Join the First-Timers Experience at National PTA Convention!

Are you a PTA mission believer and achiever? A PTA leader of leaders? An advocate who wants better for our students and schools nationwide? Then we’ll see you at 2018 National PTA Convention & Expo June 21-24 in beautiful and historic New Orleans, La.

In true New Orleans hospitality, we will welcome our first-time attendees with extra kindness. We will show you how to navigate National PTA’s largest and most comprehensive leadership development experience while making the networking easy for you!

Here are your three FIRST steps to making sure this is your best PTA decision ever:

  1. Come to the First-Timers’ Boot Camp. Join the Convention General Arrangements Committee and other first-time attendees at this must-attend event designed just for you on Thursday, June 22 at 1:15 p.m. in Room 235/236. Walk in knowing who you came with and walk out knowing at least five new friends. You’ll hear about the business, special events and learning experiences at Convention, and then your National PTA First-Timer Friend will help you design a plan for workshops and networking experiences that will match your goals for the weekend. Finally, you will take a tour of important locations like the workshop rooms and General Meetings. Leave this workshop feeling oriented, confident and connected.

 

  1. Meet back up with your First-Timer Friends for an Expo Hall tour and #PTAProud team-building experience. Your National PTA First-Timer Friend will give you a special invitation to explore an Expo Hall tour designed just for you. Meet National PTA’s sponsors, connect with National PTA Board Members in the PTA Booth, and then head over for a fun #PTAProud Team-Building Experience. Enjoy a fast-paced icebreaker with your new friends and then take a group selfie at our #PTAProud Wall. Leave this experience with a #PTAProud Recipe for Teamwork that you can take home and facilitate your own PTA team-building experiences!

 

  1. Pack a sweater—even though the average temperature in New Orleans is 90. Trust us. Every Convention Center looks a little different but offers the same chilly relief from blazing summer heat. So, bring a sweater or jacket that will help your mind to stay focused on all the possibilities National PTA’s Convention has to offer!

If this is your first time at National PTA’s Convention & Expo, get the VIP treatment—join the First-Timers Experience!

Didn’t register yet? There’s still time. Visit PTA.org/Convention to register today.


Mary Pat King is the director of education and leadership development at National PTA.

Thinking About College: What Matters?

Many high school seniors and their parents are heavily into the college application season. Colleges are being considered, ranked and evaluated on multiple parameters. How well regarded is the school? Who teaches most of the courses? How nice are the residence halls and lab facilities? How competitive is the school? How much financial aid is available?

All of these concerns are important. Nevertheless, it is very likely that many important concerns will not be investigated or even considered by students or parents. The JED Foundation, Jordan Porco Foundation and Partnership for Drug Free Kids recently did an online survey with Harris Poll of over 1,500 first year college students to find out about their experience transitioning into college. What we found out is worth considering.

More than 60% of students told us that they wish they had gotten more emotional preparation for college. Students who felt emotionally under-prepared for college tended to perform slightly worse academically and to report their overall experience in college as terrible or poor. Nearly 40% of these first year students reported feeling anxious most or all of the time and 1 in 5 felt depressed much or all of the time. One in 5 also reported turning to alcohol or drugs when stressed.

What does this have to do with college choice?

It seems that beyond questions of quality and facilities, students and families need to consider the emotional and psycho-social elements of college choice.

  • How far away from home will be a comfortable distance for your child?
  • How large or small a school will work?
  • How cohesive, friendly and supportive is the campus community?
  • Is there a thorough orientation program to help students get adjusted?
  • Is there solid resident assistant (RA) training in residential schools that helps RA’s be ready to identify and support a student who might be struggling with adjustment?
  • How responsive are the counseling center, disabilities office, health services, student services and academic advising to students and families?
  • Does the college value health and wellness?

You can get a sense of this by exploring the college’s website and seeing how hard (or easy) it is to find information about health, counseling and health education services. Considering some of the items above may help to diminish or alleviate some of the transition challenges that emerged in our survey. If your child is currently receiving care for a significant/serious medical or mental health problem, it is important to discuss college choices with their treating clinician. Make sure the schools you are considering (either with their own services, with community based services and/or working in concert with your child’s home-based clinicians) can provide the clinical services to keep your child healthy and safe.

What else can parents do?

If your child is in 12th grade, start working with them to support the development of independence and self-regulation. It will be really helpful to have them take more of a role in managing their time, sleep, nutrition and academic work. Try to use this year to help them learn the basic skills they need to live away from home; how do they manage money or doing laundry? Are they able to cook a few basic things? You can discuss how it will feel to live away from home, meet people from other backgrounds and cultures and manage their own personal and academic choices.

College is a great and exciting time and meeting and overcoming challenges is part of growing up. We do what we can to make sure our kids are ready to face and handle these challenges. Being aware of and addressing these issues ahead of time as much as is reasonable is a great way to facilitate this process. You can even make a lot of these activities fun.

The JED Foundation will soon be releasing an online resource center to help young people and their families in this transition process. The website will be ready in early 2016 and will have a wealth of information on college choice and how to get prepared for and manage this exciting time.


Mary Pat King is the director of programs and partnerships at National PTA.

 

Today is International Walk to School Day!

walktoschooldayThe rush to get out the door on time and then…

The giggles…

The songs that you sing to pace your fast feet…

The camaraderie with neighborhood buddies…

The bond among tired, decaffeinated parents…

The “Mom, did you know?” moments that you want to bottle up forever…and ever…

Those few seconds you’re still permitted to hold his hand as you cross the street.

And all of this before the school bell rings –

All of this during your walk to school or the bus stop.

Today is International Walk to School Day 2015!

Today we celebrate this simple, every day activity that connects generations of families. Today, we celebrate the PTA leaders nationwide who are partnering with their schools and transportation officials to host Walk to School Day events. On this day, we are reminded that “active kids do better” and physical activity in the morning helps students to focus more on their studies the rest of the day.

Walk to School Day looks different in every school community. Some kids always walk to school so on this day – they enjoy a more festive route and a celebration when they arrive. Other kids live too far for a walk, so they meet at a “drop-off” location to join friends and their families on a shared route. Still others are joining a Walking School Bus, or a group of kids walking with parents who rotate the responsibility of shepherding kids safely to school.

Today is the day that parents are reminded to teach and practice important pedestrian safety tips, like left-right-left before crossing, or don’t text and walk. Look around and you’ll see increased foot traffic equals increased enforcement and traffic patrols, increased recognition for those awesome school crossing guards, and increased caution among drivers. And this is awesome – and celebratory – and safer for our children and families walking to school or the bus stop TODAY.

But what happens tomorrow?

International Walk to School Day serves as a launch pad for year-round Safe Routes to School efforts to educate students about pedestrian and bike safety, encourage families to choose walking and biking as their mode of transportation, and mobilize communities around advocating for safer walking and biking environments especially near schools.

Since it began in 2000, thousands of school communities have benefited as a result of what happens after each International Walk to School Day and millions of families have benefited from the Safe Routes to School movement.

walktoschoolday1Honoring Deb Hubsmith who fired up our feet for Safe Routes to School

Today, I’m walking with my kids and local PTA in honor of a woman who led the launch of this movement – Deb Hubsmith, founder of Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Sadly, Deb passed away in August from Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

In the early 2000s, I knew I was witnessing history when I stood near the US Capitol Building – listening to Deb Hubsmith and Congressman Oberstar fuel our passions and fire up our feet as we began our day of lobbying for an unprecedented commitment to Safe Routes to School funding.

At the time, I managed the pedestrian and bike safety programs for Safe Kids Worldwide, which provided grants to support local Walk to School Day events and create task forces focused on safer school environments.

I remember standing among a hundred or so pedestrian and bike advocates and listening to this passionate woman – not much older than my 20-something self – share her vision for more active school communities. She revved us up that day. We were ready to roll as one team from many different organizations toward one objective: Safe Routes to School funding.

Proudly in 2005 – thanks to Deb’s leadership rallying all of us together for this cause – the first Safe Routes to School legislation by the U.S. Congress passed. It dedicated $1.1 billion for Safe Routes to School in all 50 states. Fast forward a decade, Deb’s vision and leadership continued to play such a significant role in the September 2015 launch of Step it Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities.

Today, the National PTA is proud of its strategic collaboration with the organization Deb founded, Safe Routes to School National Partnership. During the last few years, I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with Deb and her staff frequently about our joint program Fire Up Your Feet. And I was even honored to share the stage with her at a few events where we encouraged audiences to support policy and programs that make it possible for kids to safely walk or bike to school.

The last time I saw Deb in-person was at the National Walking Summit in 2013. She was full of passion and spirit and I never would’ve known she didn’t feel well. She reminded me recently that she was diagnosed with leukemia two weeks later. Please take a few minutes to honor Deb’s life and legacy by watching a video from that October 2013 event where she shared why her organization and the National PTA partnered with Kaiser Permanente to leverage Walk to School Day as a launch pad for Fire Up Your Feet.

Listen to her passionate radiance. It’s as if you can feel her everlasting energy – her vision that will continue to fuel and inspire the Safe Routes to School movement today and every day.


Mary Pat King is the director of programs and partnerships at National PTA.

“At my PTA”

pta-alternate-fundraiser-exlarge-169

(Photo Credit: Dee Heinz)

If you are a parent or educator, then you probably have a story to tell that begins with, “At my PTA…”

This week, one of those stories gained major media attention for a PTA that took an innovative approach to fundraising—often called a “non-fundraiser.” You may have seen it on Facebook or media outlets like CNN. The Facebook post celebrates the humor PTA leaders had in addressing what most family-school organizations (and all nonprofits) have to do to operate—raise money. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. It’s creative, real and admittedly, hilarious. It’s certainly relevant to today’s busy parents, grandparents and educators.

I have a story too. At my PTA, we’re using the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships to guide our approach to membership, events and yes—even fundraising.

Using these standards to guide your PTA plan is one of the things that makes PTA different than other family-school organizations. In fact, our National PTA Schools of Excellence program has proven that when these standards are used, families feel more welcomed and valued, more involved in supporting their child’s academic success, and more informed about and engaged in improving the school. They also feel more connected in their community.

Family School Partnerships croppedPTA’s National Standards shift a PTA board from planning around a calendar to focusing the plan on the needs of your students, teachers and school. By the time you get to the calendar stage of planning, every PTA effort and the calendar itself reflects the standards in action:

  1. Membership recruitment ideas that make all families feel welcome and valued;
  2. Communication strategies that allow your families and teachers to plan their involvement in PTA, and encourage ongoing feedback about PTA’s efforts;
  3. Educational PTA programs and events that link to learning and guide families on the ways to support student success;
  4. Advocacy efforts that speak up on behalf of every child’s needs and improve the school as a whole;
  5. Shared decision-making about the mix of fundraising activities that will support these school improvements;
  6. Fun, family experiences that create pride and school spirit, while connecting families to other people and resources in their community.

At my PTA, we began our planning process by sending out a survey to families and teachers that helped us to understand what they perceived about our efforts. Then we canvassed the community—sharing the most frequent feedback we heard—and we asked more questions about what we still needed to know. All of the feedback has resulted in a drumbeat of reoccurring messages explaining how we will:

  • Support our students and teachers by…
  • Improve our school by…
  • Create a welcoming and supportive school community by…

Once we determined our objectives, we sat down with the calendar and made sure everything on it achieved one of the bullets above. Will we fundraise? Oh yes, we will. We are a nonprofit advocacy organization—we have to in order to fulfill our mission! But when we do fundraise, everyone will know how the money raised will make the school a better place for our kids. At my PTA, that’s what we care about most.

Do you have an “At My PTA” story you want to share? Email Programs@PTA.org. We want to hear it and highlight you in one of our future blogs, e-newsletters or magazine articles!


Mary Pat King, MS is the director of programs & partnerships at National PTA. She is also a vice president for her local PTA.

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).

Attract More People to Your PTA

More PeopleWhat was it that sparked you to become an active PTA member? Or rather, WHO was it? Think about that person. What did he or she say or do that attracted you to joining and volunteering for PTA? How did you feel that first time you volunteered? What did you most admire about that person?

Hopefully, yours was a positive experience – one where you felt welcomed, supported and empowered to give more of your time, talents and skills. Speaking from my own very recent experience, most of us “newbies” walk in the same way, right? A little shy, a shade intimidated, not sure if “they” (those who seem to know exactly what needs to be done) really want us there – and most of all, fearful of stepping on toes or doing something wrong.

But all it takes is that one PTA leader – title unknown – to change our PTA future.

You know who I’m talking about: that one person who greeted us with a smile, made a quick introduction to the other volunteers, and showed us a specific way to help out that first shaky day. That’s how PTA leadership is sparked. Then the spark becomes a flame of pride when we see the ways students and families benefit from our collective efforts – enjoying the event, learning together, improving the school and strengthening the school community.

In 2015, resolve to be the PTA leader who sparks a PTA future for others. 

No matter the organization, volunteers get involved and stay involved when they feel:

  • Welcomed and supported by leadership through effective, two-way communication;
  • Proud of the way the mission supports others;
  • Engaged in decision-making and respected for unique perspectives;
  • Valued for time, talents and skills contributed; and
  • Connected in a positive way to others in the community.

These expectations of membership and volunteer service align well with what we aim for through the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. These standards are evidence-based guidelines for schools, PTA leaders and families to use when building strong and effective family-school partnerships.

You may have heard someone say before, “Take a look in the leadership mirror.” Well that’s what these standards will help you to do — examine your strengths and weaknesses (it’s ok, we all have them!) as a PTA leader and PTA Board. Once you’ve answered the questions, you can begin to map out a plan for the year to do a few things different. Don’t aim for a self-revolution, nor a PTA overhaul. That wouldn’t be authentic, nor practical – and it might even yield unnecessary drama.

Instead, resolve to engage families – all families, even the ones that you can’t really see yourself hanging out with – in a more meaningful way as PTA members and leaders. See the potential for participation and leadership in every parent, every teacher, every grandparent – every caregiver or community member that cares about the kids of your school.

Making this resolution will increase your PTA membership and grow new leadership. But it will also fuel your own personal satisfaction from this leadership experience. You will feel fulfilled by new energy that new people bring. You will feel the glow of passing on your passion to new child advocates, and you will create a positive flame of family engagement that shines on all of the children of your school community. You’ll be the one they talk about someday – you’ll be “That PTA Leader.”

 GET STARTED – USE THE PTA’S NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR FAMILY-SCHOOL PARTNERSHIPS

Answer the questions below on your own. Then share the questions with other board members. Talk about your answers in a safe, supportive, team-building way. For each Standard, agree on one priority for the PTA Board that will have the greatest impact on your PTA membership and school community.


Standard #1: Welcome All Families

  • Do you know who the families are at your school – their unique perspectives and their needs?
  • Are you welcoming and consider the leadership potential of every parent/caregiver, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender preference, family structure, employment status, education level, socioeconomic level, etc.?
  • Do you know what families and teachers think of your PTA? If so, is it all positive? Is there anything that could be better?
  • Do you always assume every parent/teacher wants what’s best for their students?
  • Do you treat every parent/teacher as a potential PTA leader?
  • How do you welcome families at the beginning of the school year and at each PTA event that follows?


Standard #2:  Communicate Effectively

  • Do you communicate in many ways and often?
  • Do you communicate simply and in the languages preferred by families?
  • Do you encourage feedback for improvement? Do you incorporate the suggestions you receive?
  • Do you view every face-to-face interaction as an opportunity to recruit a PTA member or potential PTA leader?
  • Do you share many ways to contribute to PTA’s success?
  • Leader, Board Member, Event/Program Volunteer, Promotional Volunteer, Program Participant, Financial or In-Kind Supporter, Fundraiser, etc.
  • Do you regularly communicate how membership dollars and PTA volunteer hours contribute to student success and school improvements?
  • Do you know your X, Y and Z so that you can often say, “Thanks to families and teachers like you – who support PTA as members – we can have X, do Y, and improve Z?”


Standard #3: Support Student Success

  • Do you provide opportunities for families to experience what their child is learning and how they can support that at home?
  • Do you offer events or forums that foster relationship-building and positive interactions with school professionals?
  • Do you talk with the teachers about the challenges they are having and work together to develop PTA-supported solutions?
  • Do you access the turn-key toolkits, grants and family resources available through National and State PTA to support your efforts?


Standard #4: Speak Up for Every Child

  • Do you know what students need for their educational success and overall well-being?
  • Are you working in partnership with your school leaders to address a specific school improvement goal?
  • Do you share PTA’s District, State, National advocacy efforts that are important and relevant to your school community?
  • Do you create opportunities for families of your school to voice their perspectives to school leaders, district leaders and policymakers?
  • Do you access the advocacy tools available through National and State PTA to share needs and address concerns of the families at your school?


Standard #5: Share Power

  • Do you treat every member as a potential leader?
  • Do you always say “Yes” when someone offers to help in some way? Do you provide them with direction to get them started?
  • How are you engaging all families in PTA decision-making?
  • Are your general meetings well-promoted and do you offer educational value for families?
  • Do your offer flexibility related to timing and means of attendance (conference calls, etc.)? Do you have translators?
  • Do you have a central place for minutes, upcoming events, and ways to gain feedback on PTA progress from general membership?


Standard #6: Collaborate with Community

  • How are you seeking support from local businesses, including parent-owned businesses?
  • Financial support
  • Member benefits
  • In-kind donations
  • Employee volunteer hours
  • Promotion space/visibility
  • How do you partner with local community organizations to reach new families and support the needs of your families?
  • How do you work with other PTAs to share best practices and support each other?

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).

Start Planning Your PTA Take Your Family to School Week, February 16-20, 2015

ParentsAtSchoolNational PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week will be from Feb. 16-20, 2015. In celebration of PTA’s Founder’s Day, this year’s theme will be Supporting Student Success, focusing on family engagement solutions that are proven to help prevent the risks associated with high school dropout rates.

PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week is a great time to:

  • Increase family engagement in education by showing families interactive ways to support student achievement in reading and math. Host a PTA Family Reading Experience, math event or workshop for parents on the ways to support student success.
  • Increase student access to arts education, which is proven to increase attendance rates, family engagement, and social connectedness to school. Host a Reflections celebration or a creative career fair event.
  • Build safer, more supportive school climates full of healthy student relationships, through bullying prevention and cultural awareness activities.

National PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week Kit has all the tools needed to get started.  For the first time this year, National PTA will ship a PTA Take Your Family to School Week Toolkit to:

All kit and grant recipients must be in good-standing with their State PTA and be a 501(c)(3) organization. Below are the steps to take advantage of this opportunity:

  1. View the sign up and grant application form to prepare for your online submission.
  2. Visit PTA.org/TYFTSW to see the 2014 toolkit and consider the type(s) of event(s) you will host. We have tools for events focused on family engagement, literacy, math, bullying prevention, Reflections celebration, career fair, or celebrating many cultures.
  3. Complete event sign-up form by Monday, November 3 to be considered for the kit shipment.
  4. Click “YES!” to answering a few more questions on the event sign-up form and apply for a $1,000 grant. Grant application deadline is Monday, November 3, 2014. Applicants that do not receive a grant but were among the first 150 sign-ups will receive the free kit.
  5. Celebrate Take Your Family to School Week with hundreds of other PTAs across the country February 16-20, 2015 and be featured on National PTA’s interactive map and in promotion tools.

All PTAs are encouraged to celebrate Take Your Family to School Week! National PTA will promote a master list of events and interactive map available at PTA.org/TYFTSW.

Thanks to Our Sponsor
The AXA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AXA US, is the proud sponsor of PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week. Its signature program, AXA Achievementsm, helps students and parents take the next step toward college. The AXA Foundation has been a proud National PTA spo

PTA Reflections – A Masterpiece in Family Engagement

Early March – a time I love at the home office of National PTA. It’s the time when our mission springs to life in front of our eyes: advocates streaming into town from every part of the country for our National PTA Legislative Conference; news stories airing about local PTAs hosting their PTA Family Reading Experiences and PTA Take Your Family to School Week events; and the incredible PTA Reflections® artwork arriving from thousands of student artists who qualified for national round judging.

This is my third March with National PTA. Each spring, I’ve enjoyed pouring through the Reflections finalists – reading, listening, watching – the art appeals to so many of my senses and nurtures my own creative spirit. It just amazes me how students of all ages capture our annual theme in such unique and poignant ways.

But this year it’s different.  This year, I see more than the creativity and interpretation of our student artists. This year, thanks to Pinellas County Council PTA, I see each submission as a masterpiece in family engagement.

A Warm Night Despite the Polar Vortex

Reflections_MichelleAlfredIn January, during the coldest day of the year when even Florida suffered from the bite of the Polar Vortex, I attended the Pinellas County Council PTA’s Reflections Celebration. This was my first local PTA Reflections celebration. It was incredible! The PTA Council, led by President Michelle Alfred, hosted an awards ceremony, exhibit and reception at Pinellas Park High School.

I arrived bundled up and shuffling to the door with a shiver and a grumble. But when the door opened, I gasped with pride at the sight of a room so full of families. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, little brothers and sisters – all there for one reason – to celebrate and support their student artists. It was so inviting and celebratory in that standing-room-only auditorium! I was wrapped in its warmth in a way that gives you goose bumps. I had goose bumps all night. Then I realized this is family engagement in action: PTA welcoming families into the school and engaging them in something we know supports student success – arts participation.

Reflections_ParentsChildI had the honor of sitting with the PTA Pinellas County Council Board, as well as long-time PTA volunteer and Pinellas County School Board Chair Carol J. Cook. As we waited for the event to begin, Chairwoman Cook shared with me her PTA experience and how PTA really helped to shape her civic leadership experience. Later, she greeted the students and mingled with the families. Through this celebration, families gained access to an important school decision-maker and they showed her by their presence – how much families care about arts in education.

PTA Volunteers Pave the Way for Family Engagement Through the Arts

Debi Klein, Chair of the Reflections Committee for the Pinellas County Council PTA, hosted the recognition ceremony. She and the Reflections Committee recruited 33 schools to participate this year, which is an incredible accomplishment. She’s been involved with PTA for nearly a decade and chaired the Council’s Reflections Committee for five years.

Reflections_ParentPaparazzi“I love seeing the creativity that students produce,” Debi told me. “And without the local PTA unit chairs, students wouldn’t be able to participate in this program.”

Debi is right. There are thousands of PTA volunteers across the country who support this program. Volunteers who give forth so many nights, so many weekends, so much energy and enthusiasm to support arts in education opportunities through PTA’s Reflections program. These volunteers are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, educators, community arts leaders and advocates speaking up for every child at their school and collaborating with the community to increase access to arts participation.

When National PTA celebrates our student artists in June, we will celebrate all of you who are Reflections Chairs!  You provide a critical path for family engagement through this program. And more than 300,000 students and families across the country and in US schools overseas benefit from your commitment.

Believe, Dream, Inspire.

Reflections_PrideWhen I sat in the audience that night, I couldn’t help but wear two hats – National PTA staff person and the mom of students in Pinellas County. My heart beamed with joy each time a child swept passed me with their nervous run to the stage to accept their well-deserved award. I couldn’t help but to look back and admire the families – their love, their pride, their snapping phone cameras. I savored each hug I saw – each “I’m proud of you” I heard. And I daydreamed about the day when I will celebrate one of my children in a similar way.

Working at the national level, I don’t get to feel the “mission moment” goose bumps all the time. But when I do – I treasure them. And that’s why I love March – March is full of them!

 

Do you want to become a PTA Reflections volunteer and encourage student artists to reflect on the theme: “The world would be a better place if…”?  Visit PTA.org/reflections to learn more. Or make an online donation to support the Reflections program at: http://www.pta.org/about/donate.cfm?navItemNumber=3355.

Mary Pat King, MS is the director of programs and partnerships for the National PTA. She is also the proud mom of Mason, 5, and Jenna Bea, 4. She and her husband, Eric, are new members of the Cypress Woods Elementary School PTA in Pinellas County, FL.

Raising Enthusiasm for STEM, While Supporting Schools’ Technology Needs

Earlier today, I conducted a focus group of one – my son – a kindergartener who wants to be a teacher when he grows up. Why? Because “I love teachers.” While his favorite time in the school day is “Let’s Move” time on the patio, he also loves science, math, computer time and music. Why? Through science, “If you don’t know how something works, you can learn.” For math it’s simple, “I like to solve problems.” On the computer, “I can play games;” games that he doesn’t realize are educational and enrich the lessons he learned earlier in the day. And music, well that’s no surprise as he and his friends get together regularly for “Crazy Band” practice.

Many people – including teachers – have told me, “Your son is going to be an engineer.” I can see that – he is constantly building things using all sorts of random household items and masking tape – lots of masking tape. But I can also see him becoming a science teacher, a software developer, or maybe even a rockstar.  After all, he’s in kindergarten and we daydream about every possibility.

But one thing is for sure – my son is excited by STEM subjects, as well as the arts. To support his success in school and life, we plan to nurture both, seeking opportunities for him to exercise his left and right brain. Already, our teachers have suggested we enrich his educational experience with family outings and extracurricular programs that encourage him to observe, analyze, and create.

Samsung Solve for Tomorrow program does just that – and more. As a proud nonprofit partner, National PTA supports Samsung’s goals to raise enthusiasm for STEM education, demonstrate how STEM can positively impact our local communities, and reduce the technology gap in classrooms.

To enter, teachers consider how students can apply science, technology, engineering and math to help improve a problem or need in their local community.  Teachers must consider how they would engage and encourage enthusiastic student participation. Teachers must also describe the technology needs of their school. The program is open to all public school teachers in grades 6-12 throughout the 50 United States and Washington, DC. The deadline to enter is 11:59:59 p.m. EDT on Thursday, October 31, 2013.

We suggest local PTAs encourage and support teachers interested in participating in this program for two reasons. First, National PTA believes STEM education must remain a national priority in the U.S., as it has become increasingly apparent that U.S. students are not advancing in math and science at the same pace as in other countries.

Second, we believe technology improves personalized learning and provides new opportunities for family engagement. That’s why PTAs across the country help to raise funds for improving technology in schools. Every day across the country, PTAs commit to bringing community resources that improve learning to their partner schools– and this partnership is a great example of that commitment. As part of Solve for Tomorrow, Samsung is giving away more than $2 million in technology to 255 schools nationwide.

Last year, National PTA was honored to attend Samsung’s event in Washington, DC to celebrate the five grand prize winning schools. Watch the highlights from this inspiring event.

We sat in the audience mesmerized at the incredible teamwork and innovation demonstrated by all of the winning student teams. But we were especially proud of the teams that highlighted the support received from their local PTAs to participate in the program.

Watch the short videos created by the student teams to show how they worked together to solve an environmental problem using STEM.

Now help National PTA encourage teachers to apply. Spread the word!

Madison Amador of Leewood K-8 Center reads aloud from the Congressional Record presented to the Leewood students for winning Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow challenge in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol, April 2013. - See more at: www.samsung.com/solve.

Madison Amador of Leewood K-8 Center reads aloud from the Congressional Record presented to the Leewood students for winning Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow challenge in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol, April 2013. – See more at: www.samsung.com/solve.


Mary Pat King, MS is the Director of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA.

Save the Date! Take Your Family to School Week – February 17-21, 2104

Growing up, there were so many times when my parents and grandparents were at my school: my mom volunteering with events and field trips; my dad in the basketball bleachers with that loud clap of his; my grandparents at spaghetti suppers and school breakfasts. I remember in particular scanning the audience to find their faces before the flute performance of my life – “Every Rose Has its Thorn.” And I’ll never forget where they sat for each graduation day: Kindergarten, 8th grade, high school, college and graduate school. There they were – the most familiar faces that popped out of the crowd like a flash of lightning in the sky. Faces I yearned to see and focused on to fuel my confidence and ambition.

Flash forward 30 years –here we are – eagerly approaching my son’s Kindergarten parent-teacher conference and his first “Orchestra” day.  I’m as excited as he is, yet yearning for direction down this unpaved road. So naturally, I look back to years ago – and there they are again, my parents and grandparents fueling my confidence, reminding me the first step I need to take for my kids is to be there: the volunteer on the bus, the clap in the stands, the familiar face in the crowd, the encouragement and motivation at home.

PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week 2014 – Supporting Student Success

Since joining National PTA, I’ve learned “being there” in a meaningful way is called family engagement.  Research shows family engagement works.  That’s why we celebrate family engagement each school year during PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week, which overlaps with National PTA’s Founder’s Day, February 17.

 This school year’s PTA Take Your Family to School Week is February 17-21 and will focus on the theme: Supporting Student Success. Like all of National PTA’s programs, we designed this program to spark meaningful family engagement that welcomes families into the school environment, facilitates communication between families and teachers, and offers direction on the ways to support student success.

The theme Supporting Student Success was selected to specifically address the risks associated with high school dropout – lack of family engagement, struggles with reading and math, high absenteeism, and feelings of social exclusion. Prevention of high school dropout begins at a very young age and must continue throughout the school years. Addressing the problem with students in high school may be too late.

PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week Digital Toolkit & $1,000 Grant

 In late November, National PTA will launch a new Take Your Family to School Week Digital Toolkit at www.PTA.org/tyftsw for all local PTAs that will include tools such as a Program Leader’s Guide, template Supporting Student Success Workshop, grade-specific family take home guides, and family education event guides that encourage family education events focused on reading, math, the arts, bullying prevention and multicultural inclusiveness.  It will also include templates, such as promotional flyers and family recruitment tools.

National PTA will provide $1,000 grants to 50 local PTAs that need support celebrating Take Your Family to School Week.  Learn more about Take Your Family to School Week and this grant opportunity during informational webinars on October 9 at 1 pm Eastern and October 16 at 3 pm Eastern. By attending, PTAs will earn 10 bonus points on the grant application.

A Proud National Sponsor since 2005, AXA Foundation—the philanthropic arm of AXA Equitable—is again pleased to sponsor PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week.

Questions?

Visit www.pta.org/tyftsw or contact programs@pta.org or 703-518-1221.