What to Bring to #PTACon18

Do you have packing panic? Got the what-to-put-in-my-bags blues? If you’re wondering what to pack with you to bring to the 2018 National PTA Convention & Expo June 21-24 in New Orleans, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered! As the date is quickly approaching, we wanted to share some tips to help you better prepare for your trip.

Here are some items you should include with you to #PTACon18 in New Orleans:

  1. Cardigan/Light Jacket/Sweater: A sweater can be a great accessory to any outfit. While the average temperature in New Orleans will be 80 degrees Fahrenheit (and higher!), the air conditioning may make things a bit nippy. Make sure you have a cardigan accessible to beat the chill.
  2. Reusable Bottle for Water: You can never go wrong with bottled water! To have the maximum amount of fun, it’s important to stay hydrated for moments it gets a little too warm.
  3. Chargers (laptop, phone, tablet, etc.): Make sure to pack chargers for all of the electronic devices you plan on bringing on your trip. It is important to charge all of your devices while you are asleep so you can wake up to a full charge. Consider bringing a portable charger along if you own one, they are great for on-the-go and times of battery crisis.
  4. Comfortable shoes: Try not to sacrifice comfort for style. Sometimes networking involves constant walking around and you want to make sure your feet aren’t aching, blistered or just plain worn out.
  5. Extra pens, pencils and notepads: Extra pens, pencils and notepads can also be great networking tools when someone around you asks for one. You can never have too many pens and pencils to pass around!
  6. Come to New Orleans geared up: ShopPTA.com has a great selection of PTA logo apparel as well as bags, lapel pins, headwear and neckware to show off your PTA spirit this year!

Our convention attendees are also invited to bring art supplies to support KID smART’s mission. This New Orleans-based nonprofit is dedicated to engaging children in dynamic, creative and rigorous learning through the arts, with the vision to empower all children to unlock their full academic, creative and personal potential. Please consider giving back to KID smART by donating art supplies either in person at PTA Palooza or through KID smART’s Amazon Wishlist.


Saron Messay is a contributing writer to National PTA.

Family-Friendly Things to Do in New Orleans

You may be surprised to learn that this 300-year-old city—the birthplace of jazz and the home of Mardi Gras—is an ideal destination for families with kids. As we gear up for our annual convention, which will be hosted in New Orleans June 21-24, we wanted to make sure you knew about a few of the best kid-friendly things to do in the Big Easy.

New Orleans is a dynamic city that brings your family amazing culture, food, music, and festivals, in addition to an array of child-friendly activities that you will not be able to find anywhere else. In addition to a very walkable downtown and an excellent streetcar system that will make transportation easy, New Orleans is home to one of the top zoos in the country and historic, cultural sights you won’t find anywhere else. Check out what this amazing destination can offer you and your family during your downtime at #PTACon18.

The Audubon Zoo

Audubon Zoo offers an exotic mix of animals from around the globe, engaging educational programs, hands-on animal encounters and lush gardens. It’s ranked as one of the top zoos in the country! In the summertime, it even offers a mini water park called the Cool Zoo which you can access for an additional price (not included in the admissions fee).

The New Orleans Creole Queen or The Steamboat Natchez

Ride down the Mississippi River and gaze back at New Orleans with your children on an authentic steamboat. As you ride along you will be able to better see the topography and understand how New Orleans received its nickname “The Crescent City.”

City Park

City Park features a wide variety of attractions including Storyland, Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, a Sculpture Garden, the New Orleans Botanical Garden, the New Orleans Museum of Art, a train, lots of playgrounds and even Morning Call, a delicious beignet stand.

Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World

Take your kids to tour this massive warehouse where they’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the costumes, floats and parade paraphernalia of Mardi Gras.

Jackson Square

Jackson Square is surrounded by gorgeous historic buildings located in the heart of the French Quarter. Kids love the spot for its street performers, picturesque benches (perfect for a picnic lunch), and delicious beignets at nearby Cafe du Monde.

