Empowering Students to Make Healthy Meal Choices in School

March is National Nutrition Month and one of my jobs as a parent is to make sure my children are eating healthy, nutritious foods. However, I have to hope that they are making those same healthy choices in my absence while they are at school. The school week leaves a lot of time for friends to offer unhealthy snacks that they’ve brought from home and for one too many cupcakes during birthday celebrations in class.

So, how do we teach our children to choose healthy food alternatives?

As a PTA president for the last four years, I’ve spent a lot of time in our school and began to see the positive impact being made on healthy initiatives for students. I knew that I wanted to be more involved in this effort, so when our PTA had the opportunity to apply for a Healthy Meals Grant we jumped at the chance…and were selected!

Our goal for the year is to increase breakfast and lunch participation by 10%, which sounds great on paper but where do you start? The answer: Empowerment. We start by partnering with the school and meal services provider to help show children what it means to eat healthy by putting the right choices in their hands.

Make them aware
I know that I’ve had those mornings of waking up late and rushing around, hurrying my children to the bus stop with a Pop-Tart.  We asked ourselves: Do students and parents even know that breakfast is available at school? Colorful signs that depicted healthy options were put up at the parent drop off loop to inform families about school breakfast.

Make it fun
During our Fall Festival Celebration we had an apple tasting contest.  It was our chance to highlight the health benefits of apples while having a fun learning experience. Students were given samples of three types of apples: Gala, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. Student were then asked to choose which apple they liked best by placing representative felt apple on the board.  The apple tasting continued in the lunchroom for the younger grades with Golden Delicious edging out the others by a slim margin!

Give them the tools
We are fortunate to have a schoolyard garden.  Classes are held outside in warmer weather and students of all grade levels are an integral part of planting, harvesting and eventually eating what grows in the garden.  In September, our PTA planted various types of lettuce with the plan to have a “Top Chef Jr.” type of salad making competition using other fruits & vegetables of the season.  The winning salad would be featured on the school menu for that month.  We even used the lettuce for salads at our December ACE & PTA Family Night “Meatballs & Math.”

Empower them
What better way to highlight our school’s breakfast and lunch options than to have students share updates with each other. Each morning the Mullica Morning Howl – student led video announcements – were shown to the entire student body at Mullica Township School. During this time, students were able to speak about what breakfast and lunch options were available each day.

Jessica Carroll is a parent of two boys and PTA president of Mullica Township School in Elwood, New Jersey. 

The Leader in You

Did you know that PTAs are run by volunteers? From the local level to the National PTA board of directors, volunteers govern our PTA association. Have you ever wondered how you can get more involved in child advocacy or education-related work?

It starts by raising your hand and getting involved. That’s what I’ve done, and it’s taken me from my local unit all the way up to the national level. At each level, my skills and knowledge in PTA, nonprofit governance and leadership grew. Here’s my story:

I first became interested in PTA when my daughter entered kindergarten. Even though I was a Girl Scout leader and served on the board of directors for the preschool, I had never attended a PTA meeting in those first two years. However, at the end of the second year, I noticed that the PTA had a vacancy in the office of president. I figured that it was a great opportunity for me to grow my communication and people skills and serve others, especially children and families.

I was elected and decided to attend my state PTA’s summer leadership conference to learn more about PTA, as well as my duties and responsibilities. This became a defining moment in my PTA journey—I was in awe! More than 700 individuals were in attendance at the conference, all focused on a mission to better the lives of students and their families. I was able to network with other like-minded volunteers and learn from state leaders about the structure and history of PTA. I knew then that I wanted to be part of this movement where parents, families and educators work together to advocate for children and youth.

After two years as a local leader, I moved up to the council level, where I first served as the vice president and then president. It was at this time that I experienced how effective and important PTA’s advocacy efforts were in my county and throughout the state. While attending our elementary school PTA meeting, I learned that the school’s playground needed to be replaced. Our council worked tirelessly to present testimony to show the school board all the elementary school playground equipment and the disparities between the schools. Based on our efforts, the school board decided that the county would take on the expense of the playgrounds.

My leadership journey continued as I served as the first vice president and then president of Maryland PTA. There was a great deal to learn in running a nonprofit business with staff while managing local units and fulfilling the PTA mission. Working with staff was a new experience for me, with oversight and direction as well as hiring and firing. Part of the work also involved working with local units to talk about the PTA programs and learn about nonprofit governance. All of these experiences added to my skill set and cemented my passion for child advocacy.

