Thank You: An Open Letter to Teachers

Copyright 2012 Lifetouch National School Studios IncTeaching is a tiring, often thankless job. You work long hours, face immense pressures, and often invest your own salary back into the classroom. But your efforts and dedication to our children have not gone unnoticed.

We want to thank you for all that you do, both in the classroom and on your own time, to ensure the success of all children. You press on far beyond the school bell that signals the end of the day, and you serve as tutors, mentors, and coaches during evenings and weekends.

From all of us—the students, families and school administrators that make up the PTA—thank you for your commitment to building strong family-school partnerships and to making every child’s potential a reality!

In honor of your service, we have dedicated the first full week of May to you—PTA Teacher Appreciation Week—and encouraged your students’ families to express their gratitude for the sacrifices and support you offer each and every day. We have also devoted the April/May edition of Our Children magazine to you and created special teacher-focused Pinterest boards with ideas for fun classroom activities and creative lesson plans.

If you are an avid pinner, we invite you to join a community of teachers pinning their favorite activities to the National PTA Pinterest boards. If you are interested, please send your Pinterest user name and a link to your boards to We cannot wait to see and share the many ways that you help your students learn and develop as well as improve their health and safety.

Thank you again for caring for, believing in, and inspiring students and their families year-round. You truly are building our children’s tomorrow in Today’s PTA!

Update: Snowflakes for Sandy Hook Find their Home

SandyHook_Mail_5(2)Following the tragedy in Newtown, Ct., Connecticut PTSA, with the support of National PTA, offered individuals a unique opportunity to let the students of Sandy Hook know that an entire nation supports them. The concept was simple: individuals were invited to send snowflakes of all shapes and sizes, and PTA volunteers would use those snowflakes to welcome students to a winter wonderland at the new Sandy Hook school building.

SandyHookTribute_LifetouchPhotos-15(2)In January, I had the tremendous privilege of witnessing the flood of love and goodwill from around the world. Snowflakes poured in by the truckload, in an overwhelmingly touching display of solidarity of parents around the world, as they came together to show their support for the victims of this horrible tragedy. During my visit to the community, I was honored to share in the experience of opening the letters and seeing the snowflakes sent in by those wishing to demonstrate their love for the Newtown families.

SH4The outpouring of support and the number of participants was inspiring – the Connecticut PTSA received so many snowflakes that they did not have the office space to accommodate them all. They have hung as many as possible in the school; the rest were used to decorate other schools in the community.

The experience was indescribable and completely awe-inspiring as the entire world surrounded this community in its time of need.  Though Connecticut PTSA is no longer accepting snowflakes, the message of Snowflakes for Sandy Hook should not be forgotten: we must continue to rally together in support of all of our children, in good times and in bad, to ensure their success in the future.

Betsy Landers is the President of National PTA in Alexandria, VA.

Second image courtesy of Lifetouch National School Studios Photography.


Common Core State Standards Set Students on the Road to Academic Success

Common Core BlogThe Common Core State Standards represent the single most important step towards raising the achievement bar for America’s students and improving academic performance.  Unfortunately, the standards have come under fire lately by those seeking political gain and suggesting the standards are a federal government take-over of education.  Nothing is further from the truth!  The Common Core State Standards were developed by educators based on proven research and they are widely-supported by both teachers and the general public.

The Denver Post reported last week that 40 percent of Colorado’s students need remediation before achieving college-readiness. Across the country, employers report that students are not graduating high school with the math and reading skills needed to be employable. Remediation courses are expensive, often adding significant time and cost by way of excess courses to the college track, prolonging graduation date. Research shows that nearly 50 percent of all undergraduates and 70 percent of all community college students enroll in at least one remedial course – and for students who begin in remediation, fewer than 10 percent graduate from community colleges within three years and fewer than 40 percent complete a bachelor’s degree within six.  For students who are not college-bound, remedial courses increase the amount of time before a student can enter the workforce and become a productive, tax-paying member of society. And parents, government, and student foot the bill for this added time and expense.

