Reflections of a Military Child: Inspiration from Abroad

Two award winning works of student art from the National PTA Reflections Arts ProgramThe Magic of a Moment” captured the home coming of military families. This magic moment is obviously a poignant one for some of today’s youth in the continental U.S. and beyond.

We had the chance to interview Benjamin Leese, one of our student artists, to get the story behind his heartfelt inspiration, entitled “Homecoming Dad.”


Do you have a military parent or family?  Yes, my dad is a Captain in the Air Force.

What inspired you to create artwork about a military homecoming? The theme for the Reflections contest was the Magic of the Moment and there was no other moment I could think of that was more magical than the day my dad came home safely from Afghanistan after being gone for a year.  It was tough hearing about all the things that were happening over there and never knowing if my dad was safe or not, so when he got off that plane and I could run up and hug him- that was just great!

Ben and DadHow did you get involved with Reflections?  I never heard of Reflections until I came to Italy.  This is the first time I was in a DOD (Department of Defense) school.  I have been doing art since I could pick up a pencil and I love it.  I think my art teacher realized I had some talent when I first was in her class, so when Ms. Lizee heard about the contest, she asked if I wanted to enter and I said, “Of course, who wouldn’t.”

What inspires you to be an artist?  It’s funny because this year’s theme for Reflections is Believe, Dream, and Inspire and so I had to really think about that question already. Inspiration is an amazing thing because it can come from almost anywhere or anything.  Inspiration encourages many people to do anything, dream anything, and become anyone and their creativity is unlimited.  For me as an artist, I am inspired by everything I see, whether it’s a dream, a vision, a historical landmark, a famous museum, other famous artists, or even the Superheroes in my comic books.  I am always inspired.  Believe me, being in Europe for three years and getting the chance to visit these famous places, there is lots to inspire me.

Do you have a mentor that encourages you to keep creating? My dad, he has been my battery to my flashlight of creativity.  He’s the one who pushes me. He gives me new ideas and has taught me everything I know.  Without him I wouldn’t be winning any kind of contest, ever.

It is clear that Benjamin’s love and appreciation for his dad is unending.  Though Benjamin lives in Italy, his patriotic spirit shines in his words and his art.  We, here at National PTA, want to acknowledge and celebrate all military children like Benjamin.  We want him and others to know that their courage and creativity are admirable and that PTA Reflections will continue to support them in their artistic endeavors.

For more information about the European Congress PTA, check out their website!

Families – An Essential Ingredient for Student Success and Excellent Schools


National PTA President Otha Thornton

Researchers Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris recently released the results from a study on family engagement. The findings of the study appear to challenge the traditional view of the importance and positive impact of family engagement on children’s academic achievement. Actually, the findings highlight a lot of what is already known about effective family engagement. It’s the type of engagement that matters the most when it comes to student achievement.

Robinson and Harris assert that family engagement activities including observing a child’s class, helping students choose high school courses and helping children with homework do not improve student achievement. Existing research, however, demonstrates that children do best if parents play a variety of roles in their learning. When parents engage a number of ways, students attend school more regularly, earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs, have higher graduation rates, and are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education (Henderson, A., & Mapp, K. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement).

In a 2010 study on school improvement, illustrated in the book Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, family engagement was identified as one of five essential supports for school turnarounds. The seven-year study specifically evaluated school improvement in low-income elementary schools in urban Chicago. The researchers 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. The study demonstrates that, for school improvement to be successful, family engagement must be an integral part of the process.

Existing research also shows that no matter a family’s income or socioeconomic background, family engagement is an essential ingredient for student success.

The Impact of Family Engagement

Family engagement is not limited to helping children with homework, attending meetings at school and checking in with teachers. It also encompasses advocating with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure schools have the resources they need to provide a world class education to every student.

As the leader of the nation’s oldest and largest child advocacy association, I have spoken with parents, teachers and administrators across the country and seen firsthand the positive impact of family engagement on children’s academic achievement.

“Nobody knows my son better than I do, and I can advocate for him and be the support and the voice that he needs. Working together with his teachers, we make a stronger team on his behalf. I want to know what is going on in my son’s classroom, and I think it is important that his teachers know what is going on at home. Together, we provide him with the support he needs to excel,” said parent Jenni Brasington of Chandler, Ariz.

