Our Children Talks to Steve Perry about how to Close the Achievement Gap

OC_DecJanA product of third generation poverty, celebrated Principal Steve Perry talks about the important role that PTAs and parents play in helping to close the achievement gap among students facing educational odds. What exactly is that achievement gap? “It is an active gap, not an inherent limitation of minority and male children. Those kids who are most in need of what a great school has to offer are the least likely to have access to a great school.”

He stresses the importance of parent involvement for minority children who may go to less-than-stellar schools. “You have to support the school’s objectives by ensuring that the children come to school prepared to learn, which means doing an audit of your time and resources. Your kids value what you value, and if you value studying and preparing for school, then they will as well.”

Also in Our Children, we highlight the 46th anniversary of the National PTA Reflections program.  Since 1968, Reflections has created a stage for children in all grades across the world to express their creativity through dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography and visual arts. In celebration of arts education, we showcase 46 ways to support student success in the arts.

Want to know more about the next generation of arts standards? Our Children interviews members of the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards leadership team to find out why arts education is an important part of the every child’s learning experience. “The next generation of arts standards will provide new pathways for today’s students to develop their artistic literacy and track their performance.” They share everything you should know about each arts discipline (dance, media arts, visual arts, music, and drama/theatre) in a special section of the article.

Also in this issue: Improving PTA with bylaws revisions; how Common Core literacy standards will help your kids, and spotlighting a unique Special Education program in Delaware.


Reviewing the Stats: How Parents Fare with Online Safety Efforts

FOSIOn November 12, I had the pleasure of attending the Family Online Safety Institute’s (FOSI) annual conference themed “Redefining Online Safety.” Technology today is dramatically different than it was just a short time ago. Virtually everything is done online or via smartphones and/or tablets. And when it comes to youth, their eyes are always fixed on a screen.

Because of this, FOSI works to ensure that while our young people are online, they are being smart and safe. Recently FOSI conducted research that was shared at the conference by Hart Research Associates to find out just how involved parents are in what their children are doing on their devices.

They used three focus groups of Towson, Md., parents, who have children ages 6-17. The groups were broken down to segments of parents with children ages 6-9, 10-13 and 14-17. The samples were taken in both English and Spanish and, in each aspect of the research, children of participating parents had to use the internet and have access to technology devices.

The findings were very interesting. Of the children who are connected, they are heavily connected. 58% of all parents say their children personally have three or more technological devices (computer, video game console, cell phone, tablet or MP3 player). That’s quite a bit of networking. In regards to cell phone usage, the surveys revealed that 63% of children have a smartphone while 25% have a feature phone. It’s also noted that the average age at which children get their own cell phone is 11 years old.

Overall, most parents are relatively confident in their ability to manage their child’s technology use with 26% saying that they are “very confident.” Of that percentage, most were parents of children age 6-9. That goes to show that as kids get older, the less management a parent feels they need to have of their child’s online and phone activities.

The most important matter is the issue of safety. Only 37% feel that their child is “very safe” online, while 56% believe their child is only “somewhat safe.” Even so, the majority of parents surveyed (53%) think that the potential benefits outweigh the potential harms of online use, while 42% believe there is an equal balance between the two and 5% think the harms outweigh the benefits.

The silver lining in these numbers is that parents do talk to their children about both the positives and negatives of online activity. Of the parents surveyed, 65%say they talk to their kids regularly whenever they think it is appropriate. This is the key to ensuring they stay safe and are developing safe online communication habits.

Overall, although the age of technology users is getting younger, parents are optimistic and comfortable with their child being connected. Keeping up with the advances and keeping the lines of communication open about proper usage and staying informed are the keys to ensuring the development of good digital parenting.

To view the full research results and statistics, visit https://www.fosi.org/policy-research/parenting-digital-age/.


Youth Summit Leader Gabe Ramos and the Importance of Diversity

GabeRamosOne Voice had a chance to talk with one of our influential young leaders about diversity and the importance of acceptance through his creation of his Multicultural Tolerance program. It is becoming more common for youth to take the lead on the issues that directly affect them and Gabe Ramos is a great example of that.

One Voice: Can you tell us a little more about your experience at the National PTA Convention?

