Keeping Families Together

This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post. Read the original post here.

shutterstock_140108563One of National PTA’s founding principles is to advocate for children and families who are most vulnerable. In the heated debate about immigration, we raise our voice for the estimated 4 million K-12 students in the United States who have at least one parent with the potential of being deported. (Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends)

If these parents and family members are suddenly uprooted from their children’s lives and deported, it will have a significant negative impact on their children’s education and opportunities. Their children will face not only the emotional loss of their primary support, but also the benefits of having families engaged in their education and other aspects of their lives, which result in a greater likelihood of graduating from high school, attending college and being employed.

It is not hard to put ourselves into the shoes of these families and to imagine the horrors that are being talked about so cavalierly. I know if I were to be snatched away by authorities, the trajectory of my 10 and 12 year-old would be forever changed. And if they lived under that threat every day, the emotional stress would adversely impact every aspect of their lives, including their potential for academic success. Yet, this is a reality for millions of children every day.

The threat to families is not just in the evolving rhetoric. In 2013, the federal government deported more than 72,000 mothers and fathers of children who are U.S. citizens, resulting in thousands of shattered families.

Actress Diane Guerrero of “Orange Is the New Black” was one such child and she wrote about how that deportation impacted her life. At 14, she came home from school to find that both of her parents had been deported. With few options, she was fortunate enough to be taken in by friends. However, her parents missed many of her academic and personal accomplishments during her childhood and were not there to provide valuable support. While Guerrero has succeeded despite this distressing experience, many children are less fortunate.

Deportation of parents can lead to greater expense as some children may need to enter the under-resourced foster care system. The trauma may cause some children to understandably lash out with negative behavior in school or possibly end up in the juvenile justice system without the support of their parents. These types of cruel deportations led one New Mexico judge to state, “For 10 years now, I’ve been presiding over a process that destroys families every day and several times each day.”

If students are more likely to do better in school and life when they have involved families, and the documented benefits of our nation’s immigrants far exceed the costs of their presence and participation, then policymakers should provide solutions that benefit our nation’s diverse and talented youth and their families, not harm them.

At National PTA, our motto is “Every Child, One Voice.” When you know our families as I do, you know that many of their children are on their way to be doctors, teachers, social workers, entrepreneurs and other valued members of our society. We raise our voice for the children of immigrants–let’s give them the best opportunity to succeed by keeping their families together and providing them with the best education possible. Their future and our nation’s future depend on it.


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students.

We at National PTA believe that all children residing in the United States, regardless of their citizenship status, have the right of access to a quality public education, adequate food and shelter and basic health care services. Our association strongly considers that a critical part of a quality public education is to provide the same opportunities to all families to be involved in their child’s education, despite their differences.

Special Video Message from President Bay: Thank You PTA Advocates!

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment that strengthens family engagement provisions in the Every Child Achieves Act, a bill that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind. The passage of the amendment is a testament to the power of our collective voice to make a difference for all students and schools.

I want to take a few moments to thank you for your advocacy efforts because this could not have happened without you being a voice and your hard work and dedication to the mission of PTA.

Thank you again to all of our members and advocates and keep up your tremendous advocacy on behalf of our nation’s children and families!

Laura’s Corner: Our Children Are Counting on Us

Copyright 2014 Lifetouch National School Studios, IncWelcome to my new corner of the blog!

I am honored to serve as the 54th president of National PTA and am excited about this opportunity to strengthen our mission to make every child’s potential a reality.

I look forward to connecting and working with you—our members—to achieve this goal.

PTA brings together families, educators, business and community leaders to solve the toughest problems and is a powerful voice for all children from schools and local communities to state legislatures and the halls of Congress.

We understand and believe that opportunity starts and ends with access to a great education, and as president, I want to diversify the association’s education platform and strengthen programs that support the whole child.

