Meet Today’s PTA Advocate: Gabriel Unruh

YS_GabeYoung people today face realities that their parents and grandparents never comprehended. Computers, tablets, and smart phones have made our world a connected place, which has resulted in both positive and negative side effects. As a result, today’s PTA sometimes has to get creative with its advocacy work. Our featured advocate, Gabriel Unruh, did just that. Gabriel is a member of the Platte County High School PTSA in Platte City, MO, and is a graduating senior. After several injuries and deaths in his community and school from texting while driving, last year Gabriel took action to educate his peers on the dangers of distracted driving.

Gabe’s efforts resulted in an “Arrive Alive” event held in April 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri, that brought school, community and law enforcement groups together. The event offered students and community members an opportunity to evaluate personal driving habits, learn preferred safety habits of the road, and provided families free resources and information to improve their driving safety. More than 25 booths and exhibits featured an range of advocacy resources, safe driving interactive activities, and a powerful video message shown by the Missouri Highway Patrol. “Arrive Alive” was attended by over 1,000 high school students and community members, supported by over 25 local businesses and local governments, and was covered by all Kansas City metro news outlets.

To prepare for this event, Gabriel oversaw more than 100 volunteers; published numerous editorials on distracted driving in Kansas City local newspapers; and effectively used social media to promote the campaign. The event was such a success that local non-profit organizations and two neighboring districts approached Gabriel for this year’s efforts. Furthermore, Gabriel is in the process of submitting to the Missouri Department of Transportation an official action plan to create a model “Arrive Alive” program for schools across Missouri.

Gabriel’s work as a youth advocate resulted in him winning the 2014 National PTA Youth Advocacy Ambassador Award. Gabe will work throughout 2014 and early 2015 to promote PTA’s advocacy mission in his local community and beyond. He is speaking at this year’s Youth Summit, part of the 2014 National PTA annual convention, to talk with his peers about the importance of advocacy and its impact. Although Gabriel will be leaving Missouri this fall to attend American University in Washington, D.C., he plans to continue his advocacy work on behalf of PTA, and will incorporate it into his curriculum at American.

This is what Today’s PTA can accomplish!

Founder’s Day: Celebrating Our Advocacy Legacy

FoundersDay2Today, February 17, is National PTA’s Founders’ Day. It is a time for us to celebrate our 117 years of existence, to remember the hard work and determination of the women who created the association to promote child welfare, and to look toward the future as we carry their vision forward. As we approach our founding day, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the history of PTA as an advocacy association, determined to speak for every child with one voice.

Our History

In 1897, Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst organized the first gathering of the National Congress of Mothers in Washington, D.C. Mobilizing at a time when women did not have the right to vote, the two nevertheless knew that mothers would respond to a mission meant to bolster child wellbeing. Nearly 2000 people, made up of mothers, fathers, teachers, labor leaders, and legislators, convened in Washington, D.C. on February 17, far exceeding the attendance that the two women expected. The National Congress of Mothers soon became the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, and began founding state affiliates across the country. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first Chairman of the Congress’ Advisory Committee and represented the group at both national and international functions.

Seeking to find a way to get African American parents more involved in their children’s education at a time when schools were segregated, Selena Sloan Butler formed the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT) in 1911. The NCCPT began in Atlanta, Georgia, and quickly spread across many other states, advocating for better conditions for African American students. When the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, called National PTA by this time, merged with the NCCPT in 1970, Butler was named an official founder of the association and is recognized alongside Alice Birney and Phoebe Hearst as such.

Our Legacy in Leadership

As we remember PTA’s history, it is important to recognize the association’s rich legacy of advocacy. The association was founded as a vehicle in which families could promote policies protecting the best interests of their children. Since its establishment, National PTA and its affiliates have, among other things, been instrumental in successfully getting policies such as child labor protection laws, mandatory kindergarten, and school lunch programs implemented, and have fought for protecting arts education, passing fair juvenile justice laws, and crafting safe school policies.

