ENGAGE! In Welcoming All Families

WELCOMEWelcoming all families is the first standard in the National PTA Standards for Family School Partnerships. While it’s no more important than any of the other standards, it’s certainly one of my favorites!

Standard 1: Welcoming All Families is achieved when all families are active participants in the life of the school. They feel welcomed, valued, and connected to each other, to school staff, and to what students are learning and doing in class. This standard has two goals: to create a welcoming climate and to build a respectful, inclusive school community.

Creating a welcoming school climate is critical to help families become more involved at school. When families enter the building, they should feel at home. Consider placing signs in highly visible entryways that say, “Welcome! We’re glad you’re here.” Make sure the signs are in all the languages families at your school speak.

Create opportunities for families to come and build relationships with teachers and school staff and volunteer to support the school. Trusting respectful relationships are the key to helping families feel like they are part of the school community!

Work with the school to help identify the barriers that prevent all families from participating and then break those barriers down! Some families have language or transportation barriers that might prevent them from coming to school. You can work with other community agencies to arrange childcare, translation, and even transportation (which falls under Standard 6: Collaborating with the Community!).

Build a respectful, inclusive school community.  It’s not only the right thing to do – it’s also a wonderful way to strengthen your school community by ensuring a rich diversity of perspectives. You can build a more respectful, inclusive school community by working with the school to identify any barriers. Make sure that any programs, events, or activities at the school are low-cost or free. Also, try to schedule activities at convenient times and places. You don’t have to have them all in the school building. Consider using local parks or libraries near where families live. Plan programs, events, or activities that the entire family can attend and enjoy!

For more information on all of the National Standards for Family School Partnerships check out our website.

ENGAGE! is a weekly column on Family Engagement written by Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager of Family and Community Engagement at the National PTA. Sherri is the former Director of the Alabama Parent Information and Resource Center and is currently responsible for developing and implementing programs related to family and community engagement at the National PTA.

Tackling Diabetes in the American Indian/Alaska Native Communities

AI_Mom and Kid

Kelly Concho-Hayes and daughter

November is American Diabetes Month® and Native American Heritage Month. One of the American Diabetes Association’s (Association) primary objectives is to raise awareness and understanding of diabetes, its consequences, management and prevention of type 2 diabetes among high risk communities. Diabetes is far too common in the American Indian/Alaska Native communities. At nearly 16.1 percent, American Indian/Alaska Native have the highest age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes among all U.S. racial and ethnic groups.  To tackle this immense problem, the Association has various programs and initiatives in place.

Awakening the Spirit is our American Indian and Alaska Native initiative. This initiative is designed for the American Indian/Alaska Native communities with tips on diabetes prevention, management and how to better advocate for funding diabetes education programs in tribal communities.

Facebook mosaic:  Diabetes doesn’t stop.  It is 24/7, 365 days a year.  To showcase the extraordinary effort it takes to live a day with the disease, we continue to ask people to submit a personal image to our Facebook mosaic representing what A Day in the Life of Diabetes means to them. The image can be a picture of themselves or someone they care about, or otherwise represent how the disease impacts their lives.  The image will then make up a larger mosaic image that will embody the message of A Day in the Life of Diabetes. I encourage you visit our page and submit your photo!

AmericanIndian_Stats_ADALiving with Type 2 Diabetes Program: Approximately 95 percent of those with diabetes in American Indian and Alaska Native community have type 2 diabetes. We have many resources on type 2 diabetes including this free program. It is designed for the newly diagnosed and provides healthy recipes, informational packets, a monthly e-newsletter and more, to help make it through the first year of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Raising awareness and spreading the message of diabetes prevention and management is vital for the American Indian/Alaska Native communities.  I hope you’ll join me this month in raising awareness of this ever-growing epidemic that is sweeping our nation.

Kelly Concho-Hayes (Navajo/Acoma) is the Associate Director, American Indian & Alaska Native Initiatives and High Risk Populations, for the American Diabetes Association.

Our Children Celebrates Healthy Lifestyles Month

HealthyLifestyles_OC_BLOGRead the latest issue of Our Children magazine.

