“The World Would Be a Better Place If …”: National PTA and ED Honor Student Artists

This blog post was originally published on U.S. Department of Education’s Homeroom blog.

On the inside of high-schooler Maria Quiles’ right wrist is the neatly crafted tattoo of a treble clef, surrounded by notes. Having epilepsy, she relies on the tattoo, coupled with her musical passion, for courage during seizures.

Maria was at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in January to be honored for her musical composition, which won an award in the 2014–15 National PTA Reflections competition celebrating arts learning in schools across the country. Each year hundreds of thousands of entrants from preschool through grade 12 reflect on a common theme to create original art in six mediums — dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts. Maria’s composition responded to this year’s theme, “The World Would Be a Better Place If … ‘’

ED hosted the National PTA awards ceremony for the ninth year, which this year drew 35 honorees from 21 states and 200 other attendees — families, teachers and school leaders, National PTA staff, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other arts leaders, and ED staff. The ceremony ended with a signature ribbon-cutting to officially open the exhibit of Reflections visual arts and literature winners, on display through the end of February.

Maria, from Oviedo, Fla., was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 13; she has endured bullying, depression, and thoughts of suicide. The world would be a better place, she believes, if compassion trumped hurtful nicknames. Through the years, Maria has turned her despair into songs of hope. When a seizure is imminent, she and her mother together grasp Maria’s tattooed wrist and sing or hum her winning composition, which concludes, “Everything will be ok. . . . No matter what’s in my way, I’ll just stay, I’ll Just Stay.” Soon the seizure subsides.


Maria Quiles and her mother at the opening ceremony to honor Maria and 205 other winners of the 2014–15 National PTA Reflections competition.

Ted Mitchell, ED’s under secretary of education, spoke of “the transformational power of art,” as reflected in Maria’s story:

“Art has a particular ability to raise the volume on the possible, to give us images
and sounds, pictures, words that help describe a world that might not exist yet, but
can, and more importantly, ought to. … Art enables us to create an experience
before we can explain it, and it’s that movement from the experience to the explanation, to the development of work that … is our life’s journey.”

Beyond discovery, educators lauded many other merits of art in education. Jane Chu, NEA chairwoman, cited research indicating that arts-infused schools correlate with improved social skills, higher grades and test scores, better attendance, lower dropout rates, and increased college enrollment. These outcomes are particularly pronounced for low-income students.

Laura Bay, the National PTA president, named additional benefits. Artists learn to create, problem-solve, persevere, and communicate. Art can be woven throughout all academic areas, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), to clarify, illuminate, stimulate the imagination, and develop innovations.
Honorees interpreted this year’s competition theme in myriad ways. For example, “The World Would Be a Better Place If … ”

“… [P]eople came together and focused on their similarities, not their differences. The joy of music creates a common bond that brings people together, even people who do not know one another. …If more people focused on the joyous parts of life, like music, the world would have less hatred and would be a better place.” — Kyle Gatesman, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology [Virginia] student, who composed and performed “The Joy of Music” on his keyboard.


Kyle Gatesman performs his original composition for keyboard, “The Joy of Music.”

“… [W]e all set down our cell phones and got to know each other face-to-face.” —Hanna La Londe, Shawnee Mission West [Kansas] High School student, who choreographed and performed the dance “Losing Touch” to the music of Prince Ea.

Hanna La Londe performs the award-winning dance she choreographed, “Losing Touch.”

Hanna La Londe performs the award-winning dance she choreographed, “Losing Touch.”

“… I could march through life with my brother.” —10-year-old Jarom Garner [Briarwood, Wash.], who, accompanied by his 12-year-old sibling, Adam, performed a cello duet of Jarom’s prize-winning composition, “The Brothers’ March.”



Jarom Garner, left, and his sibling Adam perform Jarom’s winning musical composition for cello, “The Brothers’ March.”

Jarom Garner, left, and his sibling Adam perform Jarom’s winning musical composition for cello, “The Brothers’ March.”


Honorees cut the ribbon at the opening of the Reflections art exhibit featuring some 60 pieces of visual art and a collection of literature.

