Arlington Science Focus School Virtual Family STEM Night 2021

Think you can’t host a family fun night while remote learning? Think again! Arlington Science Focus School, an elementary school in Arlington, Va., hosted its first-ever Virtual Family STEM Night Wednesday, Feb. 17.

The event went off without a hitch thanks to ASFS Investigation Station Lead, Stephanie Lin, the 2020 NOVA District PTA Educator of the Year, and a team of volunteers made up of ASFS teachers, parents, local high school students, and community partners.

Kindergarten through fifth-grade families were able to connect with one another and enjoy an evening of virtual STEM activities and live presentations, all from home. Students joined Microsoft Teams calls to listen to live presenters, watch demonstrations, and participate in a variety of science and engineering stations.

Thanks to the support of the ASFS PTA, families were able to pick up STEM Night supply kits with bags of simple materials needed for each of the experiments, and many of the activities could be completed with supplies found at home.

Some of the night’s highlights included hands-on activities, such as:

  • Building Index Card Towers
  • Creating Ocean Sculptures from recycled materials
  • Building a LED Copper Tape Flashlight
  • Making a Balloon-Powered Boat with a sponge, straw and balloon
  • Creating Underwater Fireworks with oil and food coloring
  • Experimenting with Paper Cup Constellations using a flashlight
  • Making music in the Chrome Music Lab

The event also featured presentations and demonstrations, including:

  • Astronomy presentations by a speaker from NASA
  • ASFS First Lego League Robotics Team demonstration
  • Reptile and amphibian presentation by a nature center representative
  • Space shuttle simulation with the ASFS student Tech Crew
  • STEM career talks by a Bioinformaticist, Computer Scientist, Environmental Engineer, Forester and Sustainability Analyst

Although the virtual experience was not the same as the annual science fair typically held at school, it was great to see so many families engaging and participating in this school-wide event and enjoying STEM in this virtual world.

Two of the most popular STEM activities from the night were National PTA STEM @ Home activities: STEM @ Home Experiment 2: Ballon Boat and STEM @ Home Experiment 5: Copper Tape Flashlights. For the Balloon Boat, many students filled up their sinks or bathtubs with water and enjoyed watching their boats travel. Siblings loved racing their boats against each other. With the Copper Tape Flashlight, students were amazed that the LED light could light up with simple household materials, and they loved how bright it was!

Interested in hosting your own virtual STEM night? Check out National PTA’s STEM @ Home page for more information.

ASFS Family STEM Night Photos

National PTA Demystifies School Funding

Do you feel intimidated by issues related to school funding and education finance? You are not alone. We surveyed parents and caregivers around the country and many shared that they feel clueless and frustrated by how difficult it is to find basic information.

In fact, less than a third (32%) of participants agreed they have a general understanding of how their child’s school district uses its funding. Even fewer (29%) agreed they know where to find information on school funding in their community.

School funding is too important of a topic for parents to sit on the sidelines. Families’ voices are critical to ensure that school budgets reflect a community’s needs and priorities for our students. With that in mind, National PTA has released several resources to help PTA leaders to learn more about school funding.

Listen to our podcast episodes featuring Dr. Marguerite Roza, Director of the Edunomics Lab.
In Money Talks: School Funding 101, Dr. Roza offered practical guidance on how families can stay informed about their school district’s financial decisions and how they can advocate for the priorities they care most about. In our COVID-19 bonus episode, she shared how the pandemic has impacted school finance and she advises how advocates can adapt during this challenging time.

Read our answers to the most frequently asked questions related to school funding.
Are you curious where the money for your child’s school comes from? Are you wondering who makes the decisions about how dollars get spent? Our guide to Understanding & Advocating for School Funding will provide those answers and more.

Register for our upcoming webinar, Understanding Families’ Perspectives on School Funding.
National PTA partnered with five council PTAs in Florida, Texas and Washington to learn more about families’ perspectives on school funding. After talking with more than 150 parents, we are ready to share our findings with you. Join us Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 8:00 p.m. EST to learn: 

What do families actually know about school funding? What areas do they feel are adequately or inadequately funded? And what are the implications of this for PTA leaders’ work advocating for all children?

