Living a Full Live with Food Allergies


Kathie Van Giezen and her family

As the parent of a child with severe food allergies, I am always thinking about my son Jack’s safety – even as I encourage him to enjoy all that life has to offer.

I strongly believe that my role as his parent is not only to educate and empower him about his food allergies, but to develop an ongoing communication stream and friendly relationship with his teachers, the school nurse, other parents and children. I also take every opportunity to advocate for him in a positive and constructive manner.  If I am nervous or uncertain about a situation, I speak up.  I have found that in most cases, others are more than willing to make small changes to accommodate my son.

I also feel that one of the most important things that I can do for Jack is to teach him to “own” his allergy.  Jack was diagnosed with a severe allergy to peanuts and pistachios when he was two.  In the past five years, he has learned to read food labels, to discuss his allergies with friends and adults, and to speak up in restaurants and other situations.  Anytime there is food involved, Jack will confidently announce his allergies and ask if the food that is being served is safe for him to eat – regardless of what is being served.

A friend tells a story about my son (who was four at the time) asking if an apple was safe for him to eat.  We laughed about it, but the reality is that he is still young and I do not want him to ever assume that because something is safe to eat at our house, that it is safe to eat other places (unless he has confirmed that it is peanut/pistachio free by either reading labels or checking with an adult).

While Jack’s allergies certainly play a large role in the choices that we make as a family, they do not define him.  He attends a school where peanuts are served, goes on playdates at friends’ homes, and this last year he attended a summer sports camp (I admit that I did drive by the soccer field a few times).  As a family, we take the following steps to ensure his safety:

  • I speak to the adult in charge about his food allergies and assess their level of comfort with using an epinephrine auto-injector. If they are not comfortable, I stay;
  • I leave them with his epinephrine auto-injector and medical information, such as his age,  weight, and doctor’s contact information;
  • I pack safe snacks for Jack to eat;
  • He wears a bright orange wristband that identifies his allergy, and he has been taught to speak up if he is uncomfortable with a situation.

Jack’s friends are all aware of his allergies and they really look out for him.  I once saw his best friend jump between him and a bag of candy as she loudly announced that he had a peanut allergy and could not have the candy!

With a lot of preparation, open communication, and the support of his teachers, other parents, and friends, my son is successfully dealing with his food allergies and enjoys a wonderfully fun and fulfilling life – despite his allergies.


Kathie Van Giezen lives with her family in Alexandria, Virginia, where she enjoys being a stay at home mom. Kathie recently participated in a three-part video series, supported with funds provided by Pfizer, educating parents, teachers, school administrators and students on the dangers of anaphylaxis and how to prevent an allergic reaction and prepare for an emergency response. Hear more about Kathie’s story below:


National PTA President Otha Thornton honored on EBONY Magazine’s 2013 Power 100 List

View the National PTA Press Release:

Otha_Ebony-703x703National PTA is proud to announce that President Otha Thornton has been named to EBONY magazine’s Power 100 list of the nation’s most influential African-Americans. Thornton will be featured in the December/January issue of EBONY, which will hit newsstands in early November. Each year EBONY Magazine hosts an annual celebration of Black America’s foremost movers, shakers and leaders. The 2013 Power 100 includes a broad-range of influencers and game-changers across a wide spectrum of industries and areas. The 2013 EBONY Power 100 list includes media mogul Oprah Winfrey, actress Kerry Washington, civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis and Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.

“The most recognized and respected source for perspective on the African-American community, we are elated that EBONY has chosen to honor our president and the important work of National PTA,” said Eric Hargis, executive director of National PTA. “This prestigious honor underscores President Thornton’s leadership and the difference he and National PTA are making in the lives of our country’s youth through the promotion of educational success, health and well-being, and strong family and community involvement.”

In celebration, the second annual EBONY Power 100 Gala will be Nov. 4 at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall. The event will honor Motown Records founder Berry Gordy with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and recognize the achievements of the 2013 Power 100 List.

Thornton was installed as president of National PTA in June 2013, making history as the first African-American male chosen to head the 4 million member association. Under his leadership, National PTA has collaborated with prestigious organizations including the NFL and AARP. Since taking the helm, Thornton also has launched an awareness campaign to celebrate the achievements of diverse student populations and share resources and advocacy tools to help school communities address the unique needs of every child. In addition to being recognized by EBONY, Thornton recently was featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

For more information visit EBONY’s Power 100 list.

The Next Step to Stop Bullying


TipTxt is a two-way texting service for students to confidentially notify school officials of bullying or school safety issues right from their cell phones.

With National Bullying Prevention Month in full swing, you have likely seen the sobering and disheartening statistics–160,000 kids miss school each day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. One in 3 students have experienced cyber-bullying. Can there be good news on the horizon? The answer is yes–if schools are ready to let students use the powerful, surprising bully-prevention tool that’s already in their pockets: text messaging.

Blackboard is partnering with the National PTA to offer TipTxt, a two-way texting service for students to confidentially notify school officials of bullying or school safety issues right from their cell phones. We are offering the tool to every K-12 school in the U.S. for free. All schools need is a dedicated phone line, and Blackboard will absorb all other costs.

Why are we doing this? Since our inception, Blackboard has worked to solve problems in education. And bullying and school safety are large problems. We hope that making this powerful service available at no charge to every school in the country will be a small step in creating safer learning environments.

According to the National Education Association, many children are reluctant to report bullying to school administrators or even their own teachers. They fear being viewed as “weak” or being labeled a “snitch.” While many school leaders have implemented programs to teach students to recognize and respond to bullying and other safety issues, students need even more help.

To make bullying prevention as effective as possible, we need to remove as many barriers to reporting as possible. Studies confirm that young people increasingly prefer to use text or SMS to communicate. According to a Pew Internet and American Life Study, 75 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 carry a cell phone, and people as young as eight text on them.

Nearly as immediate as a personal conversation, texting also has the advantage of being hidden away from prying eyes – no one knows who you’re texting. This makes some students more likely to use it to report uncomfortable – or dangerous – situations.

With TipTxt, when a student is involved in or witnesses a bullying incident, they simply text a descriptive message to the district or school’s unique TipTxt number, and the message will be confidentially relayed to administrators who can follow up in a timely manner.

Bullying prevention requires involved parents, conscientious school administrators and, maybe most importantly, empowered students. Technology can be a valuable tool in the mission to end bullying. It reminds students they are not alone – and gives them access to instant, expert help.

Bring TipTxt into your community by contacting us at

School bullies, take notice: the power has shifted.

Mark Belles is the Senior Vice President of K-12 at Blackboard


The Ignite Show: D.C. Teacher of the Year

From The Ignite Show, working to raise respect and awareness of educators and education through the voices of teachers, parents and students.

Nationwide, teachers and students are rising to the challenge of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), setting the course for student success in college, career, and in life. Join The Ignite Show on a cross-country journey with four State Teachers of the Year and their students as they raise teaching and learning to exciting new levels through the Common Core State Standards.

Special Episode: 2012 District of Columbia Teacher of the Year Perea Blackmon


The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) in partnership with The Hunt Institute sponsored this Special Episode focusing on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Also created in collaboration with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA), and the Parent Teacher Association (PTA).

Learn more…

National Bullying Prevention Month: Stand Up For Kids

Reposted from Blackboard Blogs.

Bullying2Autumn is upon us, classes are well under way and many students have settled into their new social circles for the remainder of the school year. Along with the traditional fall celebrations, October also brings National Bullying Prevention Month. PACER (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) originally kicked off the week-long campaign in 2006, and it has since grown to become a nationally recognized month-long campaign.

School plays a huge role in children’s social development since the majority of their formative years are spent in the classroom. Students are not only learning academic subjects when they go to class, but also social skills that will form their future relationships. Unfortunately, for some children, school does not always provide a positive learning environment.

While some may dismiss bullying as a fact of life, it can have many long term negative effects on students and the school climate. We now know that children who have been bullied are more likely to experience mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, and children who bully others are more likely to have unhealthy relationships in adulthood. But, bullying does not have to be a reality for students. Families, educators, and students can work together to create positive learning environments in schools and thereby decrease bullying.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Talk to your child about bullying and what they should do if they witness it, or become the target of it. Make sure you know what policies your child’s school has in place to address bullying.
  • Spread awareness by sharing the new Be More Than a Bystander PSAs on social media. The campaign, developed by and informed by National PTA, provides safe tactics kids can use to stand up to bullying.
  • Try out TipTxt, a service from Blackboard that allows students to report bullying incidents via text messages without the fear of retaliation. More information on how to obtain the service for your school can be found at
  • Partner with your school’s PTA to host a Connect for Respect event. Connect for Respect utilizes family-school partnerships to prevent bullying by creating positive school climates.

While October may be National Bullying Prevention Month, the topic is a year-round concern. Kindness, respect, and resilience are qualities that should be instilled in our children daily. Bullying may be a term associated with children, but the underlying reasons for its presence and its effects are not confined to a schoolyard. As Frederick Douglas put it eloquently and succinctly, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Erin Thwaites is an Education Programs Specialist at National PTA, where she supports the development and implementation of national level programs relating to social and emotional learning. – See more at:

The Urban Child: Building Strong Families One Resource at A Time

Lyndon Brown of the 13th Avenue School Parent Teacher Association in Newark, NJ is on a mission to help create upstanding and well-educated young men in his community. He believes that it is important to create resources and methods for networking to the families in the area. With numerous programs and opportunities to connect, not only are men of all ages reaping the benefits, but the families as a whole are made stronger by the many offerings provided through Brown and his team.

One Voice: What is the main goal of your particular unit as it pertains to servicing your community?

Lyndon: We try to create partnerships and networks for parents so that they can be more self-reliant, more productive and connected to local community leaders. One way that we do that is by hosting ‘Meet the Leaders’ nights where families are able to come and meet local officials and community leaders, which in turn creates resources for them to use to meet any needs that they may have. We are the primary source linking them to the individuals that they would not otherwise have the opportunity to network with.

One Voice: What types of programs, events, etc. do you provide to create and promote engagement from the urban child and their families?

Lyndon: We have family engagement events and various clubs such as the Father’s Club for fathers specifically, special needs parent’s group for those parents who are raising children with special needs and may need support or assistance, and the Blue Moon Club for those individuals who may only be able to volunteer “every blue moon.” We create opportunities for them to do that. We also provide a PTA directory for fathers that lists local barbers, mechanics, etc. within the PTA family. This creates a sense of comradery and an in-house resource so they do not have to look far for what they need. We have also been focusing on Latino families this year and assisting them with getting acclimated to life in America. Next week we will begin to offer free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and GED classes for Latinos to participate in.

One Voice: I understand your main target is boys and young men. What type of resources do you have specifically catering to them?

Lyndon: The goal is to provide as many helpful services to them as we can. We have youth summits, a boys to men group, a study café where they can come and do homework and/or study for tests anytime they need to, and peer mentoring. We also have a Diplomas to Degrees program to help them through the high school and college stages of their lives. One more resource are motivational speakers that have careers in fields such as law enforcement, business ownership, etc. that come throughout the year and talk to the youth. That has proven to be very appealing to them and helps them see how much success they can create in their own lives.

Shaina Croom is the Editorial Specialist at National PTA in Alexandria, VA. Contact Shaina at

Education Data—Your Most Important Parenting Tool


Aimee Rogstad Guidera

Like all parents, I have big dreams for my kids. This school year, and every year, I want my two daughters to experience continued academic growth, personal and social development, and the joy of learning.

However, sometimes it can be hard for parents—and even our child’s teacher and school—to know how our child is really doing. Is he or she understanding the material? How can my child’s teacher teach to her strengths and needs? Will he be ready for next year? Ultimately, is my kid on track to graduate high school and go to college or get a job?

Fortunately, you and your child’s teacher have a powerful tool in increasingly rich and robust education data. What are education data? They’re simply any information, including measures of academic growth (including, but not limited to test scores,) that helps parents, educators, and policymakers make informed decisions about education.

School boards, the executive team in your school district, legislators and other state policymakers are using aggregated data that has been stripped of all personally identifiable information to determine what investments of our increasingly scarce resources of time and money are having the greatest impact on our children’s education.  But equally exciting is that teachers can now more efficiently and effectively use data to personalize learning for your child in the classroom.  Check out this new infographic that shows how data can support teacher efforts to tailor teaching to each child—including yours.

With this increased focus on using data to make informed decisions and personalize learning comes an increasing need to safeguard this data and ensure that our children’s personally identifiable information is kept safe and secure.

State education agencies and school districts limit and control access to student data very carefully so that teachers and other designated local personnel can only see the pieces they need to help children be successful. States and districts usually work with a service provider, operating under strict safeguarding rules and guided by federal and state privacy laws, to help maintain their data; it is illegal for these service providers to use the data in any way the state or district doesn’t want them to, sell the data or let anyone else access it.  The US Department of Education is forbidden by several laws from collecting any information about individual students.

As a parent, you need assurance that your child’s data is kept private, secure and confidential.  To support educators and education leaders in their efforts to use data effectively and protect it completely, the Data Quality Campaign (a nonprofit organization working to support the safe, effective use of data to improve student achievement)  is pleased to have partnered with National PTA to create a parent guide to education data. We hope that this guide will empower you to ask questions about how education data is being safeguarded and used to help your child—and that this information will help make this school year a great one for you and your family!

For more information about the Data Quality Campaign, see Please find the parent guide and other materials on data security and student privacy here.  Let us know what you need to help be a more informed advocate for the use and protection of data in your child’s school. We are eager to hear from you.


Aimee Rogstad Guidera is founder and executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, national advocacy organization committed to realizing an education system in which all stakeholders—from parents to policymakers—are empowered with high-quality data from the early childhood, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce systems. To achieve this vision, DQC supports state policymakers and other key leaders to promote effective data use to ensure students graduate from high school prepared for success in college and the workplace. Most importantly, Aimee is the mom of two school aged daughters.  She is actively involved in her school’s parent organization and believes that parents, students and teachers need to be equally strong legs of the stool of academic success. 


A Brighter Future through STEM Education

SAMSUNG2_BlogAs parents, you want your kids to excel in school so they have the best opportunity to lead happy, successful lives. I believe enjoying a career in a field you’re interested in can be a big part of such a life.

Career opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are vast, yet the number of people qualified to take advantage of them are not. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 1.4 million tech jobs will be available in the United States by 2020, and U.S. graduates will only be able to fill about one-third at current graduation rates.

By promoting STEM education, we not only help bolster the economy, but also brighten the future of our children. Parents play a critical role in sparking interest in the sciences in their children. That was certainly the case when my parents gave me a chemistry set for Christmas when I was about 10 years old. I spent countless hours experimenting with different chemicals to see what would happen. I was especially fascinated by the different colors I was able to unleash from my experiments. It was just so much fun!

Thanks to my parents’ encouragement, that childhood interest led me to pursue STEM studies in school.  That led to a Ph.D. in physics, and then to a career at the world’s leading technology company.  Parents like you, across the country, are the ones who can affect real change both inside and outside the classroom—from hosting field trips to the neighborhood science museum to active involvement in the local PTA.

At Samsung, we recognize our responsibility to spark enthusiasm for STEM education. We certainly have a stake in ensuring a vibrant talent pool from which we can draw upon.  In 2010, we launched a program called Solve for Tomorrow, which is designed to make STEM learning fun and interesting for kids while encouraging them to think about the world around them.

In addition to helping students build STEM skills, the program challenges them to apply those skills to help solve a real-life problem in their community.  It truly engages students beyond the traditional classroom and has benefitted more than 500 public schools across America in just three years. This year alone, we will award more than $2 million in technology to schools in every state across the country.

We ask you to let your children’s teachers know about the competition.  Not only could they benefit from winning technology for their school, but students will learn how STEM tools can help them improve the community around them.

To learn more about the competition, please visit  The registration deadline is October 31, 2013.

Dr. David Steel is the Executive Vice President of Samsung Electronics North America.

ENGAGE! Using Twitter to Reach Parents and Teachers


Sherri Wilson,
ENGAGE! columnist on
PTA One Voice Blog

Twitter has become a terrific way for parents and teachers to connect with others and create their own personal learning network (PLN). This year I was asked to be one of the moderators for #PTchat, a weekly chat where parents and teachers from around the world engage in a collaborative dialogue.

Every Wednesday night from 9 to 10 pm EST, parents and teachers from around the world engage in lively discussions. Each week features a different topic and many feature guest experts who contribute to the conversation.  Topics cover everything from planning back to school nights to engage all families to balancing academics with extracurricular activities.

To join the chat, all you need to do is log on to Twitter and search for hashtag (#) associated with the chat you are joining, in this case #PTchat. The moderators post a series of questions and participants respond.  #PTchat uses a “Q1, Q2, Q3…” and “A1, A2, A3….” format to organize the questions and their responses. The chat moderator asks the first question using “Q1” and everyone else uses “A1” in their response.

When taking part in the chat, everyone uses the hashtag #PTChat so the tweet remains linked to the chat. Most chats are archived so you can enjoy them later! You can read the archived #PTchats at If you are already on Twitter, join us! If you aren’t, it’s not too late to log on and join in now!

ENGAGE! is a weekly column on Family Engagement written by Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager of Family and Community Engagement at the National PTA. Sherri is the former Director of the Alabama Parent Information and Resource Center and is currently responsible for developing and implementing programs related to family and community engagement at the National PTA.

Meet Today’s PTA Advocate: Deborah Dunstone, Pennsylvania PTA State President

This month’s installment of “Meet Today’s PTA Advocate” features Deborah Dunstone, the current President of the Pennsylvania PTA. Ms. Dunstone was installed as Pennsylvania’s PTA President in April after nearly two decades of outstanding work at all levels of PTA. From her beginnings as the chair of the hospitality committee in her local unit to becoming a recognized child advocate at both the state and national levels, Ms. Dunstone has allowed her experience with PTA to transform her own view of herself as a PTA member and shape her understanding of advocacy.

Deborah Dunstone PA PTA

As a result of her exemplary reputation as a child advocate, Pennsylvania PTA President Deborah Dunstone was contacted late this summer by the president of The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC), an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit organization based in Harrisburg. The EPLC coordinates The Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP) in Pennsylvania, a professional development program of which Ms. Dunstone is a graduate. Ms. Dunstone was asked to be a panelist on the September episode of PCNTV (Pennsylvania Cable Network’s) monthly hour-long program, “Focus on Education,” with the topic “Parents as Education Advocates.” Focus on Education is dedicated to raising awareness about current education issues that affect Pennsylvania’s students and taxpayers and, ultimately, the future of the country’s workforce and communities.

While appearing on the show, Ms. Dunstone spoke of the need to educate families on their ability to affect change in their children’s education, both at school and at home, as well as the need for teachers to be trained in engaging families. She explained that family engagement works, and that PTA seeks to involve families in decision making about education policy at all levels. She was also able to give examples of specific PTA resources, such as the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships; the Schools of Excellence program; and the “Connect for Respect” anti-bullying program that families and schools can utilize to provide students with a better educational experience. Her appearance garnered publicity for both National and Pennsylvania PTA, furthered the cause of family engagement in education, and provided a powerful example of how PTA is still relevant and needed today.

Ms. Dunstone success is resultant partially from her willingness to take on new roles within the association. When starting with her local unit, she asserts that she never thought she would have anything to do with state or national advocacy. But as she became more involved, she discovered that PTA members are advocates just by being a part of the association. As she learned how to organize at a local school level, she was able to develop the skills necessary for doing so at a state and national level. Whether the parent of a kindergarten student getting involved in PTA for the first time, or a veteran member, there are always new skills to be learned and new challenges to take on.

She also feels that part of becoming a good advocate is the willingness to “get your hands dirty and find what’s relevant to your association.” PTA members, units, and state affiliates seeking to broaden their advocacy activities should surround themselves with knowledgeable people. Build relationships with other PTA members, child advocates at partner organizations, and legislative leaders. PTA advocates have a whole network of knowledgeable members to reach out to at the local, state, and national levels, as well as the staff at National PTA to help with their advocacy activities and needs.

But, as Ms. Dunstone learned all those years ago when joining her first PTA unit, you just have to be willing to take the first step. An open mind, a willingness to learn new skills, and the drive to take on different positions within the association will go far in cultivating achievement as a PTA advocate.

Know an outstanding advocate that you feel deserves recognition? Please contact National PTA’s Advocacy Coordinator, Erica Lue, at You may also nominate them for a 2014 Advocacy Award, at