Grant Continues to Advance Art Through PTAs Nationwide

For over 50 years, the National PTA Reflections arts program has provided opportunities for recognition and access to the arts for millions of students, thanks to the innovation of artist, PTA leader and founder Mary Lou Anderson. Reflections boosts student confidence and success in the arts and in life.

Anderson’s vision was to increase arts access among at-risk and underserved students and we are proud to offer the Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant to help continue that goal. Through this opportunity, local PTAs demonstrate a commitment to providing new pathways for students to participate in the Reflections program and increase student access to high quality arts learning experiences.

We honored the commitment of two local PTAs with $1,000 for their dedication to increase access to high quality arts learning and increase the impact of their Reflections Program. Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA in California and Robinson High School PTSA in Florida were the 2020-2021 Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant recipients! Check out what these amazing PTAs did with their grant funds!

2020-2021 MLA Grantee Profile: Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA, Temecula, Calif.

With only one entry for their PTA Reflections program, Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA recognized the need to place more focus on getting students educated and excited about the arts. As a Title I school, with a culturally diverse student body, Pauba Valley Elementary PTA saw it their mission to match that diversity in how they present the arts, with a focus on positively impacting students from both at-risk and underserved families, to advance diversity in the arts, specifically in the Reflections program.

Despite the limitations from the COVID-19 pandemic, Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA wanted to bring the entire community together to support the arts. So, they planned and implemented a series of six virtual workshops that averaged over 200 participants per event. In the planning process, the PTA realized that many students were lacking supplies, so they purchased materials and assembled kits which were distributed via drive-through pickups. They also arranged for presenters through community partnerships, where applicable.

With grant funding, the PTA was able to cover costs that would have otherwise been unattainable. The events helped to inspire students to be creative through artistic expression and demonstrate and communicate the benefits of membership in PTA to the Pauba Valley Elementary School community. The last event focused on the arts as a career, providing inspiration and information about professions in the arts.

With an incredible total of 1,800 people impacted through the virtual events, the Pauba Valley Elementary PTA said the most memorable part was, “Seeing the excitement from the students. They were engaged and learning through our hands-on activities, and it was awesome to see the seeds being planted.”

Kathy Gonzales, vice president, Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA said that the events were incredibly successful and shared, “Even though we are not together on campus, these virtual events are giving our families a chance to connect with each other and have fun while doing it. We are so excited to offer these programs to our school community during these challenging times.”

2020-2021 MLA Grantee Profile: Robinson High School PTSA, Tampa, Fla.

In May, with support from the Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant, Robinson High School PTSA hosted a spoken word poetry program. The event included a two-day workshop that culminated in the Spoken Word Poetry Jam. To foster student engagement, the PTSA partnered with the school media specialist and world languages department. In addition, they incorporated a local artist and spoken word poet. Seven students participated in the voluntary presentation portion of the Poetry Jam.

Due to the impacts of COVID-19, the program marked the school’s first in-person workshop that students could attend at school during the school year. The students, according to the PTSA, were extremely excited to attend the in-person event and many Robinson High School teachers allowed students to earn credit for attendance and participation.

The collaboration between the PTSA and teachers added value to the event. Inclusion was key to the event’s success. The PTSA sought to elevate student voices and give them some control over the program. Students also talked about gender and stereotypes through their artwork. All students were encouraging to one another and embraced each other’s different perspectives.

One student brought her mother and grandmother to the event. The PTSA shared, “The encouragement and love between the three generations of women was inspiring to witness.” The most memorable part of the program, according to the PTSA, was the Spoken Word Poetry Jam itself. The students were enthusiastic about participating and supported one another through the process. The students also demonstrated bravery and vulnerability as they worked through some of the stress this year has put upon them.

The Poetry Jam also served as a catalyst for students to learn about the upcoming school year’s Reflections program. The PTSA used a portion of the workshop to discuss the Reflections theme and brainstorm ideas for participation. The PTSA distributed student entry forms and captured the students’ information to jumpstart their program. Robinson High School PTSA plans to continue to work through the summer to ensure students are exposed to other Reflections arts categories. The PTSA identified this specific program because it provided students with an opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment. It also fostered an appreciation for writing and poetry to express and convey thoughts and emotions through art.

With half of the Robinson High School student population qualifying for free & reduced-price lunch under Title I, these grant dollars were extremely appreciated. When asked if they would consider running the program again, the PTSA shared, “Most definitely. Based on feedback alone, our students were excited and engaged and every single one wanted to do it again.”

Congratulations, once again, to Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA and Robinson High School PTSA!

If you are planning to host a 2021-2022 I Will Change the World By… Reflections program and are in need of funding to increase access and participation of at-risk and underserved students in arts programming, APPLY NOW!

Applications for the next round of Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement grants are now being accepted through Sept. 27 at PTA.org/Grants. Two local PTAs will be awarded $1,000 to administer student-centered programs that increase access to high quality arts learning experiences and new pathways for students to participate in National PTA’s Reflections program. 

We can’t wait to support and celebrate another successful year of Reflections with you!

Learn more about Reflections, Mary Lou Anderson and her legacy by visiting our ArtsEd page and Reflections Timeline.

5 Summer Tips to Start Your PTA School Year Strong

Ahhhh, summer. Those long days, outdoor adventures and beautiful nights are here. You survived the end-of-year rat race, and now you’re ready for some well-deserved relaxation. 

Start your summer with a complete break from your PTA leadership duties to allow yourself time to rest and rejuvenate. When you’re ready, take advantage of the important opportunities summer provides for a jumpstart on the upcoming school year with these five helpful tips!

Tip #1: Meet with the Executive Board

Summer is a great time to gather the executive board for an informal meeting to reflect on the past school year and discuss your association’s goals. This gives you a chance to identify specific needs, necessary changes, and volunteer gaps for the upcoming school year. 

It’s also an excellent time to get together for some fun, team-building activities that help you get to know each other a little better! Have a barbecue, talk about your summer plans, or just relax on the patio together. It’s a nice way to foster an enjoyable, cohesive team atmosphere. Just remember to follow the CDC’s COVID-19 safety precautions!

Tip #2: Check in with School Administrators

Your school administrators can be hard to catch during the school year. However, during the summer, their schedule slows down considerably, making it an ideal time for a casual touch-base. 

They’ll likely be planning for the upcoming school year, which gives you the perfect opportunity to ask about their financial needs and goals. Are they hoping to give the playground a facelift or expand technology? This insight will be valuable as you plan your fundraising goals and programs for the year ahead. 

The informal feel of summer also creates a unique space for some relationship-building conversation with your administration. Building a strong connection with your school’s leadership team is key to a successful partnership.

Tip #3: Organize Your “Back to School” Welcome Packet

A little preparation goes a long way! Use this time to pull together the information you will need for your PTA’s “Back to School” welcome packet. Include a calendar of events, important dates, and membership information. Don’t forget to save the date for the official PTA Back-to-School Week, Sept. 13-17, 2021—National PTA will be sharing yearlong solutions, resources and program opportunities to help plan your school year, engage your school community and get support for students and families.

Assembling welcome packets is an easy task for children, so don’t be afraid to enlist the kids to make it go faster. It’s the perfect activity for a rainy afternoon!

Tip #4: Begin Recruiting Volunteers for Next School Year

During the summer, people are less stressed and more likely to say yes to upcoming school-year commitments. Get a jump on recruiting additional volunteers now to start your year off with a full volunteer team. Check out the National PTA Membership page for ideas.

The best way to recruit volunteers over the summer is with a volunteer form you share online. Find out the benefits of a volunteer form, what to include on your form, and grab our free volunteer form template here.

#5: Continue to Communicate with Parents

Don’t shut down your communication channels just because school is out. Staying connected with parents and families is essential, even during summer vacation. 

You can use social media and email to check in, publicize volunteer needs, share exciting school news, and give teasers to get people excited about the fun events you have planned for the upcoming school year. Just remember to keep it light and infrequent.

The back-to-school season can be hectic, especially for active volunteers like you. These five summer tips will ease the transition and lighten the load so your PTA will be all set for another successful school year! 


Booster is the parent brand for the Boosterthon Fun Run which exists to strengthen schools by increasing funds and inspiring students through a remarkable fitness and character-building experience. Dedicated to growing intentional leaders and creating remarkable experiences, Booster is located in Atlanta, GA.  Founded by Chris Carneal, Booster serves schools in more than 37 states.

Your School May Qualify for the Emergency Connectivity Fund

The FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) is a $7.17 billion government program designed to help schools and libraries provide the tools and services needed for remote learning during the COVID-19 emergency period.

