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  

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.

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.

Grant Continues to Advance Art Through PTAs Nationwide

For over 50 years, the National PTA Reflections arts program has provided opportunities for recognition and access to the arts for millions of students, thanks to the innovation of artist, PTA leader and founder Mary Lou Anderson. Reflections boosts student confidence and success in the arts and in life.

Anderson’s vision was to increase arts access among at-risk and underserved students and we are proud to offer the Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant to help continue that goal. Through this opportunity, local PTAs demonstrate a commitment to providing new pathways for students to participate in the Reflections program and increase student access to high quality arts learning experiences.

We honored the commitment of two local PTAs with $1,000 for their dedication to increase access to high quality arts learning and increase the impact of their Reflections Program. Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA in California and Robinson High School PTSA in Florida were the 2020-2021 Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant recipients! Check out what these amazing PTAs did with their grant funds!

2020-2021 MLA Grantee Profile: Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA, Temecula, Calif.

With only one entry for their PTA Reflections program, Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA recognized the need to place more focus on getting students educated and excited about the arts. As a Title I school, with a culturally diverse student body, Pauba Valley Elementary PTA saw it their mission to match that diversity in how they present the arts, with a focus on positively impacting students from both at-risk and underserved families, to advance diversity in the arts, specifically in the Reflections program.

Despite the limitations from the COVID-19 pandemic, Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA wanted to bring the entire community together to support the arts. So, they planned and implemented a series of six virtual workshops that averaged over 200 participants per event. In the planning process, the PTA realized that many students were lacking supplies, so they purchased materials and assembled kits which were distributed via drive-through pickups. They also arranged for presenters through community partnerships, where applicable.

With grant funding, the PTA was able to cover costs that would have otherwise been unattainable. The events helped to inspire students to be creative through artistic expression and demonstrate and communicate the benefits of membership in PTA to the Pauba Valley Elementary School community. The last event focused on the arts as a career, providing inspiration and information about professions in the arts.

With an incredible total of 1,800 people impacted through the virtual events, the Pauba Valley Elementary PTA said the most memorable part was, “Seeing the excitement from the students. They were engaged and learning through our hands-on activities, and it was awesome to see the seeds being planted.”

Kathy Gonzales, vice president, Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA said that the events were incredibly successful and shared, “Even though we are not together on campus, these virtual events are giving our families a chance to connect with each other and have fun while doing it. We are so excited to offer these programs to our school community during these challenging times.”

2020-2021 MLA Grantee Profile: Robinson High School PTSA, Tampa, Fla.

In May, with support from the Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant, Robinson High School PTSA hosted a spoken word poetry program. The event included a two-day workshop that culminated in the Spoken Word Poetry Jam. To foster student engagement, the PTSA partnered with the school media specialist and world languages department. In addition, they incorporated a local artist and spoken word poet. Seven students participated in the voluntary presentation portion of the Poetry Jam.

Due to the impacts of COVID-19, the program marked the school’s first in-person workshop that students could attend at school during the school year. The students, according to the PTSA, were extremely excited to attend the in-person event and many Robinson High School teachers allowed students to earn credit for attendance and participation.

The collaboration between the PTSA and teachers added value to the event. Inclusion was key to the event’s success. The PTSA sought to elevate student voices and give them some control over the program. Students also talked about gender and stereotypes through their artwork. All students were encouraging to one another and embraced each other’s different perspectives.

One student brought her mother and grandmother to the event. The PTSA shared, “The encouragement and love between the three generations of women was inspiring to witness.” The most memorable part of the program, according to the PTSA, was the Spoken Word Poetry Jam itself. The students were enthusiastic about participating and supported one another through the process. The students also demonstrated bravery and vulnerability as they worked through some of the stress this year has put upon them.

The Poetry Jam also served as a catalyst for students to learn about the upcoming school year’s Reflections program. The PTSA used a portion of the workshop to discuss the Reflections theme and brainstorm ideas for participation. The PTSA distributed student entry forms and captured the students’ information to jumpstart their program. Robinson High School PTSA plans to continue to work through the summer to ensure students are exposed to other Reflections arts categories. The PTSA identified this specific program because it provided students with an opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment. It also fostered an appreciation for writing and poetry to express and convey thoughts and emotions through art.

With half of the Robinson High School student population qualifying for free & reduced-price lunch under Title I, these grant dollars were extremely appreciated. When asked if they would consider running the program again, the PTSA shared, “Most definitely. Based on feedback alone, our students were excited and engaged and every single one wanted to do it again.”