Gabe: It was something like I have never experienced. It was my first time in Texas and by far the biggest convention I had ever been to. The convention was both enlightening and fun. I particularly enjoyed meeting the other youth leaders and having the youth oriented workshops. I appreciated James T. Robilotta, youth leadership keynote, for his great presence and education on youth leadership. He really taught us as youth leaders to identify what types of leaders we are and how to utilize our talents. Also, I loved the keynote, Dr. Steve Contstantino, who spoke about family engagement, something that I thoroughly find to be of the utmost importance. As a youth, I know I will always have my family to support me and help me succeed. While I was there, I found at one of the booths a math program called Crazy 8’s Math by Bedtime Math, which I now run as a club for fifth graders in my district. I made many friends that I still keep in touch with, and made memories I will never forget.

One Voice: How did you get involved as a Youth Summit Leader?

Gabe: I was at the Pennsylvania State PTA convention and several PTA officers recommended I apply for a scholarship for the convention, so I did.

One Voice: You mentioned that you learned many skills at the Convention. Can you talk about what workshop you attended? What were those skills?

Gabe: I attended an anti-bullying program presented by BMX star, Mr. Kevin “K Rob” Robinson which was truly enlightening and self-reassuring. His program truly just made you feel good, and I absolutely loved the way he tied his BMX skills into it. I attended a seminar on how to utilize your PTA, which helped me get my program on its feet. I used the skills I attained to present my program to my PTA and they supported it. I attended another workshop on communication, and I learned communication is a precise art, and most especially a two-way street.

One Voice: What inspired you to create “Multicultural Tolerance?” Were your classmates a big influence?

Gabe: From a very young age, I have been subjected to racial slurs and I never knew what to do about it. Of course when you are 7 years old and you are called a spic, there isn’t much you can do. Frankly, I didn’t even know what a spic was until I asked my mother. This last year, in Spanish class of all places, I was the subject of many racial jokes about my Dominican heritage, most of which were actually meant to be hurtful towards the Mexican population. I received slurs such as, “corn picker,” and was asked, “When are you going to come in with tacos and your sombrero?” There were many slurs aimed towards my father as well. These kids in my class were malicious and inconsiderate because they didn’t realize that they just didn’t make fun of me, they made fun of my father and his father; men who had to work for everything they owned. One day my close friends decided to scratch corn picker onto my tray at lunch and throw my lunch all over the table, they, I know, had no malicious intent (he was just trying to be funny in front of other kids) but their naivety got the best of them and they thought it was a funny joke. This last occurrence gave me an incentive to create this program. I guess you can say my classmates were a big influence.

One Voice: Tell us about your documentary. What was the message? Where do you see your “Multicultural Tolerance” program going in the upcoming school years?  

Gabe: Well I don’t want to give anything away about the men of the documentary, but they all are great, loving gentlemen. I will tell you, however, that four out of the five men are physicians and out of them, three of their origins are not of the U.S. The fifth man is a police officer and entrepreneur who is part of a minority in the U.S. The men by name are Dr. Besher Kabak, Pulmonary Critical Care, who is from Syria; Dr. Abdalla Sholi, Hematology/Oncology, who is from Jordan; Dr. Julio Ramos, Rheumatology, from the U.S. of Dominican descent; Dr. Samir Pancholy, Cardiology, who is from India; and Officer John Burgette, from the U.S., born in Germany and is of African-American descent. The message of the documentary is tolerance for all people, and what racism and intolerance truly does to oneself by a medium of people who have experienced racism themselves. All in all, the documentary was to educate and prove—prove that we all are different but that difference should be accepted and embraced. All of these individuals are colleagues and friends of my father, who was also an interviewee, so I reached out to them through him.

Right now I am only pursuing this program through the PTA. I hope to present “Multicultural Tolerance” to my local school district, and get it to play on public access television. I would love to mentor peers if the opportunity arose; I want to create a peer support group for students experiencing intolerance in their lives.

New Issue of Our Children Focuses on Back to School and Membership Strategies

OC_AugustSeptember2014As another school year approaches, Our Children magazine is getting back to PTA.

The August/September issue of Our Children provides a toolkit with tips and helpful hints to assist with getting your PTA off to a great start in order to make your year great. With topics such as advocacy, fundraising and programs, you are sure to find all the information you need to propel your PTA to the next level and have fun doing it.

There is strength in numbers. This year—and every year—PTAs are in the push to grow membership. We talked to three PTAs that have excelled in this area. They share some the things that have made them successful.  “We do our best to encourage every student and every parent to join the PTSA as a means to be actively involved and to participate in the educational process,” says Jill Trail of Indian River High School PTSA, which boasts 1,755 members. “But more important than the education aspect, however, we promote it as a family activity and as a means to encourage family involvement and participation.”