We can do this together by:

  • Advocating to make sure that all children have a safe place to live, learn and thrive
  • Working to enhance PTA’s STEM and early learning efforts and college and career programs
  • Diving deeper into health issues to meet every child’s physical, social and emotional needs
  • Ensuring that all families are engaged in education and PTA and are at the table to be a voice for their and all children

In Laura’s Corner, I will share my experiences as I visit communities across the country and meet the people who are making a difference every day for our nation’s children and schools.

You can also follow me on Twitter @PTALauraBay and share your questions, concerns, suggestions and activities. I want to know the positive strides you are making in your schools and communities and the challenges you face in advocating for every child.

Thank you for your support and your commitment to PTA! And thank you for all that you do for our children!

Laura Bay is National PTA President.

Nominate Your Peers for a 2015 Bammy Award

CelebratewhatsrrightNominations are now open for the 2015 Bammy Awards, which are organized by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences International and seek to recognize the outstanding contributions made by those working in and around education.

Every day, great work is being done in schools by teachers, administrators, staff, parents and students, but unfortunately, much of this is unknown to the general public. The Bammy Awards program was created to showcase the unsung contributions, collaborative spirit and exceptional role models that represent the best elements of American education. National PTA is pleased to support the awards program as the association believes it is essential to spotlight and recognize the exceptional commitment, extraordinary contributions and innovative collaborations among educators, families and communities across the nation.

Through the awards program, everyone is invited to nominate, vote for and publically share stories – in 36 categories, including Parent Group Leader – of the great things happening in their school communities. We all know amazing teachers, principals, superintendents, school nurses, engaged parents, school librarians, school custodians and caring school staff. We encourage you to take a moment to nominate deserving individuals and help shine a light on the great work being done in education.

In addition to supporting the Bammy Awards, National PTA has designated May 4-8, 2015 Teacher Appreciation Week to honor and celebrate teachers and important contributions they make to ensure every child succeeds and reaches his/her full potential. Teacher Appreciation Week is the perfect time to recognize teachers who are making a difference in the lives of children in your community. Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week by nominating a special teacher for a Bammy Award.

Visit for more information on the awards program. The nomination and voting period ends May 15.

Sherri Wilson is a senior manager of family and community engagement for National PTA. Wilson was the recognized by the Academy of Arts and Sciences with the 2014 Bammy Award for Parent Group Leader as well as the 2014 Educators Voice Award for Parent Group Leader of the Year.

Senate Education Committee Passes Every Child Achieves Act

Yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously passed the Every Child Achieves Act, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB). This is another step toward reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB. National PTA is pleased to see movement on this important piece of legislation. Comprehensive reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB is National PTA’s top legislative priority this Congress.

Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) praised his colleagues and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) for their hard work and bipartisanship during the three day markup of the bill. The bill will now go to the floor of the U.S. Senate where all Senators will be able to debate and have the opportunity to amendment the bill. We are hearing that the bill could be brought to the floor in mid-May or June.

National PTA and Colorado PTA worked with Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) to introduce an amendment that would create a program to authorize Statewide Family Engagement Centers as a replacement to Parent Information and Resource Centers, which were eliminated in the bill. Senator Bennet offered his amendment but then withdrew it. This was done for strategic reasons, and the Senator plans to offer it again on the Senate floor. National PTA seeks to strengthen the family engagement provisions in the bill and will be asking PTA advocates to reach out to their Senators to ensure that the Every Child Achieves Act has specific improvements that prioritize capacity building for the implementation of systemic and sustainable family engagement practices that increase student achievement.

During the markup, several amendments passed that National PTA supported, including the elementary and secondary school counseling program; the Javits gifted and talented program; the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which would provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours; and an amendment that would provide resources to initiate, expand and improve physical education programs in schools. These amendments provide needed resources and supports to students and schools and are aligned with PTA’s 2015 Public Policy Agenda.

Another PTA-supported amendment that passed would enable states and school districts to conduct audits of their testing systems to reduce low-quality, misaligned and redundant tests.

National PTA is also pleased to see the passage of an education technology amendment that would foster innovative technology initiatives in classrooms and schools and provide professional development for educators as well as a grant program that would improve coordination, quality and access to early learning opportunities for children and families.

We are thankful that no public or private school portability or voucher amendments passed in Committee; however, both Senators Alexander and Scott (R-SC) vowed to introduce portability amendments on the Senate floor.

We will need PTA advocates to gear up for the action on the Senate floor to strengthen family engagement provisions and ensure that every child has the resources and support he/she needs to reach his/her full potential.

Stay tuned for more updates on the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB through the One Voice Blog and by following @NationalPTA on Twitter.

Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA. Follow her on Twitter at @balljacki.

Of Nail Polish, Foster Children and Identity Theft

In March, National PTA’s Every Child in Focus campaign centers on the Foster Child. This post from a proud foster parent highlights the joys and challenges that come with the territory.

Lifelock_March172015I have three wonderful children. They sing at full volume when we’re all in the car. They attack each other with straws at the Mexican restaurant. Just normal, energetic kids. So when my wife and I decided to become licensed foster parents we knew we were bringing more excitement into our already full home.

Last month a curly-haired little girl arrived. She was dropped off with a small bag of clothes and a few stuffed animals. Raising my own kids is already a challenge, but stirring a new addition into the bowl presents all types of new challenges. Now there are more messes in the living room, more tears at bedtime and more spilled nail polish on the carpet. Did I mention red nail polish, on the tan carpet? This was not an easy cleanup.

The reality is the home our foster child was taken out of wasn’t safe. As parents, we go to great lengths to ensure that the children under our care have a safe environment. We make sure the people in our home are emotionally healthy. We lock up the bleach and the weed killer in the shed. We hold hands when we cross the street on the way to the park. Children need parents to create safe places for them to grow up and successfully transition into adult life.

Foster children can have it especially difficult. Some bounce from house to house, they’re in and out of group homes, and many never arrive in a long-term home. Even in the best of circumstances, the odds are against them. According to the Children’s Advocacy Institute, foster children are at high risk of being homeless after aging out of care, less likely to graduate high school than other kids, and end up incarcerated at a much higher rate than other children.

On top of that, foster children are often victims of identity theft. Their personal information passes through group homes social workers, relatives and foster parents. There’s no shortage of opportunities for people to steal and misuse this sensitive information. That leaves them unable to rent an apartment or even purchase a mobile phone after they age out of the system because identity thieves have ruined their credit.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation produced a guide to help adults working with young people in foster care to implement a credit check requirement authorized by federal law. The guide also recommends that adults educate foster children about the threat of identity theft and the importance of establishing good credit.

My wife and I will do our best to care for our foster child for as long as we are able. It saddens us to know that there are others who will take advantage of such vulnerable kids by abusing their identities. I’m proud that my company, LifeLock, supports local organizations that advocate on behalf of foster children, and I hope others to join the effort.

And if you’ve ever considered becoming a foster parent, I strongly encourage you to take the next step and get in contact with a local foster care agency. I promise you the chance to provide a child with safety and love more than makes up for a little spilled nail polish on the carpet.

Thomas Kinsfather is the Manager of LifeLock Quality Management, and a proud foster parent.

National PTA thanks LifeLock for their generous corporate contribution to support the foster care component of Every Child in Focus.

LifeLock is a financial 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.

How to Engage All Families

Last year a National Center for Education Statistics report projected public schools in the United States would become majority-minority. This is a significant statistic for an association whose overall purpose is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.

As the former outreach director for Washington State PTA, I was a member of a board that received the Jan Harp Domene Diversity and Inclusion Award. Now, as the Founder and CEO of Diverse Community Connectors, LLC, I teach organizations how to engage diverse communities. An essential component of this work is introducing Washington State’s passionate diversity engagement leaders and sharing their inspiring work.



