What Real-Life Family Engagement Looks Like

When Heather Losneck learned that she had been selected as a National PTA Family Engagement Fellow last spring, she was overjoyed. As president of Berea-Midpark Middle School PTA in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, she was deeply interested in expanding her understanding of how school districts can support transformative family engagement.

She also believed her participation in the Family Engagement Fellowship program would be a compelling reason for the district and community to come together to create more intentional opportunities for the kind of family engagement that truly impacts student success.

A year later, Heather has successfully formed an active and accomplished Family Engagement Team for the Berea City School District. Here’s how she has collaborated with the district and the school board to enhance family engagement practices.

Taking the First Steps

Heather knew she could not accomplish all that she wanted to do alone, so her first priority was to connect with key players she knew could help influence the district, including the school board president, Ana Chapman. Since she was a longtime PTA member, Heather knew Ana felt passionately about family engagement.

As they continued to build their family engagement team, Ana notified her of an outdated family engagement policy that she was interested in revising. Heather, Ana and another dedicated parent, Kim Dettmer, collaborated to rewrite the policy. They used the opportunity to integrate National PTA’s Standards for Family-School Partnerships into their community’s approach.

Ana then brought the updated language to the school board for a vote. Because this policy change was initiated by the school board president, it was a powerful, and relatively quick, first step. The new language signaled a strong commitment to transformative family engagement and created excitement for the creation of a district-wide team.

Forming a Powerful Team

Though their small team of three had achieved an early success, Heather knew their family engagement team still needed more members to be truly transformative. She believed that one of the most important responsibilities as a leader was to empower other parents and caregivers.

So, Heather, Ana and Kim worked to establish a diverse and motivated team of parents, teachers and administrators. An application process—which they promoted using a social media campaign, school newsletters and direct communications from the district—ensured the group was open and inviting, but still manageable in size, and adequately representative of all three cities in the district.

The application process also helped the group to further publicize and elevate the work they were doing. While the application was simple, it provided valuable information that enabled Heather to find out why people were interested in joining the team. They reviewed 60 applications and selected 16 members for to be part of the final Family Engagement Team.

Working to Maximize Impact

The newly-formed Family Engagement Team established three subcommittees that would take on concrete projects to build momentum and create community buy-in for transformative family engagement:

  1. Welcoming Families
  2. Effective Communication
  3. Student Success

To avoid the pitfalls of the work getting stuck in internal processes and endless discussion with little action, they took the time to reach consensus on a clear vision and achievable goals for each subcommittee. Heather shared, “It’s really important not to try to do too much.” She encouraged subcommittees to pick a single, specific project to be passionate about, and then she worked to ensure they had the appropriate resources and empowered them to do the work.

Finding the Keys to Success

The subcommittees have already achieved several accomplishments during their short tenure. Heather credits the momentum to, “checking in with [my] teams regularly and celebrating their successes.”
Of particular note is their work around welcoming families. When a recent survey uncovered that the district could improve in being more welcoming of families from different ethnicities, the Welcoming Families subcommittee collaborated with the district’s new Director of Nutrition Services to add new dishes to the school menu that are more reflective of the community’s cultures.

Their key strategies to successful, transformative family engagement approach included:

  1. Partnering with families who provide their recipes that best exemplify their cultures
  2. A new wellness committee, established by the Director of Nutrition Services, that intentionally recruits parent members.

While food fairs are a regular staple of diversity attempts, the nutritional services approach the Welcoming Families subcommittee used has resulted in a systemic change that directly benefits all kids. It has also opened doors for continuous exchange between families and the district’s Nutrition Services department.

The team has also worked closely with the district’s Communications Director to create a “Before You Visit” link on the district website, which will make it easier for families to find out anything they may know before they come to school.

This initiative was a direct response to parents’ indications that they did not always feel welcome in school buildings and that transitioning from one school building to another was particularly challenging. Rather than simply providing the hours the office is open, the website now includes detailed information such as drop off procedures, sign in rules, good times to visit, who you will meet in the front office, and more.

Creating Sustainability for Family Engagement

Heather shares that the Family Engagement Team’s next goal is to establish a district-level paid position dedicated to family engagement. She says, “In order to sustain the work going forward, it cannot be driven solely by volunteers.”

Collaborating with the School Board President, they are currently analyzing similar positions in other districts, and are eager to begin crafting a job description for the role. The team sees this as a necessary next step to ensure that family engagement efforts are consistent, impactful and effectively integrated to the school district’s overall strategic plan.

We can’t wait to see what they do next!

Stay up to date with the latest best practices in transformative family engagement by subscribing to the Center for Family Engagement’s e-newsletter here.


About the Author: Heather Losneck is one of National PTA’s Family Engagement Fellows and the president of Berea-Midpark Middle School PTA.

 

5 Ways Your PTA Could Become a School of Excellence

Last August, 279 schools were announced as 2018-2020 National PTA Schools of Excellence for their leadership and accomplishments in building strong, effective family-school partnerships! National PTA is pleased to recognize this record number of local PTAs across the nation who have earned the two-year designation. We can’t wait to announce our 2019-2021 School of Excellence designees this August.

Check out how these PTAs made a tremendous impact on continuous school improvement through the School of Excellence program. Enroll your PTA in the 2019-2020 School of Excellence program now through October 1 at PTA.org/Excellence.

Barnard Asian Pacific Language Academy

Barnard PTA in California chose to focus on improving education by growing family participation in advocacy by creating an environment in which parents felt welcome, engaged and involved with the school. Throughout the school year, the PTA hosted many community events to engage families in a variety of social, academic and community-building activities; all of which were free to parents and students.

Beaverdam Elementary

To support student success and keep parents informed about what their students were learning, Beaverdam Elementary School PTA in Virginia took on the task of implementing a school/PTA newsletter. Every quarter, teachers, administration and the PTA submitted articles to inform parents about what their students were learning and what they could expect in the coming months. The newsletter also included the school’s progress, programs and upcoming events. The Beaverdam PTA also took a more active approach to their Facebook page, including recording the school’s talent show, which not only showed off the school and student talent, but allowed Beaverdam’s community of working parents who could not attend during the day to see the performance and share this experience with other family members and friends!

Glendale Elementary

The resources provided through the School of Excellence program paved the way for Glendale Elementary PTA in Florida to establish better communication with ALL families, uniting the PTA and school with one cohesive mission in making the culture and climate welcoming for all families. Glendale Elementary PTA and school created multi-language informational signs for all entrances and ensured that every communication was provided broadly and in multiple languages. Through the school year, Glendale PTA expanded their outreach and exposure anytime there was a school event providing the school, parents, and students with timely information. As a result, event attendance and participation were at an all-time high.

Rabbit Creek Elementary

In Alaska, the Rabbit Creek Elementary PTA partnered with the school’s art teacher to help support the arts by displaying student art work to brighten up common spaces such as the front office and the library. The PTA also supported the music teacher in her production of the fourth-grade play by funding new microphone headsets, set decorations and props needed to make the play a success. After being dormant, the PTA helped resurrect the Rabbit Creek Reflections program with the help of a PTA parent, who happens to be local artist, spent a great deal of time coaching kids and encouraging them to let their creativity shine.

Canyon Rim Elementary

Canyon Rim Elementary PTA in Arizona emphasized welcoming diverse families into their school by designing a welcome sign in 18 languages which received positive feedback. One of the school’s moms, who is from Ukraine, said she felt more welcome when she when she stopped by the school every morning. The cafeteria manager, a native German-speaker, also expressed her appreciation to the Canyon Rim Elementary PTA.

These are just some examples of how PTAs can make long-lasting and positive changes. Congratulations, once again, to all of our 279 2018-2020 School of Excellence designees.

Interested in becoming a National PTA School of Excellence? Learn more and enroll thru Oct. 1 at PTA.org/Excellence and email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


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

 

 

8 Steps to Becoming a School of Excellence

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

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

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

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

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

The steps in the program are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step #8: Celebrate Your Excellence (August)

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

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

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


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

 

Why Do PTA’s Need Insurance?

Sponsored Post:

Being part of your local PTA is a great way to be involved and bettering the community is a very noble cause. What most people outside this network don’t know is, its hard work!! And there are an endless amount unseen details required for every field trip, every fundraiser and nearly every decision a PTA has to make. In the end, your PTA is run like a small business and takes on liability for all these decisions.

So why does your PTA need insurance? Did you know that you as an individual member of the PTA or officer of the PTA could be help personally liable for an accident that occurs at one of your events? Your board, your members and your volunteers work hard for every dollar and every event, so protecting your money, your people and your property is not something to be overlooked.

Your Events

Event Insurance (General Liability)
Fact: if a child is injured at an event put on by your PTA, you could be held personally liable, along with your PTA, for the accident and legally sued. School insurance typically does not extend to the PTA and even when it does many activities of the PTA are NOT covered.

In addition to injuries, PTA’s have liability for property damage sustained during PTA events which is also covered by General Liability. Most PTA’s don’t have the time or money to support a lawsuit, so its HIGHLY advisable to seek coverage which can be obtained for less than the cost of 1 hour with an attorney!

Your Money

Embezzlement Insurance (Fidelity Bond)
Embezzlement. Most PTA members believe that no one would ever steal from their PTA but sadly, embezzlement is overtaking General Liability as one of the most common claims. It usually happens over a period of time and by the time the PTA becomes aware, what started as $50 here and there, turns into thousands of missing dollars.

Fidelity Bond coverage protects your money. Make sure you secure coverage that offers protection for theft by anyone in your organization, not just theft by a treasurer.

Your Property

Property Insurance
Oftentimes it’s a group’s own personal property that, while at an event or in storage, becomes damaged. Popcorn machines, cotton candy machines, fundraising merchandise, spirit wear, game prizes, silent auction items… PTA’s often take responsibility for thousands of dollars in personal property. What most PTA’s don’t consider is how they would recoup these costs in the event of theft or damage.

Fortunately, Property Insurance can be obtained very affordably for a little as $10,000 in limit.

Your Directors & Officers

Directors and Officers Liability
The Directors & Officers of your PTA are tasked with making big decisions in addition to keeping the peace in times of differing opinions. PTA’s often wonder whether they can be sued for these decisions as a whole or individually and the answer is both.

If someone decides to sue an officer or director of a PTA for mismanagement, misrepresentation, dissemination of false or misleading information or inappropriate actions, Directors and Officers Liability coverage will pay to defend them personally, in addition to the PTA as a whole.

AIM Insurance has been helping PTA’s for over 30 years and hopes to spread awareness on the importance of protecting your PTA. To learn more click here.


Any reference in this website to any person, or organization, or activities, products, or services related to such person or organization, or any linkages from this web site to the web site of another party, do not constitute or imply an endorsement, recommendation, or favoring.

 

Building Character at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Pumpkin Delight School (Milford, Connecticut)

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

Curiosity. Engaging. Problem Solving. Results. Creativity. – All important words that help to build character, scholarship and learning in our elementary students. In today’s society, we are limited to common core, state standards, and standardize testing. What can a PTA do to engage students? Utilize all their senses? Build a sense a curiosity? And allow students to problem solve on their own in order to find results? The answer is invention!

Our PTA applied for the Invention Night grant from littleBits and National PTA for two reasons. First, we had a science fair, but we were looking for a (FREE!) way to have more students participate. Second, we wanted a new way to get our students engaged in creativity. Our budget was tight, and we had no way to allocate dollars towards this event, so we looked to National PTA’s grant to help us with our mission. The application process was not difficult and the answers to the application came easily as I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish.

Our Invention Night consisted of the littleBits Kits, science projects from about 25 students, teacher interaction and support from our local Milford Public Library. We set it up in our gym, which is the largest space in our school, also across the hall from bathrooms. Our school used our Facebook page as well as flyers sent home in backpacks to help advertise the event. While we knew the students who did projects would be attending the event, we welcomed our event to the entire school and community.

The biggest driver that brought traffic to our event was the littleBits Invention Kits. We informed the community of our grant win and promoted heavily. We also provided information on the app that needed to be downloaded prior to attending the event. While the communication was clear on our end, we knew parents are busy and this step could be easily forgotten. littleBits also has a YouTube page that walks you through the steps. This helps with those parents that did not download the app beforehand. While we live in an electronic age, I would say this was the biggest roadblock of the event. I would advise other PTA’s to prepare for this when hosting similar events in the future.

Overall what made this event such a success was the students and families working together on the littleBits Kits. It was inspiring and emotional to see the successes when focused minds come together to solve a problem. We had parents working with their children and saw their faces light up when they made progress along the way. I also noticed quite a bit of peers working together on the kits. When one student was able to work through a level, they were then able to help their friends around them be able to achieve the same success.

It was a privilege to be able to host an Invention Night at our school. The event helped boost the support the PTA received from the community. We can’t wait to do it again next year!

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


About the Guest Contributor: Kristyn Liebelt is the PTA President at Pumpkin Delight School PTA in Milford, Connecticut.

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

Spark Family Engagement at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Bonny Kate PTA (Knox County, Tenn.)

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

The entire community of Bonny Kate Elementary School was so excited to learn that we had been awarded a PTA STEM + Families Initiative grant for a littleBits Invention Night. Invention Nights are incredible opportunities for family engagement.

Last year, we had our inaugural STEAM Night and the activities were more visual than interactive. This year, as we combined our STEAM Night with Invention Night, and we had a very different experience. Families were working together on activities, talking and laughing, and genuinely enjoying themselves this time around. It was awesome for our small community to have a fun learning time together and great to see all the smiles.

The STEAM Team and our building-level coach worked hard to plan and promote our Invention Night. We advertised the event through emails, parent links, classroom newsletters and fliers that were sent home. We also contacted our local television stations, and one came out and did a short piece on the event!

Our PTA decorated the school for the event with balloons, streamers and posters, and we had a food truck for families who had not eaten dinner. These things helped to ensure a large crowd for the event, even though it was a very cold winter night, and made it very welcoming for our families.

To get families even more engaged in their child’s learning, we used the entire school for the event. We created a map of the school, and the students had passports with places to stamp for each activity. Activities included visiting our local high school’s robotics team, checking out STEAM projects from each grade level, and chatting with the University of Tennessee’s Engineering Club, in addition to the space dedicated to the littleBits kits. Because there were so many activities, the space was well-divided, with lots of room to spread out and work on projects.

The enthusiasm and excitement this event created has inspired us to move forward with plans to have a STEAM lab next year. With STEAM careers being a focus for future jobs, it is so vital that our students—who live in a more rural area—are exposed to STEAM activities. The seeds planted by this event will help us to grow and bloom with STEAM for years to come. Thanks PTA and littleBits!

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


About the Guest Contributor: Denise Cross is the Assistant Principal at Bonny Kate Elementary School, part of Knox County Schools in Tenn.

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

 

Have Robotics Fun at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Archer Elementary PTA (Archer, Fla.)

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

Despite having a robust Robotics program in our curriculum, our elementary school had never held any type of STEM event for families to get a taste of what their children were learning. Thanks to National PTA and littleBits awarding us the grant for 50 Little Bits Invention Kits, we were able to host an Invention Night for the first time.

Both littleBits and National PTA made planning the event very easy by laying out the process for us. We knew we wanted to get our Robotics teacher involved in the planning. She was very enthusiastic about the event and even volunteered to set up her VEX Robots and have the fifth-graders demonstrate their creations the same night. After meeting with our principal and Robotics teacher, we decided to get other teachers involved and have different STEM activities going during the event.

To promote our Invention Night, We sent flyers home in student folders, and our principal sent an email and did a robo-call to families two weeks in advance. A week before the event, we sent parents a reminder email along with the instructions on how to download the littleBits App as well as the guide for each project that you can build with the kit.

We held the event in the cafeteria and set out two kits per table so each family had plenty of space to work out their invention. We gave families the option to partner with another family as well and work together. Each invention took about 20 minutes to build and we gave families the option to build two inventions. We also made sure to provide dinner to all families that night. We had 45 families attend our event, roughly 175 people, which was a great turnout for our school!

Since this was our first-ever STEM event, we wanted to be sure to get feedback. So once families had filled out our survey, we entered them into a raffle. Prizes were donated, including the grand prize—the Droid Kit—donated by littleBits.

Overall, parents and students were really happy with the event. The families enjoyed the experience of learning something new with their kids—there was a lot of collaboration going on. Parents also expressed how happy they were to see what their kids were experiencing at school with the robotics. We will definitely be hosting another Invention Night next year. Thank you to littleBits and National PTA for giving us the opportunity to expose our kids to engineering and invention. Without the grant, this night would not have been possible.

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

 


About the Author: Pam Korithoski is the Advocacy Chair at Archer Elementary School in Archer, Fla.

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

 

Experience the First-Ever State PTA Leadership Institute at #PTACon19

Are you a State PTA Officer? Do you want to be? If you answered yes, then you will be thrilled with the Convention Education options at #PTACon19 in Columbus, Ohio.

With more advanced workshops than ever, you’ll gain new strategies and hone your nonprofit management skills to strengthen every angle of your State PTA—leadership, membership and mission.

For the first time, State PTA Presidents, Presidents-Elect and Incoming Presidents-Elect will have access to a continuous, shared learning experience called the State PTA Leadership experience.

The kick-off event occurs pre-conference at a day-long training featuring author and well-known communications trainer, Shari Harley, founder of Candid Culture. The Institute continues with a dedicated workshop track covering advanced topics for all State PTA Officers, such as:

  • Nonprofit management and Standards of Affiliation
  • Parliamentary procedures
  • Board development and team-building
  • Using financial data to make strategic decisions
  • Transformative Family Engagement

For other State PTA leaders, workshops include access to our nation’s experts on critical issues—like school safety and mental health—as well as training on skills required for continued leadership growth, like public speaking.

Start making your Convention Education plan now! Take 15 minutes to preview what else is happening at the 2019 National PTA Convention & Expo by taking this quick tour!

New! On-Demand Training Series Launches for State Leaders

National PTA has launched a new state PTA training series: Leadership Drives Membership. This seven-segment video series features a complementary self-reflection and discussion guide for State PTA Boards, Committees and other State PTA Leaders seeking to improve strategies that increase membership. All videos are between 15-30 minutes and can be viewed on-demand in the Membership section of the State Resource Bank.

This comprehensive training was a cross-committee, volunteer-staff collaboration to include members of the National PTA Membership Committee, chaired by Vice President of Membership Anna King, National PTA Field Services Committee, chaired by Darlene Harris, and the National PTA Education & Leadership Development Department.

Committee members were instrumental in guiding content development and served as co-hosts for the following videos:

  1. Why Leadership Drives Membership [5:08] with Anna King (OK) and Darlene Harris (PA)
  2. Lead with Inclusion [23:03] with Sergio Chavez (AZ) and Dorothy Gardner (NC, formerly MO)
  3. Communicate the Value of PTA [22:20] with Dani Carver and Heather Gillette (WA)
  4. Analyze Your State PTA Leadership Data & Membership Trends [14:06] with Anna King (OK) and Darlene Harris (PA)
  5. Develop Your State PTA Priorities & Plan [23:36] with Jesus Holguin (CA) and Eileen Segal (FL)
  6. Improve Your Customer Experience for Local PTAs [17:25] with Kim Henderson (TN) and Michael Morgan (CA)
  7. Train Local PTAs to Make a Membership Growth P.L.A.N. [24:30] with Robert Acerra (NJ) and Lisa Holbrook (TX)

The series repurposes the content designed for and delivered at the Pilot Southeast Regional Training in November 2018, which National PTA’s Board of Directors invested in as part of its expanded commitment to State Leadership Training.

Help Your PTAs Make a P.L.A.N. with E-Learning & Other Training Tools

National PTA transformed the DIY Kit for Membership Growth into an interactive course for Local PTA Leaders: Membership 101 – Design Your Membership P.L.A.N. If you’d like to bring the DIY Kit for Membership Growth to life, check out our training tools on the State Resource Bank to include:

State PTAs will receive a quantity of refreshed DIY Kits for Membership Growth based on their State PTA size in late June:

  • Large states – 250 kits
  • Medium states – 150 kits
  • Small states – 100 kits
  • Petite states – 50 kits

We will ship to the primary State Office address on file. These kits should be used for training local PTAs on membership growth and in support of recruiting and on-boarding new PTAs. Direct distribution will occur when Local PTA leaders register for the Local PTA Leader Kit at PTAKit.org.