Helping Families Navigate Today’s COVID-19 Environment

National PTA hosted a virtual town hall May 18, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support families in navigating today’s COVID-19 environment. The event featured CDC COVID-19 Response Principal Deputy Incident Manager Dr. Greta Massetti, White House Senior Policy Advisory Dr. Cameron Webb, American Academy of Pediatrics Spokesperson Dr. Ilan Shapiro, National PTA President Anna King and PTA leaders Christel Wesley and Sandra West. The town hall was moderated by Spectrum News National Health Correspondent and mom Erin Billups.

“At PTA, we remain committed to making sure that our students, families, schools and communities have what they need as the COVID-19 environment evolves,” said Anna King, National PTA president. “We’re continuing to provide communities–through virtual events like the town hall and in-person events like pop-up clinics–with important information, resources and professional expertise, especially as we move into the summer months.”

During the town hall, Dr. Massetti, Dr. Webb and Dr. Shapiro spoke about being parents themselves and how research and science can help inform parent and caregiver decision making around COVID-19 and vaccinating children. 

“The past two years have not been easy, but our parents, educators and children have shown remarkable innovation and resilience. The health of our children has been at the forefront of my mind, in my role at the CDC and as a parent. Research and science played a critical role in our guidance and recommendations, specifically around vaccines,” said Dr. Greta Massetti, CDC COVID-19 Response Principal Deputy Incident Manager.“Vaccines continue to play a leading role in our health strategy and enable students to return to in-person learning. By allowing children to learn in safe and healthy environments, vaccines not only protect children’s physical health but also their overall health.”

“I’ve been approaching the pandemic not only as a policy advisor to the White House but also as a parent,” said Dr. Cameron Webb, White House Senior Policy Advisor. “My number one goal is keeping my kids healthy and safe, and the first step in doing that was making sure that I was only engaging with data-based, truthful information. The data shows that the COVID-19 vaccine, specifically for children 5-11, is safe and works. Harnessing data and science and applying that to your decision-making process is key. It is our responsibility to not only protect ourselves, but also the more vulnerable members of our community.”

“In addition to my job as a pediatrician, I also have the job of father. I wanted to make sure that my kids are safe, happy and protected–and this was accomplished by getting them vaccinated,”said Dr. Ilan Shapiro, the medical director of health education and wellness at AltaMed Health Service and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.“Honest, fact-based conversations like this National PTA town hall provide parents and caregivers with the necessary information to make them comfortable in this changing landscape.”

Moderator Erin Billups also spoke with PTA leaders Christel Wesley and Sandra West about PTA’s ongoing efforts to keep children healthy and in school by building vaccination confidence in local communities.

“We wanted to make sure that we were providing reliable, science-based information to enable families to make the choice around vaccination that’s best for them. The next step was the proper dissemination of this information to communities of all shapes and sizes,”said Christel Wesley, vice president of Adams Elementary PTA in Norman, Okla. “Our pop-up clinic gave parents and caregivers a safe space to speak with a pediatrician, which is not something all families have routine access to.”

Sandra West, president of Miami Dade County Council of PTAs said, “Data became really important to us because it allowed us to prioritize the areas of need to concentrate on. Access to vaccination sites, even in a big city like Miami, was a challenge, and it forced us to come up with solutions. Our pop-up clinic was initially drive-through only and didn’t take into account how many residents don’t have access to a car. When we created a walk-up section, we were able to reach a whole new group of people who wanted to get vaccinated but didn’t previously have access.”

The impact of the pandemic, both physically and mentally, has been felt by families nationwide. Now, as most localities have lifted their mask and COVID-19 restrictions, many parents are now faced with a new set of decisions about how to best protect their children against the virus. A recording of the town hall can be watched on National PTA’s Facebook page.

4 Reasons You Should Vaccinate Your Child Against COVID-19

We Can Do This CDC Covid Vaccination

1. There’s no way to know if your child will get severely ill and even die from COVID-19

Since the pandemic began, one in six children under the age of 18 in the United States have been infected with COVID-19. Among those children, over 100,000 have been hospitalized and nearly 1,500 have died due to the virus.

COVID-19 can also cause multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a rare but serious illness that involves painful swelling in different parts of the body, including the heart, lungs and brain. Nearly 8,000 children with COVID-19 have also had MIS-C; 66 of those children have died.

Doctors say children with certain health issues—such as asthma, diabetes, obesity and sickle cell disease—have a greater chance of getting very sick from COVID-19.

But even perfectly healthy children can get very sick from COVID-19. A study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that almost half of children hospitalized with COVID-19 had no other health issues. News outlets repeatedly run reports like this one in The Florida Times-Union of children with no known health issues dying from COVID-19.

