Bullying: It All Comes Down to Culture

Bullying

In my elementary school years, I was badly teased, excluded and ridiculed. Almost every day I would come home from school crying, feeling defeated, crushed and not wanting to return.

Only the constant support and encouragement of my mom and dad got me through it all. The strength that I ultimately gained through the process of overcoming the bullying inspired me to create my own bullying prevention presentation, which combines music and messages of bullying prevention, positivity and encouragement.

So far, I have performed my assembly at over 350 schools and 150,000 children nationwide. My newest project, a free Bully Prevention Video Package, is currently being used in over 2,700 schools, representing more than 1.6 million children.

School Culture

According to Dr. Kent D. Peterson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, school culture is “the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the ‘persona’ of the school.” During my school years, there were some personas that put me in a great mood all day, and some that left me appalled.

A toxic school culture is detrimental and leads to an intolerance and unhappiness among all students and administrators. A healthy school culture is what turns a mediocre school into a great school, and a great school into an EXCEPTIONAL school. Here are some characteristics of EXCEPTIONAL SCHOOLS that I have observed and that parents should insist upon.

Top Four Characteristics of Exceptional School Cultures

  1. Positive/uplifting leadership—Encourage your school’s principal to be invigorated, inspired and invested in the spirit and demeanor of everyone in it. Culture trickles down from the top. 
  1. Mutual respect—Establish mutual respect. This is the key to opening critical doors to conversation and understanding about difficult topics, such as discipline, etc. among parents, teachers and students. 
  1. Display students’ artwork—Get those bare walls decorated with students’ colorful artwork. Seeing their own creations displayed inspires students to be more imaginative and more invested in their school community. 
  1. Strong and positive rapport between staff and parents—Develop good relationships between your school’s faculty and administration and families. A seamless transition between a student’s home and school life happens best if parents and administrators communicate well and stress similar values in each place.

More of What I’ve Learned About Culture

  • Disciplining works. Condescending tones DO NOT. In my experience, when an adult speaks to a child in a loud volume and/or with a condescending tone, the child either doesn’t listen and puts up a wall, or becomes timid and retreats inside their shell.
  • Become a safe space for them. When children retreat inside their shell, it is more difficult to help them because they won’t necessarily open up to you the way you need them to. Let them know that they always have a safe space in you. Then, back that up by actively and genuinely listening.
  • Focus on the DO’s, not the DON’T’s, and be their example. I attribute the success of my assembly to two things. One, my age, and therefore my ease of connecting with students. Two, my emphasis on the DO’s instead of the DON’T’s. My experiences show me that children want to make the best and healthiest choices, but they can’t always do that unless they see it being practiced all around them. Tell them, but more importantly, show them, what to do through your own behavior.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is: kids will be kids, but they all want to be better. It is our responsibility, as leaders, to help them become the best of themselves. A thoroughly positive school culture will do that, not only for the students, but for the entire school community.

It’s so easy to say we’re going to do something, but it takes something completely different, a true investment of time and talent, to actually do it. Many of the schools I’ve visited hit the nail on the head already, establishing good, safe school cultures, but the majority have not. Help make YOUR school truly exceptional. With more and more examples of excellence, we can make safe, welcoming schools the rule.


Lizzie Sider is an 18-year-old singer/songwriter, recording artist and Founder of the bullying prevention foundation, Nobody Has The Power To Ruin Your Day.

National PTA’s School Meals Update

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My name is Chelsea Smyth and I’m a registered dietitian. I am also the current school meals fellow for National PTA and have been working closely with the 25 National PTA Healthy School Meals Grantees to help as they work to improve nutrition in their schools.
In celebration of National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Month, I want to highlight five common school meals issues that many schools face, and the solutions our grantees have pursued. Maybe you’ll want to try one of these ideas at your school!

Issue 1: The Cafeteria Isn’t Inviting or Doesn’t Support Healthy Messaging or Behaviors.

School-aged children are at the age when they form dietary preferences and habits and the cafeteria has the ability to promote healthy or unhealthy food habits. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the healthy choice is always the easy choice.

