School of Excellence: Bringing the National Standards to Life

The benefits of family-school-community partnerships are many: higher teacher morale, more parent involvement, and greater student success are only a few. That is why PTA developed the National Standards for Family School Partnerships. The standards are the foundation for the National PTA School of Excellence program and are embedded into our practice. They articulate what family engagement should look like at the school level.  These standards are in use by school, PTA and community leaders nationwide as a framework for thinking about, structuring, and assessing family engagement.

Here are some actual examples of how some 2017-2019 National PTA Schools of Excellence brought the National Standards to life in their schools.

Standard 1: Welcoming All Families

  • Bob Beard Elementary PTA in TX

We have welcoming signs all over our school.  Our Festival of Nations event is a wonderful opportunity for our families to come celebrate the diverse cultures represented at our school.  Beard families provided music, games, traditional clothing, dance and food from 23 nations across the globe represented by 44 of our Beard families.  We hosted both a dance for our boys to bring their special ‘gal’ (mom, aunt, family friend) and another dance for our girls to bring their special ‘guy’.  We hosted ‘Family Movie Night’ where families brought tents, sleeping bags and chairs along with picnics to all gather around and bond while watching a movie together and then hanging out. Also, 2 Grandparents Breakfasts, College Night, Open House and Howdy Nights to just come explore and get to know each other, Pizza Nights with our WATCH D.O.G.Z. and kids, our Fear-Factor eating contest between our two administrators brought hundreds of families to come out, bond and cheer them on.  Career Day brought many family members to school to teach our students about various occupations, and Kinder Round Up brought our new little ones in with their family members to explore and meet other families.  National Walk-to-School Day was really fun as we had hundreds of moms and dads and family members all walking and biking their little ones to school that morning.  We also hosted 2 Beautification days on Saturdays that brought our family and community members out by the truckloads with their gardening and yard tools to spend time together making Beard a more beautiful place.  We are a No Place for Hate campus.

Standard 2: Communicating Effectively

  • Leroy Collins Elementary PTA in FL

We communicate in a variety of ways, allowing us to reach every family. The Principal sends out a weekly telephone call-out every Sunday evening, letting families know what is coming in the follow week. Both Collins & the PTA send out Parent Link text messages with importation information. We also utilize Peachjar to send home flyers as well as sending paper flyers home. We have websites (www.collinspta.net , collins.mysdhc.org), a PTA facebook page (CollinsElementaryPTA). When notices were sent home to families regarding the Partnership Survey, every student was sent a flyer in both English & Spanish providing them with information about the survey and a link to follow. They were also directed to our Facebook page and website where links were posted to access the surveys directly. Paper surveys were also available. Our school website has every staff member’s email address listed to contact them directly. Through various methods of communication we’ve ensured that everyone knows what’s going on at our school and exactly how they can help if they choose to. We’ve promoted volunteer opportunities on signup.com, on PTA FB page, text, emails, flyers, and in personal conversations at various events.

Standard 3: Supporting Student Success

  • Hightower Trail MIddle School PTSA in GA

Given that our main goal this year was to support the implementation of college and career-ready standards, we focused on involving students and parents in the communication and activities regarding these standards.  The PTSA worked closely with the administration and counseling department to provide several opportunities for students and parents to learn and be involved including: a parent seminar with the principal on how to read your student’s Milestone/EOG test scores, Q&A documents on understanding your student’s progress reports and test scores, Move On When Ready open houses, several coffee with the counselors sessions for parents on study skills and organization, and also our annual college and career week.  This week features a day dedicated to supporting your high school, college spirit day, dress to impress day and career look alike day. Teachers do lessons about careers and they discuss the college they attended. We also feature teachers on the morning news show. Our Career Day was highlighted on Cobb TV. We also held three STEM career events for each grade level.  Every student is also given an account for the career cruising program which is an Internet-Based Career Interest Inventory. The students choose three possible careers based on their interests. The 8th graders receive a core guidance lesson on high school, college, and careers and each student develops a four-year plan. As a result of our efforts, our ‘Always’ score went from 42% to 50% for the question on the transition to high school and increased from 38% to 47% on the question regarding sharing information on student achievement data.

