5 Ways Your PTA Could Become a School of Excellence

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

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

Barnard Asian Pacific Language Academy

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

Beaverdam Elementary

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

Glendale Elementary

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

Rabbit Creek Elementary

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

Canyon Rim Elementary

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

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

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


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

 

 

8 Steps to Becoming a School of Excellence

Are you looking to step up your PTA’s involvement in school improvement efforts? Are you already doing something meaningful in your school community, and want that hard work to be recognized?

In either case, National PTA’s School of Excellence program offers customized tools to help you to make a substantial, positive impact on school and student success, and earn recognition for your PTA and school.

By enrolling in this program, your PTA and school administrators are making a year-long commitment to identify and implement an action plan for school improvement based on PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships and best practices in Transformative Family Engagement.

Throughout the school year, you will work with a committed team of PTA leaders you choose to bring positive change in family engagement based off feedback from your school community. National PTA will offer support every step of the way.

In the final stage of the program, your work be evaluated and if you’ve created a stronger family-school partnership, you will receive the two-year National PTA School of Excellence distinction, plus the national recognition that comes with an honor of this caliber!

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 prioritizing 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 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 to gather feedback from your school community to evaluate your progress over the school year.

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 how you made gains and put theory into practice.

Step #8: Celebrate Your Excellence (August)

In August, Schools of Excellence will be named and honored with this two-year designation. If awarded, you will receive information on how to plan your school and community celebrations as well as a banner to hang prominently at your school. You will also automatically be considered for our Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award, given to our top three Schools of Excellence each year.

Join the ranks of select PTAs who have earned this prestigious distinction. You too can achieve excellence and be known as leading the nation in effective family-school partnerships.

Enrollment for the 2019-2020 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 for more information.


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

 

Building Character at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Pumpkin Delight School (Milford, Connecticut)

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

Curiosity. Engaging. Problem Solving. Results. Creativity. – All important words that help to build character, scholarship and learning in our elementary students. In today’s society, we are limited to common core, state standards, and standardize testing. What can a PTA do to engage students? Utilize all their senses? Build a sense a curiosity? And allow students to problem solve on their own in order to find results? The answer is invention!

Our PTA applied for the Invention Night grant from littleBits and National PTA for two reasons. First, we had a science fair, but we were looking for a (FREE!) way to have more students participate. Second, we wanted a new way to get our students engaged in creativity. Our budget was tight, and we had no way to allocate dollars towards this event, so we looked to National PTA’s grant to help us with our mission. The application process was not difficult and the answers to the application came easily as I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish.

Our Invention Night consisted of the littleBits Kits, science projects from about 25 students, teacher interaction and support from our local Milford Public Library. We set it up in our gym, which is the largest space in our school, also across the hall from bathrooms. Our school used our Facebook page as well as flyers sent home in backpacks to help advertise the event. While we knew the students who did projects would be attending the event, we welcomed our event to the entire school and community.

The biggest driver that brought traffic to our event was the littleBits Invention Kits. We informed the community of our grant win and promoted heavily. We also provided information on the app that needed to be downloaded prior to attending the event. While the communication was clear on our end, we knew parents are busy and this step could be easily forgotten. littleBits also has a YouTube page that walks you through the steps. This helps with those parents that did not download the app beforehand. While we live in an electronic age, I would say this was the biggest roadblock of the event. I would advise other PTA’s to prepare for this when hosting similar events in the future.

Overall what made this event such a success was the students and families working together on the littleBits Kits. It was inspiring and emotional to see the successes when focused minds come together to solve a problem. We had parents working with their children and saw their faces light up when they made progress along the way. I also noticed quite a bit of peers working together on the kits. When one student was able to work through a level, they were then able to help their friends around them be able to achieve the same success.

It was a privilege to be able to host an Invention Night at our school. The event helped boost the support the PTA received from the community. We can’t wait to do it again next year!

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


About the Guest Contributor: Kristyn Liebelt is the PTA President at Pumpkin Delight School PTA in Milford, Connecticut.

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

Spark Family Engagement at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Bonny Kate PTA (Knox County, Tenn.)

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

The entire community of Bonny Kate Elementary School was so excited to learn that we had been awarded a PTA STEM + Families Initiative grant for a littleBits Invention Night. Invention Nights are incredible opportunities for family engagement.

Last year, we had our inaugural STEAM Night and the activities were more visual than interactive. This year, as we combined our STEAM Night with Invention Night, and we had a very different experience. Families were working together on activities, talking and laughing, and genuinely enjoying themselves this time around. It was awesome for our small community to have a fun learning time together and great to see all the smiles.

The STEAM Team and our building-level coach worked hard to plan and promote our Invention Night. We advertised the event through emails, parent links, classroom newsletters and fliers that were sent home. We also contacted our local television stations, and one came out and did a short piece on the event!

Our PTA decorated the school for the event with balloons, streamers and posters, and we had a food truck for families who had not eaten dinner. These things helped to ensure a large crowd for the event, even though it was a very cold winter night, and made it very welcoming for our families.

To get families even more engaged in their child’s learning, we used the entire school for the event. We created a map of the school, and the students had passports with places to stamp for each activity. Activities included visiting our local high school’s robotics team, checking out STEAM projects from each grade level, and chatting with the University of Tennessee’s Engineering Club, in addition to the space dedicated to the littleBits kits. Because there were so many activities, the space was well-divided, with lots of room to spread out and work on projects.

The enthusiasm and excitement this event created has inspired us to move forward with plans to have a STEAM lab next year. With STEAM careers being a focus for future jobs, it is so vital that our students—who live in a more rural area—are exposed to STEAM activities. The seeds planted by this event will help us to grow and bloom with STEAM for years to come. Thanks PTA and littleBits!

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


About the Guest Contributor: Denise Cross is the Assistant Principal at Bonny Kate Elementary School, part of Knox County Schools in Tenn.

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

 

Have Robotics Fun at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Archer Elementary PTA (Archer, Fla.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

 

Make Connections at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Hollin Meadows PTA (Alexandria, Va.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

 

How Do You Become a School of Excellence?

Spotlight on: Zane North PTA, N.J.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Creating a New Dialogue Around Math with a STEM + Families Math Night SPOTLIGHT: Steven Millard Elementary PTA (Fremont, Calif.)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders who received STEM + Families Mathnasium Math Night grants. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

We hosted our STEM + Families Math Night Jan. 24 with over 400 attendants. Our school had never done anything like these events prior—which made our high attendance that much more exciting.

We anticipated a hesitant reaction from kids and parents, so we started to market the event early in November. The most effective form of marketing was word of mouth. A core group of volunteers began engaging in one-on-one conversations with parents. We kept talking about it and asking people about it whenever we were onsite at school and were able to spark curiosity among the parents—people wanted to know what the night was all about! Most initial reactions were that they weren’t into math—but as we sparked new dialogue around the topic of math, popularity grew.

By the time we were a couple weeks out from the event, we had spoken to most parents at the school, so we changed our approach a little bit. We emphasized the games and talked about the prizes. For the last round of event reminders, we led with the food! As those are typically the elements that push people to come, we were able to attractive those that don’t typically attend events.

Included in the attendance was the school principal and about four to five teachers. We engaged the teachers by asking them to share event during class announcements. One teacher told her first grade students that she would be attending, and she was looking forward to seeing them all there. Her class got 100% attendance.

For set up we used a large multi-purpose room, placed the tables around the perimeter of the room, and had a welcome desk at the entrance. We made sure to have multiple volunteers at the welcome desk to explain the structure of the event. They explained how the event works, where to pick up your goodie bag, collecting a raffle ticket and where to find the snacks located in an adjoining room. This was helpful as everyone knew what to expect the moment they arrived.

Big hits of the night were the goodie bags and the raffle prizes. Goodie bags helped a lot—it is a great motivator for kids and it’s such an easy thing for us to organize. Mathnasium also helped by bring everyone a little gift. If they didn’t win a raffle prize, everyone still got a little reward for participating. The raffle prizes were donated to us by ThinkFun, and we had them on display during the night.

When giving out the raffle prizes we addressed the whole room and reminded them that events like these come together only because of volunteer time and donations to the PTA. If families attended and felt they got value out of the experience—we want to encourage them to help volunteer and donate, so we can continue this amazing work!

Fueled by the success of that night, we recently hosted a Science Night March 26. We will absolutely be hosting another Math Night next year. We developed a great partnership with our local Mathnasium. I cannot say enough good things about them—they were amazing to work with.

Supriya Desai is a parent of 2 boys in grades 1&4, a full-time working professional at a Global Silicon Valley Tech Giant and a committed PTA Board member focused on widening the circle of engaged parents at school and bringing new programs to directly benefit students. 


Franchise Feature: Karen Losing (Mathnasium of 4S Ranch San Diego, CA)

Our most recent Math Night had over 300 students and 550 participants total. A strong math message in general is important, but specific event communication from the school to the parents was essential. Externally, we provided photos and social media assets for Facebook, created an email flyer to stay green and reach 100% of the parents, we placed Math Night yard signs in the carpool lanes one week out. Internally, the teachers talked up the event with their students, challenged them to games that night, and created job responsibilities for student leaders to assist in the execution of the program.

Math Nights are an excellent tool to invite families to showcase the importance of math and families! It is a great opportunity to have the student who feels defeated by math see if can be fun, or the student looking to have a challenge can play at a higher level. This is an opportunity for the PTA to give something back to the parents without dipping into their limited resources!

Karen’s Pro-Tips

  • Plan ahead! We had two quick and easy meetings because we were prepared. The math teachers and the PTA board were involved. We created a “Look Book” for our schools to visualize what Math Night will look like, spacing, and math topics. They saw what the welcome table looked like, passports and goodie bags, volunteers in action and general flow of the evening. The meetings we filled with energy, so the buildup was fantastic!
  • Mathnasium is here to help! My team will do most of the work! We make sure everything is planned out. I look to the PTA to get administrative approval, date on the calendar, help promote to the student body and recruit 15 volunteers. Then my team takes it from there!
  • Order doesn’t matter! When playing the games, people are linear thinkers and want to start at Station 1 then go to the next station. The order doesn’t matter, so go to a table that looks fun or less crowded.
  • Have a distinct start and finish! Have a distinction Welcome Desk and a distinctive Finished Desk. It is confusing to have both on the table once the event gets popping! I’ve done game tables in a circle format or down the entire length of the hallway. Either works. Anticipating attendance and what a room can handle is important. The 550-person event was held in the main hallway from the office area down through the classrooms.

Karen is a multi-center owner with lots of experience as a center owner. She has done several Math Nights and is a good proponent. She does business in both Southern California and now Arizona and has a unique perspective from two different areas.

Take Action:

Disclosure: Mathnasium is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 2018–2019 National PTA STEM + Families math grant, sponsored by Mathnasium. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

The Best School for My Daughter with Special Needs

When our daughter Stacey was diagnosed in third grade with three types of non-convulsive epilepsy and a related learning disability (called dyscalculia), my husband and I were at a loss about the best way to help her academically. This situation became even more complicated, as she concurrently began to struggle with motor skill functions, spatial issues and a lazy eye condition that required eye-patching.

Getting Stacey’s medical diagnoses was the easy part. Getting the academic solution was more of a challenge. Where should she attend school? What was the best environment for her to learn and thrive academically? She was already in a top, year-round public school but we didn’t know if Stacey should stay or be in different school, given her challenging issues.

We slowly began to visit and evaluate the many types of schools in our area: public schools, private schools, charter schools, magnet schools, state specialty schools—there were many choices available to us. One by one, the other schools told us that they didn’t understand Stacey’s issues, didn’t have the appropriate teaching staff to help her or simply could not accommodate or properly follow the type of IEP she needed.

The year-round public school Stacey attended turned out to be her best bet. They offered learning disability specialists, special equipment, disability counseling and testing, and dedicated grade-level teachers who could effectively use school resources to help Stacey learn and grow. They also helped her recognize and leverage her above-average language and writing skills, while also helping her decipher and manage her dyscalculia. Her high school algebra teacher even used M&M candies as manipulatives to help her understand algebraic concepts in an unconventional way.

In the end, Stacey successfully completed her K-12 school years in our public school system. She edited her high school newspaper, was tapped for Quill & Scroll Honor Society, earned numerous volunteer awards and received scholarships based on her essay about overcoming her disabilities. She gained admittance to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, her first choice, earning a B.A. in English and a Professional Writing Certificate. She went on to become a TV news producer for NBC and now enjoys a career in mortgage lending industry marketing.

We are so grateful that Stacey had such an exceptional experience in our local public schools. Her teachers helped shape and “launch” her despite her disabilities, fostered her love of learning, gave her confidence in her strengths and provided her with lifelong tools that continue to serve her today.


Linda Crandall serves on the board of North Carolina PTA and is the chair of the Special Education and Inclusion Committee.

 

Math Fun, Rain or Shine! With a STEM + Families Mathnasium Math Night SPOTLIGHT: Friends of Penngrove PTA (Penngrove, Calif.)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders who received STEM + Families Mathnasium Math Night grants. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

The Penngrove Elementary School community was elated to receive the news that we were awarded a 2018 National PTA STEM + Families Math Night Grant, sponsored by Mathnasium. The Friends of Penngrove PTA executive board enjoyed planning the event and loved seeing all the happy faces of our families during our event Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019.

Despite the huge winter rainstorm that evening, we thankfully had a record attendance. We had over 225 attendees and 25% of our students attended!

Our local Mathnasium transformed our school’s multipurpose room into 16 math stations plus a jumbo chess game, festive balloons and candy jar raffles. The executive board checked in guests and sold logo wear. School leadership helped with marketing the event via assemblies, announcements and encouraging teacher involvement.

The grant from National PTA was used to supply dinner and purchase enough raffle prizes for each student participant. The first 20 RSVPs received their choice of a ThinkFun game and then every 15 minutes we invited 10 more students to visit the prize table. They were able to select prizes from additional games, logo wear and pizza certificates. This was a highlight of the evening!

We decided to try three new things when planning for our STEM + Families Math Night.

  1. Requiring attendees to fill out a google RSVP form
  2. Providing a pizza and salad dinner
  3. Inviting the community to support us by volunteering to run stations

Creating the RSVP form allowed us to secure the proper amount of supplies, volunteers and prizes. It worked so well that we started using RSVP forms for other free PTA events. Providing dinner was a relief to parents and the students loved eating in the classrooms with their friends. By asking our school staff, student teachers and local high school students to volunteer to run the stations, the majority of adults in attendance were able to be guests and play math games with the students.

Everyone loved the event and we are planning on inviting Mathnasium back to Penngrove Elementary during the 2019-2020 school year for another successful collaboration. The #PennPanthers were so appreciative for the National PTA Grant—thank you for the opportunity to celebrate our community with a free, fun and educational evening!

Melissa Morelli is the Treasurer of Friends of Penngrove PTA.


Franchise Feature: Becky McDaniels (Mathnasium of Brandon, Fla.)

Over the last six years, Becky has co-hosted one to two Math Nights each month in her area. For her, the key elements for success are the relationships she builds with each school, creating open communication between her team and the PTAs.

Becky’s intention is to be a partner to her local PTAs, letting her take the pressure of the event—from set up to clean up—so the families can relax, and have a good time with their kids.

Her fundamental goal is for families to see that Math doesn’t have to be scary. There are simple things parents can do at home or anywhere with fun games allowing them to have conversations and experiences with their children around Math.

Becky’s pro-tips:

  • Spread the word about the event. Send home fliers with students, emailing directly to parents, adding the event to the PTA’s website. Her Mathnasium location hosts a Facebook group which is shared out by the PTA as well.
  • Provide food: This doesn’t have to be a cost! Becky has helped PTAs partner with other local business like Chik-fil-a to donate dinner to the event.
  • Prep for event set-up: Becky has created a set-up map she shares with schools to make organizing the event space a breeze. She recommends two stations per game, dividing by grade, and having them side by side so parents with kids of different ages don’t have to split up.

Becky is a single-center owner and one of Mathnasium’s Math Night pioneers. Mathnasium used some key learnings from observing her practices to develop the official Math Night programing.

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Disclosure: Mathnasium is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 2018 – 2019 National PTA STEM + Families Math Grant, sponsored by Mathnasium. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are his/her own.