Have Robotics Fun at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Archer Elementary PTA (Archer, Fla.)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders sharing their stories as STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night winners. These real-world experiences shed light on how an individual PTA planned and hosted their event, including lessons learned and practical advice.

Despite having a robust Robotics program in our curriculum, our elementary school had never held any type of STEM event for families to get a taste of what their children were learning. Thanks to National PTA and littleBits awarding us the grant for 50 Little Bits Invention Kits, we were able to host an Invention Night for the first time.

Both littleBits and National PTA made planning the event very easy by laying out the process for us. We knew we wanted to get our Robotics teacher involved in the planning. She was very enthusiastic about the event and even volunteered to set up her VEX Robots and have the fifth-graders demonstrate their creations the same night. After meeting with our principal and Robotics teacher, we decided to get other teachers involved and have different STEM activities going during the event.

To promote our Invention Night, We sent flyers home in student folders, and our principal sent an email and did a robo-call to families two weeks in advance. A week before the event, we sent parents a reminder email along with the instructions on how to download the littleBits App as well as the guide for each project that you can build with the kit.

We held the event in the cafeteria and set out two kits per table so each family had plenty of space to work out their invention. We gave families the option to partner with another family as well and work together. Each invention took about 20 minutes to build and we gave families the option to build two inventions. We also made sure to provide dinner to all families that night. We had 45 families attend our event, roughly 175 people, which was a great turnout for our school!

Since this was our first-ever STEM event, we wanted to be sure to get feedback. So once families had filled out our survey, we entered them into a raffle. Prizes were donated, including the grand prize—the Droid Kit—donated by littleBits.

Overall, parents and students were really happy with the event. The families enjoyed the experience of learning something new with their kids—there was a lot of collaboration going on. Parents also expressed how happy they were to see what their kids were experiencing at school with the robotics. We will definitely be hosting another Invention Night next year. Thank you to littleBits and National PTA for giving us the opportunity to expose our kids to engineering and invention. Without the grant, this night would not have been possible.

Take Action: Learn more about how your PTA can host a STEM + Families Invention Night

 


About the Author: Pam Korithoski is the Advocacy Chair at Archer Elementary School in Archer, Fla.

Disclosure: littleBits is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of the 2018 – 2019 STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

 

Experience the First-Ever State PTA Leadership Institute at #PTACon19

Are you a State PTA Officer? Do you want to be? If you answered yes, then you will be thrilled with the Convention Education options at #PTACon19 in Columbus, Ohio.

With more advanced workshops than ever, you’ll gain new strategies and hone your nonprofit management skills to strengthen every angle of your State PTA—leadership, membership and mission.

For the first time, State PTA Presidents, Presidents-Elect and Incoming Presidents-Elect will have access to a continuous, shared learning experience called the State PTA Leadership experience.

The kick-off event occurs pre-conference at a day-long training featuring author and well-known communications trainer, Shari Harley, founder of Candid Culture. The Institute continues with a dedicated workshop track covering advanced topics for all State PTA Officers, such as:

  • Nonprofit management and Standards of Affiliation
  • Parliamentary procedures
  • Board development and team-building
  • Using financial data to make strategic decisions
  • Transformative Family Engagement

For other State PTA leaders, workshops include access to our nation’s experts on critical issues—like school safety and mental health—as well as training on skills required for continued leadership growth, like public speaking.

Start making your Convention Education plan now! Take 15 minutes to preview what else is happening at the 2019 National PTA Convention & Expo by taking this quick tour!

New! On-Demand Training Series Launches for State Leaders

National PTA has launched a new state PTA training series: Leadership Drives Membership. This seven-segment video series features a complementary self-reflection and discussion guide for State PTA Boards, Committees and other State PTA Leaders seeking to improve strategies that increase membership. All videos are between 15-30 minutes and can be viewed on-demand in the Membership section of the State Resource Bank.

This comprehensive training was a cross-committee, volunteer-staff collaboration to include members of the National PTA Membership Committee, chaired by Vice President of Membership Anna King, National PTA Field Services Committee, chaired by Darlene Harris, and the National PTA Education & Leadership Development Department.

