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.

Lifetouch Memory Mission 2020: The Spirit of Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Parents Feel About Assessments in a Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Author: Leslie Boggs, National PTA President.

.

Back the Future: a New Dedication to a Continued Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

PTA Leader Helps School Step Outside Comfort Zone and Into Progress

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Daphne Callender, Fitness Instructor by day and PTA champion of Springfield Estates Elementary School (SEES) PTA in Springfield, VA, and her extraordinary school community in celebration of their 2019-2021 National PTA School of Excellence designation. The warm celebration with parents, staff and administrators included a delicious dinner, a decorated cake and the unveiling of their School of Excellence banner. As one of 19 PTAs in Virginia to earn the School of Excellence designation this year, Springfield Estates Elementary PTA had a great deal to be proud of. Through their year-long School of Excellence program, SEES PTA chose to focus on the inclusion and access to their ethnically, racially and socio-economically diverse community. As both a Title 1 neighborhood school and Advanced Academic Placement Center that pulls from eight different elementary schools, SEES PTA felt it was imperative to bring all members together to build community and celebrate their rich diversity.

Through their School of Excellence plan, SEES PTA took deliberative steps to make certain that all parents knew that they were invited to attend and participate in all PTA events, translating invitations into their five major languages: Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Urdu, and Arabic.  These invitations were personally distributed to all cars in the Kiss-N-Ride line and sent home in students’ folders. They also asked their Spanish-speaking parent liaison and English as a Second Language teachers to encourage and welcome parent participation at all PTA events. The PTA hosted an international food potluck dinner where families shared dishes from their culture and, to further welcome families with differing socio-economic statuses, they secured scholarships and gift certificates with one of their after-school STEM programs. It is clear that Springfield Estates Elementary celebrates their diverse and culturally rich environment and fervently believes it enhances the educational experience of their students and their families alike. Here is what Daphne shared about her work in the School of Excellence program:

“The National PTA School of Excellence Award program enabled our PTA committee to recognize that although we had a strong PTA, there was room for more family engagement and to make sure that feeling of welcome extended to each and every family at our school. Upon receiving the first email, I gave it a little bit of thought but didn’t know if I wanted to add something else to my already full schedule.  When I received the email that it was the absolute last day to sign up, I decided to go for it.  I then created a team of people who could help me implement and execute a plan for more family engagement. I would highly recommend the National PTA School of Excellence program to other schools because it helps to provide a goal to work towards.  I believe it easy to get stuck in doing what’s always been done. The program gave our PTA a focus and we worked on it together as a team.”

Congratulations SEES PTA and thank you for being a leader in building family-school partnerships!


Amy Weinberg, Manager Programs & Partnerships at National PTA.

Visit PTA.org/Excellence to learn more about the School of Excellence program and how your PTA can earn the designation.

How You Can Help Teachers Tackle Tough Topics

Today’s classrooms are heavily influenced by the communities in which they are located. In addition to teaching, educators often have to address challenging social ills such as bullying, youth violence and mental health issues—which impact students’ learning potential and can have long-term impacts on their well-being.

According to the 2018 “Voices from the Classroom” survey of America’s educators, teachers are concerned about school safety and want more training on how best to address school violence and improve student behavior using non-punitive strategies.

How can you as a PTA leader help educators with these issues?

WE Teachers Resource

To address the need for resources, Walgreens has launched WE Teachers, an initiative to support teachers and empower students. In partnership with the ME to WE Foundation and Mental Health America, the WE Teachers initiative provides all educators with free tools and resources to tackle issues related to youth violence, poverty, diversity and inclusion, bullying, and mental health and wellbeing.

WE Teachers is a resource for teachers to support students who have experienced—or are currently experiencing—traumatic situations, as well as to prevent those traumas in the first place. The goal is to help teachers create trauma-informed classrooms where there is a safe environment to foster student growth and an understanding of the impact of trauma and adverse life experiences—such as a student experiencing homelessness, feeling unsafe in their own neighborhoods or the trauma of being bullied.

Identify, Secure, Introduce and Help

Through WE Teachers, educators will access online digital training modules specially created to help them:

  1. Identify and assess the tough issues affecting their students
  2. Secure the tools needed to address the issues in a supportive manner
  3. Introduce new experiential learning techniques in the classroom
  4. Help students become more socially conscious, compassionate and engaged citizens.

The modules will begin rolling out online this fall and will be available to teachers across the U.S. and Puerto Rico in both English and Spanish. Introduce them to educators at your school at your next PTA meeting!

Shop Back-to-School Smart

Through September 7,  when customers shop back-to-school at Walgreens they join in the company’s commitment to supporting teachers across America. Shoppers can track the impact that ME to WE Proud Supporter brands are making at Walgreens.com/MeToWe. Customers can also make a direct impact through cash donations at the register, which will help fund additional WE Teachers resources for educators.

Nominate a Special Teacher for a $500 WE Teachers Award

Visit a local Walgreens stores to learn how to nominate a special teacher in their community for a WE Teachers Award. A minimum of 500 deserving educators will each receive $500 Walgreens gift cards to purchase classroom supplies—the average amount (and some teachers spend more) of a teacher’s annual out-of-pocket expenses. Teachers can also apply directly. To learn more about the WE Teachers Awards, visit Walgreens.com/MeToWe.

Be Internet Awesome: Host a PTA Connected Workshop This Year!

The 2018-2019 school year officially launched our PTA Connected digital initiative. We had 200 PTAs across the country commit to hosting a Be Internet Awesome workshop. Was it a success? Two of our grantees gave us the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a Be Internet Awesome grantee.

Erin Hill, a PTA leader at Pivik PTA in Plum, Pa., shared, “When our PTA was awarded the Be Internet Awesome grant from the National PTA and Google, our principal had told us the school district had held something similar a few years previous and only a few people showed up. The bar was set! We were going to get more than that this time…I hoped.”

Their principal’s main concern was that younger kids wouldn’t find this program useful, but as Erin points out, “kids using technology, getting on the internet, and even using social media are getting younger and younger. Our school… is K-4, and our kids are unfortunately at an age where they’re being exposed to some unpleasant things on the internet while their parents—me included—may think they have a few years before talks of responsible usage need to happen. When I saw this opportunity, I knew we had to apply.”

Each grantee received $1,000 to put on their event. What’s the best way to spend that grant money? Take a tip from Erin: “During the planning we decided to put most of the award money towards the food and giveaways. We figured a nicely-catered event with the opportunity for prizes would draw in more people.”

We understand PTA leaders are busy! Erin had some great guidelines for efficient planning and set up, sharing, “We used our cafeteria, which has a large screen where we projected the presentation. We decorated five tables with balloons in the breakout session colors (that corresponded with colored dots on attendees’ name tags), pens, markers, notepads and a large poster board. We allowed attendees to eat first, then after about 45 minutes of arrivals and eating, we had people go to their breakout session table. I had organized attendees into their groups prior to the event.”

Another pro tip from Erin? Get the right—and the right amount—of volunteers. Erin shared, “At our event, there were eight volunteers. We had three people at the check in table, passing out name tags and materials. We had three people handling the catering and food set up. Five of us, including some who helped in the previously-mentioned capacities, ran the breakout sessions. We had a parent volunteer deliver most of the presentation that National PTA and Google provided with the grant materials. We also had our district’s director of information technology present. He was able to provide some nice examples and tips because, one, he knows the technology being used by the kids, and, two, he has young children.”

Promoting your event is key! People need to know about the event and be excited about it. Dana Hansley of Dodge Elementary PTA in East Amherst, N.Y. noted that, “a key to promoting our event beyond the usual PTA route of emails and newsletters was an outreach to all of the teachers in the building with an explanation of the event and a simple graphic with important info like the event date, time and place. The majority of teachers in the building pushed out the graphic provided through their SeeSaw, Class Dojo and Remind accounts to parents. This additional layer of teacher support greatly impacted turnout and added weight to the subject.”

You might be wondering why PTAs are so excited about these digital workshops. Dana put it perfectly, saying, “hosting a Be Internet Awesome tech evening allowed parents an opportunity to talk through what it’s like to raise children in a digitally-connected world. This event empowered parents as they realized they were not alone in their struggles and concerns. They walked away more confident to set healthy boundaries in their households, armed with solid information they gleaned from breakout sessions and from one another.”

The event at Dodge Elementary was in high demand. “Many families who were unable to attend expressed great regret at missing the event, and inquired as to additional events,” stated Dana. “They needn’t worry, as our school principal asked us to do a Be Internet Awesome event twice next school year.”

Applications are now open for grants to host a PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshop. Apply today at PTA.org/Grants! Learn more about the PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshops at PTA.org/BeInternetAwesome.


About the Authors:

Erin Hill, of Pittsburgh, PA, is chair of multiple PTA committees and was PTA President of Pivik PTA during the 2018-19 school year. She has two children, a fourth grader and kindergartner. Without the internet, she wouldn’t know how to do common core math, what to make for dinner, how to dress, what was happening at school or in the community, or how to get anywhere. The internet, she feels, is such a wonderful tool and opens so many informational doors for anything you could possibly want to know.

Dana Hensley is a PTA Co-President at Dodge Elementary School. She lives with her husband and four children in East Amherst, NY and spends her free time coaching her daughter’s soccer teams. She is a strong proponent of screen time limits for both children and adults and she spends too much time on Twitter. 

Parents Look to Find Balance of Fun and Learning This Summer

Summer is not necessarily a season where school and learning are at the forefront of people’s minds. To many people, summer is a time for vacation, camps, barbecues and fun. Sitting in a classroom and discussing education, however, is not usually on that list. Or so you may have thought.

After PTA events in Chicago and Louisville drew in large crowds earlier this summer, as many as 300 people attended one event in Chicago, whereas 1,500 attended another event in Louisville, it became clear that many parents are just as interested in staying invested in their children’s education over the summer as they are during the school year. For many parents, the only thing that changes during this time of year is the season.

“Parents are desperately looking for summer enrichment so that those months are a productive use of time,” said Vanessa, the Chicago Region PTA leader who hosted the listening session that had 300 people in attendance.

Summer is notorious for learning loss among students. Studies show that most students lose two months of mathematical skills over the summer, and low-income students lose another two to three months of reading as well. In order to combat this loss of learning, parents need to be looking for opportunities to help their kids learn. And for many parents, their local PTA is the one that provides access and information to these opportunities.

By hosting a listening session with your PTA this summer, you could be helping out many parents by providing them free resources. Everything in the Summer Learning Toolkit is free of charge and contains both academic and non-academic resources, making it accessible for people of all income levels and concerns. At the Louisville event, one parent even said in response to the toolkit that they had no idea it could be so simple, or so cheap, to continue their child’s education in the summer. The will is there for many parents, but the way is not always as obvious.

You might think that with children out of school and vacation on everyone’s mind that many members would not be interested in attending a PTA event in the summer. But Chicago and Louisville proved that many parents want to stay engaged during the break because it is arguably the most crucial time to do it. PTAs have a duty to help these parents out, so they should consider hosting a Summer Listening Session before the break is over. You never know just how many people you might help out until you do it.

For more information, visit https://www.pta.org/home/programs/connected/access/