How School of Excellence Participants Supported Their Communities During Quarantine

By enrolling in the School of Excellence program, PTAs make a commitment to transforming family engagement and building meaningful connections in their school communities. National PTA points to our participating School of Excellence participants as true leaders in strengthening family-school partnerships and, as such, these PTAs are often presented exclusive opportunities. As part of our relief efforts, and in partnership with our generous sponsor TikTok, National PTA awarded $5000 in emergency relief grants to 110 PTAs across 28 State PTA Congresses who were actively participating in the 2019-20 School of Excellence program when the pandemic hit. That’s a total of $550,000 to help PTAs meet the most pressing needs in their school communities during COVID-19, specifically in the areas of:

  • Social Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health
  • Food Insecurity
  • Distance Learning
  • Internet and Device Access

Let’s take a look at some of the information provided in the top-ranked grant application of some of the 2019-20 School of Excellence participants and recent grantees!

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL WELLBEING AND MENTAL HEALTH

After speaking with their school and community partners, Casselberry Elementary School PTSA in Florida is choosing to focus on social emotional wellbeing and mental health of their students to combat the absence of supports offered in school. “It is imperative that our PTSA uses the information and resources available to us to ensure we are advocating for all of our children, but especially those with the greatest unmet needs,” says Lindsay Feist, Casselberry Elementary School PTSA Leader. With their grant funds, Casselberry Elementary School PTSA first plans to reach out to their school community with a translated survey to learn more about their greatest needs. Then, they will distribute mental health/wellness bags to their families that include information, resources and activities to help families feel more prepared and willing to communicate and cope with any anxiety and sadness. Lindsay adds, “We hope this will serve as a reminder that PTSA is still here and working with school administration to ensure that we are serving ALL of our children through this time.”

Bernice Knox Wiley Middle School PTA in Texas is taking a similar approach to combating the mental health needs of their students through the pandemic. With the grant funds, this PTA also plans to develop, assemble, and distribute Wellness Kits to provide students with calming activities and techniques that can help to reduce stress as well as reinforce positive coping skills. While kits are geared toward the needs of students, the PTA also hopes they can be used by family members to develop the same coping strategies and provide some relief to caregivers/parents who are experiencing high levels of stress. The components of the kits were recommended by OT , mental health and other experts and may include:

  • Sensory calming items like stress balls, liquid/galaxy bottles or small weighted fabric fidgets
  • Focus items such as age-appropriate crossword puzzles, coloring books or small art kits
  • Breathing and regulation cards including yoga poses
  • Laminated resource sheets, including counselor contacts and free, online resources such as the Headspace app.

Pelham Road Elementary School PTA in South Carolina is also focusing on social emotional wellbeing and mental health because, as Holly Haga states, “With families facing the challenge of working from home and homeschooling for the first time along with the fear brought about by the pandemic they are under more stress than ever. Crisis schooling, as some have called it, has left families struggling to find a work life balance and in some cases further disadvantaging the already disadvantaged. The stresses felt during this time are so far reaching the CDC has included a children-specific “Stress and Coping” area on their COVID-19 section of their website.” The Pelham Road Elementary School PTA plans to use the grant funds to purchase the Second Step program for their counseling department. With classroom and virtual lessons, offered in English and Spanish, the PTA feels that this will them to support their students well into the future.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help improve mental health in your school community!

  • Organize neighborhood chalk-your-walks or bear hunt
  • Share free links to exercise or art classes
  • Create and post videos of teachers and staff for students on social media
  • Create and post videos of students doing fun activities on social media
  • Connect families to social workers
  • Create virtual spirit weeks and post photos
  • Send out weekly newsletters
  • Collect cards for local nursing homes
  • Create art and share it via a virtual gallery
  • Reach out to local business for support

FOOD INSECURITY

Most of our students at Simonsdale Elementary in Virginia receive free or reduced meals and rely on the school to provide them with breakfast and lunch throughout the schoolyear. Since their school was closed due to Covid-19, Simonsdale Elementary PTA heard that many of their families were struggling financially and that their students were not eating properly. In an effort to assist their families in need, the PTA is planning to use the grant funds to fill the gap of missed meals by providing a combination of hot meals and grocery boxes to feed “the body, heart, and soul” of their school community families and members.

