A New Year for Family and School Health


(Sponsored Post) It’s a new year, and for many of us it’s a time to assess our health and resolve to shed a few pounds, add more fruits and vegetables to our diets, get more exercise and generally do what we can to make ourselves and our families healthier.

It’s also a good time to take stock of the health of your child’s school. After all, that’s where they spend most of their time outside of your home—nearly 1,200 hours each year. Start with a simple quiz to see what you know about your child’s school. Does the school:

  • Allow adequate time for kids to have recess?
  • Provide active indoor recess to ensure kids get physical activity during inclement weather?
  • Ask parents to bring healthy snacks instead of sweet treats for birthdays and celebrations?
  • Incorporate active games and non-food rewards as part of classroom celebrations?
  • Provide opportunities for physical activity during the school day, such as brain breaks in the classroom?
  • Adhere to Smart Snacks standards for school meals and foods sold in school?
  • Host healthy fundraisers involving nutritious foods or physical activity?

If you answered “no” or “I don’t know” to any of these questions, don’t despair. Join your school’s or PTA’s wellness team and find out! Then pick an area where you can make a difference. Get inspired by others like Tara Fisher-Munoz, a parent in Austin, Texas who took her passion and expertise in gardening to form the Go Green Team PTA with other volunteers and start the school’s garden program. Or Dana Dougherty, a parent and substitute teacher in Arlington, Virginia, who worked with her PTA to set up the 2FIT2QUIT team, that organized 5Ks and family fitness fairs and secured pedal desks to keep kids active while learning.

These parents started with big ideas but small steps. They and many others will attest that once you get started, it’s hard to stop, because just one program can spur a culture of health at school. By getting involved in school wellness, you can also help reinforce those healthy habits your kids are learning at home – and likely learn something new for a healthier you, too.

Learn more about how to get involved in school health at ActionforHealthyKids.org and celebrate your school’s health and wellness during Every Kid Healthy Week.

Amy Moyer, MPH, RD, is the VP Field Operations with Action for Healthy Kids and mother of two girls.

Action for Healthy Kids is a National PTA sponsor and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA.

Recap: Senate Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing for Next Secretary of Education

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, an education advocate and philanthropist to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education. Members from both sides of the aisle had the opportunity to ask Ms. DeVos questions about her positions and plans for the Department of Education (the Department) should she be nominated.

In a statement regarding the announcement of the confirmation hearing, Laura Bay, President of National PTA stated that “we respect the confirmation process and pending her confirmation, we stand ready to work with Ms. DeVos to ensure that the priorities of National PTA are included in the new administration’s education agenda.”

National PTA also joined with other leading organizations to express concerns regarding several previous education positions of Ms. DeVos in letters to the committee on Jan. 9 and 13, 2017.

During the hearing, many Democrats expressed concern about Ms. DeVos’ previous advocacy efforts on behalf of private school vouchers in addition to her lack of formal experience in the public education sector. Republicans, on the other hand, largely praised Ms. DeVos’ work and were encouraged by the potential opportunity of having a representative outside of the traditional public education sphere to bring different ideas to the Department.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the HELP Committee is expected to call for a vote on Ms. DeVos’ nomination on Tuesday, Jan. 31. The vote will likely fall along party lines with all Democrats voting against Ms. DeVos’ confirmation and all Republican Senators voting in favor. The vote will ironically coincide a week after National School Choice Week, which now in its seventh year of advocating for education options. National PTA has a longstanding history of opposing any private school choice system—vouchers, tax credits or deductions—that would divert public school resources.

In addition to the diversion of public resources to private schools, National PTA will continue to oppose private school choice systems because many of these programs do not have the same civil rights, protections and services for all students — particularly those with special needs. Furthermore, recent studies confirm that school vouchers do not help students achieve better in school, and in fact, they can lead to lower academic achievement.

Learn more about private school vouchers and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for federal education updates and advocacy efforts.

Lindsay Kubatzky is the Government Affairs Coordinator for National PTA.

