Celebrating Arts & Humanities through the School of Excellence

National PTA and the School of Excellence program recognize that schools and PTAs can take an active role in supporting of arts education. Throughout the country, arts education programming is being slashed, leaving all students, artists or not, without a creative outlet to explore their own experiences and identities.

Understanding this, some of our School of Excellence participants take up the mantle of supporting the arts in their school communities no matter how difficult. In honor of their hard work and Arts & Humanities month, let us explore how some of the 2019-2021 School of Excellence designees used the arts to enhance their family-school partnerships.

Centerville Elementary PTA, Utah           

Centerville Elementary PTA’s School of Excellence team, in collaboration with a group of parent advocates, chose to focus on increasing student access to the arts. Centerville Elementary PTA’s work demonstrates not only a dedication to the arts, but a dedication to their community. Their work in supporting the arts was in direct response to several parents who advocated for students to have an art program at Centerville Elementary.

The Excellence Team set to work early in the year, meeting to share ideas, set priorities, and discuss available resources. Their first task was to create a choir program. The Excellence team sent out an interest survey and received a huge response in favor of the choir program.  Close to 100 students joined the choir program (approximately ¼ of the student population) and had a phenomenal experience. The program truly brought to life the idea of family-engagement, with several parents volunteering with the program including the choir teacher, a parent who is also a highly qualified choral instructor. The choir put on a very well attended concert at the end of the school year that brought many parents and families that typically did not attend school events.

 

In truth, family engagement was incorporated into all the work Centerville Elementary PTA did. The PTA relied on their parent volunteers to weave arts education throughout the school. For example, one volunteer recognized the waste of a classroom set of ukuleles that had been left sitting in a storage room at the school. The parent coordinated Monday morning ukulele classes. The classes held an array of participants from the principal to the custodian to a technology specialist. The parent volunteer taught these school leaders to play the ukulele in hopes that they would then be able to bring the instrument to students in the school. And they did just that during the school talent show on the last day of school.

Grafton Village Elementary School PTA, Virginia

Grafton Village Elementary School PTA also focused on supporting the arts in their school community. Their work, in fact, likely could not have been as successful if it were not for their work with community members. Recognizing a lack of art supplies, the Excellence Team and PTA partnered with a local organization to run a successful art fundraiser. With assistance from the school art teacher, students created visual art pieces that could be transformed into a variety of keepsake items that parents could purchase. The funds raised through this went directly to the art teacher at Grafton Village Elementary School which allowed her to purchase more art supplies like clay, paint, and markers for her classroom. Recognizing that not all parents could choose to purchase the keepsakes, the art teacher allowed all students to take their original pieces home so all students could feel a part of the fundraiser.

In another example of community engagement, the PTA partnered with a local boy scout troop and had an Eagle Scout candidate build shelves in the art room for his Eagle Scout project.  The PTA paid for all shelving supplies, while the Eagle Scout candidate provided all the labor and construction. The end result was a beautiful set of shelves to display and dry student’s artwork.

Finally, the Grafton Village Excellence Team partnered with middle and high school students and parents to host a very successful talent show. Student and parent volunteers came to the after-school rehearsals and helped prepare talent show participants so they could shine in the final performance. During the night of the show, volunteers helped to welcome families, hand out programs, serve refreshments, and take photos so participants could remember the night. The final talent show, and all the support from volunteers, highlighted the deep commitment Grafton Village Elementary had not only for supporting the arts, but also further integrating their PTA into the school and local community.

Four Corners PTA, WI   

Four Corners PTA’s greatest accomplishment in strengthening family-school partnerships was the creation of a series of unique art focused activities that helped deepen the PTA and community’s connection to the arts. Four Corners PTA began by hosting a Create Art Night, a new activity for school, with the goal of inviting students and their families to school to create holiday gifts. The event was free to attend and included dinner which severed well over 100 people from the school community.

Four Corners PTA and the school music teacher also partnered with Little Opera of the North to give students the opportunity to perform in an opera. All of the students in the school, Pre-K through fifth grade, watched the final afternoon performance. Parents, families and community members were invited and enjoyed watching the students perform as well. The opera show was a first for many and provided the community with a new way to experience the arts. This was not the only event Four Corners PTA hosted that brought together their community through the arts. One of the art teachers at Four Corners volunteered to lead a Cookies and Canvas night at school for students and family members. Moms, Dads, Aunts and Grandmas followed step-by-step instructions provided by the teachers to create beautiful take home paintings.

The PTA also sponsored events just for the student community. The Spring Fever Family Dance Party was hosted by volunteer parents, including a local DJ and a dance instructor. Between the DJ and the instructor, students learned dances and were helped to feel more comfortable on the dance floor. The PTA also sponsored a weeklong Artist in Residency program as part of their interactive learning initiative. Working with two puppet artists from ArtStart, all grade levels made puppets and participated in a puppet performance piece. The event concluded with an evening puppet show for families that included a free dinner.

The Excellence Team at Four Corners PTA truly saw the benefits of their investment. Their focus in family engagement changed the school community by increasing student, teacher, family and community participation in the family-oriented art events that we held. The PTA saw an increase in membership, volunteers and attendance at school events. Through their focus on community and the arts, more people in the community know and understand the PTA’s mission “to make every child’s potential a reality.”

These are just a few of the School of Excellence designees who made huge strides in embedding arts education into their school communities. If you’re interested in advancing the arts in your community check out all the available resources from the hosts of Arts & Humanities and our partners at Americans for the Arts here. You can also read and download our ArtsEd Guide which provides useful ways for PTAs to explore the arts and incorporate them into their school programming.

And don’t forget to get involved with the School of Excellence program! You can use your work to advance the arts to become a School of Excellence and gain recognition for the work your PTA does to bring transformative family engagement and the arts to your school! Enroll here by October 15 and support the arts in your community!