Join us for a presentation of these research results and learn directly from a panel of PTA leaders about their own experiences advocating on issues related to school funding. Register now.

Let’s raise our PTA voice for better school funding and education finance! You can find the complete list of tools and resources mentioned here at PTA.org/SchoolFunding. All of these resources, including the upcoming webinar, are also available in Spanish.


Rebecca Bauer is the Family Engagement Specialist for National PTA.

National PTA Celebrates Look Within Reflections Artists

For over fifty years, the National PTA Reflections program has provided opportunities for recognition and access to the arts, which boost student confidence and success in the arts and in life. The arts program honors student creativity through six Reflections categories: Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography, and Visual Arts. 

In response to an annual theme, thousands of students across the country and in U.S. schools abroad submit artwork and can be recognized with awards and prizes at the local, county, district, region and then state PTA levels. Just over 200 students are recognized at a national level for their artistic achievements in the arts each year.   

At the national level, students can earn an Award of Merit, Award of Excellence, or Outstanding Interpretation Award. Each year, National PTA typically honors the national winners and their artwork with in-person events—including the Student Arts Showcase at the U.S. Department of Education. This year, due to COVID-19, National PTA hosted its first-ever Virtual Reflections Student Arts Showcase.  

Held January 26, the digital event brought Reflections supporters together to celebrate the national winners from the 2019-2020 Look Within program. The Showcase featured one national winner from each Reflections category and our Special Artist Division.

Representing the Dance Choreography category, Jacob Valadez kicked off the featured student artist performances. Jacob’s dance, “Look Within Yourself Be Unstoppable,” expresses the value of personal strength. Although life can be hard, Jacob demonstrates that everyone can be unstoppable by looking within and never giving up. We are grateful he shared this powerful sentiment with us. 

After Jacob, we enjoyed Matthew Bang’s visual arts piece, “I Realize and Recognize.” As the featured Special Artist, Matthew’s painting depicts his family’s Korean heritage and his own identity as a Korean American. Matthew shared, “Art is a form of expression. It allows me to convey emotions that are too difficult to express in words alone.” His detailed visual arts piece beautifully communicates a vast depth of meaning! 

Jiya Bhavsar wowed us with “Struggling Within Me.” Through her piano performance, Jiya represented the music composition category and showcased the power of perseverance. She explained, “I look within when I feel like ‘I give up’ and then I say, ‘Try again.’” We are all inspired by Jiya’s tenacity. 

As the featured artist for the photography category, Barbara Exilus’s photograph “Look Within” depicts the pressure that many young people feel when trying to achieve unrealistic beauty standards and social norms. Barbara shared, “I want my artwork to speak and touch people in any way it can.” Barbara truly conveyed a compelling message through her photograph. 

Melissa Qiu, the featured artist for the literature category, impressed with her poem, “Breaking the Silence and Filling the Minds.” Her writing details the beauty of the zither, which, Melissa shares is a “a very magical and traditional musical instrument because it has allowed me to look within myself and my Chinese culture.” We appreciate Melissa’s creative use of language to bridge musicmaking and her ancestral heritage.  

As the representative of the Visual Arts category, Katie Ross Nelson shared her wearable sculpture. Meticulously constructed, “The Swan” dress showcases fashion as a means of self-expression. Katie found inspiration from actor Billy Porter, who, by wearing a dress to the 2019 Oscars, “flipped the stereotype and made the dress a symbol of inner strength.” Thank you, Katie, for sharing your compelling work of art with us. 

The last featured artist, Dayton Kress, closed out the show with his film production. Titled “Within Us All,” Dayton demonstrates the power of compassion. He shared, “It is important to understand that we can all lift each other up in times of need. We all go through things, and sometimes we just need a little support along the way.” Dayton’s film shares a timeless message—be kind to one another!  

As our hosts for the evening, Leslie Boggs, National PTA President, and Nathan R. Monell, CAE, Executive Director of National PTA, expressed the value of the arts in a student’s education—especially in the era of COVID-19. Bonnie Carter, the Group Leader of Arts in Education Programs for the U.S. Department of Education, shared a congratulatory message to all Reflections participants. The Department of Education is a valuable supporter of the Reflections program, and we thank Bonnie for joining us virtually!

