Supporting Refugees through the READ Program

Jose Antonio TijerinoNational PTA board member Antonio Tijerino, who is also the CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), was recently involved in an outreach event that led a group of humanitarian advocates to work with a shelter in McAllen, TX, in support of unaccompanied minors from Central America including Actress America Ferrera through an effort titled READ (Refugee Enrichment and Development) Project.

The program focuses on providing the refugee children with hope and relief from their plight through reading, playing and praying. The efforts also include participants such as Qlovi, Catholic Charities, and Elevare International, which is based in TX and, provides on-the-ground volunteers and will execute the curriculum throughout the year.

The READ program is non-political and not related to immigration reform efforts – the focus is completely humanitarian. “This effort is focused on helping these refugee children cope and provide hope with their situation through reading, playing, and praying,” said Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO of HHF. “These children are refugees trying to escape horrific violence in their home countries.  It’s not a coincidence that of the 20 most dangerous cities on earth, ALL 20 are in Latin America with San Pedro Sula in Honduras leading the way as the murder capital of the world. It’s no coincidence that city is where the greatest amount of refugees are coming from. The READ program is inspired by the words at the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty which says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’ We are trying to lift our version of a lamp to these children through this effort.”

The READ program will have a strong technology component through Qlovi, an educational technology start-up. HHF will donate tablets for the volunteers to use throughout the year in working with the children in the shelters through Catholic Charities and Elevare International. Spiritual leaders will be invited to pray with the children to offer hope. The READ program will also buy toys, books and clothes for the children through donations. Donations for the READ program can be made at

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

ENGAGE! In Partnerships for Student Success

partnershipPartnerships are a critical factor in student success. Unfortunately, we live in a world where there are often significant disparities in education funding, facilities, and instructional resources. While many communities have mobilized and advocated for education equity, we aren’t there yet. That’s why it’s so important for families, communities, and schools to work together to support better outcomes for all children.

According to Beyond the Bake Sale, there are five critical reasons that partnerships matter:

  1. Partnership and student academic achievement are closely linked.
  2. Partnerships help build and sustain public support for the schools.
  3. Families and the community can help schools overcome the challenges they face.
  4. Teachers can benefit from parent and community partnerships
  5. The No Child Left Behind Act (now referred to as ESEA) provides partnership opportunities that can help schools meet the requirements under the law.

The Harvard Family Research Project says that for children and youth to be successful from birth to adolescence, there must be an array of linked supports or to learning all around them. The connections should work together and be in place continuously, shifting over time as children grow.

Partnerships can connect schools with businesses, hospitals, colleges, service clubs, social service agencies, youth organizations, public housing projects, labor unions, tenant groups, churches and other community groups. These partnerships can create thriving neighborhoods where families want to live, work, and raise a family. Reach out to a broad base of partners in and around your school community. Make sure your partnership activities strengthen families and link to learning. Work with them to develop a shared vision about what the partnership in your community will look like. These collaborations can strengthen the school and build a family friendly community.

For more information about creating partnerships for student success, read Beyond the Bake Sale by Henderson and Mapp. Also, visit the Harvard Family Research Project at You can find more information about the National Standards for Family School Partnerships in the Implementation Guide at

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.


Reflections: A Gallery of 2013-2014 Student Art

Since 1969, the PTA Reflections program has encouraged students across the nation and in American schools overseas to explore their creativity. Each year, students in preschool through high school are invited to create and submit works of art in the areas of dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and the visual arts. In the 2013-2014 school year, Reflections students shared their artistic interpretations on the theme “Believe, Dream, Inspire.”

National PTA Reflections submissions are reviewed by experts in the visual, literary and performing arts. Judges look for personal interpretation on the program theme that best exemplify creativity and technical skill. We are proud to share with you this year’s award winning works of art and invite you to join us at future exhibitions.

Reflections Icon_Dance

Dance Choreography

Outstanding Interpretation in Dance Choreography –
“One World” by Ella Carter-Klauschie

“The words Believe, Dream, and Inspire make me think of Peace on Earth. I Believe that it can happen. I Dream that people can make a difference. I’m Inspired by dances from other cultures. Dance can bring people together. This dance represents Brazil, Senegal, India and the U.S. as separate cultures to cherish. We come together to respect each other’s cultures, and learn new things. Learning about one another helps us find our similarities, and celebrate our differences. This piece includes Contemporary, West African,Samba-Reggae, Bollywood, Bhangra, and Hip-Hop dance. I shaped the traditional styles to show connection.” – Ella Carter-Klauschie

View all national award winning dance choreography submissions.