The Common Core State Standards create a set of benchmarks that, when implemented successfully, ensure students are prepared for college and future career. The standards seek to ensure that no matter where a child lives —mountainous Colorado, rural Kansas or urban Washington, D.C.  —  – he/she will be held to rigorous academic standards, end each school year well-prepared to enter the next grade, and graduate high school with a skill set matching the needs of a 21st century economy.  This consistency should be a comfort to every parent, especially in our increasingly mobile society.  How many of us have been forced to relocate – for a job, a military assignment – only to find our child simply isn’t on track to succeed in his or her new school?

States have always set their own standards, and voluntary adoption of Common Core is no exception.  Upon reflection of the successes and failures of No Child Left Behind, it was evident that many states, when forced with assessing “hard to teach” populations to comply with federal accountability measures, simply dumbed down the standards to boost student performance rates.  This phenomenon resulted in a “race to the bottom” and high school graduates ill-prepared for college or for career..  While Common Core standards represent an improvement over most state standards prior to adoption, other states, such as Massachusetts, have implemented the standards while also maintaining rigorous benchmarks above and beyond the minimum set by Common Core.  Additionally, other states, like Virginia, developed and implemented their own college- and career-ready standards.  Virginia’s Standards of Learning, first piloted in 2002, have been judged by the US Department of Education to be closely aligned with college- and career-readiness benchmarks.

Some critics have voiced concerns that adoption of the standards will lead to stifled creativity and autonomy of individual teachers, ultimately dictating lesson plans and all curriculum.  PTA would never encourage monolithic classrooms, and we do not subscribe to this concern; we know that every teacher’s unique experience, instructional style, and curriculum alignment   contribute to a positive and productive learning experience. While the Common Core State Standards define WHAT students will learn, the standards do not dictate HOW students should learn the material, or how teaching professionals should teach it. Each state and district will still write its own curriculum and determine how teachers work with their students and families to achieve the benchmarked learning goals, matriculate successfully, and graduate on-time.

Change is never easy, and as with any transition, this monumental shift to a new set of academically rigorous standards and aligned assessments will be accompanied by hurdles and challenges. Some challenges will be shared, others will be unique as states and districts all tackle implementation while adapting to meet the unique needs of students and families.  PTA has never taken the easy road, we advocate every day for the BEST road; the road that leads every child to success in school and in life.

We understand that any change in education can seem scary. But before you push back, we urge all parents to become familiar with the standards and the new state assessments under development in order to fully understand how the standards will improve education for all students. PTA members should work to educate other parents, regardless of PTA membership, on the benefits of Common Core State Standards and academic benchmarking.  National PTA has developed a robust set of resources for parents, educators, and policy-makers, and I encourage all of you to familiarize with the parent-friendly guides to understanding the standards and state-specific assessment materials.

Teachers, principals, and administrators – the ones in whose care we entrust our children day in and day out – overwhelmingly support the Common Core Standards. Sadly, the progress made toward college- and career-readiness is now being bogged down by politics and a fear of change. It is vital that PTA members speak up and stand up for Common Core by supporting teachers who are working hard to apply the standards in their classrooms. Family engagement is critical to succeeding in this battle, as it is in any fight for the education of our children. Teachers, administrators, and state legislators need to know that PTA will not be divided by political rhetoric, but will stand together, as one voice advocating for the success of every child.

Betsy Landers is the President of National PTA in Alexandria, VA.

Our Commitment to Keeping Schools Safe

Copyright 2012 Lifetouch National School Studios IncOver the past few months, National PTA has been increasingly committed to ensuring that schools are safe for our children. We have targeted school safety and gun violence prevention as part of our advocacy agenda and have made a concerted effort to engage communities on ways to promote a safer school climate.

