Step Up Your Family Engagement

Dance can be a powerful way to foster Social Emotional Learning (SEL), celebrate cultural diversity and promote parent involvement.

Many parents are reluctant to participate in school activities, possibly due to feeling intimidated by the school building or not feeling they have enough spare time to attend. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a parent whose heart doesn’t melt the day their own child invites them to dance as their partner.

As a PTA leader, offering programs that promote community engagement through healthy, culturally-enriching events should be one of your primary goals. Though it’s often overlooked, dance has the power to engage students, parents/caregivers and school staff in an activity that creates joy and unity.

Beyond the obvious health and cultural benefits, research indicates a strong connection between dance and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). The most successful SEL programs use active forms of learning to teach students, and evidence suggests that dance out-paces other forms of physical activity AND other forms of arts learning when it comes to measurable SEL outcomes.

How Dance Connects to SEL

Schools across the country are prioritizing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and looking for ways to embed SEL into all aspects of school culture and climate. Dance is a proven strategy for fostering positive outcomes in the three major dimensions of SEL.

  1. Intrapersonal SEL Skills: Self-Awareness and Self-Management are fundamentally rooted in the body, making dance an excellent tool for building such competencies as emotional awareness, accurate self-perception, and impulse control.
  2. Interpersonal SEL Skills: Many dance and movement activities promote teamwork and cooperation and provide rich opportunities for developing Relationship Skills and Social Awareness.
  3. Responsible Decision-Making: Dance and movement can also be a wonderful way for students work on problem-solving, develop the ability to evaluate and reflect, and consider their responsibility to help make the world a better place.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Considerations

When choosing resources to use for dance or movement-based activities, keep in mind that cultural dance, in particular, can be useful in fostering cross-cultural understanding and respect. By studying dance forms that originate in other parts of the world, students gain understanding of the history, identities and values of others.

Dance can also help students and their families overcome cultural and linguistic obstacles due to its focus on nonverbal communication. For English language learners in particular, dance provides the opportunity to express oneself through the body and is shown to bolster self-esteem.

Two Left Feet? No Problem!

In many schools, the greatest barrier to bringing in a dance program is a lack of comfort with dance on the part of the adults in charge. For most students, permission to move—and especially moving to music—offers considerable stress relief and an immediate boost to their sense of optimism and joy.

Using dance and movement activities to foster learning is not as hard as it sounds, and a number of resources exist to take the pressure off of teachers and program facilitators to lead the activities.

One such program, EduMotion: SEL Journeys, is a digital experience that allows groups of participants to explore the world while focusing on themes like diversity, empathy and kindness. Each journey starts with participants choosing a cultural destination and then following along to learn simple movements inspired by a dance from the selected culture. By the end of the journey, participants are engaged with one another in movement, playing the roles of “Joymaker” and “Peacemaker” as they dance together.

How Your PTA Can Integrate Cultural Dance

With the right approach, dance can contribute to a positive school culture through integration during the school day as well as during out-of-school time and family engagement events. Your PTA can be an ideal catalyst to introduce a dance program into your school that benefits the entire community.

During the School Day

Invite teachers to be part of the experience. Provide resources like EduMotion that enable them to explore, learn and/or create a dance with their students without placing pressure on them to teach dance steps. Classroom teachers can include this activity in morning meetings, during social studies or at another transition time. It can also be a great end-of-week reward (Friday dance party, anyone?). Physical education and music/art teachers are the most likely advocates for a community engagement-oriented dance program, so try reaching out to them first!

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? Teachers who embrace this strategy will see a boost in student morale, improved peer relationships and better academic performance. Multiple studies prove that active students learn better, so the time teachers take to integrate dance into the weekly schedule is time well-invested.

SHARE THE EXPERIENCE…

  • Classroom Dance-Along: Teachers can invite parents or another classroom in for an interactive dance exchange.
  • Assembly program: Classrooms can practice and present different dances in an assembly program. Most parents won’t pass up an opportunity to see their child perform!