2. Even a mild case of COVID-19 can leave your child with long-lasting health problems

Estimates vary, but as many as one in four children who get COVID-19 can have new or lingering symptoms that last for weeks or months after infection.

Common “Long COVID” symptoms in children include sleep problems, tiredness, headaches, trouble concentrating and joint and muscle pain.

Even kids in tip-top shape aren’t safe from the grip of long COVID. An article in STAT chronicled how one teenage gymnast went from training daily for hours to struggling to walk up a flight of stairs after contracting COVID-19.

3. Your child could spread COVID-19 to people who are in greater danger of severe illness

Children are just as likely as adults to get and spread COVID-19.  

If your child gets COVID-19, they could be putting other people at risk, especially if they live in a multigenerational household or interact with people with certain health issues.

Older adults and people of all ages—including children with health issues—are at the greatest risk of experiencing severe illness from COVID-19.  

4. It will be safer for your child to go to school and participate in sports and other group activities after vaccination

Vaccination is the best thing you can do to protect your child from the dangers of COVID-19.

Since vaccines became available, people in all age groups, including children, who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines have been less likely to test positive, be hospitalized, and die from COVID-19 than unvaccinated people. Vaccinated people are also less likely to get MIS-C and long COVID-19.

If your child is up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, you can send them to school and to play with others, confident that they have the best possible protection against COVID-19.

Right now, everyone ages five and older can get vaccinated. Find COVID-19 vaccines near you at Vaccines.gov.

If you have any questions or concerns about vaccinating your child, talk to your child’s health care provider!

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We Can Do This is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 Public Education Campaign. Get more info and resources at WeCanDoThis.HHS.gov.

How PTAs Can Prioritize Student Safety and Privacy Online

Happy female teacher assisting school kids during an e-learning class at elementary school.

[Content warning: This article contains discussion of self-harm and suicide.]

Across the country, young people are experiencing a concerning increase in mental health challenges—so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association have declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. But in Neosho County, Mo., the number of students requiring hospitalization for mental health crises has dropped significantly and no student has died by suicide in three years.

Neosho County students face the same set of stressors as their peers. One key difference is that the district has invested in a robust suicide prevention plan—and it’s making a big impact. A core component of Neosho’s student support plan is GoGuardian Beacon, which helps schools identify online activity on school-managed devices and accounts that indicates a risk of suicide, self-harm or possible harm to others. Beacon notifies designated responders to quickly activate a school’s response plan and get students help.

“I find the Beacon alerts incredibly helpful, not only for active-planning situations, but also for the kids who are just reaching out and need a little bit of help,” says Neosho Director of School Counseling Tracy Clements. “It has saved the lives of so many kids and improved the quality of life for countless others.”

Student Safety vs Privacy: Can We Have Both?

While Clements, like many other educators, views online safety tools as an important component of their suicide prevention program, these technologies aren’t without controversy. Parents and educators want to protect young people from self-harm and other threats, but they also worry about student privacy—not wanting sensitive information about their children to land in the wrong hands or be used inappropriately.

Micki Young, a parent and PTA volunteer in Grove City, Ohio, wants strong security set up on her children’s computers. “Especially with the rise in depression and suicides, if my kids were to type in something that was potentially triggering, I would expect them to be approached in a way that was appropriate for the situation,” she says. “I have no concerns with it being monitored. It’s your school computer.”

Nicole Perretta, a PTA leader in New York and mother of four, describes herself as a fan of online monitoring and, in particular, is concerned by the real-life impacts of online bullying. “We do a lot of talking about how to be accepting, but that barrier of a screen really does empower some people to say the nastiest things,” she says. “I think that if we could just pay attention to our kids’ mental health as it relates to what they’re doing online, we would be in a better position to head off some of that negativity that follows them throughout the day.”

That said, Perretta is generally cautious about sharing personal data online and wants her children’s school to involve parents in deciding what information is shared beyond school walls. “The school respects FERPA, but sometimes I’m like, I really would have preferred you have asked my permission to share that. I would just like to be able to police what goes out.”

Mary Sotomayor, another New York State PTA leader and mom of two, believes districts have a responsibility to monitor activity on school-issued devices. “If it’s a school-given laptop or computer, there should be no privacy,” she says, but as far as who sees the data, she says, “This should be a conversation between the guidance counselor and the parent. And it should end there.” She doesn’t think that schools or vendors should hold onto records. “All kids make mistakes. They’re children, they’re learning. If you’re going to hold something against me that the school found out about because of my computer when I was 12? Mmmm. That’s kind of scary.”

“There’s going to be some contention around this type of issue,” says Tennessee PTA President Dwight Hunter, “And there should be.” Tennessee PTA successfully advocated for a resolution on data privacy several years ago based on parental concerns about the data privacy policies of outside vendors. They are also supporting and encouraging families to communicate more with their children about online safety and mental health. “Having an open conversation is so key,” says Hunter.

Our Belief: It’s Not an Either/Or

National PTA believes that student safety and privacy don’t have to be in opposition. We support clear privacy and security policies that maintain the confidentiality of sensitive data that students and families share with schools and via online services. At the same time, we believe that technology can be a powerful tool in keeping students safe. The question we think every community should be asking is, “How can families and schools partner to ensure student safety and privacy at the same time?”

Parents can play a role in supporting online safety and privacy practices by speaking up about where school or community communication is lacking on these issues and by advocating for policies that protect both their children’s health and their data.

Does Your School Practice T.A.C.T.?

Teddy Hartman, Head of Privacy at GoGuardian, suggests we think about online safety the same way we think about safety at school. Parents can and should expect schools to keep children safe while in a classroom or on a field trip—that they will be in the company of vetted adults, aboard school buses that have passed inspection, etc. Hartman asks, “If we extend that thinking to the digital learning environment, what sort of expectations do parents have for the school?”

Hartman, a parent and a former educator himself, suggests that parents and PTA leaders start by focusing on four elements collectively known as T.A.C.T.

  • Transparency
    Make sure your school system publicly shares a list of all technology vendors, the data privacy protections each vendor (and the school) has in place, the specifics of when and on which devices the technology will be active, and how these technologies are being used to support student safety. (With GoGuardian Beacon, schools can activate the School Session Indicator, an additional layer of transparency that displays on any device being monitored.)
  • Access
    Schools must be careful in deciding who has access to sensitive student data, and parents have a right to ask who has authorization to view their child’s information at the school and through the vendor. One way to check on a vendor’s data practices is to see whether the vendor has signed into the Student Privacy Pledge or has been certified by a third-party like iKeepSafe.
  • Communication
    Schools should provide information on what parents can expect if their child’s online activity generates an alert. Schools and parents can also help one another by holding community dialogues about suicide and self-harm prevention and by sharing tools to support better mental health. The National PTA Healthy Minds program has resources and guidance for both families and PTA leaders.
  • Teamwork
    Technology is only one piece of student support. Schools should have clearly articulated protocols for how to handle a self-harm notification and a team of mental health professionals trained both on the software and how to respond to alerts.

Protecting students online doesn’t need to be a polarizing issue. Start a conversation with your principal about how your school is putting student safety and privacy into practice. We owe it to our children to take a thoughtful, nuanced approach to their privacy and safety—together.

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GoGuardian is a Proud National Sponsor of PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service. No endorsement is implied.

7 Expert Tips for Running a School Fundraiser

Running a school fundraiser may sound easy when you’re in the brainstorming stages, but you’ll likely encounter unexpected challenges along the way—especially if you’ve never run one before. Thankfully, fundraising for your school can be easy (and fun!) with the right team, planning and helpful resources, like those available from Booster. When you do it right, your school fundraiser can be a huge success that everyone remembers for years to come.

Use these seven expert tips to help you run a school fundraiser that will raise the funds you need and get the community involved. Whether you’re planning a small event or a major annual fundraiser, these tips will help you get the most out of your fundraising experience. 

Tip #1. Plan Ahead

First, give yourself plenty of time to plan. There are several reasons to do this. By starting early, you’ll have extra weeks or months to create and execute your plan, which will reduce your stress. Plus, the sooner you start your fundraiser, the more money you can raise for your school community. You can also coordinate back-to-back fundraisers so there’s no “lag time” between seasons.

At Booster, we recommend planning for fall fundraisers in the summertime, and spring fundraisers during winter break. Following this suggested schedule will allow you to ample time to plan, form your team, and get all of the pieces you need in place to launch your fundraiser for success.

Tip #2. Recruit Volunteers

When you’re thinking about how to run a school fundraiser, it may be tempting to do everything yourself, so you have complete control—but going it alone means you’ll also carry full responsibility for the workload. Instead, recruit volunteers from your school community. Talk to other parents, faculty and staff, and create a fundraising team to share the work. The more the merrier! 

Ideally, your volunteer team should include people with different skill sets. Is there someone on your team who can handle social media and emails? Do you have someone talking to local businesses? What about people who can help get kids involved? As you recruit volunteers for your fundraiser, consider making a list of “job roles” to fill. 

Tip #3. Set Goals and Expectations

As you and your team create your school fundraiser, think about your goals and expectations. Are you raising a specific amount of money for a school trip or new sports equipment? How much money do you hope to raise? If you only raise 50% of your goal, will that still be enough to help your school community with this endeavor?

