Safe Routes for Halloween and Beyond!


As kids take to the streets to trick or treat tonight, think about another route: your students’ route to school.

Happy Halloween!

Tonight (or sometime this weekend!), kids across the country will participate in their communities’ “trick-or-treat” events. As we know, many of these include walking door-to-door to see what tasty treats will be handed out and showing off their costumes to neighbors and friends. While Halloween is an American favorite that many kids and adults alike enjoy, it also requires families to employ safe practices to make the experience enjoyable for everyone.

As you consider your child’s Halloween “trick-or-treat” route, consider another route that you may not have before: your students’ route to school. Students take many different paths to school, including busing; riding with parents or older siblings in the car; biking; or walking. If you live in a rural community, understandably bussing or driving are likely the only options. But if you live in an area where you can encourage your children to walk or bike, this can help promote healthy lifestyles. Studies show that students who walk to school get, on average, 24 extra minutes of physical activity per day, which helps promote cognitive functioning and heightens attentiveness.

While students who walk and bike arrive safely at school more often than not, there are still steps that parents can take to ensure a safe arrival. National PTA is a partner with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership to ensure that students across the country have the safest options for arriving at and leaving school. If you live in a community where students walk or bike, check out National PTA’s Tips for Safer Routes to School for ideas on how to ensure that your community is keeping its children as safe as possible.

If you have concerns about the ability of your students to safely walk or bike, reach out to your PTA unit to address them. Working with your PTA, you can get families involved in discussions with school leaders, city administrators, and state legislators to address concerns such as sidewalk locations, safe crosswalks and crossing guards, and bike paths and racks. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has put together some information on local efforts for safe routes, as well as a “Getting Started” checklist with information on how families can begin the process in their communities. Working together, families can ensure that every child has a safe route to school.

Have a safe and enjoyable Halloween!

Tell us: how do you promote safe routes in your community? Respond below in the comments!

Cooking Matters to the PTA

Reposted from No Kid Hungry blog.

NoKid_Hungry_Blog_RepostI thought I was pretty savvy about shopping and food nutrition until I took a Cooking Matters at the Store tour recently. Cooking Matters at the Store is a free program of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign that empowers families to stretch their food budgets so their children get healthy meals at home. The grocery store was in the historic district of Alexandria, Virginia, but the rush of learning something important and valuable could happen anywhere.

I just happened to be with ten folks from PTAs across the US with different tastes and eating habits, family sizes and configurations. We were in Alexandria for a retreat, working out ideas and strategies for the PTA’s Urban Family Engagement Network to encourage urban families to get more involved in local public schools. Given the connection between proper nutrition, overall health and academic achievement, the idea of better nutrition is a natural for parents and the PTA.

For our tour, we started in the produce aisle, looking beyond the colorful fruit and veggies to the unit price stickers. Never mind the price of the item itself, for comparison sake you need to check out the unit price. Our assignment was to choose a favorite vegetable or fruit and make note of its per unit price and then we were off to the frozen food section and later canned foods section to compare unit costs and debate the pros and cons – taste-wise, convenience-wise and price-wise – of the choices. And finally a trip to the bread aisle for eye-opening lessons on whole grain (wheat, oat, etc.) versus unbleached, refined flours and lessons on the many ways that food manufacturers color and flavor foods to achieve the faddish health look so many of us want now without the real nutrition we need.

Families on a tight budget report that the cost of healthy groceries is their biggest barrier to making healthy meals at home. Food skills, like smart shopping, can help overcome that barrier. I can easily see Cooking Matters at the Store as a valuable strategy to encourage healthier eating. The PTA at my son’s school is already looking for strategies to introduce ideas for healthy eating now that the public schools are removing less nutritious meals and snacks from the schools.

To learn more about Cooking Matters at the Store and get your PTA, school, or community organization involved, visit

Vanessa Ford Bush is the  Chicago team leader for the Urban Family Engagement Network of the National PTA.

