Smart Snacks on Wacky Wednesdays

WackyWednesdayHealthy eating is our main focus for Garcia Elementary School’s students and this year we have seen tremendous success with the PTA’s Wacky Wednesday sales to raise funds for the school. Previously, our students have purchased unhealthy snacks such as nachos and soda during our Wacky Wednesday sales. However, this year’s sales include only healthy items that meet the new USDA Smart Snacks guidelines which went into effect on July 1, 2014. The new guidelines set limits on fat, sugar, sodium, and calories to ensure that all foods sold in school to students are healthy. Our school is dedicated to adhering to these new guidelines and is actively working to implement them at all of our PTA events in which foods are sold to the students.

From the planning to the implementation of the Smart Snacks guidelines in our sales, we wanted to make sure we were making the right choices for the children while they are in school. As parent leaders in the school, we knew that we had to make the decision to go healthy with our Wacky Wednesday sales to set an example for other school events. We have been averaging about $113 per week with our sales but it is not just the financial aspect of the sales that have been a success. The students are excited about the new healthier options that we are selling and that is an important part of our success with this transition.  Although the transition to healthier foods was met with some opposition and uncertainty, we have made the children’s health our priority through selling healthier foods and beverages and you cannot put a price on that.


Brenda Crawley is the PTA President at Dr. JA Garcia Elementary School in Corpus Christi, TX.


ED Celebrates Award-Winning Student Art in the National PTA’s Exhibit ‘Believe, Dream, Inspire’

Reposted from U.S. Department of Education’s HomeRoom blog.


Travez Bradford, recipient of a National Award of Excellence for Music Composition/High School Division, performs his winning rap Believe, Dream, and Inspire. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

On January 13, 2015, more than 200 teachers, family members, arts education leaders, PTA members, policymakers, and local-area students came together to honor student artists from 21 states at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) auditorium and art gallery. The young artists – and winners of the 2014 National PTA Reflections program — came to celebrate their works of visual art, film, dance, music, and creative writing based on the theme Dream, Believe, Inspire.

Two dynamic artists performed their winning pieces. Travez Bradford, recipient of a National Award of Excellence for Music Composition, performed his rap Believe, Dream, and Inspire. With a whirlwind of energy, Jillian Miller, winner of a National Award of Merit for Dance Choreography, performed her lyrical dance You Can Be Anything.

Jillian Miller, recipient of a National Award of Merit for Dance Choreography/Intermediate Division, performed her lyrical dance You Can Be Anything. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Prior to the start of the ceremony, Travez, who had traveled with his grandfather from Natchez, Mississippi, talked about his musical inspiration: the gospel rap he experienced at church. His winning composition is in response to his classmates’ fear of performing poorly on tests and failing to graduate, “Believe in yourself when other people doubt you. Dream big, even when some dreams don’t come true. Inspire yourself when others don’t.” Travez now attends community college in Mississippi.

Secretary Duncan launched the celebration by championing arts education, “The arts should be — must be — part of a well-rounded curriculum for every single child.” The National PTA’s Reflections program, he noted, “helps students gain core knowledge — in areas like history, geography, and math — alongside 21st-century skills like critical thinking and problem solving. This program prepares students for success not just in school but in life as well.”

Echoing the secretary, Dawn Small, chair of the Reflections program, observed, “These students … have gained … the ‘arts advantage.’ Their creativity is alive. … Their mind’s eye is awake. … We look forward to great things from them.”

Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, underscored the value of the exhibit and audience to help decision makers learn about the transformative power of arts education. To demonstrate that, he presented an information tool developed by Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit organization for the advancement of arts and arts education. “If we do it right,” he charged, “the return on investment is a better child … a better nation and a better world.”

Otha Thornton Jr., National PTA president, stressed the importance of promoting arts education, observing that, “our children’s education is our future … we are their advocates. We are the conduits of their dreams.”

After the ribbon cutting, Vy Nguyen of Texas talked about her acrylic painting Dream with Eye Wide Open. A recipient of an Award of Excellence for Visual Arts, she developed her skill through sheer determination. Blinking away tears of joy, she shared her dream to graduate from high school and attend college. The silhouetted figure depicted in cap and gown represents this dream amid a class of graduating seniors in an eye full of awareness and hope.

