The Value of a PTA Volunteer

This blog was originally posted on The Voice of NYS PTA.

I recently attended the Fall Luncheon in the Westchester-East Putnam Region and had the good fortune to hear the keynote speech delivered by Alisa Kesten, Executive Director of Volunteer New York. The mission of the organization is to inspire, mobilize and equip individuals and groups to take positive action to address pressing challenges, support nonprofits and strengthen the quality of life in the community.

Alisa specifically wanted to impress upon those present, the value of serving as a volunteer in the PTA. I would like to share an excerpt of her remarks:

I conducted a very unscientific Facebook poll hoping to illustrate the personal and professional growth each of you can and should expect as a direct result of your volunteer service for your PTA.

I asked my Facebook friends to give a one word answer to this question: Did you ever belong to a PTA? Then I sat back to see who said yes, because I know my friends. I know how active they are at work and in the community. I know their skills, and I suspected that there would be a strong correlation between those who are or had been deeply involved in PTA and their subsequent achievement. I wanted to illustrate how every friend who answered YES had developed a variety of skills – project management, communications, advocacy, financial management, event planning, negotiating, fundraising and more – all honed as PTA volunteers which so many of us have used those skills for positive achievement.

A few of the responses included the following:

  • Some were always attorneys but now have a different specialty as a result of their involvement in schools.
  • Some had been elected to PTA leadership positions. Now many have been elected to school boards, county legislatures, and I know that Congresswoman Nita Lowey always references her PTA roots in giving her the foundation to run for Congress.
  • Many gained confidence in speaking out at public budget hearings or in leading meetings. Now they are at the forefront of issues they care about, with well-practiced communications skills.
  • There was a group who had left the workforce to raise children. But they always volunteered for PTA. Now they are restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and small business owners whose clients or vendors may have first learned of their talent and character by serving side by side on a PTA committee.
  • So many are now Executive Directors of nonprofits, like me, or program directors or finance directors at nonprofits and foundations. We’ve taken so many hands-on experiences of leadership from PTA along with us every step of the way.
  • PTA members – former and current – are in large corporations and very comfortable in navigating deadlines, personalities, budgets and more because we navigated deadlines, personalities, budgets and more through PTA.
  • And a ton of us continue to volunteer and give back to nonprofits whose missions matter to us and the community.

So thank you for the time you give, the meetings you run, the funds you raise, the events you plan, the letters you write, the e-newsletters you create, the actions you take – but know that you are building a toolbox of experiences that you WILL take with you. Those experiences can help open doors, climb ladders, and be successful in whatever way you choose to define success.

Alisa’s comments are timely as there has been quite a bit of chatter with regard to a recent Facebook post by Lean In. Their post declared that by listing as a credential “member of PTA” on one’s resume, a woman was 79% less likely to be hired. This shocking statement should surely compel us to immediately amend our resumes and make the appropriate changes on our LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter sites.

Wait! Not so fast! The Lean In post was based on an article written in 2007 based on questionable research from 2001. If in fact someone with an agenda commissioned a survey 15 years ago to accomplish some unknown purpose, it probably wasn’t accurate then and certainly isn’t relevant today.

In fact, the actual opinions of the real people follow Lean In’s bold statement. Scroll down and the truth is embedded in the comments. The life experiences reflected by the comment section paint a different picture! PTA provides the opportunity to hone and widen the scope of one’s skills by working alongside men and women from all walks of life representing nearly every profession. The transferable skills an individual develops as a PTA member working for child advocacy are enumerated and extolled within the vast majority of comments made on Lean In’s Facebook post.

Take heart! PTA is well worth your time. Be proud! Hiring managers can use people that have strong skills and won’t be put off because you care about your family. Employers that would turn away a qualified candidate because they also possess strong family values are not the norm.

Remember not to let the words of uninformed individuals with an unknown agenda minimize in any way the great work and experience gained by being a member of PTA – your efforts ensure a better future for our greatest resource – OUR CHILDREN. Because of the hard work and advocacy efforts of PTA volunteers and members, there are seat belts on school buses, kindergarten in public schools, a federal school lunch program, strengthened child labor laws, and a ban on corporal punishment. These are just a few of the many accomplishments.

Gracemarie Rozea is the president of New York State PTA. 

The Latest Tech Gadget Requires a Safety Talk with Your Kids

A LifeLock security expert and dad discusses why a conversation about tech safety with your kids is a must when gifting them the latest tech gadgets. He offers The Smart Talk as a fun, free, online tool to help facilitate the conversation.  

The holidays are here and most of us are busy looking for gifts. In fact 42 percent of parents with children under 18 plan to give their child a smart device as a holiday gift this year, according to a survey by Harris Poll conducted on behalf of LifeLock. Maybe it’s finally time for a smartphone or to purchase a new family computer or some other kind of connected device. There are a lot of things to choose from, and these days more and more of them involve having your kids online.

As you gift your child such a device, consider having a conversation about security with them. It’s important to your child’s safety, and while it may sound like a chore, it doesn’t have to be. The Smart Talk is a free, online tool to that’s here to help you facilitate a conversation.

The Smart Talk covers a range of topics, including:

Safety

Whether it’s texting with friends (or strangers), engaging in a video game chat room, or uploading pictures to servers halfway around the word, online safety should always be top of mind. It’s critical for your children to understand that it can be very hard to tell the difference between good people and bad. In fact, anyone can pretend to be anything on the Internet.

Kids need to realize that online “friends” that they’ve never met are still strangers—strangers that may want to know more about their personal lives and habits. Predators may pretend to be a kid, and ask your child for photos of themselves. Kids should be in the habit of treating online “friends” the same as they would a stranger walking up to them on the street, for the same reasons.

Privacy

Your kid is in her room, the door is closed, everyone else in the house is asleep. She shares personal thoughts on social media or she’s texting with friends, possibly sharing pictures. It feels private to them. The harsh reality is that what they are sharing is anything but private. Once something is available on the Internet, it’s pretty much staying there. As the saying goes, “the Internet never forgets”.

Maybe your kid wants to share a silly “selfie” with someone who promises to delete it. The supposed friend doesn’t delete it. In fact, they share it. Maybe someone gets ahold of your child’s smartphone (or her friend’s) while it’s unlocked, and starts going through the photos.

Help your kids understand the privacy isn’t something you can count on when sharing data online.

Bullying

Online bullying through social media is a constant problem. It’s important to help your kids understand that it’s not okay to fully or be bullied. By having those conversations with your kids, they’ll feel more comfortable telling you about when something comes up. This includes videogame chats, where your child may be exposed to all kinds of angry taunts and verbal abuse. If this is seen as “the norm,” it can be tempting for your child to join in or start their own attack later.

Another topic that goes beyond the trend of holiday gift giving, but that relates to connected devices your kids use is the Internet of Things.

More and more household devices and toys can connect to the internet. Toys want to download content from the internet—stories, new game modules, sounds, pictures. They also want to collect your kid’s name, maybe have your child take a picture of themselves with a built-in camera and display it as part of their online account. Some kids’ toys even have built-in Web browsers. They claim to have “child-safe filtering”, but earlier this month a security researcher demonstrated how to bypass the filtering on one toy tablet to access adult material. Frankly, it’s a mess.

Think twice about giving your child a toy that wants to go online. If you decide it’s worth it, spend time with your kids while they play with the toys and be alert for anything the device is doing (or asking your kids to do) that just doesn’t feel right.

Connected devices can open a whole new world for our kids. As parents, it’s our job to help them explore that world safely.

To have The Smart Talk with your kids, visit TheSmartTalk.org


Joe Gervais is a LifeLock cybersecurity expert.

Bullying: It All Comes Down to Culture

Bullying

In my elementary school years, I was badly teased, excluded and ridiculed. Almost every day I would come home from school crying, feeling defeated, crushed and not wanting to return.

Only the constant support and encouragement of my mom and dad got me through it all. The strength that I ultimately gained through the process of overcoming the bullying inspired me to create my own bullying prevention presentation, which combines music and messages of bullying prevention, positivity and encouragement.

So far, I have performed my assembly at over 350 schools and 150,000 children nationwide. My newest project, a free Bully Prevention Video Package, is currently being used in over 2,700 schools, representing more than 1.6 million children.

School Culture

According to Dr. Kent D. Peterson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, school culture is “the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the ‘persona’ of the school.” During my school years, there were some personas that put me in a great mood all day, and some that left me appalled.

A toxic school culture is detrimental and leads to an intolerance and unhappiness among all students and administrators. A healthy school culture is what turns a mediocre school into a great school, and a great school into an EXCEPTIONAL school. Here are some characteristics of EXCEPTIONAL SCHOOLS that I have observed and that parents should insist upon.

Top Four Characteristics of Exceptional School Cultures

  1. Positive/uplifting leadership—Encourage your school’s principal to be invigorated, inspired and invested in the spirit and demeanor of everyone in it. Culture trickles down from the top. 
  1. Mutual respect—Establish mutual respect. This is the key to opening critical doors to conversation and understanding about difficult topics, such as discipline, etc. among parents, teachers and students. 
  1. Display students’ artwork—Get those bare walls decorated with students’ colorful artwork. Seeing their own creations displayed inspires students to be more imaginative and more invested in their school community. 
  1. Strong and positive rapport between staff and parents—Develop good relationships between your school’s faculty and administration and families. A seamless transition between a student’s home and school life happens best if parents and administrators communicate well and stress similar values in each place.

More of What I’ve Learned About Culture

  • Disciplining works. Condescending tones DO NOT. In my experience, when an adult speaks to a child in a loud volume and/or with a condescending tone, the child either doesn’t listen and puts up a wall, or becomes timid and retreats inside their shell.
  • Become a safe space for them. When children retreat inside their shell, it is more difficult to help them because they won’t necessarily open up to you the way you need them to. Let them know that they always have a safe space in you. Then, back that up by actively and genuinely listening.
  • Focus on the DO’s, not the DON’T’s, and be their example. I attribute the success of my assembly to two things. One, my age, and therefore my ease of connecting with students. Two, my emphasis on the DO’s instead of the DON’T’s. My experiences show me that children want to make the best and healthiest choices, but they can’t always do that unless they see it being practiced all around them. Tell them, but more importantly, show them, what to do through your own behavior.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is: kids will be kids, but they all want to be better. It is our responsibility, as leaders, to help them become the best of themselves. A thoroughly positive school culture will do that, not only for the students, but for the entire school community.

It’s so easy to say we’re going to do something, but it takes something completely different, a true investment of time and talent, to actually do it. Many of the schools I’ve visited hit the nail on the head already, establishing good, safe school cultures, but the majority have not. Help make YOUR school truly exceptional. With more and more examples of excellence, we can make safe, welcoming schools the rule.


Lizzie Sider is an 18-year-old singer/songwriter, recording artist and Founder of the bullying prevention foundation, Nobody Has The Power To Ruin Your Day.