Are You Engaged?

As PTA members, you know that family engagement is an important part of your child’s successful development and academic outcomes.  You participate on school advisory committees, lead parent advocacy, work with teachers in their classrooms, read all about ESSA and other regulations related to children’s health and education, and inspire your community to support all children.  Family engagement is evolving from “involvement” in the sense of families receiving a one-way stream of information and sponsoring endless fundraisers at school.  Instead, it’s the opportunity to build relationships between two crucial components of a child’s life together–families and school personnel–to further support their successful education, well-being and development.

As a parent, you have plenty of options, depending on availability, interests, skills, and personal constraints, to be engaged.  Many of you are finding ways such as these to do become a part of your child’s school community.

  • Establishing positive relationships with school administrators and teachers.
  • Meeting with teachers about academic and social development goals for your child. If you aren’t exactly sure what to ask your child’s teacher, check the Department of Education’s Parent Checklist to get started.
  • Attending PTA or school meetings to find out about the issues in your school.  Ask questions if other’s aren’t bringing up the things that matter to your child’s success or your community.
  • Volunteering on a committee that focuses on an activity or issue important to you, whether it’s school transportation, safe places to play after-school, teacher diversity, bullying or academics.
  • Voicing your opinion to local and state Boards of Education and local, state, and national elected officials on things that matter to your family.
  • Keeping up with and providing input on your state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. Check your state’s education website to find out about your parent representative and the developing plans.

Being engaged in education doesn’t require endless free time or multiple degrees and in-depth knowledge about schools. You just need a concern for your child and a little bit of time to act on that concern.

We know you are engaged in your schools, supporting your community and the Department of Education wants to hear from you.  If you’ve been recognized for your involvement in education by your state, share your story.  What did you do to garner such recognition? What lessons have you learned through your involvement?  What tips do you have for other parents who want to be engaged in their schools?

The Department of Education’s Family Ambassador, Frances Frost, wants to feature you in an upcoming Family, School and Community Engagement Newsletter, distributed monthly by the Department.  Submit your story for consideration, in 400 words or less, with your contact information to carrie.jasper@ed.gov, with the subject line “Parent Involvement for Newsletter.”

Frances Frost is the Family Ambassador at the U.S. Department of Education, serving as an advocate for family engagement in education and equitable opportunities for learning for all children. She brings the family voice to discussions at a national level and facilitates discussions between the Department, families and family engagement stakeholders.

Top things to do in Las Vegas | #PTACon17

I have lived in Las Vegas for over 20 years with my husband and four children.  I am very excited to have the 2017 National PTA Convention & Expo in my home town this year and to share a few ideas for things to do while you are here!

Las Vegas is a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week town.  There is something for everyone at all hours of the day and night.  Whether you are coming into town early before Convention, have a few spare hours in the evenings or staying a few extra days after, there is plenty of fun to be had.

If you love to shop, everything you could ever want is right here.  From high end designers to discount outlets, there are four malls within a 15 minute walk of the Paris Hotel and even more shopping experiences just a short drive away.  Several malls are even open until midnight, if you still have the energy to walk around a mall after the Convention day is over. See my full list of activities below.

Even though it will be hot here in June, there are still fun activities to be had in the great outdoors. You can choose from two water parks, if splashing in the hotel pool is not enough fun.  Hiking, rock climbing, bouldering and  scenic drives are just 30-40 minutes away at Red Rock Canyon Conservation area or a one hour drive to Mt. Charleston, where it can be 20 degrees cooler than the strip. Need more adventure?  Jump from a plane, kayak the Colorado river, four wheel through the desert, or ride in a hot air balloon. If there is an adventure to be had, you can probably do it here in Las Vegas.

Believe it or not we have many family friendly and fun activities that keep you inside with the air conditioner blowing.  If museums are your bag, we have everything from The Mob Museum, Natural History, Children’s, Atomic Testing, wax figures, old cars, old neon signs, pinball machines, and several quirky museums you could only find in a town like Las Vegas.  There is an indoor amusement park and many arcades on and off the strip to keep big and little kids entertained.

If you have little time and little money there are free activities up and down the strip.  Watch the Volcano show at the Mirage, the dancing waters at the Bellagio Fountains or stroll through the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. You can check out all things candy at the M&Ms World or at the Hershey’s Chocolate World.