Vy Nguyen, recipient of an Award of Excellence for Visual Arts/Intermediate Division, shares the inspiration for her painting Dream with Eye Wide Open. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

One of the most exciting sights of the day was the middle school class from Jefferson Academy of Washington, D.C., critiquing student art. Their art teacher Michelle Green explained their presence, “It’s been a long and arduous process of getting them comfortable with the [art criticism] vocabulary. This is a great opportunity for us to see other kids their own age from around the nation looking at artwork” and to get the desire to “join in these competitions!”

Students from Jefferson Academy in Washington, D.C. critique artwork in the student art gallery. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Isadora Binder is on the staff of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.

All Department of Education photos are by Paul Wood. More photos from the event may be viewed on the Department of Education’s Flickr

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann.

Empowering Families to Support Student Success

SanJose_2We know that when families, schools and communities work together as partners, student achievement is boosted and children are better prepared to lead happy and productive lives. That’s why California State PTA partnered with National PTA and Univision (the nation’s leading media company serving our Spanish-speaking parents) to offer two “Academias para Padres” (Parent Academies); free Spanish-language parent engagement workshops in San Jose (6th District PTA) and Van Nuys (31st District PTA).

The events empowered Hispanic parents to help their children achieve their educational and career goals. Workshop topics included:

  • College and Career Readiness
  • Understanding the New Common Core State Standards
  • Speaking Up for Your Child

Weekday morning co-hosts Omar and Argelia from Univision’s acclaimed “El Show de Omar y Argelia” (The Omar and Argelia Show) and Kira Vilanova, co-host of Univision 14’s morning show “Al Despertar,” attended in San Jose and shared messages and testimonials on the impact education has had in their lives. In Van Nuys, attendees were greeted by Univision 34 KMEX-TV news anchors Gabriela Teissier and Antonio Valverde, who spoke to the audience about taking an active and engaged role in their children’s education.

As an added bonus, Omar and Argelia encouraged parents to join their local PTA – and even recorded a quick video to share!

PTA state and district leaders were the driving force behind these two successful events. We developed the program and workshop content, and provided or identified speakers and workshop presenters. PTA volunteers also worked with local school districts to secure event facilities, coordinated childcare and encouraged local businesses to provide raffle prizes. PTA leaders reached out to local schools to encourage attendance and participation in the events. Onsite, local PTA leaders welcomed participants at event registration and served as ushers and guides for each workshop. We also reached out to other state and local partners and sponsors, such as The Education Trust-West, Art in Action and Panda Express.

Fischerblog2Following the events, we compiled survey data to evaluate and assess the program. We also added contact information to our email system to ensure continued engagement and outreach. In total, we served more than 400 Spanish-speaking parents through the events. California State PTA was thrilled to partner with National PTA and Univision to boost family engagement in schools to support student success, and we look forward to our continued collaboration.

Take a look at the excitement from San Jose and Van Nuys on Facebook at

California State PTA is also pleased to provide samples of Spanish-language workshop materials and handouts:

FISCHERJustine Fischer is the California State PTA President-Elect. Special thanks to National PTA, Univision, The Education Trust-West, 6th District PTA, 31st District PTA, Washington Elementary School PTA, Birmingham Community Charter High School PTA, Washington United Youth Center, Panda Express, Art in Action, JFK University, the Santa Clara County Office of Education and the Los Angeles Unified School District Education Service Center North for helping to make these great events happen!

American Heart Association Trains Next Generation of Lifesavers with its CPR in Schools Program

AHA1As the nation’s oldest, largest voluntary organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular diseases and stroke, the American Heart Association (AHA) shares common values with the Parent Teacher Association to advocate for our children’s health and well-being. Preparing students with lifesaving skills during an emergency situation is instrumental to our effort.

Consider this: in the United States alone, 48 people each hour will sustain a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital. However, only 1 in 10 of these victims will survive.  Eighty percent of the time, cardiac arrests will occur in the home.  Lifesaving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) performed by a bystander can double or even triple a person’s chance of surviving a cardiac arrest.  Unfortunately, only 40% of cardiac arrest victims will receive bystander CPR.  The life you save by performing CPR is most likely to be your own family or friend!