Loftis Middle PTA in Tennessee is hoping to use the grant funding to maintain and expand the food assistance program that they started through their School of Excellence workplan and continued when school was dismissed for COVID-19. The PTA made a commitment to try to provide food on a weekly basis to the community by creating bags of food to go with the weekend sack packs with a letter explaining the food program and community partnerships. Since many of these students were bus riders without transportation, they delivered boxes of food to homes as needed. Christy Carroll Highfill, Loftis Middle PTA Leader says, “Delivering food to areas of the greatest of need in our community is something that is life changing in many ways. It has been an opportunity to see where some of our students in the greatest of need live and venture into neighborhoods where you realize that the need is much greater than what so many see or understand. This has created a passion within our PTA to ensure that every family has access to the resources they need.” One of their continued goals is create small stationary, free pantries that can be placed within the community so that families who do not wish to be identified can have access to resources without any worries. Another goal is to create mobile pantry systems that can be taken by volunteers into neighborhoods and safe locations that would be accessible to all, including those beyond their student body.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help combat food insecurity in your school community!

  • Create a little free pantry
  • Offer to support and communicate out school/district efforts
  • Pick-up, drop-off or drive students to food assistance
  • Encourage community donations to local food banks/drives
  • Reach out to local businesses for support

DISTANCE LEARNING

Parklawn Elementary PTA in Virginia is choosing to focus on distance learning as not all of their students have been able to take part in the online component and many have only able to participate in limited ways. With the closure of libraries and summer learning loss in mind, the PTA is planning to provide summer educational packets including leveled books, games and activities with an emphasis on the arts. In addition to supporting students’ learning, the PTA is hoping this may also provide an emotional boost. PTA Leader Elizabeth D’Cruz states, “We really would like to bring as much joy as possible to each student in our school, especially those hardest hit by the financial hardship of the current situation.” Parklawn Elementary PTA is imagining that these educational packets will bring engagement for siblings and adult guardians, to “brighten over 1,000 children’s lives”.

To address barriers to learning as a result of the COVID-19 school closure, Pleasant Hill Elementary School PTA in South Carolina is hoping to establish a Learning Resource Lending Program (LRLP) for the PHES community. PTA Leader Rachel Onello shared that the LRLP will enable loaning of learning kits to PHES families that will include books, parent resources, easy-to-implement tips to facilitate at-home reading skills, and reflective reading activities to build comprehension. To focus on equity for the most vulnerable, the LRLP would also provide a loaner device for students with no access to devices at home to allow these students the same opportunity to complete online learning activities as their peers. Not only will the LRLP augment the distance learning activities provided by the school district, but it will also address key barriers to book and device access created by the COVID-19 school closure. Further, distribution of kits individualized to student needs will serve to buffer against summer learning loss and help prevent skill decay in reading and comprehension. The LRLP will also offer sustainability beyond the immediate COVID-19 crisis, allowing kit contents and devices to be returned to the school and redistributed for future needs, reaching the greatest number of PHES families with a focus on equity for the most vulnerable.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help provide distance learning opportunities to your school community!

  • Offer virtual story times
  • Provide updates from the governor on COVID-19 and share student-accessible information
  • Find parents who can assist with online tutoring
  • Set up online study groups by grade-level
  • Reach out to local businesses for support

INTERNET AND DEVICE ACCESS

The Bailey’s PTA in Ohio plans to distribute devices to their diverse population of learners and ensure internet connectivity to help alleviate the learning loss. Although their district is working hard to provide these services, many of Bailey’s families and students haven’t had access. The PTA sees this as an issue of equitable access to learning opportunities and is concerned about how the isolation our students are facing will impact their engagement and motivation to learn over the long-term. During the summer, elementary school students will have the opportunity to focus on math and literacy skill-building using self-directed print and digital materials. In addition, they will have the opportunity to connect with teachers virtually during office hours for support. Increasing digital access will help alleviate the learning loss many will experience from being unable to access our district’s distance learning curriculum.

John Burroughs Elementary School in Ohio, like many, was not planning on distance learning this year and as such did not have the technological capacity to provide equipment for every family to be able to participate in distance learning. The school had 180 Chromebooks and allowed each family to sign out one per family, leaving several families scrambling to find available computers. John Burroughs Elementary PTA plans to replace 15 laptops to help with distance learning, testing and online enrichment as well as traditional classroom learning.

Hidden Oaks PTSA in Florida will be making sure their families have access to devices so that each child and maybe multiple children in each home can successfully complete their schoolwork whether in school or at a distance. In addition, the PTA will use the funds to educate their families on the applications used for distance or classroom learning and will partner with local internet providers to accomplish this goal. PTA Leader, Pam Arrieta said, “We want to make sure that our kids and our families in our community have internet access, are educated on internet applications, and have the technology that is best suited to their individual child’s learning needs.” To reach all community members, they will use a variety of communication tools (calls, emails, web pages and social media) to inform their community and translate learning tools in languages, including Spanish, English and Creole.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help provide internet and device access to your school community!

  • Equip families with the knowledge of what free/low cost internet options are available in your area
  • Partner with local businesses to provide free WiFi locations for families
  • Advocate for expanded internet and broadband access by sharing your families’ story
  • Host a device drive to help get gently used devices into the hands of students

National PTA encourages you to apply for COVID-19 Relief Funding and enroll in the School of Excellence program.