Congratulations, once again, to Pauba Valley Elementary School PTA and Robinson High School PTSA!

If you are planning to host a 2021-2022 I Will Change the World By… Reflections program and are in need of funding to increase access and participation of at-risk and underserved students in arts programming, APPLY NOW!

Applications for the next round of Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement grants are now being accepted through Sept. 27 at PTA.org/Grants. Two local PTAs will be awarded $1,000 to administer student-centered programs that increase access to high quality arts learning experiences and new pathways for students to participate in National PTA’s Reflections program. 

We can’t wait to support and celebrate another successful year of Reflections with you!

Learn more about Reflections, Mary Lou Anderson and her legacy by visiting our ArtsEd page and Reflections Timeline.

Meet the 2021 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awardees!

Each year, National PTA honors the top three National PTA Schools of Excellence with the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awards for demonstrating outstanding success in engaging families in student success and school improvement. The awardees are selected by a team of Past National PTA Presidents and are the highest honor our association offers for success in family engagement. 

The 2021 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients are:  

Helen Keller Jr. High School PTA in Illinois, who received the top Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award. Miami Beach Senior High PTSA in Florida and Hembree Springs Elementary School PTA in Georgia both received the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit.  

Thanks to the generous support of the Hearst Foundation, the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Awardee receives a $2,000 grant for their school and the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Merit Awardees each receive $500 grants for their schools. We are pleased to share with you just a snapshot of the amazing work the 2021 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients put into building and growing family-school partnerships in their communities. To learn more about the accomplishments of these top-ranked PTAs, visit PTA.org/Hearst.  

Helen Keller Jr High School PTA   

Helen Keller Jr High School is a Title 1 school in Shaumburg, Illinois. Their PTA serves a diverse student body of nearly 600 students. Through the School of Excellence program, the PTA used feedback from their school community to address families’ concerns about the mental health and well-being of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Program leader Trisha Anderson said the PTA decided to enroll in the School of Excellence program because, “The COVID-19 pandemic has not only impacted our physical health—our mental health has also been greatly impacted. Our goal is to help our school community become aware of the importance of mental health. We hope the investment in doing this work will change the school by providing them with mental health awareness and with strategies to improve mental health.” 

The PTA worked collaboratively with school leadership and staff to implement a program to educate students and raise awareness about the importance of mental health. They provided mental health resources for families through new and revamped communication vehicles and created a forum for families to share additional tips and tools to communicate more effectively. The PTA also worked hard to connect and align the Mental Health program within the framework of existing social and emotional learning (SEL) lessons. Teachers reviewed the existing material and re-worked their SEL lesson plans to include specific mental health lessons. Physical Education teachers worked with in-person students to “chalk the walk” in order to raise awareness about mental health and hosted a mental health event during PE classes.  

The school improvement goal Helen Keller Jr High School PTA identified as part of their School of Excellence journey was finding new ways to keep families informed and to communicate effectively in an atypical, frequently changing, majority virtual school year. There were no in person events, handouts or volunteers on campus, so they updated existing channels of communications and created new channels to reach our school community. By creating new forums for informing families and encouraging two-way communication, they laid the groundwork for ongoing communication with families and put relevant Mental Health programming in place that will be used in future school years.  

Helen Keller’s Principal stated, “Working with the Keller PTA on the National PTA School of Excellence work has been a tremendous partnership.  One of the most significant takeaways came from how we communicate with our families.  From my perspective, this work has been so beneficial because it can be layered into our existing work as a building, and absolutely assists with strengthening our connections with families to ensure whole child student success.” 

We think it’s safe to say that this outstanding PTA created impactful, ongoing programming to address families’ concerns about students’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, as a direct result of their increased integration with school leadership and staff, the PTA saw an increase in both parent and staff membership. Congratulations, Helen Keller Jr. High School PTA! We are so proud of the work you’ve been able to achieve to help all students achieve excellence. 

Miami Beach Senior High PTSA  

Miami Beach Senior High PTSA in Florida serves over 2,000 students, the majority of whom are Hispanic. Their greatest accomplishment through the School of Excellence program was increasing communication and collaboration among families, teachers, administrators and staff. Their school improvement and student success goals focused on college- and career-readiness standards.  