By: Ellie Miller, Reflections Specialist

 

Family Safety with Uber

Using Uber With Family? Health & Safety Tips To Keep In Mind

As cities start to recover and reopen and kids go back to school whether in-person or virtually, many families are relying on rideshare and delivery apps like Uber and Uber Eats. Whether it’s going to an appointment, helping your college student move around campus, or ordering lunch or dinner while working from home – we want Uber to continue being a convenient option that makes safety a top priority for parents, caregivers and families.

For the past two years, Uber has been collaborating with the National PTA to deliver important rideshare safety tips and information to families across the country.

When using Uber with family members young and old, we realize that peace of mind is what’s top of mind, especially during a pandemic. So it’s important for parents and families to be aware and understand both the policies and the safety features you can expect when using the app.

The New Rideshare Normal

Since the start of the pandemic, Uber has been working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and medical specialists to ensure that our decisions, policies and processes are guided by health experts. We also have a dedicated team available 24-7 that has been collaborating with public health officials across the country.

We launched a redesign of the Uber app experience from start to finish to encourage safety and allocated $50 million to provide free masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray for drivers and delivery people.

Working with the CDC, we developed these health and safety tips when using rideshare:

  • Wash, Wear, Air – As more people are going back to work and school, we’re deploying a comprehensive education campaign to encourage people to follow this 3-step ritual when using Uber:
    • 1) Wash your hands
    • 2) Wear a mask and
    • 3) Air out the car by opening a window during a trip to help keep the air flowing.
  • No Mask, No Ride – Uber requires all riders, drivers and delivery people using the app to wear a mask. We’ve built innovative technology to verify that a mask is being worn by prompting users to take a selfie before starting a trip. If your driver is not wearing a face cover or mask, you can cancel the trip
  • Sit in the Back Seat: To encourage social distancing, we recommend riders always sit in the back seat. And remember, we have limited the number of people in the car to 3 for UberX and Comfort and 5 for UberXL to make sure the front seat stays empty.
  • Handle your own belongings: Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, avoid letting your driver load and unload your personal belongings into the trunk of the car. Handle those items yourself to help reduce the risk of exposure.

Uber With Family Basics

In addition, here are some general rideshare safety tips if you plan to use Uber with family that outline how to use the app appropriately so you can have a safe and reliable experience:

  • Is Your Child Under 18? Keep Tabs in a Positive Way – Remember that riders need to be over 18 years old to have an Uber account and kids under 18 are not allowed to ride unaccompanied or order food on Uber Eats. Make it a habit of checking your trip order history in the top left
  • Track Loved Ones – Set up a Family Profile. When one of your family members takes a trip, you will be automatically notified and can track the trip in real time. For peace of mind, have your college-aged kids and other adults use the Trusted Contacts feature so they can be prompted to share their trip status with friends or family. Riders can choose to share all trips, night-time only trips, or none at all.
  • Check Your Ride – When the car arrives, double check that the driver’s name, photo and license plate information matches what’s in the app. It’s a great reminder for everyone from your college-aged kids to older adults that they can only request a ride with Uber by using the app, and should never accept a ride from someone claiming to be a driver.
  • Call About a Car Seat – Car seats are generally required by law for young children in vehicles. If you are bringing your own car seat with your little one, call the driver in advance to let them know. Drivers may cancel a trip if proper restraints aren’t available for every rider or if they are not comfortable with a rider installing a seat in their car. Here is a resource* that discusses car seat laws by state.
  • Help Your Caregiver Out – Using the Request for a Guest feature, Uber users can order rides for loved ones over 18 who do not have an Uber account – whether it’s arranging a ride for grandparents at the airport or getting a caregiver home.
  • Study Up on Safety – Uber’s Safety Center, which riders can find by pushing the shield icon in the app during a trip, contains key safety information including tips built in partnership with law enforcement, information on driver background screenings, insurance protections and our Community Guidelines.

We know that helping cities recover starts with supporting people who need it most or who may be struggling. So Uber committed to provide 10 million free rides and food deliveries to healthcare workers, first responders, seniors and other underserved groups for transportation and access to meals.

Uber can be a convenient and reliable tool for the ever changing needs of busy families and their loved ones, especially during this challenging time. We know that family members are your most precious cargo so when it comes to safety, we know our work is never done. Wherever you’re traveling, we are committed to helping make every trip and delivery safe for all.

 

Meet the 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Winner

This summer, National PTA honored Mark Twain Elementary PTA in Lawndale, California with the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award for Outstanding Family-School Partnership. This award is given to top National PTA School of Excellence designees for demonstrating outstanding success in engaging families in student success and school improvements.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA proved again and again to be incredibly deserving of the designation and this award. Their work throughout the School of Excellence program truly highlighted the positive impacts that can be achieved with hard work and dedication to strengthening family-school partnership.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA began their work in the summer by forming an Excellence Team composed of PTA members, the principal and student support services staff, district communications staff, and bilingual speakers. The PTA was extremely intentional in creating a team that aligned with the school community as well as the district office.

This intentional team-building proved vital in the end. Working with the principal gave the team an important advocate who assisted throughout the School of Excellence program process, while the bilingual speakers, who represented the English language learners (35% of the student population), allowed the Excellence Team to embed Inclusiveness, one of Four I’s of Transformative Family Engagement, into the program planning.

After selecting their Excellence Team and sending out National PTA’s Baseline Survey, Mark Twain Elementary PTA began analyzing the results and setting goals. The team was determined to approach the survey results critically and to use the information gathered to develop a plan that would create tangible change in their community – a critical step to success in the School of Excellence program. While every program participant must survey their community, Mark Twain Elementary PTA made sure to use the survey as a tool to embed one of the Four I’s – Individualized – into their program. By tailoring their program to the survey results, the Excellence Team ensured that their work would benefit their school community thoroughly and intentionally.

