Maximizing In-Person Learning in the Era of COVID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Tips for Leading with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Mind

Talking about diversity, equity and inclusion is the first step but to walk the walk, we need to look intentionally at different approaches and perspectives. Before you dive in, step zero is finding what motivates your diversity, equity and inclusion work. 

Checking Your Practices and Your Privilege 

Now that we reconnected with our why. Let us go and check our practices. We need to try them all and find the ones that are the best practices for our community. Yes, what works for my area might not work for yours, but if we need, we can adjust it or move to another practice. Once we find those best practices, we need to adopt and document them to help our PTA grow.  

It can be challenging to examine our privilege, but we need to understand what got us here, what we earned, and what we didn’t. We need to think about what we have and what we can give or start for the community. We need to consider when we make unconscious assumptions. Recognize talent and potential are equally distributed, but opportunity is not. 

Reducing Unconscious Bias 

To reduce our unconscious bias, we need to be aware of what it is and how it can affect the people around us. Our values, family experiences, culture, and experiences are huge factors in how we see, judge, and categorize others and ourselves. We need to question ourselves and the group we work with. Ask yourself: What evidence do I have? Is my opinion based on the truth? Is this always true? With this information, we can start creating inclusive practices for our events (meetings, programs, fundraisers, etc.).  

Creating a Welcoming Space 

Our greetings and acknowledgment are vital to setting the tone. A smile and cheerful hi make a difference. Move around. Don’t always sit with the same group. Make it a conscious decision to shift where your board members sit every so often. It says a lot when we are playing on our cellphones during meetings! If we disagree with something, we should provide constructive feedback rather than giving a negative response. If you are the lead for the event, ask for everyone’s opinion. We need to create a supportive dialogue where we acknowledge feelings and clarify our conversation so we can avoid assumptions. Be open to challenging questions and situations and make sure the final decision is balanced. 

Developing Leaders for Lasting Impact 

Dive into the data. In our PTA world, it doesn’t matter if 30% of your board is from minority groups if we don’t provide the opportunity to grow as leaders. Acknowledging intersectionality is important, highlighting invisible or layered identities of our community. Recognize that unconscious bias requires mitigation, not only training. Take the time, not the easy shortcut, and recognize non-linear experiences. We, as a group, need to explore the evidence, find a solution for all to move forward, and make sure to act.  

How PTA Leaders are Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth

Across the nation, states are seeing a dramatic rise in anti-LGBTQ sentiment, and particularly anti-transgender legislation. LGBTQ+ youth need PTAs to help protect their rights and stand up to bigotry. As we celebrate PRIDE month, here are stories of PTA leaders who are using their influence to support and celebrate LGBTQ+ youth.  

Celebration & Allyship in Round Rock, Texas 

As students at Canyon Vista Middle School returned to school following the COVID-19 school closures, teachers noticed an increase in acts of bias including the use of slurs against LGBTQ+ students. To address this increasingly hostile environment and to help LGBTQ+ students feel supported, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club set out to host their first annual pride parade in 2021. PTA president Aidan Larson got involved, partnering with teachers and GSA sponsors, including Paige Crain, to create safer spaces for LGBTQ+ students in their school.  

Their activism wasn’t free of pushback. Historically, the environment had been hostile, with educators opposing the use of rainbow safe space stickers in their school. Paige and the other sponsors didn’t let that stop them. With the PTA working hand in hand with Paige and the GSA, they marched forward with their plans to host the celebration. 

The 2021 Pride parade was a success, engaging folks from across the school district and a variety of exhibitors. The team had recruited a variety of partners including the Texas Freedom Network, Out Youth, and a local church who came to distribute pride flags. While families from around the district showed up, there was not universal support. 

To ensure the 2022 Pride parade could take place without issue, the PTA again partnered with the GSA. Aidan also met with the school principal to show support for the GSA’s ideas for Pride week.  

When a neighboring middle school PTA promoted Canyon Vista’s Pride parade, not only did executive board members voice their opposition, several resigned due to their discomfort. The PTA president stood her ground, understanding the importance of supporting LGBTQ+ youth. She even managed to find a silver lining to the situation. “It was a lot of pushback,” she shared, “but I think the important part is [that] it made room for people to see that this is what PTA is, and finally, maybe a place that we can be a part of — not a high school girls club.” 

Listening to LGBTQ+ Youth in Lynbrook, New York 

So often students are talked at, by parents, teachers, and coaches, and we forget how important it is for us to take time to listen. Ivy Reilly serves on the Lynbrook High School PTA and received a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) grant from National PTA’s Center for Family Engagement in 2022. She also worked to ensure LGBTQ+ youth thrive by offering them an opportunity to share challenges, barriers and concerns of being identified as part of the community. Ivy decided to focus on the LGBTQ+ community after noticing that many students transitioned during the COVID-19 quarantine. She wanted to make sure that LGBTQ+ students and transgender students in particular, were being supported by the PTA. 

Ivy coordinated with the school administration and the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) advisor to speak with GSA members. She approached the first conversation with a learning mindset. She knew she didn’t have all the answers and that she might not phrase everything correctly, but she didn’t let the desire for perfection stop her. Instead, she saw engaging students as a learning opportunity. “My job is to learn from you so I can help you,” she told them.  

Most of the conversations revolved around ordinary teen issues from extracurricular activities to homework, highlighting the commonalities LGBTQ+ students share with the wider student population. But occasionally more serious issues arose, including a child worrying about if their parent was embarrassed of them because of the way they look, and another student worried about their family sending them to conversion therapy. 

These conversations have motivated Ivy to work on getting LGBTQ+ resources added to the district’s website. She informed the principal about some of the needs that arose from these conversations. She’s also hoping to bring Challenge Day to the Lynbrook community to help build bridges of understanding at the high school. She shared that she remains dedicated to using the PTA platform to support LGBTQ+ youth. “Our goal is to take care of the kids,” she said. “Maybe we’ll get to the parents later, when they’re ready, but the kids need our support now.” 

What can you do? 

If these PTA leaders have inspired you to start advocating for LGBTQ+ youth, there are lots of things you can do to get started! Explore this map to find LGBTQ+ community centers near you, and consider partnering with them on programs, services or events. You can also connect with your school’s GSA. If your school doesn’t have one yet, help create one!  

For more ideas and inspiration, visit www.pta.org/LGBTQ for more resources, including an LGBTQ+ glossary and our podcast episode featuring leaders from the Human Rights Campaign.  

6 Tips for Keeping Children Safe From COVID This Summer

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

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

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

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

1. Get vaccinated against COVID as soon as possible

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

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

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

2. Stay up to date with COVID vaccines

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

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

3. Wear a mask

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Wash hands often

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

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

6. Test to prevent spreading COVID to others

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

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

The Achievery, Created by AT&T

Connecting students to a new world of digital learning

Student learning at The Achievery

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

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

Making online learning accessible… and fun

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

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

Learning Made Lively

Sample Activities from The Achievery

Make a Jumping Game

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

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

Your Story Matters

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

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

Parents take The Achievery for a test drive

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

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

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

The Achievery is live!

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

Get started: theachievery.com

What Parents are saying about The Achievery

Toia Elliott, Indianapolis, Indiana

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

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

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

Michelle Grenell, Muskegon, Michigan

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

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

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

Nicole Alexander, West Linn, Oregon

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

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

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

——————————

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

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

We Are Well Beyond Enough Is Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping Families Navigate Today’s COVID-19 Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How PTAs Can Prioritize Student Safety and Privacy Online

Happy female teacher assisting school kids during an e-learning class at elementary school.

[Content warning: This article contains discussion of self-harm and suicide.]

Across the country, young people are experiencing a concerning increase in mental health challenges—so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association have declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. But in Neosho County, Mo., the number of students requiring hospitalization for mental health crises has dropped significantly and no student has died by suicide in three years.

Neosho County students face the same set of stressors as their peers. One key difference is that the district has invested in a robust suicide prevention plan—and it’s making a big impact. A core component of Neosho’s student support plan is GoGuardian Beacon, which helps schools identify online activity on school-managed devices and accounts that indicates a risk of suicide, self-harm or possible harm to others. Beacon notifies designated responders to quickly activate a school’s response plan and get students help.

