How to Start the School Year Off Strong

Julia-FitzgeraldYou are your family’s CEO. No, not Chief Executive Officer (although you may be that too) – I’m talking about Chief Education Officer. CEOs take primary responsibility for their children’s academic success.  CEOs engage actively in their children’s academics and want to create a long-term plan for their kids’ education. CEOs take advantage of advice and resources that will strengthen his or her child’s academic journey. Does this sound like you? Welcome to the “corner office”!

Are you ready to commit to being the best CEO that you can be? Join us here at Sylvan Learning along with the thousands of other CEOs out there and take the CEO Pledge on Facebook. You’ll not only be putting your commitment to your child’s education in writing but also helping your local PTA: the five PTA chapters with the most CEO pledges by October 24th will receive a $1,000 grant from Sylvan Learning for 2014-2015 school year initiatives. We encourage you to ask grandparents, aunts, uncles and community members to take the pledge too – after all, they all play a role in your child’s education.

So, what can you as a CEO do to start the school year off strong?

  •  Stay active in your local PTA chapter. You’ve already taken the first step here. The PTA allows parents to tap into a SylvanLogonetwork of other parents and teachers. It’s a great opportunity to discuss the issues that you care about and swap experiences and advice. You’ll also have access to exclusive resources and member benefits, like those from Sylvan Learning. The benefits include free student resources for reading, math, study skills, ACT/SAT prep and more as well as help for parents like fundraising opportunities and referral programs that help financially support your school!
  •  Communicate with your child’s teachers regularly. If you are your family’s CEO, your child’s teacher is certainly on the Board of Directors. By establishing a relationship with your child’s teacher early, you’ll be more in tune to what your child is learning in the classroom and better able to address potential problems before they arise. Use the first few weeks of school to make an in-person introduction, whether it be at back to school nights or during pick-up / drop-off times. From there, you and your child’s teacher can establish the best way to keep in touch.
  • Know where your child stands academically and when to get help. Report cards aren’t meant to be surprises. Most teachers will provide a syllabus or outline for the school year and this can be a big help in tracking progress. If expectations aren’t clear, bring this up with your child’s teacher or ask to have regular check-ins. Also make it a point to ask your child about school each day and how he or she feels about the subjects being learned. If a struggle becomes evident, it may be time to take advantage of school resources or get your child extra help.
  •  Attend the CEO Training Series. Even CEOs need continuing education. That’s why this fall, Sylvan Learning is introducing our CEO Training Series to help parents learn tips and tricks to set their kids up for success. First up is tackling effective study skills. Taught by a local Sylvan Learning staff member, the session will address why study skills are important to a successful academic career, how to identify poor study habits, how to fix them, what study tools should be used and much more. Local leaders can go to to reach out to your local Sylvan Learning center and schedule this very helpful seminar.
  •  Know your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Maybe your child is a whiz at math but not so great when it comes to writing. This is important to know so that you can spend the most time working with your child on his or her weak areas while continuing to strengthen those that he or she excels at. Tell your child’s teacher about strengths and weaknesses up front – it will allow him or her to help your child improve in the areas needed the most.

To help PTA parents get a handle on this, we’re offering 50 percent off a Sylvan Insight Assessment, which identifies a child’s academic strengths and weaknesses as well as his or her attitudes about school and learning. The assessment is designed to help families and educators determine the right support a child needs to excel. In addition to the discount, for every student who takes an assessment, Sylvan will donate $10 to the student’s local PTA.

  •  Set a good academic example. You are your child’s greatest role model and he or she is sure to pick up on your attitudes, behaviors and feelings. Show your child that you value education and that learning doesn’t stop when you leave school. You can do this by visiting a museum on the weekend, reading a new book once per month or even taking a class in a subject that interests you!

 Being your family’s Chief Education Officer isn’t always an easy job but it is one of the most important ones out there. Keep it up CEOs – you’re doing a great job!

Sylvan Learning is a financial sponsor of National PTA, and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

#ShareAwesome Rallies Families around Digital Citizenship

Otha_Headshot_SMTechnology and the Internet have created countless new opportunities for learning. Students can now read about virtually any subject from anywhere and can connect with people and places around the world. Teachers are harnessing the power of the technology to bring curriculum alive and modify instruction to meet the unique needs of every child. Technology is essential for the development of 21st century skills that will help students thrive in their chosen careers.

