Update: Snowflakes for Sandy Hook Find their Home

SandyHook_Mail_5(2)Following the tragedy in Newtown, Ct., Connecticut PTSA, with the support of National PTA, offered individuals a unique opportunity to let the students of Sandy Hook know that an entire nation supports them. The concept was simple: individuals were invited to send snowflakes of all shapes and sizes, and PTA volunteers would use those snowflakes to welcome students to a winter wonderland at the new Sandy Hook school building.

SandyHookTribute_LifetouchPhotos-15(2)In January, I had the tremendous privilege of witnessing the flood of love and goodwill from around the world. Snowflakes poured in by the truckload, in an overwhelmingly touching display of solidarity of parents around the world, as they came together to show their support for the victims of this horrible tragedy. During my visit to the community, I was honored to share in the experience of opening the letters and seeing the snowflakes sent in by those wishing to demonstrate their love for the Newtown families.

SH4The outpouring of support and the number of participants was inspiring – the Connecticut PTSA received so many snowflakes that they did not have the office space to accommodate them all. They have hung as many as possible in the school; the rest were used to decorate other schools in the community.

The experience was indescribable and completely awe-inspiring as the entire world surrounded this community in its time of need.  Though Connecticut PTSA is no longer accepting snowflakes, the message of Snowflakes for Sandy Hook should not be forgotten: we must continue to rally together in support of all of our children, in good times and in bad, to ensure their success in the future.

Betsy Landers is the President of National PTA in Alexandria, VA.

Second image courtesy of Lifetouch National School Studios Photography.


Celebrating a PTA Leader with Fearless Determination and Spirit

Anne_Wald_Balloon_MemorialIt is with sad hearts that we share the passing of our colleague and friend, Anne Wald, Deputy Executive Director of National PTA’s Meetings and Field Services. It has been one month since Anne died on Sunday, March 25, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Our prayers are with her family, Chris, Erin, Grace and Jacob, as well as her parents, siblings and a standing room only church full of people who joined together on March 27 to celebrate her life.

For those of you who didn’t know Anne, she embodied the same spirit as our National PTA founders:  fearless determination.  It is a tremendous honor to share more about Anne’s fearless determination as a PTA leader with you.


Within a few weeks of starting at PTA, a bird flew in my office window. Scared of birds, I leaped up and ran down the hall yelling “Bird! Bird!” Like the amazing mom that she was, Anne swooped in to help with the rescue, fearlessly safeguarding me in a window-less office, and helping others to shoo the bird outside where it was free to fly again. We sat in the hallway afterward, me breathless and shaking, and Anne laughing, trying to calm me down. I remember she assured me it was ok and not to be embarrassed, but perhaps I should keep my window closed from now on like the office memo said.

This funny memory symbolizes how Anne worked as a fearless protector. As Deputy Executive Director, Anne championed what is so important to PTA’s mission delivery – our brand and our people.  Through her leadership, she ensured that staff provided high quality resources and customer service to our members and PTA leaders nationwide. She fearlessly voiced what was best for our PTA members and she insisted our strategies consistently carried out the PTA brand promise.


Anne took the stairs. Many times, I’d be coming up with my coffee or she’d be going down to a meeting and we’d pass each other along the way and exchange a friendly chat about kids, meetings, weather, etc. I never knew how sick Anne felt day-to-day because she never showed it. She was always focused on our objectives – and she always took the stairs. I remember one time leaving a meeting on the first floor, feeling a little lazy en route to the third floor and thinking, “Elevator?” But then I saw Anne walk straight for the stairs as determined as ever.  I followed her.

Anne worked throughout her journey with cancer – and she worked with unbelievable determination to maintain the same level of productivity. She was constantly focused on how National PTA could improve our services to volunteers across the country – and her determination and resolve were catchy. We followed her.


Anne Wald loved music. Now her spirit lives on through a song she helped us all to love. You may not know this, but Anne was responsible for tracking down the opening song for the 2012 National PTA Convention –Every Child, One Voice.

The moment was magical: more than a thousand PTA leaders dancing, tearing up, cheering with pride, and getting goose bumps as we listened to this song for the first time together. Anne was right – it was the perfect song to inspire the crowd. The song lives on through PTA leaders’ phones and PTA events. Every time we hear it, the same spirited emotions arise – PTA camaraderie and pride.  

Sadly, Anne wasn’t able to join us in San Jose for that magical moment. But in the midst of that moment, we all knew – she created it. I’ll never forget her for that. I don’t think any of us will.

