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.

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.

 

Top 10 Ways to Grow School Spirit From Afar

When my children’s school closed in March, the president and vice president of our parent association were adamant about maintaining a sense of community among students and families while social distancing.

They came up with a virtual Spirit Week that they hosted on the parent association’s Facebook page, encouraging families to post pictures of their children participating in the different activities comprising Spirit Week. The idea was fantastic, and it got me thinking about other ways to nurture school spirit virtually.

 Here are 10 ideas to consider for your school:

 1. Participate in the Boost Educators Challenge

Encourage each student’s family to challenge the rest of your school’s families to give their teacher(s) a shout out or thank you over the school’s social channels. We started this challenge at Booster. Check out BoostEducatorsChallenge.com for details.

 2. Host a School Spirit Week on Facebook and Instagram 

Host a daily fun activity for students or families to do from home and post their work on the school’s Facebook or Instagram page. An easy way to incentivize kids to play along is by selecting one participant at random to receive a special prize.

 3. Start a “Five Days of Gratitude” Project

It feels good to do things for others, so why not launch a card or letter writing project where students write letters or make cards to send to frontline and essential workers like doctors and nurses. You can select the group that’s done the most for your community during the pandemic.

 4. Open a Commemorative Online Pop-up Shop

You might consider an online pop-up shop for Kindergarten to fifth graders to purchase items to remember this milestone year. If you want to make it a fundraiser, funds raised might be used for school needs like e-learning initiatives, food for students in need or perhaps a local food bank or other charity. Check out Booster Spirit Wear for some milestone celebration ideas.

 5. Host a Virtual Graduation Ceremony

This could be an invitation-only event hosted on Zoom or through another online conferencing provider so school families can watch the graduation remarks live. You might also consider creating yard signs for newly-graduated students, if it feels right for your school community.

6. Feature a Teacher & Student Talent Showcase

You probably have some super talented teachers and students at your school. Why not host a talent show night using Zoom or another online conferencing provider that will allow many people to watch and cheer participants on? If you want to make it interesting, allow the audience members to vote for their favorite acts!

 7. Start an “Art Smiles” Project

Consider hosting a school-wide art project. Assign each class a special theme to celebrate in art. Your school could donate the student artwork to a local nursing home or senior living facility near the school. This will “wow” the residents and allow your students to have their artwork on display. Check out this article about seniors receiving similar special gifts.

8. Do a Give Back Spirit Event

If your school wants to join together on an initiative that drives school spirit and raises funds that can be used for essential school community needs (i.e., Chromebooks, internet access, food for families, e-learning platforms, etc.) or even a local charity, the new, fully virtual (but still super fun!) Boosterthon At Home program might be an option for your school.

 9. Host a Virtual Career Day

This could be hosted for a single class or the entire school or both. What a great opportunity to have students learn about different job functions! This is another opportunity to showcase folks who’re making a difference in the community. You likely have many parents at your school you can honor.

 10. Start a Virtual Family Trivia Competition

An online trivia competition between grade-level families or play teachers vs. students. There are many services out there (take a look at Crowdpurr) if you want to get a membership and even customize the questions.

Any member of a school community can help boost school spirit and keep your school culture thriving. If you’re a PTA leader, perhaps you can get one or two of these ideas going to end the school year on a high note. If you’re a parent, perhaps you can share the ideas in this blog with your school administrators and/or PTA leaders so they can consider a spirit activity or two.

What I do know is that the social component of school is harder to “do” remotely, but every bit as important (and memorable) to students as distance learning. So why not rally school communities around something uplifting and fun to end the year on a high note?

 


Kim Miller works full-time for Booster and is a mom with two children, ages four and seven. 

National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service and no endorsement is implied by this content.

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

 

Customize Health for Your Community! With a Healthy Hydration Event

SPOTLIGHT: Apples PTA (Stamford, Connecticut)

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

The Healthy Hydration Program is a great way to promote drinking water and infused water to students and families. The program can be coupled with so many different types of events such as a Healthy Lifestyles Night or a Field Day. Since we at APPLES PTA serve a preschool, our students are three and four-years old, so it was important that we made the event as fun and engaging as we could.

Our kids loved testing the infused water! I think they really enjoyed the novelty of the little cups and pouring out of the large five-gallon infused waters. The fan favorite was Strawberry-Basil (I was surprised since basil is a strong taste).

With the help of our school’s administration, we got the word out for the Healthy Lifestyles Night via a flyer that was sent around to families by print in the student backpacks and electronically through the teacher distribution lists. Our principal was super supportive, as usual. We have a Facebook group where we posted an announcement of the night and reminders as we got closer to the date. We also sent out emails to our PTA Membership distribution list to announce the event and send reminders.

In marketing the event, I would recommend starting two weeks prior. Two weeks gives enough notice while still staying in the forefront for families because, let’s be honest, families are all running around just trying to keep up most of the time. If you do it too early, it can become background noise and compete for families’ attention against other PTA happenings you may have going on.

The biggest obstacle for us was finding volunteers. Our school administration saved the day and got the teachers heavily involved in staying for the event and running stations. We couldn’t have done it without their help!

Now for the event! We wanted to highlight the physical, nutritional and hydration parts of a Healthy Lifestyle. In order to best manage the crowd, we split them up into three groups and held the event in three rooms that rotated. We had a cooler in each room with bottled water for anyone to take from.

In one room, we had kid Zumba with a table that had fruit and veggies in the shape of a rainbow with the sign “Eat the Rainbow”. In another room, we had a fun and engaging nutrition workshop where the kids were taught about what should be on their plate. Last but not least, we had a hydration room! This room featured the Sugary Beverage Station and Infused Water Station. We also added a ring toss with bottled waters where the kids could win a variety of healthy prizes.

As a thank you gift for families that attended, we passed out gift bags that included an infuser for water, a bottle of water, and a day pass to a local children’s museum. We also raffled off play balls and little soccer balls to the kids on their way out. All this spring boarded from the Healthy Hydration Program! My advice: You can make it as big or small as works best for your school.

Take Action:


Authored by Valentina Conetta from APPLES PTA in Stamford, Conn.

Disclosure: Nestlé Waters North America is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 2019–2020 Healthy Hydration Grant, sponsored by Nestlé Waters North America. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

 

 

Fun for the Whole Family! At a Healthy Hydration Event

SPOTLIGHT: Dufief Elementary PTSA (North Potomac, Md.)

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

Incorporating a Healthy Hydration Event into our PTA calendar was so easy! We hosted a Bike Rodeo and simply added the Healthy Hydration Stations at our event. Our school is in the middle of a very suburban walkable and bikeable neighborhood.

Although there are many students who ride their bikes casually, we wanted to provide a forum to spread safety tips about biking safely on neighborhood streets including how to be seen and following the rules of the road when biking on the street. We partnered with Montgomery County Safe Routes to School, who provided several loaner bikes and helmets for the event so the students without their own bikes and helmets could still attend, participate and enjoy the event.

To market our event to both students and parents we used our PTA newsletters, made announcements at our PTA meetings, posted on our website and to our PTA Facebook page. To reach students outside of our PTA members, we made morning announcements at the school and sent home backpack fliers.

We set up our welcome table, along with the Healthy Hydration Sugary Beverage Station, outside the entrances to our all-purpose room and gymnasium. We were a little nervous about attendance since the Rodeo took place during a short week before the Thanksgiving holiday. However, we had so many parents and students show up, that we had to extend the event to the blacktop outside the school, in addition to using the school gymnasium! Next time, we’d love to plan this event at a time of year when we could utilize outdoor space.

Our principal, Mr. Gregg Baron, was incredibly supportive. In addition to including the event in the school morning announcements and his weekly newsletter, he also attended the event, put on a helmet, and jumped on a bike, leading some of the students in the activities. His engagement and enthusiasm were infectious. He really made both students and parents feel welcome and excited to be at the event.

We would definitely consider having a Healthy Hydration event as part of our Back-to-School picnic, spring outdoor Dragon Fest, or other large activities in the future. We had a lot of positive feedback about the fruit-infused water from both parents and students. They were surprised that the only thing added to the water was fruit! In addition to the stations, we plan to incorporate and serve water at all our upcoming events in a more intentional way including our Math Night, Talent Show evening and family Game Night.

We had many parents and students express surprise at how much sugar was in common beverages. Adults were extremely enthusiastic about the fruit-infused water, and several took the recipes home with them. The hands-down favorite was the Lemon/Lime water.