Our celebration of the arts continues with a virtual exhibit featuring the 200+ national Reflections winners from the 2019-2020 program. Take a moment to view the remarkable creative achievements of our program participants, ranging from detailed paintings in the visual arts category to graceful dance choreography movements. The artwork may encourage you to Look Within!  

Visit PTA.org/Reflections to learn more about Reflections and share your artwork with @NationalPTA using #PTAReflections. Missed the Showcase? Find the full program on National PTA’s YouTube channel


Sarah Scalet is the National PTA arts in education fellow. 

Collection: 2019-2020 Look Within National PTA Reflections Award Recipients (flickr.com)

You’re Invited! Join us for the 2021 Virtual Legislative Conference

Happy New Year! It seems like just yesterday that we were all gathered at the Westin in Old Towne Alexandria for the 2020 Legislative Conference. PTA Advocates were on Capitol Hill the last day it was opened to the public before the pandemic. So much has happened since then.

PTA has been busy advocating for COVID relief and a safe reopening of schools, as well as for funding and support for remote learning, child nutrition, social and emotional learning and broadband access for all. We have been affected deeply by the escalated racism and echoed the calls for social justice. Our political climate has been tumultuous and uncertain. PTA has been at the forefront of these issues.

2021 is a new year with new beginnings. In March, we will build on our advocacy efforts over the last year by hosting National PTA’s first-ever Virtual Legislative Conference, March 9-11. Our annual Legislative Conference (known fondly as LegCon) has always been my favorite event because it is PTA’s 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 almost 125 years ago, when our founders organized over 2,000 parents to speak on behalf of children and continued to lead the way in improving their lives. Through our members’ resilience and persistent commitment to advocacy, National PTA has played an integral role in landmark federal education legislation and policies.

At this year’s Virtual Legislative Conference, we will continue to empower the voices of our members towards making every child’s potential a reality. This year our theme is “PTA Takes Action Together for Every Child” and we will do just that when our members all across the nation meet virtually with their Federal Representatives and Senators to do more to support, advance and protect our nation’s youth.

We are thrilled to be able to offer a Virtual Hill Day to our LegCon attendees Wednesday, March 10. Meetings with Members of Congress may look and feel different this year, but Hill meetings remain an enormously important advocacy tool. In fact, during COVID we have seen a 45% increase in offices that are willing to participate in video-webinars, and a 35% increase in Members of Congress who are participating in virtual meetings themselves. National PTA has partnered with Soapbox Consulting to help ensure that your experience meeting with members and staff is seamless. To that end, if you register for LegCon 2021 by Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, you will be automatically signed up to participate in Hill day.

As a constituent in your home states, your grassroots perspective is extremely valuable to elected officials and their staff. During our Virtual Hill Day, 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! LegCon will be the time to call upon the newly elected 117th Congress to take action and let them know how they can make a difference in the lives of all children. Several resources will be provided to our PTA Advocates to guide them through their meetings with Members of Congress. The Legislative Committee is particularly excited about the National PTA Public Priorities for the 117th Congress, which you can preview on the PTA website.

In addition to the Virtual Hill Day, the 2021 National PTA Virtual Legislative Conference will also include world-class virtual advocacy training, including wonderful workshops and PTA Advocacy Spotlights, which highlight PTA advocacy success stories from across the nation. Attendees will also enjoy prominent keynote speakers, a mental health panel, and our annual PTA Advocacy Award Ceremony. There will also be an opportunity for all Federal Legislative Chairs (FLC) to collaborate and share with fellow FLCs in a live networking session.

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. This will include relevant topics such as safe and supportive schools, public school funding, diversity and inclusion, coalition building, school data reporting, child nutrition, and climate control. 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 LegCon better prepared to engage in policy discussions with lawmakers, advocates and members of your community. We are confident you will use this valuable information in your states to feel fully self-reliant and ready to speak for every child with one voice!

My fellow PTA advocates, don’t delay! Come “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. Join us! Register today at PTA.org/LegCon to attend.


Yvonne Johnson (Delaware) is the National PTA Vice President of Advocacy.

Thank Your School Leader for Their Hard Work This Year

You know the old saying, “It’s lonely at the top.”

We all know the larger your constituent audience…

  • the more demands are put on you,
  • the harder it is to please diverse viewpoints and expectations and
  • the greater the understanding that you are there to make sure the needs of others are being met, not your own.

And gratitude is sometimes forgotten in the mix. Parents understand this. Many of our mouths would fall open if our children came forward with a heartfelt thank you just for doing our routine day-to-day jobs. No stressors there—just being a teacher/parent/mental health counselor, juggling family budgets and finding our role in addressing racial inequities. All that and the never-ending political news cycle that is raising everyone’s blood pressure. Some of us are secretly struggling but we carry on because we must.

It is that knowledge that makes me have great sympathy for our education professionals:

  • Superintendents have their bosses (school boards) to keep happy. They face withering scrutiny from their communities who suddenly appreciate public education as not just a learning environment for our children, but a critical piece to the well-being of staff, students and families—and a child-care solution necessary for the economic engines to keep moving. Any move they make will be criticized because no one agrees on the right course of action.
  • Principals are not armed with the resources to open or manage their schools. Those who open schools are spending enormous energy playing “COVID police,” monitoring social distancing and cleanliness practices to keep everyone safe. Those who lead hybrid environments are managing a large, human-scale game of chess. Those who lead distance learning are making sure the tools, methods and outcomes that fit an in-person model morph into meeting the needs at hand.
  • Teachers face their own health and professional development needs while trying to balance keeping a whole school community safe and learning. And if like me, you can hear remote learning outside your office, you know teachers are using new tools and methods to engage students and create lesson plans that meet this new world.

Our education professionals are surrounded by us, the parents (and sometimes critics). While there is always room for improvement—and as advocates, we want our voices to be heard—occasionally, we should stop for a moment to express our gratitude towards our education professionals who may need encouragement to keep doing their best. That’s why I encourage you to thank a school leader and show how much you appreciate their hard work. Because as we head into another wave of the epidemic, it is not going to get easy anytime soon.

Let’s start by telling teachers we have their backs. Some of my NextDoor app neighbors are all-too ready to disparage teachers for their unwillingness to rush back into the classrooms and risk their health, the health of their students or their family members. 

Caught in a political divide that misunderstands their intense commitment to our students, the teacher shortage will only be exacerbated by those who decry our teachers as selfish, while paying them an average starting salary that requires 59% of teachers to supplement their income. Meanwhile, each day remote teachers are doing their best with varying levels of student engagement, often while distracted students keep their cameras off. And they know that parents are listening in and commenting on their classroom delivery. (Guilty as charged.)

This is causing 28% of teachers in a recent National Education Association (NEA) poll to report that the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more likely to retire early or leave the profession. Those departures from an already-concerning teacher shortage hit all levels of teachers but grow understandably with the age of the teachers:

  • 20% with less than 10 years of experience
  • 40% with 21 to 30 years’ experience and
  • 55% percent of those with more than 30 years.

While some pillory American Federation of Teachers and NEA as the problem, they are doing all they can to serve, protect and empower a vital but shrinking workforce. While we don’t agree on everything, we should be grateful for their partnership in creating the most sustainable education environment while advancing the profession.

Principals, as the great senior managers of our schools, we support you as well. It was disheartening to learn in a recent National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) survey that:

  • Almost a fourth of our principals have thoughts of leaving sparked for the first time by their working conditions during the pandemic,
  • Nearly a fifth have sped up their plans to leave in one to two years, and
  • Five out of 100 principals plan to leave as soon as possible.

In response to this survey, my friend and colleague NASSP Executive Director and CEO Joann Bartoletti, challenges us with these thoughts, “These new findings on principals’ departure plans should frighten the entire education community. Our schools are already strained by principal turnover, and the school conditions policymakers have created will only intensify that turnover. Couple that reality with a shallowed pool of future principals caused by teacher layoffs and attrition, and we have a full-blown crisis in finding talented educators to lead our schools. We must make it a priority to attend to the needs of current principals and continue efforts to deepen the bench of leadership talent.”

