Inspiring the Next Generative of Digital Innovators

Technology is a powerful tool that is undeniably changing the foundation of education. Schools around the world are increasingly harnessing its reach to improve the educational experiences of their students. Some parents and teachers may wonder if this is the right learning path for their students, especially at the elementary levels. Below, we’ve addressed five reasons why leveraging technology can be beneficial to all students.

  1. Personalized Education Experience

Technology can innovate, grow, and expand access to personalized education tools. Using laptops and tablets, students can choose between educational videos, games or articles that best suit their abilities and interests. Educational apps and programs cover a wide range of subjects from music to digital design. With a plethora of learning options, every student can discover and develop his or her niche.

  1. Bringing the Classroom Home

By removing barriers to learning, technology connects students and teachers with educational content wherever they are. Many primary schools are assigning students tablets or laptops to take home. Mobilized learning is a great opportunity for students to continue their learning outside of the classroom, at their own pace.

  1. Preparing Students for the Future

The days of four classic subjects of study are over. Today, students should establish hard skills early-on to be competitive in the tech-driven workforce. As the tech industry continues to expand, students can take advantage of its offerings now and begin preparing for the jobs of the future by mastering technical applications.

  1. Engaging Today’s Students

Interactive materials help students stay engaged while learning and investing in these technologies can help shape the future of education. As part of its Aspire Accelerator program, AT&T supports organizations using tech to promote student success beyond the classroom. New educational online programs that are creatively designed can foster fun while exposing kids to practical skills. For example, as part of Aspire Accelerator’s 2018 Class, the start-up Unruly Studios seeks to revolutionize learning by combining STEM education with physical play. Through its programmable device that kids control, it integrates coding skills with recess-style games.

  1. Developing Communication Skills

Strong online communication skills can be the key to a successful future. By engaging in technology at a young age, students will grow up immersed in practical 21st century skills like writing emails and collaborating with teams through online chat options.

The benefits of incorporating technology into students’ educational paths can be endless, and ensuring students can engage with innovative educational options is crucial.  To help with that engagement,  AT&T is bringing affordable internet access to low-income  families through  Access from AT&T,  a discounted internet service for qualifying low-income households across AT&T’s 21 wireline footprint.[1] With increased access, students can finish school and feel confident they are ready to thrive in the digital world.

Technology can break down barriers, including those in education. The ability for students to keep learning shouldn’t end in the classroom. With technology, it doesn’t have to.

 

[1] 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.

National PTA Art Award Program Enters 50th Year


This year, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National PTA Reflections program! Reflections was established in 1969 by National PTA Board member and past Colorado PTA President, Mary Lou Anderson. She was a huge advocate of arts education, and truly understood the value arts education brought to the lives of students. We’re thrilled that fifty years later, we’re continuing to further this important work!

What makes Reflections standout, unlike other awards programs, is that students from ALL grades are encouraged to explore ALL areas of the creative arts. This includes dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts. We also offer a special artist division for students requiring special accommodations. Reflections encourages students to use their imagination and creativity to create original works inspired by the annual theme. We welcome all grades, all arts and all abilities.  This year’s theme is Heroes Around Me.

This is especially important because each art form offers unique benefits and skill-building opportunities. Reflections awards and exhibitions also support students by building their confidence and making personal connections to their school and community.

Celebrating the National PTA Reflections 50th Year

To commemorate the start of our 50th anniversary year, here are some ideas, tips and tools for encouraging all students to explore and be involved in the arts. It’s our goal this year to highlight stories of success throughout the program’s fifty years and we have a favor to ask – we want to hear from you! Please share your favorite Reflections stories with us using the hashtag #PTAReflections.

 Reflecting on this year’s theme: Heroes Around Me

It’s important to provide dedicated time and space for students to reflect on the theme. Choose a safe place where students can feel welcomed to express their thoughts, feelings and emotions about the world around them. Each reflection is unique based on individual experiences – where we live, what we do and who inspires us. And that’s what makes creative expression fun! Thinking outside the box and developing a personal voice through art.

Not only does our world influence our interpretations but the theme is also a way to see new perspectives and make new connections.

  • You can start a conversation with a group of students before/after school or lead a discussion with your family around the dinner table.
  • Teachers are also welcomed to use the theme in their classroom to engage students in their lessons or offer extended learning opportunities. Schools can also use the theme to support a grade-wide or school-wide theme.

 Promoting your Reflections Program

We encourage you to promote the theme in visible places across your school and community – Register at PTA.org/Reflections and use our toolkit to promote the theme and your local call for entries. Posters for the school lobby, community library; Video for morning announcements and enewsletters; and use the image bank to have fun creating your own fliers and invitations. Be sure to register at PTA.org/Reflections and visit your state program’s page for all rules, forms and deadlines. These are best shared on bulletin boards and displays in the school lobby, cafeteria, library or any classroom.

 Ideas for Hosting Reflections Events in School and at Home

Here are some ideas on how you can host Reflections events at your school and at home.

Hosting In School

  • Offer a Reflections Club
  • Invite the Whole Family to Your Meeting
  • Host a Family Art Night
  • Setup a Back to School Reflections Table

Hosting At Home.

  • Discover Cultural Heritage through Folk and Traditional Arts
  • Lead a Family Arts Club
  • Host a Party for Kids
  • Take a Family Field Trip

Contact to your state PTA’s Reflections program for all rules, forms and deadlines and register at PTA.org/Reflections to share your participation in the program. Questions? Reach out to your state PTA or email Info@PTA.org.

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.

How Families Can Drive Social and Emotional Learning

Think back to the many wonderful moments of summer break as a child. Having the freedom to play, lead, think, and simply exist in your own unique way, testing your limits and sharing your imagination and ideas without the filters and regulations of the academic environment.

Now, imagine losing all of that in an instant. All of the joy. All of the freedom. All the imagination. That can be what it’s like for youth to begin the school year and shift into an environment where their social and emotional well-being is not adequately encouraged or supported.

As an active parent in the educational system for nearly two decades, I have witnessed firsthand how competing pressures on schools and educators have drawn attention away from students’ individual abilities, needs, strengths, and circumstances. It seems that the learning environment has become less focused on each student’s success and personal growth.

The time has come to place social and emotional learning back at the forefront in our schools – and it is now more important than ever.  Families, schools, and communities working together are the key to making social and emotional learning and development in school the norm for every child. That’s the central message of the Family Call to Action from the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Developed by parents, for parents, the Call to Action lays out what we need from our schools – and each other:

We Need Our Schools to Know and Teach the Whole Student

Schools need to move away from one-size-fits-all policies to better meet the needs of each and every student.  When a student’s comprehensive development is fully supported, they are free to build critical life skills such as responsibility, respect, teamwork, self-control, and strength in the face of adversity. They are better able to overcome intellectual and personal challenges they may face in life.

We Need to Be Partners in Our Children’s Learning

Students need to see that their families are involved and invested in their educational well-being in positive ways. This includes attending meetings, conferences, after-school activities, and supporting homework and outside enrichment opportunities. It also means engaging directly with your child about whether their social, emotional, and academic needs are being met.

Be relentless in challenging policies that stifle personal growth and well-being. Collaborate with teachers, administrative staff, and district leaders to ensure that programs and policies are tailored to  individual social and emotional needs. Demand that school leaders communicate clearly and often.

We Need a Whole Community Approach

Extend your efforts beyond the school walls and into the community. Families, local businesses, and community organizations all have a role to play in educating our children. Programs such as mentoring, career shadowing and internship opportunities, and after-school tutoring services are essential to a complete education.

We Need Schools to Integrate Social, Emotional, and Academic Growth into the School Culture and Climate

Social and emotional development takes place all day, not during a 30-minute lesson. Encourage leaders in your school to shift resources that are being used inefficiently to instead support a whole student approach to learning.

We Need to Support Adults Who Support Our Children

The teachers and staff who educate our children are essential, and they need our support. Educators need ongoing professional development and mental health support to be as effective as they can be. Parents and families should have access to learning opportunities as well.

Make Your Voice Heard! 

Sign the National Commission’s Family Call to Action to urge schools to support students’ comprehensive development, then share the sign-on message with families in your community.

Together, we can give future generations of students a solid foundation and the opportunity to practice vital skills every day to develop the self-confidence, compassion, and critical thinking needed to become the model citizens and leaders that they desire to be.


Makeba Giles is the mother of four children who attend public schools and a founding writer of FaithHealthHome.com, an online magazine featuring health, family, and current events for the positive lifestyle. She is a member of the Parent Advisory Panel for the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development.

Go Back to School Thinking About Your End Game

It begins again! When’s the first PTA meeting? When is Open House? Do we have enough volunteers? Where’s the budget? Who has the membership forms? It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of preparing PTA for a new school year. Want some advice? Think about the “end game” to help you focus on what matters. It’s so much easier to get to where you want to go if you know where you want to end up!

How many young people will your PTA touch this year? How many will decide to be a writer because of the PTA assembly, shine in a PTA Reflections program, get active in a PTA fun run, or have their futures open wide during a STEM night? Start planning and counting now. When the school year ends, will your PTA be able to say it positively influenced the lives of 100% of the children in your community? Think about the excitement your PTA can generate as you work toward that goal and think about how great it will feel to achieve it.

How many families will your PTA benefit this year? How many adults will get involved in their child’s education, have fun as a family, advocate on behalf of a child, or create a healthier, safer home environment because PTA provided the opportunity and resources? Start planning and counting now. When the school year ends, wouldn’t you love to report that your PTA made a positive difference in the lives of 100% of the families of your community? Think about the partners and members you can attract as you work toward that goal and how amazing it will feel to have that type of impact on children and families.

How many community members will your PTA influence this year? What services and programs can be made available through partnerships, how many non-parent adults will be become school supporters, how many resources can become available to families, children and schools because of the relationships your PTA builds? Start planning and counting now. When the school year ends, wouldn’t it be deeply satisfying to report your PTA’s role in improving your community and increasing the support it provides to children, families and schools?

PTA’s mission is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that movement as a member, volunteer or leader? PTA is out to change the world. How will your PTA take us all one step closer to our end game?


Deborah Walsh is the National Service Representative Manager for National PTA.

New Civil Rights Data Collection Survey Highlights Need for Improvement

CDRCThe U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released the results of the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey. This report features information about how students are treated at school and highlights several key issues that affect a child’s ability to learn, such as chronic absenteeism, restraint and seclusion disciplinary actions and lack of access to college resources. These three topics are important when advocating to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education.

Here are some key findings from the CRDC survey report and what National PTA is currently doing to tackle these issues:

Chronic Absenteeism Plagues Our Children’s Academic Participation

The CRDC survey reports that 18% of students are chronically absent—missing at least 10% of school days in a school year—which is likely to hurt their academic success and social development. National PTA recognizes that millions of students are missing too many school days and so signed on to a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in support of their Every Student, Every Day initiative, which addresses this issue that is threatening our children’s learning opportunities. National PTA continues to work with communities across the country to make sure our children attend school regularly.

Disproportional Instances of Restraint and Seclusion 

Restraint and seclusion is a school discipline strategy involving the involuntary confinement or physical restraint of students. The 2013-2014 CRDC data shows that this disciplinary policy disproportionally impacts students with disabilities. Students with disabilities make up 12% of all public school students but account for 67% of students subjected to restraint or seclusion. The use of inappropriate restraint and seclusion methods by untrained school personnel has resulted in the assault, injury, trauma and in some cases death, of students.

At the 2015 National PTA Annual Convention & Expo, PTA members passed a resolution to limit restraint and seclusion policies in schools. In the resolution, the National PTA calls for restraint and seclusion to only be used as a last resort in emergency situations, ensuring the safety and protection of all children.

Minority Groups Are Offered Fewer College Preparation Programs

According to the CRDC report, African American and Latino students have less access to high-level math and science courses in their schools. In schools with high enrollment of African American and Latino children, only 33% offer Calculus, compared to 56% of high schools with mainly white student populations.

National PTA recognizes the importance of offering advanced courses at schools in preparation for college and the skilled labor force. Our association continues to advocate for increasing the federal investment in education to ensure a well-rounded education for all our nation’s children. National PTA launched its STEM education and family engagement initiative in fall 2015 in collaboration with founding and presenting sponsor Bayer USA Foundation with additional support from Mathnasium to magnify the importance that a well-rounded education has on our children’s educational opportunities and future success.

So, what can you do to address these issues as a PTA advocate? The first way you can help is to identify specific issues that your school faces. School data on these issues from previous years can be found at this webpage, with updated info from the current CRDC report available in August. Once identified, you and your PTA can work with the school administration to ensure all students are treated fairly and receive a high-quality education.

You can also make a difference if you:

  • Ask your school’s principal if they have a school counselor and work with him or her to ensure all students have access to counseling. Chronic absenteeism can be addressed by giving students access to a school counselor or a mentor to confide in to get to the root of the issue. Lack of access is a serious issue—over 1.6 million students attend a school where a sworn law enforcement officer is present but not a school counselor. On top of this, about 21% of schools nationwide don’t have access to any school counselors.
  • Work with the local school board to create policies and programs that emphasize the use of positive or non-aversive student behavior interventions, thereby limiting the use of restraint and seclusion on students. In addition, you can advocate for your school district to provide adequate training for all teachers, principals and school personnel on preventative interventions and alternatives to exclusionary discipline.
  •  Get involved with the local or state PTA and help districts and states draft their new education plans. College and career preparation is a focus for the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Learn more about the law and how to get involved at PTA.org/ESSA.

Blake Altman is the government affairs intern at National PTA.

Save

Save

4 Ways to Get Involved in Your Children’s Education

shutterstock_337103510

This blog was originally posted on TODAY Parenting Team.

Every parent wants the best for their child and wants to be engaged in their education to support their learning and achievement.

The challenge for many parents, however, is figuring out what they can do and knowing the most effective ways to get involved.

As the president of National PTA, I have spoken to many parents who have asked, “How can I be involved in my child’s school and learning when I work a full-time job and keep a busy schedule to support my family?” As a working parent, I had the same question and concern when my children entered school.

After first getting involved, I quickly realized the importance to help my children—and all children—succeed and reach their full potential—no matter the level of involvement.

It is important to remember that involvement is different for every family and is not limited to attending meetings or participating at school.

Here are some ways to get involved:

Join PTA
Get involved with your local parent teacher association. Even if you are an on-the-go mom or dad, you will find support from other parents in PTA who have the same questions, concerns, hopes and dreams for their children. You will also be part of a dedicated network of families, educators, businesses and community leaders who are working to ensure all children receive a high-quality education. That means, even if you aren’t able to be at every meeting, you know there is a group of parents who are invested in the success of every child at your school — including yours.

Talk about school matters at home
Be interested and listen to your child. Encourage your child to talk about his/her day and express concerns. Learn about your child’sstrengths and weaknesses and what activities he/she likes and doesn’t like. Two-way communication is essential to developing an active and positive relationship and an open, ongoing dialogue is critical. Then if any issues come up at school, your child will feel more comfortable talking to you about it.

Be a partner in your child’s learning
Education is individual for each child and remains a shared responsibility. It is important to work with your child’s teacher to best support him or her. It is also essential to develop a relationship with your child’s teacher and keep in touch with him/her often. Find out the best way to contact your child’s teacher and ask for times when it would be convenient for him or her to talk. It is also important to provide teachers with the best way to contact you. Consistent communication (via email, phone, etc.) will help build relationships.

Advocate for your child
You are your child’s best advocate. It is important to be a voice for your own and every child to ensure they are treated fairly and have access to opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential. It is also critical to advocate with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure your child’s school has the resources to provide a world class education to every student. When possible, attend school board meetings. Send e-mails and letters and make phone calls to advocate with elected officials.

The most significant type of engagement is what families do at home. Parents can monitor and support their child with his/her schoolwork and let his/her teacher or school know if there are any problems. The work families do at home that’s connected to what kids are doing in school has the biggest academic impact.

By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their child has every opportunity for success.

Parent-Teacher Partnership Results in Trip to the White House

STEm-NSF“There are so many great teachers out there that need to be recognized,” says former local Virginia PTA president Christie Olsen. A few years ago, Christie took her own advice and nominated her twin daughters’ teacher, Stephanie Chlebus, for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). Stephanie went on to become the 2012 PAEMST awardee for mathematics in Virginia, for which she received a certificate signed by the President, a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a trip for two to Washington, D.C., where she met President Obama.

“Stephanie is unique as a teacher, in that she makes every single one of her students feel like they are just as good as the next student in mathematics,” explains Christie, who was able to see this first hand with her daughters. “She’s always willing to provide more challenges for students that are excelling, while using her talents to find innovative ways to teach the kids that might not be getting it.”

Building Partnerships and Keeping Communication Open

As we all know, the relationship between parent and teacher is an important one. Christie nominated her daughters’ teacher, Stephanie, for the PAEMST award because she had built a partnership with her. To do this, according to Christie, there must be trust between all parties that everyone (parent, teacher, administrator, etc.) is acting in the best interest of the child. Once that is established, open communication is the best way to build the parent-teacher partnership. “One party can’t shut out the other. It just won’t work,” Christie advises.

On the other end, as the teacher, Stephanie has instituted several initiatives to foster collaboration between herself and the parents of her students. She emails parents every week to give them an idea of the objectives and content that will be taught in the upcoming days. This enables parents to have deeper conversations with their children about what’s going on in the classroom and what they’re learning each day. She also engages parents and families with several events, such as family math game night and parent Academy night.

What’s Stephanie’s advice for parents who are thinking about getting more involved in the PTA or volunteering in their child’s classroom? “Do it!” She stresses, though, to remember that every teacher is different. While some teachers may be dying for volunteers, other teachers may not be comfortable (or are not allowed) to have parent volunteers in the classroom. She suggests you offer your help and give the teacher the opportunity to tell you what they need. Like Christie, she stresses the importance of open communication.

Stephanie also points out that without the support of the PTA at her school, she wouldn’t have been able to put on the events that families love. “A strong PTA that supports its teachers, results in teachers who can run more initiatives to help its students,” she adds.

Recognizing Teachers for Outstanding Work

The importance of being nominated for PAEMST by a parent was not lost on Stephanie. “I know my colleagues see me working day in and day out to make learning relevant to students, but to have that come across to a parent through her children’s love and desire for math meant the world to me,” she shares. “Having a parent nominate me for PAEMST was the biggest compliment I can receive as a teacher.”

Both Stephanie and Christie note that parents can be involved in recognizing great teachers. Stephanie says that several parents pulled together student quotes for her PAEMST application, which helped give her application a personal touch. Christie suggests nominating the exceptional teachers in your school for awards like PAEMST.

“Any way you can recognize a great teacher for being great, or motivate them to keep doing a great job, is essential. It’s a great loss when outstanding teachers get disillusioned and leave the profession. Even if they don’t apply, and it’s just a nomination, you are still recognizing that they are going above and beyond for their students.”

Learn more about PAEMST and how to nominate a great teacher in your child’s life by April 1.


 

Dr. Nafeesa Owens is the program lead to the Presidential Awards for Excellence for Mathematics and Science Teaching program at the National Science Foundation. Most importantly, she is the mother of twin boys who are in kindergarten and is a local PTA member.

Increasing Family Engagement: Change Starts with Us

During a cohort training, the above group gained an understanding of the Common Core Standards through instruction and discussion.

During a cohort training, the above group gained an understanding of the Common Core Standards through instruction and discussion.

Just when I was beginning to doubt and wonder if I could really make a difference, I saw a quote on my Facebook feed, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” – John F. Kennedy

We all need these little reminders from time to time. In a world where negative news inundates our lives—with failing schools and struggling kids flashing across the screen—we need to remind ourselves that we can still make a difference. This means we must believe in our children’s success by making every child’s potential a reality.

In Lexington, Ky. we have created a culture that believes all students can learn. We partner with parents, schools and community organizations and businesses to provide engagement training to increase advocacy to support our entire student population.

Research has consistently shown that students with engaged families perform better academically and socially.

Our family engagement team uses the Lexington’s Urban Family Engagement Network (UFEN) program, which was originally established by the National PTA in 2009. The goal of the program is to reach and engage traditionally underrepresented families and provide resources they can use to support their children’s education.

urbanfamilyengagement1

In addition to gaining knowledge, some cohorts went on to complete projects, as seen below, that they then presented at our District-wide PTA Leadership training. This group presented on learning styles to a large group of interested attendees.

In 2013, the National PTA expanded the program to six additional urban cities and issued a grant to the 16th District PTA in Lexington. Over the past three years, we modified the program to meet the needs of our community.

Lexington’s UFEN program has graduated about 100 participants who have gone on to empower more families through their roles in their schools, advocacy project development and membership on School-Based Decision Making Councils. Recently, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, Department of Social Services, provided the 16th District PTA with essential funding to continue the UFEN training curriculum for the 2016 calendar year through an Opportunities Grant Initiative.

This past fall, we worked with parents and staff at a local elementary school over a 4-week time period, we held an all-day training session at an area community college that was open to the public, and we provided advocacy and engagement training at Black Achievers’ Meetings through the local YMCA.

This past fall, we worked with parents and staff at a local elementary school over a 4-week time period, we held an all-day training session at an area community college that was open to the public, and we provided advocacy and engagement training at Black Achievers’ Meetings through the local YMCA.

In our community, the Urban Network Family Engagement team provides training and services to all families and members in the Lexington community—representing 40,896 students—and works to educate parents on:

  • Their rights and responsibilities to be engaged with their child’s learning and well-being
  • How to navigate the educational system and advocate for their children
  • How to effectively partner with the school and/or community
  • Strategies for effective leadership

We provide services to help with the normal barriers to attending these engagement trainings, including free childcare, meals and transportation when needed.

Our team also plans to offer regular sessions on key topics such as:

  • Advocacy and training opportunities for non-English speakers
  • Exceptional child advocates
  • Gifted and talented students
  • Male engagement initiatives
  • Effective/inclusive leadership strategies

We believe our training efforts will result in a measurable increase in family engagement. It truly does take all kinds of partners and social levels to meet the needs of our students—not one organization will succeed on their own. We are excited to be part of the grassroots efforts working directly with individual parents and community partners.

Our team is committed being a part of the change and creating a culture that believes that all children can learn. We must help all children reach their full potential by helping to alleviate barriers to family engagement as a key piece of student success.


 

Kristin Heck Sajadi is the Urban Family Engagement Network team lead and community outreach chair at the 16th District PTA in Lexington, Ky.