Every Child in Focus: Month of the Suburban Child

“Friendship”  by Jadyn Sano

“Friendship” by Jadyn Sano

A host of assumptions can be made about the U.S. suburbs and the populations who reside there.  However, our preconceived notions from TV shows like “Leave it to Beaver” no longer hold true.  Gone are the days of quaint neighborhoods filled with bright green lawns and white nuclear families.  They have given way to a far more diverse and dynamic way of life, enriching the lives of those who live there.  The face of the suburbs is changing, and these changes are creating new learning experiences for our children.

"Diversity Means Celebrating our Differences” by Caroline Manning

“Diversity Means Celebrating our Differences” by Caroline Manning


Once a safe haven from the “dangers of city living,” the gap between urban and suburban communities grows smaller every day.  Suburban populations are rising quickly, as are poverty levels.  According to a Brookings Institution study, “Between 2000 and 2008, the suburban poor population grew almost five times as fast as the city poor population, so that suburbs are now home to almost 1.9 million more poor people than their primary cities.”  By 2009, city and suburban unemployment rates had increased by nearly the same percentages; 9.6% and 8.7% respectively.  This means more free and reduced-price lunches for students, less accessibility to quality and up to date educational materials, and less flexibility for parents and caregivers to spend time at home and provide academic support to their children.

"Diversity Means Celebrating our Differences” by Caroline Manning

“Diversity Means Celebrating our Differences” by Caroline Manning

However, changes in the suburbs have brought wonderful opportunities to the children who live there.  Minority populations have drastically increased, creating more diverse communities and learning environments. According to 2010 census data, 59% of Latinos opt for suburbia living, as well as 62% of Asians.  In total, minorities make up 35% of suburban populations nationwide.  This provides students an opportunity to learn from a more global perspective, understanding their role as a citizen of the world.  The family structure has changed as well, with more and more children being raised in less conventional homes.  Today’s suburbanite children see the potential for love and caring rather than the potential for normalcy.

Here at National PTA, we see this shift of perspective in the incredible artwork students submit to the Reflections® program. Their artwork demonstrates an understood connectedness and shared humanity woven through every race, ethnicity, religion, and lifestyle.  Through new trials and tribulations in their communities, our suburban student artists arise triumphant, joining hands and powering forward together with strength they could never muster alone.

Early Education on the Rise

PreKSupport for the increased investment in the education of our earliest learners is at historic levels among our nation’s leaders. The research is clear: high-quality early education places our children on a path to academic and career success. This week in his annual State of the Union address, President Obama recognized this fact by expressing a renewed commitment to ensuring that every child has access to high-quality education, saying:

“One of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old. As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight.”

This legislative session, members of Congress also expressed this commitment by introducing the Strong Start for America’s Children Act in November. Sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Representatives George Miller (D-Calif.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), the legislation would increase access to and quality of programs for children from birth to kindergarten.  In just two short months, over 100 members of Congress from over 30 states and the District of Columbia have signed on as cosponsors and support continues to grow.

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act consists of four key measures:

  1. Preschool for All: Establishes a federal-state partnership to provide access to high-quality prekindergarten programs for all low-income and moderate-income children.
  2. Early Learning Quality Partnerships: Creates partnerships between Early Head Start providers and local center-based and family child care to improve the quality of their infant and toddler care.
  3. Child Care Improvement: Provides support for training, licensure, and compensation of child care providers and for the development of improved health and safety standards of federally-subsidized child care.
  4. Maternal, Infant, and early Childhood Home Visiting Programs: Encourages increased funding for evidence-based, voluntary home visitation programs to promote maternal and child health.

National PTA has supported early childhood education since its inception. We advocate for federal and state incentives for high-quality child care and preschool programs from birth to age five. These programs should be affordable and accessible; developmentally appropriate; coordinated at all levels (federal, state and local); and characterized by high standards for teaching, training, health and safety. National PTA also strongly encourages the inclusion of a family engagement component in all early childhood programs.

In 2014, National PTA is making the Strong Start for America’s Children Act one of our top legislative priorities. We are excited by the recent energy and dedication demonstrated by the President and members of Congress to increasing early learning opportunities. Now, we must leverage this historic support. Here’s how you can join National PTA’s efforts to strengthen early childhood education programs for every child:

  1. Contact your Members of Congress: Reach out to your representatives and senators and urge them to show their support for early childhood education by cosponsoring the Strong Start for America’s Children Act (H.R. 3461/S.1697).
  2. Join our PTA Take Action Network: Stay informed of National PTA’s advocacy efforts by signing up to receive our action alerts. These alerts will notify you when Congress is acting on issues important to children and families and will give you the opportunity to contact your leaders to make your voice heard.

It is important that Congress hear from parents on this issue! Please take action and let your member of Congress know why you think that investing in the education of our earliest learners is critical to our future.