Many schools identified that the cafeterias were unwelcoming and the items on the service line needed to be rearranged to encourage healthy behavior. We have five PTAs who are going to be updating their cafeteria with murals of healthy choices. Another four PTAs are rearranging items within the service line to make the healthier choice the easy choice, such as placing white milk before flavored milks and adding grab-and-go fruits and vegetables to the beginning and end of the service lines.

Issue 2: Poor Meal and Menu Quality

Working on meal and menu quality can be an opportunity to advocate for healthier, tastier menu items and food preparation practices that improve students’ enjoyment of mealtime. Updating the school meal menus was the most popular task that our Healthy Schools Meals grantees set out to accomplish.

Nine PTAs are going to be conducting taste tests with students and families to gain feedback for new menu items. These taste tests are planned to occur in the cafeteria, the classroom and after school events. We even have a PTA in New Jersey that is going to have a Top Chef-style competition utilizing produce grown in their school garden. The winning recipe will be featured on their school lunch menu.

Issue 3: Negative Family and Student Perceptions of What is Being Served

Increasing parent and student perceptions and knowledge of the school meals program can help increase participation and support. Communicating to students and families all of the all great work our PTAs are working on is a key component to the School Meals Grants.

My favorite example of improve school meals communication is happening in a local PTA in Wisconsin, where students will be making videos highlighting their school lunch program and nutrition, which will be shared on the school’s social media channels.

Issue 4: School Nutrition Staff Need Updated Training and Equipment

If food service teams don’t have proper training or up-to-date equipment, it is difficult for them to provide students with healthy, tasty school meals.

To fix this issue, six PTAs are implementing new salad bars in their schools. Several PTAs chose to purchase new water dispensers to provide student with clean, fresh water as a beverage alternative, some of which feature a water bottle counting feature to tally how much water that the students are distributing. We also have one PTA that has provided training to the food service staff on preparation and food presentation techniques.

Issue 5: School Wellness Policies Don’t Enforce Serving Healthy Food to Students

Ensuring local and district wellness policies promote strong nutrition standards, provide students with adequate time to eat and limit the sale of unhealthy food items can help make healthier food choices the easier choices.

We have several PTA grantees who are working to improve their school wellness policies. These PTAs are going to work with the school-level and district-level administration to create healthier environments for their students. A common theme among these PTAs is ensuring that students have adequate time to go through line and eat their meal.

healthy-school-mealsThese are just a few highlights of the plans for the Healthy Schools Meals grantees. Do you see something that you would like to learn more about? Is there a strategy that you would like to try? Check out the School Meals Leaders Guide at PTA.org/SchoolMeals or email Programs@PTA.org for more ideas and information on how to organize a school meals team, evaluate your current school meals program and make important changes to improve your child’s nutrition.

 


Chelsea Smyth is a registered dietitian who is currently works in the clinical setting. She is pursuing a master’s degree in public health from George Mason University and hopes to combine her nutrition background and public health degree to work towards obesity prevention.

For Food Allergies, a Halloween Appeal: Go Teal!

View More: http://marciaannedesigns.pass.us/fare

From classroom parties and Trunk-or-Treats to ghosts and goblins knocking on your door, Halloween puts snacking front and center. But for youngsters on restricted diets, the holiday’s focus on foods they can’t eat puts a big damper on trick-or-treat fun.

One in 13 U.S. children has a food allergy. That’s about two kids per classroom. For many, just touching the wrong food causes hives and the smallest taste can be life-threatening. Other students have different health needs that require a special diet, including diabetes, celiac disease and many digestive disorders. Like every other child, these children deserve a fun, inclusive Halloween.Print

Join the Teal Pumpkin Project to make Halloween happy and safe for all children—including those who can’t eat a chocolate or candy treat.

Why teal? Teal is the color of food allergy awareness. When you display a teal pumpkin (or a Teal Pumpkin Project sign), you’re letting kids and their families know that you have non-food goodies to share.

