Why Should You Listen to the New PTA Podcast?

From PTA flyers and permission slips to handwritten updates from your child’s teacher, every day your child comes home with notes in their backpack. How do you keep track of everything that’s going on? With limited time, it can be difficult to figure out where to invest your energy, when it comes to engaging your child’s school. That’s why we launched Notes from the Backpack: A PTA Podcast!

Each 30-minute episode offers frank advice and ideas from researchers, parents, educators and other experts. Guiding these conversations are our hosts, LaWanda Toney, Director of Communications, and Helen Westmoreland, Director of Family Engagement, who are both mothers navigating their own parenting journeys.

The podcast answers those questions you have always been wondering but weren’t sure who to ask, like:

What questions should you be asking to make the most of your child’s Parent-Teacher Conference? We turned to Luz Santana, Executive Director of the Right Questions Institute to provide her expert opinion.

What should school discipline look like at your child’s school and what does restorative justice even mean? Former Secretary of Education John King sheds light on why so many students get suspended and where we go from here.

Is it possible to avoid wanting to tear your hair out when trying to help your child complete their homework every night? Researcher Steve Sheldon offers evidence-based tips for making the most of homework time, without the stress.

How can you possibly help your child navigate the world of hormones, crushes and frenemies now that they’ve entered middle school? We chatted with school counselor Phyllis Fagell, who will provide concrete strategies for making the most of your child’s adolescent years.

Notes from the Backpack covers all of these topics and more, providing you with the practical information you need to make the most of your child’s school experience.

So how can you learn more about this new resource and start listening? Visit PTA.org/BackpackNotes for a full list of the episodes we have released so far, and more information about the podcast. You can also listen or download on all major podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Leave us a review to let us know how we’re doing!

We want you hear from you on social media! Engage with other parents in conversations around the topics we discuss on the podcast and share your own thoughts, advice and parenting anecdotes on social media using #BackpackNotes.

Attention PTA Leaders and Members: Nominate Deserving Teachers to Win $500 WE Teachers Awards

In today’s day and age, teachers are much more than educators. They serve as mentors, counselors, cheerleaders, protectors, and they spend an average of $500 of their own money each year to purchase classroom supplies that benefit their students.

Starting July 21, customers can visit their local Walgreens stores to learn how to nominate a special teacher in their community for a WE Teachers Award. A minimum of 500 deserving educators will each receive $500 Walgreens gift cards to purchase classroom supplies – the average amount of a teacher’s annual out-of-pocket expenses. Teachers can also apply directly. To learn more about the WE Teachers Awards, visit Walgreens.com/metowe.

The WE Teachers Awards are part of a broader program called WE Teachers, which is in partnership with the ME to WE Foundation – an organization that provides products and services to support WE Charity. Together with Walgreens back to school supplier partners, Walgreens has committed to donating $5 million to the ME to WE Foundation –– to fund the development of the WE Teachers program.

By The Numbers: A PTA Connected Event

At Middlebrook PTA, we realize that technology and social media are a part of our lives. As parents and educators, we have a responsibility to ensure our children know how to use these tools safely and respectfully. We had:

  • 4 teacher volunteers join other parent volunteers in leading 6 sessions for our Kindergarten-5th grade school.
  • 1 critical partnership in our Technology Integration Specialist to get her support and ask her colleagues to join her in leading a breakout session.
  • 1 Director of Digital Learning to lead the first session with all who attended that night.

Having the “agree/disagree” cards for parents and students was an effective way to see differences of opinions in the school and offered a kinesthetic learning moment for all. It was reported to be a favorite activity by many who attended and the energy in the room was high. It set a great tone for the night and both parents and students felt engaged in the material and with each other.

Melissa Larzo, PTA President for Towne Acres PTA, agrees with Middlebrook PTA.

Our event served as a family engagement night for our school.  It came on the heels of a presentation with similar subject matter that had just been held for the area middle schools in response to those incidents, so our event was tailored to capture those families with younger children.  We had:

  • Multiple outlets of promotion, but primarily through online promotion on our school’s PTA Facebook page.
  • 1 principal and many of our teachers to come out and show their support
  • 1 supervisor of safety and mental health for our school system as our guest speaker
  • 150 people in attendance that night, which was better than we expected given the busy time of the year it was.

The information we were able to deliver to the audience that night helped to begin the discussion within families, it seemed to ease some of the fears that many families had, and it helped us to feel more like a team as we tackle these issues together.

Visit PTA Connected to get made-for-PTA resources on hosting digital safety events and apply for grant funding to host your own event night. PTA.org/Grants


About the Authors: Ruth Fontilla is from Middlebrook PTA and Melissa Larzo is from Towne Acres PTA

Be Internet Awesome: Host a PTA Connected Workshop This Year!

The 2018-2019 school year officially launched our PTA Connected digital initiative. We had 200 PTAs across the country commit to hosting a Be Internet Awesome workshop. Was it a success? Two of our grantees gave us the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a Be Internet Awesome grantee.

Erin Hill, a PTA leader at Pivik PTA in Plum, Pa., shared, “When our PTA was awarded the Be Internet Awesome grant from the National PTA and Google, our principal had told us the school district had held something similar a few years previous and only a few people showed up. The bar was set! We were going to get more than that this time…I hoped.”

Their principal’s main concern was that younger kids wouldn’t find this program useful, but as Erin points out, “kids using technology, getting on the internet, and even using social media are getting younger and younger. Our school… is K-4, and our kids are unfortunately at an age where they’re being exposed to some unpleasant things on the internet while their parents—me included—may think they have a few years before talks of responsible usage need to happen. When I saw this opportunity, I knew we had to apply.”

Each grantee received $1,000 to put on their event. What’s the best way to spend that grant money? Take a tip from Erin: “During the planning we decided to put most of the award money towards the food and giveaways. We figured a nicely-catered event with the opportunity for prizes would draw in more people.”

We understand PTA leaders are busy! Erin had some great guidelines for efficient planning and set up, sharing, “We used our cafeteria, which has a large screen where we projected the presentation. We decorated five tables with balloons in the breakout session colors (that corresponded with colored dots on attendees’ name tags), pens, markers, notepads and a large poster board. We allowed attendees to eat first, then after about 45 minutes of arrivals and eating, we had people go to their breakout session table. I had organized attendees into their groups prior to the event.”

Another pro tip from Erin? Get the right—and the right amount—of volunteers. Erin shared, “At our event, there were eight volunteers. We had three people at the check in table, passing out name tags and materials. We had three people handling the catering and food set up. Five of us, including some who helped in the previously-mentioned capacities, ran the breakout sessions. We had a parent volunteer deliver most of the presentation that National PTA and Google provided with the grant materials. We also had our district’s director of information technology present. He was able to provide some nice examples and tips because, one, he knows the technology being used by the kids, and, two, he has young children.”

Promoting your event is key! People need to know about the event and be excited about it. Dana Hansley of Dodge Elementary PTA in East Amherst, N.Y. noted that, “a key to promoting our event beyond the usual PTA route of emails and newsletters was an outreach to all of the teachers in the building with an explanation of the event and a simple graphic with important info like the event date, time and place. The majority of teachers in the building pushed out the graphic provided through their SeeSaw, Class Dojo and Remind accounts to parents. This additional layer of teacher support greatly impacted turnout and added weight to the subject.”

You might be wondering why PTAs are so excited about these digital workshops. Dana put it perfectly, saying, “hosting a Be Internet Awesome tech evening allowed parents an opportunity to talk through what it’s like to raise children in a digitally-connected world. This event empowered parents as they realized they were not alone in their struggles and concerns. They walked away more confident to set healthy boundaries in their households, armed with solid information they gleaned from breakout sessions and from one another.”

