buddingSTEM: A new girls clothing line celebrating science, space, dinosaurs & other things all kids love!

Cover photo v5We tell our girls they can do anything. Be anything.

So, why is it so hard to find clothes for young girls who aspire to explore the universe or dig for dinosaurs?

The images matter. They tell young girls that things like science and engineering aren’t for them.

When girls see at a young age that topics like space and dinosaurs are marketed only to young boys, it sends the message that those topics are for boys–not for young girls. It’s a critical point in developing self-identity and the messages sent are subtle, yet powerful.

When Jennifer’s daughter was four-years-old, she wanted to be an astronaut for Halloween—until costume catalogues came in the mail. Only boys were shown wearing the space suit. She said, “I can’t be an astronaut! That costume is for boys!”

After seeing photos of female astronauts, she made a great astronaut for Halloween.

A few months later, Malorie’s two-year-old was ready to potty train and wanted underpants featuring trains, which were only available in the boys section. Malorie and her husband bought them anyway.

These experiences caused us not only to think about the images being marketed (or not marketed) to our daughters, but also how we could fix it.

We spent a year creating fabric, designing simple play clothes and launched buddingSTEM this March via a Kickstarter campaign.

buddingSTEM offers a full line of girls clothes celebrating science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and other things typically marketed to boys.

Little girls and boys are sorting out what it means to be a girl and a boy. Girls are bombarded by what social researchers call the “pink frilly dress”—clothes and toys that pigeonhole girls as passive and fail to recognize their range of interests.

The distinction of STEM fields as being “for boys” begins as young as ages 2 to 4, and often continues into the elementary school years. Young girls become women, who are woefully underrepresented in STEM fields of work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 26 percent of STEM workers are women.

buddingSTEM’s Kickstarter campaign will help bring its designs to production. We design the clothes in Seattle, and have production facilities in Seattle and Los Angeles. The line is starting with t-shirt dresses, leggings and t-shirts, with plans to add more designs such as underpants coming soon.

Jennifer Muhm and Malorie Catchpole are two Seattle moms who decided to take action when they could not find the things their girls love on clothing marketed to girls.

When not sketching out a new pattern for buddingSTEM or hanging out with her husband and awesome daughter, Jennifer works in public affairs. She graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and holds a master’s degree from Seattle University.

During the day, Malorie is a regulatory compliance attorney, but adores spending time with her husband, two wonderful children, and a menagerie of animals that live in her house. Malorie is also a graduate of George Washington University and Seattle University School of Law.

Celebrating PTA Family Reading Experience During National Reading Month

Copyright 2015 Lifetouch National School Studios

Copyright 2015 Lifetouch National School Studios

March is National Reading Month, a time to celebrate the importance of reading, foster children’s growth as readers and inspire a lifelong love of literature.

In celebration of National Reading Month, National PTA and Amazon hosted a PTA Family Reading Experience, Powered by Kindle event at Strathmore Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md.

During the event, National PTA President-Elect Laura Bay announced the great news that 1,000 Kindles will be donated to PTAs across the country in low-income schools where 40% or more of enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. She then introduced Kwame Alexander, author of The Crossover and recipient of the 2015 Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award, who shared his own experiences reading with his family and why he feels it is so important for students to connect with loved ones through books.

Families also participated in fun, interactive activities highlighting and reinforcing core skills of literacy—phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary—using both physical books and Kindle e-books.

Copyright 2015 Lifetouch National School Studios

Special thanks to Strathmore Elementary School Principal Tivinia Nelson and PTA leaders in Maryland for coordinating the event: Ray Leone, Maryland State PTA President; Frances Frost, Montgomery County PTA Council President; Laura Miller, Strathmore PTA President/Bel Pre PTA Vice President; and Brenda Quinlisk, Bel Pre PTA President/Strathmore PTA Vice President.