For more information on PTA’s history of advocacy, you may view our PTA Advocacy: A Legacy in Leadership video.

Today’s PTA

PTA’s legacy of advocacy is not simply in the past. We continue our work today, seeking to promote family engagement through federal and state laws, as well as local school policies. We believe all children deserve a quality public education, support in special education, and a strong start to their academic learning with early education programs. Our state and local units do vital work every day, ranging from efforts to improve the safety of their schools and the routes to get there, to ensuring all families are welcomed and supported into the school community , to promoting healthy lifestyles by protecting recess and physical activity during the school day.

Today’s PTA continues the legacy of advocacy began by our founders over 100 years ago. Annually, PTA advocates gather in DC at the Legislative Conference to speak with their members of Congress on topics important to child welfare. State affiliates across the country host similar conferences so that PTA’s voice can be heard at the state level as well. But advocacy does not just occur at the federal and state levels once a year. Every day, National PTA, its affiliates, and its thousands of local units and millions of members work with students, families, and local communities to promote effective policies for all children. PTA members truly seek to speak up for every child with one voice.

This Founder’s Day, take a moment to consider the advocacy activities of your unit. What are you doing to carry the founders’ mission forward?

Want to advocate on behalf of every child? Consider attending the National PTA Legislative Conference, March 11-13, 2014. Attendees learn new skills, meet other PTA Advocate, and end the conference meeting with their members of Congress.

Engaging Families and Communities in Advocacy: the Continuing Relevance of PTA

2014 LegCon Panel Ad (2)Last week, registration began for National PTA’s annual Legislative Conference. Held in March, the conference provides PTA members the opportunity to speak up for every child at the federal level. Attendees receive trainings and briefings before meeting with their members of Congress to discuss issues of importance to PTA and families across the country. All PTA members are invited to join us!

As important as it is to meet with members of Congress in DC, local and state advocacy is just as critical to ensuring that family engagement in matters involving children is valued by decision makers at all levels of policy—from the school district, to the state, to the United States Department of Education. For family engagement to become a priority around the country, PTA’s must actively work to encourage both their membership and their community to participate. While it can sometimes seem like an uphill battle to get families and communities involved in activism, there are concrete steps that can be taken to get started.

They key to engaging existing and potential new members in PTA is to show people why their local PTA is relevant. If families can see that the PTA in their community is actively working to bring about positive change in their school district, change that can impact their child, they will be more inclined to get involved.

But how can PTA’s highlight their continuing relevance? The first step is to recognize that PTAs are advocacy associations with a rich legacy of speaking up for every child. Services like hot lunches in schools and establishment of juvenile courts would not be what they are today without PTA.  It’s also important to take the fear out of “advocacy.” While the word “advocacy” can be scary for many people, it simply means to support a cause. To engage your local community, and potentially gain membership, local PTA units should strive to highlight how they have supported every child and brought about change, especially in recent months or years. Your unit could keep newspaper clippings showcasing PTA success; create a collage of photos with local PTA members working for change; or keep a bulletin board with past event notices. Be creative with it! Local PTA leaders should also familiarize themselves with the history of both their state PTA affiliate and National PTA so that communities can see why PTA matters at all levels.

While educating the community on what PTA has done recently, PTA members should also be prepared to answer questions about what they are doing now to speak up for every child. To be able to effectively answer this question and peak interest in the activities of the local PTA, leaders should have an advocacy plan in place. What issues affecting child welfare are happening in your school district? What can your PTA do to address this topic? Remember, your unit does not have to tackle every issue all at once; rather, a better approach is to choose one or two topics that impact families, teachers, and students the most and work to build support for PTA’s position. Using a strategy chart, units can set goals for what they would like to see happen. If community interest already exists for the issue, this is an excellent opportunity for local PTAs to raise their visibility by taking a stand and organizing their members for change, which may also result in new members joining. If the community is not aware of the issue, then PTA has the opportunity to educate them.

