turner families.”
So what about P&C meetings? Do they get a good turn out for those?
“Our meetings are growing. We meet new people and it grows year on year,” said Helen.
“We have a great Secretary and she makes sure we keep our meetings to just one hour. We have an agenda and keep to it. We make sure people know what is going to be discussed, including what we need approval for, before the meeting by circulating the agenda. That way people know what will be discussed before they come. We talk about key topics in the lead up to the meeting, so that when we get there we know what we are doing and can easily come to a decision.”
There’s obviously a lot to be pleased about how the P&C is working, but when we asked Helen what she is most proud of, it’s not the growing sense of community or re-invigorated P&C.
“Our Fairtrade uniforms!” she said. “We’ve worked hard to find a suitable supplier who has now made school polo shirts for us using organic, Fairtrade-certified cotton. It’s really important as many school uniforms are made by children who don’t get to go to school. Using Fairtrade cotton helps to improve the lives of kids in developing countries, ensuring farmers and workers are paid a fair wage and that children aren’t forced to work in cotton mills and factories to make our uniforms. There was tremendous support among the school community for the Fairtrade uniforms. We took orders initially, but ordered extras so now we sell them each week. I’m happy to talk to other schools who want to go down this path” ●
Editors’ note: Council’s online agenda templates include using notes/attachments to let people know about discussion topics before the meeting