Inclusion Matters: Engaging Families of Students with Disabilities

Student with a disability

A few years ago, a flyer came home from my child’s high school announcing the first annual sensory-friendly school dance. Knowing that a school event was planned with the needs of all students in mind made me, a parent of children with disabilities, feel that my family was included in a meaningful way. When I found out the event was planned by other families like mine—not by the school or PTA, I was deflated.

My middle school aged son is one of the seven million students in the U.S. who receive special education services. That means that nearly 14% of all students in the U.S have been identified as having a disability that requires support at school. And that even doesn’t include students who haven’t been identified as having a disability or students who have a disability, but don’t need special education support.

Inclusion and Belonging are at the Heart of Family Engagement

When we use statistics and numbers, it’s easy to overlook the people behind them. Simply put, those numbers mean there are a lot of families like mine craving meaningful connection and inclusive family engagement.

The updated National Standards for Family-School Partnerships ignites my hope that education leaders, including PTA leaders, can help meet the needs and desires of students with disabilities. The six standards outline exactly not just why, but also how, leaders can advocate for students with disabilities. Here’s how that looks:

  1. Welcoming all families into the school community requires an understanding of the barriers families face. Students with disabilities and their families may feel isolated and excluded from school communities due to barriers you are not aware of. Simply asking families what they need to feel welcome is advocacy and builds a sense of belonging.
  2. Communicating effectively with families of students with disabilities is not always easy. Many of us have had negative experiences, some of which are based on the misunderstanding that we do not want to be asked about how PTA can accommodate our children’s disability. Even acknowledging that you are not sure what to ask is a start.
  3. Supporting student success means creating safe and supportive spaces where it’s believed that all students can succeed. Talking to families to let them know that you believe their children can meet their full potential is key in supporting success. You can start by asking one simple question: Do you have suggestions for how we can better or more authentically represent disability in our PTA?
  4. Speaking up for every child takes some pressure off families like mine, who are used to speaking up for our children’s rights and for educational policies and services that support our kids. When you speak up for and with us, you become an additional voice of support, a person we can trust, and someone who sets the standard for speaking up against bias.
  5. Sharing power requires you to be open to new ideas and different perspectives. It is also realizing that you can learn from families of students with disabilities. If you’re unsure if every voice is represented and considered in the decisions you make, ask: Do you feel comfortable raising disability-related concerns?
  6. Collaborating with the community means recognizing that the disability community extends beyond your school district and beyond the families in front of you. Include organizations that have their pulse on what’s happening in the disability community and people who are united by the experience of being disabled.

Building strong family-school partnerships is a shared responsibility

As a PTA leader, you can take the lead in applying the updated National Standards for Family-School Partnerships to your relationships with families of students with disabilities. But strong family engagement only happens when all parties are engaged. That’s why I’ve partnered with National PTA to create a series of fact sheets, questions, and conversations starters for each standard.

You can help enhance communication practices between school administrators and parents like me by sharing Strengthening Family-School Partnerships for Students with Disabilities.

National PTA has also published several policy resources, including a Position Statement on The Education of Students with Disabilities, Resolution on High Expectations for Students with Disabilities, and a Position Statement on Safe and Supportive Schools to support inclusive advocacy efforts at the local, state, and federal level.

Amanda Morin is an educational consultant, a former teacher and early childhood specialist, special education advocate, and author of five books, including The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. She is also the mother of three children, two of whom have disabilities.

The Personalized Learning Children Deserve

Smarter Balance The Personalized Learning Your Child Deserves

Looking for resources to personalize learning and support teachers in meeting your child’s individual needs? Smarter Balanced tools go beyond end-of-year testing! 

We support teachers in meeting the individual needs of children throughout the year with lesson plans and classroom assessment. Our tools help to provide accurate measures of achievement and growth while challenging students to think critically and solve real-world problems.

