How You Can Help Teachers Tackle Tough Topics

Today’s classrooms are heavily influenced by the communities in which they are located. In addition to teaching, educators often have to address challenging social ills such as bullying, youth violence and mental health issues—which impact students’ learning potential and can have long-term impacts on their well-being.

According to the 2018 “Voices from the Classroom” survey of America’s educators, teachers are concerned about school safety and want more training on how best to address school violence and improve student behavior using non-punitive strategies.

How can you as a PTA leader help educators with these issues?

WE Teachers Resource

To address the need for resources, Walgreens has launched WE Teachers, an initiative to support teachers and empower students. In partnership with the ME to WE Foundation and Mental Health America, the WE Teachers initiative provides all educators with free tools and resources to tackle issues related to youth violence, poverty, diversity and inclusion, bullying, and mental health and wellbeing.

WE Teachers is a resource for teachers to support students who have experienced—or are currently experiencing—traumatic situations, as well as to prevent those traumas in the first place. The goal is to help teachers create trauma-informed classrooms where there is a safe environment to foster student growth and an understanding of the impact of trauma and adverse life experiences—such as a student experiencing homelessness, feeling unsafe in their own neighborhoods or the trauma of being bullied.

Identify, Secure, Introduce and Help

Through WE Teachers, educators will access online digital training modules specially created to help them:

  1. Identify and assess the tough issues affecting their students
  2. Secure the tools needed to address the issues in a supportive manner
  3. Introduce new experiential learning techniques in the classroom
  4. Help students become more socially conscious, compassionate and engaged citizens.

The modules will begin rolling out online this fall and will be available to teachers across the U.S. and Puerto Rico in both English and Spanish. Introduce them to educators at your school at your next PTA meeting!

Shop Back-to-School Smart

Through September 7,  when customers shop back-to-school at Walgreens they join in the company’s commitment to supporting teachers across America. Shoppers can track the impact that ME to WE Proud Supporter brands are making at Walgreens.com/MeToWe. Customers can also make a direct impact through cash donations at the register, which will help fund additional WE Teachers resources for educators.

Nominate a Special Teacher for a $500 WE Teachers Award

Visit a local Walgreens stores to learn how to nominate a special teacher in their community for a WE Teachers Award. A minimum of 500 deserving educators will each receive $500 Walgreens gift cards to purchase classroom supplies—the average amount (and some teachers spend more) of a teacher’s annual out-of-pocket expenses. Teachers can also apply directly. To learn more about the WE Teachers Awards, visit Walgreens.com/MeToWe.

Be Internet Awesome: Host a PTA Connected Workshop This Year!

The 2018-2019 school year officially launched our PTA Connected digital initiative. We had 200 PTAs across the country commit to hosting a Be Internet Awesome workshop. Was it a success? Two of our grantees gave us the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a Be Internet Awesome grantee.

Erin Hill, a PTA leader at Pivik PTA in Plum, Pa., shared, “When our PTA was awarded the Be Internet Awesome grant from the National PTA and Google, our principal had told us the school district had held something similar a few years previous and only a few people showed up. The bar was set! We were going to get more than that this time…I hoped.”

Their principal’s main concern was that younger kids wouldn’t find this program useful, but as Erin points out, “kids using technology, getting on the internet, and even using social media are getting younger and younger. Our school… is K-4, and our kids are unfortunately at an age where they’re being exposed to some unpleasant things on the internet while their parents—me included—may think they have a few years before talks of responsible usage need to happen. When I saw this opportunity, I knew we had to apply.”

Each grantee received $1,000 to put on their event. What’s the best way to spend that grant money? Take a tip from Erin: “During the planning we decided to put most of the award money towards the food and giveaways. We figured a nicely-catered event with the opportunity for prizes would draw in more people.”

We understand PTA leaders are busy! Erin had some great guidelines for efficient planning and set up, sharing, “We used our cafeteria, which has a large screen where we projected the presentation. We decorated five tables with balloons in the breakout session colors (that corresponded with colored dots on attendees’ name tags), pens, markers, notepads and a large poster board. We allowed attendees to eat first, then after about 45 minutes of arrivals and eating, we had people go to their breakout session table. I had organized attendees into their groups prior to the event.”

Another pro tip from Erin? Get the right—and the right amount—of volunteers. Erin shared, “At our event, there were eight volunteers. We had three people at the check in table, passing out name tags and materials. We had three people handling the catering and food set up. Five of us, including some who helped in the previously-mentioned capacities, ran the breakout sessions. We had a parent volunteer deliver most of the presentation that National PTA and Google provided with the grant materials. We also had our district’s director of information technology present. He was able to provide some nice examples and tips because, one, he knows the technology being used by the kids, and, two, he has young children.”

Promoting your event is key! People need to know about the event and be excited about it. Dana Hansley of Dodge Elementary PTA in East Amherst, N.Y. noted that, “a key to promoting our event beyond the usual PTA route of emails and newsletters was an outreach to all of the teachers in the building with an explanation of the event and a simple graphic with important info like the event date, time and place. The majority of teachers in the building pushed out the graphic provided through their SeeSaw, Class Dojo and Remind accounts to parents. This additional layer of teacher support greatly impacted turnout and added weight to the subject.”

You might be wondering why PTAs are so excited about these digital workshops. Dana put it perfectly, saying, “hosting a Be Internet Awesome tech evening allowed parents an opportunity to talk through what it’s like to raise children in a digitally-connected world. This event empowered parents as they realized they were not alone in their struggles and concerns. They walked away more confident to set healthy boundaries in their households, armed with solid information they gleaned from breakout sessions and from one another.”

The event at Dodge Elementary was in high demand. “Many families who were unable to attend expressed great regret at missing the event, and inquired as to additional events,” stated Dana. “They needn’t worry, as our school principal asked us to do a Be Internet Awesome event twice next school year.”

Applications are now open for grants to host a PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshop. Apply today at PTA.org/Grants! Learn more about the PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshops at PTA.org/BeInternetAwesome.


About the Authors:

Erin Hill, of Pittsburgh, PA, is chair of multiple PTA committees and was PTA President of Pivik PTA during the 2018-19 school year. She has two children, a fourth grader and kindergartner. Without the internet, she wouldn’t know how to do common core math, what to make for dinner, how to dress, what was happening at school or in the community, or how to get anywhere. The internet, she feels, is such a wonderful tool and opens so many informational doors for anything you could possibly want to know.

Dana Hensley is a PTA Co-President at Dodge Elementary School. She lives with her husband and four children in East Amherst, NY and spends her free time coaching her daughter’s soccer teams. She is a strong proponent of screen time limits for both children and adults and she spends too much time on Twitter. 

Parents Look to Find Balance of Fun and Learning This Summer

Summer is not necessarily a season where school and learning are at the forefront of people’s minds. To many people, summer is a time for vacation, camps, barbecues and fun. Sitting in a classroom and discussing education, however, is not usually on that list. Or so you may have thought.

After PTA events in Chicago and Louisville drew in large crowds earlier this summer, as many as 300 people attended one event in Chicago, whereas 1,500 attended another event in Louisville, it became clear that many parents are just as interested in staying invested in their children’s education over the summer as they are during the school year. For many parents, the only thing that changes during this time of year is the season.

“Parents are desperately looking for summer enrichment so that those months are a productive use of time,” said Vanessa, the Chicago Region PTA leader who hosted the listening session that had 300 people in attendance.

Summer is notorious for learning loss among students. Studies show that most students lose two months of mathematical skills over the summer, and low-income students lose another two to three months of reading as well. In order to combat this loss of learning, parents need to be looking for opportunities to help their kids learn. And for many parents, their local PTA is the one that provides access and information to these opportunities.

By hosting a listening session with your PTA this summer, you could be helping out many parents by providing them free resources. Everything in the Summer Learning Toolkit is free of charge and contains both academic and non-academic resources, making it accessible for people of all income levels and concerns. At the Louisville event, one parent even said in response to the toolkit that they had no idea it could be so simple, or so cheap, to continue their child’s education in the summer. The will is there for many parents, but the way is not always as obvious.

You might think that with children out of school and vacation on everyone’s mind that many members would not be interested in attending a PTA event in the summer. But Chicago and Louisville proved that many parents want to stay engaged during the break because it is arguably the most crucial time to do it. PTAs have a duty to help these parents out, so they should consider hosting a Summer Listening Session before the break is over. You never know just how many people you might help out until you do it.

For more information, visit https://www.pta.org/home/programs/connected/access/

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.