Emergency Relief Funding – Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

The National PTA Legacy:  The Past, The Present, The Future – The Work that Connects Us

National PTA was founded over 120 years ago. This is how long PTAs have been doing work in our communities. Let that sink in…

And today, the work continues. PTAs are alive and active in over 21,000 units and in PTAs continue the work our founders started to ensure every child reaches their potential.

I’d like to share a story with you. In this three-part series, we’ll take a look at our 120-year legacy – the past, the present, the future and the work we do that connects us.

Due to a generous donation from TikTok, PTAs across our country are able to support their local communities during a time of need. And nationally, a National PTA Community Action Fund was started. The immediate goal was to address the impact of COVID-19 on families and in under 4 months, $1,270,000 was distributed to 223 local and 11 DCR (council, district, and regional) PTAs. However, true to our PTA legacy – the story is so much greater.

Why this Worked? 

National PTA has a reputation and a history of doing public health work in communities for over 120 years. We’ve been bringing partners together, engaging families and involving communities. PTAs know what needs families have and how best to address them. And, PTA is prepared to then advocate for lasting systemic change.

The PTA structure is uniquely designed for a situation like this, while each PTA is built and situated around their community’s needs and strengths, each PTA member is also a member of their State PTA and the National association. This allows each PTA the ability to zero in on the issues, funding and policies that most effect the families and students in their school communities, while also working collectively on state and national funding and policies – knowing that they all are tied together.

National PTA is the only advocacy organization structured this way. “PT-others” don’t have this ability to mobilize all units, to bring together national funders, disseminate funding and resources across the country and to use collective voices to speak on issues – because there are no state or national collective organizations.

When a large national funder like TikTok came along and offered , well before systems were in place to support children and families – our PTAs were ready.

How this Worked? 

The first cohort, Phase 1, was awarded on June 1st to 110 PTAs and it was open to PTAs enrolled in the National PTA School of Excellence Program (SOE).  Having a group of PTAs that had already assessed their school communities, built partnerships and engaged families was critical.  We needed this money in the communities quickly and these leaders knew exactly what needed to be done and had the systems in place to do it.

After awarding the first cohort of grantees, we began working with the next group of potential grantees.  We were able to provide intense technical support to these leaders as they worked to assess their community, develop their grant idea, write it and submit it – all while the first cohort was well on their way to implementing their grants and meeting their families’ needs.

Phase 2 was highly competitive, and the quality of the grant applications was dynamic. We soon realized that there were so many applications and only a tiny fraction of them could be funded with the available funding. National PTA began looking for additional dollars and due to an amazingly committed staff, additional funding was secured.

The second cohort, Phase 2, was awarded on August 20th to 122 PTAs. However, there are still many PTAs left without funding and this is heartbreaking.

National PTA continues to provide leaders support while learning best practices and developing resources.

Themes to Share…

Theme One –

National PTA remains a connector between necessary resources and the communities most in need. There is a long history of fighting for the most vulnerable. Today, large funders trust us to get funding into our communities even before systems are in place to help our families. And, not only are our PTAs able to do this quickly, each PTA is a 501c3 and has the oversight to properly manage the funds while at the same time unleashing an army of wildly passionate advocates to ensure those in need are cared for and have a voice.

Theme Two –

PTA leaders are worried and concerned about the unknown, but they aren’t giving up. They are fighting to be a voice for the voiceless. There is little certainty, except uncertainty. They are creative and we are seeing the most innovative ideas and stories as these grants are implemented (make sure to read part 2). These leaders are resilient. They are pivoting as plans change, again and yet again. These leaders are making sure they are part of the conversations, that the families’ needs are not overlooked and ultimately that the students’ safety is never dismissed.

Theme Three –

The work must continue. Our structure allowed funding to quickly get from our national organization to our local PTAs and into the communities. It is beautiful, please go join a PTA if you haven’t already. But, we realized that much of the work being done mustn’t stop.

For example.

The fact that kids need schools in order to eat or have access to mental health services, and the reality that so many youth will get behind because they don’t have reliable internet access at home or the devices needed, means our PTAs have advocacy work ahead of them.

COVID-19 was a big highlighter marking what needed to be seen for years. These leaders are ready to tackle the systemic issues now so profoundly highlighted for all.

Theme Four –

The need was underestimated, and overwhelming and National PTA was simply unable to meet the needs of the close to 1000 PTAs requesting funding. National PTA is still looking for additional funding and because we are the greatest organization for children and youth with a long legacy, I have no doubt that it will be found!

