Take Your Family to School Week: Sparking Conversations about the Future

WP_20150217_023“Tonight I decided what I want to do with the rest of my life, and what scares me is that it had nothing to do with what I came here thinking it would be!” This is just a snapshot of the enthusiasm students shared at Sandalwood High School PTSA’s Take Your Family to School Week event in Florida.

The event was modeled as a career night which featured representatives from over 40 different professions. Sandalwood PTSA, one of National PTA’s 2015 Take Your Family to School Week grant recipients, used grant funds to provide a free meal to all attendees and offer a prize to encourage students to interact with the guest speakers. Families bonded over dinner in the cafeteria, while discussing students’ futures.

“Not only did the event supply students with needed information to allow them to choose a career path,” said Amy Barker, the Sandalwood PTSA president, “it provided them with an opportunity to speak to their families about career decisions and open a dialogue- which is difficult to do during the teenage years.”

shs“We easily had 300 people there,” Amy added, “not even the rival football games bring out these numbers.” Although she had been involved in PTA throughout her sons’ academic careers, this was Amy’s first time planning an official Take Your Family to School Week event. Amy took some time out of her day to provide us with some insights on her experience participating in Take Your Family to School Week and what advice she might have for other PTAs/PTSAs who want to participate in the future:

This sounds like it was a huge success for your school! What aspects do you think contributed to the positive reception, especially when it came to getting students excited? The free food did not hurt. I personally went lunch table to lunch table, the day of the event and promoted it and reminded students and handed out fliers. I created a Facebook event on our PTSA Facebook page weekly and added the occupations who signed on and asked students to post requests for occupations. I think having a wide variety of occupations, and asking student feedback of which occupation they would like at the event helped. We also raffled a laptop. The “cost” of the raffle was for the student to speak with one of the occupations at the event, the more occupations they spoke with the more raffle tickets they earned. I found that when talking to students, if I led the conversation with free dinner and chance to win a laptop first, I had their attention. Then I explained the purpose of the event and they started asking more questions.

Would you advise more PTAs/PTSAs to participate in Take Your Family to School Week? Before, I was under the impression Take Your Family to School Week meant just that, bring families to school for school. I had no idea events we were participating in already qualified. I definitely think more schools should participate, parents really appreciated the event, they learned something about PTA, their children, and themselves.

Do you have any advice for PTA/PTSAs who are intrigued by the idea of planning a Take Your Family to School Week event, but may be intimidated by the planning process? The materials in the online toolkit, such as the PTA Leader’s Guide, made the process so easy. It was literally less work then planning a typical event, because checklists and materials were provided for me. It took a lot of the thinking out of it.

Would you do another Take Your Family to School Week event next year? Absolutely, every parent I spoke to asked us to do the event every year.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, it is such a great anecdote about the importance of strong family engagement in school! I am so grateful you provided us with the tools and funding to provide this spectacular event. It rejuvenated my spirit. As a High School we have limited funding and this event really allowed people to see what we could be doing. The traditional events are great, but everyone gets in a rut and they don’t draw a crowd like when you do something new. Thank you again.

For more information on National PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week, please visit PTA.org/TYFSTW.

Going to the Pool or Beach? Water Safety Tips for You and Your Family

shutterstock_65179048Summer is almost here and a trip to the beach, lake or pool is always fun for everyone. Even if your child knows how to swim, there are hazards associated with pools, spas, lakes and the beach. A child can drown quickly and quietly. Take some steps to keep it safe.

Drowning occurs both when adults are not present—when a child has left the house unnoticed and slipped into the pool and when an adult is present but has been distracted momentarily. If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa first.

