PTA Reflections – A Masterpiece in Family Engagement

Early March – a time I love at the home office of National PTA. It’s the time when our mission springs to life in front of our eyes: advocates streaming into town from every part of the country for our National PTA Legislative Conference; news stories airing about local PTAs hosting their PTA Family Reading Experiences and PTA Take Your Family to School Week events; and the incredible PTA Reflections® artwork arriving from thousands of student artists who qualified for national round judging.

This is my third March with National PTA. Each spring, I’ve enjoyed pouring through the Reflections finalists – reading, listening, watching – the art appeals to so many of my senses and nurtures my own creative spirit. It just amazes me how students of all ages capture our annual theme in such unique and poignant ways.

But this year it’s different.  This year, I see more than the creativity and interpretation of our student artists. This year, thanks to Pinellas County Council PTA, I see each submission as a masterpiece in family engagement.

A Warm Night Despite the Polar Vortex

Reflections_MichelleAlfredIn January, during the coldest day of the year when even Florida suffered from the bite of the Polar Vortex, I attended the Pinellas County Council PTA’s Reflections Celebration. This was my first local PTA Reflections celebration. It was incredible! The PTA Council, led by President Michelle Alfred, hosted an awards ceremony, exhibit and reception at Pinellas Park High School.

I arrived bundled up and shuffling to the door with a shiver and a grumble. But when the door opened, I gasped with pride at the sight of a room so full of families. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, little brothers and sisters – all there for one reason – to celebrate and support their student artists. It was so inviting and celebratory in that standing-room-only auditorium! I was wrapped in its warmth in a way that gives you goose bumps. I had goose bumps all night. Then I realized this is family engagement in action: PTA welcoming families into the school and engaging them in something we know supports student success – arts participation.

Reflections_ParentsChildI had the honor of sitting with the PTA Pinellas County Council Board, as well as long-time PTA volunteer and Pinellas County School Board Chair Carol J. Cook. As we waited for the event to begin, Chairwoman Cook shared with me her PTA experience and how PTA really helped to shape her civic leadership experience. Later, she greeted the students and mingled with the families. Through this celebration, families gained access to an important school decision-maker and they showed her by their presence – how much families care about arts in education.

PTA Volunteers Pave the Way for Family Engagement Through the Arts

Debi Klein, Chair of the Reflections Committee for the Pinellas County Council PTA, hosted the recognition ceremony. She and the Reflections Committee recruited 33 schools to participate this year, which is an incredible accomplishment. She’s been involved with PTA for nearly a decade and chaired the Council’s Reflections Committee for five years.

Reflections_ParentPaparazzi“I love seeing the creativity that students produce,” Debi told me. “And without the local PTA unit chairs, students wouldn’t be able to participate in this program.”

Debi is right. There are thousands of PTA volunteers across the country who support this program. Volunteers who give forth so many nights, so many weekends, so much energy and enthusiasm to support arts in education opportunities through PTA’s Reflections program. These volunteers are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, educators, community arts leaders and advocates speaking up for every child at their school and collaborating with the community to increase access to arts participation.

When National PTA celebrates our student artists in June, we will celebrate all of you who are Reflections Chairs!  You provide a critical path for family engagement through this program. And more than 300,000 students and families across the country and in US schools overseas benefit from your commitment.

Believe, Dream, Inspire.

Reflections_PrideWhen I sat in the audience that night, I couldn’t help but wear two hats – National PTA staff person and the mom of students in Pinellas County. My heart beamed with joy each time a child swept passed me with their nervous run to the stage to accept their well-deserved award. I couldn’t help but to look back and admire the families – their love, their pride, their snapping phone cameras. I savored each hug I saw – each “I’m proud of you” I heard. And I daydreamed about the day when I will celebrate one of my children in a similar way.

Working at the national level, I don’t get to feel the “mission moment” goose bumps all the time. But when I do – I treasure them. And that’s why I love March – March is full of them!


Do you want to become a PTA Reflections volunteer and encourage student artists to reflect on the theme: “The world would be a better place if…”?  Visit to learn more. Or make an online donation to support the Reflections program at:

Mary Pat King, MS is the director of programs and partnerships for the National PTA. She is also the proud mom of Mason, 5, and Jenna Bea, 4. She and her husband, Eric, are new members of the Cypress Woods Elementary School PTA in Pinellas County, FL.

