Why I Volunteer

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Even at 40 years old, I still get scared. Driving out of town to a place I have never been before, going to exercise class for the first time, even flying on airplanes can give me a little anxiety. I say things to myself like:

  • You’re going to get lost.
  • You’re going to look stupid.
  • This plane could go down and there are still wet clothes in the washing machine.

But when my kids are scared I hear myself say things like:

  • This is an adventure!
  • You’ll make new friends!
  • Flying is safer than driving!

I know the right things to say to help them be brave, but I don’t say those things to myself.

The first time I volunteered to help with a PTA function, I was nervous. I had offered to help mount artwork for the Reflections program, only to find out the other volunteers were getting together at 11 a.m. at the school (But I work fulltime downtown?!).

I felt I couldn’t back out so I used vacation time. I got my orange “Volunteer” sticker at the office and met the other volunteers for the first time. They showed me where the PTA room was and we worked together for a couple of hours marveling at the little masterpieces. I remember finding my daughter’s painting in a pile with other kindergarten pieces and taping it to black paper. It was a fun day.

A few months later, I decided I would give volunteering another try. I showed up at the spring Carnival (not knowing anyone) and I was assigned to the cash register at the concessions table. I had worked the cash register one time as an employee at Bed, Bath & Beyond and I was a disaster (they kept me in the bedding department after that).

The cash register should have been the worst assignment at the PTA event. Except it wasn’t. Instead, I stood around and chatted with other moms and we all laughed every time I had to do math in my head and tried to count change. I made a lot of mistakes. But no one said I was stupid and they didn’t audit my register. People even thanked me for volunteering. After that, I knew I could do anything.

Fast forward five years and I still volunteer at most PTA events. And now that my kids are older, they always come with me. I still work full time, but I look forward to volunteering in the evening and on the weekends because I know I can bring my kids with me. I don’t have to sacrifice time with them in order to be involved at their school. And they can help too! (Or they can at least run around the cafeteria with their friends while the moms and dads are working.) Most importantly, I have made a lot of friends and my kids are friends with their kids.

If you have never volunteered for PTA, know this: It’s an adventure and you’ll make new friends! The wet clothes in the washing machine can wait.


Heather Zirke is the president of Grindstone PTA and mom to Aurelia, a fourth grader, and Kip, a second grader.

How to Celebrate American Education Week

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This week—Nov. 14-18—marks the National Education Association’s (NEA) 95th annual celebration of American Education Week. NEA has created resources and a cheat sheet for how you can celebrate and promote the week.

Go to NEA.org/AEW for more info on American Education Week—including an online toolkit and artwork. Contact Christiana Campos for questions and more details.

About American Education Week

Each year, American Education Week is observed during the first full week before Thanksgiving.

American Education Week began in 1921 with the NEA and the American Legion as cosponsors. The goal was to generate public awareness and support for education because of concerns over illiteracy. A year later, the U.S. Office of Education signed on, and the PTA followed in 1938.

Cosponsors now include the U.S. Department of Education, National PTA, the American Legion, the American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Counselor Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National School Public Relations Association, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Daily Celebrations

Monday, Nov. 14: Thank You to All Educators
Across the nation, Americans are sponsoring special events and activities to thank educators and celebrate public education.

 Tuesday, Nov. 15: Parents’ Day
Schools are inviting parents into classrooms to experience a day in the life of students.

Wednesday, Nov. 16: Education Support Professionals (ESP) Day
Schools and communities are honoring school support staff—bus drivers, nurses, secretaries, custodians—for their commitment to students.

Thursday, Nov. 17: Educator for a Day
Community leaders are being invited to teach a lesson or visit a class and connect with public school students and teachers.

Friday, Nov. 18: Substitute Educators Day
This day honors the educators who are called upon to replace regularly employed teachers.

AEW Tools and Resources

Mathnasium + PTA: Helping Your Child Succeed

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(Sponsored Post) 

Across the nation, Mathnasium’s neighborhood math experts are working with PTA’s parent leaders toward a common goal—building stronger communities through quality education! Becky McDaniels, owner of Mathnasium of Brandon, Fla.—and a dedicated PTA member for over two decades—is a great example of this collaboration.

“PTA does so much for teachers and schools, and I wanted to be a part of it and make a difference,” Becky recalled.

As a mom and former teacher at public, private and charter schools, Becky’s worn many a PTA hat. She’s served on her local unit’s board, penned newsletters, driven fundraising initiatives from the ground level, bridged the gap between parents and educators as teacher liaison and served on event committees.

Mathnasium’s collaboration with National PTA through the STEM + Families initiative provided yet another avenue for Becky to show support once her children left school and she transitioned out of classroom teaching.

Now a business owner and STEM advocate, Becky’s math expertise takes center stage. Whether she’s presenting at PTA meetings, engaging families through fun in-school math nights or contributing to fundraising efforts, Becky’s clearly in her element. Many years after her first PTA meeting, she still finds it incredibly fulfilling to see a large scale project come to fruition and glows happily with every “thank you” she receives.

Colleen Horan Green, PTSA vice president at Randall Middle School, offered one such “thank you” to Becky. “Mathnasium of Brandon sought us out and became actively involved in supporting our events,” Colleen recalled.

“Now we are working together to create a seminar to help parents like me support our children in seventh-grade math. As a PTSA member, I’m looking at our common goals and filling the needs with Mathnasium.”

“The fact that Mathnasium exists is wonderful,” Colleen added. “They provide so many resources at any level, work in tandem with the curriculum, reach out to teachers and help us better serve our students. It’s more than just a partnership; they really do go above and beyond to understand needs at every school.”

For Becky and her team, the future brings more school sponsorships and fundraising as they host the Mathnasium TriMathlon the weekend of November 5 and 6. Mathnasium donates money to schools for every student who participates in this fun, free math competition. Find the event nearest you and help raise funds for your PTA!


Damaris Candano-Hodas is the Marketing Communications Coordinator at Mathnasium Learning Centers.

Mathnasium is a Proud National Sponsor of PTA and was invited to contribute a blog post as a benefit of this relationship. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service. No endorsement of Mathnasium is implied. Learn more at PTA.org/Sponsors.

Tips You Need to Keep Kids Safe Online

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Keeping your kids safe in the age of continuous internet access and social media is tougher than ever these days. My wife and I work in information security, but even we struggle to keep up with evolving technology, so staying safe online is a frequent dinner topic in our family.

With new websites and apps coming out every day, it’s easy to see how parents can feel a little overwhelmed. So what can you do to keep your kids safe? The biggest step is to start with a conversation. And the good news is, there’s an online tool to help!

The Smart Talk is a fun and simple way to develop tech ground rules with your kids. Developed by LifeLock and the National PTA, the interactive website enables families to create personalized technology ground rules together by discussing key online safety topics. These include safety and privacy, screen time, apps and downloads, texting and calling and social media and respect.

After agreeing on healthy limits together, your family will end up with a personalized and official family agreement that you can print, sign and post in your home for quick reference and revise throughout the year.

Our family recently had The Smart Talk, and there were many lessons learned all-around. Here are a few tips that may come handy when you have a safety tech talk with your kids.

Tip 1: Talk, don’t lecture

Lecturing kids about online security works about as well as lecturing them about putting their socks away. They just tune out, hearing only, “Blah blah Internet blah blah chatrooms.” But when you’re able to have an actual conversation with your kids, and get on their level, they can begin relating what they do online and what their friends do online to the issues they hear about in the news.

Tip 2: Help your kids understand that the internet is not private

This false sense of privacy can lure kids into revealing far more than they should, with potentially devastating results (such as harassment and bullying, possibly even leading to assaults and suicide). Talk to your kids about what privacy means and remind them that anything shared over the internet or over a smartphone has the potential to be made public. Tell them:

  • Social media accounts can be seen by others
  • Text messages and “selfies” can be copied, forwarded and shared
  • Information can be accessed on an unlocked device or broken into and posted freely on the internet
  • Location data, commonly made available by devices, can reveal where the photos were taken or where they are located at that moment

Tip 3: Treat safety in the digital world the same as safety in the real world

When our kids are online, they’re connected with the entire world. Would you let your kids bring home random people off the street or from the shopping mall? Into your home, into their rooms? Of course not. Similar to how you teach your child to be self-aware in a mall, movie theater or amusement park—your kids need to learn safe behaviors in the online world.

Tip 4: Help your kids understand that anyone can pretend to be anything on the internet

With social media, video game chatrooms and other remote chat tools, strangers can become familiar, even though your child has never actually met them. Kids need to understand that people they meet online could be someone other than who they say they are. Teach your kids that unless you’ve met someone in person, they are a stranger. Any time a stranger attempts to convince your child to meet up unsupervised or share private information, your child should assume that’s not a nice or safe person.

Bring this lesson to life with a game: Ask your kid to list all of the things an alligator would say to convince a duck that they should meet up in the swamp at night. Then, connect the alligator’s motivations with a fraudster online that is trying to lure your kid into sharing information. It sounds silly, but such a game can help drive the point home.

Tip 5: Sharing is good until you share too much

You’ve seen the websites and apps that ask you to share your name, home address, age, birthdate, phone number and more. Kids grow up learning that sharing is caring, but what happens when sharing information could leave your kid vulnerable to identity theft?

When it comes to sharing sensitive information, teach your kids that the best answer is no answer. Your kids should also know that a majority of sites don’t need all of your sensitive information. Most times you don’t need to add all your private information. Have your child use their favorite movie character as their name and profile pic. Children are clever, creative and motivated. Give them a nudge and they’ll take it from there.

Remind your kids that their friends need to be safe online too. Kids are stronger when they’re looking out for each other, when they understand the problems and have a mindset to protect themselves.

Visit TheSmartTalk.org to learn more about having a conversation about these key ways to stay safe online.


Joe Gervais is the father of five children and the security communications director at LifeLock.

The Journey to Becoming a School of Excellence!

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When a school and its PTA make a joint decision to become a National PTA School of Excellence, they are making a commitment to work together as a team to build effective family-school partnerships in their school community.

There are three important steps on the journey to becoming a School of Excellence.

Step 1. Enroll

Step 2. Complete the family survey

Step 3. Complete and submit the Family School Partnership Scan

By now, most schools that enrolled are at Step Three. This step, the completion of the Family-School Partnership Scan and the receipt of a customized Roadmap to Excellence specific to local needs, provides a clearer picture of both the successes and opportunities for improvement. This leads to the decision of which path your School of Excellence team will take in the coming months. The possibilities are limited only by imagination and dedication!

After receiving the Roadmap to Excellence, some teams may wonder where to begin. For some schools, the Roadmap may seem extensive. This is the time to assemble the School of Excellence team, focus on specific opportunities for improvement and create an action plan by following these steps.

  1. Share your Roadmap to Excellence. Give your team plenty of time to review The Roadmap to Excellence before meeting. You may want to email a copy of it to your School Leaders and Board members or even set up a shared “School of Excellence” folder on your Google Drive.Organizing your School of Excellence documents (including your surveys and Family-Partnership Scan) on a shared drive—like Google Drive—is a great way to collaborate with your team. 
  1. Meet with your team. You may want to set a designated meeting time just to discuss The Roadmap to Excellence and your next steps. At your meeting, be sure to review the National Standards for Family School Partnerships. Discuss the joint goal you set with your School Leaders as part of your Family-Partnership Scan.Have your team identify two or three Roadmap recommendations per Standard to focus on for this year. You may want to narrow down your focus by identifying those recommendations that align with your School Improvement Plan, accreditation process, or any other big plans your school has for this year.Your focused attention to making substantial progress in a few areas per National Standards will help you be successful.
  1. Create an Action Plan. Now that you have identified your goals, it’s time to determine how you’ll reach them! Brainstorm with your team of parents, students (when age appropriate), teachers, school leaders, and community members, and get their ideas and input on what they can bring to the table to reach your common goal.Maybe you’ll continue or build on programs and activities already in place, or maybe you’ll move off in a new direction. Whichever way that you decide to go, don’t forget to take advantage of the many user-friendly tools and programs that National PTA has to offer—you don’t need to re-create the wheel! 
  1. Share your goals with your school community. This is a great opportunity to engage your families. Be sure to let families know how they can get involved and help by joining a committee, volunteering their time, or attending an event.You can use general membership meetings, your PTA website, newsletter and social media to promote your program, and be sure to highlight the special events and programs that are a part of your School of Excellence journey.
  1. Revisit your Roadmap often. Revisiting your Roadmap and those specific recommendations you have identified to work on this year periodically will help keep your team focused and on task.Set time on your Agenda at each Board meeting, general membership meeting, and principal meeting to discuss your School of Excellence progress, and don’t be afraid to rework and adjust your plan once you’ve see what’s working and where you may have an opportunity for improvement.After all, every journey has its pit stops and minor detours, and sometimes you make the most interesting discoveries along the way! 

