Healthy Lifestyles Month: Cooking Up Family Fun

Logo and Kid copyAdvocating for healthy lifestyles has been central to West Virginia PTA’s legislative platform for decades. But the question has been, how do we, as a statewide association, incorporate our advocacy goal into a program that actively involves children and youth?

Through the Healthy Recipe Challenge, which is being conducted in conjunction with Healthy Lifestyles Month, students across West Virginia are encouraged to develop and submit original recipes to West Virginia PTA. Categories in the program include:

  • Hearty Breakfast
  • Nutritious Lunch
  • Wholesome Dinner
  • Nourishing Snack and Appetizers
  • Healthy Desserts
  • Allergy Safe Recipes
  • Best Cooking Video

To participate in the challenge, all recipes must be healthy in nature and incorporate nutritious ingredients. For the Allergy Safe Recipe category, entries should respect restrictions to common allergies such as lactose, gluten and nuts. Students in all grade levels can participate, and students can enter one recipe in each category. Winners will be recognized at the 2015 West Virginia PTA Convention, and all entries will be included in a cookbook published by West Virginia PTA. (Only students from West Virginia are eligible to submit.)

The inspiration for this program came at the 2014 National PTA Convention. Virginia PTA President Brenda Sheridan introduced an idea for a new student-based PTA program. After attending the Virginia PTA Annual Conference, during which Virginia PTA unveiled Power Plates, I could not wait any longer to begin a similar program in West Virginia.

After discussing the program with the West Virginia PTA Board of Managers, we hit the ground running! Our overall goal for the Healthy Recipes Challenge is to encourage healthy lifestyles, and at the same time, continue to develop family engagement strategies that bridge math, reading and writing skills that are learned at school and cultivated in the home. Through the program, we hope to not only encourage students to be adventurous in the kitchen, but also bring families closer by working together to develop healthy meals.

PTA has a strong history of promoting healthy lifestyles – during Healthy Lifestyles Month and all year round – and through our efforts, we will continue to positively impact the lives and futures of students and families. I encourage PTAs at all levels across the country to implement their own healthy recipe challenge, and I urge students and families everywhere to get cooking!

Learn more about West Virginia PTA’s Healthy Recipe Challenge at

Justin Raber serves as the president of West Virginia PTA. 

About West Virginia PTA

West Virginia PTA comprises thousands of members, including families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of parent involvement in schools.  West Virginia PTA is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit association that prides itself on being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education. Membership in PTA is open to anyone who wants to be involved and make a difference for the education, health, and welfare of children and youth.


Focusing on Children and Families in Urban Areas

Lana Ajemian is President of New York State PTA.

NYS_1With a goal to develop, implement and support family engagement and empowerment efforts in multicultural, underserved urban communities across New York, New York State PTA formed an Urban Initiative Task Force in 2012. Over a span of 18 months, members of the Task Force worked together to build a better understanding of the needs of urban communities, develop criteria for establishing sustainable family-school partnerships and create unique service/program models. In January 2014, Buffalo Elementary School of Technology (B.E.S.T. School #6) was selected as a pilot school community for implementation of the initiative.

B.E.S.T. School #6 draws its students from two different neighborhoods on opposite sides of the city of Buffalo. The neighborhood on the east side of the city, in which the school is located, is largely African-American and comprises about 50% of the school population. Another 37% of students live on Buffalo’s west side, far removed from the location of the school itself. This part of the city is home to an immigrant population of Burmese, Arab and Nepalese families, many of whom are unfamiliar with American culture and the English language but are seeking a new life for their children and are eager to do whatever they can to help make this happen. More than 90% of students who attend B.E.S.T. School #6 are eligible for free or reduced breakfasts and lunches. With the combined challenges of language, ethnicity, poverty and neighborhood location, the percentage of students attaining proficiency on state tests is presently about 1.7%.

Once B.E.S.T. School #6 was identified as the pilot school for the Urban Initiative Task Force, members of the Task Force devoted countless hours and expertise to communicating to district administrators, school staff and families the key role of PTA and the importance of family engagement to student achievement and school improvement. In doing so, they garnered interest and built trust among the school’s diverse representative groups – parents, staff and community-based organizations. In July, a two-day parent orientation was conducted. This was followed with an invitation for six identified leaders to participate in New York State PTA’s Summer Leadership Conference. Two parents from B.E.S.T. School #6 attended the conference and left the event excited to bring PTA to their school community.

Passion for inclusivity, a welcoming environment, skillful team building, training and networking brought together New York State PTA and the families of B.E.S.T. School #6, and on Oct. 21, the principal of the school opened her building and welcomed PTA into her school family. Students, parents, teachers, support staff, district administrators and Buffalo Public School Board of Education members gathered at B.E.S.T. School #6 and were eager to celebrate this important “first” chartered PTA of the New York State PTA Urban Initiative Task Force, a nearly two-year effort.

NYS_2Members of the Task Force collaborated with school staff to develop a family-friendly format for the charter celebration event. In recognition of National PTA’s Every Child in Focus campaign and the designation of October as the Month of the Urban Child, National PTA President Otha Thornton joined B.E.S.T. families and staff to mark this important day. And, it was beyond thrilling to have their national president conduct the first installation of the officers of B.E.S.T. School #6’s PTA. One of the officers could not contain her excitement as her dad came to see her installed, saying she had “never been a leader of anything,” and was bursting with pride – as was her dad!

Among small “welcoming” gifts, family pictures were taken through the generosity of New York State PTA’s official photographer, Lifetouch.

As families were leaving the celebration event, several expressed that they felt excited, included, part of a community of support, and that something important was happening here. The event brought 50 new members to PTA, and word is out that two other Buffalo units have already requested charter consideration.

The enthusiasm of all who attended the event was palpable. Most impressive was the feeling of momentum building. The primary goal of the Urban Initiative Task Force is to open the door and empower and support diverse families across New York while fostering partnerships between home and school. With the help of many, Oct. 21 marked the achievement of this goal. Now, the challenge is to build on the momentum and inspire others to also “carry the card that counts!”

View the work plan and framework developed by the New York State PTA Urban Initiative Task Force to help build sustainable family-school partnerships at B.E.S.T. School #6 and in other diverse, multicultural and underserved communities across New York.

The 6 Steps To Good Digital Parenting

Digital ParentingReposted from The Huffington Post

I’m often told how hard it is to parent in this digital age.

So many decisions about devices, software, apps and games have to be made and at increasingly younger ages. Amazon and others have created tablets for pre-school kids. Parents are buying smart phones for kindergartners. And there’s a potty training app complete with stand for your iPad.

All of this before they’ve reached elementary and middle school years. Then it’s Minecraft, Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin. Texting takes off, particularly among the girls and new issues arise around photo and video sharing.

And just when you’ve mastered all that, the teen years come along with the onslaught of social media sites from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter, never mind anonymous apps like, Secret and YikYak. Problematic issues arise that range from sexting and cyberbullying to identity theft and simply spending too much time online.

What’s a parent to do?

Well, I’ve tried to distill many years of work in this constantly changing space to six simple, but still challenging steps to become a good digital parent. It is definitely a journey, like parenting itself. And there is no such thing as perfection. Just good enough.

Here goes:

1) Talk with your kids

It sounds simple, but the number one indicator of good digital parenting is keeping an open line of communication going with your kids. Talk early and often. It is not like the birds and the bees discussion. It is more like an ongoing dialogue that will move and shift as your child works her way through several key developmental stages. Stay calm. Be open and direct. But keep talking.

2) Educate yourself

This is probably the first technology in human history where the kids are leading the adults. It is very humbling to have a 7 year old explain how to upload a video. Or your teen rolling his eyes once again as you try to master Pandora. But there is a wealth of tips, videos, explanations and guides out there. If in doubt, simply type in your question or concern in your favorite search engine and there will be more than enough information to go on.

3) Use parental controls

It goes without saying that there is content on the Internet you don’t want your kids stumbling upon. All of the major operating systems, search engines, cell phone providers and gaming platforms provide either free or inexpensive parental controls to help you manage your kids online experience. And, as your kids get older, move from controls to monitoring tools, particularly around time limits to discourage texting in class or vamping late at night.