PTA Palooza! 

Check out this exciting, brand-new event during the PTA Convention in New Orleans, Saturday, June 23 from 10:15 a.m. – 2 p.m. You’ll get to meet more than 100 exhibitors in the school and family category offering hands-on activities, roaming entertainment by a stilt walker and magician, and face painting for everyone!

Want more NOLA? Here are more places for you and your family to visit:

For even more ideas, visit Curbed New Orleans’ Family Guide to the Big Easy.


Saron Messay is a contributing writer to National PTA.

Membership Matters: Focus on the Mission

FastCompany recently published an article asking, “Which brands inspire consumers the most with their missions?” The article, written by Adele Peters, reports on an annual survey called the World Value Index. The World Value Index evaluates companies, nonprofits and some social movements that have come to be identified as brands–and studies how well their purpose or mission succeeds in inspiring consumers. Do you think your community knows the PTA mission by your activities and actions?

“To make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.”

Enso, which published a list of the top 10 brands on the World Value Index, identified two questions that you can ask yourselves and your board to improve your community’s awareness of the PTA mission:

  1. Are we inspiring our parents to use their power to support the mission?
  2. What could we be doing more of to inspire and engage people in our purpose and create more value?

Take some time this summer to answer these questions with your board.

This past year, National PTA served 16.5 million children out of the 50 plus million children in the USA. Out of all PTAs, more than half—55%—are in Title 1 schools. A recent PTA study asked parents if they believed that their local PTA lived up to the mission. The response was eye-opening as many participants were unaware of the mission.

Once they heard the mission, they felt that ours is a cause that they could support.

We have a great deal more work to do to secure our children’s future. You are our grassroots ambassadors and we need you to live the mission. PTA is about advocacy, family engagement and student success.

As PTA, we believe in speaking up for all children and our members lend their support on all advocacy efforts both federally and statewide. PTA is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association and has been for the past 120 years. And we’re not slowing down. Over the last year, National PTA endorsed 17 bills and sent over 70 letters to Congress to advocate on behalf of children and families.

We know that parents first want information to help them raise their children. Please take a few minutes to check out the PTA website, where you can find a wide variety of information under the Family Resources tab, such as our parent guides, health, safety and special education information. Or, feel free to share the Our Children Online Magazine, which offers more general parenting advice. As PTA members, you can take those resources and deliver them to your community.

Family engagement resources and activities can be found on our website as well.  The School of Excellence program embodies the values of PTA—school and community improvement through effective family engagement—and can bring the home and school closer together.  The program provides a roadmap on how to implement change in your school. Enrollment starts now and ends Oct. 1, 2018.

National PTA also offers grants for other activities, including arts education and STEM programs. It is important to check the PTA website often.

As you plan for your year ahead, take a hard look at our PTA mission and plan activities that promote student success and family engagement. Our education systems and schools are facing difficult issues such as school safety and budget cuts—so get involved. We need YOU.

Thank you for all that do in the name of PTA for families, children and educators each and every day.


Mary Jo Neil is a national service representative for National PTA.

Becoming a School of Excellence: Pearson’s Corner Elementary School PTA

Do you want to step up your PTA’s involvement in school improvements or do you want to see the meaningful work your PTA and school is already doing recognized nationally? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to become a nationally-recognized PTA School of Excellence? Here’s how one PTA took part in the program and celebrated their designation as a 2017-2019 National PTA School of Excellence.

During the 2016-2017 school year, Pearson’s Corner Elementary School (PCES) PTA in Virginia committed themselves to improving family, school and community partnerships by enrolling in the School of Excellence program. After taking a Baseline Survey of their school community, PCES PTA created a plan to improve and implement effective engagement practices at their school—building off the Roadmap to Excellence they received from National PTA with recommendations customized to their survey responses and focus areas.