Standard 4: Speaking Up for Every Child

  • Casey Elementary PTA in MS

While our state legislatures convened, we supplied parents with links and bills as they pertained to education in MS. We supplied names and phone numbers of the House and Senate members so they could contact them to express their opinions of the bills that were on the floor. We also participated in PTA day at the Capital.  Parents were invited each month for all PTA board meeting to express ideas or concerns within the school so we could in turn work with the principal to improve our success rate. It was with these efforts and working with the community volunteers that our 3rd grade class passed state testing at 100%!

Standard 5: Sharing Power

  • Allen Elementary School PTA in TN

We encouraged participation and represented our PTA/school during the district’s Superintendent search.  Our PTA was represented at every Superintendent Parent Advisory Board meeting, stake holders meeting, public meet-and-greet, and Board of Education meeting.  We provided parents with pertinent information regarding every candidate (access to resume, interview summaries, etc).  We encouraged our parents and community to reach out to our school board leaders via phone/email with their superintendent choice.Collaborating with the community – We have worked hard this year to partner with our community to achieve student success.  Registration Day Ice Cream Social:  Prior to the first day of school, PTA invited families to join us for an ice cream social to learn more about PTA and local organizations that benefit our students.  During the ice cream social, PTA hosted local organizations allowing parents to network with PTA Board Members, administration, teachers, support staff, and local organizations.

Standard 6: Collaborating with Community

  • Westerly PTA in OH

Through the Cyber bullying program all students in both grades (3rd and 4th) at Westerly took part in classroom cyber awareness lessons and anti-bully prevention activities during their scheduled library time. Through these activities, the focus was to give all students guidance and ability to understand and prevent them from being victims. This collaborative approach with Mrs. Basel (School Counselor) and Miss Harris (School Librarian), Mr. Reynolds (Technology Director) and Detective Krolkosky (BVPD Detective) educated children about the basics of going online, and  helped them become safe, responsible and respectful digital citizens.

To learn more about how your PTA can bring the National Standards to light and earn a National PTA School of Excellence designation, visit PTA.org/Excellence or email Excellence@PTA.org.

 


Amy Weinberg is the Manager of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA. 

Help Your Child Feel Confident and Ready for the State Test

Spring is here—with longer, warmer days and the promise of the end of the school year. As the school year winds down, it means it’s that time of year when children across the country are asked to “show what they know” by taking their state’s annual test in math and English language arts.

As the expert on your child, you see firsthand all the different ways your child is developing.  Along with grades and teacher feedback, the state test can help you know how well your child is mastering the grade level skills needed to keep progressing in school.

Most state tests today go beyond the “fill in the bubble” tests, covering skills children need to succeed in the real-world—like critical thinking and problem-solving. These tests also provide valuable feedback on your child’s academic progress and whether your child is performing at grade level. With this detailed insight, you and your child’s teacher can best support your child’s learning and growth.

As your child prepares to take this year’s annual state test, Learning Heroes partnered with the National PTA and Univision to connect you to your state’s practice test and other free resources. Here is what you need to know:

The what, when and how

Ask your child’s teacher about details such as: How long does the test take? When will my child be taking the test in each subject? When and how will I get the results?

How to use the score report

Last year’s state test results can help you and the teacher understand where your child may still need extra support and where progress has been made.

Bring on the challenge

We know tests can be nerve-racking but you can boost your child’s self-confidence by showing them to take on challenges with a positive attitude and determination. Remind your child to take their time and just try their best. By looking at the practice test together, your child will know what to expect.

It’s about the big picture

Along with grades and classroom work, the state test is another measure of how well your child is progressing in grade-level math and English. Even if your child gets good grades, check out the state test results to see how well your child understands specific concepts needed to be ready for the next grade.

You can set your child up for success on test day—familiarize yourself with what is expected of them on the test, review the grade-specific practice test, and be ready to ask your child’s teacher about how best to support your child’s preparation at home.

This post was originally published on the 74 Million. It is republished with permission.

Bibb Hubbard is the founder and president of Learning Heroes.  Learning Heroes connects parents to useful information and simple actions they can take to help their child thrive in school and life.  Visit bealearninghero.org for free and easy-to-use resources, learning tools, and more.

 

What Do Successful Schools Look Like?

