PTA Leader Helps School Step Outside Comfort Zone and Into Progress

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Daphne Callender, Fitness Instructor by day and PTA champion of Springfield Estates Elementary School (SEES) PTA in Springfield, VA, and her extraordinary school community in celebration of their 2019-2021 National PTA School of Excellence designation. The warm celebration with parents, staff and administrators included a delicious dinner, a decorated cake and the unveiling of their School of Excellence banner. As one of 19 PTAs in Virginia to earn the School of Excellence designation this year, Springfield Estates Elementary PTA had a great deal to be proud of. Through their year-long School of Excellence program, SEES PTA chose to focus on the inclusion and access to their ethnically, racially and socio-economically diverse community. As both a Title 1 neighborhood school and Advanced Academic Placement Center that pulls from eight different elementary schools, SEES PTA felt it was imperative to bring all members together to build community and celebrate their rich diversity.

Through their School of Excellence plan, SEES PTA took deliberative steps to make certain that all parents knew that they were invited to attend and participate in all PTA events, translating invitations into their five major languages: Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Urdu, and Arabic.  These invitations were personally distributed to all cars in the Kiss-N-Ride line and sent home in students’ folders. They also asked their Spanish-speaking parent liaison and English as a Second Language teachers to encourage and welcome parent participation at all PTA events. The PTA hosted an international food potluck dinner where families shared dishes from their culture and, to further welcome families with differing socio-economic statuses, they secured scholarships and gift certificates with one of their after-school STEM programs. It is clear that Springfield Estates Elementary celebrates their diverse and culturally rich environment and fervently believes it enhances the educational experience of their students and their families alike. Here is what Daphne shared about her work in the School of Excellence program:

“The National PTA School of Excellence Award program enabled our PTA committee to recognize that although we had a strong PTA, there was room for more family engagement and to make sure that feeling of welcome extended to each and every family at our school. Upon receiving the first email, I gave it a little bit of thought but didn’t know if I wanted to add something else to my already full schedule.  When I received the email that it was the absolute last day to sign up, I decided to go for it.  I then created a team of people who could help me implement and execute a plan for more family engagement. I would highly recommend the National PTA School of Excellence program to other schools because it helps to provide a goal to work towards.  I believe it easy to get stuck in doing what’s always been done. The program gave our PTA a focus and we worked on it together as a team.”

Congratulations SEES PTA and thank you for being a leader in building family-school partnerships!


Amy Weinberg, Manager Programs & Partnerships at National PTA.

Visit PTA.org/Excellence to learn more about the School of Excellence program and how your PTA can earn the designation.

5 Back-in-School Tips for Over-Stressed, Over-Stretched Sports Parents

There are many reasons to celebrate moms and dads this back-to-school season, not the least of which is their selfless commitment to contributing so much of their precious time and hard-earned money to their children’s after-school and weekend youth sports activities.

And let’s face it, parents of kids involved in sports have A LOT on their plate during the busy fall season. Driving to practices after school and games on Saturdays, washing seemingly endless amounts of dirty laundry, planning for the entire season calendar (sometimes for multiple kids of different ages across multiple sports), packing snacks and meal prepping. The list goes on.

Not surprisingly, as children participate in more and more organized team sports, both the time and the financial commitment that are needed from mom and dad have skyrocketed.

While both parents typically make an enormous commitment to seeing their child succeed on the field or court, there are some interesting differences between how moms and dads are involved in their children’s back-to-school athletic pursuits.

FlipGive–the team funding platform that has helped over 35,000 youth sports teams and clubs across North America raise $20 million–surveyed 1,000 American sports parents and learned some interesting insights.

