Consider a “Digital Diet” for Your Family

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As tablets, smartphones and other personal technology devices play an increasingly dominant role in all of our lives, finding a good balance seems to be a tricky endeavor in many American households. Both parents and teens log more than five hours a day on their devices (outside of work and school), often during family dinners and while spending leisure time together. Many people also use these devices for hours each day with earbuds or headphones.

Finding balance is critical for many reasons, including children’s communication health. Dedicated time for verbal exchange— listening, talking, reading and interacting face-to-face —is essential for young children’s speech and language development. It is critical that time spent alone with devices (even on educational apps!) does not take away from time for interaction with parents. This “talk time” is also a precursor for reading, academic and social success. The benefits extend to older children as well, whose brains are still developing throughout the teen years, as well as family relationships.

Too much time on digital devices doesn’t just negatively impact communication health and academic success, it also has an effect on physical health. There has been a tremendous increase in hearing loss among children recently. Noise-induced hearing loss is a preventable problem, but once it occurs, it is irreversible. Earbud and headphone misuse can be especially problematic.

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, a great time for technology-dependent families to introduce some better habits. (The exception being for children who require assistive devices to communicate.) A recent survey from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) showed that once parents and teens learn more about the potential negative effects of tech overuse, they are willing to change their habits. Being mindful of balance is also key as we approach summer, when increased leisure time often means even more tech time for kids. Here are some “digital diet” tips from ASHA:

  1. Create a family technology plan—together. An agreed-upon set of rules is a good way to keep everyone on track. Schedule regular check-ins to determine whether you’re actually substituting tech time with more quality time together. Surprisingly, most teens whose parents set rules agree that the rules are fair—and parents report they work.
  1. Designate tech-free zones in the home. The kitchen, bedrooms, the family room…there may be one place in your home that you can keep devices out of, as a general rule. This helps with the temptation to constantly check your phone or jump at the sound of every incoming notification. It makes a difference to even have 30 minutes free from tech distractions.
  1. Talk instead of text, when possible. Texting offers tremendous convenience for parents to get in touch with their kids. But texting is not a replacement for verbal exchange. Tone, facial expressions and other nonverbal signals are just some of the ways in which texting falls short (and no, emojis don’t do the trick). Try to avoid texting your child when both of you are at home, as a start.
  1. Resist overreliance on technology to pacify boredom. Technology is an easy way to keep even the youngest children entertained. However, the best opportunities for conversation, learning and bonding are often found in situations that may be viewed as boring, such as while running errands or on a long car trip.
  1. Always practice safe listening, especially when using earbuds or headphones. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and to take listening breaks. These are messages kids need to “hear” from their parents.

Remember, if you ever have concerns about your child’s hearing or speech/language skills, consult a certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist.


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Jaynee A. Handelsman, PhD, CCC-A is a pediatric audiologist and the 2016 ASHA president.

 

A Special Message from President Laura Bay: I Challenge You!

Hello PTA Leaders,

Think BIG… Think PTA! 2016 National PTA Convention & Expo is just two months away, and I challenge you to register for our BIGGEST convention yet.

This year’s convention will take place June 30-July 3 at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort—a great excuse to plan a family vacation to Disney World! In addition to enjoying the magic of Disney, PTA leaders will connect with one another at convention and be inspired by big thinkers including New York Times best-selling author Julie Lythcott-Haims.

So what are you waiting for? Join the excitement and be a part of our biggest convention yet!

Help me spread the word about convention by making a video just like this one, and share it on Facebook or Twitter using the official hashtag #PTAcon16! You can also find promo tools like badges, sample messaging and more in our toolkit at PTA.org/Convention.

I look forward to seeing you at convention!


Laura Bay is National PTA’s president.

 

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.

4 Ways to Get Involved in Your Children’s Education

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This blog was originally posted on TODAY Parenting Team.

Every parent wants the best for their child and wants to be engaged in their education to support their learning and achievement.

The challenge for many parents, however, is figuring out what they can do and knowing the most effective ways to get involved.

As the president of National PTA, I have spoken to many parents who have asked, “How can I be involved in my child’s school and learning when I work a full-time job and keep a busy schedule to support my family?” As a working parent, I had the same question and concern when my children entered school.

After first getting involved, I quickly realized the importance to help my children—and all children—succeed and reach their full potential—no matter the level of involvement.

It is important to remember that involvement is different for every family and is not limited to attending meetings or participating at school.

Here are some ways to get involved:

Join PTA
Get involved with your local parent teacher association. Even if you are an on-the-go mom or dad, you will find support from other parents in PTA who have the same questions, concerns, hopes and dreams for their children. You will also be part of a dedicated network of families, educators, businesses and community leaders who are working to ensure all children receive a high-quality education. That means, even if you aren’t able to be at every meeting, you know there is a group of parents who are invested in the success of every child at your school — including yours.