No more stairs Anne – it’s your time to fly.

If you would like to read more about Anne, share a message with her family, or donate to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in her honor, please visit: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/washingtonpost/obituary.aspx?n=anne-s-wald&pid=163875493.


Common Core State Standards Set Students on the Road to Academic Success

Common Core BlogThe Common Core State Standards represent the single most important step towards raising the achievement bar for America’s students and improving academic performance.  Unfortunately, the standards have come under fire lately by those seeking political gain and suggesting the standards are a federal government take-over of education.  Nothing is further from the truth!  The Common Core State Standards were developed by educators based on proven research and they are widely-supported by both teachers and the general public.

The Denver Post reported last week that 40 percent of Colorado’s students need remediation before achieving college-readiness. Across the country, employers report that students are not graduating high school with the math and reading skills needed to be employable. Remediation courses are expensive, often adding significant time and cost by way of excess courses to the college track, prolonging graduation date. Research shows that nearly 50 percent of all undergraduates and 70 percent of all community college students enroll in at least one remedial course – and for students who begin in remediation, fewer than 10 percent graduate from community colleges within three years and fewer than 40 percent complete a bachelor’s degree within six.  For students who are not college-bound, remedial courses increase the amount of time before a student can enter the workforce and become a productive, tax-paying member of society. And parents, government, and student foot the bill for this added time and expense.

The Common Core State Standards create a set of benchmarks that, when implemented successfully, ensure students are prepared for college and future career. The standards seek to ensure that no matter where a child lives —mountainous Colorado, rural Kansas or urban Washington, D.C.  —  – he/she will be held to rigorous academic standards, end each school year well-prepared to enter the next grade, and graduate high school with a skill set matching the needs of a 21st century economy.  This consistency should be a comfort to every parent, especially in our increasingly mobile society.  How many of us have been forced to relocate – for a job, a military assignment – only to find our child simply isn’t on track to succeed in his or her new school?

States have always set their own standards, and voluntary adoption of Common Core is no exception.  Upon reflection of the successes and failures of No Child Left Behind, it was evident that many states, when forced with assessing “hard to teach” populations to comply with federal accountability measures, simply dumbed down the standards to boost student performance rates.  This phenomenon resulted in a “race to the bottom” and high school graduates ill-prepared for college or for career..  While Common Core standards represent an improvement over most state standards prior to adoption, other states, such as Massachusetts, have implemented the standards while also maintaining rigorous benchmarks above and beyond the minimum set by Common Core.  Additionally, other states, like Virginia, developed and implemented their own college- and career-ready standards.  Virginia’s Standards of Learning, first piloted in 2002, have been judged by the US Department of Education to be closely aligned with college- and career-readiness benchmarks.

Some critics have voiced concerns that adoption of the standards will lead to stifled creativity and autonomy of individual teachers, ultimately dictating lesson plans and all curriculum.  PTA would never encourage monolithic classrooms, and we do not subscribe to this concern; we know that every teacher’s unique experience, instructional style, and curriculum alignment   contribute to a positive and productive learning experience. While the Common Core State Standards define WHAT students will learn, the standards do not dictate HOW students should learn the material, or how teaching professionals should teach it. Each state and district will still write its own curriculum and determine how teachers work with their students and families to achieve the benchmarked learning goals, matriculate successfully, and graduate on-time.

Change is never easy, and as with any transition, this monumental shift to a new set of academically rigorous standards and aligned assessments will be accompanied by hurdles and challenges. Some challenges will be shared, others will be unique as states and districts all tackle implementation while adapting to meet the unique needs of students and families.  PTA has never taken the easy road, we advocate every day for the BEST road; the road that leads every child to success in school and in life.

We understand that any change in education can seem scary. But before you push back, we urge all parents to become familiar with the standards and the new state assessments under development in order to fully understand how the standards will improve education for all students. PTA members should work to educate other parents, regardless of PTA membership, on the benefits of Common Core State Standards and academic benchmarking.  National PTA has developed a robust set of resources for parents, educators, and policy-makers, and I encourage all of you to familiarize with the parent-friendly guides to understanding the standards and state-specific assessment materials.

Teachers, principals, and administrators – the ones in whose care we entrust our children day in and day out – overwhelmingly support the Common Core Standards. Sadly, the progress made toward college- and career-readiness is now being bogged down by politics and a fear of change. It is vital that PTA members speak up and stand up for Common Core by supporting teachers who are working hard to apply the standards in their classrooms. Family engagement is critical to succeeding in this battle, as it is in any fight for the education of our children. Teachers, administrators, and state legislators need to know that PTA will not be divided by political rhetoric, but will stand together, as one voice advocating for the success of every child.