“I find the Beacon alerts incredibly helpful, not only for active-planning situations, but also for the kids who are just reaching out and need a little bit of help,” says Neosho Director of School Counseling Tracy Clements. “It has saved the lives of so many kids and improved the quality of life for countless others.”

Student Safety vs Privacy: Can We Have Both?

While Clements, like many other educators, views online safety tools as an important component of their suicide prevention program, these technologies aren’t without controversy. Parents and educators want to protect young people from self-harm and other threats, but they also worry about student privacy—not wanting sensitive information about their children to land in the wrong hands or be used inappropriately.

Micki Young, a parent and PTA volunteer in Grove City, Ohio, wants strong security set up on her children’s computers. “Especially with the rise in depression and suicides, if my kids were to type in something that was potentially triggering, I would expect them to be approached in a way that was appropriate for the situation,” she says. “I have no concerns with it being monitored. It’s your school computer.”

Nicole Perretta, a PTA leader in New York and mother of four, describes herself as a fan of online monitoring and, in particular, is concerned by the real-life impacts of online bullying. “We do a lot of talking about how to be accepting, but that barrier of a screen really does empower some people to say the nastiest things,” she says. “I think that if we could just pay attention to our kids’ mental health as it relates to what they’re doing online, we would be in a better position to head off some of that negativity that follows them throughout the day.”

That said, Perretta is generally cautious about sharing personal data online and wants her children’s school to involve parents in deciding what information is shared beyond school walls. “The school respects FERPA, but sometimes I’m like, I really would have preferred you have asked my permission to share that. I would just like to be able to police what goes out.”

Mary Sotomayor, another New York State PTA leader and mom of two, believes districts have a responsibility to monitor activity on school-issued devices. “If it’s a school-given laptop or computer, there should be no privacy,” she says, but as far as who sees the data, she says, “This should be a conversation between the guidance counselor and the parent. And it should end there.” She doesn’t think that schools or vendors should hold onto records. “All kids make mistakes. They’re children, they’re learning. If you’re going to hold something against me that the school found out about because of my computer when I was 12? Mmmm. That’s kind of scary.”

“There’s going to be some contention around this type of issue,” says Tennessee PTA President Dwight Hunter, “And there should be.” Tennessee PTA successfully advocated for a resolution on data privacy several years ago based on parental concerns about the data privacy policies of outside vendors. They are also supporting and encouraging families to communicate more with their children about online safety and mental health. “Having an open conversation is so key,” says Hunter.

Our Belief: It’s Not an Either/Or

National PTA believes that student safety and privacy don’t have to be in opposition. We support clear privacy and security policies that maintain the confidentiality of sensitive data that students and families share with schools and via online services. At the same time, we believe that technology can be a powerful tool in keeping students safe. The question we think every community should be asking is, “How can families and schools partner to ensure student safety and privacy at the same time?”

Parents can play a role in supporting online safety and privacy practices by speaking up about where school or community communication is lacking on these issues and by advocating for policies that protect both their children’s health and their data.

Does Your School Practice T.A.C.T.?

Teddy Hartman, Head of Privacy at GoGuardian, suggests we think about online safety the same way we think about safety at school. Parents can and should expect schools to keep children safe while in a classroom or on a field trip—that they will be in the company of vetted adults, aboard school buses that have passed inspection, etc. Hartman asks, “If we extend that thinking to the digital learning environment, what sort of expectations do parents have for the school?”

Hartman, a parent and a former educator himself, suggests that parents and PTA leaders start by focusing on four elements collectively known as T.A.C.T.