Committee members were instrumental in guiding content development and served as co-hosts for the following videos:

  1. Why Leadership Drives Membership [5:08] with Anna King (OK) and Darlene Harris (PA)
  2. Lead with Inclusion [23:03] with Sergio Chavez (AZ) and Dorothy Gardner (NC, formerly MO)
  3. Communicate the Value of PTA [22:20] with Dani Carver and Heather Gillette (WA)
  4. Analyze Your State PTA Leadership Data & Membership Trends [14:06] with Anna King (OK) and Darlene Harris (PA)
  5. Develop Your State PTA Priorities & Plan [23:36] with Jesus Holguin (CA) and Eileen Segal (FL)
  6. Improve Your Customer Experience for Local PTAs [17:25] with Kim Henderson (TN) and Michael Morgan (CA)
  7. Train Local PTAs to Make a Membership Growth P.L.A.N. [24:30] with Robert Acerra (NJ) and Lisa Holbrook (TX)

The series repurposes the content designed for and delivered at the Pilot Southeast Regional Training in November 2018, which National PTA’s Board of Directors invested in as part of its expanded commitment to State Leadership Training.

Voices for Wear Orange

In my community, everyone can tell you where they were the day of the Columbine High School shooting. When I hear anything about a mass shooting, people whose faces I know who were hurt, traumatized, or killed at Columbine, pass through my mind… people whose lives changed the instant a gun fired inside a school.

Many people who were there that day have gone on to have great lives with little connection to the shooting. Some have not been that lucky. Most can easily be triggered each time a new shooting hits the news in our community, Deer Creek… Platte Canyon… the Aurora theater… Arapahoe High School… now STEM…

As parents, we reach out to the PTA families at schools grieving gun deaths of students in other communities, but when we send cards and make donations, it is already too late, and it is not the whole story.

I work in a program within a public school district for students who have been unsuccessful in traditional schools. In the last two years, I have lost three students to gun violence whose names are not memorialized. One was shot by a friend. One was killed by police (with a gun in his hand). One took his own life. These students also have families, educators, and friends mourning them, whose lives changed the moment a gun shot.   All of them accessed firearms, despite gun safety protections available to keep kids safe. The results show that we have not done enough yet.

As a PTA family we have to do more. As PTA advocates, we must talk to our lawmakers and help them understand our legislative priorities about gun violence and urge them to:

  • Fund federal research on the causes and effects of gun violence on youth and in communities, as well as research on evidence-based strategies to reduce gun violence
  • Prohibit the use of any federal funds to purchase or train school personnel in the use of firearms
  • Require a waiting period and a comprehensive background check for any
  • individual prior to buying a firearm from both licensed and unlicensed dealers
  • Restrict internet gun sales including sales of kits, such as bump stocks, that
  • can be used to make or modify guns
  • Ban the sale, transfer, manufacturing and importation of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines

Most of all, join me in Wear Orange movement and get your community involved in finding solutions.

I look forward to the day when I do not come home and see fear in my kids’ eyes asking when a shooter will come to their schools. I look forward to the day I do not have to discuss reacting to a shooter entering our classroom with my students who already suffer from trauma. PTA is our best opportunity to make that day happen, and kids’ lives depend on it.


About the Author:
Ami Prichard
Mother of three
President of Jeffco Council PTA, Colorado PTA Vice President of Marketing and Communication Elect
Teacher, Jeffco Interim Alternative Educational Setting (IAES) and Homebound Programs

The Road Ahead: Federal Education Funding in Fiscal Year 2020

To understand where Congress goes next in this year’s education funding process, it is important to understand the journey up to this point. The U.S. House of Representatives is currently in the thick of its funding process, which is more commonly known as appropriations. They must, along with the U.S. Senate, fund education programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 by September 30, 2019.

Last month, the House Appropriations Committee approved the House version of the FY 2020 Labor-HHS-Education funding bill. The bill provides crucial funding for education and related programs that serve millions of students across the country, including roughly $76 billion for the Department of Education, which is a 7.2% increase over the amount approved in the previous year.

The bill also provided the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program with $15 million, which is $5 million over FY 2019 funding. With this funding level, the committee sent a clear message that family engagement is a priority and greater investments must be made to ensure parents are at the decision-making table when it comes to their child’s education. The SFEC program is a critical priority for National PTA, and we applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for their commitment to robust funding for public education. Unfortunately, the road ahead to make the bill law is a long one.

The next step for the Labor-HHS-Education funding bill is the House floor where the full chamber will vote on the bill. However, even if the bill does pass the House, it is unlikely that the Senate will pass it in its current form. Both chambers must agree on the bill for education programs to be funded by the Sept. 30, 2019 deadline.

Unlike the House, the Senate Appropriations Committee has not started work on their education funding bill and does not anticipate doing so until a budget deal is enacted to change the spending caps for discretionary programs. Discretionary programs are programs that must have their funding renewed each year in order to continue operating and includes education programs. Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, this year there will be automatic cuts to discretionary programs—translating into a nearly $20 billion reduction to critical education, health and workforce budgets—unless Congress takes action to raise them. If no budget deal is made before the Sept. 30, 2019 deadline, there could be a continuing resolution which would temporarily provide funding until an agreement is made. If no continuing resolution is passed, there will be a government shutdown.

Despite this multistep process, immense gains have already been made for education programs and there is a reason to believe a budget deal could be solidified sooner rather than later. National PTA’s advocates have made their voices heard during the appropriations process thus far. Our advocates helped secure the $5 million increase to SFECs in the House Labor-HHS-Education funding bill and are taking action urging Congress to raise the budget caps to avoid automatic spending cuts to education.

Recent media reports also suggest that both Congressional leadership and the White House are open to a budget deal to raise the caps. While this is a hopeful sign, the education community must stay vigilant until a deal is finalized, so that robust and equitable education investments are made so that all children can reach their full potential. Check out National PTA’s Federal Appropriations 101 resources to learn more about how critical children’s programs are funded.

Take Action—Contact your federal lawmakers and urge them to raise the budget caps to avoid potential automatic spending cuts to education.


About the Author:
Cyrus Huncharek is the Government Affairs Coordinator for National PTA.

Engage Your School to Prevent Online Child Exploitation

June is Internet Safety Month, so this is a great time to learn more about the risks that children face online and what we can do to help keep them safe. In 2018 alone, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) CyberTipline® received more than 18.4 million reports of online child sexual exploitation. The majority of these tips were related to:

Online enticement involves an individual communicating with a child on the internet to commit a sexual offense or abduction. Similarly, “sextortion” is a process of manipulation in which a child is being groomed to take sexually explicit images and/or ultimately meet face-to-face with the offender for sexual purposes. In an analysis of CyberTipline reports, NCMEC found that online enticement took place across every online platform; from social media sites to messaging apps and online games.

It surprises many people to discover how prevalent child sexual abuse online has become, but with 97% of American girls and 95% of American boys having access to a smartphone today, the means by which bad actors can access children online have grown substantially. So, what can PTAs do to enlist families and educators in efforts to prevent children from becoming victims of online exploitation?

To start, consider making “online life” a focus at your next PTA meeting. Engage parents in a discussion about how much they believe they understand about their children’s online behaviors. The PTA Connected program from National PTA has resources to help you create an agenda, but here are a few questions you should ask parents to get them thinking:

  • Do your children post on social media?
  • Which apps do they use?
  • Do they play online games? Which ones?
  • Are their accounts set to private to limit contact to only known/approved users?

Next, PTAs can help educate school staff about online safety and its relation to sexual exploitation. This free online training from NetSmartz®—NCMEC’s online safety program—is perfect for educators who want to better understand digital citizenship and safety as well as the variety of resources available to teach these topics. Parents may also find it a useful overview of how their children may be using the internet, and how they can take action to help protect their kids online.

Finally, PTAs can provide access to resources for parents and educators who are interested in having more safety conversations with their children. NetSmartz® offers a range of tip sheets for both adults and youth about online safety topics ranging from gaming safely to how to talk to teens about sexting. Consider displaying some of these tip sheets in the school lobby during drop-off and pick-up times, or handing them out during meetings and special school events that families attend. Additionally, sending this type of information electronically in follow-up and in regular newsletters allows parents to easily revisit the content.

The possibilities for education around this topic are plentiful, so make internet safety a priority for your PTA this June. With your help, parents can be empowered to take an active role in helping to keep kids safer online!


About the author:

Eliza Harrel is the Director of Education, Outreach, Training & Prevention at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Make Connections at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Hollin Meadows PTA (Alexandria, Va.)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders sharing their stories as STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night winners. These real-world experiences shed light on how an individual PTA planned and hosted their event, including lessons learned and practical advice.

If you are looking for a way to get your school community involved in a meaningful, engaging and fun activity, consider hosting a National PTA Invention Night sponsored by littleBits! This event allows students and families to make so many connections—both the science kind and the personal kind!

We recently hosted an Invention Night at our Title 1 elementary school in Alexandria, Va., and it was an overwhelming success, with over 250 attendees! Because we are an extremely diverse school community, we promoted the event in multiple languages and multiple formats including fliers, social media, ads on our in-house news program and personal invitations. We also prepared several videos, some in both English and Spanish and some featuring our PTA event lead volunteer and our favorite teachers, to give a teaser about the cool inventions the kids would make.

These various outreach efforts allowed us to spread the word to more of our families and to make them feel welcomed, included and excited about the event from the outset. Our principal and teachers supported our Invention Night with announcements in the classrooms, school-wide email updates and tweets, in addition to being active participants during the event. We also invited our student alumni, neighbors and larger school community to volunteer. Due to these efforts, our attendees were reflective of our community, representing families from all grade levels, backgrounds and languages.

Having hosted weeknight events before, we know that feeding our families a full, free dinner is extremely important. Parents took the night off from cooking, knowing that their families would enjoy a wholesome Noodles & Co. meal—veggies included! We set up the event in the cafeteria, using the cafeteria line to serve dinner. Families ate in a designated section and once they’d finished, moved to the part of the cafeteria where the kits were positioned.

Because we had so many attendees, families paired up to work on the kits. This allowed families to meet other families and have a natural, shared experience as they worked together. Some families had challenges downloading the app or the specific invention instructions, so the cafeteria was abuzz with families sharing information and advice. It was beautiful to see new relationships forged and for families to collaborate and contribute their unique strengths to the group’s efforts.

Kids and parents alike were clamoring for more time with the kits, so we would definitely love to host another Invention Night! With events like these we are empowering not only future STEM professionals, we are empowering families and communities! Wow! Imagine the possibilities…

Take Action: Learn more about how your PTA can host a STEM + Families Invention Night


About the Guest Contributor, Eileen Gorman: Eileen Gorman is the PTA President at Hollin Meadows Science and Math Focus PTA in Alexandria, Va.

Disclosure: littleBits is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of the 2018-2019 STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

 

 

The Summer of STEM

Original post: https://medium.com/stem-next-opportunity-fund/2019-the-summer-of-stem-e7755ebae5e7 

“Not all summers are created equal.” We agree with this assessment from Laura Johnson, VP of Communications at the National Summer Learning Association. STEM Next Opportunity Fund puts forward the challenge — Let’s empower families so that every child has access to quality summer learning.

Summer can offer time to explore new subjects and go deep into personal interests. Summer can also increase the opportunity gap. We know that kids from under-resourced communities may fall behind in academics, while kids in higher-income families increase skills over the summer months. It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s research that shows elementary school kids with high levels of attendance in voluntary summer programs experience benefits in math and reading.

There are lots of summer coding camps, robotic workshops, and environmental science classes where kids can have fun and learn. There are online opportunities too. But, how do parents find summer programs? How do they sort through and make the best choice for their child? How do they take advantage of opportunities without spending a lot of time and money?

STEM Next appreciates the importance of supporting families and summer learning. Here are six ideas to empower families and make 2019 the summer of STEM.