Bullying: It All Comes Down to Culture

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In my elementary school years, I was badly teased, excluded and ridiculed. Almost every day I would come home from school crying, feeling defeated, crushed and not wanting to return.

Only the constant support and encouragement of my mom and dad got me through it all. The strength that I ultimately gained through the process of overcoming the bullying inspired me to create my own bullying prevention presentation, which combines music and messages of bullying prevention, positivity and encouragement.

So far, I have performed my assembly at over 350 schools and 150,000 children nationwide. My newest project, a free Bully Prevention Video Package, is currently being used in over 2,700 schools, representing more than 1.6 million children.

School Culture

According to Dr. Kent D. Peterson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, school culture is “the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the ‘persona’ of the school.” During my school years, there were some personas that put me in a great mood all day, and some that left me appalled.

A toxic school culture is detrimental and leads to an intolerance and unhappiness among all students and administrators. A healthy school culture is what turns a mediocre school into a great school, and a great school into an EXCEPTIONAL school. Here are some characteristics of EXCEPTIONAL SCHOOLS that I have observed and that parents should insist upon.

Top Four Characteristics of Exceptional School Cultures

  1. Positive/uplifting leadership—Encourage your school’s principal to be invigorated, inspired and invested in the spirit and demeanor of everyone in it. Culture trickles down from the top. 
  1. Mutual respect—Establish mutual respect. This is the key to opening critical doors to conversation and understanding about difficult topics, such as discipline, etc. among parents, teachers and students. 
  1. Display students’ artwork—Get those bare walls decorated with students’ colorful artwork. Seeing their own creations displayed inspires students to be more imaginative and more invested in their school community. 
  1. Strong and positive rapport between staff and parents—Develop good relationships between your school’s faculty and administration and families. A seamless transition between a student’s home and school life happens best if parents and administrators communicate well and stress similar values in each place.

More of What I’ve Learned About Culture

  • Disciplining works. Condescending tones DO NOT. In my experience, when an adult speaks to a child in a loud volume and/or with a condescending tone, the child either doesn’t listen and puts up a wall, or becomes timid and retreats inside their shell.
  • Become a safe space for them. When children retreat inside their shell, it is more difficult to help them because they won’t necessarily open up to you the way you need them to. Let them know that they always have a safe space in you. Then, back that up by actively and genuinely listening.
  • Focus on the DO’s, not the DON’T’s, and be their example. I attribute the success of my assembly to two things. One, my age, and therefore my ease of connecting with students. Two, my emphasis on the DO’s instead of the DON’T’s. My experiences show me that children want to make the best and healthiest choices, but they can’t always do that unless they see it being practiced all around them. Tell them, but more importantly, show them, what to do through your own behavior.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is: kids will be kids, but they all want to be better. It is our responsibility, as leaders, to help them become the best of themselves. A thoroughly positive school culture will do that, not only for the students, but for the entire school community.

It’s so easy to say we’re going to do something, but it takes something completely different, a true investment of time and talent, to actually do it. Many of the schools I’ve visited hit the nail on the head already, establishing good, safe school cultures, but the majority have not. Help make YOUR school truly exceptional. With more and more examples of excellence, we can make safe, welcoming schools the rule.


Lizzie Sider is an 18-year-old singer/songwriter, recording artist and Founder of the bullying prevention foundation, Nobody Has The Power To Ruin Your Day.

Do You Know of a Great PTA Advocate?

As we approach National PTA’s 120 year anniversary, it is important to stop and celebrate some of our members’ accomplishments. PTA has been a leader in working to improve the lives of all children—advocating for everything from hot school lunches to universal kindergarten.

As the Vice President of Advocacy for National PTA, I have the pleasure of traveling across the country and hearing from PTA members about their advocacy efforts, challenges and successes. At National PTA’s 2017 Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, we want to honor the incredible accomplishments of PTAs and their members.

The Dec.18 deadline is fast approaching for nominations for the 2017 Advocacy Awards, so if you know of an outstanding youth or individual PTA advocate, or know of a local unit or state level PTA that has done great advocacy work, nominate them to receive an award for their efforts from National PTA.

As in previous years, advocates may also nominate themselves in the youth and individual categories. Local and state category-winning PTAs will receive a monetary award. Nominations must be for efforts made in the last year.

The 2016 advocacy award winners were some of the most impressive advocates I’ve seen in my years as a PTA member. Massachusetts PTA, the state PTA winner, advocated on behalf of LGBTQ youth. Their efforts led to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education unanimously passing a measure to update the school system’s policies related to LGBTQ youth, which hadn’t been updated since 1992.

The local PTA award winner, Rochester Community PTA Council, worked to educate all PTA members and families communitywide on the specifics of a $185 million bond issue to make much-needed renovations and upgrades to school facilities, technology and infrastructure. The improvements would ensure students in Rochester are provided a high-quality education and have a safe environment in which to thrive and learn. With the efforts and contributions of Rochester Community PTA Council, the bond issue passed with 73% support.

The individual award winners were equally impressive. The Youth Advocate of the Year, Brian Rodriguez, worked to promote civic engagement and increase community involvement among youth of all ages in the Miami area. Joy Grayson, the 2016 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year, led South Carolina PTA to adopt an annual legislative platform; organized and moderated an annual state legislative conference; and revamped the state membership unit to become a state advocacy unit, which engaged community members in PTA who had no affiliation with a local unit.

These two individual advocates and two state PTAs are just some of many examples of the incredible work that PTA members and PTAs are doing across the country.

That’s why we’re excited to hear about other standout PTA advocates and celebrate their efforts to improve the lives of all children with a 2017 Advocacy Award. For more info on how to nominate a person, PTA or yourself, visit PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards or contact Lindsay Kubatzky. Deadline for submission is Dec. 18!


Shannon Sevier is the vice president of advocacy for National PTA.

Why I Volunteer

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Even at 40 years old, I still get scared. Driving out of town to a place I have never been before, going to exercise class for the first time, even flying on airplanes can give me a little anxiety. I say things to myself like:

  • You’re going to get lost.
  • You’re going to look stupid.
  • This plane could go down and there are still wet clothes in the washing machine.

But when my kids are scared I hear myself say things like:

  • This is an adventure!
  • You’ll make new friends!
  • Flying is safer than driving!

I know the right things to say to help them be brave, but I don’t say those things to myself.

The first time I volunteered to help with a PTA function, I was nervous. I had offered to help mount artwork for the Reflections program, only to find out the other volunteers were getting together at 11 a.m. at the school (But I work fulltime downtown?!).

I felt I couldn’t back out so I used vacation time. I got my orange “Volunteer” sticker at the office and met the other volunteers for the first time. They showed me where the PTA room was and we worked together for a couple of hours marveling at the little masterpieces. I remember finding my daughter’s painting in a pile with other kindergarten pieces and taping it to black paper. It was a fun day.

A few months later, I decided I would give volunteering another try. I showed up at the spring Carnival (not knowing anyone) and I was assigned to the cash register at the concessions table. I had worked the cash register one time as an employee at Bed, Bath & Beyond and I was a disaster (they kept me in the bedding department after that).

The cash register should have been the worst assignment at the PTA event. Except it wasn’t. Instead, I stood around and chatted with other moms and we all laughed every time I had to do math in my head and tried to count change. I made a lot of mistakes. But no one said I was stupid and they didn’t audit my register. People even thanked me for volunteering. After that, I knew I could do anything.

Fast forward five years and I still volunteer at most PTA events. And now that my kids are older, they always come with me. I still work full time, but I look forward to volunteering in the evening and on the weekends because I know I can bring my kids with me. I don’t have to sacrifice time with them in order to be involved at their school. And they can help too! (Or they can at least run around the cafeteria with their friends while the moms and dads are working.) Most importantly, I have made a lot of friends and my kids are friends with their kids.

If you have never volunteered for PTA, know this: It’s an adventure and you’ll make new friends! The wet clothes in the washing machine can wait.


Heather Zirke is the president of Grindstone PTA and mom to Aurelia, a fourth grader, and Kip, a second grader.