  • A core principle of our system is accessibility and equity for students. Our tools include unmatched accessibility features designed to support students and remove access barriers—allowing them to demonstrate what they know and can do.
  • We offer easy-to-use instructional strategies and activities that enhance teaching and learning and support flexibility, autonomy, and equity.
  • We support teachers around decision-making with actionable information for daily instruction, planning throughout the year, and data for local, regional, and statewide improvement.

We are committed to doing what is needed to equip both educators and parents with tools that help them clearly identify where students are in their learning and what information they can use to support growth.

We know that parents want to be highly involved in their child’s education, and desire clear information about where their student excels or needs help; actionable resources; and feedback about their student’s progress. Whether it’s learning about the tools available to students or the types of content they’re learning, it’s important to have a bigger picture of your child’s education. Teachers are essential partners and trusted messengers when it comes to conveying information about student progress to parents.

Parents can continue to engage in their child’s education and help pave each students’ path toward growth by diving into insightful resources. With a complete picture of their child’s learning, knowledge and skills, parents can start smarter conversations with teachers about what they can do to support learning at home. 

Check out these Smarter Balanced tools today! 

  • Guides to help parents understand their child’s score reports,
  • Tips for making the most of conferences with their child’s teachers, and
  • Practice tests, sample items, and more!

Learn more about Smarter Balanced family resources at: https://smarterbalanced.org/our-system/students-and-families/ 

Author: Bryce Carpenter, Ph.D., Executive Administrative Officer, Smarter Balanced

Smarter Balanced is a member-led public agency that equips educators with tools to support students on a path to progress. As a member of the executive team, Dr. Carpenter’s focus areas are workforce development, strategy, governmental & external affairs, and communications. Dr. Carpenter is a lifelong public servant who believes in the transformative power of education and has committed his career to serving children and those who serve them.  

Why We Need a Parent Nation

I like to say that parents are children’s first and best teachers. And since science tells us learning begins on the first day of life—not the first day of school—the job starts early and lasts a lifetime.

A child’s early experiences, particularly those of rich language and responsive interactions with a loving caregiver, fuel early brain development. They catalyze the formation of new neuronal connections at astonishing rates, up to one million new connections per second. This rate of brain growth, linked to language, literacy, math, spatial reasoning and self-regulation, is never matched later in life. The more input a child receives, the stronger these neuronal connections grow—building the foundation for all future learning.

But we don’t do nearly enough to pass that science along to parents—the people in the best position to put it to use. Nor do we share it with society more broadly, so that parents and caregivers might receive the structural support they need and deserve. 

It’s time to remedy that.

I founded the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health at the University of Chicago and wrote a book called “Thirty Million Words: Building A Child’s Brain,” hoping to spread far and wide what science has revealed about the role of early language exposure.

Those findings are what motivate me and my team at the TMW Center to develop and study evidence-based strategies that help parents learn and apply the science of early brain development. But evidence-based strategies aren’t enough if you lack the time, resources and mental and emotional bandwidth to apply them. And America doesn’t do a whole lot to provide parents any of the above.

This became painfully apparent the more deeply I engaged with families at the TMW Center. Because our studies followed children from their first day of life into kindergarten, my team and I were getting to know many families up close and over time. The parents’ enthusiasm was thrilling. But real life—unpredictable work schedules, multiple jobs, lack of health care, structural racism, homelessness—would stand in the way of their best intentions again and again.

The bottom line is, we have made it exceedingly difficult for most parents to raise children in our country. It’s almost impossible for some. And until we make it easier for all parents to meet the developmental needs of their children—to fulfill their promise as brain architects so that their children may reach their full potential—our society will fail to reach its own.

We don’t need another research study to show that parents are important, or that rich conversation is key for children’s brain development.

What we need is a parent nation.

A parent nation, as I see it, is a society that cherishes and supports the love and labor that go into nurturing, raising and educating future generations. There is no limit on who can provide that love. So, I want to be clear that when I say “parent,” I mean any caring adult engaged in the work of raising a child.

Just as neuroscience tells us what to prioritize individually as parents, it can tell us what society should prioritize in order to optimize healthy brain development for all children. But if brain science offers blueprints, it is parents who do the building. Parents are the captains of their families’ ships, manning the helm. And just as every captain needs a crew, every parent needs the support and protection—including fair wages, paid time off and a social safety net—that will allow them to steer their families to safety.

I’d love to see parents band together in their workplaces and communities and talk to each other about their needs, hopes and fears. My team and I created an entire curriculum that’s free and downloadable on ParentNation.org for people to start Parent Villages—small groups or parents who come together to create community and push for change. That change could be working to get a lactation room at work, or a childcare center built near public transportation, or any number of things.

Together we can push for families to get the support they need and deserve. Being a parent can bring us to our knees. But it must also rouse us to our feet.

Dr. Dana Suskind is a pediatric cochlear implant surgeon, founder and co-director of the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health at the University of Chicago and the author of Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise.

6 Essential Back-to-School Supplies

Your average school supply list contains the usual suspects: No. 2 pencils, glue sticks, plus folders in every color of the rainbow. But these are just a few of the tools that fuel success in the classroom. Teachers and students need other items you might not immediately think of—and that might be missing from your classroom supply lists. 

PTAs can help source school supplies in a number of ways. Whether you DIY or delegate to a third-party vendor, PTA leaders can work to ensure each classroom list is complete. Here are six items worth considering (and why!).

1. Hand sanitizer and hand soap – As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, healthy habits are a must. Students are encouraged to wash their hands several times throughout the day, especially before mealtimes. Hand soap is most useful for classrooms with their own sinks, while hand sanitizer can get the job done when soap and water aren’t readily available. Either way, students go through these items quickly—which is why it’s important to make sure they never run out.

2.  Lysol® Disinfecting Wipes and Lysol® Disinfectant SprayDisinfecting wipes and sprays from Lysol are essential to help prevent the spread of illness-causing germs and tackle unexpected messes in the classroom. For peace of mind, many teachers disinfect high-touch classroom surfaces like desktops, doorknobs and light switches daily. Include these products on every class’s back-to-school supply list, and you’ll ensure a steady supply through cold-and-flu season and beyond.

3. Sandwich bags – Sandwich bags (ideally with zip-top closure) are super-handy for distributing individual portions of snacks, manipulatives or craft supplies. If students need to pause mid-way through an activity, they are perfect for storing loose pieces until the following day. Sandwich baggies are also useful for securing items that become broken or lost, such as a piece of jewelry or even a baby tooth that comes out during the school day! The list goes on, which is why every classroom should have a stock of sandwich bags (and reuse them as much as possible).

4. Pencil pouches – It’s all too easy for backpacks, desks and lockers to become littered with small school items. Students need an easy way to corral their writing implements, pencil sharpeners and such. Teachers tend to prefer pencil pouches to pencil boxes because they are more durable and less bulky—plus, they often sport loops to fit into three-ring binders.  

5. Earbuds – Technology has an ever-growing presence in the classroom, with many students using school-issued tablets or laptops. Earbuds are a great alternative to traditional headphones because they take up less room. When each student has their own pair of earbuds, they can easily make the switch to independent learning with their devices. Even if your school provides a pair of earbuds, it doesn’t hurt to buy extra, in case they become misplaced.

6. Academic planner – It’s never too early to help kids learn organization and time-management—and for young digital natives, a paper planner or personal organizer can be just the tool they need. Consider putting academic planners on the list for older students who can write proficiently, generally late elementary school and beyond. With an academic planner they can track homework assignments, upcoming tests and other important information (and relish the joy of crossing off those to-dos!). The ideal planner offers weekly and monthly views of their schedule, with the ability to customize school subjects. But many students enjoy the opportunity to pick the academic planner that works best for them.

A thoughtful school supply list captures everything teachers and students need to thrive in the classroom. Take a look at yours and see what items may need to be added—to ensure a fun, productive and healthy year for your entire school community.

Lysol is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA. This article contains sponsored content from third parties.National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service.

