How will your PTA change the lives of children in 2018?

The school-year kick-off is past and holiday craziness is on the horizon. Right now it’s time to grab a pumpkin spice latte, sit back and take stock.

Did the membership year start off with a bang? Maybe a mid-year drive is in order. Plan to start right after the holidays when potential members refocus on school. What value has your PTA already delivered? What value do you plan to deliver in 2018? Call attention to your success and ask for support for the future. Position membership in your PTA as a way to support students and PTA.  Ask people to join a successful movement to improve your school community.  People want to be part of successful teams. They want to know that their dues dollars have impact. Tie PTA membership with positive results.

Will your PTA meet its goals? Now is a good time to acknowledge successes and plan next steps. No goals? It’s not too late. Gather the board and decide what can be accomplished in 2018. Focus on empowering families to support student success.  Find a community agency or organization to partner in hosting a family event. Research your school’s goals and brainstorm ways to align PTA’s efforts to achieve goals together. Concentrate on making an impact and providing value to your community.

Are a few overworked volunteers trying to do the work of many? Consider how you ask for help: “Come be part of our success” vs. “We need people” and “400 children and family members had a blast in 2017. We’re aiming at 500 this year. Help us build an even better 2018 Spring Fair” vs. “We need volunteers for the Spring Fair.” Tie volunteer opportunities to outcomes, tell people they will be part of successful events, and help volunteers feel their volunteer hours have an impact. Break down opportunities into small jobs and find ways people can help from home or with their families—look for ways to help people say, “Yes” to the opportunity.

Candy canes will soon replace candy corn and PTA thoughts will take second place to planning family gatherings and holiday celebrations. Now is the time to make plans to jump start the New Year. How will your PTA change the lives of children in 2018?

Deborah Walsh is a National PTA Service Manager. 

Start Planning for Take Your Family to School Week

National PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week (TYFTSW) is Feb. 11-17, 2017. The week is timed to honor our Founder’s Day (Feb. 13) and celebrate PTA’s long legacy of family engagement. Although February seems far away, with the holidays coming up it will be here before you know it! Now is a great time to start planning your Take Your Family to School Week celebrations.

Take Your Family to School Week is a great time to:

  • Engage the whole family in reading activities to support children’s literacy skills and help foster a love of reading.
  • Empower families with tools to adopt more active, healthy lifestyles.
  • Showcase how students use technology in the classroom, help close the homework gap by increasing technology access and digital learning at home and support families in creating safe digital environments through the Smart Talk.

This year, in partnership with Chrysler Pacifica and Google Chromebooks, National PTA will provide 55 local PTAs with $1000 to host a Take Your Family to School Week event. All grant recipients must be in good-standing with their State PTA and be a 501(c)(3) organization. Below are four quick steps to take advantage of this opportunity:

  1. Visit PTA.org/TYFTSW to download the grant requirements and a practice grant application.
  2. Use the practice application to design your Take Your Family to School Week event and to save your great ideas.
  • The grant application page will automatically refresh if it is left open. Please use the word document to craft your event and then copy and paste when you are ready to submit.
  1. Complete the grant application by Friday, Nov. 17 to be considered for a $1,000 Take Your Family to School Week Grant.
  2. Celebrate Take Your Family to School Week with hundreds of other PTAs across the country Feb. 11-17, 2017.

A Take Your Family to School Week toolkit will be made available to all PTAs hosting an event during the week. This digital toolkit will include documents that help you plan, promote and report the success of your event. Be on the lookout for helpful resources around your Winter Holiday Break.

National PTA encourages all PTAs to participate in this opportunity and to begin planning for Take Your Family to School Week!

Help Your Youth Leaders Prevent Bullying at Recess

The PTA’s Connect for Respect initiative recommends pulling together a team of youth leaders to address bullying. For National Bullying Prevention Month, Playworks is happy to share easy strategies that even the youngest leaders can use.

Bullying and conflicts often start on the playground. Playworks, a national nonprofit, helps schools improve recess to impact school climate. Here are 5 strategies we’ve found effective for youth leaders in upper elementary school.

1.   Become a team.

In Playworks’ youth leadership programs, small groups of older students serve as recess monitors for younger students and peers. To set the tone at recess, youth leaders need to trust each other and feel like a team. Consider a weekly meeting to play icebreaker games, learn about bullying and respect, and debrief playground experiences.

2.   Model positive language.

When older students give lots of high fives and use language like “Good job, nice try!” instead of “You’re out!”, younger kids will start to do the same. Elementary-aged children are still learning that words can hurt. Making positive language the norm can help minimize hurt feelings, frustration, and miscommunication.

3.   Solve conflicts with rock-paper-scissors.

Sometimes, bullying behavior can be hard to distinguish from still-developing conflict management skills. To address the latter, students can use rock-paper-scissors to solve small disputes. Youth leaders can remind students to “rock it out” on the playground. They can also help by letting adults know when to step in.

4.   Lead inclusive games.

As children develop social awareness and form friend groups, they may start to exclude peers. Adults can set the expectation that recess games should be open to everyone. Youth leaders can lead games and invite all students to join. They can also take responsibility for being on the lookout for students who may feel left out and inviting those children to play.

