Every Child in Focus Spotlights Detroit and Children with Special Needs

National PTA’s Every Child in Focus campaign for the month of December centered on the child with special needs. As part of the campaign to celebrate, raise awareness and elevate support for families and children with special needs, National PTA President Otha Thornton and Special Needs Committee Chair Enrique Escallon visited Detroit to meet with state and local PTA leaders, education and community leaders, and parents to discuss the challenges they face and solutions to help support student success.

The visit to Detroit began with an education town hall meeting at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History hosted by the Detroit Council PTA. The event included discussions on serving families of children with special needs, increasing access to resources and services, and empowering parents to advocate for children. President Thornton and Enrique Escallon served as panelists along with a member of the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education, representative of the Detroit Parent Network, member of the Detroit Youth Violence Prevention Initiative and education consultant for the United States Chess Federation, who is working with educators across the country to bring the game of chess into classrooms as a tool for teaching and learning that engages all students and reinforces critical thinking skills.

Following the town hall meeting, President Thornton and Enrique had the opportunity to visit the Charles R. Drew Transition Center, a unique post-secondary vocational center that serves special education students ages 18-26. At the Charles R. Drew Transition Center, instruction is delivered through simulated work and living environments located on “Main Street.” The center features a clothing store, flower shop, print and copy center, bank, laundry facility, beauty salon, convenience store, fitness center, post office and foods and arts programs. Students learn in a non-traditional classroom setting that promotes independent living and employability skills. The goal of the center is to provide students with life and skill training and real-world connections to prepare them to be productive citizens and succeed in work environments. While at the Charles R. Drew Transition Center, President Thornton and Enrique met with administrators, parents and PTA members.

After visiting the Charles R. Drew Transition Center, President Thornton and Enrique joined Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Jack Martin, members of the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education and Detroit Public Schools staff for a discussion on PTA, the Every Child in Focus campaign, families and children with special needs and current challenges in Detroit. Detroit Public Schools has been experiencing an enrollment decline as well as staff turnover with the closure of school buildings. On the other hand, the proportion of students in the district with special needs has been growing. And the higher proportion of special-education students has led to shortages in services and the reassignment of students to larger classes.

The visit to Detroit was an important opportunity to bring together PTA, education and community leaders to spotlight, discuss and advance issues facing families in Detroit. Check out photos from the events below.

National PTA invites state PTAs to host their own events in conjunction with the Every Child in Focus campaign or partner with National PTA for a joint-event. Read the call for proposals and submit your ideas at PTA.org/ECIFevents.

Detroit ECIF 12-13 5

National PTA President Otha Thornton and Special Needs Committee Chair Enrique Escallon discuss the
Every Child in Focus campaign and elevating support for families and students with special needs during a town hall meeting at the Charles H. Wright Museum of
African American History in Detroit.

Detroit ECIF 12-13 4

President Thornton and Enrique Escallon meet with parents and PTA members at the Charles R. Drew Transition Center.

Resources for Families of Children with Special Needs

ECIF_DECI remember talking to a friend many years ago who spoke about having a special needs child and compared it to preparing for a vacation to a foreign country, learning a new language, preparing for the sites to see and the places to visit and when the plane landed, lo and behold she ended up in a different country, with a different language and while it was not what she thought it would be it was still wonderful and beautiful.

That is how I felt being assigned to National PTA’s Special Needs committee, I was prepared with my PTA knowledge and thought I knew the education jargon/language but boy was I wrong.  I attended my first committee meeting, still knowing very little about Special Needs programs and immediately realized I had to learn a new language.  IEPs, IDEA, FAPE, 504’s, SEPTA and the list went on and on. The committee members were very understanding and patient with me and aided me in my slow but gradual learning process.  I was lost and confused just as I am sure many parents are when their child is diagnosed with Special Needs.  I started asking questions and received direction from the committee members on where to turn.   I needed to do some research and naturally went to the PTA.org website.    On the website I found a Special Needs Toolkit that had answers to the questions I was having and even more information than I ever thought I would need to know.  I cannot imagine what parents need to do when their child is diagnosed with special needs and where do they turn but now I can refer them to PTA.org/specialneeds.

On this website, there is an amazing section devoted to special needs. Starting with:

Getting Started: An introduction to the Special Education process and how to advocate for your child.

From Pre-K to Graduation: Transitioning your student throughout his or her school career and preparing them for college or the workforce after graduation.

Understanding Federal Policy: An overview of federal disability and special needs policies, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

A Parent’s Dictionary: Key terms to know when getting started in special education.

