Maximizing In-Person Learning in the Era of COVID

We have the tools to keep students in the classroom and safe from COVID; we just have to use them—was one of the takeaways from a National PTA–hosted symposium on maximizing in-person learning days for students across the country.

The symposium, which took place during the National PTA 125th Anniversary Convention in June, featured a two-part panel discussion moderated by NBC News Correspondent Rehema Ellis on how our nation can plan a path forward from the COVID pandemic and how parents and caregivers can support student safety and well-being.

National PTA President Anna King kicked off the event, noting that, “it is vital to ensure the continuity of education for every child and to support children’s success socially and emotionally.”

The first panel included U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., MBA, and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Ed.D.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Murthy discussed how research and science can help inform parents’ and caregivers’ decision making around vaccinating children to protect them against COVID, as well as the mental health impacts of the pandemic on students and resources for parents on how to support their children.

As of July 28, 2022, over 140,000 children under 18 have been hospitalized and over 1,700 have died since the pandemic began.

“We should not tolerate those kinds of losses if we have a tool that can reduce hospitalizations and death,” said Surgeon General Murthy. “That tool is the vaccine.” He said that testing is another tool at our disposal that can help keep kids safe and keep them in class by detecting infections early on.  

U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Cardona highlighted the resources made available through the American Rescue Plan to promote safe school operations and in-person learning. He also implored parents to help keep schools accountable with how they spend the money they received and how vital family engagement is at this time.  

“As the father of two teenagers, I know parenting can feel like you’re building the plane as you fly, and over these last two years with the pandemic, not only were you building the plane, you were flying it through a monsoon, but you did it,” said Secretary Cardona. “For the last two years, together we fought COVID, and for the next two years, together, let’s fight complacency.”

By complacency, Secretary Cardona was referring to the status quo in education prior to the pandemic, in which the education system “worked for some but not all.”

“Instead,” said Secretary Cardona, “let’s embrace this disruption in education to reimagine parental engagement. Let’s embrace intentional collaboration with our students’ best and more influential teachers: the parents.”

The second panel featured Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) Board Chair Timothy Shriver, Ph.D.; American Academy of Pediatrics President-Elect Sandy Chung, M.D.; and National PTA Healthy Minds Ambassador Shaton Berry, MSW. They spoke about the need to protect children’s mental health in addition to their physical health.

“We all want our children to feel emotional safety so that they can feel physical safety,” said Dr. Shriver. “You don’t get to physical safety unless you have emotional safety.”

But, as Dr. Chung pointed out, our nation faces a shortage of the professionals we traditionally turn to for help: mental health providers. “We were always taught to refer to mental health providers, but there is a national shortage,” said Dr. Chung. “I was referring kids to someone, and they would have to wait six months to get an appointment.”

Dr. Chung encouraged parents and caregivers to reach out to their child’s pediatrician or other health care providers for help. “Whether or not your pediatrician may know exactly what to do will vary depending on their training and experience,” she said. “But if they don’t know what to do, they’ll know where to help you find care. The key here is just to remember you’re not in this alone.”      

“In this conversation about mental health,” said National PTA Healthy Minds Ambassador Berry, “we’re looking at it wrong. We’re looking at it from that the school is going to fix the community. And we have to think about how the community has to fix the school. If we’re not having conversations about mental health in our family, it’s never going to come into our school building.”

Berry had the following advice for parents: “As you’re having conversations with your babies every day, instead of saying, ‘What did you do today?’ Ask them, ‘How did you feel today?’ And change the narrative of how you’re talking about feelings and how you’re engaging with your child because that is a different conversation.”

The symposium was supported by Proud National PTA Sponsor Thermo Fisher Scientific and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ We Can Do This campaign.

6 Tips for Keeping Children Safe From COVID This Summer

By We Can Do This, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 Public Education Campaign

We’re headed into summer, but we’re not out of the woods with COVID. Cases are going up all over the country, and COVID can make children very sick.

Since the pandemic began, over 100,000 children have been hospitalized with COVID and over 1,500 have died. Over 8,200 children with COVID have also had multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a rare but serious illness that involves painful swelling in different parts of the body, including the heart, lungs, and brain. And as many as 1 in 4 children who get COVID are experiencing long COVID, where they have new or lingering symptoms that last for weeks or months after infection.

Here are six tips to follow to keep children safe from COVID this summer.

1. Get vaccinated against COVID as soon as possible

Vaccination is the best thing children can do to protect themselves from the dangers of COVID.

Since vaccines became available, people in all age groups, including children, who are up to date with their COVID vaccines have been less likely to test positive, be hospitalized, and die from COVID than unvaccinated people. Vaccinated people are also less likely to get MIS-C and long COVID.

