Jan Harp Domene: A Legacy

It is more than a positive coincidence that as part of my responsibilities as chair of the Diversity, Inclusion and Outreach Committee, I am privileged to administer the Jan Harp Domene Diversity Award, named after past National PTA President, Jan Harp Domene.

Many in PTA knew Jan, particularly during her time as National president (2007-2009). My involvement with Jan began when I was appointed as an At Large Board of Directors member by president Shirley Igo. I quickly got to know Jan through her many PTA activities in California and nationally. She immediately impressed me as a knowledgeable, passionate and dedicated PTA advocate.

When I first joined the Board, I thought I would serve a couple of years and be done with National PTA. That changed after I had a heartfelt conversation with Jan, who helped me understand what PTA volunteers bring through their time and talent. I now understood why she gave so much of herself to PTA, and she became an inspiration to me about how to make a difference. I’m now well into more than 16 years of volunteering for National PTA.

Knowing Jan made my PTA time so much richer, and well before becoming president, Jan demonstrated her commitment to diversity through her words and actions. She and I shared many goals in bringing more diversity into PTA, seeing it as a real opportunity to grow PTA and continue to have it be relevant to the needs of children and families. It was no surprise that Jan made diversity a key priority during her presidency, supporting the Urban Family Engagement Initiative and Emerging Minority Leaders program. I know that Jan was personally responsible for mentoring, encouraging and developing new leaders for PTA.

We miss Jan deeply after her unexpected passing, but there is no better tribute than the award named after her. It is a core program of the Diversity, Inclusion and Outreach Committee, and it has been very rewarding to recognize the diversity efforts of PTAs at all levels. More than recognition, the chance to promote high quality work is especially valuable. The Award fits in with the Diversity Toolkit to welcome many underserved communities. The Award winners have shown what can be done with imagination and dedication in building bridges to the families and communities they serve.

Sharing these success stories is a resource in itself – PTAs understand the value of learning from each other. The programs that are recognized are highlighted at National PTA Annual Convention & Expo at the Awards Ceremony, and at the following morning’s Diversity Breakfast. We have featured a winning program in depth at the breakfast, hearing directly from those involved how they built their accomplishment. Last year our State PTA winner, the Real Talk from Florida shared their excitement and passion about their program, and we all left with new insights to take home. Our council/district/region winner, Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District Council PTA and our local unit winner Garfield Elementary PTA were also honored the breakfast and Awards Ceremony.

We continue to grow the Jan Harp Domene Diversity Award – for the first time this year, National PTA will be giving $1,000 to the winning PTAs at the state, regional / district /council, and local levels as well as offering the application in Spanish. It is a major investment in recognizing the role of diversity, and what it brings to PTA.

Those who already know PTA understand its value – our true mission now is to bring that message to more communities, and encourage our entire PTA family to make diversity a special effort. We know, as Jan Harp Domene did, this is what will make us all a stronger PTA community.

Checking in with one of last year’s winners:

Garfield Elementary PTA’s Co President, Rocio Munoz has been hard at work since winning the 2017 Local Unit JHD Award. “JHD opened up many doors for our PTA, giving us visibility in local media and bringing forth new partnerships. The Corvallis-Albany branch of the NAACP found out about our national award and our efforts toward diversity and inclusivity and recognized us at their meeting. We didn’t realize the great resources and grant opportunities National PTA has to offer or that our efforts could go beyond PTA. This was an eye-opening experience! Since JHD, we’ve been awarded 3 additional grants!” Read more about Garfield Elementary: http://www.gazettetimes.com/news/local/naacp-honors-garfield-pta-for-diversity-and-inclusion-award/article_d9a9a31a-37ef-511f-b6b1-522d4e552cb2.html.

Frank Kwan is a PTA leader and the Chair of the Diversity, Inclusion & Outreach Committee. 

Explore digital learning over Spring Break

(Sponsored Post) As a busy working mom of 3 young children, I look forward to spring break. It’s a moment when time slows down and I’m able to disconnect from the daily scramble of balancing work and home life so I can focus on my family.

Spending the spring break with my children usually involves tons of crafts, a marathon game of Monopoly, and lots of time outside. Yet I also make time for learning, not only for myself — catching up on the latest research on education technology — but also to better understand how my children are using technology in their school.

Working in education technology means I pester my children with specific questions about what devices and apps they are using in their classroom, what they like and dislike, and what types of digital content they are creating. We have a Chromebook in my house, so I can also get a first-hand perspective of what they’re doing in school and learn alongside them.

All comes in one

Because Chromebooks are designed to be sharable and secure, my sons can log in with their individual school accounts and their work is not at risk of being touched by a sneaky sibling. Plus, it means I save money by purchasing one durable and affordable device that everyone can share — even me. Chromebooks also come with built-in virus production and automatic updates that keep our family information protected and secure, so I don’t have to worry about downloading security updates or purchasing additional antivirus software.

Let creativity bloom

Many of the activities we enjoy on the Chromebook together revolve around creativity, which is supported by our touch screen and stylus enabled Chromebook. We draw pictures using mobile apps like Squid (many Chromebooks can now run mobile apps from Google Play Store), create music using websites like Soundtrap, and make videos using tools like WeVideo. My oldest is a musician, so we explore tons of videos that demonstrate how to play guitar and piano chords. We also have heart-to-hearts about what it means to be a digital citizen.

We also play with Scratch, which is a friendly and visual programming language developed by MIT that exposes children to computer science in an engaging way. What’s fun about Scratch is that you don’t need to be a computer scientist in order to guide your child — you can learn right alongside them.

This spring break, ask your child how they are using technology in their school. If they say they’re using a Chromebook and you want to learn more, here’s some information to explore.

Here’s to a great rejuvenating spring break. May it be filled with family learning and fun!

Karen Greenleaf leads Chromebook learning initiatives at Google. She is a mother of 3 elementary school children and is involved in her school’s parent teacher steering committee.

Google has teamed up with the National PTA to create the Chromebooks for PTAs program. When your local PTA enrolls in the program, a percentage of your community Chromebook purchases will go to your local PTA.


Public School Is What You Make of It

Public Schools Week is March 12-16. Show your support for our nation’s public schools by sharing stories like the one below on how public schools have positively impacted your child’s life using #LovePublicEducation and #PublicSchoolsWeek.

On her first day of kindergarten, I dutifully loaded my precious five-year-old Ashley onto a big yellow bus to head to school. She was thrilled, carrying her new lunchbox and proudly showing off a backpack that was bigger than she was! She looked so small, and so brave, waving from the bus window. My eyes welled up with tears on the walk back to my house. When I walked inside I went straight to the envelope the PTA gave me to open when we attended orientation two days earlier. It said, “Open AFTER Your Child Leaves for School.” It was a bag filled with 3 things: a tissue, a tea bag and a cotton ball. The enclosed note read:

“Thank you for entrusting your child to us. We will do our best every day to keep them safe and help them grow in knowledge. After you have wiped your tears, make yourself a warm cup of tea. Hold the cotton ball in your hand and let it remind you of the gentle spirit of your child. We will be here to partner with you to grow them to their full potential.” The backside of the thoughtful note said, “volunteering in our school is a great way to be near your children.”

They didn’t have to ask me twice! If the doors were open, I wanted to be at the school—whether it was making copies, reading to different classes, playing on the ball field or serving as a lunch monitor. I quickly learned that lots of parents in my community felt the same way I did. There were so many parent volunteers at the school that they had to draw names for folks that chaperoned field trips and worked field day. PTA was booming there! I assumed every school was like that. I quickly learned otherwise.

For reasons too many and far too long ago to recount, my husband and I separated during Ashley’s kindergarten year. Our divorce was final that summer. We didn’t do everything right as divorced parents, but we both committed to ensuring that the girls knew they were loved and that this was not about them. At the beginning of each school year, I sent a note to the girl’s teachers, advising them that they lived with me, but that their Dad was an important and active part of their lives. They were free to contact either of us and were assured that any information given to one parent would be shared with the other parent. Their father and I attended teacher conferences together, and that shared commitment despite our divorce seemed to motivate the girls to excellence.

A couple years later, life changed. I met my husband, Jerry. When we decided to get married he wanted the girls and I to move to his home. That meant leaving the community where all our friends and neighbors were, and worse, it meant leaving the elementary school where the girls were thriving. I researched the school where they would relocate and didn’t see high test scores or graduation rates. There was also no evidence of a parent volunteer presence. I talked with Jerry about my concerns, and he said that if parent involvement was so important, an active PTA should be able to change everything.

