Family Involvement

If you have any corrections or questions about these FAQs, please contact the AAOCC.


What role are parents expected to play at AAO?

One important principle of open education is that parents and guardians are active participants in their children’s education and are integral to the Ann Arbor Open environment. AAO thus asks that each family give at least ten hours of volunteer time to the school - during school hours, at an after-school activity, or at home.

The volunteering choices are many. Take a look at the AAOCC’s volunteer information page, which includes a link to the current comprehensive Volunteer Guide, for specific suggestions. In addition, you can ask your child’s teacher for suggestions on how you can help in the classroom. It’s a great way to get to know teachers, other parents and their children, and school staff!

What do “classroom parents” do?

It depends on the teacher, but classroom parents typically help organize classroom events and parties and coordinate families in thanking the teacher toward the end of the year.

What do “classroom representatives” do?

Classroom Representatives are parents from each classroom in our school who connect the AAOCC (our PTSO) to their child's classroom in order to increase communication. Representatives sign up to attend monthly AAOCC meetings and are asked to communicate with other classroom parents in person and/or by email to solicit input or share information. This can be in the form of questions or concerns brought to the meetings on another parent's, student's or teacher's behalf. Monthly meeting notes do not need to be forwarded in this role (which was done by the former Classroom Liaison role), since the notes will be disseminated through Wednesday packets.

Is there anyone else who can help me navigate the school?

Yes! Interested new families can be assigned parent/family mentors through the AAOCC. Parent mentors are volunteers who have offered to help new families navigate their transition, acting as informal sources of information and guidance. If your mentor can’t answer your question, he or she can likely point you to someone who can!

Is there a PTO at AAO?

Yes! It’s the AAOCC! Ann Arbor Open’s parent-teacher-student organization (the Ann Arbor Open Coordinating Council) was founded with the intention of including students, parents, and teachers in the decision-making process and giving families a significant voice in the school’s operations.

The purpose of the AAOCC is to provide support for and further the educational goals of Ann Arbor Open School; to encourage cooperation and communication among all people connected with the school - students, parents, staff, administrators, and the community; and to assure shared decision-making on the formation and implementation of program policy.

The AAOCC holds community meetings (“roundtables”) on a monthly basis, usually on the third Wednesday of the month. These meetings are open to all staff, parents, and students. Typically the meetings include a Q&A with the principal, allowing those present to address any questions and concerns, and then move on to a topic of general interest. All present, including students, can vote on items raised at the meetings, and participation is never required for attendance. (It’s fine to just come and listen!)

The AAOCC is also a key fundraising organization for the school, raising thousands of dollars each year to support Ann Arbor Open programs. The major sources of our funds are field trip contributions, scrip, all-school fundraisers, and classroom fundraisers. Few if any other Ann Arbor public schools have as much money raised by their supporting community.

How do AAOCC officers get elected?

Nomination of the four officers takes place at the regular March AAOCC meeting, or as soon as possible after that. In one year, one of the Co-Chairs and the Secretary are up for election; in the following year, the other Co-Chair and the Treasurer are up for election. Following the nomination meeting, ballots are distributed to the General Assembly for a vote. All students, their parents or guardians, the principal, and staff have a vote. Results will be announced at the April AAOCC meeting, or at the first meeting after the vote is held. For more information see the AAOCC's ByLaws (most recently approved in 2015).

What happens to all that AAOCC money?

The biggest use of AAOCC funds is field trips. We also spend money on classroom materials, library books, Focus Study supplies, hospitality events (e.g., eighth-grade graduation, the Open House, greeting new parents, etc.), art and music programs, the Science Fair and Science Olympiad, the Open School Conference, teacher continuing education, parent education programs, and intramural sports. A small amount is used for AAOCC administrative costs (insurance, supplies, etc.). For more info, watch the AAOCC's video on 'Where does all the money go?'

Are there any procedures to assist families with temporary financial problems?

The AAOCC budget includes a sum of money that can assist AAOCC families in temporary economic crisis—for example, an overdue utility bill and utilities about to be cut off. These funds are available through the school social worker. A family in crisis can approach the social worker directly or initially apply through the principal or school secretary. The social worker will review the family’s situation and consider what potential sources are the best to use for the family’s situation. If it is determined that the AAOCC funds are an appropriate source, application can be made by the social worker to the AAOCC treasurer. The treasurer will review the request according to procedures in the Finance Guidelines. If funds are approved, often a check is issued directly to a third party, such as a utility company.

What do I do if I have a great idea for something new the AAOCC could spend money on?

The school budget process starts each year in the spring, when a call is put out for school needs: that’s the best time to let us know your idea. There are a few steps in the process of reviewing ideas, and ultimately a preliminary budget is approved toward the end of the school year. The final budget is approved in September, after the books have been closed on the prior school year.

If your idea can’t wait until next year, there’s some discretionary funding in the budget every year. Contact the treasurer.

How can I help support the AAOCC financially?

There are lots of ways you can help:

      • First, if you can, make a field trip contribution.

      • If you can, give more than the requested amount for field trips. Many families do so. About 15 percent of the money we receive for the Field Trip Scholarship Fund is from families giving more than the suggested amount. These extra contributions support families that are not able to contribute.

      • Buy loads of scrip. It costs you nothing, and the school gets about 3-5 percent of every dollar you spend. All it takes is a little advance planning, so you have scrip in your wallet for the stores you go to regularly.

      • Join in the fun by attending school fundraisers - the Ice Cream Social, the Multicultural Fair, the Silent Auction, musical events, etc.

      • Volunteer to help at fundraisers and with other needs as they arise and are publicized in our Help Wanted messages (in each Wednesday Packet sent by the principal). Most fundraisers only require half-hour or so of your time, and you may be there anyway chaperoning your kids. It’s also pretty fun!

      • Join the Finance and Fundraising Committee. This group meets every month (as posted in the school calendar) to talk about the best ways to raise money and the highest priorities for spending it. We discuss fundraisers, plan the budget, consider requests for funds, etc.

      • If you are a seventh- or eighth-grade parent, make a contribution to the “big trip” fund.

Why do I need to make a field trip contribution? This is a public school, so why doesn’t the school system pay for field trips?

Open education places a high value on learning by doing, which is why we have long had a very extensive field trip program at AAO. The Ann Arbor public school system pays for a small percentage of school field trips. At many other schools, teachers organize classroom fundraisers, or parents are asked to pay for each field trip individually, and children might not be able to go if their parents do not pay. The AAOCC’s field trip fund pays for field trips for all the school’s students, whether or not their parents are able to contribute.

The school does get money in other ways, of course, but it’s not enough to cover field trip expenses. For example, the profit the school receives for Scrip is 5 percent on average for all merchants, and 3 percent for most reloadable cards (such as supermarkets). To equal the $65-100 field trip contribution that is requested for each student (depending on grade), a family would have to use thousands of dollars’ worth of scrip each year for each child. Some families do this, but not many.

The profit made from fundraisers like the Ice Cream Social is larger, but there are expenses in running these events, along with many volunteer hours. For the Ice Cream Social, for example, the net profit to the school is less than 50 percent, after expenses are covered.

Thus, while other kinds of fundraising help with field trips, a dedicated fund ensures the participation of all the students - a key value of open education.

Tell me more about “scrip”!

The scrip program allows families and community members to contribute money to the school without taking it out of family finances. Individuals purchase scrip gift cards from a “shop” that is set up outside the office (Wednesday 8-8:30am and Friday 3-3:30pm); the school is able to keep a percentage of the card purchase price.

For example, if you buy a $100 scrip card for Marathon, Amazon or Meijer, we buy that card from the merchant for $97. You get a $100 card for $100; the AAOCC gets to keep the $3 profit. On some cards we make more than that, the average is about 5 percent.

Scrip is a major fundraiser for the school, and it’s a very low-impact way for families to help out. Participating retailers include national companies like Target and iTunes and local companies like People's Food Coop and Nicola's Books. There are hundreds of retailers to choose from, and the 30 most popular are always in hand for instant purchase.

I would like to volunteer to help with a fundraiser. How do I do that?

For lots of information about what kinds of volunteering opportunities are available at AAO, please check out the AAOCC’s volunteer page.

What if I have a great idea for a new fundraiser?

Contact the fundraising coordinator or treasurer! They will probably ask you a few questions and help you work out some details. If your idea seems promising, you may be invited to discuss it at the next meeting of the Finance and Fundraising Committee (FiFun). Visit the Submit a Fundraising Idea page for more info.

I want to help decide how the AAOCC’s money is spent! What do I do?

Join the Finance and Fundraising Committee! Meetings are open to anyone, and meeting dates are posted in the school calendar. You can also contact the treasurer for more info.

If it’s hard for you to make it to the committee’s scheduled meetings, let the treasurer know! There are lots of ways to help.