Las Vegas is known for the many shows available at venues all over town.  Singers, bands, magicians, comedians, impersonators, Cirque du Soliel shows, variety shows  and even the occasional Broadway show.  Make sure you make reservations ahead of time if possible as many shows sell out.

Last but not least is the food.  You could eat at a different restaurant for every meal, every day of your stay and you will not put a dent in the number of great restaurants in Las Vegas offering every kind of cuisine.  Buffets and four star restaurants can be found all along the strip and you can also find food being prepared by famous chefs in small shopping centers away from the strip.  Choose a cuisine, check out the reviews and enjoy amazing food from around the world.

A few tips as you are having fun.  Drink way more water than you usually do at home. It will be hot and the humidity is usually around 10%, so it is easy to get dehydrated here.  Wear comfortable walking shoes.  The hotel buildings are huge and much farther away than you realize.  Try not to pay full price for anything. Check the internet or your favorite coupon app for available discounts.

Have a great time at convention learning, networking, and sharing all things PTA and then in your free time, enjoy all of the things Las Vegas has to offer!

Linda Johnson is a national service representative at National PTA.

Shopping:
Grand Bazaar– just north of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel in front of Bally’s.
Miracle Mile Shops– just south of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel
Forum Shops at Caesars Palace– About a 15 minute walk north on Las Vegas Blvd to Caesars Palace. Use the pedestrian bridge to cross the street.
Linq Promenade – About a 15 minute walk north on Las Vegas Blvd to the High Roller observation wheel located at the end of the promenade.
Las Vegas North-Premium Outlets–  13 min drive
Fashion Show Mall– 8 min drive

Adventure:
Sky Jump Las Vegas– Jump off the Stratosphere tower
Slotzilla Zipline through the Fremont Street Experience
Flight Linez Bootleg Canyon
Vegas Indoor Skydiving
Hiking at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area– this is best done first thing in the morning before it gets too hot.  If you are not into hiking, you can just drive the 13 mile scenic loop.

Family Friendly Activities
WetnWild Las Vegas
Cowabunga Bay
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay
Game Works at Town Square
Pinball Hall of Fame

Free things to do in Las Vegas
Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and the Bellagio Fountains
Take your Picture at the famous Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign
Hershey’s Chocolate World
M&M’s World Las Vegas
Volcano at the Mirage

Trump Budget: A Bad Deal for Kids

On May 24, 2017, President Donald Trump released his budget proposal for the federal government for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 which included a proposed cut of $9.2 billion to the U.S. Department of Education from last year’s funding level. This proposed cut to education programs comes on the heels of Congress cutting funding for federal education programs in FY 2017.

The President’s budget would maintain the same level of funding from FY 2017 for Title I, which aids schools with high percentages of children from low-income families, special education grants through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs)—centers that provide information and services to families to help support students with disabilities. Additionally, the President’s budget does not include investments for family engagement in education through the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) program and eliminates more than 20 education programs including: educator professional development; after school programs; preschool grants and grants that aim to ensure students receive well-rounded educational opportunities, learn in healthy and safe school environments and have opportunities to use technology in the classroom.

On top of these cuts, the President’s budget includes a new $250 million grant program that would allow public dollars to be used for private and religious school tuition. National PTA has a long standing position opposing private school choice systems that would divert public school resources. National PTA is also concerned about a new grant program in Title I that would allocate $1 billion to “follow” a child to any public school which would significantly impact the distribution of funds across and within Title I districts and create division and separation within communities.

Federal funding for education programs has remained at 2% of the federal budget for decades, despite continuous growth in public school enrollment and the increased cost of education resources and services. The President’s budget would decrease the federal investment in education below 2%. Such devastating cuts to education at the federal level are combined with state and local cuts to education that further lessen the opportunities for every child to reach their full potential.

It is important to remember that the President’s budget proposal is exactly that, a proposal to Congress outlining the Trump Administration’s priorities. The funding power lies with Congress to decide what federal programs will be funded and at what levels each year. There is a need to invest more in education programs at the federal level. Federal funding for education at, or below, 2% of the federal budget is a cut to classrooms.

