#GivingTuesday: Help Make Every Child’s Dream a Reality

Giving Tuesday Web Ad 4The holiday season is a time of hustle and bustle – bargain hunting, shopping for the perfect gifts and spending hours cooking, decorating and preparing for guests. The season also is a time of thanksgiving and for giving back. We’re all familiar with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but have you heard of #GivingTuesday? December 2, the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has been designated #GivingTuesday – a day set aside to remind us of the spirit of the season and encourage us to give back to the organizations in our communities working to make a difference and effect positive change.

All children deserve a high-quality education and access to services that will enable them to reach their full potential. But across the country, schools and communities are facing challenges and budget shortfalls, and as a result, important lessons and opportunities are being left out.

Nationwide, PTAs are working hard to fill in the gaps. From supplementing classroom lessons with activities that make learning fun and making sure all children have access to the arts, to teaching kids how to make healthy and safe decisions every day – PTAs are helping schools improve; communities grow and prosper; and making a difference for the education, health and welfare of all children.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I’m asking for your support of PTAs across the country and the important work they are doing by donating this #GivingTuesday to National PTA. National PTA develops programs and resources that PTAs rely on to effect change and fill in the gaps in their schools and communities. The association also empowers parents to speak up and advocate for their and all children – before their school boards, local and state government, and in Washington DC.

National PTA is the conscience of the country for children issues. Through advocacy and family and community education, National PTA has established programs and called for legislation in areas including:

  • Early childhood education
  • Health and wellness programs
  • Family engagement
  • School safety
  • Juvenile justice
  • Arts in education

And because of the work of National PTA, our nation has child labor laws to protect against unsafe working practices and conditions, kindergarten is a part of our public school system, hot lunches are served every day to millions of children in schools, and a separate juvenile justice system exists so that children are not tried and incarcerated as adults.

As the leader of National PTA, I have seen firsthand the positive impact of PTAs across the country on families, schools and communities. With your support, National PTA and PTAs nationwide will continue and build upon programs and efforts that are improving the lives and futures of our nation’s children.

The overall purpose of PTA is to make every child’s dream a reality. Together, we can make this happen.

Thank you for your support of PTA on #GivingTuesday and all year round.

DonateNow

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

NEA and National PTA Encourage Nation to Celebrate American Education Week

With co-author Lily Eskelsen GarciaOtha_Headshot_SM

American Education Week (AEW) is celebrated each year during the last full week before Thanksgiving. This year, AEW will be celebrated November 14-20. Founded by the National Education Association (NEA) and The American Legion in 1921, with the U.S. Department of Education joining in 1922, AEW was created in response to 25 percent of World War I draftees being illiterate and nine percent deemed physically unfit to serve their country.

In its resolution, NEA called for “an educational week… observed in all communities annually for the purpose of informing the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs.”

Today, American Education Week is co-sponsored by National PTA and 11 other national education organizations. The theme for this year’s celebration is Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility, a renewed call to all citizens—parents, teachers, education support professionals, elected officials, community leaders, and yes, students—to make our schools great for all Americans.

As part of the weeklong celebration, Tuesday, Nov. 18 has been designated “Parents Day” to encourage parents to visit their child’s school and spotlight the importance of family engagement in education.

While the nation and our public education system have changed a lot since 1921, one factor—family engagement—remains critical to student achievement. Ongoing research shows that family engagement in schools improves student achievement, reduces absenteeism, and restores parents’ confidence in their children’s education. Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior.

Becoming active in a school’s parent group is an important way to increase involvement. Involvement also encompasses:

  • Setting goals with children and fostering achievement of those goals;
  • Accessing and using children’s academic scores to ensure they’re on track;
  • Frequently viewing the parent portal (or whichever tool their school uses);
  • Developing a relationship with children’s teachers and keeping in touch with them often; and
  • Advocating for improvements in the school building and with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure schools have the resources they need to provide a world class education to every student.

The most significant type of involvement is what parents do at home. By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their children have every opportunity for success.

As the leaders of the nation’s largest education and child advocacy associations, we have seen firsthand the positive impact of family engagement on student success and school improvement. We encourage all parents to take an active role in their children’s education on “Parents Day” and all year round.

Great schools are a basic right and our shared responsibility. To all parents and families, “thank you” for being part of the education team. Find out more on how parents and families can contribute to student success by visiting: http://www.nea.org/parents and http://www.pta.org/.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA. Lily Eskelsen Garcia is president of the National Education Association.