PTA Reflections Recognizes Urban Student Artist

Students living in urban environments grow up with a host of unique educational experiences.  These populous and diverse environments are a wonderful foundation for individuality, creativity and expression.  This is why we see the arts flourishing among students in these urban communities.  Unique mediums such as graffiti, murals, street art, and others thrive in this populous and diverse environment.  More traditional mediums such as painting and photography capture grand images of landmark buildings and large community events.  In cities we see the blending of cultures, traditions, and experiences that inspires students to generate unique artwork reflective of what they know simply as “home.”


Student artwork by Natalie Labrique

This past year’s PTA Reflections® theme The Magic of a Moment was a perfect vehicle of expression for the urban child.  Through this theme, PTAs nationwide encouraged their students to stop and look for the magic in the world around them, whatever environment they were living in.  Winners from urban communities submitted artwork depicting city skylines, beautiful architecture, twinkling lights, and crowds of people.  Their artwork held up a mirror to their cities, reflecting the beauty of individuality and community simultaneously.  These moments, for the urban child, are just as magical as a sunrise or a snowfall.  These are the moments that make up the magic in their lives.

Here at National PTA, we had a chance to catch up with Isabella Olson, a 5th grade Reflections finalist who lives in a major U.S. city.

What city/urban environment inspired your artwork?
St. Paul, Minnesota

The Reflections theme for the year that you won an Award of Merit was “The Magic of the Moment.”  What do you think is magical about an urban environment?
The Cathedral was lit up for the Red Bull competition and it was spectacular.


Student artwork by Hannah Fowland

What challenges did you face artistically working in an urban environment?
There was one sign blocking the way. I worked with my mom to delete it in Photoshop.

What opportunities did working in an urban environment present?
I was with my family attending the Winter Festival in St. Paul. That was great to take photos.

How has the Reflections program encouraged you to explore your artistic skills?
My mom lets me use her Canon Rebel camera to take photos.

What advice do you have for other students who participate in the Reflections program?
If you see something interesting, take a photo and good luck!


Learn more about urban arts education by visiting our National PTA Partner in the Arts resources on Transforming Urban School Systems Through the Arts by Arts Education Partnership. Learn more about National PTA’s Reflections Program at

Tessa Raden is the National PTA Arts in Education Fellow.


Accion por la educación!

Read this post in English.

Desde era niña, siempre escuché a mis padres decir que la educación es el legado más importante que los padres transmiten  a los hijos de generación en generación, lo que implica sacrificio y la perseverancia de los padres. Hoy el reto como padres es asegurarnos de que nuestros niños estén preparados para que puedan competir en el mundo del trabajo como profesionales capaces, tomar decisiones difíciles y que puedan llevar a cabo tareas complejas. Es aquí que cada año escolar en la vida estudiantil es crucial para nuestros hijos para que alcancen las habilidades académicas de acuerdo a su etapa de crecimiento.

Me acuerdo de mi primera experiencia en la escuela con mi hija mayor, me sentí abrumada por las tareas y la imposibilidad de mi hija del poder adaptarse en el primer grado. La adaptación fue crucial para mí también, porque como una madre sin completo conocimiento del funcionamiento del sistema educativo me sentí perdida y sin ayuda. La transición de la guardería a la escuela era como un gran salto de la vida. Fueron muchas reuniones, correos electrónicos y notas enviadas a la maestra que me permitió entender cómo ayudar a mi hija.  Pero lo que realmente hizo que la diferencia fue que sin saberlo mí esposo y yo diseñamos un plan de acción para la educación.

¿Cómo redactarlo y hacerlo posible? Para ello es necesario familiarizarse con lo que es necesario e importante para su niño en cada etapa de su vida como estudiante. No todos los niños tienen las mismas habilidades de aprendizaje y de trabajo de los padres es apoyar y descubrir cómo aprenden nuestros niños, ya que todos los niños tienen la capacidad de aprender. Es importante involucrarse en la escuela y visitar regularmente el aula y el profesor. El modelar a su hijo que tiene un interés genuino a que sobresalga hacia adelante en la vida, y sobre todo a confiar plenamente en su capacidad de aprender. Participe en conversaciones acerca de cómo ha ido el día en la escuela. Hable acerca de los futuros planes de carrera, a partir de una edad temprana, lo que siempre es beneficioso más temprano que tarde para intercambiar ideas y establecer altas expectativas en la vida.