November is Healthy Lifestyles Month and the National PTA is taking the opportunity to highlight some of the ways PTAs are celebrating healthy habits. Healthy eating is not the only way to improve your child’s development, but physical activity and parental involvement are contributors as well. PTAs all over the country have come up with all kinds of creative ideas from “walking to school to growing fresh vegetables in school gardens.”

“Healthy Lifestyles Month is a wonderful opportunity for school communities to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring that all students show up each day healthy and ready to learn,” says Heather Parker, National PTA’s health and safety manager. “PTAs encourage families to increase their physical activity, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, participate in physical activity programs and promote lifelong healthy behaviors.”

This issue also tackles the topic of youth health and fitness by getting them active in sports. The National PTA has teamed up with the NFL for a “Back to Sports” partnership to focus on youth health and fitness. PTA leaders will educate their communities on youth wellness topics such as concussion education and NFL Play 60 information on nutrition and staying healthy.

National PTA President, Otha Thornton says “One partnership that I am particularly proud of is our work with the National Football League. National PTA and the NFL teamed up this summer to launch a “Back to Sports” initiative. This program, aimed at educating communities nationwide on youth wellness, will help our children stay safer and healthier as fall sports kick into high gear. The effort will utilize the resources of the NFL’s highly acclaimed PLAY 60 nutrition and physical activity campaign, and will be led by PTAs across the country.”

In the feature story, Modern Family star Julie Bowen shares her encounter with the life threatening experience her son had with anaphylaxis. She shares her journey into discovering what the causes of these potentially dangerous allergic reactions are and ways to prevent them. National PTA also has some pointers of its own to make sure you are well informed about the ways to keep your child healthy and happy, even if living with anaphylaxis.

PTA Reflections and American Indian Inspiration


Student art by Jaden Downing

American Indian students account for a more sizeable portion of the U.S. public school system than you might think.  According to the National Indian Education Association, American Indian students totaled 378,000 in 2010-2011.  However, this number only accounts for students who are 100% American Indian; leaving out thousands upon thousands of other students who can trace their heritage back to one or more recognized tribes. These students are in every state across the U.S., with higher concentrations in California, Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas and New York.  In 2000-2010, the American Indian population rose by 27%, compared to the overall U.S. rise in population of 10%.

The American Indian culture has always been, but is being recognized more and more in our schools every day.  With growing populations and prevalence in the public school systems, the ways we think, teach, and learn about the American Indian culture is still evolving.  There are over 500 different American Indian tribes in the U.S. today. The beliefs and practices vary from tribe to tribe.  What remains consistent is the rich cultural heritage of our nation’s American Indian students.


Student art by Michelle Hartvigsen

Many tribes use a variety of artistic mediums to teach lessons and pass their heritage down through the generations.  American Indians come from an oral tradition, so storytelling is a universal method of teaching and keeping culture alive.  Almost every tribe holds the arts close to the core of their existence, with mediums such as song, dance, basket-weaving, or decorative arts playing an integral part in their identity.  By passing down these art forms, American Indians tell future generations the story of where they come from and who they are.  This is what PTA Reflections is all about; providing children an opportunity to tell a story through a painting or piece of music.  The arts can communicate the history of a people, the magic of a moment, or dreams of the future.  Humans have used the arts to communicate with and connect to one another for centuries.  National PTA Reflections opens doors for students of all cultural backgrounds to tell the world who they are and who they want to be; to communicate with and connect to the world around them.

Meet Today’s PTA Advocate: Justin Raber


Meet Today’s PTA Advocate:
Justin Raber

Each year, National PTA honors its outstanding advocates during its annual Legislative Conference. Last year, the winner of the Shirley Igo Outstanding Advocate Award, one of four categories awarded by National PTA, was Justin Raber, currently the President of West Virginia PTA.

Despite not having children of his own yet, Raber has been an active member of PTA since he was a teenager, seeking educational change while still a student himself. He attended his first National PTA annual convention at the age of 15, and was so inspired to get involved that he successfully petitioned the West Virginia PTA to include a youth member on its Board of Managers. After serving two terms in that position, he was elected Member At-Large for the National PTA Council of States, and was later appointed to the National PTA Diversity Committee, where he served for three years.