“Parents, school staff and students working together have moved our school from a C rated school to a B rated school. And our PTSA provides resources and programs, like a Career and College Night and Teen Safe Driving Program, that have changed students’ lives. We can’t do what we do without positive family engagement in our school,” said Kathie Green, parent and co-president of Northrop PTSA in Fort Wayne, Ind.

“When parents have the information they need to navigate complicated educational systems, support their child’s learning outside of the classroom and feel like a valued partner with educators, children grow and are successful. We’ve also heard from teachers who have a renewed energy for the profession when they successfully connect with families and build positive relationships,” stated D’Lisa Crain, administrator for Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev.

Building Effective Family-School Partnerships

Even Robinson and Harris agree that some forms of family engagement do have a positive impact on children academically; it depends on the ways in which families are engaged.

Recognizing the important role families play in student achievement and school improvement, the Department of Education recently released the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships. The framework is designed to support schools and districts nationwide in effectively engaging families. The model encourages schools to link student learning to family engagement through meaningful activities that are tied directly to curriculum or student achievement efforts.

It is critical that meaningful partnerships are established between families and schools in every district and every school. The National PTA Standards for Family-School Partnerships provide a clear path for what parents, schools and communities can do together to support student success.

And it is important that family engagement strategies are tailored to meet the unique needs of every family.

I believe in the power of family engagement and the importance of family-school partnerships to help every child succeed academically and reach his or her full potential. It is my hope that even more parents take the time to get involved as it is proven to make a difference for children, schools and communities.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA, a nonprofit association dedicated to being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities and a strong advocate for public education. In addition to leading National PTA, Thornton is a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics and a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel.

Helping Your Teen Cope with End-of-School-Year Tests

NordalDr. Katherine Nordal is a licensed psychologist experienced in treating adults, children and adolescents and has clinical expertise in the treatment of stress-related disorders. As executive director for the APA Practice Directorate, Dr. Nordal manages a variety of activities involving legislative advocacy, legal initiatives, efforts to shape the evolving health care market, and a nationwide public education campaign ― including the Mind/Body Health campaign ― to communicate the value of psychology.

Test TakingAs the school year draws to a close, and as students prepare for final  exams, standardized tests, and college admissions exams, their ability to deal with all of these pressures may be pushed to the maximum.

Recent findings from a survey on stress may come as a surprise to many of you: Teens report stress levels that are comparable to adults.  Adults ask how it is possible that teens – without the grown-up pressures of work, money and family responsibilities — can feel so stressed. What is it that they really have to worry about?

According to the Stress in America survey by American Psychological Association, there are a few things that are causing most teens significant stress.  School is the most frequently cited cause of stress for youth  ages 13-17, followed by the pressure of getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school.  And the stress is affecting their emotional and physical health. It causes them to neglect responsibilities, feel overwhelmed, have negative thoughts and  changes in sleeping habits. More than a third reported feeling tired, feeling nervous or anxious, or experiencing irritability and anger.

Parents and other adults can play a significant role in helping teens better manage their stress. Children model their behaviors after the adults in their lives. The most important way a parent can help a child better manage stress is to be a good role model for stress management. When adults practice good stress management techniques, they are helping  their children to adopting better habits.

Here are a few other ways that parents and adults can help teens better manage stress and get through final exams.

Recognize the symptoms. Don’t ignore the warning signs: irritability, anger, excessive worry, insomnia or sleeping difficulties are common signs of stress in young people.  

Communicate.  If you notice the stress warning signs in your teen, speak up. Talk to him or her. Let your teens tell you what they have on their plate, and listen without trying to minimize or lecture. Try to spend some undivided, one-on-one time each week with your teen. While talking with your teen, really listen to what he or she has to say, share any positive thoughts or feelings you are having and let your teen know what you value about his or her perspective.

Get moving. Physical activity is one of the best ways to manage stress. Encourage your teens to take breaks for physical activities that they enjoy, especially when they seem to have limited time.  Even a 15 minute walk outside makes a difference. You can also set a positive example for your family by exercising together or encouraging physical activity as a part of family time.

Get enough sleep. When stress spikes, sleep often suffers. At the same time, too little sleep can make stress that much worse. If you notice your teen trying to pull an all-nighter, talk about it. Limiting screen time and stimulating activities in the evening can help your teen fall asleep earlier, so that he or she is better rested when the alarm buzzes.

Create and keep rituals. Routines and rituals are reassuring for children and teens, and can be especially comforting during stressful times. Daily family rituals, such as a regular family meal, are important to maintain during these stressful times. It can be hard for families to make the time for dinners, but they are an example of a type of ritual that gives teens a chance to debrief from the stress of their day while allowing you a regular opportunity to check in with your teen.

Seek professional help. If you’re concerned about your child’s stress right now, consider enlisting help. Talk to your child’s school psychologist or counselor about how you can work together to help your child manage the workload or develop coping skills to better handle their stress.

It’s important for parents and adults to recognize when a teen’s stress, regardless the source, may be interfering with their well-being and ability to cope.  Identifying the symptoms and seeking early and effective professional help are critical for educational achievement, as well as long-term health and happiness.

I invite you to join the National PTA and American Psychological Association on Sunday, May 4 at 7 p.m. ET/ 4 p.m. PT for an important conversation: How to Tell When a Kid is Emotionally Struggling.

Psychologist Dr. Mary Alvord will speak frankly with parents and educators about how to recognize when your teen is struggling, and what to do about it when you know a child or teen needs help.

Click to register for web viewing or audio listening. Follow the conversation on May 4 at #NationalPTA.

National PTA and the American Psychologist Association (APA) are working together to provide families with resources and tips on emotional and physical health issues. Stay tuned for more collaborative posts on the National PTA One Voice Blog and the APA Your Mind, Your Body blog.


Grow Your PTA Membership with Diversity & Multiculturalism!

Diversity_CrowdMore than ever, families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders have more reasons to work together for the educational success of children. Why? The Huffington Post states public school demographics will experience a record multicultural growth by 2022. The findings discuss growth in terms of diversity and multiculturalism. These two terms are used by many people, but what do they mean? And how can PTA membership prepare for this growth?

It is important to understand the relationship between diversity and multiculturalism. Diversity and multiculturalism may sound similar, yet they are very different. Simply, diversity can be defined as we are all different from each other. The recognition of diversity within organizations or settings is valuing differences and similarities in people through actions and accountability. However, multiculturalism is the preservation of different cultures or cultural identity, which is identified as first recognizing a person by her or his ethnicity. Diversity can exist in the absence of multiculturalism.

Many people are familiar with efforts to embrace diversity while preserving multiculturalism is not as familiar. As your PTA becomes more familiar with creating diverse and multicultural events for your school and community, take into consideration the necessary steps to strengthen your PTA membership. Be prepared to meet the future of record multicultural growth!

Take steps now to produce a membership growth plan based upon diversity and multiculturalism. Your plan should be three basic things: 1) adaptable, 2) specific, 3) and simple. It should also be dynamic and focus on ways to analyze community demographic trends and new membership opportunities. Review your plan and update it periodically to represent the diverse demographics of your PTA, school, and community.

Embracing diversity and multiculturalism helps Today’s PTA continue to grow and expand our vision. Try the listed three steps to grow your membership and share your experience with me in the comment box below.

Remember, you still have time to participate in the 14 in ’14 National PTA Membership Challenge.

I wish you success!

Armen Alvarez is multicultural membership development manager for National PTA.

School Smart IPM: The Sensible Way to Work the Bugs Out

Dawn H. Gouge Ph.D. is an overly enthusiastic entomologist. Associate Professor, University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Science.

EPA_2One of the funniest things I recall from my youth was my Mum’s reaction to the imposing Giant House Spiders that cohabited with us in our lovely English duplex. Now the spiders can reach a fairly good size of 2-3 inches, and they are fabulously agile and rather fast moving when they want to be. But back to my Mum: the alert would usually begin with ear piercing shrieks and the sound of thrown slippers, newspapers, and the slamming of doors (please note “a tactical withdrawal is the most desirable form of retreat” Sun Tzu, the Art of War). Our Mum, a 5 foot, 95 pound protector would dash back and forth hammering the offending 0.05 ounce arachnid into oblivion, or at least into several pieces. Our Dad would then be given a list of directives (get that old wood out of the house, fix the backdoor sweep, etc.). Little did we know, but my sister and I were witnessing Integrated Pest Management in action.

Integrated Pest Management (commonly referred to as IPM) is the most effective, safest and most cost effective way to manage pests of all kinds.  As a professional I am an advocate of IPM, as a tax payer I am an enthusiast of IPM, and as a parent I am nothing short of fanatical.

I have been an entomologist for nearly 19.1 years, and a parent for 12.7 years. I undoubtedly know a good deal more about bugs than my own young offspring. But I do know a great deal about “what’s good for her” and I am passionate about my daughter’s physical health.

EPA_1Working to facilitate the implementation of school IPM has been one of the most thrilling adventures of my professional life.  Educating on the simple ways pest infestations can be prevented or safely eliminated has empowered partnering school districts across the nation to reduce pest incidence and pesticide use by as much as 93%, making learning environments safer for students, faculty, and staff.

Because protecting children’s health is a top national priority, EPA recommends schools use IPM – a Smart, Sensible, and Sustainable approach to pest management. Smart because IPM creates a safer and healthier learning environment by managing pests and reducing children’s exposure to pests and pesticides. Sensible since practical strategies are used to reduce sources of food, water, and shelter for pests on campus. Sustainable because the emphasis is on prevention that makes it an economically advantageous approach.  Simply put, EPA supports school IPM; national IPM organizations educate on IPM; and state land-grant universities facilitate the implementation of school IPM.

Learn more and get involvedSchool IPM needs the backing of tenacious teachers and unyielding parent power.  Talk with your school administration today!

Military Mom

For one North Carolina mother, being in the military was a challenge for her and her children.

Military mom1_cropped

Military mom Romaine Barnett and her daughter Shaina

Romaine Barnett joined the Navy in 1988 immediately after high school. To her, it was the perfect way to pay for college. But joining the military also meant being separated from her two-year-old daughter Shaina. “My idea was that I was going to go to college and I was going to get my daughter so that I could be her mom,” she said. “I didn’t want to leave her with my mother.”

The Goldsboro, N.C., native was initially sent to Orlando, Fla., for boot camp. She could not bring Shaina with her, and, in fact, had to sign over custody rights to her mother. “I don’t know if it’s different now, but back then in order to join you couldn’t have dependents if you were a single parent,” she said.

From there, she went to air traffic control school in Tennessee. Shaina joined her a few months later. But throughout her 11-year military career, Barnett was forced to leave Shaina and her younger brothers with family members as her assignments and duties changed.

Barnett sat down with One Voice to discuss the challenges that she faced as a military mom, as well as the strength that it took for Shaina (who now works as an editorial specialist at National PTA) and her younger brothers to handle the life being military children.

One Voice: How did your service in the military affect your children?

Romaine Barnett:   Shaina was always a pretty resilient little girl, and you know, she was big. She was a big girl. But it wasn’t until I had my second baby, her brother Corey. By that time, I was on a ship. So I had already left aviation and had gone onto a ship. That’s called Black Shoe Navy at that point. That means you’re going over to the Naval side where you’re actually out to sea…I actually had to wean him. I was breastfeeding him and I had to wean him at like – was he four months? He might have been three months. Because I had to go out to sea…My baby was four months old. It was devastating…

One Voice: How did it affect you as a mother?

Romaine Barnett: I don’t think I really understood the magnitude of how it affected them until recent years…I remember when I was in Malaga, Spain, for Thanksgiving. Oh, I’m going to cry. I don’t want to talk about it too much, but I was standing on the street corner back then at a pay phone because they had – every time you pull into port if you’re on a ship, there’s a huge pay phone like depot thing. Okay? So you pull in and as soon as you get off the ship there’s this whole row of payphones. But I remember I couldn’t get a payphone, and it was the holidays, because everybody there was calling home. There was one phone in the middle of the street. There was nobody there. So I get on the phone and I call my family. They were on the phone excited, and I literally – I just fell right there on the corner. I melted. It was devastating for me because they were just growing up and laughing and having Thanksgiving and I’m on a pier in Malaga, Spain.

One Voice: So was it easier for you to try not to think about what was happening back at home?

Romaine Barnett: When they’re really little they don’t really get it. But when they get older, they’re like, “Well, when is mommy going to be home?” And it was always really hard for me to think about what their life was like without me, because I wanted to be the person that saw them do the walking and helped them with everything that was happening in their lives. So it was challenging for me. It was always hard, always hard.

One Voice: How did you cope with being away?

Romaine Barnett: Sometimes, it would take a few days to kind of refocus. But then, after you’ve done it once or twice, you just see this as your life. You start wearing masks, and that’s how you function. That’s what I did. I learned how to compartmentalize. I had to or I wouldn’t make it. I was in a man’s world, and that’s what they’re good at. So I learned how to do what they did. I was over there and I’d focus on that. So it’s kind of masculine, I was told. I knew how to do it, because in order to get something done, sometimes you have to kind of cut all of that off so you can focus on getting it done.

One Voice:   What can PTA parents and teachers do to help children, who have a mom or dad in the military, to better cope? What can be done?

Romaine Barnett:   Well, I would say, number one, again, that other factor of knowing that little Timmy or Jana has a parent away. Have a specific board or things in the office or in the classrooms that represent a military mom or dad. Maybe have a poster and the children whose moms and dads are in the military. There’s a pride thing that goes with the kids. It would build their esteem to say, “My mommy is one of them. My daddy is one of them.”  So it’s not that my mom or dad is not at home. They’re out on mission in the military. That kind of gives the child a boost.

One Voice:   Should counselors be available to be able to talk to military children if they’re going through issues?

Romaine Barnett: Having counselors available is always a good idea. I think for the kids, it’s just a matter of identifying what the need is, what the real issue is. That would be with any kid, and then you can kind of pinpoint it. Being able to communicate with them as a counselor to say that it’s okay that you feel bad because mommy’s not here is helpful. They have to be taught how to process their emotions. A lot of times they don’t even know what they’re processing. They just know that I’m sad because mom is not here. So you say, “Okay, you’re sad. It’s okay to be sad, but know that mommy is good. Mommy is going to be okay.” And even make it a celebration periodically. Write a letter to that person’s mom or dad, and the teacher actually takes the responsibility to send that letter off. And, even if the parent may or may not respond, request that they send something back to the classroom.


Meet Today’s PTA Advocate: Yvonne Johnson

Today’s post comes from Yvonne Johnson, National PTA’s 2014 Advocacy Ambassador and DE PTA’s Federal Legislative Chair. Ms. Johnson has many years of child advocacy experience with the Delaware PTA, and is a passionate advocate for education issues. In her piece, she shares a recent advocacy win and the strategy used to obtain it. Passion, patience and determination are key to creating positive change for every child. For resources on becoming a better advocate, visit

PTA_Takes_Action_Dinner YvonneWhen I think of advocacy, it is like second nature for me. Of course, it was not always like that. The first time I set my mind to change something I had no idea how to begin. But, the most important ingredient in advocacy is a passion to change something. That is something we all have in common as PTA members: a desire to make a difference or to change the status quo.

A great example of this comes from recent efforts in Delaware. Last year, there was a proposal from the administration of my local district to create inclusion in all our schools. I live in the largest school district in Delaware. Our district is highly in demand, as it offers many choices for families: magnets, charters, specialized programs, and traditional settings. We also have the only public school in the state that offers a K to 8 model. The district administration decided, without consulting families, that they would force all students that require special education services to go to their feeder school, and the special schools and programs many students had been attending would be eliminated. PTA of course supports inclusion with the right supports and resources in place. However, the district was pushing to eliminate any program that would be stand alone. For example, our English Language Learner (ELL) population attends schools only with ELL programs. The district proposed that these students be sent to a mainstream setting without providing them a dual language program or any other supports in order for them to learn. Additionally, the district proposed that students with highly specialized needs be mainstreamed without additional nurses or paraprofessionals in the school, or other such supports as necessary.

Many of these families were quite upset, claiming that their children had already tried the mainstream or inclusion setting, but did not fare well. These parents wanted the option to keep their children in special programs if that was their choice. In Delaware choice is used by a majority of families, and the district was essentially taking this away from families! PTA argued that the district was taking away the parent’s right to choose the best fit for their student, based on what their IEP dictated and the student needed.