After-School & Family Engagement Events

Your PTA can host an after-school club or incorporate dance into an existing after-school program. Working with a community partner who specializes in dance is one common solution. Alternately, a program like EduMotion: SEL Journeys offers online content that a parent volunteer or OST program leader can facilitate easily—no dance experience required!

For special events, you can host a parent-child dance, or incorporate a dance activity station at an event such as a Multicultural/International Night, Health Fair, etc. Dance can even connect to STEMyou’re your next STEM + Families event, encourage students to think about coding as a series of dance steps they can put together to create different outcomes. With a little imagination, you can connect dance to all kinds of themed events you may host throughout the year!

Just like trying anything new at your school, the first few steps are often the hardest. While adding dance and movement to your programming may sound intimidating, the potential benefits are well worth it. Please reach out and connect if you’d like some moral support to make it happen in your school!


NATIONAL PTA EXCLUSIVE OFFER: EduMotion has a special offer available for PTA program leaders. Click to learn more!

Margot Toppen is an educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts and physical education. In 2006, she developed Dancing with Class, a program delivered to hundreds of schools each year.

Attention PTA Leaders and Members: Nominate Deserving Teachers to Win $500 WE Teachers Awards

In today’s day and age, teachers are much more than educators. They serve as mentors, counselors, cheerleaders, protectors, and they spend an average of $500 of their own money each year to purchase classroom supplies that benefit their students.

Starting July 21, customers can visit their 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 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.

The WE Teachers Awards are part of a broader program called WE Teachers, which is in partnership with the ME to WE Foundation – an organization that provides products and services to support WE Charity. Together with Walgreens back to school supplier partners, Walgreens has committed to donating $5 million to the ME to WE Foundation –– to fund the development of the WE Teachers program.

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.

Excellence in 3 Ways

We are so pleased to announce our newest class of National PTA Schools of Excellence. The amazing 2019-2021 designees consist of 326 amazing PTA leaders—a whopping 17% increase from last year!

The two-year School of Excellence designation celebrates PTA leadership and accomplishments in building strong, effective family-school partnerships! Through the year-long program process, each PTA examines how their community feels the school measures up to the research-based indicators of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. Then the PTA members work in partnership with their school community and administrators to address areas for growth and create new ways for families to support student success.

Here are just a few examples of how the 2019-2021 National PTA Schools of Excellence worked to improve their schools and communities to achieve the designation.

Wiregrass Ranch High School PTSA, Florida

Wiregrass Ranch High School (WRHS) PTSA worked to increase student participation and engagement. Through a coordinated social media and outreach campaign, WRHS PTSA obtained a record number of student liaisons (18). The liaisons diligently attended PTSA Board meetings and managed the PTSA Twitter account. Their perspective and insight were invaluable!

The student engagement didn’t stop at the school walls, however. For the first time in the history of WRHS, the WRHS PTSA student liaisons attended the Florida PTA Legislative Conference in Tallahassee. At the conference student liaisons met with legislators to discuss changes in the law to benefit their education and communities.

Leroy Gordon Cooper PTA, New Jersey

Leroy Gordon Cooper PTA hosted an Art and Music festival to begin strengthening their Family-School Partnerships. At the event, parents, students, and special guests, including district administration, viewed musical performances and artwork created by Leroy Gordon Cooper students.

To get more families involved and bring awareness to the event, Leroy Gordon Cooper PTA held contests for the design of the event program and t-shirts. They also raised money during the event by auctioning off student artwork and hosting raffles and a bake sale. This allowed the PTA to give scholarships and funds directly to the art and music program at Leroy Gordon Cooper, showing the value of PTA!

  Barksdale Elementary PTA, Texas

As a part of their work with the School of Excellence program, Barksdale Elementary PTA focused on creating a welcoming culture and climate by helping their school community understand and respect cultural differences. To accomplish this, the PTA created a Cultural Diversity Night, where families volunteered to host tables that showcased their families’ culture.

Barksdale Elementary PTA realized that English was the second language spoken by most families they hoped to involve in the event. To resolve this, Barksdale Elementary PTA worked with an ESL specialist to translate the invitation into Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, Russian, Hindi and Spanish. The invitation was then sent home with students in their family’s first language.