He challenged me to practice what I was preaching and after our wedding, I enrolled the girls at their new school for the fall. Ashley was in the second grade, and Katie was beginning kindergarten. I started as a room mom and worked my way up to the President of their PTA. As I formed friendships with other parent volunteers, and the PTA grew in membership, I saw that school truly come to life! Parents filled the halls, and could be seen sporting spirit t-shits at every corner. We made community business partners and raised funds to compliment the learning in the kids’ classrooms. We built an outdoor classroom, supplied microscopes, hired the Chattahoochee Nature center to come do in class field trips about bats, echolocation, stalagmites and stalactites. We even helicopter-landed “Jake the Flying Tiger,” a beloved children’s book character, in for Read Across America week. The change was alive and evident. The results spoke not only in the test scores; the pride was evident in the community surrounding the school.

Both of my girls graduated at the top of their respective classes. While I am very proud of their accomplishments, I am even more proud of the network of love, support and encouragement that saw them through all their years at public school. More than money, that support network makes the biggest difference in the lives of our children.

Lisa-Marie Haygood is a member of the National PTA Legislation Committee.

Parents are Key to Healthy Schools

When we moved to the Skokie School District, just outside of Chicago, I decided to volunteer at my children’s school, John Middleton Elementary, because I know kids do better in school when their parents are involved.  My three kids, ages 4, 6 and 8, are active in swimming, Tae Kwon Do and baseball, but I know that learning to eat healthy is as important for them as being active. Kids tend to think they are like Superman, but with my family’s history of high cholesterol and heart disease, instilling healthy habits in my children has always been important to me. That’s why I chose to volunteer with school health and wellness programs.

One of my first volunteer experiences was working on our family fitness night. I worked with our PE teachers to organize the event and involve the community, too. Five different local businesses, including personal trainers, a kickboxing coach and a yoga instructor, hosted family fitness classes. We also incorporated a healthy snack component for the event, and our local grocery story provided smoothie samples.

Normally, the kids would be afraid of the green color of the smoothies, but the small samples were easy and fun for them to try. A little innovation and creativity can go a long way to getting kids excited about trying something new. Now we’re working on our HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms (HUSSC:SL) award application to receive national recognition for creating a health-promoting school. The school is getting a new gymnasium and multipurpose room to accommodate the daily PE initiative for the students. This could not have been made possible without the support of a great community, administration and our wellness committee.

It’s been over two years since that event and we have accomplished a lot since then. I became more involved with the school’s wellness committee. We applied for a Game On grant from Action for Healthy Kids, funded by ALDI, to support our physical activity and nutrition education programs.

My kids were my inspiration to get started, but they and the school community kept me motivated! The principal, Courtney Goodman, and the teachers are an integral part to the success of the school health initiatives, in which I’m involved. They are supportive, passionate and really believe in what they are doing—and it shows. If you’re interested in getting involved in school health and wellness, here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Lead by example. Parents should show their passions, be creative and have fun! Talk to your kids to see what they would like. When I planned our first family fitness night, I brought a Taekwondo instructor to teach a class, because my kids are involved in it outside of school and I knew they and their friends would enjoy it. If you make physical activity fun, kids are more likely to get excited and want to participate.
  2. Join your school’s or your PTA’s health and wellness team. If there isn’t one, start one! You can find tips and resources for creating and being a member of a successful school health team at org/Game-On.
  3. Start by talking! If there is something you want to improve at your child’s school, don’t be afraid to speak up. Talk to your school administration, teachers and other parents about your concerns and how you can problem solve together to make your school a healthier place. Enlist community members to support your team as you develop your programs. They are invaluable and can bring extra resources and hands to help you be successful.

Learn more and apply a newly released Parents for Healthy Kids grant from AFHK at ParentsforHealthyKids.org/Grants. Applications accepted through April 6, 2018 for the 2018-2019 school year. Questions? Email schoolgrants@actionforhealthykids.org.

Minal Desai is a parent from Skokie, Illinois.  