Focusing on Children and Families in Urban Areas

Lana Ajemian is President of New York State PTA.

NYS_1With a goal to develop, implement and support family engagement and empowerment efforts in multicultural, underserved urban communities across New York, New York State PTA formed an Urban Initiative Task Force in 2012. Over a span of 18 months, members of the Task Force worked together to build a better understanding of the needs of urban communities, develop criteria for establishing sustainable family-school partnerships and create unique service/program models. In January 2014, Buffalo Elementary School of Technology (B.E.S.T. School #6) was selected as a pilot school community for implementation of the initiative.

B.E.S.T. School #6 draws its students from two different neighborhoods on opposite sides of the city of Buffalo. The neighborhood on the east side of the city, in which the school is located, is largely African-American and comprises about 50% of the school population. Another 37% of students live on Buffalo’s west side, far removed from the location of the school itself. This part of the city is home to an immigrant population of Burmese, Arab and Nepalese families, many of whom are unfamiliar with American culture and the English language but are seeking a new life for their children and are eager to do whatever they can to help make this happen. More than 90% of students who attend B.E.S.T. School #6 are eligible for free or reduced breakfasts and lunches. With the combined challenges of language, ethnicity, poverty and neighborhood location, the percentage of students attaining proficiency on state tests is presently about 1.7%.

Once B.E.S.T. School #6 was identified as the pilot school for the Urban Initiative Task Force, members of the Task Force devoted countless hours and expertise to communicating to district administrators, school staff and families the key role of PTA and the importance of family engagement to student achievement and school improvement. In doing so, they garnered interest and built trust among the school’s diverse representative groups – parents, staff and community-based organizations. In July, a two-day parent orientation was conducted. This was followed with an invitation for six identified leaders to participate in New York State PTA’s Summer Leadership Conference. Two parents from B.E.S.T. School #6 attended the conference and left the event excited to bring PTA to their school community.

Passion for inclusivity, a welcoming environment, skillful team building, training and networking brought together New York State PTA and the families of B.E.S.T. School #6, and on Oct. 21, the principal of the school opened her building and welcomed PTA into her school family. Students, parents, teachers, support staff, district administrators and Buffalo Public School Board of Education members gathered at B.E.S.T. School #6 and were eager to celebrate this important “first” chartered PTA of the New York State PTA Urban Initiative Task Force, a nearly two-year effort.

NYS_2Members of the Task Force collaborated with school staff to develop a family-friendly format for the charter celebration event. In recognition of National PTA’s Every Child in Focus campaign and the designation of October as the Month of the Urban Child, National PTA President Otha Thornton joined B.E.S.T. families and staff to mark this important day. And, it was beyond thrilling to have their national president conduct the first installation of the officers of B.E.S.T. School #6’s PTA. One of the officers could not contain her excitement as her dad came to see her installed, saying she had “never been a leader of anything,” and was bursting with pride – as was her dad!

Among small “welcoming” gifts, family pictures were taken through the generosity of New York State PTA’s official photographer, Lifetouch.

As families were leaving the celebration event, several expressed that they felt excited, included, part of a community of support, and that something important was happening here. The event brought 50 new members to PTA, and word is out that two other Buffalo units have already requested charter consideration.

The enthusiasm of all who attended the event was palpable. Most impressive was the feeling of momentum building. The primary goal of the Urban Initiative Task Force is to open the door and empower and support diverse families across New York while fostering partnerships between home and school. With the help of many, Oct. 21 marked the achievement of this goal. Now, the challenge is to build on the momentum and inspire others to also “carry the card that counts!”

View the work plan and framework developed by the New York State PTA Urban Initiative Task Force to help build sustainable family-school partnerships at B.E.S.T. School #6 and in other diverse, multicultural and underserved communities across New York.

#ShareAwesome Rallies Families around Digital Citizenship

Otha_Headshot_SMTechnology and the Internet have created countless new opportunities for learning. Students can now read about virtually any subject from anywhere and can connect with people and places around the world. Teachers are harnessing the power of the technology to bring curriculum alive and modify instruction to meet the unique needs of every child. Technology is essential for the development of 21st century skills that will help students thrive in their chosen careers.

Technology is everywhere. We text, tweet, shop, learn, play games, plan family vacations, and even worship online. Some of us even use technology to track our 10,000 steps each day, like I did during this past summer’s convention.