Acronyms: An overview of acronyms used in special education and disability policies and programs.

Resources: A directory of tools and organizations that families can access for assistance.

This is a fantastic tool, with great information, and relevant resources. Help those who need this by referring parents, teachers, and school districts about PTA’s Special Needs Toolkit.

While I am sure that being on a committee is nothing compared to having a special needs child, I do know one thing, every child is entitled to a great education. Sometimes getting that for our children takes us down a different road, but the journey is worth it to see our child, your child, all children succeed.

Kathy Nevans is a member of the National PTA Board of Directors and the Board liaison to the Special Needs Committee. She is from Independence, MO.

LeVar Burton Reads “The Night Before Christmas”

Here is a special treat from our friends over at Reading Rainbow: LeVar Burton shares a special reading of “The Night Before Christmas.”

From everyone here at National PTA, we wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!

School Bus Safety and the Role of the Individualized Education Program (IEP)

The school bus plays an essential role in the everyday lives of families across the nation, particularly for families with children receiving special education and related services. Most children with disabilities ride the same school bus as their non-disabled peers. They often require little or no special assistance. However, some children with disabilities require very specific planning in order to receive a safe ride to school.

The entitlement for children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate transportation service is firmly established in two federal laws: The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (more commonly known as Section 504) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If you have been told that your child requires the related service transportation or you believe that your child needs specialized transportation, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process is the appropriate means for discussing your child’s specific transportation needs.  IDEA requires that transportation needs be addressed on a case-by-case basis when your child requires services different from children without disabilities.

It is crucial that IEP team members, including yourself, provide input about how your child’s disability impacts riding the school bus safely. The IEP team meeting and the IEP document should address accommodations and supplementary aids and services required to assure safe and appropriate transportation services.

Here are  five tips families can follow to increase a child’s school bus safety:

  1. Be familiar with school district’s school bus policies and procedures for students with disabilities.
  2. Utilize the IEP process to address transportation if individualized services are necessary. Be sure to ask questions about the specific training received by the bus driver and attendant to meet your child’s needs.
  3. Provide relevant information about the impact of your child’s disability on the school bus ride.
  4. The most dangerous part of the school bus ride is getting on and off the school bus.  This is referred to as “The Danger Zone.” The “Danger Zone” is the ten (10) feet in front, behind and on each side of the school bus.  Make sure that your child receives appropriate supervision at all times while in the “Danger Zone.”
  5. Have readily available contact numbers of those individuals responsible for the transportation of your child.

It is reassuring to know that the school bus is recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as the safest form of travel to and from school. Parents of children with disabilities are essential partners in ensuring that their child’s school bus ride is a safe ride. Parents also help to ensure that the ride is a positive experience prior to arriving at school and after leaving school. Remember, the school bus ride provides the very first step to a meaningful education for many of our nations children.

Dr. Linda Bluth has 48 years of experience as a special educator, including 33 years in special needs transportation. Her past experience includes work at the United States Department of Education (USDE) and as a University Professor; School System Administrator; and Policy Specialist in the Maryland Governor’s Office for Children Youth and Families. She is a past-president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT). Dr. Bluth currently works at the Maryland State Department of Education as a Special Initiatives Program Specialist.

Expanded Learning Time: Winning Strategy for Families

Expanding Learning TimeNancy Conneely is a guest blogger from the National Center on Time and Learning. Today’s post provides insight into the concept of an expanded school day, an idea that is being discussed more and more across the country.

Momentum has been building across the country to expand learning time for public school students. Why?

For several reasons, the relatively short school day and long summer break—a school structure that became the norm by the early 20th century—no longer meet our needs. First, there are more households where mothers work outside the home, whether they are two-income households or households led by single parents. The misalignment between the work day and the traditional school day places an increased burden on parents. Second, in today’s globalized economy and technologically advanced world, jobs require critical thinking skills, group collaboration, and other advanced skills. The burden on schools to graduate students with a wide array of skills and knowledge is greater than ever, but the conventional school calendar limits the ability of schools to adequately prepare students for college and career.

Benefits of more time

But more time doesn’t mean more of the same. We can’t simply tack time on to the school calendar and expect to see strong results. With more time schools must rethink the school day. Schools that have expanded learning time are able to broaden and deepen the curriculum, to better address the learning needs of individual students, and to build in opportunities that enrich students’ educational experiences. The National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) has been working with states, schools, teachers and parents over the last decade to ensure that schools not only have more time, but that it is time well spent.

