Clermont PTA: A Journey to Excellence

Clermont Elementary School PTA’s School of Excellence Celebration was a perfect example of a party at an elementary school—filled with the joyful laughter of children and based on values that bring communities together. I had the pleasure of attending the event, and it was wonderful to see firsthand exactly why they deserved to be designated a 2019-2021 National PTA School of Excellence.

The National PTA School of Excellence designation is awarded to PTAs that commit to and prove success in building effective family-school partnerships at their school. Clermont Elementary School PTA is one of just 326 PTAs nationwide to earn the two-year 2019-2021 National PTA School of Excellence designation—and one of only 19 PTAs to earn the designation in the state of Virginia!

How does the School of Excellence program work?

PTAs make a commitment by enrolling in the program and worked throughout the school year last year to make gains.

They start by surveying their school community members and, with their feedback, work for months to create and implement an action plan for improved programs, policies and procedures.

At the end of the school year, they survey their stakeholders again to see if they made progress and then provide a final application with a narrative outlining what they did and why you all deserve to be recognized.

So, what did Clermont Elementary School PTA to earn the designation?

To engage and inform the “Clermont community,” Clermont Elementary School PTA started using a variety of new-to-them methods—Facebook, Twitter and weekly PTA newsletters—to better communicate with families. Two-way communication, including inviting their families to participate in meetings, was also used to ensure that the parent voice was active in discussions with district administrators in the selection of and priorities for their new principal. All of that hard work certainly paid off. In their end-of-year survey, Clermont Elementary School PTA showed a 20% improvement in Communicating Effectively!

But that’s not all! The PTA also wanted to improve the sense of community and family-school partnership at Clermont Elementary. So, they hosted a Veteran’s Day program in collaboration with school board members, state delegates and community leaders. Active military and veterans visited classrooms and set up stations for students to visit with the goal to bring families closer together, share stories about what it is like to serve in the military and show just how many veterans there are in their community.

Are you ready to start your journey to excellence? You can learn more about the School of Excellence program by visiting PTA.org/Excellence and you can enroll starting May 1.

Amy Weinberg is a Manager of Programs & Partnerships for National PTA.

School of Excellence: Bringing the National Standards to Life

The benefits of family-school-community partnerships are many: higher teacher morale, more parent involvement, and greater student success are only a few. That is why PTA developed the National Standards for Family School Partnerships. The standards are the foundation for the National PTA School of Excellence program and are embedded into our practice. They articulate what family engagement should look like at the school level.  These standards are in use by school, PTA and community leaders nationwide as a framework for thinking about, structuring, and assessing family engagement.

Here are some actual examples of how some 2017-2019 National PTA Schools of Excellence brought the National Standards to life in their schools.

Standard 1: Welcoming All Families

  • Bob Beard Elementary PTA in TX

We have welcoming signs all over our school.  Our Festival of Nations event is a wonderful opportunity for our families to come celebrate the diverse cultures represented at our school.  Beard families provided music, games, traditional clothing, dance and food from 23 nations across the globe represented by 44 of our Beard families.  We hosted both a dance for our boys to bring their special ‘gal’ (mom, aunt, family friend) and another dance for our girls to bring their special ‘guy’.  We hosted ‘Family Movie Night’ where families brought tents, sleeping bags and chairs along with picnics to all gather around and bond while watching a movie together and then hanging out. Also, 2 Grandparents Breakfasts, College Night, Open House and Howdy Nights to just come explore and get to know each other, Pizza Nights with our WATCH D.O.G.Z. and kids, our Fear-Factor eating contest between our two administrators brought hundreds of families to come out, bond and cheer them on.  Career Day brought many family members to school to teach our students about various occupations, and Kinder Round Up brought our new little ones in with their family members to explore and meet other families.  National Walk-to-School Day was really fun as we had hundreds of moms and dads and family members all walking and biking their little ones to school that morning.  We also hosted 2 Beautification days on Saturdays that brought our family and community members out by the truckloads with their gardening and yard tools to spend time together making Beard a more beautiful place.  We are a No Place for Hate campus.