Be clear about your goals and expectations from the very start. This is an important step in learning how to run a successful fundraiser. Remember, if you’re not sure how much you should be raising, talk to your school administration or seek free advice from fundraising experts like the team at Booster.

Tip #4. Have Fun and Get Creative!

There’s a reason you can’t spell fundraiser without FUN! You’ll have a more successful fundraiser if you’re enjoying yourself. Be creative and make it fun for you, your team and your community by using a theme, holiday or creative prizes to get people involved.

A fun, creative fundraiser will stand out from the crowd and encourage people to both make more donations and share the fundraiser, so their friends and family can participate too.

Tip #5. Keep Your Community in the Loop

You’re raising this money for a reason—so your school community should always understand what’s going on with their donations. Periodically update parents, teachers, staff and other community members about your progress. 

Give notice about the fundraising dates, send reminders, and create an email list, social media group or website where you can share updates as you get closer to your goal. Platforms like Booster make it easy to create an online component for your fundraiser, which makes it super easy to keep everyone in the loop.

Tip #6. Get the Whole Family Involved

As you plan how to run a fundraiser, why not encourage the whole family to get involved? Kids can participate by decorating cookies for a bake sale, creating arts and crafts to sell, holding a car wash, or putting on a talent show. 

With kids and families involved, more people will want to donate to your fundraiser. And bonus—this is a great way to reinforce what kids are learning in school, broaden their social skills and boost school spirit.

Tip #7. Use Technology

Nothing beats an old-fashioned fundraiser, but technology like email, social media and streaming videos are a great way to broaden the scope of your fundraiser. For example, if you’re having a school talent show, relatives and friends from out-of-state can join the fun via Zoom and make donations online.

Booster makes it easy to run school fundraisers online, with online software that’s customizable for all your fundraising needs. 

Remember—You’re Not in this Alone! 

Booster is here to help you create a successful fundraiser for your school community—big or small. Have questions? Ready to get started? Connect with us today to discover how fun it is to raise funds with Booster! 

Lisa Cardinal is the manager of brand marketing and marketing operations at Booster.

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National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service. No endorsement is implied.

School is Back in the Classroom, but Distance Learning is Here to Stay

Child,Boy,In,Headphones,Is,Using,A,Laptop,And,Study, Distance Learning

As a parent, I’m very familiar with how hard it can be to balance the demands of work and family in today’s busy and ever-changing world. Sometimes I find myself pining for the more predictable chaos we enjoyed before the pandemic. Regardless of our individual circumstances, the disruption and unpredictability of the last two years have presented even greater challenges—especially for our kids.

Education is among the most fundamental childhood experiences for determining a lifetime of success. That’s why it concerns me that even now, as classrooms reopen, effectively half of U.S. students report less motivation and lower morale than before the pandemic, according to a recent study by EdWeek Research Center.

That fact alone is disturbing enough. But consider that recent research also shows 60% of socioeconomically disadvantaged students may have received low-quality remote learning—or none at all—during the pandemic, which could extend their learning loss another seven months beyond their peers. 

Millions of disengaged students facing a serious learning gap is a crisis we need to address.

Supportive Solutions

The broadband connections that were our lifeline during the pandemic accelerated the development of learning options for many of our students. And the reliance upon remote learning is here to stay—whether it be for health emergencies, natural disasters, homework or pure convenience.

However, as most parents know very well at this point, those remote learning options need innovations to be more effective. A 2021 survey conducted by Morning Consult found that parents and teachers believe that one of U.S. students’ biggest frustrations with online learning is the need for more exciting and entertaining content.

In fact, nearly 80% of both parents and teachers think that their kids or students would be more interested in learning tools that include popular entertainment.

As we look to overcome the pandemic’s persistent negative impacts and reignite students’ joy for learning, we can’t overlook the learning that continues to take place at home, powered by an internet connection. And to create the student outcomes that lead to greater long-term economic opportunity, all families need affordable access to the internet and the digital tools that promote safe, effective and engaging learning.  

Addressing Community Needs

The Achievery, Created by AT&T

The reality is that too many students continue to lack the broadband-enabled resources required for successful learning. More than 30% of the U.S. population has not signed up for fixed broadband, even though it’s available in their area, according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, and Pew Research finds eight in 10 non-broadband users are not interested in subscribing to home internet. 

We know students can’t do homework on smartphones. That’s why the AT&T Connected Learning Initiative is working to help ensure all students and families have affordable access to the connectivity and devices needed to learn.