Ashley Owen, PCES PTA President and School of Excellence Program Leader said, “the Roadmap to Excellence tool was an invaluable resource that our board was eager to reference to help shape our efforts.” Towards the end of the school year, PCES PTA administered a Final Survey to their school community to see if their hard work had made a difference. Upon submission and review of a Final Application, in August 2017, PCES PTA was designated as a 2017-2019 National PTA School of Excellence.

This amazing PTA worked hard throughout the school year to improve their communication efforts. The PCES PTA disseminated information in a variety of ways, including a monthly newsletter, a trusted website and a popular Facebook page that was updated several times each day with friendly greetings. They also had a PTA bulletin board, posted information on the school marquee, sent information using the school’s email blast system, sent PTA information in student folders and sent information in the mail. Their easy-to-navigate PTA website looked professional and acted as a clearinghouse of information seen as a reliable and trusted a source of information.  Furthermore, a PTA newsletter was used to communicate upcoming events and news. It was distributed through email, posted on the website and publicized on Facebook.

To honor their School of Excellence designation, PCES PTA worked with the school principal to hold a celebration ceremony during the school’s Fall Festival. Their excitement for this event and honor can be felt through Owen’s remarks; “We are so excited to be recognized for the significant progress we made over the past school year with welcoming and empowering our families to support student success and school improvements. We focused our commitment to building an inclusive and welcoming school-community and were excited about our results. We worked with determination toward this honor and are proud to share with everyone this accomplishment. This honor is so exciting for us, for Hanover County and our local and state PTA! We are shouting it from the rooftops and wanted to let you know!”

Congratulations, Pearson’s Corner Elementary School PTA and thank you for sharing your story with us!

You too can join the ranks of over 600 PTAs across the nation in becoming a designated National PTA School of Excellence. By enrolling, your PTA will identify and implement an action plan toward school improvement while attracting new, action-oriented members who want to focus on issues that affect our children the most. And being a National PTA School of Excellence will open the door to other opportunities and honors for your school. To enroll in the School of Excellence program, visit PTA.org/Excellence or email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


Amy Weinberg, MA is the Manager of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA and serves as the primary contact for the 2018-2019 School of Excellence program.

PTA Palooza?! What’s that you say?

We’re bringing New Orleans to you in our Expo Hall at the 2018 National PTA Convention & Expo! Don’t miss this free, family-friendly community event.

So, what the heck is a PTA Palooza?

PTA Palooza (noun).

  1. An exciting, brand-new event during the PTA Convention in New Orleans occurring Saturday, June 23 from 10:15 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  2. Chock-full of fun and local flair, PTA Palooza will feature more than 100 exhibitors in the school and family category offering hands-on activities, roaming entertainment by a stilt walker and magician, and face painting for everyone!
  3. New Orleans-style gumbo and even alligator sausage will be available for purchase to really get you in the local spirit.
  4. If the spicy local flavors aren’t enough, a Second Line band and Mardi Gras Indian will be on stage as well as Make Music NOLA, to keep our toes tapping throughout the event.
  5. And while you there, come and make a Mardi Gras mask, get a signed autograph from Aidan Anderson and check out the swag at the PTA Store!

Example of use: We hope to see you at PTA Palooza for a day of family fun!

PTA Palooza is a free event open to everyone! Register now (for Palooza only) at PTA.org/Palooza. Register for the entire 2018 National PTA Convention & Expo at PTA.org/Convention.


Jennifer Bradley is the manager of corporate alliances for National PTA.

Join the First-Timers Experience at National PTA Convention!

Are you a PTA mission believer and achiever? A PTA leader of leaders? An advocate who wants better for our students and schools nationwide? Then we’ll see you at 2018 National PTA Convention & Expo June 21-24 in beautiful and historic New Orleans, La.

In true New Orleans hospitality, we will welcome our first-time attendees with extra kindness. We will show you how to navigate National PTA’s largest and most comprehensive leadership development experience while making the networking easy for you!