If you agree that 2% of federal funding for public education is not enough and future cuts to education would be catastrophic for the future of our children, Take Action today and tell your member of Congress to increase investments for public education so that every child’s potential becomes a reality.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @National PTA and sign up for the National PTA’s Takes Action Newsletter to participate in the advocacy campaign and receive the latest information on PTA’s advocacy efforts.

Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

Does Your Child Have Recess Daily?

The natural inclination of children is to explore their world through movement. When I visit my grandchildren, I wake up to an explosion of physical activity, rolling down the couch cushions, jumping off the toy box, or chasing games around the kitchen island. My oldest grandchild is now in all-day kindergarten. I can’t imagine him not having the opportunity to engage in both free and structured play throughout his school day. Research supports the notion that physical activity is associated with learning readiness and cognitive function (Hillman, Erickson, & Hatfield, 2017). Within the school environment, recess is the vehicle for providing children with opportunities for physical activity and is an essential component of a child’s school day.

Teachers, administrators and parents must realize that recess is more than just a break from the classroom. Recess contributes to your child’s normal growth and development and provides them with a well-rounded educational experience. Recess also helps your child by improving their:

  • Cocial skills and behaviors (e.g., cooperation, following rules, problem solving, negotiation, sharing and communication);
  • Classroom engagement (e.g., on-task and fewer discipline issues); and
  • Academic outcomes (e.g., attention, memory).

Recess is defined as a regularly scheduled period within the school day for physical activity and play that is monitored by trained staff or volunteers. It is also is a period of time when students are encouraged to be physically active and engaged with their peers in activities of their choice, at all grade levels, kindergarten through 12th grade.

Your child’s school should be offering a minimum of 20 minutes of recess daily. If this is not happening, learn about the current recess policies and practices at your child’s school and school district. You can also compare your child’s school practices with Strategies for Recess in Schools, a new resource developed CDC and SHAPE America. You can then see if there is an opportunity to get in involved in your child’s recess program and share with the school staff leading recess possible ways to enhance recess at your child’s school.

CDC and SHAPE America developed a set of resources for recess to help schools develop a written recess plan and implement strategies for recess to increase students’ physical activity and improve their academic achievement. These new resources for recess were developed for school staff or school groups (including parents) to provide guidance on recess.

You can help your child’s school enhance recess by using the

A great place to share the importance of recess and these new resources for recess is at a PTA meeting. We need parents to take a stand for creating healthy and active school environments for all students. Be an advocate within your PTA! Tell other parents about how the physical activity afforded by recess prepares children for learning and is a critical part of all children’s school day.

Fran Cleland is the president of SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators, and a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.  Prior to teaching at the college level, Cleland taught K-12 health and physical education in Indiana, Virginia and Oregon.  She is the lead author of the textbook, Developmental Physical Education for All Children-Theory into Practice.

Dear Extraordinary Teacher

Dear Extraordinary Teacher,

On behalf of America’s students and families, we would like to take a moment during Teacher Appreciation Week to thank you for your work and impact that extends far beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

Look up “teacher” in the dictionary and you will likely find this definition: one who instructs. But there are a few adjectives missing from this definition … patient, knowledgeable, dedicated, compassionate, inspirational … the list goes on. As a caring professional who connects with students—and strives to discover what they’re passionate about to unlock their potential—you do so much more than simply instruct.

You’re constantly evaluating what works and what doesn’t, making quick adjustments on the fly, and assessing who gets it and who needs a little extra help. You come in early and stay late to give students the one-on-one attention they need. You inspire a lifelong love of learning and guide children’s futures. You advocate for children and your profession. And, in the midst of it all, you create safe spaces where kids can be themselves, dig into your own pocket to buy sneakers for a child in need or replenish classroom supplies, heal boo-boos, give hugs, and offer warm, encouraging and affirming words.

For you, there is no such thing as “other people’s children.” There are only your kids—the students you love and nurture as if they were your own. We not only thank you for all you deliver to children; we are proud to stand with you in everything you do to make sure students in every community have access to the great education they deserve. Together, we are making a difference for our nation’s students.

Thank you for being extraordinary and inspiring students to reach for the stars.

