How Robots are Teaching STEM to a New Generation

STEM(Sponsored Post)

When it comes to getting kids interested in STEM learning, there’s one word that works every time—robots.

In fact, the potential for robots is so promising to help draw student interest in STEM, that robots have been given their own week. This year, April 2-10 is National Robotics Week, which in addition to celebrating the U.S. as a global robotics leader, is raising awareness among educators, parents and children about the benefits of incorporating a robotics curriculum.

And while the idea of using robots in the classroom may have seem farfetched a few years ago, a growing number of affordable robot kits for students are entering the market. This makes robots a more realistic option for many schools and educational programs.

Here at the Sylvan Learning Center I oversee in Lafayette, La., we started offering two levels of robotics classes for grades 2-4 and 4-6 in 2014, shortly after Sylvan added the concept in its national curriculum.

The robots are so popular that it’s often difficult to get students to stop working on them once class is over. And while they are fun for the kids, they are truly educational. Designing and building programmable robots bring to life math, physics and engineering concepts.

Students as young as 7 are introduced to the amazing world of robotics by building and programming robots and engaging in friendly competitions using LEGO® bricks and award-winning software. Once a concept is introduced, the students begin to create and program complex robots with friends while learning problem-solving skills and engineering concepts. Kids are soon making calculations and gaining exposure to computational thinking on their own accord. They’re also learning programming skills as they command their bots to move!

The robots can be designed in the form of familiar objects such as animals, people and vehicles as well as more abstract concepts purpose-built for the task.

We find this engagement really encourages students who may have otherwise previously been intimidated or uninterested in STEM subjects. Given the tremendous educational and career opportunities that will be available to these children as they grow older, it is critical we use all the tools we have in order to reach them.

Sylvan is a financial sponsor of PTA as Member Benefit Provider.


Christy Sharon, a former grade school and high school teacher, has been executive director of the Sylvan Learning Center in Lafayette, La. since 1997.

 

Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid in Communicating with Your PTA

shutterstock_216261145Effective communication is essential to driving PTA member engagement. Yet all too often, we see PTA leaders make several crucial mistakes. Here are 10 of the most common communication pitfalls and how you can avoid them with your PTA.