  • Transparency
    Make sure your school system publicly shares a list of all technology vendors, the data privacy protections each vendor (and the school) has in place, the specifics of when and on which devices the technology will be active, and how these technologies are being used to support student safety. (With GoGuardian Beacon, schools can activate the School Session Indicator, an additional layer of transparency that displays on any device being monitored.)
  • Access
    Schools must be careful in deciding who has access to sensitive student data, and parents have a right to ask who has authorization to view their child’s information at the school and through the vendor. One way to check on a vendor’s data practices is to see whether the vendor has signed into the Student Privacy Pledge or has been certified by a third-party like iKeepSafe.
  • Communication
    Schools should provide information on what parents can expect if their child’s online activity generates an alert. Schools and parents can also help one another by holding community dialogues about suicide and self-harm prevention and by sharing tools to support better mental health. The National PTA Healthy Minds program has resources and guidance for both families and PTA leaders.
  • Teamwork
    Technology is only one piece of student support. Schools should have clearly articulated protocols for how to handle a self-harm notification and a team of mental health professionals trained both on the software and how to respond to alerts.

Protecting students online doesn’t need to be a polarizing issue. Start a conversation with your principal about how your school is putting student safety and privacy into practice. We owe it to our children to take a thoughtful, nuanced approach to their privacy and safety—together.

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GoGuardian is a Proud National Sponsor of PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service. No endorsement is implied.

Plan Your PTA Day of Service on BAND

PTA has been making a difference for 125 years, and there’s still so much work to do to make every child’s potential a reality! That means working together to meet the diverse needs of families and school communities. National PTA is inviting all PTAs to register, plan and host a Day of Service event before June 30 in celebration of the association’s milestone anniversary.

Participate to …

  • Show your community who you are and what you do!
  • Connect your work to the PTA network!
  • Elevate the PTA mission by showing our collective impact.

Planning and hosting a Day of Service event should be easy and fun! We know that PTA leaders already have too much on their plate—and handling everything on multiple platforms can be disorderly, which adds to the stress. You need a tool that will help you succeed.

Enter BAND, the one-stop-shop app PTA leaders are using to communicate with their board and members, plan events and increase parent involvement.

Plan, collaborate and keep track of all things Day of Service in one place. Invite your PTA members and start planning on BAND!

1. Create your BAND!

Customize your BAND with your school group and your own photo!

2. Invite Your Planning Committee & Volunteers

Send them a QR code or Link

3. Set Up a Pre-Planning Meeting

Enter details of your meeting into the calendar: share a location, a photo, a file, and even a link! Then set a reminder for people to join. Click done and share it as a post.

4. Vote on Your Service Project

Click into ‘Post’ and select ‘Create a Poll.’ Customize to allow for secret voting, single or multi-selection, and even set a deadline.

5. Promote Your Project

Plan together by deciding on messaging, scheduling meetings and events, posting task lists, and uploading materials for promotions.

6. On the Day of

Capture photos and videos and organize them into an album to share!

Want to see how the app works? Watch how BAND helps real PTA leaders stay organized with their Board and members!

BAND is a one-stop-shop group communication app for PTAs to collaborate with members, plan events, and get parents involved. PTA leaders can effortlessly streamline communication and stay organized in one place. Through BAND’s alliance with the National PTA, they are on a mission to help build on strong partnerships among parent volunteer leaders, teachers, and students. To learn more about BAND, visit this webpage.

BAND Proud National Sponsor of National PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service.

Encourage Healthy Habits at School with Welcome Back Packs

Tips and resources to help curb the spread of illness in the classroom

As in-person learning continues in schools across the country, Lysol and National PTA want to remind students of healthy habits in the classroom that can help curb the spread of illness, including COVID-19.

Lysol developed Welcome Back Packs in partnership with the CDC Foundation to provide schools and educators with resources to help reinforce CDC guidelines. Welcome Back Packs include materials such as:

  • Lesson plans co-created with educators to help students learn healthy habits such as handwashing, social distancing, wearing a mask, proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, and helping to prevent germ spread in classrooms
  • Stickers and decals to take the guesswork out of social distancing, including:
    • “Here” stickers to place around the classroom to indicate where to stand
    • Germ hotspot stickers to call out where germs are usually found
  • Educational posters to place around schools where healthy habit reminders are needed 

Lysol is excited to offer free Welcome Back Packs to National PTA members. To sign up for Welcome Back Packs with healthy habit resources to use around your child’s classroom and schools, please visit Lysol.com/WBP.

For more information on healthy habit resources, please visit Lysol.com/HERE. Lysol is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service.