First, the PTSA helped the college counselor and the career and technical education department spread their messages to students and parents, increasing awareness of opportunities through emails, social media and zoom sessions. To help students and parents better understand how to navigate the college application process, they scheduled a series of zoom meetings by grade level and group chats through social media to capture students’ attention. 

Next, Miami Beach Senior High PTSA worked with teachers and administration to create a chart to help everyone understand the steps to take when students need additional academic support. To help families better understand how to support their child’s learning, they created a weekly email with a “tip of the week,” covering a range of educational topics. They also worked with school staff to provide grants where needed to enhance educational programming by making it more inclusive and individualized. 

Since Miami Beach Senior High PTSA started the School of Excellence program in 2019, prior to the pandemic, 90% of seniors who graduated in 2020 reported they were planning to attend either a two- or four-year university, 5% planned to either enter the military, trade school or work force and over 300 students earned industry certifications! 

The School of Excellence program helped Miami Beach Senior High reach their identified goals. The program leader said, “School of Excellence provided a framework and platform to spark discussions about enhancing communication, college and career readiness, and vertical alignment within our feeder pattern. We used it to gain collaboration and made positive gains in beginning the process of setting up future procedures.”  

The principal agrees, stating, “The School of Excellence Program provided an effective framework to shape our relationship with parents and establish intentional real-life goals for ALL students.”  Congratulations to Miami Beach Senior High PTSA for all of your achievements. We can’t wait to see what you do next! 

Hembree Springs Elementary School PTA  

Hembree Springs Elementary School is a Title 1 school that serves over 500 students in Roswell, Ga. After analyzing feedback from their school community, the PTA chose to focus their School of Excellence journey on improving education by connecting families with advocacy opportunities, increasing awareness of resources and growing family engagement to support student success. 

To achieve their goals, the PTA decided to work closely with school staff to provide a monthly, one-hour forum for semi-structured conversation between parents and school leaders. They used survey results and parent/guardian feedback to prioritize topics, such as literacy, transitions, assessments, principal updates and the “summer slide.” The PTA made sure to increase access to these sessions by offering them in the evening, reserving time for Q&A and providing translators to ensure access for Spanish-speaking families. They also launched an “advocacy newsletter,” to share information and continue to solicit ideas and feedback.  

Parents loved the PTA’s efforts. One parent said, “I think this year the virtual discussions were most timely and relevant and helpful. I found all of the sessions to be very honest conversations between school leadership and parents. I appreciated this opportunity and would like to see them continue.”  

The virtual discussions were a hit with school administrators, too. A.J. Smith, the Hembree Springs Elementary School principal said, “The Hembree Springs Community has grown through the work of PTA and the school. Our parents have gained so much through our Ask PTA! sessions. With our parents being knowledgeable and supported, our students have had better success in academics and socially/emotionally. This has been evident in our behavior data, attendance data, and academic data. Our Hawks have been impacted in such a positive way. This program has forever changed the way we approach advocacy here at Hembree!”  
 

Overall, PTA and administrators found the School of Excellence program to be very effective in helping them reach their collective goals. “The School of Excellence program provided us with valuable information that we leveraged to foster stronger and deeper relationships with our families and community members. It enabled us to be intentional and specific regarding the needs of our community—leading to the creation of programs and initiatives that will generate ongoing improvements for our school community in years to come.”  

Start Your Journey to Excellence 

As you can see from these PTA stories, the National PTA School of Excellence program opens the lines of communication and critical thinking within school communities to make data-driven decisions that yield positive, long-term results. We hope your PTA will enroll in the 2021-2022 National PTA School of Excellence program to take the first step in enriching the educational experience and overall well-being of your students. Enroll by October 1 at PTA.org/Excellence. Feel free to email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions. 

Arlington Science Focus School Virtual Family STEM Night 2021

Think you can’t host a family fun night while remote learning? Think again! Arlington Science Focus School, an elementary school in Arlington, Va., hosted its first-ever Virtual Family STEM Night Wednesday, Feb. 17.

The event went off without a hitch thanks to ASFS Investigation Station Lead, Stephanie Lin, the 2020 NOVA District PTA Educator of the Year, and a team of volunteers made up of ASFS teachers, parents, local high school students, and community partners.

Kindergarten through fifth-grade families were able to connect with one another and enjoy an evening of virtual STEM activities and live presentations, all from home. Students joined Microsoft Teams calls to listen to live presenters, watch demonstrations, and participate in a variety of science and engineering stations.