  1. CUT DOWN ON BACK-IN-SCHOOL STRESS BY GETTING SPORTS CALENDARS ORGANIZED NOW
    Right off the bat, parents of kids who play on school sports teams said they were 33% more stressed about the start of the new school year than parents of kids who don’t play on school sports teams. One way to help relieve that stress? Treat your kid’s sports schedule like you do your work meetings and weekend social events, and use TeamSnap to add practices and games to your calendar and mobile device.
  1. LEARN THE ROPES: MEET SCHOOL COACHES & BUILD EARLY RELATIONSHIPS
    35% of dads and 11% of moms admit they’ve gotten into a heated argument at one of their child’s school-related sporting events– either with a referee, coach, or other parent. Pro tip: If you get to know somebody, you’re less likely to want to punch them in the face or threaten to egg their house because they made a bad call or they took your kid off the field for a much-needed rest.
  1. ESTABLISH SLEEPING SCHEDULES & ROUTINES NOW TO EASE THE TRANSITION
    For parents of kids who play school sports, the time commitment associated with their child’s sports involvement is the number one cause of stress when school sports season starts back up (40%). Cut down on this stress by setting aside ample time for you AND your kids to catch up on sleep when they aren’t scoring goals and hitting homers and you aren’t shuttling them around town from the field, to the court, to the rink.
  1. ENCOURAGE KIDS TO HAVE FUN & BE TEAM PLAYERS ON SCHOOL SPORTS TEAMS
    It turns out sports moms and dads have very different goals for their youngster’s athletic involvement. For moms, the top goal for their child is to have fun (38%). For sports dads, the top priority for their child is to learn teamwork and leadership skills (34%). With all of these goals in mind this back-to-school season, try and remember that a big part of youth sports is helping your child grow into a well-rounded, respectful adult who knows how to handle wins, losses, and adversity.
  1. PROPER MEAL-PREP & SNACKS ARE CRUCIAL FOR SPORTS PARENTS
    It’s no secret that young athletes are growing and usually hungry, and 95% of parents with kids who play school sports said it’s a top priority for them to ensure their kids have nutritional meals and snacks throughout their school day to maximize their endurance and performance. Some friendly advice–find some healthy, protein-packed snacks that your kids like, and stick with them! A big part of success on the field is routine, and the less your child has to worry about, the better.
  2. SEEK OUT CARPOOLS WITH THE MOST ON-THE-BALL SPORTS PARENTS

Fun fact: a relatively equal amount of sports moms (59%) and dads (58%) said they drive the classic sports parent minivan. FlipGive recommends setting up a back-to-school carpool with parents who have kids that play on the same team as your child in advance of the first day to cut down on last minute planning and to avoid the dreaded shame that comes with getting your child to practice late.

THE MOST BACK-TO-SCHOOL READY SPORTS PARENTS

Some school sports parents are more prepared for back-to-school season and school-year sports play than others. The top 5 states where sports parents are most back-to-school ready, according to a FlipGive survey of over 2,000 parents, are:

  1. Mississippi (72%)
  2. Texas (69%)
  3. Virginia (68%)
  4. Georgia (66%)
  5. Ohio (65%)

To learn more about how parents are helping their kids succeed outside of the classroom and on the sports field this back-to-school season, or behaving in school bleachers, please visit www.flipgive.com/.

 

Excellence in Action: 2019’s Top 3 National PTA Schools of Excellence

Each year, the top three National PTA Schools of Excellence are selected to receive the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awards for demonstrating outstanding success in engaging families in student success and school improvements. These awards are selected by a team of Past National PTA Presidents and are the highest honor National PTA offers for success in family engagement.

The 2019 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients are: Mark Twain Elementary PTA (California) who received the top Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award, Norman Rockwell PTA (Washington) who received a Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit and Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA (Florida) who also received a Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit.

In addition to national recognition, thanks to the generous support of the Hearst Foundation, the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Awardee receives a $2,000 grant for their school and the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Merit Awardees each receive $500 grants for their schools.

We are so pleased to share with you just a snapshot of the fantastic work our 2019 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients put into building and growing family-school partnerships in their communities.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA, California

We were so impressed by the efforts of our 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award winner. Mark Twain Elementary School PTA began their School of Excellence journey with a vision to become a stable organization that leads in engaging with and meeting the needs of all families. The PTA focused on several goals early in their planning process and used these goals to build an organized approach to family-school engagement.

  • Improve leadership and member training, planning and organization
  • Refresh traditional PTA programs and add new ideas
  • Expand funding sources and eliminate inefficient activities
  • Increase school and community engagement

With these in mind, the PTA created an Excellence Team including PTA members, the principal, student support services staff, district communications staff and bilingual speakers. With their team set, the Excellence Team planned to combine refreshed traditions and new activities to best serve their current families.

One example of this combination was Mark Twain Elementary School PTA’s re-themed tradition: JOG-A-THON 2019: Run Toward Your Future. Students wore college gear or a shirt expressing their desired career path. Students were invited to help create a muraled billboard with miniature squares depicting their future career plans.

Mark Twain Elementary School PTA also launched several new events and programs, including their first-ever PTA College and Career Readiness Month in March with a combined Read Across America/Career Day. During the latter, the PTA invited parents to both read books and speak about their careers. In the usually female-heavy volunteer base, four new dads showed up and declared they would return next year.

The survey results Mark Twain Elementary School PTA eventually collected reflect just how much work went into achieving excellence. 100% of the year-end survey questions reflected an increase in the ‘always’ rating and 95% of questions showed ‘always’ selected greater than 50% of the time. The PTA even saw an 11% increase in the number of surveys submitted at year-end!

Norman Rockwell PTA, Washington

Norman Rockwell PTA, one of our two 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit winners, highlighted communication as the key to their success in the School of Excellence program.

The PTA’s emphasis on communication provided a deeper understanding of school programs, educated parents on transitioning students between grade levels and created more consistent communication to reach families where they were.

After a positive response to new, multi-lingual ‘Welcome’ signs, the Norman Rockwell PTA knew they needed to capitalize on their momentum towards consistent communication. To do so, the PTA decided to foster their partnership with the principal’s ‘Coffee with Mr. Clark’, a monthly meeting for families to discuss important topics with the principal in an open, casual Q & A format.

The PTA found this format was especially useful as it made it easy for families to be heard, while also allowing parents and the principal to work towards a common understanding. Their work to foster this partnership paid off and ‘Coffee with Mr. Clark’ reached at least 50 parents. Norman Rockwell PTA hopes to double attendance next year.

Norman Rockwell PTA’s focus on communication did not stop with coffee, however. The PTA also worked to involve parents in planning for students transitioning between grade levels. Using National PTA’s Parent’s Guides to Student Success, the Beagle Bugle, Norman Rockwell PTA’s weekly newsletter, featured one grade level for two weeks and linked parents to an overview of key topics children learn in their English literacy and math classrooms. Each article presented activities for families to do at home to ensure students meet core expectations and support academic standards. The PTA went one step further and, before publishing the content, met with teacher groups to review the content and ensure their grade level met the outlined standards.

The concentrated effort Norman Rockwell PTA placed on communication did not go unnoticed in their state. Due to the PTAs efforts, the Washington PTA awarded Norman Rockwell PTA the Silver Award of Excellence for Outstanding Communication Strategy, an award that recognizes local PTAs for their use of multiple forms of communication.

Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA, Florida

Our second 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit winner, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA in Florida, decided to focus on improving the education of their students by engaging more families during their School of Excellence program year. To accomplish this, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA hosted events and programs that helped families to get to know and relate with one another both in and out of school.

One successful program was Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA involvement in the National PTA Reflections art program. The PTA had a total of 52 entries in visual arts and literature and have two became district level Reflections winners.

To further acknowledge the Reflections participants, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA hosted an awards ceremony and invited parents to attend and recognize their children, as well as other participants. Following the Reflections competition, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA hosted an art show for all second through fifth grade students. Parents were able to walk through a gallery filled with many colorful masterpieces and talk amongst each other.

Additionally, the PTA hosted a family night at the local ice arena for families to come together and socialize, as well as a family night with the Miami Heat basketball team, which included a performance by the Jane S. Roberts K8 Center band students before the game.

The impact of these events was reflected in end of the year survey results, which showed a 26% increase in responses relating to encouraging families to volunteer, showing respect to all families, listening to families concerns and establishing policies to recognize diversity.

Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA also worked to strengthen their school’s presence in the community. The PTA reached out to a few organizations to begin building partnerships. At the first PTSA meeting, the PTA invited a financial planner to give a presentation to families in attendance. Additionally, in the school’s main office, the PTA put together a parent resource center that provided families with valuable information from various organizations in the community. In partnership with the Student Council, the school and PTA also gave back to the local community with a food and toy drive. The PTA’s work to improve community relations was show in end of the year survey data which reflected an average increase of 17% as it relates to community partnerships and resources.

