4 Ways to Engage in Your Child’s Education

This piece was originally featured in Mediaplanet.

Over 40 years of research shows that regardless of a family’s income or socioeconomic background, students whose families are engaged attend school more regularly earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs and have higher graduation rates.

Here are four ways you can help your child reach their full potential:

1. Talk about school matters at home

Encourage your child to talk about their day and express any concerns. It will help you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what activities they like and don’t like. Two-way communication is essential to developing an active and positive relationship and an open, ongoing dialogue is critical to keep your child safe, happy and learning.

2. Be a partner in your child’s learning

Every child’s education experience is unique, and ensuring it remains a positive one is a shared responsibility between families and educators. It is important to develop a relationship with your child’s teacher, keep the lines of communication open and work together to support your child.

3. Advocate for your child  

You are your child’s best advocate. It is important to speak up for your own child — and every child in your school community — to ensure they are treated fairly and have access to opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential. Use your voice to advocate with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure your child’s school has the resources to provide a world-class education to every student.

4. Join up with your PTA

Get involved with your local parent teacher association. Families are busier than ever and as an on-the-go parent, you will find support from others in PTA who share your questions, concerns, hopes and dreams for their children. You will also be part of a dedicated network of families, educators, businesses and community leaders who are working to ensure all children — including yours — receive a high-quality education.

The work your family does at home to support and reinforce what your kids are doing in school will have a significant academic impact. Don’t strive for perfection — remember that involvement looks different for every family — and any level of involvement in your child’s education will help ensure they have every opportunity for success.

Laura Bay is president of National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA), a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement.

Delegate or Do it Yourself?

This piece was first featured on Portland Council PTA’s blog.

Have you delegated a task, only to find out that the result wasn’t what you expected? Do you micromanage because you want things done properly? Many PTA leaders fail to delegate because they think it’s quicker to do it themselves—they can’t trust others to do the work or feel that they will just end up re-doing it themselves, so they may as well do it from the start. They are usually afraid that tasks won’t be completed in a timely manner or to a standard that they expect, so they often don’t delegate.

But delegation is a critical component for an effective PTA.

When you delegate successfully, you further the PTA as a whole, because as people gain confidence and experience, they will also grow as leaders. Delegation isn’t just a matter of telling someone else what to do. Truly effective delegation is assigning the right tasks to the right people and then guiding them to be successful in their tasks.

So how do you effectively delegate? Here are a few tips:

  • Develop an action plan for tasks. Give timelines, deadlines and expectations to your team. Give people plenty of time to ask questions and then complete the tasks.
  • Check in frequently, but don’t monitor too closely. Setting progress update meetings from the start will allow you to set your expectations and check in along the way. It also gives you a chance to make sure that the project is moving in the right direction before it is beyond the “point of no return.” Don’t be afraid to give constructive feedback, but also don’t micro-manage.
  • Break down larger projects into smaller tasks and delegate pieces out to an entire group of people. This can help keep work manageable while developing a team atmosphere. Again, be sure to assign each task to the person best suited to handle it to keep the project moving. There is nothing worse for your volunteers or board members than waiting on someone else in order to complete their own work.
  • If something does fall through, don’t take the work back on yourself. Accept that sometimes things need to fail to succeed. Reflect on if the project truly needs this task to be completed. Use caution if you need to re-delegate tasks to another person, as that can cause hard feelings between people.
  • Be sure to give credit where it’s due, but don’t place blame when things fail. The end result of the project was a team effort, whether it succeeded or failed.

Delegation takes some practice, but doing it effectively will free you up to do the things that only you can do for the PTA. When you delegate effectively, you can save time, balance your own workload and achieve more for your PTA, while furthering the growth of the organization and future leaders. That’s a win-win for everyone!

Lisa Kensel is the Portland Council PTA President.

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 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 Man Behind the Cloak and Lens

My dad was a magician…. Well so I thought when I was younger.  I would enter my class with a shiny, silver penny almost everyday.  The kids would be in awe,wondering how I got a silver penny.  Everyone knew pennies were copper of course.  However, my answer was simple. “ It’s magic, my daddy made it.”  My dad was not a magician, but a Middle School Science Teacher  (He actually had to leave a PTA meeting because my mom went into labor with me).

Anyway back to the magic….We  (My brother, sister and I) went to school early with him everyday and I am sure he had to find some ways to entertain us before the school bell rang.  So he would mix some “magic potions” and make  smoke, fire and my beloved silver pennies.  Looking back I truly appreciated my father being apart of my home and school life.  Knowing he could pop up at any moment definitely altered my behavior at school.  I saw him at lunch, recess and after school.  To be honest, I didn’t always want him around but was secretly comforted that he was a door or two away.

I also have a vivid memory of my childhood because of my father.  Because of his passion for photography he made sure to capture every moment on film.  Each of my siblings have at least 3 gigantic photo albums  each, starting from day one that chronicles every play, sport, dance recital, cotillion and graduation we were apart of.  Many people may not know what my father looked like because he was in a lab coat (magic cloak) or behind a lens.

Flash forward to about 20 years later.  My dad now retired but has played the same active role in my nephew’s life.  His life is being captured on film and he sets up little science projects for him to discover.  He even wants to be a magician.

But it’s really not about the magic.  The memories are about the time that was shared.  My dad is the same as any other male figure who wants to be apart of a child’s life.  Children want you to be present and active in their lives.  That is why we are so excited about the Million Hours of Power Movement and what it can mean for so many children.  It means the nurturing of the next great scientist, photographer and yes maybe even magician.

You don’t have to be a male to help us in our plight for male involvement.   Simply start with voting.

Vote for PTA’s Million Hours of Power in the Pepsi Refresh project, then encourage everyone you know to vote for PTA.

– LaWanda Amaker is the Marketing/Communications Manager  for National PTA based in Alexandria VA. Her parents  Lin and Carolyn Amaker live in Orangeburg, SC where they raised her and her two siblings – Maurice and Sherrie

Looking for Superman at a School Near You

As part of NBC’s Education Nation, I had the honor of taking part in two town hall sessions. One was a Teacher Town Hall, and the second session regarding the newly released film “Waiting for Superman”.

Recently following a special premiere screening, I provided commentary and addressed what I believe the film emphasizes as a need for parents to do; get involved in the conversation.

Now, as far as I am concerned the two town hall sessions talked about parents, talked to parents, but did not talk with parents. Parents are critical in making education reform a reality in our country. At hand, how important is reform in our communities?

We can all agree that every community in our country have schools with varying degrees of challenges. Many out right fail the students. So again, what is it going to take to get parents, grandparents and all adult care givers involved?

A quality education is a civil rights issue that should lift every child’s opportunities. A child should not have to cross their fingers nor should parents have to lay awake at night worried when it comes to getting into a quality school.

I am blessed that my two sons are attending a good school, but so many parents in our country see their children attending “drop out factories.” A practice that can end if we all agree that reform is a must-have conversation.

Parents need to get their heads out of the sand. So respectfully I must ask again, “What in the hell is it going to take for parents, adults or any role model to get involved in the school reform conversation?”

Let’s take the steps to get there….First see “Waiting for Superman,” and next get your friends, neighbors and family involved in the conversation to make critical changes.

Chuck Saylors,
National PTA, President

A Personal Plea to Get Involved

The value of being an involved parent often comes in the form of smiles and hugs from your children. They show their appreciation for your involvement readily. Your involvement, even at the most basic level, demonstrates how much you care and that caring can produce a tremendous impact that extends beyond your kids.

I wish I could claim my presence as a chaperone on a field trip made the difference between David getting an A in some class rather than a B. I can’t. But I can say that my involvement in his and his brother’s school contributes to their positive attitudes about school. A positive attitude makes homework more tolerable and promotes a relaxed learning environment.