4) Set ground rules & apply sanctions

Many parents don’t know where to start in creating rules of the road for their kids digital use. But there are many online safety contracts to choose from as well as simple house rules such as no devices at dinner and handing in their phones at night. Once you’ve set the rules, enforce them. Let your kids know that they will lose online privileges if they break the rules and be clear and consistent about what those sanctions will be.

5) Friend and follow, but don’t stalk

When your teen opens her Facebook account at 13, ensure you’re her first friend. Follow your kids on Twitter and YouTube. Don’t overdo it and leave daily comments, but don’t under do it either. It’s good to stay close as your teen makes his first forays into the world of social media. But don’t be tempted to spy on your kids, either. Talking instead of stalking is what builds trust. Give your teen some space to experiment, to take (healthy) risks and to build resiliency.

6) Explore, share and celebrate

With the rules and tools in place, don’t forget to just go online with your kids. Play games, watch videos, share photos and generally hang out with your children online. Learn from them and have fun. Share your favorite sites and download their apps. See the world through their eyes. And let them know your values and beliefs as you guide them on their way.

One more thing:

Be a good digital role model

Be the change you want to see in your kids. Resist the temptation to pull out your phone to check your email over dinner or send a quick text while driving. Keep an eye on your own digital habits and compulsions and model good digital behavior and balance. Your kids will pay far more attention to what you do, than to what you say – both online and offline.

Photo: Jekaterina Nikitina / Getty Images

2014 Midterm Election: What It Means for PTA & Education

Co-authored by Jessica Seitz

MidTermElectionsWith the 2014 Midterm Elections now behind us, the impact of the results and how they will affect PTA-related policy issues must be examined. With most of the election results now in (some still pending), Republicans will now control both Houses of Congress.

By adding up to 40 new Members to the House of Representatives (gaining at least 13), Republicans will have at least 246 seats, its largest majority sense World War II. In the Senate, Republicans added 10 new members (picking up 7) and will take over the majority with at least 52 members. With new leadership set to take over in January, changes are on the horizon. Specifically, in the Senate, many Republicans who served as Committee ranking members are poised to become Chairs of their respective committees. In the House, while Republicans have retained leadership, key committee assignments are likely to change. New members will arrive in Washington next week for their orientation and leadership elections for both the House and the Senate, including chairmanships.

Other key results from Tuesday night impacting the national political landscape include:

Education funding

Several ballot initiatives were on the ballots across the country with mixed results. While New York and Illinois approved increased education spending, Nevada voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have imposed a 2% margin tax on businesses with more than $1 million in revenue to raise money for public schools.  Washington State narrowly passed a measure that would raise spending to cut down class sizes and hire staff but in Colorado, an amendment that would have used gambling to generate funding for schools lost by a large margin. Early education continues to be on the rise across the country, as voters approved measures in Denver and Seattle to raise taxes to expand access to high-quality preschool.

Teacher Tenure

The most controversial measure on the ballot this year was in Missouri. On Tuesday voters resoundingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have required districts to use student test scores as a key factor in teacher hiring, compensation, advancement, and layoffs. It would also have limited teacher contracts to three years and prohibit teachers from using the collective bargaining process to make changes to the design and implementation of the evaluation system.

House and Senate Leadership and Committee Outlook for 114th Congress

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will lead the 114th Congress. From a PTA advocacy perspective, two Committees stand out: The Education and Workforce Committee in the House of Representatives and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee in the Senate. These committees deal exclusively with many K-12 issues PTA advocates for, including Family Engagement.

In the House, the Committee on Education and Workforce lost two Republicans and five Democrats, to either election or retirement. Among the most central figures not returning to the Committee is Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA). Current Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) is expected to maintain his position with Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) slated to become the committee’s Ranking Member.

In the Senate, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions loses two Democrats, Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Kay Hagan (D-NC). With leadership in the Senate changing hands, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will become the next Chairman of the HELP Committee and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), currently the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, is expected to become the Ranking Member. In a statement shortly after the election, Sen. Alexander stated:

“Yesterday Americans elected a new Senate majority determined to fix our broken system and move our country in a new direction…. Republicans in the Senate are ready to hit the ground running with proposals to….return control over our public schools to communities and classroom teachers…”

With control of both Chambers and strong statements like these, all indications point to important changes (or attempts to change) in 2015 in the area of education policy.

Matthew L. Evans is the Advocacy Coordinator at National PTA.
Jessica Seitz is the Policy Analyst at National PTA.

Awesome Family Engagement with Books and Reading


Jake with his two school-age sons, and the book that created memories

My wife and I have four great kids who keep us busier than we care to admit. As any busy parent knows, it’s difficult to plan and carry out activities that are positive, memorable and affordable.

About two years ago, I stumbled into a book that became a high-quality family memory.

I gave my boys a child’s book of poetry, Laugh-eteria by Doug Florian.  My older son quickly found a poem called “Stupid Stew”; it made all of us laugh to tears.  Over the next few months, the three of us read every poem in the book together.

Reading the poems together provided hours of quality time where we laughed and talked together. The experience showed me that books can have a strong role in my quest to have positive interactions with my kids.

Just because we live with an unprecedented level of distraction doesn’t mean that books and reading are no longer effective tools for family engagement. You can create awesome experiences for your family through books.  Here are a few simple and cheap activities that work in any situation and any budget:

  1. Read Together.  Before radios, TVs and Netflix, families read together.  If this seems corny and old-timey, that’s because it is.  Find a book of poetry or any piece of literature that is interesting to you.  Sit down with your kids and read it together.  Pass the book around and have each person read in turn.  You will be thrilled at the experience and discussion that ensue.  Tip: put all cell phones completely out of reach as you read together.
  2. Make a reading wish list. Sit down and have everyone, parents included, make a list of all the books each person wants to read.  Post the list on the fridge and check up on who’s reading what books regularly.  Tip:  this is not a “to do” list to badger each other about.  It’s a fun list without a time limit.
  3. Schedule a family outing to a used book store.  Used book stores are just as interesting and fun to visit in 2014 as they were in 1990. Let the kids explore and choose their own books.  Everyone will be excited to read their new-found treasures.
  4. Books before movies.  If a child wants to see a book-based movie, make reading the book a contingency of seeing the move—for both adults and children.  Go see the movie as a family and discuss the merits of both.

All these have one indispensable ingredient: the adult.  You must do these activities with the kids.  As you do any or all the above, you demonstrate that reading and learning are important to your family culture while you create high-quality memories.

I’m not alone in my quest to find meaningful activities that don’t cost a fortune or involve stressful planning. Reading is an achievable daily activity you can within your busy schedule.  Try one or more of the above and I promise that good experiences and memories will flow from your efforts.

Jake Ball founded Children’s Bookstore to create a truly independent bookstore that is 100% dedicated to juvenile literature. Children’s Bookstore provides online book fairs to schools, libraries all over the U.S. Jake and his wife have 4 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 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.

Fun Ideas to Promote Healthy Lifestyles in School

GES2Grafenwoehr Elementary School PTA was very fortunate last year to be a Healthy Lifestyle 101: Energy Balance grant recipient, and we are super fortunate to receive the grant again this school year! Last year, our PTA focused primarily on increasing opportunities to engage in physical activity.  Our school is small and, being located in the Bavarian Region of Germany (we are an American school on a US military installation), the weather often keeps kids indoors for recess—with no space to move around and be active.  While physical activity is still an important aspect of our Energy Balance program, we are also working to encourage students and families to make healthy eating choices.  Here is a sampling of some of the PTA grant programs that we’ve already implemented for the 2014 – 2015 school year:

Fall Family Fun Run – Families spent a Saturday morning at our community fitness center to run a 400m, 1-mile, or 5 km run/walk.  Some kids were very ambitious and ran all three!  We plan to hold an end-of-the-year fun run in June.

Gardening Program – This is a school-wide program spearheaded by our Host Nation (German) teacher.  We started off this two-year program with a full-blown “gardening party” day.  Parents, teachers, and students spent an afternoon engaged in physical activity by working together, pulling weeds and planting some new shrubs.  In the spring, some of our Energy Balance grant funds will be used to plant vegetables and fruit trees.

GES_3Try Day Friday – This is an event we just tried in October and will now continue once every quarter.  During each Try Day Friday event, all students have an opportunity to learn about and taste a fruit or vegetable.   For the first quarter, students tried mango.  Most students had never tasted one before, but now the majority of them think they taste great!  This program is a great way for ALL students to participate in our grant program, since it takes place during the school day.

Grizzly Family Café – Another new program, the Grizzly Café gives parents an opportunity to reserve a space each month for a special one-on-one lunch with their child.  As our parents lead very hectic lifestyles, it isn’t always possible to eat a sit-down family meal together.  There are a multitude of benefits children receive by eating with their parents, so this is a great way to give busy parents an opportunity to spend quality time with their child.

GES PTAHalloween & Healthy Tasting Table…only if you dare! – This evening event combined our annual Halloween costume parade, our general membership meeting, and a chance for families to try some healthy foods.  Students, parents, and siblings got the chance to try quinoa with roasted vegetables, baked kale chips, pomegranate, pomelo, a healthy soup, fruit smoothies, and other healthy foods.  Brave kids learned that eating healthy is not only good for them, but can taste great!

I’m really excited about our PTA’s health and wellness programs this school year.  Even if your PTA did not receive an Energy Balance grant this year, it is possible to implement any of the programs I discussed.  You only need one person with an interest in health to advocate for positive changes within your school and get the excitement going.

Youth Summit Leader Gabe Ramos and the Importance of Diversity

GabeRamosOne Voice had a chance to talk with one of our influential young leaders about diversity and the importance of acceptance through his creation of his Multicultural Tolerance program. It is becoming more common for youth to take the lead on the issues that directly affect them and Gabe Ramos is a great example of that.

One Voice: Can you tell us a little more about your experience at the National PTA Convention?

Gabe: It was something like I have never experienced. It was my first time in Texas and by far the biggest convention I had ever been to. The convention was both enlightening and fun. I particularly enjoyed meeting the other youth leaders and having the youth oriented workshops. I appreciated James T. Robilotta, youth leadership keynote, for his great presence and education on youth leadership. He really taught us as youth leaders to identify what types of leaders we are and how to utilize our talents. Also, I loved the keynote, Dr. Steve Contstantino, who spoke about family engagement, something that I thoroughly find to be of the utmost importance. As a youth, I know I will always have my family to support me and help me succeed. While I was there, I found at one of the booths a math program called Crazy 8’s Math by Bedtime Math, which I now run as a club for fifth graders in my district. I made many friends that I still keep in touch with, and made memories I will never forget.

One Voice: How did you get involved as a Youth Summit Leader?

Gabe: I was at the Pennsylvania State PTA convention and several PTA officers recommended I apply for a scholarship for the convention, so I did.

One Voice: You mentioned that you learned many skills at the Convention. Can you talk about what workshop you attended? What were those skills?

Gabe: I attended an anti-bullying program presented by BMX star, Mr. Kevin “K Rob” Robinson which was truly enlightening and self-reassuring. His program truly just made you feel good, and I absolutely loved the way he tied his BMX skills into it. I attended a seminar on how to utilize your PTA, which helped me get my program on its feet. I used the skills I attained to present my program to my PTA and they supported it. I attended another workshop on communication, and I learned communication is a precise art, and most especially a two-way street.

One Voice: What inspired you to create “Multicultural Tolerance?” Were your classmates a big influence?

Gabe: From a very young age, I have been subjected to racial slurs and I never knew what to do about it. Of course when you are 7 years old and you are called a spic, there isn’t much you can do. Frankly, I didn’t even know what a spic was until I asked my mother. This last year, in Spanish class of all places, I was the subject of many racial jokes about my Dominican heritage, most of which were actually meant to be hurtful towards the Mexican population. I received slurs such as, “corn picker,” and was asked, “When are you going to come in with tacos and your sombrero?” There were many slurs aimed towards my father as well. These kids in my class were malicious and inconsiderate because they didn’t realize that they just didn’t make fun of me, they made fun of my father and his father; men who had to work for everything they owned. One day my close friends decided to scratch corn picker onto my tray at lunch and throw my lunch all over the table, they, I know, had no malicious intent (he was just trying to be funny in front of other kids) but their naivety got the best of them and they thought it was a funny joke. This last occurrence gave me an incentive to create this program. I guess you can say my classmates were a big influence.

