Know an Outstanding PTA Advocate? Nominate Them for the 2019 Advocacy Awards!

PTA advocates go to great lengths to take action for kids. From meeting with local, state and federal decisionmakers to hosting school forums to advocating for legislation and ballot initiatives, PTA advocates consistently go above and beyond to advocate for each and every child.

National PTA recognizes the dedication our advocates through our annual Advocacy Awards which are presented to outstanding individual, state PTA and local PTA advocates at our Legislative Conference. We are now accepting applications for our 2019 Advocacy Awards!

If you are or know of an outstanding youth or individual PTA advocate, or a local unit or state PTA that has done great advocacy work, submit a nomination today! Our four award categories are the Shirly Igo Advocate of the Year Award, Outstanding Youth Advocate of the Year Award, Outstanding State PTA Advocacy Award and Outstanding Local PTA Advocacy Award. Advocacy awardees will receive an all expenses paid trip to National PTA’s 2019 Legislative Conference, March 12-14, where they will have the opportunity to meet with policymakers, hear PTA advocacy success stories and learn how to shape public policy in Washington, DC and at home. Awardees will receive their award and be recognized at LegCon during our Advocacy Awards Dinner.

As in previous years, advocates may self-nominate for the Shirly Igo Advocate of the Year Award and the Outstanding Youth Advocate of the Year Award. Nominations for all awards must be for efforts made in the last year and are due by 11:59 PM EST on Dec. 14. For more information about the 2019 Advocacy Awards, visit PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards.

Submit a nomination today to honor the outstanding advocacy work PTA members have done across the country! We look forward to recognizing our outstanding PTA advocates at LegCon!

Inspiring the Next Generative of Digital Innovators

Technology is a powerful tool that is undeniably changing the foundation of education. Schools around the world are increasingly harnessing its reach to improve the educational experiences of their students. Some parents and teachers may wonder if this is the right learning path for their students, especially at the elementary levels. Below, we’ve addressed five reasons why leveraging technology can be beneficial to all students.

  1. Personalized Education Experience

Technology can innovate, grow, and expand access to personalized education tools. Using laptops and tablets, students can choose between educational videos, games or articles that best suit their abilities and interests. Educational apps and programs cover a wide range of subjects from music to digital design. With a plethora of learning options, every student can discover and develop his or her niche.

  1. Bringing the Classroom Home

By removing barriers to learning, technology connects students and teachers with educational content wherever they are. Many primary schools are assigning students tablets or laptops to take home. Mobilized learning is a great opportunity for students to continue their learning outside of the classroom, at their own pace.

  1. Preparing Students for the Future

The days of four classic subjects of study are over. Today, students should establish hard skills early-on to be competitive in the tech-driven workforce. As the tech industry continues to expand, students can take advantage of its offerings now and begin preparing for the jobs of the future by mastering technical applications.

  1. Engaging Today’s Students

Interactive materials help students stay engaged while learning and investing in these technologies can help shape the future of education. As part of its Aspire Accelerator program, AT&T supports organizations using tech to promote student success beyond the classroom. New educational online programs that are creatively designed can foster fun while exposing kids to practical skills. For example, as part of Aspire Accelerator’s 2018 Class, the start-up Unruly Studios seeks to revolutionize learning by combining STEM education with physical play. Through its programmable device that kids control, it integrates coding skills with recess-style games.

  1. Developing Communication Skills

Strong online communication skills can be the key to a successful future. By engaging in technology at a young age, students will grow up immersed in practical 21st century skills like writing emails and collaborating with teams through online chat options.

The benefits of incorporating technology into students’ educational paths can be endless, and ensuring students can engage with innovative educational options is crucial.  To help with that engagement,  AT&T is bringing affordable internet access to low-income  families through  Access from AT&T,  a discounted internet service for qualifying low-income households across AT&T’s 21 wireline footprint.[1] With increased access, students can finish school and feel confident they are ready to thrive in the digital world.

Technology can break down barriers, including those in education. The ability for students to keep learning shouldn’t end in the classroom. With technology, it doesn’t have to.

 

[1] To qualify for the program, at least one household resident must participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In California only, households receiving social security income (SSI) also may qualify. Other conditions may apply, click here to learn more.

My Experience Testifying Before the Federal Commission on School Safety

As the Federal Legislative Chair for Wyoming PTA, I testified before the Federal Commission on School Safety at a listening session in August in Cheyenne, WY. 

In my testimony, I referenced National PTA’s position statements on school safety and shared my experiences as a trustee of the local school district, Laramie County School District 1. I am proud that PTA emphasizes the inclusion of all stakeholders in local safety and security decisions and that arming teachers is not the solution to gun violence in schools.

I was listening, too, as students from Denver and Albuquerque testified before the commission on what school “safety and security” means to them. They talked about the importance of feeling safe from daily verbal and physical assaults from other students, about instances where they were in despair and contemplating self-harm. They talked about putting resources into counselors and school psychologists, not arming teachers.

Students from high schools with a large minority enrollment discouraged the commission from even arming law enforcement. In Wyoming, we rely on School Resource Officers onsite at our secondary schools, as trained and trusted professionals to respond to an active shooter. But the students who spoke at the listening session said they feared that more law enforcement presence in schools would lead to the targeting students of color and creation of more violence. These students want an environment free of weapons, staffed by caring and competent adults to help them deal with the violence that threatens them every day.

We must balance the need to protect students and staff in schools, but also ensure positive school discipline policies and procedures are in place so no group of students are disproportionately disciplined.  If the decision is made to have a Student Resource Officer in a school building, there must be a clearly defined memorandum of understanding, as recommended by the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), between the law enforcement agency and the school on the role of the officer.

Of course, we need to be prepared for the rare but real possibility of disaster, as we do with tornado shelters. So, we need buildings with secure access, we need school personnel and students to be prepared for all types of emergency scenarios, and we need trained SROs. But what I gained from the listening session was what makes students afraid every day and what makes them feel safe personally, so they can learn. A gun in the Social Studies teacher’s desk drawer doesn’t make them feel safe.

I also learned the value of anonymous reporting systems, we use Safe2Tell in Wyoming, because students want to be safe and will tell adults about weapons and threats they see and hear in their schools.

These things cost money, obviously, and our fear is that pressure to cut budgets will keep our schools from meeting the daily safety and security needs the students described. I think a few of the adults mentioned that fear, too.

I trust the Federal Commission on School Safety was listening and releases a report that focuses on collaborative, evidenced-based school safety best practices as recommended in the Framework for Safe and Successful Schools.

 

How Families Can Drive Social and Emotional Learning

Think back to the many wonderful moments of summer break as a child. Having the freedom to play, lead, think, and simply exist in your own unique way, testing your limits and sharing your imagination and ideas without the filters and regulations of the academic environment.

Now, imagine losing all of that in an instant. All of the joy. All of the freedom. All the imagination. That can be what it’s like for youth to begin the school year and shift into an environment where their social and emotional well-being is not adequately encouraged or supported.

As an active parent in the educational system for nearly two decades, I have witnessed firsthand how competing pressures on schools and educators have drawn attention away from students’ individual abilities, needs, strengths, and circumstances. It seems that the learning environment has become less focused on each student’s success and personal growth.

The time has come to place social and emotional learning back at the forefront in our schools – and it is now more important than ever.  Families, schools, and communities working together are the key to making social and emotional learning and development in school the norm for every child. That’s the central message of the Family Call to Action from the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Developed by parents, for parents, the Call to Action lays out what we need from our schools – and each other:

We Need Our Schools to Know and Teach the Whole Student

Schools need to move away from one-size-fits-all policies to better meet the needs of each and every student.  When a student’s comprehensive development is fully supported, they are free to build critical life skills such as responsibility, respect, teamwork, self-control, and strength in the face of adversity. They are better able to overcome intellectual and personal challenges they may face in life.

We Need to Be Partners in Our Children’s Learning

Students need to see that their families are involved and invested in their educational well-being in positive ways. This includes attending meetings, conferences, after-school activities, and supporting homework and outside enrichment opportunities. It also means engaging directly with your child about whether their social, emotional, and academic needs are being met.