  1. Communicating with your PTA members only when you need money. Yes, school fundraising is important. But your PTA members want to know about other things as well, such as school events, PTA programs and volunteer opportunities. Sharing this information will give everyone a deeper connection to the school and to your PTA. That deeper connection will allow you to raise more money when you organize your next fundraiser.
  1. Communicating too much. If you find yourself hitting the “Send” button several times a day, you’re communicating too much. Few parents enjoy receiving multiple emails every day from their PTA leader. If you have a lot to say, try combining your requests and updates into a single email or newsletter. Parent portal platforms such as SimplyCircle allow you to consolidate all your communication into a single Daily Digest.
  1. Communicating at inconsistent frequency. One week you’re sending many emails per day. Then your members don’t hear from you for a month. Unless there’s a good reason for your silence (like a long school holiday), you should pick your communication frequency (daily, weekly or monthly) and stick with it. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is this: the larger the group, the less frequently you should be communicating. Plus, knowing that your communications always come out on Mondays at 3 p.m. will “condition” your group members to open your emails. That translates into higher member engagement for you.
  1. Not being clear about what’s most important. When you put your most important request at the bottom of a 4-page long newsletter (and you should think twice about sending out a 4-page long newsletter in the first place), your critical call to action will more than likely never get seen. Instead, put your main request at the beginning. It should appear both in the subject line and at the top of your email or newsletter.
  1. Making it difficult to take action. The whole point of communication is to drive member engagement, right? So make it as easy as possible for members to engage. If you’re asking them to volunteer, let them sign up with one click. Don’t send them to a paper signup at the school office, or to a spreadsheet that half of the school can’t open. Parent portal platforms such as SimplyCircle integrate signups, event RSVPs and post commenting. When you make it simple for people to volunteer and otherwise engage, you’ll find more of them will do it.
  1. Starting a reply-all email mess. This one is a personal pet peeve of mine. I hate getting emails that ask people to bring food to an upcoming school event where everyone is on the “to” line. Within minutes, my inbox is flooded with “reply all” responses: “I will bring watermelons”. “I won’t be attending”. “What kind of cheese do people like?” Instead, use a platform like SimplyCircle. It allows people to sign up without the blow-by-blow commentary of who is doing what. If people are commenting on your posts, all the comments are summarized in one convenient Daily Digest. If you must communicate by regular email, then put everyone’s email addresses on the Bcc line.
  1. Not respecting people’s privacy. There’s another reason why you should put everyone on the Bcc line. It signals that you respect their privacy. I remember freaking out when I got an email from a non-profit organization I just joined, and saw my email address displayed on the “to” line. Needless to say, I severed my ties with that nonprofit in seconds. People are rightly paranoid about their privacy. So either move everyone to the “Bcc” line, or use a service like SimplyCircle. It hides email addresses, while still allowing everyone to communicate.
  1. Not providing easy opt-out or unsubscribe options. In 2003, Congress passed a law called CAN-SPAM. The law requires senders of commercial messages to let recipients unsubscribe from unwanted emails. While PTAs are not commercial entities that are bound by CAN-SPAM law, it is still a good idea to let people opt out. Here’s why. If you irritate people with frequent communications, and don’t let them get off your mailing list, they will mark your email as “spam”. Too many spam complaints will ruin your email deliverability. That means that all your emails will start landing in people’s spam folders. Needless to say, not being able to connect your PTA members is not effective for great outreach. So let people unsubscribe if they want to.
  1. Making typos or other mistakes in your communication. Spelling or grammatical errors make communication look unprofessional. Fortunately, these errors are easy to avoid. Just run a spelling and grammar check before sending something out. Also be sure to check your email for accuracy and completeness. You don’t want to have to contact a thousand people with an “oops, I got the date wrong” email. Remember, once you hit that “send” button, there’s no way to unring that bell. The email is out.
  1. Leaving some people out. Make sure your communications include everyone. For example, you should not limit your updates to just paying PTA members. Everybody needs to be informed about school and PTA events. In fact, if you keep parents in the loop and make them feel like part of the community, they might decide to join your PTA. If you have a large Hispanic population at your school, you should try to write in both English and Spanish. Using a free program like Google Translate is better than nothing. But you should be able to get translation help from someone at your school who speaks both languages.

If you avoid these 10 common communication mistakes, you will get higher member engagement.

Want to learn more about how you can simplify PTA member communication? Visit SimplyCircle.com.

Happy communicating!


Dr. Elena Krasnoperova is the Founder and CEO of SimplyCircle, a popular parent portal for PTAs, PTOs and other parent communities. She is a mother of two children in elementary school, and an active member of the PTA.

Take Your Family to School Week 2016: Rock Out with PTA

2016 TYFTSW Poster_FINAL-1Schools across the nation took part in our Rock n’ Roll theme as they participated in this year’s Take Your Family to School Week (TYFTSW). From Feb.15-19, 2016 National PTA invited families and schools to “Rock Out with PTA” and celebrate your student rock stars.

We love providing you with ideas for themed events to host. The PTA programs are to help enhance the engagement between parents, students and teachers. A few popular events during TYFTSW that resonated with you were Connect for Respect (C4R), student safety and supporting student success.

The main goal of National PTA’s Connect for Respect (C4R) Program is to prevent bullying both inside and outside of schools. C4R events connect parent and teachers and facilitates their working together to achieve that goal. Our student safety program can be conducted by using National PTA’s Safety Toolkit, which provides overall physical safety tips for children. Last but not least, let’s not forget supporting student success! Showcasing student accomplishments and marking any progress they have made can really boost children’s self-esteem and make them want to continue achieving great things. Hopefully, with the help of our great themed events, we can increase awareness of the importance of education, health and wellness and safety.

During this year’s #TYFTSW16, PTAs took our event ideas and made them their own. All throughout the week, schools engaged in various fun activities, from talent shows to lively science nights. All of the PTAs really out-did themselves this year!