For eligible schools and libraries, the ECF program will cover reasonable costs of:

  1. Internet connectivity for students, school staff and library patrons at locations other than schools or libraries
  2. Equipment such as Wi-Fi hotspots, modems and routers
  3. Laptop and tablet computers

Comcast is proud to support eligible applicants who apply for ECF. If your PTA is interested in working with Comcast to obtain high-speed internet service on behalf of students, school staff and library patrons using ECF, you can do so through Comcast’s Internet Essentials Partnership Program (IEPP). The IEPP is a streamlined process for eligible applicants to seek ECF funds and quickly connect families in need to broadband access at home.

Who is Eligible to Receive Funding through ECF?

Funding will be limited to nonprofit schools, libraries, schools and libraries that are eligible for support under the FCC’s E-Rate program, as well as Tribal libraries eligible for support under the Library Services and Technology Act. Funding will be prioritized for the highest needs schools based on the percentage of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program, with an additional factor based on rurality.

How Can Schools and Libraries Apply for Funding?

The initial application filing window opened June 29, 2021 and will close August 13, 2021. During this time, eligible applicants can submit funding requests to the FCC to cover the cost of eligible services, equipment and devices that will be used between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022. Applicants must specify if they will submit invoices or if their service provider has agreed to submit invoices on their behalf.

The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) is the administrator of the ECF program and will review applications and issue funding commitment decision letters (FCDL) for approved organizations. After receiving an FCDL, approved organizations may submit reimbursement requests to USAC.

A second filing window may be opened for prospective or retrospective purchases if not all funds are used within the first filing window. Interested schools and libraries can find more information and apply at EmergencyConnectivityFund.org.

What is the Internet Essentials Partnership Program?

Comcast is using its Internet Essentials Partnership Program (IEPP) to facilitate school participation in the ECF program. IEPP provides the opportunity for school districts and other organizations to enter into an agreement with Comcast to fund and quickly connect students and families to broadband access at home through Internet Essentials from Comcast. For more information on working with Comcast to utilize the ECF program, please complete an online intake form at InternetEssentials.com/Sponsor to kick off the process to become an Internet Essentials Partnership Program partner.

IEPP ECF Partners may select between one of two speed-tier options of service.

Internet Essentials:

  • 50/5 Mbps
  • $9.95/month + tax
  • Equipment rental fees included
  • CIPA compliant through xFi Advanced Security and Parental Controls

Internet Essentials Plus:

  • 100/5 Mbps
  • $29.95/month + tax
  • Equipment rental fees included
  • CIPA compliant through xFi Advanced Security and Parental Controls

Work with Comcast

Comcast’s participation in ECF was designed and is supported by E-Rate experts. We will work with each applicant to determine the best route for reimbursement and to facilitate participation in ECF.

Our team provides dedicated support for applicants seeking to obtain ECF. Our trained agents are available to assist you Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. You can leverage our enrollment center to receive assistance with applications seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to Midnight EST. Comcast’s agents can assist applicants in more than 240 languages and for hearing-impaired households, American Sign Language-trained agents are available through video chat.

If you have additional questions or would like more information about working with Comcast, please email IEPP_Support@Comcast.com.

Comcast’s Commitment to Digital Equity

Over the next 10 years, Comcast is committing $1 billion to reach 50 million low-income Americans with the tools and resources they need to succeed in a digital world. We’ll do this by connecting people to the Internet at home, equipping safe spaces with free Wi-Fi, and working with thousands of nonprofit community organizations, city leaders, and business partners to create opportunities.

Internet Essentials from Comcast

Internet Essentials is Comcast’s signature digital equity initiative and the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. In 10 years, it has helped connect 10 million low-income Americans to broadband Internet at home, most for the very first time. The program addresses the three major barriers to broadband adoption—digital literacy training and relevance, equipment, and cost—and relies on a network of tens of thousands of community partners to help families cross the digital divide.

To learn more, visit InternetEssentials.com/Sponsor

Meet the 2021 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awardees!

Each year, National PTA honors the top three National PTA Schools of Excellence with the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awards for demonstrating outstanding success in engaging families in student success and school improvement. The awardees are selected by a team of Past National PTA Presidents and are the highest honor our association offers for success in family engagement. 

The 2021 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients are:  

Helen Keller Jr. High School PTA in Illinois, who received the top Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award. Miami Beach Senior High PTSA in Florida and Hembree Springs Elementary School PTA in Georgia both received the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit.  

Thanks to the generous support of the Hearst Foundation, the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Awardee receives a $2,000 grant for their school and the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Merit Awardees each receive $500 grants for their schools. We are pleased to share with you just a snapshot of the amazing work the 2021 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients put into building and growing family-school partnerships in their communities. To learn more about the accomplishments of these top-ranked PTAs, visit PTA.org/Hearst.  

Helen Keller Jr High School PTA   

Helen Keller Jr High School is a Title 1 school in Shaumburg, Illinois. Their PTA serves a diverse student body of nearly 600 students. Through the School of Excellence program, the PTA used feedback from their school community to address families’ concerns about the mental health and well-being of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Program leader Trisha Anderson said the PTA decided to enroll in the School of Excellence program because, “The COVID-19 pandemic has not only impacted our physical health—our mental health has also been greatly impacted. Our goal is to help our school community become aware of the importance of mental health. We hope the investment in doing this work will change the school by providing them with mental health awareness and with strategies to improve mental health.” 

The PTA worked collaboratively with school leadership and staff to implement a program to educate students and raise awareness about the importance of mental health. They provided mental health resources for families through new and revamped communication vehicles and created a forum for families to share additional tips and tools to communicate more effectively. The PTA also worked hard to connect and align the Mental Health program within the framework of existing social and emotional learning (SEL) lessons. Teachers reviewed the existing material and re-worked their SEL lesson plans to include specific mental health lessons. Physical Education teachers worked with in-person students to “chalk the walk” in order to raise awareness about mental health and hosted a mental health event during PE classes.  

The school improvement goal Helen Keller Jr High School PTA identified as part of their School of Excellence journey was finding new ways to keep families informed and to communicate effectively in an atypical, frequently changing, majority virtual school year. There were no in person events, handouts or volunteers on campus, so they updated existing channels of communications and created new channels to reach our school community. By creating new forums for informing families and encouraging two-way communication, they laid the groundwork for ongoing communication with families and put relevant Mental Health programming in place that will be used in future school years.  

Helen Keller’s Principal stated, “Working with the Keller PTA on the National PTA School of Excellence work has been a tremendous partnership.  One of the most significant takeaways came from how we communicate with our families.  From my perspective, this work has been so beneficial because it can be layered into our existing work as a building, and absolutely assists with strengthening our connections with families to ensure whole child student success.” 

We think it’s safe to say that this outstanding PTA created impactful, ongoing programming to address families’ concerns about students’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, as a direct result of their increased integration with school leadership and staff, the PTA saw an increase in both parent and staff membership. Congratulations, Helen Keller Jr. High School PTA! We are so proud of the work you’ve been able to achieve to help all students achieve excellence. 

Miami Beach Senior High PTSA  

Miami Beach Senior High PTSA in Florida serves over 2,000 students, the majority of whom are Hispanic. Their greatest accomplishment through the School of Excellence program was increasing communication and collaboration among families, teachers, administrators and staff. Their school improvement and student success goals focused on college- and career-readiness standards.  

First, the PTSA helped the college counselor and the career and technical education department spread their messages to students and parents, increasing awareness of opportunities through emails, social media and zoom sessions. To help students and parents better understand how to navigate the college application process, they scheduled a series of zoom meetings by grade level and group chats through social media to capture students’ attention. 

Next, Miami Beach Senior High PTSA worked with teachers and administration to create a chart to help everyone understand the steps to take when students need additional academic support. To help families better understand how to support their child’s learning, they created a weekly email with a “tip of the week,” covering a range of educational topics. They also worked with school staff to provide grants where needed to enhance educational programming by making it more inclusive and individualized. 

Since Miami Beach Senior High PTSA started the School of Excellence program in 2019, prior to the pandemic, 90% of seniors who graduated in 2020 reported they were planning to attend either a two- or four-year university, 5% planned to either enter the military, trade school or work force and over 300 students earned industry certifications! 

The School of Excellence program helped Miami Beach Senior High reach their identified goals. The program leader said, “School of Excellence provided a framework and platform to spark discussions about enhancing communication, college and career readiness, and vertical alignment within our feeder pattern. We used it to gain collaboration and made positive gains in beginning the process of setting up future procedures.”  