As a parent, I have a good idea of how my child’s school is working for her. I talk to her and her friends about what is going on there. I see the work that she is doing. I communicate with her teachers and other school staff.

But while I know that my daughter is at a school that’s good for her, it’s harder to figure out whether it’s a successful school overall. Is her school helping each of its students reach their fullest potential? What does such a school look like?

The Learning First Alliance, which includes organizations like National PTA and whose members collectively represent more than 10 million educators, parents and local policymakers, have pulled together to research and answer that question.

The result of that effort is “The Elements of Success: 10 Million Speak on Schools That Work,” an anthology that identifies six elements that are common to all successful schools. It also makes clear that there is no one model for a successful school—in each success story, educators, parents and local communities have developed programs specific to their goals and challenges, within their communities’ setting.

While all successful schools share the six elements, how they are implemented and integrated depends greatly on context. The elements are:

  • Focus on the Total Child: Successful schools support all students’ needs—inside and outside the classroom—to help them become effective, empowered learners. They design and carry out programs that offer all students a rich educational experience, supporting their academic and social/emotional learning and physical development.
  • Commitment to Equity and Access: Successful schools ensure all students have access to high-quality services and support systems, enabling them to set and reach high goals for learning. In them, equity does not mean equality; they recognize some students need additional resources to have the same opportunity for success as others. They also recognize diversity is a strength.
  • Family and Community Engagement: Successful schools effectively engage families and communities in support of students. In doing so, they identify barriers to such engagement and work to overcome them.
  • Distributed Leadership: Successful schools define leadership broadly. Leadership is distributed among principals, teachers, parents, community members and others in the building, and decision-making is a shared endeavor.
  • Strong, Supported Teaching Force and Staff: Successful schools are staffed with educators—including teachers, principals, school counselors, technology specialists and others—who are well-educated, well-prepared and well-supported. These educators meet high standards of practice, and they benefit from continuous learning opportunities.
  • Relationship-Oriented School Climate: Successful schools create a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility among staff and students and with families and communities. These schools are safe, welcoming and respectful to all.

These elements are all widely known. But two things make this collection of research unique. One is consensus. “The Elements of Success: 10 Million Speak on Schools That Work” does not reflect the expertise of one individual or one organization. It reflects the collective wisdom of all the various public-school interest groups—parents, teachers, administrators and more. Together, they agree these are the elements needed for a school to perform at a high level.

The second is the emphasis on interactions. A school with good teachers and poor leadership won’t be successful. Nor will a school with strong leadership and teachers that focuses solely on test scores. The interaction between all six of these elements is critical.

So how can parents and PTAs use this information? One idea is to use this research as a conversation starter. Bring parents, teachers, administrators and others in the school community together to honestly assess where you are in terms of each of these six elements. Identify your strengths and where additional support is needed. Then work together to make sure your school is meeting the needs of every child who attends.

The report and supporting materials are available at LearningFirst.org/ElementsOfSuccess.

Anne O’Brien is Deputy Director at the Learning First Alliance.   

STEM Nights Bring Families and Experts Together to Learn about Science

Just like children don’t stop learning when the final bell rings, great teaching doesn’t stop at the end of the school day. Across the country, teachers, parents, and community members are coming together more and more frequently to host STEM nights to get families thinking about science, technology, engineering and math through interactive, hands-on, engaging activities.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is proud to support many dedicated teachers who plan and lead STEM nights at their schools. Michelle Estrada, a kindergarten teacher at Desert Hills Elementary in Las Cruses, N.M. has been hosting STEM nights in her community for seven years.

She is a recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), the nation’s highest honors for K-12 STEM teachers, which NSF administers on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

As a Presidential Awardee in 2010, Michelle was invited to Washington, D.C., to take part in the National Recognition Events, received a signed certificate from the President and left with a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation. When she returned to New Mexico, her experience as an awardee motivated her to continue to improve her teaching, seek out new resources for her students, and engage her local community in more collaborative and effective ways than ever before.