  1. Never leave a child unattended in a pool or spa and always watch your child when he or she is in or near water. Never take for granted that someone is watching a child. Even if you are at the beach or a pool with friends or a caregiver, be sure to always watch your child near or in water.
  2. Be sure there is constant supervision planned when your child is visiting someone else’s pool. Find out who is supervising and be sure someone will be there at all times. Whether you are at your own home, visiting a home with a pool or spa, or your child is taking a trip to a beach with another family, be sure there is planned supervision at all times.Beware of rip currents. These currents don’t pull you under the water; they actually carry you out so far you can’t back. They can occur at any beach with waves, even the Great Lakes. You won’t be able to see or identify rip currents yourself, so talk to the Lifeguard on duty and check for posted signs and warning flags at the beach. Before you leave for the beach check the latest National Weather Service forecast for local beach conditions.
  3. Select a safe area to swim. If you are swimming in a lake or river, find an area that has good water quality and safe natural conditions. Avoid murky water, plant life, strong currents, and unexpected drop offs.
  4. If you have a choice, choose a beach, pool, or lake that is manned by trained lifeguards. Even if trained lifeguards are present, you still need to remain vigilant and at your child’s side
  5. A flotation device is not necessarily a safety device. In fact, some flotation devices can give you and your child a false sense of security. Your child should only wear a life vest that is U.S. Coast-Guard approved. Inflatable devices such as rafts and toys can lose air, shift positions, or slip out from underneath your child. Remember, a flotation device is not a substitute for your close supervision.
  6. Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments. Make sure the pool, spa or hot tub you are using has drains with compliant drain covers.  All drains should have anti-entrapment/anti-entanglement covers.  These covers are designed to keep your child’s hair from getting tangled in the drain. Check the drains on hotel pools or any other pool your child uses. If the drains are flat or uncovered, don’t let your children use the pool. Take extra precaution and make sure that loose items such as long hair, clothing or jewelry are not dangling when swimming in a pool or sitting in a spa.
  7. Make sure your pool is equipped with a Safety Vacuum Release System (SVRS) – a device that will automatically shut off a pump if a blockage is detected—or any other automatic shut-off systems in your own pool or spa. Whoever is supervising should also know where the pool or spa pump switch is and know how to turn it off. Be sure the location of the electrical cut-off switch for the pool or spa pump is plainly marked. If someone becomes entrapped, turn off the pump immediately.
  8. Have a telephone close by when you or your family is using a pool or spa.

The proper precaution ahead of time and during your swim outing will ensure you have a safe, fun day with your family and friends. Help spread the word about pool, spa and swim safety. For additional safety information, safety alerts and recalls go to www.thesafetycouncil.org.   Pass it on and save a life!

Jamie Schaefer-Wilson is the executive director at The Safety Institute.

Pennsylvania PTA: Let’s Get Engaged! Convention Campaign


Faced with the challenge of motivating more volunteers to take advantage of the wealth of advocacy resources from National PTA, the Pennsylvania PTA planned a “campaign caper” to launch at the April 2015 convention in Erie, PA. The campaign’s purpose was threefold:

  1. Encourage delegates to subscribe to the National PTA e-advocacy platform called “Engage”
  2. Motivate PTA members to have a greater voice in timely federal issues such as the Family Engagement Act and the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) Act
  3.  Create a fun, interactive model of engagement strategies that state delegates could replicate in their local units and councils

GetEngaged_PAring2Armed with data for schools in Pennsylvania, I presented a federal legislative update reminding delegates of the key federal programs and initiatives that were impacting schools, including examples of federal dollar allocations that directly supported student instruction in random districts. Projected on a large screen in the convention hall, delegates were taken step by step through the sign-up process on the PTA Takes Action Network.

As with any fun caper, props were unveiled such as those at the podium who teased and flashed large battery operated “diamond rings” as delegates were urged to become “engaged.” Deborah Dunstone, 2013-2015 state president, revealed a six-foot banner she had made at Staples, a NPTA member benefits provider. The banner featured a large illustration of a diamond engagement ring with the theme, “Let’s Get Engaged! Join the PTA Takes Action Network Today.” Could that have been music in the background that sounded like Beyonce singing, “Single Ladies”? If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it! Well, the PTA did like it and was further inspired by Charles Scott, National PTA board member from Tennessee, and Ethan Clark, manager of National PTA arts in education programs.

GetEngagedPA_ringInteracting with the convention body, Charles and Ethan distributed “faux” diamond engagement rings in small organdy drawstring bags to each delegate. In traditional style, Charles chose to propose on bended knee, while Ethan’s proposal style appeared to resemble a vendor throwing peanuts at a baseball game!   Priceless. The delegates “rocked” to Beyonce and then willingly made their formal commitment to the oath administered by Ms. Zelno to become partners with the PTA Takes Action Network and become more fully engaged in National PTA advocacy. Their resounding, “I will!” was followed up by the PA PTA Legislation and Advocacy Committee who were “gems” and staffed a table in the exhibit area, armed with laptops. Delegates who subscribed that weekend were given an additional promotional button from NPTA.

The engagement campaign was extremely timely for the pending reauthorization of ESEA which authorizes funding of school districts and educational programs in PA and will also be responsible for policies around school improvement—policies such as standards, assessment, and parent involvement where PTA members have been extremely vocal. “Let’s Get Engaged” was fun relief from the otherwise serious business of a convention body and was successful in drawing greater attention to the importance of advocacy at the federal level. While the diamonds were only a symbolic token, they represented the real need for PTA members to have a greater voice in policy for America’s children. The value of this exercise won’t be judged by cut, clarity, color or carat, but by whether the PTA provided resources to its members to become better advocates.

Sandy Zelno is the federal legislation chair at Pennsylvania PTA.

New Data Analysis Reveals Disparities Between State Tests and NAEP

Test TakingToday, Achieve, a national education advocacy nonprofit, released an analysis comparing proficiency rates in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math as reported by states to the same data measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Discrepancies were found between the percentage of students reported as proficient by states and the number of students who met national proficiency benchmarks.

NAEP defines proficiency as “solid academic performance” for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills approximate to the subject matter. Frequently, states’ testing and reporting processes yield different results than the data collected and reported by the NAEP, which is administered uniformly across the nation and assess what students know and can do in various subject areas. And NAEP results are generally not known by students and their families.

Georgia is among the states with the largest gaps between their reported 2013-14 state proficiency levels and their state’s 2013 NAEP proficiency levels.

As a resident, native Georgian and president of the National PTA, which represents more than 74 million children in the United States as well as American children abroad attending schools within the Department of Defense education system, it is of high importance to have an accurate assessment of how well our children are developing the skills they need to succeed. Accurate metrics provide much-needed information about how students are performing, help teachers guide instruction to better meet the needs of students as well as provide opportunities for early intervention when they fall behind.

In my role as president of National PTA, I have heard from families of students who have arrived on college campuses or in the workplace requiring remediation to get them up to speed, which can be costly. It is essential to ensure that all students adequately prepared to move onto more challenging material so that families do not end up paying for remedial courses.

As underscored by the analysis, the implementation of more rigorous standards and high quality tests that are consistent and comparable across states is critical to accurately assess student learning and ensure all students graduate with the skills they need to succeed in college and the workforce. It also is essential that families have honest information about how their students are progressing.

Many states are working hard to address the discrepancies found in the analysis by raising standards and expectations in math and English; employing new, higher quality tests that truly measure student competency and can be compared across school districts and states; and setting new levels of proficiency that are more demanding and aligned with what students need to know to be successful after high school.

Each state faces unique challenges in implementing new standards and assessments, but it is important not to back away from efforts to raise the bar for all children and ensure they are prepared with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed and reach their full potential.

For more information about the analysis and to view state specific data, visit http://www.honestygap.org.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

Youth Leading the Way: An American Tradition

Photo 2 for BlogIn the coming weeks, we’ll see a new generation of youth graduate and move into higher education classrooms and the workforce. But at this nostalgic and celebratory time of year, how are we helping to ensure we’re building a healthy, high-achieving generation of youth to follow? At GENYOUth, the organization I’m proud to lead, we view youth themselves as the solution to the current challenges of health and wellness in schools and communities.

Kids taking responsibility for big social change is virtually a “great American tradition.” Youth-led solutions to our nation’s biggest problems are embedded in our DNA. And whether we’re talking about getting seat-belt laws passed, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, or evangelizing anti-smoking and anti-bullying messages, it’s all part of the grand continuum of youth leading the way. In the face of the ongoing obesity crisis and the accompanying crisis in physical inactivity in this country, we’re simply entering the latest chapter in an ongoing and inspiring saga of empowered youth making things happen.

GENYOUth and its partners, like the PTA, are working to provide ongoing and sustainable solutions to the challenges of improving nutrition and providing greater opportunities for physical activity in schools, at home, and beyond.

We are already seeing the impact of the youth voice through programs such as Fuel Up to Play 60 and AdVenture Capital. Because of these programs more than 13 million students are eating healthier, 16 million are more active, and we’ve enabled youth entrepreneurs to successfully implement their ideas to get their schools and communities to embrace healthier lifestyles.

The hard realities are in front of us – nearly three-quarters of our youth do not get the recommended daily exercise or proper nutrition each day, and the costs of childhood obesity remain almost inestimable – with the latest figures having a projected impact of $200 billion per year; expected to rise to $350 billion by 2025. The implications are far reaching for education and schools, families, communities, the healthcare system, unemployment, job growth, government services, and productivity overall. Ensuring that youth have the power, the potential, and the permission to create healthful environments that increase their chances for success in school and in life is more critical now than ever.

LRT Report - Characteristics to Successful Youth Led Initiatives

What youth say are the necessary characteristics to successful youth-led initiatives.

We already know empowering youth can be as simple as listening to them — and that when youth are actively engaged in a problem, the outcomes are better. But we also know that:

  • When it comes to reforms in education and public health, youth are an enormously underused resource for community change.
  • Young people who are involved in working for change receive inarguable benefits — and organizations and communities benefit as well.
  • Theorists and commentators who work with youth are actively calling for increased youth involvement in public affairs – noting the positive impact youth inevitably have on civic issues.
Photo 3 for Blog

Click to download

I invite you to learn more by accessing a copy of our latest report ‘Empowering Youth: Students as Change-Agents for Schools and Communities’ here. Furthermore, I encourage you to connect with us on a local level and see how program like Fuel Up to Play 60 are being activated in your communities and how together we can help embrace and support youth empowerment and its vital and necessary role in creating healthier generations of Americans.

You can follow GENYOUth on Twitter at @GENYOUthNow, or Fuel Up to Play 60 at @FUTP60.

Alexis Glick is the CEO of GENYOUth. Founded through an unprecedented public-private partnership with National Dairy Council (NDC) and the National Football League (NFL), and committed to child health and wellness, GENYOUth brings leaders in health, education, government and business together in a movement to help America’s youth achieve a healthier future. Learn more information on GENYOUth.


4 Things You’ll See at #PTAconv15!

There won’t be a royal baby, but there will be fun in the Queen City for Convention. Here are four things to check out in Charlotte!

TEACHER_OF_THE_YEAR_435711811. Hear from the Teacher of the Year

Last week, we honored Shanna Peeples for her recognition by the Council of Chief State School Officers as the 2015 National Teacher of the Year.

Peeples will address attendees during the 2015 National PTA Convention & Expo Sunday, June 28. Let’s give her a big round of applause and thanks! Don’t forget to #ThankATeacher this week!

Copyright 2014 Lifetouch National School Studios, Inc2. Attend the Reflections Awards Luncheon

We will recognize over 200 national winners at the 2015 Reflections Awards Luncheon. Known as one of National PTA’s most celebratory and heartfelt events, the Reflections Awards Luncheon bestows PTA’s highest honor on young artists and celebrates arts education in our schools.

Copyright 2014 Lifetouch National School Studios, Inc3. Experience the Fresh 20 Demo Stage!

Come to the Fresh 20 Demo Stage and explore new education apps, fundraising strategies and products and services that will enhance your efforts in the next school year with presentations from Sylvan Learning Center, Disney Theatrical, BOKS and more!

The Fresh 20 is a meal planning service, created for busy families who want to eat fresh, healthy meals and fundraisers. Visit the Fresh 20 at booth 113.

Copyright 2014 Lifetouch National School Studios, Inc4. Visit the #PTAconv15 Social Media Lounge

Stop by the PTA booth for R&R time at the #PTAconv15 Social Media Lounge! Join our live Twitter feed, take photos at our awesome booth, meet me and socialize with other attendees!

Catherine Llamido is the digital communications specialist at National PTA.

Why Teachers Deserve Our Praise and Our Support

This week has been designated Teacher Appreciation Week, in honor of teachers and the important contributions they make to ensure every child succeeds in school and beyond.

While our public education system has changed a lot over the years, two factors remain—teachers are essential to student growth and achievement, and it is vital that they have our support.

Check out the infographic below on teachers and the importance of family engagement in education and family-school partnerships. Don’t forget to visit PTA.org/ThankATeacher for additional resources.

2015 TAW_Infographic_v6

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

New Parents Guide to 21st Century Learning and Citizenship

It’s no secret that parent involvement is a key contributing factor of student success. That’s why P21 is excited to include parents in the conversation regarding what’s different about learning today and why these changes have a significant impact on the skills, jobs and opportunities today’s students need to be successful. Much of P21’s work (see our Resource Page) has been focused on supporting educators and policymakers in ensuring 21st century learning opportunities for students. However, P21 also recognizes and supports the important role of parents in shaping the learners and citizens of tomorrow.

This is why we have created the Parents’ Guide to 21st Century Learning and Citizenship. We are excited to share this resource for several reasons.

1) This is P21’s first ever resource developed especially with parents and families in mind.

As P21’s executive director Helen Soule announced in March, P21 has expanded our work to include not just K12, but the full continuum of learning from cradle to career. As part of our expanded effort to support 21st century learning for all students, we know we have to involve parents and support them as equal partners in high quality 21st century learning and citizenship. We are very proud to have National PTA as our family engagement advisor in developing this guide and helping us share it with parents.

2) The resource explains what 21st century learning and citizenship are all about—without the jargon.

The Parents’ Guide is presented in three sections that build on each other—the Overview, which outlines the building blocks of 21st century learning and citizenship; Tips and Strategies that parents can use; and Real World Examples that show what 21st century learning looks like and different projects around the country that integrate 21st century learning and citizenship well.

Learning, work and citizenship today are complex, and this new resource aims to cut through the jargon and help parents understand what’s at stake as well as help them gain some ideas of how to engage in 21st century learning as a family.

3)  The guide empowers parents to support 21st century learning experience for their children.

As the old adage goes, “knowledge is power”—and this new resource supports parents’ knowledge and involvement in making sure their children’s education includes age-appropriate experiences that prepare them for work, life and citizenship beyond school. We know that the best time to teach kids about other cultures is between the ages of seven and twelve. We also know that just having access to digital tools does not ensure kids will know how to be safe and smart online.

Students today need to be globally aware and competent, digitally savvy and engaged as 21st century citizens. The real world examples and strategies found in the Parents’ Guide came from many organizations that work with parents and families by helping provide learning experiences that prepare kids for the future.

4) In the guide, P21 broadens the definition of 21st century citizenship education to include digital, political and global awareness.

There are many resources for parents that provide tips for preventing bullying, safe digital practices, building global awareness and civic engagement. There are also resources that help parents engage in their school communities, be advocates for their children and strengthen the 4Cs—communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity—which are so important for success in the workforce and 21st century life. P21’s Parents Guide includes many of these great resources in one place.

P21’s new guide is also unique in showing that 21st century citizenship and learning are closely interconnected and that both are necessary not just for student success, but for building a world in which all students are engaged, knowledgeable and active citizens.

All parents want their children to succeed at everything they do. We hope that our newest resource for parents will help do just that.

Download and share it today!

twarrickTatyana Warrick manages public outreach and media relations for P21, including the 21st Century Learning Exemplar Program, P21 Speakers Bureau, website and social media. She is also an active participant on the P21 21st Century Citizenship Task Force.

Nominate Your Peers for a 2015 Bammy Award

CelebratewhatsrrightNominations are now open for the 2015 Bammy Awards, which are organized by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences International and seek to recognize the outstanding contributions made by those working in and around education.

Every day, great work is being done in schools by teachers, administrators, staff, parents and students, but unfortunately, much of this is unknown to the general public. The Bammy Awards program was created to showcase the unsung contributions, collaborative spirit and exceptional role models that represent the best elements of American education. National PTA is pleased to support the awards program as the association believes it is essential to spotlight and recognize the exceptional commitment, extraordinary contributions and innovative collaborations among educators, families and communities across the nation.

Through the awards program, everyone is invited to nominate, vote for and publically share stories – in 36 categories, including Parent Group Leader – of the great things happening in their school communities. We all know amazing teachers, principals, superintendents, school nurses, engaged parents, school librarians, school custodians and caring school staff. We encourage you to take a moment to nominate deserving individuals and help shine a light on the great work being done in education.

In addition to supporting the Bammy Awards, National PTA has designated May 4-8, 2015 Teacher Appreciation Week to honor and celebrate teachers and important contributions they make to ensure every child succeeds and reaches his/her full potential. Teacher Appreciation Week is the perfect time to recognize teachers who are making a difference in the lives of children in your community. Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week by nominating a special teacher for a Bammy Award.

Visit www.bammyawards.org for more information on the awards program. The nomination and voting period ends May 15.

Sherri Wilson is a senior manager of family and community engagement for National PTA. Wilson was the recognized by the Academy of Arts and Sciences with the 2014 Bammy Award for Parent Group Leader as well as the 2014 Educators Voice Award for Parent Group Leader of the Year.

Why Teachers Matter To This Gold Medal Gymnast

SML-9338-CREDIT-Renee_ParenteauWhile I always enjoyed learning, I admit I wasn’t always the most comfortable at school. I never truly felt that I fit in with the other kids. I was very shy and tiny with this huge hair I had no idea what to do with. I didn’t wear make-up (didn’t really know how). I was a bookworm of sorts, reading for hours on end then jumping up to tumble for the rest of the day. I was intimidated by the ease that most other kids seem to have on a daily basis with raising their hands and answering tough questions. I was happy just to take the test quietly. But I did love the work and the feeling of accomplishment I had when I finished a big project or a tough paper.

And I loved my teachers. There were certainly a few that have stood out over the years. The teacher that somehow knew exactly what to say or do to get the best from me. The PE teacher that realized I couldn’t run a mile in less than 10 minutes but gave me a moment to shine on the makeshift balance beam. There were the teachers that brought life to a subject that would typically put you to sleep.

As a professor, my father made sure that from the time we were little, my sister and I didn’t shy away from math and science. He saw that too many times in his courses. He wanted his girls to approach numbers unafraid, to know that we could do or be anything we wanted as long as we were willing to work hard. As a physics professor, he helped me understand how math and the principles of physics truly related to my life……and particularly my sport.

A great teacher can change your life. A great teacher goes beyond what’s written on the page and helps you understand why it matters. A great teacher forces you to think on your feet and think for yourself. A great teacher gives you confidence in your abilities and makes you eager to learn more each and every day.

So to all the great teachers out there, and especially to those who have touched my life, THANK YOU for all that you do each and every day. It’s a struggle day in and day out, but know that what you do matters. It matters today, it matters tomorrow, and it matters 10 years from now. Keep it going and keep up the great work!!

Shannon Miller is the most decorated American gymnast in history and is the only female athlete inducted into the U.S. Olympics Hall of Fame – twice! Her tally of five medals at the 1992 Olympics was the most won by a U.S. athlete. At the 1996 Games, she led the “Magnificent Seven” to the U.S. Women’s first ever Team Gold and captured Gold on the Balance Beam for the first time for any American gymnast.