Science is Only a “Thank You” Away


“It’s a weakness only if it keeps you from doing stuff.”

— Dr. Mae Jemison, chief ambassador for Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense program and the world’s first African-American female astronaut

Science used to scare me. When confronted with the periodic table, I found it to be just as terrifying as spiders. My dad, to his credit, spent many nights and weekends trying to explain physics, chemistry and geology. We would thumb through text books, skim charts and look at diagrams. Needless to say, I was not interested. Finally, my dad tried something different. One evening he showed me an experiment demonstrating evaporation. Seeing science come to life opened a new world of discovery and learning.

Science is all around us, and nurturing a child’s interest in science is important. For me, it was my dad who realized hands-on experiences were the key to unleashing my interest and curiosity in science.

Who inspired your love of science? Was it an encouraging parent who took on the role of science project sidekick? Maybe it was a teacher who had a knack for making science lessons more exciting than recess. Perhaps it was one of your favorite television characters off exploring the depths of space.

In an effort to provide 1 million hands-on science learning experiences for children by 2020, Bayer is encouraging people of all ages to share a “Thank you,” acknowledging someone who has inspired scientific imagination and helped to make science make sense in their lives.

For each “thank you” message shared, Bayer will provide free admission to a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) venue for a child (up to 25,000) through a new partnership with Tickets for Kids® Charities.

From today through November 25, 2015, you can share your “Thank You” message at or via social media using #SayTkU.

My #SayTkU goes out to my dad. He never gave up on me and is the reason I’m passionate about inspiring and engaging kids in science. He helped science make sense for me. I am still not best friends with the periodic table, but my interest in science has gotten me to where I am today.

Guest blogger Marie Baker is an employee of Bayer. Bayer is a financial sponsor of National PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Halloween Safety in and Around Motor Vehicles


Injuries in and around motor vehicles increase significantly during the holiday season. In fact, Halloween is a time when incidents happen at the highest rates. Take extra precaution to ensure that your children are safe on sidewalks, driveways, side-streets and roadways while trick-or-treating.

Remember, no matter the size of your vehicle, there are blind zones that will hide the presence of a child behind, next to or in front of your vehicle.

Here are quick Halloween safety tips:

Some blind zones are bigger than the average driveway. When moving your vehicle, be sure your child or any child in the neighborhood is not in one of your blind zones.

Look around your vehicle. Before backing up your car, be sure to walk behind your vehicle; but keep in mind that by the time you start your vehicle a child could easily have moved behind your car. You can never be too vigilant.

Even if your vehicle is equipped with video and/or audio alert systems such as cameras or rear sensors, you must still look or listen for their warning and be sure to use your mirrors, check behind your vehicle and be sure your child is being actively supervised at all times. There is no such thing as being too careful.

Wear visible colors at night. Be sure your child’s costume is noticeable by choosing light colored costumes.

Take advantage of other safety gadgets. Take the extra step of attaching reflective tape and giving him or her a flashlight. Even if they are staying on the sidewalk, many homes turn the lights down to emphasize their Halloween spirit for the night.

Accompany your kids. Whether you are on a side-street or in a driveway, it is important that your child is always with an adult or on a sidewalk and not blocking a driveway.

Help spread the word about safety in and around motor vehicles and make this a safe Halloween. Let others know about the potential dangers. The National Youth and Consumer Safety Council informs and educates about child and consumer safety hazards; Council partner educates on dangers in and around motor vehicles.

For more information about this hazard and for additional safety information, safety alerts and recalls, go to Pass it on and save a life!

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

Inspiring Excellence at Longfellow Middle School

shutterstock_155243456As we celebrate National Principals’ month and what makes schools successful, I reflect on our very talented and dedicated Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Our motto—“inspiring excellence”—in all we do has a direct relationship to the incredible partnership we have with the PTA at our school. Our PTA consists of parents and staff working collaboratively at Longfellow Middle School. The parents support our staff in numerous ways including fundraising, volunteering and programming.

I firmly believe that the work between our staff and the PTA directly impacts our school’s mission, which promotes inspiring excellence in learning through academics, life skills and service to others, as well as supporting our vision of welcoming diversity, embracing challenge, encouraging creativity, supporting environmental stewardship and celebrating personal growth for every member of our Longfellow family.