La educación es una parte integral en la vida de cada familia y determina la capacidad de nuestros hijos a encontrar su lugar en la sociedad como ciudadanos productivos. Les animo a iniciar o continuar el plan de acción individual para la educación de acuerdo con los estándares académicos requeridos por grado académico del estudiante. El trabajo es duro, pero vale la pena cuando vemos a nuestros niños a alcanzar sus metas académicas. Busque el apoyo del grupo de padres o de la PTA para que participe efectivamente en las decisiones escolares que beneficiarán a su niño y todos los niños de su comunidad.

Armen Álvarez – Gerente Multicultural en Desarrollo de Membresía

Family Engagement in Any Language

Much research has been conducted on the benefits of effective family engagement. Yet many factors play into what constitutes “engagement.” This is critical, especially as it applies to working with underrepresented families—families that are not usually seen in the classroom or at school functions. Many of these parents may not be familiar with the concept of “family engagement.” They struggle to understand their role as parent advocates in their child’s education. Many times these parents are perceived as uninvolved or unconcerned about their child’s education. However, in my numerous years of working with diverse and underrepresented families, I know this is not the case.

This awareness issue was the main discussion point at an event I recently attend. It was an open house at an international student center located within a large urban school district. The center conducts intake and registration for international students born outside the United States who are new to the school district. One the center’s goals is that students are able to function at optimal levels via the services that the center provides.

During the open house, high school students mingled with staff and visitors. These students were scheduled to perform. They laid out a dozen PVC pipes, each 10 feet in length, to form a grid on the floor. The students, wearing ethnic clothing, turned on the music and performed a dance native to their country. With pleasure and amazement, the audience watched the students dance in unison, stepping in and out of each square as they circled the grid, changing partners, turning and circling the other way. The girls giggled and the boys remained stoic all the while enjoying the attention from the audience.

Throughout the entire performance, parents looked on with a universal look of pride, as if to say, “That’s my kid!” I could not understand their comments as they spoke a language I did not understand, but the message was clear, “I am here because I love my child.” These parents were witnessing the result of their hard work. The beautiful, intricate, symbolic dance, full of was their reward for the countless hours spent taking their children to practice as a tribute to their native land.

That day, I witnessed the true meaning of family engagement. The experience reinforced my belief that family engagement is reflected in a multitude of ways. Parents are “engaged” when they provide structure, when they make sure that the child is in bed at a reasonable hour, when they provide a healthy breakfast, when the children are clean and dressed appropriately and come to school every day.

Parents at the international student center open house might not be familiar with the research or the concept of family engagement, but based on the dedication and spirit of their children to their native dance and heritage, I believe that these parents reflect the true meaning of family engagement.

Work of ECHO Community PTA Reverberates Throughout East Chicago

ECHOPTAThe East Chicago (IN) Hope and Opportunity (ECHO) Community PTA packs a mean punch when it comes to the fight on illiteracy and miseducation among the children and parents in the area. The PTA’s grassroots efforts to target predominately Latino and African-American parents have been widely praised.

Reverend Cheryl Rivera, executive director and lead organizer for the PTA unit, shared with One Voice exactly how the ECHO Project has engaged, empowered and equipped parents and the community with training and leadership development skills to impact student learning and maximize their achievement in public education.

ECHO’s strategy is to create change in the parents’ and community’s mind set and attitudes, address barriers to engagement and facilitate paradigm to reach an understanding that everyone is connected, valuable and worthy of a good education. ECHO provides an accelerated reading program for at-risk children and families that caters mostly to third and fourth grade and high school students. Rivera credits much of the success of the unit to PTA advisor, Dee Jones, who also serves on the state board of Indiana.

Jones provides information, support and training to the ECHO unit. Jones is particularly proud of their work building a team where professional organizers, trained community leaders and collaboration partners canvass targeted neighborhoods. Sometimes, it’s going door to door to homes. Other times it’s meeting at community centers, congregations and schools to reach out and build relationships with parents, educators, and other stakeholders.

In the East Chicago area, there has been an issue with lack of leadership in the educational system. The  team at ECHO hosts workshops for parents where they are able to address plaguing educational issues and come up with ways to fix them. Bringing together these stakeholders helps to create a united front in the fight for improvement.

