When parents club together, wonderful things can happen, as the PAs at these top schools go to show
Whether you want to play a more active role in your child’s school life, find a meaningful way to put your skills to good use, or simply give back to the community, supporting the parents’ association (PA) at your school may be just the ticket.
Designed to bring pupils, staff, parents and the wider community together through fun initiatives that give back, from quiz nights to school fêtes and second-hand uniforms sales, PAs add value in a variety of ways.
What are school PAs all about?
The JESS Parents’ Group (JPG) at JESS Arabian Ranches invites parents of primary and secondary school aged kids to get involved in a fun line-up of social events and activities that take place throughout the school year. Since its inception in 2006, JPG has raised over Dhs1 million in funds and while making money isn’t its primary purpose, it has enabled the school to finance some much-needed extra resources, including a baby grand piano (named the ‘Henderson Grand’ after former music teachers Mr. and Mrs. Henderson), a substantial number of iPads for both the Primary and Secondary schools, toys for the Primary playground and much more.
JESS Jumeirah JPG Chairperson Ritu Puri said: “JPG is a group of parents who meet once every month or more to organise internal events for the parents, students and the school community as a whole. Its role is to improve the overall educational experience of the children by encouraging the extra involvement of the school community via all the different events that are organised.”
The parents’ group works closely with the school administration to meet its goals, with top diary dates including the JPG family cricket and netball matches, quiz nights for grown ups, movie nights and discos for the children and school proms.
“All the parents automatically become members of the JPG and the roles in the group are fluid,” continued Puri. “The involved parents take on tasks as and when they can, and help to organise events based on the expertise and time they can lend. Our biggest event last term was the JESS Festive Fête, which attracted more than 1,500 people. “We have had several new parents join the JPG this year either as regular members or as volunteers,” she added. “It’s a great way for new parents to meet other like-minded people, share their views and ideas on how to improve and build upon the wonderful community feel at school.”
Ideas that give back
The role of the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) at the not-for-profit American School of Dubai (ASD) is two pronged: to build the community and enrich student learning. This is achieved in a variety of ways, from coordinating community events to hosting coffee mornings, movie nights, offering education workshops and more. The PTSA is led by a nine-member volunteer board elected by the community on an annual basis in the spring. Members typically devote five to 10 hours per week and are supported by non-elected event chairs and committee members as well as day-of-event volunteers. In a typical year, about 50 committed volunteers are involved.
In 2019, a number of impressive initiatives were born out of the association. Among these was the launch of the Falcon Business Network, a parent-led initiative with a mission to provide a platform for business professionals to network and exchange ideas, create partnerships and learn from one another, gain visibility in the ASD community, and provide real-world learning opportunities to ASD students. The school also successfully expanded its formal grants programme, releasing much-needed funds to the school community.
“The idea is that anyone who is a part of ASD who has a new, innovative idea to improve the ASD community can apply for a chance to receive funding to kick-start the programme or fully fund it,” explained Anuj Jain, Secretary of the PTSA at ASD and father of two Elementary students. “Last year, we funded a music group to come from the US and perform on campus bringing a new cultural experience. We also funded a hybrid water fountain where you can fill reusable bottles and support our sustainability programmes.”
Social activities also became more inclusive of all age groups. As a case in point, the school’s trunk-or-treat event, where parents brought their personal vehicles, decorated them, and handed out candy for Halloween, was a hit. For 2020, continuing to host signature social events that help fundraise, funding grants that benefit the ASD community, and strengthening the community feel, are high up on the agenda.
Enriching the student experience
PAs also help to enhance the student experience in the wider sense. Safa British School’s Friends of Safa (FoS) is tasked with organising those all-important added extras, from community service initiatives to end-of-year send-offs. There’s a core group of five members who meet each week at the school to discuss upcoming events. In addition, at half-terms the meetings are opened up to the extended FoS collective and other parent volunteers.
“From the core group, each role is divided according to the set of skills the parent has,” said Zara Harrington, Principal at Safa British School. “The extended group then further divide the tasks according to contacts they have and what they can cover.”
A highlight in the annual calendar is Santa’s Grotto. “So much time and effort goes into creating the area, choosing the gifts for the children, having them wrapped and running the actual day,” said Harrington. “But the smiles on the children’s faces are priceless. Our biggest event in 2020 planned so far is our Proud to be Purple Day. The school is moving sites to a purpose-built campus and we are going to enjoy our final day in style.”
Connect with like-minded people
Ultimately, joining the FoS is a lifeline into school life. “It’s a great way for any parent to become more involved within the school, not just through the academics, but by building memories that their own children will remember for years to come,” said Harrington. Plus, if you are new to the city, getting involved can help you feel settled faster.
“When so many of us are far away from home, the parent network across the school is so important,” said Zoe Woolley, Headmistress of Foremarke School Dubai. “Our parents are instrumental in welcoming new families and helping them settle into our school community, as well as bringing many events to life throughout the year.
“There are a number of ways that parents can get involved, perhaps through helping on the organisation side, operations or promotion of an event,” she said. “There are many parents who devote an enormous amount of time to support the school, and as school leaders we are very appreciative of this. People have busy lives and we acknowledge that time is precious.”
Help to support local charities
“Our parents have regularly supported our fundraising efforts for the Dubai Cares initiative, as well as giving time to enhance in school events,” said Woolley, who counts the teddy bears’ picnic and school discos among the most popular. “Sometimes families are unable to dedicate their time regularly, however, they are always welcome to evening and weekend events. Our school is a community and whatever time or commitment parents and friends can offer is always valued and enhances the richness of the school as a whole.”
What the parents say
Natalie Peirson is a member of the JPG at JESS Arabian Ranches. She says: “We feel that JESS is more than a school – it’s a community – and the JPG feels that it is important to keep this at the fore of everything we do; to keep drawing our community together.
“Raising additional funds for the school for projects that may fall outside of school budgeting allowances, by getting involved in whatever capacity you can, is a great way of giving back and you’ll feel an enormous amount of satisfaction as a result. Plus, by actively supporting the JPG and being involved, we are teaching our children to give too.”
Mehnaz Anshah plays an active role in Safa British School’s Friends
of Safa (FoS) and she says: “Being part of FoS has played a huge role in breaking the ice on having conversations about school with my kids. I’m now better informed, and am able to help other parents by sharing information on upcoming events at the school.
“As an artistic person myself, I love being part of the various projects we work on, such as getting stage props and costumes ready for school plays. The core team share great camaraderie, which makes it all the more enjoyable. My kids appreciate my involvement and we look forward to events as a family.”
Anuj Jain is Secretary of the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) at American School of Dubai (ASD) and he says: “My belief is if you don’t get involved, you have no right to sit back and simply complain. You have to get engaged and be part of the change.
“I think when parents get involved in the PTSA they immediately see the effects of what they are doing and how it has a positive impact on the school community. Everyone involved is energetic, passionate and lots of fun to work with. The best bit, however, is being on campus during school hours and running into your little ones.”