Learn more and apply for emergency grants by July 12 at PTA.org/COVID19Grants.

Let us help guide your relief efforts while you work to strengthen family-school partnerships and earn national-level recognition as a 2020-2022 National PTA School of Excellence. Visit PTA.org/Excellence to learn more and ENROLL in the 2020-21 School of Excellence program.

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/.

Congratulations, 2019-2020 Reflections Outstanding Interpretation Winners!

On May 1, National PTA announced the 2019-2020 Reflections winners for the student-selected theme Look Within. Over 200 students across 40 State PTA Congresses were recognized for their achievements in Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography and Visual Arts. Seven students were named Outstanding Interpretation winners, which is the highest achievement in the Reflections program. We are very proud of these students and would like to share their work, artist statements and creative processes.

Makenna Miller – Dance Choreography

Makenna is from Missouri and choreographed a dance she calls “Look Within.” In her artist statement, she says, “In this piece, I want to tell a story of someone going through life in search of true happiness. They’ve been trying to be someone they’re not and always making other people happy, while never feeling like who they truly are and meant to be. Eventually, they realize that if they look within, they find their own beautiful qualities that make them unique… even glorious and magnificent. That is when true happiness is found and nothing else matters. I chose this song because I felt like my choreography could really bring the lyrics to life.”

When she was choreographing this piece, Makenna incorporated the moving lyrics of the song into her movements. She says, “There are so many beautiful and emotional lyrics in this song, so it was a lot of trial and error to get the flow and story I was looking for. Since I am a dancer, I have a lot of inspiration to take from, whether it’s my time in class, conventions, my teachers, or my own improv time. As I was creating this piece I always kept in mind that I wanted to project a feeling. A feeling that grows over time. A feeling of jealousy, doubt, confusion, but also hope.”

Harper Phillips – Special Artist – Dance Choreography

Harper is from Oklahoma and created a dance inspired by her experiences with dyslexia. Her piece, called “Dancing with Dyslexia,” shows how she deals with dyslexia and the joy dancing brings her. “Dance makes me happy. When school is hard, I can dance. Dance gives me hope. It is hope that is always there, even when dyslexia makes stuff hard.”

When Harper is choreographing, she says “I feel the emotions and let them out through my body. I want people to see how it feels instead of tell them.”

Gabriel Irving – Film Production

Gabriel is from North Carolina, and his film “Look Within” encourages people to find their own unique qualities to combat peer pressure. He says, “I was inspired to film this video because my grandmother told me to make a great success out of my life. I also filmed my video to show the shadow of peer pressure, and how we should see the good in ourselves and not be influenced by other people. When my grandmother passed away, I had to look within to find myself again.”

Jax Thompson – Literature

Jax from Kentucky wrote a poem called “Reflecting on RE-AL-I-TY,” is about his search for superheroes and finding one within himself

His artist statement says, “I’ve been thinking about what I can do to help our world. I may only be a kid, but I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make a difference. It takes a lot of courage to express what I’m feeling inside, but I know that until I give my inside thoughts a voice that I can’t make things happen or be the real me. It’s scary to think about stepping up to make a change, but I know I can do it! We all have a ‘Super H’ inside!”

“When I put my thoughts into words, art and music it makes me feel so good inside! My writing sets me free! I hope that when people read my words, they see that we can all find the strength to make a difference. We can’t wait for superheroes to fly in and save the day! We all need to step up to help the world, especially now! When I wrote my poem, the words poured out of me like water pouring out of a glass. My mom and dad have always inspired me to march to my own drum and express myself! I do that with my writing and I’m never going to stop!”

Illasell Tan – Music Composition – California

Illasell lives in California and wrote a song called “Look Within Yourself.” She says, “my composition consists of me singing with the accompaniment of the piano played by myself. The song shows how you should accept who and what you are and that nobody’s perfect. It relates to the theme by explaining how you should look within yourself to find that you are worth more than you believe you are. Whenever in doubt, reflect and realize that you matter.”

Leahalani Adolfo – Photography – Hawaii

Leah lives in Hawaii and used a unique process to capture her photograph, which she titled The Light Within. Her photograph is about finding light within ourselves. Leah says “Autophobia, the fear of oneself. We desire to be accepted so much that we hide ourselves. We’ve hidden ourselves so deep it’s a long and difficult quest to find the light within us that shines so bright. The light represents all the good and potential inside every human being. To create this photo, I first cut out a heart on a piece of cardboard. I then put it on my mirror and sprayed it with water. I turned off the light and turned on my flash to create this lighted effect.”