View More: http://marciaannedesigns.pass.us/fareLaunched by Food Allergy Research & Education in 2014, the purpose of the Teal Pumpkin Project is inclusion. Here are the benefits:

  • You don’t need to choose between offering either snacks or trinkets, so long as the food and non-food treats are kept in separate bowls.
  • Toys and prizes won’t go to waste, since they’re popular even with kids who love candy.
  • Some of these kid-friendly items are useful as well—such as glow sticks and glow jewelry that make trick-or-treaters easier to see at night or Halloween-themed pencils and erasers that come in handy as spare school supplies.

View More: http://marciaannedesigns.pass.us/fareWhether your pumpkin comes from a farm or a craft store, painting it teal combines creative play with a lesson in empathy. Decorating a teal pumpkin or coloring an activity sheet reminds kids that while some classmates may not be able to eat some candies, we can include them in the fun by offering treats that are safe for them. We can trick-or-treat others the way we would want to be treated.

The 2016 goal of the Teal Pumpkin Project is for at least one home on every block to stock up on non-food treats and welcome all trick-or-treaters with a beautiful teal pumpkin. We hope this Halloween,  children with food allergies and other restrictive diets will spot a teal pumpkin on your doorstep or in your school Halloween festivities, and smile.

For more info—including links to free resources to help create a happier, safer Halloween for all—visit TealPumpkinProject.org.


Lois A. Witkop is Chief Advancement Officer for Food Allergy Research & Education. She is proud mom to two teens and is a parent member of the Robinson Secondary School PTSA in Fairfax, Va.

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.

Is Your Child’s School Healthy?

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As a parent, there are many factors to consider when assessing your child’s school…teacher/student ratio, curriculum, facilities, location and more.

These are all undoubtedly critical components to a quality education, but have you considered whether your child’s school is a healthy school?

What does it mean to be a healthy school? Take a look at my daughter’s school, Hillcrest Elementary, where I serve as PTA president. Hillcrest was recently named one America’s Healthiest Schools by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

With the help of the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program Framework, my daughter’s school is now serving healthier meals and snacks, getting students moving more, offering high-quality physical and health education and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models.
Why does being a healthy school matter? Healthy kids learn better. Not only that, but when kids have access to quality physical education and healthy meals, behavior also improves and attendance rates increase. Now that’s something that ALL parents can support!

It takes a village to ensure our children form these healthy habits early. From parents to teachers and food services staff, we all have a role to play in building a healthier generation.

lunch-at-hillcrestAt Hillcrest Elementary, the big changes started with teachers and staff. Physical education teacher Tina Birgen led the charge, coordinating walk or bike to school days, ensuring the availability of various healthy menu choices in the cafeteria and engaging staff in nutrition and exercise challenges.

Hillcrest Elementary also emphasized the importance of family involvement in becoming a healthy school. Parents were not only invited to attend activities with our children, but our PTA played in active role in supporting the school’s efforts. From publicizing events to giving teachers stipends to purchase jump ropes or other healthy incentives, we collaborated to build an environment focused on health and wellness.

When parents are involved, the cycle of success continues outside of the classroom. Our PTA supports teachers in providing healthy opportunities for students and staff, and then teachers support the Hillcrest PTA. This results in stronger parent-teacher relationships and healthier habits at home!

Hillcrest students and staff have demonstrated drastic improvements physically, mentally and socially. Through goal setting and proper wellness education, we have improved physical fitness levels, eating behaviors, self-esteem and overall wellness knowledge. All of this, because we—parents, teachers, students and community members—worked together and supported one another in this essential cause.

There are many ways you can get involved in the health and wellness efforts of your child’s school, including joining your local PTA and asking your community’s leaders for support to make healthy changes in schools.

Ready to join the movement to ensure every school becomes one of America’s healthiest? Find out if your child’s school is enrolled in the Healthy Schools Program and get started today!


Trish Matson Buus is PTA president at Hillcrest Elementary School in Brookings, S.D.

How to Protect Your Child from Sudden Cardiac Arrest

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To commemorate Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) Awareness Month, National PTA has invited Michele Snyder, executive director of Parent Heart Watch, to share how you can protect your child and raise awareness. 

I was recently interviewed by The Today Show and was asked if there were any positives that have come out of the loss of my 17-year old daughter Jenny to sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). At first, it felt like a ridiculous question. How could there possibly be anything positive that comes out of the unexpected death of your seemingly healthy child?

Parent Heart Watch Members Gather at the 11th Annual Heart to Heart in 2016

Parent Heart Watch Members Gather at the 11th Annual Heart to Heart in 2016

After some thought, however, I knew my answer. There was a silver lining—the incredible people I have met while healing from this tragedy. Most of them are members of Parent Heart Watch, an organization dedicated to protecting youth from SCA and preventable sudden cardiac death. They are parents who have lost a child to SCA, parents with a child that survived SCA or living with a heart condition, healthcare workers, school personnel and others—all advocates who work tirelessly each day in their local communities to prevent this from happening to other families.

We know that sudden cardiac death can often be prevented and as a parent, you can advocate for your child’s safety by taking the Prevention Promise and using the Take 5 to Stay Alive toolkit to protect your child.

Here are the five promises:

  1. Determine any risk factors that are already present in your child’s life
  2. Become educated on prevention strategies like early detection and being prepared in case of an emergency
  3. Advocate in your community
  4. Review your school’s cardiac emergency response plan
  5. Talk to your doctor

Each promise comes with the tools and resources necessary to support your efforts. Take 5 to Stay Alive is easy and available now at ParentHeartWatch.org.

Don’t look back and regret that you didn’t take the time. It’s a matter of life and death.


At the 2013 National PTA Convention & Expo, the members adopted a resolution calling for public schools to develop emergency response plans that include summoning help, performing CPR and using automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to save lives threatened by sudden cardiac arrest. The resolution also calls for education about the importance of purchasing and maintaining AEDs and ongoing CPR-AED training in schools. In addition, the resolution advocates for legislation that would fund placement of AEDs in every school, while providing immunity for people who use the lifesaving devices in good faith. Read the resolution.


Guest blogger Michele Snyder has been executive director of Parent Heart Watch since September 2010. In 2008, Michele and her husband Bob lost their 17-year-old daughter Jenny to sudden cardiac arrest. Since that time, Michele has dedicated her life to protecting other families from this tragedy.

Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Day + Live Webcast

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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

 

 

Bleacher Talk: Taking Action for Active and Healthy Students

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Action for Healthy Kids, in conjunction with Every Kid Healthy Week taking place in schools nationwide, April 19-25, 2015. View the blog post on The Huffington Post.

Last week I was having a pretty typical conversation at Little League practice. If you’ve sat on a bleacher, you’ve probably had this conversation. It started with, “Who is your son’s teacher?” Like every other time, this conversation included many reasons why I’d love that teacher for my kids someday. But this time I knew the teacher we were talking about — she’s an active board member on our PTA. Each month, she lets us use her classroom for our PTA meetings.

At the meetings, I’ve always smiled to see the exercise balls at students’ desks in lieu of chairs. I never knew the story behind the stability balls — I just know the research: it works! Stability balls help keep attention-challenged kids focused on learning, while strengthening core muscles and improving posture. I figured this teacher must be a health advocate or a believer in the theories of kinesthetic learning.

What I didn’t know is that this teacher partnered with parents to transform her classroom in support of one child. The mom told me when her son joined the class, the teacher didn’t want him to feel different – or alone – when using the stability ball to help him focus on learning. So she used the funds donated by parents at the beginning of the year to purchase enough balls for all of the students. The mom said it’s made a difference — not just for her son — but for the many students who have enjoyed second grade in that classroom ever since.

Stories like this are being told on bleachers nationwide. And that’s what we celebrate during Every Kid Healthy Week (April 19 – 25). Throughout the week, we shine a spotlight on the many ways parents and community members are lending their time, sharing their talents, opening their wallets, and leveraging their personal and professional networks to support one objective — to help schools create active learning environments and increase nutritious options for students.