Standard 2: Communicating Effectively

  • Leroy Collins Elementary PTA in FL

We communicate in a variety of ways, allowing us to reach every family. The Principal sends out a weekly telephone call-out every Sunday evening, letting families know what is coming in the follow week. Both Collins & the PTA send out Parent Link text messages with importation information. We also utilize Peachjar to send home flyers as well as sending paper flyers home. We have websites (www.collinspta.net , collins.mysdhc.org), a PTA facebook page (CollinsElementaryPTA). When notices were sent home to families regarding the Partnership Survey, every student was sent a flyer in both English & Spanish providing them with information about the survey and a link to follow. They were also directed to our Facebook page and website where links were posted to access the surveys directly. Paper surveys were also available. Our school website has every staff member’s email address listed to contact them directly. Through various methods of communication we’ve ensured that everyone knows what’s going on at our school and exactly how they can help if they choose to. We’ve promoted volunteer opportunities on signup.com, on PTA FB page, text, emails, flyers, and in personal conversations at various events.

Standard 3: Supporting Student Success

  • Hightower Trail MIddle School PTSA in GA

Given that our main goal this year was to support the implementation of college and career-ready standards, we focused on involving students and parents in the communication and activities regarding these standards.  The PTSA worked closely with the administration and counseling department to provide several opportunities for students and parents to learn and be involved including: a parent seminar with the principal on how to read your student’s Milestone/EOG test scores, Q&A documents on understanding your student’s progress reports and test scores, Move On When Ready open houses, several coffee with the counselors sessions for parents on study skills and organization, and also our annual college and career week.  This week features a day dedicated to supporting your high school, college spirit day, dress to impress day and career look alike day. Teachers do lessons about careers and they discuss the college they attended. We also feature teachers on the morning news show. Our Career Day was highlighted on Cobb TV. We also held three STEM career events for each grade level.  Every student is also given an account for the career cruising program which is an Internet-Based Career Interest Inventory. The students choose three possible careers based on their interests. The 8th graders receive a core guidance lesson on high school, college, and careers and each student develops a four-year plan. As a result of our efforts, our ‘Always’ score went from 42% to 50% for the question on the transition to high school and increased from 38% to 47% on the question regarding sharing information on student achievement data.

Standard 4: Speaking Up for Every Child

  • Casey Elementary PTA in MS

While our state legislatures convened, we supplied parents with links and bills as they pertained to education in MS. We supplied names and phone numbers of the House and Senate members so they could contact them to express their opinions of the bills that were on the floor. We also participated in PTA day at the Capital.  Parents were invited each month for all PTA board meeting to express ideas or concerns within the school so we could in turn work with the principal to improve our success rate. It was with these efforts and working with the community volunteers that our 3rd grade class passed state testing at 100%!

Standard 5: Sharing Power

  • Allen Elementary School PTA in TN

We encouraged participation and represented our PTA/school during the district’s Superintendent search.  Our PTA was represented at every Superintendent Parent Advisory Board meeting, stake holders meeting, public meet-and-greet, and Board of Education meeting.  We provided parents with pertinent information regarding every candidate (access to resume, interview summaries, etc).  We encouraged our parents and community to reach out to our school board leaders via phone/email with their superintendent choice.Collaborating with the community – We have worked hard this year to partner with our community to achieve student success.  Registration Day Ice Cream Social:  Prior to the first day of school, PTA invited families to join us for an ice cream social to learn more about PTA and local organizations that benefit our students.  During the ice cream social, PTA hosted local organizations allowing parents to network with PTA Board Members, administration, teachers, support staff, and local organizations.

Standard 6: Collaborating with Community

  • Westerly PTA in OH

Through the Cyber bullying program all students in both grades (3rd and 4th) at Westerly took part in classroom cyber awareness lessons and anti-bully prevention activities during their scheduled library time. Through these activities, the focus was to give all students guidance and ability to understand and prevent them from being victims. This collaborative approach with Mrs. Basel (School Counselor) and Miss Harris (School Librarian), Mr. Reynolds (Technology Director) and Detective Krolkosky (BVPD Detective) educated children about the basics of going online, and  helped them become safe, responsible and respectful digital citizens.