Today, AT&T is taking these efforts further with the launch of The Achievery, a free digital learning platform designed in partnership with WarnerMedia, to make online learning more entertaining, engaging and inspiring for K-12 students everywhere they learn—at home, in the community and in the classroom.  

Developed with feedback from educators, parents and National PTA, in collaboration with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, The Achievery offers a fun and enriching experience, appropriate for a student’s age and grade level. It incorporates the rigor of national academic standards with some of the most well-loved WarnerMedia films, TV shows and animated series, including Wonder Woman, Craig of Creek and Aquaman.

In addition to top talent and certified learning, students will find STEM as well as social and emotional learning content on The Achievery, created by renowned groups such as Khan Academy, Scratch and Young Storytellers. And we’re just getting started—more content covering more subjects is coming soon.

The Path Forward

I believe experiences such as those available on The Achievery and through the AT&T Connected Learning Initiative are critical as we look to erase the disparities that have—for far too long—held communities back. Home broadband connections are now essential for learning and preparing today’s kids to succeed in our increasingly connected world.

That’s why, as I encourage you to create a free account on The Achievery. I also ask you to use this time to engage with fellow parents and educators in your community about the need for better access to distance-learning resources. Thankfully schools have reopened, but we must not lose sight of the need for engaging experiences that meet the needs of today’s students, wherever they are learning.

Charlene F. Lake is the Chief Sustainability Officer, Senior Vice President, Corporate Responsibility, ESG AT&T Foundation Chair, AT&T Services, Inc. Charlene Lake is responsible for leading AT&T’s social innovation, environmental, philanthropic and civic engagement endeavors, driving stakeholder impact measures on behalf of the corporation, leading ESG accountabilities, and coordinating signature initiatives that connect social needs with business objectives.

Plan Your PTA Day of Service on BAND

PTA has been making a difference for 125 years, and there’s still so much work to do to make every child’s potential a reality! That means working together to meet the diverse needs of families and school communities. National PTA is inviting all PTAs to register, plan and host a Day of Service event before June 30 in celebration of the association’s milestone anniversary.

Participate to …

  • Show your community who you are and what you do!
  • Connect your work to the PTA network!
  • Elevate the PTA mission by showing our collective impact.

Planning and hosting a Day of Service event should be easy and fun! We know that PTA leaders already have too much on their plate—and handling everything on multiple platforms can be disorderly, which adds to the stress. You need a tool that will help you succeed.

Enter BAND, the one-stop-shop app PTA leaders are using to communicate with their board and members, plan events and increase parent involvement.

Plan, collaborate and keep track of all things Day of Service in one place. Invite your PTA members and start planning on BAND!

1. Create your BAND!

Customize your BAND with your school group and your own photo!

2. Invite Your Planning Committee & Volunteers

Send them a QR code or Link

3. Set Up a Pre-Planning Meeting

Enter details of your meeting into the calendar: share a location, a photo, a file, and even a link! Then set a reminder for people to join. Click done and share it as a post.

4. Vote on Your Service Project

Click into ‘Post’ and select ‘Create a Poll.’ Customize to allow for secret voting, single or multi-selection, and even set a deadline.

5. Promote Your Project

Plan together by deciding on messaging, scheduling meetings and events, posting task lists, and uploading materials for promotions.

6. On the Day of

Capture photos and videos and organize them into an album to share!

Want to see how the app works? Watch how BAND helps real PTA leaders stay organized with their Board and members!

BAND is a one-stop-shop group communication app for PTAs to collaborate with members, plan events, and get parents involved. PTA leaders can effortlessly streamline communication and stay organized in one place. Through BAND’s alliance with the National PTA, they are on a mission to help build on strong partnerships among parent volunteer leaders, teachers, and students. To learn more about BAND, visit this webpage.

BAND Proud National Sponsor of National PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service.

Russian and Ukrainian Adopted Children Impacted by War

This is part two of the blog series about the Russia-Ukraine War and the effects on children and youth across the country and around the world. You can read part one here. 

Sasha, adopted from Ukraine 14 years ago, was unable to sleep, pay attention in school or want to do anything with her peers. Last evening, her mom found her wide awake in the middle of the night, on her knees praying. This teen was immobilized by anxiety, fixated on the children she once knew from her orphanage and everyone’s safety.  

Robert was adopted 10 years ago from Russia. He came home this past week, stormed into his room and did not want to talk. Kids at school had told him he was evil because he was Russian. He felt so mad at Putin, embarrassed that he was Russian and worried about his birth family. Were they fighting in the war? Are they safe? Is he bad because he is Russian and what if everyone hates him now?  

“Sasha and Robert’s stories are reflective of the huge spike in anxiety, sadness, guilt, fear, shame, and worry we are seeing among Ukrainian and Russian adoptees,” reports Janice Goldwater, founder and CEO of Adoptions Together, one of many American agencies who supports families who have adopted children from Russia and Ukraine. 