Rivera and Jones say that this program is just a precursor to what is still to come. ECHO is working to soon incorporate the Arts in Education-Reflections program so that children have a way to showcase their artistic talents. As they continue to set a beaming example of what it is that PTA units are doing nationwide, they are making sure people know that urban children in this area are not to be written off as statistics.

Back to Sports Night Comes to Virginia

Patty Chamberlain, T.C. Willams Highschool PTSA president, shares her feedback on hosting a Back To Sports event, National PTAs new program launched in partnership with NFL to educate families on sports safety.

The T.C. Williams PTSA was pleased and honored to host one of the first National PTA and NFL “Back to Sports” programs. What better place to kick off a program that focuses on fitness, wellness and concussion awareness than T.C. Williams High School and the City of Alexandria, which have a strong football tradition and which were the setting of the blockbuster film Remember the Titans.

Tip #1: Host your Back To Sports Event in conjunction with an existing sports or health related event. Football games, health fair, etc.
Tip #2: Invite EVERYONE! This is definitely a community based event. Invitations should be extended to all PTA within a school district, as well as local student sports teams
Tip #3: Consider using an online RSVP system, such as Eventbrite, to get an estimate of how many people plan to attend.

Our program was held on October 12, right after one of T.C.’s home football games. We invited the entire community and sent special invitations to the local PTAs as well as the youth recreation football league. It is a little unnerving to host an event when you have no idea how many people will show up!

Thank goodness for our staff at T.C. who were flexible and helpful. I also worked very closely with our PTA Council President, Melynda Wilcox, as well as our National PTA liaison, Felisha Battle. Melynda, Felisha and I had many phone conversations as well as a meeting prior to the event to ensure that we were “all on the same page.”

The event was a great success. With just under 100 children and families there—it was fun for all. The local Trident Crossfit staff led a challenging and fun Play 60 exercise routine.

Tip #4: Use local community resources to staff interactive stations. Most gyms would love the opportunity to support the event and advertise their business. Play 60 resources can be found online. Local clinics or even the school nurse would be a great resource for nutrition stations.

The Heads Up Football team organized a proper tackling and exercise station; and the hydration and nutrition station was educational for all. Most of our participants were elementary school children, but older students enjoyed it also. “We did a lot of physical activity and the leaders showed us a lot of exercises you could do to keep fit,” said Brigid, a middle-schooler. “I learned how little time it takes to build exercise into your day to increase endurance and stay fit.”

We had as many girls as boys and they all benefited from each station. Surprisingly, no one brought a football helmet for fitting. This may have been due to the fact that the program was in October and youth football players had already been fitted for helmets. Or perhaps we could have advertised this opportunity better.We were thrilled to have Otha Thornton, National PTA president, and LaVar Arrington, former Washington Redskins All-Pro Linebacker, as special guests. They were both gracious and actively involved during the entire event. Otha met many parents and was genuinely interested in learning more about Alexandria and our schools. LaVar (and his entire family!) were happy to take pictures with students and parents, LaVar patiently signed many autographs, and his three children took part in all the events. We were also pleased that our mayor, Bill Euille, a T.C. Williams graduate, was present as well as two Alexandria City Public School board members, Chris Lewis and Marc Williams.

Tip #5: Not every PTA will be able to get an NFL star to attend but inviting local officials and a school board representatives is a must.

It was an especially great day for TC PTSA Vice-President Eric Hylton, who was able to reconnect with National PTA President Thornton, a Morehouse College alumnus and fellow classmate. “I was extremely proud that our school was able to participate in the National PTA/NFL’s Back to Sports program. It was an excellent opportunity for the Alexandria community to learn to play sports safely in a fun environment. LaVar and Otha provided an informative message on the importance of proper nutrition, and the seriousness of concussion-related injuries.”

Tip #6: Sell MEMBERSHIP! Not only at this event but at all PTA related events, there should be a membership table.

We also hosted a membership table for all the local unit PTAs in our City . We had information cards from all the PTAs which gave contact information as well as meeting dates for the academic year.