The principal agrees, stating, “The School of Excellence Program provided an effective framework to shape our relationship with parents and establish intentional real-life goals for ALL students.”  Congratulations to Miami Beach Senior High PTSA for all of your achievements. We can’t wait to see what you do next! 

Hembree Springs Elementary School PTA  

Hembree Springs Elementary School is a Title 1 school that serves over 500 students in Roswell, Ga. After analyzing feedback from their school community, the PTA chose to focus their School of Excellence journey on improving education by connecting families with advocacy opportunities, increasing awareness of resources and growing family engagement to support student success. 

To achieve their goals, the PTA decided to work closely with school staff to provide a monthly, one-hour forum for semi-structured conversation between parents and school leaders. They used survey results and parent/guardian feedback to prioritize topics, such as literacy, transitions, assessments, principal updates and the “summer slide.” The PTA made sure to increase access to these sessions by offering them in the evening, reserving time for Q&A and providing translators to ensure access for Spanish-speaking families. They also launched an “advocacy newsletter,” to share information and continue to solicit ideas and feedback.  

Parents loved the PTA’s efforts. One parent said, “I think this year the virtual discussions were most timely and relevant and helpful. I found all of the sessions to be very honest conversations between school leadership and parents. I appreciated this opportunity and would like to see them continue.”  

The virtual discussions were a hit with school administrators, too. A.J. Smith, the Hembree Springs Elementary School principal said, “The Hembree Springs Community has grown through the work of PTA and the school. Our parents have gained so much through our Ask PTA! sessions. With our parents being knowledgeable and supported, our students have had better success in academics and socially/emotionally. This has been evident in our behavior data, attendance data, and academic data. Our Hawks have been impacted in such a positive way. This program has forever changed the way we approach advocacy here at Hembree!”  
 

Overall, PTA and administrators found the School of Excellence program to be very effective in helping them reach their collective goals. “The School of Excellence program provided us with valuable information that we leveraged to foster stronger and deeper relationships with our families and community members. It enabled us to be intentional and specific regarding the needs of our community—leading to the creation of programs and initiatives that will generate ongoing improvements for our school community in years to come.”  

Start Your Journey to Excellence 

As you can see from these PTA stories, the National PTA School of Excellence program opens the lines of communication and critical thinking within school communities to make data-driven decisions that yield positive, long-term results. We hope your PTA will enroll in the 2021-2022 National PTA School of Excellence program to take the first step in enriching the educational experience and overall well-being of your students. Enroll by October 1 at PTA.org/Excellence. Feel free to email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions. 

Getting the Most From School Meals—How Parents Can Help

Have you heard? Nutritious school meals are free for all children through June 30, 2022.

On a regular school day, millions of students have access to nutritious meals through school meal programs including the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. Sadly, a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) revealed in April 2020 alone, 54 school districts across 28 states and the District of Columbia served 21 million fewer breakfasts and 44 million fewer lunches when compared to October 2019. The fact is that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to increase food insecurity.

But there’s good news too! In response to concerns that children were missing out on nutritious meals, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the extension of meal service flexibilities. This means schools can now safely offer free school meals to all children, regardless of household income, through June 2022. This includes during summer break. Families should check with their school districts for more information on getting these free meals.

What’s in a School Meal?

You may be wondering what is included in these free breakfasts and lunches. The meals served through these programs must meet specific nutrition requirements, including serving fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and milk. In fact, a recent study from Tufts University found that among children in the United States, foods consumed at schools had the highest overall diet quality of any other food source.

Although these foods are healthy, some children may be hesitant to try the food from school because it may be unfamiliar, or they are just not interested in eating certain foods, like vegetables. Sound familiar? Rather than seeing food go to waste and your child or children not getting the proper nutrition for their growing bodies, you can take steps to encourage healthier eating.

Three generation family washing vegetables in the kitchen

Model healthy eating at home. Reinforcing healthy behaviors both in and out of school is key. Try some of these tips to make it happen:

  • Review school menus with your child and encourage them to try new food items. Use this as an opportunity to talk to your child about what they will be served, and the nutrients provided by the different foods.
  • Get your kids involved in meal planning at home and let them pick a new vegetable or fruit to try each week. This is a great opportunity to have older children research different options for using the fruit or vegetable in a meal.
  • Got a green thumb? Plant a garden at home, or volunteer to help with a community or school garden.

Get involved in school health activities. Although opportunities to get involved may vary in each community as schools work to safely reopen, consider some of these ideas you might be able to participate in to help create a healthier school:

  • Join the school or district committee (wellness committee) that sets the policies for health and wellness.
  • Eat school breakfast or lunch with your child.
  • Offer to help with taste tests or other nutrition promotion activities in the school cafeteria.
  • Talk with the school cafeteria manager about items you would like to see served.

Note: If your child has special nutritional needs—such as allergies, sensitivities, or restrictions due to a medical condition, talk to your school’s cafeteria manager about meal modifications for your child.

More Information:

Research shows that students who participate in the school meal programs consume more whole grains, milk, fruits, and vegetables during meal times and have better overall diet quality, than nonparticipants.(1,2) And, eating breakfast at school is associated with better attendance rates, fewer missed school days, and better test scores.(3–6)

  1. Fox MK, Gearan E, Cabili C, et al. School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study, Final Report Volume 4: Student Participation, Satisfaction, Plate Waste, and Dietary Intakes. Alexandria, VA: US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support; 2019. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/SNMCS-Volume4.pdf. Accessed June 1, 2021.
  2. Kinderknecht K, Harris C, Jones-Smith J. Association of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act with dietary quality among children in the US National School Lunch Program. JAMA. 2020;324(4):359–368.
  3. Murphy JM, Pagano MR, Nachmani J, Sperling P, Kane S, Kleinman RR. The relationship of school breakfast to psychosocial and academic functioning. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1998;152:899–107.
  4. Murphy JM, Pagano M, Bishop SJ. Impact of a universally free, in-classroom school breakfast program on achievement: results from the Abell Foundation’s Baltimore Breakfast Challenge Program. Boston, MA: Massachusetts General Hospital; 2001.
  5. Murphy JM, Drake JE, Weineke KM. Academics and Breakfast Connection Pilot: Final Report on New York’s Classroom Breakfast Project. Albany, NY: Nutrition Consortium of New York; 2005.
  6. Myers A, Sampson A, Weitzman M, Rogers B, Kayne H. School Breakfast Program and school performance. Am J Dis Child. 1989;143:1234–9.

Supporting Our Children to Find Their Passion, Purpose, and Voice

After being back in school for only a week, my 6th grade son came home and confidently announced “I signed up for track.” He beamed. And I felt a gush of relief that we sent him back to school in-person and opened up the doors to this new level of confidence and decision-making. 

New research released by Learning Heroes, delves into the power that afterschool, extracurricular and summer learning programs have in the lives of children. The research included deep listening among more than 2,000 K-8 parents and 1,000 K-8 teachers and out-of-school time (OST) providers nationally, between November 2020 and March of this year. Among the families surveyed, 65% enroll their children in one or more programs. Nearly half of those participate in a program focused on sports, the arts, or other interest-based activities. There are lots of ways to spend our family’s time and energy, but a clear majority see the value these opportunities offer our children, now and into the future. 

The good news is teachers and providers share parents’ enthusiasm for these programs and the positive effects they have on students–both in and out of school. In focus groups, teachers repeatedly shared that children who participate in activities outside of school are more successful in school. And this makes sense, because even if my son doesn’t win a single race, just signing up, showing up, and getting sweaty at every practice exercises safe and healthy risk taking. In the classroom, this translates to a willingness to take academic risks, like struggling through a tough algebra problem or making a mistake on an assignment and trying again. Along the way, he’ll learn teamwork, leadership and perseverance–all skills that parents, teachers, and providers agree are reinforced by participation in these programs.

What drives parents to sign their children up for out-of school-time programs? Learning Heroes found that parents see extracurriculars as their child’s own unique space where they can explore and cultivate their interests. These programs are distinct from school–where kids are one among many and everyone generally swims in their grade level ‘lane.’ 

Equally important is that out-of-school and summer learning activities expose kids to a range of important experiences they just can’t get at home. While there are lots of things I can offer my son–like our cherished time reading aloud before going to bed at night–I don’t need to become his track coach, too. Giving him that space to grow and find out what he loves–and even what he doesn’t–sends a powerful message: This is your time and space to be your unique self. The skills and lessons learned, the wins–and even the losses–are yours to keep as part of your life journey.

Unfortunately, Learning Heroes found that access to these programs is not equitably distributed. Families whose children are enrolled in OST activities report a higher socio-economic status and education level, regardless of race or ethnicity, than those who don’t send their children to any programs. So while I’m grateful my son’s middle school offered an array of virtual clubs this year, I wonder whether enriching opportunities like these are reaching all of the kids in our community who would benefit from them. Indeed, our school’s PTA could be a helpful messenger in getting the word out to families through our communication channels. And we can raise the equity question with our school leaders to understand what strategies they are taking to engage kids whose families might not be easily reached through traditional methods, like email and newsletters.

As we dream and make plans for what’s ahead this summer and beyond for our children, it’s a moment for us as parents to think about the program, camp or after-school activity that helped shape who we are today. I might even dust off a few memories from my track running days to share with my son as we support him to find his passion, purpose and voice.


Learn more at BeALearningHero.org or connect with us on social media @BeALearninghero.

New Tools to Advance Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

National PTA is committed to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) but what does that look like in action? To answer that question, we partnered with 14 local units to test out new DEI strategies which led to the development of three new tools, the Diversity Profile, the Facilitator’s Guide, and the Action Plan Template. If you’ve already reviewed the Local Leader Guidance for DEI and are wondering what next steps you should take, read on to explore our latest tools! 

Diversity Profile 

Who lives in your community? This may seem like a simple question, but answering it well requires an in depth understanding of the families at your school. Our Diversity Profile Template will walk you through important demographic questions about your community. Questions like: what religions are represented? What is the racial demographic breakdown of your community? What is the median household income?  

After finding out that information, challenge yourself to think critically: Does your PTA board and membership reflect your community? 

Facilitator’s Guide 

If you notice that there are voices missing, it is time to figure out why. How can you create a more inviting PTA that offers leadership opportunities that draw in all members of your community? Our Enhancing DEI Facilitator’s Guide offers step by step instructions for hosting a listening session where you can learn more about how families want to engage with the school and the PTA. The guide includes a meeting agenda complete with questions you can ask families to better understand their experiences and reimagine your PTA in ways that better meet everyone’s needs. Most of all, these conversations are opportunities for intentional relationship building with families who you may not typically interact with! 

One of the grantees shared that their use of the facilitator’s guide really made an impact: “Even though we needed to conduct our listening sessions on Zoom in order to be COVID-safe, our virtual introductions to new-to-PTA parents are already starting to blossom into real-life relationships now that our school has reopened.” 

Action Plan 

Listening is an important first step, but you can’t stop there. After you listen to families, the real work begins. How will you address their concerns, answer their questions, implement their ideas?  

Another grantee shared their own DEI goals, “The first thing we want to do is have a workshop for new PTSA leadership and committee chairs (and anyone else interested) on culturally responsive skills. We want to improve outreach and communication and be sure that our meeting agendas speak to issues that are relevant to all families and that our meetings are conducted in ways that are inclusive.” 

Our Enhancing DEI Action Plan Template provides a structure for you and your board to plan next steps like these. Remember to keep families in the loop as you continue your planning! The action plan is a great way to re-engage the families you listened to. Ask them to weigh in on the draft and make additions or edits. These new strategies and initiatives will be most successful if they are co-created by the PTA board and the rest of your community! 

For more guidance on how your PTA can use these tools, watch our webinar, ”Turning Your Commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion into Action” and keep up with our latest resources at www.pta.org/diversity!  

Science Is Leading the Way to Reopen Schools

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented immense and immediate challenges for schools across the country. Seemingly overnight, teachers and administrators had to rework their curriculum, shift to online learning, and find ways to engage students of all ages from behind a screen. At the same time, students and parents worked to quickly acclimate to the virtual environment, juggling jobs, school and childcare—all during a global pandemic.

As a mother of three boys, I experienced these challenges and stresses in my own family. My son’s high school held a “back to school night” right after I was nominated to be CDC Director. I heard—as a mother and as the Director—about the difficulties of engaging students on Zoom. Like many of you, I did my best to keep my kids safe while juggling work and other responsibilities.

From the beginning of my tenure as CDC Director, one of the top priorities for the agency has been getting students back into the classroom safely. The science tells us that in addition to education, in-person learning gives our children access to the vital social and mental health services that prepare them for success in our world. That is why CDC strongly believes schools should be the last place to close and the first place to open, to ensure no child goes without these essential services.

