How to Make Joining PTA Easy

Now more than ever, people want to connect with each other and know what is happening at their child’s school. Your PTA can fulfill the universal need to connect and belong, during this dark time. You should seek to not only renew current members, but to reach out to new audiences, grow your PTA and build an even stronger community. Actions, such as reaching out just to check in on someone’s well-being, build real engagement with current and future PTA members.

We need to think about membership differently. Traditionally, many PTAs have membership tables at several school or PTA events in the beginning of the year to start off their membership campaign. But it is unclear if all school buildings will open at the start of this next school year, so this strategy may not be viable.

Now is a good time to rethink how your PTA will promote membership next year, especially if schools are still remote when they start in the fall. Here are some ideas to start your discussion. (Psst…make sure you read to the end for a surprise reveal from National PTA.)

For Local PTAs Who Don’t Yet Offer Online Join

Setting up online join and renewal isn’t as complicated as it sounds! First check with your state PTA, as more than 30 state PTAs offer an online database that their local units can use, for free! If this is an option, get set up right away, get trained, sign up for online pay and you will be on your way. If your state doesn’t currently offer an online option, there are still lots of free and/or inexpensive options you can put into place easily:

  • Develop an easy to use online membership form that people can fill out (like a Smartsheet or Google Forms) and have a required field to select a payment option.
  • Set up an online payment option like PayPal or Square.

Have fun. Create a fun visual with the link imbedded to join virtually. Get the word out! Post the online form link and payment information everywhere–your PTA website, Facebook page, Twitter, in your PTA/PTSA newsletters, emails, etc. On social media, tag the school or use school hashtags so anyone who follows the school will see your PTA posts.

  • Reach out to everyone who joined last year and ask them to renew their membership by sending them the link. If they don’t renew within a few weeks, send another reminder–something like the new school year is right around the corner, stay connected by renewing your PTA membership.
  • Ask your school to post PTA membership information in their newsletters and or on their website
  • Can’t figure out online join but need a way for people to join your PTA/PTSA remotely? Set up a P.O. Box for people to send their membership forms and payments. Require checks only via this method as you don’t want people sending cash in the mail and you don’t ever want there to be a question of cash missing.

For Local PTAs Who Already Offer Online Join

First, congrats on already offering online join! If your online join is linked to a membership database, now is the time to use all the tools available to you so, no matter what happens in the fall, you can stay connected to your community. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Send an email to everyone who is a member in 2019-2020 and ask them to “Stay connected over the summer by joining PTA now” and provide the link to join. If they don’t renew within a few weeks, send another reminder–something like, “The new school year is right around the corner, stay connected by renewing your PTA membership today.”
  • If you have had your online system for more than a year, reach out to everyone who was a member two or more years ago and ask them to “Come back to PTA” and send the link to join.
  • If your database system offers a communication tool, use it to connect with your members. Use it to share information like upcoming meetings, programs in the works, volunteer opportunities or simply use it to ask for feedback on the issues they want the PTA to focus on in the coming school year.
  • Get the word out! Post the online form link and payment information everywhere–your PTA website, on Facebook, in PTA/PTSA newsletters, emails, etc.
  • Get the word out beyond your current membership–ask the school to include your online join link in their communications or in the Parent Resources section of their website.

For State PTAs

  • If you have an online database, develop a unit look-up option that can go on your state website that allows people to join your local PTAs. Share the link with your local PTAs so if they don’t have a website, they can promote your link in all their messaging. This increases your traffic on your state website and makes it easy for the person and the local PTA. A win-win for all!
    • Check it out in action by visiting https://nyspta.org/ and click on the Join button in the blue ribbon.
  • If you don’t have an online database yet, talk to other state PTAs to see what is working for them and put a plan in place to move to an online membership system. This will make things easier at the state level and is a great new benefit for your local PTAs.
  • List state-level contacts in a prominent area on your website so visitors can quickly find someone in their area if they membership need help. Remember to include all the District/Council/Region PTA contacts and website information too.
  • Make sure there is a membership and/or join button on your website in a very visible place.
  • If you have an online database and not all your units are using it, now is the time to promote the benefits of enrolling. Here are some example benefits your database/state may offer:
    • First – it’s free, and so is training!
    • People join and pay online – easy, safe and saves time for new members and leaders.
    • No need to type membership info into a local tracking tool as the leaders will have access to their full membership data.
    • Reduce the need to print forms, to collect cash and checks or to make multiple trips to the bank.
    • Communication tools to quickly create newsletters and send within the database system.
    • Some online platforms also offer the ability to send text messages or create calendars, volunteer sign-ups, a school directory, fundraisers, events, an e-store, etc.
  • Help your local PTAs by encouraging them to promote membership as the school year gets closer…
    • If you have an online database, suggest they send an email welcoming everyone to a new school year and ask them if they have not yet renewed their membership to join their PTA again this year with a link to join and a link to any online PTA resources like their website, Facebook page, etc.
    • If you do not have a database, but local units manually collect people’s information that includes emails, suggest they send everyone a welcome to the new school year, ask them to join their PTA again this year, include a couple of key links to resources on your state website and let them know they should be hearing more information from their local PTA soon.
  • Try promoting a “PTA unit of the month” on your webpage. Highlight a unit and its accomplishments on your website with a link to join that PTA online. If you do not have a database yet, look to set up on online form (like SmartSheet or GoogleForm) and an online pay option like PayPal or Square.
  • Plan Now for accounts receivable! If your local units have people enter their information online but pay by check, first encourage them to move to online pay. Then, for those that still opt to accept payments via check, develop a process to collect those dollars if they don’t come in within a few weeks. If your state has a database linked with your local PTA’s, you should be able to see them¾create a process to reach out and collect the missing dues payments.