Nancy Paulu is an editor and writer in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Joshua Hoover. More photos from the event may be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/departmentofed/albums/72157663336481071

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

Free SAT/ACT Prep for Students

Helps Mississippi Students

(Sponsored Post)

eknowledge2As a Lt. Col. in the U.S. Air Force, I taught and trained men and women all over the globe, in both combat and peace-time operations. Recently, I was serving as the Air Force Junior ROTC senior aerospace science instructor at Aberdeen High School in Mississippi when I became aware of the SAT/ACT Donation Project that provides quality free prep to all students.

My school in Aberdeen was a Title 1 school and many of our cadets could not afford to purchase ACT/SAT study materials. Doing well on these admission exams is essential to getting accepted into a good college or university.

Through this project we were able to provide our entire AFJROTC unit access to computer-based ACT/SAT study materials. These outstanding resources definitely helped our students achieve much higher scores on their ACT that led to much deserved college admissions.

I have witnessed that my students can excel if given a chance. During the 2014-2015 school year, our Air Force JROTC unit received the Mississippi Governor’s “Partnership Excellence Award.” The award was based on an alliance between our AFJROTC unit, the Aberdeen School District, and the Monroe County (MS) Chamber of Commerce.

eknowledge1Thanks to the U.S. Air Force, our unit was selected to receive an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) based upon our unit’s record of superior performance. Our cadets expertly utilized our UAV to support Monroe County’s vital economic development efforts by conducting multiple aerial photography missions.

Additionally, our cadets planned and conducted Monroe County’s first-ever “Air Expo” to help educate youth and educators regarding aerospace careers and emerging aviation technology.

In my nearly 30 years of military service in the U.S. Air Force leading, teaching and training young men and women, I have learned that people just need opportunities to demonstrate their desire and ability to learn and excel. Programs like the eKnowledge SAT/ACT Donation Project and strategic partnerships between education and industry give deserving students that chance.

It’s also why I recently became the program director at CareerKwest USA, in Auburn, Ala. I am able to reach out and help America’s youth achieve their full potential by effectively applying their unique talents to make the world a better place. Our mission at CareerKwest USA is to help our country more effectively prepare our 21st Century Workforce by developing critical career/workforce skills with students in grades Pre-K through first career.

In our world, military might is unfortunately necessary, but it is not the mechanism that will bring lasting peace, prosperity and hope. That will happen only by unlocking the unique and often hidden talents that we all possess and extending opportunity to everyone who will grasp it.

For more info, check out our free SAT/ACT prep resources for all students, or contact us at (951) 256-4076 or Support@eKnowledge.com.

Read more about the Aberdeen HS cadets

Jeff “Cog” Coggin is a retired Lt. Col. from the United States Air Force. He is currently the program director at CareerKwest USA Coggin Operations Group, Worldwide, Inc.

5 Ways Parents Can Set Digital Ground Rules

This blog post was originally published on SheKnows.com.

Kids are going online at an increasingly younger age and are more digitally active than ever. It is also more than likely that you have a child or teenager who received his or her first mobile phone or tablet for the holiday.
Did you know…how-to-set-digital-ground-rules
  • 73 percent of teens and 75 percent of children ages 8 and under have access to some sort of smart mobile device at home
  • 68 percent of teens text every day
  • 51 percent of teens visit social networking sites daily

As we ring in the new year, make a family resolution to have “The Smart Talk” with your kids about how to use their digital devices safely. You need to know what kind of information or content your kids are sharing and explain the potential security risks with your child.

The Smart Talk allows you to set ground rules and boundaries for their smartphone and tablet use. These five tips will help you get started.

 1. Limit the screen time usage

Be assertive about when your child can use their phone or tablet, where they use it and how. For instance, if your 8-year-old is using a tablet for playing app games and accessing learning tools for homework, set aside a certain number of hours after school and over the weekend to do this. If you are giving your 15-year-old permission to take a smartphone with him or her to school, collect his phone when he returns back home and for dinner and bedtime. Establish an “online” and “offline” schedule to create balance between the real world and the cyber world.

2. Activate privacy settings as needed

It’s better to be safe than sorry, but enabling security and privacy settings really depends on how your child uses the phone. Often times, parents provide smartphones for their children to keep in touch or in case of an emergency. You can also install a variety of smartphone and digital device features, such as location tracking, parental controls for Internet content and mobile usage monitoring apps.

3. Budget what will be in their data plan

Surfing social media and the Internet can get expensive. Select a monthly plan that best fits your needs and expected usage, so you don’t end up with unwanted fees. Then, set a contract restriction for a certain amount of texts, data and minutes per month. You can also purchase a refurbished or pre-paid smartphone to cut down on your overall costs.

4. Address health precautions and other risks

Teach your child about the potential risks of overusing smartphones and other digital devices. For teens, you need to stress no texting and driving. Also, research shows extended digital device use is linked to vision and muscle strain, as well as increased radiation from sleeping with devices. You can also talk to your kids about not getting caught up in negative conversations that could lead to cyberbullying.

5. Make a contract with your child or teen

Sit down and have a talk with your child about how he or she uses their smartphone and digital devices. The Smart Talk guides parents through a series of interactive questions with their children to inspire open dialogues about their online behaviors. Through this dialogue, parents and their children can build and customize an agreement.

I hope this gives you some insight to have smart conversations with your kids about their new gifts. Wishing everyone a safe, smart and happy new year!


National School Choice Week: Truth about School Vouchers

school choice

National School Choice Week is celebrated Jan. 24-30. We would like to present facts about school vouchers that are often misrepresented.

National PTA has a long-standing position against school vouchers and is an active member in the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), which advocates for support of public education and against any attempts to divert federal funding to private schools.

While the term “school choice” encompasses many types of choice—including public charter and magnet schools—voucher proponents use this week as an opportunity to push for private school vouchers across the nation. But unlike public choice options, private school vouchers don’t offer meaningful choices to students or parents.

These voucher programs:

  • Take taxpayer dollars away from public schools
  • Fund private schools that are either too expensive for students to afford that lack resources and fewer opportunities than in public schools

Voucher programs funnel taxpayer money toward schools that are not obligated to follow the same standards as public schools. The D.C. voucher program, which some members of Congress are trying to reauthorize now, is a good example of this.

Since its adoption in 2004, the program has received almost $200 million for students to use to attend private schools. Yet, these private schools are not subject to the same standards of accountability, nondiscrimination or civil rights requirements that public schools must meet, including those in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For all of those federal dollars spent, the D.C. voucher program does not produce a good return on investment. Studies of the D.C. voucher program conducted by the U.S. Department of Education have shown that vouchers do not improve educational achievement or opportunities for students in the program.

In fact, the department found that use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in reading or math, and that students in the program were significantly less likely to attend a school with an ESL program, learning support and special needs program, tutors, counselors, cafeteria, or nurse’s office.

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a bill to reauthorize the D.C. voucher program, which will expire this year. While the Senate did not act on the bill in 2015, we expect to see supporters of the program continue to push for its reauthorization.

Congress may move to reauthorize the program in 2016 despite continuing opposition from the individuals who represent D.C., including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and a majority of the D.C. City Council.

Looking ahead, we will continue to see vouchers pushed not just in Congress, but in the states. Last year, seven states passed voucher bills that either created or expanded existing programs.

School Choice Week is a great opportunity to draw attention to the reasons why private school vouchers are not in the best interest of students and families. Take the time to let your legislators know that you do not support private school vouchers and that they should oppose any attempt to create or expand private school voucher programs.

Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.

Increasing Family Engagement: Change Starts with Us

During a cohort training, the above group gained an understanding of the Common Core Standards through instruction and discussion.

During a cohort training, the above group gained an understanding of the Common Core Standards through instruction and discussion.

Just when I was beginning to doubt and wonder if I could really make a difference, I saw a quote on my Facebook feed, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” – John F. Kennedy

We all need these little reminders from time to time. In a world where negative news inundates our lives—with failing schools and struggling kids flashing across the screen—we need to remind ourselves that we can still make a difference. This means we must believe in our children’s success by making every child’s potential a reality.

In Lexington, Ky. we have created a culture that believes all students can learn. We partner with parents, schools and community organizations and businesses to provide engagement training to increase advocacy to support our entire student population.

Research has consistently shown that students with engaged families perform better academically and socially.

Our family engagement team uses the Lexington’s Urban Family Engagement Network (UFEN) program, which was originally established by the National PTA in 2009. The goal of the program is to reach and engage traditionally underrepresented families and provide resources they can use to support their children’s education.


In addition to gaining knowledge, some cohorts went on to complete projects, as seen below, that they then presented at our District-wide PTA Leadership training. This group presented on learning styles to a large group of interested attendees.

In 2013, the National PTA expanded the program to six additional urban cities and issued a grant to the 16th District PTA in Lexington. Over the past three years, we modified the program to meet the needs of our community.

Lexington’s UFEN program has graduated about 100 participants who have gone on to empower more families through their roles in their schools, advocacy project development and membership on School-Based Decision Making Councils. Recently, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, Department of Social Services, provided the 16th District PTA with essential funding to continue the UFEN training curriculum for the 2016 calendar year through an Opportunities Grant Initiative.

This past fall, we worked with parents and staff at a local elementary school over a 4-week time period, we held an all-day training session at an area community college that was open to the public, and we provided advocacy and engagement training at Black Achievers’ Meetings through the local YMCA.

This past fall, we worked with parents and staff at a local elementary school over a 4-week time period, we held an all-day training session at an area community college that was open to the public, and we provided advocacy and engagement training at Black Achievers’ Meetings through the local YMCA.

In our community, the Urban Network Family Engagement team provides training and services to all families and members in the Lexington community—representing 40,896 students—and works to educate parents on:

  • Their rights and responsibilities to be engaged with their child’s learning and well-being
  • How to navigate the educational system and advocate for their children
  • How to effectively partner with the school and/or community
  • Strategies for effective leadership

We provide services to help with the normal barriers to attending these engagement trainings, including free childcare, meals and transportation when needed.

Our team also plans to offer regular sessions on key topics such as:

  • Advocacy and training opportunities for non-English speakers
  • Exceptional child advocates
  • Gifted and talented students
  • Male engagement initiatives
  • Effective/inclusive leadership strategies

We believe our training efforts will result in a measurable increase in family engagement. It truly does take all kinds of partners and social levels to meet the needs of our students—not one organization will succeed on their own. We are excited to be part of the grassroots efforts working directly with individual parents and community partners.

Our team is committed being a part of the change and creating a culture that believes that all children can learn. We must help all children reach their full potential by helping to alleviate barriers to family engagement as a key piece of student success.


Kristin Heck Sajadi is the Urban Family Engagement Network team lead and community outreach chair at the 16th District PTA in Lexington, Ky.

Middle School Fundraising: Lessons Learned


Northhampton Area Middle School 2 (002)Northampton Middle School, in Lehigh Valley, Pa., is fortunate to have a dedicated group of PTA volunteers and a modern, new facility. With only one middle school serving the entire borough, it’s a tight-knit community. However, with tightening visitor regulations for the security of students and faculty, the PTA experienced an unintended consequence—a significant barrier to getting volunteers into the building.

Joan Begliomini with Northampton’s PTA said it is a huge hurdle. While everyone wants the school community to be protected, their security process complicates fundraising and program efforts.

“All volunteers now face the same level of scrutiny as school employees,” Joan says. “They must go through a state police check, they must have had a documented negative Tuberculosis test and they either must have lived here for longer than 10 years or they must be cleared by the FBI.”

Northampton PTA has a legacy of providing countless programs and services that support student success, help the teachers and enrich their community. Fundraising helps to make these programs possible.

“We pay for agenda books for the entire student body,” says Joan. “We support teacher requests on a rolling basis. We provide the rewards tied to the school-wide anti-bullying program. Then there’s the whole Teacher Appreciation Week! It’s a lot, and it’s important, and we need to generate the money to do it all.”

Given the stringent security measures, it may not be surprising that the PTA turned to an online fundraising platform from Schwan’s Cares that requires very little volunteer support.

Joan says it’s an easy, straight-forward fundraiser.

“We absolutely love it,” says Joan. “Everything is delivered directly to people’s homes. We don’t have to take possession of inventory, sort out the orders, hope that people will pick it all up on time.”

Even with an easy fundraiser like Schwan’s Cares, Joan cautions that PTAs should not to forget the other big hurdle that comes with a middle school population—the kids themselves.

Through trial and error, Northampton PTA landed on two essential tactics that have proven effective for promoting the fundraising campaign directly to parents and caregivers:

  1. Take advantage of parent-teacher conferences. At Northampton, schoolwide parent teacher conferences occur in October. The PTA makes sure they have welcoming volunteers to greet parents as they arrive and give each visitor information about the Schwan’s Cares fundraising campaign.
  2. Use social media. Facebook has been critical to the Northampton PTA’s fundraising success. It allows them to update the school community and answer questions in real time. While they have approximately 150 paid members—which includes 100% teacher participation, Joan proudly notes—there are 374 followers on their Facebook page. So they know they can reach more of their school families through social media than they would through their member list.

Northampton PTA still asks the school to remind students about their fundraiser in the morning announcements during the active campaign, as well as the annuity period [with Schwan’s].

“We know it probably goes in one ear and out the other with the kids,” says Joan. “But the teachers do listen closely, and we have had wonderful teacher participation in the fundraiser as a result! The announcement is a little trigger to remind the teachers, so we still do it.”

Joan offers one final piece of advice for all the fellow middle school PTAs out there. “Find a teacher representative who truly embraces your PTA. At our school, it’s Mrs. Transue, the 8th grade science teacher. She advocates for all the other teachers to join the PTA, always attends our PTA meetings and dutifully participates in our fundraisers like the Schwan’s Cares campaign.”

For more info about the fundraising opportunities and discounts available to schools and PTA members through Schwan’s Home Service, visit PTA.org/Benefits.

Kris Carey Prevatte is the Associate Director of Corporate Alliances for National PTA and a former local PTA president in Maryland.

Schwan’s Cares 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.

Sch Cares-PRI_Boxed-RedSince 1952, Schwan’s Home Delivery has helped families share delicious, home-style meals. Schwan’s Home Delivery offers home delivery of over 350 foods—all made with premium ingredients and requiring simple prep. With Schwan’s Cares, your PTA supporters enjoy all of Schwan’s delicious foods, and your organization earns up to 40% back on every purchase during your 45-day fundraising campaign, and 5% back for the next 90 days. Schwan’s Cares is hands-free: you manage your fundraiser entirely online, your supporters order online or by phone, and Schwan’s Home Delivery will deliver directly to each supporter’s door. You’ll never need to deliver food or collect money. Start your campaign today by visiting Schwans-Cares.com.

Welcome All to a Brand New Year!

Copyright 2014 Lifetouch National School Studios, IncIn PTA, it seems like we often celebrate two “new years” to re-energize and create a buzz around our spring activities and programs.

The first “new year” is the back-to-school season when we’re excited and ready with goals and work plans to engage the families in our school communities in PTA. We welcome everyone and come together to make the school and community a better place for all kids. We host engaging events, build membership and launch programs to make our PTA the best ever! This is one of the best parts of being in PTA—the start of the school year when every plan is new and ready to be rolled out.

I have always found that the traditional “New Year” is another great opportunity for PTAs to maintain momentum and create a “second buzz” of energy and engagement! Now is the perfect time to jump-start the next wave of membership incentives and excitement—and kick-off our winter and spring programs and events. Hopefully, many of you are getting ready for the “second new year” with as much energy and enthusiasm as when you started back to school.

What I love about PTA—during the two “new year’s” and all year round—is the sense of family, welcoming and commitment to make every school community the best that it can be for all children—this ensures that every child’s potential can and will become a reality.

I hope you will join me in starting the new year of 2016 with energy, excitement and commitment to the mission and values that we all hold so close to our hearts. It is my deepest wish that 2016 brings each of us prosperity, hope and joy as we move forward together—Every Child. One Voice!