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.

Is Your PTA in Compliance with the IRS?

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Are you looking to support your PTA by becoming a better leader? One way you can help your Local Unit PTA excel is by making sure it is in compliance with the IRS!

Many local and state leaders don’t realize that every PTA, due to being a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, must file some type of paperwork with the IRS every year. To help support our local and state PTAs with this issue, National PTA is developing a series of e-Learning courses on how to maintain your 501(c)(3) status regardless of your PTA size or income!

The first of these courses, Maintaining Your PTA’s 501(c)(3) Status, is set to be released Nov. 14. This course looks at the issue of revocation through the eyes of a Local PTA leader and walks you through the process of maintaining your Local PTA’s 501(c)(3) status.

In just 10 minutes, this e-Learning course will help you will identify the last time your PTA filed paperwork with the IRS and learn how to properly fill out your IRS paperwork for filing on time each year.

Have more questions about managing your PTA’s IRS paperwork? No problem! Maintaining Your PTA’s 501(c)(3) Status will be only the first in a series of finance courses based on this subject that will be released over the next few months!

Have general questions about managing your PTA’s finances? We can help with that, too! Over the past few months we have released other finance-related e-Learning courses to help local PTA leaders with some other areas of interest:

  • Quick Guide to Budget Basics
  • Quick Guide to 501(c)(3) Status
  • Quick Guide to Taking & Approving Meeting Minutes

All three of the above e-Learning courses cover a specific topic in under 10 minutes or less! These “micro-courses” are different from normal full length courses in that a specific topic is covered in depth over a short period of time, rather than covering many different topics over 30-45 minutes.

We believe that these new micro-courses give our members the flexibility to learn about a subject they are interested in or need help with over a very short amount of time, which fits better into all of their busy lives.

To access the PTA eLearning courses, visit PTA.org/eLearning. You will find our entire e-Learning library of 17 full-length courses, three micro-courses and four of our most popular e-Learning courses in Spanish!

Make sure to be on the lookout for more updates on National PTA eLearning courses in the future via National PTA’s Twitter and Facebook pages!


Jonathan Baker is the e-learning manager at National PTA.

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.

The Journey to Becoming a School of Excellence!

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

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

Step 1. Enroll

Step 2. Complete the family survey

Step 3. Complete and submit the Family School Partnership Scan

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

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

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

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

In the words of tennis great Arthur Ashe,

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

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


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

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

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

All PTA Members Have an Obligation to Vote in Elections

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“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we’ve got to use it.” –Congressman John Lewis

Every day, throughout this nation and overseas, PTA members are hard at work, striving to better the lives of all children. Collectively, our non-partisan voices have made a positive impact nationwide.

Just as we speak up for children through our advocacy work, we also need to exercise the privilege given to every U.S. citizen—the right to vote. Not only should we vote, we need to motivate the people in our schools and communities to vote.

As child advocates, we need to engage, inform and educate our membership on the issues facing our children and education on the ballot today. We need to provide them with the tools they need to vote intelligently at the ballot box.

Elections can have consequences to our mission and we need to make sure our elected officials will work to serve our children well.

So, how can PTA members get involved in non-partisan civic activities? There are a several ways for PTAs to engage their membership as Election Day approaches.

View the list of civic engagement activities your PTA can do as a nonprofit, non-partisan organization below and check out our Election Guide for more options.

  • Organize voter registration drives (check state and local laws)
  • Host candidate forums
  • Work with other organizations like the League of Women Voters to distribute information on state and local issues that may be on the ballot
  • Hold or participate in a Mock Student/Parent Election on Nov. 3
  • Encourage 18-year-old students to vote and help them register, and plan a trip to the polls together
  • Ask your membership to familiarize themselves with the candidates and issues
  • Help members identify the location of their polling place and its hours of operation
  • Inform parents and families of the proper identification and additional information they need to bring with them to the polls in order to vote in your state
  • Provide information to your school community about alternative ways to vote in your state (absentee, early voting, vote-by-mail)

Voter turnout in the United States has steadily declined. A Pew Research Center study shows that in 2012 the U.S. trailed most developed countries in voter turnout, coming in at number 27 with a 53.6% voter turnout. Often people do not vote because of time constraints, lack of information about the process or because they think that their vote will not matter.