Do you have other ideas on how to promote and sell PTA membership in virtual world? Email us at Membership@pta.org

Psst…National PTA is getting ready to roll out a new membership marketing campaign for you! It will have all sorts of amazing graphics, you can highlight your local work, local people and more. We will offer some free online “how to incorporate it into your work and messaging” training as well. Stay tuned at PTA.org.

 


 

Suzan Yungner is the Director of Membership and Field Service for National PTA.

The Importance of Daily Recess When Schools Return From COVID-19 Lockdowns

Over the past few months, parents have been faced with the seemingly impossible tasks of sheltering in place, working from home or at essential jobs, and homeschooling their children; all while managing the emotional, logistical, and financial challenges that have come with the recent global pandemic. As we look forward to the fall, schools are developing plans for how to resume public education while adhering to best practice recommendations from public health officials. Although recess is often elementary students’ favorite time of the school day, currently, there is limited discussion about recess in school re-opening. Recess is more than just fun and games; it is through play that children grow and the unstructured recess space is an important site for students to reconnect with their peers after months of isolation. Rather than cancelling recess or closing playgrounds,[1] at this critical time, recess should be prioritized in school re-opening plans.

Providing children with regular opportunities to play, socialize, rest, and re-energize through recess is imperative. High quality recess breaks improve mood, well-being, school engagement, behavior, learning, focus, attendance, and overall school climate. The time for social and emotional healing and growth is essential in this unprecedented time. Data show that children’s physical and psychological health are negatively impacted during quarantine[2], and that trauma symptoms increase for those in quarantine[3]. When children experience stress and trauma, it is difficult for them to access the portions of the brain that support thinking and reasoning,[4] thus recess and outdoor break times should be integral to any strategy aimed at providing a safe and supportive learning environment.

In considering a return to school, recess is the ideal space to promote health and healing. It is a time period that is intentionally unstructured, attends to students’ social, emotional, physical and intellectual development, and often takes place outdoors. Current data show[5] that transmission of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is much less likely to happen in outdoor environments; and that outdoor recreation can facilitate social distancing efforts relative to time spent in indoor environments.[6]

Parents can play a key role in addressing the importance of recess as children return to school buildings. As many school districts and state education boards are seeking input from parent stakeholders, we encourage parents and local PTA’s to advocate for children’s right to play[7] and to ensure recess is available to every child, every day that they are physically at school. To help equip parents, educators, and policymakers on the both the importance of recess, and strategies to keep recess safe during (and beyond) the pandemic, The Global Recess Alliance – a group of international researchers, educators, and health professionals – has created list of suggested adaptations for recess based on the best available research evidence[8]. Among the recommendations are to:

  • Offer recess daily for children when they are physically present at school, outdoors if possible;
  • Count recess as instructional time;
  • Advise recess staff so they are prepared to support students who may be more energetic, aggressive, or withdrawn; or have less capacity to self-regulate, resolve their own conflicts, and figure out how to play together;
  • Maintain disinfecting practices for equipment and do not allow students to bring equipment from home;
  • Add handwashing stations and model their use;
  • Limit the number of children at recess at one time and create different play areas for activities to further reduce their interactions;
  • Avoid structured or sedentary activities—like watching movies or activity break videos that do not provide students free choice and peer interactions—which are not substitutes for recess; and
  • Given the many physical, social and emotional benefits of recess, do not withhold recess as punishment for any reason (e.g. as a consequence for missed schoolwork or misbehavior).

Parents and PTAs can utilize this available evidence to help schools develop plans to create safe and healthy play opportunities for child in both the near, and long-term future.


William Massey, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. His line of research focused on the intersection of play, physical activity, and child development.

Rebecca London is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on understanding the challenges faced by disadvantaged children and youth and the ways that communities and community organizations support young people to be healthy and successful.

[1] U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Considerations for schools.https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html

[2] Sprang G, Silman M. Posttraumatic stress disorder in parents and youth after health-related disasters. Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2013;7:105–110

[3] Brooks SK, Webster RK, Smith LE, et al. The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Lancet. 2020;395(10227):912‐920. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30460-8

[4] Blair, C., & Raver, C. C. (2015). School readiness and self-regulation: A developmental psychobiological approach. Annual Review of Psychology, 66(1), 711–731.

[5] Qian H, Miao T, LIU L, Zheng X, Luo D, Li Y. Indoor transmission of SARS-CoV-2. medRxiv. 2020;(17202719):2020.04.04.20053058. doi:10.1101/2020.04.04.20053058

[6] Venter ZS, Barton DN, Gundersen V, Figari H. Urban nature in a time of crisis : recreational use of green space increases during the COVID-19 outbreak in Oslo , Norway

[7] United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.” IPAworld, May 1, 2012, http://ipaworld.org/childs-right-to-play/uncrc-article-31/un-convention-on-the-rights-of-the-child-1/.

[8] Global Recess Alliance. School Reopening? Make Sure Children Have Daily Time for Recess. 7 May 2020. https://globalrecessalliance.org/.

Journey to Excellence: How to Become a Nationally-Recognized School of Excellence

The National PTA School of Excellence recognition program opens the lines of communication and critical thinking within school communities to make data-driven decisions that yield positive, long-term results.

By enrolling in this year-long program, your PTA and school administrators are making a joint commitment to identify and implement an action plan for school improvement based off of direct feedback from your school community. Throughout the school year, you will work with a committed team of PTA leaders you choose to strengthen the family-school partnerships in your community. And National PTA will be there every step of the way to offer support and resources rooted in PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships and the Four ‘I’s of Transformative Family Engagement. In the final stage of the program, your work be evaluated and, if progress has been demonstrated, you will receive the two-year National PTA School of Excellence designation.

Let National PTA support you in stepping up your PTA’s involvement in meaningful engagement for continuous school improvements by enrolling today at PTA.org/Excellence!

The steps in the program are as follows:

Step #1: Enroll and Gain Support (Enroll by Oct. 1)
Enroll at PTA.org/Excellence and start to build your Excellence Team to improve family-school partnerships through the school year.

Step #2: Deploy Baseline Survey (September-November)
Use National PTA’s Baseline Survey to gain feedback on current family-school partnerships at your school.

Step #3: Set a Shared Objective (September-November)
After you’ve compiled your survey feedback, work with your Excellence Team and school administrators to identify and prioritize your shared goals for the school year.

Step #4: Complete Initial Application (Submit by Nov. 1)
With one, main focus area and objective in mind, you will complete an online Initial Application with your survey results and plan ahead.

Step #5: Follow Roadmap to Excellence (Throughout School Year)
Using recommendations on the Roadmap to Excellence and in collaboration with your administrators and School of Excellence Team, you will implement actions to address barriers and expand methods for effective family and community engagement throughout the school year.

Step #6: Deploy Final Survey (March-June)
Towards the end of the school year, you will conduct a second survey by using National PTA’s Final Survey to gather feedback from your school community. The results will help your Excellence Team evaluate your progress over the school year and identify continued areas for grown.

Step #7: Complete Final Application (Submit by June 1)
With the Final Survey results, you will complete a Final Application that includes a narrative for you to share your greatest accomplishments as a result of taking part in the program and how you made gains by putting theory into practice.

Step #8: Celebrate Your Excellence (August)
In August, Schools of Excellence will be named and honored with the National PTA School of Excellence two-year designation. Awardees will receive information on how to plan school and community celebrations as well as a banner to hang prominently at your school. Your PTA will also automatically be considered for our Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award, presented to our top three Schools of Excellence each year. In addition to national recognition, the designation will open up the doors for new opportunities that come with an honor of this caliber!

Join the ranks of over 1,200 PTAs who have earned this prestigious distinction and make improvements to your school that have long-term impact.

Enrollment for the 2020-2021 School of Excellence program is open through Oct. 1. To learn more and to enroll, visit our website at PTA.org/Excellence. Contact Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


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

 

Thank you, 2019-2020 National PTA Reflections Reviewers

As we begin to celebrate the talented young winners of the 2019-2020 Reflections program who responded to the student-selected theme “Look Within,” we’d like to give a special round of applause to all of our national round reviewers! The national round judges review the top student submissions from every state. Our judges look at each student’s entry and artist statement in the six Reflections categories of Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography and Visual Arts, as well as our Special Artist Division.

