First Time’s the Charm with a STEM + Families Math Night SPOTLIGHT: Riverdale Elementary PTA (Orlando, Fla.)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders who received STEM + Families Mathnasium Math Night grants. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

When I found out I was in charge of hosting a STEM + Families Math Night I was excited, but also nervous. I had never done something like this before and I wanted it to run smoothly. With planning and community support it did!

The key to success for me was starting early. Our Math Night was scheduled for the end of January and I started planning in November. I knew I wanted to have some giveaway prizes and goodie bags for all the kids in attendance. I reached out to local businesses through email, online donation request forms and by phone. I was surprised at how many responded to me, and happy to donate gift cards and food.

I also reached out to a local high school’s STEM club sponsor. She put me in contact with some of her student members who were able to volunteer to work the event. In addition to the recruited volunteers, I relied on help from the school staff. I asked staff to volunteer and those that did were given comp’d time from the school principal. The math coach at our school gave me surplus math manipulatives, which I used in the goodie bags. The gift bags were given to each student in attendance.

In order to draw families to the event, I sent out flyers in English and Spanish. The school Parent Engagement Liaison also helped to advertise the event through phone messages and our school’s Facebook page.

Set-up was an area that was very helpful for the success of the night and saved us a lot of time. I drew a map of the cafeteria with a setup design of the tables and supplied this to the school custodian. On the day of the event the custodians moved all the tables where I wanted them using the map provided.

We had almost 200 people show up to our event. Pretty good for a Tuesday night at 6 p.m. The families had such a great time that the only complaint was it wasn’t long enough.

I learned a lot from hosting this event and would not hesitate to do it again.

Jennifer Sullivan is the PTA Secretary at Riverdale Elementary School PTA in Orlando, Fla.


Take Action:

Disclosure: Mathnasium is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 2018-2019 National PTA STEM + Families math grant, sponsored by Mathnasium. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are his/her own.

 

 

Creating a New Dialogue Around Math with a STEM + Families Math Night SPOTLIGHT: Steven Millard Elementary PTA (Fremont, Calif.)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders who received STEM + Families Mathnasium Math Night grants. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

We hosted our STEM + Families Math Night Jan. 24 with over 400 attendants. Our school had never done anything like these events prior—which made our high attendance that much more exciting.

We anticipated a hesitant reaction from kids and parents, so we started to market the event early in November. The most effective form of marketing was word of mouth. A core group of volunteers began engaging in one-on-one conversations with parents. We kept talking about it and asking people about it whenever we were onsite at school and were able to spark curiosity among the parents—people wanted to know what the night was all about! Most initial reactions were that they weren’t into math—but as we sparked new dialogue around the topic of math, popularity grew.

By the time we were a couple weeks out from the event, we had spoken to most parents at the school, so we changed our approach a little bit. We emphasized the games and talked about the prizes. For the last round of event reminders, we led with the food! As those are typically the elements that push people to come, we were able to attractive those that don’t typically attend events.

Included in the attendance was the school principal and about four to five teachers. We engaged the teachers by asking them to share event during class announcements. One teacher told her first grade students that she would be attending, and she was looking forward to seeing them all there. Her class got 100% attendance.

For set up we used a large multi-purpose room, placed the tables around the perimeter of the room, and had a welcome desk at the entrance. We made sure to have multiple volunteers at the welcome desk to explain the structure of the event. They explained how the event works, where to pick up your goodie bag, collecting a raffle ticket and where to find the snacks located in an adjoining room. This was helpful as everyone knew what to expect the moment they arrived.

Big hits of the night were the goodie bags and the raffle prizes. Goodie bags helped a lot—it is a great motivator for kids and it’s such an easy thing for us to organize. Mathnasium also helped by bring everyone a little gift. If they didn’t win a raffle prize, everyone still got a little reward for participating. The raffle prizes were donated to us by ThinkFun, and we had them on display during the night.

When giving out the raffle prizes we addressed the whole room and reminded them that events like these come together only because of volunteer time and donations to the PTA. If families attended and felt they got value out of the experience—we want to encourage them to help volunteer and donate, so we can continue this amazing work!

Fueled by the success of that night, we recently hosted a Science Night March 26. We will absolutely be hosting another Math Night next year. We developed a great partnership with our local Mathnasium. I cannot say enough good things about them—they were amazing to work with.

Supriya Desai is a parent of 2 boys in grades 1&4, a full-time working professional at a Global Silicon Valley Tech Giant and a committed PTA Board member focused on widening the circle of engaged parents at school and bringing new programs to directly benefit students. 


Franchise Feature: Karen Losing (Mathnasium of 4S Ranch San Diego, CA)

Our most recent Math Night had over 300 students and 550 participants total. A strong math message in general is important, but specific event communication from the school to the parents was essential. Externally, we provided photos and social media assets for Facebook, created an email flyer to stay green and reach 100% of the parents, we placed Math Night yard signs in the carpool lanes one week out. Internally, the teachers talked up the event with their students, challenged them to games that night, and created job responsibilities for student leaders to assist in the execution of the program.

Math Nights are an excellent tool to invite families to showcase the importance of math and families! It is a great opportunity to have the student who feels defeated by math see if can be fun, or the student looking to have a challenge can play at a higher level. This is an opportunity for the PTA to give something back to the parents without dipping into their limited resources!

Karen’s Pro-Tips

  • Plan ahead! We had two quick and easy meetings because we were prepared. The math teachers and the PTA board were involved. We created a “Look Book” for our schools to visualize what Math Night will look like, spacing, and math topics. They saw what the welcome table looked like, passports and goodie bags, volunteers in action and general flow of the evening. The meetings we filled with energy, so the buildup was fantastic!
  • Mathnasium is here to help! My team will do most of the work! We make sure everything is planned out. I look to the PTA to get administrative approval, date on the calendar, help promote to the student body and recruit 15 volunteers. Then my team takes it from there!
  • Order doesn’t matter! When playing the games, people are linear thinkers and want to start at Station 1 then go to the next station. The order doesn’t matter, so go to a table that looks fun or less crowded.
  • Have a distinct start and finish! Have a distinction Welcome Desk and a distinctive Finished Desk. It is confusing to have both on the table once the event gets popping! I’ve done game tables in a circle format or down the entire length of the hallway. Either works. Anticipating attendance and what a room can handle is important. The 550-person event was held in the main hallway from the office area down through the classrooms.

Karen is a multi-center owner with lots of experience as a center owner. She has done several Math Nights and is a good proponent. She does business in both Southern California and now Arizona and has a unique perspective from two different areas.

Take Action:

Disclosure: Mathnasium is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 2018–2019 National PTA STEM + Families math grant, sponsored by Mathnasium. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

The Best School for My Daughter with Special Needs

When our daughter Stacey was diagnosed in third grade with three types of non-convulsive epilepsy and a related learning disability (called dyscalculia), my husband and I were at a loss about the best way to help her academically. This situation became even more complicated, as she concurrently began to struggle with motor skill functions, spatial issues and a lazy eye condition that required eye-patching.

Getting Stacey’s medical diagnoses was the easy part. Getting the academic solution was more of a challenge. Where should she attend school? What was the best environment for her to learn and thrive academically? She was already in a top, year-round public school but we didn’t know if Stacey should stay or be in different school, given her challenging issues.

We slowly began to visit and evaluate the many types of schools in our area: public schools, private schools, charter schools, magnet schools, state specialty schools—there were many choices available to us. One by one, the other schools told us that they didn’t understand Stacey’s issues, didn’t have the appropriate teaching staff to help her or simply could not accommodate or properly follow the type of IEP she needed.

The year-round public school Stacey attended turned out to be her best bet. They offered learning disability specialists, special equipment, disability counseling and testing, and dedicated grade-level teachers who could effectively use school resources to help Stacey learn and grow. They also helped her recognize and leverage her above-average language and writing skills, while also helping her decipher and manage her dyscalculia. Her high school algebra teacher even used M&M candies as manipulatives to help her understand algebraic concepts in an unconventional way.

In the end, Stacey successfully completed her K-12 school years in our public school system. She edited her high school newspaper, was tapped for Quill & Scroll Honor Society, earned numerous volunteer awards and received scholarships based on her essay about overcoming her disabilities. She gained admittance to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, her first choice, earning a B.A. in English and a Professional Writing Certificate. She went on to become a TV news producer for NBC and now enjoys a career in mortgage lending industry marketing.

We are so grateful that Stacey had such an exceptional experience in our local public schools. Her teachers helped shape and “launch” her despite her disabilities, fostered her love of learning, gave her confidence in her strengths and provided her with lifelong tools that continue to serve her today.


Linda Crandall serves on the board of North Carolina PTA and is the chair of the Special Education and Inclusion Committee.

 

Math Fun, Rain or Shine! With a STEM + Families Mathnasium Math Night SPOTLIGHT: Friends of Penngrove PTA (Penngrove, Calif.)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders who received STEM + Families Mathnasium Math Night grants. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

The Penngrove Elementary School community was elated to receive the news that we were awarded a 2018 National PTA STEM + Families Math Night Grant, sponsored by Mathnasium. The Friends of Penngrove PTA executive board enjoyed planning the event and loved seeing all the happy faces of our families during our event Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019.

Despite the huge winter rainstorm that evening, we thankfully had a record attendance. We had over 225 attendees and 25% of our students attended!

Our local Mathnasium transformed our school’s multipurpose room into 16 math stations plus a jumbo chess game, festive balloons and candy jar raffles. The executive board checked in guests and sold logo wear. School leadership helped with marketing the event via assemblies, announcements and encouraging teacher involvement.

The grant from National PTA was used to supply dinner and purchase enough raffle prizes for each student participant. The first 20 RSVPs received their choice of a ThinkFun game and then every 15 minutes we invited 10 more students to visit the prize table. They were able to select prizes from additional games, logo wear and pizza certificates. This was a highlight of the evening!

We decided to try three new things when planning for our STEM + Families Math Night.

  1. Requiring attendees to fill out a google RSVP form
  2. Providing a pizza and salad dinner
  3. Inviting the community to support us by volunteering to run stations

Creating the RSVP form allowed us to secure the proper amount of supplies, volunteers and prizes. It worked so well that we started using RSVP forms for other free PTA events. Providing dinner was a relief to parents and the students loved eating in the classrooms with their friends. By asking our school staff, student teachers and local high school students to volunteer to run the stations, the majority of adults in attendance were able to be guests and play math games with the students.

Everyone loved the event and we are planning on inviting Mathnasium back to Penngrove Elementary during the 2019-2020 school year for another successful collaboration. The #PennPanthers were so appreciative for the National PTA Grant—thank you for the opportunity to celebrate our community with a free, fun and educational evening!

Melissa Morelli is the Treasurer of Friends of Penngrove PTA.


Franchise Feature: Becky McDaniels (Mathnasium of Brandon, Fla.)

Over the last six years, Becky has co-hosted one to two Math Nights each month in her area. For her, the key elements for success are the relationships she builds with each school, creating open communication between her team and the PTAs.

Becky’s intention is to be a partner to her local PTAs, letting her take the pressure of the event—from set up to clean up—so the families can relax, and have a good time with their kids.

Her fundamental goal is for families to see that Math doesn’t have to be scary. There are simple things parents can do at home or anywhere with fun games allowing them to have conversations and experiences with their children around Math.

Becky’s pro-tips:

  • Spread the word about the event. Send home fliers with students, emailing directly to parents, adding the event to the PTA’s website. Her Mathnasium location hosts a Facebook group which is shared out by the PTA as well.
  • Provide food: This doesn’t have to be a cost! Becky has helped PTAs partner with other local business like Chik-fil-a to donate dinner to the event.
  • Prep for event set-up: Becky has created a set-up map she shares with schools to make organizing the event space a breeze. She recommends two stations per game, dividing by grade, and having them side by side so parents with kids of different ages don’t have to split up.

Becky is a single-center owner and one of Mathnasium’s Math Night pioneers. Mathnasium used some key learnings from observing her practices to develop the official Math Night programing.

Take Action:

Disclosure: Mathnasium is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 2018 – 2019 National PTA STEM + Families Math Grant, sponsored by Mathnasium. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are his/her own.

 

Math Success is Attainable! With a STEM + Families Math Night SPOTLIGHT: Royal Ridge PTA (San Antonio, Texas)

 

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders who received STEM + Families Mathnasium Math Night grants. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

When the National PTA STEM + Families Math Night Grants, sponsored by Mathnasium, were announced, we knew we had to apply. Math Nights provide opportunities for families to experience math as a fun activity together and help students to view math success as attainable. They also expose families and students to math development services that are available in the community.

Everyone was so excited when our Royal Ridge Elementary School PTA in San Antonio, Texas won one of the 35 $1,000 National PTA STEM + Families Math Night Grants, sponsored by Mathnasium. We began planning right away and held our Math Night Jan. 25, 2019. We marketed the event using yard signs, flyers and letters in both English and Spanish, marquee and school announcements, social media posts and emails from the principal.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. More than 200 students and family members, as well as 89 volunteers, from the community and four local NHS chapters attended. Smiles were everywhere, and attendees rated their enjoyability of event as extremely high (i.e., average of 4.99 on a scale of 1–5) on their post-event surveys.

That was gratifying, because we worked hard to ensure the event was welcoming and inclusive. We used marketing materials in both English and Spanish, offered dinner for everyone who attended and publicized the prizes for attending and participating (we had Mathnasium scholarships, two $100 and $50 gift card drawings and several ThinkFun games provided by National PTA).

We also had a welcome table for volunteer check-in and photo releases, where we shared literature about PTA membership and upcoming events to set a professional, organized tone. The teachers who attended were free to take their own children through the activities, as all activities were run by NHS students. After totaling up the costs, we spent just $850 of our $1,000 National PTA STEM+ Families grant money.

Our lessons learned were twofold:

First, it is critical to recruit student volunteers and plenty of them. Plan on at least 60 high school students and three to five PTA coordinators to run the welcome table and hand out clipboards with instructions to complete photo releases or sign in as volunteers. If your PTA is serving dinner during the event, make sure you staff the food table with at least five students and one adult. We did this, and it worked quite well.

Second, consider holding your event in the largest area possible. Ours was in the cafeteria, and this proved a bit small. It may be helpful to use two gyms if there are two available.

We will sponsor another Math Night next year. This was our most successful and heavily attended event. It also had the closest tie to curriculum and success of our students. It was wonderful to see students and families so engaged!

Susie Engi Raiford, PhD is the PTA Secretary and Fundraising Chair at Royal Ridge Elementary in San Antonio, Texas, where her husband Robert is PTA president and son George attends third grade. She is a clinical psychologist, intelligence test developer, and published book author.

Editor’s Note: This PTA’s event was significantly larger than is typical for a Math Night. Depending on your school population and expected attendance, you may not need to reserve as much space or as many volunteers.


Franchise Feature: Kobad Bugwadia (Mathnasium of Campbell-Los Gatos, Calif.)

Kobad has co-hosted five National PTA STEM + Families Math Nights so far. Almost all the events have drawn crowds of 250-400 students, parents and teachers. His excitement comes from the parents getting enrolled in the process and seeing the smiles on their faces.

Math Nights make parents feel empowered to be able to play and work with their kids, showing that math can be something fun and not intimidating. His main motivation in co-hosting the STEM + Families Math Nights is connecting with his community and giving back. Kobad’s goal is to show the Magic of Math, he is not there to sell a product, but rather to engage with families and help them overcome the intimidation many can feel about math.

Kobad’s pro-tips:

  • Hungry isn’t happy: Always provide attendees with food, drinks and snacks.
  • Heavily marketing your event means higher turnout: He recommends having the principal announce the event at a school assembly and creating fliers for students to take home.
  • Recruit Volunteers: Making sure every station has a leader. Kobad has helped schools recruit middle school and high school students to come back to their elementary school and help run the math stations.
  • Give them a goal: Have a raffle prize for completing all the stations!

Kobad is a single-center owner who is going gang-busters with Math Nights. He is regularly sharing stories of success and positive feedback from the schools he works with in his area.

Take Action:

Disclosure: Mathnasium is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 2018 – 2019 National PTA STEM + Families Math Grant, sponsored by Mathnasium. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are his/her own.

Student Data and Privacy: A California PTA Advocacy Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Super Parents, Super Readers!

Every year, PTAs across the nation host Take Your Family to School Week events to celebrate National PTA’s Founder’s Day.

This year, with the support of Office Depot OfficeMax, National PTA awarded $1,000 to 15 local PTAs to host a National PTA program during Take Your Family to School Week, Feb. 10-17. Congratulations to the 2019 Take Your Family to School Week Grant Recipients who hosted a variety of successful events.

One of the great events held during this year’s Take Your Family to School Week is Stringtown Elementary PTA’s superhero-themed reading night, “Super Family Literacy Night.” This event offered a book giveaway for every family, a free meal, reading activities and more. All of the night’s activities encouraged every family member to consider themselves “super readers.”

As the event was the of its kind, Stringtown Elementary PTA didn’t know what to expect. But turnout was higher than expected, with around 150 people in attendance! Many of the parents expressed initial hesitation to attend because of their own discomfort with reading, but that didn’t stop them from having a great time once they arrived! Some families even surprised themselves with how much fun they had.

One mom shared that she normally just brings her daughter to school dances or the school carnival. She almost didn’t come to the literacy night since she thought her daughter might not find it fun. But, by the end of the night, the mom shared with a PTA leader that the event “was is the most fun we’ve had out of ALL the events we have been to at our school! My daughter doesn’t want to leave!”

In addition to increasing the confidence and interest in reading among both parents and students, the event was an opportunity to bring more exposure to the great work of Stringtown Elementary PTA. The PTA officers were able to connect non-PTA families at the school with opportunities for future PTA involvement, something families were requesting by the end of the night.

The Stringtown Elementary PTA plans to host another literacy night because, as Jenny Howard, a PTA teacher liaison and board member, explained, “It only takes one event to help build the bridge between school and family, and this is the one that did it for us!”

This Family Reading Experience was a huge success for Stringtown Elementary—and it can be for your PTA as well! You can host a literacy event at your elementary school by visiting PTA.org/Reading to access tips and resources for hosting your event as well as Reading Is Fundamental’s PTA Portal for suggested book lists and accompanying activities.

 

Then & Now: 50 Years of Reflections Award Winners

 

I had the recent pleasure of exhibiting at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) National Convention in beautiful Boston, Mass., to promote the National PTA Reflections program to over 5,700 arts professionals across the country.

At the booth I was greeted by art educators who have led the Reflections program at their school, partnered with PTA on Reflections and those that have served as Reflections judges over the rich 50-year course of the program. I was also able to share the beautiful artwork of Massachusetts PTA Reflections artists which drew future Reflections partners in to learn more about Reflections and how they too can become arts advocates with PTA.

The best part about my time at NAEA was hearing so many stories about how Reflections has been such a huge asset to so many schools across the nation and has impacted so many students over the years. I was even able to meet several past Reflections winners who now serve as Reflections and school leaders, proving that participation in the arts leads to success in life! I’d like to introduce you to some of these amazing individuals.

Meet Mikki Wilson!

Mikki Wilson was a 1991-1992 Reflections state-level winner for her work in Visual Arts that responded to the theme “Exploring New Beginnings”. Like many Reflections winners across the country, Mikki was awarded a medal and written about in her local newspaper.

Mikki went on to submit work the following year and earned a winning medal at the local level as well (photo-Mikki medal 92). What is significant about Mikki’s story is that she now serves as the state Reflections chair and board director for Massachusetts PTA, promoting advocacy for all children, arts education and Reflections participation throughout her state! Mikki was instrumental in collecting and displaying Massachusetts PTA student artwork at NAEA and sharing information about her experiences with Reflections and how to get programs started. Thank you, Mikki!

Meet Nicole Cunningham!

I also had the pleasure of chatting with Nicole Cunningham, who received a Bachelor of Fine Arts and now serves as an account manager at Square 1 Art, LLC in Atlanta, Ga. She was just strolling through the exhibit hall at the NAEA National Convention and saw that the National PTA Reflections Program was exhibiting. Nicole beelined over to our booth just to share her story and positive experience with Reflections. Nicole was supported by Gwinnett County Georgia PTA to become a 1996-1997 state-level Visual Arts Reflections winner for a painting. It was so fun to meet you, Nicole.

And last, but not least, meet Ruth Savage Crittendon!

It was a distinct honor to meet Ruth Savage Crittendon, who was a 1971-1972 national-level Reflections winner from Arkansas PTA. Ruth’s watercolor that interpreted the theme America, The Beautiful, The Ugly was part of the National PTA student arts exhibit that traveled to National PTA’s convention. Ruth went on to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from Memphis College of Art and has served as a visual arts teacher at Elgin Public Schools in Cyril, Okla., for nearly 15 years. For her passion, dedication and service to the arts, Ruth was an award recipient at the NAEA National Convention as the Western Region Secondary Art Educator. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Ruth, and your love of the arts with the students you work with every day in the classroom!

What an amazing experience to share information about Reflections and learn about the program from the teacher’s perspective. Thank you to Massachusetts PTA, Mikki, Nicole and Ruth for helping me spread the word about National PTA’s Reflections program. To learn more about the program and our annual theme, and to register, visit PTA.org/Reflections.


Amy Weinberg is a programs and partnerships manager for National PTA.

A Public Investment in An Average Kid

I consider myself a lucky person.

I tend to win stuff: a trip to an exotic island, an ocean cruise, a skype dinner with Anderson Cooper (when he had his talk show years ago) and even an opportunity to meet a sitting President, but with the celebration of Public Schools Week, I consider myself lucky to have had the public education I received growing up in my hometown in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Was it really luck, though? I attended public schools my entire life—Houston Elementary School, then Colerain Jr. High and graduated from Colerain High School (during the “big hair” 80’s)—without any particularly outstanding academic achievements, volunteer service hours or notable athletic talent that so many high school seniors are required to have these days. I was what most would consider an average kid and an average student.

What was it, then, that made my public education experience enough for me to succeed in life?

It was the promise that my public education was an investment in the future of society and in me. The promise that every child has value and worth and should be given the right to learn regardless of gender, ethnicity, color, religion or socio-economic status. I had an education that fostered my love of art, AND I had teachers whose influence and encouragement would lead me to my career in graphic design and my vocation as a public-school advocate.

In junior high, my French teacher Mrs. Wyatt, sponsored a poster contest for International Week. I entered and, to my surprise, I won! My prize was a beautiful hardcover copy of The Little Prince, lovingly inscribed (in French) by Mrs. Wyatt. I still own it today. Was this the start of my lucky streak? Perhaps. I do know what winning that contest did: it planted a seed that made me think that my love of art could lead to more prizes and, as a tween, that was a great motivator. Merci, Mrs. Wyatt, for planting that seed for future growth.

I also remember my high school art teacher, Mrs. Hilliard, making me pick my drawing out of the garbage when, out of frustration, I’d ripped it off my drawing board and tossed it in the trash. Her faith that I’d started something worth finishing exemplifies just one of the many ways a public-school teacher can positively impact a child. That drawing went on to win a Scholastic art award and I’ll never forget Mrs. Hilliard and her ability to see in me something I couldn’t yet see in myself.

My love of art led me to college after high school and eventually a career in graphic design. My community had made the investment in my public-school education which, as an adult, led me down a path to advocate for the very thing I was afforded so many years ago as a child: an opportunity to succeed through a high-quality, public education.

I live in Michigan now and have given back through thousands of volunteer hours in PTA, advocating for Michigan kids in public education as the Michigan PTA Federal Legislative Chair and in my own children’s school district through public service as an elected school board Trustee. I never forget that all of this is possible because of what society invested in me: the average student, with average grades but with a talent and love for art.

That’s why I’m #PublicSchoolProud. How about you? Read more about Public Schools Week and ways you can support our nation’s public schools.


Barb Anness is the federal legislative chair for Michigan PTA.

Record Turnout with a STEM + Families Game Night!

 

This post is part of a series co-authored by local PTA leaders who have hosted a STEM + Families ThinkFun Game Night. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

Mount Vernon Community School in Alexandria, Va. was not a winner of a STEM + Families ThinkFun Family Game Night grant, but the event just looked too fun to miss out on entirely! The Math Dice game was such a hit with their students, and they wanted to create a creative concept around this popular game. Their PTA reached out to ThinkFun to create a personalized event for their students: A Math Dice Tournament.

This event was a team effort between Mount Vernon Community School PTA, Mount Vernon Community School’s principal and ThinkFun. For additional assistance, Mount Vernon PTA worked with ACPS’s Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Center, who provided dinner at the Math Dice Night.

It was an extremely successful night for Mount Vernon Community School PTA and their students. The PTA expected approximately 30 people to attend, including students and parents, but over 100 people showed up!

A couple of notable highlights from the event that made it such a success:

  • Teachers were engaged! Students had an opportunity to play the games in their classes prior to the event. This ensured they were already excited about the Game Night and the Math Dice Tournament before they arrived.
    • It’s also helpful to have your teachers attend the event to help with game instructions and manage all the families that attend.
  • Prize giveaways! Mount Vernon PTA’s event featured a prize giveaway sponsored by ThinkFun, which was really exciting.
  • Family engagement! Volunteers were very intentional about getting parents involved in their child’s learning and engaged in playing the games themselves. It was wonderful bonding opportunity for families after school.
  • Food! Mount Vernon Community School PTA provided pizza and drinks available to all families, a fabulous addition to the event! In this case, ACPS’s Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Center helped co-host the event and provided food to the school.

A few lessons learned:

  • Find the right space. Mount Veronon PTA’s Math Dice night was hosted in the cafeteria, but it turned out the space was not big enough for the huge crowd the event received! The great turnout was one of the big successes of the night, but the space wasn’t right for the size of the event.
  • Make sure your space doesn’t have competing events. Sometimes the school’s venue is double booked with another after school program. If your PTA can pre-plan for this hurdle and coordinate how to share the space effectively prior to the event, it will be beneficial for everyone!
  • Have a plan for crowd control. When you receive a great turnout, sometimes the noise volume makes it hard to give instructions to the group while families are chatting. Having your teachers and volunteers knowledgeable about the game rules can help while the event is going on, to give instructions to smaller groups rather than speaking to everyone at once.

Overall everyone had so much fun playing for fun and the families—especially the kids—loved the raffle for the prizes. Mount Vernon Community School’s PTA is busy as they plan another big schoolwide STEM + Families themed event, a Global Science Night.

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Disclosure: ThinkFun is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog is Mount Vernon Community School located in Alexandria, Virginia. The contributing authors were not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are his/her own.