National PTA’s School Meals Update

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My name is Chelsea Smyth and I’m a registered dietitian. I am also the current school meals fellow for National PTA and have been working closely with the 25 National PTA Healthy School Meals Grantees to help as they work to improve nutrition in their schools.
In celebration of National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Month, I want to highlight five common school meals issues that many schools face, and the solutions our grantees have pursued. Maybe you’ll want to try one of these ideas at your school!

Issue 1: The Cafeteria Isn’t Inviting or Doesn’t Support Healthy Messaging or Behaviors.

School-aged children are at the age when they form dietary preferences and habits and the cafeteria has the ability to promote healthy or unhealthy food habits. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the healthy choice is always the easy choice.

Many schools identified that the cafeterias were unwelcoming and the items on the service line needed to be rearranged to encourage healthy behavior. We have five PTAs who are going to be updating their cafeteria with murals of healthy choices. Another four PTAs are rearranging items within the service line to make the healthier choice the easy choice, such as placing white milk before flavored milks and adding grab-and-go fruits and vegetables to the beginning and end of the service lines.

Issue 2: Poor Meal and Menu Quality

Working on meal and menu quality can be an opportunity to advocate for healthier, tastier menu items and food preparation practices that improve students’ enjoyment of mealtime. Updating the school meal menus was the most popular task that our Healthy Schools Meals grantees set out to accomplish.

Nine PTAs are going to be conducting taste tests with students and families to gain feedback for new menu items. These taste tests are planned to occur in the cafeteria, the classroom and after school events. We even have a PTA in New Jersey that is going to have a Top Chef-style competition utilizing produce grown in their school garden. The winning recipe will be featured on their school lunch menu.

Issue 3: Negative Family and Student Perceptions of What is Being Served

Increasing parent and student perceptions and knowledge of the school meals program can help increase participation and support. Communicating to students and families all of the all great work our PTAs are working on is a key component to the School Meals Grants.

My favorite example of improve school meals communication is happening in a local PTA in Wisconsin, where students will be making videos highlighting their school lunch program and nutrition, which will be shared on the school’s social media channels.

Issue 4: School Nutrition Staff Need Updated Training and Equipment

If food service teams don’t have proper training or up-to-date equipment, it is difficult for them to provide students with healthy, tasty school meals.

To fix this issue, six PTAs are implementing new salad bars in their schools. Several PTAs chose to purchase new water dispensers to provide student with clean, fresh water as a beverage alternative, some of which feature a water bottle counting feature to tally how much water that the students are distributing. We also have one PTA that has provided training to the food service staff on preparation and food presentation techniques.

Issue 5: School Wellness Policies Don’t Enforce Serving Healthy Food to Students

Ensuring local and district wellness policies promote strong nutrition standards, provide students with adequate time to eat and limit the sale of unhealthy food items can help make healthier food choices the easier choices.

We have several PTA grantees who are working to improve their school wellness policies. These PTAs are going to work with the school-level and district-level administration to create healthier environments for their students. A common theme among these PTAs is ensuring that students have adequate time to go through line and eat their meal.

healthy-school-mealsThese are just a few highlights of the plans for the Healthy Schools Meals grantees. Do you see something that you would like to learn more about? Is there a strategy that you would like to try? Check out the School Meals Leaders Guide at PTA.org/SchoolMeals or email Programs@PTA.org for more ideas and information on how to organize a school meals team, evaluate your current school meals program and make important changes to improve your child’s nutrition.

 


Chelsea Smyth is a registered dietitian who is currently works in the clinical setting. She is pursuing a master’s degree in public health from George Mason University and hopes to combine her nutrition background and public health degree to work towards obesity prevention.

For Food Allergies, a Halloween Appeal: Go Teal!

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From classroom parties and Trunk-or-Treats to ghosts and goblins knocking on your door, Halloween puts snacking front and center. But for youngsters on restricted diets, the holiday’s focus on foods they can’t eat puts a big damper on trick-or-treat fun.

One in 13 U.S. children has a food allergy. That’s about two kids per classroom. For many, just touching the wrong food causes hives and the smallest taste can be life-threatening. Other students have different health needs that require a special diet, including diabetes, celiac disease and many digestive disorders. Like every other child, these children deserve a fun, inclusive Halloween.Print

Join the Teal Pumpkin Project to make Halloween happy and safe for all children—including those who can’t eat a chocolate or candy treat.

Why teal? Teal is the color of food allergy awareness. When you display a teal pumpkin (or a Teal Pumpkin Project sign), you’re letting kids and their families know that you have non-food goodies to share.

View More: http://marciaannedesigns.pass.us/fareLaunched by Food Allergy Research & Education in 2014, the purpose of the Teal Pumpkin Project is inclusion. Here are the benefits:

  • You don’t need to choose between offering either snacks or trinkets, so long as the food and non-food treats are kept in separate bowls.
  • Toys and prizes won’t go to waste, since they’re popular even with kids who love candy.
  • Some of these kid-friendly items are useful as well—such as glow sticks and glow jewelry that make trick-or-treaters easier to see at night or Halloween-themed pencils and erasers that come in handy as spare school supplies.

View More: http://marciaannedesigns.pass.us/fareWhether your pumpkin comes from a farm or a craft store, painting it teal combines creative play with a lesson in empathy. Decorating a teal pumpkin or coloring an activity sheet reminds kids that while some classmates may not be able to eat some candies, we can include them in the fun by offering treats that are safe for them. We can trick-or-treat others the way we would want to be treated.

The 2016 goal of the Teal Pumpkin Project is for at least one home on every block to stock up on non-food treats and welcome all trick-or-treaters with a beautiful teal pumpkin. We hope this Halloween,  children with food allergies and other restrictive diets will spot a teal pumpkin on your doorstep or in your school Halloween festivities, and smile.

For more info—including links to free resources to help create a happier, safer Halloween for all—visit TealPumpkinProject.org.


Lois A. Witkop is Chief Advancement Officer for Food Allergy Research & Education. She is proud mom to two teens and is a parent member of the Robinson Secondary School PTSA in Fairfax, Va.

Tips You Need to Keep Kids Safe Online

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Keeping your kids safe in the age of continuous internet access and social media is tougher than ever these days. My wife and I work in information security, but even we struggle to keep up with evolving technology, so staying safe online is a frequent dinner topic in our family.

With new websites and apps coming out every day, it’s easy to see how parents can feel a little overwhelmed. So what can you do to keep your kids safe? The biggest step is to start with a conversation. And the good news is, there’s an online tool to help!

The Smart Talk is a fun and simple way to develop tech ground rules with your kids. Developed by LifeLock and the National PTA, the interactive website enables families to create personalized technology ground rules together by discussing key online safety topics. These include safety and privacy, screen time, apps and downloads, texting and calling and social media and respect.

After agreeing on healthy limits together, your family will end up with a personalized and official family agreement that you can print, sign and post in your home for quick reference and revise throughout the year.

Our family recently had The Smart Talk, and there were many lessons learned all-around. Here are a few tips that may come handy when you have a safety tech talk with your kids.

Tip 1: Talk, don’t lecture

Lecturing kids about online security works about as well as lecturing them about putting their socks away. They just tune out, hearing only, “Blah blah Internet blah blah chatrooms.” But when you’re able to have an actual conversation with your kids, and get on their level, they can begin relating what they do online and what their friends do online to the issues they hear about in the news.

Tip 2: Help your kids understand that the internet is not private

This false sense of privacy can lure kids into revealing far more than they should, with potentially devastating results (such as harassment and bullying, possibly even leading to assaults and suicide). Talk to your kids about what privacy means and remind them that anything shared over the internet or over a smartphone has the potential to be made public. Tell them:

  • Social media accounts can be seen by others
  • Text messages and “selfies” can be copied, forwarded and shared
  • Information can be accessed on an unlocked device or broken into and posted freely on the internet
  • Location data, commonly made available by devices, can reveal where the photos were taken or where they are located at that moment

Tip 3: Treat safety in the digital world the same as safety in the real world

When our kids are online, they’re connected with the entire world. Would you let your kids bring home random people off the street or from the shopping mall? Into your home, into their rooms? Of course not. Similar to how you teach your child to be self-aware in a mall, movie theater or amusement park—your kids need to learn safe behaviors in the online world.