Here are our top recommendations when hosting your Healthy Hydration event, from one PTA leader to another!

  1. Make sure that you leave ample time and space in your event for students and parents to visit the Hydration Station.
  2. Make sure to encourage parents to try the fruit-infused waters as well. We found parents were often the most interested in trying the different types of waters initially, which led to more children wanting to try the recipes.
  3. Consider encouraging parents and students to bring water bottles to the event to fill up on any leftover flavored water after the event!
  4. Think carefully about how to manage sign-ins, photo releases and follow-up surveys. We found it challenging to manage this aspect when so many attendees were eager to participate in activities right away.

Take Action:


Authored by Jamie Pflasterer from Dufief Elementary PTSA in North Potomac, Md.

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

 

Arts Enhancement Grant Awards Local PTAs

National PTA’s Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant awards two local PTAs $1,000 in matching funds for student-centered programs that increase access to high quality arts learning experiences and new pathways for students to participate in National PTA’s Reflections program

Last year, through the Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant application, PTAs shared their plans to deliver high-quality arts education activities in the literary, media, visual and/or performing arts.

We were so excited to select Anderson Mill Elementary PTA in Texas and Reese Road Elementary School PTA in Georgia to receive the award in 2019, and we were even more impressed with the fantastic work the two PTAs did with the grant funding. Check out their stories below!

Reese Road PTA – Columbus, Ga.

In November, Reese Road PTA hosted a Fine Arts Extravaganza, a free event for their whole community. The event was supported visiting artists, high school volunteers and employees from the local library and museum.

It was an incredible success, with over 300 people in attendance! Families were able to explore the arts together throughout the school, with an exhibit displaying student artwork in the gym and a snack station in the school café. At the many stations hosted throughout the evening, attendees were able to make buttons, necklaces, keychains, origami and illuminated sculptures. Attendees were able to work with their families at the stations to experiment with new creative processes and mediums.

Katrina Long, Reese Road Principal said, “All of the smiles made me happy! The students, teachers, parents and grandparents were so excited to play with the different media and see all of the beautiful artwork that the students worked so hard to create!

The event also highlighted STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) programming in the Reese Road’s curriculum. Event participants were able to get hands-on understanding of how students apply art and creativity to their learning process. This gave parents and guardians insight into their student’s school, alongside the students, while also emphasizing the importance of arts in education.

Reese Road PTA leaders also made sure to encourage student participation in the Look Within Reflections program and hope to see some of their submissions win on the state and national level. As a Title I school with a diverse school population, many of whom receive free and reduced lunches, Reese Road Elementary School PTA was able to use the Mary Lou Anderson Arts Enhancement Grant to truly bring the arts into education.

Anderson Mill Elementary PTA – Austin, Texas

In order to thoroughly incorporate arts education into their school, Anderson Mill Elementary PTA chose to host several events and activities throughout the school year. Melissa George, Anderson Mill Elementary PTA President explained, “Our activities and events are spread throughout the entire school year in order to cover all of the art categories celebrated in the Reflections program. For many, seeing or hearing the word ‘art’ usually brings to mind the visual arts—people forget that there is so much more, and it has been exciting to have this opportunity to help expand awareness and knowledge in these areas.”

Using the Mary Lou Anderson Arts Enhancement Grant as support, the Anderson Mill Elementary PTA partnered with school personnel to develop art education programming that would bring the school’s diverse community together, while exposing students and community members to the arts. Thus far, Anderson Mill PTA has hosted three events that incorporated arts education into the programming—the Multicultural Celebration, the Fall Family Art Night, and the Fall Carnival.

Leadership pointed to the Multicultural Celebration as their most successful event yet. At the celebration, students were exposed to the unique cultures in their community and were able to explore the many artistic sides of those cultures. Families were asked to share cultural dances and artwork from home to display and educate the community. The celebration event also had cultural arts stations that allowed students to make their own take-away artwork. Stations included henna art, Chinese calligraphy, papel picado, Dias de los Muertos masks and more. The event was so well-attended that the PTA plans to host a similar event in the spring.

Anderson Mill PTA believes their work to implement the Mary Lou Anderson Arts Enhancement Grant has boosted awareness of the PTA and helped strengthen relationships with diverse communities. With a high percentage of low-income families and English language learners, their work made families more aware of the PTA and the services they provide to their community. Through their hard work and the Mary Lou Anderson Arts Enhancement Grant, Anderson Mill PTA was able to bring families and students together in a unique and impactful way.

Congratulations, once again, to Reese Road PTA and Anderson Mill Elementary PTA! You can learn more about the Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant at PTA.org/ArtsEd.

 

Focus on Health with a Healthy Hydration Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Action:

 


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

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

 

Making Drinking Water Fun! With a Healthy Hydration Event

SPOTLIGHT: Pope PTA (Puyallup, Wash.)

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

“Try new things ‘cuz they might taste good!” was the jingle I sang from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood as the masses of students taking their water breaks approached the water coolers. The signs on the water coolers piqued their interest as they realized they had a decision to make: Which flavored water recipe would they try first?

Being able to host the Healthy Hydration event was a much-needed boost to our school’s morale, as the beginning of the school year has proven to be a challenge. Our school building is being renovated and expanded this school year, so we are currently displaced to an aging building elsewhere in the district that has led to a host of changes for the students, staff and school community. The announcement of the event generated a lot of positive buzz around the school and the administration was very supportive.

National PTA selected our PTA to receive the grant funding in October, so we had to hit the ground running immediately to plan and execute the event to make sure it happened in November, which is Healthy Lifestyles Month. We attended an online training webinar and scoured National PTA’s website to use their online toolkit.

We also took advantage of our Washington State PTA membership benefit at FedEx to print off any and all materials. We wanted to be sure to reach ALL of our families, so we made sure to translate any customized letters we wrote into Spanish with the help of a Spanish-speaking PTA volunteer.

We ran the Healthy Hydration event in conjunction with our already planned fun-run fundraiser. We decided that a two-day event would work best for our school to limit classroom distraction.

On Day 1, we set up the sugar-beverage education table, a table to hand out free Nestlé water bottles to all students, and a recycling station with recycling infographics. We used the customized banner that came with our grantee kit to have students sign their names as a pledge to drink water. This event ran during the students’ lunch recess.

On Day 2, we ran the fruit-infused water stations during the fun-run event. We used the three recommended recipes: Strawberry & Basil, Cucumber & Mint, and Blueberry & Orange. While the students took their mandatory water breaks, we encouraged each student to try a new recipe each time, as they got to vote on their favorite with the conclusion of the run (Spoiler Alert: the winner was Strawberry & Basil!). At the end of the day, each student took home the recipes they tried to encourage our school families to lead healthier lifestyles.

Take Action


Authored by Victoria Treffry, Pope PTA Co-President in Puyallup, Wash.

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

 

The 2020 Census: What Does it Mean for Children and Families?

Think counting every person in the United States is impossible? Think again.

In fact, the very first U.S. census was all the way back in 1790! Every 10 years, every person in the United States (including adults, children, babies, citizens and immigrants) is counted through the census. This isn’t just so we know the population makeup. Census data is used to determine representation in Congress, state legislatures and school boards, and—critically—it’s also used to determine how much federal funding should flow to children’s programs in states and communities.

Programs such as Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Title I and IDEA special education funding rely on accurate census counts to help allocate over $800 billion a year in federal funds. The 2020 Census will have lasting effects on crucial programs that serve our children and families.

So, what can you do to help ensure an accurate count in the 2020 Census?

First and foremost, make sure to respond to the census.

You can complete the census questionnaire online, by phone or by mail, and every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census by April 1.

Worried about sharing your data? Rest assured that when responding to the census, your privacy is protected. By law, the Census Bureau cannot publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or your household nor can your responses be used against you or shared with any other government agency.

Remember, the census doesn’t just count adults!

Even though accurate census data is crucially important for our children and families, our littlest ones are often missed in the census. Don’t overlook the youngest members of your household.

By not accurately counting newborn babies and other young children, you can negatively impact support for programs such as health insurance, hospitals, childcare, food assistance, schools and early childhood development. This 2020 Census, make sure to count everyone living or sleeping in your home, including your little ones!

National PTA is deeply committed to making sure Congress supports continued and equitable investments in our nation’s children and families. That’s why we advocate every day to make every child’s potential a reality. The 2020 Census is part of that effort. Let’s help ensure all children are counted so they have the tools and resources they need to thrive.


Cyrus Huncharek is the government affairs coordinator for National PTA.