Thanks to the support of the ASFS PTA, families were able to pick up STEM Night supply kits with bags of simple materials needed for each of the experiments, and many of the activities could be completed with supplies found at home.

Some of the night’s highlights included hands-on activities, such as:

  • Building Index Card Towers
  • Creating Ocean Sculptures from recycled materials
  • Building a LED Copper Tape Flashlight
  • Making a Balloon-Powered Boat with a sponge, straw and balloon
  • Creating Underwater Fireworks with oil and food coloring
  • Experimenting with Paper Cup Constellations using a flashlight
  • Making music in the Chrome Music Lab

The event also featured presentations and demonstrations, including:

  • Astronomy presentations by a speaker from NASA
  • ASFS First Lego League Robotics Team demonstration
  • Reptile and amphibian presentation by a nature center representative
  • Space shuttle simulation with the ASFS student Tech Crew
  • STEM career talks by a Bioinformaticist, Computer Scientist, Environmental Engineer, Forester and Sustainability Analyst

Although the virtual experience was not the same as the annual science fair typically held at school, it was great to see so many families engaging and participating in this school-wide event and enjoying STEM in this virtual world.

Two of the most popular STEM activities from the night were National PTA STEM @ Home activities: STEM @ Home Experiment 2: Ballon Boat and STEM @ Home Experiment 5: Copper Tape Flashlights. For the Balloon Boat, many students filled up their sinks or bathtubs with water and enjoyed watching their boats travel. Siblings loved racing their boats against each other. With the Copper Tape Flashlight, students were amazed that the LED light could light up with simple household materials, and they loved how bright it was!

Interested in hosting your own virtual STEM night? Check out National PTA’s STEM @ Home page for more information.

ASFS Family STEM Night Photos

Celebrating Arts & Humanities through the School of Excellence

National PTA and the School of Excellence program recognize that schools and PTAs can take an active role in supporting of arts education. Throughout the country, arts education programming is being slashed, leaving all students, artists or not, without a creative outlet to explore their own experiences and identities.

Understanding this, some of our School of Excellence participants take up the mantle of supporting the arts in their school communities no matter how difficult. In honor of their hard work and Arts & Humanities month, let us explore how some of the 2019-2021 School of Excellence designees used the arts to enhance their family-school partnerships.

Centerville Elementary PTA, Utah           

Centerville Elementary PTA’s School of Excellence team, in collaboration with a group of parent advocates, chose to focus on increasing student access to the arts. Centerville Elementary PTA’s work demonstrates not only a dedication to the arts, but a dedication to their community. Their work in supporting the arts was in direct response to several parents who advocated for students to have an art program at Centerville Elementary.

The Excellence Team set to work early in the year, meeting to share ideas, set priorities, and discuss available resources. Their first task was to create a choir program. The Excellence team sent out an interest survey and received a huge response in favor of the choir program.  Close to 100 students joined the choir program (approximately ¼ of the student population) and had a phenomenal experience. The program truly brought to life the idea of family-engagement, with several parents volunteering with the program including the choir teacher, a parent who is also a highly qualified choral instructor. The choir put on a very well attended concert at the end of the school year that brought many parents and families that typically did not attend school events.

 

In truth, family engagement was incorporated into all the work Centerville Elementary PTA did. The PTA relied on their parent volunteers to weave arts education throughout the school. For example, one volunteer recognized the waste of a classroom set of ukuleles that had been left sitting in a storage room at the school. The parent coordinated Monday morning ukulele classes. The classes held an array of participants from the principal to the custodian to a technology specialist. The parent volunteer taught these school leaders to play the ukulele in hopes that they would then be able to bring the instrument to students in the school. And they did just that during the school talent show on the last day of school.

Grafton Village Elementary School PTA, Virginia

Grafton Village Elementary School PTA also focused on supporting the arts in their school community. Their work, in fact, likely could not have been as successful if it were not for their work with community members. Recognizing a lack of art supplies, the Excellence Team and PTA partnered with a local organization to run a successful art fundraiser. With assistance from the school art teacher, students created visual art pieces that could be transformed into a variety of keepsake items that parents could purchase. The funds raised through this went directly to the art teacher at Grafton Village Elementary School which allowed her to purchase more art supplies like clay, paint, and markers for her classroom. Recognizing that not all parents could choose to purchase the keepsakes, the art teacher allowed all students to take their original pieces home so all students could feel a part of the fundraiser.