At the National PTA Legislative Conference this past March, we named improving school safety a top advocacy focus. At the conference, we hosted our first school safety town hall forum in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education. We were honored to have Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle and an esteemed panel of school safety experts join us to address PTA member questions.  Following a rich discussion and positive member feedback, National PTA and the U.S. Department of Education hosted a second school safety town hall with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Baltimore, Md. to continue this critically important conversation.

As we continue to reassure our children that school is a safe place, it is imperative that our children know that we are sincere and our comments are heartfelt. It is our duty as parents, educators, and child advocates to dedicate ourselves to ensuring that schools remain a safe haven for children and educators. And as families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy take to Capitol Hill to advocate for tougher protections, our position remains the same. Congress must do the right thing to improve school safety.

Here are two ways you can join us in advocating for safer schools:

1)      Contact your Senators to express disappointment in their failure to enact common-sense gun violence prevention measures.

Despite public outcry, last week the Senate failed to enact the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.  During consideration, multiple amendments were offered—and defeated—including those to increase access to mental health services and supports, reenact a federal ban on military-style assault weapons, and limit the availability of high-capacity magazines. Perhaps most disappointing was the defeat of the Manchin (D-WV)—Toomey (R-PA) bipartisan amendment to strengthen criminal background checks and extend them to the purchase of firearms at gun shows and over the internet.  Although not universal, adoption of this amendment would have been a commonsense first step to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and protect our nation’s children.

2)      Urge Congress to Enact the Bipartisan Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act.

Thousands of PTA members took action in support of the Mental Health in Schools Act earlier this year.  Key provisions of that legislation to expand supports for school-based mental health services, championed by Senator Franken (D-MN), have been included in a legislative package that reauthorizes and improves programs related to awareness, prevention, and early identification of mental health conditions. In an act of strong bipartisanship, the Senate HELP Committee voted unanimously to report this bill to the Senate floor—and now we need YOU to urge your Senators to pass this bill, either as an amendment to S.649, or later as a stand-alone bill.

Both of these acts are vitally important to gun violence prevention and to guarantee every child’s inherent right to a safe learning environment.

Betsy Landers is the President of National PTA in Alexandria, VA.

PTA PEW Training – Guest Blogger

National PTA is excited to have guest blogger Justin Raber share his experience attending the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project media training in February hosted by the Pew Charitable Trust. Raber has been an active PTA member for over a decade and currently serves as West Virginia PTA’s President-Elect Elected West Virginia PTA President-Elect in 2011, Justin is the youngest elected officer in the history of West Virginia PTA. Throughout his time with PTA, Justin served as the first-ever youth member for West Virginia PTA, an At-Large member of National PTA’s National Council of States and a member of the National PTA Committee on Diversity. Justin has presented a number of trainings and workshops for both West Virginia PTA and National PTA.

As PTA members, we truly want every child to receive the best nutrition on a daily basis at school and home. Over 40% of the calories consume by children

In the picture L-R: Sara Peebles, Alaska PTA; Justin Raber, West Virginia PTA; Deloris Irving, Mississippi PTA; Susie Weinacht, Iowa PTA

each and every day comes from the food they receive at school. Whether it is their breakfast, lunch or a snack they grab from the vending machine, the foods they eat at school should be healthy.

I, along with three other PTA leaders from across the country were fortunate enough to be able to attend the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project media training in February hosted by the Pew Charitable Trust. This event taught us the valuable information regarding competitive foods that are available in schools throughout the country. Competitive foods are items that are accessible outside the school lunch program, which includes vending machines, cafeteria à la carte lines, school stores and snack bars. Those foods are often low in nutrition, but high in fat and calories.

This spring, the USDA will be releasing minimum guidelines for states to follow regarding competitive foods in our schools. The ultimate goal of these guidelines will be to ensure that all foods and beverages available in schools are healthy, which means our kids will be healthier. By encouraging our children to choose healthier choices in what they eat, that will in turn help bring lessons that are learned at school home with them. Our schools need to support the healthy habits that our parents teach!

Over the past three decades, our children have become less healthy, which is leading to serious, long-term health problems for many children. PTA has a long history of advocating for and providing programs that will help our children become and stay healthy. By working together, we can have a huge impact on the healthy foods that are available to our children at school, and as PTA, we can truly make a difference!

– Justin Raber

For more information on National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles program, visit

In December 2010, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act. This legislation made important updates to the School Lunch and Breakfast programs, including improved nutrition standards for school meals and all foods sold during the school day. The USDA is expected to release its proposed rule on Competitive Foods by mid-June. To stay updated on this issue – and other public policy updates – sign up for the PTA Takes Action Newsletter at National PTA’s 2012 Public Policy Agenda can be viewed at

Honoring Jan by Honoring Diversity and Inclusion

At the end of February, we lost a tireless advocate for this association, but most especially someone who had devoted her life to making the world a better place for our children. During its March meeting, the National PTA Board of Directors approved the recommendation of the Diversity Committee to name an award focused on diversity and inclusion for Jan Harp Domene. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be more fitting. Jan had a deep seeded passion for ensuring that everyone was included and treated with respect and fairness. She was someone who did not just ‘talk the talk’ – no, Jan did much more; she ‘walked the walk.’

You have recently had the opportunity to read about her many accomplishments, as well as her contributions as our National PTA President, 2007-2009. What I want to offer is some insight into Jan as a person worth knowing, as well as to Jan my friend.

I first met Jan when she served as NPTA Secretary-Treasurer during Linda Hodges’ administration (2003-2005). As Tennessee PTA president, I had the chance to work with her on a number of occasions and even had the good luck to have her serve as Nat Rep to one of our conventions. What I remember best about those first interactions is Jan’s warmth and sense of humor. Being around Jan could be such fun!

In the years that followed, our relationship grew from mere acquaintances to one of complete friendship. We traveled together, roomed together on occasion, sat up late into the night sharing our lives – in essence we shared a special bond, a deep friendship. There is something so remarkable about a person who can at once lead an association such as ours and also sit with you deep into the night to share all your secrets. But that was Jan!

More than that, Jan taught me many things about what it means to be a leader. It was her passion to ensure that the National PTA Board began to reflect the children and families of this country. Jan showed me that diversity does not just happen – we must work to make it happen. With each appointment to the Board and to committees, she made a conscience choice to guarantee that we would begin to set a standard for others to follow. It left an indelible mark on how I would choose to lead in the future.

When I got the call that Jan had died, I was speechless, shocked – it had to be a mistake. Her husband, Greg, asked if I could share some thoughts about Jan at her memorial. To say that it was one of the toughest things I have ever done would be an understatement. How do you sum up such a special gift as Jan in just a few minutes? Here are the words I shared at the memorial:

To know Jan meant so many things — above all was her love and devotion to Greg and her family — and her passion for her work.

Jan never went in to anything unless it was to succeed. She did not know the word “failure.” She could be a tough task master in the very best way — especially, when it came to PTA — and her passion for its ideals, and for our work.

Yet, she could be extremely thoughtful, especially in the way she could remember the little things.

In early December, we were able to spend one of those ‘perfect’ days together. We went to Newport Beach to have lunch and shop – it had been such a long, long time since we were able to spend that kind of time together. In the evening, we went to dinner at a favorite restaurant, Lin Chin’s, with Greg, Kris, Cali, her favorite niece, and friends – the family. And I was part of the family – we had such an incredible time — food, fun and laughter — it was quintessential Jan!

As she took me to the airport the next morning, she gave me an early Christmas gift – a Lenox china star, which reads ‘Believe.’ Jan believed in her family, in her mission as an advocate for children…..Jan believed in me.

I want to share her note with you, because it is so ‘her’ – “Remember we have a whole country of children depending on us and the work we do. Stay focused on them — and always believe in yourself. I am always here for you….Whatever!”