The purpose of this blog is to encourage you to celebrate diversity by:

  • Introducing you to engagement leaders and their work
  • Acquainting you with a useful 7-step process
  • Inspiring you to apply for the JHD Diversity and Inclusion Award

Why? I believe you will significantly increase your chances of accomplishing your PTA’s ultimate mission.


Simply click on the links below and you will be motivated as you read about:


If you are facing a situation in which you need to engage diverse families, this 7-Step process can help.

  1. Assess the situation using data
  2. Determine who you’d like to engage
  3. Partner with all like-minded stakeholders
  4. Create a plan of engagement with stakeholders
  5. Engage – follow your plan
  6. Evaluate your results
  7. Improve and repeat


Remember, there is no magic bullet for engaging all families. It takes dedication and time. It is so worth it! Apply for the Jan Harp Domene Diversity and Inclusion Award and feel free to contact me. I’d love to celebrate and share your how-to model. Cheers!

JMarieJMarie is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, former school district administrator, social entrepreneur, and PTA mom. Her passion is to teach organizations to engage diverse communities so they both experience success.

13 Ways a PTA Can Help a Student with Special Needs

FriendshipCircle1Reposted from Friendship Circle Blog.

What exactly does the PTA do?

The PTA does whatever the school needs to be done. Some PTA activities do not cost anything except volunteer hours, for example, providing volunteers to help students check out library books, or to help the office staff check in late students and deliver lost lunchboxes in the morning.

Most PTA activities require funding, especially academic enrichment and extracurricular support. For these efforts, the PTA raises funds through carnivals, silent auctions, book fairs, membership drives, corporate sponsorship, grants from private foundations and other creative methods.

How do students with special needs fit in with the PTA’s goals?

Some parents of students with special needs are resentful of their local PTAs because they feel that their children are excluded from school activities. Some special education classes don’t visit the library or the book fair at all. The school carnival may be too noisy and chaotic for certain students. Special education teachers may feel discouraged from applying for a PTA classroom mini-grant, because it will only benefit a few students.  Some PTA meetings may seem to be controlled by a small clique that wants nothing to do with special education students.

The truth is that the PTA is comprised of its members, and at most schools, one person really can make a difference.

For a few years, I couldn’t attend any of the PTA’s evening meetings due to sleep issues at home, and my fussy baby prevented me from volunteering for most activities.  s my little one grew bigger, I was able to attend a few meetings and help with a few initiatives. Then I began to see the potential benefit of the PTA for my older son, who is a special education student. This year I am serving as the PTA president at my older son’s middle school.

If you think the PTA can’t or won’t help your special education student, you are wrong! These are some of the programs that the PTA has sponsored at schools across the USA. All that’s missing is the right volunteer for the job, and that would be you.

1. Parent to Parent Support

When my son had his first IEP, I was asked if I wanted to be contacted by a member of the school’s Parent to Parent Support Team. Parents with years of IEP experience call parents who are new to the system, and answer their questions. This program does not cost anything, and it creates a sense of community for new parents who may be feeling isolated.

2. Buddy Bench

Recess is one of the most difficult periods of the day for students with special needs. Elementary students came up with the idea of a Buddy Bench, where anyone who needs a friend can go and feel welcome.

3. Modified events

A school carnival does not have to be noisy and chaotic. Activities can be modified to be more accessible to students sensitive to noise, and physical barriers can be reduced…but usually someone has to speak up and request the modifications. At my son’s middle school, we distribute maps of carnival activities to each family, and we spread the attractions across the school so that there are some quiet areas and other areas for sensory integration activities.

4. Awareness Days

Right now, the PTA board at my son’s school is working on an autism awareness event for World Autism Awareness Day, because of the significant number of students with autism at the school. All students will be encouraged to wear shirts with the school logo on April 2, and each grade level will earn “spirit points” for wearing the school logo. The grade with the most spirit points will receive special privileges from the principal during recess. In addition, we will have penny wars between the classes, and the money raised will be used to purchase materials to build a therapy item for students with autism, such as a squeeze chair or Buddy Walker.