Here are your three FIRST steps to making sure this is your best PTA decision ever:

  1. Come to the First-Timers’ Boot Camp. Join the Convention General Arrangements Committee and other first-time attendees at this must-attend event designed just for you on Thursday, June 22 at 1:15 p.m. in Room 235/236. Walk in knowing who you came with and walk out knowing at least five new friends. You’ll hear about the business, special events and learning experiences at Convention, and then your National PTA First-Timer Friend will help you design a plan for workshops and networking experiences that will match your goals for the weekend. Finally, you will take a tour of important locations like the workshop rooms and General Meetings. Leave this workshop feeling oriented, confident and connected.

 

  1. Meet back up with your First-Timer Friends for an Expo Hall tour and #PTAProud team-building experience. Your National PTA First-Timer Friend will give you a special invitation to explore an Expo Hall tour designed just for you. Meet National PTA’s sponsors, connect with National PTA Board Members in the PTA Booth, and then head over for a fun #PTAProud Team-Building Experience. Enjoy a fast-paced icebreaker with your new friends and then take a group selfie at our #PTAProud Wall. Leave this experience with a #PTAProud Recipe for Teamwork that you can take home and facilitate your own PTA team-building experiences!

 

  1. Pack a sweater—even though the average temperature in New Orleans is 90. Trust us. Every Convention Center looks a little different but offers the same chilly relief from blazing summer heat. So, bring a sweater or jacket that will help your mind to stay focused on all the possibilities National PTA’s Convention has to offer!

If this is your first time at National PTA’s Convention & Expo, get the VIP treatment—join the First-Timers Experience!

Didn’t register yet? There’s still time. Visit PTA.org/Convention to register today.


Mary Pat King is the director of education and leadership development at National PTA.

The Military Education Savings Account Act: Detrimental to Public Schools and Families

Earlier this year, Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) and Senators Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced House and Senate versions of the Military Education Savings Accounts Act (HR 5199 / S 2517). This bill would create an Education Savings Account (ESA) program that would allow children with an active-duty parent in the military to use a voucher to attend a private school.  National PTA opposes this bill as it would divert much-needed public funds away from public schools and into the hands of unaccountable private schools.

ESAs are simply private school vouchers by another name. They shift public money—in this case, federal taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be used to fund public schools—to expenses including private school tuition and homeschooling. National PTA opposes any use of public dollars to fund private schools. We must adequately invest in public education and strengthen our system of public schools, not divert public school funding into private schools that are not accountable to the public and create division and separation throughout the community.

Like all voucher programs, this program would undermine public education and harm students. However, this military ESA program has additional problems unique to its funding and the population it would impact.

This voucher program would divert federal funding from Impact Aid

Impact Aid is a program that helps fund school districts that lose local tax revenue (which traditionally funds public schools) because their district includes federal tax-exempt land such as military bases, national parks, Native American reservations or federal housing.

Reducing Impact Aid funding for public schools and funneling those dollars to private schools would significantly undermine the public schools that serve the majority of military-connected students. It would leave those students, as well as the non-military children at these public schools, to attend a school with fewer resources.

This voucher program will not benefit most military families

The voucher program would only benefit those families who can afford to enroll their children in private schools. The voucher amount is $2,500 (with a small percentage of $4,500 vouchers available for students in “heavily impacted districts”), but the average annual cost of a private elementary school is $7,700 and high school is $13,030. Military families would be left to pay the remainder of the tuition.

Military families do not want this voucher program

Groups representing military families, Native American students and public schools oppose this proposal. These groups include organizations such as the National Military Family Association and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).  The National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS) and NMFA explain, “the proposal is a bad deal for military families—and a disaster for local public school districts charged with educating our nation’s children.”