Right now, everyone ages 5 and older can get vaccinated. Find COVID vaccines near you at vaccines.gov.

2. Stay up to date with COVID vaccines

To stay up to date with their COVID vaccines, children ages 5–17 need to get two initial vaccine doses at least 21 days apart, followed by a booster shot 5 months after their second dose. A booster shot is an extra dose that helps keep up your protection from the vaccines.

Children are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after their second dose and immediately after their booster.

3. Wear a mask

Children are just as likely as adults to get and spread COVID.  

To maximize protection from highly contagious variants and prevent possibly spreading COVID to others, both vaccinated and unvaccinated children ages 2 and older should properly wear a well-fitting mask inside public places when the risk COVID poses to their community is high.

For everyone’s safety, CDC recommends that everyone ages 2 and older wear a mask on public transportation and while in airports and stations.

4. Avoid close contact, crowds, and poorly ventilated spaces

Because of how COVID spreads, children should try to avoid close contact with people who are or might be sick, including within their household, by staying at least 6 feet away.

Children who aren’t up to date with their COVID vaccines should stay at least 6 feet away from other people when inside public places and avoid crowded places and indoor spaces that don’t have fresh air from the outdoors—especially if they’re at higher risk of getting very sick with COVID.

5. Wash hands often

Handwashing removes germs from one’s hands. It helps prevent getting infections and spreading infectious diseases to others.   

Children should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place or after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing. If they don’t have soap and water, they can use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

6. Test to prevent spreading COVID to others

Getting tested is the only way to know for sure whether you’re infected with COVID and reduce your chances of spreading the virus to others.

If a child tests positive, that means they’re infected with COVID. They should isolate, and you should tell everyone they’ve recently had close contact with, to avoid spreading the virus to others.

The Achievery, Created by AT&T

Connecting students to a new world of digital learning

Student learning at The Achievery

AT&T launched a free digital learning platform that aims to make online learning more entertaining, inspiring, and accessible. The Achievery, created by AT&T, is a growing online library of learning activities for students in grades K-12 to use wherever they are – at home, in the community, or in the classroom. Lesson plans are paired with engaging videos featuring popular Warner Bros. Discovery characters (think: Wonder Woman, Craig of the Creek) to help connect students to a new world of digital learning through stories that spark curiosity.  

AT&T developed The Achievery as part of a $2 billion, three-year Connected Learning Initiative created in 2021, to help bridge the digital divide in underserved communities through investments in broadband access, low-cost internet service, computers, and education and mentoring resources. The Achievery supports this initiative by providing access to high-quality online learning content at no cost.

Making online learning accessible… and fun

The Achievery was developed with feedback from parents and educators who suggested that lessons featuring popular entertainment media would be a great way to keep students engaged in digital learning, which most believe is here to stay. AT&T collaborated with Warner Bros. Discovery to feature clips from films, TV shows and animated series and then worked with leading education groups to develop activities that spark a sense of fun while helping students advance in important academic and social-emotional skills. (Every activity is linked to specific Common Core and CASEL standards.)

Families can use The Achievery to support distance learning, as a homework supplement, or as enrichment to keep kids’ minds active during school vacation and prevent summer learning loss. Activities are searchable by grade level, academic subject, and specific standards to help children and adults find the content that meets their interests and needs.

Learning Made Lively

Sample Activities from The Achievery

Make a Jumping Game

Students learn how to use block coding to design and create their own interactive online game—with their own unique characters, obstacles and rules.

  • Grades: 3-8
  • Academic focus: Language, Media & Technology
  • Social-emotional focus: Self awareness
  • Collaborator: Scratch

Your Story Matters

Students learn about the elements of a story and find inspiration for story ideas from your own life.

  • Grades: 3-5
  • Academic focus: Writing
  • Social-emotional focus: Self awareness
  • Collaborator: Young Storytellers

Parents take The Achievery for a test drive

To provide early feedback on the platform in action, National PTA recruited a diverse set of more than 250 parents to preview several learning modules from The Achievery with their kids. Parents then provided robust feedback through surveys and focus groups. The goal: Help AT&T understand how The Achievery’s content and site design can meet families’ at-home learning needs.

Overall impressions of the platform were positive. Most notably, parents expressed appreciation of the quality content, and that their children were captivated by the familiar characters. Parents said they were happy to see young, diverse, and relatable people featured in many videos as well—individuals who their children didn’t see as a traditional “teacher.”

AT&T Assistant VP of Corporate Social Responsibility Mylayna Albright says, “We’re grateful for our collaboration with National PTA and for their help gathering this comprehensive parent feedback. The Achievery is designed to provide quality educational content everywhere children learn, and we’re eager to make the platform an engaging, easy-to-use resource that families can count on to support their children’s advancement and love of learning.”

The Achievery is live!

PTA’s cohort of “early adopter” families showed a lot of enthusiasm and engagement in exploring The Achievery. Now, it’s your turn! We invite you to set up a free account and try out some activities with your kids.

Get started: theachievery.com

What Parents are saying about The Achievery

Toia Elliott, Indianapolis, Indiana

Toia Elliott tested The Achievery with her youngest child, a sixth-grader who she describes as a unique learner. “She likes to think of things on her own,” Toia says. Her daughter was especially drawn to the Scratch coding lesson which allowed her to unleash her creativity. In fact, she enjoyed the lesson so much that she’s continued using Scratch on her own.

Toia sees The Achievery as an especially helpful tool for “breakaway time” in the evening when her kids are ready to take their minds off of school.

“It doesn’t feel like you’re in school. You’re having fun, and you’re doing some entertaining activities. But she’s also clearly learning something, which is great.”

Michelle Grenell, Muskegon, Michigan

Michelle Grenell is homeschooling her two children who have special health needs. Before the pandemic, they’d tried using standardized homeschool curricula, but she says, “My kids weren’t thriving. I was stressed out. We weren’t learning anything.” Now, she aims to keep a variety of activities on hand so she can be flexible with her children, whose needs vary daily. So far, The Achievery has been a great fit. After a successful preview of the poetry hunt and another module on storytelling, they’ve begun using The Achievery as a part of their at-home learning diet.

What Michelle appreciates most about The Achievery is that it doesn’t feel like “school,” so her kids are happy to engage on days when learning feels like a struggle or she can’t supervise them as closely.

“So many times parents think: I’m not the best teacher right now, I’m not the best mom—especially post-pandemic—and you feel a little bit better [with a platform like The Achievery]… I felt like I was okay to have a migraine that day. Because they were still learning something.”

Nicole Alexander, West Linn, Oregon

Nicole Alexander’s seventh-grade daughter is very creative but remote learning during the pandemic was a big challenge. Now, that she’s back at school, things have improved, but her mother is still eager to find activities to make summers and evening screen time more productive. The combination of watching the video and physically holding a book, pencil and paper really worked.

Nicole is eager to start matching lessons from The Achievery with specific learning standards where her daughter needs support. She sees The Achievery as a way to bridge the gap between home and school.

“There’s a lot of catch up [when they bring home a school assignment], trying to figure out, are you helping your child in the right way? This would be far easier… You could just send them to The Achievery, look for the standard they were working on in class and find a related lesson.”

——————————

Katie Bayerl is a contracted writer for National PTA, helping bring stories to life about sponsored PTA efforts and the impact of these efforts on families, schools, and communities. Katie has degrees in education from Brown, teaching from Tufts, and writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has worked as editor of a teen-generated magazine, led the communications efforts of a Boston nonprofit, and helped hundreds of writers and nonprofit leaders tell their stories.

National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service. No endorsement of AT&T or The Achievery is implied.

We Are Well Beyond Enough Is Enough

In less than three weeks we’ve had a mass shooting in a grocery store, a shooting at a church, shootings at three separate high school graduations, another horrific shooting at a school, and more gun violence in our communities. This past weekend in my home state of Oklahoma, 1 person was killed and 7 injured after a shooting at an outdoor festival in Taft, Okla.

Last week, 19 children and two adults killed in an elementary school—second, third and fourth graders. Our precious children, grandchildren, godchildren, nieces and nephews.

And this was at least the 30th shooting at a K-12 school this year alone. Why?

There are no real words that can accurately convey the horror, anger, sadness and disgust I continue to feel, as gun violence continues to take innocents lives in our country.  

We have called for change repeatedly. We have prayed for change. It’s past time to make change to save lives.

In America, we teach our children that they’ve inherited life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but for far too long children have been taken from us because of inexplainable and senseless violence. Instead of confidently going to school and learning in a safe and peaceful classroom, these incidents have made us focus on safety measures and drills for active shooter situations. These incidents also have our children living in fear, wondering if a shooting like this could happen at their school. And parents and guardians are afraid to send their children to school, what should be a safe place and the best place for them to learn and thrive.

If we can’t protect our children from gun violence and keep them safe at school, how can we help them reach their full potential? And who will carry our nation into a brighter future?

There could not be a more urgent time for our elected officials to take action and for everyone to come together to be there for our nation’s students. We immediately need real solutions that will save lives and make our schools and communities safer for everyone.

PTA has been the conscience of our country on issues affecting children and youth for 125 years, and we will not go numb and we will never stop speaking loudly and demanding more for every child and young person across our country.

PTA will be heading to Capitol Hill June 15 to meet members of Congress in-person and advocate for youth safety and violence prevention and youth mental health. We urge everyone to join us.

We also ask everyone to use our VoterVoice system to send an urgent message to your members of Congress to insist they work across the aisle and pass sensible gun safety and violence prevention policies that ensure our children are protected from harm.

It’s time to recharge our efforts and actively engage in your local communities in creating safe and supportive schools for our kids. Host a school safety forum and have a conversation with your school principals about school safety policies and procedures.

Join us in showing support for gun violence prevention on Wear Orange Day, Friday, June 3, by wearing something orange, taking a picture of yourself in your orange and posting it on your social media accounts using the hashtags #Enough and #EndGunViolence.

And as we all deal with these heartbreaking events, we must also make sure to take care of ourselves and our families and talk to our children about what happened in Uvalde. It’s important that our children hear from us to help counteract fear they may feel and give them reassurance. Use these resources on mental health, grief and loss and use these tips for discussing difficult situations with children.

We’ve been thinking and praying. It’s time to replace thoughts and prayers with action, policy and change. Let’s do something to save lives and help our children and young people feel safe again. We will not rest until they are able to feel safe in our schools, and thrive to reach their full potential.

Helping Families Navigate Today’s COVID-19 Environment

National PTA hosted a virtual town hall May 18, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support families in navigating today’s COVID-19 environment. The event featured CDC COVID-19 Response Principal Deputy Incident Manager Dr. Greta Massetti, White House Senior Policy Advisory Dr. Cameron Webb, American Academy of Pediatrics Spokesperson Dr. Ilan Shapiro, National PTA President Anna King and PTA leaders Christel Wesley and Sandra West. The town hall was moderated by Spectrum News National Health Correspondent and mom Erin Billups.

“At PTA, we remain committed to making sure that our students, families, schools and communities have what they need as the COVID-19 environment evolves,” said Anna King, National PTA president. “We’re continuing to provide communities–through virtual events like the town hall and in-person events like pop-up clinics–with important information, resources and professional expertise, especially as we move into the summer months.”

During the town hall, Dr. Massetti, Dr. Webb and Dr. Shapiro spoke about being parents themselves and how research and science can help inform parent and caregiver decision making around COVID-19 and vaccinating children. 

“The past two years have not been easy, but our parents, educators and children have shown remarkable innovation and resilience. The health of our children has been at the forefront of my mind, in my role at the CDC and as a parent. Research and science played a critical role in our guidance and recommendations, specifically around vaccines,” said Dr. Greta Massetti, CDC COVID-19 Response Principal Deputy Incident Manager.“Vaccines continue to play a leading role in our health strategy and enable students to return to in-person learning. By allowing children to learn in safe and healthy environments, vaccines not only protect children’s physical health but also their overall health.”

“I’ve been approaching the pandemic not only as a policy advisor to the White House but also as a parent,” said Dr. Cameron Webb, White House Senior Policy Advisor. “My number one goal is keeping my kids healthy and safe, and the first step in doing that was making sure that I was only engaging with data-based, truthful information. The data shows that the COVID-19 vaccine, specifically for children 5-11, is safe and works. Harnessing data and science and applying that to your decision-making process is key. It is our responsibility to not only protect ourselves, but also the more vulnerable members of our community.”

“In addition to my job as a pediatrician, I also have the job of father. I wanted to make sure that my kids are safe, happy and protected–and this was accomplished by getting them vaccinated,”said Dr. Ilan Shapiro, the medical director of health education and wellness at AltaMed Health Service and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.“Honest, fact-based conversations like this National PTA town hall provide parents and caregivers with the necessary information to make them comfortable in this changing landscape.”

Moderator Erin Billups also spoke with PTA leaders Christel Wesley and Sandra West about PTA’s ongoing efforts to keep children healthy and in school by building vaccination confidence in local communities.

“We wanted to make sure that we were providing reliable, science-based information to enable families to make the choice around vaccination that’s best for them. The next step was the proper dissemination of this information to communities of all shapes and sizes,”said Christel Wesley, vice president of Adams Elementary PTA in Norman, Okla. “Our pop-up clinic gave parents and caregivers a safe space to speak with a pediatrician, which is not something all families have routine access to.”

Sandra West, president of Miami Dade County Council of PTAs said, “Data became really important to us because it allowed us to prioritize the areas of need to concentrate on. Access to vaccination sites, even in a big city like Miami, was a challenge, and it forced us to come up with solutions. Our pop-up clinic was initially drive-through only and didn’t take into account how many residents don’t have access to a car. When we created a walk-up section, we were able to reach a whole new group of people who wanted to get vaccinated but didn’t previously have access.”

The impact of the pandemic, both physically and mentally, has been felt by families nationwide. Now, as most localities have lifted their mask and COVID-19 restrictions, many parents are now faced with a new set of decisions about how to best protect their children against the virus. A recording of the town hall can be watched on National PTA’s Facebook page.

How to Make a Mid-Year Ask to Join PTA—While Communicating PTA Value

By Linda Johnson & Ivelisse Castro

Happy Take Your Family to School Week, PTA/PTSA family and friends!

We are now about halfway through the 2021-2022 school year, which means that now is also a great time to share your PTA/PTSA’s successes and progress with your members and your community. This is no time to hide your light under a basket! Share how your PTA/PTSA has implemented our association’s mission (to make every child’s potential a reality!) with their support.

Increasing membership is vital for our PTA voice to be stronger and more influential. And we can all agree that our children need a powerful voice to speak up for them, especially as our communities navigate this ongoing pandemic. So, let’s use this mid-school year milestone as an opportunity to ask those who have not yet joined your PTA/PTSA—but have enjoyed your PTA/PTSA events or benefited from your resources—to join your PTA/PTSA now so that you can continue to provide critical resources and support to your community.

The research that National PTA conducted to develop our award-winning membership campaign shows that the number one reason people do not join PTA is that no one ever asked! That’s right—while we may believe that everyone in our community knows that they can and should join us, the data proves that people actually need an explicit, personal invitation to feel welcome.

So, there is no better time than the present! The easiest way to ask people to join your PTA/PTSA is to tie that invitation to a demonstration of the value you bring to your community. Make it a habit, now and throughout the remainder of the year. For example, whenever you host an event, ask attendees to join your PTA/PTSA at the end of the night; or, whenever you share photos on social media of resources your PTA/PTSA has collected for your school, include a link with instructions on how to join your efforts.

Another powerful way to do this is to create and share a (short!) report of how your PTA/PTSA has stepped up to care for your students, families and teachers this year—especially with respect to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Not sure how to do this? National PTA is here to help!

We have created templates you can quickly and easily customize, including a Sample Mid-Year PTA/PTSA Letter/Email and a Sample Mid-Year PTA/PTSA Status Report. There is also an example, completed report for you to use as a reference.

The Sample Mid-Year PTA/PTSA Status template is a fill-in-the blank report to help you:

  • Share PTA accomplishments and contributions so far this year.
  • Thank your PTA members for joining, supporting or investing in the PTA mission.
  • Thank all the people who have volunteered their time and talents to support the work of PTA.
  • Share member benefits.

In addition to your members and families, be sure to send your Mid-Year Status Report to businesses and community members who have supported your PTA/PTSA so that they can see the impact of their support. If they haven’t joined yet, ask them to join your PTA/PTSA, too.

For more ideas to grow your membership, you can check out 125 Ways to Increase Membership and the 10 PTA Membership Myths & Truths.

We’d love to join you in celebrating your PTA/PTSA accomplishments. Please share your Mid-Year Status Reports by emailing them to Membership@PTA.org.

Have a successful second half of your PTA membership year!


Linda Johnson and Ivelisse Castro serve on the National PTA Membership & Field Service Team.

Art in Action: The National PTA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Exhibit

National PTA has been seeking and actively listening to input from students and communities across the United States on how to best act in support of social justice and racial equity. In particular, the 2020-2021 Reflections program theme I Matter Because… took on new meaning in the wake of a national reckoning around systemic racism in our country.  

As part of this important work and because we know that the arts are a vital platform for children and youth to elevate their voices, National PTA launched a new initiative. We invited PTA Reflections artists of color and their allies to share artwork that expresses and affirms their beliefs and identities, as well as the importance of Black lives.  

Our open call for artwork was answered with nearly 150 student submissions from 19 different states. The entries included deeply personal and heartfelt pieces—ranging from collages and photographs to poems and dance choreography, and more. The thoughtful artworks allowed National PTA to connect and uplift the feelings of so many of our Black and Brown children. 

We invite you to explore a selection of these pieces in an interactive, immersive virtual gallery: The National PTA DEI Exhibit. Visitors can navigate through the 3D space to engage directly with students’ art. If a particular piece moves you, you can click on it to learn more about it and tap the “heart” button to express your enthusiasm and appreciation.  

Curious about the kind of art you’ll encounter? Take this piece in the exhibition as an example—a self-portrait titled, “I Am Just Like Me.” Created by Carissa Montier, the artist shared her inspiration for the painting.  

“As a young black girl in today’s world, it is hard to feel worthy and beautiful; hard to understand that I am good enough. I don’t need to fit the standard of society to be amazing, I need to be myself and embrace my blackness. I AM good enough because I Am Just Like Me.”  

Each piece in the exhibition is as thoughtful as the next. Collectively, the virtual gallery urges viewers to consider students’ diverse experiences and what it means for them to ‘matter’ today.   

In the first 48 hours of The National PTA DEI Exhibit’s launch, it received over 1,000 views from around the world. Reflecting on her personal experience in the gallery, National PTA President Anna King shared, “I love seeing how our children have expressed themselves. One poem brought tears to my eyes, because it’s a true reflection of what many of our children face every day.” 

We invite you to find inspiration in these students’ unique perspectives by immersing yourself in The National PTA DEI Exhibit at PTA.org/DEIexhibit and on our arts education and advocacy webpage at PTA.org/ArtsEd. The virtual experience is available through summer 2022.  

This initiative could not have been possible without the collective support of dedicated PTA volunteers across the country, PTA Reflections sponsor BAND, and of course, our talented student artists who were willing to express their feelings and experiences. 

Stay connected to National PTA on our website and social media (@NationalPTA and #PTAReflections)  and continue to visit our Arts Ed Resources for more ways to celebrate diversity in the arts.

We Can Do This: Strategies to Address Vaccine Hesitancy through Local PTAs

Insights and Resources from our Recent Roundtable

National PTA’s urgent work to build vaccine confidence is well underway in 19 communities across the country. Recently we hosted a virtual roundtable to equip PTA leaders with accurate information and practical strategies to help address vaccine hesitancy and leverage every strategy to make schools safer for children and staff and maximize in-person learning. (Note: National PTA does not have a position on COVID vaccine mandates.)

Here, we share highlights from the conversation and resources local PTAs can put into practice right away.

Take Action to Keep Kids Safely in School: What Your PTA Can Do to Address Vaccine Hesitancy

Roundtable, February 2, 2022

  • Shaton Berry, Healthy Minds Ambassador, National PTA
  • Kate King, DNP, M.S., RN, LSN, President Elect, National Association of School Nurses
  • Laura Mitchell, Vice President of Advocacy, Montgomery County Council of PTAs, and Whole Child Fellow, National PTA
  • Michael Scott, CHES, Senior Program Manager, The Center for Black Health and Equity

  • Special Guest: Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, M.D., United States Surgeon General
  • Facilitator: Anna King, President, National PTA
  • Co-Facilitator: Nathan R. Monell, CAE, Executive Director, National PTA

Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy: The Surgeon General kicked off the conversation by thanking the PTA leaders who are already hard at work leading vaccine confidence campaigns in their communities. He noted the important role PTAs and community organizers can make in a moment like this, serving as a bridge to accurate and accessible information that is attuned to local concerns.

As a parent of young children himself, Dr. Murthy also expressed empathy toward any fully vaccinated parents and caregivers that may feel cautious about vaccinating their children, and acknowledged it is important that hesitant parents and caregivers be given the opportunity to express their concerns and be provided factual information. He observed that misinformation about vaccines circulating on social media platforms may have caused some parents and caregivers to become fearful. He noted that trusted messengers like local pediatricians, fellow parents, and other respected community members are likely the best positioned to help assuage such fears.

Kate King: School nurses are on the frontlines of the pandemic, but they can’t do this work alone. She urged collaboration among parent groups, school nurses, local boards of health and cultural organizations to help families overcome misinformation and make better-informed vaccine decisions. She urged parents and PTA leaders to speak with their own school nurse to access their recommended local resources. (If your school doesn’t have an assigned nurse, advocate for getting one!) Kate recommended several additional sources for reliable vaccination information:

Laura Mitchell: PTAs have a big role to play in helping our communities reach a safer post-pandemic stage. The key: Talk about vaccination everywhere! When families get comfortable asking questions from a trusted source, like their PTA, they are more likely to get vaccinated. Mitchell shared several successful conversation strategies from the Montgomery County Council PTA, who recently partnered with doctors to host “Vax Facts” webinars in multiple languages, teamed up with schools to get out the word about vaccine clinics, and regularly posts information in high-traffic locations, including grocery stores and their schools’ digital platforms.

Shaton Berry: When we help families make informed vaccine decisions, we’re supporting their health and mental health by reducing overall anxiety. Local PTA leaders don’t need to be health experts to navigate these conversations – they can tap into the National PTA family for ideas, tools and support. Shaton recommended three resources in particular:

Michael Scott: African-Americans continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and this population is less likely to be vaccinated and more likely to experience severe illness or death due to the pandemic. It is important to acknowledge the historical events that have contributed to vaccine hesitancy among the Black community and other historically marginalized groups, and to recognize the racial inequity that persists today in our health care experiences. Scott highly recommends these two resources, developed by or in partnership with The Center for Black Health & Equity:

As we reflect on the learnings from this round table, National PTA wants to recognize and acknowledge that some PTAs may be having a hard time determining and navigating your role in increasing vaccine confidence within communities where this issue has become especially polarizing.