A theme can add a creative twist to your event. It can help boost the engagement of your students and their parents. And that’s what made the events very creative. Barry Pathfinder PTA, located in Kansas City, Mo., had a Star Wars themed roller skating night and a 50s sock hop family drive-in movie night. Wow! In Raleigh, N.C., Centennial Campus Middle School PTSA had a pretty far-out week with their groovy-themed book fair. Now that’s neat!

These schools were able to address serious topics with their amazing, welcoming themes. Barry Pathfinder PTA’s focus was increasing parental engagement. To do so, in addition to their Star Wars and 50s sock hop events, they served a delicious breakfast to students and their parents and informed them of their children’s daily scholastic routine. Centennial Campus Middle School PTSA focused on anti-bullying, test taking and anxiety and online safety alongside their “groovy” book fair. With the assistance of N.C. House Representative Rosa Gill and NCPTA President Kelly Langston, their message came across loud and clear to both parents and students.

Nothing brings a community together better than dancing, food and music. Grafenwoehr Elementary School PTA, located in Grafenwoehr, Germany, had the right idea by having a Just Dance family dance-a-thon! Their main focus was health and wellness. With that much moving around, by end of the night everyone enjoyed themselves and felt energized. A jamboree will do the job as well. That was Racine, Wis. Jerstad-Agerholm Middle School PTSA’s idea. They took the all-inclusive party route and joined the elementary and middle schoolers together, along with their parents, to have a fun-filled day with arts and crafts, food, games and raffles.

TYFTSW events help to get your students and their parents on the same page. It’s better for everyone—students, parents, teachers and schools—when parents understand what their child is learning, especially when a student needs help with their homework. A night filled with math and literacy activities, a student art gallery and science learning are all great ways to get parents involved and up-to-date. Marigny Elementary PTA did just that! They welcomed parents to a night of fun learning to give parents ideas they can use to keep learning going at home for their kids.

Ultimately, the goal of PTA programs is team work. After all, they say it takes a village to raise a child. Parents and teachers have to make a unified effort in order to develop a better learning environment for the children. Participating in your school’s Take Your Family to School Week can get the ball rolling in the right direction! We can’t wait to see what great themes you come up with next year!


Ebony Scott is the communications intern at National PTA.

Parent-Teacher Partnership Results in Trip to the White House

STEm-NSF“There are so many great teachers out there that need to be recognized,” says former local Virginia PTA president Christie Olsen. A few years ago, Christie took her own advice and nominated her twin daughters’ teacher, Stephanie Chlebus, for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). Stephanie went on to become the 2012 PAEMST awardee for mathematics in Virginia, for which she received a certificate signed by the President, a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a trip for two to Washington, D.C., where she met President Obama.

“Stephanie is unique as a teacher, in that she makes every single one of her students feel like they are just as good as the next student in mathematics,” explains Christie, who was able to see this first hand with her daughters. “She’s always willing to provide more challenges for students that are excelling, while using her talents to find innovative ways to teach the kids that might not be getting it.”

Building Partnerships and Keeping Communication Open

As we all know, the relationship between parent and teacher is an important one. Christie nominated her daughters’ teacher, Stephanie, for the PAEMST award because she had built a partnership with her. To do this, according to Christie, there must be trust between all parties that everyone (parent, teacher, administrator, etc.) is acting in the best interest of the child. Once that is established, open communication is the best way to build the parent-teacher partnership. “One party can’t shut out the other. It just won’t work,” Christie advises.

On the other end, as the teacher, Stephanie has instituted several initiatives to foster collaboration between herself and the parents of her students. She emails parents every week to give them an idea of the objectives and content that will be taught in the upcoming days. This enables parents to have deeper conversations with their children about what’s going on in the classroom and what they’re learning each day. She also engages parents and families with several events, such as family math game night and parent Academy night.

What’s Stephanie’s advice for parents who are thinking about getting more involved in the PTA or volunteering in their child’s classroom? “Do it!” She stresses, though, to remember that every teacher is different. While some teachers may be dying for volunteers, other teachers may not be comfortable (or are not allowed) to have parent volunteers in the classroom. She suggests you offer your help and give the teacher the opportunity to tell you what they need. Like Christie, she stresses the importance of open communication.

