Building an Army to Prevent Bullying

Spotlight on Carlstadt PTA:

Ever since I heard the news about a 12-year-old girl from Rockaway, N.J. committing suicide due to bullying, I couldn’t shake the story.

Maybe I couldn’t shake it because I live in New Jersey, and my daughter was 12-years-old at the time I heard the news. Or, maybe it was because it was unfathomable to me that we lived in a society that would allow someone to feel such great pain that they felt the only solution was to take their own life.

That 12-year-old girl’s name was Mallory Grossman. She was a beautiful young girl with a heart of gold and so much potential. She was an amazing gymnast and cheerleader, and she loved making crafts in her spare time. Unfortunately, a group of students at Mallory’s school didn’t see all of her amazing qualities. They relentlessly bullied her. After Mallory’s death, her mom, Dianne Grossman, started Mallory’s Army to speak out against bullying.

As president of Carlstadt PTA, I love coordinating all the “usual” fun things that most PTAs do—fundraisers, field trips, family nights. But I knew I couldn’t let this news story just fade away, especially with National Bullying Month fast-approaching. So, I collaborated with our PTA board and the school administration to help arrange an assembly featuring Dianne for our middle school students (and parents) in October 2018. This type of somber, anti-bullying assembly was newer for us to sponsor, but felt important.

[Editor’s Note: Carlstadt PTA recognized that this assembly would cover sensitive content and worked hard in advance of the assembly to make sure that families were aware and in support of the planned subject matter, using several forms of communication including their PTA’s Facebook page.]

It was an intense, life-changing assembly. Dianne broke things down in a raw, candid way. She started off by engaging the students in an exercise that helped them see that they do have things in common even if they may not all be friends. Dianne shared her own experience of being bullied as a child at school for being “the poor kid” and described to the students how those words made her feel, and how eventually she began to internalize and believe the taunting and shaming of her classmates.

Thankfully, Dianne was able to overcome the bullying through positive self-talk. Sadly, Mallory could not.

During the assembly, Dianne gave specific examples of the intense bullying Mallory experienced. Dianne did not sugar-coat how ugly things got, which helped the assembled students realize the severity of the bullying. Dianne showed a large poster-sized picture of Mallory on an easel and recounted what the bullies did over time to her daughter. The teasing started with Mallory’s backpack, so Dianne put an X over it in the picture. It wasn’t “cool” to wear a necklace like hers, so the necklace got an X. Eventually, Dianne asked the audience to say “Sorry, Mallory!” as she attempted to erase the X marks from the picture, but of course the marks were in permanent ink and could not be erased. This helped underscore to the students that hurtful words are not easily erased.

Dianne went on to explain how the bullies would not allow Mallory to sit at their table during lunch, how they texted her cruel messages, sent her screenshots of unkind and untrue comments they posted about her on social media, how they told her to kill herself.

The most pivotal moment of the assembly came when Dianne said, “I can now answer those bullies when they asked Mallory, ‘When are you going to kill yourself?’ Because the answer is June 14, 2017.” The students in the auditorium gasped, and many cried.

Unsurprisingly, Dianne had everyone’s full attention for the hour and a half she presented. For most of the assembly, you could have heard a pin drop. Some students needed to leave the assembly briefly to compose themselves. In that moment, I did worry that we had made the issue of bullying somehow too real and too hard for our middle school students—my heart was in my throat as this assembly continued. It’s so hard to know where to draw the line with sharing difficult content, and yet I reminded myself that Mallory herself had been a middle school student when she was bullied by other middle school students.

As I wrestled with my own emotions, I started to notice something quite amazing all over the auditorium: students holding hands, students consoling other students, hugging their friends, students checking on the ones sitting next to them—even students who admitted they were not friends during the earlier exercise. When the assembly ended, some students were still holding hands as they walked back to their classrooms. Not only did they learn the worst that can happen when you bully someone, they were united by it.

I hope that all who attended the assembly were forever changed by it.

As a fellow PTA leader, you may be wrestling with whether or not to sponsor a similar type of assembly at your school. It’s difficult, heart-breaking content. Oftentimes we want to shield our children from these difficult subjects or assume that “it can’t happen here.”

As PTA leaders, we often feel most comfortable organizing a game night or a teacher appreciation luncheon. However, having gone through this experience with our PTA, I would implore you to have your PTA tackle the “tough stuff” just as much as the fun stuff. We are in an important and unique position to drive meaningful conversations among students, faculty and parents.

I’m proud of our PTA for addressing this issue, and proud of our students for embracing Dianne’s message. We can’t bring Mallory Grossman back, but her army is growing.


While the PTA-sponsored event at Carlstadt tackled the issues of bullying and suicide by engaging Dianne and Mallory’s Army through an assembly, an additional option is to host a PTA Connected family night event to facilitate open, proactive dialogue between parents and kids together about issues like online safety, kindness, etc. Hundreds of these PTA Connected events are taking place nationwide during the 2018-2019 school year, with more slated in 2019-2020. Add yours to the growing list! Learn more about PTA Connected, including how to host an event and relevant resources available.

Additional Resources:

  • Connect for Respect Research shows that one of the most effective ways to prevent bullying behavior is to create a positive school climate. School climate encompasses everything that contributes to a student’s experience with a school—from the physical building to policies, staff and peer culture. Use the Connect for Respect (C4R) Toolkit to guide your PTA/PTSA in engaging students in improving the school climate and reducing bullying.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255.
  • David’s Legacy Foundation (Resource Hub)

About the guest contributor
Michele Romano has been a member and volunteer with Carlstadt Public School PTA in New Jersey since 2009. She was a local unit vice president for four years before becoming president in 2018. Michele has two daughters, a teen and a tween.

How Do You Become a School of Excellence?

Spotlight on: Zane North PTA, N.J.

What does it look like to become a National PTA School of Excellence? According to Zane North PTA in New Jersey, it meant learning that even small, consistent changes can be absolutely transformative.

As participants in the School of Excellence program, Zane North PTA selected the focus area of ensuring health & safety of all students with the specific objective to prevent bullying and encourage peer relationships. The Zane North PTA collaborated with school staff throughout the year to successfully achieve these goals.

At the start of the school year, students in Kindergarten through second-grade were partnered with students in third to fifth-grade. These buddy partners met once a week all year for one-on-one readers’ workshops. In September, Zane North PTA sponsored Friendship Day, a daylong event where students and their buddy partners participated in fun outdoor games, challenges and activities with PTA volunteers providing support. The music teacher also led the students in several song singalongs focused on the value of friendship.

At the start of each morning, Zane students recited a Kindness Pledge, promising to be kind to others. Zane North featured a monthly core value theme with associated lessons, events and activities. For example, in October, they focused on Respect; in November, they focused on Sharing and in April, they focused on Compassion. Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre presented an anti-bullying assembly for students paid for by the PTA. The PTA also funded anti-bullying and kindness assemblies to emphasize acts of kindness, tolerance, and acceptance.

Through the School of Excellence process, Zane North PTA realized the value in building a sense of community and strengthening relationships. They revised their fundraising strategy and introduced fun group activities like bowling and ice skating to bring their school community together. This change received positive feedback from their community, and they were able to raise just as much money (and in some cases more) while strengthening relationships too!

Greg Dollak, Zane North PTA President shared that the National PTA School of Excellence program helped the PTA “… rethink the traditional ways in which we provided services to our school community” and said that the School of Excellence process, “…has set the tone for all we are doing now.” Having earned the 2018-2020 National PTA School of Excellence designation, Zane North PTA decided to reenroll in the program and is currently in pursuit of the 2019-2021 designation.

Even though they’re still hard at work improving their school community, Zane North PTA isn’t afraid to celebrate all of the amazing things they’ve accomplished so far! Last fall, after getting word that they had received a coveted National PTA School of Excellence designation Zane North PTA held an event to celebrate their success. It was attended by representatives from New Jersey PTA, Collingswood borough government, Collingswood Board of Education members, Congressman Donald Norcross, and of course our Zane North staff, students, and PTA executive board. The event was even covered live on FOX 29’s “Good Day Philadelphia.”

During the event, Zane North’s fourth and fifth-grade students performed several musical numbers under the direction of music teacher Bryan Gross, and students from each grade read a message thanking the PTA for all they do for the school. Zane North PTA also held a National PTA School of Excellence “banner reveal” at the event. They were showcased in a local newspaper article, received a congratulatory letter from United States Senator Cory A. Booker, and even had the School of Excellence logo printed on their school apparel.

To learn more about how your PTA can make long-lasting, continuous school improvements while earning recognition, visit PTA.org/Excellence. Enrollment for the 2019-20 program is open now!

 

Lifetouch Memory Mission 2019: A Transformative Experience

 

By Ivelisse “Ive” Castro, National PTA NSR (National Service Representative)

What an honor and a privilege it was to represent the National PTA staff on the 2019 Lifetouch Memory Mission. I was thrilled to share this experience with Esther Parker (National PTA Elections Committee), Rose Acerra (New Jersey PTA President) and Hoang Bui (Secretary/Treasurer of the Iowa PTA.)

This year Lifetouch focused on building hope in the community of Juncos, Puerto Rico by taking a team composed of Lifetouch employees and Shutterfly employees, school administrators and members of national education groups such as ASAA, NAESP, NASSP, NSBA, National PTA and others to serve in rebuilding the Colegio Bautista of Juncos, a K-8 school that’s part of the First Baptist Church of Juncos.

Juncos is south-southwest of the National Park of El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest. The loss of basic utilities such as power and water only compounded the impact Maria had across the island of Puerto Rico. Among other devastating losses, the damage to schools in the area was severe.

This one-week mission took us first to Atlanta. I was intrigued. I live in Miami, Fla., so I wondered: Why go north to then go south? Why spent two days out of seven available days in Atlanta? Why not travel directly to Puerto Rico to have more time serving there? In Atlanta, I found the answer: Because when you want 42 people to work together as a team, to not be just helpers but servants, to have an enriching, transformative and memorable experience, you need to start by building your team and setting the foundation for success.

On Tuesday evening we traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, we arrived in Juncos and got divided into teams to work on different projects.

After construction on Saturday, we visited the homes of different families in the area to learn more about them. While driving to one of these homes, a student who came with us to translate for the group said something that summed up the spirit of the community.  He said, “I don’t like people asking about what happened to us before, during and after Hurricane Maria. That’s the past. We managed. We survived. We became stronger on our own as a result of it.”

On Sunday, we participated in the church’s service where they warmly thanked us for all we “gave” them—in fact, they gave us more than they can ever imagine. That day, Lifetouch distributed printed pictures of the students taken previously that same week.

This year, Lifetouch accommodated Puerto Rico PTA students from our Missionary Christian Academy PTA, and Kabod Christian Academy PTA. Our students and state leaders made us proud. If you want to get a sense of our time in Puerto Rico, I recommend that you watch these three Facebook Live videos featuring National PTA, the Puerto Rico PTA and their local units:

1) The National PTA team session

2) MCA & Julia Justiniano session

3) Kabod and Vivian Ruiz session

I’m so glad National PTA has this relationship with Lifetouch because I’m not aware of any other opportunity that brings the national education community together to learn and serve other education communities that teach us a lot about them and about ourselves.

I hope we will all continue to support the Lifetouch Memory Mission project by donating (funds will go to the 2020 mission) and by applying to join future missions—the 2020 Lifetouch Memory Mission will be in the Dominican Republic. I can assure you: you’ll gain more than what you’ll give.

This experience will live in me forever! Thank you, Lifetouch and my Memory Mission family. Thank you, National PTA, for the honor of being a representative of the National PTA family. Thank you to my Puerto Rican friends and Puerto Rico PTA family.

The Best School for My Daughter with Special Needs

When our daughter Stacey was diagnosed in third grade with three types of non-convulsive epilepsy and a related learning disability (called dyscalculia), my husband and I were at a loss about the best way to help her academically. This situation became even more complicated, as she concurrently began to struggle with motor skill functions, spatial issues and a lazy eye condition that required eye-patching.

Getting Stacey’s medical diagnoses was the easy part. Getting the academic solution was more of a challenge. Where should she attend school? What was the best environment for her to learn and thrive academically? She was already in a top, year-round public school but we didn’t know if Stacey should stay or be in different school, given her challenging issues.

We slowly began to visit and evaluate the many types of schools in our area: public schools, private schools, charter schools, magnet schools, state specialty schools—there were many choices available to us. One by one, the other schools told us that they didn’t understand Stacey’s issues, didn’t have the appropriate teaching staff to help her or simply could not accommodate or properly follow the type of IEP she needed.