5. Tutoring

The PTA often recruits volunteers to work as tutors after school or to assist with reading and math drills during school hours. At my son’s school, the PTA pays a stipend to teachers who help with homework after school three days per week.

6. Reflections Art Contest
Every autumn, the PTA sponsors the nationwide Reflections art competition for K-12 students in the fields of literature, dance, music composition, film, photography and visual arts.


Students with disabilities may enter the contest at their grade level or in the Special Artist category. Two of my son’s photographs recently won at the local level this year and have advanced to the state competition.

7. Teacher grants

Most PTAs offer classroom mini-grants, and special education teachers are welcome to apply. Sensory integration items such as a ball chair, swing or sand table are popular requests.

8. Outside grants

Last year I found a local grant opportunity, and applied for it on behalf of my son’s school social worker, who facilitates a large peer-to-peer support program. The grant was awarded to her – an extra $1,000 that she was not expecting in her budget! Because the PTA is a registered non-profit, its board members are eligible to apply for grants from most foundations.

9. Special Education Committee

Yes, the PTA is famous for committees and subcommittees.  Some schools such as Clover Hill Elementary in Virginia have a special education committee that raises its own funds to provide community and support to the families of special education students.

10. Special Education PTA

A school district may choose to form a Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) for the purpose of advocating for families of students in special education. A SEPTA has a budget and mission that is separate from other local PTA units, so it’s in a position to benefit special education students directly and exclusively. Talk to your local PTA Council about creating a SEPTA if you think this would be a good match for your school district.

11. List of national resources

The National PTA offers a free special education toolkit that features a list of national organizations that advocate for students in special education. The toolkit also suggests ideas for including families of special education students in more school activities.

12. Connect for Respect

The National PTA has developed an anti-bullying initiative, Connect for Respect, that is designed to be adaptable for students of all abilities. The program is student-led and is intended as a creative team effort.

13. Healthy Lifestyles

The National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles program promotes nutrition, exercise and energy balance. American children are increasingly at risk for obesity and inactivity, and the risk is even higher for students in special education. The National PTA has coordinated best practices for student health and made recommendations through the program material.

The National PTA’s motto is, “Every Child. One Voice.” That includes your child and your voice. If you think the PTA should be doing something that is not described here, go to a meeting and advocate for your student. That’s how every one of these ideas got started!

Karen Wang is a contributing author to the anthology “My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities”

Empowering Families to Support Student Success

SanJose_2We know that when families, schools and communities work together as partners, student achievement is boosted and children are better prepared to lead happy and productive lives. That’s why California State PTA partnered with National PTA and Univision (the nation’s leading media company serving our Spanish-speaking parents) to offer two “Academias para Padres” (Parent Academies); free Spanish-language parent engagement workshops in San Jose (6th District PTA) and Van Nuys (31st District PTA).

The events empowered Hispanic parents to help their children achieve their educational and career goals. Workshop topics included:

  • College and Career Readiness
  • Understanding the New Common Core State Standards
  • Speaking Up for Your Child

Weekday morning co-hosts Omar and Argelia from Univision’s acclaimed “El Show de Omar y Argelia” (The Omar and Argelia Show) and Kira Vilanova, co-host of Univision 14’s morning show “Al Despertar,” attended in San Jose and shared messages and testimonials on the impact education has had in their lives. In Van Nuys, attendees were greeted by Univision 34 KMEX-TV news anchors Gabriela Teissier and Antonio Valverde, who spoke to the audience about taking an active and engaged role in their children’s education.

As an added bonus, Omar and Argelia encouraged parents to join their local PTA – and even recorded a quick video to share!

PTA state and district leaders were the driving force behind these two successful events. We developed the program and workshop content, and provided or identified speakers and workshop presenters. PTA volunteers also worked with local school districts to secure event facilities, coordinated childcare and encouraged local businesses to provide raffle prizes. PTA leaders reached out to local schools to encourage attendance and participation in the events. Onsite, local PTA leaders welcomed participants at event registration and served as ushers and guides for each workshop. We also reached out to other state and local partners and sponsors, such as The Education Trust-West, Art in Action and Panda Express.

Fischerblog2Following the events, we compiled survey data to evaluate and assess the program. We also added contact information to our email system to ensure continued engagement and outreach. In total, we served more than 400 Spanish-speaking parents through the events. California State PTA was thrilled to partner with National PTA and Univision to boost family engagement in schools to support student success, and we look forward to our continued collaboration.

Take a look at the excitement from San Jose and Van Nuys on Facebook at

California State PTA is also pleased to provide samples of Spanish-language workshop materials and handouts:

FISCHERJustine Fischer is the California State PTA President-Elect. Special thanks to National PTA, Univision, The Education Trust-West, 6th District PTA, 31st District PTA, Washington Elementary School PTA, Birmingham Community Charter High School PTA, Washington United Youth Center, Panda Express, Art in Action, JFK University, the Santa Clara County Office of Education and the Los Angeles Unified School District Education Service Center North for helping to make these great events happen!

Engage! Speaking Up for My Child

Sherri_WilsonAs a parent, there isn’t much that means more to you than your children. You want them to be happy, healthy and one day able to put you in a nice nursing home with an oceanfront view! We all know that it is harder and harder to find a good job without an education and the lack of a good job makes everything more difficult. As parents, we understand the value of a good education, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to do when you see your child begin to struggle in school.

I began my career working in a Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) in Alabama. I was trained to help families who have children with special needs to advocate for the services to ensure their children receive a free, appropriate public education. I worked with families from all over the state who had children with every type of disability. I trained groups of parents throughout the state.  I helped them to understand what the federal laws were and how to access the state regulations. I went with them to meetings to model effective communication skills. In spite of all my experiences and all of the families I helped, I still wasn’t prepared when my child was identified as eligible for services.

My son struggled with attention problems and was ultimately diagnosed with ADHD. We also discovered through the testing process that he had learning disabilities in written expression and math. The evaluations didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Every night I saw him struggle with those challenges and tried to help him. I knew that his challenges were not his fault and that there were services that could help him, but trying to articulate that to his teachers was often very frustrating. Before his evaluation, I was told he was not motivated, that he didn’t try hard enough, and that he just needed to pay more attention. Finally getting the evaluation was like a Christmas miracle because at last I had something to point to and say it’s not his fault, let’s stop trying to blame him and talk about how we can support him!

Even with the diagnosis, the evaluations, and the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), I had a hard time getting help for my child. It was hard to schedule meetings and then they often seemed rushed to get me out and get the next parent in. The services would be in his IEP but I’d find out they weren’t being provided in his classroom. I feared I was being labeled as the “problem parent” because I was asking for too many meetings to try to address the services that weren’t being provided or weren’t working. I didn’t want to push for too much because I was always afraid there would be repercussions against my son.

Ultimately, I realized it is really, really hard to advocate for your own child all by yourself. I really believe that most of the educators in my son’s life wanted him to be successful but were overwhelmed or under resourced. I was most frustrated by the times I was not treated as a partner in his education; when teachers acted like I hadn’t spent years with this child taking him to doctor’s appointments, sporting events and birthday parties or when the principals acted like I hadn’t been to a hundred other IEP meetings where they told me not to worry because they didn’t need to put it all down on paper since we were all in agreement.

I believe that every parent wants the best for their children, even if they aren’t sure how to articulate it or what it looks like. I also believe that educators decide to teach because they care about children and want to see them do well. I hope one day we all recognize that in each other we can really embrace a true partnership where we help each other to help our children succeed.