Personally, I love technology. I use it extensively at my job. And on my many travels for National PTA, I often use my phone to arrange for transportation, confirm speaking engagements and to stay in touch with our state and local units.

But with new gadgets, social media platforms and apps coming out every day, I, like most families, don’t have the time or tech savvy to stay on top of the latest fad.

That’s where good decision-making skills that apply to any digital environment are helpful.ShareAwesome Clever Gram

When I think about the vast online world, I look at it through the same lens that I look at everyday life. The ways you should act, protect yourself and treat others online are not so different from what you should do offline. We all strive to be good citizens in the real world. In the virtual world, we should all strive to practice good digital citizenship.

It starts with treating others as you want to be treated. Be kind. Look out for others.  It should be a place to share what we learn and love, stay in touch with friends and family, and a great platform to support our favorite causes.

National PTA has teamed up with LifeLock to bridge the conversation gap about digital safety, promote digital citizenship and share the awesome ways families and friends can inspire each other to use technology in positive ways to help others.  Helping our children maximize smarter, safer, more rewarding decisions online will go far in reducing everyone’s stress levels when it comes to the use of technology.

Here are five ways we can start:

  1. Share your thoughts but don’t share personal info (i.e., address, phone number).
  2. Follow the rules of the site or app and check privacy settings often.
  3. A virtual friend is still a stranger. Never make plans to meet up offline.
  4. Block, delete or hide people who bring you down. Tell a trusted adult if you feel in danger.
  5. Unplug or power down when walking or driving.

National PTA has built a central online hub of expert information about digital safety, as well as activation tools for students, parents, PTAs and schools to participate in a campaign that we call #ShareAwesome. Shareawesomenow.org was built in collaboration with expert advisors from ConnectSafely.org and Common Sense Media. Our hope is that you will use these tools to create a sustained, multi-faceted conversation between parents and students that, hopefully, will allow students to participate in, and steer, the conversation by creating content themselves.

Through the power of digital media—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Bloggers, e-newsletters—we hope this information will reach every home in America. To generate #ShareAwesome enthusiasts, we have launched a scholarship contest that invites social media users to share a smart and safe decision, uplifting accomplishment, or positive action for the good of others using hashtag #ShareAwesome.

Technology is good, and it’s here to stay. It resonates with children, tweens and teens. It should also resonate with adults in a way that is positive and promotes a happy, healthy lifestyle.  When it comes to the digital world, it’s time for all of us to shift the dialogue from scary and preachy to celebratory, fun, and a part of everyday life.

LifeLock is a financial sponsor of National PTA.National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Building Strong, Effective Family-School Partnerships

NPTA_Media Banner 2014-2016Today, National PTA announced that 170 schools and PTAs from across the country have been recognized as 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence for building strong, effective family-school partnerships. Research shows that when families and schools work together, student achievement increases, schools improve and communities grow stronger. The efforts of these schools and PTAs to engage and involve families are making a substantial, positive impact on student success and well-being. We are pleased to recognize their hard work and achievements, and we congratulate them on their National PTA School of Excellence designation.

National PTA also released a report today that summarizes outcomes for the 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence from their participation in the program. The outcomes, which were determined from family surveys administered at the beginning of the school year and then again at the end of the year, demonstrate improved family-school partnerships. During the course of the school year, the National PTA Schools of Excellence achieved:

  • 46% increase in families that always feel empowered to support student success,
  • 53% increase in families that feel they always share power in decision-making related to student success and school improvements,
  • 78% increase in families that feel their school and PTA always collaborate with the community, and
  • 102% increase in families that feel their school and PTA always speak up for every child.

The findings from National PTA’s report underscore the importance of building family-school partnerships to support student success and continuous school improvement.

As a new school year gets underway, it is an important time for families to make a commitment to get involved and schools to commit to partnering with families to ensure students have the support they need to succeed throughout the year. To build effective family-school partnerships, families and schools should make sure they are:

  • Welcoming All Families into the School Community – Families should be active participants in the life of the school and feel welcomed, valued and connected to each other, school staff, and to what students are learning and doing in class.
  • Communicating Effectively – Families and school staff should engage in regular, two-way, meaningful communication about student learning.
  • Supporting Student Success – Families and school staff should continuously collaborate to support students’ learning and healthy development both at home and at school.
  • Speaking Up for Every Child – Families should be empowered to be advocates for their own and other children to ensure that students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that will support their success.
  • Sharing Power – Families and school staff should be equal partners in decisions that affect children and together inform, influence and create policies, practices and programs.
  • Collaborating with the Community – Families and school staff should collaborate with community members to connect students, families and staff to expanded learning opportunities, community services and civic participation.