This year, our national round reviewers saw almost 1,000 submissions from 47 State PTAs and the European PTA! The reviewers carefully evaluate each work using both the artwork and the artist statement to make their decisions. We are so grateful to these volunteer reviewers for donating their time and artistic expertise to help us name the Outstanding Interpretation winners, Award of Excellence winners and Award of Merit winners. Thanks to the reviewers’ hard work, National PTA is able to recognize over 200 student artists and award over $21,000 in scholarship funds to our national-level winners.

The national round reviewers are all artists themselves, ranging from songwriters to professional photographers to choreographers to film makers! The organizations they work with include the Smithsonian Institution, NPR Music, Opera Lafayette, Arts Access NC, the Chrysler Museum and the International Consortium for Advancement in Choreography, Inc. All of the reviewers value the impact the arts had on their childhood and their current artistic process.

Several of the reviewers were new to the process, and loved being part of it! One of the Dance Choreographer reviewers said this about her experience, “I absolutely adored every minute of reviewing dance submissions for the Reflections awards…I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but as soon as I clicked “Play” on the first entry in my queue I actually found myself teary-eyed.”

When asked about her first memory of creating something was, a Photography reviewer revealed that her connection to art started with Reflections! “My first memory of making art is honestly a Reflections contest when I was 10 or 12. It was the first time I used a camera with the purpose of making art…I felt so cool and professional!”

We are so grateful to our reviewers for their support of Reflections and helping us to recognize students’ accomplishments in the arts, especially in a time when we’re all turning to the arts for communication, comfort and creativity. We could not do this without the volunteer leadership that these arts professionals provide.

Visit PTA.org/Reflections on Friday, May 1st for the announcement of the 2019-2020 Reflections “Look Within” winners and to learn more about the 2020-2021 theme “I Matter Because…”For more information on the awards our winners receive, visit PTA.org/ReflectionsAwards

Ways to Make Your PTA Virtual

With so many schools closed through the end of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, how are PTA/PTSAs keeping in touch with their school communities? They are going virtual!

National PTA surveyed local leaders from across America and heard about the many amazing things they are doing to be relevant to their members, students, families and communities together during this health crisis, with stay-at-home orders and social distancing in place.

Your PTA serves a vital role in supporting your community, and that role has only become more important during COVID-19. Try some of these creative ideas to bring people together, while respecting social distancing.

Community Building (Online)

Email, Google Docs and remote classrooms can go a long way to serving your students’ academic needs, but what about their emotional ones? Your PTA can support a feeling of community and school spirit even online.

  • #TogetherApart: Support stay at home orders by requesting students and families to post pics of how they are social distancing.
  • A Taste of Normal: Use your PTA Facebook page to help your school continue to deliver morning announcements (weather, birthdays, daily math problems and more) on Facebook Live.
  • Virtual Spirit Wear: Encourage your community to share their school pride by taking a pic in their school gear and sharing to your PTSA’s Facebook.
  • School Spirit Week: Similarly, ask your families to post different pictures online according to a new theme each day–crazy hat day, PJ day, crazy sock day, etc.
  • Bust Boredom: Lift people’s spirits! Send out daily challenges (fitness, crafts, etc.) or provide virtual morale boosters (funny pictures, inspirational quotes, etc.)
  • Let’s Read Together: Pick a book for your community to read together. Have the principal, your PTA President or a great volunteer record themselves reading and share the video online.
  • Make Space: Put the “social” in social isolation by hosting a virtual meet-up for your families on Zoom or Google Hangouts.

The Great Outdoors

Getting a few minutes of fresh air and sunshine can be critical for mental and physical health, particularly for children. Remind your families to don their masks, stay at least six feet from others, and participate in one of these fun challenges.

  • Chalk the Walk: Have families get outside in the fresh air to draw pictures or write positive messages on their driveways or on the sidewalk. Then families can walk around the neighborhood, get some exercise and enjoy all the art and messages. This activity could be neighborhood or community-wide.
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Host a neighborhood scavenger hunt! Ask school families and community members to place a teddy bear or bear pictures in a window, front yard, in a tree, etc. Kids and families can get outside, get some exercise and hunt for the bears while practicing social distancing. Tell families to post online how many they found!
  • Themed walks! One of our local PTAs held a shamrock walk for St. Patrick’s Day. Families drew and cut out shamrocks and put them in their windows. Families could walk around and find shamrocks. This idea can be adjusted for other occasions, like emojis and signs for Teacher Appreciation Week, or made evergreen by using something like rainbows.

Take Your Events Online!

Don’t let all your PTA’s prep work go to waste! It may take a little creativity, ingenuity and flexibility, but you can (and should!) try to host some of your beloved events online!

  • Virtual Talent Show: Give kids the chance to show off their hobbies and special abilities!
  • Virtual Career Day: Inspire kids to keep studying so they can become their heroes.
  • Virtual Graduation Celebration: Missing milestones can be tough. Collaborate with your school to do something for your High School Seniors.
  • Online After School Programs: Some after school programs sponsored by your PTA might be able to be moved online with the help of your enrichment program vendors.
  • Online Reflections! Encourage your PTA students to start working on their Reflections submissions. This year’s student-selected theme is I Matter Because

Provide Resources

As a family engagement association, your PTA plays a unique role as a go-between with your school and your community. In a crisis like this one, that role becomes even more important.

  • Bulletin Board: Don’t underestimate your reach! Share links to your state’s assistance for unemployment/underemployment or information on free internet options.
  • Food Pantry: If your PTA already runs a food pantry, please continue to do so! Some of our PTAs have switched to a drive-through model of service to minimize contact.
  • Special Delivery: Mobility can be a huge problem for some families. Your PTA could consider delivering school meals for those who can’t come pick them up.
  • Power Community Action: The PTA voice is mighty! Grassroots activism can be as simple as sharing National PTA’s action alerts or starting a petition around your state or local legislation.
  • Community Childcare: Essential workers may be having difficulty arranging reliable childcare. Your PTA can help connect families who are available to provide childcare to families in need of childcare.
  • STEM @ Home: PTA can create easy STEM activity packets (try the ones on our STEM @ Home page!) and hand them out when students pick up school meals.
  • Virtual Vacation: Many families have had to cancel their travel plans for Spring Break. Your PTA can turn this into an educational opportunity by sharing destinations for families to explore together virtually every day, with tours of historic sites, local recipes, themed crafts and traditions.

Keeping Revenue Coming In

Your PTA can’t do all of the great things it does without resources! Try these ideas to raise much-needed funds.

  • Restaurant Takeout Night: Support local businesses while raising money for your PTA and school! Collaborate with a local restaurant and ask your families to order takeout. A percentage of those sales can be donated to your PTA.
  • Set Up a GoFundMe: Make it easy for your families to support each other! Set up a site to collect online monetary donations for your PTA/PTSA food pantry.
  • Sell Graduation Yard Signs: Help your community celebrate their special seniors! Create cute “congrats grad!” signs that, when sold, a volunteer can then drive by and put it in the recipient’s yard.
  • Sell Spirit Wear: Sometimes what you wear can make all the difference in how you feel. Lift spirits and build a sense of community by selling spirit wear for your school and your PTA!
  • Host an Online Auction: Reach out to local businesses for donations of vouchers, gift cards or other “to-be-used-in-the-future” items your families could use, then host an event live on an online conferencing platform.

Meet and Greet

Our PTA Family can always use more members! In a time of social distancing, we need to create connections more than ever before. Use this moment to invite all your school community to join your PTA/PTSA!

  • Make Your Meetings Effective: Your PTA/PTSA meetings can easily be hosted online but be sure to stay organized and on task. Send out all the materials in advance and be respectful of your members’ time.
  • Make Your Meetings Impactful: Invite key players such as the principal, school staff and other school parents to brainstorm how your PTA can best help support families.
  • Celebrate Your Volunteers: Create opportunities to share the great work your PTA is doing, while letting people know you appreciate their efforts.

On behalf of National PTA, thank you for all you do to support children and families. Quarantine is really tough, but we want you to know that you’re doing an amazing job and we’re so #PTAProud of you! Visit PTA.org/COVID-19 for critical resources, join our local PTA leader Facebook group, and share your local PTA/PTSA virtual story with us. Stay safe!


Suzan Yungner is the director of membership and field service for National PTA.

Use Healthy Habits All Year Long!

Remind kids to continue using healthy habits during the spread of COVID-19

No matter the time of year, everyday preventative hygiene habits should be taught to children to help curb the spread of germs. Especially in our current public health climate, it’s more important than ever to teach healthy habits to your children. Lysol and National PTA endorse following the following six steps that are recommended by the CDC to help stop the spread of COVID-19:[1]

  • Wash Your Hands: The number one thing you should be doing is washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to wash between your fingers and underneath your nails as much as possible.
  • Cover Your Mouth: Make sure that you are covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throwing it directly in the trash. If you don’t have a tissue, use the crook of your elbow and not your bare hand so you don’t spread the germs when you touch something.
  • Avoid Touching Your Face: Be conscious of touching your eyes, nose and mouth as it is an easy way to transfer germs to yourself.
  • Disinfect Frequently Touches Surfaces: Make it a habit to disinfect frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs and light switches, on a daily basis to help curb the spread of germs.
  • Practice Social Distancing: Put distance between yourself and others whether or not COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting sick.
  • Stay Home When You Are Sick: Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.

To learn more about healthy habits for children, please visit lysol.com/healthy-classroom/. For more information about COVID-19, please visit CDC.gov.

[1] CDC.gov. “How to Protect Yourself

Advocacy Spotlight: Gun Violence Prevention

Gun violence is such an overwhelming issue in our nation, it can be paralyzing to think about. How can you as one parent, or even as one PTA unit, make a difference? Thankfully, there are PTAs who have been paving the way, and we had the chance to talk with three representatives from Mercer Island PTA, Lori Cohen-Sanford, Erin Gurney, and Gwen Loosmore.

Mercer Island PTA has been advocating for gun violence prevention since 2018. They shared with us their lessons learned and advice for like-minded groups.

What do families need to know about gun violence and gun violence prevention?

Gun violence is the second leading cause of death for youth in our country. Over half of those gun deaths are suicides. Everyone has a role in gun violence prevention. If families do own guns, they need to make sure they are safely stored. Families need to feel comfortable asking if there are guns in the home, when their children go for a playdate– just like they would share about any allergies or ask about pets or swimming pool safety.

What strategies have you found most effective when advocating for gun violence prevention?

It’s crucial to know your platform. Familiarize yourself with National PTA’s position statement. Mercer Island PTA has made a habit of laminating them and bringing them everywhere!

Don’t forget that PTA is an advocacy association. We speak on behalf of all children ESPECIALLY on behalf of children’s safety. We have the authority as PTA members to advocate for these positions. It’s helpful to have or establish a state platform, as well. We have found that parents want to act, so it’s helpful to give them something to do – specific bills to support, newsletters to read, encouragement to ask about guns in the home at playdates, etc. We really say that we are doing the advocacy work one conversation at a time. It’s also important to remember that every parent wants the violence to stop. There is a lot of common ground and we need to normalize the conversation around firearms in our society.

What advice do you have for PTAs who want to make gun violence prevention a higher priority in their school, district or state?

Talking about gun violence can make a lot of people nervous because it’s become a political issue in our country and we don’t want our schools to become split by political divides. The challenge here is to remind people that PTA is an advocacy organization and we’re advocating for student safety. What we are trying to do is change the culture in how we talk about gun violence prevention. Even gun owners are supportive of a lot of these measures.

Find like-minded parents and get organized. Consider going to non-PTA gun violence prevention organizations, like the Brady Campaign or Moms Demand, to find other local parents who share your passion.

Overcommunicate. If your leadership is concerned keep them informed of everything you’re doing, before you do it, share why, and how it falls into National PTA’s mission. National PTA already has a position statement on gun violence, and a website on family resources for school safety and questions you can start with that you KNOW falls within what PTA has authorized – start there!

Every community, every PTA, every individual has a specific set of experiences and what works for Mercer Island PTA might not everywhere. However, what is absolutely universal is people need to feel empowered and they need to know that they have the power to create change if they bring themselves together around this issue.

Curious how you can talk to your kids about these issues? Tune in to our podcast, Notes from the Backpack, to hear Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez share tips on talking to your children about gun violence in developmentally appropriate ways!

 

6 Things Parents Need to Know About E-Cigarettes

Many parents have high school memories of classmates sneaking cigarettes and of the Marlboro man, Joe Camel, and Virginia Slims ad campaigns that made cigarettes seem ubiquitous and cool. Over time, public health education campaigns and effective public health policies have driven smoking rates to record lows, and made smoking more like the exception than the rule. But now there is a new threat to our kids’ health in the form of e-cigarettes –nicotine-loaded products about which many parents have little knowledge, and to which tweens and teens have flocked as a result of appealing flavors, deceptive marketing, and plenty of exposure. We want to help you change this narrative! Here are 6 things parents need to know about e-cigarettes.

1.) It’s not just an “other kids” issue

We know this is hard news to hear, but it is highly likely that e-cigarettes are in high use at your kid’s school. Nationally, over in four high school students and one in ten middle schoolers use e-cigarettes. That’s 5.3 million teens altogether, which means that even if your child is not using e-cigarettes, they almost certainly have friends who are. Rates of youth e-cigarette use more than doubled between 2017 and 2019, to the point that the U.S. Surgeon General declared the problem an “epidemic.”

2.) E-cigarettes come in deceptive forms

One reason many parents are unaware of the widespread use of e-cigarettes is because they don’t look like regular cigarettes. Many of these products look like pens or flash drives, and they can be disguised as watches or tucked into the sleeve of a hoodie.

3.) The tobacco industry is actively targeting kids

If you’re wondering why so many middle and high school students use e-cigarettes, kid-friendly flavors and marketing play a big role. E-cigarettes are sold in a huge variety of appealing flavors, from gummy bear and banana ice to mango and mint. Studies have found that most youth e-cigarette users use flavored products and say they use these products “because they come in flavors I like.”

4.) E-cigarettes are highly addictive

Another reason why there’s a rise in e-cigarette usage is because e-cigarettes are formulated to be highly addictive. The over 15,000 kid-friendly flavors hide the fact that e-cigarettes can deliver massive doses of nicotine, a highly addictive drug. For example, a single pod (cartridge) of the popular Juul brand delivers as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes. Even now, as Juul stopped selling some flavors, newer disposable brands, like Puff Bar and Mojo, continue to lure kids with dozens of flavors and look just like JUUL with even higher doses of nicotine. Kids are also using refillable devices like Smok and Suorin, which they can fill with nicotine liquids in a variety of flavors and nicotine strengths.

5.) Any positioning of e-cigarettes as a positive thing is just wrong

You may see positive messaging about e-cigarettes, and it’s just wrong. A 2016 Surgeon General’s report concluded that youth use of nicotine in any form, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe, causes addiction and can harm adolescent brain development, which impacts attention, memory and learning. E-cigarettes can also expose users to harmful and carcinogenic chemicals such as formaldehyde and lead. And studies have found that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to become smokers.

6.) You have power!

It’s really important to remember that you have power in this situation! Educate yourself on these products and leverage your voice to help end this epidemic. A growing number of states and cities have passed laws banning flavored e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill to do the same, called the “Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act,” but the Senate has yet to act. So contact your elected officials at all levels and urge them to take action to protect kids.

We realize that it can be scary to wrap your head around another worry in relation to your kids. But you have taken a big first step here by learning what the products look like and learning the risks. And what about next steps? We recommend talking to your kids about the health risks of e-cigarettes and creating an open dialogue with them and calling your elected officials.


Jessica Cohen Senior Director of Strategic Communications Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Jessica leads Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ Protect Kids: Fight Flavored e-Cigarettes campaign to end the youth e-cigarette epidemic and spare a generation from the grip of addiction to nicotine. https://fightflavoredecigs.org/resources-for-parents/

How Life360 Crash Detection Helped Save Our Boys

On Wednesday, April 4, 2018, my two sons, ages 16 and 13, were driving on the freeway and collided with another car. The car veered off the road, down an embankment, hit a tree and flipped over.

Every parent’s nightmare.

I’m a therapist and never look at my phone during a patient session, but it kept buzzing. I knew something was wrong as soon as my receptionist knocked on my door.

Fortunately, we have a Life360 membership with Crash Detection. The sensors had detected a collision and immediately, a Life360 representative contacted both my wife and me. Even though I couldn’t be reached right away, they’d already dispatched emergency services.

I immediately left the office and my wife and I used Life360 to direct us to the exact scene of the accident. When we arrived, the police and ambulance were already there – and thankfully, the boys didn’t have a single scratch on them. We feel very, very blessed.

It was a day that could have gone much differently, but thanks to Life360 Crash Detection and first responders, it didn’t.

We have four kids, which you can imagine gets pretty hectic. From helping keep my family coordinated on a daily basis to knowing that my kids are safe (and vice versa), Life360 has truly changed our lives

 


 

Ryan Darrow is a Life360 member, husband, and father of four. Here, he shares how Life360 Crash Detection helped protect his teen sons as driver and passenger when every second counted. Crash Detection is available for free at http://bit.ly/394eDtu

The Top 3 COVID-19 Legislative Packages You Need To Know

National PTA is engaged in, and closely monitoring the details of the third legislative package. Specifically, we are focused on ensuring that federal resources are able to quickly get to states and school districts, including dedicated resources to support distance learning, and that there are appropriate flexibilities provided, however we are opposed to broad waivers that raise significant equity and civil rights concerns.

Right now, negotiations are ongoing many provisions in the bill including those related to distance learning in the third package.  More details to come as we learn them.

COVID-19 Relief Package #3
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)

PLEASE NOTE: The contents of this bill are fluid.  As we receive more concrete information, we will share it with you.

Latest Action: Procedural vote in Senate on 3/22 failed. Negotiations are ongoing.

Summary: The most recent plan would provide $20 billion to the Education Department to help states, schools and colleges with unprecedented disruption of every level of education across the country.

The grants to states would be determined by population and controlled by governors, who would have to allocate money to school districts or colleges that have been “most significantly impacted by coronavirus.”

The Education Department would also provide some funding directly to school districts based on the share of low-income students. That money could be used for a wide range of purposes, including training and professional development, distance learning, purchasing supplies to sanitize schools and planning for long-term school closures.

There is $25 million for “Distance Learning, Telemedicine, and Broadband Program” in the current proposal.  National PTA is pushing for a much larger amount of funding for K-12 distance learning.

A previous iteration of the bill would have provided broad wavier authority to Secretary DeVos to waive any provision of the main federal laws governing higher education, K-12 education and career and technical education. However, under the new proposal, the Education Department would be allowed to waive only certain provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), including those dealing with required assessments, state education plans and the allocation of funding. There is a provision in the bill that would allow the Education Department to make legislative recommendations on any additional waivers that need to be enacted into law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Again, please note that the contents of this bill are fluid.  As we receive more concrete information, we will share it with you.

COVID-19 Relief Package #2
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Latest Action: Signed into law on March 18, 2020.

Summary: The second COVID-19 relief package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R.6201), would provide $1 billion in nutritional aid, expand access to COVID-19 testing and expand sick leave benefits. Relevant education- and workforce-related provisions include:

  • $500 million for the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
  • $400 million for the Commodity Assistance program.
  • Emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) benefits for families with at least one child who would be receiving free and reduced-price meals and whose school has been closed for at least 5 consecutive days.
  • $160 million for home delivered meals.
  • $80 million for the Congregate Nutrition Services program under the Older Americans Act.
  • Providing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with authority to grant waivers (until September 30, 2020):
    • Of statutory and regulatory provisions under the Child Nutrition and School Lunch Acts in order to provide meals and meal supplements in the event of school closures due to COVID-19;
    • Of provisions in the School Lunch Act which prevent increased Federal costs when implementing summer food service programs;
    • To States for the purposes of providing meals and meal supplements in a manner that provides appropriate safety measures. These waivers would be automatically applied to States that seek them without further application by the State;
    • To provide non-congregate feeding under the Child and Adult Care Food program, if the waivers are connected to COVID-19;
    • Of requirements regarding the nutritional content of meals, if the waivers are connected to COVID-19;
    • Of administrative requirements under WIC for States, if the waivers are connected to COVID-19; and
    • Of the physical presence requirement at the time of WIC certification (current law requires WIC recipients to be physically present when they are certified for benefits). Anthropometric and bloodwork requirements would also be allowed to be waived.
  • Providing an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide:
    • Paid leave, connected to a public health emergency related to COVID-19, to employees at organizations with fewer than 500 total employees to care for a child if childcare is unavailable. Employees would have to be employed for at least 30 days by their employer and the U.S. Secretary of Labor would be empowered to grant hardship exemptions for certain businesses with fewer than 50 employees and to exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders.
      • The first 10 days of such leave may consist of unpaid leave, with employees being able to substitute vacation, paid leave or sick leave for unpaid leave. Employers are required to provide paid leave for leave days after such initial 10-day period. The amount of pay is required to be at least 2/3rds of the pay an employee would receive based on an employee’s normally scheduled hours of work. Paid leave would not have to exceed $200 per day or $10,000 in the aggregate.
  • Providing an Employer provided paid sick leave benefit:
    • The benefit would be provided to employees of private businesses with fewer than 500 employees and employees of public entities for illness or quarantine related to COVID-19 or the care of someone who is quarantined due to or ill because of COVID-19. Employers may exempt health care providers or emergency responders from this benefit
    • Full-time employees can receive up to 80 hours, with part-time employees receiving up to the number of hours they would normally work over a 2-week period.
    • The paid sick leave benefit would only be in effect through the end of 2020.Limits exist on daily and aggregate paid sick leave amounts provided to employees.
    • The U.S. Secretary of Labor would be empowered to grant hardship exemptions for certain businesses with fewer than 50 employees and to exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders from the benefit

COVID-19 Relief Package #1
The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act

Latest Action: Signed into law on March 6, 2020.

Summary: The first COVID-19 relief package, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R.6074), included $8.3 billion in emergency funding and was signed into law on Friday, March 6. The bill was focused on vaccine development, research and equipment stockpiles, and supporting State and local health budgets. The bill did not contain any education- or workforce-related provisions.