In addition to his national duties, Raber continued to volunteer for West Virginia’s PTA as the Membership Chair, and was elected as President-Elect in 2011 while also serving as the Federal Legislative Chair. When he took office as president of West Virginia PTA in 2013, Justin became the youngest person ever elected as President of a state PTA. He has accomplished all of this while working a full-time job and attending law school.

Justin also has extensive knowledge of the legislative system, having spent time on Capitol Hill as an intern, and has built relationships with several of West Virginia’s legislators. His efforts to garner support from Capitol Hill for the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2011 through a grassroots outreach to PTA members helped him win the Shirley Igo Award in 2013. As President, Raber has worked closely with the West Virginia legislature in the hopes of having similar legislation introduced at the state level.

While Raber’s achievements through his involvement with PTA have been extensive and, at times, hard- won, his advice to PTA members also seeking to make a difference is simple:  consider your own actions. A parent or family member who joins PTA becomes an advocate simply by signing up. As Raber’s involvement demonstrates, a person does not have to have their own children to be active members of a PTA or champion children’s issues to leaders. One simply has to be willing to get involved for whatever amount of time they can devote.

Parents, families, and community members advocate constantly without realizing it. By speaking with teachers or principals about their children’s progress; joining a committee to fundraise or make improvements to the school building, athletic fields, or cafeteria; or by working with local education officials to protect recess time or implement a new assessment plan, people of every walk of life are advocating on behalf of children. Working with your local PTA unit to assess local needs and come up with a plan are simple ways parents can continue to advocate for every child in their district.

Advocacy does not have to take place in Washington, D.C. to count. However, if you are ready to broaden your advocacy experience, Raber suggests getting involved with your state PTA as a first step. Reach out to your state’s legislative chair to find out how you can support their state or federal legislative priorities at a local, state, and national level.

Regardless of your advocacy experience or the level at which you want to be involved, Raber explains that the most important piece to being a successful PTA advocate is simply caring for children. Children are at the heart of PTA’s mission, and it is PTA’s goal to ensure that every child meets their fullest potential. As a PTA member you can help make this objective a reality.

For more on the PTA Advocacy Awards or to nominate someone you feel is an outstanding PTA advocate, please visit www.pta.org/advocacyawards.For more tips and tools on how to get started on advocating with PTA, please visit www.pta.org/advocacy.

Join fellow PTA advocates for the PTA 2014 Legislative Conference. This exciting three-day event provides in-depth discussion about PTA’s public policy priorities through interactive workshops, keynote speakers, advocacy trainings and more. Registration for the Legislative Conference will open January 17, 2014. Please visit PTA.org/legcon for more information.

ENGAGE! With the Community

Basic CMYKThe National Standards for Family School Partnerships offer an important framework for connecting families to schools in meaningful ways. Standard 6 is connecting with the community. The goal is to connect families and the school with community resources. Families and school staff should collaborate with community members to connect students, families, and staff to expanded learning opportunities, community services, and civic participation.  National PTA has developed several indicators you can use to measure your effectiveness in meeting Standard 6.

The first indicator is linking to community resources. Schools and PTAs that do this well often have a family resource center staffed by faculty and parent volunteers to inform families about services, make referrals to community programs, and plan activities. Some PTAs have worked with the community to connect with health or dental clinics,  coordinate used clothing exchanges, or host food drives for low-income families.

The second indicator is organizing support from community partners. Schools and PTAs can work with community and business representatives to assess needs and develop programs to support student success and find create ways to provide funding and staff.  For example, some PTAs have worked with local community based organizations and local universities to implement Parent Academies.

The third indicator is turning the school into a hub of community life. PTAs can work with their local school to ensure facilities such as computer labs, media centers, classrooms, and gyms are open year-round for community use. Offering year-round programs to families helps to keep them connected to the school, even when it’s not in session!

The fourth indicator is partnering with community groups to strengthen families and support student success. Teachers and families can work with local groups to develop solutions to local problems. PTAs can survey families to identify existing needs and then work with local service providers to connect families to their services. Some PTAs have community resource fairs to introduce families to all of the service providers in their local community.

For more information about the Standard 6: Collaborating with the Community as well as the rest of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, check out our resources!

ENGAGE! is a weekly column on Family Engagement written by Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager of Family and Community Engagement at the National PTA. Sherri is the former Director of the Alabama Parent Information and Resource Center and is currently responsible for developing and implementing programs related to family and community engagement at the National PTA.

Together We Can Inspire Change


Starting left: Bruce Hall, Gayla Moghannam, Kathy Rabun, Nancy Vandell, and Vanessa Berastain.

I remember the day I raised my hand at a PTA meeting and asked if our school and district could do better for our students.  What I found was astonishing.  I found parent leaders, administration, PTA volunteers and students that were just as passionate about health and wellness as I was.  I am proof that it just takes one person to start a movement.   It takes just one person to raise their hand to ask a simple but important question, “Can we do better for our youth?”

Since that pivotal moment, I have found friends, parents, PTA leaders and students around the country who want to see healthier options in our school lunch program, more nutrition education in our classrooms, healthier celebrations and rewards, and more physical education on campus.  I am using resources from The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the USDA, and research from the California State PTA Health website to build an action plan for change in our school and district.  They make it so simple for us to initiate change.

At our first Council PTA Health and Wellness meeting, I was joined by Kathy Rabun, California State PTA Vice President for Health, Nancy Vandell, Thirty-Second District PTA President, Bruce Hall, Director of Child Nutrition for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, and Vanessa Berastain, San Ramon Council of PTAs President.  We taste tested a meal straight from our school lunch menu.  We had over 25 parent volunteers attend the meeting to share their passion for health and wellness.  As a team, we are committed to inspire healthier habits within our homes, schools and community.  It was an extraordinary gathering.

As Health and Wellness Chairs, we want better for our youth.  Better can be as simple as trading soda for water at the upcoming dance, better can be offering non-food based fundraising ideas, better can be sending an email to the Director of Child Nutrition and asking for more variety of fruits and vegetables, and better can be swapping candy rewards for extra recess time.  We know that change can be free, simple and extremely effective.  We are proof.  It just takes one person to raise their hand and ask the question at an upcoming meeting, “Can we do better?”  The answer is “Yes”.

Gayla Moghannam is the San Ramon Valley Council of PTAs Health and Wellness Chair.  She is also an Ambassador with The Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  

Gearing Up for PTA Take Your Family to School Week

2013 TYFTSW_Blog BannerAs I visit PTAs across the country, I love hearing students tell  me what they’re going to be when they grow up. Astronauts, architects, doctors, police, politicians – it doesn’t matter –the stories are always inspiring. Sometimes I wonder  whether these kids do what they need to do to achieve their goals: stay in school. The career dreams of so many youth end when they drop out of high school.

Did you know:

  • A student drops out of every 26 seconds
  • 7,000 students drop out every day
  • 1 million students drop out each year
  • 1 out of 5 students do not graduate from high school

Low attendance rates and lack of family engagement are major indicators for dropping out of high school. Research shows daily family support in a child’s life is important regardless of socioeconomic background.  That’s why we will focus on increasing the numbers of families engaged during National PTA’s 2014 Take Your Family to School Week, February 17-21, 2014. Find out more information at www.pta.org/tyftsw.

Supporting Your Child – And Every Child

As parents and caregivers, we have many opportunities to support our children’s academic success – beginning in the morning when we wake them up to start their school day on time. Eating meals together is another great opportunity for engagement. Not only do students gain the fuel their brains need to concentrate, but they also gain your attention. When students and parents talk about school regularly, they perform better academically. Knowing their parents are genuinely concerned about their performance will drive students to do their very best.

Volunteering your time is another way to show support. Family engagement is carried out everywhere children learn and play: at home, in school, during after-school or community programs, on athletic teams, through faith-based institutions, etc. If you have a strong skill – offer it. Contribute your organizational skills, fundraising ability, leadership qualities, bilingualism or other skills to help your child’s PTA, school or activities that enrich their lives.   And down the road, you’ll be like me, proudly seeing my son and daughter – now young adults – commit so much of their own time and talents to community service.

PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week is months away. But you can start today. When you get home, ask some simple questions: Do you need help with homework? What did you learn? What was your favorite part of the day? What did you play during recess? Who did you hang out with? What did you read?