Sensational Science Night

In 2009, Michelle applied for the Toyota Tapestry grant,  a partnership between Toyota and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) that provided annual grants to science teachers across the United States. Her proposal focused on the Rio Grande, which cuts right through Las Cruces, less than ten miles away from Desert Hills Elementary. She planned a collaborative and immersive series of events for her kindergarten class composed of field experiences, hands-on activities, demonstrations by local scientists and community educators, inquiry-based experiments, and a variety of cross-curricular studies. She was awarded $10,000 to fund her project, and Sensational Science Night was born.

At the first Sensational Science Night, 30 expert-volunteers from the community came to share their knowledge and inspire students and parents to be more curious about science. Since then, the event has more than tripled in size: in 2016, 30 organizations were represented by over 100 expert-volunteers, and more than 400 participants flooded the halls of Desert Hills Elementary. They all spent their evening exploring, designing, and thinking critically with one another.

STEM Nights are unparalleled opportunities to engage the community with the local—or even national—scientific community, and let students know what it looks like to be a scientist in practice. At Michelle’s event, students were able to interact with pharmaceutical students from the University of New Mexico, chemical engineering students from New Mexico State University, local museum curators with displays from their traveling collections, local firefighters teaching fire safety and fire science, and a local Astronomy organization which provided telescopes for student use.

The National Honor Society chapter of a local high school took over an entire wing of the school and facilitated hands-on activities, launching paper rockets, creating bouncy balls and making ice cream in a bag. Michelle didn’t stop at inviting the local science community—she invited local food trucks which offered dinner options on the school grounds, donating a percentage of their sales to fund scholarships for Camp Invention, a STEM summer program at Desert Hills Elementary.

Over the years, Michelle says the name of the event has changed to keep up with its popularity. Once Sensational Science Night, the moniker shifted to Sensational STEM Night, and this year morphed again into Magnificent Sensational STEAM Night (reflecting her decision to include the arts). We’re excited to see what it will be called in 2018.

To learn about how you can honor great teachers in your community with a PAEMST nomination, please visit our website at paemst.org. Nominations for K-6 grade STEM teachers are currently open.

For resources on how to host a STEM night at your school, check out National PTA’s new STEM + Families webpage.

Dr. Nafeesa H. Owens is a Program Director of Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching Program Lead at the National Science Foundation.

How to Celebrate American Education Week

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This week—Nov. 14-18—marks the National Education Association’s (NEA) 95th annual celebration of American Education Week. NEA has created resources and a cheat sheet for how you can celebrate and promote the week.

Go to NEA.org/AEW for more info on American Education Week—including an online toolkit and artwork. Contact Christiana Campos for questions and more details.

About American Education Week

Each year, American Education Week is observed during the first full week before Thanksgiving.

American Education Week began in 1921 with the NEA and the American Legion as cosponsors. The goal was to generate public awareness and support for education because of concerns over illiteracy. A year later, the U.S. Office of Education signed on, and the PTA followed in 1938.

Cosponsors now include the U.S. Department of Education, National PTA, the American Legion, the American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Counselor Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National School Public Relations Association, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Daily Celebrations

Monday, Nov. 14: Thank You to All Educators
Across the nation, Americans are sponsoring special events and activities to thank educators and celebrate public education.

 Tuesday, Nov. 15: Parents’ Day
Schools are inviting parents into classrooms to experience a day in the life of students.

Wednesday, Nov. 16: Education Support Professionals (ESP) Day
Schools and communities are honoring school support staff—bus drivers, nurses, secretaries, custodians—for their commitment to students.

Thursday, Nov. 17: Educator for a Day
Community leaders are being invited to teach a lesson or visit a class and connect with public school students and teachers.

Friday, Nov. 18: Substitute Educators Day
This day honors the educators who are called upon to replace regularly employed teachers.