Have your PTA members mentioned that they feel their vote does not make a difference? Remind them that elections have been won by just one vote—and in the not-too-distant past, 537 votes made the difference in a presidential election.

If we as PTA members do not speak up for all children, who will? Make a difference in the lives of children. VOTE on Nov. 8 and encourage all child advocates to cast their ballots.

 As you head to the polls, remember these wise words from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”


 

Latha Krishnaiyer is the past president of Florida PTA and a current National PTA bylaws and policy committee member.

3 Reasons Why PTA Means So Much to Me

Anna-King-grandchildrenA few years ago, a politician said something to me that hit me to my core and helped me find my voice. He was talking about the need for prisons and said they knew whether a child would go to college or prison by how they could read in the third grade.

So I thought, if we know that children are in trouble by the third grade, the answer isn’t to build prisons, it’s to build better schools and help our kids!

I believe in education and I hope you do too—because, now more than ever, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and everyone who cares about children needs to speak out loudly and effectively on their behalf. And no organization helps us do that better than National PTA.

If you’ve ever had kids in your life, PTA needs no introduction. You know about the cookie dough and wrapping paper drives that your school’s PTA puts on. Sometimes they’re trying to buy nicer playground equipment or new technology. Other times they’re making sure kids have the basic supplies, like notebooks and pencils.

It might seem strange because I am a grandmother in Oklahoma who’s raised her kids, but I am still inspired to be a part of the PTA chorus of advocating for every child with one voice. Here’s why:

  • You don’t have to have a student in school to join and use your voice. To me, that’s so inspiring. It shows me what’s possible. My own children are grown, but that doesn’t mean I no longer have a vested interest in today’s kids and schools. I now advocate side by side with my children for my grandchildren. I know that when schools are good, kids have a better chance to succeed—and when kids succeed, our community and country succeeds too. With leadership and guidance from National PTA, I’ve knocked on state and federal legislators’ doors, the governor’s door, spoken up at state and school board meetings and rallied other parents and community lead­ers to get involved. And I’ve seen how we can make a difference together because you can, too.
  • It takes a village of people who care, get more involved. My daughter’s high school didn’t have a PTA when she started as a freshman. But because of family and community involvement, it now has a strong and active group of parents, grandparents, alumni, teachers (and students!), who are working on behalf of their school. Feeding over 300 students bi-weekly with the food pantry is just one thing this PTA is now doing. Because of family and community involvement, local schools where I live have resources from our school district on how to help homeless par­ents and get clothing and shelter to abused moms and kids. Because of family and community involvement, PTAs throughout Oklahoma City and the entire state of Oklahoma are talking to each other, working with each other and speaking up for kids with each other.
  • You can make every child’s dream a reality. Right now, National PTA is leading the charge to restore federal funds that have been cut from education, bring pre-kindergarten to every child, ensure safe and healthy environments in all schools, raise the bar on academic achievement so every child can reach his or her full potential, and more. Whether we’re talking about funding for pre-kindergarten or creating safe schools, this is a fight for our future.

So let’s give our kids the bright future they deserve. We need to stand together to change the world for our children and grandchildren. Will you join me by donating to National PTA, the nation’s most determined and trusted voice for children? We can make a difference!


Anna King is a member of National PTA board of directors, former president of Oklahoma PTA and is a part of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Commission and participates in the Oklahoma Prevention Leadership Collaborative.

How Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest Helped My School

DiningTogether_small_150dpi[1]Midtown West is almost an oxymoron: we’re a tight-knit community smack dab in the center of the universe, or as the world would say, Times Square in New York City. As principal of this amazing school, I never could have imagined what happened when I crossed paths with one of our students.

Almost a year ago now, I had a bright, young student named Arden come to me and announce that she had entered a national cooking contest sponsored by the Uncle Ben’s® Brand with her family.  She and her parents let me know that the prize included a makeover for our school cafeteria. But in order for her to be in the running, she needed the support of Midtown West. She needed us to vote for her video. Curious about this contest, I did some research and was impressed by the mission: The Ben’s Beginners™ Cooking Contest is a national program that encourages parents to get their children in the kitchen to teach them about cooking and healthy eating habits.

Our school, led by Arden and her family, spread the word about voting for her video. Our community responded by supporting her with its online votes and social media outreach. During our weekly community meeting, where students, parents, teachers and the PTA gather, Arden was able to really rally people behind her for the possibility of improving the school. When the school found out Arden was a finalist, the community was overjoyed. Because of her advancement in the contest, we knew Midtown West had secured at least $10,000 to update our cafeteria and were in the running for the grand prize of $30,000.

In the end, Arden was one of two runner-up contestants to the Ben’s Beginners™ contest and Midtown West received $10,000 we so desperately needed for our elementary school kitchen. Because of the Uncle Ben’s® Brand, we are using the prize money to remodel a teaching kitchen and cafeteria area by updating all appliances and making plumbing available to the kitchen. The prize money will allow not only a safer cooking environment, but also an opportunity for our students to cook healthier meals and be more hands-on. Her simple entry into the contest will spread the love of cooking to thousands more Midtown West students.

In the end, what started as a fun way to rally our community together will end up educating many children for years to come. All schools and PTAs should encourage participation in the Ben’s Beginners™ Cooking Contest to their students and parents. At the very least, families will have joined together for a night of fun in the kitchen, and your school may even win a cafeteria makeover.

 

Ryan Bourke is the principal at New York City school, Midtown West which was a 2013 Runner up in the Ben’s Beginners™ Cooking Contest.

Behind the Membership Scenes: To Activate Your Card…or Not?

To activate or not; that is the question.

We received some emails asking why we are encouraging you to activate the new card. It’s a great question, considering we’ve never requested it of you.

Should I activate the card? Are others activating their card? Am I still a member of PTA if I don’t activate my card? Are you going to give my email address to other companies?

Yes, you should activate the card. Card activation helps PTA meet your needs. When you activate your card, you share with us what role you play in the PTA family… parent, teacher, grandparent, guardian, school administrator, student, or supporter! Knowing who you are helps us to provide resources you need and want.

Yes, other PTA members have activated their cards. Hundreds of thousands of the PTA member network have activated their card to access benefits and that number grows every day. The great thing about card activation: You can activate your membership card anytime you’re ready! Even right now.  It’s never too late to activate.

Yes, you’re still a member of PTA even if you don’t activate your membership card. However, activating your card helps to count your voice. We are a powerful network of 5,000,000 members spread across 54 Congresses (the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Europe). Activating your card helps us to count your voice from state to state. Telling us your voice count helps us get valuable discounts on products and services that can benefit your children, your child’s school, or you. Better voice count equals better discounts!

No, we won’t sell your information to a third party vendor. Receiving unwanted email is not fun, and we won’t add to the dilemma. We keep your email address in confidence and value your willingness to share with us to better serve you and all children.

Activate your card now! Please click here to add your voice to Today’s PTA.


Joy Lindsey is the Membership Marketing Manager for National PTA in Alexandria, VA. Contact Joy at jlindsey@pta.org.

Our Children Magazine Is Now Digital and Free for Everyone

At National PTA, we recognize that one of the most important things we can do as an association is offer families and educators the resources they need to provide for their students’ success. For more than 100 years, Our Children magazine has been one of the best tools National PTA offers. Each issue includes information and in-depth analyses of current education issues, plus plenty of advice on how to run a strong, effective PTA.

Up to now, Our Children was directly available only to PTA leaders. Although many of our leaders regularly make copies of articles and hand them out at meetings, we want to make sure every member can rely on us for timely, relevant information.

To better serve all our members and the public at large, Our Children magazine is now available in a digital edition at PTA.org that is open to everyone free of charge. Not only will the online version duplicate the print issue, but it will also contain bonus content, with e-mail links and live URLs that lead to even more resources. The digital edition is easy to navigate; it allows you to skip through pages through the table of content and to share information with your social media networks with a click of a button.

We’re excited about Our Children’s new digital format, and we invite you to visit PTA.org/pta_magazine.asp to see for yourself!

The latest Our Children issue is available now! The October/November 2012 issue “Fundraisers, Start Your Engines” features multiple articles on fundraising during challenging economic times, as well as information about legal issues surrounding corporate sponsorships. Other articles include information about flu vaccinations, possible federal budget cuts to education, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education.

Here’s what we have coming up:

  • December 2012/January 2013: Education in the Age of Technology
  • February/March 2013: What IS Education Reform?
  • April/May 2013: Here’s to Teachers!

Emily Karsnak is a Marketing and Communications Specialist for the National PTA in Alexandria, VA.  Contact Emily at ekarsnak@pta.org.

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.