Talk about school matters at home
Be interested and listen to your child. Encourage your child to talk about his/her day and express concerns. Learn about your child’sstrengths and weaknesses and what activities he/she likes and doesn’t like. Two-way communication is essential to developing an active and positive relationship and an open, ongoing dialogue is critical. Then if any issues come up at school, your child will feel more comfortable talking to you about it.

Be a partner in your child’s learning
Education is individual for each child and remains a shared responsibility. It is important to work with your child’s teacher to best support him or her. It is also essential to develop a relationship with your child’s teacher and keep in touch with him/her often. Find out the best way to contact your child’s teacher and ask for times when it would be convenient for him or her to talk. It is also important to provide teachers with the best way to contact you. Consistent communication (via email, phone, etc.) will help build relationships.

Advocate for your child
You are your child’s best advocate. It is important to be a voice for your own and every child to ensure they are treated fairly and have access to opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential. It is also critical to advocate with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure your child’s school has the resources to provide a world class education to every student. When possible, attend school board meetings. Send e-mails and letters and make phone calls to advocate with elected officials.

The most significant type of engagement is what families do at home. Parents can monitor and support their child with his/her schoolwork and let his/her teacher or school know if there are any problems. The work families do at home that’s connected to what kids are doing in school has the biggest academic impact.

By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their child has every opportunity for success.

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.

3 Reasons Why PTA Means So Much to Me

Anna-King-grandchildrenA few years ago, a politician said something to me that hit me to my core and helped me find my voice. He was talking about the need for prisons and said they knew whether a child would go to college or prison by how they could read in the third grade.

So I thought, if we know that children are in trouble by the third grade, the answer isn’t to build prisons, it’s to build better schools and help our kids!

I believe in education and I hope you do too—because, now more than ever, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and everyone who cares about children needs to speak out loudly and effectively on their behalf. And no organization helps us do that better than National PTA.

If you’ve ever had kids in your life, PTA needs no introduction. You know about the cookie dough and wrapping paper drives that your school’s PTA puts on. Sometimes they’re trying to buy nicer playground equipment or new technology. Other times they’re making sure kids have the basic supplies, like notebooks and pencils.

It might seem strange because I am a grandmother in Oklahoma who’s raised her kids, but I am still inspired to be a part of the PTA chorus of advocating for every child with one voice. Here’s why:

  • You don’t have to have a student in school to join and use your voice. To me, that’s so inspiring. It shows me what’s possible. My own children are grown, but that doesn’t mean I no longer have a vested interest in today’s kids and schools. I now advocate side by side with my children for my grandchildren. I know that when schools are good, kids have a better chance to succeed—and when kids succeed, our community and country succeeds too. With leadership and guidance from National PTA, I’ve knocked on state and federal legislators’ doors, the governor’s door, spoken up at state and school board meetings and rallied other parents and community lead­ers to get involved. And I’ve seen how we can make a difference together because you can, too.
  • It takes a village of people who care, get more involved. My daughter’s high school didn’t have a PTA when she started as a freshman. But because of family and community involvement, it now has a strong and active group of parents, grandparents, alumni, teachers (and students!), who are working on behalf of their school. Feeding over 300 students bi-weekly with the food pantry is just one thing this PTA is now doing. Because of family and community involvement, local schools where I live have resources from our school district on how to help homeless par­ents and get clothing and shelter to abused moms and kids. Because of family and community involvement, PTAs throughout Oklahoma City and the entire state of Oklahoma are talking to each other, working with each other and speaking up for kids with each other.
  • You can make every child’s dream a reality. Right now, National PTA is leading the charge to restore federal funds that have been cut from education, bring pre-kindergarten to every child, ensure safe and healthy environments in all schools, raise the bar on academic achievement so every child can reach his or her full potential, and more. Whether we’re talking about funding for pre-kindergarten or creating safe schools, this is a fight for our future.

So let’s give our kids the bright future they deserve. We need to stand together to change the world for our children and grandchildren. Will you join me by donating to National PTA, the nation’s most determined and trusted voice for children? We can make a difference!


Anna King is a member of National PTA board of directors, former president of Oklahoma PTA and is a part of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Commission and participates in the Oklahoma Prevention Leadership Collaborative.

The Smart Talk Holiday Gift Tags

The-Smart-Talk-Holiday-Tags-Horizontal-Wide-750x313Digital devices are topping holiday wish lists for many kids this year. Are you considering giving the gift of technology this year? Perhaps you are upgrading your smartphone and passing down your old phone to your child. Before your child starts using their new (or new used) smart device it’s important to set some smart ground rules.

While many new devices come with instruction booklets- they don’t cover things like who your kid should be “friending” or “following” and when they should share texts with a trusted adult. It’s up to parents to have clear conversations with their kids about using technology responsibly and that can leave many parents wondering where to start. The good news is that there’s a tool that makes the whole process a no-brainer.