The Baseline Survey results indicated that their school community was generally pleased, but that there was a need to focus on improving education and do more with college and career readiness. With generally positive results revealed, Mark Twain Elementary PTA built their action plan around making things better rather than starting from scratch. Using the survey results, they learned what was already working, where families were already showing up and how families were interacting with one another. For example, the Excellence Team noticed that 49% of their survey responses were received by paper. To the team, this showed a community willing to give feedback but one that may benefit from a refreshed and more efficient communication strategy.

As the survey revealed to the Excellence Team that college and career readiness was an area for improvement in their community, Mark Twain Elementary PTA launched their first PTA College and Career Readiness Month. As a first step, the PTA invited parents and caregivers to read books and speak about their careers. With a female-heavy volunteer base, the PTA was pleased that four new dads joined this effort and promised they would return again next year. This increase in male volunteer support was just another example of Mark Twain Elementary PTA embedding inclusion into their School of Excellence program.

The new PTA College and Career Readiness Month also coincided with Spirit Week. Mark Twain Elementary PTA partnered with student support services who helped students write their future career plans on miniature squares. The color-coded squares then created a muraled billboard that aligned current grade levels to a high school graduation year. Many students said this was the first time they thought about their graduation. It was small moments like these – students discussing graduation for the first time or father’s volunteering where they previously had not – that showed the Excellence Team that their work was not falling short. Rather they were, in fact, creating real, positive and long-lasting change.

To close out College and Career Readiness Month, Mark Twain Elementary PTA rebranded one of their biggest traditions to JOG-A-THON 2019: Run Toward Your Future. During the run students wore college gear or clothing that expressed their desired career path. The color-coded mural also made an appearance to remind students about their educational goal and beyond.

While all these events were going on, the PTA made sure to send home bilingual communication about district PSAT workshops, local resources and experiences including STEM Nights and science festivals as well as college scholarships. This ensured that even families and children not present at the events were receiving useful information and resources. They did this purposefully with Inclusion and the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships of “Welcoming all Families” and “Communicating Effectively” in mind. In the end, the thoughtfulness and success led to the declaration that College and Career Readiness Month would be an annual event. Making the event annual allowed Mark Twain Elementary PTA to incorporate another of the vital Four I’s of Transformative Family Engagement – Integration.

At the end of the year, Mark Twain Elementary PTA’s hard work truly paid off. Through the deployment of National PTA’s Final Survey, the PTA saw 11% increase in the number of surveys submitted and a 100% increase in the ‘always’ rating in their survey responses. The PTA also moved the needle in every category and made significant leaps relative to Welcoming All Families (‘always’ up 5%-21%), Supporting Student Success (‘always’ up 5%-18%), Communicating Effectively (‘always’ up 8%-16%), and Speaking Up for Every Child (‘always’ up 6%-17%). Most importantly, the PTA witnessed their highest levels of engagement ever – with more thankful families, increased event attendance, and new volunteers.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA ended the year with much pride in their work and showed they were truly committed to making a positive change in their school community. Before even earning the designation, much less the top honor, the PTA leaders decided that, regardless of their School of Excellence designation, they were going to celebrate their year because they had accomplished so much. The Excellence Team even noted that they accomplished only small portion of all their goals and that they would continue to use the School of Excellence program to drive positive change in their school and community.

You too can see amazing changes in your school community with hard work and support from the School of Excellence program. Learn more about the program at PTA.org/Excellence and make sure to enroll by October 1 to secure your spot on the path to excellence.


Ellie Miller is a programs specialist for National PTA.

At Home Activities for Summer 2020

Summer may look and feel a little different this year, but that doesn’t mean that you and your family can’t still have fun and make the most of the season. Though some vacations may be postponed and children’s day camps may be closed, there are still plenty of activities to do with your children from home that are sure to keep them entertained and smiling. Now more than ever, it is important to continue practicing and teaching healthy habits to your children. Lysol® and National PTA suggest the following social distancing activities for a fun, and more importantly, safe, summer:

  • Get outside and get active: Your family can still enjoy the nice weather, but the CDC recommends wearing masks in public, staying out of crowded places, and keeping at least 6 feet apart from other people.[1] Whether biking, hiking, walking in your neighborhood or playing t-ball in your backyard, your family can still keep busy and active with outdoor activities.
  • Keep learning: Keep your children’s minds active throughout the summer by continuing education at home. Lysol® created Resources for Teaching at Home materials and lesson plans to help parents teach children about healthy habits and lifestyles in a fun and engaging way.
  • Make a fort: Build a pillow and blanket fort with your kids, then camp out inside with popcorn and blankets for a cozy movie night.
  • Institute a cleaning calendar: What better time to update your chart! Assign everyone in the family a few simple tasks to do each day (like picking up toys or making their beds). It will give everyone something to do, plus take a few chores off mom and dad’s plates, as well.
  • Indulge in a staycation: Just because you can’t go on a physical vacation, doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself to a week off! Create a staycation for your family by canceling external work and activities for the week, ordering takeout from a new restaurant and spending time relaxing together at home.
  • Learn a new skill: Take a virtual cooking class with your family or learn a new craft like painting or knitting. This will give everyone a project to focus on, while also spending quality time together.

To learn more about healthy habits for children, please visit lysol.com/healthy-classroom/. For more information about COVID-19, please visit CDC.gov.

[1] CDC.gov. “How to Protect Yourself & Others.”

How School of Excellence Participants Supported Their Communities During Quarantine

By enrolling in the School of Excellence program, PTAs make a commitment to transforming family engagement and building meaningful connections in their school communities. National PTA points to our participating School of Excellence participants as true leaders in strengthening family-school partnerships and, as such, these PTAs are often presented exclusive opportunities. As part of our relief efforts, and in partnership with our generous sponsor TikTok, National PTA awarded $5000 in emergency relief grants to 110 PTAs across 28 State PTA Congresses who were actively participating in the 2019-20 School of Excellence program when the pandemic hit. That’s a total of $550,000 to help PTAs meet the most pressing needs in their school communities during COVID-19, specifically in the areas of:

  • Social Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health
  • Food Insecurity
  • Distance Learning
  • Internet and Device Access

Let’s take a look at some of the information provided in the top-ranked grant application of some of the 2019-20 School of Excellence participants and recent grantees!

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL WELLBEING AND MENTAL HEALTH

After speaking with their school and community partners, Casselberry Elementary School PTSA in Florida is choosing to focus on social emotional wellbeing and mental health of their students to combat the absence of supports offered in school. “It is imperative that our PTSA uses the information and resources available to us to ensure we are advocating for all of our children, but especially those with the greatest unmet needs,” says Lindsay Feist, Casselberry Elementary School PTSA Leader. With their grant funds, Casselberry Elementary School PTSA first plans to reach out to their school community with a translated survey to learn more about their greatest needs. Then, they will distribute mental health/wellness bags to their families that include information, resources and activities to help families feel more prepared and willing to communicate and cope with any anxiety and sadness. Lindsay adds, “We hope this will serve as a reminder that PTSA is still here and working with school administration to ensure that we are serving ALL of our children through this time.”

Bernice Knox Wiley Middle School PTA in Texas is taking a similar approach to combating the mental health needs of their students through the pandemic. With the grant funds, this PTA also plans to develop, assemble, and distribute Wellness Kits to provide students with calming activities and techniques that can help to reduce stress as well as reinforce positive coping skills. While kits are geared toward the needs of students, the PTA also hopes they can be used by family members to develop the same coping strategies and provide some relief to caregivers/parents who are experiencing high levels of stress. The components of the kits were recommended by OT , mental health and other experts and may include:

  • Sensory calming items like stress balls, liquid/galaxy bottles or small weighted fabric fidgets
  • Focus items such as age-appropriate crossword puzzles, coloring books or small art kits
  • Breathing and regulation cards including yoga poses
  • Laminated resource sheets, including counselor contacts and free, online resources such as the Headspace app.

Pelham Road Elementary School PTA in South Carolina is also focusing on social emotional wellbeing and mental health because, as Holly Haga states, “With families facing the challenge of working from home and homeschooling for the first time along with the fear brought about by the pandemic they are under more stress than ever. Crisis schooling, as some have called it, has left families struggling to find a work life balance and in some cases further disadvantaging the already disadvantaged. The stresses felt during this time are so far reaching the CDC has included a children-specific “Stress and Coping” area on their COVID-19 section of their website.” The Pelham Road Elementary School PTA plans to use the grant funds to purchase the Second Step program for their counseling department. With classroom and virtual lessons, offered in English and Spanish, the PTA feels that this will them to support their students well into the future.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help improve mental health in your school community!

  • Organize neighborhood chalk-your-walks or bear hunt
  • Share free links to exercise or art classes
  • Create and post videos of teachers and staff for students on social media
  • Create and post videos of students doing fun activities on social media
  • Connect families to social workers
  • Create virtual spirit weeks and post photos
  • Send out weekly newsletters
  • Collect cards for local nursing homes
  • Create art and share it via a virtual gallery
  • Reach out to local business for support

FOOD INSECURITY

Most of our students at Simonsdale Elementary in Virginia receive free or reduced meals and rely on the school to provide them with breakfast and lunch throughout the schoolyear. Since their school was closed due to Covid-19, Simonsdale Elementary PTA heard that many of their families were struggling financially and that their students were not eating properly. In an effort to assist their families in need, the PTA is planning to use the grant funds to fill the gap of missed meals by providing a combination of hot meals and grocery boxes to feed “the body, heart, and soul” of their school community families and members.

Loftis Middle PTA in Tennessee is hoping to use the grant funding to maintain and expand the food assistance program that they started through their School of Excellence workplan and continued when school was dismissed for COVID-19. The PTA made a commitment to try to provide food on a weekly basis to the community by creating bags of food to go with the weekend sack packs with a letter explaining the food program and community partnerships. Since many of these students were bus riders without transportation, they delivered boxes of food to homes as needed. Christy Carroll Highfill, Loftis Middle PTA Leader says, “Delivering food to areas of the greatest of need in our community is something that is life changing in many ways. It has been an opportunity to see where some of our students in the greatest of need live and venture into neighborhoods where you realize that the need is much greater than what so many see or understand. This has created a passion within our PTA to ensure that every family has access to the resources they need.” One of their continued goals is create small stationary, free pantries that can be placed within the community so that families who do not wish to be identified can have access to resources without any worries. Another goal is to create mobile pantry systems that can be taken by volunteers into neighborhoods and safe locations that would be accessible to all, including those beyond their student body.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help combat food insecurity in your school community!

  • Create a little free pantry
  • Offer to support and communicate out school/district efforts
  • Pick-up, drop-off or drive students to food assistance
  • Encourage community donations to local food banks/drives
  • Reach out to local businesses for support

DISTANCE LEARNING

Parklawn Elementary PTA in Virginia is choosing to focus on distance learning as not all of their students have been able to take part in the online component and many have only able to participate in limited ways. With the closure of libraries and summer learning loss in mind, the PTA is planning to provide summer educational packets including leveled books, games and activities with an emphasis on the arts. In addition to supporting students’ learning, the PTA is hoping this may also provide an emotional boost. PTA Leader Elizabeth D’Cruz states, “We really would like to bring as much joy as possible to each student in our school, especially those hardest hit by the financial hardship of the current situation.” Parklawn Elementary PTA is imagining that these educational packets will bring engagement for siblings and adult guardians, to “brighten over 1,000 children’s lives”.

To address barriers to learning as a result of the COVID-19 school closure, Pleasant Hill Elementary School PTA in South Carolina is hoping to establish a Learning Resource Lending Program (LRLP) for the PHES community. PTA Leader Rachel Onello shared that the LRLP will enable loaning of learning kits to PHES families that will include books, parent resources, easy-to-implement tips to facilitate at-home reading skills, and reflective reading activities to build comprehension. To focus on equity for the most vulnerable, the LRLP would also provide a loaner device for students with no access to devices at home to allow these students the same opportunity to complete online learning activities as their peers. Not only will the LRLP augment the distance learning activities provided by the school district, but it will also address key barriers to book and device access created by the COVID-19 school closure. Further, distribution of kits individualized to student needs will serve to buffer against summer learning loss and help prevent skill decay in reading and comprehension. The LRLP will also offer sustainability beyond the immediate COVID-19 crisis, allowing kit contents and devices to be returned to the school and redistributed for future needs, reaching the greatest number of PHES families with a focus on equity for the most vulnerable.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help provide distance learning opportunities to your school community!

  • Offer virtual story times
  • Provide updates from the governor on COVID-19 and share student-accessible information
  • Find parents who can assist with online tutoring
  • Set up online study groups by grade-level
  • Reach out to local businesses for support

INTERNET AND DEVICE ACCESS

The Bailey’s PTA in Ohio plans to distribute devices to their diverse population of learners and ensure internet connectivity to help alleviate the learning loss. Although their district is working hard to provide these services, many of Bailey’s families and students haven’t had access. The PTA sees this as an issue of equitable access to learning opportunities and is concerned about how the isolation our students are facing will impact their engagement and motivation to learn over the long-term. During the summer, elementary school students will have the opportunity to focus on math and literacy skill-building using self-directed print and digital materials. In addition, they will have the opportunity to connect with teachers virtually during office hours for support. Increasing digital access will help alleviate the learning loss many will experience from being unable to access our district’s distance learning curriculum.

John Burroughs Elementary School in Ohio, like many, was not planning on distance learning this year and as such did not have the technological capacity to provide equipment for every family to be able to participate in distance learning. The school had 180 Chromebooks and allowed each family to sign out one per family, leaving several families scrambling to find available computers. John Burroughs Elementary PTA plans to replace 15 laptops to help with distance learning, testing and online enrichment as well as traditional classroom learning.

Hidden Oaks PTSA in Florida will be making sure their families have access to devices so that each child and maybe multiple children in each home can successfully complete their schoolwork whether in school or at a distance. In addition, the PTA will use the funds to educate their families on the applications used for distance or classroom learning and will partner with local internet providers to accomplish this goal. PTA Leader, Pam Arrieta said, “We want to make sure that our kids and our families in our community have internet access, are educated on internet applications, and have the technology that is best suited to their individual child’s learning needs.” To reach all community members, they will use a variety of communication tools (calls, emails, web pages and social media) to inform their community and translate learning tools in languages, including Spanish, English and Creole.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help provide internet and device access to your school community!

  • Equip families with the knowledge of what free/low cost internet options are available in your area
  • Partner with local businesses to provide free WiFi locations for families
  • Advocate for expanded internet and broadband access by sharing your families’ story
  • Host a device drive to help get gently used devices into the hands of students

National PTA encourages you to apply for COVID-19 Relief Funding and enroll in the School of Excellence program.

Learn more and apply for emergency grants by July 12 at PTA.org/COVID19Grants.

Let us help guide your relief efforts while you work to strengthen family-school partnerships and earn national-level recognition as a 2020-2022 National PTA School of Excellence. Visit PTA.org/Excellence to learn more and ENROLL in the 2020-21 School of Excellence program.

The Importance of Daily Recess When Schools Return From COVID-19 Lockdowns

Over the past few months, parents have been faced with the seemingly impossible tasks of sheltering in place, working from home or at essential jobs, and homeschooling their children; all while managing the emotional, logistical, and financial challenges that have come with the recent global pandemic. As we look forward to the fall, schools are developing plans for how to resume public education while adhering to best practice recommendations from public health officials. Although recess is often elementary students’ favorite time of the school day, currently, there is limited discussion about recess in school re-opening. Recess is more than just fun and games; it is through play that children grow and the unstructured recess space is an important site for students to reconnect with their peers after months of isolation. Rather than cancelling recess or closing playgrounds,[1] at this critical time, recess should be prioritized in school re-opening plans.

Providing children with regular opportunities to play, socialize, rest, and re-energize through recess is imperative. High quality recess breaks improve mood, well-being, school engagement, behavior, learning, focus, attendance, and overall school climate. The time for social and emotional healing and growth is essential in this unprecedented time. Data show that children’s physical and psychological health are negatively impacted during quarantine[2], and that trauma symptoms increase for those in quarantine[3]. When children experience stress and trauma, it is difficult for them to access the portions of the brain that support thinking and reasoning,[4] thus recess and outdoor break times should be integral to any strategy aimed at providing a safe and supportive learning environment.

In considering a return to school, recess is the ideal space to promote health and healing. It is a time period that is intentionally unstructured, attends to students’ social, emotional, physical and intellectual development, and often takes place outdoors. Current data show[5] that transmission of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is much less likely to happen in outdoor environments; and that outdoor recreation can facilitate social distancing efforts relative to time spent in indoor environments.[6]

Parents can play a key role in addressing the importance of recess as children return to school buildings. As many school districts and state education boards are seeking input from parent stakeholders, we encourage parents and local PTA’s to advocate for children’s right to play[7] and to ensure recess is available to every child, every day that they are physically at school. To help equip parents, educators, and policymakers on the both the importance of recess, and strategies to keep recess safe during (and beyond) the pandemic, The Global Recess Alliance – a group of international researchers, educators, and health professionals – has created list of suggested adaptations for recess based on the best available research evidence[8]. Among the recommendations are to:

  • Offer recess daily for children when they are physically present at school, outdoors if possible;
  • Count recess as instructional time;
  • Advise recess staff so they are prepared to support students who may be more energetic, aggressive, or withdrawn; or have less capacity to self-regulate, resolve their own conflicts, and figure out how to play together;
  • Maintain disinfecting practices for equipment and do not allow students to bring equipment from home;
  • Add handwashing stations and model their use;
  • Limit the number of children at recess at one time and create different play areas for activities to further reduce their interactions;
  • Avoid structured or sedentary activities—like watching movies or activity break videos that do not provide students free choice and peer interactions—which are not substitutes for recess; and
  • Given the many physical, social and emotional benefits of recess, do not withhold recess as punishment for any reason (e.g. as a consequence for missed schoolwork or misbehavior).

Parents and PTAs can utilize this available evidence to help schools develop plans to create safe and healthy play opportunities for child in both the near, and long-term future.


William Massey, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. His line of research focused on the intersection of play, physical activity, and child development.

Rebecca London is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on understanding the challenges faced by disadvantaged children and youth and the ways that communities and community organizations support young people to be healthy and successful.

[1] U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Considerations for schools.https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html

[2] Sprang G, Silman M. Posttraumatic stress disorder in parents and youth after health-related disasters. Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2013;7:105–110

[3] Brooks SK, Webster RK, Smith LE, et al. The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Lancet. 2020;395(10227):912‐920. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30460-8

[4] Blair, C., & Raver, C. C. (2015). School readiness and self-regulation: A developmental psychobiological approach. Annual Review of Psychology, 66(1), 711–731.

[5] Qian H, Miao T, LIU L, Zheng X, Luo D, Li Y. Indoor transmission of SARS-CoV-2. medRxiv. 2020;(17202719):2020.04.04.20053058. doi:10.1101/2020.04.04.20053058

[6] Venter ZS, Barton DN, Gundersen V, Figari H. Urban nature in a time of crisis : recreational use of green space increases during the COVID-19 outbreak in Oslo , Norway

[7] United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.” IPAworld, May 1, 2012, http://ipaworld.org/childs-right-to-play/uncrc-article-31/un-convention-on-the-rights-of-the-child-1/.

[8] Global Recess Alliance. School Reopening? Make Sure Children Have Daily Time for Recess. 7 May 2020. https://globalrecessalliance.org/.

Journey to Excellence: How to Become a Nationally-Recognized School of Excellence

The National PTA School of Excellence recognition program opens the lines of communication and critical thinking within school communities to make data-driven decisions that yield positive, long-term results.

By enrolling in this year-long program, your PTA and school administrators are making a joint commitment to identify and implement an action plan for school improvement based off of direct feedback from your school community. Throughout the school year, you will work with a committed team of PTA leaders you choose to strengthen the family-school partnerships in your community. And National PTA will be there every step of the way to offer support and resources rooted in PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships and the Four ‘I’s of Transformative Family Engagement. In the final stage of the program, your work be evaluated and, if progress has been demonstrated, you will receive the two-year National PTA School of Excellence designation.

Let National PTA support you in stepping up your PTA’s involvement in meaningful engagement for continuous school improvements by enrolling today at PTA.org/Excellence!

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 prioritize 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 administrators and School of 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 by using National PTA’s Final Survey to gather feedback from your school community. The results will help your Excellence Team evaluate your progress over the school year and identify continued areas for grown.

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 your greatest accomplishments as a result of taking part in the program and how you made gains by putting theory into practice.

Step #8: Celebrate Your Excellence (August)
In August, Schools of Excellence will be named and honored with the National PTA School of Excellence two-year designation. Awardees will receive information on how to plan school and community celebrations as well as a banner to hang prominently at your school. Your PTA will also automatically be considered for our Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award, presented to our top three Schools of Excellence each year. In addition to national recognition, the designation will open up the doors for new opportunities that come with an honor of this caliber!

Join the ranks of over 1,200 PTAs who have earned this prestigious distinction and make improvements to your school that have long-term impact.

Enrollment for the 2020-2021 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 with any questions.


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

 

Join Us in Celebrating this Year’s Graduates on Facebook

This is a bittersweet time for the Class of 2020. As students head toward graduation, it’s not the day they might have imagined — no processions, no diploma handoffs, no parties. They are commencing at a time of great uncertainty. But graduating is a tremendous achievement, and worth pausing to celebrate even in these circumstances.

So, May 15 at 11 a.m. PST/2 p.m. EST, Facebook will broadcast a National Graduation Celebration called #Graduation2020: Facebook and Instagram Celebrate the Class of 2020. During this live broadcast, a commencement address will be given by Oprah Winfrey. The ceremony will acknowledge high school and college graduating classes in every state across the country. Many celebrities, including Awkwafina, Jennifer Garner, Lil Nas X, Simone Biles, and more, will share words of wisdom for the class of 2020. Miley Cyrus will do a special performance of her hit song, “The Climb.”

If you would like your graduates to be acknowledged on this broadcast, submit a video or pictures using this portal by May 4. Facebook plans to acknowledge all schools who have a submission.

As a PTA, you can submit your own video or you can work with your parents, teachers, students and administration to submit one joint application with multiple videos. Use National PTA’s Teacher Appreciation Week posters for graduates and Zoom virtual meeting backgrounds to make your video extra special! Check them out at PTA.org/ThankATeacher.

Here is how you can participate:

1. Record A Congratulatory Message For Your Graduating Class

This option is perfect for anyone to do! For example:

“Hi, I am <NAME> and I am a teacher at Plymouth North High School in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I want to give a special shout out to our 2020 graduating class. Congratulations on this huge achievement, I’m so proud of you. Go Eagles!”

The video should be approximately 15 seconds in length. Be creative, stand out and show your school spirit!

 2. Cap & Gown Videos

This option is great for students! Coordinate with a group of your friends (your athletic teams, cheer squad, choir team, chess team) and safely record a video of your cap toss with your fellow graduates via a video service like Facebook Messenger or Zoom. For example:

“We are the Marina High School Cheerleaders from Huntington Beach, California – Go Vikings!”

Then toss your cap or your pom-poms. Don’t limit yourself! Be creative, unique and stand out.

The video should be approximately 15 seconds in length. Keep in mind there should be no music, no profanity and no branded logos outside of your school colors.

3. Thank You Videos

This option is perfect for PTAs!

Thank your favorite teacher, principal, faculty members, mentor or parent for getting you here, to graduation. Be sincere and heartfelt in your thank yous.  Make it count and start off by saying who you are and what school you are from.

The video should be approximately 15 seconds in length. Keep in mind there should be no music, no profanity and no branded logos outside of your school colors.

4. School Spirit Photos

Perfect for anyone, especially if you’re on a time crunch!

Just send in photos of yourself and pre-quarantine photos of your team/schoolmates in your school colors, jerseys and hats.  Be creative and show your school spirit!

5. Record a Congratulatory Message for Your Graduating Senior

This option is perfect for very proud parents!

Share how proud you and your family are of your graduating senior and why. Show their photo in the video if they are not there with you OR have them seated next to you if they are.  Show them your love and support.

The video should be approximately 30 seconds in length. Keep in mind there should be no music, no profanity and no branded logos outside of your school colors.

This year’s graduation will be different than other years, and no doubt memorable because of it. We’re proud of our graduates for all they have achieved—congratulations to the Class of 2020!


Alyssa Montchal is a manager of programs and partnerships for National PTA.

Ways to Make Your PTA Virtual

With so many schools closed through the end of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, how are PTA/PTSAs keeping in touch with their school communities? They are going virtual!

National PTA surveyed local leaders from across America and heard about the many amazing things they are doing to be relevant to their members, students, families and communities together during this health crisis, with stay-at-home orders and social distancing in place.

Your PTA serves a vital role in supporting your community, and that role has only become more important during COVID-19. Try some of these creative ideas to bring people together, while respecting social distancing.

Community Building (Online)

Email, Google Docs and remote classrooms can go a long way to serving your students’ academic needs, but what about their emotional ones? Your PTA can support a feeling of community and school spirit even online.

  • #TogetherApart: Support stay at home orders by requesting students and families to post pics of how they are social distancing.
  • A Taste of Normal: Use your PTA Facebook page to help your school continue to deliver morning announcements (weather, birthdays, daily math problems and more) on Facebook Live.
  • Virtual Spirit Wear: Encourage your community to share their school pride by taking a pic in their school gear and sharing to your PTSA’s Facebook.
  • School Spirit Week: Similarly, ask your families to post different pictures online according to a new theme each day–crazy hat day, PJ day, crazy sock day, etc.
  • Bust Boredom: Lift people’s spirits! Send out daily challenges (fitness, crafts, etc.) or provide virtual morale boosters (funny pictures, inspirational quotes, etc.)
  • Let’s Read Together: Pick a book for your community to read together. Have the principal, your PTA President or a great volunteer record themselves reading and share the video online.
  • Make Space: Put the “social” in social isolation by hosting a virtual meet-up for your families on Zoom or Google Hangouts.

The Great Outdoors

Getting a few minutes of fresh air and sunshine can be critical for mental and physical health, particularly for children. Remind your families to don their masks, stay at least six feet from others, and participate in one of these fun challenges.

  • Chalk the Walk: Have families get outside in the fresh air to draw pictures or write positive messages on their driveways or on the sidewalk. Then families can walk around the neighborhood, get some exercise and enjoy all the art and messages. This activity could be neighborhood or community-wide.
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Host a neighborhood scavenger hunt! Ask school families and community members to place a teddy bear or bear pictures in a window, front yard, in a tree, etc. Kids and families can get outside, get some exercise and hunt for the bears while practicing social distancing. Tell families to post online how many they found!
  • Themed walks! One of our local PTAs held a shamrock walk for St. Patrick’s Day. Families drew and cut out shamrocks and put them in their windows. Families could walk around and find shamrocks. This idea can be adjusted for other occasions, like emojis and signs for Teacher Appreciation Week, or made evergreen by using something like rainbows.

Take Your Events Online!

Don’t let all your PTA’s prep work go to waste! It may take a little creativity, ingenuity and flexibility, but you can (and should!) try to host some of your beloved events online!

  • Virtual Talent Show: Give kids the chance to show off their hobbies and special abilities!
  • Virtual Career Day: Inspire kids to keep studying so they can become their heroes.
  • Virtual Graduation Celebration: Missing milestones can be tough. Collaborate with your school to do something for your High School Seniors.
  • Online After School Programs: Some after school programs sponsored by your PTA might be able to be moved online with the help of your enrichment program vendors.
  • Online Reflections! Encourage your PTA students to start working on their Reflections submissions. This year’s student-selected theme is I Matter Because

Provide Resources

As a family engagement association, your PTA plays a unique role as a go-between with your school and your community. In a crisis like this one, that role becomes even more important.

  • Bulletin Board: Don’t underestimate your reach! Share links to your state’s assistance for unemployment/underemployment or information on free internet options.
  • Food Pantry: If your PTA already runs a food pantry, please continue to do so! Some of our PTAs have switched to a drive-through model of service to minimize contact.
  • Special Delivery: Mobility can be a huge problem for some families. Your PTA could consider delivering school meals for those who can’t come pick them up.
  • Power Community Action: The PTA voice is mighty! Grassroots activism can be as simple as sharing National PTA’s action alerts or starting a petition around your state or local legislation.
  • Community Childcare: Essential workers may be having difficulty arranging reliable childcare. Your PTA can help connect families who are available to provide childcare to families in need of childcare.
  • STEM @ Home: PTA can create easy STEM activity packets (try the ones on our STEM @ Home page!) and hand them out when students pick up school meals.
  • Virtual Vacation: Many families have had to cancel their travel plans for Spring Break. Your PTA can turn this into an educational opportunity by sharing destinations for families to explore together virtually every day, with tours of historic sites, local recipes, themed crafts and traditions.

Keeping Revenue Coming In

Your PTA can’t do all of the great things it does without resources! Try these ideas to raise much-needed funds.

  • Restaurant Takeout Night: Support local businesses while raising money for your PTA and school! Collaborate with a local restaurant and ask your families to order takeout. A percentage of those sales can be donated to your PTA.
  • Set Up a GoFundMe: Make it easy for your families to support each other! Set up a site to collect online monetary donations for your PTA/PTSA food pantry.
  • Sell Graduation Yard Signs: Help your community celebrate their special seniors! Create cute “congrats grad!” signs that, when sold, a volunteer can then drive by and put it in the recipient’s yard.
  • Sell Spirit Wear: Sometimes what you wear can make all the difference in how you feel. Lift spirits and build a sense of community by selling spirit wear for your school and your PTA!
  • Host an Online Auction: Reach out to local businesses for donations of vouchers, gift cards or other “to-be-used-in-the-future” items your families could use, then host an event live on an online conferencing platform.

Meet and Greet

Our PTA Family can always use more members! In a time of social distancing, we need to create connections more than ever before. Use this moment to invite all your school community to join your PTA/PTSA!

  • Make Your Meetings Effective: Your PTA/PTSA meetings can easily be hosted online but be sure to stay organized and on task. Send out all the materials in advance and be respectful of your members’ time.
  • Make Your Meetings Impactful: Invite key players such as the principal, school staff and other school parents to brainstorm how your PTA can best help support families.
  • Celebrate Your Volunteers: Create opportunities to share the great work your PTA is doing, while letting people know you appreciate their efforts.

On behalf of National PTA, thank you for all you do to support children and families. Quarantine is really tough, but we want you to know that you’re doing an amazing job and we’re so #PTAProud of you! Visit PTA.org/COVID-19 for critical resources, join our local PTA leader Facebook group, and share your local PTA/PTSA virtual story with us. Stay safe!


Suzan Yungner is the director of membership and field service for National PTA.

From One Parent to Another: How to Support Your Kids’ Learning at Home

Last week was tough. It was Week One of our new normal. For me, that means I was at home trying to juggle my job and my children. As I’m sitting here writing this, my 13-year-old is texting me to get his younger brother to quiet down so he can do his virtual math. I agree with my teen: I also need quiet so that I can work. And yet younger brothers need to be free to make some age-appropriate noise.

None of us are experiencing much peace and quiet in our household. On the contrary, there’s a ton of digital noise and a scramble to connect my kids to their teachers. We’re so busy coordinating their virtual learning — and my virtual working! — that we’re missing out on the best learning we have to offer them as parents: conversation around a book shared between us.

The most important thing a parent can do to support their kids’ reading growth is to ask questions before, during, and after reading. That’s the magic formula. It has always been true, and it is never more important than now.

As parents, we may not deeply understand the science of reading the way that educators do. But we still have something absolutely fundamental to offer our children: We can sit down with our children and a book. We can point out letters and tell them what we know about letter sounds. We can talk with them about the ideas and pictures in the book.  We can ensure they associate books with love and belonging. There is no smaller classroom than a family’s living room, and there is no better way to personalize instruction than through a parent. After all, what could be more personal than a parent and child sharing a book at bedtime?

When you’re reading with your child, it’s helpful to keep in mind a simple view of reading: to read well, children need to be able to figure out the words and they need to be able to understand the story. All of us stuck at home right now with our kids can absolutely help our children figure out the words and understand the story.

I know that any family can succeed at this because I’ve seen it firsthand. Thousands of families from all across the country join Springboard Collaborative every year to learn how to better support their children’s at-home reading. They plan for reading time every day and commit to asking questions before, during, and after reading. These Springboard partners are moms and dads, grandpops and grandmoms, aunts, uncles, siblings, neighbors – with varying degrees of literacy, but all sharing the common distinction of being caring adults committed to supporting their children’s learning. They take their responsibility as at-home reading coaches seriously, and their kids’ literacy development has proven that just as every child can learn to read, every family can learn to coach a young reader.

Never in the modern history of our education system has the importance of family engagement been more apparent than it is right now! ~50 million children are home from school and likely will be for the remainder of the school year. Parents, how can you ensure your kids don’t fall behind in their reading? Springboard is here to help!

Check out Springboard’s new family resource page (linked here). We made you a user-friendly coaching plan with weekly strategy videos, daily lesson plans, and corresponding e-books! Parents are being bombarded with content, which can be more overwhelming than it is helpful. Springboard’s resource portal focuses on “the how”, not just “the what.” We’re also giving parents free access to Springboard Connect, an app with strategies tailored to your child’s current reading needs. Finally, we’re offering parent workshops virtually on Facebook Live (in English and Spanish). Any family can sign up for these supports for free.

Check out the family resource portal, come back often, and follow Springboard on social media for the very latest #ReadFor15. We invite any family to use these resources free of charge. We implore all families to set aside at least 15 minutes every day during the quarantine (and beyond!) to ask questions before, during, and after reading. The simplest action is often the best one, and, by taking this simple action, you’ll be on track to transform these weeks at home from an educational barrier to a springboard for your child. You are your children’s first and best teacher—now is your time to shine!

With gratitude and respect,

Aubrey White
President, Springboard Collaborative