The event at Dodge Elementary was in high demand. “Many families who were unable to attend expressed great regret at missing the event, and inquired as to additional events,” stated Dana. “They needn’t worry, as our school principal asked us to do a Be Internet Awesome event twice next school year.”

Applications are now open for grants to host a PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshop. Apply today at PTA.org/Grants! Learn more about the PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshops at PTA.org/BeInternetAwesome.


About the Authors:

Erin Hill, of Pittsburgh, PA, is chair of multiple PTA committees and was PTA President of Pivik PTA during the 2018-19 school year. She has two children, a fourth grader and kindergartner. Without the internet, she wouldn’t know how to do common core math, what to make for dinner, how to dress, what was happening at school or in the community, or how to get anywhere. The internet, she feels, is such a wonderful tool and opens so many informational doors for anything you could possibly want to know.

Dana Hensley is a PTA Co-President at Dodge Elementary School. She lives with her husband and four children in East Amherst, NY and spends her free time coaching her daughter’s soccer teams. She is a strong proponent of screen time limits for both children and adults and she spends too much time on Twitter. 

8 Steps to Becoming a School of Excellence

Are you looking to step up your PTA’s involvement in school improvement efforts? Are you already doing something meaningful in your school community, and want that hard work to be recognized?

In either case, National PTA’s School of Excellence program offers customized tools to help you to make a substantial, positive impact on school and student success, and earn recognition for your PTA and school.

By enrolling in this program, your PTA and school administrators are making a year-long commitment to identify and implement an action plan for school improvement based on PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships and best practices in Transformative Family Engagement.

Throughout the school year, you will work with a committed team of PTA leaders you choose to bring positive change in family engagement based off feedback from your school community. National PTA will offer support every step of the way.

In the final stage of the program, your work be evaluated and if you’ve created a stronger family-school partnership, you will receive the two-year National PTA School of Excellence distinction, plus the national recognition that comes with an honor of this caliber!

The steps in the program are as follows:

Step #1: Enroll and Gain Support (Enroll by Oct. 1)

Enroll at PTA.org/Excellence and start to build your Excellence Team to improve family-school partnerships through the school year.

Step #2: Deploy Baseline Survey (September-November)

Use National PTA’s Baseline Survey to gain feedback on current family-school partnerships at your school.

Step #3: Set a Shared Objective (September-November)

After you’ve compiled your survey feedback, work with your Excellence Team and school administrators to identify and prioritizing your shared goals for the school year.

Step #4: Complete Initial Application (Submit by Nov. 1)

With one, main focus area and objective in mind, you will complete an online Initial Application with your survey results and plan ahead.

Step #5: Follow Roadmap to Excellence (Throughout School Year)

Using recommendations on the Roadmap to Excellence and in collaboration with your Excellence Team, you will implement actions to address barriers and expand methods for effective family and community engagement throughout the school year.

Step #6: Deploy Final Survey (March-June)

Towards the end of the school year, you will conduct a second survey to gather feedback from your school community to evaluate your progress over the school year.

Step #7: Complete Final Application (Submit by June 1)

With the Final Survey results, you will complete a Final Application that includes a narrative for you to share how you made gains and put theory into practice.

Step #8: Celebrate Your Excellence (August)

In August, Schools of Excellence will be named and honored with this two-year designation. If awarded, you will receive information on how to plan your school and community celebrations as well as a banner to hang prominently at your school. You will also automatically be considered for our Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award, given to our top three Schools of Excellence each year.

Join the ranks of select PTAs who have earned this prestigious distinction. You too can achieve excellence and be known as leading the nation in effective family-school partnerships.

Enrollment for the 2019-2020 School of Excellence program is open through Oct. 1. To learn more and to enroll, visit our website at PTA.org/Excellence. Contact Excellence@PTA.org for more information.


Amy Weinberg, MA is the Manager of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA.

 

Make Connections at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Hollin Meadows PTA (Alexandria, Va.)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders sharing their stories as STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night winners. These real-world experiences shed light on how an individual PTA planned and hosted their event, including lessons learned and practical advice.

If you are looking for a way to get your school community involved in a meaningful, engaging and fun activity, consider hosting a National PTA Invention Night sponsored by littleBits! This event allows students and families to make so many connections—both the science kind and the personal kind!

We recently hosted an Invention Night at our Title 1 elementary school in Alexandria, Va., and it was an overwhelming success, with over 250 attendees! Because we are an extremely diverse school community, we promoted the event in multiple languages and multiple formats including fliers, social media, ads on our in-house news program and personal invitations. We also prepared several videos, some in both English and Spanish and some featuring our PTA event lead volunteer and our favorite teachers, to give a teaser about the cool inventions the kids would make.

These various outreach efforts allowed us to spread the word to more of our families and to make them feel welcomed, included and excited about the event from the outset. Our principal and teachers supported our Invention Night with announcements in the classrooms, school-wide email updates and tweets, in addition to being active participants during the event. We also invited our student alumni, neighbors and larger school community to volunteer. Due to these efforts, our attendees were reflective of our community, representing families from all grade levels, backgrounds and languages.

Having hosted weeknight events before, we know that feeding our families a full, free dinner is extremely important. Parents took the night off from cooking, knowing that their families would enjoy a wholesome Noodles & Co. meal—veggies included! We set up the event in the cafeteria, using the cafeteria line to serve dinner. Families ate in a designated section and once they’d finished, moved to the part of the cafeteria where the kits were positioned.

Because we had so many attendees, families paired up to work on the kits. This allowed families to meet other families and have a natural, shared experience as they worked together. Some families had challenges downloading the app or the specific invention instructions, so the cafeteria was abuzz with families sharing information and advice. It was beautiful to see new relationships forged and for families to collaborate and contribute their unique strengths to the group’s efforts.

Kids and parents alike were clamoring for more time with the kits, so we would definitely love to host another Invention Night! With events like these we are empowering not only future STEM professionals, we are empowering families and communities! Wow! Imagine the possibilities…

Take Action: Learn more about how your PTA can host a STEM + Families Invention Night


About the Guest Contributor, Eileen Gorman: Eileen Gorman is the PTA President at Hollin Meadows Science and Math Focus PTA in Alexandria, Va.

Disclosure: littleBits is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of the 2018-2019 STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

 

 

Student Data and Privacy: A California PTA Advocacy Story

“What is this, it looks bad?” Is never a text you want to receive, no matter what it’s about, but it’s particularly concerning when it’s about something that will impact your children. But a few savvy PTA leaders sent that exact text to me when I was president of California State PTA in February 2016.

They had been looking on the California Department of Education website for some information for their local legislation conference when they noticed an obscure button at the top of the website which said, “Objection to Student Disclosure.” After reading it, they immediately called and texted me.

I took a quick look and contacted the California State PTA’s Executive Director, Sherry Griffith to do some more in-depth research. We discovered something very unsettling. Due to a federal district court ruling, the court could require information including the name, Social Security number, home address and more data on every student who attended public school in California since Jan. 1, 2008—more than 10 million students—be made available to a court-appointed data analyst so that it could be analyzed for a court case.

Protecting the safety of children and their school records online, while ensuring access to high-quality digital educational opportunities, is critical in the 21st century. Meaningful education data can provide an immense array of benefits to students, parents and teachers. Accurate and accessible student data can assist teachers and families in creating more personalized learning plans to meet the needs of every child. However, no system is perfect, and California State PTA recognized the need for policies that ensure children’s identities are protected online, and families and students have reasonable control over the collection, storage and use of relevant personal education information.

California State PTA has been an advocate of our children since our founding and we have always held a special focus on our most vulnerable children including those receiving special education services, foster and homeless youth and those struggling with poverty. With that, California State PTA had a long history of upholding the privacy rights of its state’s students. It was hard to fathom that a judge would allow such an overexposure of children’s private information.

There wasn’t much time to get the word out to parents that their student not be included in this action—an opt out form had to be filled out, mailed and delivered by the April 1 deadline. California State PTA went into action. We got several key state-wide PTA leaders and staff together to come up with a plan. We would put the word out to encourage parents to opt their children out of the ruling.

We sent an email alert, posted on social media, made phone calls, sent out press releases and took advantage of every communication channel directly to units with clear messaging. We knew that if enough parents took action, our message would be heard loud and clear.

Our campaign was a success, with over a 90% email open rate. Fast and swift action by PTA members, leaders and other parents helped to spread the word far and wide as well. By April 1, the judge had received over 400,000 opt out requests, several letters, news and media coverage and pressure from other agencies to forgo the action and search for another alternative. Due to our quick action, communication and advocacy efforts, the judge chose another method for acquiring the information for the case without students’ personal data being used.

California State PTA believes data, when used with student privacy in mind, can be transformational. Data collected for the California State School Dashboard and Support System and data collected for the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) are just two examples of how data helps educators, schools, parents and communities strengthen learning opportunities and promote equity for children in California. When we work to improve our places of learning with meaningful data while ensuring the privacy and safety of student information, students reap the benefits.


Justine Fischer is the immediate past president of California State PTA.

 

Growing Our Membership Every Month

Membership is a year-round effort.  It never ends.  As PTA ambassadors, leaders are to constantly promote the value of PTA, and with it, ignite interest in our mission for people to join in.  Our PTA voice is more powerful, and our PTA advocacy is stronger the more members we have.

 The new year is full of additional opportunities to invite everyone to join PTA this second half of the National PTA membership year (7/1-6/30.)  What are those opportunities?

  •  To begin with, all of your remaining meetings and activities in your PTA calendar for this year.
  • To continue, all National PTA programs and activities to celebrate Take Your Family to School Week (TYFTSW). Choose one of the National PTA program categories (Health & Safety, Literacy, Digital Learning, STEM) to plan your event and create a theme for your week.  On February 17, 2018, PTA celebrates 122 years of existence advocating to improve the education and well-being of all children.  At your Take Your Family to School Week activities, enthusiastically and confidently invite everyone in your community to “Be part of our PTA history and join our PTA.”
  • In March, take advantage of our PTA Family Reading Experience resources available at PTA.org/FRE to celebrate National Reading Month. This is a great opportunity to work with your local librarians to get families (adults and children) to visit their local public libraries, encourage them to sign up to obtain their library cards and borrow books to read at home. In the process, don’t forget to invite all families and community members to support similar PTA efforts by joining your PTA.
  • Our PTA Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit and the PTAKit.org guide for organizing a PTA Program are great resources to help you plan and celebrate national awareness on issues such as:

 These are only possible ideas for which multiple resources are already available.  In the end, all will depend on what the needs of your students and school community are, as PTA you want to be relevant.  If your families need to be empowered to help their children with test taking, that should be your focus at that time; look at our PTA resources on assessment and coordinate with your school administrators. Making our PTA mission relevant to your students and your community by responding to their needs should be the north that guides the focus of your work.

Just remember to always have a way of inviting all to support our PTA work with their PTA membership.  And then, share your work with your state congress PTA. They have multiple ways to recognize your membership and mission advancement efforts.  So, reach out to them, and share and celebrate your accomplishments with all of us for the benefit of all children.

Thank you for all you do to grow membership “To make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.”

What to Bring to #PTACon18

Do you have packing panic? Got the what-to-put-in-my-bags blues? If you’re wondering what to pack with you to bring to the 2018 National PTA Convention & Expo June 21-24 in New Orleans, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered! As the date is quickly approaching, we wanted to share some tips to help you better prepare for your trip.

Here are some items you should include with you to #PTACon18 in New Orleans:

  1. Cardigan/Light Jacket/Sweater: A sweater can be a great accessory to any outfit. While the average temperature in New Orleans will be 80 degrees Fahrenheit (and higher!), the air conditioning may make things a bit nippy. Make sure you have a cardigan accessible to beat the chill.
  2. Reusable Bottle for Water: You can never go wrong with bottled water! To have the maximum amount of fun, it’s important to stay hydrated for moments it gets a little too warm.
  3. Chargers (laptop, phone, tablet, etc.): Make sure to pack chargers for all of the electronic devices you plan on bringing on your trip. It is important to charge all of your devices while you are asleep so you can wake up to a full charge. Consider bringing a portable charger along if you own one, they are great for on-the-go and times of battery crisis.
  4. Comfortable shoes: Try not to sacrifice comfort for style. Sometimes networking involves constant walking around and you want to make sure your feet aren’t aching, blistered or just plain worn out.
  5. Extra pens, pencils and notepads: Extra pens, pencils and notepads can also be great networking tools when someone around you asks for one. You can never have too many pens and pencils to pass around!
  6. Come to New Orleans geared up: ShopPTA.com has a great selection of PTA logo apparel as well as bags, lapel pins, headwear and neckware to show off your PTA spirit this year!

Our convention attendees are also invited to bring art supplies to support KID smART’s mission. This New Orleans-based nonprofit is dedicated to engaging children in dynamic, creative and rigorous learning through the arts, with the vision to empower all children to unlock their full academic, creative and personal potential. Please consider giving back to KID smART by donating art supplies either in person at PTA Palooza or through KID smART’s Amazon Wishlist.


Saron Messay is a contributing writer to National PTA.

Family-Friendly Things to Do in New Orleans

You may be surprised to learn that this 300-year-old city—the birthplace of jazz and the home of Mardi Gras—is an ideal destination for families with kids. As we gear up for our annual convention, which will be hosted in New Orleans June 21-24, we wanted to make sure you knew about a few of the best kid-friendly things to do in the Big Easy.

New Orleans is a dynamic city that brings your family amazing culture, food, music, and festivals, in addition to an array of child-friendly activities that you will not be able to find anywhere else. In addition to a very walkable downtown and an excellent streetcar system that will make transportation easy, New Orleans is home to one of the top zoos in the country and historic, cultural sights you won’t find anywhere else. Check out what this amazing destination can offer you and your family during your downtime at #PTACon18.

The Audubon Zoo

Audubon Zoo offers an exotic mix of animals from around the globe, engaging educational programs, hands-on animal encounters and lush gardens. It’s ranked as one of the top zoos in the country! In the summertime, it even offers a mini water park called the Cool Zoo which you can access for an additional price (not included in the admissions fee).

The New Orleans Creole Queen or The Steamboat Natchez

Ride down the Mississippi River and gaze back at New Orleans with your children on an authentic steamboat. As you ride along you will be able to better see the topography and understand how New Orleans received its nickname “The Crescent City.”

City Park

City Park features a wide variety of attractions including Storyland, Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, a Sculpture Garden, the New Orleans Botanical Garden, the New Orleans Museum of Art, a train, lots of playgrounds and even Morning Call, a delicious beignet stand.

Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World

Take your kids to tour this massive warehouse where they’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the costumes, floats and parade paraphernalia of Mardi Gras.

Jackson Square

Jackson Square is surrounded by gorgeous historic buildings located in the heart of the French Quarter. Kids love the spot for its street performers, picturesque benches (perfect for a picnic lunch), and delicious beignets at nearby Cafe du Monde.

PTA Palooza! 

Check out this exciting, brand-new event during the PTA Convention in New Orleans, Saturday, June 23 from 10:15 a.m. – 2 p.m. You’ll get to meet more than 100 exhibitors in the school and family category offering hands-on activities, roaming entertainment by a stilt walker and magician, and face painting for everyone!

Want more NOLA? Here are more places for you and your family to visit:

For even more ideas, visit Curbed New Orleans’ Family Guide to the Big Easy.


Saron Messay is a contributing writer to National PTA.