Kaycie Colton – Visual Art

Kaycie, who is from Virginia, used her battle with a painful disease as inspiration for her painting Burn to Born. “My life changed when I was hospitalized with Steven Johnsons Syndrome, the recurrent type. The first occurrence was the worst. In the burn unit, my entire body was wrapped in bandages. I was blistering and burning from the inside out. I needed a feeding tube because of oral damage and eye surgery to save my vision. I had to look deep inside myself for inner strength and find patience and perseverance. I would not allow the fire to devour me. My flesh was burned, but my new found strength underneath was unveiled. Much like the phoenix, I was reborn.”

I found out while still in the hospital for the second time with Steven Johnson’s Syndrome the 2019-2020 Reflections theme. I used a picture taken of me while I was at my worst and wanted change it so that it would reflect my inner strength. Instead of being unable to move, wrapped from head to toe, and in so much pain from my burning skin, I showed myself being transformed. I always loved images of phoenixes rising from the ashes and I wanted that to be me, rising, new and better.

We have been so inspired by all of our Reflections participants. Their masterpieces show their interpretation of the theme “Look Within,” and many students used their introspection to inspire others to do so. Congratulations to our seven Outstanding Interpretation winners, and we look forward to celebrating with everyone at the virtual PTA Convention & Expo and throughout the year. Visit PTA.org/ReflectionsAwards for a full winners’ list and highlights. Thank you so much for your continued support of the Reflections program. Don’t forget to participate in the 2020-2021 theme “I Matter Because…” Learn more about Reflections and register to show National PTA that you are participating here!

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!

 

From One Parent to Another: How to Support Your Kids’ Learning at Home

Last week was tough. It was Week One of our new normal. For me, that means I was at home trying to juggle my job and my children. As I’m sitting here writing this, my 13-year-old is texting me to get his younger brother to quiet down so he can do his virtual math. I agree with my teen: I also need quiet so that I can work. And yet younger brothers need to be free to make some age-appropriate noise.

None of us are experiencing much peace and quiet in our household. On the contrary, there’s a ton of digital noise and a scramble to connect my kids to their teachers. We’re so busy coordinating their virtual learning — and my virtual working! — that we’re missing out on the best learning we have to offer them as parents: conversation around a book shared between us.

The most important thing a parent can do to support their kids’ reading growth is to ask questions before, during, and after reading. That’s the magic formula. It has always been true, and it is never more important than now.

As parents, we may not deeply understand the science of reading the way that educators do. But we still have something absolutely fundamental to offer our children: We can sit down with our children and a book. We can point out letters and tell them what we know about letter sounds. We can talk with them about the ideas and pictures in the book.  We can ensure they associate books with love and belonging. There is no smaller classroom than a family’s living room, and there is no better way to personalize instruction than through a parent. After all, what could be more personal than a parent and child sharing a book at bedtime?

When you’re reading with your child, it’s helpful to keep in mind a simple view of reading: to read well, children need to be able to figure out the words and they need to be able to understand the story. All of us stuck at home right now with our kids can absolutely help our children figure out the words and understand the story.

I know that any family can succeed at this because I’ve seen it firsthand. Thousands of families from all across the country join Springboard Collaborative every year to learn how to better support their children’s at-home reading. They plan for reading time every day and commit to asking questions before, during, and after reading. These Springboard partners are moms and dads, grandpops and grandmoms, aunts, uncles, siblings, neighbors – with varying degrees of literacy, but all sharing the common distinction of being caring adults committed to supporting their children’s learning. They take their responsibility as at-home reading coaches seriously, and their kids’ literacy development has proven that just as every child can learn to read, every family can learn to coach a young reader.

Never in the modern history of our education system has the importance of family engagement been more apparent than it is right now! ~50 million children are home from school and likely will be for the remainder of the school year. Parents, how can you ensure your kids don’t fall behind in their reading? Springboard is here to help!

Check out Springboard’s new family resource page (linked here). We made you a user-friendly coaching plan with weekly strategy videos, daily lesson plans, and corresponding e-books! Parents are being bombarded with content, which can be more overwhelming than it is helpful. Springboard’s resource portal focuses on “the how”, not just “the what.” We’re also giving parents free access to Springboard Connect, an app with strategies tailored to your child’s current reading needs. Finally, we’re offering parent workshops virtually on Facebook Live (in English and Spanish). Any family can sign up for these supports for free.

Check out the family resource portal, come back often, and follow Springboard on social media for the very latest #ReadFor15. We invite any family to use these resources free of charge. We implore all families to set aside at least 15 minutes every day during the quarantine (and beyond!) to ask questions before, during, and after reading. The simplest action is often the best one, and, by taking this simple action, you’ll be on track to transform these weeks at home from an educational barrier to a springboard for your child. You are your children’s first and best teacher—now is your time to shine!

With gratitude and respect,

Aubrey White
President, Springboard Collaborative