We know that students from low-resourced communities, students from ethnic and racial minority communities, and students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by the loss of in-person instruction. By following the science and engaging with our partners, CDC has worked to develop guidance and resources to ensure that every student can learn in the classroom safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Science Is Leading the Way

Science is leading the way in how we respond to COVID-19, including how to get our children back into classrooms during the pandemic—while prioritizing the safety of students, teachers and school staff. Before developing guidance to safely reopen schools, CDC conducted an in-depth review of all the available data and engaged with educational and public health partners to hear first-hand from parents and educators about their experiences and concerns.

I have personally heard the concerns expressed by both parents and school leaders, which ranged from concerns about potentially lost academic progress, to anxiety about personal and family safety if returning to in-person instruction. These discussions, in combination with the latest science, provided the data we needed to develop a strategy for students to safely return to schools in different parts of the country, with varying classroom sizes and resources.

Guidelines for Reopening K-12 Schools

In February, we released the K-12 Operational Strategy for in-person instruction based on evidence that showed K-12 schools could operate safely for in-person instruction if they use layered prevention strategies. Prevention strategies that are layered, or used together, provide the greatest protection against transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The CDC Strategy encourages students, faculty, and staff in school settings to practice prevention behaviors by following these 5 key mitigation strategies:

  1. Universal and correct mask-wearing
  2. Physical distancing
  3. Hand washing and good respiratory etiquette
  4. Cleaning to maintain healthy facilities
  5. Diagnostic testing with rapid and efficient contact tracing, in combination with isolation and quarantine, and collaboration with local health departments

In addition, when CDC released the K-12 Operational Strategy, we noted that the science of COVID-19 is rapidly evolving and we would update our recommendations when new evidence became available. As more studies were published and CDC scientists analyzed the available evidence on physical distancing, it was clear there was ample evidence to update CDC’s recommendations for physical distancing between students in classrooms with universal mask use.

Based on evolving evidence, last week, CDC issued its updated guidance for physical distancing with recommendations for various settings of K-12 education.

  • Elementary schools: Students should remain at least three feet apart in classrooms while wearing a mask, regardless of the level of COVID-19 spread in the community.
  • Middle and high schools: Students should remain at least three feet apart in classrooms while wearing a mask, when community spread of COVID-19 is low, moderate or substantial.
  • For middle and high schools in communities with high spread of COVID19: Students should remain at least six feet apart, unless cohorting is possible.
  • Community settings outside the classroom or in any situation when unmasked: Everyone should maintain at least six feet apart.

A Shared Effort

Getting our children back to school for in-person instruction is a critical step in turning the corner on this pandemic, and partnerships with key stakeholders in education, government and the community are helping schools make this transition. CDC is providing guidance, tools and resources to our educational and public health partners and collaborating through webinars, conferences and other engagements to increase understanding of the operational strategy for K-12 schools and to support schools as they integrate CDC’s recommendations into their schools’ planning.

CDC also recently announced it was providing $10 billion to support COVID-19 diagnostic and screening testing for teachers, staff and students. In addition, CDC’s K-12 Operational Strategy identifies vaccination as an additional layer of prevention that can be added to the five key mitigation strategies. CDC has been working with our federal retail pharmacy partners to prioritize the vaccination of K-12 teachers, staff and childcare workers during the month of March. I am happy to report that our pharmacy partners have vaccinated more than 1.3 million educators, staff, and childcare workers so far, and more than 550,000 of these vaccinations were in the last week alone.  

Last week, at the National Summit on Safe School Reopening, I was able to connect virtually with representatives from the Department of Education and other government and non-governmental organizations to hear from school districts across the country about their challenges and successes in reopening. I was so encouraged to hear about their efforts and the innovations they are implementing in order to get kids back to in-person learning.

Real-World Experience, Science, and Evidence

My youngest son returned to hybrid school about a month ago, and he’s thrilled to be back. While I know many students are also looking forward to joining their peers in a classroom setting, I realize that the decision to have your child return to in-person learning is not an easy one. My hope for the future is based on real-world experience, science and evidence—and we now have that experience, science, and evidence as well as the resources to get our children back to school across the nation.


Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, is the 19th Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ninth Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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.