How Your PTA Can Support Social and Emotional Learning 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change Solutions: You’re More Powerful Than You May Think 

Life as a parent can be overwhelming. This is particularly true when addressing complicated issues like climate change, which can make us feel helpless and overwhelmed. It’s easy to want to disengage, even though we know it impacts future generations. 

But we need to remember that when we use our skills for good and work together as a community, we can be powerful!

To address climate change, we can do so much that is small, yet impactful and within our sphere of influence. Together these drops in the bucket can not only improve our optimism and wellbeing and might make all the difference on a larger scale. 

I like to think of the Earth as a loved one who is ailing. When our child isn’t feeling well, we take a holistic approach and consider all of their needs—what they need to eat, how much water they’ve had to drink, and how they’re feeling mentally and emotionally.  

For me, I was inspired to use a holistic approach for my late husband while he was in the latter stages of cancer. Of course, he needed medical and nutritional (physical) care, but I sensed right away that physical care alone would not harness all the resources he needed for healing. I felt that making sure he felt safe, loved, and cared for would give him the best chance for recovery.  

I believe we’re in this scenario with Earth now. She’s waiting on us to care for all of her and appreciate all the wonderful things she provides, while taking better care of her.  

Plus, environmental psychology shows us that fostering an intimate connection with nature also benefits our mental, emotional, and physical health. In other words, the stress and anxiety that I may feel about Earth, or any other issue, are soothed and improved by deepening my relationship with Earth and the natural world. We’re in this together! 

I feel there is no one right way to approach Earth care; she needs attention in the vast number of ways we’re inclined to provide it. Our hearts know the way, just as we intuitively sense what our children or other loved ones need during times of challenge or crisis. 

My own list will differ from yours, but includes: 

  • Being present and giving nature my full attention, even for a few minutes each day. 
  • Noticing the condition and beauty of her flora, fauna, and minerals when outdoors. 
  • Providing care and help when I notice an opportunity, such as picking up trash, pruning a plant or writing to a lawmaker. 
  • Expressing gratitude and appreciation for her care, beauty, and inspiration, even if only in my thoughts. 
  • Listening deeply to her whispers, large gestures, and everything in between. 
  • Touching her plants, trees, ground, and water with my hands or bare feet. 
  • Praying for her healing and wellness. 

Though we may not always think about how to foster a loving relationship with Earth, our children and many indigenous people have not. They are our inspiration and teachers in so many ways, most especially regarding how to listen to, celebrate, and love Earth. Inviting others and using creative and physical expression to show our affection and admiration for Earth are rejuvenating practices for us, and maybe even for Earth.


Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert, MAPP, PhD is the Founder and Convener for Mission and Vision at the Foundation for Family and Community Healing., which offers modules on improving our relationship with ourselves, each other, and Earth. 

Family Literacy for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you face any challenges in your literacy work?

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

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

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


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

Second Annual Volly Awards Put Unsung Parent Volunteers Center Stage

You know the expression, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The last two years have been tough on schools, and it’s the resilience of one group—parent volunteers—that has helped keep school morale going strong. They are unsung heroes, coordinating virtual pep rallies, spirit nights and graduation celebrations, with little or no recognition. Until now!

Booster serves alongside parent volunteers at more than 4,000 schools nationally, so we’ve seen their immense efforts firsthand. That’s why we decided to establish The Volly Awards last year, as a way of saying thank you to these amazing men and women across the country.

Kyle Young, Booster’s First Annual Volly Award Winner, is a great example of an unsung hero going the extra mile to make a difference. He’s a father of two, husband and small business owner, yet he still finds time to give back by donating his talents to Hutchens Elementary School in Mobile, Ala. He has served as a PTA president, school bus driver, mentor and so much more. His efforts have made a lasting impact on the entire school community. 

Do you know an unsung school volunteer? Nominate them for the Volly Awards and bring them from behind the scenes into the spotlight. Here’s How:

  • Visit VollyAwards.com to submit as many written nominations as you’d like. Parent volunteers can be nominated by peers, school administrators, staff or themselves.
  • Tell us why the parent volunteer deserves to be celebrated and how they make a difference in their school and community. Volly Award nominations are open to all schools.
  • Monthly winners will receive a $150 Amazon Gift Card and 50 custom shirts from Booster Spirit Wear for your school. But that’s not all—the 2021 National Volly Award Winner will receive a $1,000 Visa gift card and 500 custom shirts from Booster Spirit Wear for your school!