The men and women who serve our country deserve excellent public schools for their children—not private school vouchers, which undermine religious freedom, strip students of rights and protections, lead to declines in students’ education outcomes and lack accountability to taxpayers. To learn more about this proposal and how it would be detrimental to public schools, visit the National Coalition for Public Education’s page on vouchers for military-connected students. And to learn more about National PTA’s positions on vouchers, visit our website.

Founded in 1978, the National Coalition for Public Education supports public schools and opposes the funneling of public money to private and religious schools through vouchers, tuition tax credits, education savings accounts, and portability. 

5 Secrets to Finding the Perfect Balance as PTA Leader AND a Parent

(Sponsored Post) Let’s be honest. Parents are some of the busiest people on Earth. And when you add in a PTA leadership role, it can be tough to juggle responsibilities at home and at school. So how do you strike the right balance?

After working with thousands of PTA leaders, and helping them run over 10,000 successful fundraisers during the past 16 years, at Boosterthon we’ve learned a thing or two about serving in a parent organization. Here are five simple secrets to creating a healthy balance between being a parent and a PTA leader.

 1. Schedule and save

Leading the PTA requires a ton of planning and time-consuming work. One way to overcome this is by scheduling time for PTA-related work (just like you would for any other job). For example, try setting aside several hours one weekday for PTA meetings, projects or just getting organized. Knowing this time is blocked out on your calendar will allow you to be fully present in other areas of your life. And because you’re not worried about finding the time to get the work done, you’ll be far less likely to feel overwhelmed.

 2. Next, flex

Whether it’s a last-minute PTA project or a DIY project at home, we all know things don’t always go as planned. Having flex time built into your schedule can help you catch up. Find some open time in the week and protect it like you would an important meeting. That way you can use your scheduled flex time to catch up before heading into a busy weekend.

 3. Be realistic and communicate expectations

When working with others on a PTA project or event, you should first consider your schedule and how much “PTA time” you have available. Here’s a tip: Be realistic. Don’t try to do it all. Then communicate openly and clearly to ensure everyone understands the expectations on timing. Most people are working to establish the same type of balance in their lives, so others will understand if you have to say no.

 4. Don’t be afraid to ask for H-E-L-P

As a PTA leader, one of the most important parts of your job is building relationships with other parents. Many parents genuinely want to help out. Get to know the volunteers who sign up to help at events, and let them know how much you value them. Make note of parents who sign up regularly to volunteer, and ask if you can contact them directly with other volunteer needs.

Building relationships you can lean on is crucial in maintaining more balance in your life.

 5. Focus on your family

As PTA leaders, you spend a lot of time at various PTA events throughout the year, and many of them occur outside of school hours. Getting your kids involved gives them a sense of pride and allows you to spend time working together as a family to help your school. Who knows? Your kids might just love making posters for book fairs, greeting new students at the open house and helping with carnival set-up.

A Final Thought

Remember, no one gets the whole “being a parent” thing perfectly right. Give yourself grace as you seek to strike the right balance between parenting your kids and volunteering at your school. But remember, it’s because of committed parents like you that schools thrive. And to that we say this: Thank you.

Boosterthon is an elementary school fundraiser on a mission to change the world by helping schools raise more and stress less. With over 2,400 schools and 1.6 million students across America participating in our programs, we’re reinventing the way schools do fundraising. To learn more, visit Boosterthon.com

Membership Matters: Reevaluating at the End of the School Year

It’s hard to believe, but the school year will be over in just a few short months. Right now is the perfect time to take a step back and evaluate the impact that your PTA has had on your community over the past year. Have you created a welcoming environment for parents, teachers and community members? If you feel that you may have missed the mark or would like to try some new things, now is the time to try out some new tactics.

In a recent article in FastCompany titled, “The Best Brands Are The Ones That Build ‘Belonging’,” enso co-founder Sebastian Buck explains that most people today essentially live in social isolation. This means that despite the fact that we communicate more than ever—with the advent of social media, texting and emailing—these means of communication are impersonal, and we end up feeling more alone than ever before.

