Lessons Learned from the PTA

KathieGreen_8x10printAs I retire from PTA this year, there are so many memories and opportunities I have had because of my involvement at the local, council, state and national PTA level.   My entire life would truly be different if one person had not asked me to get involved! I wouldn’t have had two jobs I absolutely love. The skills PTA taught me have served me very well. When I interviewed for my first job when reentering the workforce, the interviewer even bumped up the job I was going for because of the work I did in PTA. At that time I didn’t even equate writing newsletters, managing volunteers, public speaking at school, and organizing events as a PTA member relatable tasks to a job. Every day I am thankful for PTA for teaching me the very skills I need to succeed in the workforce. Without PTA, I wouldn’t have met incredible staff, creative and talented parents, and I wouldn’t have really gotten to know my community. The lifelong friends I have made are a bonus in my life and I am sincerely grateful.

In that spirit, the top things I have learned over the years are:

1) Be positive and be a cheerleader for your school. Sing the praises of the teacher that went above and beyond, thank the staff who work hard every day for our children, and notice the hours your principal is putting in. If you tell EVERYBODY the good stories, then you will start seeing those good stories everywhere. Be a school champion every chance you get!

2) Ask. Ask for help. Getting over this barrier is huge. Importantly though, be specific. Make it reasonable and break it down. I believe people do want to help, they just don’t know how and are worried about over-committing. Know what you need donations for. Is it for programs, scholarships or membership?  As for membership, this may be the most important ask. Members mean more informed parents, more volunteers, more of everything you need or at least access to that. Make it easy to join your PTA and make them ask year round—not just at the beginning of the year.

3) Say yes. Time is a valuable commodity but I will never regret one moment I spent volunteering to help schools. You CAN make a difference – it still stuns me that it is as simple as that. You may have the one idea your school, your PTA, your state, or National PTA needs. What do you do well or what do you want to learn? The opportunities for you to develop as a leader are there, but you have to have to say yes first.

4) Take advantage of opportunities. The smartest thing we ever did was write a Take Your Family to School Week Grant application for National PTA. Winning the grant made it easier to apply again, to have the courage and faith to apply for the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award, and it gave us the momentum to grow to 729 PTA members—a number we did not expect. This also gave us the opportunity to attend any trainings, and National PTA and state conventions. The very best part of PTA is networking, sharing ideas and knowing you are not alone. So take advantage and step out of the school to make connections that will help you!

4) Say thank you often and to everyone. This spirit can take over PTA and people want to feel needed and appreciated. List your members in a newsletter to say thank you for joining. Start a Volunteer Hall of Fame. Write a thank you note. Post on Facebook that you are grateful for someone after an event. Every little “thank you” can go a long way with being positive.

5) And the most important thing of all…communication is the key and it needs to be consistent. What is the best way to reach parents at your school? At our schools it was a weekly email. This kept us organized and built in a natural deadline so it kept us on our toes. Parents do crave information. There are so many easy, free and even low cost avenues to spread the word about your PTA’s events or projects. The best money we spent was for Constant Contact to send our weekly newsletter. Much of the successes in PTA I have seen–whether it’s growing membership, increasing volunteers, and involving new leaders—is because of connections built through communication on a regular basis. Keep PTA in front of people and let everyone know where you stand. Publicize how many members you have, the events you do, how you help your school. If you don’t tell people, who will? Tell your story!

I sincerely love PTA and what it can bring to schools and children. No one will ever convince me that we don’t change the world every day. It’s in those hugs from kids when you do something fun at school that wouldn’t maybe have happened. It’s in the eyes of a new leader when the light bulb goes off and they figure out they can do it. It’s in the conversations with school personnel who need our support now more than ever. It’s getting your point across to a legislator who needs to hear your voice. Now it is my turn to walk the walk and get out of the way for young leaders to have this wonderful opportunity. I hope you grow to love it as much as I have. Thank you PTA for a wonderful experience over the years and for allowing me to be a small part of an amazing association!