Ten Ways Science Projects Benefit Your Kids

Gary Robinson is the president of Synopsys Outreach Foundation.
Co-written by Heidi Black, Science Fair Coordinator for the East Side Union HS District

ScienceFairs_BlogFor decades, science projects and science fairs have been as much a part of school lore as book reports and dodge ball. Hardly a TV season goes by without at least one scene of a mini-volcano exploding (or worse, imploding), a wayward rocket sending students scrambling, or refrigerated leftovers being mistaken for a science experiment.

Yet despite their status as a cultural touchstone, surprisingly little research has been conducted into how science projects impact students’ education and workplace preparedness. To gain some insight into this question, the nonprofit Synopsys Outreach Foundation teamed with educational research firm WestEd to survey 1,600 students in grades 4-12 on the value of science projects.

Students were asked reflect upon their science project experiences and to rate their perceived skills in several areas—including scientific investigation and analysis, project management and communication before and after completing their projects. In nearly every category, significant numbers of students rated their skills as having improved to “Good” or “Very good” after participating in a science project. To view the complete report, click here.

The survey results are particularly encouraging because they show how science projects can help students hone not only science-related skills such as scientific investigation and analysis, but also critical thinking, communication, collaboration and other, non-science-specific skills critical to success in a wide variety of 21st-century careers.

So, the next time you’re pitching in to help your kid complete, say, a model nuclear reactor, keep in mind our list of the top 10 benefits students reap from pursuing science projects:

  1. They get to pursue a topic of interest to them.
  2. They learn to brainstorm, evaluate and choose projects.
  3. They develop and carry out an experiment plan.
  4. They apply time and deadline management skills.
  5. On team projects, they practice cooperating with others in pursuit of a common goal.
  6. They learn to accurately record and analyze data.
  7. They practice writing summaries of their findings.
  8. They create charts, graphics and other visuals to aid in presenting their results.
  9. They meet the challenge of making an oral presentation and defending their work before science fair judges.
  10. They get to spend more time with their parents!



National PTA’s State of the Union Twitter Chat

SOU_TwitterJoin National PTA for a Twitter chat on featuring hopes, ideas, and predictions for Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. What education topic would you President Obama to address? What issues matter most to you? Join us tonight as we discuss these topics with experts from National PTA to answer your questions and speak to the work that @NationalPTA is doing on behalf of #EveryChild.

Who: National PTA

What: SOTU Twitter Chat

When: Tuesday, Jan. 28, 9-11pmET

Hashtag: #PTASOTU

National PTA Experts Include:

  • Sherri Wilson, Family Engagement Manager, @Ptaswilson
  • Andrew Lee, Digital Communications Specialist, @plwatcher
  • Jessica Seitz, Education Policy Analyst, @Jseitzfanning
  • Erica Lue, Advocacy Coordinator @Ericaelise1321

Want to participate? Follow @NationalPTA. Search for #PTASOTU and use the hashtag in your tweets to join the conversation.

Ask Membership! Monday

MembershipMondayThe National PTA membership team answers your questions about membership recruitment, retention, and engagement every month.

Dear PTA Membership,

I am the PTA membership chair at my son’s elementary school. I’ve been trying really hard to increase our PTA’s meeting attendance, but nothing really seems to work. We hold meetings monthly and I try to ask everyone I know to attend, but the same 5 or 6 people show up all the time. How can I get more people to come to the meetings? We really have a great school and I know they want to be more involved!

Cynthia D. – Lexington, KY

Dear Cynthia,

Getting new faces to attend your meetings isn’t always easy, but here are four quick tips to help you boost your attendance.

  1. Make your meeting date and time visible using physical announcements. Placing PTA posters with your next PTA meeting date, location, and time in highly visible areas parents frequent when visiting your child’s school (next to the front office doorway, school auditorium, and cafeteria areas) is a great way to keep your invitation in front of parents, teachers, and school staff.  Gain the school’s permission to post PTA posters. Local PTA presidents may check with your State PTA office to get a poster if you don’t have one.
  2. Share your PTA meeting on social media. You’re probably already a “friend” or “follower” of many people at your child’s school or in the community. Ask others to share your meeting announcement and link to current online content that will be the focus of your upcoming meeting. For more information on how to connect and engage Today’s PTA member using social media, click here.
  3. Place PTA flier announcements in students’ backpacks. Backpack fliers are still a number one vehicle for distributing messages to parents. Work with your school’s principal to gain permission to do this.
  4. Ask each person attending to bring another attendee. Double your efforts by asking each PTA attendee to bring one additional person with them from their home, the school, or the community.

