Advocate for Our Children at 2015 LegCon

sedwardsIt’s that time of year again!  This March 10-12, 2015  is National PTA’s Legislative Conference in Washington DC!

For more than two decades, I’ve looked forward to this meeting with excitement and great anticipation as we work to carry  out  the advocacy work of our association.  Advocacy is who we are and what we do as PTA.  I strongly believe that we must always keep this mission in focus: we are a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for the education and well-being of every child.  Having volunteered as a legislative chairperson at the local unit, council, district, state and national levels, I have seen first hand how much we can get done when we come together and leverage our human resources. The National PTA Legislative Conference is our premier opportunity  to advocate with one loud voice at the federal level.

The National PTA Legislative Conference brings together hundreds of PTA advocacy-minded members from all  states, territories and Department of Defense PTA units together in our nation’s capital and in the Halls of Congress to advocate on behalf of all children and youth.  I am grateful for the professional training we receive at the conference, and the comradery that is reinvigorated and solidified among our members. It is inspiring to see our advocacy awardees receive some well-deserved recognition for the work they have do on behalf of every child.  I always look forward to hearing from congressional leaders and federal department leaders who recognize the importance of PTA’s work. I am encouraged by the visible impact we make when meeting with our Senators and Representatives in Congress.

This year promises to be particularly exciting.  With a newly elected Congress, we have the opportunity to tell our stories,  to advocate on behalf our 2015 National PTA Public Policy Agenda, and to take part in the democratic process. I voted and helped to elect my Congressional leaders. During their campaigns, they assured me of their interest in the issues that I think are important.  Our members of Congress work for us, the constituents, and I look forward to ensuring that they know what I (and PTA) need from them!

I encourage you to make yourself be heard and attend this year’s Legislative Conference. Register early and encourage others to join you. I hope to see you this March!

Stella Edwards is a member of the National PTA Legislative Committee.

The 2015 National PTA Legislative Conference will take place March 10-12, 2015 in Arlington, VA at the Crystal Gateway Marriott. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from informed policy speakers, participate in advocacy workshops, and advocate on behalf of PTA on Capitol Hill. For more information, visit PTA.org/legcon.

Education Advocacy in Urban Communities

“A person has truly become a PTA member when his circle of concern stretches
beyond his own child to include all children.” – Unknown

Stella Edwards

Stella Edwards

October is upon us. At National PTA, that means it is the Month of the Urban Child. This month’s campaign gives emphases to our education advocacy work as it relates to reaching communities where they are: in urban areas. National PTA comprises millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of family involvement in schools. While PTA members may be in agreement with the PTA mission overall, urban areas have a uniqueness that warrants a focus on the effectiveness of our education advocacy work in those areas.

The beauty of the urban area is that it is as diverse as its citizens. This diversity, a broad range of backgrounds, religious beliefs, education values, and ethnicities, are unique characteristics that breathe life into the fast-pace, energetic, and close living style of the city!

I’ve had the pleasure of organizing in urban, rural and suburban areas.  Regardless of the location in which the organizing work was conducted, the key aspect of my experience has been the importance of relationship building.  First, you must build a relationship, develop trust, and address the community’s issue (not yours). Then you can begin to take action. You must first show a community that you care about them, you respect them, will not judge, and that you care about the desire for quality education for all children.

During my experience organizing around education issues in an urban area, I did my homework, researched the community, and knew the education issues facing the schools, economics issues facing the city, and apathy that existed for civic engagement.  I was ready to take the community where it needed to go.  However, I quickly realized that even with the significant training and abundance of resources at my disposal, I could not instantly require community members to move at my pace, and on my issues (regardless of how lofty).  I presented the evidence of what chronically failing schools were doing to diminish future opportunities for children in the community.  But the community was more focused on speed bumps for the safety of playing children and the lack of attention to ongoing bed bug outbreaks within the public housing complexes. Only once these concerns were addressed through an issues campaign (the latter receiving resolution) were parents ready to focus a campaign on school funding.

Urban communities can make their own decisions, brings themselves together for a common cause, and rely on each other, but leaders can only be effective if they can be trusted. I have always believed that where there are problems, there is also the opportunity for solutions.  The challenges I encountered organizing in an urban area, including cultural differences, overwhelming economic issues, a lack of time, a revolving door of short term well-intended organizations with grant funding (staying as long as the money lasted), and a lack of confidence that decision makers would listen, were not as insurmountable as getting communities and parents to agree and own the fact that they can be effective at advocating for their children.  Confidence and trust is achieved through the evidence of action.  Keep in mind, the outcome of advocacy work does not have to result in everyone getting what they want.  Sometimes simply the process of learning to advocate, speaking up for any issue, and having decision makers actually listen and take some kind of action, can be effective.  Once communities experience or see the evidence of this process, they are more open to advocating for education issues.

If you have access to communities that might benefit from an education focus, take the first step and find out what the most pressing needs are. Use the PTA online advocacy toolkit to aid your efforts to expose parents and communities to advocating the PTA way.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the receptiveness of our urban communities.


Stella Y. Edwards is mother, wife, special education teacher, community organizer, education consultant, radio talk show host (FM 91.3 WVST), and former United States Army Officer.  For over eighteen years, Ms. Edwards has served at every level of the association. She is currently chairman of the National PTA Legislative Committee.

 

Note from Legislative Committee Chair: Stella Edwards

sedwardsMy earliest memory of parental involvement in PTA advocacy began in second grade. I accompanied my mother to PTA meetings at my segregated elementary school, and listened to groups of parents, teachers and principals organizing at our next door neighbor’s home after school. Over the years I would come to understand that we had a great school, great teachers, and great food freshly prepared on site every day, because of the efforts of adults who cared enough to be the voices for all children. These adults, who were members of the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers Association, demanded updated new textbooks (not the old books that were being thrown out from other schools), opportunities for upper elementary age students to work at the school during the summer, fulltime crossing guards, and probably many other advantages that we never realized. One lesson that has stuck with me is that a rigorous and world-class education has always been legislated, and that children deserve their human right to high quality education.

The founders of the National Parent Teacher Association established a mission that has transcended class, ethnicity, national origin, and endured for more than a century generations. It is incumbent on members to provide the leadership and direction to advocate for the realization of that mission every day. As the chair of the legislation committee, I am honored to work with a great team of PTA professionals, who share their talents and skills to ensure PTA remains the premiere child advocacy organization in the country. During the next two years we will promote the work of our 54 congresses, increase the advocacy education and training of our members, enhance two-way communications with Federal Legislation Chairs and legislators, develop a collaborative relationship with all committees, and provide states and members the resources they need to be an effective voice for all children.

We are here to serve you, our members. You can send me an email anytime at legchair@pta.org.

Stella Y. Edwards, Chair – Virginia


Stella Y. Edwards is mother, wife, teacher, community organizer, education activist, education consultant, radio talk show host, and former United States Army Officer. Mrs. Edwards has served at many levels within PTA, including President of a local PTA unit, Council President, District Director, Virginia PTA Board of Mangers, State  and Federal Legislation Chair,  various capacities through her eighteen years in the Virginia PTA, and  Member Representative on the National PTA Board of Directors. In addition to her role as National PTA Legislation Committee Chair, she continues to serve her local unit and district. The Legislative Committee serves between 2013-2015.