To learn more about how your PTA can bring the National Standards to life and earn a National PTA School of Excellence designation, visit PTA.org/Excellence or email Excellence@PTA.org.

 


Amy Weinberg is the Manager of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA. 

100 Black Men of America Annual Conference: Ensuring Excellence for African-American Youth

National PTA President Otha Thornton poses with Michael J. Brown, president of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., and Curley M. Dossman, Jr., chairman of the Board for 100 Black Men of America, Inc.

National PTA President Otha Thornton poses with Michael J. Brown, president of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., and Curley M. Dossman, Jr., chairman of the Board for 100 Black Men of America, Inc.

I recently had the honor of participating in 100 Black Men of America, Inc.’s 28th Annual Conference in Florida. The focus of the event was Education in an Era of Change, Ensuring Excellence for African-American Youth. The conference brought together leaders from across the country from government, education, health and wellness, civic, and entertainment industries for empowerment and enrichment, to share best practices, and discuss issues facing youth, their families and the communities in which they live.

100 Black Men of America, Inc. is a volunteer organization of approximately 10,000 members and partners dedicated to making a difference in the lives of youth, improving our nation’s communities, and enhancing educational and economic opportunities for all African-Americans. The organization meets a crucial need by impacting underserved youth through mentoring, education and empowerment.

As part of the conference, a black-tie gala was held during which a number of awards were presented. I am honored to have been recognized with the 2014 Chairman’s Award for Parent Engagement. The award truly is a testament to our association and the efforts and dedication of all of our members to increase and strengthen family engagement in education and make a difference for the lives and futures of every child. In addition to the gala, I also participated in a panel discussion during the conference.

For more information about 100 Black Men of America, visit www.100blackmen.org.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

Membership Matters: The Annual Report

Ending the year right is as important as getting it started right. One important and valuable step for wrapping up your PTA year is putting together and offering your members some type of Annual Report. This is an end-of-the-year report that sums up all of the great work your PTA has done and is a powerful resource to inspire support for your association.

Among other things, the Annual Report allows:

  • Everyone recruiting members to easily show what your PTA has done and what their membership will support.
  • Everyone who is or has been a member to see what their membership helped to support.
  • Everyone in your community to see what your PTA accomplished.
  • Your PTA to show appreciation for everyone who supported your initiatives with their attendance, volunteer work, support or sponsorships.
  • Your school to show how family engagement contributed to making a difference in your school community.

Putting an Annual Report together is not difficult. You may want to include the following:

  • The total number of members for the year.
  • The PTA mission-related activities/initiatives organized or sponsored by your PTA to support the students, the teachers, the families and/or the community—every group impacted by your work. List all your PTA did throughout the year:
    • to welcome all families
    • to promote two-way meaningful communication
    • to empower families to support their children’s academic achievement
    • to empower families to secure their child’s safety, well-being and best learning, social and emotional opportunities
    • to work alongside your school leaders to secure public funding and resources that support the best learning conditions in your school or community
    • to work collaboratively with the business, faith-based organizations and various other communities your school is part of?
  • A list of all activities organized or sponsored by your PTA that raised funds to support the mission-related activities or initiatives
  • A thank you section with:
    • A list of all volunteers who helped to make possible all activities or initiatives of the PTA.
    • A list of businesses, individuals and/or organizations who supported the work of your PTA.
  • Other special accomplishments of your PTA.

Your annual report document doesn’t need to be wordy. Just a reflection of all the work that you did. I’ve seen annual reports in the form of a written document. I’ve seen annual reports in the form of fun videos with pictures of all the activities the PTA organized throughout the year. Because of this exercise, you may discover your PTA is already doing the work of a National PTA School of Excellence and would only need to register and complete the application process to be recognized.

Distributing your Annual Report via a short message with an attachment or a link to a simple PDF or video shared via social media channels or text is also a great way to inspire your members to renew their membership and to continue to support PTA. We can’t wait to see your annual reports!

Need some help? Check out these resources:

Thank you so much for all you do to advance the PTA mission for all children.


Ivelisse Castro is a national service representative for National PTA.

Support the Arts at #PTACon18

This year at our 2018 Convention & Expo, National PTA has made a commitment to the arts by supporting New Orleans-based nonprofit KID smART in their work to engage children in dynamic, creative and rigorous learning through the arts.

KID smART was created in 1999 in response to the decreasing availability of arts education in local public schools with the vision to empower all children to unlock their full academic, creative and personal potential. Their current focus is arts integration—linking instruction in the arts with instruction in the academic curriculum to increase students’ academic achievement, build their critical thinking skills, foster creativity and imagination and enhance their social and emotional growth.

In a KID smART classroom, students might learn the water cycle through dance, understand fractions by mixing paint colors or explore complex vocabulary words through pantomime. The learning is rigorous and dynamic; it is designed to engage students with a variety of learning styles and abilities so that all may excel.

KID smART is supporting arts education in the New Orleans area by:

  • Partnering with K–8 public schools to embed professional teaching artists in classrooms
  • Increasing the capacity of teachers and professional teaching artists to deliver arts-integrated instruction that meets next-generation academic standards
  • Creating and demonstrating models of excellence in arts-integrated instruction
  • Providing arts enrichment in after-school and community-based programs
  • Working alongside others to advocate for the arts and broaden the conversation around the definition of student achievement.

As you can imagine, serving over 3,000 students and 800 teachers annually with a limited budget, KID smART is in need of art supplies. This is where you come in! Please consider donating art supplies either online or in person at the 2018 National PTA Convention & Expo in New Orleans, where KID smART will be showcasing Louisiana mask-making traditions through a fun, hands-on mask-making activity. Drop by during PTA Palooza on Saturday, June 23 from 10:15 a.m. to 2 p.m.

To learn more about KID smART, please visit KIDsmart.org. To donate art supplies online, check out KID smART’s Amazon Wish List. Thank you for your support in giving back to this wonderful organization.


Amy Weinberg is the manager of programs and partnerships for National PTA.

Parent-Teacher Partnership Results in Trip to the White House

STEm-NSF“There are so many great teachers out there that need to be recognized,” says former local Virginia PTA president Christie Olsen. A few years ago, Christie took her own advice and nominated her twin daughters’ teacher, Stephanie Chlebus, for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). Stephanie went on to become the 2012 PAEMST awardee for mathematics in Virginia, for which she received a certificate signed by the President, a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a trip for two to Washington, D.C., where she met President Obama.

“Stephanie is unique as a teacher, in that she makes every single one of her students feel like they are just as good as the next student in mathematics,” explains Christie, who was able to see this first hand with her daughters. “She’s always willing to provide more challenges for students that are excelling, while using her talents to find innovative ways to teach the kids that might not be getting it.”

Building Partnerships and Keeping Communication Open

As we all know, the relationship between parent and teacher is an important one. Christie nominated her daughters’ teacher, Stephanie, for the PAEMST award because she had built a partnership with her. To do this, according to Christie, there must be trust between all parties that everyone (parent, teacher, administrator, etc.) is acting in the best interest of the child. Once that is established, open communication is the best way to build the parent-teacher partnership. “One party can’t shut out the other. It just won’t work,” Christie advises.

On the other end, as the teacher, Stephanie has instituted several initiatives to foster collaboration between herself and the parents of her students. She emails parents every week to give them an idea of the objectives and content that will be taught in the upcoming days. This enables parents to have deeper conversations with their children about what’s going on in the classroom and what they’re learning each day. She also engages parents and families with several events, such as family math game night and parent Academy night.

What’s Stephanie’s advice for parents who are thinking about getting more involved in the PTA or volunteering in their child’s classroom? “Do it!” She stresses, though, to remember that every teacher is different. While some teachers may be dying for volunteers, other teachers may not be comfortable (or are not allowed) to have parent volunteers in the classroom. She suggests you offer your help and give the teacher the opportunity to tell you what they need. Like Christie, she stresses the importance of open communication.

Stephanie also points out that without the support of the PTA at her school, she wouldn’t have been able to put on the events that families love. “A strong PTA that supports its teachers, results in teachers who can run more initiatives to help its students,” she adds.

Recognizing Teachers for Outstanding Work

The importance of being nominated for PAEMST by a parent was not lost on Stephanie. “I know my colleagues see me working day in and day out to make learning relevant to students, but to have that come across to a parent through her children’s love and desire for math meant the world to me,” she shares. “Having a parent nominate me for PAEMST was the biggest compliment I can receive as a teacher.”

Both Stephanie and Christie note that parents can be involved in recognizing great teachers. Stephanie says that several parents pulled together student quotes for her PAEMST application, which helped give her application a personal touch. Christie suggests nominating the exceptional teachers in your school for awards like PAEMST.

“Any way you can recognize a great teacher for being great, or motivate them to keep doing a great job, is essential. It’s a great loss when outstanding teachers get disillusioned and leave the profession. Even if they don’t apply, and it’s just a nomination, you are still recognizing that they are going above and beyond for their students.”

Learn more about PAEMST and how to nominate a great teacher in your child’s life by April 1.


 

Dr. Nafeesa Owens is the program lead to the Presidential Awards for Excellence for Mathematics and Science Teaching program at the National Science Foundation. Most importantly, she is the mother of twin boys who are in kindergarten and is a local PTA member.

“At my PTA”

pta-alternate-fundraiser-exlarge-169

(Photo Credit: Dee Heinz)

If you are a parent or educator, then you probably have a story to tell that begins with, “At my PTA…”

This week, one of those stories gained major media attention for a PTA that took an innovative approach to fundraising—often called a “non-fundraiser.” You may have seen it on Facebook or media outlets like CNN. The Facebook post celebrates the humor PTA leaders had in addressing what most family-school organizations (and all nonprofits) have to do to operate—raise money. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. It’s creative, real and admittedly, hilarious. It’s certainly relevant to today’s busy parents, grandparents and educators.

I have a story too. At my PTA, we’re using the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships to guide our approach to membership, events and yes—even fundraising.

Using these standards to guide your PTA plan is one of the things that makes PTA different than other family-school organizations. In fact, our National PTA Schools of Excellence program has proven that when these standards are used, families feel more welcomed and valued, more involved in supporting their child’s academic success, and more informed about and engaged in improving the school. They also feel more connected in their community.

Family School Partnerships croppedPTA’s National Standards shift a PTA board from planning around a calendar to focusing the plan on the needs of your students, teachers and school. By the time you get to the calendar stage of planning, every PTA effort and the calendar itself reflects the standards in action:

  1. Membership recruitment ideas that make all families feel welcome and valued;
  2. Communication strategies that allow your families and teachers to plan their involvement in PTA, and encourage ongoing feedback about PTA’s efforts;
  3. Educational PTA programs and events that link to learning and guide families on the ways to support student success;
  4. Advocacy efforts that speak up on behalf of every child’s needs and improve the school as a whole;
  5. Shared decision-making about the mix of fundraising activities that will support these school improvements;
  6. Fun, family experiences that create pride and school spirit, while connecting families to other people and resources in their community.

At my PTA, we began our planning process by sending out a survey to families and teachers that helped us to understand what they perceived about our efforts. Then we canvassed the community—sharing the most frequent feedback we heard—and we asked more questions about what we still needed to know. All of the feedback has resulted in a drumbeat of reoccurring messages explaining how we will:

  • Support our students and teachers by…
  • Improve our school by…
  • Create a welcoming and supportive school community by…

Once we determined our objectives, we sat down with the calendar and made sure everything on it achieved one of the bullets above. Will we fundraise? Oh yes, we will. We are a nonprofit advocacy organization—we have to in order to fulfill our mission! But when we do fundraise, everyone will know how the money raised will make the school a better place for our kids. At my PTA, that’s what we care about most.

Do you have an “At My PTA” story you want to share? Email Programs@PTA.org. We want to hear it and highlight you in one of our future blogs, e-newsletters or magazine articles!


Mary Pat King, MS is the director of programs & partnerships at National PTA. She is also a vice president for her local PTA.

ED Celebrates Award-Winning Student Art in the National PTA’s Exhibit ‘Believe, Dream, Inspire’

Reposted from U.S. Department of Education’s HomeRoom blog.

Travez

Travez Bradford, recipient of a National Award of Excellence for Music Composition/High School Division, performs his winning rap Believe, Dream, and Inspire. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

On January 13, 2015, more than 200 teachers, family members, arts education leaders, PTA members, policymakers, and local-area students came together to honor student artists from 21 states at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) auditorium and art gallery. The young artists – and winners of the 2014 National PTA Reflections program — came to celebrate their works of visual art, film, dance, music, and creative writing based on the theme Dream, Believe, Inspire.

Two dynamic artists performed their winning pieces. Travez Bradford, recipient of a National Award of Excellence for Music Composition, performed his rap Believe, Dream, and Inspire. With a whirlwind of energy, Jillian Miller, winner of a National Award of Merit for Dance Choreography, performed her lyrical dance You Can Be Anything.

Jillian Miller, recipient of a National Award of Merit for Dance Choreography/Intermediate Division, performed her lyrical dance You Can Be Anything. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Prior to the start of the ceremony, Travez, who had traveled with his grandfather from Natchez, Mississippi, talked about his musical inspiration: the gospel rap he experienced at church. His winning composition is in response to his classmates’ fear of performing poorly on tests and failing to graduate, “Believe in yourself when other people doubt you. Dream big, even when some dreams don’t come true. Inspire yourself when others don’t.” Travez now attends community college in Mississippi.

Secretary Duncan launched the celebration by championing arts education, “The arts should be — must be — part of a well-rounded curriculum for every single child.” The National PTA’s Reflections program, he noted, “helps students gain core knowledge — in areas like history, geography, and math — alongside 21st-century skills like critical thinking and problem solving. This program prepares students for success not just in school but in life as well.”

Echoing the secretary, Dawn Small, chair of the Reflections program, observed, “These students … have gained … the ‘arts advantage.’ Their creativity is alive. … Their mind’s eye is awake. … We look forward to great things from them.”

Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, underscored the value of the exhibit and audience to help decision makers learn about the transformative power of arts education. To demonstrate that, he presented an information tool developed by Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit organization for the advancement of arts and arts education. “If we do it right,” he charged, “the return on investment is a better child … a better nation and a better world.”

Otha Thornton Jr., National PTA president, stressed the importance of promoting arts education, observing that, “our children’s education is our future … we are their advocates. We are the conduits of their dreams.”

After the ribbon cutting, Vy Nguyen of Texas talked about her acrylic painting Dream with Eye Wide Open. A recipient of an Award of Excellence for Visual Arts, she developed her skill through sheer determination. Blinking away tears of joy, she shared her dream to graduate from high school and attend college. The silhouetted figure depicted in cap and gown represents this dream amid a class of graduating seniors in an eye full of awareness and hope.

Vy Nguyen, recipient of an Award of Excellence for Visual Arts/Intermediate Division, shares the inspiration for her painting Dream with Eye Wide Open. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

One of the most exciting sights of the day was the middle school class from Jefferson Academy of Washington, D.C., critiquing student art. Their art teacher Michelle Green explained their presence, “It’s been a long and arduous process of getting them comfortable with the [art criticism] vocabulary. This is a great opportunity for us to see other kids their own age from around the nation looking at artwork” and to get the desire to “join in these competitions!”

Students from Jefferson Academy in Washington, D.C. critique artwork in the student art gallery. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)


Isadora Binder is on the staff of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.

All Department of Education photos are by Paul Wood. More photos from the event may be viewed on the Department of Education’s Flickr

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann.

Walk Around the World Challenge

 

Last summer, a team of school enrichment leaders, our school principal and me—our school’s PTA president—were brainstorming ideas how we should use the National PTA Healthy Lifestyles: Energy Balance 101 grant we received for the 2013-2014 school year.  We knew they we wanted to challenge our students to exercise regularly with their families, and so we developed the idea of a “Walk Around the World Challenge” where families were challenged to exercise weekly (by walking, dancing, swimming, running, etc.) and then logging the distance.  The goal was to reach 24,900 miles – the distance around the Earth.  Our dilemma was how to have families track their exercise.