4 Ways Your PTA Can Simplify School Supplies

From crayons to calculators, students rely on a steady stream of school supplies to make it through the academic year. But securing these items can be a challenge for teachers and parents, especially when supply lists are long and they differ from grade to grade, even from classroom to classroom.

That’s where PTA leaders can step in to support teachers, facilitate student learning and make life easier for families. And no matter how your PTA chooses to get involved, this is also an opportunity to check that your classroom lists include all the essentials, including commonly overlooked items like Lysol® Disinfecting Wipes and Lysol® Disinfectant Spray. If your PTA is looking to help with school supplies, here are four models to consider.

1. Buy in Bulk

How It Works: With teacher supply lists in hand, your PTA can take on the lion’s share of the work by purchasing the necessary items in bulk, either in person or online. Once the supplies arrive, PTA members sort, assemble and distribute the school supply kits to every classroom.

How It’s Funded: In late spring or early summer, the PTA asks for contributions from each family (typically $20 to $45 per student, which is less than they would pay to buy the school supplies themselves). Parents can even make a tax-deductible donation to help cover supplies for those who are unable to pay. Any leftover money can be applied to the PTA general fund, and surplus supplies can be stored for the next school year.

Why PTAs Like It: Not only does this approach reduce much of the burden for teachers and parents, it also opens up short-term PTA volunteer opportunities for people who like to bargain-hunt or who only have a few hours to spare. Another bonus: Every student gets the same brand of markers, folders and so on—thereby leveling the playing field.

2. Work with a Wholesaler

How It Works: A growing number of companies will partner with schools to provide turnkey school supply kits, customized by grade. The PTA takes on the role of hiring and managing the third-party vendor, seeking teacher input and promoting the service to families. The completed kits are shipped to student homes—or, better yet, directly to the school so teachers can set everything up before the first day of class.

How It’s Funded: Parents order their supply kits online from the company (or opt out, if they prefer). Often, your PTA can receive a portion of the proceeds from each box sold.

Why PTAs Like It: “Parents love the ease of school supply shopping in just a few clicks. Long gone are the days of hitting up multiple stores to find specific items,” says Jennifer Finnegan, who manages the school supply program on behalf of Haycock Elementary PTA in Falls Church, Va. “The Haycock PTA is happy to provide this convenience, and it’s an easy win for the entire school community. ”

3. Funnel Funds to Teachers

How It Works: Classroom teachers know what they need to support their lessons plans, and they often have brand preferences, too. That’s why some PTAs choose to hold an annual classroom supply fundraising campaign. Then, teachers get to do all the shopping.

How It’s Funded: Families pay into a fund dedicated to school supplies. Some PTAs suggest a per-student contribution, while others follow a pay-what-you-can model. Either way, your PTA may choose to subsidize the fund as needed. The money then gets divided among classroom and specialty teachers, who purchase exactly what’s needed for their students for the entire year.

Why PTAs Like It: This approach gives teachers ultimate control over their classroom supplies, while again saving families time and ensuring equity among students. Meanwhile, kids still get to pick out their highly personal items like backpacks, lunch boxes and water bottles.

4. Close the Gaps

How It Works: Whether or not you pursue one of the options above, your PTA can further help teachers by setting up a grant program to reimburse them for any out-of-pocket expenses, up to a maximum amount (typically $100 to $250) per school year.

How It’s Funded: Your PTA may include this reimbursement program as a line item in your annual budget. Be sure to stipulate which kinds of purchases are eligible (defer to your PTA bylaws and guidelines) as well as the process for submitting receipts.

Why PTAs Like It: There is no question that too many teachers spend too much of their own money on snacks, crafts and other classroom supplies. PTAs can help teachers pay for qualified educational expenses when school budgets and supply lists don’t quite cover it.

Sourcing school supplies is just one more way your PTA can support teachers, parents and students—and help your entire community get off to a strong start each fall.

Here’s to another fantastic school year!

Lysol is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA. This article contains sponsored content from third parties.National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service.

What Makes a Strong Family Engagement Policy?

