LegCon Attendees Get Happy with “Let’s Move!”

On the last day of the National PTA Legislative Conference, National PTA members took a break from advocacy training and planning to dance to Pharrell’s hit song “Happy.”

Special thanks to all of our advocates, friends and supporters who participated in our first-ever, “Let’s Move” video and answered First Lady Michelle Obama’s call to move and stay active. Enjoy!

Changing the Ownership from “the PTA” to “our PTA”

ice cream sunday

Davis Magnet students celebrating a successful Take Your Family to School Week

Take Your Family to School Week 2014:  Paving the Way to Student Success

Like most magnet schools across the nation, our school, Davis Magnet, doesn’t have the luxury of all of its families living within walking distance of the school.  The defining of the “school community” is literally the families who take the leap to enroll their child in this magnificent school located in the heart of downtown Jackson in one of the oldest school buildings in the city.  The student enrollment is 285 with approximately 250 families.  As plans and decisions are made by the PTA board, the underlining goal is simply to make everyone feel that this is our PTA, not the PTA.

A great boost in making progress towards this goal has been our PTA’s participation in Take Your Family to School Week (TYFTSW).  Three years ago, our unit ventured out to participate in this national initiative and offer ways each day during this week to bring our families to our school.  Incorporating both social and enriching events that celebrate the theme of the week, our first year focused on Storytelling – a Family Tradition (emphasizing reading), the second year embraced the national theme of Safety at Home and Play, and this year’s theme was Supporting Student Success.  By our second year, we also ventured out to apply for the National PTA’s TYFTSW and grant.

monday story

Students and families crowd around for story time.

Each year, our participation has increased.  Even during the planning stages, over ten parents served on the TYFTSW planning committee.  The week’s events began on the evening of Monday, February 17, with families bringing blankets and everyone talking part in the family tradition of storytelling.  Families took part, as storyteller Doris Jones engulfed the audience in the plots, sounds, and emotions through her gift of storytelling.  Students and parents also got their hands dirty working together to create mosaic design on pavers for the school’s teaching garden; thus reinforcing the paving the way to student success theme.  Each classroom then assumed the completion of each paver.


Two Davis Magnet students work together to create a mosaic paver for the school’s teaching garden.

Tuesday was all about talent and showcasing that “Davis Has Talent.”  Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles crowded the auditorium as students, from grades kindergarten to fifth, shared their talents of singing, dancing, and acting.  This reinforced that encouragement is an important element to a student’s success.

Wednesday’s sunrise was met with parents enjoying a hot breakfast served with an interactive conversation with the principal about Common Core and the how parents can assist in ensuring the students’ success in the classroom.  For lunch, the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads Of Great Students) provided teachers with a special treat – a duty-free lunch.  Dads and grandfathers provided assistance and management in the cafeteria. There was a sea of blue, as dads donned blue aprons, assisted in the serving line, wiped cafeteria tables, and conversed with students.

watchdog wednesday

WATCH D.O.G.S. Wednesday

Thursday’s event highlighted students as they recognized the rich culture and contributions of African Americans in the annual Black History Music Program during the February PTA meeting.  On Friday, parents were welcomed during the school day as part of the Friday Family Film Festival.

The week of family engagement culminated on Sunday, as more than one hundred Davis Magnet community members (students, teachers, parents, siblings, and administrators) celebrated the successful week of family fun at a locally owned ice cream parlor, enjoying ice cream and fellowshipping with the families of our Davis community.


Vera McFarlin Johnson is the PTA president for Davis Magnet IB Elementary PTA.  She and her husband have one elementary and one middle school student.  She has served in various positions on the PTA board for the past five years. 

Get 14 in ’14: The Perfect PTA Prospect Member!

Happy Membership Monday PTA! There’s still time to recruit the perfect PTA prospect and win $1,000 for your PTA.

14in14As a reminder, the National PTA Membership Committee is challenging PTAs nationwide to recruit 14 new members between February 1and May 31 for the 14 in ’14 Membership Challenge.  For every 14 new members your local PTA recruits and reports to your State PTA office, your PTA will be entered to win $1,000 to support membership recruitment, engagement and retention in your school and community.

