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 Council, Lori Cohen-Sanford, Erin Gurney, and Gwen Loosmore.

Mercer Island PTA Council 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 Council 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 Council 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.

National PTA Celebrates the Heroes Around Us All

National PTA’s Reflections program has helped students explore their own thoughts, feelings and ideas, develop artistic literacy, increase confidence and find a love for learning that will help them become more successful in school and in life. Each year, over 300,000 students participate in Reflections in response to the annual theme.

On Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education hosted the National PTA Reflections Student Arts Showcase & Exhibit Opening, honoring the over 200 national winners from the 2018-2019 program year.

During the hour-long program, the 2018-2019 theme, Heroes Around Me, was reflected through performances and features in all of our categories: Photography, Visual Arts, Literature, Music Composition, and Film Production. Heroes to these students included parents, siblings, public workers, farmers, teachers, troops and even animals!

Our first featured artist was Beckett Bayan. Beckett composed a piece of music for the violin called “When Blue Butterflies Take Flight Again,” which is about endangered butterflies in his hometown in California. Beckett’s mom says that Beckett composed his first piece of music in the first grade for a Reflections project, and he hasn’t stopped writing music since!

Next we heard from Benjamin Breaux, the featured artist for the Special Artist division. Ben is a non-speaking autistic and uses a letterboard to communicate. Ben wrote a poem inspired by his mom, who he says, “supports others in so very many ways and always makes those she is supporting feel like heroes themselves.” Ben’s message was moving and we’re so grateful that he shared his powerful words.

The featured film producer was Sarah McFeely, whose film is entitled “Part of Something Bigger.” Sarah’s grandmother worked for NASA! She helped to secure funding for the Manned Space Flight mission – truly part of something bigger. Sarah says, “Having the opportunity to submit to competitions like PTA Reflections also encourages me to continue my artwork and find creative outlets throughout the year.” Thank you, Sarah!

Aditi Gokhale, featured literature winner, then shared her poem “The Unseen Heroes.” Her poem is about honeybees and relates the hardworking bees to the unnoticed heroes in our midst! Firefighters, police officers, teachers, inventors and parents are all heroes to Aditi, and she says their work often goes unnoticed. Aditi asks us to appreciate those hard workers and to acknowledge that there is a hero in all of us. Thank you, Aditi, for your empowering message.

Riley Zwiselsberger’s photograph of four firefighters shows us that heroes have fun, too! He says “I realized the day I took this photo that they are also heroes because they love to teach and help people, too. They spent so much time with us and made me laugh, too!”

The featured dance choreography piece was presented by Grace Youn. Grace was inspired by her aunt to create this dance. Her aunt is a veterinarian who also rescues animals. Grace’s dance was a beautiful tribute to those who dedicate their lives to helping animals!

Cleopha Costa presented her winning visual art piece called “There is Always Someone Who Needs You!” She created her painting using acrylic paint, pen, pencil, and watercolor. The painting depicts someone stopping to assist a man experiencing homelessness. Cleopha reminds us that “it is essential to offer a helping hand and pick up someone when they break down. You never know how much of a hero you mean to them.”

After hearing from our featured artists and special guests, it was time to officially open the exhibit with a ribbon-cutting! The print and digital exhibit will be on display at the U.S. Department of Education, by appointment only, through February 2020. Its next destination will be Louisville, Ky. for the 2020 National PTA Convention & Expo.

 


Written by Hope Cagle, Arts in Education Fellow, National PTA Reflections Program.

For more information on the Reflections program, please visit PTA.org/Reflections.

 

 

 

 

 

8 Easy Steps for an Awesome Field Day!

Winter is winding down, which can only mean one thing—Spring is right around the corner! You may be looking ahead to a 5th grade graduation, or even thinking of that upcoming summer vacation, but wait! Don’t let Field Day catch you by surprise this year.

At Booster Spirit Wear, we work with thousands of schools across the country every day and hear all of the best insider tips and tricks to pulling off the biggest events of the school year. Below we have complied everything we know about Field Day and built out 8 easy steps to help you be the hero for your school and students this year.

Build Your Committee and Choose a Date

Let the planning begin! First and foremost, you should pick a Field Day date that works best for your school. Consider things like your location, where you’re located, and public holidays. Once you have this set, everyone has something to look forward to!

Now it’s time to build your team. There are countless positions you may decide are important to nominate, but to name a few we suggest having a Day of Games Chair, someone over Teacher Communications, and a Sponsorship Chair. Want to keep all this info in one place? Check out this customizable Field Day Experience Toolkit to help your organize your committee and more!

Establish Sponsorship levels and begin reaching out

Sponsorship is one of the very best ways to make your Field Day a success not only your school, but for the community as a whole. Committing to the Field Day sponsorship process isn’t as daunting as some may think. In fact, we’ve provided you some simple steps below and resources to help make this an easy and rewarding process for your school here. First step? Create your sponsorship levels. These are the tiers in which businesses can commit to give. It will allow community sponsors of any level get involved with a local school they’d love to support. We’ve included suggested Sponsorship Tiers in our guide.

Order Your Field Day Merch

We believe one of the best ways to take your Field Day to the next level is to create custom merchandise for your school or even by grade. Field Day t-shirts provide an excellent place to sport sponsor logos, and your students will love having team tees, custom water bottles or shades as a memento from the day. Click here for a custom quote in seconds for all your Field Day needs!

Make Your Supplies Budget

So, planning is underway. Sponsors are beginning to deliver their support. The students and teachers getting excited. But what do you actually need? It’s time to make your supplies budget. Your committee should come together to determine everything you will need, from coolers to cones and everything in between! Find a customizable supplies budget table for your to use in our Field Day Experience Toolkit.

Recruit Parent and Teacher Volunteers

It’s likely that your committee has already been in touch with your schools PTO, but it’s a great time to begin recruiting day of volunteers for set-up, tear-down, hydration stations, and of course game masters!

Plan out the Big Day!

You’ve likely already determined your day of activities, but it’s important to make sure you have a solidified schedule to share with volunteers and teachers. Things to remember include: what will lunch look like? Is dismissal changing any? And don’t forget a rainy-day backup plan!

Set Up Field Day and Orient Your Volunteers

Weather permitting, we suggest setting up as much as possible for your Field Day activities before the day of. This is when your committed volunteers really get to show their colors! Water stations, cone stacked obstacle courses, and signage can be set up so the morning of.

You may choose to meet with your volunteers before set-up. A few things you’ll want to make sure to do when meeting with your team include: thanking them in advance! Establishing a way to communicate throughout the day. Establish clarity of roles and emergency procedures. And make sure everyone knows where to get water. We are definitely team: No one passes out!!!

Once set-up and orientation are complete, you get to take a deep breath. You’re almost there!

Have the Best Field Day Ever!!

We can’t tell you this is the easiest step, but it is by far the most exciting step! All your hard work is paying off in the form of giggles and squeals as your students seriously have the best day of the year.

We hope this post has given you an outline of how to approach and plan the best Field Day ever with less stress and more fun! If you would like an even more detailed how-to checklist with a Three Month to day-of countdown, we’ve got you cover here.

Focus on Health with a Healthy Hydration Event

SPOTLIGHT: Cumberland Trace Elementary School PTA (Bowling Green, Ky.)

 This blog post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders who received a Healthy Hydration Grant, sponsored by Nestlé Waters North America. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

When I saw the opportunity to apply for the Nestlé Waters Healthy Hydration Program Grant through National PTA, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew winning the grant could help open a pathway for Cumberland Trace Elementary PTA to host a healthy lifestyles event at our school in Bowling Green, Ky!

Like most PTAs, we host lots of events, but rarely are they solely focused on health. We decided to hold our event during a time when many parents would be at our school anyway: our annual Thanksgiving lunch! This ended up working out perfectly because we were able to reach many parents and grandparents as they came to eat lunch with their students. We set up our Healthy Hydration Stations in the “holding area” where parents waited for their students and they were all really happy to try all of our infused water choices and to take a bottle of water with them to lunch.

We also included a display showing how much sugar is in other drinks and we had information about local outdoor activities families could go do together. The entire event came together very nicely and what was really great about it was we gave kids and parents new ideas on how to make their water fun at home!

Several of the recipes we used were unique—strawberry basil, cucumber mint and orange blueberry—and several parents said they never would have thought to put them in their water and looked forward to trying it at home. The kids really liked trying the different flavors, too; it was fun for them to try to mix and match. Strawberry basil was the clear winner with the younger set.

We had many teachers attend the event, which was another plus to hosting it during the school day. Many of them came by and were able to fill up their reusable water bottles with the infused water!

The only real cost involved for us was buying all the fruit, cups, napkins, dispensers and printing recipes and other information. The bottles of water and signage were all provided by National PTA and Nestlé Waters. Leading up to the event, I created a flyer, which we sent home to every student and posted on social media sites. We also included it in the school’s newsletter.

Initially, I thought I would love to see this become part of a larger event that the PTA hosts in the evening, but now that we held it during the school day, I think we were able to reach a larger audience and would absolutely do it again. Many students who probably have never had infused water were able to try it and learn that water can taste really great! To me, seeing their little surprised faces as they tasted water in a new way was the best part.

Take Action:

 


Authored by Becky Durkee from Cumberland Trace Elementary School PTA in Bowling Green, Ky.

Disclosure: Nestlé Waters North America is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 20192020 Healthy Hydration Grant, sponsored by Nestlé Waters North America. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

 

Back the Future: a New Dedication to a Continued Mission

The PTA mission statement: It’s all about the kids, right? Well yes, and so much more.

The PTA mission is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.

Now, if you’re not heavily involved in our association, this might not be the first thing you think of when someone mentions PTA. People sometimes praise us for the fundraising that we do for schools, but you’ll notice that our mission doesn’t say anything about fundraising. Of course we do raise funds, but we should spend those funds in ways that support our mission.

So what exactly does the PTA mission statement mean? Let’s break it down.

The beginning of the mission statement is essentially our vision statement: Every child’s potential is a reality. That’s our goal. That’s our purpose.

The remainder of the mission statement is how we achieve our vision. It has the action words of PTA: Engage. Empower. Advocate.

Let’s talk briefly about some of the key words and phrases in our mission statement.

Every Child Our mission statement begins and ends with the kids. This concept bookends our mission statement, and it is part of the tagline on the PTA logo (“Every Child. One Voice.”). When you first joined PTA, it was probably because you wanted to support your child and your school, and you might not have realized you were also joining your state PTA and National PTA and therefore supporting the millions of children across our nation. In PTA, every kid is one of ours, regardless of ethnicity, gender, language and culture, socioeconomic status, and so forth. So when PTA has advocated, throughout its history, for child labor laws, hot and healthy lunch programs, currently for school safety, and any other issue, it is for the benefit of every child. And when local PTAs provide programming, it should benefit every child at the school.

Family Engagement Our carnivals and dances and other events encourage family and community togetherness, and that is certainly important. But when it comes to family engagement, National PTA is challenging us to think even bigger and to truly focus on student success. National PTA now has a Center for Family Engagement to create truly transformative family engagement by using approaches that are inclusive, individualized, integrated and impactful. PTAs can help transform the relationships between families, schools, and community leaders in ways that make a difference for students. So think big!

Empower Our mission asks us to empower others so we can stand arm-in-arm to help children. We empower other PTA leaders through training and leadership development. We empower families by communicating about issues that affect kids and by suggesting ways to help. We empower our communities by forging partnerships to make our schools stronger. Through our combined efforts and voices, we make an impact on behalf of kids.

Community Here in Texas, our PTAs like to spell the word like this: CommYOUnity. YOU are an important part of your CommYOUnity. But YOU can’t do it alone. We become a powerful force when we work together in unity to achieve our mission. Think beyond the walls of your school, and welcome civic and business leaders, community volunteers, and others who support our mission into your PTA community. Strong schools and strong communities go hand-in-hand.

Advocacy This is such an important part of PTA, and it’s why you see us pushing membership. A robust membership gives us a strong voice as we advocate for issues that are important to make every child’s potential a reality.

When it comes to advocacy, understand that we advocate for or against issues, not candidates. We do not endorse any candidate, for any office, or any political party. We do encourage voting in an informed way.

The tagline in our logo is “Every Child. One Voice.” … and advocacy is the One Voice.

The PTA mission statement is so important because this is what guides us. Our mission should drive any significant PTA decision. Always come back to the mission. We need strong leaders in all PTA positions, and whatever your leadership role, you can help steer your PTA in the right direction by making sure your board’s priorities align with the PTA mission. When your PTA’s leaders understand the PTA mission, and they follow your bylaws and standing rules, and they are trained in the best practices of their roles, your PTA is on the path to success.


Julie Kluthe is communications chair for Flower Mound (Texas) High School PTSA and a member of the Texas PTA Leadership Committee. She has been a leader on the Lewisville ISD Council of PTAs where she created and led the Rising Stars Academy, a program to identify and develop PTA leadership in the Lewisville Independent School District.

Navigating Special Education: A Comprehensive Online Training for Families, Educators and Advocates

The services, supports and the quality of education available to students with disabilities have continuously improved since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) first required schools to educate all students with disabilities back in 1975. However, the process of identifying which students should receive special education services and what services they should receive can be complicated, for both schools and families. The Arc@School’s new, online Advocacy Curriculum provides parents, educators and non-attorney advocates the basic information they need to navigate the special education system.

What Is Special Education Advocacy and Why Do We Need It?

First, you need to know a few acronyms. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide students with disabilities a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) through an individualized education program (IEP).

  • FAPE means students with disabilities must receive all of the specialized supports and services that they need to benefit from their education, at no cost to them or their families.
  • LRE means students with disabilities must learn in the same classes and the same schools that they would attend if they did not have a disability, as much as possible.
  • Finally, an IEP is a document created annually that describes what the student already knows, what the student will learn in one year, and what services and supports the school will provide to help the student reach his or her educational goals.

The process for creating the IEP is meant to be one of collaboration between a student’s parents, the student once they reach age 16, teachers, service providers and other school staff who know the student best. However, this collaborative process can break down due to disagreement between parents and school staff regarding the student’s plan. The IDEA builds in a system of accountability where students and their parents have certain rights and can take certain actions when they do not feel that the school is meeting the student’s needs appropriately. Students and parents often struggle to advocate on their own for appropriate educational services, so some seek to educate themselves so that they can advocate for services on their own, and some seek help from a special education advocate to obtain the services they feel the student needs.

What The Arc is Doing to Help

Since its founding in 1950, The Arc has advocated for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to have access to educational supports and services. A lawsuit brought by a chapter of The Arc was a critical factor in the passage of the IDEA. Many chapters of The Arc continue to provide lay special education advocacy for students with I/DD and their families. And in 2016, The Arc created The Arc@School to support chapters of The Arc, families and educators in ensuring students with I/DD receive the services and supports they need at school.

To help families, educators and advocates for all students with disabilities better understand how the collaborative process should work, and how they can better work together to meet students’ needs, The Arc@School launched an online curriculum in 2019 that provides basic information on navigating the special education system at an affordable cost for users. The Arc@School’s Advocacy Curriculum includes eight online, self-paced modules on the legal foundation of the special education system, early intervention services, individualized education programs (IEPs), procedural safeguards, Section 504, educational records and more. Users who complete all eight modules will receive a certificate of completion.

A successful IEP is the foundation for students with disabilities to successfully transition to postsecondary education, employment, and independent living. The Arc@School’s Advocacy Curriculum can help families, educators and advocates support students on their path to success!


The Arc was founded in 1950 from a grassroots movement of families working to create services for children and adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD). Since its founding, The Arc has advocated for students with I/DD to have access to educational supports and services. The Arc@School is The Arc’s initiative focused on special education. The mission of The Arc@School is to build the capacity of our nationwide network of chapters, parents and special education advocates to provide individual advocacy that helps students with I/DD navigate the special education system.

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Northern Virginia Students with Special Needs And Their Families Get Exposed to STEAM

The Northern Virginia District PTA partnered with the Arlington County Special Education PTA and the Fairfax County Special Education PTA to host an iSTEAM Expo for Northern Virginia students with special needs and their families.

This first-of-its-kind event, held at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, featured various stations for students and their families to conduct science experiments, ask questions about STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), learn about music and art, as well as engage with exhibitors about potential STEAM opportunities at and for their schools and within their communities.

Exhibitors that participated during the event included Mathnasium of NOVA, USTA Mid-Atlantic, 3D Me, AllStar Photo Booth, Fun Services, Virginia529, The Downs Syndrome Association of NOVA, Arc of NOVA, Formed Families Forward, FCPS Parent Resource Center, Arlington CPS Parent Resource Center, Sliding Doors STEM & Dyslexia Learning Center, Arlington County Therapeutic Recreation Office, NOVA Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, Parents of Autistic Children-NoVA, ADC Cheer, Educational Theatre Co., Kat & Mo Art Studios, Original Works, Arlington SEPTA, Fairfax SEPTA, Washington Nationals, National PTA, and Bayer.

The Sept. 7 event was made possible through the National PTA STEM+Families program, which was designed to increase access to STEM education and careers, especially among under-represented youth, by developing, evaluating and sharing effective ways to engage families in STEM experiences, while working with partners to improve access to STEM school and community learning environments. This initiative is consistent with PTA’s vision that all students have the family and community support needed to access and pursue STEM opportunities and careers and with PTA’s mission to make every child’s potential a reality.

One of the students that attended the event was Ben, a Fairfax County student, who uses a letter board with a communication partner to communicate. Ben made sure that he met with PTA leaders during the event and indicated, “This i-STEAM event presented by the local county special education PTAs and the Northern Virginia District PTA was totally innovative and great! It is so necessary and important to expose all students to the wonders and value of math and science regardless of labels.”

3D-Me, a company based on Vienna, Va. that provides introductory 3D photography (scanning), 3D printing, and computer-aided design workshops to students and teachers, engaged with students and their families about using 3D technology to make keepsake figurines. Bruce Wyman, Chief Strategy Officer, 3D-Me and a STEAM teacher within Fairfax County Public Schools, indicated about the event, “It was a great event with wonderful educational sessions for students and their families as well as PTA leaders.”

NOVA District PTA, Arlington County Special Education PTA, and the Fairfax County Special Education PTA look forward to hosting this type of event for students with special needs and their families again with support from the business community and various community organizations.

Get everything you need to host a STEM+Families event at PTA.org/STEM.


Debbie Kilpatrick is the district director of NOVA District PTA. Further inquiries about the Lake Braddock Secondary School event can be directed to novadd@vapta.org