Ensuring that every child can reach their full potential means investing in meaningful, inclusive and culturally competent family-school partnerships. By prioritizing policies that uplift the priorities outlined in the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, PTAs can advance transformative family engagement in their local community and beyond.

What makes family engagement policy meaningful, inclusive and culturally competent? Here are some key characteristics of a strong family engagement policy. 

Model family engagement policies are inclusive of diverse cultural and linguistic practices.

Supporting the success of all students means cultivating meaningful family-school partnerships with families from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

For example, in Washington, state legislation implemented language access programs in schools so that family engagement resources could be accessible in diverse languages. The commitment to providing inclusive and culturally responsive resources to families in Washington’s statewide policy allows for language barriers to be broken down and increases the capacity for every child to reach their fullest potential.

Model family engagement policies are rooted in evidence-based family engagement research.

Referencing research-based statistics that demonstrate how family engagement practices support the wellbeing of the whole child showcases the validity of family engagement in practice.

The same Washington state legislation provides a powerful basis for policy implementation by referencing how family engagement has been shown to have positive impacts for children: “50 years of research has shown that family engagement has beneficial impacts on student grades, test scores, drop-out rates, students’ sense of competence and beliefs about the importance of education” (Orwall et al., 2021).

Model family engagement policies facilitate active collaboration between families, schools and community leaders in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of family engagement policy.

When school district leaders make important decisions regarding children’s education, families must have a seat at the table. Inclusive approaches to decision-making cultivate a community where all individuals are valued, seen and actively heard.

In Michigan, statewide policy through executive order established a Michigan Parent Council to empower parents from diverse backgrounds across the state to make education and budget policy recommendations to legislators.

Model family engagement policies provide opportunities for families to become leaders in their communities through engagement opportunities at school.

Quality family engagement invests in developing the leadership skills of families so that they can empower their children to do great work.

In Florida, state legislation called the Family and School Partnership for Student Achievement Act directs school districts statewide to provide parents with detailed information regarding their child’s educational opportunities. Through streamlined and effective communication practices between parents and families regarding children’s rigorous academic opportunities, scholarships, test accommodations and course of study choices, Florida is working to support student success by building meaningful family-school partnerships.

Why does this all matter?

Only when all families are respected, included, and given opportunities to shape their children’s education, can we ensure that all children can meet their full potential. PTAs can help break down educational barriers by advocating for policies that support culturally responsive, two-way communication and opportunities for underrepresented communities to share in decision-making and co-creating solutions.

As a member of PTA, you can help by…

  • Learning about the updated National Standards for Family-School Partnerships that will roll out in the fall
  • Encouraging parents in your community to run for a seat on their local family engagement council
  • Enrolling in the National PTA’s School of Excellence Program to strengthen family-school partnerships at your school
  • Scheduling meetings with your school district staff and board of education to share with them the importance of meaningful family engagement

About the Author

Lauren Manning is a senior at Gettsyburg College and was Summer 2022 intern at PTA through the Eisenhower Institute Public Policy Fellowship

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.  

Add ‘Get My Child Vaccinated Against COVID’ to Your Summer Plans

Great news: Our younger kids can now get vaccinated against COVID!

After a thorough review of the safety and effectiveness data from the clinical trials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized COVID vaccines for children ages 6 months through 4 years. That means that everyone as young as 6 months in the United States can now get the protection of a COVID vaccine.

Parents and guardians have been eagerly awaiting this news. Since the pandemic began, over 130,000 children under age 18 have been hospitalized and nearly 1,500 have died. This year, kids under 5 years old have been more likely than older kids to be hospitalized with COVID.

Also, as many as 1 in 4 children who get COVID experience long COVID, in which they have new or lingering symptoms that last for weeks or months after infection.

Many kids are also getting multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a rare but serious illness caused by COVID that involves painful swelling in different parts of the body, including the heart, lungs, and brain. Over 8,500 children with COVID have also had MIS-C; 69 of those children have died.

