Family Engagement is Critical to Education

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This blog post was originally published on Medium.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Laura Bay is president of National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA), a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement. This essay is part of a series on parent engagement produced by the philanthropic foundation Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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A New School Year, a New Education Law

A multi-ethnic group of elementary age students are sitting at their desks working on an assignment. Their teacher is sitting with them and is answering any questions they have.

A multi-ethnic group of elementary age students are sitting at their desks working on an assignment. Their teacher is sitting with them and is answering any questions they have.

A new school year comes with new people to meet, new material to learn and new expectations. This year, it also comes with a new education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Across the country, states and districts are crafting new education plans that will guide the implementation of ESSA. The process of implementing the law presents an important opportunity for families and PTAs to help shape the future of education for our nation’s children. Under ESSA, parents are required to be “meaningfully consulted” during the development of the new education plans.

To empower families and PTAs to be at the table and active participants in state and local implementation of ESSA, National PTA has developed a wide range of resources at PTA.org/ESSA.

In addition to these resources, National PTA recently hosted a webinar to delve into the specifics of how parents and PTA members can and should be involved in the implementation of the new law.

The webinar showcased two incredible PTA advocates: Kelly Langston, president of North Carolina PTA, and Otto Schell, legislative director of Oregon PTA, both of whom have been heavily involved in the ESSA implementation process in their respective states. They shared how parents and families are critical to making sure that state and local education plans meet the needs of all students. Jessah Walker, senior federal relations associate for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), also gave a state education leader perspective on ESSA and reiterated the importance of having parents and families as partners in the implementation process.

As the new school year gets into full swing, here are three quick things you can do to make sure you are ready for ESSA:

  1. Read “What Does this New Law Mean for My Child?

This resource is designed to give parents a basic understanding of what ESSA will mean for their children.

  1. Check out what your state is doing to implement the new law

Visit National PTA’s website and find your state to see the latest resources, events and news about the ESSA implementation process and ways to get involved.

  1. Advocate for your and every child

PTA members are leading advocacy efforts at the school, district, state and federal level to ensure better educational opportunities are provided for all of our nation’s children. This school year, let’s continue to build upon our 119+ years of advocacy by working with school and state leaders to help every student succeed.

National PTA encourages every parent and family to lend their voice to the implementation of ESSA. To learn more about what you can do to get involved and help improve education for your child and every child in your community, visit PTA.org/ESSA.

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Why Bad Moms Need PTA

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This article was originally published on Huffington Post. (Photo Credit: STX Entertainment)

I’m sure you’ve seen the advertisements on Facebook and TV for the new comedy Bad Moms, released in theaters July 29. It tells the story of an over-worked and over-committed PTA mom who teams up with other stressed-out moms to free themselves from the everyday challenge of balancing kids, home and their careers.

In the movie, some of the seemingly perfect moms ridicule the main character, Amy Mitchell (played by Mila Kunis), and her friends at various PTA meetings and events as they let loose and stop trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. While this is an extreme and fictional plot, the stress these moms feel is a relatable narrative for many moms (and dads) across the country.

As a mom, I understand the often thankless work it takes to raise kids, and I agree with the film that being a mom is one of the toughest jobs out there. It can be overwhelming and exhausting, and at times you need to take a break, have fun and do something for yourself. However, at the end of the day—as the movie shows—we love our children fiercely and have a universal desire to build a strong foundation for our children. As a PTA leader and member, I also know it is important to be involved in the hard work in a community to help schools improve and make every child’s potential a reality.

PTA has been around for a long time—more than 119 years. Throughout all of those years, we have been a community for families who need support during the busy, fast-paced school year. We have been an ardent advocate for bettering the lives of every child in education, health and safety. Our community is 4 million members strong and truly makes a difference in the lives and futures of our nation’s children.

With PTA, parents come together to create powerful change and solve the toughest problems facing our schools and communities. PTA is responsible for the creation of kindergarten classes, child labor laws to protect children, healthy school lunch programs and juvenile justice reform. Currently, the association is advocating for policies that protect LGBTQ youth and practices that create and maintain safe, affirming and inclusive learning environments for all students.

I won’t lie to you, being a PTA leader is a big job, but I’m proud of the work we do. I dedicate the time because I know it makes a difference for our schools, communities and our children’s long-term success. Unlike the depiction in the movie, PTA members strive to be collaborative, committed, diverse, respectful and accountable. When we achieve these values, we can reach remarkable milestones.

So, savor these last few weeks of summer before gearing up for another hectic school year. Some of you will enjoy this guilty pleasure and laughing with the PTA overachievers in the movie. It’s OK, we get the joke. But please consider getting involved in your local PTA. I personally encourage you to become part of the network of PTA parents who believe that every child deserves a high-quality education in a healthy and safe environment that enables them to pursue their dreams.


