Goodbye Summer Break, Hello ESEA Reauthorization

A few months ago, Congress debated bills in the House and Senate to reauthorize the outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB). Like public schools across the nation, Congress is back in session, and it is time that the bills be moved forward for reconciliation and then signed into law. And it is imperative that effective, evidenced-based family engagement strategies are included in the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB.

A new school year means new expectations and new material to learn. It is essential that families are engaged and families and schools collaborate to support student achievement and ensure a successful year.

To strengthen family engagement in education, schools and districts need the resources and capacity to implement best practices that have been proven to positively impact student learning. This is why we need Congress to finally reauthorize the ESEA/NCLB. It is crucial that Congress finish its work and provide updates to the current law so all children receive a high-quality public education and reach their full potential.

What we need from Congress

  • Convene a conference committee as soon as possible to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills and produce a bill that can be signed into law.
  • Maintain the provisions in both ESEA/NCLB reauthorization bills that support state and local capacity building through Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs).
  • Continue to invest in family engagement strategies for local education agencies in Title I.

Let’s get this school year of to a great start by arming schools and districts with the resources they need to provide a world-class education to every student. Congress can take the lead on this through a successful reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that includes necessary family engagement provisions.

You can stay in the loop on the ESEA/NCLB reauthorization or get action alerts from the PTA Takes Action Network. Join the network today.


Laura Bay is president of National PTA.

How to Get the Help You Need for Your School’s Yearbook

one-voice-guest-post.fwWhen our elementary school’s yearbook advisor retired a few years ago (actually, her student just went to middle school), all the parents who volunteered to put the yearbook together were still happy to help. But none were jumping up and down to take over the big role.

It didn’t take long for me to find out why (more on that in a second), and we ended up making a switch to a new yearbook company called TreeRing because of it. So, what happened?

The software our yearbook company provided was awkward and complex. Most people were uncomfortable with it. And if they had a problem, well, the customer support wasn’t really all that helpful.

That’s when it clicked for me. Parents weren’t interested in helping more because it was too much hassle.

Think about it: If it took you a really long time and caused you a bunch of stress to work on one page for the yearbook, why would you sign up to be responsible for the whole book? You’d have to be a glutton for punishment.

So, we looked for a new company. And during that process, I learned a few lessons about what a group of PTA volunteers should look for in their yearbook company. Here are the big takeaways:

The yearbook editing tools need to be incredibly easy to use.

  • Parents and students should be able to pay for yearbooks online.
  • Anyone should be able to contribute photos.
  • Customer support should be really, really good.

For us, TreeRing fit the bill best. They hit all four of our key criteria, they’re free to use and they plant a tree for every yearbook sold. Plus every student can customize two pages in their yearbook.

We love everything they had to offer, but, most of all, we love how easy it is to use.

And that’s important. Because this year is my last year at Elk Creek Elementary School and I’m going to need someone to take my place. Given how easy TreeRing has been to use, it’ll be easier than ever to find someone to take over our school’s awesome tradition when my son heads to middle school.


Jenny Hancey is a member of the Elk Creek PTA in Pine, Colorado. She runs the Elk Creek Elementary School yearbook with volunteer help from other PTA parents.

 

What You Didn’t Know About Army Careers

High school students today face a myriad of options when choosing career paths. Limitless opportunities motivate young people to dream big! The U.S. Army offers a variety of professional tracks for these students with big dreams.

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Yet, the career opportunities available through the Army remain a mystery to many students, parents and educators. My job is to solve that mystery.

Did you know that students can pursue health care, culinary and broadcast journalism careers through the Army? In fact, there are over 200 diverse careers to choose from, and the majority of Army careers are not combat-related—for every soldier serving in a combat specialty, there may be two to three others who serve in support roles.

During the enlistment process, recruits select a guaranteed career based on their inherent skills, attributes and interests, often through utilizing the ASVAB Career Exploration Program, which makes the Army a unique professional pathway and sets students up for long-term success.