FUYFHorizontal-Banner While checking out the National PTA site I found information on “Fire Up Your Feet” , a program launched in partnership between National PTA, Safe Routes to School and Kaiser Permanente as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Active Schools program. Fire Up Your Feet 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.  Available to any elementary and middle school nationally, Fire Up Your Feet offers an online activity tracker.  This was the perfect tool for us to keep up with the miles walked!

Safe Routes to School staff worked with us on setting up the program and responded quickly with any technical difficulties that parents encountered.   We put a direct link to the website on our weekly e-newsletter, website, Facebook page and flyers.  Parents were able to register their family in 3 easy clicks and start logging in the miles at no cost to the PTA.  As families would sign up, we would send a pedometer home with each student. We distributed more than 300 pedometers using the Healthy Lifestyles funds.  PTA officers decorated a bulletin board in the cafeteria with a world map for the students to track their progress. We would send updates in our newsletters and Facebook pages. We also sent out information about community running events, such as the Rocket City Kids Marathon and local fun run events.

I’m sorry to say, we didn’t make it all the way around the world.  We did make the radius though!  We ended our challenge with a Family Fitness Night at the local YMCA.  Families had free admission to enjoy swimming, Zumba classes, racquetball, basketball and an indoor playground.  We served recipes from the Together Counts™ recipe list.

Looking back on the program, the PTA Executive Board needed to find a volunteer to support the program.  We tried to cover it as a board and didn’t devote enough time to promoting the challenge.  We should have also included a classroom incentive for the classes that logged in the most miles.  If we had done a better job of marketing, even having a walk/run night monthly at our school’s track, we would have logged in more miles.  Another thought after the fact was to add some cultural background information on the bulletin board about the countries we had “walked” to each month, such as information on Caracas, Venezuela.  There are so many ideas!

This is a very easy and low cost program to implement.  Our only expense was the pedometers, which most families can use apps on their phones or iPods for counting steps.  There are so many easy and cheap things that local PTA’s can do to promote healthy lifestyles, the first step is getting a team together to create ideas that work for your school.

Sonja Griffith currently resides in Madison, AL with her husband and two children. She serves on the Alabama PTA Board of Directors and is also the Rainbow Elementary PTA President, which received a 2013 Healthy Lifestyles: Energy Balance 101 grant and was recognized as a 2014 National PTA School of Excellence. Sonja is the former Madison City Council of PTA’s President, served as PTA President at Discovery Middle School, and is a former Spanish and ELL teacher.

 

 

Engage! in Creating Excellent Schools

Recently I had a conversation with Jennifer Wiezorek of Plant PTSA in Florida. Jennifer is the VP of Advocacy for the Hillsborough County Council PTA and the Advocacy Chair and the Social Media Chair for Plant PTSA. Last year, Jennifer served as the VP of Membership at Plant PTSA.

Hi Jennifer, thanks for being a part of the Engage blog! Can you tell me a little bit about Plant High School?

Plant High School was built in 1926 in South Tampa. Plant has been nationally ranked as a top 100 high school by a variety of publications, most recently by the Washington Post. Plant is very proud of its tradition of excellence that is illustrated in its numbers – 95% of graduates go on to college; last year’s graduating class was offered $17 million in scholarship dollars; 70% graduated with honors; 88% graduated with a 3.0 or higher; 3,400 AP exams were administered last year.

This year we have 2,335 students, 27% minority. Our PTSA is one of the largest in Hillsborough County. Last year we had 938 members. We are fortunate that our PTSA is very active. PTSA helps support the school’s student run Writing Center – a resource available to all students wanting help with writing, be it a college application essay or a class paper. We also provide the convocation speaker before prom to educate students on wise decision making. Our outreach program adopted a school without a PTA, providing support programs for students and some TLC for the staff. And of course we do the fun stuff like staff appreciation and hosting hospitality events for the school.

Why did the Plant PTSA decide to enroll in the School of Excellence?

As a local unit, we were already working hard to promote PTSA within the community and increase awareness of what PTA does as an organization beyond our school’s walls. Enrolling in School of Excellence was sort of like accepting a challenge. Even though we have always supported our school community, School Of Excellence would encourage us to reach out to and engage our families and administration in new ways. We saw it as a way to evolve as an organization and to look at how we could improve our interaction with our families.

What did you learn when you began the surveys, did anything surprise you?

The survey process was very interesting. It was a surprise to me personally to see that my own experience as a parent wasn’t necessarily the norm. As someone who has long worked closely with PTA and other organizations, it has always been easy for me to stay informed. It was eye-opening to see the number of people who felt out of the loop.

I think my favorite thing about the survey was the way our principal embraced the results and worked to bring about change. We added a comment box section to our survey to allow parents to elaborate on their responses. Results were typical – some positive comments, some negative. Our principal didn’t try to make excuses for the complaints. Instead, he shared both the good and bad feedback with the staff to raise awareness of our families’ perceptions and to look for ways to improve.

How did you decide which goals your team wanted to address?

Our PTSA executive board chose ‘To support students’ emotional and mental well-being’ as our goal. I first became interested in mental health when I was PTSA president at my kids’ middle school. A guidance counselor there mentioned that parents need to have an emotional tool-kit ready to guide their kids through adolescence. We took that idea and adapted it for Plant. As you could tell from my first response, Plant expects a lot from its students. Plant always encourages students to reach higher and challenge themselves, to never look for the easy way out, and results show that our students rise to that challenge. But the reality is that high expectations can bring about a lot of stress. That’s in addition to the emotional challenges that just come naturally with being a teenager. We recognized that there was a need within our student body to talk about emotional wellness in an open and honest way. We wanted students to feel comfortable reaching out if they were experiencing any sort of problem. We wanted to educate parents on the variety of support resources available to students through the school system. And we hoped to lessen the stigma attached to mental illness.

What was your favorite part of the process?

Overall, I think my favorite part was the learning opportunity that the process presents. School of Excellence encouraged a sort of self-discovery within our PTSA. We used the framework of the program to evaluate current practices and identify areas in need of change. The family-school survey was of enormous value in that respect. I would be willing to conduct that survey every year, even during the years we get to relax and celebrate our success!

I also appreciated the level of enthusiasm and support we received from our administration and staff. I would imagine that not every school would be open to the process, but our already busy faculty found time to support and assist us throughout the year. Earning School of Excellence is a collaborative process, and we couldn’t have done it without the backing of our school.

My favorite moment was during the evening program we conducted for the community. Plant’s social worker led off by saying to parents, “If you are not comfortable talking about mental health, your student will not feel comfortable coming to you for help if they need it.” That one statement was so powerful, and really drove home for me the reason we were working so hard.

What impact did the School of Excellence program have on your school or your PTSA?

Working toward School of Excellence ended up being a fantastic period of growth for our PTSA. We expanded our involvement with our families by creating and implementing our Healthy Families, Healthy Kids program. Conducting the survey and acting on the results demonstrated to families that their input is valued and taken seriously. Most of all, School of Excellence made us realize that no matter how excellent we thought we were before we started the process, there is always room to expand and improve.  Our PTSA is better off for having participated in the School of Excellence program, without a doubt.

Is there any advice you’d give to new schools enrolling in the program?

I’d say don’t be afraid to give it a try! It’s a lot of work, I’ll be honest about that, but the journey is truly more rewarding than the destination. I’m sure that all schools that participated, even those who didn’t complete the process, benefited in multiple ways. National PTA is there to support you along the way with a variety of resources – this isn’t something you have to tackle on your own.

I’m so glad Plant PTSA found the process so rewarding! Congratulations again on becoming a National PTA School of Excellence. I think a lot of other PTAs are going to enjoy learning about your journey. Thanks so much for your time!

If you would like more information about the National PTA School of Excellence program, check out www.pta.org/excellence. Enrollment is open through October 1. PTAs who enroll will receive the Getting Started Guide, which describes program components, including first steps to gather feedback from families and set goals with the school.

Sherri_WilsonENGAGE! is a weekly column on Family Engagement written by Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager of Family and Community Engagement at the National PTA. Sherri is the former Director of the Alabama Parent Information and Resource Center and is currently responsible for developing and implementing programs related to family and community engagement at the National PTA.