Understanding why war happens is challenging and managing feelings related to war is complicated. With the Russian aggression toward Ukraine, two countries steeped in a collective history, it is even more thorny. For many children in our school and community this is personal because they were adopted from these countries. Latest numbers available from the State Department document that more Americans adopted from Ukraine than any other country in 2020. While Russia has banned all current adoptions to the U.S., Russian adoptees over the last two decades number 60,000.  

“Children who are now thriving as members of families may have a deep connection to their homeland,” Goldwater adds. “Helping these children navigate the complicated feelings about this war requires adults to be attuned to their needs.” 

Debbie Riley, LCMFT, CEO of Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE), told me adoptees from these two countries are struggling to manage resurfacing feelings of loss re-triggered by the losses they are witnessing on TV minute by minute. Many were seeking support to heal from the psychological losses of their birth family and now they fear the finality of these losses. Questions swirling in their minds are, “Are my biological families dead? Have I lost any hope of reconnecting with them in the future? In this massive evacuation, will I ever find my family again? Will my birth father, brothers, uncles will be harmed as soldiers? What will war and sanctions mean for their survival? How will they pay for food and housing?” 

Local news reports across the country report the interruption of adoptions in process for Ukraine, one of the greatest fears or adoptive parents and orphans. There are also media reports of adoptive parents fleeing Ukraine just in time.  

Many adoptees worry if the other children still living in orphanages will survive. They ask, “Will the orphanages they came from be bombed? If evacuated, where will the children be cared for? Will they ever be able to come to America now that all flights are canceled, and travel has stopped?” 

As we watch Ukrainian parents taking their kids to safety at the border and returning to fight, or when we see dead Russian soldiers lying in the snow, they wonder, “Will even more children become orphaned when parents are killed by the war?” 

Some adoptees are young and still trying to make sense of the whole concept of adoption. They worry they could be sent back to their home countries—that they may worry that they do not belong here after all.  

As an adoptive dad, I am well aware of adolescent adoptees struggling with their identity, a necessary rite of passage for all youth, but even more so for those with cultural and family heritage they have not experienced first-hand. 

Adoption agencies deal with this identity formation all the time in their support groups. These adoptees may be asking, “Am I Ukrainian, Russian, American? How does this all fit together? What should I feel at this time of international crisis?”  

“Some adoptees feel suddenly very patriotic or protective of their birth countries without having words or understanding why, explained Riley. “Others may disengage fearing being associated with their national identity if there is a sense of wrongdoing or shame in events occurring in their country of origin. They do not want to be seen as aligned with something that others see as bad. Some may feel they do not fit anywhere but are outsiders, foreigners. ‘Where is my true foundation? Who will claim me? Who do I want to be claimed by?’”   

Our children need us to understand how complicated this is. It is hard to navigate this journey of identity formation under normal circumstances. It is imperative that we as adults understand how this search becomes compromised and complicated by the current tragic events unfolding day by day in Ukraine. The severity of the impact is related to the degree of trauma (adverse childhood experiences) the child has experienced, how long the adoptee has lived in his/her birth country, whether the adoptee has met or connected with other members of his birth family, if the adoptee has had the opportunity to visit their birth country and the adoptive parents’ level of commitment to honoring the home country’s national identity and culture.  

What can we do to help? 

“During challenging times, the presence of aware and empathic adults can make all the difference,” Goldwater told me. “Parents and teachers need to be aware that while all children are impacted by war, children from these countries are exceptionally vulnerable and historical trauma may be ignited. During this time, I recommend that you handle these children with extra care, kindness, empathy and recognize the extra level of stress they are experiencing. Being curious about what is behind the behavior will help keep the door open for communication and help to manage the traumatic nature of the situation.” 

Both experts encouraged the necessity of finding the fine line between caring and being invasive. As community leaders, fellow parents and educators, we must show a quiet sensitivity that lets someone—the student, or the parent—know that we care. We should be mindful and not allow our curiosity to overwhelm our concerns for the people we care about.  

Unfortunately, some of our kids will face bullying which often feeds on finding some presence of “otherness.” Just being adopted is different, but one’s national heritage can be another source of “otherness” especially during times of international stress like we are now experiencing. In the days ahead, we need to be aware that Russian adoptees may be faced with adverse experiences directed to their nationality and culture. They may be subject to slurs and bullying about being Russian and may be blamed for the war. One Russian adoptee shared that he worried that he would be bullied like his Asian peers during the COVID pandemic who were taunted and blamed for the virus. He wondered would his friends say, “Russian people start wars; they kill people for no reason.” 