AHA2That’s why the AHA has been working with communities and other organizations to prepare more students, their teachers and their families to save lives with CPR in Schools.  The CPR in Schools Training Kit™ empowers students to learn the core skills of CPR in under 30 minutes, and it contains everything needed to learn CPR, AED skills and choking relief in school classroom settings. The easy-to-use kit utilizes the AHA’s latest science guidelines and it is portable, allowing for easy storage. It was developed for educators, school nurses or even student leaders to train groups of 10 students at once in a school setting.

Lawmakers in 20 states are now requiring all students to be trained in psychomotor skill-based CPR before graduating from high school. That means approximately 1.2 million students (nearly 40% of the U.S. student population) will be trained in CPR each year! Our ongoing efforts to produce future generations of lifesavers will help increase the chance that a victim of cardiac arrest has the help he or she needs until paramedics arrive.

While we’ve made some great progress over the years, we need your help, as members of the Parent Teacher Association, to expand this program across the country! If CPR training is not currently required in your state, join us in supporting legislation at If you’d like to learn more about your current state requirements or the CPR in Schools Training Kit and educational program, visit

As the parents and teachers of the next generation of lifesavers, we thank you for being such an integral part of creating safer communities.  Together, we can increase survival from cardiac arrest.

John Meiners is Executive Vice President of Emergency Cardiovascular Care (ECC) Programs and International Strategies for the American Heart Association (AHA). In this key role, John leads AHA’s global effort to increase survival from cardiac arrest by working toward AHA’s global goal of reducing mortality from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 25% by 2025.

DO’s and DON’Ts of Preparing for Presentations

DosandDontsBest Practices for Effective Presentations – Part 1

We’ve all attended an event at least once where the presenter failed to connect with us in a meaningful way. After such presentations, we left feeling disappointed and frustrated with what seemed to have been a waste of time. No one plans or expects for presentations to turn into a disaster but the reality is that this can happen to anyone who is not properly prepared to present effectively.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This is the first of a four-part series which focuses on best practices for preparing and conducting face-to-face and virtual presentations. In this article, we will cover the most critical DOs and DON’Ts when preparing for face-to-face presentations.


1. Do ensure your presentation format meets any specific requirements or guidelines for the event.

This is the most important step in your preparation. If for any reason you haven’t been provided with this information, don’t assume you are free to present in any manner you choose. Take the time to inquire about this information as soon as possible. Additionally, ask for a copy of the evaluation that will be used by participants after your presentation. Knowing how you will be evaluated can serve as an advantage.

 2. Do confirm that your content is relevant to the needs of your audience.

If the content is not perceived as relevant, it will be quickly dismissed by your audience. If you do not know your audience well or are unsure as to whether your content will meet their needs, speak to the organizer of the event as well as anyone else who can share the level of knowledge your audience may have on the topic.

3. Do offer tools and resources that address the topic and are useful to participants.

While your audience is certainly interested in learning more about your topic, they are also hungry for tools and resources that will empower them in addressing a specific need. To accomplish this, provide your audience with copies of your presentation along with any essential handouts. Make sure to also include your contact information so that participants can reach out to you for more information in the future.

 4. Do contact the event organizer to request audio/visual equipment and make any other technical arrangements.

If you need internet connectivity, don’t assume it will be provided on the spot without making a request in advance. In some rooms, wireless connection may be weak in which case a wired connection may be your only option. Similarly, if you plan on playing any audio or video content, make sure to request speakers in advance.

 5. Do practice your presentation.

Practice makes perfect so take a few days to review you presentation and rehearse your notes. Also, take the time to ask others for feedback.


1. Don’t design text-heavy slides.

Slides should never serve as your notes. They should be visually appealing and include images to help reinforce concepts when necessary. The more text you pack onto a slide, the smaller the font size becomes and the more difficult it is to read. For this reason, follow the 6/6/6 rule. No more than 6 words per line, 6 lines per slide, and 6 text slides in a row before incorporating an image slide for transition to a new topic.

