Arts Enhancement Grant Awards Local PTAs

National PTA’s Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant awards two local PTAs $1,000 in matching funds for 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

Last year, through the Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant application, PTAs shared their plans to deliver high-quality arts education activities in the literary, media, visual and/or performing arts.

We were so excited to select Anderson Mill Elementary PTA in Texas and Reese Road Elementary School PTA in Georgia to receive the award in 2019, and we were even more impressed with the fantastic work the two PTAs did with the grant funding. Check out their stories below!

Reese Road PTA – Columbus, Ga.

In November, Reese Road PTA hosted a Fine Arts Extravaganza, a free event for their whole community. The event was supported visiting artists, high school volunteers and employees from the local library and museum.

It was an incredible success, with over 300 people in attendance! Families were able to explore the arts together throughout the school, with an exhibit displaying student artwork in the gym and a snack station in the school café. At the many stations hosted throughout the evening, attendees were able to make buttons, necklaces, keychains, origami and illuminated sculptures. Attendees were able to work with their families at the stations to experiment with new creative processes and mediums.

Katrina Long, Reese Road Principal said, “All of the smiles made me happy! The students, teachers, parents and grandparents were so excited to play with the different media and see all of the beautiful artwork that the students worked so hard to create!

The event also highlighted STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) programming in the Reese Road’s curriculum. Event participants were able to get hands-on understanding of how students apply art and creativity to their learning process. This gave parents and guardians insight into their student’s school, alongside the students, while also emphasizing the importance of arts in education.

Reese Road PTA leaders also made sure to encourage student participation in the Look Within Reflections program and hope to see some of their submissions win on the state and national level. As a Title I school with a diverse school population, many of whom receive free and reduced lunches, Reese Road Elementary School PTA was able to use the Mary Lou Anderson Arts Enhancement Grant to truly bring the arts into education.

Anderson Mill Elementary PTA – Austin, Texas

In order to thoroughly incorporate arts education into their school, Anderson Mill Elementary PTA chose to host several events and activities throughout the school year. Melissa George, Anderson Mill Elementary PTA President explained, “Our activities and events are spread throughout the entire school year in order to cover all of the art categories celebrated in the Reflections program. For many, seeing or hearing the word ‘art’ usually brings to mind the visual arts—people forget that there is so much more, and it has been exciting to have this opportunity to help expand awareness and knowledge in these areas.”

Using the Mary Lou Anderson Arts Enhancement Grant as support, the Anderson Mill Elementary PTA partnered with school personnel to develop art education programming that would bring the school’s diverse community together, while exposing students and community members to the arts. Thus far, Anderson Mill PTA has hosted three events that incorporated arts education into the programming—the Multicultural Celebration, the Fall Family Art Night, and the Fall Carnival.

Leadership pointed to the Multicultural Celebration as their most successful event yet. At the celebration, students were exposed to the unique cultures in their community and were able to explore the many artistic sides of those cultures. Families were asked to share cultural dances and artwork from home to display and educate the community. The celebration event also had cultural arts stations that allowed students to make their own take-away artwork. Stations included henna art, Chinese calligraphy, papel picado, Dias de los Muertos masks and more. The event was so well-attended that the PTA plans to host a similar event in the spring.

Anderson Mill PTA believes their work to implement the Mary Lou Anderson Arts Enhancement Grant has boosted awareness of the PTA and helped strengthen relationships with diverse communities. With a high percentage of low-income families and English language learners, their work made families more aware of the PTA and the services they provide to their community. Through their hard work and the Mary Lou Anderson Arts Enhancement Grant, Anderson Mill PTA was able to bring families and students together in a unique and impactful way.

Congratulations, once again, to Reese Road PTA and Anderson Mill Elementary PTA! You can learn more about the Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant at PTA.org/ArtsEd.

 

Making Drinking Water Fun! With a Healthy Hydration Event

SPOTLIGHT: Pope PTA (Puyallup, Wash.)

This blog post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders who received a Healthy Hydration Grant, sponsored by Nestlé Waters North America. They share practical advice and lessons learned from planning and hosting their events.

“Try new things ‘cuz they might taste good!” was the jingle I sang from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood as the masses of students taking their water breaks approached the water coolers. The signs on the water coolers piqued their interest as they realized they had a decision to make: Which flavored water recipe would they try first?

Being able to host the Healthy Hydration event was a much-needed boost to our school’s morale, as the beginning of the school year has proven to be a challenge. Our school building is being renovated and expanded this school year, so we are currently displaced to an aging building elsewhere in the district that has led to a host of changes for the students, staff and school community. The announcement of the event generated a lot of positive buzz around the school and the administration was very supportive.

National PTA selected our PTA to receive the grant funding in October, so we had to hit the ground running immediately to plan and execute the event to make sure it happened in November, which is Healthy Lifestyles Month. We attended an online training webinar and scoured National PTA’s website to use their online toolkit.

We also took advantage of our Washington State PTA membership benefit at FedEx to print off any and all materials. We wanted to be sure to reach ALL of our families, so we made sure to translate any customized letters we wrote into Spanish with the help of a Spanish-speaking PTA volunteer.

We ran the Healthy Hydration event in conjunction with our already planned fun-run fundraiser. We decided that a two-day event would work best for our school to limit classroom distraction.

On Day 1, we set up the sugar-beverage education table, a table to hand out free Nestlé water bottles to all students, and a recycling station with recycling infographics. We used the customized banner that came with our grantee kit to have students sign their names as a pledge to drink water. This event ran during the students’ lunch recess.

On Day 2, we ran the fruit-infused water stations during the fun-run event. We used the three recommended recipes: Strawberry & Basil, Cucumber & Mint, and Blueberry & Orange. While the students took their mandatory water breaks, we encouraged each student to try a new recipe each time, as they got to vote on their favorite with the conclusion of the run (Spoiler Alert: the winner was Strawberry & Basil!). At the end of the day, each student took home the recipes they tried to encourage our school families to lead healthier lifestyles.

Take Action


Authored by Victoria Treffry, Pope PTA Co-President in Puyallup, Wash.

Disclosure: Nestlé Waters North America is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 20192020 Healthy Hydration Grant, sponsored by Nestlé Waters North America. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

 

PTA Leader Helps School Step Outside Comfort Zone and Into Progress

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Daphne Callender, Fitness Instructor by day and PTA champion of Springfield Estates Elementary School (SEES) PTA in Springfield, VA, and her extraordinary school community in celebration of their 2019-2021 National PTA School of Excellence designation. The warm celebration with parents, staff and administrators included a delicious dinner, a decorated cake and the unveiling of their School of Excellence banner. As one of 19 PTAs in Virginia to earn the School of Excellence designation this year, Springfield Estates Elementary PTA had a great deal to be proud of. Through their year-long School of Excellence program, SEES PTA chose to focus on the inclusion and access to their ethnically, racially and socio-economically diverse community. As both a Title 1 neighborhood school and Advanced Academic Placement Center that pulls from eight different elementary schools, SEES PTA felt it was imperative to bring all members together to build community and celebrate their rich diversity.

Through their School of Excellence plan, SEES PTA took deliberative steps to make certain that all parents knew that they were invited to attend and participate in all PTA events, translating invitations into their five major languages: Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Urdu, and Arabic.  These invitations were personally distributed to all cars in the Kiss-N-Ride line and sent home in students’ folders. They also asked their Spanish-speaking parent liaison and English as a Second Language teachers to encourage and welcome parent participation at all PTA events. The PTA hosted an international food potluck dinner where families shared dishes from their culture and, to further welcome families with differing socio-economic statuses, they secured scholarships and gift certificates with one of their after-school STEM programs. It is clear that Springfield Estates Elementary celebrates their diverse and culturally rich environment and fervently believes it enhances the educational experience of their students and their families alike. Here is what Daphne shared about her work in the School of Excellence program:

“The National PTA School of Excellence Award program enabled our PTA committee to recognize that although we had a strong PTA, there was room for more family engagement and to make sure that feeling of welcome extended to each and every family at our school. Upon receiving the first email, I gave it a little bit of thought but didn’t know if I wanted to add something else to my already full schedule.  When I received the email that it was the absolute last day to sign up, I decided to go for it.  I then created a team of people who could help me implement and execute a plan for more family engagement. I would highly recommend the National PTA School of Excellence program to other schools because it helps to provide a goal to work towards.  I believe it easy to get stuck in doing what’s always been done. The program gave our PTA a focus and we worked on it together as a team.”

Congratulations SEES PTA and thank you for being a leader in building family-school partnerships!


Amy Weinberg, Manager Programs & Partnerships at National PTA.

Visit PTA.org/Excellence to learn more about the School of Excellence program and how your PTA can earn the designation.

Excellence in Action: 2019’s Top 3 National PTA Schools of Excellence

Each year, the top three National PTA Schools of Excellence are selected to receive the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awards for demonstrating outstanding success in engaging families in student success and school improvements. These awards are selected by a team of Past National PTA Presidents and are the highest honor National PTA offers for success in family engagement.

The 2019 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients are: Mark Twain Elementary PTA (California) who received the top Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award, Norman Rockwell PTA (Washington) who received a Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit and Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA (Florida) who also received a Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit.

In addition to national recognition, 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 so pleased to share with you just a snapshot of the fantastic work our 2019 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients put into building and growing family-school partnerships in their communities.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA, California

We were so impressed by the efforts of our 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award winner. Mark Twain Elementary School PTA began their School of Excellence journey with a vision to become a stable organization that leads in engaging with and meeting the needs of all families. The PTA focused on several goals early in their planning process and used these goals to build an organized approach to family-school engagement.

  • Improve leadership and member training, planning and organization
  • Refresh traditional PTA programs and add new ideas
  • Expand funding sources and eliminate inefficient activities
  • Increase school and community engagement

With these in mind, the PTA created an Excellence Team including PTA members, the principal, student support services staff, district communications staff and bilingual speakers. With their team set, the Excellence Team planned to combine refreshed traditions and new activities to best serve their current families.

One example of this combination was Mark Twain Elementary School PTA’s re-themed tradition: JOG-A-THON 2019: Run Toward Your Future. Students wore college gear or a shirt expressing their desired career path. Students were invited to help create a muraled billboard with miniature squares depicting their future career plans.

Mark Twain Elementary School PTA also launched several new events and programs, including their first-ever PTA College and Career Readiness Month in March with a combined Read Across America/Career Day. During the latter, the PTA invited parents to both read books and speak about their careers. In the usually female-heavy volunteer base, four new dads showed up and declared they would return next year.

The survey results Mark Twain Elementary School PTA eventually collected reflect just how much work went into achieving excellence. 100% of the year-end survey questions reflected an increase in the ‘always’ rating and 95% of questions showed ‘always’ selected greater than 50% of the time. The PTA even saw an 11% increase in the number of surveys submitted at year-end!

Norman Rockwell PTA, Washington

Norman Rockwell PTA, one of our two 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit winners, highlighted communication as the key to their success in the School of Excellence program.

The PTA’s emphasis on communication provided a deeper understanding of school programs, educated parents on transitioning students between grade levels and created more consistent communication to reach families where they were.

After a positive response to new, multi-lingual ‘Welcome’ signs, the Norman Rockwell PTA knew they needed to capitalize on their momentum towards consistent communication. To do so, the PTA decided to foster their partnership with the principal’s ‘Coffee with Mr. Clark’, a monthly meeting for families to discuss important topics with the principal in an open, casual Q & A format.

The PTA found this format was especially useful as it made it easy for families to be heard, while also allowing parents and the principal to work towards a common understanding. Their work to foster this partnership paid off and ‘Coffee with Mr. Clark’ reached at least 50 parents. Norman Rockwell PTA hopes to double attendance next year.

Norman Rockwell PTA’s focus on communication did not stop with coffee, however. The PTA also worked to involve parents in planning for students transitioning between grade levels. Using National PTA’s Parent’s Guides to Student Success, the Beagle Bugle, Norman Rockwell PTA’s weekly newsletter, featured one grade level for two weeks and linked parents to an overview of key topics children learn in their English literacy and math classrooms. Each article presented activities for families to do at home to ensure students meet core expectations and support academic standards. The PTA went one step further and, before publishing the content, met with teacher groups to review the content and ensure their grade level met the outlined standards.

The concentrated effort Norman Rockwell PTA placed on communication did not go unnoticed in their state. Due to the PTAs efforts, the Washington PTA awarded Norman Rockwell PTA the Silver Award of Excellence for Outstanding Communication Strategy, an award that recognizes local PTAs for their use of multiple forms of communication.

Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA, Florida

Our second 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit winner, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA in Florida, decided to focus on improving the education of their students by engaging more families during their School of Excellence program year. To accomplish this, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA hosted events and programs that helped families to get to know and relate with one another both in and out of school.

One successful program was Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA involvement in the National PTA Reflections art program. The PTA had a total of 52 entries in visual arts and literature and have two became district level Reflections winners.

To further acknowledge the Reflections participants, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA hosted an awards ceremony and invited parents to attend and recognize their children, as well as other participants. Following the Reflections competition, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA hosted an art show for all second through fifth grade students. Parents were able to walk through a gallery filled with many colorful masterpieces and talk amongst each other.

Additionally, the PTA hosted a family night at the local ice arena for families to come together and socialize, as well as a family night with the Miami Heat basketball team, which included a performance by the Jane S. Roberts K8 Center band students before the game.

The impact of these events was reflected in end of the year survey results, which showed a 26% increase in responses relating to encouraging families to volunteer, showing respect to all families, listening to families concerns and establishing policies to recognize diversity.

Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA also worked to strengthen their school’s presence in the community. The PTA reached out to a few organizations to begin building partnerships. At the first PTSA meeting, the PTA invited a financial planner to give a presentation to families in attendance. Additionally, in the school’s main office, the PTA put together a parent resource center that provided families with valuable information from various organizations in the community. In partnership with the Student Council, the school and PTA also gave back to the local community with a food and toy drive. The PTA’s work to improve community relations was show in end of the year survey data which reflected an average increase of 17% as it relates to community partnerships and resources.

By the end of the School of Excellence program, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center significantly improved their family-school partnerships, made their school community more welcoming and inclusive, increased participation in PTA events and fostered more productive conversations with families. The School of Excellence program allowed Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA to remain aligned with the PTA’s mission to make every student’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering their families and the local community.

Congratulations once again to these amazing PTAs and to all of our 2019-2021 National PTA Schools of Excellence. The work that these PTAs accomplished shows just how much impact a dedicated PTA, school and community can have in just a year’s time.

Take the first step in becoming a nationally-recognized PTA School of Excellence by enrolling now through Oct. 1 at PTA.org/Excellence and visit PTA.org/Hearst for the full narratives our Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awardees.

Email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


Ellie Miller, Programs & Partnerships Specialist at National PTA.

Student Data and Privacy: A California PTA Advocacy Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Know an Outstanding PTA Advocate? Nominate Them for the 2019 Advocacy Awards!

PTA advocates go to great lengths to take action for kids. From meeting with local, state and federal decisionmakers to hosting school forums to advocating for legislation and ballot initiatives, PTA advocates consistently go above and beyond to advocate for each and every child.

National PTA recognizes the dedication our advocates through our annual Advocacy Awards which are presented to outstanding individual, state PTA and local PTA advocates at our Legislative Conference. We are now accepting applications for our 2019 Advocacy Awards!

If you are or know of an outstanding youth or individual PTA advocate, or a local unit or state PTA that has done great advocacy work, submit a nomination today! Our four award categories are the Shirly Igo Advocate of the Year Award, Outstanding Youth Advocate of the Year Award, Outstanding State PTA Advocacy Award and Outstanding Local PTA Advocacy Award. Advocacy awardees will receive an all expenses paid trip to National PTA’s 2019 Legislative Conference, March 12-14, where they will have the opportunity to meet with policymakers, hear PTA advocacy success stories and learn how to shape public policy in Washington, DC and at home. Awardees will receive their award and be recognized at LegCon during our Advocacy Awards Dinner.

As in previous years, advocates may self-nominate for the Shirly Igo Advocate of the Year Award and the Outstanding Youth Advocate of the Year Award. Nominations for all awards must be for efforts made in the last year and are due by 11:59 PM EST on Dec. 14. For more information about the 2019 Advocacy Awards, visit PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards.

Submit a nomination today to honor the outstanding advocacy work PTA members have done across the country! We look forward to recognizing our outstanding PTA advocates at LegCon!

Schools Honored For Excellence in Community Engagement and Growth

Through the National PTA School of Excellence program, PTAs examine how their school communities feel the school measures up to the research-based indicators of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. PTAs and schools then work together to address areas for growth and create new ways for families to support student success. The National PTA School of Excellence designation is awarded when a PTA and school have achieved an exhibited and high level of family-school partnerships.

National PTA is pleased to recognize a record number of local PTAs across the nation who have earned the 2-year designation. This August, 279 schools have been announced as 2018-2019 National PTA Schools of Excellence for their leadership and accomplishments in building strong, effective family-school partnerships!

Check out how these PTAs made a tremendous impact on continuous school improvement through the School of Excellence program. Enroll your PTA in the 2018-19 School of Excellence program now thru October 1 at PTA.org/Excellence.

Barnard Asian Pacific Language Academy – CA

Barnard PTA in California chose to focus on improving education by growing family participation in advocacy for the 2017-18 school year by creating an environment in which parents felt welcome, engaged and involved with the school. Throughout the school year, the PTA hosted many community events to engage families in a variety of social, academic and community-building activities; all of which were free to parents and students.

Beaverdam Elementary– VA

To support student success and keep parents informed about what their students were learning, Beaverdam Elementary School PTA  in Virginia took on the task of implementing a school/PTA newsletter.  Every quarter, teachers, administration, and the PTA submitted articles to inform parents about what their students were learning and what they could expect in the coming months.  The newsletter also includes the school’s progress, programs, and upcoming events.  In addition, the Beaverdam PTA recorded a talent show and posted videos on Facebook, which not only showed off the school and student talent, but it allowed Beaverdam’s community of working parents who could not attend during the day to see the performance and share this experience with other family members and friends!

Glendale Elementary– FL

The resources provided through the School of Excellence program paved the way for Glendale Elementary PTA in Florida for better communication with ALL families and uniting the PTA and school with one cohesive mission in making the culture and climate welcoming for all families. Glendale Elementary PTA and school created multi-language informational signs for all entrances and ensured that every communication was provided broadly and in multiple languages. Through the school year, Glendale PTA expanded their outreach and exposure anytime there was a school event providing the school, parents, and students with timely information. As a result, event attendance and participation was at an all-time high.

Rabbit Creek Elementary– AK

In Alaska, the Rabbit Creek Elementary PTA, in partnership with the school’s art teacher, helped to support the arts by displaying student art work to brighten up common spaces such as the front office and the library. The PTA also supported the music teacher in her production of the 4th grade play by funding new microphone headsets, set decorations and props needed to make the play a success. After being dormant, the PTA helped resurrect the Rabbit Creek Reflections program A parent, who happens to be local artist, spent a great deal of time coaching kids and encouraging them to let their creativity shine.

Canyon Rim Elementary – AZ

Canyon Rim Elementary PTA in Arizona emphasized welcoming diverse families into their school by designing a welcome sign in 18 languages which received positive feedback. One of the school’s moms, who is from Ukraine, said she felt more welcome when she when she stopped by the school every morning. The cafeteria manager, a native German-speaker, also expressed her appreciation to the Canyon Rim Elementary PTA.

These are just some examples of how PTAs can make long-lasting and positive changes. Congratulations to all of our 279 2018-2020 School of Excellence designees. Interested in becoming a National PTA School of Excellence? Learn more and enroll thru Oct. 1 at PTA.org/Excellence.


Amy Weinberg is the Manager of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA.

Becoming a School of Excellence: Pearson’s Corner Elementary School PTA

Do you want to step up your PTA’s involvement in school improvements or do you want to see the meaningful work your PTA and school is already doing recognized nationally? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to become a nationally-recognized PTA School of Excellence? Here’s how one PTA took part in the program and celebrated their designation as a 2017-2019 National PTA School of Excellence.

During the 2016-2017 school year, Pearson’s Corner Elementary School (PCES) PTA in Virginia committed themselves to improving family, school and community partnerships by enrolling in the School of Excellence program. After taking a Baseline Survey of their school community, PCES PTA created a plan to improve and implement effective engagement practices at their school—building off the Roadmap to Excellence they received from National PTA with recommendations customized to their survey responses and focus areas.

Ashley Owen, PCES PTA President and School of Excellence Program Leader said, “the Roadmap to Excellence tool was an invaluable resource that our board was eager to reference to help shape our efforts.” Towards the end of the school year, PCES PTA administered a Final Survey to their school community to see if their hard work had made a difference. Upon submission and review of a Final Application, in August 2017, PCES PTA was designated as a 2017-2019 National PTA School of Excellence.

This amazing PTA worked hard throughout the school year to improve their communication efforts. The PCES PTA disseminated information in a variety of ways, including a monthly newsletter, a trusted website and a popular Facebook page that was updated several times each day with friendly greetings. They also had a PTA bulletin board, posted information on the school marquee, sent information using the school’s email blast system, sent PTA information in student folders and sent information in the mail. Their easy-to-navigate PTA website looked professional and acted as a clearinghouse of information seen as a reliable and trusted a source of information.  Furthermore, a PTA newsletter was used to communicate upcoming events and news. It was distributed through email, posted on the website and publicized on Facebook.

To honor their School of Excellence designation, PCES PTA worked with the school principal to hold a celebration ceremony during the school’s Fall Festival. Their excitement for this event and honor can be felt through Owen’s remarks; “We are so excited to be recognized for the significant progress we made over the past school year with welcoming and empowering our families to support student success and school improvements. We focused our commitment to building an inclusive and welcoming school-community and were excited about our results. We worked with determination toward this honor and are proud to share with everyone this accomplishment. This honor is so exciting for us, for Hanover County and our local and state PTA! We are shouting it from the rooftops and wanted to let you know!”

Congratulations, Pearson’s Corner Elementary School PTA and thank you for sharing your story with us!

You too can join the ranks of over 600 PTAs across the nation in becoming a designated National PTA School of Excellence. By enrolling, your PTA will identify and implement an action plan toward school improvement while attracting new, action-oriented members who want to focus on issues that affect our children the most. And being a National PTA School of Excellence will open the door to other opportunities and honors for your school. To enroll in the School of Excellence program, visit PTA.org/Excellence or email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


Amy Weinberg, MA is the Manager of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA and serves as the primary contact for the 2018-2019 School of Excellence program.

It Takes a Village: Lessons on Developing the Whole Child

I know you’ve got a lot more on your plate than your next work deadline. You have to pick your kids up from swim practice; you are worried about that cough your dad had over the holidays; you are daydreaming about writing that novel. The same is true of your children—they also have more to worry about, and way more to contribute, than taking the next test.

As adults, we are able (most of the time) to strive for balance in our lives. But our children don’t have enough experience to be able to do that yet. In order for them to be successful, we have to be able to show them how to manage the stress that daily life brings.

That’s where social, emotional and academic development comes in. The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development is spending two years talking to parents, teachers and students to explore how schools can develop the whole child. And on a site visit to Tacoma, Wash., last month, commissioners got some powerful answers.

I was there as a parent advisor to the Commission. Here are three strategies we saw in Tacoma that hold exciting potential for communities across the country:

  1. Leverage the Power of the Community

Schools have a pretty single-minded focus: educate our kids. But what leaders in Tacoma realized is that you don’t have to bend other organizations to your priorities in order to build a community effort around supporting students—you just have to let everyone play to their strengths.

Take Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute (SAMI) for example. This high school, set in the middle of Point Defiance Park, uses its working relationship with the city Parks Department to foster experiences that are truly hands on, and sometimes unexpected. My student tour guide at SAMI told me about a calculus test she recently took while seated by the aquarium’s shark tank. She said the dimness and serenity helped her focus. Students manage ongoing research projects, train to be docents at the zoo, and can work on internships that allow them to apply their learning in real-world settings.

  1. Listen to Students and Teachers

We all know teachers wear many hats. That’s why it’s critical to understand that focusing on students’ social, emotional and academic development doesn’t have to be burdensome. In fact, Tacoma teachers say the Whole Child Initiative has made them feel more supported and free to do their jobs. The initiative has slashed tardy arrivals and absences, boosted test scores and reduced discipline referrals across the district. During my visits to Tacoma’s public schools, I witnessed how teachers are valued as front-line experts and are given opportunities for leadership.

Tacoma also actively includes student voices. At each school I visited, it was clear that not only do students feel listened to, they feel empowered: empowered to resolve their own conflicts, to speak with authority and pride about their schools, and be active participants in shaping their schools’ cultures. For example, students at Jason Lee Middle School advise educators on improvements that can be made and are an active part of the rule-making process. The PTA motto of “every child, one voice” was truly on display in Tacoma.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative

Each child, classroom, school and district is different. What’s unique about your community? You may not have Point Defiance Park, but what about a creative partnership with that homeless shelter down the road?

Tacoma’s schools are flourishing under the Whole Child Initiative, but to replicate that success will mean stepping outside of our comfort zones of fall festivals and fun runs. It will mean focusing on how we, as parents and community members, can do that extra little bit to establish meaningful relationships with the world outside of the school walls.

Our children are complex. Let’s help make sure their educations develop all their potential.

Van Overton is the executive director of SpreadLoveABQ (an organization committed to developing creative fundraising solutions for child advocacy groups); the co-founder of Duke City Dream Lab (an organization that works to make the arts accessible to all children); a three-year member of the New Mexico PTA Board of Directors; and an active volunteer in Albuquerque schools. Van is a member of the National Commission’s Parent Advisory Panel.

Empowering Students to Make Healthy Meal Choices in School

March is National Nutrition Month and one of my jobs as a parent is to make sure my children are eating healthy, nutritious foods. However, I have to hope that they are making those same healthy choices in my absence while they are at school. The school week leaves a lot of time for friends to offer unhealthy snacks that they’ve brought from home and for one too many cupcakes during birthday celebrations in class.

So, how do we teach our children to choose healthy food alternatives?

As a PTA president for the last four years, I’ve spent a lot of time in our school and began to see the positive impact being made on healthy initiatives for students. I knew that I wanted to be more involved in this effort, so when our PTA had the opportunity to apply for a Healthy Meals Grant we jumped at the chance…and were selected!

Our goal for the year is to increase breakfast and lunch participation by 10%, which sounds great on paper but where do you start? The answer: Empowerment. We start by partnering with the school and meal services provider to help show children what it means to eat healthy by putting the right choices in their hands.

Make them aware
I know that I’ve had those mornings of waking up late and rushing around, hurrying my children to the bus stop with a Pop-Tart.  We asked ourselves: Do students and parents even know that breakfast is available at school? Colorful signs that depicted healthy options were put up at the parent drop off loop to inform families about school breakfast.

Make it fun
During our Fall Festival Celebration we had an apple tasting contest.  It was our chance to highlight the health benefits of apples while having a fun learning experience. Students were given samples of three types of apples: Gala, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. Student were then asked to choose which apple they liked best by placing representative felt apple on the board.  The apple tasting continued in the lunchroom for the younger grades with Golden Delicious edging out the others by a slim margin!

Give them the tools
We are fortunate to have a schoolyard garden.  Classes are held outside in warmer weather and students of all grade levels are an integral part of planting, harvesting and eventually eating what grows in the garden.  In September, our PTA planted various types of lettuce with the plan to have a “Top Chef Jr.” type of salad making competition using other fruits & vegetables of the season.  The winning salad would be featured on the school menu for that month.  We even used the lettuce for salads at our December ACE & PTA Family Night “Meatballs & Math.”

Empower them
What better way to highlight our school’s breakfast and lunch options than to have students share updates with each other. Each morning the Mullica Morning Howl – student led video announcements – were shown to the entire student body at Mullica Township School. During this time, students were able to speak about what breakfast and lunch options were available each day.

Jessica Carroll is a parent of two boys and PTA president of Mullica Township School in Elwood, New Jersey.