Also in Our Children, we highlight the 40th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act by discussing how far the United States has come and what work needs to be done in dealing with young people in the justice system.  “The JJDPA is currently overdue for full reauthorization, presenting an opportunity to improve its protections for children and youth in the justice system.”

Are you curious about what some of the top education reformers and leaders think about the Common Core State Standards? Well, in this issue, prominent figures weigh-in on how the standards can be the lynchpin to major education reform, and what it means for our children. “This isn’t about politics. This is about, what are the skills that our children need to know to be successful – to be ready for the jobs of tomorrow, to be ready for college. That’s what the initiative is about,” says Ryan Mahoney, Vice President for Public Policy, Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

Also in this issue: 2014 National PTA Convention recap, maximizing teachable moments at home, and building effective family-school partnerships.

Missing Friends, Missing Bonding Time


Logan Dean poses with Reflections art on display at National PTA headquarters.

Military children are some of the most resilient that there is. Growing up can be tough when there is always the possibility of living without a parent or caregiver due to deployment or having to uproot and move multiple times when duty stations change.

Logan Dean is one of the 1.2 million military children of active duty members worldwide. The 10-year-old’s father, Mike Dean is in the Army currently stationed away from home at Fort Bragg in N.C. Logan lives in Virginia with his mother Heather Dean, who works at National PTA.

Logan sat down with PTA’s One Voice to share his thoughts and experiences as a military child.

One Voice: What it is like having a dad who is in the military?

Logan: It’s like most of the time you can only see your dad once a week. A lot of times he’s out so you don’t have time for like father/son bonding or anything like that so you kind of get lonely after a while and honestly it’s not very easy. It’s not really very easy having a dad that’s in the military in my opinion. The hardest part is dealing with all these feelings.

One Voice: What do you like most and least about your dad being in the military?

Logan: I think it’s a cool job. He brings me back a lot of souvenirs, and when he comes back in his uniform, he looks awesome. It surprises people at my school a lot and I just like him being in the military. What I hate about him being in the military is he’s so serious. He means a lot to me and so what I really hate the most is he’s not really like a typical dad. He commands a unit so when I’m at his Army base in Fort Bragg, he is always saying stuff about sectors and etc., and I don’t understand a word he’s saying.

One Voice: How many times, if any, have you had to change schools? What was that like?

Logan: I think I have had to move about four or five times. You’re able to meet new people that you really don’t know that well. But you have to leave really good friends behind like the best friend I ever had—Nathan. He was my friend in North Carolina, which is where I lived before I moved here and we used to do a lot together; playgrounds, movies, we used to play Xbox.  We haven’t talked to him in 3 years. I really miss Nathan.

One Voice: What advice would you give a new friend who has a parent in the military?

Logan: Advice that I would give them would be if you sometimes feel lonely when you miss whoever left, just remember the good times you have and it sometimes feels like they’re right behind you, which I do a lot of times and it makes me feel really comfortable.


National PTA Committee Member Receives Top Award for Community Service

Jose Antonio TijerinoCongratulations to National PTA Diversity Committee Member Jose Antonio Tijerino on being honored with the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute’s Cesar Chavez Community Service Award! He will be receiving the prestigious award in Chicago on February 21, 2014. We had a chance to ask him about the award, and about his work with PTA.

One Voice: What is your involvement with PTA?

Tijerino:  I was on the board with Otha under Jan many years ago and worked on various issues including honoring the children of the Mendez family with the big PTA award for their work in desegregating California schools six years before Brown vs. Board of Education.  I left and then Otha asked me to rejoin when he became president last year.


One Voice: Tell us about the award.

Tijerino: I serve the Latino community and the greatest country in the world –America– through innovative programs to inspire, prepare, connect and position youth for leadership and for industries which are priorities for America.  I’m in a position of privilege because I serve.  To get an award for doing what I love to do for those I’m privileged to serve is overwhelming – especially from Dr. Juan Andrade who is a role model of mine.  But I don’t expect awards — it’s what I’m supposed to do.


One Voice:  How does it feel to be recognized in this way?

Tijerino: The achievement was reached through the work and support of my staff, my board, my sponsors, my family and community partners which include the PTA.  I’m proud of the work we’ve all been able to do together.  I’m just the one who is physically going up to receive the award but it’s on the behalf of those I mentioned.  I’m blessed to be able to be in a position as the head of my organization and having a national platform to “imagine, create and impact,” as I like to say.  Again, receiving an award named after Cesar Chavez and given to me by Dr. Juan Andrade is what makes it even more special.  To get a pat on the back from Juan would be rewarding enough but getting an actual award is very humbling.


One Voice: What advice would you give to other PTA members about community service involvement?

Tijerino: Make an impact by filling a gap in your community, school or workforce by listening to the needs of the community, school or workforce.  Don’t be redundant and do what’s already been done.  Make sure to leverage your expertise, access and passion to make an impact.  And be actionable; don’t wait.  If you want to make change and motivate others, be ready to do all the work and give all the credit and make someone feel good about their involvement so they are invested.  Focus on what you’re trying to change or get done and put everything else aside – it will weigh you down.  How much farther and faster would you run without dragging a bag full of resentment, ego, judgments, conflicts and territory?  You’d get much farther a lot faster.

Our Children Magazine Celebrates the Arts

OC_Dec_JanIn the December/January issue of National PTA’s Our Children magazine, we get the scoop from the legendary Tony Bennett, his wife Susan and actress Alfre Woodard on the importance of the arts in schools. They will be judges in this year’s Reflections contest and have taken time to talk to us about the excitement of artistic talent and what that means for children to be able to freely express that in the schools they attend.

Tony Bennett and his wife Susan Benedetto team up to run a school in New York City specifically catered to the arts. They share the details of that endeavor along with the other things that their foundation does to keep arts education prevalent in schools nationwide. Alfre Woodard shares her personal story of what having access to the arts did for her and how she is giving back by making sure that youth have the same—or better opportunities. We feature a list of some big name A-list celebrities who also support the arts in education.

Are you looking for some good fundraising ideas? In this issue, we talked to five schools across the country that have shared some of their fun and different fundraising tactics. From getting physical to growing mustaches, there is something for everyone. Our partnership with the NFL also gets some spotlight as we highlight our latest Fuel Up to Play 60 event.

If you have been wondering how you can get involved more closely with your students and their schools, check out our helpful guide of 100 ways to help your child and their school succeed. There are some great ideas to help you get started with the process and stay connected to your student, their teachers and the things that your young people are learning.

Our Children Celebrates Healthy Lifestyles Month

HealthyLifestyles_OC_BLOGRead the latest issue of Our Children magazine.

November is Healthy Lifestyles Month and the National PTA is taking the opportunity to highlight some of the ways PTAs are celebrating healthy habits. Healthy eating is not the only way to improve your child’s development, but physical activity and parental involvement are contributors as well. PTAs all over the country have come up with all kinds of creative ideas from “walking to school to growing fresh vegetables in school gardens.”

“Healthy Lifestyles Month is a wonderful opportunity for school communities to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring that all students show up each day healthy and ready to learn,” says Heather Parker, National PTA’s health and safety manager. “PTAs encourage families to increase their physical activity, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, participate in physical activity programs and promote lifelong healthy behaviors.”

This issue also tackles the topic of youth health and fitness by getting them active in sports. The National PTA has teamed up with the NFL for a “Back to Sports” partnership to focus on youth health and fitness. PTA leaders will educate their communities on youth wellness topics such as concussion education and NFL Play 60 information on nutrition and staying healthy.

National PTA President, Otha Thornton says “One partnership that I am particularly proud of is our work with the National Football League. National PTA and the NFL teamed up this summer to launch a “Back to Sports” initiative. This program, aimed at educating communities nationwide on youth wellness, will help our children stay safer and healthier as fall sports kick into high gear. The effort will utilize the resources of the NFL’s highly acclaimed PLAY 60 nutrition and physical activity campaign, and will be led by PTAs across the country.”

In the feature story, Modern Family star Julie Bowen shares her encounter with the life threatening experience her son had with anaphylaxis. She shares her journey into discovering what the causes of these potentially dangerous allergic reactions are and ways to prevent them. National PTA also has some pointers of its own to make sure you are well informed about the ways to keep your child healthy and happy, even if living with anaphylaxis.

Every Child in Focus: Aiming the Lens in Chicago

As National PTA’s focus on the Urban Child for the month of October came to a close, there was one additional stop that we wanted to make on the information train: Chicago, IL. The Illinois PTA and Chicago Region created an opportunity for PTA leaders, parents and community residents and leaders to come together and have a dialogue focused on strategies for family engagement as a means to address the violence plaguing the city of Chicago. PTA National Service Representative Nore Hare was in attendance and says the event was certainly a success.