In addition to the PTA Family Reading Experience event at Strathmore Elementary School, author Kwame Alexander worked with Amazon Kindle to conduct a satellite media tour, during which he was interviewed by radio and TV stations across the country about the importance of family reading and the PTA Family Reading Experience program. Watch an interview that aired on WTVR-TV in Richmond, Va. and an interview that aired on WTVW-TV in Evansville, Ind.

For more information about the PTA Family Reading Experience program and the application process to receive a set of Kindles, visit PTA.org/familyreading.

You can also view photos from this event on our PTA Flickr.

Heidi May Wilson is the media relations manager at National PTA.

Five Tips for Healthy Food without the Fight

March is National Nutrition Month®, launched by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and a perfect time to refresh (and brighten up!) your family’s go-to meals.

MyPlate, which is the newest version of the “food pyramid,” helps us visualize what a balanced meal should be: full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low fat dairy. But many adults and children don’t eat this way – we eat too many refined grains, and not enough colorful fruits and veggies.

Photo credit: Chartwells – Kids cooking and measuring ingredients, Clintondale, MI

Photo credit: Chartwells – Kids cooking and measuring ingredients, Clintondale, MI

It can be tough introducing new foods to our families, especially kids, from taking the time to find and prepare new recipes to making sure everyone eats them. Meals can sometimes feel like a fight between serving the meals we know our kids need, and just preparing the food our kids want. Here are some tips you might find useful for navigating mealtime:

  1. Photo credit: Chartwells – Garden Wilton, CT

    Photo credit: Chartwells – Garden Wilton, CT

    Make It a Team Effort – Involve everyone in the shopping and preparation effort – they’ll be more open to trying new foods this way. Have your kids pick out new vegetables at the supermarket to try at home, recruit them to wash fresh produce, tear apart lettuce leaves, and measure ingredients.

  2. Naming Fun – In our café’s, we’ve found that giving foods fun and enticing names can increase the number of students who choose and eat that food. If you plan out your family’s meals for the week, post a menu on the fridge and use names like “X-Ray Vision Carrots,” or “Crazy Crunchy Kale.”
  3. Photo credit: Chartwells – Chef Table Student Feedback, Ann Arbor, MI

    Photo credit: Chartwells – Chef Table Student Feedback, Ann Arbor MI

    Try It Tuesday – It may take a few times of “trying” before you or your kids begin to really like a particular food. In our districts, we host chef tables in the café to expose students to new recipes before they’re served. Consider sampling a new vegetable dish each week (make only a few servings) and suggest everyone take a bite. Don’t push too hard – it’s OK if the answer is no. Try vegetables in different forms, and keep trying them – this one requires some real patience!

  4. Grow a Healthy Appetite – There’s nothing better than eating food you’ve grown yourself. Start a small windowsill herb garden, convert a corner of your yard, or buy a plot in a community garden – as an added bonus, gardening is great physical activity!
  5. The Power of Choice – We’ve worked with researchers at Cornell University and found that introducing a greater variety of fruits and vegetables to kids more frequently, while still giving them the ability to choose what they take and when, can increase their chances of eating these healthier offerings.
Photo credit: Chartwells - Salad bar day, Grand Blank, MI

Photo credit: Chartwells – Salad bar day, Grand Blank, MI

We’ve used the above in our own cafés to encourage healthy eating habits, and I hope you’ll try them at home with your family too!

Whitney Bateson, RD, is the Director of Nutrition and Wellness for Chartwells School Dining Services. Chartwells provides meals to almost 4,000 schools nationwide. Learn more at ChartwellsSchools.com.

Chartwells School Dining Services has a financial interest in National PTA, and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Slide image photo credit: Chartwells – Girl Scouts making meatballs, Forest Hills, MI

Adapting to Smart Snacks, One Fruit at a Time

IMAG3375Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month? I’d like to spotlight a story from a local PTSA in celebration of nutrition education and  healthy lifestyles.

