Voices for Wear Orange

In my community, everyone can tell you where they were the day of the Columbine High School shooting. When I hear anything about a mass shooting, people whose faces I know who were hurt, traumatized, or killed at Columbine, pass through my mind… people whose lives changed the instant a gun fired inside a school.

Many people who were there that day have gone on to have great lives with little connection to the shooting. Some have not been that lucky. Most can easily be triggered each time a new shooting hits the news in our community, Deer Creek… Platte Canyon… the Aurora theater… Arapahoe High School… now STEM…

As parents, we reach out to the PTA families at schools grieving gun deaths of students in other communities, but when we send cards and make donations, it is already too late, and it is not the whole story.

I work in a program within a public school district for students who have been unsuccessful in traditional schools. In the last two years, I have lost three students to gun violence whose names are not memorialized. One was shot by a friend. One was killed by police (with a gun in his hand). One took his own life. These students also have families, educators, and friends mourning them, whose lives changed the moment a gun shot.   All of them accessed firearms, despite gun safety protections available to keep kids safe. The results show that we have not done enough yet.

As a PTA family we have to do more. As PTA advocates, we must talk to our lawmakers and help them understand our legislative priorities about gun violence and urge them to:

  • Fund federal research on the causes and effects of gun violence on youth and in communities, as well as research on evidence-based strategies to reduce gun violence
  • Prohibit the use of any federal funds to purchase or train school personnel in the use of firearms
  • Require a waiting period and a comprehensive background check for any
  • individual prior to buying a firearm from both licensed and unlicensed dealers
  • Restrict internet gun sales including sales of kits, such as bump stocks, that
  • can be used to make or modify guns
  • Ban the sale, transfer, manufacturing and importation of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines

Most of all, join me in Wear Orange movement and get your community involved in finding solutions.

I look forward to the day when I do not come home and see fear in my kids’ eyes asking when a shooter will come to their schools. I look forward to the day I do not have to discuss reacting to a shooter entering our classroom with my students who already suffer from trauma. PTA is our best opportunity to make that day happen, and kids’ lives depend on it.


About the Author:
Ami Prichard
Mother of three
President of Jeffco Council PTA, Colorado PTA Vice President of Marketing and Communication Elect
Teacher, Jeffco Interim Alternative Educational Setting (IAES) and Homebound Programs

Engage Your School to Prevent Online Child Exploitation

June is Internet Safety Month, so this is a great time to learn more about the risks that children face online and what we can do to help keep them safe. In 2018 alone, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) CyberTipline® received more than 18.4 million reports of online child sexual exploitation. The majority of these tips were related to:

Online enticement involves an individual communicating with a child on the internet to commit a sexual offense or abduction. Similarly, “sextortion” is a process of manipulation in which a child is being groomed to take sexually explicit images and/or ultimately meet face-to-face with the offender for sexual purposes. In an analysis of CyberTipline reports, NCMEC found that online enticement took place across every online platform; from social media sites to messaging apps and online games.

It surprises many people to discover how prevalent child sexual abuse online has become, but with 97% of American girls and 95% of American boys having access to a smartphone today, the means by which bad actors can access children online have grown substantially. So, what can PTAs do to enlist families and educators in efforts to prevent children from becoming victims of online exploitation?

To start, consider making “online life” a focus at your next PTA meeting. Engage parents in a discussion about how much they believe they understand about their children’s online behaviors. The PTA Connected program from National PTA has resources to help you create an agenda, but here are a few questions you should ask parents to get them thinking:

  • Do your children post on social media?
  • Which apps do they use?
  • Do they play online games? Which ones?
  • Are their accounts set to private to limit contact to only known/approved users?

Next, PTAs can help educate school staff about online safety and its relation to sexual exploitation. This free online training from NetSmartz®—NCMEC’s online safety program—is perfect for educators who want to better understand digital citizenship and safety as well as the variety of resources available to teach these topics. Parents may also find it a useful overview of how their children may be using the internet, and how they can take action to help protect their kids online.

Finally, PTAs can provide access to resources for parents and educators who are interested in having more safety conversations with their children. NetSmartz® offers a range of tip sheets for both adults and youth about online safety topics ranging from gaming safely to how to talk to teens about sexting. Consider displaying some of these tip sheets in the school lobby during drop-off and pick-up times, or handing them out during meetings and special school events that families attend. Additionally, sending this type of information electronically in follow-up and in regular newsletters allows parents to easily revisit the content.

The possibilities for education around this topic are plentiful, so make internet safety a priority for your PTA this June. With your help, parents can be empowered to take an active role in helping to keep kids safer online!


About the author:

Eliza Harrel is the Director of Education, Outreach, Training & Prevention at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

The Summer of STEM

Original post: https://medium.com/stem-next-opportunity-fund/2019-the-summer-of-stem-e7755ebae5e7 

“Not all summers are created equal.” We agree with this assessment from Laura Johnson, VP of Communications at the National Summer Learning Association. STEM Next Opportunity Fund puts forward the challenge — Let’s empower families so that every child has access to quality summer learning.

Summer can offer time to explore new subjects and go deep into personal interests. Summer can also increase the opportunity gap. We know that kids from under-resourced communities may fall behind in academics, while kids in higher-income families increase skills over the summer months. It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s research that shows elementary school kids with high levels of attendance in voluntary summer programs experience benefits in math and reading.

There are lots of summer coding camps, robotic workshops, and environmental science classes where kids can have fun and learn. There are online opportunities too. But, how do parents find summer programs? How do they sort through and make the best choice for their child? How do they take advantage of opportunities without spending a lot of time and money?

STEM Next appreciates the importance of supporting families and summer learning. Here are six ideas to empower families and make 2019 the summer of STEM.

#1 Help parents find summer programs. Create a resource that highlights programs that are accessible by public transportation, free or low cost for families, and are creative and culturally relevant. The Summer Learning Recruitment Guide from the Wallace Foundation can help you communicate the value of summer programs to families. You might take a lesson from Digital Youth Divas and engage families with their own research of summer programs. Parents are given time to reflect on their needs (e.g., schedule, transportation, costs) and their goals for their children (e.g., deepening their child’s existing interests or creating new ones), and work in small groups to find relevant programs using a networked city resource. Once they identify programs of interest, they save them and email them to themselves, share with others, or bookmark them to follow up on. What I especially like about this approach is how it creates social networks in which parents become resources for one another. You can learn more about empowering families and building parent networks in our case study about Digital Youth Divas.

Photo credit: Bay Area STEM Ecosystem

#2 Help families apply. Support the application process for families for whom English is their second language or who are not tech savvy. Techbridge Girls created a summer list and went a step further, holding workshops in which they helped families apply online. This experience helped staff understand how family-friendly (or unfriendly) the application process was for different programs. With these insights, staff gave feedback to partners and advocated for more family-friendly applications.

#3 Make summer STEM a family experience. The Bay Area STEM Ecosystem offered a summer science series for families. The 10-week program was hosted by 10 different partners at one convenient location. We learned valuable lessons like making explicit that activities are for kids and adults so that parents don’t sit back and watch. From parents who often juggle competing activities on the weekends, we heard how much they appreciated a program that was for kids ages 3–13. The entire family could spend time together and continue talking about these shared experiences at home.

#4 Don’t assume to know what parents are looking for when it comes to summer programs; involve families in the process. Listen to parents to understand their needs and interests along with possible barriers. Think that transportation might be a barrier? Ask parents and enlist their input to figure out ways around potential challenges. Carpools and bus passes might help. Think that a scholarship will make a summer program accessible? Ask parents if that’s what they want or if there are other reasons beyond financial barriers to a summer program. A trusted community partner or family that has participated in the program may help to answer questions and encourage parents.

#5 Don’t let STEM learning end with the end of summer programs. I love the idea of digital postcards that were created at a summer camp at Shaver Center Environmental Center. Kids in grades 3–5 were invited to take photos and write about their camp experiences. These postcards were emailed to parents and available through an access-controlled website. If you try this, take advantage of what the research team from Penn State University learned. A prompt asking kids to tell what they learned during camp was not effective; kids just named what was in their photo. Instead, the following three prompts sparked rich reflections. 1) My picture is of… 2) Today I learned … and 3) I want to learn more about … Kids’ responses helped parents understand their child’s interests and follow up with relevant activities. You can read more about the Digital Postcard Maker project in this article in TechTrends.