Join us for the Second Annual Volly Awards by nominating your school’s dedicated parent volunteers today! You can also check out who won each month and be inspired by their volunteer accomplishments at VollyAwards.com.

This Tool Teaches Children and Families to #BeCyberSmart

This October we celebrate both National Cyber Security Awareness Month and National Bullying Prevention Month. Through the PTA Connected initiative and with The Smart Talk tool, families have the resources to make Cyber Safety easy and to end cyberbullying for good.

A new school year often can mean new worries. The good news: Cyber Safety and cyberbullying do not need to be one of them! As October is both National Cyber Security Awareness Month and National Bullying Prevention Month, now is a great time to learn more about these important topics. As a parent of two boys and an employee of NortonLifeLock, I am excited to share the work we’ve done with National PTA to help families stay educated and safe.

Now in its 18th year, National Cyber Security Awareness Month was originally created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Cyber Security Alliance. This year, the theme is “Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart.” Much like the lessons we’ve learned through the global pandemic, #BeCyberSmart focuses on the role we can all play in protecting cyberspace. Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, a student, a CEO or a community member—we all have ways we can contribute to a safer online experience.

National Bullying Prevention Month was started 15 years ago by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center to provide parents and students with the resources and support to better respond to bullying. According to the National Prevention Council, due to vastly increased screen time and social anxiety due to isolation, 43% of teens report being the victim of cyberbullying in the last year. According to the same report, nearly 80% of teens said they either, “did not have parental rules about internet use or found ways around the rules.”

To help families navigate these issues and take charge of their digital lives, NortonLifeLock and National PTA created The Smart Talk—a free, interactive resource that encourages open communication. The Smart Talk was developed so that families could work together to create an agreement about rules and expectations around online behavior and device usage. It covers topics like safety and privacy, screen time, social media, apps and downloads, texting and calling. With reminders throughout that children are capable of making good decisions, the tool asks children to “Let us [caregivers] know if they experience bullying or something that doesn’t feel right.”

The Smart Talk tool is also part of PTA Connected, a National PTA initiative that strives to help children act safely, responsibly and thoughtfully online. NortonLifeLock is proud to be a founding sponsor of the program, which connects caregivers and children to online safety and responsibility forums, planning guides, best practices, community events and much more.

If you’re interested in strategies to discuss cyberbullying with your children and to teach your kids to be #BeCyberSmart, have The Smart Talk with your family today!

Online Payment Dos and Don’ts for PTAs

If you visit any PTA message board, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll see a post that goes something like this: “Looking to take PTA payments digital … what platform do you recommend? I hear Venmo is not great for PTAs. Is that true?”

It’s a common conversation, and for good reason. Now, more than ever, PTAs are looking to take payments—including membership renewals and fundraisers—virtual. And peer-to-peer (P2P) payment platforms, like Venmo, often come to mind because parents use it for other things, such as paying the babysitter or a friend.

If you’re looking to move your PTA payments online, keep reading to learn:

  • The top three reasons why P2P payment platforms (like Venmo) are a no-go
  • Features to look for in an online payment platform for your PTA

Top 3 reasons why your PTA should avoid P2P payment platforms

First off, what’s a P2P payment platform? The graphic below gives a quick snapshot of the payment platform landscape. P2P payment platforms, also known as “peer-to-peer” payment platforms, like Venmo, are typically used to get money from one individual to another (from point A to point B). While they’re great for paying a friend or making a Facebook Marketplace purchase, they are NOT great for PTA payments and here’s why:

  1. Venmo does not support non-profits
    And because of that, it’s possible to have funds frozen if the platform is used in an unapproved way. Most consider this not worth the risk!
  2. Tracking and reporting is almost nonexistent
    Most PTA initiatives involve collecting more than just payment. You need to know who paid, how much, for what—you may even need to collect form information. Collecting and tracking that level of detail on Venmo is just not possible.
  3. Lack of tax receipts
    Email tax receipts are a big deal for PTAs and nonprofits. In fact, it’s a requirement that, if not met, could result in your 501c3 license being revoked. Plus, parents are always asking for a receipt!
  4. Venmo has a weekly payment limit
    While it can vary by user, Venmo (and similar platforms) limit how much money you can collect within a certain time period. If you’ve taken the time to create an amazing event or spirit wear store, limitations are going to be a big challenge!
  5. No way to transfer an account
    Most PTAs have volunteers who transition as their children graduate or as their schedule allows. Not being able to transfer a Venmo account means your PTA will be reinventing the wheel—with no history to speak of—year after year.

For these reasons, and so many more, you want to select a payment platform that is made to collect from groups and communities (one that falls squarely in the center column of the graphic below) and can meet your PTA’s evolving needs.

Features to look for in your PTA payment platform

At the highest level, your PTA should look for a payment platform that is:

  • Flexible (PTAs collect for so many different things!)
  • Easy (Volunteers have varying levels of tech fluency!)
  • Free (Who wants to commit to a hefty monthly or annual fee?)

After working with thousands of PTAs for nearly a decade, at Cheddar Up we feel it’s clear that PTAs need the following features in a payment platform:

  • Friction-free payments
    Look for a platform that lets your community click and pay. Parents should NOT need to create an account or download a mobile app to pay. 
  • Payments + Information
    PTAs typically need to collect more than just payments (such as T-shirt size, contact information, etc.). Find a platform that lets you collect unlimited payments and forms.
  • Tracking
    Look for robust, easy-to-use and dynamic payment and information tracking—that you can view online or download. This saves volunteers hours, eliminates data entry and spreadsheet jockeying.
  • Handoff
    Make CERTAIN that you can easily transfer your account to incoming PTA board members. If you are going to invest time to innovate your PTA payment system, you want to make sure it sticks for years to come.
  • Point of sale
    It’s normal for PTAs to need to collect online and in-person payments. Find a platform that does both—well. You want to be able to collect online and point-of-sale payments (with mobile apps and Bluetooth card readers) so all tracking and funds stay in one spot!
  • Low, flexible fees
    You want low fees, an amazing feature set, payment method optionality and the ability to pass fees to the payer. Bottom line, with any online system, fees are always factor. Pick a platform with fee optionality and you’ll be in good hands.

Nichole Montoya is the co-founder and CEO of Cheddar Up, a platform dedicated to helping thousands of PTAs and similar groups easily collect payments and information online. To see examples of online PTA collection pages, visit our archive.

How Does a PTA Become a National School of Excellence?

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

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

BELLA VISTA PTA, CALIFORNIA

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

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

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

SAMUEL BISSELL ELEMENTARY PTA, OHIO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILSON MIDDLE SCHOOL PTA, TEXAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A with J.F. Cooper Elementary PTA

Finding the Right Fundraiser for Their School

With the new school year well underway, many PTAs are planning fundraisers to support their schools and their students. In this Q&A interview, Shazia Ansari, PTA President at J.F. Cooper Elementary School in New Jersey, shares her experiences with different fundraisers, plus the opportunities fundraising has created.

Q: What was your PTA looking for in a fundraiser?

A: Our goal was to have a fundraising program that’s relevant to our families. Something that’s easy, less time consuming, and fits right into their lives.

We also wanted to move away from programs that force students to be salespeople where they’re rewarded for selling a certain amount. We wanted to be inclusive so everyone can feel good about participating—no matter how much money they’re able to contribute. 

Q: Which fundraisers did your school consider?

A: In the past, we used catalog fundraisers, but they often offer overpriced items that most people don’t need. We also wanted to avoid selling edible items because they exclude people who have food allergies or sensitivities. Plus, both require selling things to friends and family, which many parents aren’t comfortable with.

We started using gift card fundraising because it checked all the boxes. Parents don’t have to do anything they aren’t already doing. It’s something that only takes a few seconds while they’re waiting in line at the grocery store, at a restaurant, or standing at the gas pump. It also doesn’t take extra time or money, which gives all families the opportunity to participate. 

Q: Why does gift card fundraising work better for your school?

A:  Because families can simply pay for things—like groceries, gas, clothes, dining out, traveling and prescriptions—with gift cards instead of a credit or debit card. They don’t have to purchase things they don’t need or ask people to buy things they don’t want. Plus, it doesn’t create extra pressure on our students.

Gift card fundraising is also easier for our PTA. It takes a lot less time and planning than traditional fundraisers and doesn’t require us to host events or organize parent volunteer hours. It’s so seamless. 

Q: What impact has fundraising had on your school?

A: It has had a very positive impact on our students. We’ve funded science and character education assemblies, school grants, a large selection of materials and games for indoor recess, and even a visit from author and poet, Janet Wong.

It’s really wonderful to be able to provide extra materials, as well as exciting, engaging and educational opportunities for our students. We are looking forward to what we can provide next year!

Q: What advice do you have for other PTAs/PTSAs looking for a new fundraiser?

A: My advice is tohave at least a vague idea of things you want in a fundraiser. Then, do some research and even test out a few different programs like we did. You don’t have to commit to anything unless and until you know it’s working for your school.

I also encourage every PTA to fundraise with gift cards because it’s like getting free money. Families can shop at stores they always do using the full value of the gift cards and earn for the school on top of it. It’s so easy to participate and the return can make a huge impact for your school!


ShopWithScrip is a gift card fundraising program used by schools and local communities for more than 25 years to help fund new opportunities for students. With gift card fundraising, simply buy gift cards from more than 750 popular brands to earn on daily purchases. Learn more and start a free gift card fundraising program for your school at ShopWithScrip.com.

Essential Tech for Better Family-School Communication

Technology has been changing our lives so quickly that it is hard to keep up! In the past decade, more teachers and administrators have begun using online gradebooks, apps, texting services, and full-service learning platforms and student information systems. Technology is powerful—it can help families support their students’ learning by sharing upcoming due dates, events and progress. Many platforms even provide nudges, ideas and activities for families to extend learning at home. Teachers, too, use these platforms to get to know their students and better differentiate their instruction based on what they learn from families.  

While technology can help to create strong family-school partnerships, families and schools need to think strategically to make the most of these tools. As families navigated virtual learning during the pandemic, the power of technology (and its limitations) took center stage. Many have stepped up to the challenge, but there is more work to be done and several ways that you can help! 

Work with your school administrators to complete a Family School Communication Mapping Tool.

Many parents and caregivers—especially those who are new to the school—may not be sure where to go to get information. This tool will help families know how to stay up to date on all of the latest news and announcements, as well as grades and personal reports on their child. Be sure to translate your tool into other languages so that it is accessible to all families. 

Assess the accessibility of your school’s platform(s).

Are all families able to easily access your school’s communications platforms? It doesn’t matter how many features your platform has or how much quality information teachers are sharing, if families can’t access it. Talk with your school administrators about ways you can make your school’s platforms easier for everyone to use. The following questions can also help you and your leadership team start to think through accessibility. 

  • Does your communications platform translate messages into your families’ primary languages? 
  • Does your communications platform offer speech-to-text, text-to-speech, or other accessibility options? 
  • Does your communications platform require families to sign up or are they automatically opted in? 
  • Is your communications platform easy to navigate via a mobile device? 

Ask your principal or superintendent to provide an opportunity for families and teachers to provide feedback on its family-school communication platforms

National PTA has released a discussion guide for education system leaders to help them gather feedback from the community. These conversations can help to inform leaders’ decisions around family-school communication technology. If you are worried your principal or superintendent may not be willing to host a focus group, consider inviting them to a PTA meeting instead, and use the discussion guide to spark discussion at the meeting. 

If you are interested in learning more about family-school communication technologies, National PTA’s Center for Family Engagement has created an entire toolkit in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers, the School Superintendents’ Association and the Consortium on School Networks! Check it out at PTA.org/FamilySchoolTech

Back to School with the TV Parental Guidelines

Have you ever wondered about the meaning behind the small black box filled with letters that appears in the upper left-hand side of your screen at the start of most television shows or movies you see on TV? That’s the TV Parental Guidelines, also known as the TV ratings system, helping parents to make smart decisions about which TV shows are age-appropriate for their families.

Television is often a large part of our lives, particularly the lives of our children, and has only played an increased role during the ongoing pandemic. According to research conducted by the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board (the Board) in August 2020, 64% of parents said TV usage has increased among their children. As all Americans consume more video programming, the TV Parental Guidelines continue to serve as a resource to parents looking to make more informed decisions about what TV shows their kids are watching.

The TV Parental Guidelines is excited to partner with the National PTA during Back-To-School Week and provide parents and educators with the resources they need to ensure an enjoyable and appropriate television experience. This includes the launch of new guidance for how video streaming services can incorporate the TV ratings into their services. We know there are a growing number of streaming platforms available to children and families. According to the August 2020 survey of parents, 84% of children are watching some content via streaming services. Through new guidance (described below) the Board aims to ensure that parents and families encounter a consistent ratings experience across traditional TV networks and streaming services.   

About the TV Parental Guidelines 

The television industry designed the TV Parental Guidelines—also known as the TV ratings system—to give parents more information about the content and age-appropriateness of TV programs. 

The TV Parental Guidelines include two elements: (1) an age-based rating ranging from TV-Y to TV-MA that provides guidance about the age group for which a program is appropriate and (2) content descriptors indicating that a program may contain suggestive dialogue (D), coarse or crude language (L), sexual situations (S), or violence (V). Here is a quick guide: 

  • TV-Y: Programming is typically appropriate for children of all ages.  
  • TV-Y7: Programming is designed for children ages seven and older.  
  • TV-Y7-FV: Indicates that a program contains “fantasy violence” that may be more intense or combative than other TV-Y7 programs.  
  • TV-G: Programming is for a general audience and typically most parents would find this programming suitable for all ages. It contains little or no violence, no strong language and little or no sexual dialogue or situations.  
  • TV-14: Programming contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age. Parents are strongly urged to exercise greater care in monitoring this program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended. This program may contain one or more of the following: intensely suggestive dialogue, strong coarse language, intense sexual situations, or intense violence.  
  • TV-MA: Programming is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17. This program may contain one or more of the following: crude indecent language, explicit sexual activity, or graphic violence. 

A full guide to the TV ratings can be found here and you can download, print and share with your PTA and school community. The TV Parental Guidelines website is also a resource for parents and educators looking for information on the TV ratings. 

Here is what else you should know about the TV Parental Guidelines: 

  • The TV ratings can be used in conjunction with the V-Chip for network television—a device built into most television sets—to allow parents to block out programs they don’t want their children to see. Parental control technology in cable and satellite set-top boxes can also be used with the TV Parental Guidelines to block programs based on their rating. 
  • The Board is comprised of experts from the television industry as well as public interest advocates—including the National PTA—who are responsible for ensuring there is uniformity and consistency in applying the TV Parental Guidelines. The Board also reviews complaints about specific program ratings to help ensure ratings accuracy. 
  • Viewers can contact the Board with questions or concerns about the TV ratings system and controls by mail, email or phone. Individual ratings complaints are passed on to the network on which the program was shown for a direct response. 
  • The Board conducts a biannual survey to understand how parents view the ratings. A complete review of the key findings from 2020 can be found here. According to the Board’s 2020 survey, 95 percent of parents are satisfied with the accuracy of the ratings for TV shows on broadcast and cable television, including more than half who are very satisfied. Four in five parents (80 percent) maintain a favorable opinion of the TV ratings system—up from 76% in 2018. 

About the New Streaming Guidance  

Members of the Board include many companies that operate some of the newest and most popular video streaming services available today including, among others, Discovery+, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Paramount+, Peacock, and Tubi. Given the rising popularity of these streaming services and others, the Board created a Streaming Task Force (the Task Force) to evaluate how TV ratings are being made available to parents on new technologies.  

In recent months, the Task Force engaged in conversations with Board member companies that operate video streaming services and initiated informal discussions with outside providers about how they are applying ratings to their own content. The result of these conversations is new ratings guidance designed to help ensure parents and families encounter a consistent ratings experience across traditional television networks and streaming platforms.   

Examples of the new ratings guidance for streaming services include the following recommended best practices: 

  • For all streaming video content that is rated, streaming services should display TV ratings on-screen at the time that a consumer initiates the playback of video. 
  • Video streaming services should apply TV ratings to all content that has been shown on television with ratings and all content that is originally produced for the streaming environment, including on an episode-by-episode basis for episodically rated programs. 
  • Video streaming services should include age-based ratings within the product experience (e.g., as part of narrative program summaries contained on program description screens or within online menus and navigation guides), to the extent practicable after taking into account technical and other reasonable limitations. 
  • Video streaming services will continue to study ratings capabilities and, if practicable in the future, apply TV ratings to additional content, including, for example, archival content that originally was shown on television prior to the adoption of the TV Parental Guidelines.  

The Board knows that as technology changes, so will the ratings guidance for all content partners and providers. The Board is pleased to be comprised of so many industry professionals who are thinking ahead to ensure that parents have relevant information to be able to navigate an increasingly virtual and platform-focused world. Through the Task Force, the Board will continue to have conversations with additional video streamers to recommend they take advantage of the new guidance to help ensure that parents have a consistent ratings experience no matter where their families choose to watch programming. 


Emily Pappas it the executive secretariat of the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board. For more information about the TV Parental Guidelines, visit TVGuidelines.org