Best wishes,
The PTA Membership Team


Have a question for the PTA membership team? Email National PTA’s membership marketing manager at jlindsey@pta.org. Type “Ask Membership! Monday” in the subject line, tell us your question, and include your first and last name, name of your local PTA, and city and state. If your question is selected, it will be answered here in the Ask Membership! Monday blog.

Joy Lindsey is membership marketing manager for National PTA.  

ENGAGE! A Quick Recap of My Favorite Chat

Social Media _ Speech CloudsEach week, I participate in the Parent Teacher Chat (#ptchat),  a Twitter chat that enables parents, teachers, administrators and others to connect and discuss various strategies that strengthen home-school partnerships. Last week the topic was one that is very near to my heart, the National PTA Standards for Family School Partnerships!

If you follow this blog, you know that the National Standards are a framework that allows PTAs and schools to work together to engage all families in meaningful ways. I’ve posted several articles already about each standard to really break it down and provide links to some useful tools.  This week’s #ptchat was really important because it allowed voices from the field to weigh in on some of the strategies they use to engage all families. Here are some of my favorite comments:

  • Luisa Requenes (@LuisaRequenes) posted,“Family engagement standards take care of the WHOLE child for his/her future and academic success!”
  • Francis Frost (@FrancisFrost) said, “The standards go to addressing the students whole education experience – academic, school community, parents.”
  • Dana Sirotiak (@Siroticak) noted that “The standards benefit students because all tie to student success both in home and at school.”
  •  Lisa Davis (@lisaodavis) pointed out that “These standards are building blocks that keep improving and gain momentum.”

The chat included some fantastic PTA leaders. Here are some of their comments:

  • California PTA (@CaliforniaPTA) said, “We envision all 1,000 school districts in CA having a family engagement plan based on the standards.”
  • Massachusetts PTA (@MassPTA) provided a link to the Massachusetts state fundamentals.
  • California PTA Executive Director Paul Richman (@PJR100) noted, “A key to successful engagement is meeting parents ‘where they are at’” including “languages, ability to get to meetings, etc.”
  • Maryland PTA President Ray Leone (@President_Ray) shared that reaching out to the “local arts council is a great way to bring the community into the school.”

During the chat, I had the opportunity to promote the most recent tools we’ve developed to support the implementation of the standards with special groups. As a part of the National PTA Every Child in Focus Campaign, we have developed a set of documents to deepen family engagement in schools through the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. Visit the site to explore tools for working with Hispanic families, urban families, American Indian families, families of children with special needs, suburban families and African American families. Don’t forget to check back next month when we unveil the new tool on working with foster families. And follow me (@PTAswilson) and my very good friend (@NationalPTA)!

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.


Engaging Families and Communities in Advocacy: the Continuing Relevance of PTA

2014 LegCon Panel Ad (2)Last week, registration began for National PTA’s annual Legislative Conference. Held in March, the conference provides PTA members the opportunity to speak up for every child at the federal level. Attendees receive trainings and briefings before meeting with their members of Congress to discuss issues of importance to PTA and families across the country. All PTA members are invited to join us!

As important as it is to meet with members of Congress in DC, local and state advocacy is just as critical to ensuring that family engagement in matters involving children is valued by decision makers at all levels of policy—from the school district, to the state, to the United States Department of Education. For family engagement to become a priority around the country, PTA’s must actively work to encourage both their membership and their community to participate. While it can sometimes seem like an uphill battle to get families and communities involved in activism, there are concrete steps that can be taken to get started.

They key to engaging existing and potential new members in PTA is to show people why their local PTA is relevant. If families can see that the PTA in their community is actively working to bring about positive change in their school district, change that can impact their child, they will be more inclined to get involved.

But how can PTA’s highlight their continuing relevance? The first step is to recognize that PTAs are advocacy associations with a rich legacy of speaking up for every child. Services like hot lunches in schools and establishment of juvenile courts would not be what they are today without PTA.  It’s also important to take the fear out of “advocacy.” While the word “advocacy” can be scary for many people, it simply means to support a cause. To engage your local community, and potentially gain membership, local PTA units should strive to highlight how they have supported every child and brought about change, especially in recent months or years. Your unit could keep newspaper clippings showcasing PTA success; create a collage of photos with local PTA members working for change; or keep a bulletin board with past event notices. Be creative with it! Local PTA leaders should also familiarize themselves with the history of both their state PTA affiliate and National PTA so that communities can see why PTA matters at all levels.

While educating the community on what PTA has done recently, PTA members should also be prepared to answer questions about what they are doing now to speak up for every child. To be able to effectively answer this question and peak interest in the activities of the local PTA, leaders should have an advocacy plan in place. What issues affecting child welfare are happening in your school district? What can your PTA do to address this topic? Remember, your unit does not have to tackle every issue all at once; rather, a better approach is to choose one or two topics that impact families, teachers, and students the most and work to build support for PTA’s position. Using a strategy chart, units can set goals for what they would like to see happen. If community interest already exists for the issue, this is an excellent opportunity for local PTAs to raise their visibility by taking a stand and organizing their members for change, which may also result in new members joining. If the community is not aware of the issue, then PTA has the opportunity to educate them.