#1 Help parents find summer programs. Create a resource that highlights programs that are accessible by public transportation, free or low cost for families, and are creative and culturally relevant. The Summer Learning Recruitment Guide from the Wallace Foundation can help you communicate the value of summer programs to families. You might take a lesson from Digital Youth Divas and engage families with their own research of summer programs. Parents are given time to reflect on their needs (e.g., schedule, transportation, costs) and their goals for their children (e.g., deepening their child’s existing interests or creating new ones), and work in small groups to find relevant programs using a networked city resource. Once they identify programs of interest, they save them and email them to themselves, share with others, or bookmark them to follow up on. What I especially like about this approach is how it creates social networks in which parents become resources for one another. You can learn more about empowering families and building parent networks in our case study about Digital Youth Divas.

Photo credit: Bay Area STEM Ecosystem

#2 Help families apply. Support the application process for families for whom English is their second language or who are not tech savvy. Techbridge Girls created a summer list and went a step further, holding workshops in which they helped families apply online. This experience helped staff understand how family-friendly (or unfriendly) the application process was for different programs. With these insights, staff gave feedback to partners and advocated for more family-friendly applications.

#3 Make summer STEM a family experience. The Bay Area STEM Ecosystem offered a summer science series for families. The 10-week program was hosted by 10 different partners at one convenient location. We learned valuable lessons like making explicit that activities are for kids and adults so that parents don’t sit back and watch. From parents who often juggle competing activities on the weekends, we heard how much they appreciated a program that was for kids ages 3–13. The entire family could spend time together and continue talking about these shared experiences at home.

#4 Don’t assume to know what parents are looking for when it comes to summer programs; involve families in the process. Listen to parents to understand their needs and interests along with possible barriers. Think that transportation might be a barrier? Ask parents and enlist their input to figure out ways around potential challenges. Carpools and bus passes might help. Think that a scholarship will make a summer program accessible? Ask parents if that’s what they want or if there are other reasons beyond financial barriers to a summer program. A trusted community partner or family that has participated in the program may help to answer questions and encourage parents.

#5 Don’t let STEM learning end with the end of summer programs. I love the idea of digital postcards that were created at a summer camp at Shaver Center Environmental Center. Kids in grades 3–5 were invited to take photos and write about their camp experiences. These postcards were emailed to parents and available through an access-controlled website. If you try this, take advantage of what the research team from Penn State University learned. A prompt asking kids to tell what they learned during camp was not effective; kids just named what was in their photo. Instead, the following three prompts sparked rich reflections. 1) My picture is of… 2) Today I learned … and 3) I want to learn more about … Kids’ responses helped parents understand their child’s interests and follow up with relevant activities. You can read more about the Digital Postcard Maker project in this article in TechTrends.

#6 Offer ideas that encourage families to do STEM at home, in the backyard, and around the neighborhood. Check out The Busy Parents’ Guide to Easy Summer Learning from EdNavigator. There are family-friendly activities like going to the library and finding the math or science in a movie. You can find more ideas to support summer learning in Summer Stride from Learning Heroes, a research-based, English/Spanish resource. I especially like the suggestion for parents to ask teachers what they can do over the summer to set their child up for success in the next grade. The National PTA, in partnership with Learning Heroes and the National Summer Learning Association, offers more ideas in Summer Playbook Smarter Summer. Brighter Futures. A Summer Playbook for PTA and School Leaders. Families can try the 20–2–1 Summer Challenge. Read something of interest for at least 20 minutes, engage in two activities like writing in a journal or playing outside, and try one math activity each day.

How will you support families this summer? We invite you to share your ideas, successes, and lessons learned. Share on twitter and tag @STEMNext or write us at familyengagement@stemnext.org.


I am an advisor for STEM Next Opportunity Fund. Family engagement has been a passion and at the center of the research and programs I have led for over two decades. My favorite memories from summer include reading lots and lots books, learning to bowl, and playing with friends in the neighborhood until after dark. lkekelis@gmail.com @LindaKekelis

Building an Army to Prevent Bullying

Spotlight on Carlstadt PTA:

Ever since I heard the news about a 12-year-old girl from Rockaway, N.J. committing suicide due to bullying, I couldn’t shake the story.

Maybe I couldn’t shake it because I live in New Jersey, and my daughter was 12-years-old at the time I heard the news. Or, maybe it was because it was unfathomable to me that we lived in a society that would allow someone to feel such great pain that they felt the only solution was to take their own life.

That 12-year-old girl’s name was Mallory Grossman. She was a beautiful young girl with a heart of gold and so much potential. She was an amazing gymnast and cheerleader, and she loved making crafts in her spare time. Unfortunately, a group of students at Mallory’s school didn’t see all of her amazing qualities. They relentlessly bullied her. After Mallory’s death, her mom, Dianne Grossman, started Mallory’s Army to speak out against bullying.

As president of Carlstadt PTA, I love coordinating all the “usual” fun things that most PTAs do—fundraisers, field trips, family nights. But I knew I couldn’t let this news story just fade away, especially with National Bullying Month fast-approaching. So, I collaborated with our PTA board and the school administration to help arrange an assembly featuring Dianne for our middle school students (and parents) in October 2018. This type of somber, anti-bullying assembly was newer for us to sponsor, but felt important.

[Editor’s Note: Carlstadt PTA recognized that this assembly would cover sensitive content and worked hard in advance of the assembly to make sure that families were aware and in support of the planned subject matter, using several forms of communication including their PTA’s Facebook page.]

It was an intense, life-changing assembly. Dianne broke things down in a raw, candid way. She started off by engaging the students in an exercise that helped them see that they do have things in common even if they may not all be friends. Dianne shared her own experience of being bullied as a child at school for being “the poor kid” and described to the students how those words made her feel, and how eventually she began to internalize and believe the taunting and shaming of her classmates.

Thankfully, Dianne was able to overcome the bullying through positive self-talk. Sadly, Mallory could not.

During the assembly, Dianne gave specific examples of the intense bullying Mallory experienced. Dianne did not sugar-coat how ugly things got, which helped the assembled students realize the severity of the bullying. Dianne showed a large poster-sized picture of Mallory on an easel and recounted what the bullies did over time to her daughter. The teasing started with Mallory’s backpack, so Dianne put an X over it in the picture. It wasn’t “cool” to wear a necklace like hers, so the necklace got an X. Eventually, Dianne asked the audience to say “Sorry, Mallory!” as she attempted to erase the X marks from the picture, but of course the marks were in permanent ink and could not be erased. This helped underscore to the students that hurtful words are not easily erased.

Dianne went on to explain how the bullies would not allow Mallory to sit at their table during lunch, how they texted her cruel messages, sent her screenshots of unkind and untrue comments they posted about her on social media, how they told her to kill herself.

The most pivotal moment of the assembly came when Dianne said, “I can now answer those bullies when they asked Mallory, ‘When are you going to kill yourself?’ Because the answer is June 14, 2017.” The students in the auditorium gasped, and many cried.

Unsurprisingly, Dianne had everyone’s full attention for the hour and a half she presented. For most of the assembly, you could have heard a pin drop. Some students needed to leave the assembly briefly to compose themselves. In that moment, I did worry that we had made the issue of bullying somehow too real and too hard for our middle school students—my heart was in my throat as this assembly continued. It’s so hard to know where to draw the line with sharing difficult content, and yet I reminded myself that Mallory herself had been a middle school student when she was bullied by other middle school students.

As I wrestled with my own emotions, I started to notice something quite amazing all over the auditorium: students holding hands, students consoling other students, hugging their friends, students checking on the ones sitting next to them—even students who admitted they were not friends during the earlier exercise. When the assembly ended, some students were still holding hands as they walked back to their classrooms. Not only did they learn the worst that can happen when you bully someone, they were united by it.

I hope that all who attended the assembly were forever changed by it.

As a fellow PTA leader, you may be wrestling with whether or not to sponsor a similar type of assembly at your school. It’s difficult, heart-breaking content. Oftentimes we want to shield our children from these difficult subjects or assume that “it can’t happen here.”

As PTA leaders, we often feel most comfortable organizing a game night or a teacher appreciation luncheon. However, having gone through this experience with our PTA, I would implore you to have your PTA tackle the “tough stuff” just as much as the fun stuff. We are in an important and unique position to drive meaningful conversations among students, faculty and parents.

I’m proud of our PTA for addressing this issue, and proud of our students for embracing Dianne’s message. We can’t bring Mallory Grossman back, but her army is growing.