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Film Production

Outstanding Interpretation in Film Production –
“Dream Walking” by Eric Gillespie

“The film I created is about my Dad. My dad still dreams of running marathons. My dad inspires me very much. My dad believes in things that he didn’t think he could do before. When we believe in our dreams we can do the difficult things that are inspiring.” – Eric Gillespie

View all national award winning film production submissions.


Reflections Icon_Literature


Outstanding Interpretation in Literature –
The Girl Who Called the Moon” by Biz Rasich


“My piece was an experiment. I used a new style and a new voice, challenging myself to let my muse direct me instead of vice versa. The idea of Delia really spoke to me–her indignation at having been left behind, her hope that the moon would bring her father back, all of her spitfire, four-year-old naivety–resulting in the story essentially writing itself. Such moments of clarity are rare for me. That’s the struggle of writing, I suppose: inspiration comes at the most unexpected times and with such unexpected ferocity.” – Biz Rasich

View all national award winning literature submissions.


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Music Composition

Outstanding Interpretation in Music Composition –
“Live Your Dreams” by Joseph Codispoti

“This piece is about people who are afraid to take chances and live their dreams. This work expresses the struggle and frustration that comes with doubting yourself, but shows the benefits of chasing your dreams in the end.” – Joseph Codispoti

Listen to all national award winning music composition submissions.


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Outstanding Interpretation in Photography –
“Ink Mirage” by Hannah Shoultz

Hannah Shoultz OIA Photograph_2

“In this photo, a self-portrait, the pages of a book form an almost mask-like covering over my face to mirror the idea that inspiration covers, it reaches all depths of the mind and urges you on to greater heights. The pages are translucent, lending a dream-like quality to the photo and illustrating the idea that inspiration lends itself to dreaming: imagining new worlds, new experiences, and new lives. When one finds themselves in a place where they are truly inspired and able to dream, they can then finally begin to believe, and with that, a belief in themselves.” – Hannah Shoultz

View all national award winning photography submissions.


Reflections Icon__VisualArts

Visual Arts

Outstanding Interpretation in Visual Arts –
“Dream and Inspiration” by Daniel Chang

 Daniel Chang OIA VisArtwork

“The title of my artwork is “Dream and Inspiration.” I dream about being a great scientist. I can create the future and change the world better. Thomas Edison inspires me the most. “Genius is one percent inspiration ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Daniel Chang

View all national award winning photography submissions.


 Reflections Logo_2

Special Artist

Outstanding Interpretation in Special Artist Division –
“Imagine” by Jessica Clay

“I choreographed my dance to the song “Imagine,” because the song is about having no lines and the world living as one. This is an integrated dance which brings people with and without disabilities together. I believe everyone should be equal. I hope my dance can educate and open people’s minds. Also, I hope to inspire some social change and make a difference in this world.” – Jessica Clay

Learn more about the Special Artist Division for students with disability.


Upcoming Exhibitions: Reflections at the U.S. Department of Education

Join us Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 11:00am for the annual Reflections Exhibit Opening & Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony at the U.S. Department of Education, adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, DC. Exhibit will feature national award winning works of art in film production, dance choreography, literature, music composition, photography and visual arts from the 2013-2014 school-year theme: Believe, Dream, Inspire. To RSVP, email

The public exhibit is open Monday-Friday, except federal holidays, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., January 6 – February 25, and is located in the LBJ Education Building, 400 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20202. To schedule a visit, contact Nicole Carinci, Management & Program Analyst at the U.S. Dept. of Education, at or call (202)453-5585.

The Reflections Believe, Dream, Inspire exhibit will also be featured at the National PTA Convention June 26-27 in Charlotte, NC. Save the date!

Please email for questions regarding Reflections student art exhibits.


New Issue of Our Children Focuses on Back to School and Membership Strategies

OC_AugustSeptember2014As another school year approaches, Our Children magazine is getting back to PTA.

The August/September issue of Our Children provides a toolkit with tips and helpful hints to assist with getting your PTA off to a great start in order to make your year great. With topics such as advocacy, fundraising and programs, you are sure to find all the information you need to propel your PTA to the next level and have fun doing it.

