Education

On Bravo, the Real Housewives of the Parent Teacher Organization

By Mark Walsh — June 11, 2015 3 min read
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A new reality show debuting on Bravo this Sunday is about a bunch of moms who are active in the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) of their children’s elementary school. The show is called “Mother Funders.”

Get it? A slight play on a bad word that hints at the moms’ main task on the show—raising money for the school.

But I have to think that at some point in the offices of Bravo, producers toyed with these titles for the show: “The Real Housewives of the PTO,” or “The Real Housewives of Locust Grove.”

That’s because “Mother Funders,” which is filmed in small-town Locust Grove, Ga., follows so many of the hallmarks of Bravo’s long-running “Real Housewives” franchise (as seen in the New York City, Atlanta, Orange County, Calif., and other versions): married women in affluent neighborhoods who form a circle of friends, but are easily prone to conflict.

“Mother Funders,” airing Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times, centers on seven women in Locust Grove. I got to preview the debut episode, in which PTO President Carla Stephens, a hard-driving mom who considers herself to have a certain exalted status, quickly establishes her authority.

“When it comes to our kids’ education, we’ll stop at nothing to make sure they have the best of the best,” she says in the premiere. “And we all know that comes down to one thing—money.”

Stephens sets an ambitious goal for the PTO’s fundraising drive: $100,000, double the previous year’s amount. The signs of potential conflict show up early.

Robin Dyke, a former PTO board member who was temporarily banished by Stephens for reasons that weren’t entirely clear, is back—on probationary status—and ready to be a thorn in the president’s side.

“Carla feels that she is president of a small country instead of a PTO in rural Georgia,” Dyke says. And another board member complains to her unsympathetic daughter that Stephens refers to herself as “Madam President.”

Other real housewives—I mean, PTO members—in Locust Grove include Shayzon Prince, a makeup and style expert who is vice president of the organization; Amber Bryant, who is married to a former NFL player and is the coordinator of parent volunteers; and newcomer Amber Coulter, who is eager to be involved, but perhaps has a naive sense of the group’s ambitions. (Meet the main cast members here.)

“I thought the PTO was going to be, like, bake sales,” Coulter says in the show. “This is not what I signed up for.”

Stephens’ idea for the first fundraiser is a “Pink Pajama Party,” a fundraising event. The president assigns most of her board members to meet ambitious targets for gathering fundraising commitments, while others are assigned decoration-related duties.

There are clashes over financial pledges, table centerpieces, and even party trinkets. President Stephens will utter such phrases as “This is absolutely unacceptable,” and “You’re dismissed,” and she will command her minions to respect “the chain of order.”

Stephens and Dyke clash some more later in the first episode. “You’re out of order,” says one of them.

“No, you’re out of order,” says the other.

Hey, the whole Mother Funding system is out of order!

It should be noted that PTOs tend to be independent, local parent groups to support schools. (Though there is this national Web page full of ideas for the groups.) They are not affiliated with the National PTA and its local affiliates.

There are no real signs of the participation of local school officials in the Bravo show, though there is some background footage filmed at a school, and we do see the moms interacting with their children.

No one should mistake “Mother Funders” for a serious documentary treatment of education in the United States. But it is good reality-show fun. And over the course of a season, the show may end up telling us something about the lengths that mostly well-meaning parents will go to help their local public schools.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.

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