2. Don’t use custom fonts or fancy slide animations.

Keep in mind that if you are asked to load your presentation onto a facility laptop, your custom fonts and animations may not appear as expected. This happens because some fonts and animations may not be installed or compatible with other computers or older software. This can lead to slides that no longer appear or function as they should. Therefore, only use font styles that are common to most computers and avoid animations as much as possible unless you are certain that they will work on the computer from which you will be presenting.

3. Don’t use small text or colors that makes your content hard to read.

For bullet points and most slide content, consider using large text (font size 24 or higher) as well as theme colors that complement each other well. Making your text larger than usual will accommodate those in the back of a long room. If you’re presenting with the lights on, consider using dark text on a light background.

 4. Don’t forget to interact with your audience.

Most participants don’t want to hear a lecture. They want opportunities to be engaged in meaningful discourse. Build in time for questions whether to check for comprehension during the session or for discussion at the very end of the presentation. If this is a training workshop, provide opportunities for participants to demonstrate their understanding and practice specific skills in groups. Also, if the event requires advance registration, find out how many plan to attend as this can alter the format of your presentation. In comparison to a large audience, a very small audience can allow for more interactivity and movement.

Once you have taken the time to properly plan for your presentation, you will feel more confident with its design and structure. As we move on to Part 2 of this series, we will cover techniques for engaging your audience during the presentation so that you can successfully deliver your message.

Check out the entire series on Best Practices for Effective Presentations: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

The Art of Supporting Student Success

with co-author Sherri Wilson

Art_EducationA picture is worth a thousand words! Next time you visit your school, take out your phone and take a picture of something around you that shows evidence of student success.

Look at your picture. What elements of the picture lead you to believe that student success is happening in your building? Do you see examples of high quality student work? Do you see evidence that learning standards are met?

The PTA National Standards for Family School Partnerships were developed to empower PTA leaders, parents, educators, community members and students to work together for the educational success of all children. The third of the six standards is Supporting Student Success. Families and school staff should continuously collaborate to support students’ learning and healthy development both at home and at school, and have regular opportunities to strengthen their knowledge and skills to do so effectively.

Arts programs allow for families and school staff to collaborate in ways that prepare students for the next America. The Arts Education Partnership states that, “America’s global stature, culture of innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit depend on the strength of a world-class education system. Perhaps now more than ever—as the country becomes increasingly diverse, the world more interconnected, and the workplace more oriented around technology and creativity—arts education is key to such a system and to ensuring students’ success in school, work, and life.”

Consider the following resources to support students in school, in work and in life:

  • Explore the new National Arts Standards.
  • Host a Creative Career Fair to match student’s interests in the arts with today’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math workforce.
  • Apply for a Mary Lou Anderson Grant to support art projects for the whole school community.

The Arts — and the National PTA Reflections® program, in particular — can be a valuable tool for building stronger partnerships in your school community and meeting the Standard for Supporting Student Success.

Read more to learn about each of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships and the steps you can take with PTA Reflections to meet them. Also, consider enrolling in the National PTA School of Excellence program to gain new ways to engage all families in each of the standards. National PTA School of Excellence is a recognition program that supports and celebrates partnerships between PTAs and schools to enrich the educational experience and overall well-being for all students. Contact or call (800)307-4782 for more info.

Now that we’ve learned about the basic elements of supporting student success, take another look at your picture and write an artist statement to accompany your photo. Share your photo with us on twitter (@ClarkEthan & @PTAswilson)!

Third in a series of blog posts co-authored by National PTA’s Senior Manager of Family Engagement Sherri Wilson & Manager of Arts in Education Ethan Clark.


Parent Engagement in a Future Ready School

Future ReadyThis blog post represents my personal views and not that of my employer, the Alliance for Education, or that of the US Department of Education; the two organizations that are running Future Ready.

It’s no secret. Parents are instrumental in the academic success of children. Yet , when you walk into schools across our nation, the range of parent involvement is all over the map. Some schools work to create a welcoming environment where parents are seen as a tremendous asset. In these schools you’ll see parents working side-by-side with students, laughing at lunch with a group of students, working in classrooms, and supporting staff in various capacities. To contrast, some schools create cultures where parents hardly feel welcome at all. In these schools, parents are seemingly locked out; with the possible exception of a few planned nights per year.