The National PTA Legislative Committee asks you to consider the perfect prospect for PTA membership.  Who is the perfect prospect?  Elected Officials! Remember to ask them to join your PTA as you endeavor to get 14 in ’14. Whether a school board member or a mayor, elected officials are often times an integral part of local PTAs achieving their goals.

Recruiting elected officials as members of PTA helps connect your PTA to community leaders and keep your PTA members informed of issues affecting their child. Just like PTA, elected officials have deep roots to the community. Your local PTA wins when elected officials join by fulfilling one of the National PTA Standards for Family-School Partnerships, “Collaborating with Community” and allows them the opportunity to experience and understand PTA’s goals. What a great reason to align our efforts by recruiting them for membership!

To help you ask your elected officials to become a PTA member, the National PTA Legislative Committee provides you with an easy to use customizable template to recruit the perfect PTA prospect. Download the template here and visit the PTA Takes Action web page to find out elected officials in your state.

Strengthening Today’s PTA voice with elected officials from across America will be awesome. Winning the Get 14 in ’14 Membership Challenge by recruiting the perfect PTA member prospect will be an added bonus.

Good luck to your PTA!


Taking School Food Reform to the Next Level (and a trip to the White House!)


Sam and JoAnne Hammermaster at The White House

My son and I recently had an amazing opportunity: we were asked to speak at the White House with First Lady Michelle Obama and US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about school food reform and changes we have seen over the last four years since the Let’s Move initiative was launched.

The White House? Us? My son and I said okay, then reality hit. We thought it would be in front of a few people, but then found out it would be over 150 people plus the media! That is a lot for a 14 year old – let alone me. My son, Sam, has given presentations at school, certainly, but nothing like this! Then, on top of that, he found out he was going to introduce the First Lady! He was nervous but excited. As he put it, what 14 year old gets to do that? It was a fun and unique opportunity for him, so he agreed to join me. He loved every minute of it.

It was incredible to meet the First Lady. My family was ushered into the Blue Room at the White House. We had the opportunity to meet Secretary Vilsack and Sam Kass, the executive director of Let’s Move and the White House chef. It was a great opportunity for me, as I have looked to both of them to educate myself in this field. Then the First Lady came in. As my son put it, she was really friendly as soon as she walked in the door. She gave us a warm smile and made us feel at ease (well, as much at ease as you can be in front of the First Lady!). When the audience was ready and my husband and daughter were escorted to their seats, we had to get ready to present. I was trying to start focusing on my message, but then the First Lady came over just to chat with Sam and me! It was incredible just to speak with her. She asked Sam about school, our dogs, and other casual things. Then it was time to speak.

How did I get here? I have worked for nearly four years on improving the school food program in Fairfax County, VA. But it is not just me. I am the President of my local PTA and am blessed with a great group of parents who are really committed to making positive change in our area. There are so many complicated pieces to this puzzle, and it will take everyone working together to make it happen.

For students like my son, it is harder for them to see the changes right away. But now Sam sees that things are starting to change. He has heard me speak many times about why eating well is so important for school and his well being. He is really into soccer. He talks about the how he learned the hard way on the field when he had pizza and ice cream the night before a big game. He knows that his endurance and performance on the field are directly affected by how he fuels his body. And he is so good about eating a solid breakfast every day before school. Now if I could just get my 16 year old daughter to do it consistently, too!

My advocacy has taken me to many schools, school board meetings, and parent interactions, to name a few. I am fortunate to have the opportunity as a PTA president to meet a lot of people, get feedback from parents, and work with school administrators. I have been heavily involved in the PTA since my children were little. It has kept me connected to the pulse of my children’s schools. And it has enabled me to continue my school food reform work. I worked with a few parents to form an advocacy group called Real Food For Kids, which focuses on improving school food and educating students on making healthy choices.

When I speak to people about school food reform, there is one point that I consistently make: collaboration. This won’t happen with one person. It has to work for all parties involved. I was asked a year or two ago why I was still being PTA president when my hands were so full with my advocacy for school food reform. I said it was key that I stay involved in the PTA. It is a great way to stay connected. As a parent, it is very important for me to get a “pulse” of my kids’ schools, to meet more parents, and to understand issues in our county. The PTA is great resource.

It was such an honor to meet the First Lady and speak at the White House about helping children to have a healthier future. We have lofty goals in front of us, but  we look to the road ahead with optimism and determination. Together, with support from the PTA, I believe that change will come.

Sam Hammermaster is 14 years old and attends middle school in Vienna, VA. He is an avid soccer player, and is interested in computer programming and animation. He loves camping, hiking, and being outside. 

JoAnne Hammermaster is co-founder and Executive Director of Real Food For Kids, a group that strives to improve the quality of school food in FCPS. JoAnne is currently PTA President at Kilmer Middle School and a member of the FCFT Sustainability Committee. She is former PTA President at Wolftrap Elementary, where she also started a Nutrition & Health Committee, co-founded the Wolftrap Running Club, headed up the 5k, and worked in various other committees. She was previously on the PTA Executive Committee for several years at a Florida school. She has held various leadership positions at her church, including starting a ministry that works with domestic abuse victims.


Creating Safe & Welcoming Schools

HighSchoolStudentsIt is my belief that EVERY student has the right to feel safe, welcome, and supported at school. Yet, one of the largest studies regarding the annual rates of bullying in our schools show that 2,027,254 youth are involved in moderate bullying and 1,681,030 youth in frequent bullying. (Nansel, 2008). A legislative panel of experts described bullying as a “national epidemic”.

Bullying has become a buzz word in our society, therefore; I prefer to address the topics of bullying, discrimination, and harassment under the umbrella title of “Safe Schools.” To create safe schools we must focus on a positive school culture and climate. In addition to student safety, research has found “that a positive school climate is recognized as an important target for school reform and improving behavioral, academic, and mental health outcomes for students” (Thapa et al., 2012).

Bullying, discrimination, and harassment create a toxic school environment where academic performance is compromised, and where social and behavioral problems run rampant. Negative school climates cause a social disconnect for many students which lead to higher absenteeism, truancy, poor academic achievement, higher dropout rates and more.

Divserse_StudentsI believe in a proactive and preventative approach to school culture reform. A positive school culture and climate can be achieved through a systemic approach. A safe school’s initiative must be on-going, comprehensive, school-wide, and solicit the support and efforts of all stakeholders.

“While approaches that simply crack down on individual bullies are seldom effective, research has found that when there is a school-wide commitment to end bullying, it can be reduced by up to 50%” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2009).

To solicit the support and efforts of all stakeholders we must provide education and awareness for administrators, students, staff, parents and community. Schools need leaders who will not sit back waiting to be reactive to problems that our children and society face. Our schools and our children need leaders who are willing to be proactive!

“We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing.  Action always generates inspiration.  Inspiration seldom generates action” – Frank Tilbot

I will be writing a series of safe schools articles that will be promoting a call to action through an increased level of education and awareness among my National PTA readers. My focus will be the role of parents by examining our own knowledge and beliefs about bullying, discrimination and harassment. We will learn how to educate and empower our own children, family and community.

I will encourage my readers to examine current safe schools efforts and initiatives in your school(s) and community. How to review local and state laws regarding these issues and what we should all expect our schools and school districts to be doing in regards to safe schools initiatives. Also, to provide information, programs and resources to help schools in need of support and reform.

I believe in the power of prevention! We must unite as parents, educators, families and communities working together for a common cause. Creating safe schools requires a conscious deliberate effort. Stay tuned for part II.

 “You don’t have to be great to get going, but you have to get going to be great” – Les Brown

Brent Burnham has 30+ years’ experience as a professional educator, school counselor, and adjunct faculty member at Utah Valley University. He is an ASCA National Counselor of the Year Finalist and Utah Anti-Bully Coalition Executive Board Member. Brent served on National PTA’s expert panel at the National PTA Youth Summit and is the  founder of Social and Emotional Behavior Programs (SEBPrograms).  

Relieving Family Budgets Through Universal-Free Breakfast in the Classroom

Kids eating and coloring

Photo credit: Des Moines Public Schools

Imagine being able to send your children to school every day knowing that they will receive a healthy breakfast in the classroom at no charge at the start of the school day. Imagine what that would mean for your family’s monthly budget and the positive effects it would have on your child’s ability to learn and focus during morning instruction.

Free school breakfast for all students regardless of their family income level is fast becoming a reality for families with children in high-poverty schools across the country.

As parents, you know that the morning hustle doesn’t always provide time for your children to eat breakfast before heading off to school. Long commutes and non-traditional work hours often make it difficult to sit down in the morning long enough to eat a nutritious breakfast. Additionally, many families are living on very tight budgets and can ill afford to buy breakfast at school.

School breakfast can be a big help for families, but the traditional school breakfast model, where breakfast is served in the cafeteria, just misses too many kids due to a variety of factors. When given a choice, students will almost always choose to play with their friends outside or visit with their peers in the hallways over going to the cafeteria to get the fuel they need to maximize their classroom performance. Late bus schedules, long security lines, and the stigma associated with the program being for “poor kids” are constant barriers to school breakfast participation.

Photo Credit: Des Moines Public Schools

Photo Credit: Des Moines Public Schools

Schools that move to serving breakfast to all students – for free – and in the classroom are finding that more children start the day with this important meal.

In this growing number of schools, breakfast is moved into the classroom and made available after the morning bell. The meals are either delivered to the classroom or students pick-up their meals from kiosks located around the school building, also known as Grab n’ Go. Students enjoy their meals in the classroom after the morning bell during morning announcements, while the teacher goes over the day’s lesson plan or collects homework, or during individual reading time so that no instructional time is lost. In just a few minutes, your children are nourished and ready to learn.

Though the number of high-poverty schools that offer Universal-Free Breakfast in the Classroom is expanding, there is still work to be done. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) works in a number of school districts across the nation to expand access to school breakfast through the implementation of alternative service models like Breakfast in the Classroom or Grab n’ Go. Our research is showing that this works: schools and states saw dramatic increases in the number of children eating school breakfast when they moved to these programs. Significant too are the educational benefits of increased school breakfast participation.

Children who eat school breakfast are more focused and less distracted due to hunger. Increased school breakfast participation is associated with reduced visits to the school nurse, fewer disciplinary and behavioral issues, reduced tardiness, and improved student attendance. Studies have shown that students who eat breakfast at school closer to test-taking time show improved performance on standardized tests.

This week, in honor of National School Breakfast Week, FRAC, along with five of the nation’s leading education groups, launched the Breakfast for Learning Education Alliance with the goal of promoting the link between school breakfast and academic and achievement as well raise the profile of school breakfast and its benefits among educators. Members of the Alliance include: the National PTA; AASA, The Superintendents Association; the Education Trust; the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Foundation; and the National Education Association Health Information Network (NEA HIN). Local PTAs can help us move the needle even further on school breakfast participation.

As a first step, PTAs across the country should contact their school district food service department to get more information about how many students currently participate in the school breakfast program and whether or not offering free breakfast in the classroom is a viable option for schools in your district. Local PTAs can also reach out to parents, school district administrative staff, school board members, school nutrition staff, principals, teachers, and community leaders through letter-writing campaigns, social media and online networks, mailings, e-newsletters, and in-person meetings to educate them on the benefits of the program and encourage them to implement Breakfast in the Classroom or Grab n’ Go. Not only will it have a positive impact on young minds in your schools, but it will have a tremendous impact on families who would no longer have to worry about providing breakfast at home or coming out of pocket for breakfast served at school.

With the help of parents, we have no doubt that we can win the war against hunger in our nation’s schools and ensure that no child struggles to learn on an empty stomach.

For more information, please visit FRAC’s “Expanding School Breakfast Participation” website at www.frac.org/breakfast.

Eyang Garrison joined FRAC in January 2012. As a child nutrition policy analyst, she works in targeted states, school districts, and schools in collaboration with national and local anti-hunger organizations to increase the number of children participating in school breakfast and the number of schools offering breakfast in the classroom free to all students.