By the end of the School of Excellence program, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center significantly improved their family-school partnerships, made their school community more welcoming and inclusive, increased participation in PTA events and fostered more productive conversations with families. The School of Excellence program allowed Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA to remain aligned with the PTA’s mission to make every student’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering their families and the local community.

Congratulations once again to these amazing PTAs and to all of our 2019-2021 National PTA Schools of Excellence. The work that these PTAs accomplished shows just how much impact a dedicated PTA, school and community can have in just a year’s time.

Take the first step in becoming a nationally-recognized PTA School of Excellence by enrolling now through Oct. 1 at PTA.org/Excellence and visit PTA.org/Hearst for the full narratives our Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awardees.

Email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


Ellie Miller, Programs & Partnerships Specialist at National PTA.

How Boosterthon Turned This Skeptical Dad into a Fan

I hate school fundraisers with a passion. You see, I have three kids in school, from seventh grade all the way down to third grade. We’ve reluctantly participated in our share of school fundraisers over the years and will likely face many more in the next decade or so to come. Each time we’ve done so, I’ve cringed. While I understand that fundraisers are a necessary evil for many public schools, I’d much rather cut a check at the beginning of the school year and never have someone tell my kids that if they’ll only sell X amount of stuff that no one wants, then they can have this cheap trinket and the school will make a percentage of those sales dollars… much less have to try to sell 3X as a family so each kid can have a cheap trinket that will get lost, broken, or trashed before the week is out.

This is coming from a guy who serves in key positions with a number of local fundraising organizations. Included in that mix is my role on my youngest daughter’s elementary school PTA board as the school Watch D.O.G.S. chairman. It has been my experience that I am not alone in my disdain for student fundraising, as reflected last fall when it came time to talk about fundraising options for the current school year. Oh, joy! Do we decide to sell this or to sell that?

This school year, a newer member of the PTA board suggested taking a different approach. Prior to moving to the district, her children had participated in a Boosterthon Fun Run at their previous school district. She mentioned that it had both gone over really well with everyone involved–students, families, and school staff–and saw better participation and results than a lot of more traditional (read: “sales”) fundraisers they had done in the past.

Boosterthon Malachi Story

I was skeptical. “They do all the work and we get paid” has never played out that way for me in my fundraising experience. But, I kept my mouth shut. Anything that didn’t involve asking grandparents, neighbors, and co-workers to buy something (especially with Girl Scout cookie sales going on at that same time of year) was the lesser evil, in my opinion. Additionally, I wasn’t confident that the school’s administration and teachers would be cool with someone not connected to the school district coming in and telling them how this fundraiser was going to go and taking a portion of their instructional time. Principals and teachers tend to be Type-A personalities. Even if we moved forward as a PTA board, there was still a chance this would be murdered somewhere down the line.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with how well our first Boosterthon program went.

How Boosterthon Worked

Our PTA board leaders and building principal sat down with a Boosterthon representative and selected a date for the Fun Run, which in our case was Thursday, January 18, 2018. A pair of Boosterthon team members arrived on Monday, January 8 to begin setup. Over the next eight school days (which was interrupted by a holiday and multiple-day school closing due to winter weather), the pair got students pumped up for the run by sharing Boosterthon’s “Castle Quest” character-focused curriculum. Their presentations were high-energy (as a parent of a child with sensory processing issues, I was, yes, skeptical of the approach) and effective. From day one of the lead up to the Fun Run, my daughter was excited.

Just as importantly–if not more important–the teachers were excited as well.

Boosterthon school

Instructions were sent home that walked parents through using Boosterthon’s online tools to create a donation page for each child and share instantly on a number of major social media networks. Donors could choose to make a flat donation or a per-lap donation. Boosterthon caps the number of laps a child can receive credit for at 35, so per-lap donors can do a little math and keep their donation within their budget.

One of the great things about the Boosterthon Fun Run is that every student gets to run, regardless of donations received. With other fundraisers, students who don’t sell whatever have to watch while much-coveted trash and trinkets are distributed to the top sellers among their classmates. Nothing like drilling the ol’, “Put that half-pint of milk down. Milk’s for closers.” mentality into them while they’re young, right? Everyone runs during the Boosterthon fun run, and all the laps are counted, even if they’re run for free.

On the day of the event, additional Boosterthon staff arrived and transformed our school gym into a track/rave/party room. String lights marked the inside and outside lanes of the track. Tents were erected and audio equipment set up in the infield. Parents were invited to come and cheer on their students, who arrived at the gym bearing their class-designed flag and entered through an inflatable tunnel. Once the rules were laid out, the students walked a half of a lap to get warmed up, the gym lights were turned off, and the kids were turned loose.

Boosterthon Glow Run 2

As volunteers, this is the only part of the process where we had to do any real work. Adult volunteers were lined up at the lap marker with Sharpies. Each runner had a sticker on his or her back, and as they completed a lap, they slowed down and their stickers were marked for the corresponding lap number. With so many kids running and with the number of volunteers we had, that meant that the runners got a chance to catch their collective breaths for a few seconds as they worked their way through the line. Periodically during the run, the Boosterthon DJ would slow it down and have the kids walk a couple of laps, which still counted toward their goal of 35 laps, in order to keep anyone from going all out and getting overheated.

Our school chose to have students run during their related arts hours, to minimize the impact on classroom instruction. Even with a two-hour late start on the day of the event (remember that winter weather I told you about?), all students who were present were able to participate over the course of that single-day event.

What Were the Financial Results?

That’s all great, you say. The PTA and volunteers didn’t have to do too much. You didn’t have to go out and sell a bunch of stuff that nobody wants or needs. Everyone got to participate and no one brought home a cheap squeeze toy or one of those sticky things you throw at the wall that “walks” down and ends up covered in pet hair. Good for you. How much money did the Fun Run raise for your school?

The goal for our school was to raise enough money to cover Boosterthon’s take (around $2,000 or so, for setting up, promoting, handling the donations, and hosting the event… your school’s cost may differ) and net the school $10,000 to cover the final costs for the greenhouse project. Was that a realistic goal? We didn’t know, but the Boosterthon folks suggested that for a school with our enrollment numbers, it wasn’t unrealistic. It all came down to donor participation.

4 Reasons Why We Choose Boosterthon Every Year

Because we had a holiday and two days of school closing due to weather, Boosterthon extended our donation deadline by a few additional days. As I type this article, we have raised nearly $15,000 from the event, exceeding our goal by around 30%. With enrollment around 640 students, that’s a per-student average between $20 and $25 (which doesn’t tell the whole story, when about 40% of the student population qualifies for free or reduced lunches). To say that this event was successful beyond anything even the least skeptical among us could have hoped for is an understatement.

Conclusion

That evening, our PTA held our annual Winterfest, which was scheduled to serve as a wrap up for the fun run activities. Parents shared with me and others that they were thrilled with this fundraiser, even without knowing the final numbers. The overwhelming sentiment was that parents and students very much enjoyed the idea of the kids getting character instruction and running laps during the school day over the thought of having to sell a whole lot of something in order to reach some unattainable goal to get an upgraded piece-of-junk prize, then being upset when they didn’t sell that crazy amount in order to get what cost pennies if ordered in bulk from Oriental Trading or some such source.

Barring some unforeseen change, we expect to bring Boosterthon back again next school year.

If you are tired of your child being used to move product for a company not connected with your school or community in order for your school to get a relatively small piece of the pie, you might consider attending a PTA meeting–or, gasp!, joining the PTA and volunteering–and suggesting that your child’s school take a look at Boosterthon.


Note: This post was written by Joey Mills and originally appeared on GeekDad.com. National PTA or Boosterthon did not ask for nor influence his review in any way. 

Why Should You Listen to the New PTA Podcast?

From PTA flyers and permission slips to handwritten updates from your child’s teacher, every day your child comes home with notes in their backpack. How do you keep track of everything that’s going on? With limited time, it can be difficult to figure out where to invest your energy, when it comes to engaging your child’s school. That’s why we launched Notes from the Backpack: A PTA Podcast!