Her legacy is in the family that she loved ….in her California roots….it is in her tireless devotion to every child in this nation. Jan served as our National PTA President – one of only handful of individuals that have ever held that honor. She has left an indelible mark on an association that would not have been the same without her leadership.

Jan believed in the ‘all’ – not just the ‘one.’ She believed in the ‘end’ — not just the ‘beginning.’

Most of all, she showed us the value of a “single” life and how important each one of us truly can be in making a difference.

Our memories of the people we have loved are truly how we keep them alive. I have wonderful memories of Jan – our friendship wasn’t always smooth, but that is what made it all the richer. She was in many ways the big sister I never had – as I was part of her family, she was part ours. Mary Frances’s wedding would not have been the same with her and Greg!

It would mean the world to Jan to know that she will be remembered to future generations of PTA leaders and members through this award.

My friend, Jan, made a difference to me – much more importantly, she made a difference in PTA that will only continue to enrich and grow our association until we finally are truly reflective of the children and families that we choose to serve. Just as she dreamed!

Founders Day

Here at PTA, we are very proud of our history, filled as it is with such accomplishments as the establishment of universal kindergarten, a juvenile justice system, and the National School Lunch Program. In 1912, we established February 17 as Founders Day to honor our founders, Alice McLellan Birney, Selena Sloan Butler, and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and draw attention to our legacy of service. It seemed only natural to extend our celebration to the entire school community by establishing PTA Take Your Family to School Week during the week of Founders Day.

Just as we honor our founders, for several years now, students, teachers, and school principals and staff have been welcoming families to school during this special week with family breakfasts and lunches, school assemblies, games, and many other creative activities to honor them. Parents have commented that PTA Take Your Family to School Week not only made them feel welcome to participate at school but also gave them the first real insight into how their children spend their days. For some family members, the event represents the very first time they ever walked through the school doors.

As a longtime PTA member, leader, and now National President, I can’t imagine not “going to school” with my children, meeting their teachers not only during parent-teacher conferences, but also during the day when I can see and appreciate what they do, not only for my children, but for so many children. I always enjoy spending time with other parents and their children during PTA Your Family School Week, and feel this celebration is exactly what our founders might have envisioned. After all, the dream of establishing a national PTA was first imagined when Alice McLellan Birney sat drinking lemonade during a summer retreat in Western New York with some other mothers who were as concerned as she was about the state of education and child welfare in our nation.

I wish all of our PTAs a happy Founders Day and a memorable PTA Take Your Family to School Week. Our sincere thanks to AXA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, for sponsoring this special week. If you are a parent who has never had a chance to participate in this event, what are you waiting for? We’d love to have you join us!

Thank You, Congressman Platts!

United States Representative Todd Russell Platts (PA-19) announced last week that he will not seek re-election after six terms in office. Congressman Platts is best known as one of the last Members of Congress who refuses political action committee dollars, instead relying only on personal contributions to fund each of his congressional campaigns. He’s also well-known around the Capitol for his long daily commute to and from York, Pennsylvania – choosing to forgo the convenience of a DC apartment for evenings at home with his wife and two sons. What an incredible example of family engagement!

It comes as no surprise, then, that a steadfast commitment to children is a hallmark of Platts’ Congressional service; particularly, issues of educational equity and children’s health, both PTA priorities. As a senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Congressman has been a loyal champion of public education. Platts was the lead Republican sponsor of Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation in 2010 that significantly improved the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, a champion of special education funding, and has consistently bucked his own party in opposition of federal funds for private school scholarships.

During the 111th Congress, Platts teamed up with Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY/04), to secure bipartisan introduction of the Family Engagement in Education Act, serving as the lead Republican cosponsor of PTA’s signature piece of legislation. This Congress, despite a new majority and shifting political dynamic, Representative Platts assumed the lead, reintroducing the bill with Representative McCarthy by his side, in May of 2011. During committee efforts to reauthorize and improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind (ESEA-NCLB) Congressman Platts has been a vocal advocate for family engagement, offering  and successfully securing adoption of an amendment to save Parent Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs). Most recently, he worked to ensure inclusion of key family engagement provisions in Chairman Kline’s (R-MN/06) draft reauthorization language.

In recognition of his ongoing commitment to children and families, Representative Platts was honored with the 2011 PTA Congressional Voice for Children Award.Thank You!

At the 2011 PTA Legislative Conference, the Congressman spoke of his family as inspiration for his public service, accepting the award in honor of his mother, who he credits with being an active participant in the education of him and his four siblings.

Our PTA tagline is every child. one voice. Upon learning that Congressman Platts will be taking a bow at the close of 2012 to spend more time with his own children, we wish to sincerely thank you, Congressman Platts, for being a true voice for every child over the course of your 12 years on Capitol Hill.

Betsy’s Holiday Thoughts

For the last few years, our daughter, Mary Frances, has created a family calendar with photos. The project began as a way to help my mother, who suffers from Alzhiemer’s disease, remember her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Each of us, however, has found that the calendar serves as a reminder to us all of our connection and how we would be different people without it.

At this time of year, we all tend to reflect on family and our precious connections to each other. Family is more than those we are related to by birth or choice. It extends to an ever-widening circle of close friends and colleagues—all those who touch our lives in a meaningful way. PTA is a family. We share not just a vital mission, but also a passion to make the world a better place for our children. That passion and our commitment binds us together as a family, and, yes, it can influence who we are as people.

As long as I have been a part of PTA—and that is a rather long time—I have been told how we are, in every sense of the word, family. With any family, there are ups and downs, but there is also an indivisible connection. Our work on behalf of those who have no voice will never be done, but working in harmony, we will steadily move forward to ensure the best for every child.

As I reflect this holiday season on the blessings in my life, I am thankful for my PTA family. We come in all shapes and sizes, speak many different languages, and uphold diverse traditions, but our connection is very real. It is embodied in a child. Whether it is your child, my child or the child of a complete stranger, we share a commitment to that child—to all children. Each of you in ways both large and small have shaped my life and made it richer. Your commitment and passion are my daily inspiration.

Yes, we are indeed family and our PTA family, 5 million strong, will continue to change the world.

May each of you enjoy the comfort and blessings of your family this holiday season!

National Endowment for the Arts Task Force

Somewhere inside each of us, especially when we are young, lies a budding artist. Fostering that creativity–nurturing that spirit to let our imaginations fly–is the very essence of educating a child.

This past Wednesday (November 30th) the National Endowment of the Arts announced that it will lead a new federal level task force that will emphasize research on the arts and well-being at all stages of life. Chief among the departments involved is the Department of Health and Human Services. In an era of tightening school budgets that see funding for arts programs and classes eliminated or cut altogether, this is a much needed step forward in recognizing the importance of arts in education. Studies continue to endorse the well-known fact that when children express themselves through the arts, they are more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, more likely to participate in a math or science fair and more likely to be elected to a school office.

Something PTAs nationwide understand well! That is why each year, hundreds of thousands of student participants in National PTA’s Reflections arts program can attest to how the arts impact their lives and their ability to express themselves.

No child should be denied the chance to develop their talent or be denied an outlet for their artistic expression because of budget cuts. Thousands of PTAs across the country and in our military based schools overseas make it possible each year for our children to be involved in the arts through Reflections. Sadly for many, they may not have had the opportunity otherwise.

As parents, PTA leaders, and members Urgent Blog Request, we commend the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the other federal departments that are working on this important research on the arts. We stand ready to assist them in any way possible!

Every child in this nation deserves the chance to have a well-rounded education and to have the tools to reach their full potential as they grow into adulthood. The arts are a vital ingredient!

Visit for more information about National PTA’s Reflections program and to find out how your PTA can participate in next school year’s program.