Raising Enthusiasm for STEM, While Supporting Schools’ Technology Needs

Earlier today, I conducted a focus group of one – my son – a kindergartener who wants to be a teacher when he grows up. Why? Because “I love teachers.” While his favorite time in the school day is “Let’s Move” time on the patio, he also loves science, math, computer time and music. Why? Through science, “If you don’t know how something works, you can learn.” For math it’s simple, “I like to solve problems.” On the computer, “I can play games;” games that he doesn’t realize are educational and enrich the lessons he learned earlier in the day. And music, well that’s no surprise as he and his friends get together regularly for “Crazy Band” practice.

Many people – including teachers – have told me, “Your son is going to be an engineer.” I can see that – he is constantly building things using all sorts of random household items and masking tape – lots of masking tape. But I can also see him becoming a science teacher, a software developer, or maybe even a rockstar.  After all, he’s in kindergarten and we daydream about every possibility.

But one thing is for sure – my son is excited by STEM subjects, as well as the arts. To support his success in school and life, we plan to nurture both, seeking opportunities for him to exercise his left and right brain. Already, our teachers have suggested we enrich his educational experience with family outings and extracurricular programs that encourage him to observe, analyze, and create.

Samsung Solve for Tomorrow program does just that – and more. As a proud nonprofit partner, National PTA supports Samsung’s goals to raise enthusiasm for STEM education, demonstrate how STEM can positively impact our local communities, and reduce the technology gap in classrooms.

To enter, teachers consider how students can apply science, technology, engineering and math to help improve a problem or need in their local community.  Teachers must consider how they would engage and encourage enthusiastic student participation. Teachers must also describe the technology needs of their school. The program is open to all public school teachers in grades 6-12 throughout the 50 United States and Washington, DC. The deadline to enter is 11:59:59 p.m. EDT on Thursday, October 31, 2013.

We suggest local PTAs encourage and support teachers interested in participating in this program for two reasons. First, National PTA believes STEM education must remain a national priority in the U.S., as it has become increasingly apparent that U.S. students are not advancing in math and science at the same pace as in other countries.

Second, we believe technology improves personalized learning and provides new opportunities for family engagement. That’s why PTAs across the country help to raise funds for improving technology in schools. Every day across the country, PTAs commit to bringing community resources that improve learning to their partner schools– and this partnership is a great example of that commitment. As part of Solve for Tomorrow, Samsung is giving away more than $2 million in technology to 255 schools nationwide.

Last year, National PTA was honored to attend Samsung’s event in Washington, DC to celebrate the five grand prize winning schools. Watch the highlights from this inspiring event.

We sat in the audience mesmerized at the incredible teamwork and innovation demonstrated by all of the winning student teams. But we were especially proud of the teams that highlighted the support received from their local PTAs to participate in the program.

Watch the short videos created by the student teams to show how they worked together to solve an environmental problem using STEM.

Now help National PTA encourage teachers to apply. Spread the word!

Madison Amador of Leewood K-8 Center reads aloud from the Congressional Record presented to the Leewood students for winning Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow challenge in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol, April 2013. - See more at:

Madison Amador of Leewood K-8 Center reads aloud from the Congressional Record presented to the Leewood students for winning Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow challenge in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol, April 2013. – See more at:

Mary Pat King, MS is the Director of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA.

Save the Date! Take Your Family to School Week – February 17-21, 2104

Growing up, there were so many times when my parents and grandparents were at my school: my mom volunteering with events and field trips; my dad in the basketball bleachers with that loud clap of his; my grandparents at spaghetti suppers and school breakfasts. I remember in particular scanning the audience to find their faces before the flute performance of my life – “Every Rose Has its Thorn.” And I’ll never forget where they sat for each graduation day: Kindergarten, 8th grade, high school, college and graduate school. There they were – the most familiar faces that popped out of the crowd like a flash of lightning in the sky. Faces I yearned to see and focused on to fuel my confidence and ambition.

Flash forward 30 years –here we are – eagerly approaching my son’s Kindergarten parent-teacher conference and his first “Orchestra” day.  I’m as excited as he is, yet yearning for direction down this unpaved road. So naturally, I look back to years ago – and there they are again, my parents and grandparents fueling my confidence, reminding me the first step I need to take for my kids is to be there: the volunteer on the bus, the clap in the stands, the familiar face in the crowd, the encouragement and motivation at home.

PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week 2014 – Supporting Student Success

Since joining National PTA, I’ve learned “being there” in a meaningful way is called family engagement.  Research shows family engagement works.  That’s why we celebrate family engagement each school year during PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week, which overlaps with National PTA’s Founder’s Day, February 17.