Lastly, superintendents have the unenviable task of finding the way forward with multiple emergent demands—technology, epidemiology, building safety, human resource evolution, the pressure to support a halted economy, transportation and space-sharing concerns, broken links to community supports, conflicted parent groups. We salute your fortitude and your ability to gather expertise to solve the greatest problems ever experienced by a superintendent. But the stress is showing even if we take a positive spin on the events. 

Dan Domenech, longtime superintendent and executive directorat the American Association of School Administrators describes the challenges this way, “Throughout these uncertain times, the intensity has risen to seemingly unconscionable levels. Daily concerns include the health and safety of students and staff, addressing educational inequities, social and emotional learning, collaboration and teamwork among staff, connectivity for all students in the community, and the growing concern about the consequences of change. What’s more, budgets are imploding knowing that the average school district needs to tack on an additional $1.8 million in expenses to resume in-person learning.”

Nevertheless, Domenech has hope. “Perhaps the most striking outcome of the COVID environment is a universal commitment on the part of our school system leaders to use this crisis as a catalyst to transform public education. That’s easier said than done. Even under the best of circumstances, the job of the superintendent is a 24/7, 365-days a year occupation. Despite these challenges, this is the beginning of an extraordinary change in American education. I am confident that our superintendents will stand tall and rise to the occasion as they continue to build a sense of hope in communities large and small so our young learners can succeed in college, career and life.”

As a consumer of public education, I am never ready to silence my voice. The obligation of parents to actively partner with our educational professionals has never been needed more. But there is no discrepancy in being thankful for what we already have while we pursue all that is needed. Being appreciative does not let people off the hook—instead, we know that it causes others to do their best work.

So, this Thanksgiving break, let’s put down the criticisms and recognize the humanity in our leaders that just might need some encouragement. One teacher put it this way: “We’re all human beings. We have to respect and take care of each other.”

You may say, “I already feel grateful.” Good. But did you express it to those who need to hear it? As the late inspirational writer William Arthur Ward exhorted us, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

National PTA invites you to find a way to say thanks. To make that happen, we have created some simple tools to help express your gratitude. You can use our social media graphics to show your appreciation and encourage others to say thanks as well.

So, to all the superintendents, principals, teachers and other school leaders…Thanks for caring about my child. Thanks for taking on the burdens of our community. Thanks for feeding the hungry kids and families. Thanks for bridging the digital divide where you can. Thanks for your sleepless nights. Thanks for putting yourself and those you love at risk. Thanks for taking on a hard job. Thank you.

Thank a school leader today by using National PTA’s ready-to-use toolkit filled with sample social media posts and images: https://www.pta.org/home/About-National-Parent-Teacher-Association/Donate/Giving-Tuesday#thanks


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director at National PTA.

Transforming Family Engagement in High School

Even during a “normal” school year, engaging parents and caregivers of high school students can be challenging. As kids get older and more capable of organizing their own school and extracurricular lives, families often wonder what role they should play in their teen’s education.

Research demonstrates a clear drop off in participation: 92% of parents of K-2 students attended a parent-teacher conference, compared to only 58% of parents of high school students. Similarly, while more than half of parents of K-5 students volunteered at school, only 32% of parents of high school students did the same.

But… participation is only part of the story of what family engagement looks like during the high school years, when families’ roles shift to coach their teen and support them to be responsible young people who drive their own learning and success.   

So what actually works when it comes to engaging families of teenagers? How can we ensure that family engagement embodies the 4 I’s of transformative family engagement—inclusive, integrated, individualized and impactful—even amidst the challenges brought on by COVID-19? We spoke to two high school principals to find out.

Dr. Samuel Rontez-Williams, principal of Rayville High School (Louisiana) talked about making family engagement more inclusive and integrated

It’s important to make genuine efforts to check in on students and families and see how they’re coping right now.

Due to Rayville’s hybrid learning schedule, students don’t have classes on Fridays, which makes it a perfect opportunity for teachers to reach out to them and their families. Teachers at Rayville High focus on intentional relationship building by reaching out to families about when something positive happens in class, sending birthday messages, and doing small things that remind students and their families that they care about them as people. In addition to these check in calls, teachers also utilize these flexible Fridays to offer one on one tutoring and other supports.