Here are some great examples of how local PTAs are taking action:

  • At Lafayette Elementary School in Eureka, California, students are buzzing about a bicycle-powered blender that the PTA uses as a classroom incentive for school fundraisers. Students enjoy wheeling their way to delicious, healthy smoothies made of yogurt, orange juice, bananas and frozen fruit.
  • At Charlotte Hill Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada, students drink more water during the day thanks to new water bottles. They’re also moving more throughout the day using new equipment such as balls, hula hoops and jump ropes.
  • At Pittsburgh Banksville K-5, Pennsylvania, the PTA educated more than 400 members of its school community at a Healthy Kids Expo. Attendees learned about the concept of energy balance by sampling healthy foods at Energy In stations and then burning energy at Energy Out stations where numerous community organizations featured their exercise opportunities, including hockey, martial arts, yoga and dance.
  • At Rainbow Elementary School in Madison, Alabama, families logged more than 2,300 miles and 79,000 minutes of exercise in Fire Up Your Feet’s “Walk Around the World Challenge.” All registrants received a pedometer to track their progress.
  • At Ridgecrest Elementary School in Lawton, Oklahoma, students are “charmed” into making healthier choices. They earn necklace and bracelet charms for drinking water every day. Students also earn charms for being part of the classroom that eats the most fruits and vegetables.
  • At Irving Park Elementary School in Greensboro, North Carolina, more than 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. A major concern for the school’s PTA was access to nutritious foods, so they built two school gardens (K-2 and 3-5). Each of the 34 classrooms in the school had a dedicated garden bed, and teachers used common core-aligned lessons to engage students in the planting, tending and harvesting of vegetables. They educated families about the easy ways to grow healthy vegetables and even have a waiting list of families who want to help tend the gardens.

Whether Every Kid Healthy Week or any time of year, now is the perfect time to start making your child’s school a healthier, more active place to learn. How do you begin? Think about your child’s needs first. Talk with the teacher about the ways you can contribute to a more active classroom environment or healthier choices for celebrations. Volunteer for PTA, the school advisory committee, or the school wellness council and develop ways to educate families about the link between health and learning. Walk through the school — cafeteria, classrooms, gymnasium, playground, surrounding neighborhood — with an eye on what you could do to make it better for your child. When you create a healthier learning environment for one child, every child benefits.


Mary Pat King, MS is the Director of Programs & Partnerships, National PTA. She serves as the Legislative & Advocacy Chair at Cypress Woods Elementary School PTA in Palm Harbor, FL. She is the mom of Mason (first grade) and Jenna Bea (Pre-K).

Healthy Lifestyles doesn’t have to be ‘The Fun Killer’

IMG_7068Three years ago, I was part of a small group of parents who set out to create a healthy lifestyles initiative at our school. At the time, I was in my second year as PTA President and this effort was viewed as “Liz’s Thing.” I was even called “The Fun Killer” (I didn’t take it too personally…).

Many people in our community saw this movement as confrontational; they were not happy about fruit vs. cookies or water vs. juice at potlucks and school-wide celebrations. When we eliminated bake sales that year, it was the final straw. This change was too much, too fast. Healthier lifestyles at our school was going to be more of an uphill challenge than I could have ever imagined. And, we didn’t get very far.

With my tenure as president long over, last spring our group reconvened. We talked to more parents, the principal, teachers and professionals. We created a school-wide Wellness Committee and were upfront about our failed attempts to create a healthy lifestyles initiative. We applied for the PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Energy Balance 101 grant, which we received! We were convinced that the framework provided by the grant could improve the message to our community.

As it turns out, it still has not been easy and I often still feel like a salmon swimming upstream.

“Remember to start slow,” I said to myself. So, we set out to tackle the “doable” parts of our grant. We created an incentive, Fitbucks, to increase participation in any Wellness Committee-related activity including:

  • Participation in our monthly Walk & Roll to School days
  • Attendance at an adults-only lecture by a nutrition expert
  • Participation in our Walk-a-thon fundraiser
  • Participation in our first ever Yoga Recess, and
  • An all-school Dance Party, a Community Cooking Class (hopefully) and a Wellness Photo Wall before the school year ends.

We have monthly Fitbucks drawings and have given away jump ropes, shoelaces, schwings (wings for shoes), an hour on a smoothie bike to the winner’s classroom, a school-logo apron and book for those who attend nutrition events, and two yoga mats! There will be an end-of-the-year Fitbuck drawing for a grand prize. The students LOVE the monthly drawings. I feel like we are on the road to “branding” the Fitbucks idea, while also generating interest and even excitement in the Wellness activities. Most importantly, our students are a formidable resource to reach their families about Wellness Committee offerings.

I know that change is not easy. And I know that our committee will not accomplish everything we set out to do in our grant. But, we have been more nimble and flexible and learned to “read the tea leaves” better. This is my ninth and final year at our school, and I’m excited about the direction that things are headed. Some new families are energized and are willing to continue the healthy lifestyles message. And, I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, next year will be a little easier.


Liz Isaacs is the Wellness Committee Chair at Dianne Feinstein Elementary School. She served on the PTA Executive Board for seven years, as President and in community building and advocacy roles. She is married and has three children in San Francisco public schools.

PTA PEW Training – Guest Blogger

National PTA is excited to have guest blogger Justin Raber share his experience attending the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project media training in February hosted by the Pew Charitable Trust. Raber has been an active PTA member for over a decade and currently serves as West Virginia PTA’s President-Elect Elected West Virginia PTA President-Elect in 2011, Justin is the youngest elected officer in the history of West Virginia PTA. Throughout his time with PTA, Justin served as the first-ever youth member for West Virginia PTA, an At-Large member of National PTA’s National Council of States and a member of the National PTA Committee on Diversity. Justin has presented a number of trainings and workshops for both West Virginia PTA and National PTA.

As PTA members, we truly want every child to receive the best nutrition on a daily basis at school and home. Over 40% of the calories consume by children

In the picture L-R: Sara Peebles, Alaska PTA; Justin Raber, West Virginia PTA; Deloris Irving, Mississippi PTA; Susie Weinacht, Iowa PTA

each and every day comes from the food they receive at school. Whether it is their breakfast, lunch or a snack they grab from the vending machine, the foods they eat at school should be healthy.

I, along with three other PTA leaders from across the country were fortunate enough to be able to attend the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project media training in February hosted by the Pew Charitable Trust. This event taught us the valuable information regarding competitive foods that are available in schools throughout the country. Competitive foods are items that are accessible outside the school lunch program, which includes vending machines, cafeteria à la carte lines, school stores and snack bars. Those foods are often low in nutrition, but high in fat and calories.

This spring, the USDA will be releasing minimum guidelines for states to follow regarding competitive foods in our schools. The ultimate goal of these guidelines will be to ensure that all foods and beverages available in schools are healthy, which means our kids will be healthier. By encouraging our children to choose healthier choices in what they eat, that will in turn help bring lessons that are learned at school home with them. Our schools need to support the healthy habits that our parents teach!

Over the past three decades, our children have become less healthy, which is leading to serious, long-term health problems for many children. PTA has a long history of advocating for and providing programs that will help our children become and stay healthy. By working together, we can have a huge impact on the healthy foods that are available to our children at school, and as PTA, we can truly make a difference!

– Justin Raber

For more information on National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles program, visit PTA.org/healthylifestyles.

In December 2010, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act. This legislation made important updates to the School Lunch and Breakfast programs, including improved nutrition standards for school meals and all foods sold during the school day. The USDA is expected to release its proposed rule on Competitive Foods by mid-June. To stay updated on this issue – and other public policy updates – sign up for the PTA Takes Action Newsletter at http://www.pta.org/takesaction/. National PTA’s 2012 Public Policy Agenda can be viewed at http://www.pta.org/public_policy_agenda.asp.