One Voice: Tell us a little bit about the event. What was it?

Nore: The facilities of Black Star Program hosted an open dialogue with parents, PTA leaders and the community as a whole to discuss strategies for family engagement and the impact it might have on the violence in Chicago. There was a predominately male board of panelists including our very own National PTA president, Otha Thornton. Having such a strong male presence was very encouraging.


One Voice: Describe for us the overall experience. How was the turnout of attendees?

Nore: The turnout was great. There was an opportunity for interested parties to RSVP, however, there was an overflow of people who did not RSVP but still made it to the event. In a space with the capacity of about 75-100 people, the place ended up pretty full with 60+ parents in attendance. There was definitely more patrons than we were expecting. In addition to the great turnout, the crowd participation was enlivening but the time crunch was quite paralyzing, which limited some of the topic coverage.


One Voice: What were the key messages presented?

 Nore: One key message talked about engaging more families in every facet of communication, school and communities. This helps bridge the gaps of misunderstanding. Another key message was making sure that the audience knew that PTA is a proven model to success in many ways. We also informed them about the Every Child in Focus campaign and its importance along with showing parents what family engagement looks like. Our last-and one of the most important-key messages was reinforcement of NPTA’s mission. It is imperative that they know what we stand for and what our goals are as an organization.


One Voice: How can these messages be implemented by those who were in attendance?

 Nore: They can join the PTA, volunteer and get engaged in kids’ schools. Parent and community involvement is the only way some of these problems that the children face are going to get resolved. Parents can also participate in other dialogues at the local levels and attend legislative events at the state level so that they can be informed about what is going on and take action on those things that are not quite right or unfavorable to the education and well-being of their child.


One Voice: How can other states and PTA units get involved with Every Child in Focus?

 Nore: The number one way they can get involved is to understand the vision and mission of ECIF. Once they are familiar with that and understand the purpose of the campaign, then can help host an event. There are numerous, creative ways to do that such as youth summits, parent cafes, etc. They just have to come up with ideas that cater to the audience they are trying to reach.


One Voice: What tools and resources were provided?

Nore: We provided an urban dialogue plan of work that each family can use to set plans and goals for their home to improve family engagement. There was “Why PTA?” information available about the association and all that is has to offer. We also provided membership card so people had the ability to join the PTA right there on the spot. Other resources included information about how to engage where you are and attendance of essential community members such as police officers, business owners and an alderman to answer any questions they may have.

Work of ECHO Community PTA Reverberates Throughout East Chicago

ECHOPTAThe East Chicago (IN) Hope and Opportunity (ECHO) Community PTA packs a mean punch when it comes to the fight on illiteracy and miseducation among the children and parents in the area. The PTA’s grassroots efforts to target predominately Latino and African-American parents have been widely praised.

Reverend Cheryl Rivera, executive director and lead organizer for the PTA unit, shared with One Voice exactly how the ECHO Project has engaged, empowered and equipped parents and the community with training and leadership development skills to impact student learning and maximize their achievement in public education.

ECHO’s strategy is to create change in the parents’ and community’s mind set and attitudes, address barriers to engagement and facilitate paradigm to reach an understanding that everyone is connected, valuable and worthy of a good education. ECHO provides an accelerated reading program for at-risk children and families that caters mostly to third and fourth grade and high school students. Rivera credits much of the success of the unit to PTA advisor, Dee Jones, who also serves on the state board of Indiana.

Jones provides information, support and training to the ECHO unit. Jones is particularly proud of their work building a team where professional organizers, trained community leaders and collaboration partners canvass targeted neighborhoods. Sometimes, it’s going door to door to homes. Other times it’s meeting at community centers, congregations and schools to reach out and build relationships with parents, educators, and other stakeholders.

In the East Chicago area, there has been an issue with lack of leadership in the educational system. The  team at ECHO hosts workshops for parents where they are able to address plaguing educational issues and come up with ways to fix them. Bringing together these stakeholders helps to create a united front in the fight for improvement.

Rivera and Jones say that this program is just a precursor to what is still to come. ECHO is working to soon incorporate the Arts in Education-Reflections program so that children have a way to showcase their artistic talents. As they continue to set a beaming example of what it is that PTA units are doing nationwide, they are making sure people know that urban children in this area are not to be written off as statistics.