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

 

National PTA Gives Federal Policy Update

Last night, March 25, the U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion dollar COVID-19 #3 relief package. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote and pass the bill Friday, March 27, and then it will go to the President for his signature, which he has indicated he will sign.

In related news, U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue will participate in the President’s Coronavirus Task Force’s daily briefing to discuss online learning and school meals. There is no set time for the daily briefing. Most 24-7 news networks carry the briefing live.

What’s in Congress’ C-3 package?

Overall, education received $30.9 billion in aid to provide short term relief for students and schools impacted by the coronavirus.

The bill created an Education Stabilization Fund that provides flexible funding to get out the door quickly and go directly to states, local school districts, and institutions of higher education to help schools, students, teachers, and families with immediate needs related to coronavirus.

The fund provides:

  • $13.5 billion in formula funding directly to states, to help elementary and secondary (K-12) schools respond to coronavirus and related school closures, meet the immediate needs of students and teachers, improve the use of education technology, support distance education, and make up for lost learning time.
  • $14.25 billion in funding to institutions of higher education to directly support students facing urgent needs related to coronavirus, and to support institutions as they cope with the immediate effects of coronavirus and school closures. This provides targeted formula funding to institutions of higher education, as well as funding for minority serving institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
  • $3 billion in flexible state funding to be allocated by formula based on the needs of their elementary and secondary schools and their institutions of higher education.

There is also $100 million in targeted funding for Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) which provides resources to help elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education recover from a traumatic event in which the learning environment has been disrupted.

The legislation also includes almost $25 billion for food assistance programs, including nearly $16 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and nearly $9 billion for child nutrition. These resources are in addition to what was included in The Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The relief package also provides small business loans to non-profits, with under 500 employees, however the bill did not provide $25 billion in emergency aid for associations that face major financial loss due to event cancellations as a result of COVID-19. The National Council of Nonprofits has an initial analysis on What’s In the Bill Nonprofits? and ASAE: The Center for Association Nonprofits, of which National PTA is a member, has a one-pager on provisions in the bill relevant to associations and nonprofit groups. Additionally, National PTA has sent the following letters to Speaker Pelosi  and Congress  urging them to provide relief to non-profits who are hurting alongside business as result of this public health emergency.

Unfortunately, the bill does not include dedicated funding for remote and distance learning which National PTA strongly advocated for . Our association, along with many others, asked Congress to provide $2 billion to schools and libraries for Wi-Fi hotspots, connected devices and mobile broadband Internet service to ensure all students could continue their education online for the duration of this national emergency. National PTA will continue its advocacy efforts in this area to address this digital divide.

What is National PTA doing next?

National PTA is focused on ensuring that the needs of students, families and schools are adequately addressed during this global pandemic. Our association is committed to:

  • Ensuring that schools and students have the resources they need to be connected and continue their learning online.
  • Supporting students with disabilities in online learning as well as ensure they receive the services and supports they need under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). We also recognize that they may need to be temporary and targeted flexibilities for states and school districts provided within IDEA, however any flexibilities MUST protect student rights and ensure their access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
  • Securing immediate and long-term investments in family engagement. As homes have become the classroom and parents have become surrogate teachers, responsible for their children’s learning, it is essential that families are provided educational support as they rise to this unprecedented occasion.
  • Making sure students have access to school meal benefits during school closures related to COVID-19.

Our Government Affairs team is already preparing plans to take action on a likely COVID-19 #4 legislative package. The COVID-19 #3 bill is as a short-term relief package. There will be continued needs for students, schools and families related to this public health emergency. National PTA will continue to engage with PTAs and members to understand the local needs and work with policymakers to make sure the federal government responses to those needs.

For more on PTA’s advocacy and policy actions related to COVID-19, please visit www.PTA.org/COVID-19 and click on “PTA Advocacy.”

 

The Top 3 COVID-19 Legislative Packages You Need To Know

National PTA is engaged in, and closely monitoring the details of the third legislative package. Specifically, we are focused on ensuring that federal resources are able to quickly get to states and school districts, including dedicated resources to support distance learning, and that there are appropriate flexibilities provided, however we are opposed to broad waivers that raise significant equity and civil rights concerns.

Right now, negotiations are ongoing many provisions in the bill including those related to distance learning in the third package.  More details to come as we learn them.

COVID-19 Relief Package #3
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)

PLEASE NOTE: The contents of this bill are fluid.  As we receive more concrete information, we will share it with you.

Latest Action: Procedural vote in Senate on 3/22 failed. Negotiations are ongoing.

Summary: The most recent plan would provide $20 billion to the Education Department to help states, schools and colleges with unprecedented disruption of every level of education across the country.

The grants to states would be determined by population and controlled by governors, who would have to allocate money to school districts or colleges that have been “most significantly impacted by coronavirus.”

The Education Department would also provide some funding directly to school districts based on the share of low-income students. That money could be used for a wide range of purposes, including training and professional development, distance learning, purchasing supplies to sanitize schools and planning for long-term school closures.

There is $25 million for “Distance Learning, Telemedicine, and Broadband Program” in the current proposal.  National PTA is pushing for a much larger amount of funding for K-12 distance learning.

A previous iteration of the bill would have provided broad wavier authority to Secretary DeVos to waive any provision of the main federal laws governing higher education, K-12 education and career and technical education. However, under the new proposal, the Education Department would be allowed to waive only certain provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), including those dealing with required assessments, state education plans and the allocation of funding. There is a provision in the bill that would allow the Education Department to make legislative recommendations on any additional waivers that need to be enacted into law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Again, please note that the contents of this bill are fluid.  As we receive more concrete information, we will share it with you.

COVID-19 Relief Package #2
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Latest Action: Signed into law on March 18, 2020.

Summary: The second COVID-19 relief package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R.6201), would provide $1 billion in nutritional aid, expand access to COVID-19 testing and expand sick leave benefits. Relevant education- and workforce-related provisions include:

  • $500 million for the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
  • $400 million for the Commodity Assistance program.
  • Emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) benefits for families with at least one child who would be receiving free and reduced-price meals and whose school has been closed for at least 5 consecutive days.
  • $160 million for home delivered meals.
  • $80 million for the Congregate Nutrition Services program under the Older Americans Act.
  • Providing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with authority to grant waivers (until September 30, 2020):
    • Of statutory and regulatory provisions under the Child Nutrition and School Lunch Acts in order to provide meals and meal supplements in the event of school closures due to COVID-19;
    • Of provisions in the School Lunch Act which prevent increased Federal costs when implementing summer food service programs;
    • To States for the purposes of providing meals and meal supplements in a manner that provides appropriate safety measures. These waivers would be automatically applied to States that seek them without further application by the State;
    • To provide non-congregate feeding under the Child and Adult Care Food program, if the waivers are connected to COVID-19;
    • Of requirements regarding the nutritional content of meals, if the waivers are connected to COVID-19;
    • Of administrative requirements under WIC for States, if the waivers are connected to COVID-19; and
    • Of the physical presence requirement at the time of WIC certification (current law requires WIC recipients to be physically present when they are certified for benefits). Anthropometric and bloodwork requirements would also be allowed to be waived.
  • Providing an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide:
    • Paid leave, connected to a public health emergency related to COVID-19, to employees at organizations with fewer than 500 total employees to care for a child if childcare is unavailable. Employees would have to be employed for at least 30 days by their employer and the U.S. Secretary of Labor would be empowered to grant hardship exemptions for certain businesses with fewer than 50 employees and to exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders.
      • The first 10 days of such leave may consist of unpaid leave, with employees being able to substitute vacation, paid leave or sick leave for unpaid leave. Employers are required to provide paid leave for leave days after such initial 10-day period. The amount of pay is required to be at least 2/3rds of the pay an employee would receive based on an employee’s normally scheduled hours of work. Paid leave would not have to exceed $200 per day or $10,000 in the aggregate.
  • Providing an Employer provided paid sick leave benefit:
    • The benefit would be provided to employees of private businesses with fewer than 500 employees and employees of public entities for illness or quarantine related to COVID-19 or the care of someone who is quarantined due to or ill because of COVID-19. Employers may exempt health care providers or emergency responders from this benefit
    • Full-time employees can receive up to 80 hours, with part-time employees receiving up to the number of hours they would normally work over a 2-week period.
    • The paid sick leave benefit would only be in effect through the end of 2020.Limits exist on daily and aggregate paid sick leave amounts provided to employees.
    • The U.S. Secretary of Labor would be empowered to grant hardship exemptions for certain businesses with fewer than 50 employees and to exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders from the benefit

COVID-19 Relief Package #1
The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act

Latest Action: Signed into law on March 6, 2020.

Summary: The first COVID-19 relief package, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R.6074), included $8.3 billion in emergency funding and was signed into law on Friday, March 6. The bill was focused on vaccine development, research and equipment stockpiles, and supporting State and local health budgets. The bill did not contain any education- or workforce-related provisions.

Partnering for Good: Spotlighting Survivors at the Super Bowl

Each year, the NFL seeks to improve the surrounding communities of the Super Bowl host city through their Super Bowl Legacy Grant Program. As the Miami-Dade County Council PTA/PTSA President, I knew we had to take advantage of this opportunity and help one of our local PTAs become a recipient of the grant coinciding with the Miami Super Bowl 2020.

We had a PTSA high school, Miami Beach Senior High, whose field was deemed a hazard—preventing their 2,400 students from accessing a valuable outdoor space. We knew we had to correct this situation.

Given the fact the overhaul would cost $1.2 million dollars to upgrade the existing grass field to artificial turf, we knew the PTSA could not do this alone.

So, over the course of two years, we worked extremely diligently to advocate on behalf of the school and form a collaboration with the NFL Host Committee, Steven Ross and the Miami Dolphins, the City of Miami Beach, Miami Dade County Public School (MDCPS) and of course the PTSA. We were thrilled to hear our hard work had paid off when Miami Beach Senior High was awarded the grant.

As we worked with the Superbowl Host Committee, it became clear to us that it was paramount for Miami-Dade County Council PTA/PTSA to offer an impactful programming event to coincide with the Super Bowl for our membership. Given the fact that the Super Bowl is the number one single day/weekend for Human Trafficking, we decided to leverage the relationships we had to bring a top-line panel to our General Meeting.

Using the connections we’d made through the Super Bowl Host Committee (Woman’s Fund), we created a panel comprised of victim advocates, the state attorney’s office, law enforcement and a survivor of human trafficking. Miami-Dade County Council PTA/PTSA procured 100 copies of the book Survivor written by the keynote speaker and survivor, Katariina Rosenblatt, PhD. Every student that attended the event received free copies of the book, which Kat individually autographed for the students. It was truly an awe-inspiring event.

The location of the event was strategically planned as well. We picked the local school which received the SuperBowl Legacy Field, Miami Beach Senior High, as the venue, as that same week we had a press conference unveiling of the Legacy Field SuperBowl Project and knew we could get press coverage. Which we did!

Given the fact the local municipality, the City of Miami Beach, had graciously donated $350K to the field project, I had asked the City of Miami Beach Mayor and Commission to come out to the event to observe the panel and give opening remarks. One of the Commissioners, Commissioner Micky Steinberg, was so blown away by the panel, she called me to say that she wanted to honor those that took part in putting together the informative event.

There were four entities recognized at a special event on Feb. 26 for raising awareness on this important topic.

  1. Miami-Dade County Council PTA/PTSA for organizing the event
  2. Miami Beach Senior High PTSA (Local Unit who received the Superbowl Legacy Field)
  3. Keynote speaker, Survivor Dr. Katariina Rosenblatt, Founder of There is Hope for Me
  4. Law Enforcement-Detective Berni Maher, Head of Human Trafficking Division, Miami Beach Police Department (MBPD)

We’re excited about the success of this event and plan to continue this work. We had a forum debrief with the Women’s Fund at Camillus House (a homeless shelter in Miami) which included law enforcement, and There is Hope for Me. Our long-term goal is to work with the various entities, Camillus House and MDCPS to see how to bring human trafficking awareness forums like the one we hosted and into school sites during school hours to reach more children.

Remember, with time, effort and the right connections, anything is possible. Together We Rise!


Author Bio: Beth Edwards is the Miami-Dade County Council PTA/PTSA president. She is actively involved in the community of Miami Beach, sitting on numerous education executive boards. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a post graduate certificate from Columbia School of Business. She and her husband Robert Hetzler have four children.

 

Customize Health for Your Community! With a Healthy Hydration Event

SPOTLIGHT: Apples PTA (Stamford, Connecticut)

This blog post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders who received a Healthy Hydration Grant, sponsored by Nestlé Waters North America. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

The Healthy Hydration Program is a great way to promote drinking water and infused water to students and families. The program can be coupled with so many different types of events such as a Healthy Lifestyles Night or a Field Day. Since we at APPLES PTA serve a preschool, our students are three and four-years old, so it was important that we made the event as fun and engaging as we could.

Our kids loved testing the infused water! I think they really enjoyed the novelty of the little cups and pouring out of the large five-gallon infused waters. The fan favorite was Strawberry-Basil (I was surprised since basil is a strong taste).

With the help of our school’s administration, we got the word out for the Healthy Lifestyles Night via a flyer that was sent around to families by print in the student backpacks and electronically through the teacher distribution lists. Our principal was super supportive, as usual. We have a Facebook group where we posted an announcement of the night and reminders as we got closer to the date. We also sent out emails to our PTA Membership distribution list to announce the event and send reminders.

In marketing the event, I would recommend starting two weeks prior. Two weeks gives enough notice while still staying in the forefront for families because, let’s be honest, families are all running around just trying to keep up most of the time. If you do it too early, it can become background noise and compete for families’ attention against other PTA happenings you may have going on.

The biggest obstacle for us was finding volunteers. Our school administration saved the day and got the teachers heavily involved in staying for the event and running stations. We couldn’t have done it without their help!

Now for the event! We wanted to highlight the physical, nutritional and hydration parts of a Healthy Lifestyle. In order to best manage the crowd, we split them up into three groups and held the event in three rooms that rotated. We had a cooler in each room with bottled water for anyone to take from.

In one room, we had kid Zumba with a table that had fruit and veggies in the shape of a rainbow with the sign “Eat the Rainbow”. In another room, we had a fun and engaging nutrition workshop where the kids were taught about what should be on their plate. Last but not least, we had a hydration room! This room featured the Sugary Beverage Station and Infused Water Station. We also added a ring toss with bottled waters where the kids could win a variety of healthy prizes.

As a thank you gift for families that attended, we passed out gift bags that included an infuser for water, a bottle of water, and a day pass to a local children’s museum. We also raffled off play balls and little soccer balls to the kids on their way out. All this spring boarded from the Healthy Hydration Program! My advice: You can make it as big or small as works best for your school.

Take Action:


Authored by Valentina Conetta from APPLES PTA in Stamford, Conn.

Disclosure: Nestlé Waters North America is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 2019–2020 Healthy Hydration Grant, sponsored by Nestlé Waters North America. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.