While the PTA-sponsored event at Carlstadt tackled the issues of bullying and suicide by engaging Dianne and Mallory’s Army through an assembly, an additional option is to host a PTA Connected family night event to facilitate open, proactive dialogue between parents and kids together about issues like online safety, kindness, etc. Hundreds of these PTA Connected events are taking place nationwide during the 2018-2019 school year, with more slated in 2019-2020. Add yours to the growing list! Learn more about PTA Connected, including how to host an event and relevant resources available.

Additional Resources:

  • Connect for Respect Research shows that one of the most effective ways to prevent bullying behavior is to create a positive school climate. School climate encompasses everything that contributes to a student’s experience with a school—from the physical building to policies, staff and peer culture. Use the Connect for Respect (C4R) Toolkit to guide your PTA/PTSA in engaging students in improving the school climate and reducing bullying.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255.
  • David’s Legacy Foundation (Resource Hub)

About the guest contributor
Michele Romano has been a member and volunteer with Carlstadt Public School PTA in New Jersey since 2009. She was a local unit vice president for four years before becoming president in 2018. Michele has two daughters, a teen and a tween.

How Do You Become a School of Excellence?

Spotlight on: Zane North PTA, N.J.

What does it look like to become a National PTA School of Excellence? According to Zane North PTA in New Jersey, it meant learning that even small, consistent changes can be absolutely transformative.

As participants in the School of Excellence program, Zane North PTA selected the focus area of ensuring health & safety of all students with the specific objective to prevent bullying and encourage peer relationships. The Zane North PTA collaborated with school staff throughout the year to successfully achieve these goals.

At the start of the school year, students in Kindergarten through second-grade were partnered with students in third to fifth-grade. These buddy partners met once a week all year for one-on-one readers’ workshops. In September, Zane North PTA sponsored Friendship Day, a daylong event where students and their buddy partners participated in fun outdoor games, challenges and activities with PTA volunteers providing support. The music teacher also led the students in several song singalongs focused on the value of friendship.

At the start of each morning, Zane students recited a Kindness Pledge, promising to be kind to others. Zane North featured a monthly core value theme with associated lessons, events and activities. For example, in October, they focused on Respect; in November, they focused on Sharing and in April, they focused on Compassion. Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre presented an anti-bullying assembly for students paid for by the PTA. The PTA also funded anti-bullying and kindness assemblies to emphasize acts of kindness, tolerance, and acceptance.

Through the School of Excellence process, Zane North PTA realized the value in building a sense of community and strengthening relationships. They revised their fundraising strategy and introduced fun group activities like bowling and ice skating to bring their school community together. This change received positive feedback from their community, and they were able to raise just as much money (and in some cases more) while strengthening relationships too!

Greg Dollak, Zane North PTA President shared that the National PTA School of Excellence program helped the PTA “… rethink the traditional ways in which we provided services to our school community” and said that the School of Excellence process, “…has set the tone for all we are doing now.” Having earned the 2018-2020 National PTA School of Excellence designation, Zane North PTA decided to reenroll in the program and is currently in pursuit of the 2019-2021 designation.

Even though they’re still hard at work improving their school community, Zane North PTA isn’t afraid to celebrate all of the amazing things they’ve accomplished so far! Last fall, after getting word that they had received a coveted National PTA School of Excellence designation Zane North PTA held an event to celebrate their success. It was attended by representatives from New Jersey PTA, Collingswood borough government, Collingswood Board of Education members, Congressman Donald Norcross, and of course our Zane North staff, students, and PTA executive board. The event was even covered live on FOX 29’s “Good Day Philadelphia.”

During the event, Zane North’s fourth and fifth-grade students performed several musical numbers under the direction of music teacher Bryan Gross, and students from each grade read a message thanking the PTA for all they do for the school. Zane North PTA also held a National PTA School of Excellence “banner reveal” at the event. They were showcased in a local newspaper article, received a congratulatory letter from United States Senator Cory A. Booker, and even had the School of Excellence logo printed on their school apparel.

To learn more about how your PTA can make long-lasting, continuous school improvements while earning recognition, visit PTA.org/Excellence. Enrollment for the 2019-20 program is open now!