Grief, Courage, Shame, Pride and Responsibility

GRIEF. My heart is heavy with GRIEF and anger over the all-too-common school shootings that cause families to experience unbearable loss and tear our communities apart. The recent shooting in our own PTSA school in Parkland, Fla. brought it close to home once again. Seventeen families lost their most precious loved ones on Valentine’s Day. As Florida PTA President Cindy Gerhardt wrote so well, “The heaviness of this horrific act has suffocated us with grief, sadness, hopelessness and hurt.”

COURAGE. We ask it of our children as they leave for school each day and participate in active shooter drills. We ask it of our educators who carry out these exercises and work to make schools as safe as they can. When they watch the news, they must wonder how many students and teachers would have died if it happened at their school. Yet they show up every day. And would stand heroically between a shooter and their students and would help and protect their peers.

SHAME. I am ashamed of all of us adults who have been unable to find solutions that will keep our children safe. I am ashamed that we can too easily turn off the news, retreat from the discord over solutions and absolve ourselves from action because no one solution solves every problem. I am ashamed that the complexity of the issue causes us to be frozen in place.

PRIDE. We feel it in the articulate voices of our high school, middle school and even elementary students who remind us of what we ask of them every day when they leave for school. They are taking action and pushing for solutions and change. This is another wave of reckoning.

RESPONSIBILITY. As parents, the burden is on us to find our own clear and urgent voice to add to the student voices we so value. We must speak up and work together to solve the school shootings and other violence in our communities to keep our children safe.

National PTA celebrates a long history of advocacy for the safety of our nation’s children and youth. National PTA believes school safety is a critical priority and that every attempt must be made to reduce violence, especially incidents involving the use of firearms. Parents, educators, community members, and policymakers must prioritize this issue to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

National PTA has advocated for the prevention of gun violence for more than 20 years, embracing more than a dozen policies that would make a difference. These include mandatory background checks, a federal ban on the sale and possession of military-assault weapons, federal investment to study the causes and effects of gun violence and prevention programming to create a culture of safety at our schools.

In light of the recent shootings, other solutions will need to be considered. No single solution will solve it all.

But let’s get started.

Back to COURAGE. When will Congress find courage to do anything, that will increase the chance that my child or your child, will come home alive from school?

Nathan Monell is the Executive Director of National PTA. 

Spring into the New Season with Healthy Habits

(Sponsored Post)

Cabin fever is not the only bug around this time of year! This winter has been one of the most severe flu seasons in recent years with The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention[1] reporting that flu season can run as late in the year as May. Across the country, families and school communities are dealing with the severity of this season and while it is unpredictable as to when it will end, there are prevention methods to help stay healthy.

With spring time approaching, it’s important to leave cold and flu behind in the winter months to fully enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather ahead. The National Parent Teacher Association teamed up with Lysol, as part of the Healthy Habits Program, to share easy and effective tips to help prevent germs from spreading as we go into the spring months:

  • Continue Using Healthy Habits: It’s important to remind your children to use healthy habits all year-round, not just during the winter! Reinforce the use of proper cough and sneeze etiquette to help prevent the spread of germs. Also be mindful to avoid being around sick people, and stay home if you are sick, to help stop the spread of germs. Another easy way to help stop the spread of germs is to disinfect frequently touched hard surfaces in the home with Lysol Disinfectant Spray. The flu virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours.  Lysol Disinfecting Spray kills over 100 illness causing germs, including the flu virus
  • Spring Cleaning: Lysol Disinfecting Wipes is tough on messes and germs. Adding Disinfecting Wipes to your spring cleaning routine will not only clean, but kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria including the cold and flu virus. Remember to disinfect commonly touched surfaces such as keyboards, doorknobs and tables. Lysol is a participant in the Box Tops for Education program, which helps support education and benefits America’s schools. By purchasing Lysol products, you can earn valuable points which can be converted into cash and donated to your child’s school to help provide needed items such as computers, playground equipment and more.
  • Wash Up: With more outdoor activities scheduled during the spring, remember to wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently for at least 20 seconds. For more information on how to help keep your family healthy this spring, visit Lysol.com.

[1] CDC.gov “Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2017-2018 Influenza Season”(February 21, 2018)

Rory Trait is the Marketing Director at Lysol.