Technology is everywhere. We text, tweet, shop, learn, play games, plan family vacations, and even worship online. Some of us even use technology to track our 10,000 steps each day, like I did during this past summer’s convention.

Personally, I love technology. I use it extensively at my job. And on my many travels for National PTA, I often use my phone to arrange for transportation, confirm speaking engagements and to stay in touch with our state and local units.

But with new gadgets, social media platforms and apps coming out every day, I, like most families, don’t have the time or tech savvy to stay on top of the latest fad.

That’s where good decision-making skills that apply to any digital environment are helpful.ShareAwesome Clever Gram

When I think about the vast online world, I look at it through the same lens that I look at everyday life. The ways you should act, protect yourself and treat others online are not so different from what you should do offline. We all strive to be good citizens in the real world. In the virtual world, we should all strive to practice good digital citizenship.

It starts with treating others as you want to be treated. Be kind. Look out for others.  It should be a place to share what we learn and love, stay in touch with friends and family, and a great platform to support our favorite causes.

National PTA has teamed up with LifeLock to bridge the conversation gap about digital safety, promote digital citizenship and share the awesome ways families and friends can inspire each other to use technology in positive ways to help others.  Helping our children maximize smarter, safer, more rewarding decisions online will go far in reducing everyone’s stress levels when it comes to the use of technology.

Here are five ways we can start:

  1. Share your thoughts but don’t share personal info (i.e., address, phone number).
  2. Follow the rules of the site or app and check privacy settings often.
  3. A virtual friend is still a stranger. Never make plans to meet up offline.
  4. Block, delete or hide people who bring you down. Tell a trusted adult if you feel in danger.
  5. Unplug or power down when walking or driving.

National PTA has built a central online hub of expert information about digital safety, as well as activation tools for students, parents, PTAs and schools to participate in a campaign that we call #ShareAwesome. was built in collaboration with expert advisors from and Common Sense Media. Our hope is that you will use these tools to create a sustained, multi-faceted conversation between parents and students that, hopefully, will allow students to participate in, and steer, the conversation by creating content themselves.

Through the power of digital media—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Bloggers, e-newsletters—we hope this information will reach every home in America. To generate #ShareAwesome enthusiasts, we have launched a scholarship contest that invites social media users to share a smart and safe decision, uplifting accomplishment, or positive action for the good of others using hashtag #ShareAwesome.

Technology is good, and it’s here to stay. It resonates with children, tweens and teens. It should also resonate with adults in a way that is positive and promotes a happy, healthy lifestyle.  When it comes to the digital world, it’s time for all of us to shift the dialogue from scary and preachy to celebratory, fun, and a part of everyday life.

LifeLock is a financial sponsor of National PTA.National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Got Art?

PTA Start the Arts Week—September 15-19, 2014—is the official Reflections kick-off celebration to promote the benefits of arts education. During Start the Arts Week, PTA invites students, teachers, families, schools and communities to celebrate and participate in the arts. We celebrate this week in conjunction with National Arts in Education Week.

Sandra Ruppert is Director of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP).

Sandra Ruppert is Director of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP).

Another school year has started. You’ve likely checked and double-checked your children’s backpacks to make sure they have their lunch, notebooks, pencils, and textbooks before letting them run out to catch the bus. But have you checked for their flute or paint brushes? Do they even need them?

Unfortunately, for many students across the country, the answer is no. The U.S. Department of Education’s survey data reveal that millions of students attend schools that provide limited or no access to arts education opportunities. This is despite the fact that we are accumulating more and better evidence all the time about the multi-faceted and beneficial outcomes associated with learning in and through the arts for all students.

As we get ready to kick off another National Arts in Education Week, what can you, as parents, do to ensure that your children receive a complete and competitive education that includes the arts? Here are a few steps to consider:

Investigate your arts education policies

Find out about your state’s arts standards and what else your state requires at ArtScan on the AEP website, then ask what your school or school district is actually providing to students. If there are disparities between what’s required and what’s being offered, find out why and go from there to explore what can be done to ensure all kids are receiving a high quality education that includes the arts.