Kathie Green is currently the Indiana PTA NE Region Vice President and National PTA Communications Committee Member. She was a former president for the Fort Wayne Area PTA Council and former co-president of Northrop High School PTSA.

Fire Up Your Feet!

This post was also featured on Together Count’s blog.

Fire-Up-FBObesity prevention has been identified by PTA members as a top priority for health and safety.  School nutrition has long been a key component to PTA’s history, yet PTAs are relied on to raise much needed funds for schools often through food-based methods. As a member of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and a Together Counts™ Ambassador, we promote energy balance and encourage schools to make healthy changes having to do with more activity to balance calories consumed. This year schools began implementing “Smart Snacks” that ensure all food sold to kids during the school day is healthy.  PTAs and families play a critical role in supporting the new nutrition guidelines as any fundraisers, school stores or vending machines running during the school day must meet these new standards.  PTAs and school groups therefore needed a healthy, easy choice for school fundraisers.

Fire Up Your Feet, a program launched in partnership between National PTA, Safe Routes to School National Partnership and Kaiser Permanente as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Active Schools program, gives families, students and schools tools to create fun, active lifestyles that inspire our children and their families and schools to be healthy and physically active by walking before, during and after school.  The program, available to any elementary and middle school (grades k-8) nationally, offers an online activity tracker and school fundraising component that supports annual PTA annual fun runs or walkathons, with 75 percent of the money raised going back to the PTA or school, which is more than the typical amount of 60percent.  The Fire Up Your Feet Activity Challenge award program, which has awarded more than $115,000 and more than 1,100 K-8 schools, is also available in sponsored regions.

For many years now, Jenkins Middle School PTA has supported students, families, and staff by raising funds.  They decided that Fire Up Your Feet was a wonderful way to engage students, staff, families, and the community in increasing health and wellness. They kicked off their Fire Up Your Feet Activity Challenge with a before school walk around their track, with 100 parents, staff, and students energetically completing laps while logging their hours for the challenge. As a result, they received a $200 award.  Bathgate Elementary PTA proudly walked to school on October 8 (Walk to School Day) with almost 85 percent of the students participating.  They used their activity challenge award to purchase additional PE equipment and provide CPR and First Aid training.  Rainbow Elementary PTA used Fire Up Your Feet to support their “Walk Around the World Challenge, where families logged in almost 2,300 miles and over 79,000 minutes of exercise.

Parents are a key part to the coordinated approach to child health.  Through Fire Up Your Feet National PTA is giving families the tools they need to model positive health behaviors, meet their required amount of daily physically active and burn energy together.  And, it helps PTAs fully supporting the positive changes happening at school while still meeting the obligations of bringing much needed funding into the school.

In addition to this program, we’re proud to announce year three of our partnership with Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and their Together Counts program to bring schools an incentive toward healthy lifestyles through the Healthy Lifestyles: Energy Balance 101 grant.  The application is open now, with a deadline of June 19, 2015.  Go to PTA.org/awards to find out how your PTA can get involved.

Heather Parker, MS, CHES is the Senior Manager for Health and Safety at National PTA, where she serves as in-house expert on child health and safety and develops new programs, materials and resources to support PTA’s health and safety efforts.

National PTA Board Member Honored With Model of Excellence Award for Impact on African-American Students

National PTA board member Dr. Calvin Mackie (left) accepts the Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award from the College Board during the 2015 A Dream Deferred conference.

National PTA board member Dr. Calvin Mackie (left) accepts the Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award from the College Board during the 2015 A Dream Deferred conference.

National PTA board member and STEM Task Force chairman Dr. Calvin Mackie has been honored by the College Board with the 2015 Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award for his efforts in encouraging African-American students to strive for academic success. Dr. Mackie was presented with the award during the 2015 A Dream Deferred™ conference, which brought together educators and leaders from across the country to discuss solutions to improve educational opportunities for African-American students.

