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.

Help PTA Grow This #GivingTuesday

2015 NPTA Giving Tuesday Tree.fwThe holiday season is here! It’s an exciting and busy time for families around the country. But as you’re shopping, cooking and celebrating, I ask that you mark #GivingTuesday (December 1) on your calendars.

#GivingTuesday, the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has been designated to remind us of the spirit of the season and encourage us to give back by supporting causes and organizations we care about through a monetary donation.

This #GivingTuesday, I’m asking for your support of National PTA.

National PTA develops programs and resources that PTAs across the country rely on to make change happen in schools and communities. From supplementing classroom lessons with activities that make learning fun to helping families make healthy and safe decisions every day—we’re there to make a real impact on students and families nationwide.

National PTA also empowers families to speak up and advocate for their and all children—before their school boards, local and state government, and in Washington DC—to ensure they are provided a high-quality education, have a safe environment in which to thrive and learn, and have access to opportunities and services that enable them to reach their full potential.

For more than 100 years, National PTA has taken action to make a difference for the education, health and well-being of every child. 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.

On December 1, please visit our #GivingTuesday page to make a donation. Then help spread the word among families in your community about why you give to PTA. I’m guessing your reasons are similar to mine—we know PTA is a powerful voice for all children and the best way to bring together families, educators, business and community leaders to solve the toughest problems and effect change.

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 oak tree is the official emblem of National PTA. The tree symbolizes strength, growth and community. Please join me in making a gift on #GivingTuesday to keep PTA strong and growing so we can make every child’s potential a reality.

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


Laura Bay is the president of National PTA.

Our Children Magazine is Now Live!

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I’m excited to announce that National PTA’s Our Children Magazine is now online and mobile-friendly at PTAOurChildren.org!

Our Children and has been a household publication and primary resource (in various names) for families and PTA leaders for over 50 years and we put a fresh spin on our content.

The website is for on-the-go parents who are always looking for the best info and tips to support their child’s academic success and well-being.

PTA state leaders can share this new resource with parents throughout the school year. Read engaging and relevant stories like:

Read more at PTAOurChildren.org today and encourage your PTA leaders to help spread the word about our great news!

Check out the Our Children Magazine promotional toolkit for sample graphics and messaging.

National PTA Applauds Announcement of Conference Committee on ESEA Reauthorization

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives announced that a conference committee will meet on Nov. 18 to reconcile the bills passed by the House and Senate in July to reauthorization the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB).

National PTA is encouraged by the announcement of the conference committee meeting.

While this brings us one step closer, it is essential that Congress pass a final bill before the new year and provide critical resources to states and schools to strengthen family engagement and improve education so that every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

Families have waited for more than eight years for the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB.

National PTA remains committed to ensuring a comprehensive, bipartisan bill is signed into law this year that includes robust family engagement provisions and supports the achievement of every child.


Laura Bay is the president of National PTA.

7 Tips for your Most Effective Parent-Teacher Conference Yet

How to make the most of your parent-teacher conference

In many school districts across the country, it’s time for the first parent-teacher conferences of the year. For parents, this meeting can cause anxiety because it is an evaluation of their child’s academic and social development.

I’ve been on both sides of these conferences, and the best approach for parents is to put aside all reservations and use the opportunity to establish a relationship with your child’s teacher.

Now that students are settled into the new school year, this is the perfect time to talk with your child’s teacher about his progress — and any potential challenges — and then work together to set goals for success for the year.

Research shows that partnering with teachers and engaging in your child’s learning improves her achievement and social skills.
Here’s how you can make the most of your parent-teacher conference so you can best support your child:

  1. Schedule your meeting — Typically, your child’s teacher will contact you when it’s time for parent-teacher conferences and give you dates when you can meet with her. This gives you time to prepare and schedule the meeting. If you need a translator, sign language interpreter or other help, you can plan for someone to attend the meeting with you.
  2. Talk with your child first — Before your meeting, talk to your child. Find out which subjects your child likes best, and which ones he doesn’t like — and why. Use National PTA’s Parents’ Guides to Student Success as a tool to help understand a clear, consistent expectations for what students should be learning at each grade level. Sometimes, there is a concern your child doesn’t know how to express themselves, and you can talk to the teacher directly about it.
  3. Create a list of questions — These meetings can go by quickly. The teacher will have a prepared report, so you need to be prepared too. To have a productive two-way conversation, prepare a list of questions so you can leave the meeting with a comprehensive understanding of how your child is doing academically and socially in the classroom and how to address any issues. These questions should provide guidance and outline important talking points.
  4. Listen to the teacher’s perspective, then tell your side — Be open-minded and don’t judge your child’s teacher until you hear his side. A parent-teacher conference shouldn’t be the first time a teacher or parent should learn about a problem, but sometimes it is. It’s hard not to be defensive, but assess the situation before reacting and share any contributing factors, such as a parent divorce, death, bullying or medical issues so the teacher has a full perspective on any issues.
  5. Take notes — Don’t forget your notebook and pen! Jot down possible areas of improvement or positive feedback you want to monitor or talk about when you go back home to your child. It’s also handy if you have several teachers to visit, such as during middle or high school.
  6. Ask to see work samples and other important documents — Parents should ask to see samples of their child’s work and ask about any activities they can do at home with their child to support her learning. Go over any other documents like the syllabus and upcoming projects or events.
  7. Give your contact information — Parents and teachers should schedule a follow-up conference and decide on the best way to stay in touch for progress reports. Consistent communication (via email, phone, etc.) will help build the relationship and address issues immediately.

These tips will help you best support and advocate for your child. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your child excel in school. Good luck!


Laura Bay is National PTA’s president. This blog was originally posted on SheKnows.com.

Resources for Spanish-Speaking Families to Support Student Success

We recently celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15), an important time to recognize the contributions made and significant presence of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States.

National PTA also used the month to raise awareness of the unique challenges Hispanic and Latino children and families face and elevate support for them in schools and communities.

Twenty-five percent of students today are Hispanic, and Hispanic children and youth are the fastest-growing population in America—the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the Hispanic school-age population will increase by 166% by 2050. Hispanic and Latino students are an important part of our nation’s future, and it is essential to support their learning and development and ensure they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

A key component to helping Hispanic and Latino children succeed is families who are engaged in their child’s education and armed with tools and resources to support them at home.

We know Hispanic and Latino parents want the best for their children and want to be engaged, but there are cultural and language barriers that make it challenging.

To bridge the gap, National PTA and organizations with which our association collaborates offer a variety of Spanish-language resources to empower Hispanic and Latino parents to support their children’s success.

  • Parents’ Guides to Student Success, which feature key items children should be learning in English language arts and math in each grade, activities that parents can do at home to support their child’s learning, and methods parents can use to build stronger relationships with their child’s teacher.
  • Clave al Éxito, a mobile tool that includes videos and tools for parents to engage in their child’s education and better communicate with their child’s teachers on their academic progress.
  • BeALearningHero.org, a website through which parents can find tips, fast facts, videos, guides and other resources specific to their children’s needs.
  • Fuel Up to Play 60 en Español, which includes information, resources and activities for parents to help their children lead more active and healthier lives.
  • The Smart Talk, a digital tool that helps families have conversations about online behavior and set ground rules together for technology use. As more and more kids get devices and go online, it is important that parents talk to their children about how to live safely in the digital world.

National PTA also has collaborated with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and Univision on a webinar series to educate PTA, school and community leaders on ways to empower Hispanic and Latino families to engage in student learning. As part of the series, we will host a webinar on why Hispanic families should get involved to support the children they love on Nov. 17 (in English) and Nov. 18 (in Spanish).

To register for the webinar or to view other webinars in the series, and for more resources to help Hispanic and Latino families support their children’s success, visit PTA.org/HispanicChild.


Laura Bay is president of National PTA.

Goodbye Summer Break, Hello ESEA Reauthorization

A few months ago, Congress debated bills in the House and Senate to reauthorize the outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB). Like public schools across the nation, Congress is back in session, and it is time that the bills be moved forward for reconciliation and then signed into law. And it is imperative that effective, evidenced-based family engagement strategies are included in the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB.

A new school year means new expectations and new material to learn. It is essential that families are engaged and families and schools collaborate to support student achievement and ensure a successful year.

To strengthen family engagement in education, schools and districts need the resources and capacity to implement best practices that have been proven to positively impact student learning. This is why we need Congress to finally reauthorize the ESEA/NCLB. It is crucial that Congress finish its work and provide updates to the current law so all children receive a high-quality public education and reach their full potential.

What we need from Congress

  • Convene a conference committee as soon as possible to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills and produce a bill that can be signed into law.
  • Maintain the provisions in both ESEA/NCLB reauthorization bills that support state and local capacity building through Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs).
  • Continue to invest in family engagement strategies for local education agencies in Title I.

Let’s get this school year of to a great start by arming schools and districts with the resources they need to provide a world-class education to every student. Congress can take the lead on this through a successful reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that includes necessary family engagement provisions.

You can stay in the loop on the ESEA/NCLB reauthorization or get action alerts from the PTA Takes Action Network. Join the network today.


Laura Bay is president of National PTA.

How to Help Kids Be More Active Every Day

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This blog post was published in Healthier Generation’s blog.

As #Commit2Ten brings national attention to the critical role physical activity plays in preventing childhood obesity, I would like to keep the conversation going with some other benefits – mainly academics. Studies show that kids who get the recommended amount of daily physical activity also do better in school. Healthy kids have higher attendance rates, get better grades and behave better in class. That’s why we are challenging the nation to start moving today to support the active lifestyles our kids need to live healthy lives tomorrow.

One of the best places to teach good physical activity habits is at home, and parents can set a great example for the whole family. So, what can families do to increase the amount of physical activity they get each day?

5 Steps to Create an Active Home   

1. Make exercise a family routine.

  • Walk or bike to school together.
  • Take a family walk around the block each night after dinner.
  • Play upbeat music and dance your way through family chores.

2.   Play together. Instead of going to a movie or restaurant for your next family outing, plan something active.

  • Discover free and low-cost physical activity options near your home (parks, bike paths, hiking trails, tennis courts or community swimming pools).
  • Spend an afternoon at the local playground.
  • Play a round of miniature golf together.

3.    Set family fitness goals.

  • Post goals on the refrigerator along with a way to track everyone’s progress. Cheer each other on as goals are achieved!
  • Train together for a charity walk or run.
  • Get pedometers and have a contest to see who takes the most steps in a given week.

4.    Exchange “screen time” for active time.

  • Limit recreational screen time including computer, tablets, video games, and TV, to two hours or less per day.
  • Encourage your kids to sign up to participate in some form of physical activity. Everyone can find something they enjoy.
  • Support your child by making a commitment to attending practices and showing up for games or performances.

5.   Break it up. You don’t have to get all of your physical activity in at once.

10 Steps for Your PTA to Increase Physical Activity

PTAs and other parent groups also have an important role to play in ensuring kids have access to quality physical education and opportunities for daily physical activity during the school day.

This school year I encourage your PTA to:

  1. Advocate for quality physical education that meets national guidelines and state standards.
  2. Encourage participation in the Presidential Youth Fitness Program.
  3. Join your school wellness committee.
  4. Raise funds for new athletic or playground equipment that promotes physical activity.
  5. Organize a “clean up our playground” event.
  6. Form walking or running clubs for students and families.
  7. Host Fire Up Your Feet, turkey trots, walkathons or other fun runs that raise money for schools.
  8. Create a walking school bus or bike train—groups of students who walk or bike to school together – with parents rotating supervision duties.
  9. Organize a Safe Routes to School program to create a safer environment for children to walk and bike to and from school.
  10. Participate in Walk to School Day (October) and Bike to School Day (May).

Bonus: Download the #Commit2Ten Toolkit for ideas to get more active today as well as sustain that activity throughout the year.

Remember: Exercise is most effective and more fun when it’s done as a group. You’ll promote your child’s health and learning, and feel better too!


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

Ways to Get Involved Beyond Back-to-School Night

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This article was featured in the PBS Parents blog. Read the original article here.

Back-to-school night is still one of my favorite times of the year. This is the night parents and teachers have all been waiting for — crowded hallways, filled classrooms, smiling faces, welcome banners and ice breakers — the perfect mix of anticipation and excitement.

As a mother, it was an opportunity for me to meet my children’s teachers and find out what was in store for the school year.

And as a former teacher, back-to-school night helped me foster relationships with my students’ parents by understanding their needs and concerns. In both roles, it was an exciting start to a year of planning and a whole lot of learning.

But how do you stay connected and keep this enthusiasm and momentum going throughout the year?

Research shows children whose parents advocate for them are more confident and achieve more at school. There is nothing more exciting than to know you’re involved with your child’s school and education.

The challenge for many parents is figuring out what they can do. I have heard the hearts of many parents who ask, “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?”

While every parent’s involvement is different, being engaged in your child’s learning is an essential foundation to their success.

Here are ways to get involved beyond back-to-school night at school and home:

Join the 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. You will be part of a dedicated network of families, educators, businesses and community leaders who care and want to provide a high-quality education for all children. That means, even if you aren’t able to be at every meeting, you know there are a group of parents who are invested in the success of every child at your school — including yours.

Connect with your child
Listen to your kids. According to the Harvard Family Research Project, respectful two-way communication is important in achieving meaningful home-school dialogue. Let them express their concerns about their day or a homework assignment. Learn about their strengths and weaknesses and what activities they like and don’t like. Talk to your child while riding in the car or playing outside. Two-way communication is essential to developing an active and positive relationship. Then if any issues come up at school, your child will feel more comfortable talking to you about it.

Volunteer and be present at school
Be a chaperone at your child’s next field trip. Help out with the school band or events like prom, bake sales or family reading nights. Volunteer to speak on Career Day. Talk to your child’s teacher about opportunities to help in the classroom or for school events. You don’t have to do it all — do what you can. When your child — and their teacher — see you volunteering your time, they know you care.

Get engaged online
If you’re not engaged online — think about it as a way to stay in the loop. In a recent Pew study, more than 70% of parents already have an active social media presence and are active on the Internet. Try to participate in #PTchats (parent teacher chats on Twitter) or post your child’s academic work and photos from a successful school event or activity. You can also attend online webinars and read parent blogs to stay abreast of school, parenting and student issues.

Find helpful learning resources
National PTA’s most popular parent resources on our website are the Parents’ Guides to Student Success, which provide a roadmap to what students should be learning in math and English language from grades K-8. Our parents also love our fun reading activities from the National PTA Family Reading Experience, Powered by Kindle, which reinforces core literacy skills.

Think of an after-school strategy
Most parents are not able to pick up their child from school or meet them at home when they get off the school bus. Your child’s school may offer an after-school enrichment program — or ask your PTA network about a community program — which can be a safe haven when your child’s school day is over.

I hope these tips and resources will help you be involved in your child’s school year from back-to-school night through the last day of school. Remember, what you do as a parent truly makes a difference in your child’s success. Have an awesome school year!


Laura Bay president of National PTA.