These tailor-made careers—or Military Occupational Specialty (MOS)—enable soldiers to serve their country without putting their careers on hold. The Army also offers tuition assistance and scholarships to help soldiers pay for ongoing education. While competitive, Army scholarships also allow soldiers to focus on academics rather than stress about how they will finance their education.

Want to see for yourself how the Army helps soldiers succeed professionally? Check out our video series, where five soldiers give a glimpse into the variety of careers available through Army service and what it’s like to walk in their shoes for a day.

Physical TherapyAs represented in the videos, the education and training soldiers receive within their specific specialties provide them with clear paths to professional achievement.

For example, since age 16, Lt. Col. Norman Ayotte wanted to be a physical therapist, and the Army provided him with the experience and financial means to reach above and beyond his original goal. He has earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree in physical therapy, and is now the Chief of Rehabilitation Services at Fort Knox in Kentucky.

The skills these soldiers have developed within their chosen specialties will translate well to civilian careers, as they receive the experience they need to become leaders in the Army and civilian world.

To learn more about U.S. Army careers, visit GoArmy.com/Careers. I also invite you to check out the U.S. Army’s Career Navigator, a mobile app that helps you explore Army career paths.


 

Kelley Mustion is the Education Manager for the U.S. Army Marketing and Research Group (AMRG). In her role, she oversees the Army’s education and outreach initiatives and works to ensure students understand all of their post-secondary options and opportunities.

How to Help Kids Be More Active Every Day

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This blog post was published in Healthier Generation’s blog.

As #Commit2Ten brings national attention to the critical role physical activity plays in preventing childhood obesity, I would like to keep the conversation going with some other benefits – mainly academics. Studies show that kids who get the recommended amount of daily physical activity also do better in school. Healthy kids have higher attendance rates, get better grades and behave better in class. That’s why we are challenging the nation to start moving today to support the active lifestyles our kids need to live healthy lives tomorrow.

One of the best places to teach good physical activity habits is at home, and parents can set a great example for the whole family. So, what can families do to increase the amount of physical activity they get each day?

5 Steps to Create an Active Home   

1. Make exercise a family routine.

  • Walk or bike to school together.
  • Take a family walk around the block each night after dinner.
  • Play upbeat music and dance your way through family chores.

2.   Play together. Instead of going to a movie or restaurant for your next family outing, plan something active.

  • Discover free and low-cost physical activity options near your home (parks, bike paths, hiking trails, tennis courts or community swimming pools).
  • Spend an afternoon at the local playground.
  • Play a round of miniature golf together.

3.    Set family fitness goals.

  • Post goals on the refrigerator along with a way to track everyone’s progress. Cheer each other on as goals are achieved!
  • Train together for a charity walk or run.
  • Get pedometers and have a contest to see who takes the most steps in a given week.

4.    Exchange “screen time” for active time.

  • Limit recreational screen time including computer, tablets, video games, and TV, to two hours or less per day.
  • Encourage your kids to sign up to participate in some form of physical activity. Everyone can find something they enjoy.
  • Support your child by making a commitment to attending practices and showing up for games or performances.

5.   Break it up. You don’t have to get all of your physical activity in at once.

10 Steps for Your PTA to Increase Physical Activity

PTAs and other parent groups also have an important role to play in ensuring kids have access to quality physical education and opportunities for daily physical activity during the school day.

This school year I encourage your PTA to:

  1. Advocate for quality physical education that meets national guidelines and state standards.
  2. Encourage participation in the Presidential Youth Fitness Program.
  3. Join your school wellness committee.
  4. Raise funds for new athletic or playground equipment that promotes physical activity.
  5. Organize a “clean up our playground” event.
  6. Form walking or running clubs for students and families.
  7. Host Fire Up Your Feet, turkey trots, walkathons or other fun runs that raise money for schools.
  8. Create a walking school bus or bike train—groups of students who walk or bike to school together – with parents rotating supervision duties.
  9. Organize a Safe Routes to School program to create a safer environment for children to walk and bike to and from school.
  10. Participate in Walk to School Day (October) and Bike to School Day (May).

