#PTA4STEM Thought Leaders Meeting

stem meetingOn March 22, National PTA and Bayer USA Foundation convened industry leaders, educators, association and corporate executives, government officials and family engagement researchers to launch National PTA’s STEM Initiative.

STEM has been a hot topic in education over the past few years. Nearly 8.6 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs represented 6.2 percent of U.S. employment in May 2015. In addition, the Administration has made significant strides to close the access and equity gaps in STEM education.

So what does this mean for us and your local PTAs? Family engagement is essential to strengthen STEM education and help all children realize their fullest potential, and we are here to support student success in STEM. National PTA’s STEM Initiative aims to model what effective family engagement looks like in STEM by engaging entire families in STEM activities.

A recent survey commissioned by Bayer underscores the importance of family engagement to STEM education. Key findings from the survey include:

  • Parents are most likely to say that they play the biggest role in stimulating their child’s interest in science (46%), followed closely by teachers (44%).
  • Nearly one-third (31%) of parents don’t feel confident enough in their scientific knowledge to help their children engage in hands-on science activities.
  • Almost one-third (32%) of teachers say parent support or involvement at home would be most helpful in increasing hands-on science learning experiences.

The STEM Thought Leaders Meeting was filled with innovation and excitement—participants broke out into groups and brainstormed on the concept of “What is STEM?” and talked about effective family engagement STEM practices at school.

What does family engagement in STEM look like for you? Comment below. Check out our Storify and presentation to see what happened at STEM Thought Leaders event.

Take Your Family to School Week 2016: Rock Out with PTA

2016 TYFTSW Poster_FINAL-1Schools across the nation took part in our Rock n’ Roll theme as they participated in this year’s Take Your Family to School Week (TYFTSW). From Feb.15-19, 2016 National PTA invited families and schools to “Rock Out with PTA” and celebrate your student rock stars.

We love providing you with ideas for themed events to host. The PTA programs are to help enhance the engagement between parents, students and teachers. A few popular events during TYFTSW that resonated with you were Connect for Respect (C4R), student safety and supporting student success.

The main goal of National PTA’s Connect for Respect (C4R) Program is to prevent bullying both inside and outside of schools. C4R events connect parent and teachers and facilitates their working together to achieve that goal. Our student safety program can be conducted by using National PTA’s Safety Toolkit, which provides overall physical safety tips for children. Last but not least, let’s not forget supporting student success! Showcasing student accomplishments and marking any progress they have made can really boost children’s self-esteem and make them want to continue achieving great things. Hopefully, with the help of our great themed events, we can increase awareness of the importance of education, health and wellness and safety.

During this year’s #TYFTSW16, PTAs took our event ideas and made them their own. All throughout the week, schools engaged in various fun activities, from talent shows to lively science nights. All of the PTAs really out-did themselves this year!

A theme can add a creative twist to your event. It can help boost the engagement of your students and their parents. And that’s what made the events very creative. Barry Pathfinder PTA, located in Kansas City, Mo., had a Star Wars themed roller skating night and a 50s sock hop family drive-in movie night. Wow! In Raleigh, N.C., Centennial Campus Middle School PTSA had a pretty far-out week with their groovy-themed book fair. Now that’s neat!

These schools were able to address serious topics with their amazing, welcoming themes. Barry Pathfinder PTA’s focus was increasing parental engagement. To do so, in addition to their Star Wars and 50s sock hop events, they served a delicious breakfast to students and their parents and informed them of their children’s daily scholastic routine. Centennial Campus Middle School PTSA focused on anti-bullying, test taking and anxiety and online safety alongside their “groovy” book fair. With the assistance of N.C. House Representative Rosa Gill and NCPTA President Kelly Langston, their message came across loud and clear to both parents and students.

Nothing brings a community together better than dancing, food and music. Grafenwoehr Elementary School PTA, located in Grafenwoehr, Germany, had the right idea by having a Just Dance family dance-a-thon! Their main focus was health and wellness. With that much moving around, by end of the night everyone enjoyed themselves and felt energized. A jamboree will do the job as well. That was Racine, Wis. Jerstad-Agerholm Middle School PTSA’s idea. They took the all-inclusive party route and joined the elementary and middle schoolers together, along with their parents, to have a fun-filled day with arts and crafts, food, games and raffles.

TYFTSW events help to get your students and their parents on the same page. It’s better for everyone—students, parents, teachers and schools—when parents understand what their child is learning, especially when a student needs help with their homework. A night filled with math and literacy activities, a student art gallery and science learning are all great ways to get parents involved and up-to-date. Marigny Elementary PTA did just that! They welcomed parents to a night of fun learning to give parents ideas they can use to keep learning going at home for their kids.

Ultimately, the goal of PTA programs is team work. After all, they say it takes a village to raise a child. Parents and teachers have to make a unified effort in order to develop a better learning environment for the children. Participating in your school’s Take Your Family to School Week can get the ball rolling in the right direction! We can’t wait to see what great themes you come up with next year!


Ebony Scott is the communications intern at National PTA.

Lessons Learned from the PTA

KathieGreen_8x10printAs I retire from PTA this year, there are so many memories and opportunities I have had because of my involvement at the local, council, state and national PTA level.   My entire life would truly be different if one person had not asked me to get involved! I wouldn’t have had two jobs I absolutely love. The skills PTA taught me have served me very well. When I interviewed for my first job when reentering the workforce, the interviewer even bumped up the job I was going for because of the work I did in PTA. At that time I didn’t even equate writing newsletters, managing volunteers, public speaking at school, and organizing events as a PTA member relatable tasks to a job. Every day I am thankful for PTA for teaching me the very skills I need to succeed in the workforce. Without PTA, I wouldn’t have met incredible staff, creative and talented parents, and I wouldn’t have really gotten to know my community. The lifelong friends I have made are a bonus in my life and I am sincerely grateful.

In that spirit, the top things I have learned over the years are:

1) Be positive and be a cheerleader for your school. Sing the praises of the teacher that went above and beyond, thank the staff who work hard every day for our children, and notice the hours your principal is putting in. If you tell EVERYBODY the good stories, then you will start seeing those good stories everywhere. Be a school champion every chance you get!

2) Ask. Ask for help. Getting over this barrier is huge. Importantly though, be specific. Make it reasonable and break it down. I believe people do want to help, they just don’t know how and are worried about over-committing. Know what you need donations for. Is it for programs, scholarships or membership?  As for membership, this may be the most important ask. Members mean more informed parents, more volunteers, more of everything you need or at least access to that. Make it easy to join your PTA and make them ask year round—not just at the beginning of the year.

3) Say yes. Time is a valuable commodity but I will never regret one moment I spent volunteering to help schools. You CAN make a difference – it still stuns me that it is as simple as that. You may have the one idea your school, your PTA, your state, or National PTA needs. What do you do well or what do you want to learn? The opportunities for you to develop as a leader are there, but you have to have to say yes first.

4) Take advantage of opportunities. The smartest thing we ever did was write a Take Your Family to School Week Grant application for National PTA. Winning the grant made it easier to apply again, to have the courage and faith to apply for the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award, and it gave us the momentum to grow to 729 PTA members—a number we did not expect. This also gave us the opportunity to attend any trainings, and National PTA and state conventions. The very best part of PTA is networking, sharing ideas and knowing you are not alone. So take advantage and step out of the school to make connections that will help you!

4) Say thank you often and to everyone. This spirit can take over PTA and people want to feel needed and appreciated. List your members in a newsletter to say thank you for joining. Start a Volunteer Hall of Fame. Write a thank you note. Post on Facebook that you are grateful for someone after an event. Every little “thank you” can go a long way with being positive.

5) And the most important thing of all…communication is the key and it needs to be consistent. What is the best way to reach parents at your school? At our schools it was a weekly email. This kept us organized and built in a natural deadline so it kept us on our toes. Parents do crave information. There are so many easy, free and even low cost avenues to spread the word about your PTA’s events or projects. The best money we spent was for Constant Contact to send our weekly newsletter. Much of the successes in PTA I have seen–whether it’s growing membership, increasing volunteers, and involving new leaders—is because of connections built through communication on a regular basis. Keep PTA in front of people and let everyone know where you stand. Publicize how many members you have, the events you do, how you help your school. If you don’t tell people, who will? Tell your story!

I sincerely love PTA and what it can bring to schools and children. No one will ever convince me that we don’t change the world every day. It’s in those hugs from kids when you do something fun at school that wouldn’t maybe have happened. It’s in the eyes of a new leader when the light bulb goes off and they figure out they can do it. It’s in the conversations with school personnel who need our support now more than ever. It’s getting your point across to a legislator who needs to hear your voice. Now it is my turn to walk the walk and get out of the way for young leaders to have this wonderful opportunity. I hope you grow to love it as much as I have. Thank you PTA for a wonderful experience over the years and for allowing me to be a small part of an amazing association!


Kathie Green is currently the Indiana PTA NE Region Vice President and National PTA Communications Committee Member. She was a former president for the Fort Wayne Area PTA Council and former co-president of Northrop High School PTSA.
 

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!

The PTA Dad: Adventures in Unfamiliar Territory

Jay Jefferson, PTA President. These are words that I truly thought would never be associated with me. But as the saying goes, “never say never.” So how did this Dad become the leader of a PTA traditionally dominated by Moms, you ask? We’ll that’s a very interesting story that has a few twists and turns. But, here is the short version of my adventures thus far, and the lessons I have learned along the way.

After having relocated to Miami from New York City with my wife and two young children, I was eager to connect with my new community. My daughter entered Kindergarten at Carver Elementary this academic year, so my wife and I wanted to get involved our school’s PTA. We made our interest known to the “then” incoming PTA President, who informed us of two recent vacancies on the Board. We jumped at the opportunity, and agreed to join. My wife became the Vice President of Membership, and I the Board’s Secretary. Yep, Secretary -another position not commonly dominated by Dads. But since my primary interest was really to work on revamping the PTA’s outdated website, I was told that serving as Secretary would assist me in my efforts. Ok, I jokingly thought to myself, “I’m breaking the glass ceiling for all future Dads who aspire to be PTA Secretary.” Further bolstering my confidence, I proclaimed with Dad-like bravado, “I got this…no problem!”

When school began in late August, I proudly assumed my new role at our daughter’s school. After a week or so of introducing myself as the PTA Secretary to fellow parents, school teachers and administrators -the majority of whom are women- I became aware that I might have a problem. Not only had these individuals never encountered a male PTA Secretary, but they had rarely seen a Dad take an active role in school -period. Apparently, all of this was as new to them as it was to me.

Yet, instead of retreating to the background to avoid the awkward stares -which I admit I thought long and hard about doing- I decided to flip the script, and draw more attention to myself. Yeah, counter institutive, I know. But since I was already in the position, I thought I should let my role as Secretary make it less awkward for other Dads to engage with their children at school. And as I jokingly explained to all that gave me that initial look of disbelief after I would introduce myself, “The name of the organization is Parent-Teacher Association, and Dads are parents too.”

After a couple of months, the shock and awe surrounding my role as Secretary waned. My relationship with fellow parents, school teachers and administrators -again, the majority of whom are women – grew better as I allowed my actions to speak for themselves. I had initiated a new weekly PTA newsletter that I would personally edit and print, then have distributed to every parent via our school’s weekly communicator folders. Additionally, I began updating the content to the PTA’s existing website, with a focus of posting more event recaps and photos depicting all the wonderful activities taking place at the school. In doing so, I realized that I was often times the only Dad involved at many of these events. A fact I took personal since I had endured a few months of “Mr. Secretary” jokes and humorous references. What had gone wrong with my plan to have other Dads join me in my quest for equality in parent-child engagement at school? I felt truly defeated.

At that very time, the “then” PTA President decided to withdraw her child from the school, and vacate her position on the Board. In hindsight, I can now say this presumably bad situation presented a good opportunity. I was asked by the remaining Board members to become President, and this recommendation was endorsed by the teachers and administrators. Again, I thought long and hard about the challenges of assuming this new role, especially since I had just started to settle into my old role. Ultimately, I said yes, and my nomination was approved by the remaining Board members, the teacher and administrators as well as the Florida State PTA. I quickly went to work repairing and improving relationships with the teachers and administrators. Additionally, I initiated a rebranding campaign to reinforce the mission of the organization as serving to benefit every child at Carver Elementary by working to ensure they receive the best possible education. I reached out to a cross section of parents and guardians to join the new PTA Team I was building -successfully recruiting six new Committee Chairs. We have since received numerous accolades for the many activities and events we have hosted. In my few months as President, the new PTA Team and I have in the words of one teacher, “brought new life to the school through our positive energy and passion.” Yes, we’ve made great progress, but still have much more work to do -with one of my highest priorities being to encourage other Dads to participate in the PTA, and become active at school. I cherish the fact my daughter knows I love her so much that I want to be involved in her school. I especially like the twinkle in her eye when she says to her classmates, “My Dad is the PTA President.” For that, all the hard work is worth it!

So what have I discovered in my adventures thus far? Well, I’ve learned that there are times when you choose the situation with which to become involved, and then there are times when the situation chooses you. As a PTA Dad, I have learned to embrace both. Furthermore, my quest for equality in parent-child engagement at school will be won one Dad at a time -but we will get there. “I got this…no problem!”

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

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!

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!

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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