It was while volunteering with Maryland PTA that I learned about National PTA’s advocacy efforts, nonprofit laws and business management. I remember attending my first Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, where I learned about the important issues and met our state legislators when we went to PTA day on the Hill. To this day, I am excited to attend the conference and am proud to participate in advocating on behalf of our members to the legislators. I believe this is an important part of our mission.

Two years after my term as president of Maryland PTA ended, I was elected to the National PTA board of directors, which I served on from 2009 to 2011. During that time, I gained a greater awareness of the diversity we have in our education system and how rural states operate.

I believe in PTA so much, that I am now on staff as a national service representative where I’ve been on staff for over three years.

My volunteer PTA leadership journey has offered many experiences and opportunities to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. Throughout the years, I’ve made many lifelong friends and gone on adventures that I would have never dreamed possible. I have been involved in important advocacy work for the children, families and educators fulfilling the mission of PTA. I treasure the work I’ve done and what I’ve learned along my journey. I hope you take the opportunity to raise your hand, and start your own.

Mary Jo Neil is a National Service Representative at National PTA.

Is Using a Mobile Wallet a Smart Idea for Your Teen?

(Sponsored Post) So, your teen has a new smartphone and, in true teenager fashion, wants to set up a mobile wallet—now! Not so fast. Make sure you know the advantages and disadvantages of Apple Pay®, Samsung Pay or Android Pay.

With the rise in iPhone® usage among teens (69% of American teens use an iPhone*), and smartphones in general, Apple Pay®, Samsung Pay® and Android Pay™ can help them learn to manage the funds they earn. But is it always a good idea to give teens—or even younger children—so much power over their finances?

Before we answer that, let’s consider the qualifications for using a mobile wallet system: 1) a debit or credit card and 2) a compatible smartphone or smartwatch.

Debit card. It’s a common misconception that any of these services must be linked to a credit card—it turns out that a debit card works just as well. If your teen doesn’t have a debit card linked to their personal savings account, look into a Mountain America Teen Savings Account. As the parent, you’ll have the option to add a debit card to the account for your teen.

Smartphone. If your teen already has a compatible device, you’re ready to get started. But if he or she doesn’t—and your teen is interested in the benefits of a mobile wallet—you may encourage your teen to save for one. Learning to set financial goals at this age can be a great way to instill lifelong saving habits.

Why Using a Mobile Wallet Is a Good Idea for Your Teen

Convenience, accessibility and security are what makes mobile wallet systems so appealing. Consider this scenario: Your daughter keeps losing her wallet. Every time she’s about to leave the house, the entire family has to help her search for it. Or she calls from the movies when she realizes she has no way to pay for her ticket.

Sound familiar? Most likely, your daughter always has her phone in tow. In fact, an IDC research report revealed that 79% of smartphone users have their phone on or near them for all but two hours of the waking day.

With fingerprint authentication required to login, mobile wallet systems are secure, convenient and can help your child learn how to manage their money in the way they will likely use it in their financial future—with your supervision, of course.

Things to Consider Before You and Your Teen Decide on a Mobile Wallet System

Turning the reigns of a bank account over to your teen requires a little trust, a little education and a lot of patience! Like anything else, they are going to have to learn how this digital system works. There might be a few hiccups along the way.

If you are concerned that signing up for a mobile wallet system will give your teen too much access, here are a couple of things you can do to minimize any damage they might do.

  1. Start them out with a limited weekly or monthly allowance in the account that is connected to the mobile wallet. That way, if they go through all their allotted money, they won’t be able to access additional money until the account is reloaded.
  2. Get a joint account and set up notifications. Both you and your teen will be notified of each purchase as well as the current balance.

A Chance to Learn and the Right Time to Do It

Youth is all about learning and growing. This may be one of the very best reasons to use a mobile wallet. Built-in security features often make these systems safer than carrying cash. And if your teen overspends, the lesson learned—that they’re accountable for every single dollar—can quickly turn into a lifelong educational opportunity. Most parents will agree that learning this lesson when the teen lives at home and spends money on movie tickets or a pizza, is more beneficial than when the teen moves out and rent is due on an apartment.

Money management is an important skill to master. Setting limits and creating goals are ways parents can work with teens to help them learn the ins and outs of their finances. Using tools like a mobile wallet system can help take the lessons one step further. Talk to your teen and make sure you both understand your decision. And remember that regardless of the method you and your teen decide to use for money management, self-control and long-term planning are always part of the solution.

For more information on mobile wallet systems or other financial questions, contact Mountain America Credit Union.

Bryan Packer is the AVP Public Relations at Mountain America Credit Union.

Mountain America Credit Union is a financial sponsor of National PTA and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Day + Live Webcast


One in five children in the U.S. lives with a mental health condition and research shows that about 50% of all mental disorders that happen in adulthood can be identified as early as the age of 14.

Learning that your child may have a mental disorder may be challenging, but it’s important to know that children can and do recover from such conditions. Early intervention and access to services and supports is key to supporting every child’s mental health.

Every year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hosts National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day to raise awareness about children’s mental health. The Awareness Day 2016 national event in Washington, DC— “Finding Help. Finding Hope.”—will explore how communities can improve access to behavioral health services and supports for children, youth and young adults with mental and substance use disorders and their families.

This year, parents and caregivers around the country will have the chance to interact with the national event through Awareness Day Live!—an opportunity for families to join the national conversation by viewing the event’s live webcast and posing questions to panelists on stage via digital and social media. You’ll hear from a teacher, a student and a parent about ways to connect with mental health services and supports through the school system.

The event takes place Thurs., May 5, in Washington, DC at 7 p.m. EST at The George Washington University School of Media & Public Affairs’ Jack Morton Auditorium. If you are in the district, you can register to attend.

If you can’t make it to the event in-person, here are a few ways you can participate in Awareness Day Live!:

  • Watch the live webcast on May 5 at 7 p.m. EST. View the national event webcast.
  • Use social media to join the onstage discussion via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #HeroesofHope.
  • Your children and youth can organize a group of friends to participate in the Awareness Day 2016 “Text, Talk, Act” discussion on May 5 by texting “START” to 89800. “Text, Talk, Act” is a text messaging platform that leads small groups through a conversation about mental health and how to help a friend in need.
  • View the on-demand version of the national event at a later date with a small group, and discuss how children with behavioral health conditions can be better supported in your school.

For more info about National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day or for mental health resources, please visit SAMHSA.gov/children.

Blog credit: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration



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!

A Successful Event for Families during Take Your Family to School Week

Editor’s note: Below is a note from two local PTA leaders in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, about their Take Your Family to School Week event. Their PTA was one of 45 PTAs to receive a Take Your Family to School Week grant of $1,000.

Northrop PTSA is incredibly tired today :-), but we wanted to share the link to the pictures from our event last night. It was incredible! The event was more than we could ever have expected.

We believe the actual count for attendance is around 600 people. We had 38 tables in our common area for businesses, colleges and organizations and 12 parent round table discussions ranging from legislation and advocacy by Indiana PTA. The scholarships and financial aid information and discussion were very popular. There was also great information about preparing for college, graduation requirements, and the Indiana Department of Education sent a representative to talk about the common core state standards.

Check out these pictures at this link below. They really tell the story of our event: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.297213710342704.73912.184820444915365&type=3.

We can’t thank National PTA and the AXA Foundation enough for making this happen with the Take Your Family to School Week grant. We couldn’t have done it without the grant. The AXA Foundation is the philanthropic arm of AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, and a Proud National Sponsor of PTA.

The funny part is that as soon as it was over the first comment made was, “We’re going to have to expand the area for next year!” It wasn’t a question of if we would do it again… we are already planning! Happy Take Your Family to School Week!

Kathie Green & Theresa Distelrath
Northrop PTSA Co-Presidents

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.

Aunt Bebe is working for you…

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Father's Day- Get in the Game

Father’s Day is 100 years old. It goes without question that when a parent is involved in a child’s education they succeed, but when both parent’s are engaged the child is much more successful.

So on this Father’s Day, we would like thank the dedicated parents of our country for their love, support and dedication for their children and the students of all our communities.

Dad’s play a key role. Father’s Day is but one day to celebrate and show up for the part. We encourage you continue to find the time to get engaged.


As a working Dad, I know how hard it is to find extra time to volunteer. If you haven’t dared to play an active part in your child’s education, here is a challenge. “Can you find 3 hours during the school year?” Three hours is all it takes, and can make all the difference for your child as well as their classmates.

Dad, thank you! Keep up the good work.