By the evening of our event, seventy families had volunteered to host a table, representing twenty-eight countries and six continents! Table host families dressed in customary attire, prepared traditional dishes, performed dances, provided crafts, and displayed artifacts and pictures. Families that did not host a table received a passport upon arrival, which was stamped after the student and their family had ‘explored’ the country’s display. This event was extremely well received, and enthusiastically praised by all that participated. There was a palpable sense of community and inclusion that carried over into the rest of their year!

Congratulations to these amazing PTAs and, once again, to all of our 2019-2021 National PTA School of Excellences. The work that these PTAs accomplished was specific to their unique schools’ needs. How will your PTA work as key decision-makers and action-takers in your school this year?

Take the first step in becoming a nationally-recognized PTA School of Excellence by enrolling now through Oct. 1 at PTA.org/Excellence. Email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


Ellie Miller is a Programs & Partnerships Specialist at National PTA.

By The Numbers: A PTA Connected Event

At Middlebrook PTA, we realize that technology and social media are a part of our lives. As parents and educators, we have a responsibility to ensure our children know how to use these tools safely and respectfully. We had:

  • 4 teacher volunteers join other parent volunteers in leading 6 sessions for our Kindergarten-5th grade school.
  • 1 critical partnership in our Technology Integration Specialist to get her support and ask her colleagues to join her in leading a breakout session.
  • 1 Director of Digital Learning to lead the first session with all who attended that night.

Having the “agree/disagree” cards for parents and students was an effective way to see differences of opinions in the school and offered a kinesthetic learning moment for all. It was reported to be a favorite activity by many who attended and the energy in the room was high. It set a great tone for the night and both parents and students felt engaged in the material and with each other.

Melissa Larzo, PTA President for Towne Acres PTA, agrees with Middlebrook PTA.

Our event served as a family engagement night for our school.  It came on the heels of a presentation with similar subject matter that had just been held for the area middle schools in response to those incidents, so our event was tailored to capture those families with younger children.  We had:

  • Multiple outlets of promotion, but primarily through online promotion on our school’s PTA Facebook page.
  • 1 principal and many of our teachers to come out and show their support
  • 1 supervisor of safety and mental health for our school system as our guest speaker
  • 150 people in attendance that night, which was better than we expected given the busy time of the year it was.

The information we were able to deliver to the audience that night helped to begin the discussion within families, it seemed to ease some of the fears that many families had, and it helped us to feel more like a team as we tackle these issues together.

Visit PTA Connected to get made-for-PTA resources on hosting digital safety events and apply for grant funding to host your own event night. PTA.org/Grants


About the Authors: Ruth Fontilla is from Middlebrook PTA and Melissa Larzo is from Towne Acres PTA

How Sitting on a Ball Helps Kids Focus and Do Better In School

Balance balls were originally developed in the 1960s for physical therapy purposes; who knew that one day they’d be recommended for children who have trouble focusing in school?

But today, that’s just what’s happening. Balance balls might be just what the doctor ordered to help children reach their full potential in the classroom, especially for those with sensory processing disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or just a strong need to fidget.

Around the same time that fitness fans began using balance balls (also called exercise balls, stability balls or therapy balls) in their exercise regimens as a way to strengthen abdominal and back muscles, ball chairs were developed as a way to strengthen core muscles and improve posture while sitting. During the 1980s, some occupational therapists began recommending them to educators for classroom use, deeming them particularly helpful for children with special learning needs.

Then in 2003, a study was published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy concluding that in students with ADHD, sitting on therapy balls improved behavior and legible word productivity. In other words, students using ball chairs were able to sit still, focus, and write more words clearly.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester seconded those findings in 2007 with a study on the benefits of a chairless classroom. In the Mayo study, which focused on improving learning and reducing obesity by making children more active, researchers found that the ability to move around more while sitting made the students more attentive. Mayo Clinic communications consultant Bob Nellis told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune that he believes this is because kids are able to burn off excess energy by bouncing on a ball.

“Sitting still” isn’t always a good thing

“Generally speaking, people don’t sit still,” says Diana Henry, an occupational therapist who travels the country in an RV to offer school-based and individual occupational therapy services. “They are always wiggling around. The littlest kids are even more wiggly because their sensory systems are still developing.”

That’s why children need recess at school. “Running and jumping and spinning and twirling and swinging,” says Henry. “Those activities are very important for the development of children’s central nervous systems, their brain, and their body.”

Some kids need more movement than others. And for some kids with a sensory processing disorder or ADHD, being in motion allows their brains to be engaged. “There is a neurological pathway that goes from your body’s balance and movement system to your alert system in your brain. Movement actually allows for alertness and attention,” says Henry.

That’s where ball chairs come in. In response to the ball’s instability and in order to remain balanced while sitting on one, the body instinctively — and continually — engages core muscle groups. Constant movement is required in order to stay seated on the ball. And that movement, however slight, helps them focus.

Parents and teachers put ball chair benefits to the test

“Ball chairs are very good for children who need to move a lot,” says Kay Barrows, a retired elementary school teacher from Monument, CO. Barrows had such success in her classroom using a ball chair for one special needs child that she pushed for and was awarded a district grant to get ball chairs for her entire class. “The chairs were helpful for special needs students in particular, but I also saw a big difference in kids who were just always rocking in their chairs and needed to move.”

When a child sits on a ball chair, they are able to direct their natural kinesthetic energy and need for movement in a positive way, because the child on a ball chair has to constantly move his body on the chair to maintain his balance.

So rather than squash a child’s innate need for movement, ball chairs channel their physical energy in a positive way, allowing them to focus on their work more completely and reach their full potential as learners.

Darcy Lewis, a mother of two sons with ADHD in Riverside, IL, has started using a ball chair at home. “They feel less fidgety and more relaxed when they sit on a ball and, by their own assessment, are more able to concentrate, whether on homework or dinner conversation with the rest of the family,” says Lewis.

Parents like Lewis are utilizing the concept of classroom ball chairs and allowing their child to use one in a home setting. To this end, a ball chair can be a great tool for your child, however, it is extremely important that a small child doesn’t sit on an adult size ball. “It’s important that the ball fits the child,” says Henry. Strive for a 90-degree angle in the knee bend when the child is sitting comfortably on the ball. A regular sized chair or ball may be fine for an older or taller child. Or try a child-sized ball chair.

What if your child is just plain fidgety?

You can act on this research whether or not your child has SPD or ADHD. As Henry and Barrows both note above, every kid has a need for movement. With or without a real ball chair, here are some things you can do to give your children more wiggle room while doing homework or other seated activities at home:

  • If a child-size ball chair isn’t in the budget, have your child sit on a Kids Stay-N-Play Ball an appropriate-sized Balance Ball stability ball (just the ball on the floor) while reading, doing homework, even watching educational programming on TV.
  • Place a resistance band on the legs of a chair so your child can bounce her feet up and down while she works.
  • Tape sandpaper to the underside of a table or desk so your child can rub his fingers against it while sitting for any task.
  • Provide a bin filled with objects your children can fidget with during time they are expected to sit still. (Try Koosh balls, squeeze balls, stretchy animals, and other tactile toys.)

UPDATE: Gaiam gives kids the gift of bounce

After reading this article (originally published in September 2010) and reviewing more research recommending balance balls as a strategy to help students focus in school, second-grade teacher Lana Ray in Connelly Springs, N.C., convinced her school’s principal to let her purchase six ball chairs for her classroom.

Many of Ray’s students have ADD or ADHD; shortly after the chairs arrived, she started noticing marked behavioral improvement from students on the days they got to sit on the ball chairs (Ray rotated the chairs around the classroom so that each of her 16 students got to sit on a ball chair every third day). One student even stuttered less when he sat on the ball. Ray’s local paper covered the story, raising awareness among other educators and parents.

When Ray wrote to Gaiam to share her success story and ask if the company would consider selling her additional chairs at a discounted rate so that each student could use one every day, Gaiam responded by donating 11 additional chairs to her classroom — one for each of the remaining students, and one for Ray.
The heartfelt thanks we received, as well as the knowledge that the chairs will continue to help students for years to come, made the donation more than worth it. Ray wrote that “in August, these students came into my classroom 1-2 years below grade level. If they continue to grow in the next semester as much as they have in the first, they will be on or close to grade level at the end of the year.”
Explore Active Sitting products for your children to use at school or home!

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/

What Real-Life Family Engagement Looks Like

When Heather Losneck learned that she had been selected as a National PTA Family Engagement Fellow last spring, she was overjoyed. As president of Berea-Midpark Middle School PTA in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, she was deeply interested in expanding her understanding of how school districts can support transformative family engagement.

She also believed her participation in the Family Engagement Fellowship program would be a compelling reason for the district and community to come together to create more intentional opportunities for the kind of family engagement that truly impacts student success.

A year later, Heather has successfully formed an active and accomplished Family Engagement Team for the Berea City School District. Here’s how she has collaborated with the district and the school board to enhance family engagement practices.

Taking the First Steps

Heather knew she could not accomplish all that she wanted to do alone, so her first priority was to connect with key players she knew could help influence the district, including the school board president, Ana Chapman. Since she was a longtime PTA member, Heather knew Ana felt passionately about family engagement.

As they continued to build their family engagement team, Ana notified her of an outdated family engagement policy that she was interested in revising. Heather, Ana and another dedicated parent, Kim Dettmer, collaborated to rewrite the policy. They used the opportunity to integrate National PTA’s Standards for Family-School Partnerships into their community’s approach.

Ana then brought the updated language to the school board for a vote. Because this policy change was initiated by the school board president, it was a powerful, and relatively quick, first step. The new language signaled a strong commitment to transformative family engagement and created excitement for the creation of a district-wide team.

Forming a Powerful Team

Though their small team of three had achieved an early success, Heather knew their family engagement team still needed more members to be truly transformative. She believed that one of the most important responsibilities as a leader was to empower other parents and caregivers.

So, Heather, Ana and Kim worked to establish a diverse and motivated team of parents, teachers and administrators. An application process—which they promoted using a social media campaign, school newsletters and direct communications from the district—ensured the group was open and inviting, but still manageable in size, and adequately representative of all three cities in the district.

The application process also helped the group to further publicize and elevate the work they were doing. While the application was simple, it provided valuable information that enabled Heather to find out why people were interested in joining the team. They reviewed 60 applications and selected 16 members for to be part of the final Family Engagement Team.

Working to Maximize Impact

The newly-formed Family Engagement Team established three subcommittees that would take on concrete projects to build momentum and create community buy-in for transformative family engagement:

  1. Welcoming Families
  2. Effective Communication
  3. Student Success

To avoid the pitfalls of the work getting stuck in internal processes and endless discussion with little action, they took the time to reach consensus on a clear vision and achievable goals for each subcommittee. Heather shared, “It’s really important not to try to do too much.” She encouraged subcommittees to pick a single, specific project to be passionate about, and then she worked to ensure they had the appropriate resources and empowered them to do the work.

Finding the Keys to Success

The subcommittees have already achieved several accomplishments during their short tenure. Heather credits the momentum to, “checking in with [my] teams regularly and celebrating their successes.”
Of particular note is their work around welcoming families. When a recent survey uncovered that the district could improve in being more welcoming of families from different ethnicities, the Welcoming Families subcommittee collaborated with the district’s new Director of Nutrition Services to add new dishes to the school menu that are more reflective of the community’s cultures.

Their key strategies to successful, transformative family engagement approach included:

  1. Partnering with families who provide their recipes that best exemplify their cultures
  2. A new wellness committee, established by the Director of Nutrition Services, that intentionally recruits parent members.

While food fairs are a regular staple of diversity attempts, the nutritional services approach the Welcoming Families subcommittee used has resulted in a systemic change that directly benefits all kids. It has also opened doors for continuous exchange between families and the district’s Nutrition Services department.

The team has also worked closely with the district’s Communications Director to create a “Before You Visit” link on the district website, which will make it easier for families to find out anything they may know before they come to school.

This initiative was a direct response to parents’ indications that they did not always feel welcome in school buildings and that transitioning from one school building to another was particularly challenging. Rather than simply providing the hours the office is open, the website now includes detailed information such as drop off procedures, sign in rules, good times to visit, who you will meet in the front office, and more.

Creating Sustainability for Family Engagement

Heather shares that the Family Engagement Team’s next goal is to establish a district-level paid position dedicated to family engagement. She says, “In order to sustain the work going forward, it cannot be driven solely by volunteers.”

Collaborating with the School Board President, they are currently analyzing similar positions in other districts, and are eager to begin crafting a job description for the role. The team sees this as a necessary next step to ensure that family engagement efforts are consistent, impactful and effectively integrated to the school district’s overall strategic plan.

We can’t wait to see what they do next!

Stay up to date with the latest best practices in transformative family engagement by subscribing to the Center for Family Engagement’s e-newsletter here.


About the Author: Heather Losneck is one of National PTA’s Family Engagement Fellows and the president of Berea-Midpark Middle School PTA.

 

5 Ways Your PTA Could Become a School of Excellence

Last August, 279 schools were announced as 2018-2020 National PTA Schools of Excellence for their leadership and accomplishments in building strong, effective family-school partnerships! National PTA is pleased to recognize this record number of local PTAs across the nation who have earned the two-year designation. We can’t wait to announce our 2019-2021 School of Excellence designees this August.

Check out how these PTAs made a tremendous impact on continuous school improvement through the School of Excellence program. Enroll your PTA in the 2019-2020 School of Excellence program now through October 1 at PTA.org/Excellence.

Barnard Asian Pacific Language Academy

Barnard PTA in California chose to focus on improving education by growing family participation in advocacy by creating an environment in which parents felt welcome, engaged and involved with the school. Throughout the school year, the PTA hosted many community events to engage families in a variety of social, academic and community-building activities; all of which were free to parents and students.

Beaverdam Elementary

To support student success and keep parents informed about what their students were learning, Beaverdam Elementary School PTA in Virginia took on the task of implementing a school/PTA newsletter. Every quarter, teachers, administration and the PTA submitted articles to inform parents about what their students were learning and what they could expect in the coming months. The newsletter also included the school’s progress, programs and upcoming events. The Beaverdam PTA also took a more active approach to their Facebook page, including recording the school’s talent show, which not only showed off the school and student talent, but allowed Beaverdam’s community of working parents who could not attend during the day to see the performance and share this experience with other family members and friends!

Glendale Elementary

The resources provided through the School of Excellence program paved the way for Glendale Elementary PTA in Florida to establish better communication with ALL families, uniting the PTA and school with one cohesive mission in making the culture and climate welcoming for all families. Glendale Elementary PTA and school created multi-language informational signs for all entrances and ensured that every communication was provided broadly and in multiple languages. Through the school year, Glendale PTA expanded their outreach and exposure anytime there was a school event providing the school, parents, and students with timely information. As a result, event attendance and participation were at an all-time high.

Rabbit Creek Elementary

In Alaska, the Rabbit Creek Elementary PTA partnered with the school’s art teacher to help support the arts by displaying student art work to brighten up common spaces such as the front office and the library. The PTA also supported the music teacher in her production of the fourth-grade play by funding new microphone headsets, set decorations and props needed to make the play a success. After being dormant, the PTA helped resurrect the Rabbit Creek Reflections program with the help of a PTA parent, who happens to be local artist, spent a great deal of time coaching kids and encouraging them to let their creativity shine.

Canyon Rim Elementary

Canyon Rim Elementary PTA in Arizona emphasized welcoming diverse families into their school by designing a welcome sign in 18 languages which received positive feedback. One of the school’s moms, who is from Ukraine, said she felt more welcome when she when she stopped by the school every morning. The cafeteria manager, a native German-speaker, also expressed her appreciation to the Canyon Rim Elementary PTA.

These are just some examples of how PTAs can make long-lasting and positive changes. Congratulations, once again, to all of our 279 2018-2020 School of Excellence designees.

Interested in becoming a National PTA School of Excellence? Learn more and enroll thru Oct. 1 at PTA.org/Excellence and email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


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