5.   Reinforce game rules.

To create an inclusive environment, all students need to know how to play common games. This means adults should review the rules, pay attention to different learning styles, and check for understanding—just like in the classroom.

Once students are on the same page, youth leaders can monitor games and make sure other students know how to play. Clear expectations make a big difference, especially for children working on social interaction. One Playworks parent shared,

“My 5-year-old twins were diagnosed with autism 3 years ago. If I had to choose one program out of the handful that help with social interaction, it would be Playworks. Playworks helps schools set parameters for all children to help them understand what is OK and what is not. I think all kids need that, but kids with special needs especially need that. Playworks immerses our twins into their community. Other children know them and are used to working with them.”

Assessing Recess Success

The PTA’s Connect for Respect initiative also recommends assessing your school’s safety and social environment. Playworks’ new Recess Checkup can help you do that on the playground. This short quiz helps you assess safety, engagement, and empowerment at recess and offers strategies for improving each.

Playworks supports schools around the country. Interested in bringing Playworks’ programming or professional development to your school? Get in touch here.

Meg Duff is the Marketing Manager at Playworks. 

Update from Florida PTA: All Children are Our Children

The following was shared by Cindy Gerhardt, President of Florida PTA.

Resilience.  That is our word for this year.  We are showing the capacity to not only recover quickly from the damage and chaos that Hurricane Irma brought to our communities, but we are being propelled back into the role of caregiver and advocate.  Only 10 days after Irma made landfall, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  While we know that many students from the Florida Keys, where schools have been extremely damaged, have been relocated to schools in Miami-Dade, we are now seeing hundreds of families from Puerto Rico migrating into areas in Central and South Florida.  We know that they are coming with very few possessions, scarce documentation and some with little mastery of English.

Here’s our call to action.  If your school is receiving these displaced families, please be mindful of what they have been and are still going through.  Most have lost everything.  If you can, put together a welcome package with basic toiletries, school supplies, spirit t-shirts, etc. – something that will help them feel some sense of normality.  Work alongside guidance counselors and other school staff to help meet other needs that may arise.  Some may be staying in short term housing, some in shelters, some with local family members.  If possible, let’s reach out and see how we can help with food, clothing and other necessities.

In the next phase, we will be working with district personnel and state decision makers to ensure that our schools are set up for success as they absorb these new families.  We’ll encourage common sense waivers and accommodations as we move forward to navigate the day-to-day curriculum and achievement expectations already in place for our schools.

Please stay tuned for more updates as we send them, and more importantly, please keep us posted on ways you and your volunteers are helping to provide a smooth and less distressing transition for these families and their children.  We will show them that our words are true, when we say ALL Children are OUR Children!

Cindy Gerhardt
President
Florida PTA

Cultivating Online Safety with Proactive Parents and Schools

The internet can be a wonderful tool to learn and explore new concepts, as well as a way to connect with people and cultures far away. However, we also know that the internet can be a serious source of distraction and danger, especially for its youngest users. These risks are why setting boundaries and encouraging balance for online use is so important.

Parents often feel overwhelmed by the drama that seems to accompany the technology in kids’ back pockets. And they’re certainly not blowing the issue out of proportion. A 2016 Common Sense Media study found that a whopping 50% of teens feel addicted to their phones, and one-third of families reported fighting about negative effects of phone use daily.

We Are Not Powerless
But rest assured, as parents and educators, we are not powerless in the fight to help our kids become healthy, well-adjusted adults with actual social skills beyond Snapchat. In fact, research shows that we can make a huge difference in our kids being able to navigate the online world well, especially when it comes to helping with conflict resolution. In a 2015 CNN documentary, sociologist Robert Faris, a school bullying and youth aggression researcher says, “Parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts.”

Engagement is Key
Most parents I’ve talked to want to do a better job setting boundaries and talking to their kids about online safety, but they sometimes don’t know where to start. One tool we recommend is an online resource called The Smart Talk. It’s an interactive tool that families can use to set boundaries in “stone” and talk about what responsible tech use in their home should look like. We’ve found it to be a great template to cover several online safety topics as a family, and it really assists you in unearthing your own values regarding technology as you work through it. It doesn’t just help you create a contract, it helps create conversation.

Working Together: Parents & Schools
Online drama affects schools and homes alike. That’s why it’s so important to find ways we can work together to build healthy structures and expectations for kids’ online activity. Sometimes we only respond when a negative situation blows up, but if we can make the switch to become proactive in our school communities, we will be better able to prepare kids to make good choices online. One proactive strategy is to plan a PTA event for National Safer Internet Day, Tuesday, Feb. 6. This is a great way to foster community and discuss strategies to keep kids safe online!

Seize the Day
We’ve often heard the distance between Kindergarten and Senior year is one blink—it goes by quickly. With technology evolving every day, and our kids growing up in the blink of an eye, it’s time for us to seize the day in developing strategies for internet safety, both at home and in our schools. Let’s work together to proactively teach our kids that boundaries and balance online are crucial to their successful futures.

Sarah Siegand is an author and co-founder of Parents Who Fight, an online safety campaign to give parents tools and encouragement to protect their kids online. She is a member of her local PTA in Nashville, TN.