 This school year’s PTA Take Your Family to School Week is February 17-21 and will focus on the theme: Supporting Student Success. Like all of National PTA’s programs, we designed this program to spark meaningful family engagement that welcomes families into the school environment, facilitates communication between families and teachers, and offers direction on the ways to support student success.

The theme Supporting Student Success was selected to specifically address the risks associated with high school dropout – lack of family engagement, struggles with reading and math, high absenteeism, and feelings of social exclusion. Prevention of high school dropout begins at a very young age and must continue throughout the school years. Addressing the problem with students in high school may be too late.

PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week Digital Toolkit & $1,000 Grant

 In late November, National PTA will launch a new Take Your Family to School Week Digital Toolkit at for all local PTAs that will include tools such as a Program Leader’s Guide, template Supporting Student Success Workshop, grade-specific family take home guides, and family education event guides that encourage family education events focused on reading, math, the arts, bullying prevention and multicultural inclusiveness.  It will also include templates, such as promotional flyers and family recruitment tools.

National PTA will provide $1,000 grants to 50 local PTAs that need support celebrating Take Your Family to School Week.  Learn more about Take Your Family to School Week and this grant opportunity during informational webinars on October 9 at 1 pm Eastern and October 16 at 3 pm Eastern. By attending, PTAs will earn 10 bonus points on the grant application.

A Proud National Sponsor since 2005, AXA Foundation—the philanthropic arm of AXA Equitable—is again pleased to sponsor PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week.


Visit or contact or 703-518-1221.


Celebrating a PTA Leader with Fearless Determination and Spirit

Anne_Wald_Balloon_MemorialIt is with sad hearts that we share the passing of our colleague and friend, Anne Wald, Deputy Executive Director of National PTA’s Meetings and Field Services. It has been one month since Anne died on Sunday, March 25, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Our prayers are with her family, Chris, Erin, Grace and Jacob, as well as her parents, siblings and a standing room only church full of people who joined together on March 27 to celebrate her life.

For those of you who didn’t know Anne, she embodied the same spirit as our National PTA founders:  fearless determination.  It is a tremendous honor to share more about Anne’s fearless determination as a PTA leader with you.


Within a few weeks of starting at PTA, a bird flew in my office window. Scared of birds, I leaped up and ran down the hall yelling “Bird! Bird!” Like the amazing mom that she was, Anne swooped in to help with the rescue, fearlessly safeguarding me in a window-less office, and helping others to shoo the bird outside where it was free to fly again. We sat in the hallway afterward, me breathless and shaking, and Anne laughing, trying to calm me down. I remember she assured me it was ok and not to be embarrassed, but perhaps I should keep my window closed from now on like the office memo said.

This funny memory symbolizes how Anne worked as a fearless protector. As Deputy Executive Director, Anne championed what is so important to PTA’s mission delivery – our brand and our people.  Through her leadership, she ensured that staff provided high quality resources and customer service to our members and PTA leaders nationwide. She fearlessly voiced what was best for our PTA members and she insisted our strategies consistently carried out the PTA brand promise.


Anne took the stairs. Many times, I’d be coming up with my coffee or she’d be going down to a meeting and we’d pass each other along the way and exchange a friendly chat about kids, meetings, weather, etc. I never knew how sick Anne felt day-to-day because she never showed it. She was always focused on our objectives – and she always took the stairs. I remember one time leaving a meeting on the first floor, feeling a little lazy en route to the third floor and thinking, “Elevator?” But then I saw Anne walk straight for the stairs as determined as ever.  I followed her.

Anne worked throughout her journey with cancer – and she worked with unbelievable determination to maintain the same level of productivity. She was constantly focused on how National PTA could improve our services to volunteers across the country – and her determination and resolve were catchy. We followed her.


Anne Wald loved music. Now her spirit lives on through a song she helped us all to love. You may not know this, but Anne was responsible for tracking down the opening song for the 2012 National PTA Convention –Every Child, One Voice.

The moment was magical: more than a thousand PTA leaders dancing, tearing up, cheering with pride, and getting goose bumps as we listened to this song for the first time together. Anne was right – it was the perfect song to inspire the crowd. The song lives on through PTA leaders’ phones and PTA events. Every time we hear it, the same spirited emotions arise – PTA camaraderie and pride.  

Sadly, Anne wasn’t able to join us in San Jose for that magical moment. But in the midst of that moment, we all knew – she created it. I’ll never forget her for that. I don’t think any of us will.

No more stairs Anne – it’s your time to fly.

If you would like to read more about Anne, share a message with her family, or donate to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in her honor, please visit: