Honoring Jan by Honoring Diversity and Inclusion

At the end of February, we lost a tireless advocate for this association, but most especially someone who had devoted her life to making the world a better place for our children. During its March meeting, the National PTA Board of Directors approved the recommendation of the Diversity Committee to name an award focused on diversity and inclusion for Jan Harp Domene. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be more fitting. Jan had a deep seeded passion for ensuring that everyone was included and treated with respect and fairness. She was someone who did not just ‘talk the talk’ – no, Jan did much more; she ‘walked the walk.’

You have recently had the opportunity to read about her many accomplishments, as well as her contributions as our National PTA President, 2007-2009. What I want to offer is some insight into Jan as a person worth knowing, as well as to Jan my friend.

I first met Jan when she served as NPTA Secretary-Treasurer during Linda Hodges’ administration (2003-2005). As Tennessee PTA president, I had the chance to work with her on a number of occasions and even had the good luck to have her serve as Nat Rep to one of our conventions. What I remember best about those first interactions is Jan’s warmth and sense of humor. Being around Jan could be such fun!

In the years that followed, our relationship grew from mere acquaintances to one of complete friendship. We traveled together, roomed together on occasion, sat up late into the night sharing our lives – in essence we shared a special bond, a deep friendship. There is something so remarkable about a person who can at once lead an association such as ours and also sit with you deep into the night to share all your secrets. But that was Jan!

More than that, Jan taught me many things about what it means to be a leader. It was her passion to ensure that the National PTA Board began to reflect the children and families of this country. Jan showed me that diversity does not just happen – we must work to make it happen. With each appointment to the Board and to committees, she made a conscience choice to guarantee that we would begin to set a standard for others to follow. It left an indelible mark on how I would choose to lead in the future.

When I got the call that Jan had died, I was speechless, shocked – it had to be a mistake. Her husband, Greg, asked if I could share some thoughts about Jan at her memorial. To say that it was one of the toughest things I have ever done would be an understatement. How do you sum up such a special gift as Jan in just a few minutes? Here are the words I shared at the memorial:

To know Jan meant so many things — above all was her love and devotion to Greg and her family — and her passion for her work.

Jan never went in to anything unless it was to succeed. She did not know the word “failure.” She could be a tough task master in the very best way — especially, when it came to PTA — and her passion for its ideals, and for our work.

Yet, she could be extremely thoughtful, especially in the way she could remember the little things.

In early December, we were able to spend one of those ‘perfect’ days together. We went to Newport Beach to have lunch and shop – it had been such a long, long time since we were able to spend that kind of time together. In the evening, we went to dinner at a favorite restaurant, Lin Chin’s, with Greg, Kris, Cali, her favorite niece, and friends – the family. And I was part of the family – we had such an incredible time — food, fun and laughter — it was quintessential Jan!

As she took me to the airport the next morning, she gave me an early Christmas gift – a Lenox china star, which reads ‘Believe.’ Jan believed in her family, in her mission as an advocate for children…..Jan believed in me.

I want to share her note with you, because it is so ‘her’ – “Remember we have a whole country of children depending on us and the work we do. Stay focused on them — and always believe in yourself. I am always here for you….Whatever!”

Her legacy is in the family that she loved ….in her California roots….it is in her tireless devotion to every child in this nation. Jan served as our National PTA President – one of only handful of individuals that have ever held that honor. She has left an indelible mark on an association that would not have been the same without her leadership.

Jan believed in the ‘all’ – not just the ‘one.’ She believed in the ‘end’ — not just the ‘beginning.’

Most of all, she showed us the value of a “single” life and how important each one of us truly can be in making a difference.

Our memories of the people we have loved are truly how we keep them alive. I have wonderful memories of Jan – our friendship wasn’t always smooth, but that is what made it all the richer. She was in many ways the big sister I never had – as I was part of her family, she was part ours. Mary Frances’s wedding would not have been the same with her and Greg!

It would mean the world to Jan to know that she will be remembered to future generations of PTA leaders and members through this award.

My friend, Jan, made a difference to me – much more importantly, she made a difference in PTA that will only continue to enrich and grow our association until we finally are truly reflective of the children and families that we choose to serve. Just as she dreamed!

Founders Day

Here at PTA, we are very proud of our history, filled as it is with such accomplishments as the establishment of universal kindergarten, a juvenile justice system, and the National School Lunch Program. In 1912, we established February 17 as Founders Day to honor our founders, Alice McLellan Birney, Selena Sloan Butler, and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and draw attention to our legacy of service. It seemed only natural to extend our celebration to the entire school community by establishing PTA Take Your Family to School Week during the week of Founders Day.