#6 Offer ideas that encourage families to do STEM at home, in the backyard, and around the neighborhood. Check out The Busy Parents’ Guide to Easy Summer Learning from EdNavigator. There are family-friendly activities like going to the library and finding the math or science in a movie. You can find more ideas to support summer learning in Summer Stride from Learning Heroes, a research-based, English/Spanish resource. I especially like the suggestion for parents to ask teachers what they can do over the summer to set their child up for success in the next grade. The National PTA, in partnership with Learning Heroes and the National Summer Learning Association, offers more ideas in Summer Playbook Smarter Summer. Brighter Futures. A Summer Playbook for PTA and School Leaders. Families can try the 20–2–1 Summer Challenge. Read something of interest for at least 20 minutes, engage in two activities like writing in a journal or playing outside, and try one math activity each day.

How will you support families this summer? We invite you to share your ideas, successes, and lessons learned. Share on twitter and tag @STEMNext or write us at familyengagement@stemnext.org.


I am an advisor for STEM Next Opportunity Fund. Family engagement has been a passion and at the center of the research and programs I have led for over two decades. My favorite memories from summer include reading lots and lots books, learning to bowl, and playing with friends in the neighborhood until after dark. lkekelis@gmail.com @LindaKekelis

Building an Army to Prevent Bullying

Spotlight on Carlstadt PTA:

Ever since I heard the news about a 12-year-old girl from Rockaway, N.J. committing suicide due to bullying, I couldn’t shake the story.

Maybe I couldn’t shake it because I live in New Jersey, and my daughter was 12-years-old at the time I heard the news. Or, maybe it was because it was unfathomable to me that we lived in a society that would allow someone to feel such great pain that they felt the only solution was to take their own life.

That 12-year-old girl’s name was Mallory Grossman. She was a beautiful young girl with a heart of gold and so much potential. She was an amazing gymnast and cheerleader, and she loved making crafts in her spare time. Unfortunately, a group of students at Mallory’s school didn’t see all of her amazing qualities. They relentlessly bullied her. After Mallory’s death, her mom, Dianne Grossman, started Mallory’s Army to speak out against bullying.

As president of Carlstadt PTA, I love coordinating all the “usual” fun things that most PTAs do—fundraisers, field trips, family nights. But I knew I couldn’t let this news story just fade away, especially with National Bullying Month fast-approaching. So, I collaborated with our PTA board and the school administration to help arrange an assembly featuring Dianne for our middle school students (and parents) in October 2018. This type of somber, anti-bullying assembly was newer for us to sponsor, but felt important.

[Editor’s Note: Carlstadt PTA recognized that this assembly would cover sensitive content and worked hard in advance of the assembly to make sure that families were aware and in support of the planned subject matter, using several forms of communication including their PTA’s Facebook page.]

It was an intense, life-changing assembly. Dianne broke things down in a raw, candid way. She started off by engaging the students in an exercise that helped them see that they do have things in common even if they may not all be friends. Dianne shared her own experience of being bullied as a child at school for being “the poor kid” and described to the students how those words made her feel, and how eventually she began to internalize and believe the taunting and shaming of her classmates.

Thankfully, Dianne was able to overcome the bullying through positive self-talk. Sadly, Mallory could not.

During the assembly, Dianne gave specific examples of the intense bullying Mallory experienced. Dianne did not sugar-coat how ugly things got, which helped the assembled students realize the severity of the bullying. Dianne showed a large poster-sized picture of Mallory on an easel and recounted what the bullies did over time to her daughter. The teasing started with Mallory’s backpack, so Dianne put an X over it in the picture. It wasn’t “cool” to wear a necklace like hers, so the necklace got an X. Eventually, Dianne asked the audience to say “Sorry, Mallory!” as she attempted to erase the X marks from the picture, but of course the marks were in permanent ink and could not be erased. This helped underscore to the students that hurtful words are not easily erased.

Dianne went on to explain how the bullies would not allow Mallory to sit at their table during lunch, how they texted her cruel messages, sent her screenshots of unkind and untrue comments they posted about her on social media, how they told her to kill herself.

The most pivotal moment of the assembly came when Dianne said, “I can now answer those bullies when they asked Mallory, ‘When are you going to kill yourself?’ Because the answer is June 14, 2017.” The students in the auditorium gasped, and many cried.

Unsurprisingly, Dianne had everyone’s full attention for the hour and a half she presented. For most of the assembly, you could have heard a pin drop. Some students needed to leave the assembly briefly to compose themselves. In that moment, I did worry that we had made the issue of bullying somehow too real and too hard for our middle school students—my heart was in my throat as this assembly continued. It’s so hard to know where to draw the line with sharing difficult content, and yet I reminded myself that Mallory herself had been a middle school student when she was bullied by other middle school students.

As I wrestled with my own emotions, I started to notice something quite amazing all over the auditorium: students holding hands, students consoling other students, hugging their friends, students checking on the ones sitting next to them—even students who admitted they were not friends during the earlier exercise. When the assembly ended, some students were still holding hands as they walked back to their classrooms. Not only did they learn the worst that can happen when you bully someone, they were united by it.

I hope that all who attended the assembly were forever changed by it.

As a fellow PTA leader, you may be wrestling with whether or not to sponsor a similar type of assembly at your school. It’s difficult, heart-breaking content. Oftentimes we want to shield our children from these difficult subjects or assume that “it can’t happen here.”

As PTA leaders, we often feel most comfortable organizing a game night or a teacher appreciation luncheon. However, having gone through this experience with our PTA, I would implore you to have your PTA tackle the “tough stuff” just as much as the fun stuff. We are in an important and unique position to drive meaningful conversations among students, faculty and parents.

I’m proud of our PTA for addressing this issue, and proud of our students for embracing Dianne’s message. We can’t bring Mallory Grossman back, but her army is growing.


While the PTA-sponsored event at Carlstadt tackled the issues of bullying and suicide by engaging Dianne and Mallory’s Army through an assembly, an additional option is to host a PTA Connected family night event to facilitate open, proactive dialogue between parents and kids together about issues like online safety, kindness, etc. Hundreds of these PTA Connected events are taking place nationwide during the 2018-2019 school year, with more slated in 2019-2020. Add yours to the growing list! Learn more about PTA Connected, including how to host an event and relevant resources available.

Additional Resources:

  • Connect for Respect Research shows that one of the most effective ways to prevent bullying behavior is to create a positive school climate. School climate encompasses everything that contributes to a student’s experience with a school—from the physical building to policies, staff and peer culture. Use the Connect for Respect (C4R) Toolkit to guide your PTA/PTSA in engaging students in improving the school climate and reducing bullying.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255.
  • David’s Legacy Foundation (Resource Hub)

About the guest contributor
Michele Romano has been a member and volunteer with Carlstadt Public School PTA in New Jersey since 2009. She was a local unit vice president for four years before becoming president in 2018. Michele has two daughters, a teen and a tween.

How Do You Become a School of Excellence?

Spotlight on: Zane North PTA, N.J.

What does it look like to become a National PTA School of Excellence? According to Zane North PTA in New Jersey, it meant learning that even small, consistent changes can be absolutely transformative.

As participants in the School of Excellence program, Zane North PTA selected the focus area of ensuring health & safety of all students with the specific objective to prevent bullying and encourage peer relationships. The Zane North PTA collaborated with school staff throughout the year to successfully achieve these goals.

At the start of the school year, students in Kindergarten through second-grade were partnered with students in third to fifth-grade. These buddy partners met once a week all year for one-on-one readers’ workshops. In September, Zane North PTA sponsored Friendship Day, a daylong event where students and their buddy partners participated in fun outdoor games, challenges and activities with PTA volunteers providing support. The music teacher also led the students in several song singalongs focused on the value of friendship.

At the start of each morning, Zane students recited a Kindness Pledge, promising to be kind to others. Zane North featured a monthly core value theme with associated lessons, events and activities. For example, in October, they focused on Respect; in November, they focused on Sharing and in April, they focused on Compassion. Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre presented an anti-bullying assembly for students paid for by the PTA. The PTA also funded anti-bullying and kindness assemblies to emphasize acts of kindness, tolerance, and acceptance.

Through the School of Excellence process, Zane North PTA realized the value in building a sense of community and strengthening relationships. They revised their fundraising strategy and introduced fun group activities like bowling and ice skating to bring their school community together. This change received positive feedback from their community, and they were able to raise just as much money (and in some cases more) while strengthening relationships too!

Greg Dollak, Zane North PTA President shared that the National PTA School of Excellence program helped the PTA “… rethink the traditional ways in which we provided services to our school community” and said that the School of Excellence process, “…has set the tone for all we are doing now.” Having earned the 2018-2020 National PTA School of Excellence designation, Zane North PTA decided to reenroll in the program and is currently in pursuit of the 2019-2021 designation.

Even though they’re still hard at work improving their school community, Zane North PTA isn’t afraid to celebrate all of the amazing things they’ve accomplished so far! Last fall, after getting word that they had received a coveted National PTA School of Excellence designation Zane North PTA held an event to celebrate their success. It was attended by representatives from New Jersey PTA, Collingswood borough government, Collingswood Board of Education members, Congressman Donald Norcross, and of course our Zane North staff, students, and PTA executive board. The event was even covered live on FOX 29’s “Good Day Philadelphia.”

During the event, Zane North’s fourth and fifth-grade students performed several musical numbers under the direction of music teacher Bryan Gross, and students from each grade read a message thanking the PTA for all they do for the school. Zane North PTA also held a National PTA School of Excellence “banner reveal” at the event. They were showcased in a local newspaper article, received a congratulatory letter from United States Senator Cory A. Booker, and even had the School of Excellence logo printed on their school apparel.

To learn more about how your PTA can make long-lasting, continuous school improvements while earning recognition, visit PTA.org/Excellence. Enrollment for the 2019-20 program is open now!

 

Lifetouch Memory Mission 2019: A Transformative Experience

 

By Ivelisse “Ive” Castro, National PTA NSR (National Service Representative)

What an honor and a privilege it was to represent the National PTA staff on the 2019 Lifetouch Memory Mission. I was thrilled to share this experience with Esther Parker (National PTA Elections Committee), Rose Acerra (New Jersey PTA President) and Hoang Bui (Secretary/Treasurer of the Iowa PTA.)

This year Lifetouch focused on building hope in the community of Juncos, Puerto Rico by taking a team composed of Lifetouch employees and Shutterfly employees, school administrators and members of national education groups such as ASAA, NAESP, NASSP, NSBA, National PTA and others to serve in rebuilding the Colegio Bautista of Juncos, a K-8 school that’s part of the First Baptist Church of Juncos.

Juncos is south-southwest of the National Park of El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest. The loss of basic utilities such as power and water only compounded the impact Maria had across the island of Puerto Rico. Among other devastating losses, the damage to schools in the area was severe.

This one-week mission took us first to Atlanta. I was intrigued. I live in Miami, Fla., so I wondered: Why go north to then go south? Why spent two days out of seven available days in Atlanta? Why not travel directly to Puerto Rico to have more time serving there? In Atlanta, I found the answer: Because when you want 42 people to work together as a team, to not be just helpers but servants, to have an enriching, transformative and memorable experience, you need to start by building your team and setting the foundation for success.

On Tuesday evening we traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, we arrived in Juncos and got divided into teams to work on different projects.

After construction on Saturday, we visited the homes of different families in the area to learn more about them. While driving to one of these homes, a student who came with us to translate for the group said something that summed up the spirit of the community.  He said, “I don’t like people asking about what happened to us before, during and after Hurricane Maria. That’s the past. We managed. We survived. We became stronger on our own as a result of it.”

On Sunday, we participated in the church’s service where they warmly thanked us for all we “gave” them—in fact, they gave us more than they can ever imagine. That day, Lifetouch distributed printed pictures of the students taken previously that same week.

This year, Lifetouch accommodated Puerto Rico PTA students from our Missionary Christian Academy PTA, and Kabod Christian Academy PTA. Our students and state leaders made us proud. If you want to get a sense of our time in Puerto Rico, I recommend that you watch these three Facebook Live videos featuring National PTA, the Puerto Rico PTA and their local units:

1) The National PTA team session

2) MCA & Julia Justiniano session

3) Kabod and Vivian Ruiz session

I’m so glad National PTA has this relationship with Lifetouch because I’m not aware of any other opportunity that brings the national education community together to learn and serve other education communities that teach us a lot about them and about ourselves.

I hope we will all continue to support the Lifetouch Memory Mission project by donating (funds will go to the 2020 mission) and by applying to join future missions—the 2020 Lifetouch Memory Mission will be in the Dominican Republic. I can assure you: you’ll gain more than what you’ll give.

This experience will live in me forever! Thank you, Lifetouch and my Memory Mission family. Thank you, National PTA, for the honor of being a representative of the National PTA family. Thank you to my Puerto Rican friends and Puerto Rico PTA family.

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 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.