At the Legislative Conference this year, we will be talking with members of Congress about the Family Engagement in Education Act, a federal piece of legislation that provides states and communities with more opportunity to prioritize family involvement in children’s educational experience.  As PTA advocates work with Congress to pass this important bill, take some time to consider ways that your PTA can engage families and communities at the local level.

Tell us: How does your state or local unit engage its membership and seek to recruit new members?


Want to attend the 2014 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.? Visit the Legislative Conference web page for more information and to register!


Meet Today’s PTA Advocate: Justin Raber


Meet Today’s PTA Advocate:
Justin Raber

Each year, National PTA honors its outstanding advocates during its annual Legislative Conference. Last year, the winner of the Shirley Igo Outstanding Advocate Award, one of four categories awarded by National PTA, was Justin Raber, currently the President of West Virginia PTA.

Despite not having children of his own yet, Raber has been an active member of PTA since he was a teenager, seeking educational change while still a student himself. He attended his first National PTA annual convention at the age of 15, and was so inspired to get involved that he successfully petitioned the West Virginia PTA to include a youth member on its Board of Managers. After serving two terms in that position, he was elected Member At-Large for the National PTA Council of States, and was later appointed to the National PTA Diversity Committee, where he served for three years.

In addition to his national duties, Raber continued to volunteer for West Virginia’s PTA as the Membership Chair, and was elected as President-Elect in 2011 while also serving as the Federal Legislative Chair. When he took office as president of West Virginia PTA in 2013, Justin became the youngest person ever elected as President of a state PTA. He has accomplished all of this while working a full-time job and attending law school.

Justin also has extensive knowledge of the legislative system, having spent time on Capitol Hill as an intern, and has built relationships with several of West Virginia’s legislators. His efforts to garner support from Capitol Hill for the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2011 through a grassroots outreach to PTA members helped him win the Shirley Igo Award in 2013. As President, Raber has worked closely with the West Virginia legislature in the hopes of having similar legislation introduced at the state level.

While Raber’s achievements through his involvement with PTA have been extensive and, at times, hard- won, his advice to PTA members also seeking to make a difference is simple:  consider your own actions. A parent or family member who joins PTA becomes an advocate simply by signing up. As Raber’s involvement demonstrates, a person does not have to have their own children to be active members of a PTA or champion children’s issues to leaders. One simply has to be willing to get involved for whatever amount of time they can devote.

Parents, families, and community members advocate constantly without realizing it. By speaking with teachers or principals about their children’s progress; joining a committee to fundraise or make improvements to the school building, athletic fields, or cafeteria; or by working with local education officials to protect recess time or implement a new assessment plan, people of every walk of life are advocating on behalf of children. Working with your local PTA unit to assess local needs and come up with a plan are simple ways parents can continue to advocate for every child in their district.

Advocacy does not have to take place in Washington, D.C. to count. However, if you are ready to broaden your advocacy experience, Raber suggests getting involved with your state PTA as a first step. Reach out to your state’s legislative chair to find out how you can support their state or federal legislative priorities at a local, state, and national level.

Regardless of your advocacy experience or the level at which you want to be involved, Raber explains that the most important piece to being a successful PTA advocate is simply caring for children. Children are at the heart of PTA’s mission, and it is PTA’s goal to ensure that every child meets their fullest potential. As a PTA member you can help make this objective a reality.

For more on the PTA Advocacy Awards or to nominate someone you feel is an outstanding PTA advocate, please visit more tips and tools on how to get started on advocating with PTA, please visit

Join fellow PTA advocates for the PTA 2014 Legislative Conference. This exciting three-day event provides in-depth discussion about PTA’s public policy priorities through interactive workshops, keynote speakers, advocacy trainings and more. Registration for the Legislative Conference will open January 17, 2014. Please visit for more information.

Safe Routes for Halloween and Beyond!


As kids take to the streets to trick or treat tonight, think about another route: your students’ route to school.

Happy Halloween!

Tonight (or sometime this weekend!), kids across the country will participate in their communities’ “trick-or-treat” events. As we know, many of these include walking door-to-door to see what tasty treats will be handed out and showing off their costumes to neighbors and friends. While Halloween is an American favorite that many kids and adults alike enjoy, it also requires families to employ safe practices to make the experience enjoyable for everyone.

As you consider your child’s Halloween “trick-or-treat” route, consider another route that you may not have before: your students’ route to school. Students take many different paths to school, including busing; riding with parents or older siblings in the car; biking; or walking. If you live in a rural community, understandably bussing or driving are likely the only options. But if you live in an area where you can encourage your children to walk or bike, this can help promote healthy lifestyles. Studies show that students who walk to school get, on average, 24 extra minutes of physical activity per day, which helps promote cognitive functioning and heightens attentiveness.

While students who walk and bike arrive safely at school more often than not, there are still steps that parents can take to ensure a safe arrival. National PTA is a partner with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership to ensure that students across the country have the safest options for arriving at and leaving school. If you live in a community where students walk or bike, check out National PTA’s Tips for Safer Routes to School for ideas on how to ensure that your community is keeping its children as safe as possible.

If you have concerns about the ability of your students to safely walk or bike, reach out to your PTA unit to address them. Working with your PTA, you can get families involved in discussions with school leaders, city administrators, and state legislators to address concerns such as sidewalk locations, safe crosswalks and crossing guards, and bike paths and racks. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has put together some information on local efforts for safe routes, as well as a “Getting Started” checklist with information on how families can begin the process in their communities. Working together, families can ensure that every child has a safe route to school.

Have a safe and enjoyable Halloween!

Tell us: how do you promote safe routes in your community? Respond below in the comments!

Meet Today’s PTA Advocate: Deborah Dunstone, Pennsylvania PTA State President

This month’s installment of “Meet Today’s PTA Advocate” features Deborah Dunstone, the current President of the Pennsylvania PTA. Ms. Dunstone was installed as Pennsylvania’s PTA President in April after nearly two decades of outstanding work at all levels of PTA. From her beginnings as the chair of the hospitality committee in her local unit to becoming a recognized child advocate at both the state and national levels, Ms. Dunstone has allowed her experience with PTA to transform her own view of herself as a PTA member and shape her understanding of advocacy.

Deborah Dunstone PA PTA

As a result of her exemplary reputation as a child advocate, Pennsylvania PTA President Deborah Dunstone was contacted late this summer by the president of The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC), an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit organization based in Harrisburg. The EPLC coordinates The Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP) in Pennsylvania, a professional development program of which Ms. Dunstone is a graduate. Ms. Dunstone was asked to be a panelist on the September episode of PCNTV (Pennsylvania Cable Network’s) monthly hour-long program, “Focus on Education,” with the topic “Parents as Education Advocates.” Focus on Education is dedicated to raising awareness about current education issues that affect Pennsylvania’s students and taxpayers and, ultimately, the future of the country’s workforce and communities.

While appearing on the show, Ms. Dunstone spoke of the need to educate families on their ability to affect change in their children’s education, both at school and at home, as well as the need for teachers to be trained in engaging families. She explained that family engagement works, and that PTA seeks to involve families in decision making about education policy at all levels. She was also able to give examples of specific PTA resources, such as the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships; the Schools of Excellence program; and the “Connect for Respect” anti-bullying program that families and schools can utilize to provide students with a better educational experience. Her appearance garnered publicity for both National and Pennsylvania PTA, furthered the cause of family engagement in education, and provided a powerful example of how PTA is still relevant and needed today.

Ms. Dunstone success is resultant partially from her willingness to take on new roles within the association. When starting with her local unit, she asserts that she never thought she would have anything to do with state or national advocacy. But as she became more involved, she discovered that PTA members are advocates just by being a part of the association. As she learned how to organize at a local school level, she was able to develop the skills necessary for doing so at a state and national level. Whether the parent of a kindergarten student getting involved in PTA for the first time, or a veteran member, there are always new skills to be learned and new challenges to take on.

She also feels that part of becoming a good advocate is the willingness to “get your hands dirty and find what’s relevant to your association.” PTA members, units, and state affiliates seeking to broaden their advocacy activities should surround themselves with knowledgeable people. Build relationships with other PTA members, child advocates at partner organizations, and legislative leaders. PTA advocates have a whole network of knowledgeable members to reach out to at the local, state, and national levels, as well as the staff at National PTA to help with their advocacy activities and needs.

But, as Ms. Dunstone learned all those years ago when joining her first PTA unit, you just have to be willing to take the first step. An open mind, a willingness to learn new skills, and the drive to take on different positions within the association will go far in cultivating achievement as a PTA advocate.

Know an outstanding advocate that you feel deserves recognition? Please contact National PTA’s Advocacy Coordinator, Erica Lue, at You may also nominate them for a 2014 Advocacy Award, at

October is National Principals Month

Principal_BlogOctober is National Principals Month, and National PTA is partnering with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) to take part in this celebration. National PTA firmly believes that principals are the educational leaders in schools and are critical to ensuring the success of every child. For this reason, every school should have a qualified principal that has the support they need professionally to effectively lead their students and staff.  For more information, please see our position statement on principals.

Hopefully, your PTA has gotten started on planning its advocacy activities for the year (for help with that see our blog post from a few weeks ago). Part of a good advocacy strategy is building relationships. As mentioned in last week’s post about urban activism, oftentimes the first step in executing a successful advocacy plan is building the relationships and trust needed to accomplish your goals. In celebration of National Principals Month, one relationship that your local PTA can consider bolstering is with your schools’ administrative team.

Principals are sometimes overlooked members of the education community. When it comes to education, there is much public buzz around teachers, parents, politicians, and students, but oftentimes the administrative structure of the school goes unnoticed. This is unfortunate because principals, in fact, have a significant impact on not only the academics of a school, but on the entire culture of learning. NAESP and NASSP have compiled recent research findings on school leadership and found, among other things, that quality principals can have a direct, positive impact on student achievement, contrary to the pervasive myth that administration influence is indirect and insignificant. Indeed, principals provide guidance to both staff and students; they serve as a liaison between teachers and families; and they are instrumental in determining that type of atmosphere will preside at a school. For this reason, not only are principals profoundly necessary to a well-functioning school, but they are excellent resources for supporting the efforts of local PTAs. Building and maintaining a great relationship with your schools’ principal will help as you work to speak up for every child.

Take some time this month to reach out to your school’s principal, not only to build an advocacy relationship, but also to simply show them your appreciation. For some thoughts on how you can get involved with National Principals Month and show your schools’ administrators that you value them, you can visit the National Principals Month website “Ideas for Celebrating” section. Not only will your efforts go rewarded as you advocate with the PTA, but you will be helping to create a better learning and working environment for everyone.


Welcome Back to Advocacy!


PTA members advocate at the U.S. Capitol during the 2013 Legislative Conference.

A new school year has begun! By now, most of you have settled your students into their new classrooms, bought new school supplies, and established a new daily routine. As your PTA gears up for the school year, consider adding another new item to your list: advocacy.

The dictionary definition of advocacy is that it is “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.” While this seems a simple enough definition, it can sometimes be difficult to understand what this means in practice. The word “advocacy” can even be scary for some!  But advocacy is just another word for “support,” “promote,” and “encourage.” Simply by being a member of your local PTA unit, YOU are already a child advocate! For the purposes of PTA, advocacy is when a parent, grandparent, educator, community member or other individual—in other words, you!—speaks up for children. You can do this in schools, in communities, to government bodies and to other organizations that make decisions affecting children. Because you belong to the PTA, you are able to join with fellow members to accomplish this with a single, strong voice.