There is strength in numbers. This year—and every year—PTAs are in the push to grow membership. We talked to three PTAs that have excelled in this area. They share some the things that have made them successful.  “We do our best to encourage every student and every parent to join the PTSA as a means to be actively involved and to participate in the educational process,” says Jill Trail of Indian River High School PTSA, which boasts 1,755 members. “But more important than the education aspect, however, we promote it as a family activity and as a means to encourage family involvement and participation.”

Also in Our Children, we highlight the 40th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act by discussing how far the United States has come and what work needs to be done in dealing with young people in the justice system.  “The JJDPA is currently overdue for full reauthorization, presenting an opportunity to improve its protections for children and youth in the justice system.”

Are you curious about what some of the top education reformers and leaders think about the Common Core State Standards? Well, in this issue, prominent figures weigh-in on how the standards can be the lynchpin to major education reform, and what it means for our children. “This isn’t about politics. This is about, what are the skills that our children need to know to be successful – to be ready for the jobs of tomorrow, to be ready for college. That’s what the initiative is about,” says Ryan Mahoney, Vice President for Public Policy, Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

Also in this issue: 2014 National PTA Convention recap, maximizing teachable moments at home, and building effective family-school partnerships.

IRS Releases Shorter, Easier Tax-Exempt Status Form

IRS_Form_1023We are pleased to share with you that after National PTA’s extensive effort to advocate for an easier process for small charities applying for and reinstating 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, the IRS has delivered Form 1023-EZ. Unlike the original 26-page Form 1023, the new Form 1023-EZ, which is available as of July 1, is a mere three pages. The IRS estimates that as many as 70 percent of all applicants will qualify to use the new streamlined form. Most organizations with gross receipts of $50,000 or less and assets of $250,000 or less are eligible. This change will not only enable the IRS to speed up the approval process for these smaller charities, but also will result in additional resources to review applications from larger organizations.

In addition to advocating for a more streamlined application, earlier this spring, National PTA provided feedback to the IRS on the potential form, including suggesting to reduce the gross receipts threshold to $50,000. National PTA will continue to work with the IRS to make the reinstatement process as seamless as possible for those PTAs that are struggling with revocation.

While the new application must be completed online and submitted at, National PTA has provided a pre-populated Form 1023-EZ to be used as an example as well as simplified instructions which PTA members can access by visiting National PTA’s Tax-Exempt Revocation webpage, National PTA also will be providing a webinar at the end of August. Look for more information on the webinar to come soon!

The new form should make the application process for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status much simpler for PTAs. We encourage you to share this information with local leaders across your state. For questions and more information, send me an email at

Lindsey White is a senior accountant for National PTA.

Worlds Collide: The PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships Meet Beyond the Bake Sale

BeyondtheBakeSale2If you’ve ever experienced a National PTA Annual Convention, you know it’s an exciting time when parent leaders from around the world meet to learn from experts as well as each other. This year’s convention was no exception! I spent a great deal of time in the Social Media Lounge engaging with many educators and parent leaders about the exciting programs available from National PTA.

One visitor to our lounge was my friend Bonita Allen, a Parent Involvement in Education Consultant on the Pennsylvania Title I State Parent Advisory Council (SPAC). Bonita was excited to share with me information about some work that the SPAC had done to align the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships with Beyond the Bake Sale: the Essential Guide to Family School Partnerships.

Beyond the Bake Sale contains strategies to build strong collaborative relationships and practical advice for creating a culture that welcomes and respects all families. It’s become an essential resource for educators who want to better understand how to reach out and truly partner with families, as well as for families to understand how to push for effective family engagement programs and policies. The PTA National Standards for Family School Partnerships offer a framework for how families, schools, and communities should work together to support student success. Anne Henderson and Dr. Karen Mapp, authors of Beyond the Bake Sale, were part of the team of national experts who developed the PTA’s National Standards, which is probably why they align so nicely!

My conversation with Bonita was incredibly timely. This summer, I’ve agreed to participate in a book study on Twitter (#PTcamp) focusing on Beyond the Bake Sale. One hundred educators and parent leaders have signed up to participate in the discussion. Each week we will read new chapters and then engage through a variety of social media channels to share our own takeaways. I’ll be sharing my thoughts with you here in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about the SPAC work aligning the standards, let me know at Bonita and I will be happy to share!

Sherri Wilson is the 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.  Check out the PTA One Voice Blog to read more of Sherri’s weekly column ENGAGE!.


Educators, Administrators and PTA Leaders Break Down the Common Core in New Video Series

National PTA recently released a video series on the Common Core to educate parents on the standards and empower them to support the implementation of the standards at school and home. The series was developed in partnership with The Hunt Institute as part of the association’s ongoing efforts to provide accurate information about the Common Core, ensure parents are knowledgeable about the standards and new assessments, and support parents every step of the way as states transition to the standards.

The series features 14 videos that highlight the importance of and need for clear, consistent and rigorous standards; dispel myths about the Common Core; and provide perspectives from educators, administrators, PTA leaders and others on the positive changes they’ve seen with the standards. The videos also spotlight the steps PTAs can take to effectively advocate for the standards in their communities.

The series begins with the video “The Need for Improved Student Outcomes,” a brief overview of the Common Core.

The Common Core State Standards have experienced growing pains since their inception and there is still work to be done, but the standards are vast improvement over previous academic standards.

We encourage you to watch the videos in the series and share them with your members as well as families in your school community. Together, we can educate and empower parents with accurate information about the Common Core. It is critical that we raise the bar in all schools and remain committed to ensuring that all students graduate prepared to succeed.

For more information on the Common Core and to view resources that have been developed on the standards, visit National PTA’s Common Core website.

Shannon Sevier is vice president for advocacy for National PTA.

Want a Boy to Read This Summer? Listen First

BoyReadingAs a bookseller and the father of three boys, I am often asked this question:  Which books are best for boys?  I appreciate that parents want to buy good books.  However, I like to redirect the question to this:  What can I do today to encourage the boy in my life to read?

Below are four techniques you can employ today to answer this question:

1.    Listen
Before you place a book in the hands of a boy, you need to listen to what he is interested in.  Pay attention to what he talks about and what hobbies and topics he enjoys.

Take him to a library or bookstore and see where he ends up.  It might be in a topic area that you have not considered.  I couldn’t care less about professional football.  But, my boys love to read books about the NFL.  Who knew?

When you acknowledge his interests and preferences, he will feel validated and want to demonstrate his knowledge on the chosen subject through reading.

2.    Schedule time for reading
If you want to get something done, you put it on your calendar.  Schedule time each day that is for reading only.  In our house, the 30 minutes before bed is reading time.  While you’re at it why not make a schedule for electronics?

3.    What are you reading this summer? 
Children model their parents’ behavior.  The best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard is this: You can’t give your child something you do not possess.  If you do not have a habit of reading, it’s unreasonable to expect your children to become consistent readers.  Turn off the TV, pick up a book and conspicuously read it–starting today.

4.    On his level
Boys want to succeed at reading.  A boy in second or third grade may not have the skills to take on dense chapter books and they probably think that picture books are “for babies.”  Enter the graphic novel.

Graphic novels are an excellent bridge between picture books and chapter books.  A good graphic novel contains illustration that tells the story along with the words.  We have a great list graphic novels you can browse here.

Pay attention to how he’s reading and steer him to books that are within his reading ability.

I always say that the most powerful educational tool a parent has is his or her ears.  There is no lack of high-quality reading materials.  It just takes effort on behalf of a parent or teacher and the boy to find the right books.

Put some effort into finding the right books now and you will be pleasantly surprised at the reading experience your boy has this summer.

Even if it is books about the NFL.

Jake Ball is the founder of Children’s Bookstore. He started as a truly independent bookstore that is 100% dedicated to juvenile literature. provides online book fairs to schools, libraries and youth groups of all kinds. 

Jake and his wife have 4 children and reside in Meridian, Idaho between their school and a large corn field.

100 Black Men of America Annual Conference: Ensuring Excellence for African-American Youth

National PTA President Otha Thornton poses with Michael J. Brown, president of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., and Curley M. Dossman, Jr., chairman of the Board for 100 Black Men of America, Inc.

National PTA President Otha Thornton poses with Michael J. Brown, president of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., and Curley M. Dossman, Jr., chairman of the Board for 100 Black Men of America, Inc.

I recently had the honor of participating in 100 Black Men of America, Inc.’s 28th Annual Conference in Florida. The focus of the event was Education in an Era of Change, Ensuring Excellence for African-American Youth. The conference brought together leaders from across the country from government, education, health and wellness, civic, and entertainment industries for empowerment and enrichment, to share best practices, and discuss issues facing youth, their families and the communities in which they live.

100 Black Men of America, Inc. is a volunteer organization of approximately 10,000 members and partners dedicated to making a difference in the lives of youth, improving our nation’s communities, and enhancing educational and economic opportunities for all African-Americans. The organization meets a crucial need by impacting underserved youth through mentoring, education and empowerment.

As part of the conference, a black-tie gala was held during which a number of awards were presented. I am honored to have been recognized with the 2014 Chairman’s Award for Parent Engagement. The award truly is a testament to our association and the efforts and dedication of all of our members to increase and strengthen family engagement in education and make a difference for the lives and futures of every child. In addition to the gala, I also participated in a panel discussion during the conference.

For more information about 100 Black Men of America, visit

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

Smart Snacks: Is Your Fundraiser, Vending Machine, or School Store USDA Compliant?

Beginning July 1, 2014 schools participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program (that’s most schools) must ensure all foods sold to kids during the school day (called “Smart Snacks”) meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition guidelines. But what does it all mean?  Which foods are considered a “smart snack”? And how do I know if my PTA’s fundraiser is compliant?  We get it – it can be confusing! But we’re hoping to clear up some confusion here and get you the resources you need to be successful. If you don’t see an answer here, feel free to ask a question in the comments.

And stay tuned for additional resources to help make sure your PTA is ready to help support healthier foods in school!

What foods are you talking about when you say “Smart Snacks”? 

For the purpose of USDA guidelines, the foods that must meet minimum nutrition guidelines are those sold during the school day in school stores, vending machines, fundraisers, and a la carte lunch lines (think “grab and go” food items not part of a full meal). There are already updated USDA nutrition guidelines for the federally-subsidized school meal.

Foods sold outside of the school day (we’ll get to that in a second) – do not need to meet USDA guidelines.

Wait, did you say fundraisers?

Yes, fundraisers will need to meet the nutrition guidelines if they are sold to kids during the school day or immediately before and after school and are intended to be eaten on the spot.

What do you mean when you say “before and after” school?

The guidelines apply to any food sold

  • on school grounds before the school day begins
  • during the school day; and
  • 30 minutes after the traditional school day ends (think unhealthy fundraisers or unhealthy vending machines as soon as the bell rings).

What about our fundraisers and foods sold on school grounds but not during school day?

The USDA guidelines do not apply to afterschool or weekend events like football games and musical performances, so long as they are not before school or 30 minutes after the traditional school day ends. Your school may have additional restrictions on what can be sold on school grounds, so it’s always important to check first. Additionally, many PTAs are adopting healthy fundraising and event practices. The USDA guidelines are scientifically-backed based on nutrition needs for students. Your PTA may want to use the guidelines as a healthy lifestyle resource for your PTA!

What do you mean when you say foods that are intended to be eaten “on the spot”?

The USDA guidelines are only intended to target “ready to eat foods”. If a student is selling a food product through a catalog-type sale where the food is not intended to be eaten by the student at school, it wouldn’t need to meet USDA guidelines. But your local school may have additional restrictions.

But I heard there can be some fundraisers during the school day that don’t meet the guidelines?

Yes, there is flexibility for states to provide exemptions for infrequent school-approved fundraisers that do not meet the nutrition guidelines. Your administrative office may know this number, but you can also check the National Association of State Board of Education (NASBE) database for “fundraising exemptions” under your state. If your state has not determined the number of exemptions allowable, it is automatically zero, meaning that no exemptions are allowed for fundraisers that do not meet nutrition guidelines. 

What about birthday celebrations and food our PTA gives to kids?

While PTA supports healthy food offerings throughout the day, USDA guidelines only apply to foods sold to kids during the school day. So if a parent or other group is providing food free of charge, they do not need to comply with USDA guidelines. Keep in mind that state and local rules apply – and your school may have stronger restrictions on these items.

How do I know if what we’re selling meets the guidelines?

Good news! There is a simple way to check this using this tool from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Just enter what kind of product you’re selling (for the purpose of vending machines, school stores or fundraisers, it’s generally going to be a “snack”) and answer a few simple questions. The tool will let you know if your product is compliant. Just make sure to have the nutrition label handy!

Note: State and local regulations can differ and may be stronger. This is only related to USDA guidelines, which are designed to be minimum guidelines that schools must meet. However, schools are allowed to go beyond these guidelines. You should check with your school about additional guidelines or restrictions to vending machines, school stores and fundraisers.  It may also be part of your school’s Local Wellness Policy.

Have a question we didn’t answer? Please ask below and we’ll do our best to answer!

Excited about these changes and want to become more involved? Consider becoming at PTA Champion for Smart School Foods here!

Could your state PTA or council benefit from an in-person training? Shoot us an email at