Tip 4: Help your kids understand that anyone can pretend to be anything on the internet

With social media, video game chatrooms and other remote chat tools, strangers can become familiar, even though your child has never actually met them. Kids need to understand that people they meet online could be someone other than who they say they are. Teach your kids that unless you’ve met someone in person, they are a stranger. Any time a stranger attempts to convince your child to meet up unsupervised or share private information, your child should assume that’s not a nice or safe person.

Bring this lesson to life with a game: Ask your kid to list all of the things an alligator would say to convince a duck that they should meet up in the swamp at night. Then, connect the alligator’s motivations with a fraudster online that is trying to lure your kid into sharing information. It sounds silly, but such a game can help drive the point home.

Tip 5: Sharing is good until you share too much

You’ve seen the websites and apps that ask you to share your name, home address, age, birthdate, phone number and more. Kids grow up learning that sharing is caring, but what happens when sharing information could leave your kid vulnerable to identity theft?

When it comes to sharing sensitive information, teach your kids that the best answer is no answer. Your kids should also know that a majority of sites don’t need all of your sensitive information. Most times you don’t need to add all your private information. Have your child use their favorite movie character as their name and profile pic. Children are clever, creative and motivated. Give them a nudge and they’ll take it from there.

Remind your kids that their friends need to be safe online too. Kids are stronger when they’re looking out for each other, when they understand the problems and have a mindset to protect themselves.

Visit TheSmartTalk.org to learn more about having a conversation about these key ways to stay safe online.


Joe Gervais is the father of five children and the security communications director at LifeLock.

Is Your Child’s School Healthy?

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As a parent, there are many factors to consider when assessing your child’s school…teacher/student ratio, curriculum, facilities, location and more.

These are all undoubtedly critical components to a quality education, but have you considered whether your child’s school is a healthy school?

What does it mean to be a healthy school? Take a look at my daughter’s school, Hillcrest Elementary, where I serve as PTA president. Hillcrest was recently named one America’s Healthiest Schools by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

With the help of the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program Framework, my daughter’s school is now serving healthier meals and snacks, getting students moving more, offering high-quality physical and health education and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models.
Why does being a healthy school matter? Healthy kids learn better. Not only that, but when kids have access to quality physical education and healthy meals, behavior also improves and attendance rates increase. Now that’s something that ALL parents can support!

It takes a village to ensure our children form these healthy habits early. From parents to teachers and food services staff, we all have a role to play in building a healthier generation.

lunch-at-hillcrestAt Hillcrest Elementary, the big changes started with teachers and staff. Physical education teacher Tina Birgen led the charge, coordinating walk or bike to school days, ensuring the availability of various healthy menu choices in the cafeteria and engaging staff in nutrition and exercise challenges.

Hillcrest Elementary also emphasized the importance of family involvement in becoming a healthy school. Parents were not only invited to attend activities with our children, but our PTA played in active role in supporting the school’s efforts. From publicizing events to giving teachers stipends to purchase jump ropes or other healthy incentives, we collaborated to build an environment focused on health and wellness.

When parents are involved, the cycle of success continues outside of the classroom. Our PTA supports teachers in providing healthy opportunities for students and staff, and then teachers support the Hillcrest PTA. This results in stronger parent-teacher relationships and healthier habits at home!

Hillcrest students and staff have demonstrated drastic improvements physically, mentally and socially. Through goal setting and proper wellness education, we have improved physical fitness levels, eating behaviors, self-esteem and overall wellness knowledge. All of this, because we—parents, teachers, students and community members—worked together and supported one another in this essential cause.

There are many ways you can get involved in the health and wellness efforts of your child’s school, including joining your local PTA and asking your community’s leaders for support to make healthy changes in schools.