With much gratitude,

Laura Bay
National PTA President

Lily Eskelsen García
NEA President

The Who’s Who of #PTACon17

The 2017 National PTA Convention & Expo is right around the corner and we have an amazing lineup of education leaders and experts who are traveling to Las Vegas to connect with PTA advocates across the country.

We are pleased to welcome the following keynote speakers:

Paula A. Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, the nation’s largest non-commercial media organization, with 350 member stations throughout the country.

Steve Pemberton, author and motivational speaker who shares his personal story of beating the odds and overcoming childhood trauma through the power of education.

Rosalind Wiseman, author and internationally recognizes expert on children, teens, parenting, bullying, social justice and ethical leadership.

In addition to hearing from these influential leaders, attendees will have the special opportunity to take part in exciting events like the National PTA Awards and Reflections Celebration dinner – a night filled with awards and entertainment for the entire family.

This year, we are thrilled to announce that Le PeTiT CiRqUe will be performing during the awards celebration on Saturday, June 24 at 7 p.m.

Winner of 16 National Youth Awards, Le PeTiT CiRqUe has entertained audiences across the U.S. and internationally in Dubai and Canada. They have performed for world leaders including the Dalai Lama and the Sultan of Brunei and are the only all-kid prodigies cirque company in the world! You’ve seen them all over national television—they appeared on NBC’s “LITTLE BIG SHOTS” as featured guest stars on March 26, 2017.

Register for the National PTA Convention & Expo by going to PTA.com/Convention and be sure to get your tickets for the Awards and Reflections Celebration event too.

We can’t wait to see you in Vegas!

Ashley Collier is the associate manager of digital communications at National PTA.

National PTA Joins 11 Other Child Welfare Groups Calling Out State Bills Attacking Trans Youth

This week, the National PTA joined 11 other child welfare organizations to call out state bills that would discriminate against transgender children.

“We, as organizations committed to serving the best interests of all youth, are deeply alarmed at the flurry of bills introduced in state legislatures around the country this year that would directly harm transgender people, and particularly transgender students,” the letter states. “These appalling proposals would compromise the safety and wellbeing of the young people we all have the duty and obligation to support and protect.”

HRC is currently tracking more than 130 anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals in 30 states. For more information on state legislation, visit http://hrc.im/2017legislature.

Transgender young people face significant discrimination and bullying. Last year, North Carolina adopted the infamous HB2, legislation that required discrimination against transgender people, including in public schools. Seventy-five percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe in school, and, tragically, more than 50 percent of transgender youth report attempting suicide at least once in their lifetime.

The American Academy of Pediatrics; the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; the American Counseling Association; the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO; the American School Counselor Association; the Association of Title IX Administrators; the Child Welfare League of America; the National Association of School Psychologists; the National Association of Secondary School Principals; the National Association of Social Workers; and the National Education Association have all signed the letter.

Read the full letter here.

Hayley Miller is the senior digital media manager for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization.

How will you #ThankATeacher?

Teacher Appreciation Week is just around the corner and National PTA is celebrating in a big way!

The #ThankATeacher Contest encourages PTAs to share on social media examples of how their teachers deliver to students by using #ThankATeacher. Entering the contest is easy to do!

  1. Post a photo or video on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that shows how teachers deliver to students in your school. Use the hashtag #ThankATeacher and make sure the post is public!
  2. Fill out the contest entry form at PTA.org/ThankATeacher.

The contest runs through April 17, 2017, and over $20,000 in prizes will be awarded to teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week in May.

Two grand prize winners will be selected to each receive a Google Express shopping spree worth up to $4,500 to help spruce up their school’s teachers’ lounges. Four first place winners will receive either a snack or wellness delivery worth up to $2,500 each to help stock up their teachers’ break rooms. All winners, including 25 runner up winners, will receive a Google Home for their school.

Three PTAs will also receive a library of 100 “I Can Read” books including characters like Pete the Cat, Amelia Bedelia, and Biscuit delivered at a school event featuring a children’s book author or costume character from HarperCollins Children’s Books. Ten additional PTAs also will receive an “I Can Read” book set for their school.

Teachers deliver so much to students every day and make a profound difference in the long-term success of children. Join us as we gear up for Teacher Appreciation Week by thanking the teachers in your lives and giving back.