The mere anticipation of bullying affects children’s mental health surfacing their feelings associated with depression, anxiety and stress. (You can find PTA’s anti-bullying efforts here.) 

These experts share, “Instruct children to tell someone if they are being bullied. Be proactive, anticipate with them how in times of these types of crisis people often due pick out someone to hurt, to blame when they themselves feel sacred or afraid or threatened. Share some comments or ways others might bullying them so they can prepare. Role-play ahead of time on how they can respond.” My younger children knew it well: tell an adult, walk away, stand up for yourself and move to a crowded area where other people can observe and assist.  

As a National PTA community, we are always grateful for our partnerships with experts in the field like Goldwater and Riley. May our commitment to every child bring out our most empathic response for the adopted children from Ukraine and Russia. May they and their adoptive and birth families know that our hearts bend to theirs during these challenging days. 

To learn more about support for children, families and school professionals please visit the Adoption Together’s website and the Center For Adoption, Support and Education (CASE) website. 

To assist Ukraine in their humanitarian crisis, please go here. 


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and the adoptive father of two teenagers. 

Parents, Kids and Talking About Ukraine

This is part one of the blog series about the Russia-Ukraine War and the effects on children and youth across the country and around the world. You can read part two here. 

“What is happening in Ukraine can be frightening for both children and adults. Ignoring or avoiding the topic can lead to children feeling lost, alone and scared, which can affect their health and well-being. It is essential to have open and honest conversations with children to help them process what is happening.”

— Ane Lemche, Save the Children

As I write this, Russian troops are accelerating their drive into Ukraine and all of America sits watching the events unfold with a mixture of emotions. We shed a tear with the Ukrainian father whose family cries as he leaves them at the border and heads back to fight. We marvel at the resistance of a strong people who are heroic in their resistance. We dread what it may cost them. We see a young pianist—and a Ukrainian choir choose music as their response. We can also imagine the costs in terms of life, liberty and finances for Russian families who may have had no say in this conflict with their neighbors. While we may cheer the rousing voice to promote democracy over autocratic rule, we know in our hearts that the cost may be too high a price for families abroad.

As we observe, so do our children. Though their fears may go unexpressed, a small child can hear the scary words and feel the emotions on TV and the conversations of adults, not realizing the war is not ours, at least not yet. Our teenagers may be engaging in world events in a new way by monitoring and sharing their social media observations. I know mine are. And we may have thoughtful young adults asking why it is that when war is ever-present in our world, some democracies get support from the U.S. while others do not. Are all the people of the world worthy of our concern?

How do we as parents respond? Any time I face a crisis in my family, I always consult the experts. Here are some nuggets of advice that we, as parents, can consider:

  • First, as parents we should process our own feelings so that we are more ready to make room to explore the feelings of our children.
  • Talk when and how the child is ready. If a child asks, they are ready to talk. If not, inquire, but keep these conversations age appropriate. We tend to say too much until we sound like the teacher talking to Charlie Brown, “Wah, wah, wah.”
  • Make it OK for the child to have the feelings they express. They may not seem rational through our adult mindset. But nothing will shut down conversation faster than invalidating a response, no matter what it is.
  • Make sure they know that adults all around the world are working on limiting and fixing the problem.
  • Invite them to talk to you at any time and be ready to revisit the concern. Once that door is open and they know it is safe to talk, they will have more to say and hear over time.
  • Monitor for any regression in behaviors that may indicate internalized stress or fear.
  • Look for practical ways you as a family can help. Cancel the pizza night and send the money to a relief effort. Draw a picture and turn it into a card for a friend who has a family member who may be facing deployment to the region. Be creative. Look for ways you can help online. Here is one place to start.

There is a special window of opportunity for our thoughtful children, teenagers, and young adults:

  • Parents can use this as a teachable moment of geography, history, democracies/autocracies, international alliances, and our own form of government. Emma Humphries, former history teacher and now chief education officer at iCivics reminds us, “What we have here is a global teachable moment. This is the type of moment that allows us to have those conversations.”
  • Assist your young researchers in helping them decipher reliable sources so they are building skills as they explore social media, their primary source of information. Embrace their curiosity but encourage thoughtful skepticism toward unrecognizable sources.
  • Lastly, model for your children empathy for those who may be impacted differently than they are. Be aware of the military families in your community for whom rising international tensions signal the possibility of deployment and the accompanying fear, separation, stress and loneliness that can create.
    • In part two of this blog post, some of my peers in the international adoption world will share how this crisis is affecting families who have adopted internationally from Ukraine or Russia.

Parents, this is one more opportunity for us to model kindness, our most underrated human quality, and to strengthen our children’s self-awareness and social awareness, two key components of building social and emotional skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.

For additional resources on how to address anxiety and talk about mental health as a family, visit National PTA’s Healthy Minds webpage.

For more complete advice on forging mental health for our children in this crisis and for resources for families facing potential deployment, please check out these resources:


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA, the largest and oldest child advocacy organization in the country and is the proud father of two adopted teenagers.

Good Hygiene Practices Help Keep Educational Environments Healthy and Safe

Learn about CDC’s new online training available for free!

Did you know that good hand hygiene can result in less gastrointestinal and respiratory illness and fewer missed school days? Good hygiene practices are an important strategy to keep everyone in schools and early care and education (ECE) facilities healthy. But good hygiene practices aren’t always easy to implement in busy educational settings.  

The good news is that some new resources are available to help K-12 and ECE staff learn how to best encourage good hygiene practices in their educational settings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the CDC Foundation have developed a free, interactive, online training on hand hygiene and cleaning.  

The Clean Hands and Spaces online training was created specifically for educators, administrators, and supporting personnel in K-12 and ECE settings. This four-module training focuses on: 

• How and when to clean hands 

• How to create a hygiene plan in an educational environment  

• How to select, use, and safely store cleaners and disinfectants  

• How to team up with parents and caregivers to build good habits with children  

You’ll learn from experts in the field about how to protect your educational community by promoting good hygiene practices. You can complete the training anytime at your own pace, and continuing education credits are available.  

This training will help you and your educational community be better equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to encourage good hygiene practices. Let’s all work together to promote clean and healthy spaces for the safety of our kids and community. We can do this together!  

Visit the following link to get started with the training: https://www.train.org/cdctrain/course/1100489/ 

 For additional information, please visit www.cdc.gov/handwashing and www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene

How to Make a Mid-Year Ask to Join PTA—While Communicating PTA Value

By Linda Johnson & Ivelisse Castro

Happy Take Your Family to School Week, PTA/PTSA family and friends!

We are now about halfway through the 2021-2022 school year, which means that now is also a great time to share your PTA/PTSA’s successes and progress with your members and your community. This is no time to hide your light under a basket! Share how your PTA/PTSA has implemented our association’s mission (to make every child’s potential a reality!) with their support.

Increasing membership is vital for our PTA voice to be stronger and more influential. And we can all agree that our children need a powerful voice to speak up for them, especially as our communities navigate this ongoing pandemic. So, let’s use this mid-school year milestone as an opportunity to ask those who have not yet joined your PTA/PTSA—but have enjoyed your PTA/PTSA events or benefited from your resources—to join your PTA/PTSA now so that you can continue to provide critical resources and support to your community.

The research that National PTA conducted to develop our award-winning membership campaign shows that the number one reason people do not join PTA is that no one ever asked! That’s right—while we may believe that everyone in our community knows that they can and should join us, the data proves that people actually need an explicit, personal invitation to feel welcome.

So, there is no better time than the present! The easiest way to ask people to join your PTA/PTSA is to tie that invitation to a demonstration of the value you bring to your community. Make it a habit, now and throughout the remainder of the year. For example, whenever you host an event, ask attendees to join your PTA/PTSA at the end of the night; or, whenever you share photos on social media of resources your PTA/PTSA has collected for your school, include a link with instructions on how to join your efforts.

Another powerful way to do this is to create and share a (short!) report of how your PTA/PTSA has stepped up to care for your students, families and teachers this year—especially with respect to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Not sure how to do this? National PTA is here to help!

We have created templates you can quickly and easily customize, including a Sample Mid-Year PTA/PTSA Letter/Email and a Sample Mid-Year PTA/PTSA Status Report. There is also an example, completed report for you to use as a reference.

The Sample Mid-Year PTA/PTSA Status template is a fill-in-the blank report to help you:

  • Share PTA accomplishments and contributions so far this year.
  • Thank your PTA members for joining, supporting or investing in the PTA mission.
  • Thank all the people who have volunteered their time and talents to support the work of PTA.
  • Share member benefits.

In addition to your members and families, be sure to send your Mid-Year Status Report to businesses and community members who have supported your PTA/PTSA so that they can see the impact of their support. If they haven’t joined yet, ask them to join your PTA/PTSA, too.

For more ideas to grow your membership, you can check out 125 Ways to Increase Membership and the 10 PTA Membership Myths & Truths.

We’d love to join you in celebrating your PTA/PTSA accomplishments. Please share your Mid-Year Status Reports by emailing them to Membership@PTA.org.

Have a successful second half of your PTA membership year!


Linda Johnson and Ivelisse Castro serve on the National PTA Membership & Field Service Team.