Ready to join the movement to ensure every school becomes one of America’s healthiest? Find out if your child’s school is enrolled in the Healthy Schools Program and get started today!


Trish Matson Buus is PTA president at Hillcrest Elementary School in Brookings, S.D.

The Journey to Becoming a School of Excellence!

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When a school and its PTA make a joint decision to become a National PTA School of Excellence, they are making a commitment to work together as a team to build effective family-school partnerships in their school community.

There are three important steps on the journey to becoming a School of Excellence.

Step 1. Enroll

Step 2. Complete the family survey

Step 3. Complete and submit the Family School Partnership Scan

By now, most schools that enrolled are at Step Three. This step, the completion of the Family-School Partnership Scan and the receipt of a customized Roadmap to Excellence specific to local needs, provides a clearer picture of both the successes and opportunities for improvement. This leads to the decision of which path your School of Excellence team will take in the coming months. The possibilities are limited only by imagination and dedication!

After receiving the Roadmap to Excellence, some teams may wonder where to begin. For some schools, the Roadmap may seem extensive. This is the time to assemble the School of Excellence team, focus on specific opportunities for improvement and create an action plan by following these steps.

  1. Share your Roadmap to Excellence. Give your team plenty of time to review The Roadmap to Excellence before meeting. You may want to email a copy of it to your School Leaders and Board members or even set up a shared “School of Excellence” folder on your Google Drive.Organizing your School of Excellence documents (including your surveys and Family-Partnership Scan) on a shared drive—like Google Drive—is a great way to collaborate with your team. 
  1. Meet with your team. You may want to set a designated meeting time just to discuss The Roadmap to Excellence and your next steps. At your meeting, be sure to review the National Standards for Family School Partnerships. Discuss the joint goal you set with your School Leaders as part of your Family-Partnership Scan.Have your team identify two or three Roadmap recommendations per Standard to focus on for this year. You may want to narrow down your focus by identifying those recommendations that align with your School Improvement Plan, accreditation process, or any other big plans your school has for this year.Your focused attention to making substantial progress in a few areas per National Standards will help you be successful.
  1. Create an Action Plan. Now that you have identified your goals, it’s time to determine how you’ll reach them! Brainstorm with your team of parents, students (when age appropriate), teachers, school leaders, and community members, and get their ideas and input on what they can bring to the table to reach your common goal.Maybe you’ll continue or build on programs and activities already in place, or maybe you’ll move off in a new direction. Whichever way that you decide to go, don’t forget to take advantage of the many user-friendly tools and programs that National PTA has to offer—you don’t need to re-create the wheel! 
  1. Share your goals with your school community. This is a great opportunity to engage your families. Be sure to let families know how they can get involved and help by joining a committee, volunteering their time, or attending an event.You can use general membership meetings, your PTA website, newsletter and social media to promote your program, and be sure to highlight the special events and programs that are a part of your School of Excellence journey.
  1. Revisit your Roadmap often. Revisiting your Roadmap and those specific recommendations you have identified to work on this year periodically will help keep your team focused and on task.Set time on your Agenda at each Board meeting, general membership meeting, and principal meeting to discuss your School of Excellence progress, and don’t be afraid to rework and adjust your plan once you’ve see what’s working and where you may have an opportunity for improvement.After all, every journey has its pit stops and minor detours, and sometimes you make the most interesting discoveries along the way! 

Wherever the road to Excellence may lead you in the coming months, please know that you’ve taken an important step toward a better school community. It may not always be an easy trip, but there’s no wrong place to begin your journey.

In the words of tennis great Arthur Ashe,

“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

You CAN achieve greatness for your school, your students, and your community! Through teamwork, dedication, and shared goals, you can achieve Excellence.


Kris Garst is a past president of European PTA, and currently serves on the European PTA Board of Directors as vice president for legislation as well as the convention chair

Lauren Van Hemert served as the president of The Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School PTSA for three years. She has also served on the Nominating Committee for the Wake County PTA and has promoted the National PTA School of Excellence on the county level.

Both Kris and Lauren are recipients of the 2016 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award.