Dr. Mackie is an award-winning mentor, inventor, author and entrepreneur; an internationally-renowned speaker; and a former engineering professor. He has become an inspirational figure in education for African-Americans and a powerful voice for STEM.

Dr. Mackie founded STEM NOLA, a non-profit association dedicated to engaging, inspiring and exposing underserved communities to STEM. Since December 2013, STEM NOLA has engaged more than 2,400 K-12 students from more than 200 schools throughout New Orleans in hands-on, project-based activities.

Over the past decade, Dr. Mackie has spoken locally and nationally at K-12 schools, colleges and universities. He has inspired countless students to pursue STEM and succeed in education.

The College Board’s Model of Excellence Award honors the legacy of Dr. Asa G. Hilliard, who exemplified commitment to African-American education through his work as a teacher, psychologist, historian and education consultant.

Being honored with the Model of Excellence Award underscores the difference Dr. Mackie is making in the lives of African-American students by helping them overcome adversity and become successful men and women. National PTA commends Dr. Mackie for his efforts, leadership and the well-deserved recognition.

Make a Difference on Global Youth Service Day

Photo Credit: Instagram.com/YouthService

Photo Credit: Instagram.com/YouthService

Want to make a difference at your school while having fun too? Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), April 17-19, is the world’s largest service event. Join students, parents and teachers in all 50 states and in more than 120 countries to make your community greener, smarter, safer and healthier.

Fourth graders are reading to kindergarteners in Michigan to improve reading skills. Middle-school students in Tennessee are holding a cooking demonstration to promote healthy eating. A senior class in California is planning a school-wide canned food drive to support the local food pantry. These are just a few ways to get involved.

Whether you are working to improve your school or neighborhood, your city, or a community halfway around the world, powerful things happen when students, teachers, and parents come together to create a culture of service in schools. Students can also partner with other school groups, such as their PTA or PTSA to participate in ongoing volunteer projects.

Students gain skills in leadership, critical thinking, and communication that are critical for college and career success. Teachers provide opportunities for students to use their education to solve actual problems in their communities, making learning real and relevant. (In fact, youth who volunteer are 50% less likely than their non-volunteering peers to disconnect from school.) Parents partner with teachers and students to help their children develop character and citizenship skills while honing their academic strengths. Student volunteers don’t just help others with service projects- they benefit greatly from the experiences themselves!

Global Youth Service Day is a great on-ramp for more extensive service in your school. YSA’s Classrooms with a Cause and Semester of Service programs provide frameworks to engage students over a few weeks to a whole year. National PTA’s programs, such as Connect for Respect and Take Your Family to School Week, feature guides on how to engage students in larger year-round projects like bullying prevention.

Ready to begin? YSA can help! Visit GYSD.org to download Youth Changing the World, a toolkit to help young people develop their own service projects from creation to completion. On this site, you can choose a cause, plan and register your project, see other projects taking place near you, and tell your story of success. For more information on how students can become engaged PTSA members and combine service experiences with education advocacy, visit PTA.org/PTSA.

 Karen L. Daniel is the Vice President of Programs at Youth Service America. YSA (Youth Service America) supports a global culture of engaged children and youth committed to a lifetime of meaningful service, learning, and leadership. Karen L. Daniel is the Vice President of Programs at YSA. As a student engagement expert, Karen facilitates trainings, writes planning guides, and develops programs all over the world. She is currently writing a book about how parents can raise children that change the world. If you are interested in collaborating with Karen on a new project, she can be reached at kdaniel@ysa.org.


A Day in the Life of an Arts Teacher

shutterstock_121398937It is important to thank those who are able to bring the arts to our students’ lives. One of the best things about being an arts teacher is to see my students succeed. I chose to become a music teacher at the young age of eight years old. I was inspired by the great movie: Mr. Holland’s Opus. Here’s a brief description (and spoiler) of the movie for those who haven’t seen it. In the 1960s, Mr. Holland, played by Richard Dreyfuss, was a composer and professional musician.

