Getting the Lead Out: An Illinois PTA Advocacy Story

 

When it comes to PTA advocacy, it’s important to remember a few things. First, pay close attention to what your state legislature is doing—it’s up to you to be a watchdog for all children. Next, finding an issue that resonates with your membership is important—making a difference requires a surprising amount of grunt work, so it’s important to stay passionate. And finally, even a handful of PTA advocates can make a big difference. Those are the lessons Illinois PTA learned in 2016.

Senate Bill 550 (SB 550) began as a technical change to the Nuclear Facility Safety Act and wandered through committees for over a year until an amendment in May 2016 completely changed the bill. The bill was now one that would require testing every unique drinking water source in all Illinois public, private, charter and parochial schools for lead. Illinois PTA noticed the change and filed online witness slips in support of the bill. SB 550 passed the Senate on May 31, the last day of the legislative session, and headed to the House where it was assigned to the Rules Committee—a place where bills languish and die from lack of support.

Advocacy Day 2016

Illinois PTA decided to reboot our Advocacy Day in 2016 by moving it to Nov. 16, the first day of the fall veto session. We focused our advocacy on three topics:

  • Adopting a state budget, as Illinois was in the second year without.
  • Supporting a bill to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors based on a PTA resolution.
  • Supporting SB 550, now known as the Lead in Drinking Water Prevention Act.

About a dozen people showed up for Advocacy Day in Springfield, and few were able to get meetings with their actual legislators, so we visited as many legislative aides as possible. As we visited, it became apparent that just about every advocacy organization and lobbyist in Springfield that day was talking about the budget. Mention the budget, and the aide’s eyes would glaze over, and they would just nod along.

But when we mentioned SB 550 and testing for lead in school drinking water, they perked up. We shifted our pitch from focusing on the budget to advocating for SB 550, and by the end of the day, we had personally spoken with 79 legislators and staff. Something else happened that day as well—by that evening, SB 550 had suddenly picked up three new co-sponsors.

Leveraging Voter Voice

Illinois PTA knew that traveling to Springfield would be difficult for some people, so we had also run a “Virtual Advocacy Day” on Nov. 16 using Voter Voice to encourage those who were unable to attend to contact their legislators.

We followed up the next day on our blog, One Voice Illinois, encouraging members to continue to contact their legislators. Throughout the veto session, the bill continued to add co-sponsors, passed through committee with a “Do Pass” recommendation, and had its second reading in the House (all Illinois bills are required to be read on three separate days). There, the bill stalled at the end of the veto session. In a normal year, that would have been the end, but the legislature planned to come back for a lame duck session in January just before the legislators elected in 2016 were sworn in.

So, Illinois PTA decided to really push on SB 550. A blog post on the issue prior to the holidays also went out in our Weekend Update email blast. Contacting legislators in support of SB 550 was one of our four New Year’s resolutions for PTA leaders. A new call to action through Voter Voice had a huge response from our members, and a whopping 78% of our members responding to the call were first-timers.

During the lame duck session, SB 550 added over a dozen new co-sponsors, though an amendment that scaled back the lead testing to schools up through grade 5. The amended bill passed the House with only one no vote and one member voting present, and the Senate concurred with the amended version unanimously. The governor signed the bill into law on Jan. 17.

Results

So what has been the result of SB 550 becoming law? School districts across the state have been testing lead levels and begun dealing with those drinking water sources with dangerously high levels that have been harming children for decades. Illinois PTA highlighted news reports from just a few of the districts that were taking action.

There’s still more to be done—Illinois PTA would like to see mandated testing at the middle and high school levels as well—but with the passage of SB 550, families are being notified when high lead levels are found, and many school districts are already undertaking that testing in middle and high schools on their own.

New Resource to Support Children’s Learning and School Success!

Over the next few days, thousands of schools across the country will welcome parents, grandparents and other family members through their doors as part of the National PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week. But our organizations wanted to give parents, PTA leaders — and anyone who works in partnership with families—a resource for making family engagement much more than a single event.

“Why Family Engagement Matters for Student and School Success ” is a new tool that we — Global Family Research Project (GFRP) and National PTA’s Center for Family Engagement — have jointly created to share what research says about how families contribute to students’ success. We also hope it will spark new and ongoing conversations about how families, PTA leaders, and schools can work together to support more equitable and effective approaches to family, school, and community partnerships.

For a little background, the Center for Family Engagement is the National PTA’s initiative to create a vision for the future of family engagement that addresses the needs of today’s diverse families in a fast-changing world. The Center for Family Engagement aims to elevate the voice of families as critical partners in family engagement policy and practice, build leadership among PTA leaders to advocate for transformative family engagement policies and practices, and raise awareness about innovative and evidence-based approaches to family, school, and community partnerships.

Leslie Boggs, National PTA’s President-Elect, shares, “We are excited to partner with Global Family Research Project on a tool that enables families to co-create more transformative approaches to family engagement in their homes, schools, and communities. This partnership has enabled us to make the latest research accessible and actionable for families and PTA leaders.”

“Sharing leading edge research and ways families, schools and communities can and are using it is at the center of our work,” says GFRP Director Heather Weiss, “so we jumped at this change to collaborate with the PTA to develop this new resource for their and other’s use.” This resource is based on a recent report commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation of New York which summarizes the many years of powerful research on why family members are so important to children’s learning and lays out all the valuable roles they play in creating schools and access to other learning opportunities so that all students can be successful. The report, and now this resource, lift up five areas where family engagement can have the greatest impact on children’s learning —attendance, sharing information on students’ progress, reinforcing children’s learning in areas such as literacy and STEM, using digital media, and during key transition periods in a child’s life.

“Why Collaborative Partnerships Matter for Student and School Success” presents this critical knowledge in simple, concise language and challenges families, PTAs—and others working with families—to consider what they have already accomplished in those five areas and to ask what more they can do to reach new families or build on existing efforts.

In addition to serving as a clearinghouse of innovative ways to partner with families, the Center for Family Engagement is also working to build local leadership for transformative family engagement through the National PTA Family Engagement Fellowship program. Four fellows from diverse communities across the country were the first to review and give feedback on this new tool, so we feel confident that parents and parent leaders will find it timely and useful.

Heather Losneck, a PTA leader from Berea City School District, Ohio, and a National PTA Family Engagement Fellow shared “My PTA at the middle school will be looking closer at how we can help support and promote a smoother transition into and out of middle school for our families. As a parent, these are great reminders to check myself and give me a chance to re-evaluate, reconnect and reinforce with my kids.”

The resource will also be available in Spanish and Mandarin to reach as many families as possible, and we are excited about the potential it has to spark new, exciting ideas for engaging families in their children’s learning.

We look forward to hearing—and sharing—examples of how families are using the tool to put that “bold vision” into action.

Parents and Kids Join Forces with STEM + Families ThinkFun Game Night

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

 

Game Nights are so special because they are family based. The experience is extremely fun for kids and exciting for parents as well, especially when it’s a new theme or a hands-on activity like playing ThinkFun games. Family members play together – kind of like a large home game night where kids are trying to beat their parents and vice versa. The games are a focal point. They are high quality in design, materials, texture, and colors and enjoyable to play!

We hosted our event in the cafeteria and served pizza, muffins, and drinks. Our local PTA members decorated with balloons, colorful tablecloths, and we had every game station set up with colorful standing signs and ample space to spread out. The sample guidelines on the NPTA website was our main source of recommendation when setting up for the event. We also enlisted middle school student volunteers to welcome families and guide them through game rules.

In total we had about 130 people attend our event. We also invited the PTA members of our sister school to participate. Our attendance was robust for the midweek day and the time frame. A lot of our students are in extracurricular activities, so we were pleased to see several make time to attend!

The main reason for our great turnout was our marketing methods, which we have nailed down! We usually have sizable attendance at our PTA-sponsored school events (e.g. festivals, carnivals, at-school programs). All students were invited and welcomed. We advertised the event early and often, using several methods including flyers, the school website, weekly newsletter, morning and marquee board announcements, posters (lobby, hall, and cafeteria), and parent emails.

But even a great event doesn’t happen without a few lessons to learn from. We would have liked a little bit more time with volunteers prior to the start of the event to review game rules and handling the games. After the event ended, in the process of repackaging games, we ended up losing a few small pieces here and there. Having a larger number of each game would have been helpful as well. The number of games combined with our great turnout created longer than expected waiting lines that were not anticipated. My take is that families wanted a bit more time than 15 minutes between game rotations, perhaps 20 minutes would have been better.

Overall, we just absolutely LOVED the games!!! It was such a treat watching families get excited about finding solutions to the puzzles and choosing their favorite games as the night went on. I remember the younger kids enjoying Balance Beans a lot, while some families found Color Cube Sudoku the most challenging, and Gravity Maze was very popular among all ages.

The highlight of the night was being able to give away games as prizes. The NPTA Tip Sheet went a long way in helping us prepare and in my opinion, the best tip was the STEM Tournament Prize Suggestions. The kids who won the game prizes (On the Brink and Clue Master) were very excited to have won such fancy gifts – they were beaming, and their parents were, too!

Looking ahead, we are currently organizing another STEM-based Game Night due to the level of success. In a 2018 school PTA Parent Survey, when asked what new enrichment opportunities families would like to see this coming year, many requested more STEM related events. Several parents noted how much they enjoyed our ThinkFun STEM Game Night. As our students’ advocates, we like to ask, listen, and respond to the needs of our families. We want to ensure our students, at all grade levels, have access to STEM offerings, and the STEM enrichment opportunities are relatable to their families, are interactive, fun, and if possible, scheduled after-school.

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About the Guest Contributor, Isabel C. Materon, PhD: Isabel C. Materon, PhD is the CWE PTA Event Organizer at Commonwealth Elementary School in Sugarland, Texas.

Disclosure: ThinkFun is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of the 2017-2018 STEM + Families ThinkFun Game Night Giveaway and received a bundle of ThinkFun games. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are his/her own.

Creating Lasting Memories with STEM + Families ThinkFun Game Night

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

 

Maplewood STEM/ThinkFun Game Night is something I spearheaded after a very meager turn out the previous year that our school put together. I am a firm believer of getting out of something what you put into it. So, in this case as a PTA we wanted to “Do Better.”

We try to apply for grants for our school and students, which will help fulfill the expanding budgetary gaps that our school, like many others, are facing. Our school is a Title 1 School and for us parental involvement can be very difficult. Our PTA has more staff than parent members, but us parents work hard to help in any way that we can. Providing family events is one of the greatest gifts the PTA can provide to students and their families, which is why STEM, Game, and Family Nights are so important.

When planning events, we like to have a committee, but in reality, it is often one person with occasional helpers that put our events together. The key is scheduling volunteers so that you maximize their time. No one gets discouraged faster than a busy parent that comes to help only to be left confused or feeling unappreciated for what they do.

Start planning early so you don’t get overwhelmed. Our main strategy with inclusion for any event is having something that appeals to a variety of ages, and both boys or girls. For STEM, it’s important to stress that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is universal. It holds no boundaries and these nights help pull families into discussions and activities about subjects that will carry over throughout the students’ academic paths into their futures. Since our PTA had to purchase all supplies with a limited budget I researched STEM activities that were inexpensive but would span multiple grade ranges. We were also the recipients of the ThinkFun Games Grant last year, which provided our school with Balance Beans, Clue Master, Color Cube, Gravity Maze, Laser Maze, Laser Maze Jr., Math Dice, Math Dice Jr., and Rush Hour to use at our STEM Game Night.  The games helped provide STEM Night with new life, which is sometimes all you need to make a huge difference.

In preparation I printed out the ThinkFun game directions, along with directions for the activities that included the definitions of the STEM they would be learning about and had a meeting with teachers and staff armed with a signup sheet to address questions and concerns. We ended up with an activity for each grade with teachers’ support, in addition to having an Hour of Code that was hosted in the Library with our Librarian and a demo from Winnetonka’s Robotics team (our local high school). Our PTA pulled together to create activity boxes for each room with the supplies bundled or bagged and then delivered to each classroom the day of the event.

Getting the word out is important so we utilize all our outlets; both the PTA and our school’s Facebook Page, sending multiple flyers home, and phone blasts from our Principal. Parental involvement can be tricky for working parents with no time to attend evening events, so the PTA voted to provide dinner for our families. We purchased pizza, veggies, cookies, chips, and drinks, which were served by our school’s staff members to families in shifts. Pairing that with our ThinkFun Games as Door Prizes made it a huge incentive for families to step through our door. Families were immediately greeted by PTA at our sign-in table where they were entered in the Door Prize drawing, handed a STEM Night Map along with a Dinner Time Ticket (we had 4 different dinner shifts that were announced throughout the evening to ensure a smooth transition.)

Families were allowed to come and go as they pleased, picking the activity or game that interested them the most. The clear winners were the Slime Room, Balance Beans from ThinkFun for the younger grades and Gravity Maze for the older ones. My favorite moment of the night was a family at the end of the night that said they had just planned to come, eat and then leave but they got so caught up in all the fun and games that they had totally lost track of time. Strengthening relationships between school and students’ families is what PTA is all about. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see a parent or grandparent sitting with their kids laughing, building and creating not just experiments but lasting memories. So yes, I am already planning our next STEM Night and will be utilizing our ThinkFun Games!

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About the Guest Contributor, Sondra Miller: Sondra Miller is the PTA Treasurer at Maplewood Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri. Mom of one, trying to do it all one small step at a time.

Disclosure: ThinkFun is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of the 2017-2018 STEM + Families ThinkFun Game Night Giveaway and received a bundle of ThinkFun games. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are his/her own.

 

Member Growth, Huge Turnout With STEM + Families ThinkFun Game Night

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

 

Did you know that games are good for motor skills, help our kids solve problems, can lead students to get better grades, and promote family bonding? That’s why at Cedargrove PTA, we are proud to host three Family Game Nights every year, which we think are unforgettable for everybody.

Family Game Nights give students and parents the opportunity to test out some of today’s most popular games without having to purchase them while wondering if they will even enjoy them. It also brings together many families and helps our local PTA grow relationships in the community as everyone takes turns, shares, and plays games with each other. These game nights also help parents understand and support what their children are doing at school.

Our tradition of hosting these game nights made Cedargrove PTA a great candidate to host a National PTA STEM + Families ThinkFun Family Game Night. Our PTA already had a team in place to coordinate with the school staff. Our librarian organized and marketed the event, a PTA volunteer made flyers to send home and to post on the school boards, and the principal added the game night event to the school’s marquee and made calls. We posted on the school website and on the PTA Facebook page, had a PTA Newsletter “Charger Chat” to advertise the event and had teachers send letters to parents reminding them how important it is for students to attend Family Game Night events.

To get familiar with the new ThinkFun games we were going to play at our event, we first had a ThinkFun game activity with our Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) students to test out the games and get feedback. This experience gave us the idea to reach out to the local high school students to see if they could volunteer as facilitators during our event—giving them community service hours, too.

The night of the event, our PTA, librarian, and teachers set up tables to do hands-on math, reading, and  science activities. We had 14 stations with each game labeled. When students entered, they had to sign to get a passport. They also got a raffle ticket for a chance to win some incredible prizes and if they completed their passports, they got another raffle ticket.

Being welcoming and inclusive is an important value within our PTA; everybody is welcome to attend our events! We were so happy that parents, grandparents, tutors, teachers, and students all showed up. Attendance for this event was significantly higher because we added new games and gave away some amazing prizes courtesy of ThinkFun.

We always ask for donations to sponsor our Family Nights because our budget for these events is small. Asking for community donations is also a great way for us to build our PTA’s reputation in the community—local businesses are now aware that we host these Family Game Nights and can help us spread the word.

Family Game Nights are great opportunity to increase your PTA’s membership too. We set up a membership table at each event with useful information about how our PTA is contributing to the school. We also gave away a few small prizes for just the parents who joined PTA that night.

Our ThinkFun Family Game Night turned out to be an amazing event where every member of the family was able to bond together while playing STEM board games.

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About the Guest Contributor, Yesy Reyes: Yesy Reyes is the PTA President at Cedargrove Elementary School in Covina, California.

Disclosure: ThinkFun is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of the 2017-2018 STEM + Families ThinkFun Game Night Giveaway and received a bundle of ThinkFun games. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are his/her own.

 

 

Plan Your Own Award-Worthy PTA Reflections Showcase Watch Party

 

Through the National PTA Reflections program, students receive national, state, and local recognition for their artistry and originality in dance choreography, film production, literature, music, photography, and visual arts. This year is even more important than usual as it is our 50th anniversary. Since 1969, when the program was founded, Reflections has helped so many students explore their own thoughts, feelings and ideas, develop artistic literacy, and find a love for learning!

To celebrate, National PTA is going all out by incorporating 50th anniversary celebrations into our upcoming events, including this year’s Reflections Student Arts Showcase at the Department of Education. This year’s Reflections Showcase recognizes our 2017-18 Reflections winners with a ceremony featuring guest speakers and student performances, followed by a digital and physical art exhibit. National PTA is pleased to present a live-casting of this year’s showcase event so that you can celebrate the Reflections program’s 50th anniversary with us!

As you plan your watch party, use these ideas to make your event award-worthy!

Decorate, Decorate, Decorate!

Show-off your PTA’s artistic skills and decorate your watch party with 50th Anniversary and award show decorations. Whether it’s gold 50th balloons, a red carpet, or spotlight photo-op, a highly decorated watch party will encourage participation and fun!

Incorporate Learning into Your Watch Party

Whether your continuing to emphasize the importance of art literacy or if you want to focus on the 50th anniversary, there are a multitude of ways to make your watch party both fun AND informative.

Its Snack Time!

From pizza to cupcakes, a watch party is not complete without some tasty treats. You can use standard snack ideas, but why not dazzle your audience with some award show and 50th anniversary inspired snacks.

Finally – Share, Share, Share!

Share your ideas, photos, and videos using #PTAReflections to let us know how you celebrate the Reflections Showcase by sharing your ideas, photos, and videos using #PTAReflections.

We look forward to celebrating Reflections 50th Anniversary with all of you!

Be There When The Bell Rings for Take Your Family to School Week

National PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week (TYFTSW) is coming up fast! Throughout the week of Feb. 10-17, 2019, National PTA and local PTA units across the country will be hosting events to encourage family and community engagement, as well as celebrate National PTA Founders’ Day.

Although February is still months away, the way to ensure a successful TYFTSW event is to begin planning now. We’ve got a few event ideas for you!

  1.  Sharpen Literacy Skills: Host a family reading experience, where parents and children spend the evening reading and sharing their favorite books.
  2. Encourage Healthy Lifestyles: Try offering a healthy recipe contest or a school-wide Walk to School Day to help the whole family adopt healthier habits. 
  3. Get smart about STEM: Put on a math night, science festival or engineering game night to encourage all students’ interest in STEM education and careers. 
  4. Take Charge of Your Digital Life: Offer a PTA Connected digital learning event to help parents ensure their children act safely and responsibly online.

Thanks to the generosity of Office Depot OfficeMax, National PTA is thrilled to be able to provide 15 local PTAs with $1,000 to host a Take Your Family to School Week event. However, if you did not win one of these grants, we hope you still host a TYFTSW event!

We have plenty of guides, tips and templates online for you to plan and execute any of the events listed above successfully. A Take Your Family to School Week toolkit will be available to all PTAs at PTA.org/TYFTSW.

National PTA encourages all PTAs to make our mission come to life and to begin planning for Take Your Family to School Week this February!

Educating Communities and Closing the Digital Divide

Schools are assigning internet-based projects and using online dashboards to post homework assignments, study guides and discussion materials. While these innovative learning paths help many students thrive, they can lead to stress for students that don’t have internet access at home. Without internet access at home students rely on Wi-Fi cafes or public libraries to complete their school work. Due to limited time and resources to complete their assignments, these students are facing a digital divide that could affect their academic and future career success.

Even in today’s data driven society, some still are not subscribing to internet service. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that 11 percent of Americans don’t use the internet, citing a variety of factors from lack of interest to the cost of internet service or a computer.  

Access from AT&T provides low-income households a low-cost option for wireline home Internet access in the 21 states where AT&T offers service. To qualify for the program, at least one household resident must participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In California only, households receiving social security income (SSI) also may qualify. Other conditions may apply, click here to learn more.

As we bring more affordable access to more Americans, we are also working in communities around the country to provide people with the skills they need to maximize the value of high-speed internet access. Our Digital You® website – created in collaboration with Common Sense Media and other experts—provides parents, youth, digital newcomers, people with disabilities, and community leaders with information on the devices they use and how to maintain privacy, safety, and security in an increasingly connected world. The website addresses topics such as how to prevent cyberbullying, managing your online presence and tips on how to use devices.

Internet education resources can provide a more personalized and mobilized educational experience, meaning children from lower income homes stand to gain the most from these programs. By removing barriers and connecting students to innovative technologies, every student can have a bright and successful future.

My Experience Testifying Before the Federal Commission on School Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How Parents Can Promote Health and Wellness Under the Every Student Succeeds Act: Four Things You Can Do

 

Parents and guardians play a critical role in ensuring that schools and out-of-school time environments are healthy. Through advocating for healthy celebrations and fundraisers, serving on district and school wellness committees, and organizing before and afterschool physical activities, parents set high standards for health and wellness in their communities. Healthier Generation has many resources to help families and community members get involved, including new shareable videos on fundraising, celebrations, and rewards.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the recent reauthorization of our nation’s education law, recognizes the learning and health connection and provides opportunities for health and wellness to be more fully integrated into education policy and practice.

How does health and wellness fit into ESSA?

  • 36 states and the District of Columbia will now hold schools accountable for chronic absenteeism. While the causes of chronic absenteeism are multifold, research shows that student physical, mental, and a school’s health and wellness environment are key factors.
  • In addition to many states including chronic absenteeism in their state accountability systems, all state school report cards must now include chronic absenteeism.
  • ESSA includes a strong focus on school climate and social and emotional learning (SEL). Nutrition and physical activity have a major impact both school climate and SEL.
  • Funding designated to support the lowest performing schools can be used to support student engagement and promote healthy, safe, and supportive school environments. Based upon a comprehensive needs assessment, schools must develop a school improvement plan. Ensuring that needs assessments examine the health and wellness environment in the school is essential to this process.
  • Funding designated to provide high-quality professional development for all school staff, can be used to train school staff on the learning and health connection, as well as to provide training for health and physical education teachers and specialized instructional support personnel (school nurses, school psychologists, etc.).
  • At least 20% of the funds districts receive from the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant must be allocated to improving the safety and health of students and at least 20% to providing a well-rounded education (including health and physical education). Any school district receiving more than $30,000 from this grant program must conduct a needs assessment and use the funds to address the needs identified.

ESSA implementation is almost entirely state driven; the responsibility will be on school districts to carry out much of the work. As important voices of the community, families are in a unique position to advocate for school and afterschool to serve the whole child and meet the full spectrum of student needs.

Here are four action steps:

  1. Find out how you can influence your state’s implementation of ESSA. Read Using Needs Assessments to Connect Learning + Health.
  2. Spread the word on how ESSA can support student health and wellness with our ESSA FAQ. You can read more about what your state included in its state plan here.
  3. Invite a community partner (like parks and recreation) to join you on your district or school wellness committee to influence ESSA implementation in the district. Wellness committees can inform district and school-level needs assessments and identify sources of health and wellness data.
  4. Invite members of your local school board to your next school, family or community event. Talk to them about ensuring that ESSA is implemented in a way that supports student health and wellness.

Sign up here to get regular updates from Healthier Generation and the Healthy Schools Campaign on how states are implementing ESSA in a way that supports student health and wellness. If you have questions or need additional resources, contact Nancy Katz or Alex Mays.