Joining the PAC, for the Right Reasons

Image Courtesy Unsplash

Image Courtesy Unsplash

It starts innocently enough… a chat in the school parking lot or playground, a parent talking about what grade their child is in, or the sports they are involved in.

They ask what little Johnny thinks of his teacher, or what little Susie's favourite class is.

And then it comes. The dreaded phrase all parents are familiar with. The one that strikes fear into their bones and makes them run and hide or claim mysterious illnesses….

"We are looking for volunteers for our Parent's Advisory Council.”

As much as it can be overwhelming, there are so many good reasons to join a PAC. There are also the wrong reasons too.

My foray into the PAC started very much this way, with the parking lot chat. I was waiting in the playground for my son to get out of Kindergarten (yes, you get hit up EARLY) and the chair of the PAC approached me to chat.

We got talking and he mentioned that there was a PAC meeting coming up and that I should come and find out what it was all about. My mom was always very involved in my school years and so I figured, what the heck.

At the very least I'd know what was going on. I went to that meeting, and ended up volunteering to co-organize the biggest fundraiser of the year, the school's fun fair. The next year I was convinced to take on the role of Vice Chair. Then Secretary. Then Chair. I also sit on the executive of my daughter's dance association, and have sat on the board of our district PAC.

It's a lot. I wonder what on earth I was thinking that first time I said, "Yes, I'll do that, it sounds interesting.”

Sometimes I regret it. Weeks like this, where I have three meetings three nights in a row, I down right want to quit it all and stay home and watch Netflix (The Good Wife is my current binge). But then I remember why I’m doing it, and what I and my children are getting out of it.

I'm doing it because I want to make a difference and help my kids school be the best it can be. Realistically, I have some great skills that should be utilized.

I'm compassionate and diplomatic (I actually used my PAC experience as an example of conflict resolution in a cover letter. You get 10 moms around a table who don't agree, and you have to be diplomatic!).

I feel like I have a responsibility to get as involved as I can because I know it's hard and other parents just can't.

It's a daunting thing to get involved in. Many times the executive is made up of parents who have been in it for years, and it can have that feeling of cliquiness.

That cliquiness typically evolves when you have people involved for the wrong reasons.

So, with that said here is my list of good reasons (and also those bad reasons) to take that plunge and get involved in your school's PAC.

The Good

  • Studies show that kids with parents involved in school volunteer activities earn higher test scores and have better social skills and achievements.

  • It’s a perfect opportunity to be involved in decisions at the school level.

  • There’s an increased awareness of what is happening at the school (you don't have to rely on little Susie to bring home those flyers).

  • Also, there’s an increased collaboration with teachers and other parents (being visible at the school means teachers get to know you and develop a relationship with you).

  • Young kids are always proud to say their parents are volunteering (my son took great pride in telling his friends I was PAC Chair, even in Grade 6).

  • Having a say in how the money is spent. PACs often have big budgets and you can be the difference between it being spent on books, sports equipment, tech or a slushie machine.

  • Self satisfaction of a job well done.

  • You have big ideas and want to help implement them.

The Bad

  • You want to have power.

  • You want to show up that mom over there that you're better than she is.

  • Your friends are forcing you (parents who don't actually want to be involved are the worst volunteers).

  • You have one agenda and ignore the rest. Being on the PAC means being there for the school as a whole and making decisions for all kids. Not just yours.

  • You want things to change but aren't willing to step up to help that change (I can't count how many times someone has shown up a PAC meeting to complain but then refused to be a part of the solution, or even offer ideas for a solution).

Over the past eight years I've been involved in organizing fun fairs and dances, taken meeting minutes, reviewed and revised the associations bylaws, picked winners for our high school bursaries, sat on a DPAC committee for sexual health education, spent hours setting up, tearing down and running book fairs (my favourite!), attended meetings with the district superintendent, supported teacher resource spending increases and overall have made some great friends and huge differences in our school.

One thing I'm immensely proud of is that we now have a PAC representative present at the beginning of school staff meetings to improve communication between teachers and parents (something we as a PAC had heard was deteriorating).

It was an initiative I heard from a friend and felt compelled to institute at our school.

The principal was receptive and I've heard nothing but positive feedback from the teachers who can ask questions directly, let the PAC rep know of their resource needs, and also be informed of what the heck the parent contingent is up to.

I'm heading into year nine of being involved, seven of those actually sitting on the executive, and I can't imagine not doing it.

And I will encourage everyone who has a child to get involved and give it a try, if you’ve got good intentions.

It's the best thing you can do, and you won't regret it…


Amber Regamey Marsh