Betsy Landers is the President of National PTA in Alexandria, VA.

Our Commitment to Keeping Schools Safe

Copyright 2012 Lifetouch National School Studios IncOver the past few months, National PTA has been increasingly committed to ensuring that schools are safe for our children. We have targeted school safety and gun violence prevention as part of our advocacy agenda and have made a concerted effort to engage communities on ways to promote a safer school climate.

At the National PTA Legislative Conference this past March, we named improving school safety a top advocacy focus. At the conference, we hosted our first school safety town hall forum in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education. We were honored to have Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle and an esteemed panel of school safety experts join us to address PTA member questions.  Following a rich discussion and positive member feedback, National PTA and the U.S. Department of Education hosted a second school safety town hall with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Baltimore, Md. to continue this critically important conversation.

As we continue to reassure our children that school is a safe place, it is imperative that our children know that we are sincere and our comments are heartfelt. It is our duty as parents, educators, and child advocates to dedicate ourselves to ensuring that schools remain a safe haven for children and educators. And as families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy take to Capitol Hill to advocate for tougher protections, our position remains the same. Congress must do the right thing to improve school safety.

Here are two ways you can join us in advocating for safer schools:

1)      Contact your Senators to express disappointment in their failure to enact common-sense gun violence prevention measures.

Despite public outcry, last week the Senate failed to enact the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.  During consideration, multiple amendments were offered—and defeated—including those to increase access to mental health services and supports, reenact a federal ban on military-style assault weapons, and limit the availability of high-capacity magazines. Perhaps most disappointing was the defeat of the Manchin (D-WV)—Toomey (R-PA) bipartisan amendment to strengthen criminal background checks and extend them to the purchase of firearms at gun shows and over the internet.  Although not universal, adoption of this amendment would have been a commonsense first step to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and protect our nation’s children.

2)      Urge Congress to Enact the Bipartisan Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act.

Thousands of PTA members took action in support of the Mental Health in Schools Act earlier this year.  Key provisions of that legislation to expand supports for school-based mental health services, championed by Senator Franken (D-MN), have been included in a legislative package that reauthorizes and improves programs related to awareness, prevention, and early identification of mental health conditions. In an act of strong bipartisanship, the Senate HELP Committee voted unanimously to report this bill to the Senate floor—and now we need YOU to urge your Senators to pass this bill, either as an amendment to S.649, or later as a stand-alone bill.

Both of these acts are vitally important to gun violence prevention and to guarantee every child’s inherent right to a safe learning environment.

Betsy Landers is the President of National PTA in Alexandria, VA.

PowerTalk 21—the National Day for Parents to Talk with Kids about Alcohol

Blog_MADD_April19 Of all the dangers your teen faces, underage drinking is among the worst. Compared with non-drinking classmates, teens who drink are more likely to:

  • Die in a car crash
  • Get pregnant
  • Flunk school
  • Be sexually assaulted
  • Become an alcoholic later in life
  • Take their own life through suicide

The good news is that you can make a difference! Parents have the power to help teens make healthy decisions that can keep them safe. In fact, research shows that parents are the primary influence on their kids’ decisions about whether or not to drink alcohol.

PowerTalk 21 day—April 21st—is the national day for parents to talk with their kids about alcohol. MADD knows that informed, caring parents can make a difference, and we’re here to help.  Download the latest version of the Power of Parents handbook for tips and tools to help you start the potentially lifesaving conversation about alcohol with your teens.  If you download the handbook in the month of April, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win an iPad!  You can also find additional tips and expert resources at madd.org/powerofparents.

MADD offers 30-minute Parent Workshops in communities across the country where parents and caregivers will receive tips and tools for talking about alcohol with your teen, including a hard copy of the parent handbook. Contact your local or state office to find a parent workshop near you.  You can also find out about becoming a trained and certified Power of Parent facilitator and present this potentially lifesaving, research based information to parents and caregivers in your community.

Help us spread the word about PowerTalk 21 using our sample Tweets and Facebook posts, share your experience talking with your teen about alcohol, and find other great resources at www.madd.org/powertalk21.

Start talking on April 21st. Together, we can help prevent underage drinking and save lives.

Jan Withers

MADD National President