The bottom line is that you are an infinite resource in supporting your child’s success. Resources don’t do much good if they’re underutilized. I urge you to make daily engagement in your child’s schooling and overall well-being your top priority. In the business world, you may hear “time is money.” In your child’s world, time is everything.

Otha Thornton is the president of National PTA.

A Proud National Sponsor of PTA since 2005, AXA Foundation – the philanthropic arm of AXA Equitable – is again pleased to sponsor PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week.


Membership Monday: Seizing the Membership Moment!

Mem_MondayI grabbed my coat while heading out the door to work with the weather bug on my TV set registering a chilling 46 degrees. It’s the morning of the gubernatorial election in Virginia. The local news reported this would be a close race with a large voter turnout, so I squeezed in a few extra minutes to my morning routine to go cast my vote.

We’re all familiar with what it’s like to change one thing in our morning routine and having our entire morning drive almost end in chaos. Yet, I was determined to make it to the polls super early to zoom past my neighbors and avoid the long lines. Turns out somebody else had already beaten me there! As I turned the corner to search for a parking space, I saw four smiling individuals bundled in scarfs, hats, and jackets at a table draped in PTA’s Every Child. One Voice.

Say hello to Samuel W. Tucker’s PTA unit members from left to right: Lisa Hammond –Treasurer; Daria Dillard – President; Pam Dennunzio – Secretary; and Al Luna – Volunteer Coordinator. They were ready to start the day engaging our local community with answers about PTA and volunteer opportunities while taking in a few fundraising dollars. With an historical voting turnout pending, they couldn’t have picked an easier way to gain great exposure and connect the dots with our community by sharing PTA’s mission.

If you’re a PTA leader looking for ways to host membership recruitment events and engagement with your school and community, click here. And to the 254 members strong at Samuel W. Tucker’s PTA unit comprised of parents, teachers, and school staff, we’d like to say “Hats off to you for a job well done”!  (Or should we say, “Hats On”?? Wow, it was cold.)

Healthy Choices and Smiling Faces

Caught_Veggie2Take a look at your school’s lunchroom. Don’t try this at lunchtime because it’s chaos in there! Come back when it’s quiet. What do you see on the walls?  Are there ads for pizza or candy fundraisers? Oversized thermometers to chart the number of juice pouches and chip bags collected? Maybe a poster that says, “the class with the highest cookie dough sales wins an ice cream social!”

Like most PTAs, the Grindstone Elementary PTA has worked (and worked, and worked) to raise money to enhance the student experience. Junk food fundraisers are easy and profitable, so we have traditionally utilized them. We’ve also used food rewards like pizza and ice cream as prizes because they’re cheap, easy, and popular. But what message were we sending our children? Eating pizza helps the school! Bring more potato chips to lunch! Ice cream is the best prize ever! 

Now, this post is not anti-ice cream.  In moderation, these foods are all okay.  But moderation implies balance and the only foods our PTA advertised were, well, junk.  There was no promotion of healthy foods to achieve a balance.

Concerned about the unhealthy food messages that my daughter encountered in school, I formed a Healthy Lifestyles Committee to help change our tune.  With the aid of PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Grant and Together Counts, we’ve made nutrition education and physical activity priorities in event planning and have ditched a major candy fundraiser.

And what’s on the lunchroom wall these days?  A big recognition board with photos of our smiling students munching carrots, green beans, salads, and broccoli.  It’s a program that we call Caught Eating a Veggie! 

Once a month, I visit the cafeteria to snap pictures of kids eating vegetables.  They’re excited to have me “catch” them!  I display the photos until the next month to show off their healthy decisions.  When the next batch of pictures goes up, the old ones are sent home with this note: “Congratulations!  Your student was Caught Eating a Veggie!  Grindstone PTA celebrates students making healthy decisions!”

Caught Eating a Veggie! promotes healthy lifestyles and is accessible to all of our kids regardless of age or ability.  Will it make our students love veggies?  We’ll have to wait and see.  In the meantime, the program is cheap, easy, and popular.  Try it in your elementary school!

Andi Whitaker is the advocacy chair at  Grindstone Elementary PTA in Berea, Ohio.

November is National PTA Healthy Lifestyles Month – a time when PTAs are encouraged to celebrate health and wellness in their schools and communities.