Stephanie also points out that without the support of the PTA at her school, she wouldn’t have been able to put on the events that families love. “A strong PTA that supports its teachers, results in teachers who can run more initiatives to help its students,” she adds.

Recognizing Teachers for Outstanding Work

The importance of being nominated for PAEMST by a parent was not lost on Stephanie. “I know my colleagues see me working day in and day out to make learning relevant to students, but to have that come across to a parent through her children’s love and desire for math meant the world to me,” she shares. “Having a parent nominate me for PAEMST was the biggest compliment I can receive as a teacher.”

Both Stephanie and Christie note that parents can be involved in recognizing great teachers. Stephanie says that several parents pulled together student quotes for her PAEMST application, which helped give her application a personal touch. Christie suggests nominating the exceptional teachers in your school for awards like PAEMST.

“Any way you can recognize a great teacher for being great, or motivate them to keep doing a great job, is essential. It’s a great loss when outstanding teachers get disillusioned and leave the profession. Even if they don’t apply, and it’s just a nomination, you are still recognizing that they are going above and beyond for their students.”

Learn more about PAEMST and how to nominate a great teacher in your child’s life by April 1.


 

Dr. Nafeesa Owens is the program lead to the Presidential Awards for Excellence for Mathematics and Science Teaching program at the National Science Foundation. Most importantly, she is the mother of twin boys who are in kindergarten and is a local PTA member.

I’m Opting Out of Opt-Out

This blog post was originally published on the Huffington Post.

With the arrival of spring comes assessment season for students, families and educators across the country. When my girls were in grade school, I remember dedicating time to helping them be confident and ready to take state tests. I also remember some feelings of anxiety before the tests, but at the same time, the importance of the assessments in helping my children’s teachers and school better support their success through data-driven planning and decision-making.

During testing season last year, reports emerged that a large number of students were opted out of state assessments. While polls have indicated a majority of parents do not support the concept of opt-out, the movement has vocal supporters and it is expected that even more attention will be paid to student participation in assessments.

Understandably, many parents and educators have concerns about the over emphasis on testing and the impact it is having on teaching and learning. Speaking up and taking action is a critical step to improve the overall education system and ensure every child has the opportunity to reach his/her full potential. However, National PTA does not believe that full scale assessment opt-out is an effective strategy to address the frustration over testing or that opting-out helps to improve a given assessment instrument. Mass opt-out comes at a real cost to the goals of educational equity and individual student achievement while leaving the question of assessment quality unanswered.

The consequences of non-participation in state assessments can have detrimental impacts on students and schools. Non-participation can result in a loss of funding, diminished resources and decreased interventions for students. Such ramifications would impact minorities and students with special needs disparately, thereby widening the achievement gap.

For example, states like New York that did not meet the participation requirement last school year received a letter stating that funding–including for English language learners, students with disabilities and other students in need–could be at risk if they have less than 95% participation on exams this spring. Opting out also stalls innovation by inhibiting effective monitoring and improvement of programs, exams and instructional strategies, and could thwart transparency by providing incomplete data for states, districts and schools.

Recognizing the concerns parents and educators have about testing, and the importance of improving assessment systems, National PTA’s Board of Directors recently adopted a position statement on assessment. The statement acknowledges the importance of eliminating unnecessary and low-quality assessments while protecting the vital role that good assessments play in measuring student progress so parents and educators have the best information to support teaching and learning, improve outcomes and ensure equity for all children.

While some will solely focus on the statement’s opposition to opt-out policies, when read in its entirety, the statement provides a holistic approach to improving assessment systems. National PTA advocates for improved assessment systems by recommending that states and districts: (1) ensure appropriate development; (2) guarantee reliability and implementation of high quality assessments; (3) clearly articulate to parents the assessment and accountability system in place at their child’s school and (4) bring schools and families together to use the data to support student growth and learning.

National PTA strongly advocates for and continues to support increased inclusion of the parent voice in educational decision making at all levels. Parents and families must be at the table when policymakers are considering policies that affect students. National PTA believes in the power of parents making their voices heard and being a part of the solution through engagement. As vice president of advocacy for the association, I have witnessed the ability of families and schools to come together and make true, meaningful improvement through robust dialogue, deliberate investment and thoughtful consensus.

Now is the time for all of us to work together to ensure assessments are executed properly and provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of students as they are intended to do. We must be effective stewards of education for our nation’s children by improving assessment systems, not opting children out of the system that should be for their benefit.


 

Shannon Sevier is vice president of advocacy for National PTA, the nation’s oldest and largest child advocacy association dedicated to ensuring all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Sevier is a proud mother of two high school students and a college student.

Senate Agriculture Committee Moves Forward on Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act

Last month, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry unanimously passed bipartisan legislation—Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016—to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act/Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act for five years.

The bipartisan reauthorization in the Senate comes after years of debate on how to move forward with school nutrition standards—even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in October that 97% of schools were successfully meeting updated nutrition standards.

As part of the bipartisan compromise, the bill would keep the current fruits and vegetables requirement intact—that all students must have at least a half cup of fruits and vegetables with every federally funded school meal. However, grain and sodium requirements are expected to change through USDA’s rulemaking process (instead of the legislative process) before the next school year.

The new regulations for rulemaking would consist of delaying target 2 sodium restrictions in schools from school year (SY) 2017-2018 to 2019-2020 and lowering whole grain-rich requirements from 100% of grains served in schools to 80%. Although National PTA is not in favor of these changes, our association is still in support of the overall bill.

The bipartisan compromise preserves the progress made on school nutrition standards as well as school breakfast and lunch programs while keeping the child nutrition reauthorization process moving forward.

The bill also contains many key elements of the School Food Modernizations Act (S. 540)—that National PTA supported. The reauthorization bill would establish loan assistance and grant programs to help school districts upgrade their food service facilities and assist with staff training opportunities.

The Senate child nutrition reauthorization bill would also require studies on the effects of serving children healthy and nutritious meals at school, which include research and reviews of:

  • Nutrition education best practices
  • State training and technical assistance for schools to serve healthy school meals
  • Effects of selling varieties of milk on milk consumption at school
  • Target sodium requirements for schools and the effect on childrens’ health and school nutrition programs

The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act is expected to move to the Senate floor for consideration in the coming months. The House Education and the Workforce Committee has not released their reauthorization of the child nutrition act yet and the possibility of the House taking up the Senate bill is still unclear.

Sign-up to receive our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for updates on the bill and information on other National PTA legislative priorities.


Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

Department of Education Provides Guidance to Help Reduce and Improve Testing

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance to help states and districts improve the quality of assessments and eliminate redundant and misaligned tests. Of significance to PTA, the guidance encourages Title I schools to conduct assessment literacy nights to increase understanding and communication between families and schools about the use of assessments and how to use test results to support learning at home. Acting U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr., also released this video explaining more about the guidance.

National PTA acknowledges the important role that high-quality assessments play in promoting equity and improving the outcomes of all of our nation’s children. Assessments provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of their students. At the same time, National PTA recognizes the concerns many parents and educators have about the over-emphasis on testing and impact it has on student learning opportunities in the classroom. We applaud the Department’s guidance to help address the current challenges and provide actionable opportunities for states and districts to carry out the work of improving assessments.

The letter to Chief State School Officers by the Department of Education follows President Obama’s Testing Action Plan that was released in October 2015 and identifies key principles for good assessments. While the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) encourages movement away from high stakes testing, the Department’s new document provides immediate opportunities for states and districts to take advantage of current federal resources to reduce testing and support more effective assessment systems since the new law will not take full effect until the 2017–2018 school year.

National PTA recognizes that many states are still working to implement high quality assessment systems that seek to provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of their students. The National PTA Board of Directors recently adopted a position statement on assessment that outlines several recommendations that were highlighted in the Department’s guidance such as auditing of assessment systems to reduce unnecessary tests, ensuring appropriate development, reliability and implementation of high quality assessments, clear and multiple means of communication and engagement with families on assessment, improving the timeliness and comprehension of assessment results, and providing adequate professional development to educators on assessment.