Bonus: Download the #Commit2Ten Toolkit for ideas to get more active today as well as sustain that activity throughout the year.

Remember: Exercise is most effective and more fun when it’s done as a group. You’ll promote your child’s health and learning, and feel better too!


Laura Bay is the president of National PTA, an educator from Poulsbo, Wash. and mother of three adult children.

Getting it Right

shutterstock_11033293All states have renewed their efforts to give every child a quality education by evaluating, and in many cases, overhauling their state education standards. Many states have adopted College and Career Readiness Standards, some have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), some have opted for a hybrid of the CCSS and others have created their own entirely. Whichever standards your state uses, the goal is the same: to ensure that every child graduates high school ready for college or career. National PTA has resources for all states to help parents learn more about the standards.

New standards cannot stand alone. Each state must implement a robust action plan to ensure that the standards can be successful. National PTA, in partnership with the Learning First Alliance, has outlined five key areas where states—in partnership with schools, teachers and parents—should focus efforts in order to make their new standards successful.

  • Alignment of standards, curriculum and assessments—Once states and local communities institute standards that establish the knowledge and skills they believe students must learn, they must put in place curriculum and instructional programs that provide students with opportunities to learn the agreed-upon knowledge and skills.
  • Adequate professional development for teachers and principals—Teachers, principals and schools must have adequate time to understand and implement the standards. Teachers must have access to high-quality training and resources that enable them to successfully develop plans to teach the standards and adequate time with their peers to collaborate, brainstorm and learn best practices.
  • Sufficient resources and support for each child to meet high standards—When done right, standards set the goals and proper assessments (formative and summative) identify gaps in achievement. During the transition to College and Career Ready Standards, assessments play a vital role in helping schools and parents pay particular attention so students do not fall behind. States should plan to provide supports to assist teachers and students, especially those who struggle more to close the gap.
  • Ongoing communication about the importance of standards and accountability—This is the best area for PTA to lead in your state. PTA can facilitate communication between state leaders, district leaders, school personnel, teachers and parents. National PTA has created a wealth of resources to help parents understand the new standards and assessments. The Learning First Alliance has launched a new program that highlights best practices across the country that any leader can use. Utilize allies in your state including education coalitions and groups, the business community, teachers unions, etc. to provide a strong message of support for higher standards and the commitment needed to effectively implement, assess and hold students and teachers accountable for achievement.
  • Balanced and comprehensive accountability systems—New standards require new tests, and new tests require time to adjust accountability. States should encourage state leaders to delay high stakes accountability measures for students, teachers, districts and schools until implementation is successful and the new tests have been evaluated.

PTAs are encouraged to review the 5 Pillars of Successful Implementation and work with education partners at the district, region and state to Get it Right!


Lee Ann Kendrick is the Regional Advocacy Specialist for National PTA.

The Arts Leading the Way to Student Success

Action-Agenda-CoverIt’s official: school is back in session! Bright yellow school buses are once again roaming the streets, teachers have made the final touches to lesson plans and backpack-laden kids are making their way to new schools, new teachers and new friends.

­­­As parents, much is likely on your mind. What should I pack for healthy lunches that my child will actually eat? How can I build a good relationship with the teachers? And, perhaps, most importantly, how can I do ensure that my child has the best possible education this year and every year?

But have you considered whether or not your child’s school is providing a complete and competitive education that include the arts? Decades of research collected by the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) have shown that the arts are an essential component for providing all children the foundation to succeed in school, work and life.

With that in mind, Congress has set aside a time each year to consider and celebrate the role of the arts in our schools and communities by establishing this week as National Arts in Education Week. To assist parents, teachers, school leaders and policymakers in exploring the role of the arts in education, AEP recently released The Arts Leading the Way to Student Success: A 2020 Action Agenda for Advancing the Arts in Education.