Here are a few examples of our strong relationship:

  • Our PTA hospitality committee provides a monthly celebration of lunch or dinner for our faculty and staff. This activity goes a long way in supporting a warm, welcoming and positive culture for all. Our teachers are so appreciative and always make special efforts to reach out to our parents through involving them in classroom activities, class field trips, individual or group parent/teacher conferences and parent team coffees.
  • Through the generosity of our PTA, many school programs and activities are funded, such as $10,000 grants that support our remediation and enrichment programs. Our PTA pays for students to have another set of textbooks at home. They have also purchased mobile labs for our classrooms and assignment notebooks for every child.
  • Members of our PTA provide an incredible amount of support to our Eco-Action team, and last year we received the Green Flag from the National Wildlife Federation. In order to receive the prestigious “Green Flag,” a school needs to have “environmental stewardship” in the mission and vision statements as well as in the school improvement plan. Our parents have spent countless hours assisting our students and teachers in creating a rain garden, vegetable garden and butterfly garden. Parent volunteers were instrumental in establishing a robust recycling program as well. Parents also worked with our custodians in completing an “energy pathway” whereby we reduced the amount of lighting and heating/air-conditioning use. Because of all these efforts, our school was given this award.
  •  Our parents are totally in charge of our school beautification of the grounds program as well as transporting our unused food from lunches to our local food pantry. They also established a “Longfellow Love” program and collect gift certificates so our neediest families can purchase extra food and clothing for their families.
  • We have collaborated with our parents on providing programs such as our International Parents’ Network, ADHD Parent Resource Group, an anti-bullying program and our “How to Thrive at Longfellow” event, which is designed as a joint effort of our PTA and counseling department.

Words cannot describe the immense gratitude I have for our outstanding PTA. They are tremendous leaders with excellent ideas and I thank each and every PTA member from the bottom of my heart for their effort in supporting excellence in our school.

Carole Kihm is the principal at Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church, Va.


How Parents Can Help Keep Kids and Schools Safe

On Christmas Eve 1997, my 12-year-old son, Brian, was at a friend’s house. They spent the day together, shopping at the mall for Christmas gifts and ended the day at this friend’s house playing video games. At 3:45 p.m., our daughter called her brother to tell him to come home so they could get ready for our traditional Christmas Eve celebration held at our home with friends and family.

While Brian was on the phone, his friend decided to show him the gun he recently discovered in his mother’s room. He thought he removed all the bullets, but one remained stuck in the barrel. He pulled back the hammer three times and heard the click. Click. Click. On the third click, the gun fired and hit Brian in the neck, just as he was hanging up the phone. His last words to his friend were, “I can’t believe you shot me!”

BradyCampaign1Since Brian’s death, I have made it my mission to get the word out to gun owners, parents, family and friends about the dangers of guns left accessible to children. I especially want to raise awareness of this important issue now, during Safe Schools Week. Far too often, these unsecured guns are brought to our nation’s schools with the intent to harm. The majority of guns used in school shootings are taken from the home.

Tragedies can be avoided if we, as parents, take simple steps to ensure guns are inaccessible to our children:

  • Secure firearms in the home. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises the safest home for children is one without a firearm. Parents who choose to own guns should keep them locked, unloaded and stored separately from ammunition.
  • Ask about the presence of unlocked firearms in other homes: The Asking Saves Kids (ASK) Campaign encourages parents to always ask, “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” when arranging their child’s play dates or visits to another home.

BradyCampaign2There are many ways to bring this life-saving message to parents in your district. Visit the ASK Kit, which has resources to help you raise awareness such as:

  • Talking Points about ASK for your next PTA meeting
  • A fact sheet on the connection between school safety and firearms in the home
  • A template letter that you can send to parents in your district

We have the power to make our schools, homes and communities safer. Let’s start practicing ‘safety first’ today!

Ann Marie Crowell lives in Saugus, Mass. She is a spokeswoman for the ASK Campaign.

Lessons Learned: A Principal Bridges the Gap Between a School and a Community

shutterstock_207420427This blog post was originally published on National Association of Secondary School Principal’s (NASSP) blog. Read more

Meaningful family-community engagement and principal leadership are two essential components for effective school reform. Yet, often these two elements can sometimes operate separately from each other and collaboration between school leaders and the community can be a challenge.

October is National Principals Month, which means it is an opportunity for communities to recognize the important work principals do for our students across the country. I wanted to share one way in which a local PTA and a bright elementary school principal worked together to unite a community in educating our students.

Recently, as a PTA officer and the only male on the executive committee at my local elementary school, I was assigned to connect with the new male school principal. I smiled at the gesture and opportunity. This was his first opportunity to lead a school. A few weeks into the school year, I met with him. My initial impression was that he did not recognize that a local PTA can be a valuable resource to our school. I began to talk about our challenges and successes with the previous principal we had as a team. After talking with the new principal, I realized both of us were strong believers in the power of family-community engagement. I spoke about opportunities in the neighborhood to increase local business engagement within the school and PTA.

At a subsequent meeting, the principal outlined strategies to target local businesses. He placed more emphasis on an action based approach where students and teachers partner with businesses to define a problem and find a solution. The PTA—along with teachers—spoke with businesses and asked for financial contributions but also, as the principal outlined, asked for participation in the classroom. All of the businesses agreed to participate, resulting in our PTA receiving significant financial contributions and the school receiving a few months’ supply of free paper.

With input from local business leaders, the principal developed an innovative program to have business leaders interact with students in the classroom. The local businesses came in and spoke about their work and problems they experienced in their business. The students were then asked to help solve those problems. In some cases, the teachers made it an interactive homework assignment. The owners returned to the class and listened to students present their ideas on how to solve the proposed issues.

This program was well received by all. The students felt their opinions mattered, which created a better learning experience. Teachers learned more about their students’ abilities to communicate and solve problems. And in some cases, the business owner learned something new or something he/she did not recognize about their own business.

As a result of that successful teaming, the new principal’s opinion about the value of our PTA changed. I believe he now sees the PTA as an important partner in education as opposed to just a fundraising group.

I also learned a few valuable lessons in this project that can help local PTA leaders work with talented principals across the country to help educate our children:

  1. Start by working together on ONE project. You will begin to make connections and watch how it pays off and how you build on the relationships from there.
  2. Utilize the past experience of others.
  3. Place a priority on your community partners and reach out to them.
  4. Make it a win/win solution.
  5. This is simple but often overlooked.

Eddie Gleason is a PTA member of Glenn Dale Elementary School in Maryland and serves as the federal legislative chair of Maryland PTA.


PTA – The “P” is for Passion

montana PTAWhat is passion? The dictionary says it is “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling.” Another definition that I tend to like more says, “Passion is when you put more energy into something than is required to do it.”

Now, what does passion mean to you?

We are all busy and have mastered the art of doing enough to get by. For instance, I throw a frozen pizza in the oven and call it “dinner,” instead of making the dough fresh, tossing that homemade dough in the air, crushing homegrown tomatoes into a rich pizza sauce; arranging the ingredients on the pizza in a way that will allow each hungry diner a perfect bite—why? Because I don’t have a passion for it.

So why do we do the things we do?

  • Sense of duty
  • Social obligation
  • Money or status
  • For fun or enjoyment

We take on tasks, jobs and projects for these reasons all the time. Sure we will probably fulfill our obligations, but we may dread doing it again—and probably won’t do it again—because we aren’t doing it for the right reason—PASSION.

Years ago when I joined PTA, we were 6 million members strong, but now membership has been steadily declining. I wonder why this is. Moms and dads still are concerned about their children’s education. We know how vital it is to engage with our children’s teachers. Surely we want to be involved in decisions that will not just impact our own children, but the lives of children long into the future.

For years, I had to explain why I was so heavily involved with PTA. The answer was always easy, because PTA gave me so much more than I ever gave PTA. My parents were not involved in my school activities, which made me decide I wanted more for my own kids. PTA taught me lessons that I may have never learned anywhere else. It made me a much stronger mother, a more confident leader and without being too melodramatic—a better person.

When I first joined PTA, I quickly found out that I wholeheartedly believed in its principles and understood why people cared so deeply about it. I still believe in PTA today. I believe that we must continue to fight and advocate for children, because if we don’t, who will?

I was really moved by a workshop that Sherry—our Montana PTA president—presented, called the “History of PTA.” She shared the obstacles that early members encountered; blizzards with 10 feet high snow drifts, traveling across the country by train to go to meetings. They were fighting for such important causes: child labor, vaccinations for children, feeding them hot and healthy lunches while they were at school, the list goes on and on. So many of these things we take for granted, because these strong industrious women had a notion (or you could say a passion) that we could do better for our children.

I am so thankful for the time that I spent knee deep in the trenches for PTA. I look around at my PTA family, my friends, friends that I have made because of PTA. And I am most grateful to be a part of the past of Montana PTA, and I implore all of you to be the brightest future!

Around my 40th Birthday I began a quest to live a bigger, better life, and with that idea I came up with a personal mantra that I think is relevant here today: “Status quo has to go.” We can no longer accept that someone else will step up; we must be the ones. We cannot accept our little comfort zones we have made for ourselves, we must break out. Please think BIG for yourselves and for PTA. Don’t limit yourselves. Your potential is beyond measure.

Thank you all for coming and Happy Birthday Montana PTA!

Danielle Kopp is a member of Montana PTA. She gave this speech at the 2015 Montana PTA Convention.

Is She Doing Homework Online—or Watching Music Videos?

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.

Your kid says she’s doing homework online, but what’s really going on? Good question, huh?

As one mom told us, “My daughter’s school has an one-on-one iPad program, and every kid in the school (about 1,000) has a school-supplied iPad. I have to say it has been a struggle to try to teach her how to use the iPad responsibly, because they can always claim they are doing homework, while we know they are probably watching music videos.”

Given what I’ve experienced with my 14-year-old son, I know this parent isn’t alone.

That’s why we worked with National PTA to develop The Smart Talk. It’s a free and easy online tool to help you produce ground rules for how your child uses technology. Yes, you, as the parent, still have to be the enforcer. But by sitting down with you to answer a series of questions, your child has some skin in the game.

The end result, after about 15 minutes together, a set of rules you can post on the fridge so that everyone is on the same page.

The mom quoted above had The Smart Talk with her daughter and was glad she did.

“My daughter was reluctant to do it at first, but once we started, it was actually good. I’d like to see this adopted more widely.”

If you need an excuse to raise the issue with your son or daughter, we have one. October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, a great reason for you—and your kid—to take action to stay safe online.

And if it helps to start with a laugh, check out this video—kids talking about technology.

Cory Warren is the blog editor at LifeLock UnLocked.

Today is International Walk to School Day!

walktoschooldayThe rush to get out the door on time and then…

The giggles…

The songs that you sing to pace your fast feet…

The camaraderie with neighborhood buddies…

The bond among tired, decaffeinated parents…

The “Mom, did you know?” moments that you want to bottle up forever…and ever…

Those few seconds you’re still permitted to hold his hand as you cross the street.

And all of this before the school bell rings –

All of this during your walk to school or the bus stop.

Today is International Walk to School Day 2015!

Today we celebrate this simple, every day activity that connects generations of families. Today, we celebrate the PTA leaders nationwide who are partnering with their schools and transportation officials to host Walk to School Day events. On this day, we are reminded that “active kids do better” and physical activity in the morning helps students to focus more on their studies the rest of the day.

Walk to School Day looks different in every school community. Some kids always walk to school so on this day – they enjoy a more festive route and a celebration when they arrive. Other kids live too far for a walk, so they meet at a “drop-off” location to join friends and their families on a shared route. Still others are joining a Walking School Bus, or a group of kids walking with parents who rotate the responsibility of shepherding kids safely to school.

Today is the day that parents are reminded to teach and practice important pedestrian safety tips, like left-right-left before crossing, or don’t text and walk. Look around and you’ll see increased foot traffic equals increased enforcement and traffic patrols, increased recognition for those awesome school crossing guards, and increased caution among drivers. And this is awesome – and celebratory – and safer for our children and families walking to school or the bus stop TODAY.

But what happens tomorrow?

International Walk to School Day serves as a launch pad for year-round Safe Routes to School efforts to educate students about pedestrian and bike safety, encourage families to choose walking and biking as their mode of transportation, and mobilize communities around advocating for safer walking and biking environments especially near schools.

Since it began in 2000, thousands of school communities have benefited as a result of what happens after each International Walk to School Day and millions of families have benefited from the Safe Routes to School movement.

walktoschoolday1Honoring Deb Hubsmith who fired up our feet for Safe Routes to School

Today, I’m walking with my kids and local PTA in honor of a woman who led the launch of this movement – Deb Hubsmith, founder of Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Sadly, Deb passed away in August from Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

In the early 2000s, I knew I was witnessing history when I stood near the US Capitol Building – listening to Deb Hubsmith and Congressman Oberstar fuel our passions and fire up our feet as we began our day of lobbying for an unprecedented commitment to Safe Routes to School funding.

At the time, I managed the pedestrian and bike safety programs for Safe Kids Worldwide, which provided grants to support local Walk to School Day events and create task forces focused on safer school environments.

I remember standing among a hundred or so pedestrian and bike advocates and listening to this passionate woman – not much older than my 20-something self – share her vision for more active school communities. She revved us up that day. We were ready to roll as one team from many different organizations toward one objective: Safe Routes to School funding.

Proudly in 2005 – thanks to Deb’s leadership rallying all of us together for this cause – the first Safe Routes to School legislation by the U.S. Congress passed. It dedicated $1.1 billion for Safe Routes to School in all 50 states. Fast forward a decade, Deb’s vision and leadership continued to play such a significant role in the September 2015 launch of Step it Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities.

