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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sarah Scalet is the National PTA Arts in Education Fellow. 

How Your PTA Can Support Social and Emotional Learning 

We know social and emotional learning (SEL) happens at home and at school, but how do we bridge the two learning environments? That’s where your PTA comes in! 

National PTA has introduced our Healthy Minds program to help families and schools work together to support kids’ mental health and well-being. SEL is a key component of our approach to healthy minds! Throughout the pandemic, PTAs across the nation doubled down on their commitment to SEL in big and small ways. 

For example, to combat feelings of isolation and stress in their communities, many PTAs distributed mental wellness kits. These bags of resources provided a range of materials including everything from stress balls and fidgets for children to use to aromatherapy candles.  

Several PTAs also collaborated with school counselors to support their communities. In Georgia, Bartlett Middle School PTSA implemented a new “Coffee with the Counselors” event series, during which counselors would choose a hot topic and facilitate a discussion for families and students. Families were able to get professional advice on relevant issues and access a safe space to practice having these important discussions with their children. 

Meanwhile, in Utah, Bonneville Elementary PTA used a National PTA COVID-19 Relief Fund Grant to collaborate with school leadership to create a wellness center for students. They transformed an unused classroom into an inviting, therapeutic space distinct from the academic setting. A partition separates the Wellness Center into two main areas:  

  • In the Wellness Room, students can take a break during the school day when they feel stressed or overwhelmed. It is a place to process and connect.  
  • In the Resource Room, parents can find materials to help them manage mental health at home and in the community.  

You can learn more about Bonneville’s innovative approach in our Mental Health/Social-Emotional Support COVID-19 Relief Case Study

If you’re feeling inspired by these SEL success stories, here are some tips for getting started in your own community! 

Educate families about social and emotional learning, and why it matters! For families to reinforce social and emotional learning at home, they need to first understand what SEL is and how their children can benefit from it. There are so many ways PTAs can promote learning in their community, from sharing relevant informational and family activity handouts and podcast episodes, to hosting a book club or an event night. 

Help families and teachers develop a common vocabulary when talking about SEL. Discover what language your school uses when talking about social and emotional learning and life skills. Perhaps they use the CASEL wheel, the Second Step Program, or their own homegrown approach with school-selected core values. Either way, it’s important that all community members are on the same page! You can learn more about key SEL skill areas at PTA.org/SocialEmotional.  

Host activities and events that will help students (and their families) build social and emotional skills. You can incorporate SEL activities into your already existing events like your Fall Festival or even as a welcome before a movie night or pizza party. Feelings Charades is a great example for younger kids that can be adapted to fill just a little bit of time, or a longer window!  

Looking for a fun way to get tweens and teens to grapple with bigger SEL topics like identity, purpose, and decision-making? Hosting an event night where middle and high schoolers write Letters to their Future Selves is a fun way to prompt meaningful reflection. 

For even more ideas and resources, visit PTA.org/SocialEmotional  

Family Literacy for All

National PTA’s Family Reading Experience recently turned five years old, so we decided it was time for a refresh. Over the past year, National PTA has worked with literary content experts to help us re-design programming to be more accessible to the everyday parent and PTA leader by engaging the whole family in reading activities. With our funding from Office Depot, National PTA was able to pilot these new resources last spring with select PTAs across the country.

Sandra West, President of Miami Dade Council PTA in Florida, led the pilot work for her PTA and shared her thoughts about the experience with us.

How did Miami Dade Council PTA go about planning literacy programming?

Miami was, and is, still deep in the COVID-19 pandemic. Holding in-person events wasn’t an option. We started putting our collective heads together to seek authors willing to read their books on Zoom. The council would purchase the books and then mail them to participants. The United States Postal Service offers special media rate service that is affordable. Each book typically costs less than $3 to ship.

We were quite delighted to find that among our board members we had two authors and they knew many more authors. We began contacting them to schedule readings and arrange the purchase of the books.

Danielle Joseph read her book I Want To Ride The Tap Tap, which you can watch on YouTube. After the success of our first reading, the council was contacted by Coral Gables Family Literacy Festival organizers to participate in their Memorial Day Weekend Festival. The goal of the Festival was for every child to leave with a book, and we fulfilled their goal by giving away over 200 books. The only requirement to receive a book was for them to join our newsletter mailing list. Using that list, we promoted our second Zoom author, Andrew Toffoli, who read Susan Bear Anthony, which you can also watch on YouTube.

Another project of the Family Literacy Committee was a partnership with the Miami Dade County Public Library System to host authors and give away the corresponding books. Every three weeks or so, a different branch of the library hosts an author read and the council provides the books to be distributed.

Did you face any challenges in your literacy work?

One of our challenges has been negotiating discounted books. To find discounts we contact the author, the publishers, distributors and bookstores. A resource that has been amazing has been Scholastic. At first, we purchased discounted books through the Scholastic Book Club but then we were introduced to the Scholastic F.A.C.E. program, which allows us to purchase deeply discounted books with the promise that we will give them away and not sell them.

The initial pilot funds provided by Office Depot have been matched three-fold by the council, so this can be a continuous program offered to the 350,000 students in the fourth-largest school system in the USA. Thank you so much to National PTA and Office Depot for getting us started!

If Sandra’s family reading experience program excites you, make sure to check out our revamped Family Reading Experience page with our new PTA Leader Resources on how to plan your own literacy programming in your PTA! Happy reading!


 Sandra West is the president of Miami Dade County Council PTA.

How Does a PTA Become a National School of Excellence?

The year-long commitment to becoming a National PTA School of Excellence can seem daunting, but with step-by-step guidance and as many unique project plans as there are school communities, the journey is one well-worth taking. PTAs all over the nation have led their schools to the top, showcasing their incredible dedication to improvement, consistent engagement with school community members and, yes, the power of a little elbow grease!

Here’s how a few of the 2020-2022 National PTA School of Excellence designees earned this prestigious two-year, national recognition.

BELLA VISTA PTA, CALIFORNIA

Bella Vista PTA in California showed they were School of Excellence material when they took the challenges of COVID-19 head on, promoting healthy lifestyles in their school community. Although the pandemic presented new challenges to Bella Vista PTA and their school community; they continued to ensure the health and safety of their students and promote healthy habits at home and at school.

The school adapted a virtual/hybrid model of learning, and the PTA used all of their communication channels to share tips and reminders on how to thrive, both physically and mentally, in the midst of so much upheaval. Bella Vista PTA also added a “Health and Wellness” section to their newsletter and leveraged their social media platforms and website to continue to communicate health and wellness tips.

Through the School of Excellence program, Bella Vista PTA took initiative by identifying the need to promote healthy lifestyles during a time that could have been far too sedentary for students. While remote learning, students were constantly sitting at their computers and not getting up and changing classrooms or going to recess like they did before the pandemic. The PTA raised awareness around health and wellness and brought their community together during a trying time, which is exactly what a School of Excellence does to lead the way to a successful future.

SAMUEL BISSELL ELEMENTARY PTA, OHIO

Promoting healthy lifestyles for students and their families is just one way to start your school’s School of Excellence path. Samuel Bissell Elementary PTA in Ohio decided to go in another direction. They confronted the problems of COVID-19 by stepping up their virtual programming to encourage learning, support education, and foster a strong sense of community.

The school district gave parents the option to be on campus or be virtual for the entire school year. This allowed parents to have the choice to do what was best for their family, but it also made extra work for the school and PTA to make sure this year was successful.

In response, Samuel Bissell PTA provided a Family Fun Week that was inclusive to all students, both In Person and At Home. They partnered with Young Chef of Solon and presented a cooking night where they gave away measuring cups. Next, they hosted a Paint Night, where they provided all of the materials and hired an artist from California to teach participants how to paint hot air balloons. Finally, Samuel Bissell Elementary PTA hosted a Trivia Night and a Bingo Night with prizes and a dance party with a DJ, where participants received glow sticks.

In addition to hosting fun events, the PTA also supported curriculum. With students wearing masks at school and others learning remotely, the school and PTA purchased student “Fundations At-Home Packets,” low-tech educational packets that are customized for each curriculum level for at home, blended learning.

Samuel Bissell’s PTA also provided the entire school with Chromebooks, which gave students and staff the ability to learn safely and have the flexibility to be in-person or virtual, because everyone could connect on Google Classroom and Google Meet. The school also went paperless to avoid contact, and in doing so, everyone received clear bookbags to carry Chromebooks and school supplies to avoid assigning lockers. The Chromebooks also allowed for teachers to easily use the Smart Boards and to have the proper technology to connect with each student.

With virtual learning and the students spending more time on the computer than ever before, Samuel Bissell’s PTA held an Internet Safety Night, which featured an informational technology expert. Parents learned what apps and games their children are likely to be using, and what they should watch for when it comes to their child and the internet. The evening event allowed parents to feel more connected to their kids and continued to support virtual learners by helping them stay safe.

As you can see, Samuel Bissell Elementary PTA worked with their community and school to provide a creative path for student success!

WILSON MIDDLE SCHOOL PTA, TEXAS

Wilson Middle School PTA in Texas became a School of Excellence through the third National Standard of Family-School Partnerships—Supporting Student Success. In partnership with the Wilson Administration, Wilson Math Department and 24-person PTA Board, this PTA created a Dreambox Math Initiative. The four-week program was designed to encourage math practice outside of school time to meet students where they are and increase skill acquisition based on each student’s performance.

Funded through a National PTA Grant, Wilson PTA engaged community business partners, including Chick-fil-A and Jason’s Deli, to provide discounted giveaways. Outreach to families was provided through emails, voicemails, flyers, carpool lane signs, the PTA website, Facebook posts and the PTA newsletter.

Each week students were offered giveaways of increasing interest or value, such as a Ram Mystery Bag of fun tchotchkes or a Ram Snack Pack. The final week culminated with a Chick-fil-a lunch for students that met their goals. Students were both motivated to practice math and were awarded with fun activities and giveaways. An average of 272 participating students were impacted each week.

Wilson’s head of the math department, Michelle Boudoin, also found value in setting a new standard of collaboration with Wilson PTA to support student success, sharing, “The initiative was a great motivator that increased student participation. Our teachers and students learned a lot about tracking progress and meeting the specific needs of different learning objectives for students. We look forward to finding future programs to build student growth over time and partnering with PTA to increase student motivation.”

Principal Mark Letterer offered perspective on testing metrics which measured the success of their PTA’s new initiative, saying, “In a year of co-seating and delivery of a new instructional model, Wilson Middle School continued to provide quality academic instruction, supported by our PTA. This was evidenced by our state testing data that saw 100% of our eighth-grade Algebra 1 EOC students meet state standards. In addition, the remainder of our eighth-grade math STAAR scores indicated performance above the district average ranking in the top quartile of district middle schools. This is an exceptional accomplishment where we outperformed all other comparable schools in our district.”

Preliminary data reports show the school’s sixth grade math scores to be consistent with past years and again outperforming a high percentage of comparable Title I school in the number of students who performed at or above grade level expectations. Thanks in part to the Wilson PTA’s efforts, Wilson students achieved near or above district averages in most every tested area.

These PTAs achieved the highly coveted School of Excellence designation by making their school communities better through improving educational outcomes, promoting healthy lifestyles and confronting identified problems head on with dedication, collaboration and open lines of communication.

Each School of Excellence journey looks different because the needs of each school community vary, but it’s easy to see what they all have in common—a caring group of school leaders that use feedback and data to make informed and intentional decisions to strengthen family-school partnerships.

Let National PTA’s School of Excellence program provide a framework to help your PTA identify areas of need, develop and implement action plans based in best practice for transformative family engagement and celebrate accomplishments!

Enrollment is open through Friday, Oct. 15 at PTA.org/Excellence. Email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.

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. 

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!  

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.

The Holiday Season Online Safety Refresh

Now that all of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been packed away, we’ve entered the final sprint of the year—the holiday gifting season! Historically, the holidays are a time when devices are purchased in families, whether the gifts are first-time devices or upgrades.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is even more likely that holiday wish lists will include devices this year. That means this is an important time for families to begin or do a refresh of key online safety tips.

The hardest part in any conversation is the beginning, which is why National PTA developed The Smart Talk—an interactive resource that walks families through a series of guided questions to help them start a digital safety conversation and help parents and teens navigate the digital world together.

In addition to encouraging families to use The Smart Talk, National PTA has also been working with TikTok, the leading short form video app which is popular among teens, to educate families on the “Three T’s” of online safety: Talk, Try, Teach.

  1. Talk to your teens about the apps they use, what they like, and if they aspire to become creators. National PTA’s The Smart Talk resource helps families navigate things like how to determine who should ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ your account, when to share photos or videos online and how to respond to negative comments or posts.
  2. Try the app together. Quality conversations stem from mutual understanding, so it’s important for parents to know and experience their teens’ favorite apps. For example, we encourage families to review resources like TikTok’s Youth Portal, Top Tips for Parents and Community Guidelines together as they discover how the app works and learn about the code of conduct that is expected for their online behavior.
  3. Teach your teens about the tools available in-app. We encourage families to show their teens how to find an app’s safety center and review the content together. For example, TikTok has several settings to control public presence/discoverability, followers, comments and more. In addition, TikTok’s Family Pairing lets parents link their own account to their teen’s account and directly set certain limits and controls, like the types of videos they can see and who can see their teen’s videos.

This year’s holiday season may look a bit different as social distancing continues. While families may not be able to see each other in person and travel may be more limited, technology has helped people to stay connected. Learning about online safety together and having open, ongoing conversations can help everyone have a positive experience.

For more tips and resources to help your family navigate the digital world and be safe online, visit PTA.org/Connected.


This post is sponsored by PTA Proud National Sponsor TikTok. TikTok is a supporting sponsor of National PTA’s PTA Connected initiative, which strives to help children act safely, responsibly and thoughtfully online. Through the initiative and National PTA and TikTok’s collaboration, National PTA and TikTok are helping parents learn more about how their teens are using TikTok; educating families about safety on the app; and guiding parents in having opening, ongoing conversations with their teens to ensure they are using social media productively and responsibly.  

National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service. No endorsement of TikTok is implied.

Alyssa Montchal is manager of programs and partnerships for National PTA.