In communities with a lot of hesitancy, your PTA may want to start by facilitating a forum for people to express their concerns and hear from trusted local messengers (such as pediatricians, coaches, and clergy). Your PTA can choose a couple of fact-based COVID-19 resources to share with the families who participate in the forum.

Whereas in other communities where the issue is less around hesitancy and more around eliminating barriers to access. In that case, your PTA may want to help support a vaccine clinic – or host one! – and use the power of PTA to address issues like transportation, translation services, food, awareness and so forth.

We hope you’ll find these insights and specific resources helpful. Keep your eye out for more updates from National PTA in the weeks ahead as we continue building vaccine confidence together. Together, we can do this!

We Can Do This

Building Vaccine Confidence by Engaging Parents

This January, National PTA launched an urgent grassroots effort to keep our children healthy and in school by building vaccine confidence in local communities. Funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the We Can Do This campaign is a nationwide effort to reach individuals and families facing barriers or hesitancy regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.

National PTA, whose 125-year history includes a long track record of public health advocacy and considerable grassroots organizing throughout the pandemic, is well positioned to help tackle this work. Nineteen state, regional and local PTAs have stepped up to lead information campaigns, community conversations, and vaccine clinics over a six-week period.

A Local Approach to a National Challenge

Reasons for vaccine hesitancy vary widely, and local PTA leaders understand the specific, often nuanced concerns in their communities. Each participating PTA is designing an outreach approach that makes sense locally. That could mean overcoming logistical barriers by hosting a pop-up clinic at a school or opening channels to accurate vaccine information from trusted sources that can be shared in the carpool lane, at sports team practices, at the community center or in houses of worship, or on Zoom.

In every case, the conversations are judgment-free: National PTA believes families have a right to ask questions and express their vaccine concerns without feeling shamed. However, we also believe that implementing layered prevention strategies is critical to protect students, teachers, staff and other members of their households, particularly those who are not fully vaccinated. And research supports that increasing vaccination rates lowers the spread of COVID, reduces serious illness, and shortens length of infection—making voluntary vaccination a key strategy for keeping schools open and maximizing critical in-person learning time for students. (Note: National PTA does not have a position on COVID vaccine mandates.)

In Norman, Okla., Adams Elementary PTA is planning a “community love”-themed pop-up vaccination clinic in mid-February. They’ve selected an accessible location (the high school parking lot) with drive-through and walk-up options and have partnered with local businesses—including a toy store and a bakery—to offer food and other kid-friendly incentives. Adams Elementary PTA made it a priority to bring in a partner that could increase comfort among the community’s Spanish speaking population; bilingual staff from a local pediatric practice will be on site to answer questions. The PTA is working closely with a large lab company that will handle all the clinical components (e.g., vaccine doses, nurses, etc.).

Around 600 “shots in arms” are expected to be delivered at this one pop-up clinic. Ultimately the goal is “keeping kids healthy and in school as many days as possible,” says Christel Wesley, Adams Elementary PTA President, “which means that our kids are getting food, growing academically, and their social and emotional needs are being met.”

The Serious Work PTAs Were Built to Do

The thoughtful, locally attuned organizing happening in Norman, Okla., is exactly why We Can Do This chose National PTA as a partner. “Our goal with the public education campaign is to reach as many people as possible with accurate, science-based information about COVID-19, especially vaccines and boosters. We want them to have the information they need to make decisions on how to protect themselves, their families, and their communities against the worst outcomes of COVID-19,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States. “By working with trusted community partners who serve a diverse range of community members, such as the PTA, we can meet people where they are and help ensure that people feel confident making informed decisions about their health.”

While most of this activity is being organized in (and for) individual local communities, National PTA recently hosted a virtual event with the US Surgeon General, community organizations, and fellow PTA leaders on February 2 to address common questions about the vaccine and to share specific actions that PTAs everywhere can take to increase vaccine confidence in their communities.

This is challenging, fast-moving work that National PTA expects to have a lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of students across the country. We look forward to sharing more stories and outcomes from our PTAs in the months ahead.

Learn More and Take Action

If your PTA is looking to maximize in-school student learning days by addressing vaccine hesitancy, check out the updated COVID-19 Resources page for useful materials and guidance.

And if your PTA is interested in hosting a community vaccination site, check out this resource. Hosting a vaccination clinic is easier than you think!

National PTA Grantee Cohort

State PTAs

  • Alaska
  • Washington

District, Council, and Regional PTAs

  • Miami Dade County Council (Miami, Fla.)
  • Montgomery County Council (Rockville, Md.)

Local PTAs

  • Adams Hill Elementary (San Antonio, Texas)
  • Adams Elementary (Norman, Okla.)
  • Bethesda Elementary (Durham, N.C.)
  • B.M. Williams Primary (Chesapeake, Va.)
  • Crestwood Intermediate (Chesapeake, Va.)
  • Forest Ridge Elementary School (Laurel, Md.)
  • Lawrence Number 2 School (Inwood, N.Y.)
  • Little Run Elementary (Fairfax, Va.)
  • Loftis Elementary (Hixson, Tenn.)
  • Martha Lake Elementary School (Lynnewood, Wash.)
  • Oak Grove Elementary (Bloomington, Minn.)
  • Ruth Oliver Walker Elementary (Florissant, Mo.)
  • Sanders Elementary School (Austell, Ga.)
  • Solar Prep for Boys (Dallas, Texas)
  • Urbana High School (Urbana, Ill.)

We Can Do This is a nationwide campaign to increase confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and reinforce basic prevention measures. It is funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services and facilitated by the Fors Marsh Group. Learn more at WeCanDoThis.HHS.gov.

National PTA Continues Celebration of “I Matter Because…” Reflections Artists

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students across the country and in U.S. schools abroad participate in the National PTA Reflections program. By creating opportunities for recognition and access to the arts, Reflections boosts student confidence and success, both in the arts and in life.   

In response to an annual student-selected theme, students can submit artwork in the categories of Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography and Visual Arts. The program also offers the Special Artist Division, which recognizes students with disabilities who participate.  

As a tiered arts recognition program, student submissions can earn awards and prizes at the local, county, district, region levels. Winners from these levels then move on to the state PTA level. Finally, winning artworks from the state level proceed to the national level, where students can receive the Award of Merit, Award of Excellence, or the highest honor—the Outstanding Interpretation Award—for their artistic achievements.  

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, National PTA will host a Virtual Reflections Student Arts Showcase to continue to celebrate the over 200 national-level awardees from the 2020-2021 I Matter Because… program. As students and their creative talents are essential to the Reflections program, the event will feature more artwork and more students than ever before, with 22 student highlights! We are so excited to recognize all of our winners again and share the creative accomplishments of our featured artists with you.  

Top left – Anna Xie, Award of Merit in Visual Arts, Georgia
Top middle – Alea Garner, Award of Merit in Dance Choreography as a Special Artist, Utah
Top right – MaeLee Scoville, Award of Merit in Literature, Utah
Bottom left – Minjae Eum, Award of Excellence in Music Composition, Alabama
Bottom middle – Josh Devaney, Award of Excellence in Film Production, New Jersey
Bottom right – Trisha Shrestha, Award of Excellence in Dance Choreography, Washington

For a sense of the fun to come, we would like to introduce you to a selection of the featured students.  

Campbell Brown is a dancer from Russom Elementary PTA in Georgia. She won the Award of Merit for her Dance Choreography piece, “Shine Bright.” Dancing brings Campbell joy, and she likes to spread that positivity with others. In her own words, she explains, “I know that I matter because when I bring joy and happiness to others through my performance it makes the world a better place.”  

Tanishka Gupta won the Award of Merit for her poem, “I Matter to Me.” From Round Rock Senior High PTA in Texas, Tanishka shared that writing helps her express her ideas about sensitive subjects and “paint a picture with words.” The inspiration for her award-winning poem draws from the key points of individuality, self-worth, and uniqueness. Tanishka notes, “my true worth always has and always will lie inside me.”  

This year’s Reflections Student Arts Showcase will also highlight Boston Flake from Hobble Creek Elementary PTA in Utah, who won the Award of Merit for his music composition piece, “Bit Life.” (He also won an Award of Excellence during the I Matter Because… program for his literature piece, “I Can Do Anything!”) Boston, a blind DJ and music composer, has produced music for many years and performs in front of big crowds. He shared, “That is one way to show that I matter, by lifting others with my talents.” 

Want to hear from more talented student artists? Join the Reflections community and celebrate students’ creativity during the 2022 Virtual Reflections Student Arts Showcase at 7:00 PM EST, Tuesday, Jan. 25! The event will air on National PTA’s YouTube channelRSVP in advance to receive free Reflections-inspired activities, including an interactive game to play along with us during the event.  

If you can’t wait until Jan. 25 to view artwork from inspiring student artists, visit this virtual collection, which features the 200+ national Reflections winners from the 2020-2021 I Matter Because… Reflections program. Take a moment to view these students’ remarkable creative achievements and feel free to leave a comment or two!  

We also invite you to learn more about the top seven I Matter Because… Outstanding Interpretation awardees by reading a recent blog post and watching the award video. Congratulations once again to the recipients of the Outstanding Interpretation award: Claire Moon, Johan Novak, Joshua Johnson, Maeryn Elizabeth Jacob, Mark Wagner, Sydney Ware and Zoe Caraballo. 

For more information about the Reflections program, please visit PTA.org/Reflections.  


Sarah Scalet is the National PTA Arts in Education Fellow.