Just as we honor our founders, for several years now, students, teachers, and school principals and staff have been welcoming families to school during this special week with family breakfasts and lunches, school assemblies, games, and many other creative activities to honor them. Parents have commented that PTA Take Your Family to School Week not only made them feel welcome to participate at school but also gave them the first real insight into how their children spend their days. For some family members, the event represents the very first time they ever walked through the school doors.

As a longtime PTA member, leader, and now National President, I can’t imagine not “going to school” with my children, meeting their teachers not only during parent-teacher conferences, but also during the day when I can see and appreciate what they do, not only for my children, but for so many children. I always enjoy spending time with other parents and their children during PTA Your Family School Week, and feel this celebration is exactly what our founders might have envisioned. After all, the dream of establishing a national PTA was first imagined when Alice McLellan Birney sat drinking lemonade during a summer retreat in Western New York with some other mothers who were as concerned as she was about the state of education and child welfare in our nation.

I wish all of our PTAs a happy Founders Day and a memorable PTA Take Your Family to School Week. Our sincere thanks to AXA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, for sponsoring this special week. If you are a parent who has never had a chance to participate in this event, what are you waiting for? We’d love to have you join us!

Thank You, Congressman Platts!

United States Representative Todd Russell Platts (PA-19) announced last week that he will not seek re-election after six terms in office. Congressman Platts is best known as one of the last Members of Congress who refuses political action committee dollars, instead relying only on personal contributions to fund each of his congressional campaigns. He’s also well-known around the Capitol for his long daily commute to and from York, Pennsylvania – choosing to forgo the convenience of a DC apartment for evenings at home with his wife and two sons. What an incredible example of family engagement!

It comes as no surprise, then, that a steadfast commitment to children is a hallmark of Platts’ Congressional service; particularly, issues of educational equity and children’s health, both PTA priorities. As a senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Congressman has been a loyal champion of public education. Platts was the lead Republican sponsor of Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation in 2010 that significantly improved the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, a champion of special education funding, and has consistently bucked his own party in opposition of federal funds for private school scholarships.

During the 111th Congress, Platts teamed up with Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY/04), to secure bipartisan introduction of the Family Engagement in Education Act, serving as the lead Republican cosponsor of PTA’s signature piece of legislation. This Congress, despite a new majority and shifting political dynamic, Representative Platts assumed the lead, reintroducing the bill with Representative McCarthy by his side, in May of 2011. During committee efforts to reauthorize and improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind (ESEA-NCLB) Congressman Platts has been a vocal advocate for family engagement, offering  and successfully securing adoption of an amendment to save Parent Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs). Most recently, he worked to ensure inclusion of key family engagement provisions in Chairman Kline’s (R-MN/06) draft reauthorization language.

In recognition of his ongoing commitment to children and families, Representative Platts was honored with the 2011 PTA Congressional Voice for Children Award.Thank You!

At the 2011 PTA Legislative Conference, the Congressman spoke of his family as inspiration for his public service, accepting the award in honor of his mother, who he credits with being an active participant in the education of him and his four siblings.

Our PTA tagline is every child. one voice. Upon learning that Congressman Platts will be taking a bow at the close of 2012 to spend more time with his own children, we wish to sincerely thank you, Congressman Platts, for being a true voice for every child over the course of your 12 years on Capitol Hill.

Betsy’s Holiday Thoughts

For the last few years, our daughter, Mary Frances, has created a family calendar with photos. The project began as a way to help my mother, who suffers from Alzhiemer’s disease, remember her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Each of us, however, has found that the calendar serves as a reminder to us all of our connection and how we would be different people without it.

At this time of year, we all tend to reflect on family and our precious connections to each other. Family is more than those we are related to by birth or choice. It extends to an ever-widening circle of close friends and colleagues—all those who touch our lives in a meaningful way. PTA is a family. We share not just a vital mission, but also a passion to make the world a better place for our children. That passion and our commitment binds us together as a family, and, yes, it can influence who we are as people.

As long as I have been a part of PTA—and that is a rather long time—I have been told how we are, in every sense of the word, family. With any family, there are ups and downs, but there is also an indivisible connection. Our work on behalf of those who have no voice will never be done, but working in harmony, we will steadily move forward to ensure the best for every child.

As I reflect this holiday season on the blessings in my life, I am thankful for my PTA family. We come in all shapes and sizes, speak many different languages, and uphold diverse traditions, but our connection is very real. It is embodied in a child. Whether it is your child, my child or the child of a complete stranger, we share a commitment to that child—to all children. Each of you in ways both large and small have shaped my life and made it richer. Your commitment and passion are my daily inspiration.

Yes, we are indeed family and our PTA family, 5 million strong, will continue to change the world.

May each of you enjoy the comfort and blessings of your family this holiday season!

National Endowment for the Arts Task Force

Somewhere inside each of us, especially when we are young, lies a budding artist. Fostering that creativity–nurturing that spirit to let our imaginations fly–is the very essence of educating a child.

This past Wednesday (November 30th) the National Endowment of the Arts announced that it will lead a new federal level task force that will emphasize research on the arts and well-being at all stages of life. Chief among the departments involved is the Department of Health and Human Services. In an era of tightening school budgets that see funding for arts programs and classes eliminated or cut altogether, this is a much needed step forward in recognizing the importance of arts in education. Studies continue to endorse the well-known fact that when children express themselves through the arts, they are more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, more likely to participate in a math or science fair and more likely to be elected to a school office.

Something PTAs nationwide understand well! That is why each year, hundreds of thousands of student participants in National PTA’s Reflections arts program can attest to how the arts impact their lives and their ability to express themselves.

No child should be denied the chance to develop their talent or be denied an outlet for their artistic expression because of budget cuts. Thousands of PTAs across the country and in our military based schools overseas make it possible each year for our children to be involved in the arts through Reflections. Sadly for many, they may not have had the opportunity otherwise.

As parents, PTA leaders, and members Urgent Blog Request, we commend the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the other federal departments that are working on this important research on the arts. We stand ready to assist them in any way possible!

Every child in this nation deserves the chance to have a well-rounded education and to have the tools to reach their full potential as they grow into adulthood. The arts are a vital ingredient!

Visit PTA.org/Reflections for more information about National PTA’s Reflections program and to find out how your PTA can participate in next school year’s program.


There is a crisp breeze coming through my windows today, and the last ofleaves are slowing drifting off the trees……autumn is most certainly here. This is most definitely my favorite time of the year! Harvest season, and especially Thanksgiving, holds special childhood memories for me. Growing up as the daughter of an Arkansas farmer, I learned a greater appreciation for this time of the year. On many a Thanksgiving holidays, my father left the table to return to the field—there were soybeans yet to harvest.  At our Thanksgiving table, we gave thanks not only for our family, but also for a bountiful harvest.

During the next few days, as you reflect on your many blessings, I have a question for you to consider. Are we thankful for our beloved association, for PTA? Our families are what we are most thankful for, of course, but in our everyday lives, we each volunteer a good deal of time and energy to the causes of education, our communities’ schools, and PTA.

Are we thankful for PTA?

Are we thankful for the dream of a few to make a significant difference in the welfare of this nation’s children in a time when women did not even have the right to vote? The National Congress of Mothers put into motion an organization that 115 years later is recognized as the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the United States. We have a rich heritage of advocacy and more importantly, a history of success.

Today, our voice is 5 million strong. We are active in the halls in Congress and in state houses across this country. We can be found at school board and community meetings raising our voices on behalf of those who have no voice. But are we thankful?

There is a quote that perfectly sums up how I feel about this incredible association. It is one that most of you are very familiar with: “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove….but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” Making a difference for our children—all children—deeply matters to me, and PTA has given me the training, support, and opportunities to fulfill my passion. Am I thankful for PTA? Most definitely!

Over the next few days and weeks as we are busy with holiday preparations, let us give real thought to why we believe in this association. Please take a few moments out of your busy schedule and put those thoughts into words. It is important that as we count our many blessings, we remember to think about the intangible things in our lives that make a difference.  PTA makes a difference each and every day, and you drive the possibility of that difference!

May you and your families enjoy a bountiful Thanksgiving! You are a blessing to the millions of children across this nation and around the world.

Never forget—you are their voice.

National PTA—a Commitment to Building Healthy Families

Malt-O-Meal – just the name brings wonderful memories of warm breakfasts on cold winter mornings! From our memories as children to raising our own children, Malt-O-Meal has been a part of our lives, which is why it is exciting for me as National PTA president to announce our new partnership with Malt-O-Meal as a sponsor for our National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Grant Program!

We all know that children are ready to learn when they are well-rested, well-nourished and physically fit.  Malt-O-Meal joins National PTA in our commitment to building healthy families and helping educate parents and students on the importance of eating healthy and staying active.  Along with Malt-O-Meal’s support, we are excited to launch another year of our Healthy Lifestyles program and to be able to offer grants to schools for programs that help promote better nutrition and increased physical activity.  Through our Healthy Lifestyles program, your PTA can apply for grants up to $1,000 to help support programs that can have a long-term impact on students and families, as well as promote family engagement.

Yes, it is definitely a natural fit – National PTA and Malt-O-Meal – because of their focus on providing access to a nutritious breakfast for all families and their commitment to helping make our planet a healthier place for us all.

Plan to celebrate Healthy Lifestyles Month in November and be sure to visit www.pta.org/HealthyLifestyles  to learn more about best practices and how to apply for your grant. Your PTA could be one of this year’s grant recipients!