At the Legislative Conference this year, we will be talking with members of Congress about the Family Engagement in Education Act, a federal piece of legislation that provides states and communities with more opportunity to prioritize family involvement in children’s educational experience.  As PTA advocates work with Congress to pass this important bill, take some time to consider ways that your PTA can engage families and communities at the local level.

Tell us: How does your state or local unit engage its membership and seek to recruit new members?


Want to attend the 2014 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.? Visit the Legislative Conference web page for more information and to register!


Take Action! Every Child Deserves a #StrongStart!

IMG_4443%20211.jpgJoin @NationalPTA as we partner with leading education organizations to encourage the Obama Administration to fully support and fund early childhood education programs. As part of this campaign, we encourage our members to send us photographs of themselves holding the #StrongStart sign. Feel free to be creative with your photograph. Members can send photos to govaffairs@pta.org or upload to National PTA’s Flickr share album.

In the week leading up to the State of the Union address Jan. 28, we will tweet your photos to President Obama using the hashtag #StrongStart as part of a Twitter action campaign coordinated with advocates across the country. The initiative will call for President Obama to include early learning in his speech. The more photos we are able to tweet, the more likely it will draw the administration’s attention to fully support and fund early childhood education programs. Questions? Contact Governmental Affairs or Communications.

Enhancing the Local School Wellness Environment

Reposted from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Blog
Originally posted January 14, 2014
Dr. Janey Thornton is the Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services

USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton thanks Food Service Staff at Valley Intermediate School for their dedication to the children’s health.

USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton thanks Food Service Staff at Valley Intermediate School for their dedication to the children’s health.

Local school wellness policies are an important tool for parents, local educational agencies, and school districts to promote student wellness, prevent and reduce childhood obesity, and provide assurance that school meal guidelines meet federal standards. They help communicate nutrition guidelines for all foods available on the school campus and include goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other activities that help improve overall student wellness.

While visiting schools across the nation, I have seen firsthand how important local wellness policies are, and we here at USDA aren’t the only ones who think so. Over two dozen national associations and organizations have joined the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Department of Education in sharing information and resources about local school wellness policies. In fact, this group has issued a joint statement recognizing the role schools play in promoting wellness among staff, students, and families.

To further support these efforts, FNS recently launched a new website full of resources to help enhance the school nutrition environment.

This new website will help schools to assess and update their local school wellness policies as needed and offer ideas on how to share information with parents and communities.  It also provides best practices, samples, stories, and guidance for school districts to boost their wellness efforts.

The website also offers information and resources on:

For more information on local school wellness policies, visit the USDA Food and Nutrition Web site: http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/local-school-wellness-policy.

See more at: http://blogs.usda.gov/2014/01/14/enhancing-the-local-school-wellness-environment/#more-49512

ENGAGE! Supporting Student Success

StudentsIn a groundbreaking 2010 study on school improvement, family engagement was identified as a key ingredient for school turnarounds. So not only does family engagement support student success – it supports effective school reform.

The study indicated “essential supports” for effective school reform included:

  • School leadership as the driver for change
  • Family, school and community partnerships
  • Professional capacity of the faculty
  • A student-centered learning climate
  • Instructional guidance.

This study specifically evaluated school improvement in low-income, urban schools. They found that elementary schools with strong family engagement were 10 times more likely to improve in math and four times more likely to improve in reading than schools weak on this measure. That’s why the third standard of the National Standards for Family School Partnerships is Supporting Student Success.

When Standard 3 – Supporting Student Success is achieved, families and school staff continuously collaborate to support students’ learning and healthy development both at home and at school.  Families feel well prepared and comfortable to enhance the instruction and social and emotional learning that occurs during in-school and after-school lessons.

The first goal is to share information about student progress. Your PTA can:

  • Ensure family-teacher communication
  • Link student work to academic standards
  • Use standardized test results to increase achievement
  • Share school progress

The second goal is to support learning by engaging families. Your PTA can:

  • Engage families in classroom learning
  • Develop families’ abilities to strengthen learning at home
  • Promote after-school learning

To get started, link all PTA events to student learning, including activities focused on making all families feel welcome! Work with school leadership to conduct workshops on interpreting standardized test data. Also, collaborate with teachers to provide fun, family-centered PTA events focused on topics such as literacy, study skills, individual curriculum areas, and college and career planning. Check out our Family Reading Experience and new guides in our Take Your Family to School Week Kit.

For more information about the research on “essential supports” read Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago by Bryk, Bender, Allensworth, and Luppescu.

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.