As stated in the PTA Board of Directors adopted position statement, National PTA believes a sound and comprehensive assessment system should include multiple measures of student growth and achievement that reflect the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire, as well as their capacity to perform critical competencies. The association has long held that neither one test, nor a single data point should ever be the sole determinant of a student’s academic or work future. High-quality assessments play a vital role in providing valuable information to parents, students and teachers on student progress.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.

Free SAT/ACT Prep for Students

Helps Mississippi Students

(Sponsored Post)

eknowledge2As a Lt. Col. in the U.S. Air Force, I taught and trained men and women all over the globe, in both combat and peace-time operations. Recently, I was serving as the Air Force Junior ROTC senior aerospace science instructor at Aberdeen High School in Mississippi when I became aware of the SAT/ACT Donation Project that provides quality free prep to all students.

My school in Aberdeen was a Title 1 school and many of our cadets could not afford to purchase ACT/SAT study materials. Doing well on these admission exams is essential to getting accepted into a good college or university.

Through this project we were able to provide our entire AFJROTC unit access to computer-based ACT/SAT study materials. These outstanding resources definitely helped our students achieve much higher scores on their ACT that led to much deserved college admissions.

I have witnessed that my students can excel if given a chance. During the 2014-2015 school year, our Air Force JROTC unit received the Mississippi Governor’s “Partnership Excellence Award.” The award was based on an alliance between our AFJROTC unit, the Aberdeen School District, and the Monroe County (MS) Chamber of Commerce.

eknowledge1Thanks to the U.S. Air Force, our unit was selected to receive an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) based upon our unit’s record of superior performance. Our cadets expertly utilized our UAV to support Monroe County’s vital economic development efforts by conducting multiple aerial photography missions.

Additionally, our cadets planned and conducted Monroe County’s first-ever “Air Expo” to help educate youth and educators regarding aerospace careers and emerging aviation technology.

In my nearly 30 years of military service in the U.S. Air Force leading, teaching and training young men and women, I have learned that people just need opportunities to demonstrate their desire and ability to learn and excel. Programs like the eKnowledge SAT/ACT Donation Project and strategic partnerships between education and industry give deserving students that chance.

It’s also why I recently became the program director at CareerKwest USA, in Auburn, Ala. I am able to reach out and help America’s youth achieve their full potential by effectively applying their unique talents to make the world a better place. Our mission at CareerKwest USA is to help our country more effectively prepare our 21st Century Workforce by developing critical career/workforce skills with students in grades Pre-K through first career.

In our world, military might is unfortunately necessary, but it is not the mechanism that will bring lasting peace, prosperity and hope. That will happen only by unlocking the unique and often hidden talents that we all possess and extending opportunity to everyone who will grasp it.

For more info, check out our free SAT/ACT prep resources for all students, or contact us at (951) 256-4076 or Support@eKnowledge.com.

Read more about the Aberdeen HS cadets


Jeff “Cog” Coggin is a retired Lt. Col. from the United States Air Force. He is currently the program director at CareerKwest USA Coggin Operations Group, Worldwide, Inc.

Increasing Family Engagement: Change Starts with Us

During a cohort training, the above group gained an understanding of the Common Core Standards through instruction and discussion.

During a cohort training, the above group gained an understanding of the Common Core Standards through instruction and discussion.

Just when I was beginning to doubt and wonder if I could really make a difference, I saw a quote on my Facebook feed, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” – John F. Kennedy

We all need these little reminders from time to time. In a world where negative news inundates our lives—with failing schools and struggling kids flashing across the screen—we need to remind ourselves that we can still make a difference. This means we must believe in our children’s success by making every child’s potential a reality.

In Lexington, Ky. we have created a culture that believes all students can learn. We partner with parents, schools and community organizations and businesses to provide engagement training to increase advocacy to support our entire student population.

Research has consistently shown that students with engaged families perform better academically and socially.

Our family engagement team uses the Lexington’s Urban Family Engagement Network (UFEN) program, which was originally established by the National PTA in 2009. The goal of the program is to reach and engage traditionally underrepresented families and provide resources they can use to support their children’s education.

urbanfamilyengagement1

In addition to gaining knowledge, some cohorts went on to complete projects, as seen below, that they then presented at our District-wide PTA Leadership training. This group presented on learning styles to a large group of interested attendees.