One Voice: Tell us about your documentary. What was the message? Where do you see your “Multicultural Tolerance” program going in the upcoming school years?  

Gabe: Well I don’t want to give anything away about the men of the documentary, but they all are great, loving gentlemen. I will tell you, however, that four out of the five men are physicians and out of them, three of their origins are not of the U.S. The fifth man is a police officer and entrepreneur who is part of a minority in the U.S. The men by name are Dr. Besher Kabak, Pulmonary Critical Care, who is from Syria; Dr. Abdalla Sholi, Hematology/Oncology, who is from Jordan; Dr. Julio Ramos, Rheumatology, from the U.S. of Dominican descent; Dr. Samir Pancholy, Cardiology, who is from India; and Officer John Burgette, from the U.S., born in Germany and is of African-American descent. The message of the documentary is tolerance for all people, and what racism and intolerance truly does to oneself by a medium of people who have experienced racism themselves. All in all, the documentary was to educate and prove—prove that we all are different but that difference should be accepted and embraced. All of these individuals are colleagues and friends of my father, who was also an interviewee, so I reached out to them through him.

Right now I am only pursuing this program through the PTA. I hope to present “Multicultural Tolerance” to my local school district, and get it to play on public access television. I would love to mentor peers if the opportunity arose; I want to create a peer support group for students experiencing intolerance in their lives.

Creating a Positive Culture on the School Bus

SchoolBus_2Travelling on the school bus every day may be an enjoyable experience for a student. It’s up to the driver and the students to create the culture that exists on the school bus. For the driver, the goal is to transport the students safely to school, ready to learn, and in the right frame of mind. Then, transport them home in a safe, enjoyable environment. The driver can have a huge positive influence on the culture of his/her school bus. First, by reviewing the school bus rules at the beginning of the year. At the start of the year, the driver should welcome the students and tell them that all the rules that apply at school also apply on the school bus. The driver should then go over these rules:

  1. Never put your head, arms, or any other body part outside the windows.
  2. Do not distract the driver when the bus is in motion.
  3. Take your seat and put book bags under the seat in front of you. Stay in your seat.
  4. No fighting, pushing, throwing or teasing other students.
  5. Bullying and teasing will not be tolerated.

The driver should greet the students and learn their names and add a positive comment whenever possible. This is the driver’s greatest opportunity to set a positive culture on the bus. Having said that, the students have the same opportunity to set a positive culture on the bus. For example, saying “good morning” and “hello” to a driver, as well as  “thank you” when the student leaves, sets an equally positive culture on the bus. When students treat each other with respect, the school bus ride ends safely and positively.

Fun Family Fitness at Rockledge

Rockledge_4November is National PTA Healthy Lifestyles Month – a time when PTAs are encouraged to celebrate health and wellness in their schools and communities.

It was a beautiful day in Virginia – the sun was shining, blue skies and the air had just started to turn cool.  What a great day to kick off our Family Fitness Fun programming at Prince William Forest with a family hike led by Mrs. Karin Martin and her family on Laurel Loop Trail.

Rockledge Elementary School has a long history of being focused on wellness. The success of Rockledge’s health and fitness efforts is due to the support of the entire staff in addition to the Wellness Committee always being the driving force.  The committee is comprised of staff, student and parent representatives with a desire to provide fun ways to get students moving all day long.

Each year, Rockledge adds a little more.  During morning announcements, students and staff share tips for healthy eating and get the blood flowing with Morning Movement.  We have fun ways for students to move and learn about good nutrition before and after school with our Fitness, Scottish Dancing, Cheerleading, and Healthy Cooking clubs.  Students look forward to our annual Field Day which has lots of water play, and our biannual Health & Safety Night with Tae Kwon Do and dance performances, fitness classes and information tables.