In another example of community engagement, the PTA partnered with a local boy scout troop and had an Eagle Scout candidate build shelves in the art room for his Eagle Scout project.  The PTA paid for all shelving supplies, while the Eagle Scout candidate provided all the labor and construction. The end result was a beautiful set of shelves to display and dry student’s artwork.

Finally, the Grafton Village Excellence Team partnered with middle and high school students and parents to host a very successful talent show. Student and parent volunteers came to the after-school rehearsals and helped prepare talent show participants so they could shine in the final performance. During the night of the show, volunteers helped to welcome families, hand out programs, serve refreshments, and take photos so participants could remember the night. The final talent show, and all the support from volunteers, highlighted the deep commitment Grafton Village Elementary had not only for supporting the arts, but also further integrating their PTA into the school and local community.

Four Corners PTA, WI   

Four Corners PTA’s greatest accomplishment in strengthening family-school partnerships was the creation of a series of unique art focused activities that helped deepen the PTA and community’s connection to the arts. Four Corners PTA began by hosting a Create Art Night, a new activity for school, with the goal of inviting students and their families to school to create holiday gifts. The event was free to attend and included dinner which severed well over 100 people from the school community.

Four Corners PTA and the school music teacher also partnered with Little Opera of the North to give students the opportunity to perform in an opera. All of the students in the school, Pre-K through fifth grade, watched the final afternoon performance. Parents, families and community members were invited and enjoyed watching the students perform as well. The opera show was a first for many and provided the community with a new way to experience the arts. This was not the only event Four Corners PTA hosted that brought together their community through the arts. One of the art teachers at Four Corners volunteered to lead a Cookies and Canvas night at school for students and family members. Moms, Dads, Aunts and Grandmas followed step-by-step instructions provided by the teachers to create beautiful take home paintings.

The PTA also sponsored events just for the student community. The Spring Fever Family Dance Party was hosted by volunteer parents, including a local DJ and a dance instructor. Between the DJ and the instructor, students learned dances and were helped to feel more comfortable on the dance floor. The PTA also sponsored a weeklong Artist in Residency program as part of their interactive learning initiative. Working with two puppet artists from ArtStart, all grade levels made puppets and participated in a puppet performance piece. The event concluded with an evening puppet show for families that included a free dinner.

The Excellence Team at Four Corners PTA truly saw the benefits of their investment. Their focus in family engagement changed the school community by increasing student, teacher, family and community participation in the family-oriented art events that we held. The PTA saw an increase in membership, volunteers and attendance at school events. Through their focus on community and the arts, more people in the community know and understand the PTA’s mission “to make every child’s potential a reality.”

These are just a few of the School of Excellence designees who made huge strides in embedding arts education into their school communities. If you’re interested in advancing the arts in your community check out all the available resources from the hosts of Arts & Humanities and our partners at Americans for the Arts here. You can also read and download our ArtsEd Guide which provides useful ways for PTAs to explore the arts and incorporate them into their school programming.

And don’t forget to get involved with the School of Excellence program! You can use your work to advance the arts to become a School of Excellence and gain recognition for the work your PTA does to bring transformative family engagement and the arts to your school! Enroll here by October 15 and support the arts in your community!


By: Ellie Miller, Reflections Specialist

 

Meet the 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Winner

This summer, National PTA honored Mark Twain Elementary PTA in Lawndale, California with the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award for Outstanding Family-School Partnership. This award is given to top National PTA School of Excellence designees for demonstrating outstanding success in engaging families in student success and school improvements.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA proved again and again to be incredibly deserving of the designation and this award. Their work throughout the School of Excellence program truly highlighted the positive impacts that can be achieved with hard work and dedication to strengthening family-school partnership.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA began their work in the summer by forming an Excellence Team composed of PTA members, the principal and student support services staff, district communications staff, and bilingual speakers. The PTA was extremely intentional in creating a team that aligned with the school community as well as the district office.

This intentional team-building proved vital in the end. Working with the principal gave the team an important advocate who assisted throughout the School of Excellence program process, while the bilingual speakers, who represented the English language learners (35% of the student population), allowed the Excellence Team to embed Inclusiveness, one of Four I’s of Transformative Family Engagement, into the program planning.