He wanted to settle down from his crazy performance schedule to spend more time with his wife. In order to do so, he became a music teacher in the local high school. Although he dreaded being a teacher because he loved to perform so much, he grew to love his students as if they were his own children. Mr. Holland taught for over 30 years and changed hundreds of his students’ lives through music both inside and outside of the classroom.

At the end of the movie, Mr. Holland was forced to retire because of funding and lack of administrative support, however, the majority of the students who he taught came back and planned a huge concert for him where they performed a piece that he spent decades composing. I want to be just like Mr. Holland. I want to be able to break through the barriers of my students’ lives to let them know that they can use music (or other arts) to express themselves.

Currently, I teach elementary instrumental and general/vocal music in Baltimore County, MD. I usually teach about 5-6 classes a day, depending on the day, with 1 planning period. Each of these classes (and the planning period) are 50 minutes long. During these 50 minutes, a lot of activities and topics are reviewed, learned and evaluated. I also make sure that what they are learning coincides with things they may be currently learning in their other classes as well as incorporate familial aspects from my students’ lives to help them better understand concepts.

5:00 a.m. – Wake up, shower, eat, and get dressed.

6:30 a.m. – Out the door, on the road from Washington, DC to my school in MD, which is about 50 miles away.

7:45 a.m. – Arrive at school, begin putting up objectives, clean instruments, rearrange classrooms, compile old papers, and sharpen pencils.

9:15 a.m. – 4th Grade. This class is composed of about 22 students who are extremely excited about music. We warm up with vocal exercises and techniques and review old topics. We then focus on the topic of the day and work in groups to explore the topic. Students usually perform at the end of each class period so that I can evaluate their understanding of the new topic.

10:05 a.m. – 5th Grade Electives, World Drumming. This class is an elective class in which students choose to participate in their favorite activity. This class consists of about 15 5th grade students who mostly compose their own songs using Orff instruments, drums and other world instruments like the claves.

10:55 a.m. – 3rd Grade. The third grade curriculum is currently a mix between Kodaly techniques and Recorder. Students essentially love music at this age because they become more responsible with purchasing their own instruments (the recorders). Depending on the day, students are both learning music theory and a new recorder piece or they are testing to receive their next belt in recorder karate.

11: 45 a.m. – Lunch

12:15 p.m. – 2nd Grade. This class loves to play with different instruments so we continue to sing, use Kodaly methods and learn about new instruments during the class.

1:00 p.m. – 10 minute break to re-adjust my classroom.

1:10 p.m. –1st Grade. This class loves to sing, dance and perform! We continue to work on our 1st grade play for our parents, which we will perform at the end of the year. We also talk about different topics in music class and how they apply to the songs that we are learning to perform.

2:00 p.m. – Kindergarten. A very playful class that loves to perform, sing and dance. They are learning the fundamentals of music such as loud vs soft (piano/forte), locomotive sounds, ostinatos, rounds, etc.

2:50 p.m. – Planning Time. Finish lesson planning for the next day, clean up room, make copies, etc.

3:30 p.m. – Afternoon Duty. Making sure students go straight to the bus and saying our goodbyes for the day.

4:00 p.m. – After-school step practice with students (or talent show practice depending on the day).

6:00 p.m. – Last student leaves for the day, and so do I!

7:30 p.m. – Finally get home. Continue to plan lessons/units for the upcoming weeks.

“The practice of art isn’t to make a living. It’s to make your soul grow.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Quanice Floyd is the Arts Education Graduate Fellow at National PTA. She is currently working on her Masters in Arts Management at American University while teaching in Baltimore County Public Schools. She received her Bachelors of Music Education at Howard University and Masters of Music Education at Kent State University. She is passionate about arts education and one day hopes to one day open her own performing arts school for urban youth.

The Call That Changed My Life: A Mother Shares Her Meningitis Story

SheriPurdyWatching your child fight for her life is the worst possible experience a parent could ever have. It was by far the worst time in my life.

My name is Sheri Purdy. You may know my daughter, Amy Purdy, a world class snowboarder, Paralympic®* medalist, philanthropist, and – just last year – a runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars®**.” Today, Amy is a thriving and accomplished young woman, but when she was only 19, she contracted meningococcal meningitis and almost didn’t make it. It changed our lives forever.

I remember it was a summer day when Amy came home from work early and said she wasn’t feeling well and was extremely tired. That night, Amy had a temperature of 101 with typical flu-like symptoms. The next morning, thinking it was just the flu, I had left to meet my husband out of town. Just a few hours later I received a phone call from a hospital saying Amy might not make it through the night.

It took about 72 hours to get the diagnosis, because it takes that long for the culture to come back. The doctors gave her many antibiotics because they didn’t know what they were dealing with. Her life was so fragile. Minute by minute we were just holding our breath, praying. After receiving the diagnosis that Amy had meningococcal meningitis, it was so shocking and we were all in disbelief. It was hard to believe that what started out to seem like the flu had progressed so quickly.

Amy was in the hospital for about two and a half months, including five days during which she was in an induced coma. She lost her spleen, kidney function, and hearing in her left ear. Due to the septic shock she developed, Amy ended up losing both of her legs below the knees.

While not all meningococcal meningitis patients’ stories are as extreme as Amy’s, we feel blessed to have our daughter. In 1999, when Amy got meningococcal meningitis, no vaccines for this disease were widely recommended. Since then, I have become very educated on the topic and want everyone to know the following:

  • Early symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can be misinterpreted as the flu[i]
  • 1 in 10 of those who develop meningococcal disease will die[ii]
  • There are five common forms of bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis – A, B, C, W and Y[iii]
  • Until 2014, there was no vaccine to help protect against invasive meningococcal group B disease in the United States, which accounts for approximately 40% of all cases[iv]

Moms take the health of their families very seriously, which is why I wanted to share our story – so that it will spark a conversation between you, your child and a healthcare professional. I encourage each of you to learn more about how to help protect your adolescent and young adult children from meningococcal meningitis by talking to a healthcare provider or by going to KnowMeningitis.com and pledging to do so.

[i] Mayo Clinic. Diseases and conditions: meningitis. http://www.mayoclinic.org/disease-conditions/meningitis/basics/prevention/con-20019713?p=1. Accessed February 11, 2015.

[ii] Cohn AC, MacNeil JR, Harrison LH, et al. Changes in Neisseria meningitidis disease epidemiology in the United States, 1998-2007: implications for prevention of meningococcal disease. Clin Infect Dis. 2010;50(2):184-191.

[iii] Pinto VB, Burden R, Wagner A, Moran EE, Lee C. The Development of an Experimental Multiple Serogroups Vaccine for Neisseria meningitidis. PLoS ONE. 2013; 8(11):1-10.

[iv] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Active Bacterial Core Surveillance (ABCs) Report Emerging Infections Program Network – Neisseria meningitidis, 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/abcs/reports-findings/survreports/mening12.html. Accessed February 11, 2015.

Sheri Purdy is a meningitis activist and mother of world-class snowboarder and meningococcal meningitis survivor Amy Purdy. Sheri and Amy have launched Take Action Against Meningitis with Pfizer to help educate about meningococcal meningitis. For each pledge, Pfizer will donate $1 – up to $20,000 – to Adaptive Action Sports, the not-for-profit organization Amy co-founded to help young people, wounded veterans and adults with permanent physical disabilities get involved in action sports.

Supporting Students in Identifying and Exploring STEM Careers with Digital Education

LEAF interns measure trees in Tolland State Park in Otis, Massachusetts with Land Steward, Sam Perron. They calculate the carbon mass that these tress can absorb from the air and contrast the data they collect from a sample taken in a city park.

LEAF interns measure trees in Tolland State Park in Otis, Massachusetts with Land Steward, Sam Perron. They calculate the carbon mass that these tress can absorb from the air and contrast the data they collect from a sample taken in a city park.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is becoming ever more important in education as our children and students continue to grow up in an increasingly technology-driven world. STEM education is important for many reasons, not only because it is a driver for future generations’ economic livelihood, but also because youth need to be prepared with the right tools to meet the challenges of the current and future day. Our advances in science and technology demand not only a workforce trained with STEM skills, but also a society informed of STEM disciplines.

The economic case to pursue education for a STEM-related career is clear. Salaries for science, technology, engineering and math jobs have nearly doubled since the 1980s. Unemployment among new graduates with bachelor’s degrees and above between 2011 and 2014 in STEM fields faced an unemployment rate of only 3.2 percent compared to non-STEM degrees at 7 percent. The U.S. Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) employment projections on the fastest growing occupations, have identified that many STEM careers show a projected 19-37 percent growth increase from 2012 to 2022.

What is not always clear is how to inspire a love for STEM subjects at home and in the classroom and how to support students in identifying and exploring a STEM career pathway. Our students and children are unique, with their own sets of interests, hobbies and strengths. Luckily, the STEM career field is highly varied with jobs in everything from computer science and health care to natural science and engineering. But students may not always understand how their learning in school translates into a career later in life.

One way to help students embrace STEM subjects is to expose them to the real work that scientists, engineers, and mathematicians do. This can be a challenge since it’s hard to reach out to these professionals and bring them into the classroom to address their careers in a kid-friendly way. That’s where digital technology in education can help us as parents and teachers to expose children to STEM fields and careers. Finding good quality educational resources via the internet has never been easier, and many trusted science-based organizations like NASA, NOAA, National Geographic, PBS, and The Nature Conservancy all provide resources that can be used by parents and teachers alike to help inspire and educate children about STEM disciplines.

Students from Chamblee Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia conduct a habitat survey – looking for pollinators, insects, and other wildlife – in their school garden which is used as an outdoor science lab.

Students from Chamblee Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia conduct a habitat survey – looking for pollinators, insects, and other wildlife – in their school garden which is used as an outdoor science lab.

For example, The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest science-based conservation organization with over 600 staff scientists, is helping expose students to STEM careers by bringing science professionals directly into the classroom. By hosting several virtual field trips that feature scientists in various professions across the globe, The Nature Conservancy is helping connect students with nature right in the classroom and helping to show students the variety of STEM careers available to them. In February 2015, nearly 30,000 students tuned in to view a live virtual field trip with Conservancy scientist Charles Oluchina, who was broadcasting from Nairobi, Kenya to speak about his work as a scientist in East Africa. On April 8, 2015, Kari Vigerstol, a senior hydrologist at the Conservancy will share her knowledge and work during a virtual trip to the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest and the deserts of Arizona.

These virtual field trips are fun, engaging, and take students to see places and meet people they may never have the opportunity to see or meet in their everyday lives. Digital technology is not always easy to use as a parent or a teacher, but with resources like this, it makes it much easier to engage and inspire our kids to embrace STEM education. Through the collective effort of parents, teachers, and organizations that provide great STEM education resources, we can help drive our children towards success in STEM fields.

Check out NatureWorksEverywhere.org for free, archived versions of The Nature Conservancy’s virtual field trips and access to many other quality educational resources on the science of the environment.

Britta Culbertson is the Education and Outreach Manager for the Nature Works Everywhere Program (NWE) at The Nature Conservancy. Prior to joining The Nature Conservancy, Britta was an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a long-time high school science and art teacher. As an Education Manager at The Nature Conservancy, Britta helps educate future generations on the importance of nature to their everyday-lives.

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy; (Top right) Richard Howard, (Bottom right) Nick Burchell