Laura Bay is president of National PTA, a nonprofit association dedicated to making a difference for children’s health, safety, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement.

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

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4 Ways to Keep Your Kids Engaged This Summer

Summer break is an important time for children to bond with family and friends, participate in enriching outdoor activities and enjoy a break from school. But while enjoying the free time and taking advantage of all the season has to offer, it is essential that children do not take a break from learning.

Research shows that children experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer months. Keeping children engaged in learning during summer break will help ease the back-to-school transition when the time comes and help them start the new school year on the right foot.

Summer activities provide fun, teachable moments—connecting real-life activities to what children have been learning in school reinforces those skills. These moments also provide great opportunities to expose children to new ideas and information and allow parents to encourage creativity.

Here are four ways to optimize learning during summer break:

Explore a National Park, Museum or Historic Site—Parks, museums and historic sites provide opportunities to bring learning to life for children. Many historic sites stage reenactments of battles or demonstrations of life during that time period. Almost all of the parks have activities for children. Ask your children to identify things they learned in school and nurture their navigation skills by making a scavenger hunt for your outing. You can also put your kids’ math skills to the test by giving them a set amount of money and having them manage their spending throughout the day.

Read Every Day—Studies show that reading daily during summer break is the most important activity families can do to prevent learning loss. Take your kids to the local library and borrow books to read over the break. And spend time reading together as a family—it helps children develop their literacy skills and excel academically.

Go to a Cultural Festival—Many communities host cultural festivals during the summer months, which are great occasions for children to learn about different cultures. Sample authentic food and drink, listen to storytellers, watch traditional dances and enjoy the artwork created by local artists from that culture. After attending a festival, discuss the experience as a family and encourage your kids to Google answers to any questions.

Keep a Journal—Summer activities abound, and recording them in a journal is a great way to capture those memories. As an added bonus, encouraging your kids to write about daily events helps boost their vocabulary and practice their handwriting as well as their grammar, spelling and creative writing skills.

Family schedules can be grueling during the summer—running from camps to swim meets to baseball and softball games—but it is important to keep learning a priority. Engaging in educational activities for an hour or even 30 minutes each day will support children’s success and ensure they start the new school year on track.


 

Laura Bay is president of National PTA, a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement. In addition to leading National PTA, Bay is a coordinator for assessment and instruction for the Bremerton School District in Bremerton, Wash.

 

 

 

 

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week 2016!

2016 TAW GFM_FB_IG Post 1National PTA Teacher Appreciation Week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. It’s a time to celebrate teachers—like myself—for their hard work, dedication and commitment to our children and their success. Every day teachers touch the lives of millions of children and change them for the better. They are real life superheroes.

This year, we have joined forces with GoFundMe to give back to teachers and be a superhero for them. If you start a GoFundMe “Thank A Teacher” fundraising campaign by May 8, GoFundMe will make a matching donation of $100 to eligible campaigns that benefit teachers and students.

But it doesn’t stop there. You can celebrate and #ThankATeacher with some of these ideas:

With your help, this will be the best Teacher Appreciation Week! Enjoy this video with NEA’s President Lily Eskelsen García and myself.

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.

 

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.

5 Ways Parents Can Set Digital Ground Rules

This blog post was originally published on SheKnows.com.

Kids are going online at an increasingly younger age and are more digitally active than ever. It is also more than likely that you have a child or teenager who received his or her first mobile phone or tablet for the holiday.
Did you know…how-to-set-digital-ground-rules
  • 73 percent of teens and 75 percent of children ages 8 and under have access to some sort of smart mobile device at home
  • 68 percent of teens text every day
  • 51 percent of teens visit social networking sites daily

As we ring in the new year, make a family resolution to have “The Smart Talk” with your kids about how to use their digital devices safely. You need to know what kind of information or content your kids are sharing and explain the potential security risks with your child.

The Smart Talk allows you to set ground rules and boundaries for their smartphone and tablet use. These five tips will help you get started.

 1. Limit the screen time usage

Be assertive about when your child can use their phone or tablet, where they use it and how. For instance, if your 8-year-old is using a tablet for playing app games and accessing learning tools for homework, set aside a certain number of hours after school and over the weekend to do this. If you are giving your 15-year-old permission to take a smartphone with him or her to school, collect his phone when he returns back home and for dinner and bedtime. Establish an “online” and “offline” schedule to create balance between the real world and the cyber world.

2. Activate privacy settings as needed

It’s better to be safe than sorry, but enabling security and privacy settings really depends on how your child uses the phone. Often times, parents provide smartphones for their children to keep in touch or in case of an emergency. You can also install a variety of smartphone and digital device features, such as location tracking, parental controls for Internet content and mobile usage monitoring apps.

3. Budget what will be in their data plan

Surfing social media and the Internet can get expensive. Select a monthly plan that best fits your needs and expected usage, so you don’t end up with unwanted fees. Then, set a contract restriction for a certain amount of texts, data and minutes per month. You can also purchase a refurbished or pre-paid smartphone to cut down on your overall costs.

4. Address health precautions and other risks

Teach your child about the potential risks of overusing smartphones and other digital devices. For teens, you need to stress no texting and driving. Also, research shows extended digital device use is linked to vision and muscle strain, as well as increased radiation from sleeping with devices. You can also talk to your kids about not getting caught up in negative conversations that could lead to cyberbullying.

5. Make a contract with your child or teen

Sit down and have a talk with your child about how he or she uses their smartphone and digital devices. The Smart Talk guides parents through a series of interactive questions with their children to inspire open dialogues about their online behaviors. Through this dialogue, parents and their children can build and customize an agreement.

I hope this gives you some insight to have smart conversations with your kids about their new gifts. Wishing everyone a safe, smart and happy new year!

 

Welcome All to a Brand New Year!

Copyright 2014 Lifetouch National School Studios, IncIn PTA, it seems like we often celebrate two “new years” to re-energize and create a buzz around our spring activities and programs.

The first “new year” is the back-to-school season when we’re excited and ready with goals and work plans to engage the families in our school communities in PTA. We welcome everyone and come together to make the school and community a better place for all kids. We host engaging events, build membership and launch programs to make our PTA the best ever! This is one of the best parts of being in PTA—the start of the school year when every plan is new and ready to be rolled out.

I have always found that the traditional “New Year” is another great opportunity for PTAs to maintain momentum and create a “second buzz” of energy and engagement! Now is the perfect time to jump-start the next wave of membership incentives and excitement—and kick-off our winter and spring programs and events. Hopefully, many of you are getting ready for the “second new year” with as much energy and enthusiasm as when you started back to school.

What I love about PTA—during the two “new year’s” and all year round—is the sense of family, welcoming and commitment to make every school community the best that it can be for all children—this ensures that every child’s potential can and will become a reality.

I hope you will join me in starting the new year of 2016 with energy, excitement and commitment to the mission and values that we all hold so close to our hearts. It is my deepest wish that 2016 brings each of us prosperity, hope and joy as we move forward together—Every Child. One Voice!

7 Family Time and Learning Tips for the Holidays

Father and son holding snowballs

This blog post was originally published on PBS Parent. Read the full blog post.

The holiday season is here! Like most families, my household is already in a flurry of activity—decorating, purchasing gifts, preparing for guests and baking cookies and pies.

This is also a special time for family fun and togetherness. But with the holiday rush, the to-do list seems to grow exponentially by the minute.

In the busyness of the season, it’s important to keep learning and quality time with family at the top of the list while your kids are home on break from school.

Research shows that families who spend quality time together and connect activities at home to what children are learning in school have a stronger emotional bond and better communication—and the kids do better academically.

The holiday season also provides great opportunities to expose children to new ideas and information, reinforce skills and knowledge, and encourage creativity, which supports their success in school.

As you are shopping, baking and celebrating special traditions, here are some ideas to mix quality time with learning:

Create a Budget — Encourage your kids to write a list of the people they want to buy gifts for. Then have them allocate a certain amount for each person on their list. While shopping for gifts, help your kids keep track of spending and their remaining budget.

Cook Together — Include your children in meal prep and baking for holiday gatherings. It’s a great way to have fun and teach kids about cooking and nutrition. While you’re cooking, you can practice math and reading skills—and demonstrate cool science concepts through various cooking techniques.

Make Holiday Greeting Cards and Gifts — Have your kids write holiday cards or letters to family and friends. It’s a great opportunity for children to practice their handwriting, as well as their grammar, spelling and creative writing skills. Also, making gifts at home is a way to encourage creativity.

Explore Your City — When you feel a bit of cabin fever, plan a family outing. Many local parks and zoos feature light displays and other festivities to celebrate the season. You can also visit a local museum and historic sites, or see a play at a local theater.

Play Games — Playing board and trivia games during holiday get-togethers is a good way to enjoy quality time together. Look for ideas online. There are a variety of games—for all ages—that are fun and educational as well.

Enjoy the Great Outdoors — Play with your kids in the backyard or at a local park. If it snows, build a snowman or hit the slopes! You can find fun outdoor games that promote physical activity.

And Read Every Day — Take your kids to the local library and borrow books to read over the winter break. And spend time reading together—it helps children develop their literacy skills and excel academically.

Family schedules can be grueling during the holidays, but remember the most important part of the season is spending time with the people you love. And when you add learning to your quality time, it will enhance the special moments with your children and support their success.


Laura Bay is the president of National PTA, an educator from Poulsbo, Wash. and mother of three adult children.