AEW Tools and Resources

Engaging Parents in 21st Century Classrooms

education, elementary school, learning, technology and people concept - close up of school kids with tablet pc computers having fun and playing on break in classroom

This blog was originally published on P21’s Blogazine.
Let’s face it—classrooms are very different today than when most of us were in school. Smart boards have replaced chalkboards and projectors. Computers, tablets and smartphones are increasingly being used instead of paper, pencils and books.
Technology and the internet have created countless new opportunities for education. Children like yours and mine can now read about virtually any subject from anywhere and connect with people and places around the world. Teachers are harnessing the power of the technology to bring curriculum alive and personalize instruction to meet the unique needs of every child. Digital learning is essential for the development of skills students need to thrive.
Technology also provides important opportunities for us as families to be more involved in our children’s education as well as for families, teachers and school staff to engage in regular and meaningful communication about student learning.
As the new year gets into full swing, it is important that we as parents are aware of the technology our school uses and how we in turn can use these tools to support our children’s success in the classroom.
Here’s how schools can help:
BE TRANSPARENT
Share with parents the online systems, portals or apps your school is using. Make sure they know how to access these tools and use them to track their child’s progress and ensure they are receiving the right supports.
UTILIZE TECHNOLOGY TO COMMUNICATE IN REAL TIME
Technology provides a variety of ways for families, educators and schools to share information with one another and keep in touch. Technology allows families to access information quickly, easily and when it is most convenient for them. It is important that multiple mediums, platforms and dissemination tools are used for real-time dialogue and parent-school communication.
ENGAGE PARENTS THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA
Many parents are active on social media. And through social media, relevant information can be communicated in a timely fashion. Use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to deliver news and important updates, share pictures and encourage parent engagement.
VALUE AND SEEK PARENT INPUT
It’s important that families have a seat at the table and the opportunity to provide input when decisions are made that impact their children and schools. When families are included in all stages of technology decision-making and implementation, they better understand the benefits for their children and are invested in the outcome.
EVALUATE AND ELIMINATE BARRIERS TO ENGAGEMENT
While technology provides great opportunities for family involvement and parent-school communication, it can be a barrier to engagement. For example, a preponderance of portals and apps require parents to register and save passwords again and again frustrating the parent until they shut down. Equally frustrating, some systems are not mobile-friendly. These factors can be a hindrance for parents when it comes to using these tools. It is imperative to evaluate and eliminate such barriers to increase access to and use of technology among families.

Technology is a powerful tool for teaching, learning, connecting and communicating. It is critical that parents are empowered with opportunities to be engaged as well as with the tools and information to support their children in the classroom and beyond.


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students. National PTA is dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement.

 National PTA is a proud supporter of the Future Ready Schools initiative, which is aimed at maximizing digital learning opportunities so all students can achieve their full potential. Schools that are Future Ready understand that parents play an instrumental role in the learning environment, and as such, need to be highly engaged and recognized as a vital part of the school community. National PTA echoes the recommendations and characteristics of parent engagement in Future Ready Schools.

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The Transformative Power of Math Success: One Family’s Story

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Parents, we know you’ll appreciate a real-life tale of math success—one of the many student victories that happen at Mathnasium every day!

When Iris Kaganovich brought her fourth grade daughter Edden to Mathnasium of El Segundo, Calif. in September 2015, she was in panic mode.

“Edden had never struggled in math before,” Iris recalled when Edden ended up at the lowest level. “Our school district switched to Common Core and it was more difficult than expected. I asked around, and all of the moms referred me to Mathnasium.”

Like all Mathnasium students, Edden sat down for the Mathnasium diagnostic assessment, which pinpointed strengths and weaknesses in her math foundations.

“I had no idea that Edden was struggling with basic multiplication, word problems and other fundamental math concepts,” Iris said.

Edden diligently attended sessions two to three times a week. Both mother and daughter were won over by the friendly and productive learning environment and found the Mathnasium teaching method very efficient.

Instructors spend one-on-one time with students like Edden and teach different approaches to explain challenging topics. As a working mom, Iris definitely appreciated Mathnasium’s flexible scheduling options as well.

After two months, Iris began to see improvement.

“Little by little, Edden was advancing. She became more confident about her skills and less anxious about math.”

Remarkably, Edden’s newfound math success transformed homework time for the entire family!

Now in fifth grade, Edden continues to go to Mathnasium. Gone are the days of floundering in the lowest-level math class—Iris happily reported that Edden almost got accepted into the highest-level class this school year!

Inspired by Edden’s success, Iris decided to send her youngest child, first grader Sky, to Mathnasium, as well.

“I realized the importance of building math skills early,” she said. “There’s no better place to do so than at Mathnasium!”


Damaris Candano-Hodas is the Marketing Communications Coordinator at Mathnasium Learning Centers.