Wherever the road to Excellence may lead you in the coming months, please know that you’ve taken an important step toward a better school community. It may not always be an easy trip, but there’s no wrong place to begin your journey.

In the words of tennis great Arthur Ashe,

“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

You CAN achieve greatness for your school, your students, and your community! Through teamwork, dedication, and shared goals, you can achieve Excellence.


Kris Garst is a past president of European PTA, and currently serves on the European PTA Board of Directors as vice president for legislation as well as the convention chair

Lauren Van Hemert served as the president of The Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School PTSA for three years. She has also served on the Nominating Committee for the Wake County PTA and has promoted the National PTA School of Excellence on the county level.

Both Kris and Lauren are recipients of the 2016 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award.

Kindergarten Registration: Don’t Delay and Register Your Child Today!

Many parents are excited and feeling anxious about their child beginning kindergarten in the fall. Some parents feel this way simply because they may have unanswered questions about registration processes, transportation to and from school, and school expectations. This feeling is normal for parents; however there are several steps parents can do now to get their son or daughter ready for this exciting day.
• Don’t put off registering your child for kindergarten. Many schools across the nation begin registration for kindergarten in the spring of the year. There is no need to fret if you may have missed the special day set aside by many schools for registrations because schools will continue to register children throughout the summer.
• Check your school district’s website to determine the location of your child’s school. These sites have quick and easy navigation tools to locate your child’s school. The district website is the best website to use because it provides you with specific boundary information based on your home address. Other websites available to find schools in your area include www.greatschools.com.
• Check with your school district or school to determine the specific documents you will need to register your child. These documents usually include a birth certificate, proof of residency (e.g., utility bill, lease or mortgage agreement), and current immunization record.
If you don’t have a copy of these documents for registration, order these documents as soon as possible, so you won’t delay the registration process. Many states have online access to order birth certificates. Contact your child’s pediatrician to obtain their immunization records.
• Visit the school with your child to help ease the transition for your child and yourself. Many schools will allow you to schedule a tour.
Take the summer months to read books with your child that correlate with the beginning of school. Look for books that will help lessen apprehensions, and most importantly, can open a channel of communication about school between you and your child… the start of a lifelong habit; parent involvement.

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!

My Inspirational Visit to a Local PTA for Take Your Family to School Week

I was so excited to represent National PTA as a member of the National PTA Board of Directors at a local event in honor of Take Your Family School Week. I went to Norco Elementary in Norco, California to participate in their event and present them a “big” check because they were one of 45 PTAs to receive a Take Your Family to School Week grant of $1,000.

What an amazing visit to Norco Elementary! I was amazing to see the turnout of parents. I drove two hours through heavy rain thinking that few parents would turn out… but not so. The event was supposed to be a picnic with parents, teachers, the principal and students. However, the rain caused us to move the picnic inside the cafeteria which could not hold more than one grade at a time, so each grade took turns in the picnic.

We started with the first grade class and there were many parents eating with their children. Almost every grade level had as many parents for the picnic. Sandy Ramirez, 23rd District PTA President, participated in the “big” check presentation during the third grade picnic.

In addition to mothers and grandparents, there were so many fathers taking time to be with their children. It truly was a great turnout of parents.

Norco Elementary is nestled in a horse ranch community with a diverse community of students. Amy Shainman, the school principal is wonderful! It’s no wonder the school has the support it has of the PTA and parents. I observed her interaction with parents and students and she was so caring and warm.

I wish we had pictures to share but, Kathleen Camarillo, the PTA parent who wrote and submitted the grant application, will forward the pictures of the event to us and we’ll post them then.

We did have heavy rains all day but the sun is out again in sunny California. I have lots of snow in the mountains near my home… What an inspirational experience!

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.

National Title I Conference Keynote: Reality is Broken

In her engaging, forward-thinking session Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal makes the case that the gamer spirit — an attitude of fun, dedicated, collective problem-solving — is our greatest asset as we face the social, economic, and environmental problems of the 21st century. She argues that game designers are effectively happiness engineers, experts in making difficult tasks engaging, and that we should draw on their smarts as we frame the challenges of our time. According to world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, the reason for this mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In this groundbreaking exploration of the power and future of gaming, McGonigal reveals how we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.

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