Know the benefits of an arts education

A growing body of knowledge documents that, in addition to academic outcomes, an education in the arts contributes directly to the success in all areas of school, work, and life. AEP’s most recent research bulletin, Preparing Students for the Next America: The Benefits of an Arts Education provides an overview of many of these benefits.

If you want a little more depth, is AEP’s one-stop shop for research about the educational outcomes associated with arts learning across arts forms and grade levels, both in and out of school. We developed ArtsEdSearch because there was nothing else like it, where high quality research is available in one place, readily accessible, and easily understandable.

Make a case for the arts

Overall, one key challenge we face is how to shape and influence both public and political will to ensure that the arts in education matter. Depending on your audience, be prepared to make a strong case that includes at least three key points related to the role and contribution of the arts:

  1. Academic achievement and student success
  2. Economic development and workforce preparation
  3. Quality of life and civic engagement

A balanced education that includes the arts as an essential component is vital to ensuring that all students are graduate ready for college, career, and citizenship. Take these few steps to help ensure that your child has the arts education necessary for him or her to succeed!

AEP LogoSandra Ruppert is Director of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), which is part of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a Washington DC-based nonprofit and nonpartisan membership organization representing the top leaders of state education agencies.

Why the #JJDPAMatters to PTA

JJDPAmattersThis week PTA celebrates the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act (JJDPA). Leading up to this date, we’ve been writing about PTA’s history of advocacy and positions on the issue of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. Today as we celebrate the anniversary, it’s important to understand the impact of this law on our children and why PTA continues to prioritize its improvement in our Federal Public Policy Agenda each year.

PTA members work in our schools and communities to make every child’s potential a reality by advocating for policies that further this mission. The JJDPA is one such policy. The funding programs and protections established in the law create a framework for a juvenile justice system that helps to ensure that youth who come into contact with the system have not lost their chance to become successful adults.

What impact does the JJDPA have on children?

The JJDPA helps to keep children in the juvenile justice system safe. The law establishes a federal-state partnership, providing states with funding to implement juvenile justice prevention and intervention programs. To receive this funding, states must comply with what are known as the JJDPA’s “core requirements,” minimum standards of safety and equitable treatment for youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

Two such requirements—known as the “Jail Removal” and “Sight and Sound Separation” requirements—remove children from adult jails and lockups. Under the JJDPA, children are kept out of sight and sound of adult inmates. Before the JJDPA instituted these two requirements, children could be housed with adults, putting them at risk for psychological and physical abuse. Children held in adult facilities are more likely to commit suicide, be assaulted by staff or fellow inmates and be attacked with a weapon. Over the last forty years, the JJDPA’s protections have kept thousands of children every year away from these dangerous situations. Instead, these children are placed in juvenile facilities where they are provided with educational and rehabilitative services to strengthen their chances of success.

The JJDPA helps to keep children who commit minor offenses, such as skipping school, out of juvenile detention facilities. The JJDPA requires that youth who commit status offenses—conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult, such as skipping school, breaking curfew, or running away from home—are kept out of secure detention/correctional facilities.

Judge Joan Byer, a family court judge in Kentucky, writes in detail about why status offenses do not deserve detention in an earlier piece reposted in the Our Children blog. Status offenses are often the result of an unmet child or family need that can be best addressed through family, school, and community-based services. Detaining children who commit status offenses removes them from their families and leads to children failing to return to school after release and future delinquency. Detention also allows them to come into contact with more serious offenders, putting them in danger and exposing them to negative influences. The JJDPA’s Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) core requirement helps thousands of children each year receive community-based services such as day treatment or residential home treatment, counseling, mentoring, family support and alternative education. These family and community-based alternatives are safer for children and less expensive to tax payers. Most importantly, the DSO protection works to create a system that does not damage a child’s chance to succeed but instead improves opportunities to reach his or her full potential.

The JJDPA helps to improve outcomes for youth of color by working to reduce racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. The Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) requirement of the JJDPA requires states to take measures to address the high overrepresentation of children from racial and ethnic minorities who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. The DMC core requirement seeks to guarantee a just system that provides equal treatment for every child in the United States.

To read more about how the DMC core requirement impacts youth of color, check out a piece reposted earlier this year on the One Voice blog by Anna Wong from the W. Haywood Burns Institute.