Expanded learning time can raise achievement by giving students more class time and more small-group instruction tailored to meet their individual needs, and s teachers and students more time for science, social studies, and foreign languages, classes that have been scaled back in many places.

Expanding the school day also allows for more enrichment courses such as arts, music, robotics, drama, and creative writing, all of which help to keep students engaged in school. To supplement and enrich academic and elective courses, schools often bring  in partners, such as community-based organizations, local businesses, colleges and universities, and arts and cultural institutions.

From a practical perspective, too, a longer day for students also better aligns with working parents’ schedules, providing all children the kind of well-rounded education parents crave without having to worry about them leaving the safety of the school building early in the afternoon, several hours before the workday ends.

Families support expanded learning time

For all these reasons, parents are overwhelmingly in favor of expanded school time. Recently, NCTL reported on a survey that found that three-quarters of respondents – including 80 percent of parents with children enrolled in public schools – agreed that more time in school will better prepare students for success in college and the workforce.

In places where ELT is currently being implemented, parents are pleased with the opportunities that more instructional time provides for their children. For example, in Revere, Massachusetts, where two elementary schools expanded learning time in 2008, parents like that more time allows their children to develop deeper relationships with teachers and other adult role models, to participate in more enrichment activities, and to stay more engaged in the school day.

Federal policies that support expanded learning time

As expanded learning time has gained steam in local schools, it has also gained the support of the Obama Administration and many members of Congress. The waivers that the Obama Administration has granted to states to give them flexibility in meeting No Child Left Behind requirements include options for states and schools to use federal funding for expanding the school day and year.  The School Improvement Grant program, which targets funds to the lowest-performing schools, also allows schools to use money to expand the school day and year.

As Congress has worked on new legislation to replace No Child Left Behind, bipartisan proposals emphasizing the value of expanded learning time have passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. While the details of the proposals vary, each provides states and districts with greater flexibility to use federal funds for expanded learning time.

How can you help?

If you are interested in ways to expand learning time for your children, there are a number of things you can do:

  • Join the Time to Succeed Coalition (TSC)! TSC is a broad and diverse coalition working to ensure that all children in our nation’s high-poverty communities have more and better learning time in school to prepare them for success. By signing on, you’ll be joining the growing movement to expand learning time in communities across the country.
  • Speak with your school’s principal about the possibility of expanding the school day or year.
  • Speak with families in your child’s school about the benefits of an expanded school day or year.
  • Ask local and state candidates about their views on expanding school time as a piece of their education platform.

For more information on expanded learning time, please visit www.timeandlearning.org.

Kids Act Fast. So Does the Poison Help Line.

PoisonHelp2All parents want to keep their children safe. But the fact of the matter is kids are fast, curious, and impulsive. It only takes a few seconds for your child to find common household dangers, ranging from medicines to cleaning supplies. Situations like these are part of the reason that about half of all poison exposures reported to America’s poison centers involve children younger than six.*

National PTA wants to share a resource that can help you keep up when your kids act fast: the Poison Help line.

The Poison Help line, 1-800-222-1222, is a toll-free number that quickly connects you to the medical professionals at your poison center. Doctors, nurses and pharmacists answer calls 24/7 and can provide parents like you with lifesaving information. In fact, the Poison Help line receives about 500,000 calls from parents and caregivers ever year. That’s one call every minute of every day.** Health care providers call the Poison Help line too.

Calls to poison centers not only save lives, but also time and money. Seventy percent of poison exposures can be managed over the phone,*** which helps avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room and saves money on health care costs.

We know that you may not be able to slow your children down, but there’s a way to stay a step ahead. Program the Poison Help line into your phone and post it near your home phone so it’s there when you need it most. For more information, watch this video or visit www.PoisonHelp.hrsa.gov.

* Bronstein AC, Spyker DA Cantilena LR, Green JL, Rumack BH, Giffin SL. 2011 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 29th Annual Report. 2012. Clinical Toxicology (2012) 47, 91–1164.

** Safe Kids Worldwide, An In-Depth Look at Keeping Young Children Safe Around Medicine

*** Bronstein AC, Spyker DA Cantilena LR, Green JL, Rumack BH, Giffin SL. 2011 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 29th Annual Report. 2012. Clinical Toxicology (2012) 47, 911–1164.

What You Need to Know About the PTA Take Your Family to School Week Toolkit

National PTA has developed a wide range of turn-key tools to help ALL schools host successful events during Take Your Family to School Week, February 17-21, 2014.

Available at PTA.org/TYFTSW, the toolkit has several distinct components:

  • Comprehensive Leader’s Guide to help guide schools and PTAs throughout the entire planning process
  • “Supporting Student Success” workshop presentation template
  • Event Guides that PTAs and schools can use to engage families and support student success in math and literacy, bullying prevention, arts in education and cultural diversity;
  • Template promotion tools to drum up support and attendance for your events;
  • Take-home materials for parents; and
  • Four themed posters for year-round display.

Plus, all materials will be available in Spanish in January 2014.

Now that you know what to expect, let’s take a closer look at the toolkit:

2014 TYFTSW Leader's Guide_FINAL 1Leadership Tools

The Take Your Family to School Week Guide is the first stop for all school leaders looking to organize Take Your Family to School Week events. This guide will take you through, step-by-step, how to plan, manage and implement Take Your Family to School Week events.  You will find tips for recruiting your team, planning your events, gathering resources, and promoting your activities so all families can benefit! 

Event Guides

 Coverpage from TYFTSW_Guide_StudentSuccess_FINAL Coverpage from TYFTSW_Guide_LiteracyandMath_FINAL CoverPage from TYFTSW_Guide_BullyPrevention_FINAL

PTA offers six guides to help parents plan and implement activities and events to support student success. Guides are available in the following areas:

  • Literacy and Math
  • Bullying Prevention
  • Reflections Celebration
  • Creative Career Fair
  • Multicultural
  • Supporting Student Success Workshop

Promotional Tools

You can help spread the word about your Take Your Family to School Week activities with these great tools!

2014 TYFTSW Poster_Non.Editable_FINALTake Your Family to School Week Poster:

  • Customizable for each event with date, time, location
  • Shrinks to standard 8”x11” paper

Additional Customizable Promotional Tools:

  • Invitation letter to families;
  • Donation request letter;
  • Proclamation;
  • Media advisory;
  • News release;
  • Photo release;
  • Social media messaging; and
  • Morning announcements

Four Themed Posters

 2013 TeacherTips TYFTSW Poster30  2013 HealthyLifestyles TYFTSW Poster30

These posters will be available in the Back-to-School Kit next summer! In the meantime, you can access them first during Take Your Family to School Week. Look for posters with tips on:

  • Engaging families at school;
  • Leading healthier lifestyles with energy balance;
  • Preventing bullying and promoting healthy school climates; and
  • Recruiting participants for Reflections theme, “The world would be a better place if…”


Upcoming Webinars

National PTA will also host two upcoming webinars with more details on the toolkit. Click on a date below to register:

For more information on Take Your Family to School Week and the Toolkit, visit PTA.org/TYFTSW.  Have questions? Send us an email programs@pta.org or call (800)307-4782.

ENGAGE! Communicating with All Families

CommunicationThe National Standards for Family School Partnerships focuses on what parents, schools and communities can do together to support student success. The second of the six standards focuses on communicating effectively. The goal of this standard is to share information between school and families.

To achieve meaningful, two-way communication, it’s important to:

  • Use multiple channels (traditional flyers and notes, phone calls, texts, social media, etc.)
  • Ask families about their issues or concerns using formal and informal surveys
  • Share information on current issues of interest to families
  • Facilitate connections among families

As you think about your school or schools in your district, consider these questions:

  • Are communication materials informative, regular, and accessible by all families?
  • Is there a school policy for teacher communication with families?
  • Are there translators?
  • Is there a policy for family communication with teachers?
  • Do the school and PTA have opportunities for families and staff to share information in a variety of ways (e.g., e-mail, home visits, phone calls, printed materials)?
  • Is it is easy and convenient for parents to contact teachers and provide feedback to the school around policies and issues of concern?

All families should feel the school informs them about important issues and that it’s easy to communicate with teachers, the principal, and other staff. Creating a perception that a dominant group of parents is in the know while everyone else is in the dark reduces trust and stifles the free flow of ideas.

Twitter has become a terrific way for parents and teachers to connect with others and create their own personal learning network (PLN). Every Wednesday night from 9 to 10 pm EST, parents and teachers from around the world engage in lively discussions using the hashtag #PTChat. Each week features a different topic and many feature guest experts who contribute to the conversation.  Topics cover everything from planning back to school nights to balancing academics with extracurricular activities. Join us next week and learn more about engaging all families!

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.



Choosing Kindness


Kaitlin Roig

Kaitlin Roig is the founder and executive director of Classes 4 Classes, Inc. She is on a one-year leave from her teaching position at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where she has taught the past six years.

Following the tragedy our school endured on 12/14/12, I thought: I needed to find a way to teach my students the importance of love, hope, kindness, consideration, compassion and empathy. The overwhelming support from around the world was what provided me with my idea of how. We were getting and getting and now it was our turn to give. I needed to teach my students that when you get, you have to give and when someone makes you happy, it’s your responsibility to make someone else feel the same joy.

Our class was the first class to reach out to another class and say, “What do you need? How can we help you?” My students were able to experience firsthand that giving and making a difference in someone else’s life is the way to enact positive, social change. It was our way to give back after all we had been given. This is how the idea for Classes 4 Classes, Inc. was born.

My hope is that Classes 4 Classes can raise awareness among teachers and parents and encourage them to embrace sharing a social curriculum with their students. This is the way to ensure children develop a social-emotional intelligence.

Helping children to understand the importance of kindness, compassion and empathy is the path to enable them to feel good about themselves, about their friendships and about their relationships. It allows children to feel included in something and to feel a part of a team. Teaching children essential social skills begins with lessons in school and extends to the home.

It starts in the morning, with a greeting, a kind word. It continues with learning how to share with one another in a way in which everyone feels welcome, safe and secure. It begins with establishing this climate, and it is infused throughout the day. It is working together toward the greater good, in classes, schools, communities and around the world.

When it comes down to it, teaching students a social curriculum, is making sure they are socially aware. Aware of what makes each of us different, what unites us as one, and being accepting of both. Understanding when someone is down, upset or happy and proud — and knowing the appropriate response to have to each. Seeing a peer on the playground all alone and being able to empathize, understanding the loneliness that child must be experiencing. Being aware and able to go over and say, “Hi, would you like to play?”

It may seem so obvious, so simple to us as adults, but these lessons can be forgotten or get scrimped. But then again 1+1=2 and A comes before B are also very simple lessons…but where would each of us be if we hadn’t learned those simplest of lessons?

Ensuring children learn and fully understand the importance of love, kindness, compassion and empathy is critical to create positive and safe environments inside and outside of schools. And it is the responsibility of educators and parents to teach children these essential social skills.

For ideas on how to teach children these lessons at home, visit https://www.classes4classes.org/Info/GetInvolved.aspx.


School Safety & Gun Violence Prevention: Year in Review

National PTA believes that school safety is a critical priority for all parents, educators, students, and community members. In our federal advocacy efforts, we promote legislative measures to protect children and youth from violence, particularly incidents that involve firearms.

In 2013, we strengthened our commitment to ensuring that schools are safe for our children. We prioritized school safety and gun violence prevention in our advocacy agenda and worked with our partners at the U.S. Department of Education in a series of school safety town halls to support community dialogue. Thousands of our members took action to urge their lawmakers to enact school safety policies and common sense gun violence prevention measures.

Congress2As 2013 draws to a close, where is Congress on school safety?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy last year, there was a nationwide cry for stronger school safety legislation. In response, the 113th Congress introduced a number of bills aimed at reducing gun violence and creating avenues to school safety, including measures to increase access to mental health services and supports, reenact a federal ban on military-style assault weapons, and strengthen criminal background checks on firearm purchases. National PTA is disappointed to say that Congress failed to pass any of these measures in 2013 despite widespread public support and bipartisan endorsement of some of the proposals.

What Now? Looking ahead to 2014

With each passing day, gun-related injuries and violence in our schools continue. In the year since Sandy Hook, there have been over 11,000 gun related deaths in the United States, over 700 of which were children and teens.

As child advocates, we must call upon our national, state, and local leaders to make meaningful changes to ensure a safe learning environment for all children. Here’s how you can join National PTA in advocating for the safety of our children:

  1. Contact your Members of Congress: Reach out to your representatives and senators and urge them to make the elimination of violence in schools a top priority in 2014.
  2. Act locally: Your advocacy efforts should not stop with Congress. Does your local school district have an effective safety plan in place? Check out the PTA’s 10 Things You Can Do to Prevent Violence in Your School Community and our school safety advocacy guide which contains helpful resources for PTA members to advocate for school safety solutions.

In 2014, National PTA will renew our efforts to secure policies to reduce gun violence and promote school safety, including advocating for increased access to quality mental health services. School safety and violence prevention will be a key priority of our 2014 legislative agenda. To stay informed, join our Takes Action network and sign up to receive our action alerts. These alerts will notify you when Congress is acting on issues important to students and families and will give you the opportunity to contact your leaders to make your voice heard. We must not let Congress’s failure to act in 2013 affect the safety of our children.

Additional resources: