Does Your Child’s Education Honor Their Uniqueness?

Teacher helping kids with computers in elementary school

Jade and Alex do not check the traditional educational boxes. They are bright, young women with many gifts, yet each comes to the classroom with a disability that impedes core learning—for Jade, one that affects her ability to read, and for Alex, her challenge manifests in math.

Unfortunately, these two—and many like them—are in a one-sized-fits-all education system that is neither suited to meeting their particular needs, nor suited to validate and affirm their unique gifts and interests.

As a result, Jade and Alex have suffered tragic experiences that are all too common for students with disabilities: They began to see themselves only through the lens of their disability, internalized the judgement placed on them and experienced feelings of being demoralized.

The silver lining for students like Jade and Alex is that through personalized learning, we are more empowered than ever before to transform this one-size-fits-all system.

At the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), our personalized learning project has traditionally focused on students with disabilities, but we see common themes for every group of students whose experience in learning is unique from that of their peers:

  • Students must be understood for both their needs and strengths.
  • High educational standards must remain a constant, but the means to achieve those standards (i.e., where, when and how that learning happens) should be seen more flexibly.
  • Schools must ensure that students are attaining key skills and dispositions, like critical thinking and self-advocacy, that are necessary for their success in college, careers and civic life.

Personalized learning then is not an end in itself, but a means to achieving these goals. Like any other initiative, its success begins with informed, engaged and empowered parents. To ensure this success, we recommend four steps for every parent:

  1. Develop an awareness of your child’s needs and experiences. Your child is unique, research on children’s needs is constantly evolving, and let’s be honest, as a parent, you’re juggling a few other things besides your child’s school work. If your child has learning and attention issues, a great resource is Understood.org. Developed through a collaboration of 15 non-profits, it offers daily access to experts, in-depth information, expert strategies, and an active community of parents. It also offers tools to help with your journey, including a simulation of what your child experiences. In addition to Understood, at NCLD we have a number of resources on personalized learning and addressing the needs of students with disabilities, including a two-page resource for parents.
  2. Find out what your child’s school is doing around personalized learning. Once you understand your child’s needs, the question becomes what’s happening around personalized learning in their school and how does it impact your child? How are personalized learning plans integrated with your child’s IEP? This can be trickier than it sounds, as personalized learning can come under a number of labels: student-centered learning, blended learning, deeper learning or competency-based learning, just to name a few.
  3. Understand how your school will meet diverse needs in personalized learning efforts. It seems strange to say that approaches around personalized learning can be ill-suited for many students, but unfortunately that’s too often the case. Technology may not be accessible for students with disabilities, or educators may not trained to reflect on their underlying biases in interacting with these students or aren’t trained in engaging learning approaches that accommodate these students’ needs. One key step you can take is to ensure that your school’s implementation of personalized learning strategies aligns with principles of universal design for learning, which ensures accessibility for all students.
  4. Maximize the benefits of personalized learning. One of the real benefits of personalized learning is that it provides educators much more valuable information on your child’s needs and strengths. That information isn’t just valuable for the teacher—it’s valuable for you! Be an advocate. Ensure that the school has systems in place and the educators have the tools that are necessary to empower you to be a partner in supporting your child’s success.

Personalized learning, with its focus on embracing the needs and strengths of each individual child, can be much more humanizing and accommodating to the many unique features our children bring to the classroom.

This potential can only become real when individual parents are prepared to be strong advocates for some of the key benefits of this system and it takes each of us asking the hard questions and taking the difficult steps to achieve it.


Ace Parsi is the personalized learning partnership manager at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD).

 

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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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Protecting the Progress We’ve Made in School Nutrition

shutterstock_432895717It’s hard to believe that before long, it will be back-to-school time again.  Like many of you, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been hard at work this summer preparing for the upcoming school year. Over the past six years since the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, schools across the country have made incredible progress in ensuring all children have access to more nutritious food in school.

Today, joined by Kelly Langston, president of North Carolina PTA, USDA is announcing four final rules that continue the Obama Administration’s historic commitment to building a healthier next generation. While they won’t make any drastic new changes, these rules will ensure the positive changes schools have already made will remain in place and improve children’s health for years to come.

National PTA has advocated for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs since they were first created, and I am proud to have PTA join us for this announcement. You have been one of USDA’s most valued partners, advocating for changes like stronger nutrition standards and more family and community involvement in local school wellness policies to promote nutrition and physical activity in schools. Thanks to your advocacy in Washington and your leadership in local school districts, 98% of schools nationwide are now meeting updated, science-based nutrition standards and serving meals with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy—and less sodium—in age-appropriate portion sizes. USDA is also seeing healthier school environments overall for the more than 52 million children who attend schools that participate in the USDA meal programs.

One of the biggest advances made under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the Smart Snacks in School rule, which ensured for the first time that all food and beverages sold a la carte in the cafeteria, in vending machines, or elsewhere on the school campus meet practical, science-based nutrition standards in-line with the requirements for school lunches and breakfasts. Schools have already implemented the Smart Snacks rule and are offering an impressive variety of options that meet the new standards and are popular with students.  The Smart Snacks final rule USDA is announcing today will ensure this progress remains in place.

About 70% of elementary and middle school students are exposed to some form of food or beverage marketing at school.  The Local School Wellness Policy final rule, also announced today, ensures that any food or beverage marketed on school campuses during the school day meets the same Smart Snacks standards.  National PTA has long been a strong supporter of robust school wellness policies that create healthy, supportive learning environments as children spend a majority of their day in school. National PTA was instrumental in developing this rule, which requires schools to engage parents, students, and community members in the creation of their local school wellness policies, and empowers communities to take an active role in the health of their children. States and local communities will continue to have flexibility in developing wellness policies that work best for them.

shutterstock_293985629The two other rules announced today, the Community Eligibility Provision final rule and the Administrative Review final rule, will codify changes that have improved access to school meals for low-income children and strengthened oversight and integrity in the programs at the State level. The Community Eligibility Provision, another major advance made under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, allows school districts or individual schools with high numbers of low-income children to serve free meals to all students, eliminating the need for parents to fill out a free lunch application and reducing burdensome paperwork for school administrators so they can focus on what’s most important—feeding kids. More than 18,000 high-poverty schools serving 8.5 million students are now participating in this streamlined option, which has been shown to increase student participation in breakfast and lunch.

When kids return to school and Congress returns to work in September, USDA and the Administration will continue to call on Congress to reauthorize the Federal child nutrition programs. The Senate Agriculture Committee has already passed a bi-partisan bill that would protect the progress we have made and earned PTA’s support. The Senate bill would also support grants and loans to help schools purchase the kitchen equipment and infrastructure they need to prepare healthy meals, which National PTA has called for.

Children’s ability to learn in the classroom and reach their fullest potential depends on what we do right now to ensure their health.  USDA is grateful for National PTA’s partnership in ensuring every child in America has the opportunity to grow up healthy and succeed in school and later in life. Together, we have supported these healthy changes that will benefit our children—and our country– far into the future.


Tom Vilsack serves as the nation’s 30th Secretary of Agriculture.

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Reducing Underage Drinking–One Town Hall Meeting at a Time

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Summer vacation is in full swing. This can be a relaxing time for students as they have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and break away from the stress of school. Unfortunately, it can also be a risky time, especially for teenagers. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Report, “Monthly Variation in Substance Use Initiation among Adolescents,” during summer vacation, more teens start using alcohol than in other months.

Parents and teachers can play a vital role in reducing underage drinking. By working together to reward each student’s decision not to drink and ensure that social events do not provide a drinking environment, parents and teachers are in a powerful position to address the perils of underage drinking.

One of the ways SAMHSA addresses the prevention of and increases the national conversation about underage drinking is with its Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking initiative. Having these conversations makes a difference. In 2014, 83% of the town hall meeting participants reported gaining new knowledge about the prevention of underage alcohol use, and 48% of event hosts reported they planned to follow up their event by developing a prevention strategy.

The initiative provides several tools and resources to help parents and teachers begin this conversation. SAMHSA provides community-based organizations with a $500 stipend to mobilize their communities to prevent underage drinking. Tools to help you plan an event include an underage drinking fact sheet, a Guide to Youth Engagement in Underage Drinking Prevention Events, success stories and parent resources.

Join the over 1,300 communities nationwide in hosting a Communities Talk: Town Hall Meeting to Prevent Underage Drinking:

  1. Email info@stopalcoholabuse.net to express your interest in hosting a meeting. Please include the name of your organization, contact name, contact email, contact phone number and name of an affiliate national organization.
  1. Register to host a Communities Talk meeting. After you send an email expressing your interest, you will receive an invitation to register. Then, you will have the opportunity to receive a $500 planning stipend.
  1. Plan your Communities Talk meeting to prevent underage drinking using the resources available.

Frances M. Harding is the director for the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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Illinois PTA President Honored with Father of the Year Award

matthew=rodgriguezLast month, Illinois PTA President Matthew Rodriguez was recognized with an honorary “Father of the Year” award by the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative (IFI) at its 19th Anniversary Fatherhood Dinner Celebration.

The IFI is a statewide nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster loving and caring father-figure relationships in the community and actively engage fathers in the education of children. Notable members of the IFI include President Barrack Obama, Illinois Senator Richard J. Durbin and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Each June, the IFI hosts the Fatherhood Dinner Celebration to honor prominent dads for being positive male role models for their own and all children in their community. Rodriguez was selected to receive the Father of the Year award by IFI CEO David Hirsch for his dedication to making a difference in the lives of all children.

This is not the first accolade Rodriguez has received. Last fall, he was honored with the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation’s (ILLCF) Service Award. Rodriguez was among four recipients chosen by the ILLCF Board to receive the award for his significant contributions to the Latino community in Illinois and his important work as the first Hispanic male president of Illinois PTA.

As president of Illinois PTA, Rodriguez has been committed to increasing male engagement in schools and communities. Research shows that some 24 million children—1.1 million in Illinois alone—are growing up today in homes without fathers, which adversely affects children, families and communities. Children who do not have a father or male figure in their lives look up to male role models in their schools. And when men are present in schools, student achievement increases and negative behavior decreases.

Among his other efforts, Rodriguez recently participated in the 21st Century Dads Honor Ride 2016, a cycling campaign to raise awareness and resources for fatherhood charities. The purpose of the ride is to highlight the importance of dads in their children’s lives, create greater awareness of the father absence crisis and raise necessary funds for fatherhood organizations to support ongoing efforts to combat fatherlessness. As part of the ride, participants visited police stations, fire stations and other locations in communities to honor dads and thank them for being present in their children’s lives.


Olivia Kimmel is the PR and social media intern at National PTA.

 

What This Means: Secretary King Stresses the Necessity of Diversity at #PTAcon16

JohnKing

In a keynote address at the Think BIG… Think PTA! National PTA 2016 Annual Conference, attended by over 1,000 PTA members and advocates, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King voiced the importance of having diverse schools and classrooms. He urged PTA members to “demand diversity—not just in schools but also in the classrooms within those schools,” and added that “diversity is not a nicety but a necessity. Not just for some students, but for all of our students.”

Research shows that diversity of teachers and students results in better academic and life outcomes for all students. Nearly half of today’s public school students identify as non-white, but only 18% of the teaching force identifies this way, resulting in students rarely identifying culturally and racially with their educators.

Congress is taking steps to address the lack of diversity in schools. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) will soon be introducing legislation which would offer grants to help districts create and implement strong voluntary, community-developed plans to increase socioeconomic diversity in their schools while improving student achievement.

­Congress cannot tackle this issue alone. Secretary King stressed that PTAs across the country have a unique opportunity to increase diversity within schools. He pressed PTA members to find out if there is a formal outreach effort in place and if not to “start it and lead it.” He went further by stating “if your school is diverse but its PTA doesn’t reflect that diversity, take the time to get to know parents from different backgrounds. Invite them to join you.”

National PTA has a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion. To further this effort, we recently updated the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit to help PTA leaders make their PTA more welcoming and inclusive for all children and families by honoring their differences. Be sure to download it for in-depth guidance, but in the meantime, here are a few ways to embrace diversity and multiculturalism in your school community:

  • Make the connection with your community and identify different audiences such as community colleges, hospitals, parks, libraries, etc.
  • Distribute information to staff and families about community resources that serve the cultural, recreational, academic, health, social and other needs of families.
  • Foster student participation in community service and involve community members in school volunteer programs.
  • Disseminate information to the community, including those without school age children, regarding school programs and performance.
  • Collaborate with community agencies to provide family support services and adult learning opportunities, enabling family involvement.

PTA members have an important obligation to ensure that diversity is prioritized in our nation’s schools and to advocate so that every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Diverse student bodies and teaching forces allow students to learn how to work productively with people whose life experiences are different from their own.

Find more resources and information about diversity and inclusion on PTA.org.

Lindsay Kubatzky is the government affairs coordinator for National PTA.

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Senate HELP Committee Holds Fourth ESSA Implementation Hearing

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing with Department of Education Secretary John B. King June 29 to discuss recent proposals regarding the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). “We want this law to succeed,” Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated at the beginning and the end of the hearing. This was the fourth time that the committee has held a hearing with Secretary King about ESSA implementation.

Senators expressed the concerns that many administrators, school districts and families have about the timeline of the implementation process for states to draft their accountability plans. Current plans require implementation of an accountability system for the 2017-2018 school year and identification of underperforming schools the same year.

In response to the current timeline, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt stated in a letter to the Department that “no state will be able to implement a new system that takes full advantage of ESSA by the 2016-17 school year as implied by USED staff.”

Secretary King told lawmakers that they “are open to comment on the timeline and open to adjusting that timeline.” Their ultimate goal is to guarantee the easy transition into the new accountability system and setting up every school across the nation for success.

Stakeholder engagement was another major concern several senators wanted to clarify with Secretary King. The provision for family engagement in ESSA is a new and much-needed change from previous education law. King addressed the issue by mentioning the resources made available on stakeholder engagement. For instance, there is the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) Stakeholder Engagement Guide, which National PTA and 16 other organizations collaborated on to address the concerns many senators have about how to meaningfully involve stakeholders.

The guide highlights that stakeholder engagement requirements provide an “opportunity for state education agencies (SEAs) to not only connect with current education advocates, but to seek out those who feel disconnected or who have not been historically engaged in a public education dialogue.”

Ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard in the development of the law and its implementation helps create a plan of action that is holistic and addresses the unique concerns of states and districts. National PTA also has other resources regarding stakeholder engagement, all of which can be found at PTA.org/ESSA.

As Chairman Alexander said in his opening and closing remarks, the purpose of these hearings is the same sentiment that the National PTA has expressed since ESSA passed: ensuring the law succeeds. As Secretary King said, ESSA’s goal is to provide a “rich, rigorous and well-rounded education.” Senator Murray added that the law is designed to provide “civil rights and opportunity for every child.”

To ensure a rich, rigorous and well-rounded education, it is up to parents and families to get involved with the process. Many states are currently holding working groups and stakeholder engagement meetings. National PTA strongly urges parents to attend these meetings and voice their opinions and concerns. The best way for children to benefit academically is for parents, educators and policymakers to work together. To learn how you can be engaged in the implementation process, visit PTA.org/ESSA.


 

Blake Altman is the government affairs intern for National PTA. Lindsay Kubatzky, the government affairs coordinator at National PTA contributed to this article.

New Civil Rights Data Collection Survey Highlights Need for Improvement

CDRCThe U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released the results of the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey. This report features information about how students are treated at school and highlights several key issues that affect a child’s ability to learn, such as chronic absenteeism, restraint and seclusion disciplinary actions and lack of access to college resources. These three topics are important when advocating to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education.

Here are some key findings from the CRDC survey report and what National PTA is currently doing to tackle these issues:

Chronic Absenteeism Plagues Our Children’s Academic Participation

The CRDC survey reports that 18% of students are chronically absent—missing at least 10% of school days in a school year—which is likely to hurt their academic success and social development. National PTA recognizes that millions of students are missing too many school days and so signed on to a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in support of their Every Student, Every Day initiative, which addresses this issue that is threatening our children’s learning opportunities. National PTA continues to work with communities across the country to make sure our children attend school regularly.

Disproportional Instances of Restraint and Seclusion 

Restraint and seclusion is a school discipline strategy involving the involuntary confinement or physical restraint of students. The 2013-2014 CRDC data shows that this disciplinary policy disproportionally impacts students with disabilities. Students with disabilities make up 12% of all public school students but account for 67% of students subjected to restraint or seclusion. The use of inappropriate restraint and seclusion methods by untrained school personnel has resulted in the assault, injury, trauma and in some cases death, of students.

At the 2015 National PTA Annual Convention & Expo, PTA members passed a resolution to limit restraint and seclusion policies in schools. In the resolution, the National PTA calls for restraint and seclusion to only be used as a last resort in emergency situations, ensuring the safety and protection of all children.

Minority Groups Are Offered Fewer College Preparation Programs

According to the CRDC report, African American and Latino students have less access to high-level math and science courses in their schools. In schools with high enrollment of African American and Latino children, only 33% offer Calculus, compared to 56% of high schools with mainly white student populations.

National PTA recognizes the importance of offering advanced courses at schools in preparation for college and the skilled labor force. Our association continues to advocate for increasing the federal investment in education to ensure a well-rounded education for all our nation’s children. National PTA launched its STEM education and family engagement initiative in fall 2015 in collaboration with founding and presenting sponsor Bayer USA Foundation with additional support from Mathnasium to magnify the importance that a well-rounded education has on our children’s educational opportunities and future success.

So, what can you do to address these issues as a PTA advocate? The first way you can help is to identify specific issues that your school faces. School data on these issues from previous years can be found at this webpage, with updated info from the current CRDC report available in August. Once identified, you and your PTA can work with the school administration to ensure all students are treated fairly and receive a high-quality education.

You can also make a difference if you:

  • Ask your school’s principal if they have a school counselor and work with him or her to ensure all students have access to counseling. Chronic absenteeism can be addressed by giving students access to a school counselor or a mentor to confide in to get to the root of the issue. Lack of access is a serious issue—over 1.6 million students attend a school where a sworn law enforcement officer is present but not a school counselor. On top of this, about 21% of schools nationwide don’t have access to any school counselors.
  • Work with the local school board to create policies and programs that emphasize the use of positive or non-aversive student behavior interventions, thereby limiting the use of restraint and seclusion on students. In addition, you can advocate for your school district to provide adequate training for all teachers, principals and school personnel on preventative interventions and alternatives to exclusionary discipline.
  •  Get involved with the local or state PTA and help districts and states draft their new education plans. College and career preparation is a focus for the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Learn more about the law and how to get involved at PTA.org/ESSA.

Blake Altman is the government affairs intern at National PTA.

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Summer Tips for Incoming PTA Leaders

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Summer vacation is here! While these months can be filled with road trips to the beach, summer camps, long nights and lots of “R&R” time—summer is also an opportunity to plan a smooth transition into the upcoming school year. Just as teachers must plan the next school year’s curriculum, PTA leaders have an assignment of their own, too.

At the end of their term, outgoing leaders transfer their procedures books to the incoming leaders. Even if an outgoing leader thinks the information is of no value, with these books you will have a better idea of what was done in the past and how the PTA went about doing it. Outgoing leaders can also offer valuable insight on things yet to be done, what they would do better and suggestions on how to be more effective and efficient in the performance of your new duties. Take notes and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Start planning now for your own smooth transition into office. Here are a few tips for incoming local leaders to consider:

Share contact information with outgoing leaders and set up a directory to be and remain connected. With previous leaders’ contact information, you’ll be able to reach out for additional support throughout the year or to ask for insight as problems arise.

Review procedures books given to you from outgoing leaders. If there are none, do not worry; start one by getting and reading your local unit bylaws. The PTA unit’s secretary should have a copy. If you can’t find it, call your state/congress office; they’ll be happy to mail or email you one.

Visit PTAKit.org and review the sections that may apply to your new position.  If you don’t see your position listed, the information this website contains is of value to the entire PTA board.  Even if you’re an experienced PTA leader, it is worth reviewing every year as it is updated with the most current information and trends to help you and your unit to be successful.

Check out your state PTA’s website.  They may have information that can start you off on the right foot for the year. For example, templates, training opportunities, resources, program materials, newsletters, etc. You might find ways to connect with your state through Facebook, Instagram, Legislative Alerts, Twitter, etc.

Take advantage of the e-learning courses. National PTA offers online training courses to help you grow as a leader at PTA.org/eLearning. Although you may want to start with what you’ll need for your own PTA position, please take all courses. As a board member, it’s important to know the role of each position and what to expect.

Meet with your school principal to learn about school goals and objectives for the incoming year. Share with the principal the programs the PTA would like to hold (Reflections, Family Reading Experience Powered by Kindle, Healthy Lifestyles, Fire Up Your Feet, Take Your Family to School Week, Teacher Appreciation Week, Connect for Respect, etc.) and how these programs will support the goals and objectives of the school. Think about becoming a School of Excellence in the process!

Set up a communications plan. Newsletters and social media keep everyone informed, engaged and proud of what the PTA is doing. Go through your PTA’s goals, identify specific strategies your PTA or committee will use to achieve each goal and then create a step-by-step plan for each strategy. This is key to growing membership and gaining members and community support.

Have a successful PTA year and thank you so much for your dedication and commitment to the mission of PTA!


Ivelisse Castro is a national service representative at National PTA.

 

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Child Nutrition Bill to be Debated in House Education Committee

It’s just common sense: healthy students make better learners, and school meals are an opportunity for children to receive more than half of their daily nutrient needs. Ensuring children have access to nutritious foods in schools is critical to their success.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a markup of the House’s child nutrition reauthorization bill, titled the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003), at 11 a.m. on May 18.

National PTA and many school nutrition advocates are concerned with the House bill in its current form as some of the provisions are expected to roll back years of progress toward healthy and nutritious school meals. The following are just a few of the provisions in the House bill that would negatively impact your child’s access to healthy foods in schools.

The House bill would roll back nutrition standards at your school

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) was passed by federal lawmakers in 2010 to improve the nutritional value of all foods and beverages sold in schools. HHFKA requires a school lunch to include a fruit or a vegetable, whole-grains and low-fat dairy products. It also sets limits on calories, fats, sodium and sugar content. To date, the United States Department of Agriculture has reported that 98.5% of schools are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards. National PTA has helped further these efforts in schools through our Healthy Lifestyles program and Healthy School Meals Grants. However, the House bill would roll back these efforts by allowing popular foods in certain regions of the U.S. (such as biscuits, grits, white rice and others) to be exempt from the whole grain requirements as well as delaying the implementation of sodium reduction targets in school meals.

The House bill would allow school fundraisers to be less healthy

National PTA has also been working with schools to implement healthy and nutritious fundraisers that adhere to the Smart Snack guidelines that went into effect in 2014. PTAs across the country have been working hard to improve school meals and other food items sold during the school day. Thus, PTA cannot support the House bill’s language that would exempt school fundraisers from the Smart Snack guidelines when countless schools have proven to hold successful fundraisers that are healthy and nutritious, such as selling healthy snacks at school stores and school-wide run-a-thons.

The House bill would restrict access to school meals in low-income neighborhoods

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) was included in HHFKA to allow schools and districts with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students who attend that school or district. This has reduced the administrative burden on schools and the stigma children and families face while participating in the free and reduced-price school meals program. The House bill would hinder access for 7,000 schools and millions of children from receiving healthy school meals by increasing the eligibility requirements to participate in the program. Find out if your child’s school would be effected by this provision by visiting this searchable database.

The House bill would limit the number of times your school can contact families and encourage them to participate in the school meals program to only twice per school year

This provision in the bill is of great concern to PTA as one of our founding principles is our dedication to engaging families in their child’s education, which research has shown improves student outcomes. Limiting the amount of communication a school may have with families on any issue is detrimental to the school environment and student learning. Parents and families have a right to know what school-based opportunities are provided to their child throughout the year, which includes the health and nutrition of their child.

Sign-up to receive our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for updates on the bill and information on other National PTA legislative priorities.


Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.