This Action Agenda outlines a set of goals and strategies by which the arts can be employed as AEP’s 100+ partner organizations collectively respond to and inform four high priority areas of action needed to effectively address educational inequities, and level the playing field for academic achievement and student success. These four areas are:

  • To raise student achievement and success through the adoption and implementation of higher learning standards and effective accountability systems
  • To support effective educators and school leaders through improved preparation, support, and evaluation systems
  • To transform the teaching and learning environment through student-centered strategies for using time, resources, and technology in new and innovative ways
  • To build leadership capacity and knowledge by providing all arts and education leaders with the knowledge and resources necessary to engage the arts as an essential component of a complete and competitive education for all students

Join AEP as we work to achieve the Action Agenda’s aspirational goal that, by the year 2020, every young person in America, at every grade level, from pre-kindergarten through grade 12, will have equitable access to high quality arts learning opportunities, both during the school day and in out-of-school time.


SJ-Web-Pic-rsz1Scott D. Jones is the senior associate for research and policy at the Arts Education Partnership.

Encourage Creativity: Teach the Arts

As parents and members of the PTA, our role is to advocate for the best educational experience possible for our kids and I firmly believe that the best education possible includes the arts. Painting, dancing, acting and singing provide our children with numerous benefits.

For instance, did you know students involved in the arts have a dropout rate five times lower than their peers?

Did you know that 72% of business leaders say that creativity is the number one skill they’re looking for when hiring?

So what can we do to encourage creativity in our schools? As the arts education program manager at Americans for the Arts, I oversee the creation of tools and resources to help parents understand the benefits of arts education and to then, in turn, convey that importance to our principals, school board members and elected officials.

This year, Americans for the Arts launched a suite of tools called “Encourage Creativity: Teach the Arts.” The site includes four distinct videos that show the important role of the arts in every child’s education. The videos are inspirational, visually stunning and emotionally and intellectually compelling.

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Encourage Creativity Image by Scott Cronan Photography

And since this week (September 13 – 19) is National Arts in Education Week, there’s no time like the present to get started with using the Encourage Creativity suite! This year marks the 5th anniversary of National Arts in Education Week—a national celebration recognizing the importance of dance, media arts, music, theater and visual arts to a well-rounded education. Through House Resolution 275, the week of the second Sunday in September is designated to bring attention of this cause to our educational decision makers.

ArtsEdWeek

You can download and use this logo for free at: NationalArtsInEducationWeek.org

Not sure how to join in the celebration of National Arts in Education Week? Here are three easy ideas:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the tools. We’ve built an entire suite of tools to help you celebrate National Arts in Education Week and Encourage Creativity in your school communities. Parents can use all of our tools in tandem—you could prepare talking points via our Facts & Figures e-book and then inspire your school leaders with one of the videos.
  2. Host an event or make a presentation. Local events are a great way to bring attention to the cause of arts education. You could host a performance, exhibit or open house. Or you could prepare a presentation for a town hall, PTA meeting or school board meeting. We’ve got step-by-step instructions on how to use the Encourage Creativity tools for any of these scenarios.
  3. Join the conversation. You can see what other parents and educators are doing to Encourage Creativity in their schools by following the #ArtsEdWeek hashtag all week long: September 13 – 19. You can add your story to the conversation using the following hashtags: Share a picture of student artwork or a performance and tag it with #EncourageCreativity. Or tell a story about an arts educator who has made a difference in your school community and tag it with #TeachTheArts.

Get creative! Watch the videos, share your stories and join in this celebration of National Arts in Education Week. Help spread the idea that the best way to encourage creativity in our schools is to teach the arts!

Encourage Creativity Image by Scott Cronan Photography

Encourage Creativity Image by Scott Cronan Photography


Kristen Engebretsen is the arts education program manager for Americans for the Arts. She also is a member of the Takoma Park Elementary PTA in Maryland.

