Not Your Momma’s PTA

This is my first year in any kind of Parent Teacher Association (PTA). In years past I would see the slips come home to sign up for the PTA and they would get tossed in the trash. In my head I had this idea of what the PTA was and I definitely didn’t fit into that mold: I’m not a stay at home mom and able to go to every function. I’m BUSY!

As I went to register my son for 3rd grade this year as with the previous years I tried to avoid eye contact with the moms manning the PTA table. They, however, had a different idea. They were raffling off prizes for the people who signed up at registration, which caught my son’s eye. As he dragged me over to the PTA table, there was a woman sitting there with a huge smile on her face who greeted us and started talking about the “new” direction of Florence Community PTA. I listened and was interested but didn’t sign up. I knew that I wanted to help the kids of our community because I could see that not every child was as fortunate as my child.  Fast forward to the first PTA meeting of the year, on of my mom friends convinced me to attend my first PTA meeting…and I knew I had to go because she was much busier than me!  I walked into the meeting expecting the stereotypical PTA with the home baked cookies and 50s styled dresses, but what I got was the polar opposite.

That woman from the PTA table at registration was bouncing around the room greeting people as they walked in with that same huge smile she had during the raffle. As the meeting was called to order I quickly realized that that woman was the PTA president. She shared her passion to make the PTA a champion for the kids. There was something about her passion that helped inspire the group – myself included. There were a few topics being discussed that I chimed in on and after the meeting our president came and talked to me for a few minutes about a couple of projects. In those few minutes I learned more about what the PTA was really about than I could have ever have imagined. This group of individuals were some of the most genuine people I had ever met and were nothing like I had previously imagined the PTA to be. During that meeting, the changed how I saw the PTA. It was clear that they were kind, loving and supportive of one another.

As time went on I became more and more involved with PTA projects. Due to a situation that had happened with my son coming home without his coat several times, I organized a coat drive through my employer to donate all the coats through the PTA. A couple of weeks prior to the meeting where the coats would be presented to the PTA, the president and I ran into each other while volunteering at the school. She told me that there was a need for a new secretary as the current one would be resigning. She told me that she loved my passion for the kids and my desire to make sure no child went without care and attention. She also told me to think about throwing my hat in the ring. I went home and thought about how the PTA could change the lives of kids in our community and came to that next meeting with an overwhelming since of belonging. I knew that I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children.

I have now coined the phrase that Florence Community PTA is “Not your Momma’s PTA”. We do so much more than sit around, talk and bake cookies despite the stereotypes that exist. This group of men and women have done so much to bring the families and community together to rally around our children. I am now proud to say I am a member of Florence Community PTA.

This blog was submitted by Sarah Nunez, a local leader at Florence Community PTA.

Are You Engaged?

As PTA members, you know that family engagement is an important part of your child’s successful development and academic outcomes.  You participate on school advisory committees, lead parent advocacy, work with teachers in their classrooms, read all about ESSA and other regulations related to children’s health and education, and inspire your community to support all children.  Family engagement is evolving from “involvement” in the sense of families receiving a one-way stream of information and sponsoring endless fundraisers at school.  Instead, it’s the opportunity to build relationships between two crucial components of a child’s life together–families and school personnel–to further support their successful education, well-being and development.

As a parent, you have plenty of options, depending on availability, interests, skills, and personal constraints, to be engaged.  Many of you are finding ways such as these to do become a part of your child’s school community.

  • Establishing positive relationships with school administrators and teachers.
  • Meeting with teachers about academic and social development goals for your child. If you aren’t exactly sure what to ask your child’s teacher, check the Department of Education’s Parent Checklist to get started.
  • Attending PTA or school meetings to find out about the issues in your school.  Ask questions if other’s aren’t bringing up the things that matter to your child’s success or your community.
  • Volunteering on a committee that focuses on an activity or issue important to you, whether it’s school transportation, safe places to play after-school, teacher diversity, bullying or academics.
  • Voicing your opinion to local and state Boards of Education and local, state, and national elected officials on things that matter to your family.
  • Keeping up with and providing input on your state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. Check your state’s education website to find out about your parent representative and the developing plans.

Being engaged in education doesn’t require endless free time or multiple degrees and in-depth knowledge about schools. You just need a concern for your child and a little bit of time to act on that concern.

We know you are engaged in your schools, supporting your community and the Department of Education wants to hear from you.  If you’ve been recognized for your involvement in education by your state, share your story.  What did you do to garner such recognition? What lessons have you learned through your involvement?  What tips do you have for other parents who want to be engaged in their schools?

The Department of Education’s Family Ambassador, Frances Frost, wants to feature you in an upcoming Family, School and Community Engagement Newsletter, distributed monthly by the Department.  Submit your story for consideration, in 400 words or less, with your contact information to carrie.jasper@ed.gov, with the subject line “Parent Involvement for Newsletter.”

Frances Frost is the Family Ambassador at the U.S. Department of Education, serving as an advocate for family engagement in education and equitable opportunities for learning for all children. She brings the family voice to discussions at a national level and facilitates discussions between the Department, families and family engagement stakeholders.

Top things to do in Las Vegas | #PTACon17

I have lived in Las Vegas for over 20 years with my husband and four children.  I am very excited to have the 2017 National PTA Convention & Expo in my home town this year and to share a few ideas for things to do while you are here!

Las Vegas is a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week town.  There is something for everyone at all hours of the day and night.  Whether you are coming into town early before Convention, have a few spare hours in the evenings or staying a few extra days after, there is plenty of fun to be had.

If you love to shop, everything you could ever want is right here.  From high end designers to discount outlets, there are four malls within a 15 minute walk of the Paris Hotel and even more shopping experiences just a short drive away.  Several malls are even open until midnight, if you still have the energy to walk around a mall after the Convention day is over. See my full list of activities below.

Even though it will be hot here in June, there are still fun activities to be had in the great outdoors. You can choose from two water parks, if splashing in the hotel pool is not enough fun.  Hiking, rock climbing, bouldering and  scenic drives are just 30-40 minutes away at Red Rock Canyon Conservation area or a one hour drive to Mt. Charleston, where it can be 20 degrees cooler than the strip. Need more adventure?  Jump from a plane, kayak the Colorado river, four wheel through the desert, or ride in a hot air balloon. If there is an adventure to be had, you can probably do it here in Las Vegas.

Believe it or not we have many family friendly and fun activities that keep you inside with the air conditioner blowing.  If museums are your bag, we have everything from The Mob Museum, Natural History, Children’s, Atomic Testing, wax figures, old cars, old neon signs, pinball machines, and several quirky museums you could only find in a town like Las Vegas.  There is an indoor amusement park and many arcades on and off the strip to keep big and little kids entertained.

If you have little time and little money there are free activities up and down the strip.  Watch the Volcano show at the Mirage, the dancing waters at the Bellagio Fountains or stroll through the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. You can check out all things candy at the M&Ms World or at the Hershey’s Chocolate World.

Las Vegas is known for the many shows available at venues all over town.  Singers, bands, magicians, comedians, impersonators, Cirque du Soliel shows, variety shows  and even the occasional Broadway show.  Make sure you make reservations ahead of time if possible as many shows sell out.

Last but not least is the food.  You could eat at a different restaurant for every meal, every day of your stay and you will not put a dent in the number of great restaurants in Las Vegas offering every kind of cuisine.  Buffets and four star restaurants can be found all along the strip and you can also find food being prepared by famous chefs in small shopping centers away from the strip.  Choose a cuisine, check out the reviews and enjoy amazing food from around the world.

A few tips as you are having fun.  Drink way more water than you usually do at home. It will be hot and the humidity is usually around 10%, so it is easy to get dehydrated here.  Wear comfortable walking shoes.  The hotel buildings are huge and much farther away than you realize.  Try not to pay full price for anything. Check the internet or your favorite coupon app for available discounts.

Have a great time at convention learning, networking, and sharing all things PTA and then in your free time, enjoy all of the things Las Vegas has to offer!

Linda Johnson is a national service representative at National PTA.

Shopping:
Grand Bazaar– just north of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel in front of Bally’s.
Miracle Mile Shops– just south of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel
Forum Shops at Caesars Palace– About a 15 minute walk north on Las Vegas Blvd to Caesars Palace. Use the pedestrian bridge to cross the street.
Linq Promenade – About a 15 minute walk north on Las Vegas Blvd to the High Roller observation wheel located at the end of the promenade.
Las Vegas North-Premium Outlets–  13 min drive
Fashion Show Mall– 8 min drive

Adventure:
Sky Jump Las Vegas– Jump off the Stratosphere tower
Slotzilla Zipline through the Fremont Street Experience
Flight Linez Bootleg Canyon
Vegas Indoor Skydiving
Hiking at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area– this is best done first thing in the morning before it gets too hot.  If you are not into hiking, you can just drive the 13 mile scenic loop.

Family Friendly Activities
WetnWild Las Vegas
Cowabunga Bay
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay
Game Works at Town Square
Pinball Hall of Fame

Free things to do in Las Vegas
Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and the Bellagio Fountains
Take your Picture at the famous Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign
Hershey’s Chocolate World
M&M’s World Las Vegas
Volcano at the Mirage

Does Your Child Have Recess Daily?

The natural inclination of children is to explore their world through movement. When I visit my grandchildren, I wake up to an explosion of physical activity, rolling down the couch cushions, jumping off the toy box, or chasing games around the kitchen island. My oldest grandchild is now in all-day kindergarten. I can’t imagine him not having the opportunity to engage in both free and structured play throughout his school day. Research supports the notion that physical activity is associated with learning readiness and cognitive function (Hillman, Erickson, & Hatfield, 2017). Within the school environment, recess is the vehicle for providing children with opportunities for physical activity and is an essential component of a child’s school day.

Teachers, administrators and parents must realize that recess is more than just a break from the classroom. Recess contributes to your child’s normal growth and development and provides them with a well-rounded educational experience. Recess also helps your child by improving their:

  • Cocial skills and behaviors (e.g., cooperation, following rules, problem solving, negotiation, sharing and communication);
  • Classroom engagement (e.g., on-task and fewer discipline issues); and
  • Academic outcomes (e.g., attention, memory).

Recess is defined as a regularly scheduled period within the school day for physical activity and play that is monitored by trained staff or volunteers. It is also is a period of time when students are encouraged to be physically active and engaged with their peers in activities of their choice, at all grade levels, kindergarten through 12th grade.

Your child’s school should be offering a minimum of 20 minutes of recess daily. If this is not happening, learn about the current recess policies and practices at your child’s school and school district. You can also compare your child’s school practices with Strategies for Recess in Schools, a new resource developed CDC and SHAPE America. You can then see if there is an opportunity to get in involved in your child’s recess program and share with the school staff leading recess possible ways to enhance recess at your child’s school.

CDC and SHAPE America developed a set of resources for recess to help schools develop a written recess plan and implement strategies for recess to increase students’ physical activity and improve their academic achievement. These new resources for recess were developed for school staff or school groups (including parents) to provide guidance on recess.

You can help your child’s school enhance recess by using the

A great place to share the importance of recess and these new resources for recess is at a PTA meeting. We need parents to take a stand for creating healthy and active school environments for all students. Be an advocate within your PTA! Tell other parents about how the physical activity afforded by recess prepares children for learning and is a critical part of all children’s school day.

Fran Cleland is the president of SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators, and a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.  Prior to teaching at the college level, Cleland taught K-12 health and physical education in Indiana, Virginia and Oregon.  She is the lead author of the textbook, Developmental Physical Education for All Children-Theory into Practice.

Dear Extraordinary Teacher

Dear Extraordinary Teacher,

On behalf of America’s students and families, we would like to take a moment during Teacher Appreciation Week to thank you for your work and impact that extends far beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

Look up “teacher” in the dictionary and you will likely find this definition: one who instructs. But there are a few adjectives missing from this definition … patient, knowledgeable, dedicated, compassionate, inspirational … the list goes on. As a caring professional who connects with students—and strives to discover what they’re passionate about to unlock their potential—you do so much more than simply instruct.

You’re constantly evaluating what works and what doesn’t, making quick adjustments on the fly, and assessing who gets it and who needs a little extra help. You come in early and stay late to give students the one-on-one attention they need. You inspire a lifelong love of learning and guide children’s futures. You advocate for children and your profession. And, in the midst of it all, you create safe spaces where kids can be themselves, dig into your own pocket to buy sneakers for a child in need or replenish classroom supplies, heal boo-boos, give hugs, and offer warm, encouraging and affirming words.

For you, there is no such thing as “other people’s children.” There are only your kids—the students you love and nurture as if they were your own. We not only thank you for all you deliver to children; we are proud to stand with you in everything you do to make sure students in every community have access to the great education they deserve. Together, we are making a difference for our nation’s students.

Thank you for being extraordinary and inspiring students to reach for the stars.

With much gratitude,

Laura Bay
National PTA President

Lily Eskelsen García
NEA President

Fundraising for This Year and Next

(Sponsored Post) At this point in the school year, PTA groups often experience turnover with members moving on and new members coming on board.  It’s a time of transition that does not always go as smoothly as planned.  The last thing PTA groups want is their support of the school to pause as a result of such transition.  After all, the reason we get involved in PTA is to give back to the kids.

Whether or not your PTA group is in a time of transition, it can be difficult maintain your fundraising efforts from year to year to continually support new curriculum and programs.

One program that has found a way to help schools maintain their fundraising needs year after year is the Schwan’s Cares™ fundraising program.  The Schwan’s Cares program is an online fundraising program in which a group can easily share their campaign with PTA supporters and easily shop for groceries from Schwan’s Home Service, Inc for delicious foods they are likely already buying.  The digital element of this program allows for an easy transition amongst school groups to maintain a certain level of funding each year.

A Wisconsin school recognizes Schwan’s Cares as a solution to fundraising, As a middle school teacher, time is of the essence and the focus of middle school students is typically not on fundraising, which means that Schwan’s Cares fundraising is the perfect solution for our district.”

As the school year winds down, the focus of students and teachers is on finishing the school year strong and preparing for the next school year ahead.  However, we all know that funding is still needed at all points of the year to support programs.

“The Schwan’s Cares program is easy to set up and navigate for busy people.  Students are able to create their own personal accounts linked with mine.  They then have the opportunity to ask friends and family from all over the U.S. to support them.  The students love to see how much money they have earned each day as the sales are tracked.  Parents are excited that they do not need to pick-up or deliver orders for this fundraiser.  Schwan’s takes care of it all!” –Wisconsin Middle School

Whether you need to raise funds for the remainder of the school year or would like to get a jump start on next year, the ease of the Schwan’s Cares fundraising program could help provide a needed solution for your school.

To learn more about the Schwan’s Cares program – please visit www.Schwans-Cares.com.

 Robb Kaufenberg is the Manager of Fundraising Operations for the Schwan’s Home Service, Inc. fundraising program Schwan’s Cares.

Free School Meals for All Children

Sound too good to be true? It’s not! Alison Maurice from the Food Research Action Committee (FRAC) explains what the Community Eligibility Provision is, how to tell if your school is eligible, and how to advocate for CEP in your school.

How are schools able to offer meals to all of their students for free?

In the 2016–2017 school year, over 20,000 schools provided free school breakfast and lunch to nearly 10 million children in the United States through the Community Eligibility Provision. Community eligibility allows high-need schools and districts to offer meals at no cost to all students.

Community eligibility has only been available nationwide for three years. In that short time, nearly 55 percent of eligible schools have chosen to use community eligibility, because it increases the number of students benefiting from the school breakfast and lunch programs.

Why are schools so eager to participate in community eligibility?

Because it makes it easy to get meals to students! By offering meals to all students at no charge, community eligibility increases participation among all students which can help school nutrition finances.  Additionally, schools no longer need to qualify students for free or reduced-price school meals. This saves significant time and reduces paperwork for schools, so they can focus more resources on providing healthy meals for your children. Unpaid meal fees are no longer a concern with community eligibility, which decreases stress both on parents and school staff collecting them.

Community eligibility schools have increased participation in the school breakfast and lunch programs. More importantly, more students are eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, reducing hunger and improving nutrition status. School breakfast has shown to improve academic achievement, test scores, and behavior, and to reduce absenteeism and tardiness. Participating in school breakfast allows students to focus on learning, rather than their empty stomachs.

What makes a school or school district eligible?

A school, group of schools, or school district is eligible for community eligibility if at least 40 percent of the students are certified to receive free school meals. Schools identify students who qualify for free meals through other assistance program enrollment. No application is needed to be submitted by parents for schools to determine this.

What can I do to help my school?

On May 1, 2017, your state’s education agencies published a list of schools and school districts that qualify for community eligibility. It is easy to find out if your school or school district is eligible by using the Food Research & Action Center’s Community Eligibility Database. Here you can quickly search for schools by state and district and to determine if your school is eligible and participating or not.

If you find that a school or schools in your school district is eligible for community eligibility but is not using this program, start a conversation with your school administrators and nutrition department. Let them know that you would like them to consider community eligibility. The deadline to apply to use community eligibility in the 2017–2018 school year is June 30, 2017.

Last, but not least, pass these resources along to your school administrators or nutrition department to educate others about the benefits of community eligibility even further:

With these resources, you can help increase access to school meals for all students, giving them much-needed nutrition to succeed.

This blog was prepared by Alison Maurice, Child Nutrition Policy Analyst, at the Food Research & Action Center. For more information, feel free to email Alison at amaurice@frac.org.

The Who’s Who of #PTACon17

The 2017 National PTA Convention & Expo is right around the corner and we have an amazing lineup of education leaders and experts who are traveling to Las Vegas to connect with PTA advocates across the country.

We are pleased to welcome the following keynote speakers:

Paula A. Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, the nation’s largest non-commercial media organization, with 350 member stations throughout the country.

Steve Pemberton, author and motivational speaker who shares his personal story of beating the odds and overcoming childhood trauma through the power of education.

Rosalind Wiseman, author and internationally recognizes expert on children, teens, parenting, bullying, social justice and ethical leadership.

In addition to hearing from these influential leaders, attendees will have the special opportunity to take part in exciting events like the National PTA Awards and Reflections Celebration dinner – a night filled with awards and entertainment for the entire family.

This year, we are thrilled to announce that Le PeTiT CiRqUe will be performing during the awards celebration on Saturday, June 24 at 7 p.m.

Winner of 16 National Youth Awards, Le PeTiT CiRqUe has entertained audiences across the U.S. and internationally in Dubai and Canada. They have performed for world leaders including the Dalai Lama and the Sultan of Brunei and are the only all-kid prodigies cirque company in the world! You’ve seen them all over national television—they appeared on NBC’s “LITTLE BIG SHOTS” as featured guest stars on March 26, 2017.

Register for the National PTA Convention & Expo by going to PTA.com/Convention and be sure to get your tickets for the Awards and Reflections Celebration event too.

We can’t wait to see you in Vegas!

Ashley Collier is the associate manager of digital communications at National PTA.

National PTA Joins 11 Other Child Welfare Groups Calling Out State Bills Attacking Trans Youth

This week, the National PTA joined 11 other child welfare organizations to call out state bills that would discriminate against transgender children.

“We, as organizations committed to serving the best interests of all youth, are deeply alarmed at the flurry of bills introduced in state legislatures around the country this year that would directly harm transgender people, and particularly transgender students,” the letter states. “These appalling proposals would compromise the safety and wellbeing of the young people we all have the duty and obligation to support and protect.”

HRC is currently tracking more than 130 anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals in 30 states. For more information on state legislation, visit http://hrc.im/2017legislature.

Transgender young people face significant discrimination and bullying. Last year, North Carolina adopted the infamous HB2, legislation that required discrimination against transgender people, including in public schools. Seventy-five percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe in school, and, tragically, more than 50 percent of transgender youth report attempting suicide at least once in their lifetime.

The American Academy of Pediatrics; the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; the American Counseling Association; the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO; the American School Counselor Association; the Association of Title IX Administrators; the Child Welfare League of America; the National Association of School Psychologists; the National Association of Secondary School Principals; the National Association of Social Workers; and the National Education Association have all signed the letter.

Read the full letter here.

Hayley Miller is the senior digital media manager for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization.

The Rewards of Spring: Fundraising

(Sponsored Post)  For many PTAs, Spring is a time of finishing the school year strong by continuing to support the school and its students so the students are well prepared for the next grade.  PTA plays such a critical role in that by helping to provide programs, curriculum and other opportunities that would not otherwise be available to many students.  With school budgets continuing to tighten across the country, the question is typically not “what programs should we provide our students”, but rather “how will we fund them?”

Schools earn funding from a number of sources throughout the year.  Once source that can make an even larger impact beyond the funding the school may expect is fundraising.  Now, you may be thinking to yourself “Our families are burnt out on fundraising and cannot support another one”.  This is where Schwan’s Home Service, Inc. can step in and help.

Back in 2012, Schwan’s Home Service, Inc. set out find an effective way to further give back to communities.  What they built is a cutting edge fundraising program call Schwan’s Cares that is revolutionizing the way schools raise funds and reinventing the perception volunteers have about fundraising.

A school in Illinois had this to say:

“The Schwan’s Cares™ fundraising program was a huge success for our school.  As a small-town school, it can often be difficult to raise money to keep the curriculum current.  Through the generosity of our school families and community, we were able to raise over $7700 this past year.  Schwan’s, along with other fundraisers, allowed us to purchase a new English/Language Arts curriculum for our students.”

The Schwan’s Cares program is an online fundraising program in which your PTA supporters shop from the over 300 delicious foods from Schwan’s Home Service, Inc with up to 40% of each purchase going back to the group.  Schwan’s takes fundraising a step further by also taking the orders, delivering the orders to each supporter and handling the cash.  The foundation this program was built on was to give back to communities by providing a seamless, effective program that eliminates the hassles associated with more traditional forms of fundraising. As a result, the Schwan’s Cares program has hosted over 14,000 campaigns and have helped give back over $11M to communities.

You know your PTA and school families better than anyone. If now is not the appropriate time to run a new fundraising campaign then there is no need to push it.  However, if your PTA or school could still use funding for end of year celebrations, additional program or curriculum – the Schwan’s Cares program might just be the perfect solution at this point in the year.

To learn more about the Schwan’s Cares program – please visit www.Schwans-Cares.com.

Robb Kaufenberg is the Manager of Fundraising Operations for the Schwan’s Home Service, Inc. fundraising program Schwan’s Cares.