After selecting their Excellence Team and sending out National PTA’s Baseline Survey, Mark Twain Elementary PTA began analyzing the results and setting goals. The team was determined to approach the survey results critically and to use the information gathered to develop a plan that would create tangible change in their community – a critical step to success in the School of Excellence program. While every program participant must survey their community, Mark Twain Elementary PTA made sure to use the survey as a tool to embed one of the Four I’s – Individualized – into their program. By tailoring their program to the survey results, the Excellence Team ensured that their work would benefit their school community thoroughly and intentionally.

The Baseline Survey results indicated that their school community was generally pleased, but that there was a need to focus on improving education and do more with college and career readiness. With generally positive results revealed, Mark Twain Elementary PTA built their action plan around making things better rather than starting from scratch. Using the survey results, they learned what was already working, where families were already showing up and how families were interacting with one another. For example, the Excellence Team noticed that 49% of their survey responses were received by paper. To the team, this showed a community willing to give feedback but one that may benefit from a refreshed and more efficient communication strategy.

As the survey revealed to the Excellence Team that college and career readiness was an area for improvement in their community, Mark Twain Elementary PTA launched their first PTA College and Career Readiness Month. As a first step, the PTA invited parents and caregivers to read books and speak about their careers. With a female-heavy volunteer base, the PTA was pleased that four new dads joined this effort and promised they would return again next year. This increase in male volunteer support was just another example of Mark Twain Elementary PTA embedding inclusion into their School of Excellence program.

The new PTA College and Career Readiness Month also coincided with Spirit Week. Mark Twain Elementary PTA partnered with student support services who helped students write their future career plans on miniature squares. The color-coded squares then created a muraled billboard that aligned current grade levels to a high school graduation year. Many students said this was the first time they thought about their graduation. It was small moments like these – students discussing graduation for the first time or father’s volunteering where they previously had not – that showed the Excellence Team that their work was not falling short. Rather they were, in fact, creating real, positive and long-lasting change.

To close out College and Career Readiness Month, Mark Twain Elementary PTA rebranded one of their biggest traditions to JOG-A-THON 2019: Run Toward Your Future. During the run students wore college gear or clothing that expressed their desired career path. The color-coded mural also made an appearance to remind students about their educational goal and beyond.

While all these events were going on, the PTA made sure to send home bilingual communication about district PSAT workshops, local resources and experiences including STEM Nights and science festivals as well as college scholarships. This ensured that even families and children not present at the events were receiving useful information and resources. They did this purposefully with Inclusion and the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships of “Welcoming all Families” and “Communicating Effectively” in mind. In the end, the thoughtfulness and success led to the declaration that College and Career Readiness Month would be an annual event. Making the event annual allowed Mark Twain Elementary PTA to incorporate another of the vital Four I’s of Transformative Family Engagement – Integration.

At the end of the year, Mark Twain Elementary PTA’s hard work truly paid off. Through the deployment of National PTA’s Final Survey, the PTA saw 11% increase in the number of surveys submitted and a 100% increase in the ‘always’ rating in their survey responses. The PTA also moved the needle in every category and made significant leaps relative to Welcoming All Families (‘always’ up 5%-21%), Supporting Student Success (‘always’ up 5%-18%), Communicating Effectively (‘always’ up 8%-16%), and Speaking Up for Every Child (‘always’ up 6%-17%). Most importantly, the PTA witnessed their highest levels of engagement ever – with more thankful families, increased event attendance, and new volunteers.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA ended the year with much pride in their work and showed they were truly committed to making a positive change in their school community. Before even earning the designation, much less the top honor, the PTA leaders decided that, regardless of their School of Excellence designation, they were going to celebrate their year because they had accomplished so much. The Excellence Team even noted that they accomplished only small portion of all their goals and that they would continue to use the School of Excellence program to drive positive change in their school and community.

You too can see amazing changes in your school community with hard work and support from the School of Excellence program. Learn more about the program at PTA.org/Excellence and make sure to enroll by October 1 to secure your spot on the path to excellence.


Ellie Miller is a programs specialist for National PTA.

Ways to Make Your PTA Virtual

With so many schools closed through the end of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, how are PTA/PTSAs keeping in touch with their school communities? They are going virtual!

National PTA surveyed local leaders from across America and heard about the many amazing things they are doing to be relevant to their members, students, families and communities together during this health crisis, with stay-at-home orders and social distancing in place.

Your PTA serves a vital role in supporting your community, and that role has only become more important during COVID-19. Try some of these creative ideas to bring people together, while respecting social distancing.

Community Building (Online)

Email, Google Docs and remote classrooms can go a long way to serving your students’ academic needs, but what about their emotional ones? Your PTA can support a feeling of community and school spirit even online.

  • #TogetherApart: Support stay at home orders by requesting students and families to post pics of how they are social distancing.
  • A Taste of Normal: Use your PTA Facebook page to help your school continue to deliver morning announcements (weather, birthdays, daily math problems and more) on Facebook Live.
  • Virtual Spirit Wear: Encourage your community to share their school pride by taking a pic in their school gear and sharing to your PTSA’s Facebook.
  • School Spirit Week: Similarly, ask your families to post different pictures online according to a new theme each day–crazy hat day, PJ day, crazy sock day, etc.
  • Bust Boredom: Lift people’s spirits! Send out daily challenges (fitness, crafts, etc.) or provide virtual morale boosters (funny pictures, inspirational quotes, etc.)
  • Let’s Read Together: Pick a book for your community to read together. Have the principal, your PTA President or a great volunteer record themselves reading and share the video online.
  • Make Space: Put the “social” in social isolation by hosting a virtual meet-up for your families on Zoom or Google Hangouts.

The Great Outdoors

Getting a few minutes of fresh air and sunshine can be critical for mental and physical health, particularly for children. Remind your families to don their masks, stay at least six feet from others, and participate in one of these fun challenges.

  • Chalk the Walk: Have families get outside in the fresh air to draw pictures or write positive messages on their driveways or on the sidewalk. Then families can walk around the neighborhood, get some exercise and enjoy all the art and messages. This activity could be neighborhood or community-wide.
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Host a neighborhood scavenger hunt! Ask school families and community members to place a teddy bear or bear pictures in a window, front yard, in a tree, etc. Kids and families can get outside, get some exercise and hunt for the bears while practicing social distancing. Tell families to post online how many they found!
  • Themed walks! One of our local PTAs held a shamrock walk for St. Patrick’s Day. Families drew and cut out shamrocks and put them in their windows. Families could walk around and find shamrocks. This idea can be adjusted for other occasions, like emojis and signs for Teacher Appreciation Week, or made evergreen by using something like rainbows.

Take Your Events Online!

Don’t let all your PTA’s prep work go to waste! It may take a little creativity, ingenuity and flexibility, but you can (and should!) try to host some of your beloved events online!

  • Virtual Talent Show: Give kids the chance to show off their hobbies and special abilities!
  • Virtual Career Day: Inspire kids to keep studying so they can become their heroes.
  • Virtual Graduation Celebration: Missing milestones can be tough. Collaborate with your school to do something for your High School Seniors.
  • Online After School Programs: Some after school programs sponsored by your PTA might be able to be moved online with the help of your enrichment program vendors.
  • Online Reflections! Encourage your PTA students to start working on their Reflections submissions. This year’s student-selected theme is I Matter Because

Provide Resources

As a family engagement association, your PTA plays a unique role as a go-between with your school and your community. In a crisis like this one, that role becomes even more important.

  • Bulletin Board: Don’t underestimate your reach! Share links to your state’s assistance for unemployment/underemployment or information on free internet options.
  • Food Pantry: If your PTA already runs a food pantry, please continue to do so! Some of our PTAs have switched to a drive-through model of service to minimize contact.
  • Special Delivery: Mobility can be a huge problem for some families. Your PTA could consider delivering school meals for those who can’t come pick them up.
  • Power Community Action: The PTA voice is mighty! Grassroots activism can be as simple as sharing National PTA’s action alerts or starting a petition around your state or local legislation.
  • Community Childcare: Essential workers may be having difficulty arranging reliable childcare. Your PTA can help connect families who are available to provide childcare to families in need of childcare.
  • STEM @ Home: PTA can create easy STEM activity packets (try the ones on our STEM @ Home page!) and hand them out when students pick up school meals.
  • Virtual Vacation: Many families have had to cancel their travel plans for Spring Break. Your PTA can turn this into an educational opportunity by sharing destinations for families to explore together virtually every day, with tours of historic sites, local recipes, themed crafts and traditions.

Keeping Revenue Coming In

Your PTA can’t do all of the great things it does without resources! Try these ideas to raise much-needed funds.