Keeping Families Together

This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post. Read the original post here.

shutterstock_140108563One of National PTA’s founding principles is to advocate for children and families who are most vulnerable. In the heated debate about immigration, we raise our voice for the estimated 4 million K-12 students in the United States who have at least one parent with the potential of being deported. (Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends)

If these parents and family members are suddenly uprooted from their children’s lives and deported, it will have a significant negative impact on their children’s education and opportunities. Their children will face not only the emotional loss of their primary support, but also the benefits of having families engaged in their education and other aspects of their lives, which result in a greater likelihood of graduating from high school, attending college and being employed.

It is not hard to put ourselves into the shoes of these families and to imagine the horrors that are being talked about so cavalierly. I know if I were to be snatched away by authorities, the trajectory of my 10 and 12 year-old would be forever changed. And if they lived under that threat every day, the emotional stress would adversely impact every aspect of their lives, including their potential for academic success. Yet, this is a reality for millions of children every day.

The threat to families is not just in the evolving rhetoric. In 2013, the federal government deported more than 72,000 mothers and fathers of children who are U.S. citizens, resulting in thousands of shattered families.

Actress Diane Guerrero of “Orange Is the New Black” was one such child and she wrote about how that deportation impacted her life. At 14, she came home from school to find that both of her parents had been deported. With few options, she was fortunate enough to be taken in by friends. However, her parents missed many of her academic and personal accomplishments during her childhood and were not there to provide valuable support. While Guerrero has succeeded despite this distressing experience, many children are less fortunate.

Deportation of parents can lead to greater expense as some children may need to enter the under-resourced foster care system. The trauma may cause some children to understandably lash out with negative behavior in school or possibly end up in the juvenile justice system without the support of their parents. These types of cruel deportations led one New Mexico judge to state, “For 10 years now, I’ve been presiding over a process that destroys families every day and several times each day.”

If students are more likely to do better in school and life when they have involved families, and the documented benefits of our nation’s immigrants far exceed the costs of their presence and participation, then policymakers should provide solutions that benefit our nation’s diverse and talented youth and their families, not harm them.

At National PTA, our motto is “Every Child, One Voice.” When you know our families as I do, you know that many of their children are on their way to be doctors, teachers, social workers, entrepreneurs and other valued members of our society. We raise our voice for the children of immigrants–let’s give them the best opportunity to succeed by keeping their families together and providing them with the best education possible. Their future and our nation’s future depend on it.


 

Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students.

We at National PTA believe that all children residing in the United States, regardless of their citizenship status, have the right of access to a quality public education, adequate food and shelter and basic health care services. Our association strongly considers that a critical part of a quality public education is to provide the same opportunities to all families to be involved in their child’s education, despite their differences.

Ways to Get Involved Beyond Back-to-School Night

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This article was featured in the PBS Parents blog. Read the original article here.

Back-to-school night is still one of my favorite times of the year. This is the night parents and teachers have all been waiting for — crowded hallways, filled classrooms, smiling faces, welcome banners and ice breakers — the perfect mix of anticipation and excitement.

As a mother, it was an opportunity for me to meet my children’s teachers and find out what was in store for the school year.

And as a former teacher, back-to-school night helped me foster relationships with my students’ parents by understanding their needs and concerns. In both roles, it was an exciting start to a year of planning and a whole lot of learning.

But how do you stay connected and keep this enthusiasm and momentum going throughout the year?

Research shows children whose parents advocate for them are more confident and achieve more at school. There is nothing more exciting than to know you’re involved with your child’s school and education.

The challenge for many parents is figuring out what they can do. I have heard the hearts of many parents who ask, “How can I be involved in my child’s school and learning when I work a full-time job and keep a busy schedule to support my family?”

While every parent’s involvement is different, being engaged in your child’s learning is an essential foundation to their success.

Here are ways to get involved beyond back-to-school night at school and home:

Join the PTA
Get involved with your local parent teacher association. Even if you are an on-the-go mom or dad, you will find support from other parents in PTA. You will be part of a dedicated network of families, educators, businesses and community leaders who care and want to provide a high-quality education for all children. That means, even if you aren’t able to be at every meeting, you know there are a group of parents who are invested in the success of every child at your school — including yours.