Ashley Collier is the associate manager of digital communications at National PTA.

Federal Funding for Education Programs At Risk in Fiscal Year 2018

Education advocates work hard to increase funding for federal education programs to ensure all children receive a quality education. During tough political climates and hard economic times, these education advocates have always been able to at least maintain the current level of funding for education programs at 2% of the federal budget.

However, much of our progress to increase investments in education—or at a minimum maintain current levels of funding for education—have been put at-risk due to the release of President Trump’s “skinny budget” or “blueprint” for funding priorities in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. President Trump’s proposal would cut funding for public education programs by $9.2 billion.

From the information that is available in the skinny budget, National PTA has concerns about the following proposals:

  • An overall $9.2 billion cut to program under the U.S. Department of Education (13% cut)
  • New $250 million investment to expand private school choice options
  • Eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers—also known as afterschool programs
  • Eliminate Title II state grants to support effective instruction for teachers, principals and other school leaders
  • Eliminate or reduce over 20 programs at the U.S. Department of Education (the full list of programs is not available)

National PTA hopes President Trump’s full budget request (to be released in May) will propose funding for Statewide Family Engagement Centers, Title I, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act state grants, Parent Training and Information Centers and Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants.

It’s important to note that the President’s budget request is simply that—a “request” outlining the President’s funding priorities. It is Congress that determines how much funding each federal agency and program will receive each year.

Members of Congress take the President’s budget request into consideration when they are making funding decisions, but constituent requests for certain programs to receive funding almost always take precedent in appropriations bills.

Here are two steps for PTA advocates to take to ensure that Congress adequately invests in public education programs:

  1. Take Action and send a letter to your members of Congress requesting for them to invest in public education and Statewide Family Engagement Centers.
  1. Sign up for National PTA’s Takes Action Newsletter and get the latest information on PTA’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill and ways you can get involved.

While National PTA is disappointed that the budget proposal cuts vital funding for public education overall, the association is pleased to see the president maintain funding of $13 billion for special education grants through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

President Trump’s blue print proposes to designate an additional $1 billion for Title I—which aids schools with high percentages of children from low-income families. However, it is still unclear as to how the proposed increase in Title I funding would be used as the skinny budget mentions that the increase in Title I funding would be used to encourage Title I portability, which National PTA would not support.

As PTA advocates, we encourage you and all parents and families to call, meet and email your member of Congress and request them to support robust investments in public education and Statewide Family Engagement Centers and oppose funding for any private school choice or voucher system that would divert funding from public schools.

Joshua Westfall is the Government Affairs Manager at National PTA.

4 Ways to Engage in Your Child’s Education

This piece was originally featured in Mediaplanet.

Over 40 years of research shows that regardless of a family’s income or socioeconomic background, students whose families are engaged attend school more regularly earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs and have higher graduation rates.

Here are four ways you can help your child reach their full potential:

1. Talk about school matters at home

Encourage your child to talk about their day and express any concerns. It will help you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what activities they like and don’t like. Two-way communication is essential to developing an active and positive relationship and an open, ongoing dialogue is critical to keep your child safe, happy and learning.

2. Be a partner in your child’s learning

Every child’s education experience is unique, and ensuring it remains a positive one is a shared responsibility between families and educators. It is important to develop a relationship with your child’s teacher, keep the lines of communication open and work together to support your child.

3. Advocate for your child  

You are your child’s best advocate. It is important to speak up for your own child — and every child in your school community — to ensure they are treated fairly and have access to opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential. Use your voice to advocate with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure your child’s school has the resources to provide a world-class education to every student.

4. Join up with your PTA

Get involved with your local parent teacher association. Families are busier than ever and as an on-the-go parent, you will find support from others in PTA who share your questions, concerns, hopes and dreams for their children. You will also be part of a dedicated network of families, educators, businesses and community leaders who are working to ensure all children — including yours — receive a high-quality education.

The work your family does at home to support and reinforce what your kids are doing in school will have a significant academic impact. Don’t strive for perfection — remember that involvement looks different for every family — and any level of involvement in your child’s education will help ensure they have every opportunity for success.

Laura Bay is president of National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA), a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement.