New School Year. New Smart Phone. New Ground Rules.


Co-authored by Hilary Schneider, President of LifeLock, Inc.

The start of a new school year comes with new people to meet, new material to learn, new rules to follow and for some kids, new responsibilities like taking care of their first phone or device and diving into a whole new social world online.

Today, kids are getting phones at seemingly younger and younger ages. A new survey commissioned by LifeLock revealed that 30 percent of 9-year-olds have a phone.

Just as we want to ensure children start the new year strong and stay on track to success, we want the same for their participation in the online world. As expectations and goals are set for children for the school year, it is important to also set rules for their use of digital devices and teach them how to be good digital citizens.

In our day jobs at National PTA and LifeLock, we talk a lot about finding a balance between the opportunity to build friendships, learn and have fun using technology and the need to stay safe and develop healthy lifestyles — online and off. But it’s one thing to talk about digital safety and another thing entirely to live it. As parents, we get it. And as business leaders, we think we can help.

National PTA and LifeLock have launched a new, free digital tool called The Smart Talk to help families set ground rules around technology. Our goal is to bring families together to have productive conversations about online behavior, using the latest thinking from best-in-class experts.

The Smart Talk provides an interactive experience that guides kids and parents through a series of questions and conversations about topics such as safety and privacy, screen time, social media, reputation and respect. After agreeing on healthy limits together, a personalized, official family agreement can be stored on the computer or printed and posted at home. We call it “fridge-worthy.”

The survey commissioned by LifeLock also showed that while 79 percent of today’s families have technology agreements with their children, only 6 percent of those are written. The Smart Talk can not only help families formalize rules, but also identify check-in points down the road to update those rules.

It’s a chance to start and build good digital habits, like not bringing the phone to the dinner table or turning off the computer well before bedtime. And for those kids who might get a phone this year, it’s a chance to learn and grow together with their parents.

For more on managing your child’s use of technology or to develop a family technology agreement, visit and “like” #TheSmartTalk on Facebook.

Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students. Hilary Schneider is president of LifeLock, Inc. and was previously an executive vice president at Yahoo!. National PTA and LifeLock have collaborated to raise awareness and increase understanding of smart and effective practices families can use to foster good digital habits among kids and teens.

Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline


This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a speech on the need to invest in education instead of prisons to ensure that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. National PTA has a long history of advocating for policies to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. If we provide the right investment and resources for our nation’s children, their families and schools—rather than jails—we will see better outcomes for our communities, society and the nation’s economy overall. We must stem this tide of the school-to-prison pipeline by making sure adults and schools are using disciplinary policies and practices that keep students in schools and out of the justice system. We must promote programs that encourage the use of evidence-based disciplinary practices, such as positive behavioral interventions, over zero-tolerance policies and out-of-school suspension practices. Further, we must promote effective family-focused, community-based solutions for our most troubled youth. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes plain economic sense. Let’s make a promise to trade the unsound prison investment for better schools and better communities for our children.

Take our teachers, for example. As research shows, access to high-quality teachers and educational opportunities leads to greater lifetime earnings and better health outcomes. According to the Department of Education, states and localities spend a total of $72 billion annually on correctional facilities while only $27 billion on teachers that work in high-poverty schools. Imagine the impact if we chose a different path and instead invested in a child’s future by ensuring they had a high-quality teacher.

Since 2010, cuts to education funding have approached an embarrassing and shameful $4 billion. There appears to be a severe misalignment of funding priorities when K-12 enrollment at public schools increases annually, but federal discretionary funding for education programs continues to decrease. Earlier this week was the close of fiscal year 2015 and the federal government barely beat the deadline to fund the government for 2016. Unfortunately, we find that the current congressional debate is not on how much we should invest in education, but how much to cut education.

We urgently call on our policy leaders to strategically invest to break the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure that each and every child reaches their potential. Secretary Duncan’s call for a shift in funding from prisons to our children’s education is exactly the realignment that our education system needs to provide students with the opportunity to succeed in school and beyond.

Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA

Small, but Mighty Voice for PTA


(Left to right): Ramstad PTA Officers: President Nancy Tschetter, Treasurer Traci Barker, Secretary Jen Schultz

In towns across America, PTA volunteers are working tirelessly to support their community’s students, faculty and families. National PTA’s Kris Carey Prevatte shares this story of how one small, but mighty PTA in North Dakota—with a highly transient military population—has cracked the code on managing an online fundraiser so their PTA gets the resources they need to do great things.

Nany Tschetter, Traci Barker and Jen Schultz could be mistaken for sisters. They look alike, they have the same cheerful “let’s do this!” demeanor, and they often finish each other’s sentences. Together, they run the Erik Ramstad Middle School PTA.

Though their PTA has more than 100 paid members, a combination of factors have contributed to a common reality facing local PTA leaders—a few must do the work of many.

Still, Ramstad PTA has a reputation for providing excellent and consistent support through its work in serving meals for the entire faculty, running open houses, hosting an annual 8th grade dance, funding grants to teachers, sponsoring after school clubs and Junior Achievement, an annual PTA Founder’s Day luncheon and more.

Like many PTAs, Ramstad has prioritized helping those in need. The PTA officers and the school administration have worked out a discreet way to eliminate barriers.

“If a kid wants to play soccer but can’t afford cleats, we quietly can fill that need,” says Nancy. “We have the blessing of our membership to do this within a certain threshold, and [the members] know that they won’t ever get details on who got what.”

It takes a lot of funds to provide these programs, which means fundraising is critical to help where help is needed. During a recent interview by phone, I asked Nancy, Traci and Jen about their PTA’s fundraising committee and if they could connect me with their fundraising chair. For a moment, there was silence on the line; then gales of laughter.

Nancy caught her breath first and said, “We don’t have committees. We are the committee!” They explained that the three of them meet monthly and stay connected through group texts.

“When something for the PTA comes up, we text each other and figure out which of us can handle it,” said Traci. “With the bigger projects, we try to evenly divide the work.

To keep things simple, the trio is extremely selective about the fundraisers they launch. For the past several years, their top performing fundraiser has been through Schwan’s Cares.

“The first year we did the online fundraiser with Schwan’s, my daughter happened to be president of the student council,” said Nancy. She rallied the other kids to get their parents involved and also got a social media campaign going among her classmates promoting the fundraiser. Having a student-to-student promotional element gave it extra oomph.”

Traci noted, “We have a lot of military families and this kind of online campaign works well because we frequently see kids coming and going within a single school year. So families were comfortable ordering the products knowing they could have them delivered wherever they were going to be. Also, their extended family members and friends spread out across the country could order from Schwan’s and all be contributing to Ramstad’s fundraiser.”

Jen added, “Another thing that’s awesome about the [Schwan’s] fundraiser is that you don’t need to go door to door. You can pull up the fundraising order page from your phone and order easily from anywhere. We love it.”

After doing the same fundraiser for a few years, the group has some tips for running a Schwan’s Cares online fundraiser:

  • Timing matters. “Don’t start this campaign during back to school time!” cautioned Jen. “Between school clothes, supplies and writing all those checks for this fee and that fee, parents are out of money—and they’re emotionally spent, too.” The group favors a pre-holiday November start. “People can load up on great foods to have in the freezer for the holiday hosting season,” added Traci.
  • Incentives can improve results. The first year, the PTA dangled fancy incentives, such as gift cards and speakers as a motivator for families to hit big fundraising goals. The PTA sent home printed information about the fundraiser and the incentives, after piggybacking off a school event to get people excited about how the funds raised would be used in the school. The second year, the PTA didn’t offer incentives and their revenue dropped.
  • School support makes a world of difference. “Our principal Ione Sautner and our librarian Carla Luehe are amazing!” Nancy said. “Carla, for example, carved out time with the students at the start of our campaign to show them the fundraising page on the website and how to navigate the site. We believe it made a huge difference in the participation rate because the students could show their parents at home.” Ione has empowered the PTA to do a few “robo calls” during the school year, and the PTA always does a call to all parents (not just PTA members) at the start of their Schwan’s Cares campaign.”
  • The annuity period is crucial. With this fundraiser, there is an active campaign and then an annuity period where you still earn a percent of all the sales from customers related to your campaign. “If your initial campaign isn’t as successful as you wanted, don’t be too alarmed,” said Nancy. “We raised just as much money during the annuity period and that has been huge for us. Repeat business is what made this fundraiser so successful.”
  • Consider using one main campaign page. “We have done it where each student’s family had their individual fundraising pages,” said Nancy. “It was easier on everyone to do the one main page. The individual ask is done in a call or email and then you have the link, so you can personalize the ask.”