Would we do this event again? Yes, it is worthwhile and everyone had fun. But we would tweak it a bit for the future. First, we would host it again at the high school but would target the invitation more specifically to elementary and middle-school students, which is the group that probably benefits most from the program. If we had it earlier in the school year, we might have been able to have our high school varsity teams help with running the event and staffing some additional stations. (We had a couple of high school boys who helped and they really enjoyed working with the younger kids.) Second, the program worked well because the event was small. Everyone got the chance to visit all of the stations. If more children had attended there might have been long lines to participate. Third, we would avoid hosting the program on a holiday weekend (we did this because many of the National PTA people were in town for a conference, but it negatively affected local attendance). Fourth, we would have benefitted from having more advance notice. We had just a few weeks to organize and publicize the event.

I am happy to talk with anyone who’s thinking about hosting an event. It’s a fabulous community builder, an exciting event for students, parents, teachers and residents, and an important message to get out to your whole community.


The NEW Our Children Has Something for Everyone

OC_OctNov2013 Cover Have you checked out the NEW Our Children magazine?

If you haven’t, you are in for a wonderful surprise. More pages. Bigger names. Better features. More engaging and informative news you can use. National PTA has refocused the magazine to cover topics of interest to PTA leaders and members.

In the new October/November issue, Modern Family star Julie Bowen graces the cover, opening up about her son’s battle with anaphylaxis. Calling the severe, life-threatening allergic reaction resulting from exposure to allergens “a mother’s worst nightmare,” Bowen is pushing for national awareness, and praises National PTA’s campaign aimed at ensuring that schools are up to speed on how to diagnose and treat the condition.

Working with Pfizer, National PTA has been on the forefront pushing for proper anaphylaxis care in school, as well as preventative steps that should be taken to lessen the likelihood of an attack. In this issue of Our Children, we send out a call-to-action for our more than four million members to question school administrators about anaphylaxis care and prevention at their school.

Also in this issue, National PTA unveils its partnership with the NFL aimed at youth sports safety. A cornerstone to the partnership is the PTA-led Back-to-Sports nights to discuss concussion prevention, hydration techniques and proper sports mechanics.

And if that wasn’t enough, learn about National PTA’s new Fire Up Your Feet initiative; take part in a discussion on whether or not safe rooms in school are practical, and learn why the PTA members need to advocate to continue recess at school.

If it’s about educational success of all children, it’s in Our Children.


Action for Education

As a child, I always heard from my parents that education is the most important legacy that parents passed down from generation to generation, which involves the parents’ sacrifice and perseverance. Today the challenge as parents is to make sure that our children are prepared so that they can compete in the professional world as capable professionals and great decisions-makers who can carry out complex work tasks. Each school year, it is crucial for our children to reach academic skills according to their stage of growth.

I remember my first experience at school with my oldest daughter. I felt overwhelmed by the assignments and my daughter’s inability to smoothly adapt to first grade. Adaptation was crucial for me too, because as a new mother, naïve about many facets of the education system, I felt lost without support. The transition from day care to school was like a big jump in life. Many meetings, emails, and notes were sent to the teacher that allowed me to understand how to help my daughter, but what really made a difference was that, inadvertently, my husband and I designed an action plan for her education.

So, how does one draft it and make it happen? It required familiarizing yourself with what is necessary and important for your child at every stage of his or her life as a student. Not all children have the same learning skills. It is the parents’ job is to support and discover how our children learn because all children have the ability to learn. It is productive to get involved in school and regularly visit the classroom and teacher. Model your child your interest that emerge in life and trust fully in their ability to learn. Engage in conversations by asking how was your day at school? Talk about future career plans, starting from an early age, which is always sooner than later to exchange ideas and set up high expectations in life.

Education is an integral part in the life of every family and determines the ability of our children find their place in society as productive citizens. I encourage you to start or continue the individual action plan for education in accordance with the academic standards required by the student’s academic grade. The work is hard but rewarding when we see our children reach their academic goals. Seek support from your local PTA and get involved effectively in school decisions that shall benefit your child and all children in your community.


Armen Alvarez is the Multicultural Membership Development Manager at National PTA.

Common Core and a New Approach to Student Assessment

As states begin implementing the Common Core State Standards, questions about testing and student assessment have, understandably, begun to come up. Common Core’s implementation has given rise to a new approach to assessing student knowledge and academic achievement that drastically changes conventional testing methods.

Since 1981, National PTA has supported nationally agreed-upon voluntary educational standards if they are derived by consensus at the state and local levels. Educational standards are defined as “generally agreed upon criteria which outline what students are expected to learn and to know at various developmental stages.” National PTA firmly believes that families must be involved in the process of developing these criteria, and must remain engaged throughout the implementation and assessment stages of the standards as well.

Recently, many PTA’s across the country have struggled to correct misinformation about what Common Core actually is, as well as what the new standards’ assessments mean for students. In order to address this completely, a review of what the standards are and why they were developed is important:


What are the Common Core Standards?
The Common Core Standards were developed through a state-led initiative. Spearheaded by governors and school superintendents, educational leaders from various states worked in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, college faculty, parents, and education experts to develop a common set of educational standards that would standardize basic educational knowledge across the country. The standards build on the existing foundations across all states, and have been internationally benchmarked to ensure rigor on par with top-performing nations. To date, more than 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core.

The standards are not a curriculum. Decisions about curriculum, tools, materials, and textbooks are left to local districts and schools that know their students best.


Why were Common Core Standards developed?
The standards were designed to enhance and improve student learning by providing young people with the knowledge and skills they need for college and career success and ensuring a future U.S. workforce that can compete in a global economy.  They also seek to unify learning across the entire United States so that students in every school are gaining the same basic skills and are held to the same rigorous academic goals


Assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards
Teachers and principals talk a lot about assessments, which are used to measure students’ academic achievement.  Along with Common Core’s new approach to educational standards, new assessments will also be utilized to measure student achievement in a more accurate and meaningful way.  Common Core standards emphasize fewer topics and stress educational outcomes based not only rote skills, but also conceptual and critical thinking. The standards are designed to build knowledge from grade to grade, enabling students to master important concepts before moving on to others.

States are shifting away from multiple choice tests to true assessments that measure not only what a student knows but also determines if a student can actually apply their knowledge in real world settings. These innovative, summative assessments will address longstanding concerns that parents, educators, and employers have had about current state assessments – namely that they measure students’ ability to memorize facts, rather than their critical thinking and knowledge application skills.

The Common Core assessments will also enable educators to deepen their understanding of student progress from grade to grade – and just as importantly, identify any gaps in progress so they can address them well before students enter college or the workforce. During the next few years, assessments will provide results more quickly and in an increasingly readable and easy-to understand format, most likely online. Parents can use this information to better communicate with teachers and school administrators about their child’s progress, and teachers can use it to better tailor instruction to the child’s needs.  Because the standards are more rigorous, student assessment scores may initially be lower. A dip should not necessarily be interpreted as a decline in student learning or in educator performance. Educators expect the short-term decline to improve as teachers and students become more familiar with the standards and better equipped to meet the challenges they present.


How can PTAs help?
Local PTAs can play a key role in how the standards are put in place at the state and district levels. PTAleaders are encouraged to meet with their local and state administrators to discuss how their unit can support their district’s implementation plans.

PTA’s can also help families and communities better understand the Common Core Standards and new assessments by sharing the numerous resources developed by National PTA. National has taken the lead on creating both a general implementation guide for families (the Parents’ Guide to Student Success) as well as state-specific guides that will introduce the new assessment and accountability procedures (State Assessment Guides) as they are implemented by states. Both sets of guides are written for families to make sure they understand the opportunities for engagement in implementing the standards at a district level as well as the major improvements in the assessment process. PTAs should collaborate with local education administrators on how to share the guides with all families in their communities.

National PTA has also compiled resource listings by state that local and state PTAs can use to support their work on engaging and educating families on the Common Core Standards. Finally, a Common Core toolkit has also been developed that includes an advocacy training guide, helpful articles and issue briefs, PowerPoint presentations, videos, and an extensive FAQ section.

To access these resources or for more information, please visit

Lee Ann Kendrick is the Regional Advocacy Specialist for National PTA. Erica Lue, National PTA Advocacy Coordinator, contributed to this post.