In addition to being designated as 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence, two schools also have been honored with the 2014 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awards for Innovation in Family Engagement. Eden Central PTA in Eden, N.Y., has been recognized with the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award. Mountain View Elementary PTA in Purcellville, Va., has been recognized with the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit. Named after National PTA co-founder Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the awards are the highest honor presented by the association to recognize local PTAs that have effectively implemented the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. Click here to read about the efforts of Eden Central PTA and Mountain View Elementary PTA to reach and engage more families.

Eden Central PTA, Mountain View Elementary PTA and all of the 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence are true examples of what can be accomplished when families and schools work together.

As we kick off the 2014-2015 school year, I encourage PTAs and schools nationwide to evaluate their current family engagement strategies, brainstorm ideas for family involvement practices and activities, develop a plan to address barriers and open up new ways for families to support student success, and monitor progress throughout the year in reaching family engagement goals. The National PTA School of Excellence program helps guide PTAs and schools to engage more families in student success and school improvement. Learn more and enroll in the program at PTA.org/Excellence.

It is critical that meaningful partnerships are established between families and schools in every district and every school. Together, we can help every child reach his or her full potential and make every child’s dream a reality.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

National PTA Family Mourns Passing of Former Secretary-Treasurer Tina Zubeck

Tina Zubeck HeadshotTina Zubeck, former secretary-treasurer of National PTA, passed away on August 4, 2014 surrounded by her family after a courageous battle with Myelodysplasic syndrome. It is with a sad heart that the PTA family says farewell to an exceptional woman.

Those who were fortunate enough to work alongside Tina knew her as one of the most passionate and dedicated advocates for education and the health and welfare of every child across the nation.

Tina felt strongly about the unique role of PTA when it comes to providing support to schools; promoting responsible leadership; and encouraging parents, teachers and the entire community to get involved in the work of nurturing and educating the next generation.

We will always remember Tina for her steadfast leadership and unending commitment to take action and make a difference for the lives and futures of our nation’s children. Tina’s passion for education and the wellbeing of every child was remarkable, and she touched so many lives personally and professionally.

Tina was elected and installed as National PTA secretary-treasurer at the June 2013 Convention. Prior to her election, she served as the Field Service Committee chair on the National PTA Board of Directors as well as a member of the Membership and Strategic Planning Committees.

Tina also served as president, treasurer and legislative vice president of Missouri PTA and was a member of the Platte County High School PTSA and the Show Me PTA. Additionally, she worked for 22 years for the Platte County R-3 School District, most recently serving as a school-community relations and communications coordinator.

Tina received, among other honors, an Excellence in Education Service to Education Award, the Missouri PTA Distinguished Service Award and the National PTA Life Achievement Award.

National PTA is truly honored to have had Tina as a leader. The PTA family is deeply saddened to lose such a passionate and committed advocate and a friend. Tina leaves a lasting legacy.

The PTA family extends our deepest sympathies to Tina’s husband, Bob Zubeck, and her children, Bobby, Ashley and Ellen. Our thoughts, prayers and hearts go out to her loved ones, friends and colleagues.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

Supporting Refugees through the READ Program

Jose Antonio TijerinoNational PTA board member Antonio Tijerino, who is also the CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), was recently involved in an outreach event that led a group of humanitarian advocates to work with a shelter in McAllen, TX, in support of unaccompanied minors from Central America including Actress America Ferrera through an effort titled READ (Refugee Enrichment and Development) Project.

The program focuses on providing the refugee children with hope and relief from their plight through reading, playing and praying. The efforts also include participants such as Qlovi, Catholic Charities, and Elevare International, which is based in TX and, provides on-the-ground volunteers and will execute the curriculum throughout the year.

The READ program is non-political and not related to immigration reform efforts – the focus is completely humanitarian. “This effort is focused on helping these refugee children cope and provide hope with their situation through reading, playing, and praying,” said Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO of HHF. “These children are refugees trying to escape horrific violence in their home countries.  It’s not a coincidence that of the 20 most dangerous cities on earth, ALL 20 are in Latin America with San Pedro Sula in Honduras leading the way as the murder capital of the world. It’s no coincidence that city is where the greatest amount of refugees are coming from. The READ program is inspired by the words at the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty which says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’ We are trying to lift our version of a lamp to these children through this effort.”