Stay in Touch…

If your PTA needs support, reach out to us. Follow us on social media and sign – up for our newsletters- this will guarantee that you see any new opportunities as they become available.

It’s hard to believe our amazing organization has been making a difference for all children for over 120 years and it is overwhelming to think where so many of these kids would be had it not been for our incredible founders. Our PTA volunteers and leaders at every level, backed by a brilliant staff, are some of the hardest working and most loving humans I know.

Together, we make a difference!

National PTA Gives Federal Policy Update

Last night, March 25, the U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion dollar COVID-19 #3 relief package. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote and pass the bill Friday, March 27, and then it will go to the President for his signature, which he has indicated he will sign.

In related news, U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue will participate in the President’s Coronavirus Task Force’s daily briefing to discuss online learning and school meals. There is no set time for the daily briefing. Most 24-7 news networks carry the briefing live.

What’s in Congress’ C-3 package?

Overall, education received $30.9 billion in aid to provide short term relief for students and schools impacted by the coronavirus.

The bill created an Education Stabilization Fund that provides flexible funding to get out the door quickly and go directly to states, local school districts, and institutions of higher education to help schools, students, teachers, and families with immediate needs related to coronavirus.

The fund provides:

  • $13.5 billion in formula funding directly to states, to help elementary and secondary (K-12) schools respond to coronavirus and related school closures, meet the immediate needs of students and teachers, improve the use of education technology, support distance education, and make up for lost learning time.
  • $14.25 billion in funding to institutions of higher education to directly support students facing urgent needs related to coronavirus, and to support institutions as they cope with the immediate effects of coronavirus and school closures. This provides targeted formula funding to institutions of higher education, as well as funding for minority serving institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
  • $3 billion in flexible state funding to be allocated by formula based on the needs of their elementary and secondary schools and their institutions of higher education.

There is also $100 million in targeted funding for Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) which provides resources to help elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education recover from a traumatic event in which the learning environment has been disrupted.

The legislation also includes almost $25 billion for food assistance programs, including nearly $16 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and nearly $9 billion for child nutrition. These resources are in addition to what was included in The Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The relief package also provides small business loans to non-profits, with under 500 employees, however the bill did not provide $25 billion in emergency aid for associations that face major financial loss due to event cancellations as a result of COVID-19. The National Council of Nonprofits has an initial analysis on What’s In the Bill Nonprofits? and ASAE: The Center for Association Nonprofits, of which National PTA is a member, has a one-pager on provisions in the bill relevant to associations and nonprofit groups. Additionally, National PTA has sent the following letters to Speaker Pelosi  and Congress  urging them to provide relief to non-profits who are hurting alongside business as result of this public health emergency.

Unfortunately, the bill does not include dedicated funding for remote and distance learning which National PTA strongly advocated for . Our association, along with many others, asked Congress to provide $2 billion to schools and libraries for Wi-Fi hotspots, connected devices and mobile broadband Internet service to ensure all students could continue their education online for the duration of this national emergency. National PTA will continue its advocacy efforts in this area to address this digital divide.

What is National PTA doing next?

National PTA is focused on ensuring that the needs of students, families and schools are adequately addressed during this global pandemic. Our association is committed to:

  • Ensuring that schools and students have the resources they need to be connected and continue their learning online.
  • Supporting students with disabilities in online learning as well as ensure they receive the services and supports they need under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). We also recognize that they may need to be temporary and targeted flexibilities for states and school districts provided within IDEA, however any flexibilities MUST protect student rights and ensure their access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
  • Securing immediate and long-term investments in family engagement. As homes have become the classroom and parents have become surrogate teachers, responsible for their children’s learning, it is essential that families are provided educational support as they rise to this unprecedented occasion.
  • Making sure students have access to school meal benefits during school closures related to COVID-19.

Our Government Affairs team is already preparing plans to take action on a likely COVID-19 #4 legislative package. The COVID-19 #3 bill is as a short-term relief package. There will be continued needs for students, schools and families related to this public health emergency. National PTA will continue to engage with PTAs and members to understand the local needs and work with policymakers to make sure the federal government responses to those needs.

For more on PTA’s advocacy and policy actions related to COVID-19, please visit www.PTA.org/COVID-19 and click on “PTA Advocacy.”

 

Back the Future: a New Dedication to a Continued Mission

The PTA mission statement: It’s all about the kids, right? Well yes, and so much more.

The PTA mission is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.

Now, if you’re not heavily involved in our association, this might not be the first thing you think of when someone mentions PTA. People sometimes praise us for the fundraising that we do for schools, but you’ll notice that our mission doesn’t say anything about fundraising. Of course we do raise funds, but we should spend those funds in ways that support our mission.

So what exactly does the PTA mission statement mean? Let’s break it down.

The beginning of the mission statement is essentially our vision statement: Every child’s potential is a reality. That’s our goal. That’s our purpose.

The remainder of the mission statement is how we achieve our vision. It has the action words of PTA: Engage. Empower. Advocate.

Let’s talk briefly about some of the key words and phrases in our mission statement.

Every Child Our mission statement begins and ends with the kids. This concept bookends our mission statement, and it is part of the tagline on the PTA logo (“Every Child. One Voice.”). When you first joined PTA, it was probably because you wanted to support your child and your school, and you might not have realized you were also joining your state PTA and National PTA and therefore supporting the millions of children across our nation. In PTA, every kid is one of ours, regardless of ethnicity, gender, language and culture, socioeconomic status, and so forth. So when PTA has advocated, throughout its history, for child labor laws, hot and healthy lunch programs, currently for school safety, and any other issue, it is for the benefit of every child. And when local PTAs provide programming, it should benefit every child at the school.

Family Engagement Our carnivals and dances and other events encourage family and community togetherness, and that is certainly important. But when it comes to family engagement, National PTA is challenging us to think even bigger and to truly focus on student success. National PTA now has a Center for Family Engagement to create truly transformative family engagement by using approaches that are inclusive, individualized, integrated and impactful. PTAs can help transform the relationships between families, schools, and community leaders in ways that make a difference for students. So think big!

Empower Our mission asks us to empower others so we can stand arm-in-arm to help children. We empower other PTA leaders through training and leadership development. We empower families by communicating about issues that affect kids and by suggesting ways to help. We empower our communities by forging partnerships to make our schools stronger. Through our combined efforts and voices, we make an impact on behalf of kids.

Community Here in Texas, our PTAs like to spell the word like this: CommYOUnity. YOU are an important part of your CommYOUnity. But YOU can’t do it alone. We become a powerful force when we work together in unity to achieve our mission. Think beyond the walls of your school, and welcome civic and business leaders, community volunteers, and others who support our mission into your PTA community. Strong schools and strong communities go hand-in-hand.

Advocacy This is such an important part of PTA, and it’s why you see us pushing membership. A robust membership gives us a strong voice as we advocate for issues that are important to make every child’s potential a reality.

When it comes to advocacy, understand that we advocate for or against issues, not candidates. We do not endorse any candidate, for any office, or any political party. We do encourage voting in an informed way.

The tagline in our logo is “Every Child. One Voice.” … and advocacy is the One Voice.

The PTA mission statement is so important because this is what guides us. Our mission should drive any significant PTA decision. Always come back to the mission. We need strong leaders in all PTA positions, and whatever your leadership role, you can help steer your PTA in the right direction by making sure your board’s priorities align with the PTA mission. When your PTA’s leaders understand the PTA mission, and they follow your bylaws and standing rules, and they are trained in the best practices of their roles, your PTA is on the path to success.


Julie Kluthe is communications chair for Flower Mound (Texas) High School PTSA and a member of the Texas PTA Leadership Committee. She has been a leader on the Lewisville ISD Council of PTAs where she created and led the Rising Stars Academy, a program to identify and develop PTA leadership in the Lewisville Independent School District.

Save the Date! Get Ready for LegCon 2020

I can hardly believe that the 2020 National PTA Legislative Conference (LegCon) is just a few months away. It has always been my favorite event because it is PTAs’ opportunity to use our voices to improve the lives of children and families.

Advocacy is at the core of our association’s mission and vision. Our legacy in advocacy started over 120 years ago when our founders organized over 2000 parents to speak on behalf of children and continued to lead the way in improving their lives. Through our members’ persistent commitment to advocacy, National PTA has played an integral role in landmark federal education legislation and policies. At this year’s #PTALegCon, we will continue to empower the nation towards making every child’s potential a reality.

This year our theme is PTA Takes Action for Kids! and we will do just that when PTA members from across the national descend on Capitol Hill to advocate for policies that support, advance and protect our nation’s youth.

This year’s LegCon is being held at the Westin Alexandria in Old Town—just a hop, skip and a jump from Washington D.C. We will have the opportunity to network with fellow PTA advocates, meet with policymakers and learn how to shape public policy on Capitol Hill and in your own state. Don’t miss this chance to expand your knowledge and have your voices heard!

As a constituent, your grassroots perspective is extremely valuable to elected officials and their staff. During our #PTALegCon Capitol Hill Day, Wednesday, March 11, you will be able to inform lawmakers about which federal programs are serving our children well and which ones are failing them. Federal policymakers work to improve the lives of children and families and they want to hear directly from the people they represent.

Never underestimate the power of your voice! We all want to improve education, and LegCon 2020 will be the perfect time to call upon the 116th Congress to take action. Let’s let them know how they can make a difference in the lives of all children.

Attending #PTALegCon is also about improving and sharpening your advocacy skills! Regardless of your level of advocacy knowledge, we will have something for everyone! Not only will you have the opportunity to hear from policy experts during our workshops, you will hear from your peers that are experts in diverse areas of advocacy. These experts will guide you through the policy landscape and equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary to effectively advocate on these issues.

You will leave better prepared to engage in policy discussions with lawmakers, advocates and members of your community. We are confident you will return to your home states feeling fully self-reliant and ready to speak for every child with one voice!

Lastly, we are beyond thrilled to announce our Keynote Speaker for the Advocacy Awards dinner is Rodney Robinsonthe 2019 National Teacher of the Year. He is a powerful, thoughtful and inspiring speaker and is sure to bring all of us to our feet!

Join us! Register here to attend the 2020 National PTA Legislative Conference


About the Author:

Yvonne Johnson is the Vice President of Advocacy, Chair of the Legislation Committee, and member of the board of directors for National PTA.

 

What Real-Life Family Engagement Looks Like

When Heather Losneck learned that she had been selected as a National PTA Family Engagement Fellow last spring, she was overjoyed. As president of Berea-Midpark Middle School PTA in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, she was deeply interested in expanding her understanding of how school districts can support transformative family engagement.

She also believed her participation in the Family Engagement Fellowship program would be a compelling reason for the district and community to come together to create more intentional opportunities for the kind of family engagement that truly impacts student success.

A year later, Heather has successfully formed an active and accomplished Family Engagement Team for the Berea City School District. Here’s how she has collaborated with the district and the school board to enhance family engagement practices.

Taking the First Steps

Heather knew she could not accomplish all that she wanted to do alone, so her first priority was to connect with key players she knew could help influence the district, including the school board president, Ana Chapman. Since she was a longtime PTA member, Heather knew Ana felt passionately about family engagement.

As they continued to build their family engagement team, Ana notified her of an outdated family engagement policy that she was interested in revising. Heather, Ana and another dedicated parent, Kim Dettmer, collaborated to rewrite the policy. They used the opportunity to integrate National PTA’s Standards for Family-School Partnerships into their community’s approach.

Ana then brought the updated language to the school board for a vote. Because this policy change was initiated by the school board president, it was a powerful, and relatively quick, first step. The new language signaled a strong commitment to transformative family engagement and created excitement for the creation of a district-wide team.

Forming a Powerful Team

Though their small team of three had achieved an early success, Heather knew their family engagement team still needed more members to be truly transformative. She believed that one of the most important responsibilities as a leader was to empower other parents and caregivers.

So, Heather, Ana and Kim worked to establish a diverse and motivated team of parents, teachers and administrators. An application process—which they promoted using a social media campaign, school newsletters and direct communications from the district—ensured the group was open and inviting, but still manageable in size, and adequately representative of all three cities in the district.

The application process also helped the group to further publicize and elevate the work they were doing. While the application was simple, it provided valuable information that enabled Heather to find out why people were interested in joining the team. They reviewed 60 applications and selected 16 members for to be part of the final Family Engagement Team.

Working to Maximize Impact

The newly-formed Family Engagement Team established three subcommittees that would take on concrete projects to build momentum and create community buy-in for transformative family engagement:

  1. Welcoming Families
  2. Effective Communication
  3. Student Success

To avoid the pitfalls of the work getting stuck in internal processes and endless discussion with little action, they took the time to reach consensus on a clear vision and achievable goals for each subcommittee. Heather shared, “It’s really important not to try to do too much.” She encouraged subcommittees to pick a single, specific project to be passionate about, and then she worked to ensure they had the appropriate resources and empowered them to do the work.

Finding the Keys to Success

The subcommittees have already achieved several accomplishments during their short tenure. Heather credits the momentum to, “checking in with [my] teams regularly and celebrating their successes.”
Of particular note is their work around welcoming families. When a recent survey uncovered that the district could improve in being more welcoming of families from different ethnicities, the Welcoming Families subcommittee collaborated with the district’s new Director of Nutrition Services to add new dishes to the school menu that are more reflective of the community’s cultures.

Their key strategies to successful, transformative family engagement approach included:

  1. Partnering with families who provide their recipes that best exemplify their cultures
  2. A new wellness committee, established by the Director of Nutrition Services, that intentionally recruits parent members.

While food fairs are a regular staple of diversity attempts, the nutritional services approach the Welcoming Families subcommittee used has resulted in a systemic change that directly benefits all kids. It has also opened doors for continuous exchange between families and the district’s Nutrition Services department.

The team has also worked closely with the district’s Communications Director to create a “Before You Visit” link on the district website, which will make it easier for families to find out anything they may know before they come to school.

This initiative was a direct response to parents’ indications that they did not always feel welcome in school buildings and that transitioning from one school building to another was particularly challenging. Rather than simply providing the hours the office is open, the website now includes detailed information such as drop off procedures, sign in rules, good times to visit, who you will meet in the front office, and more.

Creating Sustainability for Family Engagement

Heather shares that the Family Engagement Team’s next goal is to establish a district-level paid position dedicated to family engagement. She says, “In order to sustain the work going forward, it cannot be driven solely by volunteers.”

Collaborating with the School Board President, they are currently analyzing similar positions in other districts, and are eager to begin crafting a job description for the role. The team sees this as a necessary next step to ensure that family engagement efforts are consistent, impactful and effectively integrated to the school district’s overall strategic plan.

We can’t wait to see what they do next!

Stay up to date with the latest best practices in transformative family engagement by subscribing to the Center for Family Engagement’s e-newsletter here.


About the Author: Heather Losneck is one of National PTA’s Family Engagement Fellows and the president of Berea-Midpark Middle School PTA.

 

Voices for Wear Orange

In my community, everyone can tell you where they were the day of the Columbine High School shooting. When I hear anything about a mass shooting, people whose faces I know who were hurt, traumatized, or killed at Columbine, pass through my mind… people whose lives changed the instant a gun fired inside a school.

Many people who were there that day have gone on to have great lives with little connection to the shooting. Some have not been that lucky. Most can easily be triggered each time a new shooting hits the news in our community, Deer Creek… Platte Canyon… the Aurora theater… Arapahoe High School… now STEM…

As parents, we reach out to the PTA families at schools grieving gun deaths of students in other communities, but when we send cards and make donations, it is already too late, and it is not the whole story.

I work in a program within a public school district for students who have been unsuccessful in traditional schools. In the last two years, I have lost three students to gun violence whose names are not memorialized. One was shot by a friend. One was killed by police (with a gun in his hand). One took his own life. These students also have families, educators, and friends mourning them, whose lives changed the moment a gun shot.   All of them accessed firearms, despite gun safety protections available to keep kids safe. The results show that we have not done enough yet.

As a PTA family we have to do more. As PTA advocates, we must talk to our lawmakers and help them understand our legislative priorities about gun violence and urge them to:

  • Fund federal research on the causes and effects of gun violence on youth and in communities, as well as research on evidence-based strategies to reduce gun violence
  • Prohibit the use of any federal funds to purchase or train school personnel in the use of firearms
  • Require a waiting period and a comprehensive background check for any
  • individual prior to buying a firearm from both licensed and unlicensed dealers
  • Restrict internet gun sales including sales of kits, such as bump stocks, that
  • can be used to make or modify guns
  • Ban the sale, transfer, manufacturing and importation of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines

Most of all, join me in Wear Orange movement and get your community involved in finding solutions.

I look forward to the day when I do not come home and see fear in my kids’ eyes asking when a shooter will come to their schools. I look forward to the day I do not have to discuss reacting to a shooter entering our classroom with my students who already suffer from trauma. PTA is our best opportunity to make that day happen, and kids’ lives depend on it.


About the Author:
Ami Prichard
Mother of three
President of Jeffco Council PTA, Colorado PTA Vice President of Marketing and Communication Elect
Teacher, Jeffco Interim Alternative Educational Setting (IAES) and Homebound Programs

The Road Ahead: Federal Education Funding in Fiscal Year 2020

To understand where Congress goes next in this year’s education funding process, it is important to understand the journey up to this point. The U.S. House of Representatives is currently in the thick of its funding process, which is more commonly known as appropriations. They must, along with the U.S. Senate, fund education programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 by September 30, 2019.

Last month, the House Appropriations Committee approved the House version of the FY 2020 Labor-HHS-Education funding bill. The bill provides crucial funding for education and related programs that serve millions of students across the country, including roughly $76 billion for the Department of Education, which is a 7.2% increase over the amount approved in the previous year.

The bill also provided the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program with $15 million, which is $5 million over FY 2019 funding. With this funding level, the committee sent a clear message that family engagement is a priority and greater investments must be made to ensure parents are at the decision-making table when it comes to their child’s education. The SFEC program is a critical priority for National PTA, and we applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for their commitment to robust funding for public education. Unfortunately, the road ahead to make the bill law is a long one.

The next step for the Labor-HHS-Education funding bill is the House floor where the full chamber will vote on the bill. However, even if the bill does pass the House, it is unlikely that the Senate will pass it in its current form. Both chambers must agree on the bill for education programs to be funded by the Sept. 30, 2019 deadline.

Unlike the House, the Senate Appropriations Committee has not started work on their education funding bill and does not anticipate doing so until a budget deal is enacted to change the spending caps for discretionary programs. Discretionary programs are programs that must have their funding renewed each year in order to continue operating and includes education programs. Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, this year there will be automatic cuts to discretionary programs—translating into a nearly $20 billion reduction to critical education, health and workforce budgets—unless Congress takes action to raise them. If no budget deal is made before the Sept. 30, 2019 deadline, there could be a continuing resolution which would temporarily provide funding until an agreement is made. If no continuing resolution is passed, there will be a government shutdown.

Despite this multistep process, immense gains have already been made for education programs and there is a reason to believe a budget deal could be solidified sooner rather than later. National PTA’s advocates have made their voices heard during the appropriations process thus far. Our advocates helped secure the $5 million increase to SFECs in the House Labor-HHS-Education funding bill and are taking action urging Congress to raise the budget caps to avoid automatic spending cuts to education.

Recent media reports also suggest that both Congressional leadership and the White House are open to a budget deal to raise the caps. While this is a hopeful sign, the education community must stay vigilant until a deal is finalized, so that robust and equitable education investments are made so that all children can reach their full potential. Check out National PTA’s Federal Appropriations 101 resources to learn more about how critical children’s programs are funded.

Take Action—Contact your federal lawmakers and urge them to raise the budget caps to avoid potential automatic spending cuts to education.


About the Author:
Cyrus Huncharek is the Government Affairs Coordinator for National PTA.

Engage Your School to Prevent Online Child Exploitation

June is Internet Safety Month, so this is a great time to learn more about the risks that children face online and what we can do to help keep them safe. In 2018 alone, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) CyberTipline® received more than 18.4 million reports of online child sexual exploitation. The majority of these tips were related to:

Online enticement involves an individual communicating with a child on the internet to commit a sexual offense or abduction. Similarly, “sextortion” is a process of manipulation in which a child is being groomed to take sexually explicit images and/or ultimately meet face-to-face with the offender for sexual purposes. In an analysis of CyberTipline reports, NCMEC found that online enticement took place across every online platform; from social media sites to messaging apps and online games.

It surprises many people to discover how prevalent child sexual abuse online has become, but with 97% of American girls and 95% of American boys having access to a smartphone today, the means by which bad actors can access children online have grown substantially. So, what can PTAs do to enlist families and educators in efforts to prevent children from becoming victims of online exploitation?

To start, consider making “online life” a focus at your next PTA meeting. Engage parents in a discussion about how much they believe they understand about their children’s online behaviors. The PTA Connected program from National PTA has resources to help you create an agenda, but here are a few questions you should ask parents to get them thinking:

  • Do your children post on social media?
  • Which apps do they use?
  • Do they play online games? Which ones?
  • Are their accounts set to private to limit contact to only known/approved users?

Next, PTAs can help educate school staff about online safety and its relation to sexual exploitation. This free online training from NetSmartz®—NCMEC’s online safety program—is perfect for educators who want to better understand digital citizenship and safety as well as the variety of resources available to teach these topics. Parents may also find it a useful overview of how their children may be using the internet, and how they can take action to help protect their kids online.

Finally, PTAs can provide access to resources for parents and educators who are interested in having more safety conversations with their children. NetSmartz® offers a range of tip sheets for both adults and youth about online safety topics ranging from gaming safely to how to talk to teens about sexting. Consider displaying some of these tip sheets in the school lobby during drop-off and pick-up times, or handing them out during meetings and special school events that families attend. Additionally, sending this type of information electronically in follow-up and in regular newsletters allows parents to easily revisit the content.

The possibilities for education around this topic are plentiful, so make internet safety a priority for your PTA this June. With your help, parents can be empowered to take an active role in helping to keep kids safer online!


About the author:

Eliza Harrel is the Director of Education, Outreach, Training & Prevention at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Building an Army to Prevent Bullying

Spotlight on Carlstadt PTA:

Ever since I heard the news about a 12-year-old girl from Rockaway, N.J. committing suicide due to bullying, I couldn’t shake the story.

Maybe I couldn’t shake it because I live in New Jersey, and my daughter was 12-years-old at the time I heard the news. Or, maybe it was because it was unfathomable to me that we lived in a society that would allow someone to feel such great pain that they felt the only solution was to take their own life.

That 12-year-old girl’s name was Mallory Grossman. She was a beautiful young girl with a heart of gold and so much potential. She was an amazing gymnast and cheerleader, and she loved making crafts in her spare time. Unfortunately, a group of students at Mallory’s school didn’t see all of her amazing qualities. They relentlessly bullied her. After Mallory’s death, her mom, Dianne Grossman, started Mallory’s Army to speak out against bullying.

As president of Carlstadt PTA, I love coordinating all the “usual” fun things that most PTAs do—fundraisers, field trips, family nights. But I knew I couldn’t let this news story just fade away, especially with National Bullying Month fast-approaching. So, I collaborated with our PTA board and the school administration to help arrange an assembly featuring Dianne for our middle school students (and parents) in October 2018. This type of somber, anti-bullying assembly was newer for us to sponsor, but felt important.

[Editor’s Note: Carlstadt PTA recognized that this assembly would cover sensitive content and worked hard in advance of the assembly to make sure that families were aware and in support of the planned subject matter, using several forms of communication including their PTA’s Facebook page.]

It was an intense, life-changing assembly. Dianne broke things down in a raw, candid way. She started off by engaging the students in an exercise that helped them see that they do have things in common even if they may not all be friends. Dianne shared her own experience of being bullied as a child at school for being “the poor kid” and described to the students how those words made her feel, and how eventually she began to internalize and believe the taunting and shaming of her classmates.

Thankfully, Dianne was able to overcome the bullying through positive self-talk. Sadly, Mallory could not.

During the assembly, Dianne gave specific examples of the intense bullying Mallory experienced. Dianne did not sugar-coat how ugly things got, which helped the assembled students realize the severity of the bullying. Dianne showed a large poster-sized picture of Mallory on an easel and recounted what the bullies did over time to her daughter. The teasing started with Mallory’s backpack, so Dianne put an X over it in the picture. It wasn’t “cool” to wear a necklace like hers, so the necklace got an X. Eventually, Dianne asked the audience to say “Sorry, Mallory!” as she attempted to erase the X marks from the picture, but of course the marks were in permanent ink and could not be erased. This helped underscore to the students that hurtful words are not easily erased.

Dianne went on to explain how the bullies would not allow Mallory to sit at their table during lunch, how they texted her cruel messages, sent her screenshots of unkind and untrue comments they posted about her on social media, how they told her to kill herself.

The most pivotal moment of the assembly came when Dianne said, “I can now answer those bullies when they asked Mallory, ‘When are you going to kill yourself?’ Because the answer is June 14, 2017.” The students in the auditorium gasped, and many cried.

Unsurprisingly, Dianne had everyone’s full attention for the hour and a half she presented. For most of the assembly, you could have heard a pin drop. Some students needed to leave the assembly briefly to compose themselves. In that moment, I did worry that we had made the issue of bullying somehow too real and too hard for our middle school students—my heart was in my throat as this assembly continued. It’s so hard to know where to draw the line with sharing difficult content, and yet I reminded myself that Mallory herself had been a middle school student when she was bullied by other middle school students.

As I wrestled with my own emotions, I started to notice something quite amazing all over the auditorium: students holding hands, students consoling other students, hugging their friends, students checking on the ones sitting next to them—even students who admitted they were not friends during the earlier exercise. When the assembly ended, some students were still holding hands as they walked back to their classrooms. Not only did they learn the worst that can happen when you bully someone, they were united by it.

I hope that all who attended the assembly were forever changed by it.

As a fellow PTA leader, you may be wrestling with whether or not to sponsor a similar type of assembly at your school. It’s difficult, heart-breaking content. Oftentimes we want to shield our children from these difficult subjects or assume that “it can’t happen here.”

As PTA leaders, we often feel most comfortable organizing a game night or a teacher appreciation luncheon. However, having gone through this experience with our PTA, I would implore you to have your PTA tackle the “tough stuff” just as much as the fun stuff. We are in an important and unique position to drive meaningful conversations among students, faculty and parents.

I’m proud of our PTA for addressing this issue, and proud of our students for embracing Dianne’s message. We can’t bring Mallory Grossman back, but her army is growing.


While the PTA-sponsored event at Carlstadt tackled the issues of bullying and suicide by engaging Dianne and Mallory’s Army through an assembly, an additional option is to host a PTA Connected family night event to facilitate open, proactive dialogue between parents and kids together about issues like online safety, kindness, etc. Hundreds of these PTA Connected events are taking place nationwide during the 2018-2019 school year, with more slated in 2019-2020. Add yours to the growing list! Learn more about PTA Connected, including how to host an event and relevant resources available.

Additional Resources:

  • Connect for Respect Research shows that one of the most effective ways to prevent bullying behavior is to create a positive school climate. School climate encompasses everything that contributes to a student’s experience with a school—from the physical building to policies, staff and peer culture. Use the Connect for Respect (C4R) Toolkit to guide your PTA/PTSA in engaging students in improving the school climate and reducing bullying.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255.
  • David’s Legacy Foundation (Resource Hub)

About the guest contributor
Michele Romano has been a member and volunteer with Carlstadt Public School PTA in New Jersey since 2009. She was a local unit vice president for four years before becoming president in 2018. Michele has two daughters, a teen and a tween.

Lifetouch Memory Mission 2019: A Transformative Experience

 

By Ivelisse “Ive” Castro, National PTA NSR (National Service Representative)

What an honor and a privilege it was to represent the National PTA staff on the 2019 Lifetouch Memory Mission. I was thrilled to share this experience with Esther Parker (National PTA Elections Committee), Rose Acerra (New Jersey PTA President) and Hoang Bui (Secretary/Treasurer of the Iowa PTA.)

This year Lifetouch focused on building hope in the community of Juncos, Puerto Rico by taking a team composed of Lifetouch employees and Shutterfly employees, school administrators and members of national education groups such as ASAA, NAESP, NASSP, NSBA, National PTA and others to serve in rebuilding the Colegio Bautista of Juncos, a K-8 school that’s part of the First Baptist Church of Juncos.

Juncos is south-southwest of the National Park of El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest. The loss of basic utilities such as power and water only compounded the impact Maria had across the island of Puerto Rico. Among other devastating losses, the damage to schools in the area was severe.

This one-week mission took us first to Atlanta. I was intrigued. I live in Miami, Fla., so I wondered: Why go north to then go south? Why spent two days out of seven available days in Atlanta? Why not travel directly to Puerto Rico to have more time serving there? In Atlanta, I found the answer: Because when you want 42 people to work together as a team, to not be just helpers but servants, to have an enriching, transformative and memorable experience, you need to start by building your team and setting the foundation for success.

On Tuesday evening we traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, we arrived in Juncos and got divided into teams to work on different projects.

After construction on Saturday, we visited the homes of different families in the area to learn more about them. While driving to one of these homes, a student who came with us to translate for the group said something that summed up the spirit of the community.  He said, “I don’t like people asking about what happened to us before, during and after Hurricane Maria. That’s the past. We managed. We survived. We became stronger on our own as a result of it.”

On Sunday, we participated in the church’s service where they warmly thanked us for all we “gave” them—in fact, they gave us more than they can ever imagine. That day, Lifetouch distributed printed pictures of the students taken previously that same week.

This year, Lifetouch accommodated Puerto Rico PTA students from our Missionary Christian Academy PTA, and Kabod Christian Academy PTA. Our students and state leaders made us proud. If you want to get a sense of our time in Puerto Rico, I recommend that you watch these three Facebook Live videos featuring National PTA, the Puerto Rico PTA and their local units:

1) The National PTA team session

2) MCA & Julia Justiniano session

3) Kabod and Vivian Ruiz session

I’m so glad National PTA has this relationship with Lifetouch because I’m not aware of any other opportunity that brings the national education community together to learn and serve other education communities that teach us a lot about them and about ourselves.

I hope we will all continue to support the Lifetouch Memory Mission project by donating (funds will go to the 2020 mission) and by applying to join future missions—the 2020 Lifetouch Memory Mission will be in the Dominican Republic. I can assure you: you’ll gain more than what you’ll give.

This experience will live in me forever! Thank you, Lifetouch and my Memory Mission family. Thank you, National PTA, for the honor of being a representative of the National PTA family. Thank you to my Puerto Rican friends and Puerto Rico PTA family.