Take a moment in the next few weeks to consider what your local PTA unit’s advocacy goals are for the 2013-2014 school year. What are some issues affecting students and families in your district that your PTA can “speak up” for? Perhaps you want healthier food in your students’ cafeteria, more family and community events, or safer routes to school that encourage walking and biking. Or, maybe your PTA wants to work with your state PTA to let your state and national leaders know your thoughts on school funding, to support National PTA’s public policy agenda on ESEA-NCLB reauthorization, or encourage members of Congress to support the recently introduced Family Engagement in Education Act.

Once you have identified those issues most important to your PTA, you can begin organizing your PTA unit to effectively advocate for them. Here are some tips on how to do this:

  • Be realistic. Make sure the tasks you are undertaking are within the abilities of your PTA. Identify issues that are small enough in scope that the local PTA unit can address them in a reasonable manner, but will have a noticeable impact on families and students in your school or district. If you find that the topics are outside the scope of what is possible, re-think your goals to bring them into a more realistic sphere, while also finding ways to grow your unit’s capacity to make the larger objectives possible.
  • Have a plan. Create step-by-step events and objectives that can be completed one at a time. Trying to take on too much at once can be frustrating and cause you to lose sight of the end goal. Also be sure to celebrate the completion of these steps, no matter how large or small a victory it is!
  • Communicate your goals. PTA seeks to engage families in education. But oftentimes, families do not know how to get involved. Make sure you are communicating your initiatives through various mediums (social media, local newspaper, newsletters, etc) so people in your school’s district know how they can get involved.
  • Work with local, state, and national leaders. Reach out to the administration in your school district, your city council, state legislators, and even members of Congress. Do some research on these individuals to find out what topics are important to them, so that you can approach the right people to support your cause. If you need help figuring out who your leaders are, you can go to PTA’s Takes Action site to search by your zip code and find out.
  • Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither can all solutions be arrived at instantaneously. Give yourself and your PTA volunteers enough time to get organized and complete the objectives in a workable timeframe.

National PTA has put together many resources for you to get started on organizing your local unit to meet its advocacy goals. You can check out our advocacy page for materials on various topics, including special education, sequestration, and the Common Core State Standards. The page also provides a link to National PTA’s public policy agenda, which may be helpful to your unit as you seek opportunities to promote the PTA cause. Our Advocacy Toolkit offers tips on how to interact with the media and your legislative leaders, in both web and PDF form. The toolkit also includes an outline of the Federal budget process and short videos detailing the history of PTA as an advocacy organization and how to effectively make your voice heard with your leaders. You can also check out our advocacy training guide, which provides detailed steps on topics such as coalition building, recruiting volunteers, and building an effective advocacy campaign. Finally, you can always contact National PTA staff by phone or e-mail for help.

Your PTA unit can also help National PTA’s child advocacy efforts by signing up to receive action alerts from our Takes Action network. These alerts will keep you informed when Congress is acting on issues important to students and families, and will give you the opportunity to make your voice heard with your legislative leaders. For even more opportunities to receive information from National PTA, follow us on Twitter (@NationalPTA) and like us on Facebook.

The new school year is a great time for your PTA to consider what opportunities exist in your school district for improving the lives of all children. As your students head back to school, take some time to figure out how you can advocate for every child with one voice.

Erica Lue is an Advocacy Coordinator for the National PTA in Alexandria, VA.  Contact Erica at

Meet Today’s PTA Advocate: Massachusetts PTA

The first installment of “Meet Today’s PTA Advocate” is proud to highlight the recent efforts of the Massachusetts PTA in getting September declared “Arts in Education Month” by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick!


MA PTA President Eric Champy with Reflections Chair Maryalice Foise and Reflections contest winners.

 The efforts of the Massachusetts PTA are a prime example of patience in advocacy. While many of us would like for change to come overnight, oftentimes it does not. Rather, it takes many weeks, months, and oftentimes years for change to be made. The achievement of Massachusetts PTA was a result of many years of members building a relationship with the governor’s office and their own state representatives.

Beginning in 2006, the Massachusetts PTA began working closely with the state’s Parental Information and Resource Center (PIRC), attending each other’s meetings and collaborating on issues of family engagement and education reform. In 2007, the PTA was invited to take the seat they had been allotted in 2005 by the Massachusetts Legislature on the state’s Board of Education, marking the start of good relations with the state’s PTA and the governor’s office. The PTA was also heavily involved in Governor Patrick’s “Readiness Project,” a statewide initiative to develop a strategic plan for the future of education in the Commonwealth.   Building on these relationships, in 2008 the Massachusetts PTA was given representation on the Parent and Community Engagement & Involvement Advisory Council for the state’s Board of Education, and by 2010, Massachusetts PTA then-President Mary Ann Stewart was elected Vice Chair of MassPartners for Public Schools, a coalition of state education groups that have a powerful voice for children. Stewart was elected to Chair the group for two terms following her run as VC.


Students from Pioneer Valley Performing Arts School provide the entertainment for MA PTA’s 2013 Reflections Ceremony

While fostering these general relationships, the Massachusetts PTA also took care to develop its arts in education policies and bolster the visibility and support of the state’s Reflections program. In 2010, Massachusetts PTA celebrated its centennial, and a key feature of the celebration was having their Reflections Ceremony held during the Centennial Conference. The success of that ceremony renewed interest in the PTA, and allowed the affiliate to move forward with strengthening Reflections around the state. In April of 2012, they held their state Reflections ceremony at the Fitchburg Museum of Art in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Reflections submissions were hung between and among the professional works of art in the museum, and families who attended received free passes to the museum. Collaborations such as this are an important part of advocacy; making your PTA’s cause as visible as possible is essential to success.

As a result of these achievements, in November 2012 the Massachusetts PTA Board asked Stewart, now acting as the state’s Federal Legislative Chair, and the state’s Reflections Chair, Maryalice Foise, to petition the governor for a resolution on arts in education month to coincide with September’s “National Arts in Education Week.” Armed with language from other resolutions as an example, and supported by Massachusetts PTA President Erik J. Champy, who began his term with a goal of boosting arts education, Stewart and Foise submitted their application to the governor’s office in April of this year, and were told in August of their success.

In addition to the importance of relationships, the Massachusetts PTA also reminds us that advocacy does not have to come in the form of overwhelming numbers, but can be a result of a small number of dedicated individuals taking the time to make the necessary connections. Stewart explains it as such: “The key to our advocacy success has been in the relationships we have fostered over the years. Because we are small here…we frequently manage advocacy through strategic partnerships and coalitions focused on child and youth education, health & safety, and well-being.”

The Reflections Gallery

The Reflections Gallery

National PTA firmly supports arts in education. PTA’s Reflections program is an excellent resource for PTA leaders to partner with schools in improving opportunities for all students to be involved in the arts. Arts education engages students in many different mediums- including music, visual arts, industrial arts, and dance-which helps students develop critical thinking skills, express their personality, and support their fellow students in a positive and respectful manner. The arts also engage families and communities, increase student interest and teacher effectiveness, and bolster social connectedness among students, families, and communities. Schools and PTAs committed to supporting arts education can work together to find opportunities for families to take an active role in supporting the arts at their schools.

For more information on learning in the arts in general, visit the following pages:

American for the Arts
The National Art Education Association
National Endowment for the Arts

Meet Today’s PTA Advocate is a new and recurring series from the National PTA’s Government Affairs department that seeks to highlight outstanding advocacy efforts for PTA by individual members, local units, and state affiliates.


Cutting Physical Education and Recess: Troubling Trends and How PTAs Can Help!

Playground_1Since the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, many schools have struggled to find ways to meet the act’s rigorous assessment standards. One avenue schools have been taking to find time for more academics is to cut out physical education classes and recess. Another approach has been to withhold time allotted for physical activity as a punishment for poor classroom behavior, or for extra tutoring time for struggling students. While estimates on cutbacks to school recess differ while accommodating a more vigorous academic curriculum, what is certain is that the trend is on the rise. With the troubling statistics regarding childhood obesity, health experts, educators, and parents are expressing concern that cutting recess will further contribute to weight and health problems without actually improving academic performance.

Recess, with its unstructured play time and the ability to allow students’ choices in the activities they pursue, is a particularly troubling cut that many argue actually has detrimental effects on students.  In its resolution on recess, National PTA outlined the numerous benefits of recess and physical activity, including “greater academic achievement and cognitive functioning; better classroom behavior; increased socialization, school adjustment and overall social development; and improved physical and mental health.” In addition to these positive outcomes, establishing an active lifestyle in childhood leads children to be more active adults. Because of the benefits of physical activity and unstructured play time, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that students get at least 20 minutes of recess time every day.

National PTA is not alone in our concern over the drift towards less physical education and recess in school. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported in 2007 that only 36% of children receive the recommended amount of physical activity and stress that recess time is one of the best opportunities to incorporate physical activity into a child’s day; the American Academy of Pediatrics asserts that “recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development;” and the National Wildlife Federation, in response to reports that children spend only minutes a day outside but as much as seven hours in front of a computer or television screen, has undertaken an initiative to get 10 million more American children outside.

Despite the alarming statistics on childhood obesity and the abundant benefits of recess, there are currently very few efforts at a national, state or district level promoting the adoption of policies supporting recess or physical education. This is disheartening because having a concrete policy on the books helps promote physical activity in schools and protects opportunities for physical activity. For example, the National Institutes of Health released a report which indicates that recess is more likely to be scheduled at schools in districts and states with a recess policy in place. PTA members are in an excellent position to “take action” towards correcting this deficiency by advocating for a number of policies supporting more physical activity for students in their states and districts. Some of these opportunities include the following:

  •  Nationally: PTA members can contact their members of Congress regarding the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act (FIT Kids Act), a measure recently reintroduced in both chambers of Congress that National PTA supports. The bill would strengthen physical education throughout the country by providing grants to schools working to implement physical education programs, and would also require state educational agencies to monitor and report on the amount of time students spend being physically active during the school day.
  • State-wide: PTA members and units can actively encourage their state legislators to support recess policies and programs that boost walkable communities. Promoting walkability in communities gives families more options for active modes of transportation, rather than using vehicles, and ensures that students have safe ways to walk to school. Walking also promotes academic success: a study conducted by the University of Illinois showed that students who walked at a moderate pace for 20 minutes in the morning before school increased their ability to pay attention in class and performed better on tests.
  • Locally: Local PTAs can encourage their schools and districts to adopt sensible recess policies and to keep physical education as a part of their daily academic schedules at all levels.  PTAs can also advocate their local leaders to design communities safe for walking and biking, and can encourage parents, teachers, and community members to lead by their own healthy examples.

Recess and other physical activities should be viewed as an opportunity to enrich the whole student, and not as a barrier to academic success.

National PTA has partnered with several organizations to launch nationwide programs encouraging students and parents to be more active. Beginning this fall, the National PTA undertook an initiative with the NFL, called “Back to Sports,” that will encourage students to join sports teams and get active, and in February of this year National PTA announced a partnership with Safe Routes to School National Partnership and Kaiser Permanente called “Fire Up Your Feet.” The enterprise challenges students, teachers, and parents to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day while raising money for their schools, and is a recognized program of the Let’s Move! Active School initiative.

But working towards greater physical activity, while an important step, is only half of the battle in combating childhood obesity and increasing academic outcomes. Healthy food options for all students is also a necessity. Be sure to check back next week for a discussion on school nutrition, examples of success stories, and ways that PTAs across the country can promote and encourage healthy food options in their schools!

Tell us: Does your child’s school offer recess and physical education opportunities?