What I’ve also discovered is that I provide this support and uplift not just for my sons but the other children as well. Some of my children’s classmates lack a significant father figure. I fill that role even if it is just for a short time. The involvement of my wife and I inside and outside the classroom helps ensure students receive the attention and guidance they need and deserve.

Parent involvement helps the teachers, too. We all know they have a demanding job. Volunteers free teachers to do more. And teachers become motivated when they know parents care. That benefits the entire class.

I don’t speak only from experience. The importance of parent involvement is backed by research. A 2010 University of Chicago study identifies parent involvement as one of the five “key ingredients” for school improvement in low-income, urban schools. Other research clearly shows that when families are involved in their children’s learning, both at home and at school, their children do better academically.

Perhaps the biggest impact family involvement can have is that it often expands. I chaperoned one field trip and the next thing I knew I was coaching a girls basketball team. I made these commitments without hesitating. Sure, I’m as busy as any other working parent. But I find the time in my family’s schedule. It’s almost miraculous how the timing always seems to work out.

Unfortunately, men are underrepresented when it comes to getting involved in their children’s schools. That is changing. But it needs to change more. National PTA’s Million Hours of Power campaign aims to build on this momentum. We want at least 350,000 men to volunteer at least three hours service to children—in school, at community events, wherever men feel comfortable volunteering to help children. To help us reach that goal, we are pursuing a $250,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh campaign. The top two vote-getters this month earn the grants.

We’ve moved up about 60 spots in the rankings for the Pepsi Rrefresh $250,000 grants and have already logged thousands of hours toward the Million Hours of Power. We need your help to reach these two goals.

We tend to see only our children. We miss the world of their peers and how the connections between our kids, their friends, their teachers, and the school weave together to form the complex tapestry that is your child’s educational experience.
So if you care about your kids…
If you care about their friends and classmates…
If you care about their teachers…
If you care about the state of education in America…
Then vote in the Pepsi Refresh campaign so PTA can put tools in place to help men get more involved. One man contributing three volunteer hours this year will produce positive results that resonate throughout the classroom, the school, the community.

Father's Day- Get in the Game

Father’s Day is 100 years old. It goes without question that when a parent is involved in a child’s education they succeed, but when both parent’s are engaged the child is much more successful.

So on this Father’s Day, we would like thank the dedicated parents of our country for their love, support and dedication for their children and the students of all our communities.

Dad’s play a key role. Father’s Day is but one day to celebrate and show up for the part. We encourage you continue to find the time to get engaged.

 

As a working Dad, I know how hard it is to find extra time to volunteer. If you haven’t dared to play an active part in your child’s education, here is a challenge. “Can you find 3 hours during the school year?” Three hours is all it takes, and can make all the difference for your child as well as their classmates.

Dad, thank you! Keep up the good work.

A Parent's Voice and ESEA

ESEA? What’s that?

Ever heard of “No Child Left behind”? This legislation is officially known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and it’s up for re-authorization in Congress; a valuable opportunity for parents, teachers, administrators and communities to share their thoughts and concerns with members of Congress in an effort to improve student achievement through innovation and policy improvement.

Now, re-authorization does not simply mean re-approving the existing law(s). Under the NCLB title this legislation was given a massive facelift during its last re-authorization, changes that caused concerns with school districts and parents nationwide.

PTA is working with members of Congress to strengthen ESEA, not to rubber stamp it. As a local school board trustee in South Carolina, I have seen, first hand, how the current legislation calls for a series of mandated policies or programs with little to no funding. PTA is working to address not only funding concerns, but issues around parent involvement, teacher recruitment and overall accountability.

Today, we’re asking that you get involved. We will not have the opportunity to have an open and meaningful discussion on excessive testing; narrowing funding; teacher support; and parent involvement unless our members of Congress hear from us, the voters! Please join PTA in making sure that our children have the tools to succeed, that our teachers have the support they need to be innovative and that our administrators have the funding to guarantee all of our expectations are met.

All of this requires your voice, and the voices of your friends, families and neighbors.

Please help us help our schools. Join the conversation!

Until next time,
Charles J. “Chuck” Saylors- president, National PTA