Connect with your child
Listen to your kids. According to the Harvard Family Research Project, respectful two-way communication is important in achieving meaningful home-school dialogue. Let them express their concerns about their day or a homework assignment. Learn about their strengths and weaknesses and what activities they like and don’t like. Talk to your child while riding in the car or playing outside. Two-way communication is essential to developing an active and positive relationship. Then if any issues come up at school, your child will feel more comfortable talking to you about it.

Volunteer and be present at school
Be a chaperone at your child’s next field trip. Help out with the school band or events like prom, bake sales or family reading nights. Volunteer to speak on Career Day. Talk to your child’s teacher about opportunities to help in the classroom or for school events. You don’t have to do it all — do what you can. When your child — and their teacher — see you volunteering your time, they know you care.

Get engaged online
If you’re not engaged online — think about it as a way to stay in the loop. In a recent Pew study, more than 70% of parents already have an active social media presence and are active on the Internet. Try to participate in #PTchats (parent teacher chats on Twitter) or post your child’s academic work and photos from a successful school event or activity. You can also attend online webinars and read parent blogs to stay abreast of school, parenting and student issues.

Find helpful learning resources
National PTA’s most popular parent resources on our website are the Parents’ Guides to Student Success, which provide a roadmap to what students should be learning in math and English language from grades K-8. Our parents also love our fun reading activities from the National PTA Family Reading Experience, Powered by Kindle, which reinforces core literacy skills.

Think of an after-school strategy
Most parents are not able to pick up their child from school or meet them at home when they get off the school bus. Your child’s school may offer an after-school enrichment program — or ask your PTA network about a community program — which can be a safe haven when your child’s school day is over.

I hope these tips and resources will help you be involved in your child’s school year from back-to-school night through the last day of school. Remember, what you do as a parent truly makes a difference in your child’s success. Have an awesome school year!


Laura Bay president of National PTA.

Lysol’s Healthy Habits Contest Helps Teachers Provide Materials for Their Classrooms

Lysol 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.

Fifty Winners to Receive Gift Cards for Classroom Supplies

Nearly 22 million school days are missed each year due to illness. Every day a child is absent, he or she misses out on valuable educational programs. Because students are in close contact all day and use the same school supplies, door handles, desks and tables, schools can contribute to the spread of illness. The good news? Teaching hand hygiene and healthy habits in schools has been shown to reduce student absenteeism and illnesses in families.

This year, Lysol wants to see how your child’s teacher helps keep their students happy and healthy all year long by incorporating healthy habits into the classroom, with the overall goal of reducing the number of sick days. We’re excited to announce the kick-off of our annual Healthy Habits Contest, which gives teachers the chance to win gift cards for classroom materials and supplies that we know many often provide out of their own pockets.

Enter: Entering is easy! Encourage your child’s teacher to submit a short video (60 seconds or less) sharing how they incorporate Healthy Habits into their classroom. Whether it is showing us how they celebrate Healthy Habits Week (the third week of every September) or enforce hand washing before lunch and after recess, we encourage teachers to be creative and have fun with their submissions! To learn more and participate, visit Lysol.com/healthyhabits. Entries will be accepted between August 4 and October 16.

Vote to Win: Eligible entries will be public on the Lysol website, where viewers can vote for their favorites. Once your child’s teacher submits the video, encourage them to share the link on their social media channels in order to get more “Likes.” Get other parents from your child’s classroom excited in helping your teacher win and encourage them to do the same!

Prizes: The 50 videos with the most “Likes” will win a gift card for their classroom, ranging in value from $200 to $500, as well as Lysol products to use throughout the year.

For more info on the Healthy Habits Contest, please visit: Lysol.com/healthyhabits.


Conor O’Brien is the marketing director at Lysol. He drives Lysol’s Mission for Health campaign, a program focused on educating communities across the country on the importance of healthy habits and good hygiene practices.