LifeLock and the National PTA recently teamed up to create The Smart Talk, a free, online toolkit to help you set up—with your child—some technology ground rules. The goal? A healthier relationship with technology.

Just sit down with your child and review a series of questions on a variety of important, tech topics—from privacy to respect, from apps to social media. In about 15 minutes, you’ll have an agreement you can print, sign and post on the fridge for easy reference.

And just in time for the holidays, we also have gift tags that you can use to remind your family to talk about technology before the fun and games begin. Just print and use as tags on all your tech gifts!

Have a great holiday—and kick off the New Year with The Smart Talk!


Erin Thwaites is the Associate Manager, Health & Safety at National PTA.

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.

Family Reading Ideas for Holiday Break

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Families should read together during holiday break to help make a smooth and successful return to school, without forgetting important skills students have already learned so far this year. There are many ways to read without cracking open a book. Get creative this holiday!

Here are some fun ideas to help your kids remember important school skills like reading, writing and math:

  1. Ditch those school books and replace them with fun classic holiday books. Make sure even the big kids are included by taking turns reading. My oldest loves reading the Night Before Christmas for her little sisters and cousins.
  2. Get your kids involved with holiday cooking. Have them read the recipe while you all prepare the meal. It works great with cookie baking, too!
  3. Make your holiday cards this year, have the kids write them out and display their art work. Who doesn’t love a handmade card?
  4. If you’re driving this holiday break, then use signs and license plates to find hidden alphabet letters, or try and find all the states license plates on a map. Have them color in each state on a map!
  5. Grocery shopping is always a fun way to practice counting and reading with your kids without them even knowing! The bigger kids can learn math by helping you stick to your budget. Tell them what you want and how much you’d like to spend. The smaller ones can read and cross off the items on the list. You can even give each child a color and they have to find items for it, for example, yellow = bananas.
  6. Play games as a family that require reading, math and spelling. One of my 6-year-old’s favorite games is Yahtzee! It was so much fun—everyone was playing, grandpa, uncles and aunts! She was so happy! Little did she know it was reinforcing her math skills.
  7. To keep your kids up on their computer skills, ask the teacher for links to the websites they use at school for math, spelling and reading.

Use your imagination because reading can be so much fun!


Julie Spence is the National PTA Family Reading Ambassador and 2015 #FamiliesRead Challenge winner.

 

Our Students Deserve to Succeed

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There are three key supports needed to achieve student success: home, school and community.

We expect quite a bit from our future leaders, but I have asked myself the question that I now pose to you: “What should public school students expect from us—home, school and community—during this academic year?”

As parents, teachers, administrators and community members, we must operate as a cohesive and collaborative support system to help students excel. They shouldn’t have to do it alone.

We should hold ourselves and each other accountable for our critical role in ensuring students succeed and achieve the desired outcome of “ready by exit.” Ready by exit means regardless of the grade level, our students have learned the information for that grade level and are ready to advance without remediation by the end of the school year.

Parents
There are many ways we can actively engage or increase our engagement in our children’s education. We can ensure that students get enough sleep, arrive at school on time and have safe afterschool care; join and participate in the parent teacher association (PTA); help with their homework, or find someone else, such as a student in a higher grade or a college student, who can help.

Organizations like 100 Black Men, Boys & Girls Clubs and the YMCA/YWCA have tutorial programs. Our active participation shows our children that their education is important and demonstrates our expectation that they excel. Parents can discover new and interesting things about our children, their schools, teachers and friends as we spend more time with our children.

Teachers and Administrators
We must provide more classrooms and school environments that breed and encourage:

  • Lasting success
  • Compelling, relevant and challenging curricula
  • Innovative teachers and teaching practices
  • Inviting school climates with solid anti-bullying policies and practices
  • Data-driven improvement plans and intervention strategies
  • Varied extracurricular activities

We must believe that all children can learn at high levels. Beyond us believing it, however, we must also help our children believe it because so many have been convinced that they can’t.

Community
We must support our students, parents, teachers and administrators by building relationships with them. Here’s how:

Stop by a local school and find out how you can make a difference.

  • Become a partner with a local school and offer your services or the expertise and resources of your business or organization.
  • Serve on a local school council.
  • Get involved as a tutor, mentor, guest speaker or member of the booster club or PTA.

Our students are more than capable of doing the work! However, we must give them access to educational opportunities that equip them to be competitive; remove the obstacles hindering their progress; set high achievement expectations and provide support structures that contribute to their ability to succeed.

100 Black Men of America, Inc. and its like-minded collaborative partners invite you to join the collective efforts for systemic and sustainable education reform. It is our responsibility to raise our collective voices in advocacy and take action so that high-performing public schools and students in our communities become the norm rather than the exception. Our students deserve to succeed!


Brian L. Pauling is the national president and CEO of 100 Black Men of America, Inc.