PTA and Juvenile Justice: Looking Forward

JuvenileJustice2In September, PTA will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation’s first comprehensive law designed to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. Juvenile justice and delinquency prevention has historically been one of PTA’s key public policy priorities and the association continues to advocate for improvements to the juvenile justice system in the United States. Read more about PTA’s more than 100 years of juvenile justice advocacy.

Looking Forward

In 2014, there is still improvement needed to the juvenile justice system in the United States. Loopholes left in the JJDPA, as well as amendments made to the law over the years, have weakened its protections and additional protections are needed in federal law. National PTA’s current official position statement on juvenile justice urges members at all levels  to monitor, support, and advocate for laws and programs in the following areas:

Juvenile Justice

  • Promote initiatives to address racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequities in the juvenile justice system.
  • Encourage collaboration between law enforcement, the judicial system, and child welfare agencies.
  • Promote alternative dispute resolution techniques that provide a range of possible sanctions.
  • Prohibit youth who are charged with a serious crime from being tried in the adult court system unless there has been an opportunity for a judicial hearing and appeal.
  • Prohibit the incarceration of youth in adult facilities.
  • Assist youth leaving the juvenile justice system, and prevent their return.
  • Support research and data collection regarding youth offenses.

Today, as we have for over one hundred years, National PTA will continue to advocate for juvenile justice systems across the country that are safe and rehabilitative places for every child.

In September, look out for more information on the JJDPA in PTA’s One Voice Blog. Also check out:

PTA and Juvenile Justice: Over 100 Years of Advocacy

JuvenileJustice3In September, PTA will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation’s first comprehensive law designed to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. Juvenile justice and delinquency prevention has historically been one of PTA’s key public policy priorities and the association continues to advocate for improvements to the juvenile justice system in the United States.

A Separate Justice System for Children

In 1899, the first juvenile court in the nation was founded in Cook County, IL. That same year, PTA convention delegates passed the association’s first resolution addressing the way children are handled in the judicial system. The resolution called for nationwide juvenile court and probation systems in order to protect children from being incarcerated with adults. At that time, juveniles committing even minor offenses such as truancy would be held with adults, putting them in potential danger and in contact with more serious offenders.  The mission of a juvenile justice system centers around the recognition that children have the ability to change, and the systems therefore focus resources on rehabilitation over punishment to help youth entering the system leave as productive adults.

After the 1899 convention, PTA members established their first Committee on Juvenile Courts and Probation (renamed the Committee on Juvenile Protection) and advocated at all levels of the association for safe and fair treatment of children involved in the judicial system. By the early 1925, as a result of the efforts of PTA members and other child advocates, all but two states had a separate juvenile court system.

PTA’s Juvenile Justice Advocacy Continues

Several decades later, in 1957, National PTA published What PTA Members Should Know About Juvenile Delinquency: Guide for Action, a booklet offering concrete courses of action for PTAs and communities to undertake to improve the juvenile justice system. In 1961, PTA supported the Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act, signed by President Kennedy. The Act was the first piece of federal juvenile justice legislation and authorized pilot grants for anti-delinquency initiatives, training programs, and studies on juvenile delinquency.

The scope of the Act was limited and states still struggled to create a safe and supportive system for children. Research in the late 1960s revealed inconsistencies among juvenile justice systems nationwide. Children continued to be incarcerated for “status offenses”—noncriminal behaviors such as truancy, curfew violation, and running away from home—with some children still detained with adults. The National Council of Juvenile Court Judges (NCJCJ) approached National PTA in the 1960s, informing the association that “juvenile court judges were not qualified by training or experience to function effectively in the complicated area of guaranteeing justice to juveniles.” In response, PTA co-sponsored four regional conferences with NCJCJ to acquaint PTA leaders with juvenile courts and their procedures and to develop an advocacy strategy to help solve the problems of children in trouble. Then in 1973 PTA and NCJCJ co-published Juvenile Justice: A Handbook for Volunteers in Juvenile Court and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) and NCJCJ funded 25-state volunteers-in-court programs through the conduit of state PTA units.