Mathnasium is a proud sponsor of National PTA and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

 

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Family Engagement is Critical to Education

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This blog post was originally published on Medium.

As an educator and parent, I’m always excited by the back-to-school season. I love meeting new families and helping students grow and develop as they learn new skills.

The start of this school year is even more exciting than usual because it’s the beginning of a new era for our nation’s classrooms. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — the new federal law governing K-12 education — goes into effect this year.

While many teachers, students and parents won’t see immediate change in their schools and classrooms, states are actively working to create new education plans to implement ESSA that we hope will soon make high-quality, well-rounded education a reality for every child.

For the first time, ESSA acknowledges the critical role parents and other stakeholders play in student success and school improvement efforts by requiring that they be involved in the development of new education plans and implementation of the law.

Parents and their children are the consumers of our nation’s public education system, and parents have always been essential partners in education. However, they haven’t always been included at the decision-making table. This has caused confusion, mistrust and backlash when new initiatives — whether at the federal, state or local level — have been considered and implemented. ESSA now provides a unique opportunity for parents and families to give their input and to hold states and districts accountable for their children’s educational experience.

So how should states, districts and schools engage families in implementing ESSA? I have four suggestions.

First, invite families to participate. It seems basic, but many families do not feel welcome or know that the law requires that states and districts involve them in developing new education plans. Education leaders should use a variety of communications channels to reach out to parents and share ways they can get involved. Educators can also rely on a trusted messenger — such as PTAs — to communicate better with families.

Second, make messages to parents easy to digest. Most parents do not come to the table with expertise in education policy, but they are experts on their children. It is important that educational jargon is explained in simple terms — how does this affect my child and what can I do? Families must also be provided greater context about current policy and programs to understand ESSA’s impact on existing practices and future policies.

Next, translate materials to reach all families. It is essential that ESSA-related materials be translated into at least one of a community’s most popular languages other than English. Although it takes time and resources, this demonstrates a commitment to making sure all parents and families have the information they need to support their child’s learning and development.

Finally, demonstrate why family participation matters. If families are included in all stages of ESSA implementation, they will understand the ways it relates not just to their children but to every child in the community, the state and across the country. Mechanisms should be provided to allow parents to give regular feedback, and education decision-makers must listen when they do. When all voices are heard and valued, everyone’s engagement rises and consensus is easier to achieve.

ESSA provides an important opportunity for every part of every community to unite in designing the best education system possible for our nation’s children. But for education to be truly successful, family engagement must go beyond ESSA. Forty years of research proves that family engagement makes a real difference, so states and districts must prioritize it. Systematic and sustained efforts to integrate families into the fabric of our schools is key to our nation’s future.


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. This essay is part of a series on parent engagement produced by the philanthropic foundation Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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Does Your Child’s Education Honor Their Uniqueness?

Teacher helping kids with computers in elementary school

Jade and Alex do not check the traditional educational boxes. They are bright, young women with many gifts, yet each comes to the classroom with a disability that impedes core learning—for Jade, one that affects her ability to read, and for Alex, her challenge manifests in math.

Unfortunately, these two—and many like them—are in a one-sized-fits-all education system that is neither suited to meeting their particular needs, nor suited to validate and affirm their unique gifts and interests.

As a result, Jade and Alex have suffered tragic experiences that are all too common for students with disabilities: They began to see themselves only through the lens of their disability, internalized the judgement placed on them and experienced feelings of being demoralized.

The silver lining for students like Jade and Alex is that through personalized learning, we are more empowered than ever before to transform this one-size-fits-all system.

At the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), our personalized learning project has traditionally focused on students with disabilities, but we see common themes for every group of students whose experience in learning is unique from that of their peers:

  • Students must be understood for both their needs and strengths.
  • High educational standards must remain a constant, but the means to achieve those standards (i.e., where, when and how that learning happens) should be seen more flexibly.
  • Schools must ensure that students are attaining key skills and dispositions, like critical thinking and self-advocacy, that are necessary for their success in college, careers and civic life.

Personalized learning then is not an end in itself, but a means to achieving these goals. Like any other initiative, its success begins with informed, engaged and empowered parents. To ensure this success, we recommend four steps for every parent:

  1. Develop an awareness of your child’s needs and experiences. Your child is unique, research on children’s needs is constantly evolving, and let’s be honest, as a parent, you’re juggling a few other things besides your child’s school work. If your child has learning and attention issues, a great resource is Understood.org. Developed through a collaboration of 15 non-profits, it offers daily access to experts, in-depth information, expert strategies, and an active community of parents. It also offers tools to help with your journey, including a simulation of what your child experiences. In addition to Understood, at NCLD we have a number of resources on personalized learning and addressing the needs of students with disabilities, including a two-page resource for parents.
  2. Find out what your child’s school is doing around personalized learning. Once you understand your child’s needs, the question becomes what’s happening around personalized learning in their school and how does it impact your child? How are personalized learning plans integrated with your child’s IEP? This can be trickier than it sounds, as personalized learning can come under a number of labels: student-centered learning, blended learning, deeper learning or competency-based learning, just to name a few.
  3. Understand how your school will meet diverse needs in personalized learning efforts. It seems strange to say that approaches around personalized learning can be ill-suited for many students, but unfortunately that’s too often the case. Technology may not be accessible for students with disabilities, or educators may not trained to reflect on their underlying biases in interacting with these students or aren’t trained in engaging learning approaches that accommodate these students’ needs. One key step you can take is to ensure that your school’s implementation of personalized learning strategies aligns with principles of universal design for learning, which ensures accessibility for all students.
  4. Maximize the benefits of personalized learning. One of the real benefits of personalized learning is that it provides educators much more valuable information on your child’s needs and strengths. That information isn’t just valuable for the teacher—it’s valuable for you! Be an advocate. Ensure that the school has systems in place and the educators have the tools that are necessary to empower you to be a partner in supporting your child’s success.

Personalized learning, with its focus on embracing the needs and strengths of each individual child, can be much more humanizing and accommodating to the many unique features our children bring to the classroom.

This potential can only become real when individual parents are prepared to be strong advocates for some of the key benefits of this system and it takes each of us asking the hard questions and taking the difficult steps to achieve it.


Ace Parsi is the personalized learning partnership manager at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD).

 

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Making College Happen: Advice from One Family

My son Alex and I are preparing for his first year at the University of Colorado at Denver. Paying for college can feel challenging and overwhelming, but it’s absolutely possible. Here’s how we did it:

  1. Start Early

We visited colleges during Alex’s sophomore year, and by junior year, he found a favorite. While visiting colleges with your child, stop by the financial aid office or just give them a call. They will give you a good idea about typical costs and answer questions about transferring credits. We learned that the University of Colorado at Denver offers a discount for residents of neighboring states. That’s helped us make it work.

  1. Determine the Cost

Once you find a college, determine the cost. Remember to consider not just tuition and fees, but also books, transportation and other expenditures. It might sound like a lot to keep track of, but free resources like the Sallie Mae® College Planning Calculator can help. Some colleges also offer net price calculators to help you estimate the costs.

  1. Start Simple

Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on or soon after Oct. 1. The FAFSA determines eligibility for federal financial aid. Some of that aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis so it’s best to submit the application as early as possible.

  1. Apply for Scholarships

Make sure your child applies for scholarships early and often. Start searching online in August of their senior year to meet early deadlines. Services like Sallie Mae and Fastweb offer great scholarship search engines. Alex worked hard to maintain a good GPA because he knew academics are so important for scholarships, but many scholarships are based on other factors.  Set a weekly goal and don’t get discouraged. Alex completed many applications and often received the response: “great letter, but…” Don’t give up! Alex added the Make College Happen Challenge to his list and made an animated video about college planning. He placed 3rd nationally! Nothing is out of reach, so if you see a scholarship you like—have your child apply!

  1. Parting Advice

There are plenty of other ways for students to save, plan and pay for college. But the key is to start with a plan. At least, that’s what we did. And remember, this is just an example of our experience. The important thing is to create a personal plan of action to make college happen.

Good luck!


 

Veronica and Alex Gomez are a mother and son currently navigating the paying for college process. Alex recently won Sallie Mae’s Make College Happen ChallengeSM with his animated video submission detailing how he plans to pay for his college.

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