Rockledge2Our principal, Mrs. Amy Schott, encourages students to eat a nutritious lunch with stickers which say “My principal is proud of me for eating a healthy lunch today!”  when she “catches” them eating protein, fruit AND a vegetable with their lunch.  The lunches also must not include unhealthy items such as chips, candy, juice or other beverages with high sugar content. Rockledge also promotes wellness in its monthly newsletter, on its website, through the OLEWEUS bullying prevention program, and by encouraging healthy birthday alternatives.

Rockledge_1The Rockledge PTA has been able to add to these efforts through its use of the Healthy Lifestyles Energy Balance 101 grant. Last year we started slow by adding our family walking program, “Walk Around the World with Rockledge,” provided fitness instructors at Health & Safety Night, and celebrated with winter and end-of-the year dances. This year, we are using our grant funding to continue these programs and expand our programming get our families moving with hikes at local parks, evening fitness classes with Zumba, yoga and Jazzercise instructors, and a bike safety program.  We also make sure our students eat right to stay focused during SOL exams by providing breakfast on each exam day.

My advice to PTAs:  Start small with your fitness programming and add to it each year.  Think of easy ways to reach families – a newsletter, website, fitness night, or family field day.  Add to these ideas each year and make it FUN to stay healthy!

Kerry Coleman-Proksch is the treasurer, Rockledge PTA. Kerry is mother to two boys, Jack (8), and Patrick (5).  This is her second year as Treasurer of the Rockledge PTA.   Kerry works at Northern Virginia Community College as a Pathway to the Baccalaureate academic adviser.  

Celebrating Schools of Excellence in Garland, TX

Garland 1For the past two months, 170 schools throughout the country have been celebrating their designation as a National PTA School of Excellence. The designation recognized schools and PTAs for building strong, effective family-school partnerships.  Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Garland, Independent School District (ISD) in Garland, Texas to celebrate the 34 schools in this school district that make up an exuberant cohort of Schools of Excellence. With 30 elementary schools, one middle school, and three high schools receiving the designation, Garland ISD represents 80 percent of Texas’s School of Excellence designees and 20 percent of the nation’s.

Garland ISD took a district approach to encourage their schools to enroll and participate in the School of Excellence program. They believed that participation in the program would provide them with specific strategies to engage families at each school building to strengthen family-school partnerships. The vision was set by superintendent Dr. Bob Morrison and supported by family engagement facilitator Dr. Pat Mullins. All of the schools in Garland ISD are fortunate to have either a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or a Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA). Consequently, the district approach to participation in the School of Excellence program was monumental and truly a trend setter.

Garland 2Before the bi-monthly Board of Trustee meeting, a reception was hosted to honor each school. At the reception, Shannon Sevier, National PTA vice president of advocacy; Leslie Boggs, Texas State PTA president; and I congratulated each school on their achievement and expressed to them how important the precedence that they had set is for schools in their district and across the nation. Each school was given a small token to celebrate their recognition at the reception.  For me, it was most rewarding to finally meet, face-to-face, with many of the principals, PTA leaders, and family engagement coordinators that I had spoken with on the phone or corresponded with through emails numerous times throughout the school year. Together, we worked to create a successful and impactful program.

Garland ISD 3At the board meeting, Leslie Boggs presented Suellen Atteberry, the immediate past president of Garland ISD, and Shannon Wainscott, president of Garland ISD Council of PTAs with a proclamation to celebrate this outstanding achievement for the district and their support to the schools throughout the program year. Shannon Sevier then awarded Dr. Bob Morrison and Dr. Pat Mullins with a National PTA Lifetime Achievement Award for their unwavering commitment to children. Finally, school board trustee president Rick Lambert awarded each school with a certificate of excellence for their achievement.

As the new school year progresses, I encourage schools and school districts nationwide to evaluate their current family engagement strategies, and commit to establish meaningful partnerships in every school and in every district. Garland ISD has accepted the challenge, and set the mark, where families feel welcomed and empowered to support student success, and PTA is a key partner for continuous school improvement through participation and recognition in the National PTA School of Excellence Program.

Learn more about National PTA School of Excellence at