  • Restaurant Takeout Night: Support local businesses while raising money for your PTA and school! Collaborate with a local restaurant and ask your families to order takeout. A percentage of those sales can be donated to your PTA.
  • Set Up a GoFundMe: Make it easy for your families to support each other! Set up a site to collect online monetary donations for your PTA/PTSA food pantry.
  • Sell Graduation Yard Signs: Help your community celebrate their special seniors! Create cute “congrats grad!” signs that, when sold, a volunteer can then drive by and put it in the recipient’s yard.
  • Sell Spirit Wear: Sometimes what you wear can make all the difference in how you feel. Lift spirits and build a sense of community by selling spirit wear for your school and your PTA!
  • Host an Online Auction: Reach out to local businesses for donations of vouchers, gift cards or other “to-be-used-in-the-future” items your families could use, then host an event live on an online conferencing platform.

Meet and Greet

Our PTA Family can always use more members! In a time of social distancing, we need to create connections more than ever before. Use this moment to invite all your school community to join your PTA/PTSA!

  • Make Your Meetings Effective: Your PTA/PTSA meetings can easily be hosted online but be sure to stay organized and on task. Send out all the materials in advance and be respectful of your members’ time.
  • Make Your Meetings Impactful: Invite key players such as the principal, school staff and other school parents to brainstorm how your PTA can best help support families.
  • Celebrate Your Volunteers: Create opportunities to share the great work your PTA is doing, while letting people know you appreciate their efforts.

On behalf of National PTA, thank you for all you do to support children and families. Quarantine is really tough, but we want you to know that you’re doing an amazing job and we’re so #PTAProud of you! Visit PTA.org/COVID-19 for critical resources, join our local PTA leader Facebook group, and share your local PTA/PTSA virtual story with us. Stay safe!


Suzan Yungner is the director of membership and field service for National PTA.

Advocacy Spotlight: Gun Violence Prevention

Gun violence is such an overwhelming issue in our nation, it can be paralyzing to think about. How can you as one parent, or even as one PTA unit, make a difference? Thankfully, there are PTAs who have been paving the way, and we had the chance to talk with three representatives from Mercer Island PTA, Lori Cohen-Sanford, Erin Gurney, and Gwen Loosmore.

Mercer Island PTA has been advocating for gun violence prevention since 2018. They shared with us their lessons learned and advice for like-minded groups.

What do families need to know about gun violence and gun violence prevention?

Gun violence is the second leading cause of death for youth in our country. Over half of those gun deaths are suicides. Everyone has a role in gun violence prevention. If families do own guns, they need to make sure they are safely stored. Families need to feel comfortable asking if there are guns in the home, when their children go for a playdate– just like they would share about any allergies or ask about pets or swimming pool safety.

What strategies have you found most effective when advocating for gun violence prevention?

It’s crucial to know your platform. Familiarize yourself with National PTA’s position statement. Mercer Island PTA has made a habit of laminating them and bringing them everywhere!

Don’t forget that PTA is an advocacy association. We speak on behalf of all children ESPECIALLY on behalf of children’s safety. We have the authority as PTA members to advocate for these positions. It’s helpful to have or establish a state platform, as well. We have found that parents want to act, so it’s helpful to give them something to do – specific bills to support, newsletters to read, encouragement to ask about guns in the home at playdates, etc. We really say that we are doing the advocacy work one conversation at a time. It’s also important to remember that every parent wants the violence to stop. There is a lot of common ground and we need to normalize the conversation around firearms in our society.

What advice do you have for PTAs who want to make gun violence prevention a higher priority in their school, district or state?

Talking about gun violence can make a lot of people nervous because it’s become a political issue in our country and we don’t want our schools to become split by political divides. The challenge here is to remind people that PTA is an advocacy organization and we’re advocating for student safety. What we are trying to do is change the culture in how we talk about gun violence prevention. Even gun owners are supportive of a lot of these measures.

Find like-minded parents and get organized. Consider going to non-PTA gun violence prevention organizations, like the Brady Campaign or Moms Demand, to find other local parents who share your passion.

Overcommunicate. If your leadership is concerned keep them informed of everything you’re doing, before you do it, share why, and how it falls into National PTA’s mission. National PTA already has a position statement on gun violence, and a website on family resources for school safety and questions you can start with that you KNOW falls within what PTA has authorized – start there!

Every community, every PTA, every individual has a specific set of experiences and what works for Mercer Island PTA might not everywhere. However, what is absolutely universal is people need to feel empowered and they need to know that they have the power to create change if they bring themselves together around this issue.

Curious how you can talk to your kids about these issues? Tune in to our podcast, Notes from the Backpack, to hear Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez share tips on talking to your children about gun violence in developmentally appropriate ways!