Be relentless in challenging policies that stifle personal growth and well-being. Collaborate with teachers, administrative staff, and district leaders to ensure that programs and policies are tailored to  individual social and emotional needs. Demand that school leaders communicate clearly and often.

We Need a Whole Community Approach

Extend your efforts beyond the school walls and into the community. Families, local businesses, and community organizations all have a role to play in educating our children. Programs such as mentoring, career shadowing and internship opportunities, and after-school tutoring services are essential to a complete education.

We Need Schools to Integrate Social, Emotional, and Academic Growth into the School Culture and Climate

Social and emotional development takes place all day, not during a 30-minute lesson. Encourage leaders in your school to shift resources that are being used inefficiently to instead support a whole student approach to learning.

We Need to Support Adults Who Support Our Children

The teachers and staff who educate our children are essential, and they need our support. Educators need ongoing professional development and mental health support to be as effective as they can be. Parents and families should have access to learning opportunities as well.

Make Your Voice Heard! 

Sign the National Commission’s Family Call to Action to urge schools to support students’ comprehensive development, then share the sign-on message with families in your community.

Together, we can give future generations of students a solid foundation and the opportunity to practice vital skills every day to develop the self-confidence, compassion, and critical thinking needed to become the model citizens and leaders that they desire to be.


Makeba Giles is the mother of four children who attend public schools and a founding writer of FaithHealthHome.com, an online magazine featuring health, family, and current events for the positive lifestyle. She is a member of the Parent Advisory Panel for the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development.

We Need All Voices at the Table When Discussing School Safety

We were deeply saddened to hear about the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas on Friday. It was the second shooting at a high school in the past week and the second mass shooting at a school this year. Every student deserves to learn and grow in a safe environment, and no parent should fear for the safety of their child every time they leave home for school. More must be done immediately to keep our children safe.

After the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, President Trump established the Federal School Safety Commission led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Secretary DeVos held an informal school safety meeting last Thursday to discuss lessons learned from previous school shootings. Today, the Department of Education released a video from the meeting.

We greatly appreciate the Secretary’s commitment to addressing school safety. School safety is a critical priority for all parents, educators, students and community members that should be urgently addressed. While we were pleased that the announcement of the Federal School Safety Commission mentioned the importance of input from students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders as part of the Commission’s work, the commission has not yet publicly announced opportunities for stakeholders to meaningfully engage with the Commission. We urge Secretary DeVos and the Commission to include parents and educators in all aspects of their work.

National PTA—along with 7 other national organizations—sent a letter to Secretary DeVos urging the secretary to meaningfully engage stakeholders in the Commission’s work. It is imperative that the voices of those who attend, work in, and send their children daily to our nations’ schools are intimately involved in these conversations at the federal, state and local levels.

We know that parent engagement is indispensable to an effective public dialogue. Parents are critical stakeholders in education issues who are reflective of their communities and provide invaluable input and perspective as the key consumers of educational systems along with their children. From our experiences with ESSA and other education initiatives, we have learned that engaging all stakeholders, including parents, is essential throughout the entire policy development process.

Our association recently joined the National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of School Resource Officers, National Association of Secondary School Principals, School Social Work Association of America, American School Counselor Association and National Association of Elementary School Principals to release “Considerations and Action Steps for Implementing the Framework,” a supplemental to A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools. National PTA hopes the Commission will advance evidence-based policy and best practices in creating safe schools in states and districts across the country.

As one of the primary consumers of our nation’s education system, parents are essential partners in education who must be brought to the table to improve school safety. Make your voice heard on this important issue by sending your comments and recommendations related to school safety to safety@ed.gov. We also encourage you to reach out to your child’s school and local education leaders to learn more current school safety measures and policies and collaborate with them on ways to improve the school environment.

Stay tuned to National PTA’s Twitter and Facebook page for more information on the activities of the school safety commission.


Hannah Engle is the Government Affairs Coordinator for National PTA.

The Military Education Savings Account Act: Detrimental to Public Schools and Families

Earlier this year, Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) and Senators Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced House and Senate versions of the Military Education Savings Accounts Act (HR 5199 / S 2517). This bill would create an Education Savings Account (ESA) program that would allow children with an active-duty parent in the military to use a voucher to attend a private school.  National PTA opposes this bill as it would divert much-needed public funds away from public schools and into the hands of unaccountable private schools.

ESAs are simply private school vouchers by another name. They shift public money—in this case, federal taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be used to fund public schools—to expenses including private school tuition and homeschooling. National PTA opposes any use of public dollars to fund private schools. We must adequately invest in public education and strengthen our system of public schools, not divert public school funding into private schools that are not accountable to the public and create division and separation throughout the community.

Like all voucher programs, this program would undermine public education and harm students. However, this military ESA program has additional problems unique to its funding and the population it would impact.

This voucher program would divert federal funding from Impact Aid

Impact Aid is a program that helps fund school districts that lose local tax revenue (which traditionally funds public schools) because their district includes federal tax-exempt land such as military bases, national parks, Native American reservations or federal housing.

Reducing Impact Aid funding for public schools and funneling those dollars to private schools would significantly undermine the public schools that serve the majority of military-connected students. It would leave those students, as well as the non-military children at these public schools, to attend a school with fewer resources.

This voucher program will not benefit most military families

The voucher program would only benefit those families who can afford to enroll their children in private schools. The voucher amount is $2,500 (with a small percentage of $4,500 vouchers available for students in “heavily impacted districts”), but the average annual cost of a private elementary school is $7,700 and high school is $13,030. Military families would be left to pay the remainder of the tuition.

Military families do not want this voucher program

Groups representing military families, Native American students and public schools oppose this proposal. These groups include organizations such as the National Military Family Association and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).  The National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS) and NMFA explain, “the proposal is a bad deal for military families—and a disaster for local public school districts charged with educating our nation’s children.”

The men and women who serve our country deserve excellent public schools for their children—not private school vouchers, which undermine religious freedom, strip students of rights and protections, lead to declines in students’ education outcomes and lack accountability to taxpayers. To learn more about this proposal and how it would be detrimental to public schools, visit the National Coalition for Public Education’s page on vouchers for military-connected students. And to learn more about National PTA’s positions on vouchers, visit our website.

Founded in 1978, the National Coalition for Public Education supports public schools and opposes the funneling of public money to private and religious schools through vouchers, tuition tax credits, education savings accounts, and portability. 

Grief, Courage, Shame, Pride and Responsibility

GRIEF. My heart is heavy with GRIEF and anger over the all-too-common school shootings that cause families to experience unbearable loss and tear our communities apart. The recent shooting in our own PTSA school in Parkland, Fla. brought it close to home once again. Seventeen families lost their most precious loved ones on Valentine’s Day. As Florida PTA President Cindy Gerhardt wrote so well, “The heaviness of this horrific act has suffocated us with grief, sadness, hopelessness and hurt.”

COURAGE. We ask it of our children as they leave for school each day and participate in active shooter drills. We ask it of our educators who carry out these exercises and work to make schools as safe as they can. When they watch the news, they must wonder how many students and teachers would have died if it happened at their school. Yet they show up every day. And would stand heroically between a shooter and their students and would help and protect their peers.

SHAME. I am ashamed of all of us adults who have been unable to find solutions that will keep our children safe. I am ashamed that we can too easily turn off the news, retreat from the discord over solutions and absolve ourselves from action because no one solution solves every problem. I am ashamed that the complexity of the issue causes us to be frozen in place.

PRIDE. We feel it in the articulate voices of our high school, middle school and even elementary students who remind us of what we ask of them every day when they leave for school. They are taking action and pushing for solutions and change. This is another wave of reckoning.

RESPONSIBILITY. As parents, the burden is on us to find our own clear and urgent voice to add to the student voices we so value. We must speak up and work together to solve the school shootings and other violence in our communities to keep our children safe.

National PTA celebrates a long history of advocacy for the safety of our nation’s children and youth. National PTA believes school safety is a critical priority and that every attempt must be made to reduce violence, especially incidents involving the use of firearms. Parents, educators, community members, and policymakers must prioritize this issue to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

National PTA has advocated for the prevention of gun violence for more than 20 years, embracing more than a dozen policies that would make a difference. These include mandatory background checks, a federal ban on the sale and possession of military-assault weapons, federal investment to study the causes and effects of gun violence and prevention programming to create a culture of safety at our schools.

In light of the recent shootings, other solutions will need to be considered. No single solution will solve it all.

But let’s get started.

Back to COURAGE. When will Congress find courage to do anything, that will increase the chance that my child or your child, will come home alive from school?

Nathan Monell is the Executive Director of National PTA. 

What Do Successful Schools Look Like?

As a parent, I have a good idea of how my child’s school is working for her. I talk to her and her friends about what is going on there. I see the work that she is doing. I communicate with her teachers and other school staff.

But while I know that my daughter is at a school that’s good for her, it’s harder to figure out whether it’s a successful school overall. Is her school helping each of its students reach their fullest potential? What does such a school look like?

The Learning First Alliance, which includes organizations like National PTA and whose members collectively represent more than 10 million educators, parents and local policymakers, have pulled together to research and answer that question.

The result of that effort is “The Elements of Success: 10 Million Speak on Schools That Work,” an anthology that identifies six elements that are common to all successful schools. It also makes clear that there is no one model for a successful school—in each success story, educators, parents and local communities have developed programs specific to their goals and challenges, within their communities’ setting.

While all successful schools share the six elements, how they are implemented and integrated depends greatly on context. The elements are:

  • Focus on the Total Child: Successful schools support all students’ needs—inside and outside the classroom—to help them become effective, empowered learners. They design and carry out programs that offer all students a rich educational experience, supporting their academic and social/emotional learning and physical development.
  • Commitment to Equity and Access: Successful schools ensure all students have access to high-quality services and support systems, enabling them to set and reach high goals for learning. In them, equity does not mean equality; they recognize some students need additional resources to have the same opportunity for success as others. They also recognize diversity is a strength.
  • Family and Community Engagement: Successful schools effectively engage families and communities in support of students. In doing so, they identify barriers to such engagement and work to overcome them.
  • Distributed Leadership: Successful schools define leadership broadly. Leadership is distributed among principals, teachers, parents, community members and others in the building, and decision-making is a shared endeavor.
  • Strong, Supported Teaching Force and Staff: Successful schools are staffed with educators—including teachers, principals, school counselors, technology specialists and others—who are well-educated, well-prepared and well-supported. These educators meet high standards of practice, and they benefit from continuous learning opportunities.
  • Relationship-Oriented School Climate: Successful schools create a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility among staff and students and with families and communities. These schools are safe, welcoming and respectful to all.

These elements are all widely known. But two things make this collection of research unique. One is consensus. “The Elements of Success: 10 Million Speak on Schools That Work” does not reflect the expertise of one individual or one organization. It reflects the collective wisdom of all the various public-school interest groups—parents, teachers, administrators and more. Together, they agree these are the elements needed for a school to perform at a high level.

The second is the emphasis on interactions. A school with good teachers and poor leadership won’t be successful. Nor will a school with strong leadership and teachers that focuses solely on test scores. The interaction between all six of these elements is critical.

So how can parents and PTAs use this information? One idea is to use this research as a conversation starter. Bring parents, teachers, administrators and others in the school community together to honestly assess where you are in terms of each of these six elements. Identify your strengths and where additional support is needed. Then work together to make sure your school is meeting the needs of every child who attends.

The report and supporting materials are available at LearningFirst.org/ElementsOfSuccess.

Anne O’Brien is Deputy Director at the Learning First Alliance.   

4 Reasons to Attend the 2018 Legislative Conference

At our core, National PTA is an advocacy association working to improve the lives of children and families. Attending the National PTA Legislative Conference (LegCon) March 13-15 is a great way to enhance your advocacy skills to be more effective in your community. I have attended LegCon before, and each year I still find myself learning something new, or hearing a perspective I never would have encountered otherwise.

This year’s theme is “Get in the Game” to celebrate the Olympic spirit. We are excited to showcase how you can incorporate the spirit of sports, teamwork and sense of accomplishment into your advocacy work during this year’s conference.

LegCon will be bigger than ever this year! There are the top four reasons you should attend:

  1. Workshops that will help you influence education policy

At LegCon, participants will get a chance to learn from PTA leaders and experts who have used advocacy skills to improve public education in their communities, states and at the federal level. Participants will engage in interactive skills-building workshops to improve their own advocacy abilities and will go home with best practices to share within their PTA network.

  1. Discussions and networking to better understand how PTA advocates shape public policy

At last year’s LegCon, I was able to network with a lot of great PTA advocates from around the country from Alaska to Puerto Rico and even some from Europe who work with our military families. It was interesting to hear from them about their challenges in their communities and share ideas on how to improve our kids’ education. This year will be no different. I am excited to join other PTA members and learn how we can advocate more effectively in our school districts and states.

  1. Meetings on Capitol Hill with your Senators and Members of Congress

My favorite part of each LegCon is the opportunity to speak with federal policymakers about issues facing our schools and families during National PTA’s Capitol Hill Day. I was very excited to discuss these issues with members of Congress and their staff and to have them hear from us—America’s parents, teachers and community leaders—about ways to improve education. They want to hear directly from people like you who know their schools and communities best.

  1. Improved Capitol Hill Day Schedule

This year, Capitol Hill Day will be on Wednesday instead of Thursday. This new schedule will allow us to debrief and have follow-up workshops with each other on Thursday morning. The goal is for PTA advocates to walk away with even more skills and understanding on how to impact policies in their communities.

I can’t wait to “Get in the Game” and continue PTA’s legacy of advocating for every child to have the opportunity to reach their full potential. I hope you will join me and hundreds of other PTA advocates and me at this year’s LegCon.

Register here to attend the National PTA Legislative Conference.

Marques Ivey is the Vice President of Advocacy, Chair of the Legislation Committee, and member of the board of directors for the National PTA. He is married to Stacey, an educator for almost 19 years and together have three children.

Nominate a PTA or PTA Advocate Today for the 2018 Advocacy Awards!

Shirley Igo was a model of public service and volunteerism throughout her life. She was an impassioned and compassionate leader, dedicated to moving PTA forward and committed to ensuring that others would follow. In honor of her legacy, the National PTA Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Award is presented to an individual PTA member, who through their leadership and advocacy efforts, affected federal, state or local policy priorities within National PTA’s annual public policy agenda.

As the 2017 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Award winner, it was my honor to attend the 2017 National PTA Legislative Conference where I spent three days in our nation’s capital.

At the conference, I was able to hear from Washington, DC influencers and get face-to-face advocacy training from experts to make my voice heard more effectively back in my community. With other advocates of the New Jersey PTA, I also had the opportunity to speak with federal policymakers about issues facing our schools and families for National PTA’s Capitol Hill Day. I was very excited to discuss these issues with members of Congress and their staff and was honored to be a part of such an historic legacy of advocacy.

This past year as I have continued my advocacy efforts on behalf of PTA, I have met so many selfless individuals and PTA groups that set out each day to move PTA forward. They work on behalf of all our children and deserve to be acknowledged for their strong commitment to PTA.

If you know of an outstanding youth or individual PTA advocate, or know of a local unit or state level PTA that has done great advocacy work, nominate them to receive an award for their efforts from National PTA! Winners will be announced in January and will get the opportunity to receive their awards at the 2018 Legislative Conference in Washington, DC and have an incredible experience like I did.

As in previous years, advocates may self-nominate themselves in the youth and individual categories. Nominations must be for efforts made in the last year and are due by midnight on Dec. 18. For more information about the 2018 Advocacy Awards, visit PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards.

Apply today and join a legacy of PTA advocates who have changed the lives of millions of students and families.

Rose Acerra is the 2017 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Award winner and the president of New Jersey PTA.