The school board was making the decision. After polling them it appeared the vote would be 6 yes and 1 no to move to this inclusion plan. So PTA got to work. We forced the district to have numerous public sessions to gain comment and concern from the community and parents. Each parent met individually with board members, and PTA met with the administration, to share their concerns about the plan, which was more like a timeline for implementation. We garnered support from our local legislators and educated them on the subject, and made certain that their constituents emailed, called and wrote to them about their opposition to the plan. The icing on the cake was when we discovered that the district was planning to ask for a tax hike (referendum) to sustain programs in the schools the following year. PTA simply told district leaders that it would be very tough to gain support from parents, teachers or the community if they could not support families in this inclusion situation.

After hours of work, meetings, research, op-eds in the newspaper, bloggers, social media postings, numerous public meetings (and a lot of coffee!), the vote was scheduled for the March School Board meeting. Hundreds of PTA members, dressed in a Red Shirt, attended the meeting. We each went to the microphone and just said “VOTE NO!” After 2 and half hours of this, there were four proposals. The first one, 6 NOs and 1 YES! The other three did not even get a second to the motion. We did it! We were successful in showing the school board that the plan was inadequate and inappropriate. We were effective in showing the school board that we want families included in the planning and discussions of their children’s schools. We were victorious in making a statement about never underestimating the power of a parent’s voice!

Up next are numerous committees to gain public input on the plan forward. There has been a link added to our local school district’s website. Everyone who offered comment received a letter from the superintendent inviting them to participate in these collaborative committees to ascertain that the plan that is put forth is the right one for all students! Working together, PTA was able to make a different for the students in this district.

What’s Data Got to Do with It?

DATAYou might be wondering what data has to do with membership. The answer to that question is… everything! Data collection is a critical component of membership recruitment, engagement and retention. Having current and accurate data for your members gives you the ability to provide crucial information, PTA member benefits and tools and resources.

What information should your PTA collect? The best thing to do is start with the basics.

  • Names:  This is an obvious one, but many PTAs go beyond collecting just the name of the member. They also ask for the name(s) of the student(s), teacher’s name, and other parents or guardians as well. Having names of individuals gives your PTA the ability to personalize messages and membership cards.
  • Email addresses: While not every member will have an email, many will. National PTA membership survey results stated 80% of PTA members prefer information delivered to them by email. PTA meeting reminders, new member discounts and upcoming events are just a few things that are easy to share with your local PTA members by email.
  • Mailing Addresses: Your PTA might not mail information often, but knowing where your PTA members reside can be quite helpful. For example, if the majority of your membership lives in a certain zip code, deciding to host your next PTA meeting in that area to offer convenience can be a valuable engagement tool. Likewise, this information can help you determine new areas of the community to recruit PTA members.
  • Phone Numbers: This is another basic piece of data offering powerful membership engagement. Imagine the potential of a personal phone call or automated call to your local PTA members asking them to renew their membership or attend an upcoming event.

The best way to collect these basic data points is on your membership application. Individuals are more likely to provide more information at the point of joining than if asked later.

Here are a few fields beyond basic data gathering taken from nationwide PTA membership applications that you may also find helpful:

  • Volunteer/Participation – Find out PTA members’ willingness to volunteer for committee and board roles, programs or events.
  • Special Interest/Talent – Asking this question could help your PTA create engagement by matching people to roles and tasks they love to do!
  • Suggestions/Ideas – Many new members are eager to provide input and have great ideas.
  • Primary Language/Bilingual – Knowing the primary language your members speak is crucial to engagement and key to communication. Finding out if there are bilingual or multilingual members can help support your translation efforts.

Whether your PTA is collecting a name, email address or asking for occupation or gender, be sure to collect data that will help you grow and engage your membership. Always be mindful of PTA’s privacy policy and know that data has everything to do with membership!


Kwana Ingram is Membership Services Specialist for National PTA.

PowerTalk 21: Talk with Your Teen About Alcohol

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

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

The good news is that you can make a difference! Parents have the power to help teens make healthy decisions that can keep them safe. New research from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) shows that teens who receive a message from their parents that underage drinking is completely unacceptable are more than 80 percent less likely to drink than teens who receive other messages.