Each 30-minute episode offers frank advice and ideas from researchers, parents, educators and other experts. Guiding these conversations are our hosts, LaWanda Toney, Director of Communications, and Helen Westmoreland, Director of Family Engagement, who are both mothers navigating their own parenting journeys.

The podcast answers those questions you have always been wondering but weren’t sure who to ask, like:

What questions should you be asking to make the most of your child’s Parent-Teacher Conference? We turned to Luz Santana, Executive Director of the Right Questions Institute to provide her expert opinion.

What should school discipline look like at your child’s school and what does restorative justice even mean? Former Secretary of Education John King sheds light on why so many students get suspended and where we go from here.

Is it possible to avoid wanting to tear your hair out when trying to help your child complete their homework every night? Researcher Steve Sheldon offers evidence-based tips for making the most of homework time, without the stress.

How can you possibly help your child navigate the world of hormones, crushes and frenemies now that they’ve entered middle school? We chatted with school counselor Phyllis Fagell, who will provide concrete strategies for making the most of your child’s adolescent years.

Notes from the Backpack covers all of these topics and more, providing you with the practical information you need to make the most of your child’s school experience.

So how can you learn more about this new resource and start listening? Visit PTA.org/BackpackNotes for a full list of the episodes we have released so far, and more information about the podcast. You can also listen or download on all major podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Leave us a review to let us know how we’re doing!

We want you hear from you on social media! Engage with other parents in conversations around the topics we discuss on the podcast and share your own thoughts, advice and parenting anecdotes on social media using #BackpackNotes.

Step Up Your Family Engagement

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

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

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

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

How Dance Connects to SEL

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

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

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Considerations

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

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

Two Left Feet? No Problem!

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

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

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

How Your PTA Can Integrate Cultural Dance

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

During the School Day

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

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

SHARE THE EXPERIENCE…

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

After-School & Family Engagement Events

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

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

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


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

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

By The Numbers: A PTA Connected Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Be Internet Awesome: Host a PTA Connected Workshop This Year!

The 2018-2019 school year officially launched our PTA Connected digital initiative. We had 200 PTAs across the country commit to hosting a Be Internet Awesome workshop. Was it a success? Two of our grantees gave us the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a Be Internet Awesome grantee.

Erin Hill, a PTA leader at Pivik PTA in Plum, Pa., shared, “When our PTA was awarded the Be Internet Awesome grant from the National PTA and Google, our principal had told us the school district had held something similar a few years previous and only a few people showed up. The bar was set! We were going to get more than that this time…I hoped.”

Their principal’s main concern was that younger kids wouldn’t find this program useful, but as Erin points out, “kids using technology, getting on the internet, and even using social media are getting younger and younger. Our school… is K-4, and our kids are unfortunately at an age where they’re being exposed to some unpleasant things on the internet while their parents—me included—may think they have a few years before talks of responsible usage need to happen. When I saw this opportunity, I knew we had to apply.”

Each grantee received $1,000 to put on their event. What’s the best way to spend that grant money? Take a tip from Erin: “During the planning we decided to put most of the award money towards the food and giveaways. We figured a nicely-catered event with the opportunity for prizes would draw in more people.”

We understand PTA leaders are busy! Erin had some great guidelines for efficient planning and set up, sharing, “We used our cafeteria, which has a large screen where we projected the presentation. We decorated five tables with balloons in the breakout session colors (that corresponded with colored dots on attendees’ name tags), pens, markers, notepads and a large poster board. We allowed attendees to eat first, then after about 45 minutes of arrivals and eating, we had people go to their breakout session table. I had organized attendees into their groups prior to the event.”

Another pro tip from Erin? Get the right—and the right amount—of volunteers. Erin shared, “At our event, there were eight volunteers. We had three people at the check in table, passing out name tags and materials. We had three people handling the catering and food set up. Five of us, including some who helped in the previously-mentioned capacities, ran the breakout sessions. We had a parent volunteer deliver most of the presentation that National PTA and Google provided with the grant materials. We also had our district’s director of information technology present. He was able to provide some nice examples and tips because, one, he knows the technology being used by the kids, and, two, he has young children.”

Promoting your event is key! People need to know about the event and be excited about it. Dana Hansley of Dodge Elementary PTA in East Amherst, N.Y. noted that, “a key to promoting our event beyond the usual PTA route of emails and newsletters was an outreach to all of the teachers in the building with an explanation of the event and a simple graphic with important info like the event date, time and place. The majority of teachers in the building pushed out the graphic provided through their SeeSaw, Class Dojo and Remind accounts to parents. This additional layer of teacher support greatly impacted turnout and added weight to the subject.”

You might be wondering why PTAs are so excited about these digital workshops. Dana put it perfectly, saying, “hosting a Be Internet Awesome tech evening allowed parents an opportunity to talk through what it’s like to raise children in a digitally-connected world. This event empowered parents as they realized they were not alone in their struggles and concerns. They walked away more confident to set healthy boundaries in their households, armed with solid information they gleaned from breakout sessions and from one another.”

The event at Dodge Elementary was in high demand. “Many families who were unable to attend expressed great regret at missing the event, and inquired as to additional events,” stated Dana. “They needn’t worry, as our school principal asked us to do a Be Internet Awesome event twice next school year.”

Applications are now open for grants to host a PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshop. Apply today at PTA.org/Grants! Learn more about the PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshops at PTA.org/BeInternetAwesome.


About the Authors:

Erin Hill, of Pittsburgh, PA, is chair of multiple PTA committees and was PTA President of Pivik PTA during the 2018-19 school year. She has two children, a fourth grader and kindergartner. Without the internet, she wouldn’t know how to do common core math, what to make for dinner, how to dress, what was happening at school or in the community, or how to get anywhere. The internet, she feels, is such a wonderful tool and opens so many informational doors for anything you could possibly want to know.

Dana Hensley is a PTA Co-President at Dodge Elementary School. She lives with her husband and four children in East Amherst, NY and spends her free time coaching her daughter’s soccer teams. She is a strong proponent of screen time limits for both children and adults and she spends too much time on Twitter. 

Parents Look to Find Balance of Fun and Learning This Summer

Summer is not necessarily a season where school and learning are at the forefront of people’s minds. To many people, summer is a time for vacation, camps, barbecues and fun. Sitting in a classroom and discussing education, however, is not usually on that list. Or so you may have thought.

After PTA events in Chicago and Louisville drew in large crowds earlier this summer, as many as 300 people attended one event in Chicago, whereas 1,500 attended another event in Louisville, it became clear that many parents are just as interested in staying invested in their children’s education over the summer as they are during the school year. For many parents, the only thing that changes during this time of year is the season.

“Parents are desperately looking for summer enrichment so that those months are a productive use of time,” said Vanessa, the Chicago Region PTA leader who hosted the listening session that had 300 people in attendance.

Summer is notorious for learning loss among students. Studies show that most students lose two months of mathematical skills over the summer, and low-income students lose another two to three months of reading as well. In order to combat this loss of learning, parents need to be looking for opportunities to help their kids learn. And for many parents, their local PTA is the one that provides access and information to these opportunities.

By hosting a listening session with your PTA this summer, you could be helping out many parents by providing them free resources. Everything in the Summer Learning Toolkit is free of charge and contains both academic and non-academic resources, making it accessible for people of all income levels and concerns. At the Louisville event, one parent even said in response to the toolkit that they had no idea it could be so simple, or so cheap, to continue their child’s education in the summer. The will is there for many parents, but the way is not always as obvious.

You might think that with children out of school and vacation on everyone’s mind that many members would not be interested in attending a PTA event in the summer. But Chicago and Louisville proved that many parents want to stay engaged during the break because it is arguably the most crucial time to do it. PTAs have a duty to help these parents out, so they should consider hosting a Summer Listening Session before the break is over. You never know just how many people you might help out until you do it.

For more information, visit https://www.pta.org/home/programs/connected/access/

What Real-Life Family Engagement Looks Like

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

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

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

Taking the First Steps

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

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

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

Forming a Powerful Team

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

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

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

Working to Maximize Impact

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

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

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

Finding the Keys to Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Sustainability for Family Engagement

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

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

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

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


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