By high school, students can play a role in encouraging family engagement.

Dr. Rontez-Williams relies on his students to help get their families excited about participating. The most successful events are ones where students are engaged, involved and showcased. For example, rather than offering a curriculum night, where teachers run through what students are learning, Rayville High School hosts an academic game night where teens enjoy competing and families can cheer them on. Academic game nights are a great example of family events that link to learning in school.

But what if you don’t even have reliable ways to reach parents? Immokalee High School (Florida) has more than 1,900 students, and the community is comprised of 41% migrant populations. With families moving around so much, principal Ms. Clara Calderon has developed strategies to make sure they’re doing their best to reach everyone. She emphasized that it is essential to focus on strategies that are individualized and impactful.

Offer personalized assistance. 

Immokalee High School is fortunate to have a 1:1 device program which ensures each family has a device and internet that they can use to communicate with the school. However, even if a family has a device and internet access, Ms. Calderon noted that it is not unusual for families to need help establishing an email address. A great deal of information comes out via email, so she makes it a priority to get families connected. If a family doesn’t have an email account on file, non-instructional staff will offer personalized support that is tailored to the needs of the family, instead of sending out impersonal instructions in the mail or hosting a webinar.

Establish a regular touchpoint and track who is engaging (and who isn’t).

As a way of staying connected with the community, every week Ms. Calderon sends out an e-newsletter in English, Spanish and Creole. But she doesn’t just hit the send button and hope for the best.Instead, she measures her success by running reports and identifying families who are not receiving emails. Her routine data collection informs her which families are getting the information they need and which families she needs to find other ways to connect with.

Ultimately, at the high school level, parents, teachers, administrators and students need to work together. Ms. Calderon summed it up nicely, saying “The more we see ourselves as part of the same team, the better off the child will be.”

As families and schools continue to work together, PTA is here to support. Get more tips on family engagement at the high school level in our new podcast episode, Surviving Quarantine with Your Teen.

Lifetouch Memory Mission 2020: The Spirit of Giving

Giving back is at the very heart of Lifetouch. The Memory Mission has been the cornerstone of Lifetouch’s Give Back efforts since 2000. Most recently, in January 2020, 50 volunteers returned to Rio Grande, Dominican Republic to add on to a school that was built in 2016-2018. The team worked side-by-side with local construction workers to build the walls of a two-story building that will be the school library, a computer lab and a community infirmary. View highlights of the 2020 Lifetouch Memory Mission recap video with President-Elect Anna King and the other volunteers.

During the 2019 National PTA Convention & Expo, Colleen Hervey, president of Ninth District PTA in San Diego, Calif. was selected through a drawing to participate in the 2020 trip.

“Working with fellow volunteers to build an addition to the Cecaini school was so rewarding. However, building relationships with the children and families there was the real prize. Although they have very little worldly possessions, they were willing to share so much love and generosity. We were supposed to be the givers, but it turned out that we received so much more than we gave. I left a piece of my heart in Rio Grande!” Harvey said.

National PTA President-Elect Anna King was also a volunteer on the 2020 trip.

“Playing with the children showed me that love has no borders, no limits and no barriers, no matter where we are from. All children need love,” said King.

The 2021 Memory Mission was scheduled to take place in rural Guatemala in January, working with a local community to construct an environmentally responsible schoolhouse made from bottles and inorganic trash. In August 2020, Lifetouch made the tough decision to postpone the January 2021 trip, prioritizing the safety and well-being of all our volunteers and everyone in the rural Guatemalan community.

“Lifetouch has a long legacy of giving back and the Memory Missions exemplifies that spirit of community, giving and shared experiences through photography and a commitment to education. We look forward to continuing our partnership with National PTA in making a difference,” said Johnny Grant, vice president of sales for Lifetouch. 

In addition, we have deep empathy for the many difficult decisions being made right now by superintendents, principals, and education professionals. Lifetouch supports and appreciates the adaptability demonstrated to start the 2020-2021 school year.

The Lifetouch Memory Mission team and National PTA arecommitted to making a difference and giving back. We join all of you in looking forward to the day when we are past this pandemic, and when we can safely bring joy to communities across the world. At this time, Lifetouch is postponing plans to work with the community in Guatemala to January 2022. Details about this decision are available on our website, www.lifetouchmemorymission.com for more information.

We are excited and look forward to continuing our legacy of giving back with National PTA in January 2022.

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

In my last blog, I shared with you the story of what is happening today throughout our country. A story that connects the PTA work of today with the legacy of our founders.

We shared how our unique structure and our long history of serving all children and families made us the only organization perfectly situated to help meet the immediate needs of communities during this time, while also acknowledging and addressing the systemic causes.

Today, I want to share with you in a little more detail about what these PTAs are doing, how these PTAs are doing it and what makes PTA special in overcoming challenges and maximizing the impact.

Tackling COVID-19, Together

Amidst COVID turning our country upside down, PTAs immediately began to tackle this grant work. National PTA asked the PTAs to select one of four priority areas in which to begin this work, knowing that there was a high level of intersectionality between them. PTAs were asked to name a starting priority area only as a way to stay centered when things would inevitably get crazy and the need to pivot would become necessary. The four areas are:

  1. Food insecurity
  2. Remote learning
  3. Device and internet access
  4. Mental health

We learned that the priority areas are even more connected than originally thought and the need was overwhelming in all areas. PTAs began sending home devices, accessories for devices, school supplies, resources for mental health services, wellness and hygiene kits, books and food to students and families. We saw family engagement events online, including chalk walks, food drives and socially distanced spirit nights.  Touchless water fountains, book vending machines, outdoor learning spaces and calming rooms were installed. The creativity was endless.

Because the money quickly advanced from our funder, through our national organization and disseminated across the country, PTAs were able to support families immediately. PTAs pulled together teams to collaborate—families, school administrators, faith-based community organizations, other non-profits, local businesses, school staff and community members. Team building is essential to all community engagement work.

PTAs Change Lives

Collective impact depends on the utilization of all available resources in order to fully maximize them—efforts being coordinated and outcomes being impactful. PTAs are in a unique position to bring together these teams, because highly functioning PTAs already consist of all these folks or have access to these folks. PTAs connected with the right partners to ensure grant dollars went further and impact was maximized. 

Our PTAs received a tremendous amount of support, both before applying for the grant and after being awarded the grant. The support is in the PTA network itself. National PTA was happy to be a facilitator, making our organization the best and most impactful child advocacy organization in existence.  Here is how we are structuring the support.

Step 1: Community Assessment

PTAs are encouraged to engage both families and the community as well as to seamlessly work with school administrators and staff—always. This framework ensured that when PTAs were asked to conduct assessments prior to applying for these grants, there was immediate and meaningful action. Leaders know to listen, engage and empower families.

So, when COVID hit, PTAs were already prepared to quickly assess their community and determine where the greatest need existed, who the best partners might be, and how to pull together additional resources. For the leaders that needed additional help, National PTA conducted mini needs assessment workshops and helped them determine which efforts might have the greatest impact. This also helped leaders pivot—when a planned idea became difficult to implement, they had an understanding of the multitude of needs and could quickly implement another. 

Leader to Leader Community of Practice Calls

These calls, hosted by National PTA, give an overview of the space (mental health, internet and device access, remote learning, food insecurity) in which they are working and then open the time for them to talk with one another, recognizing that National PTA is not the expert—they are. They share ideas, celebrate successes and work through challenges. Being with leaders across the country allows them to think about new and innovative ideas and to hear how leaders in different areas are working around barriers.

Just about every PTA is doing something different with this grant funding. There is no one program being implemented. And, PTAs are having to adjust to unusual circumstances with changing conditions—which look different in every school district across the country.

Networking Let’s Chat Calls

One of my favorite resources that National PTA provides is simply to hold space for leaders to share with each other. We answer their questions and provide updates for the first few minutes and then they take over the call and make it their own.