For more info about fundraising opportunities and discounts available to schools and PTA members through Schwan’s Home Service, visit


Kris Carey Prevatte is the associate director of corporate alliances for National PTA and a former local PTA president in Maryland.

About Schwan’s Cares, an official National PTA Member Benefit Provider

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

Since 1952, Schwan’s Home Delivery has helped families share delicious, home-style meals. Schwan’s Home Delivery offers home delivery of over 350 foods—all made with premium ingredients and requiring simple prep. With Schwan’s Cares, your PTA supporters enjoy all of Schwan’s delicious foods, and your organization earns up to 40% back on every purchase during your 45-day fundraising campaign, and 5% back for the next 90 days. Schwan’s Cares is hands-free: you manage your fundraiser entirely online, your supporters order online or by phone, and Schwan’s Home Delivery will deliver directly to each supporter’s door. You’ll never need to deliver food or collect money. Start your campaign today by visiting

Reinventing a Classic: Marbled Tres Leches Cake


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During Hispanic Heritage Month—Sept. 15 to Oct. 15—National PTA celebrates the Hispanic child as part of its Every Child in Focus campaign. Here’s a classic dessert favorite from Latin America that you can bake at home. Enjoy!

It would seem that each and every single Latin American country claims the tres leches cake as its own. Not only does everyone absolutely love it, it is also deeply ingrained in that nation’s gastronomy and culture.

Tres leches is a classic; but a classic from where?

Ask an Argentinean: From Argentina, of course. Ask a Cuban: Sin duda from Cuba. Ask an Ecuadorian: Claro que from Ecuador. A Venezuelan? Por supuesto que es de Venezuela. Ask a Mexican: Of course, sin duda, claro que por supuesto que es Mexicano. No doubt, it is Mexican. ¡Si señor!

The traditional way to make it is to make a sturdy sponge cake and bathe it in a tres leches sauce. However, the cake lends itself to be played with, and as the decades have gone by, many variations have appeared in attempts to dress up and reinvent this classic.

The three milks in the sauce are the fresh tasting regular milk, the lightly savory evaporated milk and the charmingly sweet La Lechera sweetened condensed milk.


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They also are made with cajeta or dulce de leche, different kinds of nuts, coconut, spiked with rum, exotic fruits and coffee—just to name a few. The cake basic, it is easy and it can be easily transformed.

At home, we absolutely adore chocolate. And, since my boys have a hard time making up their minds as to when to make the tres leches cake vanilla and when to make it chocolate, one day I decided to go marble. That was it. Now we rarely go back.

In my marbled version, the vanilla cake has fudgy chocolate swirls that go wild when soaked in the tres leches sauce. I garnish with copious amounts of grated Mexican chocolate all over the top and a sprinkle of ground canela.

If you want to make it even more decadent, grab a squeeze bottle from La Lechera of dulce de leche and drizzle liberally over the top.

The tres leches cake can be made ahead of time, as it gets better and better as it soaks and chills bathed in the sauce. It is also perfect to bring along to your next gathering or party.

Pati Jinich was born and raised in Mexico. She’s now a successful cookbook author, TV chef and mother of three boys. To help National PTA celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Pati shares an amazing recipe that combines culture, history and family.