This school year, J.L. Mann High School’s PTSA in Greenville, South Carolina adapted items sold in their school store to ensure compliance with the new federally mandated Smart Snacks guidelines. The guidelines which set standards for calories, fat, sodium and sugar went into effect on July 1, 2014.

Many of the foods and beverages sold in the school store in previous years—candy bars, cinnamon rolls, gummy worms, chocolate candies, hot chocolate—would not meet the new guidelines. Parents worked diligently to make the necessary changes and purchase foods and beverages that would meet the guidelines beginning this school year.

After spending hours in Walmart and Sam’s Club with the Smart Snacks product calculator, a parent spearheading the efforts was at a loss. There were very few foods that met the guidelines and the ones that did would not be affordable to the students or the students wouldn’t like them. After contacting manufacturers directly with no success, the parent decided to reach out to a vendor to purchase directly from them.

With some hesitation due to weekly order quotas, one vendor decided to allow the PTSA to have an account, which was finalized in February (four months after this process began). J.L. Mann High School’s PTSA works closely with their vendor representative who seeks out Smart Snacks compliant items just for them!

IMAG3393Although the initial process of transitioning the school store was difficult, the parents were determined to meet the guidelines and have a successful school store. The store purchases whole wheat bagels from a local bakery and sell nearly nine dozen a day. It also sells items including whole wheat muffins, dried fruit and flavored waters, however, fresh fruit cups and Mannchables name after the school mascot seem to be the best-sellers.

The fruit cups are composed of apples, oranges, grapes, watermelon, and pineapple while the Mannchables contain celery, carrots, ranch dressing, cheese stick, nutrition bar and fruit. In three days the school store sold 120 fruit cups and they sell 30-50 Mannchables per week!

With a lot of determination, hard work and dedication, J.L. Mann High School is ensuring that their school store complies with the new guidelines and provides healthy foods and beverages for the students! Check out their local news feature on Greenville Online.

Want to learn more about Smart Snacks? Visit PTA.org/SmartSnacks or email SchoolFoods@pta.org for more info.

Stephanie Simms is the school nutrition policy fellow for the National PTA.

Healthy Lifestyles doesn’t have to be ‘The Fun Killer’

IMG_7068Three years ago, I was part of a small group of parents who set out to create a healthy lifestyles initiative at our school. At the time, I was in my second year as PTA President and this effort was viewed as “Liz’s Thing.” I was even called “The Fun Killer” (I didn’t take it too personally…).

Many people in our community saw this movement as confrontational; they were not happy about fruit vs. cookies or water vs. juice at potlucks and school-wide celebrations. When we eliminated bake sales that year, it was the final straw. This change was too much, too fast. Healthier lifestyles at our school was going to be more of an uphill challenge than I could have ever imagined. And, we didn’t get very far.

With my tenure as president long over, last spring our group reconvened. We talked to more parents, the principal, teachers and professionals. We created a school-wide Wellness Committee and were upfront about our failed attempts to create a healthy lifestyles initiative. We applied for the PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Energy Balance 101 grant, which we received! We were convinced that the framework provided by the grant could improve the message to our community.

As it turns out, it still has not been easy and I often still feel like a salmon swimming upstream.

“Remember to start slow,” I said to myself. So, we set out to tackle the “doable” parts of our grant. We created an incentive, Fitbucks, to increase participation in any Wellness Committee-related activity including:

  • Participation in our monthly Walk & Roll to School days
  • Attendance at an adults-only lecture by a nutrition expert
  • Participation in our Walk-a-thon fundraiser
  • Participation in our first ever Yoga Recess, and
  • An all-school Dance Party, a Community Cooking Class (hopefully) and a Wellness Photo Wall before the school year ends.

We have monthly Fitbucks drawings and have given away jump ropes, shoelaces, schwings (wings for shoes), an hour on a smoothie bike to the winner’s classroom, a school-logo apron and book for those who attend nutrition events, and two yoga mats! There will be an end-of-the-year Fitbuck drawing for a grand prize. The students LOVE the monthly drawings. I feel like we are on the road to “branding” the Fitbucks idea, while also generating interest and even excitement in the Wellness activities. Most importantly, our students are a formidable resource to reach their families about Wellness Committee offerings.

I know that change is not easy. And I know that our committee will not accomplish everything we set out to do in our grant. But, we have been more nimble and flexible and learned to “read the tea leaves” better. This is my ninth and final year at our school, and I’m excited about the direction that things are headed. Some new families are energized and are willing to continue the healthy lifestyles message. And, I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, next year will be a little easier.

Liz Isaacs is the Wellness Committee Chair at Dianne Feinstein Elementary School. She served on the PTA Executive Board for seven years, as President and in community building and advocacy roles. She is married and has three children in San Francisco public schools.

The Benefits of Doing a Science Project

For years, science projects have been a staple at school, and in the home.  While they might start in the classroom, science projects may become family affairs.  In fact, according to research commissioned by the non-profit Synopsys Outreach Foundation, more than three quarters of upper elementary students and nearly one half of middle schools students surveyed said they worked on their science project with an adult besides their teacher.  And of those students,  78% of upper elementary and 76% of middle school students most often reported working with a family member on their science project.

But besides creating a new activity with a family member, just what are the benefits of doing a science project?  As many parents and teachers know, they make for valuable experiences – and not just for future scientists.

In 2012, the Synopsys Outreach Foundation contracted with WestEd, an educational research firm,  to conduct a survey of 1,600 students in grades 4-12 to determine the benefits of science projects. Using a 4 point Likert Scale  they tested students’ perception of their skills before and after doing a  project.  Of particular interest were skills necessary in the 21st century workplace.

The survey research found that students reported significant gains  in several important categories including their abilities to
manage a project and meet deadlines; develop an idea for, plan and conduct an experiment; keep a logbook, analyze data and create a chart or graph; write results, create a presentation board, and discuss and present results to an adult other than their teacher.

So whether they go on to become scientists or engineers or teachers or nurses or to any job that requires critical thinkers, science projects help kids to be resourceful and develop skills they’ll need to succeed in school, the workplace and in life.

This short video highlights some of the survey’s findings.

National PTA Advocates on Capitol Hill for Family Engagement and Reauthorization of the ESEA

National PTA President Otha Thornton discusses the association’s recommendations for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

National PTA President Otha Thornton discusses the association’s recommendations for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

National PTA’s 2015 Legislative Conference brought together PTA leaders and advocates from across the country March 10-12 to discuss PTA’s public policy priorities and actively advocate for the education, health and welfare of every child. As part of the conference, National PTA President Otha Thornton brought the voice of millions of parents, teachers, students and families to Capitol Hill, meeting with Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), two key Congressional leaders.

Senator Alexander is Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and is working to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB), a key legislative priority of National PTA, with Senator Murray, Ranking Member of the Senate HELP Committee. During the meetings, President Thornton discussed National PTA’s recommendations for reauthorization of the law, specifically, improvements that prioritize family engagement and address the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children.

More than 200 state and local PTA volunteers also met with their Congressional leaders to discuss key issues impacting our nation’s children, including the importance of family engagement in education and comprehensive reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB.

In addition to meeting with Congressional leaders, participants in this year’s Legislative Conference heard from Roberto J. Rodríguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education, and John King, Senior Advisor Delegated Duties of Deputy Secretary of Education. Attendees also participated in interactive workshops and skill-building trainings on a variety of topics, including ESEA/NCLB reauthorization, family engagement, student data privacy, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, early childhood education, school safety and school nutrition.

The Legislative Conference and meetings on Capitol Hill were an important opportunity to speak up and advocate for the children National PTA serves. They demonstrated the essential role PTA and families play in supporting schools and student success as well as the association’s commitment to work at every level to improve education for all students and ensure every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

Heidi May Wilson is media relations manager for National PTA.

Of Nail Polish, Foster Children and Identity Theft

In March, National PTA’s Every Child in Focus campaign centers on the Foster Child. This post from a proud foster parent highlights the joys and challenges that come with the territory.

Lifelock_March172015I have three wonderful children. They sing at full volume when we’re all in the car. They attack each other with straws at the Mexican restaurant. Just normal, energetic kids. So when my wife and I decided to become licensed foster parents we knew we were bringing more excitement into our already full home.

Last month a curly-haired little girl arrived. She was dropped off with a small bag of clothes and a few stuffed animals. Raising my own kids is already a challenge, but stirring a new addition into the bowl presents all types of new challenges. Now there are more messes in the living room, more tears at bedtime and more spilled nail polish on the carpet. Did I mention red nail polish, on the tan carpet? This was not an easy cleanup.

The reality is the home our foster child was taken out of wasn’t safe. As parents, we go to great lengths to ensure that the children under our care have a safe environment. We make sure the people in our home are emotionally healthy. We lock up the bleach and the weed killer in the shed. We hold hands when we cross the street on the way to the park. Children need parents to create safe places for them to grow up and successfully transition into adult life.

Foster children can have it especially difficult. Some bounce from house to house, they’re in and out of group homes, and many never arrive in a long-term home. Even in the best of circumstances, the odds are against them. According to the Children’s Advocacy Institute, foster children are at high risk of being homeless after aging out of care, less likely to graduate high school than other kids, and end up incarcerated at a much higher rate than other children.

On top of that, foster children are often victims of identity theft. Their personal information passes through group homes social workers, relatives and foster parents. There’s no shortage of opportunities for people to steal and misuse this sensitive information. That leaves them unable to rent an apartment or even purchase a mobile phone after they age out of the system because identity thieves have ruined their credit.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation produced a guide to help adults working with young people in foster care to implement a credit check requirement authorized by federal law. The guide also recommends that adults educate foster children about the threat of identity theft and the importance of establishing good credit.

My wife and I will do our best to care for our foster child for as long as we are able. It saddens us to know that there are others who will take advantage of such vulnerable kids by abusing their identities. I’m proud that my company, LifeLock, supports local organizations that advocate on behalf of foster children, and I hope others to join the effort.

And if you’ve ever considered becoming a foster parent, I strongly encourage you to take the next step and get in contact with a local foster care agency. I promise you the chance to provide a child with safety and love more than makes up for a little spilled nail polish on the carpet.

Thomas Kinsfather is the Manager of LifeLock Quality Management, and a proud foster parent.

National PTA thanks LifeLock for their generous corporate contribution to support the foster care component of Every Child in Focus.

LifeLock is a financial sponsor of National PTA, and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Advocate on Behalf of Family Engagement

CapitolThis week over 200 state and local PTA volunteers came to Washington, DC to advocate on behalf of family engagement and ask their members of Congress to cosponsor the Family Engagement in Education Act (H.R. 1194/S. 622), National PTA’s key legislative priority.  The bipartisan bill was reintroduced on March 2, 2015 by Representatives Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) and Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Chris Coons (D-DE).  PTA encourages you to take action as well to ensure your member of Congress is a cosponsor.

More than 40 years of research confirms that when parents and families are engaged in their child’s education, they are more likely to attend school regularly, have increased levels of achievement and more likely to graduate on time. Additionally, family engagement also improves behavioral and social and emotional outcomes for students and supports a positive school culture and climate among parents, teachers and school leadership. In fact, studies show that engaging families is also cost effective; schools would have to spend more than $1,000 dollars per pupil to get the same results.

The Family Engagement in Education Act provides resources for schools and districts on best practices in engaging parents to raise student achievement, supports teachers and principals by providing professional development for educators on how to partner with parents to close the achievement gap, and builds statewide and local capacity to engage parents.

Importantly, the bill puts forth a framework for systemic, integrated, and sustainable family engagement at all levels, while allowing the flexibility and resources for local innovation and strategic partnerships, without authorizing any new spending.

National PTA government affairs staff will continue to work with advocates and policymakers to ensure that provisions of the Family Engagement in Education Act will be a part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Jacki Ball is the Director of Government Affairs at National PTA. Contact Jacki at jball@pta.org.

March 10-12 marks the 215 National PTA Legislative Conference, which gives participants the chance to have in-depth discussions about PTA’s public policy priorities through interactive workshops, keynote speakers, advocacy trainings and more. During the conference, PTA advocates from across the country will have the opportunity to amplify their voices at the federal level by advocating on behalf of PTA and influencing lawmakers. Learn more about National PTA’s Legislative Conference and take action now to urge Congress to cosponsor the bipartisan Family Engagement in Education Act of 2015.

Read with Your Child as Often as You Can

Sherri and BoysMarch is National Reading Month and that’s a great reason to spend some quality time with your child reading together. My children are grown now and live in other states, but we still share book tips and sometimes very lively discussions!

When my oldest son Jake started school he was identified as gifted in math and science but the gifted program in his elementary school was focused on English and language arts. It was constant struggle for him and by fourth grade he got to the point where he would do anything he could to avoid reading. After seeing his grades slip I met with the teacher to talk about his problem. She suggested that we try reading aloud together and to make it more about having a good time than about doing schoolwork. She also suggested that I find a book that would really appeal to him to catch his interest and that I take the first turn reading.

Boy howdy, was Jake surprised when he got home from school that night and I whipped out a new book and asked him to cuddle with me while I read! As a very independent fourth grader, that was not an activity he thought he would enjoy! I bargained with him, for every thirty minutes he read with me I would go outside and play catch with him. He sat stiffly next to me as I opened the book.

Book selection is a critical component in trying to engage a reluctant reader. If they are already reluctant to read, having to read about a topic that doesn’t capture their interest makes it even harder. I knew Jake had a goofy sense of humor and so I selected on of my favorites The BFG by Roald Dahl.

As I started to read about Bonecruncher, Maidmasher, and the Childchewer Jake moved closer and closer. My youngest son Tyler even stopped playing with his trucks and scooted over to us to listen in as well. When I finished the first chapter I saw they were still engrossed in the story so I continued to the second. Halfway through I complained that my voice was tired and asked Jake if he’d mind taking over for a while.

Over the course of the week we sat each night and took turns reading aloud. Before we got to the end of the book I discovered Jake had smuggled it into his room at night and was reading it after I’d sent him to bed! By the time we finished the book Jake was asking me if there were any others by Roald Dahl we could read next. He was so into our reading time, he forgot all about making me play ball!

These are some of my fondest memories of my time with my children, and some of their favorite memories as well! Jake and Tyler are all grown up now but still call me occasionally to ask if I’ve read the latest Christopher Moore or Vince Flynn books.

Here are some practical tips for you to create a wonderful family reading experience in your own home.

  1. Make it fun! Reading shouldn’t be a chore, it should be an adventure. If your attitude reflects the joy you feel from getting lost in a book it’s easier for your children to catch it too!
  2. Set aside blocks of time to read together. Even if you child is more interested in reading on their own, sit together and read something else side by side. Then take the time to ask questions about what they are reading.
  3. Look for books that interest your child and match their reading level. For infants and toddlers look for books with big, bright, colorful illustrations. For preschoolers look for books that have lively rhymes and repetition. For young readers try to find books with illustrations or photos that bring the text to life and provide context clues. For adolescents find books about subjects that interest your child or introduce new experiences or opportunities.

It’s never too soon or too late to read with your child and I guarantee the memories you make today will bring all of you a lot of joy later!

Sherri Wilson is a senior manager of family and community engagement for 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. Wilson develops and implements programs designed to increase family and community engagement in education. Prior to joining National PTA, Wilson served as director of the Alabama Parent Information and Resource Center.