In an effort to support and move schools forward, the US Department of Education has partnered with the Alliance for Excellent Education, with support from the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission, and a vast coalition of 30 education organizations including the National PTA, to develop  Future Ready. The goal of Future Ready is to maximize digital learning opportunities and help school districts move quickly toward preparing students for success in college, a career, and citizenship. Schools that are Future Ready understand that parents play an instrumental role in the school learning environment, and as such, need to be highly engaged and recognized as a vital part of the school community (from

The following outlines five characteristics of parent engagement in Future Ready Schools:

1. Future Ready Schools are transparent to the community.  
In many schools, parents feel left in the dark. Schools often work diligently to communicate the latest initiatives, results, grading practices, or discuss things such as Common Core within their own walls, yet parents are often unaware of such important topics until they hit a friend’s facebook wall, an online gossip forum, or become part of the conversation at the soccer field. If parents are not aware of and have accurate information regarding the latest initiatives, practices, or ongoings in the classroom, a sense of distrust and disconnect can easily occur. Schools that are successful in this area have regular communication practices in place; all of which take a myriad of forms. These schools seemingly have glass walls, where parents understand what’s inside.

2. Future Ready Schools engage parents through social media.
Ask a parent where the latest school newsletter is and chances are you’ll get a puzzled look. Ask them to pull up their Facebook feed, and they’ll do so in a moment’s notice. Looking for a picture? Check Instagram.  Schools that are successful in this area are creating Facebook pages to share news, using Instagram to share pictures, or a hashtag on Twitter to generate school pride. Through social media, relevant information is communicated in a timely fashion and parent engagement is encouraged.

3. Future Ready Schools utilize technology to communicate in real time.
The days of the monthly classroom newsletter being a sufficient form of communication are long gone. In a time when technology makes real time communication efficient and feasible, schools have the availability to use a mobile app to provide information at the parents’ fingertips, use communication tools to provide instant notifications, promote access to student progress through online portals, etc. Schools that are successful in this area utilize the latest technology to provide real-time dialogue and communication with parents.

4. Future Ready Schools value and seek parental input.

Parent engagement and communication isn’t a one way street. The education of a child is a team effort and is the responsibility of both the teacher and the parent(s). It’s important that schools understand community values and seek input when making important decisions. The use of parent steering groups,  advisory councils, and feedback mechanisms to provide insight into the thoughts of the community is key. Without being a part of the process, it’s difficult to be invested in the outcome. Schools finding success in this area understand and respond to the pulse of their community.

5. Future Ready Schools support a strong parent organization.

Future Ready School leaders work to promote and support a dynamic parent organization within their building. When effective, these organizations provide an additional student support mechanism. From providing learning experiences to family night activities, a strong parent team enriches a school culture and works diligently to support all students in the community, while simultaneously and most importantly, showing students that they matter.

Schools that are Future Ready understand the value of and role parents play in the education of each child. They understand the importance of not just communicating, but engaging their community, and doing so daily. In the most successful schools, parents are engaged, feel welcome, and serve as an active part of the learning community. Working together, parents, teachers, and administrators can create the support system each child needs to be successful. Together — we can do this.

For more on Future Ready Schools, visit

Thomas C. Murray serves as the state and district digital learning director for the Alliance for Excellent Education located in Washington, DC. He has testified before the United States Congress and works alongside that body, the US Department of Education and state departments of education, corporations, and school districts throughout the country to implement digital learning while leading Future Ready, Project 24 and Digital Learning Day. Murray’s experiences in K–12 digital leadership, which include implementing a 1:1 program, BYOD, blended learning, and a K–12 cyber school, where he served as the director of technology and cyber education for the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, have been recognized nationally. He is also the author of the January 2015 release, Leading Professional Learning; Tools to Connect and Empower Teachers (Corwin, 2015), and serves as a school district consultant for digital learning planning and implementation. Connect with him at or @thomascmurray.