The year-round public school Stacey attended turned out to be her best bet. They offered learning disability specialists, special equipment, disability counseling and testing, and dedicated grade-level teachers who could effectively use school resources to help Stacey learn and grow. They also helped her recognize and leverage her above-average language and writing skills, while also helping her decipher and manage her dyscalculia. Her high school algebra teacher even used M&M candies as manipulatives to help her understand algebraic concepts in an unconventional way.

In the end, Stacey successfully completed her K-12 school years in our public school system. She edited her high school newspaper, was tapped for Quill & Scroll Honor Society, earned numerous volunteer awards and received scholarships based on her essay about overcoming her disabilities. She gained admittance to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, her first choice, earning a B.A. in English and a Professional Writing Certificate. She went on to become a TV news producer for NBC and now enjoys a career in mortgage lending industry marketing.

We are so grateful that Stacey had such an exceptional experience in our local public schools. Her teachers helped shape and “launch” her despite her disabilities, fostered her love of learning, gave her confidence in her strengths and provided her with lifelong tools that continue to serve her today.


Linda Crandall serves on the board of North Carolina PTA and is the chair of the Special Education and Inclusion Committee.

 

Math Success is Attainable! With a STEM + Families Math Night SPOTLIGHT: Royal Ridge PTA (San Antonio, Texas)

 

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders who received STEM + Families Mathnasium Math Night grants. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

When the National PTA STEM + Families Math Night Grants, sponsored by Mathnasium, were announced, we knew we had to apply. Math Nights provide opportunities for families to experience math as a fun activity together and help students to view math success as attainable. They also expose families and students to math development services that are available in the community.

Everyone was so excited when our Royal Ridge Elementary School PTA in San Antonio, Texas won one of the 35 $1,000 National PTA STEM + Families Math Night Grants, sponsored by Mathnasium. We began planning right away and held our Math Night Jan. 25, 2019. We marketed the event using yard signs, flyers and letters in both English and Spanish, marquee and school announcements, social media posts and emails from the principal.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. More than 200 students and family members, as well as 89 volunteers, from the community and four local NHS chapters attended. Smiles were everywhere, and attendees rated their enjoyability of event as extremely high (i.e., average of 4.99 on a scale of 1–5) on their post-event surveys.

That was gratifying, because we worked hard to ensure the event was welcoming and inclusive. We used marketing materials in both English and Spanish, offered dinner for everyone who attended and publicized the prizes for attending and participating (we had Mathnasium scholarships, two $100 and $50 gift card drawings and several ThinkFun games provided by National PTA).

We also had a welcome table for volunteer check-in and photo releases, where we shared literature about PTA membership and upcoming events to set a professional, organized tone. The teachers who attended were free to take their own children through the activities, as all activities were run by NHS students. After totaling up the costs, we spent just $850 of our $1,000 National PTA STEM+ Families grant money.

Our lessons learned were twofold:

First, it is critical to recruit student volunteers and plenty of them. Plan on at least 60 high school students and three to five PTA coordinators to run the welcome table and hand out clipboards with instructions to complete photo releases or sign in as volunteers. If your PTA is serving dinner during the event, make sure you staff the food table with at least five students and one adult. We did this, and it worked quite well.

Second, consider holding your event in the largest area possible. Ours was in the cafeteria, and this proved a bit small. It may be helpful to use two gyms if there are two available.

We will sponsor another Math Night next year. This was our most successful and heavily attended event. It also had the closest tie to curriculum and success of our students. It was wonderful to see students and families so engaged!

Susie Engi Raiford, PhD is the PTA Secretary and Fundraising Chair at Royal Ridge Elementary in San Antonio, Texas, where her husband Robert is PTA president and son George attends third grade. She is a clinical psychologist, intelligence test developer, and published book author.

Editor’s Note: This PTA’s event was significantly larger than is typical for a Math Night. Depending on your school population and expected attendance, you may not need to reserve as much space or as many volunteers.


Franchise Feature: Kobad Bugwadia (Mathnasium of Campbell-Los Gatos, Calif.)