Buck cites several disheartening statistics to back up his point, including the following: 40% of Americans report feeling chronically lonely and only half of the population trust their neighbors. It seems that we have lost the ability to spontaneously begin the meaningful, in-person conversations that build relationships and communities. But PTA just may be the perfect solution.

Association trends show that individuals want to join groups to belong. Here is an opportunity for PTAs to create a strong community where families, teachers and the community can interact and connect with one another. From these interactions, your community will develop trust and empathy toward each other as well as learn about each other’s similarities and differences.

So before the school year ends, ask yourself and your fellow PTA members the following:

  • What can you do to build these relationships?
  • Have you considered having an icebreaker at the start of your general meetings—something to get folks talking to people that they would not otherwise reach out to?
  • Could you do some large team building activities to get the community involved?

At a recent training, we did an exercise where individuals walked around and greeted each other. The concept was simply to say hello; however, the activity went to a new level and participants ended up hugging each other.

Another idea that we played with was to thank people for coming to a training session by saying “thank you” in some fashion. I observed participants giving each other high fives and hugging each other. Could you imagine how your members would feel if you ended your meeting or training session in this manner?

The last few months of the school year provide you with the chance to try something new and to build stronger relationships with your members. Give it a try, who knows what kind of connections you might make!

Mary Jo Neil is a National Service Representative at National PTA.

Parents are critical to education’s success

This column was originally published via The Detroit News. 

I was visiting a local school district, meeting with some of their student PTSA members. While there, I had the opportunity to meet the administrative team — principal, assistant principals, office staff. They were amazed that the president of Michigan Parent Teacher Association (PTA) — a statewide association — was there to visit. They felt compelled to discuss how valuable the PTSA was to their school, to the community (as if I had some say over whether or not they existed). The administrators spoke of the dedication of the PTA leaders, how they don’t know what they would do without their help. How they helped with things that the school leaders needed but didn’t know how they would accomplish.

I told them that was the message they need to spread among other administrators. I mentioned that often school officials get intimidated by parents coming into the schools. That they ‘say’ they want parents involved, but sometimes, when they hear “PTA” especially, they draw back support. As if informed, aware parents weren’t what every school — especially those in Michigan — need. I reminded them that parents are the ‘real’ bosses because it’s our tax dollars that fund these schools and without that branch, that aspect of involvement from parents, that none of this is going to work.

“We should have taped that,” the assistant principal said. “That was perfect.”

So, is parental involvement necessary for Michigan to improve in student achievement? Is parental involvement necessary for Michigan to become a Top 10 in 10 in education? Yes.

If parents aren’t active stakeholders in the educational process, we can’t succeed. PTA has known and operated on this premise for 121 years; 100 years now in Michigan. That’s why the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships are key to the transformation we seek as a state. There are six aspects of this partnership that strengthen the school community as they are established: welcoming all families, effective communication, supporting student success, speaking up for every child, sharing power, and collaborating with the community.

Every family is important and adds to the culture of the school. Effective communication allows free transfer of information between families and teachers for the benefit of the students. As communication increases, so does collaboration. Advocacy is part of speaking up for every child — once we all realize how intertwined our lives are, we will begin to make changes that are driven by the quest for student success. This should pull us out of our corners to agree that every child deserves a quality education — regardless of ZIP code. Sharing power is another aspect of coming together to foster nurturing environments that support quality schools and educational programs. Strong collaboration with the community means schools are not looked at as separate entities, but necessary to the state’s success. All these factors support student success, the supposed goal.

For Michigan to become a leading education state, the citizens of the state must push for reform that is not tied to partisan efforts, but truly focused on every child. For 100 years, the Michigan PTA has worked to ensure that every child’s possibility becomes their reality. We must restore the core of our educational structures and values so every child in Michigan will be guaranteed quality education.

Sibyl Wilson is president of the Michigan Parent Teacher Association.