Today, the National PTA is proud of its strategic collaboration with the organization Deb founded, Safe Routes to School National Partnership. During the last few years, I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with Deb and her staff frequently about our joint program Fire Up Your Feet. And I was even honored to share the stage with her at a few events where we encouraged audiences to support policy and programs that make it possible for kids to safely walk or bike to school.

The last time I saw Deb in-person was at the National Walking Summit in 2013. She was full of passion and spirit and I never would’ve known she didn’t feel well. She reminded me recently that she was diagnosed with leukemia two weeks later. Please take a few minutes to honor Deb’s life and legacy by watching a video from that October 2013 event where she shared why her organization and the National PTA partnered with Kaiser Permanente to leverage Walk to School Day as a launch pad for Fire Up Your Feet.

Listen to her passionate radiance. It’s as if you can feel her everlasting energy – her vision that will continue to fuel and inspire the Safe Routes to School movement today and every day.

Mary Pat King is the director of programs and partnerships at National PTA.

No Holding Back at Burnette Elementary!

burnette elementary

When Burnette Elementary accepted the Fire Up Your Feet Challenge (FUYF), there was no holding back.

There were so many opportunities to be active and challenge our 700+ students to be physically fit and fired up about exercising. Since our students were not able to walk to school because of our location, we focused on school centered activities. Located in Suwanee, Ga., Burnette Elementary prides itself on instructing at the highest level and achieving beyond belief. Our philosophy carries over into the health and wellness of its students and was the primary reason FUYF was a perfect match.

The week before the challenge, students entered their information into laptops setup in the gym. The students enjoyed entering their own information for the challenge and our principle and staff loved that we combined technology with fitness.

Weekly activities promoted Fire Up Your Feet with posters, weekly announcements, newscasts in our classrooms, our mascot “Bernie” and our weekly newsletter, the Burnette Blast.

The weekly activities were filled with a variety of fitness events including:

  • Week 1: Students fired up their feet to music and cheered their classmates on in competition with a four minute run around the gym.
  • Week 2: Students had an exciting recess party with hula hoop and jump rope contests, basketball games, four square challenges and of course dancing!
  • Week 3: Students were challenged to fire up with the one mile marathon. Feet were “smoking” as students ran laps around the outdoor playground. Times were taken by our P.E. teachers and recorded. Popsicles were given out at the finish line as a token of encouragement, but the students were so motivated by the challenge, many wanted to run again.
  • Week 4: Students stepped foot on the highly anticipated obstacle course. Over 15 challenging obstacles were setup for students to balance, crawl, roll, slide, run, jump and wiggle through.

Who ever thought school activities could be so fun?

Our health and wellness committee worked closely with our P.E. teachers to promote and organize the challenge. We utilized for resources and conference calls to gain knowledge of the best utilization of the program. In addition to the challenge, students were given a fitness calendar for the month and encouraged to complete one activity per day. Students included their family and friends with their activity which seemed to have a lasting impression, while helping others stay active.

Thank you, Fire Up Your Feet. Burnette had a blast!


Lisa Landry is the activity tracker coordinator for Fire Up Your Feet’s program at the Burnette Elementary School PTA.

Celebrate National Arts and Humanities Month Poem

[Visual Arts Artwork] 1242180-mtseniorartlerouxjulien

Reflections Artwork by Leroux Julien

There once was child who sat in class very jaded
He was upset at test taking and always being graded.
The teacher noticed that he was not the only one
All the students in the class did not have much fun.
So the teacher began to think about what she should do
To get her class to participate and have fun in school, too.
She woke up early one morning to start on her plan
To engage her students in class and keep their attention span.
A light bulb went off and she immediately knew
“I think incorporating the arts is the thing to do!”
So she wrote out a unit plan incorporating the arts
“These lessons should be sure to capture my students’ hearts.”

The weekend came and went and Monday morning was here.
A math lesson with music, and dance would make her students’ boredom disappear.
A history lesson with art and photography was also captivating.
Creative writing, film, science, and reading became engaging.
This teacher was ecstatic, the class was now amused.
Those annoying little worksheets have now gone unused.
Her students were happy, and enjoyed coming to school
Because the students now knew that the arts are really cool.

The kids had too much fun, and the parents were concerned.
So the students put on a play about the stuff that they learned.
This play was going to be big, the teacher was much stressed
But the students were excellent and the parents were impressed.
The school Principal was excited and Assistant Principal was delighted.
The students’ passion for learning had now been ignited.

I wrote this short poem to tell you this fact
that the arts and humanities in education can keep students on track.
Celebrating the arts and humanities is sure to imbue
Happy National Arts and Humanities day to your students and you!

Happy National Arts and Humanities Month to you!

Quanice Floyd is the arts fellow at National PTA.