PowerTalk 21 day—April 21st—is the national day for parents to talk with their teens about alcohol. MADD knows that informed, caring parents can make a difference and offer resources to help them through the Power of Parents® program, sponsored by Nationwide Insurance.  Download the latest version of the parent handbook for tips and tools to help you start the potentially lifesaving conversation about alcohol with your teens.

This year, MADD is building up to PowerTalk21 with “21 days in support of 21.” Starting on April 1st, each day until PowerTalk21 day, MADD will host events across the country to create ongoing and intentional conversation about underage drinking, as well as share tips and stories to help parents prepare for the big day. So make sure to visit daily to get all of the updates.

Year round, MADD offers 25-minute parent workshops in communities across the country where parents and caregivers can receive tips and tools for talking about alcohol with their teen, including a hard copy of the parent handbook. Contact your local or state office to find a parent workshop near you.

This year, MADD will also host free 25-minute online discussions throughout day on April 21st for parents and caregivers to learn the best way to talk with your teens, so that they really listen.  Find out more and register now at

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

Brought to you by MADD


Jan Withers joined MADD in 1992, after her 15-year-old daughter, Alisa Joy, was killed by an underage drinker who chose to drive after consuming numerous beers. She first volunteered by sharing her story and lobbying for tougher legislation. Her new focus in life was to try to make a difference by helping to stop this preventable violent crime. She actively participated in campaigning to lower the illegal limit of blood alcohol content for drivers from a .10 BAC to a .08 BAC, both on the national level and in Maryland. She was privileged to be present in the Oval Office when President Clinton signed the federal bill into law.

Her passion, though, is providing support for other victims of this violent crime. She is a certified victim advocate as well as a certified trainer for National MADD victim services. Jan serves as a victim advocate for MADD Maryland.  In this capacity she facilitates a support group for victims of homicide and vehicular manslaughter. She served on the MADD Maryland Operations Council, and was the chairperson for the Victim Services Committee and the Public Policy Committee.  She was elected to the MADD National Board of Directors in 2005. 

Her prior service includes a stint as the Director of Victim Services for the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Colorado Women’s College, and has been trained in group facilitation, crisis response, victimization, bereavement, and trauma. Jan was born and raised in Colorado. She is married to Joe Sikes, MADD Chesapeake Region Council Chairperson. They reside in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Together they have 5 surviving children and 5 grandchildren.

How Military Families Can Engage With Their Children

It’s hard to convey the true depth of Military Family engagement where children are concerned. Nevertheless, children are our most important mission because they are tomorrow’s leaders and decision makers.  How they are shaped and influenced are through the forethoughts and compassion of dedicated folks, volunteers, educators and leaders of today.

The need for inherent kindness and efforts to bring provisions and comfort to military children is an ongoing endeavor.  The month of April in support of “Month of the Military Child” should not be just a one-stop month and/or an annual recognition, but a continuous effort throughout the year.   Let’s make no mistake, our military soldiers—Marine, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard personnel—do not carry the massive burden for freedom sake alone.  But family members such as spouses, extended family, and children who are left behind during deployments or are carried along with them through multiple transitions are all equally affected.

The hardships of day-to-day life for military children can be tough, but there are definitive ways to help meet their needs. Below are some possible programs to help engage our military children:

  • Develop/start a support group of common interests and activities.  In a support group, the children will provide comfort from day to day problems to each other.  Members with the same issues can come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community. The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others’ experiences, providing sympathetic understanding, and establishing social networks.
  • Assist the incoming transitioning students into their new school and community, as well as help departing students prepare for entry into the next school. Sponsorship can be key to a military family’s successful move. This program can help create cohesion and a smoother transition into a new installation and/or academic community.
  • Employ local civic organizations within the community to provide a cultural service to enhance the importance of our military children, children alike and education. Comprise the “Organizational Day” with all sorts of activities, local speakers, and educational programs..
  • Ask local military personnel from a National Guard, the reserves and/or active duty units to talk about their jobs and responsibilities, read 15 minutes within a classroom, and/or lead a small exercise routine with Kindergarten military children on a nearby post.

Many feel compelled to help, but invariably the “how to” question creeps in. Not knowing how to make a difference, we move on with our day, suppressing the disturbing images and waiting for the cycle to begin again.  Nevertheless, always remember to lead by example. Giving servitude is better than receiving highlights and it strengthens the cause.  Taking the first step unites us all.