In the absence of a comprehensive federal statute, the role of the federal government was limited and could have little impact on the way states dealt delinquent youth and youth at risk of delinquency. There was a nationwide call from advocacy organizations including PTA for expanded resources and consistent protections for children. In response, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) with wide bipartisan support in 1974 to improve outcomes for youth and community safety.

The impact of the JJDPA over the last forty years has been remarkable: thousands of children have been kept out of facilities for committing minor offenses and kept separate from adults in detention. The JJDPA changed the way states approached juvenile justice by establishing a federal-state partnership and providing them with resources to improve their systems. The JJDPA also contains requirements to protect every child in the juvenile justice system that states must follow in order to receive these resources. As a result, communities and families in the United States, as well as youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, are better served.

Setting the Record Straight: Healthy School Meal Rules Allow for Bake Sales

USDA_photoKevin Concannon currently serves as Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services in the United States Department of Agriculture. Working in partnership with state and local organizations, Food and Nutrition Service oversees child nutrition programs including National School Lunch, School Breakfast, and Summer Food Service Programs.  More information can be found at http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/smart-snacks-school.

Several recent media reports have misrepresented how the bi-partisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards will impact school fundraisers like bake sales.

I’d like to set the record straight: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not imposing federal restrictions on bake sales or fundraisers.

USDA has given states complete authority to set policies on fundraisers and bake sales that work for them. States are free to allow fundraisers and bake sales featuring foods and beverages that don’t meet the new standards during the school day if they choose. They, not USDA, are responsible for determining the number and the frequency of these events each year.

Even before the Act was passed in 2010, USDA made clear in a letter to Congress that it had no plans to limit bake sales and other fundraisers.

According to USDA research, prior to Smart Snacks, more than half of all schools did not hold fundraisers that sold sweet or salty foods. It is not surprising that many schools and states have now opted to continue those policies. That is their choice and a local decision.

Additionally, even in states that choose to require that fundraiser foods meet nutrition standards, there are reasonable limitations on when the state’s policy will apply. For instance, the standards only apply during the school day. Food sold at after-school sporting events, weekend school plays and other events is unaffected. It does not prevent band or athletic boosters or other fundraising organizations from hosting fundraisers after school or on the weekends. It also does not prohibit sales of foods meant to be consumed at home, like frozen pizzas and cookie dough, during the school day. Schools can also choose to hold as many fundraisers as they want during the school day that feature foods that meet the Smart Snacks standards. In addition, Smart Snacks does not have any bearing on the many non-food fundraisers that take place in schools.

All of these provisions apply in all states. And again, states can choose to allow fundraisers and bake sales with foods that don’t meet nutrition standards during the school day if they choose.

The Congressional intent is clear that the purpose of Smart Snacks is to improve the nutritional quality of certain foods and beverages sold in school, like those in vending machines. This work is particularly important, as we face a growing obesity crisis in this country. Two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. One in five young adults is too overweight to serve in the military. At a treatment cost of $190.2 billion per year, obesity is not just a health issue. It is an economic and a national security issue that leaves this generation of children at risk of dying at a younger age than their parents for the first time in American history.

Recognizing that, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act on a bipartisan basis in 2010. The law directed USDA to set reasonable nutrition standards, based on recommendations from pediatricians and other experts, for foods sold to children at school. The law specifically directed USDA to consider special exemptions for school-sponsored fundraisers involving food.

We agree with and respect the intent of Congress to continue those time-honored traditions, which is why we chose not to regulate fundraisers or bake sales at the federal level and instead allowed states to determine their own policies. It is also important to note that Smart Snacks only applies to the sale of foods—foods brought to school in bagged lunches and treats for time-honored events like birthday parties, holidays and special events are not impacted by the standards.

Our children’s ability to learn in the classroom and reach their fullest potential depends on what we do right now to secure their future. Healthier meals and snacks at school—with flexibility, common sense, and occasional treats—are how we get there.

 

Supporting Refugees through the READ Program

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

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

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

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


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

Reflections: A Gallery of 2013-2014 Student Art

Since 1969, the PTA Reflections program has encouraged students across the nation and in American schools overseas to explore their creativity. Each year, students in preschool through high school are invited to create and submit works of art in the areas of dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and the visual arts. In the 2013-2014 school year, Reflections students shared their artistic interpretations on the theme “Believe, Dream, Inspire.”

National PTA Reflections submissions are reviewed by experts in the visual, literary and performing arts. Judges look for personal interpretation on the program theme that best exemplify creativity and technical skill. We are proud to share with you this year’s award winning works of art and invite you to join us at future exhibitions.

Reflections Icon_Dance

Dance Choreography

Outstanding Interpretation in Dance Choreography -
“One World” by Ella Carter-Klauschie

“The words Believe, Dream, and Inspire make me think of Peace on Earth. I Believe that it can happen. I Dream that people can make a difference. I’m Inspired by dances from other cultures. Dance can bring people together. This dance represents Brazil, Senegal, India and the U.S. as separate cultures to cherish. We come together to respect each other’s cultures, and learn new things. Learning about one another helps us find our similarities, and celebrate our differences. This piece includes Contemporary, West African,Samba-Reggae, Bollywood, Bhangra, and Hip-Hop dance. I shaped the traditional styles to show connection.” – Ella Carter-Klauschie

View all national award winning dance choreography submissions.

 

Reflections Icon_Film

Film Production

Outstanding Interpretation in Film Production -
“Dream Walking” by Eric Gillespie

“The film I created is about my Dad. My dad still dreams of running marathons. My dad inspires me very much. My dad believes in things that he didn’t think he could do before. When we believe in our dreams we can do the difficult things that are inspiring.” – Eric Gillespie

View all national award winning film production submissions.

 

Reflections Icon_Literature

Literature

Outstanding Interpretation in Literature -
The Girl Who Called the Moon” by Biz Rasich

Literature_Award

“My piece was an experiment. I used a new style and a new voice, challenging myself to let my muse direct me instead of vice versa. The idea of Delia really spoke to me–her indignation at having been left behind, her hope that the moon would bring her father back, all of her spitfire, four-year-old naivety–resulting in the story essentially writing itself. Such moments of clarity are rare for me. That’s the struggle of writing, I suppose: inspiration comes at the most unexpected times and with such unexpected ferocity.” – Biz Rasich

View all national award winning literature submissions.

 

Reflections Icon__Music

Music Composition

Outstanding Interpretation in Music Composition -
“Live Your Dreams” by Joseph Codispoti

“This piece is about people who are afraid to take chances and live their dreams. This work expresses the struggle and frustration that comes with doubting yourself, but shows the benefits of chasing your dreams in the end.” – Joseph Codispoti

Listen to all national award winning music composition submissions.

 

Reflections Icon__Photography

Photography

Outstanding Interpretation in Photography –
“Ink Mirage” by Hannah Shoultz

Hannah Shoultz OIA Photograph_2

“In this photo, a self-portrait, the pages of a book form an almost mask-like covering over my face to mirror the idea that inspiration covers, it reaches all depths of the mind and urges you on to greater heights. The pages are translucent, lending a dream-like quality to the photo and illustrating the idea that inspiration lends itself to dreaming: imagining new worlds, new experiences, and new lives. When one finds themselves in a place where they are truly inspired and able to dream, they can then finally begin to believe, and with that, a belief in themselves.” – Hannah Shoultz

View all national award winning photography submissions.

 

Reflections Icon__VisualArts

Visual Arts

Outstanding Interpretation in Visual Arts –
“Dream and Inspiration” by Daniel Chang

 Daniel Chang OIA VisArtwork

“The title of my artwork is “Dream and Inspiration.” I dream about being a great scientist. I can create the future and change the world better. Thomas Edison inspires me the most. “Genius is one percent inspiration ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Daniel Chang

View all national award winning photography submissions.

 

 Reflections Logo_2

Special Artist

Outstanding Interpretation in Special Artist Division –
“Imagine” by Jessica Clay

“I choreographed my dance to the song “Imagine,” because the song is about having no lines and the world living as one. This is an integrated dance which brings people with and without disabilities together. I believe everyone should be equal. I hope my dance can educate and open people’s minds. Also, I hope to inspire some social change and make a difference in this world.” – Jessica Clay

Learn more about the Special Artist Division for students with disability.

 

Upcoming Exhibitions: Reflections at the U.S. Department of Education

Join us Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 11:00am for the annual Reflections Exhibit Opening & Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony at the U.S. Department of Education, adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, DC. Exhibit will feature national award winning works of art in film production, dance choreography, literature, music composition, photography and visual arts from the 2013-2014 school-year theme: Believe, Dream, Inspire. To RSVP, email reflections@pta.org.

The public exhibit is open Monday-Friday, except federal holidays, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., January 6 – February 25, and is located in the LBJ Education Building, 400 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20202. To schedule a visit, contact Nicole Carinci, Management & Program Analyst at the U.S. Dept. of Education, at nicole.carinci@ed.gov or call (202)453-5585.

The Reflections Believe, Dream, Inspire exhibit will also be featured at the National PTA Convention June 26-27 in Charlotte, NC. Save the date!

Please email reflections@pta.org for questions regarding Reflections student art exhibits.

 

Educators, Administrators and PTA Leaders Break Down the Common Core in New Video Series

National PTA recently released a video series on the Common Core to educate parents on the standards and empower them to support the implementation of the standards at school and home. The series was developed in partnership with The Hunt Institute as part of the association’s ongoing efforts to provide accurate information about the Common Core, ensure parents are knowledgeable about the standards and new assessments, and support parents every step of the way as states transition to the standards.

The series features 14 videos that highlight the importance of and need for clear, consistent and rigorous standards; dispel myths about the Common Core; and provide perspectives from educators, administrators, PTA leaders and others on the positive changes they’ve seen with the standards. The videos also spotlight the steps PTAs can take to effectively advocate for the standards in their communities.

The series begins with the video “The Need for Improved Student Outcomes,” a brief overview of the Common Core.

The Common Core State Standards have experienced growing pains since their inception and there is still work to be done, but the standards are vast improvement over previous academic standards.

We encourage you to watch the videos in the series and share them with your members as well as families in your school community. Together, we can educate and empower parents with accurate information about the Common Core. It is critical that we raise the bar in all schools and remain committed to ensuring that all students graduate prepared to succeed.

For more information on the Common Core and to view resources that have been developed on the standards, visit National PTA’s Common Core website.

Shannon Sevier is vice president for advocacy for National PTA.

Smart Snacks: Is Your Fundraiser, Vending Machine, or School Store USDA Compliant?

Beginning July 1, 2014 schools participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program (that’s most schools) must ensure all foods sold to kids during the school day (called “Smart Snacks”) meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition guidelines. But what does it all mean?  Which foods are considered a “smart snack”? And how do I know if my PTA’s fundraiser is compliant?  We get it – it can be confusing! But we’re hoping to clear up some confusion here and get you the resources you need to be successful. If you don’t see an answer here, feel free to ask a question in the comments.

And stay tuned for additional resources to help make sure your PTA is ready to help support healthier foods in school!

What foods are you talking about when you say “Smart Snacks”? 

For the purpose of USDA guidelines, the foods that must meet minimum nutrition guidelines are those sold during the school day in school stores, vending machines, fundraisers, and a la carte lunch lines (think “grab and go” food items not part of a full meal). There are already updated USDA nutrition guidelines for the federally-subsidized school meal.

Foods sold outside of the school day (we’ll get to that in a second) – do not need to meet USDA guidelines.

Wait, did you say fundraisers?

Yes, fundraisers will need to meet the nutrition guidelines if they are sold to kids during the school day or immediately before and after school and are intended to be eaten on the spot.

What do you mean when you say “before and after” school?

The guidelines apply to any food sold

  • on school grounds before the school day begins
  • during the school day; and
  • 30 minutes after the traditional school day ends (think unhealthy fundraisers or unhealthy vending machines as soon as the bell rings).

What about our fundraisers and foods sold on school grounds but not during school day?

The USDA guidelines do not apply to afterschool or weekend events like football games and musical performances, so long as they are not before school or 30 minutes after the traditional school day ends. Your school may have additional restrictions on what can be sold on school grounds, so it’s always important to check first. Additionally, many PTAs are adopting healthy fundraising and event practices. The USDA guidelines are scientifically-backed based on nutrition needs for students. Your PTA may want to use the guidelines as a healthy lifestyle resource for your PTA!

What do you mean when you say foods that are intended to be eaten “on the spot”?

The USDA guidelines are only intended to target “ready to eat foods”. If a student is selling a food product through a catalog-type sale where the food is not intended to be eaten by the student at school, it wouldn’t need to meet USDA guidelines. But your local school may have additional restrictions.

But I heard there can be some fundraisers during the school day that don’t meet the guidelines?

Yes, there is flexibility for states to provide exemptions for infrequent school-approved fundraisers that do not meet the nutrition guidelines. Your administrative office may know this number, but you can also check the National Association of State Board of Education (NASBE) database for “fundraising exemptions” under your state. If your state has not determined the number of exemptions allowable, it is automatically zero, meaning that no exemptions are allowed for fundraisers that do not meet nutrition guidelines. 

What about birthday celebrations and food our PTA gives to kids?

While PTA supports healthy food offerings throughout the day, USDA guidelines only apply to foods sold to kids during the school day. So if a parent or other group is providing food free of charge, they do not need to comply with USDA guidelines. Keep in mind that state and local rules apply – and your school may have stronger restrictions on these items.

How do I know if what we’re selling meets the guidelines?

Good news! There is a simple way to check this using this tool from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Just enter what kind of product you’re selling (for the purpose of vending machines, school stores or fundraisers, it’s generally going to be a “snack”) and answer a few simple questions. The tool will let you know if your product is compliant. Just make sure to have the nutrition label handy!

Note: State and local regulations can differ and may be stronger. This is only related to USDA guidelines, which are designed to be minimum guidelines that schools must meet. However, schools are allowed to go beyond these guidelines. You should check with your school about additional guidelines or restrictions to vending machines, school stores and fundraisers.  It may also be part of your school’s Local Wellness Policy.

Have a question we didn’t answer? Please ask below and we’ll do our best to answer!

Excited about these changes and want to become more involved? Consider becoming at PTA Champion for Smart School Foods here!

Could your state PTA or council benefit from an in-person training? Shoot us an email at schoolfoods@pta.org.

 

 

 

 

Speaking Up for Child Nutrition Programs

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

Helping Give Parents a Shot at Life

F-HilbertFor 20 years, I have been an active PTA member and a passionate advocate for education, diversity and inclusion of minority students in our schools and communities. As a PTA member, I have the opportunity to educate, create awareness, address issues and stand up for the rights of children in many ways.

As a Shot@Life Champion, I stand up for the rights of children around the world! I have been supporting, advocating and championing for Shot@Life because I believe in their mission and goals. Working as a nurse in Mexico, I saw firsthand children living in poverty and with health issues.

I have always felt a sense of duty to do everything I can to address the needs and alleviate the problems of others. I grew up seeing the effect a lack of basic vaccines has on children in poor countries. I saw the pain and agony of children suffering from measles, diarrhea and other diseases.

Because of this, I know that a simple vaccine can make the difference between life and death for children in developing countries. Shot@Life resonates with me and should reverberate with you and everybody else – especially, for those who care about human life. No matter where you live or where you are from, when you hear that a child dies every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable disease, you want to get involved.

One of my favorite experiences was the time I spent with the Shot@Life in Uganda. The Ugandan people’s courage and resilience as well as the children’s smiles and gratitude taught me the power of kindness and the triumph of the human spirit. Truly a little bit of charity can yield great progress and beneficence.

Shot@Life is raising awareness to help immunize children in Uganda and many other developing countries fighting against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, polio, pneumonia and rotavirus. I believe in this cause and pride myself on being part of a campaign that saves children lives!

I am a mother, and I know that parents will do anything to make sure that their children are safe and healthy. I know too that all of you love children and stand for the human rights of children.  So please join me to help protect, save, and give children around the globe a shot at life. It can start with spreading awareness through your social networks, writing letters and calling your members of Congress and pledging to share the message with all your friends.

Look for the Shot@Life booth during the National PTA conference, and ask how you can become part of this campaign. The Shot@Life team will be there to answer questions and show you ways that you and your PTA units can get involved with the cause. Please join me to help protect, save and give children around the globe a shot at life.

The 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education: Remembering When Parents Stood Up for Change

Otha_Headshot_SMIt started as a whisper. But the injustice taking place in 1954 to African-American school children in Topeka, Kan., didn’t stay quiet for long. It took Oliver L. Brown, a welder for the Santa Fe Railroad, to stand up and call out an education system that wasn’t integrated and wasn’t fair. His request was simple: He wanted his 7-year-old daughter Linda to attend a nearby school designated as white-only instead of being bused across town to an all-black Monroe Elementary School. He instead created a movement that reverberated all the way to the Supreme Court and culminated with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared “separate but equal” education unconstitutional.

PTA was there, immediately taking a stand supporting school integration, a move that cost the association some three-million members. Unfazed, these courageous mothers put pressure on all states to integrate. They called it unification. They were ridiculed for their position, but knew that history would be on their side. A few years later, PTA merged with the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers Association (who had also taken a lead role in supporting Brown and others fighting across the country for school equality) to form what we now know as National PTA.

Today, 60 years later, as the first African-American male president of America’s oldest and largest child advocacy association, I continue to look back in awe at the example set by PTA then and now.

The anniversary of the Brown decision is an important time to reflect on education today and redouble our nation’s efforts to ensure equality for all students across the country. While progress has been achieved in the years following the ruling, inequalities continue to exist in American schools. It is critical that parents, teachers, administrators, elected officials, and business and community leaders work together to make meaningful changes to ensure that all children have access to a high quality education and that every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

That means not diverting public funds currently spent on public K-12 education to private or sectarian schools. At the federal level and in states across the country, legislation is being considered that would do just that—depriving students of rights and protections they are awarded in public schools. These desperately-needed resources should continue to be invested in public schools that serve all students regardless of economic status, gender, religion, prior academic achievement, disability and behavioral history.

Equality for all students means supporting state initiatives like the Common Core State Standards, which would raise the bar in all schools and will go far in helping every student receive a high quality education that prepares him or her for success upon graduation from high school. The Common Core State Standards increase rigor in every school and provide consistency across the country, no matter a student’s zip code or socioeconomic status. With the standards, we have a tremendous opportunity to ensure that a high school senior in Alabama receives the same quality education as a senior in Colorado and that both students graduate prepared for college or the workforce and are able to compete in the global economy.

I have continued National PTA’s legacy of speaking up to ensure that all students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that support their success. In the fall of 2013, National PTA launched a campaign, titled Every Child in Focus, to celebrate the achievements and identify the disparities within diverse populations. As the demographics of our nation’s schools continue to shift, each month National PTA spotlights the educational challenges surrounding a particular group and provides resources and advocacy tools to help school communities embrace diversity and inclusion as well as understand and address the unique needs of every child. National PTA also works with our country’s leaders to help tackle issues facing each highlighted group.

In the 1950s, PTA was at the forefront on questions of nationality, race, culture and group relations in all sections of the country and the adverse impact divisions between groups had on children and youth. Now, the association is standing up for investments in public education and higher, consistent academic standards, and it continues to champion the importance of equal opportunity for all children.

The Brown v. Board of Education decision was a turning point in the history of our nation. And this turning point was the result of a parent who spoke up for a truly equal chance at quality education for all children, and associations like PTA that supported his fight.

Educational inequalities helped spur the Civil Rights Movement, and it continues to be the civil rights issue of our time. With the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, it is critical to reaffirm our commitment to speak up and take action to ensure that every student receives a world class education that enables him or her to reach his or her full potential.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.