In 2013, the National PTA expanded the program to six additional urban cities and issued a grant to the 16th District PTA in Lexington. Over the past three years, we modified the program to meet the needs of our community.

Lexington’s UFEN program has graduated about 100 participants who have gone on to empower more families through their roles in their schools, advocacy project development and membership on School-Based Decision Making Councils. Recently, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, Department of Social Services, provided the 16th District PTA with essential funding to continue the UFEN training curriculum for the 2016 calendar year through an Opportunities Grant Initiative.

This past fall, we worked with parents and staff at a local elementary school over a 4-week time period, we held an all-day training session at an area community college that was open to the public, and we provided advocacy and engagement training at Black Achievers’ Meetings through the local YMCA.

This past fall, we worked with parents and staff at a local elementary school over a 4-week time period, we held an all-day training session at an area community college that was open to the public, and we provided advocacy and engagement training at Black Achievers’ Meetings through the local YMCA.

In our community, the Urban Network Family Engagement team provides training and services to all families and members in the Lexington community—representing 40,896 students—and works to educate parents on:

  • Their rights and responsibilities to be engaged with their child’s learning and well-being
  • How to navigate the educational system and advocate for their children
  • How to effectively partner with the school and/or community
  • Strategies for effective leadership

We provide services to help with the normal barriers to attending these engagement trainings, including free childcare, meals and transportation when needed.

Our team also plans to offer regular sessions on key topics such as:

  • Advocacy and training opportunities for non-English speakers
  • Exceptional child advocates
  • Gifted and talented students
  • Male engagement initiatives
  • Effective/inclusive leadership strategies

We believe our training efforts will result in a measurable increase in family engagement. It truly does take all kinds of partners and social levels to meet the needs of our students—not one organization will succeed on their own. We are excited to be part of the grassroots efforts working directly with individual parents and community partners.

Our team is committed being a part of the change and creating a culture that believes that all children can learn. We must help all children reach their full potential by helping to alleviate barriers to family engagement as a key piece of student success.


 

Kristin Heck Sajadi is the Urban Family Engagement Network team lead and community outreach chair at the 16th District PTA in Lexington, Ky.

Maryland PTA Helps Parents Interpret Results of New PARCC Assessments

parccThis past spring, millions of students across the country took the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessments in English language arts/literacy and mathematics for the first time. Parents are now receiving their children’s scores from the tests.

Since these are new tests and assess skills like critical-thinking and problem-solving, the score reports may look different from reports provided to families from previous tests. As part of its ongoing commitment to help families navigate the changes taking place in classrooms, Maryland PTA collaborated with the Maryland State Department of Education to conduct webinars and in-person programs for parents across the state to answer their questions on the new assessments, help them interpret their children’s scores on the tests and empower them with tools and resources to support their children’s success. The information sessions also were designed to help parents work together with their children’s teachers and administrators to fill gaps in learning as determined from the PARCC results to ensure children graduate prepared for college and careers.

The PARCC tests measure the extent to which students are learning the knowledge and skills they need to progress in their K-12 education and beyond. The new score reports are designed to be actionable and be tools for parents to understand where their child is doing well and where there may be a need for additional support. This information, along with grades, teacher feedback and scores on other tests, will help give parents a more complete picture of how well their child is performing academically.

As part of the information sessions, Maryland PTA utilized BeALearningHero.org and Understandthescore.org. BeALearningHero.org features a search engine where parents can find tools and resources—in English and Spanish—specific to their child’s needs­. UnderstandTheScore.org includes a Score Report Guide to help parents identify the key factors that determine their child’s performance on the PARCC test, as well as his/her academic gaps and strengths in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Once parents pinpoint their child’s strengths or needs, they can connect to resources, tools and activities that support their child’s achievement.

We know every parent wants the best for their children and wants to support their learning in the most effective ways. Maryland PTA will continue to deliver regularly-updated, timely information to help parents feel confident and informed.

Parents can visit www.MDpta.org to learn more about the PARCC results and to receive regular updates with tools, tips and resources.


Elizabeth Ysla Leight is the president at Maryland PTA.