Kobad has co-hosted five National PTA STEM + Families Math Nights so far. Almost all the events have drawn crowds of 250-400 students, parents and teachers. His excitement comes from the parents getting enrolled in the process and seeing the smiles on their faces.

Math Nights make parents feel empowered to be able to play and work with their kids, showing that math can be something fun and not intimidating. His main motivation in co-hosting the STEM + Families Math Nights is connecting with his community and giving back. Kobad’s goal is to show the Magic of Math, he is not there to sell a product, but rather to engage with families and help them overcome the intimidation many can feel about math.

Kobad’s pro-tips:

  • Hungry isn’t happy: Always provide attendees with food, drinks and snacks.
  • Heavily marketing your event means higher turnout: He recommends having the principal announce the event at a school assembly and creating fliers for students to take home.
  • Recruit Volunteers: Making sure every station has a leader. Kobad has helped schools recruit middle school and high school students to come back to their elementary school and help run the math stations.
  • Give them a goal: Have a raffle prize for completing all the stations!

Kobad is a single-center owner who is going gang-busters with Math Nights. He is regularly sharing stories of success and positive feedback from the schools he works with in his area.

Take Action:

Disclosure: Mathnasium is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 2018 – 2019 National PTA STEM + Families Math Grant, sponsored by Mathnasium. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are his/her own.

Student Data and Privacy: A California PTA Advocacy Story

“What is this, it looks bad?” Is never a text you want to receive, no matter what it’s about, but it’s particularly concerning when it’s about something that will impact your children. But a few savvy PTA leaders sent that exact text to me when I was president of California State PTA in February 2016.

They had been looking on the California Department of Education website for some information for their local legislation conference when they noticed an obscure button at the top of the website which said, “Objection to Student Disclosure.” After reading it, they immediately called and texted me.

I took a quick look and contacted the California State PTA’s Executive Director, Sherry Griffith to do some more in-depth research. We discovered something very unsettling. Due to a federal district court ruling, the court could require information including the name, Social Security number, home address and more data on every student who attended public school in California since Jan. 1, 2008—more than 10 million students—be made available to a court-appointed data analyst so that it could be analyzed for a court case.

Protecting the safety of children and their school records online, while ensuring access to high-quality digital educational opportunities, is critical in the 21st century. Meaningful education data can provide an immense array of benefits to students, parents and teachers. Accurate and accessible student data can assist teachers and families in creating more personalized learning plans to meet the needs of every child. However, no system is perfect, and California State PTA recognized the need for policies that ensure children’s identities are protected online, and families and students have reasonable control over the collection, storage and use of relevant personal education information.

California State PTA has been an advocate of our children since our founding and we have always held a special focus on our most vulnerable children including those receiving special education services, foster and homeless youth and those struggling with poverty. With that, California State PTA had a long history of upholding the privacy rights of its state’s students. It was hard to fathom that a judge would allow such an overexposure of children’s private information.

There wasn’t much time to get the word out to parents that their student not be included in this action—an opt out form had to be filled out, mailed and delivered by the April 1 deadline. California State PTA went into action. We got several key state-wide PTA leaders and staff together to come up with a plan. We would put the word out to encourage parents to opt their children out of the ruling.

We sent an email alert, posted on social media, made phone calls, sent out press releases and took advantage of every communication channel directly to units with clear messaging. We knew that if enough parents took action, our message would be heard loud and clear.

Our campaign was a success, with over a 90% email open rate. Fast and swift action by PTA members, leaders and other parents helped to spread the word far and wide as well. By April 1, the judge had received over 400,000 opt out requests, several letters, news and media coverage and pressure from other agencies to forgo the action and search for another alternative. Due to our quick action, communication and advocacy efforts, the judge chose another method for acquiring the information for the case without students’ personal data being used.

California State PTA believes data, when used with student privacy in mind, can be transformational. Data collected for the California State School Dashboard and Support System and data collected for the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) are just two examples of how data helps educators, schools, parents and communities strengthen learning opportunities and promote equity for children in California. When we work to improve our places of learning with meaningful data while ensuring the privacy and safety of student information, students reap the benefits.


Justine Fischer is the immediate past president of California State PTA.

 

Super Parents, Super Readers!

Every year, PTAs across the nation host Take Your Family to School Week events to celebrate National PTA’s Founder’s Day.

This year, with the support of Office Depot OfficeMax, National PTA awarded $1,000 to 15 local PTAs to host a National PTA program during Take Your Family to School Week, Feb. 10-17. Congratulations to the 2019 Take Your Family to School Week Grant Recipients who hosted a variety of successful events.

One of the great events held during this year’s Take Your Family to School Week is Stringtown Elementary PTA’s superhero-themed reading night, “Super Family Literacy Night.” This event offered a book giveaway for every family, a free meal, reading activities and more. All of the night’s activities encouraged every family member to consider themselves “super readers.”

As the event was the of its kind, Stringtown Elementary PTA didn’t know what to expect. But turnout was higher than expected, with around 150 people in attendance! Many of the parents expressed initial hesitation to attend because of their own discomfort with reading, but that didn’t stop them from having a great time once they arrived! Some families even surprised themselves with how much fun they had.

One mom shared that she normally just brings her daughter to school dances or the school carnival. She almost didn’t come to the literacy night since she thought her daughter might not find it fun. But, by the end of the night, the mom shared with a PTA leader that the event “was is the most fun we’ve had out of ALL the events we have been to at our school! My daughter doesn’t want to leave!”

In addition to increasing the confidence and interest in reading among both parents and students, the event was an opportunity to bring more exposure to the great work of Stringtown Elementary PTA. The PTA officers were able to connect non-PTA families at the school with opportunities for future PTA involvement, something families were requesting by the end of the night.

The Stringtown Elementary PTA plans to host another literacy night because, as Jenny Howard, a PTA teacher liaison and board member, explained, “It only takes one event to help build the bridge between school and family, and this is the one that did it for us!”

This Family Reading Experience was a huge success for Stringtown Elementary—and it can be for your PTA as well! You can host a literacy event at your elementary school by visiting PTA.org/Reading to access tips and resources for hosting your event as well as Reading Is Fundamental’s PTA Portal for suggested book lists and accompanying activities.

 

A Public Investment in An Average Kid

I consider myself a lucky person.

I tend to win stuff: a trip to an exotic island, an ocean cruise, a skype dinner with Anderson Cooper (when he had his talk show years ago) and even an opportunity to meet a sitting President, but with the celebration of Public Schools Week, I consider myself lucky to have had the public education I received growing up in my hometown in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Was it really luck, though? I attended public schools my entire life—Houston Elementary School, then Colerain Jr. High and graduated from Colerain High School (during the “big hair” 80’s)—without any particularly outstanding academic achievements, volunteer service hours or notable athletic talent that so many high school seniors are required to have these days. I was what most would consider an average kid and an average student.

What was it, then, that made my public education experience enough for me to succeed in life?

It was the promise that my public education was an investment in the future of society and in me. The promise that every child has value and worth and should be given the right to learn regardless of gender, ethnicity, color, religion or socio-economic status. I had an education that fostered my love of art, AND I had teachers whose influence and encouragement would lead me to my career in graphic design and my vocation as a public-school advocate.

In junior high, my French teacher Mrs. Wyatt, sponsored a poster contest for International Week. I entered and, to my surprise, I won! My prize was a beautiful hardcover copy of The Little Prince, lovingly inscribed (in French) by Mrs. Wyatt. I still own it today. Was this the start of my lucky streak? Perhaps. I do know what winning that contest did: it planted a seed that made me think that my love of art could lead to more prizes and, as a tween, that was a great motivator. Merci, Mrs. Wyatt, for planting that seed for future growth.

I also remember my high school art teacher, Mrs. Hilliard, making me pick my drawing out of the garbage when, out of frustration, I’d ripped it off my drawing board and tossed it in the trash. Her faith that I’d started something worth finishing exemplifies just one of the many ways a public-school teacher can positively impact a child. That drawing went on to win a Scholastic art award and I’ll never forget Mrs. Hilliard and her ability to see in me something I couldn’t yet see in myself.

My love of art led me to college after high school and eventually a career in graphic design. My community had made the investment in my public-school education which, as an adult, led me down a path to advocate for the very thing I was afforded so many years ago as a child: an opportunity to succeed through a high-quality, public education.

I live in Michigan now and have given back through thousands of volunteer hours in PTA, advocating for Michigan kids in public education as the Michigan PTA Federal Legislative Chair and in my own children’s school district through public service as an elected school board Trustee. I never forget that all of this is possible because of what society invested in me: the average student, with average grades but with a talent and love for art.

That’s why I’m #PublicSchoolProud. How about you? Read more about Public Schools Week and ways you can support our nation’s public schools.


Barb Anness is the federal legislative chair for Michigan PTA.

Public Schools Are the True Land of Opportunity

Did you know that nine out of every 10 children in the United States attend a public school? Or that there are almost 51 million students in those public schools, being taught by just 3.2 million full-time teachers? It’s hard to grapple with numbers that massive. How is it possible that our public schools offer so many different opportunities for so many different children, all with their own hopes, dreams and goals? I look back on my own public-school education with these numbers in mind and I am amazed at the education I received.

I grew up in South Bend, Ind. My school district didn’t have the most resources, but I remember my school had everything from cooking and sewing classes, shop class, automotive class, computer classes, debate and discussion classes, as well as every sport and musical group you could ever desire to join. Even as my teachers supported and guided me towards my ultimate goal of becoming an attorney, they encouraged me to explore and test out other micro-career paths through those classes. I look back so fondly on those experiences and I know that they helped me become a well-rounded adult.

When I grew up, got married and had children of my own, the question of where they should be educated was a no-brainer. Though we had moved to Colorado, of course our children would be educated in Aurora Public Schools. When we toured the school and met with the teachers and principal before they enrolled, I was struck again with admiration for the sheer amount of choice public schools offer each and every day for each and every child.

Public schools must be a jack of all trades. In addition to the usual classes most people think of, public schools also deliver language services, food pantry services, before and after school care, IB and AP programs, arts programs, concurrent enrollment, along with mental health and counseling services. We so often take public schools for granted, forgetting how amazing it is that every student in this country has the undeniable right to a high-quality, equitable education that provides them the opportunity to grow to their full potential.

And while our public schools educate our children, they also have a profound impact on the people they grow up to be. It is our public schools that will prepare the entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, lawyers, artists and political leaders who will ensure that our nation will flourish in an increasingly competitive global economy. It is our public schools that provide opportunities and experiences they would never otherwise encounter, and they have done this for over 200 years.

That’s why I’m #PublicSchoolProud. How about you? Read more about Public Schools Week and ways you can support our nation’s public schools.


Marques Ivey is the vice president of advocacy and chair of the legislation committee for National PTA.

 

 

Why I’m #PublicSchoolProud

My youngest son is truly my special gift. Tyler is a bright light, who makes our family and our world complete. He is smart, funny, warm, kind-hearted and autistic. He is enthusiastic about learning new things and inspires all who know him every single day. But he was also non-verbal until the age of six. I see the amazing person he is today and often wonder if Tyler would have made the same great strides without a quality public education.

What if his public school didn’t offer an outstanding program for students with special needs? Would he still be the thriving and productive young man that he has become? Would all of his unique emotional, cognitive, mental and emotional needs have been met in any other setting? As I ponder these questions, the only answer I can come up with is no, absolutely not!

His public school provided him with exceptional educational services and opportunities and opened doors to a wide variety of possibilities and inclusivity. We were blessed with a multitude of extraordinary educators and specialists who nurtured and shaped Tyler, who taught and guided him and who showed their complete devotion and commitment to his progress. They supported him, encouraged him, boosted him and helped him to achieve his full potential, as they helped him navigate through and overcome any obstacles that may have crossed his path along the way.

It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a team of educators, administrators and family members to mold that child into his or her very best self. Our team, in our Sachem Public Schools village on Long Island, is second to none! Tyler graduated from high school in 2018 with a New York State local diploma and I will be forever grateful for all they have done to ensure that his future is full of hope and promise.

Public education is our nation’s greatest hope. It is the promise that all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, learning abilities or disabilities, have a right to a free and appropriate education that will meet their diverse needs. It is public school that gives every child an equal chance to grow into a successful and flourishing member of society. A public education lays the foundation for a lifetime of opportunity and accomplishment.

Tyler is my reason to be #PublicSchoolProud. What’s yours? Read more about Public Schools Week and ways you can support our nation’s public schools.


Dana Platin is the vice president of New York State PTA.