The Future of the JJDPA

The #JJDPAMatters to PTA.  As a result of the JJDPA, the children who have come into contact with the juvenile justice system over the last forty years have been better served. However, the current law does not go far enough and changes must be made in order for its protections to be fully realized:

  • The Jail Removal and Sight and Sound Separation protections do not extend to children tried or convicted in the adult criminal justice system, a practice allowed in every state;
  • The DSO core requirement was weakened by an amendment to the JJDPA allowing courts to detain status offenders in secure facilities for violating a court order; and
  • The DMC core requirement as currently outlined in the JJDPA is vaguely worded, providing states without clear guidance on how to implement the requirement.

The JJDPA is long overdue for reauthorization, presenting an opportunity to close these loopholes in the law’s protections. In this session of Congress, PTA and our partners are urging lawmakers to fully reauthorize the JJDPA, creating a juvenile justice system that works to help every child realize his or her full potential and become a productive member of society.

To stay informed on the latest happenings on the JJDPA and other happenings on Capitol Hill, join the PTA Takes Action Network at

Re-Imagining the Book Fair

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PTA dad and Children’s Bookstore Owner, Jake Ball, helps his toddler avoid petty theft while overhauling the book fair experience for the modern parent (and  PTAs, too).

True story: This spring, I was at our school’s book fair with the whole family. It all started well enough.

Not-So-Optimal Book Fair Outcome

Not-So-Optimal Book Fair Outcome

Unfortunately, the trip ended with me hauling my screaming 4 year-old out of the library because they had no copies of the Frozen book she wanted. My toddler managed to push about 40 books off a table that was also crammed with novelty erasers, key chains, and other junk. (Upon returning home, we found one such key chain in my daughter’s still-clenched fist that we had not paid for.)

Meanwhile my wife had to stay behind at the fair for a quite a while after I left, waiting in a long line to check out and pay for the books my older kids had chosen.

Fun times.

Why does a book fair sell key chains, erasers, etc.?  Isn’t a book fair intended to find great books and encourage reading? All the non-book stuff distracts kids, and redirects Mom and Dad’s money to trinkets that don’t promote reading.

As a “PTA dad” to four kids (ranging from a toddler to a fifth-grader) with an unshakeable love of books, I support school book fairs— with the tears, inadvertently stolen merchandise, and long volunteer hours—because it puts critical dollars into the school and my kids get more books for their ever-growing stockpile. (I own Children’s Bookstore, you can imagine that we have a silly number of books all over the house.)

But, isn’t it high time that the traditional book fair be re-imagined for the modern age?

Why not “attend” the book fair when you want, even if it’s at home in your jammies?  What if the book fair offered only top-notch books and none of the junky stuff?

If that sounds like a borderline sales pitch, that’s because it is. Children’s Bookstore has launched 100% online book fairs (real books, virtual fair). PTAs are signing up for these online book fairs because:

  • Schools and PTAs earn 30% of every book purchase. At the end of the fair, we send a check. Not “credits.” Real money. Use it for whatever your school or PTA needs. (If you want to buy books with it, we’d love to help.)
  • There are more than 200,000 excellent, titles available. Reluctant reader? Advanced reader? Only likes truck books? We have great books for every kind of reader, for all ages of kids. And yes – we carry Scholastic** books, too.
  • Anyone in the U.S. can buy books at your online book fair. Aunt Sarah in Phoenix can support little Johnny’s book fair in Atlanta with a few clicks.
  • An online book fair can be held any time. For example, you can capture the holiday book buying season with a book fair between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • There are no minimum buy requirements and no hidden fees. Really.
  • An online book fair can be set up in less than ten minutes.
Far-More-Optimal Book Fair Outcome

Far-More-Optimal Book Fair Outcome

One volunteer can manage the entire book fair with about 3 hours of their time over a 3-5 week period. We have taken all the time-consuming tasks out of the conventional book fair and, hopefully, made life easier for schools and PTAs. We ship books straight to the buyer’s home—there’s no need to sort book orders or handle inventory.

There might be reluctance to change years of habits for book fairs. If that’s the case, you can try doing one online book fair in addition to your conventional book fair.

Schools typically reach an entirely new audience through online book fairs and raise funds that would have otherwise been missed.

My goal as a father is to create meaningful literacy experiences for my own children. My goal with Children’s Bookstore is to connect kids with books they will read and cherish.  By offering the best in juvenile literature—without the distractions of key chains and the like, I hope to reach both goals for my family and yours.

If you aren’t the volunteer parent who runs your book fair, consider scheduling an intervention with the person who does. Please share this post with your fellow PTA parents – let’s start a movement here.

Meanwhile, if you find yourself at a book fair hastily picking up an entire box of SpongeBob erasers that your three year old knocked over while calmly explaining to your tearful eight year old that they seem to be out of the most recent Origami Yoda book, you have my sympathies.

Click here to learn more about online book fairs, or to start your own online book fair today.

** Scholastic is trademark of Scholastic Corp. is not in any way affiliated with or endorsed by Scholastic.


Guest Blogger Jake Ball is the founder of Children’s Bookstore. He started Children’s Bookstore as a truly independent bookstore that is 100% dedicated to juvenile literature. provides online book fairs to schools, libraries and youth groups of all kinds. Jake and his wife have four children and reside in Meridian, Idaho, between their school and a large corn field.

Children’s Bookstore is a financial sponsor of National PTA and has been invited to submit a series of blog posts as part of their engagement with PTA.

It’s Our Time!

Robert Picture 2

In 2011, Mr. Renteria was the first Latino to ever receive The Outstanding International Humanitarian Award for promoting global peace and education.

In the early 1960s, only four percent of Latinos graduated high school, and only two percent went on to college.  Today, education for the Latino (the Hispanic American) and all ethnicities is becoming the great equalizer that cuts across gender, color, religion and national origin.  The memories of welfare, drugs, discrimination, crime, alcohol, unemployment and underemployment, gangs, violence and all other obstacles (or, should I say, perceived obstacles) are now being challenged by Hispanics all around the world.

All races who were once poor are building great successes and accomplishments globally and have obviously made a long overdue decision to come together, take the lead and draw from our roots to break through the barriers that have tried to boycott us from economic power.

We must truly believe in ourselves regardless of our background, economic position, language, length of out hair, color of our skin or gender.  It comes down to the core values my mother taught me: “familia” (family) and “orgullo” (pride).  Don’t let where you came from dictate who you are but let it be a part of who you become.

There are a lot of people out there who think that we as Latinos are the minority, I am here to tell you that we are not the minority but rather we are the majority.  I could say to those folks “look out baby here we come but I am going to say, look our baby because we are already here.”

It’s our time “mi familia” (my family), it’s our time, it’s Latino time and an idea who’s time has come…..that one you reading this article today, maybe one of your children, or some other Hispanic across this great county mark my word will in this lifetime be sworn in as the first Latino and or Latina President of the United States of America!

I want all of you to dream and to dream big because if the dream is big enough the odds don’t even matter.  I learned a long time ago to never let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do something-because as long as we have a corazon (heart), we always have a chance.

The fact that I am writing this article today proves that any little boy and or girl coming from the barrio can become a published author, it also proves that dreams do come true and that dreams are alive and well living today right here and right now!

Lets remember to take care of each-other because that’s how the foundation of this world was built, so lets be champions of this place here today that we call home, to take care of our families, our neighbors, our communities, our great cities and then beyond.

I want all of you to believe in yourselves, you see belief is like air, even though we cant see air we still breath and even though we can’t see God we still believe, and that my friends is called faith, faith to be anybody you want to be.


LittleBarrioCover2Robert J. Renteria, Jr. was the first Latino in the world to ever receive two National Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards for his work as a civil rights leader and a Latino voice in educational reform. In 2012, Robert Renteria’s comic book Mi Barrio was voted the best graphic novel in Latin America, Spain, and the United States of America for addressing youth issues.

National PTA’s Every Child in Focus is a campaign to strengthen family engagement in schools by celebrating the achievements and reporting the disparities within diverse populations, and sharing resources and advocacy tools to help understand the needs of every child.

Each month, National PTA will spotlight the educational issues surrounding a particular group, highlight their accomplishments and focus on ways to help foster Family-School Partnerships. September is the month of the Hispanic Child.