The READ program will have a strong technology component through Qlovi, an educational technology start-up. HHF will donate tablets for the volunteers to use throughout the year in working with the children in the shelters through Catholic Charities and Elevare International. Spiritual leaders will be invited to pray with the children to offer hope. The READ program will also buy toys, books and clothes for the children through donations. Donations for the READ program can be made at http://www.hispanicheritage.org/donations/.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

100 Black Men of America Annual Conference: Ensuring Excellence for African-American Youth

National PTA President Otha Thornton poses with Michael J. Brown, president of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., and Curley M. Dossman, Jr., chairman of the Board for 100 Black Men of America, Inc.

National PTA President Otha Thornton poses with Michael J. Brown, president of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., and Curley M. Dossman, Jr., chairman of the Board for 100 Black Men of America, Inc.

I recently had the honor of participating in 100 Black Men of America, Inc.’s 28th Annual Conference in Florida. The focus of the event was Education in an Era of Change, Ensuring Excellence for African-American Youth. The conference brought together leaders from across the country from government, education, health and wellness, civic, and entertainment industries for empowerment and enrichment, to share best practices, and discuss issues facing youth, their families and the communities in which they live.

100 Black Men of America, Inc. is a volunteer organization of approximately 10,000 members and partners dedicated to making a difference in the lives of youth, improving our nation’s communities, and enhancing educational and economic opportunities for all African-Americans. The organization meets a crucial need by impacting underserved youth through mentoring, education and empowerment.

As part of the conference, a black-tie gala was held during which a number of awards were presented. I am honored to have been recognized with the 2014 Chairman’s Award for Parent Engagement. The award truly is a testament to our association and the efforts and dedication of all of our members to increase and strengthen family engagement in education and make a difference for the lives and futures of every child. In addition to the gala, I also participated in a panel discussion during the conference.

For more information about 100 Black Men of America, visit www.100blackmen.org.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

Speaking Up for Child Nutrition Programs

 

National PTA Legislative Chair Stella Edwards and National PTA President Otha Thornton pose with Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

National PTA Legislative Chair Stella Edwards and National PTA President Otha Thornton pose with Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

On June 12, I had the honor of bringing the voice of families and child advocates to Capitol Hill and testifying before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry at a hearing titled, A National Priority: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs to Our Nation’s Health, Economy and National Security.

Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the nation’s child nutrition programs. The Act requires that schools make updates to serve healthier food to students during the school day, including in a la carte lines, vending machines and school stores. In exchange, Congress increased the reimbursement rate schools receive for each meal served. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry currently is considering the reauthorization of child nutrition programs, which is due in 2015.

Strengthening programs that promote healthy school environments and ensuring that all children have access to critical nutritious food options has been a longtime priority for National PTA. It is essential that improvements continue to be made as high quality national nutrition programs are critical to the future of our children and also our country.

Following is the testimony I gave before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry during the hearing:

Chairman Stabenow, Ranking Member Cochran, committee members, and my fellow distinguished panelists, I am honored to have the opportunity to speak before you today on behalf of the over four million members of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). With more than 24,000 local units, PTA flourishes in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Department of Defense schools in Europe. 

I currently serve as the President of the National PTA, an elected volunteer position I assumed in June 2013. In addition to my involvement with National PTA, I have been active in state and local PTAs in Georgia, Maryland, Texas, Michigan and Kaiserslautern, Germany. I am currently employed as a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics at Fort Stewart, Georgia and am a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel. Most importantly, I have over two decades of experience as a father to my two wonderful children with my wife Caryn – Candice and Tre. 

PTA was founded in 1897 and is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the United States. PTA’s legacy of influencing policy to protect the education, health, and overall well-being of children has made an indelible impact in the lives of millions of children and their families.  This legacy includes the creation of kindergarten classes, a juvenile justice system, child labor laws, and mandatory immunizations for school children.  Our mission is to be a powerful voice for every child.

With regard to today’s hearing, one of the fundamental purposes of PTA is to preserve children’s health and protect them from harm. PTA has been at the table from the beginning – piloting a hot lunch program in schools in the 1920’s that led to PTA’s advocacy for a national school lunch program and each subsequent reauthorization of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act.       

Most recently, PTA and our coalition partners fought for passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which, as you know, made significant updates to our nation’s school nutrition programs. PTA viewed this as both a win for kids and parents because parents knew that – for the first time – no matter what our kids purchased in the cafeteria, it was going to be good for them. And as the primary decision-makers in our kids’ lives, it also provided us – parents – a stronger role through Local Wellness Policy development, implementation and evaluation. And as I always say, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

I mention these past accomplishments not only to underscore PTA’s commitment to the well-being of our nation’s children, but also to provide a historical context for where we are today.  We have made a commitment to our children for over 70 years to do right by them in the cafeteria, and we cannot turn our backs now.  I know some of my fellow panelists will address the reality our nation’s obesity crisis as it relates to our overall health and national security, so as a PTA leader and father, I am here today to tell you that parents and families are committed to working together to ensure the continued success of our nation’s child nutrition programs.

So where are we today? Schools are making exceptional progress in the nutritional quality of the meals they are serving to our kids. There have been challenges along the way, but that’s to be expected. We’re parents after all! When is the last time you changed up the rules for your kids in the interest of their well-being and your kids were happy about it? Anyone?

And I truly believe that way we approach school meals will not only instantly impact our kids, but also our families.

As partners in the school building, PTA and parents understand that there are certain challenging realities – there’s never enough time, seldom enough money and often times minimal resources. But that has never and can never be a free pass to not do what is best for our kids. For parents, it means that we need to step up to the plate and support our schools – the board, the administration, the school food service, the teachers and the students –  to make sure that school meals are successful.

And that means having a seat at the table and finding solutions to the challenges. Do we need updated kitchen equipment to serve fresh foods? Well – how are we going to secure funding? Do we need volunteers so breakfast can be served in the classroom? Well – let’s get some parents or grandparents together. Do we need to taste test some new items? How can we help? Do we need to adjust our fundraising practices? Let’s do this. Our kids don’t have enough time to eat lunch?  How can we solve this problem? We can do this – together. It may take a little bit of time and a lot of effort, but we can do this. 

In closing, I respectfully ask all committee members to keep in mind that we make decisions in every other part of the school based on what is best for our students’ success – and the cafeteria should be no different. I commend the committee for looking into these programs and understanding their critical importance for doing the right thing for all of our students.

After all, the nutritional needs of our children remain the same whether they live in Iowa or Georgia.  It is impractical to force parents to fight for access to healthier school foods one school at a time, reinventing the wheel while facing the same obstacles at each and every turn. High quality national nutrition programs ease this burden, while still allowing for a great deal of local control over the implementation of the programs. 

Once again, I would like to thank the committee and all of the other panelists for engaging in this topic, which is critical to the future of not only our children, but our country.  Make no mistake, the decisions made during this reauthorization will impact our schools, our hospitals, our economy, our military, our homes and, most importantly, our kids. 

PTA members and families play an important role in helping schools implement improved meal and snack offerings. Working together at the federal, state and local levels, we can find solutions to the challenges to support our schools and ensure the continued success of our nation’s child nutrition programs, which is critical for students’ success. If you would like to reach out to Congress about supporting nutrition guidelines for school meals, visit our PTA Takes Action page today: http://cqrcengage.com/npta2/app/write-a-letter?9&engagementId=52674.

To view a recording of the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, visit www.ag.senate.gov/hearings.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

Dr. Maya Angelou: Remembering One of the Most Influential Authors, Teachers of Our Time

Maya AngelouOn May 28, the world said goodbye to one of the most influential poets, authors, teachers and philanthropists of our time, Dr. Maya Angelou.

National PTA had the honor of having her as a speaker at the association’s 2008 National Convention. Her passion for education, and the wellbeing of all children, was remarkable and steadfast.

Dr. Angelou was known for her countless works of literature that told not only her own life stories, but uplifted and inspired people around the globe. In addition to being an author for such poems as “Phenomenal Woman,” “Still I Rise” and numerous books, she was also an actress, professor and humanitarian. President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

I can remember reading her autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” as a child and the lasting impact her story made on my life. I also will never forget watching her in the American epic, “Roots.” She was an awesome actress who always played positive and invigorating roles.

It is with a saddened heart that everyone at National PTA says farewell to the true epitome of a phenomenal woman, Dr. Maya Angelou.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.