There’s no way to predict how COVID will affect your child if they get it. They might be one of the lucky ones and just have the sniffles, but the risk for more severe illness is very real. Even perfectly healthy children can get very sick from COVID. One study found that almost half of children ages 0–17 who’ve been hospitalized with COVID had no other health issues. That proportion was even higher among children under 5, according to another study

Vaccination is the best thing you can do to protect your child 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 or MIS-C and long COVID.

There are two different vaccines available for children. The number of doses your child needs depends on their age and which vaccine they get. See the table below for details.

If your child is male and age 12 or older, they may benefit from waiting longer between the 1st and 2nd vaccine doses. Talk to your health care or vaccine provider. 

Once your child is up to date with their COVID vaccines, you can send them to school and to play with others, confident that they have the best possible protection against COVID.

Where to find COVID vaccines for children

COVID vaccines for kids are available at pediatricians’ and other doctors’ offices, community health centers, rural health clinics, children’s hospitals, public health clinics, local pharmacies, and other community-based organizations.

To find free COVID vaccines for your child, talk to your child’s pediatrician or your family doctor. You can also find vaccines for children near you at vaccines.gov.

Congratulations to National PTA’s Outstanding Interpretation Awardees!

Thousands of young artists from across the country participated in the 2021-2022 National PTA Reflections program by creating original works of art in response to the student-selected theme: I Will Change the World By….

Winning student artworks advanced from the local PTA level to the district, region, council, state and, ultimately, to the national level. This year, National PTA received over 900 student submissions from 47 State PTA Congresses.

Credential arts professionals conducted two rounds of blind review to determine the 200+ students who received national-level recognition for their artistic accomplishments. Just seven students earned the program’s top honor: the Award of Outstanding Interpretation. They were selective because of their distinctive interpretation of the theme, creativity and technical skills.

Each Outstanding Interpretation awardee represents one of the Reflections program’s six arts categories and the Special Artist division, which include Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography and Visual Arts. Reflections encourages students with disabilities to fully participate in the program by welcoming young artists to enter through the Special Artist division.

We are excited to introduce this year’s exemplary Award of Outstanding Interpretation recipients!

Oviya Gowder–Dance Choreography
James Clemens High School PTSA, Alabama

Oviya conveyed a powerful message in her dance choreography, Save The Children. The piece addresses human trafficking and its threat to young adults. To set the tone for her work, her artist statement begins with a quote from author Edward Everett Hale: “I am only one, but I am one. I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” She continues to demonstrate the power of one’s actions to prevent tragedy by learning to recognize signs of human trafficking.

The artwork earned top marks because of Oviya’s original interpretation of the theme. She shares, “The Reflections contest gave me a platform to raise awareness about something that is not usually brought up or talked about. My career interest lies in the pediatrics area, and this inspired me to create a piece revolving around the safety of children.”

Yasmeen Fas–Film Production
Green Township PTA, New Jersey

Yasmeen’s film production Reduce, Reuse and Recycle incorporates careful research to demonstrate how individuals can save our planet. In her artist statement, she explains, “What is something that we all can do to help our planet? The answer is: Recycling!” The video includes compelling statistics, such as the fact that energy saved from recycling a glass bottle is equivalent to powering a lightbulb for up to 4 hours.

To explain her inspiration for the work, Yasmeen shares, “When walking my dog around the neighborhood I noticed some trash on grassy areas, behind the buildings, along sidewalks and around drains on the streets. I didn’t like what I saw, so I went home, grabbed a trash bag and picked it all up. I really wanted to show that even a small thing like that could help keep our neighborhood clean. Imagine if everyone did the same, then it would change our environment for the best!”

Dao Nguyen–Literature
Castillero Middle School PTA, California

Dao’s poem, titled Dandelion, reflects the beauty of one’s individual power. Her artist statement details this concept: “The world is a big place, and I know that being only one person in it can be daunting for young people like myself. So Dandelion is a poem about how even if you’re just one human, you can still have an effect on this world through what I believe is most important to share with other people—your passion, ideas, and stories.”

Dao shared nature’s influence on her writing. She explains, “Plants like dandelions spread their seeds around the world so they can continue to grow, even in unexpected places. [It’s] like how you can share your knowledge and creativity, so it inspires other people.” Dao notes another influence on her writing is the future reader’s perception. She notes that metaphors and analogies can be used “to connect the dots like you’re painting a picture so the reader understands your message.” Read Dao’s poem.

James Jordan–Special Artist, Music Composition
Syracuse High School PTSA, Utah

James’ thoughtful introspection stood out with his music composition piece, Change the World Right. In his artist statement, James explains, “The lyrics in the song explain how changing the world can be a positive or negative impact on others and yourself. It’s important to reflect on change because you can make decisions that could be influential and beneficial for others to learn and experience. The story behind the lyrics is how I overcame challenges in my life and adapted to a changing world.”

The song’s significance is deeply personal to James. He notes the challenges he has faced, sharing, “I struggled with autism for many years in school.” Yet, that he is “clever and artistic” and has harnessed the power of the arts to express himself. James explains, “This song is a puzzle piece of my life that will remind me of the inspiration I had to change the world. This year’s Reflections taught me that inspiration could come from anywhere and whatever happens next is a world with you in it.”

Listen to James’s song.

Sonia Singh–Music Composition
Acadia PTA, New York

Sonia shares a compelling melody with her musical composition, Rainbow. In her artist statement, she shares, “My composition, Rainbow, relates to the theme I Will Change The World By… through spreading the message that we can build a better tomorrow. Recent times have been very trying and there has been very little light in the world. Through my uplifting songs, I will help people see that there is always a way to make their lives brighter. Even if things seem bleak, we can bring out the light from inside us and together make a rainbow for everyone.”

The song allowed Sonia to convey a powerful moment in time. She shared, “I wrote this song after the worst of COVID-19 when things were starting to open up and we finally had hope for the future. In the past, there have been plenty of setbacks for us as people but I’ve realized that what matters is that we always get up again and never stop fighting.”

Listen to Sonia’s song.

Arsal Shaur–Photography
County Parkway PTA, New York

Arsal’s photograph, I Can Change the World by Enlightening Others with Knowledge, conveys a message that is near and dear to the mission of National PTA. In his artist statement, Arsal explains, “I am grateful that I have the opportunity to get an education. There are many children in the world who cannot get and afford to have a basic education. I can change the world by spreading knowledge. I can raise my voice so that every child in the world can have a basic education, at least.”

The details in the photograph further the artwork’s significance. Arsal notes that “the book in the photograph represents knowledge and the brightness in the background shows the light which knowledge brings in our lives.”

Jasmine Roldan–Visual Arts
Hicksville High School PTSA, New York

Jasmine’s detailed visual arts piece is titled Say Their Names. In her artist statement, she writes, “As a female of color in America living in such corrupt times, I hope to change the world by advocating for civil rights. All the people displayed on this piece have been subject to unjust violence leading to their deaths. Their names written within the word ‘EQUALITY’ correspond to their faces. Some of them were grandmothers to their grandchildren, track stars, or as young as 10 years old. Say their names. By doing just that, you too can change the world.”

To further highlight her inspiration for the work, Jasmine explains, “I create art to show just how much people, ideas, things matter to me. Their lives matter along with those, including myself, that look like them. I hope to ignite a spark within everyone to reflect on what they can do to be the change they want to see in the world.”

Congratulations to our I Will Change the World By… Outstanding Interpretation winners! We look forward to recognizing your achievements at the 2022 Virtual Outstanding Interpretation Reflections Winners Celebration, which will be available on National PTA’s YouTube channel July 21, 2022.   

For more inspiration, please visit PTA.org/ReflectionsAwards to find the official Reflections awards announcement, the complete list of the 200+ student winners, and our digital gallery of student works. Stay connected to National PTA on social media (@NationalPTA and #PTAReflections) as we continue to recognize and celebrate student talents throughout the year.