These calls allow leaders who need to talk with one another a place to do so. To share. To brainstorm. To celebrate. I leave every call with a renewed sense of purpose, a love for our great organization, and humbled by the hard work of our volunteers, especially during an incredibly difficult time.

Story Telling

Lastly, we are working with our PTAs to share their story. To collect it and to tell it. The work they are doing is our legacy—our history. People will look back and say, remember the Global Pandemic of 2020? Remember how PTA came together and supported communities in need and then fought to end the systemic reasons behind the need, like—kids needing to be in school to eat and to have access to mental health services. Remember how quickly PTAs jumped into action? We created worksheets and webinars, support and templates for leaders. We are telling our legacy; we are telling our story.

Our PTA leaders are incredible. They always have been. That’s the reason we’ve survived 120+ years. That’s the reason we’ve accomplished so much. That’s the reason we make a difference. 

It is important to remember that the work PTA leaders are doing now is what connects us to our 120+ year legacy. If people don’t know what we do and who we are—they will not join our cause. I often say, our founders got angry about what was not right in the world and they did something about it. People were so passionate about the work and others joined, attracted by that passion and to the cause.

Put your focus on the work. Build your leaders from the passion.

As a PTA leader, focus on the needs of your community. Listen to your families. Do that work. That is how you connect to a legacy that has lasted for over 120 years. If we are doing the right work, people will follow and they will join your cause and when they believe in your cause, they will join your membership.


Kelly Langston is an independent contractor supporting project management for National PTA’s programs and partnerships.

How Parents Feel About Assessments in a Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the health and safety of students and educators remains at the forefront of every parent and family’s mind this school year. It’s hard to focus on anything else, but when it comes to education, these are not the only concerns.

The effects of the pandemic on our students are much further reaching than simply the way in which they are learning this school year. The pandemic has further illuminated and exacerbated education inequities across the nation.

Since the pandemic began, National PTA has been advocating for dedicated funding for public schools to address COVID-19 related needs, including resources to close the connectivity gap so all students can learn online, support for students with disabilities and low-income families, and access to school meal benefits for students.

Now that the new school year is underway, safety must still be the primary concern for students, educators and other school personnel, but we must also consider and address the potential effects of disrupted in-person and remote learning on our students’ academic progress.

National PTA recently partnered with Edge Research to conduct focus groups with parents across the country to hear their perspectives on their children’s educational experience during the pandemic. We heard loud and clear that parents want and need to know where their children’s starting point is this school year, acknowledging that students had different experiences with remote schooling last spring.

One way to do this is to use a diagnostic or benchmark tests at the beginning of the school year. A benchmark assessment can help teachers tailor instruction and help identify the supports students need from their school, teachers and family. The focus groups revealed that parents across the country are largely in support of diagnostic tests at the beginning of the school year to measure their children’s starting point.

Parents also understand the purpose of giving students an end-of-year test to show their progress and to know whether their child met grade-level expectations for the school year. They also feel that the end-of-year test does not have to be comparable to the test given in the fall. It is more about seeing the progress their child made and having valuable information they can use to better support their learning at home.

It is important than ever for parents and educators to have meaningful data on student learning. There are multiple measures—including benchmark tests, classroom-based tests, standardized assessments, report card grades and teacher observations—that, when combined, help give a clearer picture of where children are academically.

While the current situation is not one any of us predicted or desires to be in, we should take this opportunity to advocate for assessments that provide meaningful information to parents to help support their children’s learning at home, as well as help educators address learning gaps early on and tailor their instruction to students.

This means assessments must be informative and low stake and results must be provided in a timely manner and in ways that are easy to understand for parents.

We all know that this school year is unlike any other, however, it is still imperative that parents and families have access to meaningful data, information and transparency on their children’s academic progress.

What can you do to help understand where your child’s starting point is this year?  Here are some questions you can ask your child’s teacher and/or principal:

  • What diagnostic or benchmark test(s) are given to my child?
  • When and how will the results be provided to me?
  • How can I use these results to support my child’s learning?
  • How will you use these results to support my child’s learning?

All of us must work together to make sure we have the best, most accurate information to support our children’s learning and help them reach their full potential.


Author: Leslie Boggs, National PTA President.

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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!