PTA breaks down barriers to support parents in the school community

Key Summary

Mrs Suchitra Varma, a parent with a child at Botanic Primary School in Northern Ireland, explains how becoming involved in the PTA helped to break down cultural barriers - and eventually led to her taking a role at the school.

Suchitra and her family relocated to Northern Ireland from India nine years ago, where she had worked at a teacher in a secondary school for 5 years. Following her family’s move, she wanted to engage with her child’s education so that she could understand the curriculum and how children are taught.

Cultural differences

Suchitra takes up the story: “Having moved to Northern Ireland, I knew there would be many differences mainly because in India, parents don’t interact with teachers in the way they do here. Involvement in school life isn’t something that was encouraged and to ask the teachers questions would be considered disrespectful. I really wanted that to change and to play a part in my child’s education, although I wasn’t sure how to go about getting involved until I heard about the PTA.”

PTA opens doors

Suchitra decided to attend a PTA meeting at her child’s school: “At first, it was very daunting because it was so alien to me. I was overcome by the warm welcome I received from the parents and teachers, as well as the positive relationships that exist between them. “I have now built up excellent relationships with others parents and the teaching staff, which eventually encouraged me to offer to help out in the classroom, which the teachers welcomed immediately.”

Multi-cultural group

After Suchitra joined the PTA other parents from ethnic minorities were encouraged to do the same. Today, the diverse group is thriving and runs numerous multi-cultural events, including food and dress from around the world. The main emphasis however is on raising money for the school and educational opportunities within the school. To date there have been opportunities to assist with:

A new climbing frame

Balcony development

ipads

And most recently a new shed / playhouse

   
Volunteer to employee

As well as being an active member of the PTA, Suchitra is also a valuable member of the school staff, having taken up the post of a classroom assistant.

In school, Suchitra alternates between wearing western clothes and Indian dress, which initially prompted questions from some of the children, as she explains: “The children asked me why I was coming to school wearing fancy dress and I was able to start a discussion with them that this is how ladies dress in my culture. It’s really helped to normalise things like cultural dress in our school.”

Bringing cultures together

Through her involvement in Botanic Primary PTA, Suchitra was able to learn about significant cultural differences. She also shared information about her own culture with families and teachers at the school, enriching learning and supporting greater community cohesion.

Mrs Suchitra Varma, PTA representative at Botanic Primary School said: 

"Botanic Primary school has been so welcoming to me and my family and is so welcoming to all cultures. The Botanic PTA is a diverse group and it has helped us in the way we think and plan our activities to include everybody. Being a volunteer and now working in the school has really helped me to support my own children’s learning." 

  • Benefits of parental engagement through PTA involvement
  • Greater level of inclusiveness and engagement among parents from different cultures
  • Enabling parents to understand and support their children’s learning
  • Enriching school’s understanding of different cultures; greater community cohesions

  • Fact File
    • PTA name: Botanic Primary School PTA
    • School name: Botanic Primary School
    • Age range: 4 - 11
    • Country: Northern Ireland
    • School type: Primary School
    • Size: 220 pupils

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