This Tool Teaches Children and Families to #BeCyberSmart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Does a PTA Become a National School of Excellence?

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

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

BELLA VISTA PTA, CALIFORNIA

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

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

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

SAMUEL BISSELL ELEMENTARY PTA, OHIO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILSON MIDDLE SCHOOL PTA, TEXAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Tech for Better Family-School Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to School with the TV Parental Guidelines

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

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

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

About the TV Parental Guidelines 

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the New Streaming Guidance  

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

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

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

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

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


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

Back to School and Back to PTA means Engaging Families and Growing Membership!

by Linda Johnson and Kirthana Krishnathasan

A new school year means new opportunities to grow your PTA. This past year was tough for so many PTAs, families and communities. As you prepare for back to school, you may be wondering how you can grow your PTA membership this year. Would you be surprised to learn that even during the pandemic, there were PTAs across the country that were able to grow their membership last year?!

We talked to some of these PTAs and here’s what they shared about what helped them engage families in their communities and grow their membership.

  • Start as early as you can, but it’s never too late to make the effort!
  • Make joining as easy as possible. Contact your state PTA to find out if there is an online membership platform available. If you use a paper form, make sure they are available everywhere. Make sure all PTA board members and the school(s) have a supply on hand. Provide a link to your join PTA page or form in every communication.
  • Ask everyone who was a member last year to support the PTA/PTSA again this year. Send out email renewal notices to everyone who was a member last year.
  • Use a QR code that links to your online membership join platform and put it everywhere! Have it on signs at all your PTA and school events, put it on your social media, on any flyers that are sent home, on signs around the school or even on business cards for your board. Check out this video on How to Create a QR code in less than a minute.
  • Ask your principal to share the value your PTA brings to your school and encourage families and teachers to support PTA.
  • Use all communication channels—in person, direct emails, newsletters, flyers, banners, school marquis, social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok.
  • Ask for people to join PTA all year at every virtual, in person or drive thru event. Check out these sample Join PTA/PTSA emails.
  • Ask everyone to join your PTA. Membership is open to anyone who supports the PTA mission: families, teachers, staff, students (if allowed), community members, public officials, etc.
  • Add a Join PTA button to all your online event(s) or volunteer sign ups.
  • PTA in a virtual way to attract more families who can’t always attend in person.
  • Focus on issues important to the families in your community. DIY Kit for Membership Growth helps you determine the needs of your community and how to align your PTA priorities.
  • Provide special benefits/perks to your PTA members: family membership, free popcorn at movie night, discount to a local business, etc.
  • Toot your PTA horn! Make sure your whole community (not just members) knows all the ways your PTA is supporting students and families. Brand everything you do so your community knows it is the PTA doing the work or providing the financial support. It takes just a few minutes to Customize PTA logos or you can use graphics from the Membership Campaign to share the value of your PTA.
  • Translate materials in the languages that are spoken by families in your community to be inclusive.

Check out the new 125 Ways to Grow Membership, 10 Myths/Truths and many other membership recruitment tools available to help you grow your PTA.

Have questions or need support, reach out to us at membership@pta.org.

5 Summer Tips to Start Your PTA School Year Strong

Ahhhh, summer. Those long days, outdoor adventures and beautiful nights are here. You survived the end-of-year rat race, and now you’re ready for some well-deserved relaxation. 

Start your summer with a complete break from your PTA leadership duties to allow yourself time to rest and rejuvenate. When you’re ready, take advantage of the important opportunities summer provides for a jumpstart on the upcoming school year with these five helpful tips!

Tip #1: Meet with the Executive Board

Summer is a great time to gather the executive board for an informal meeting to reflect on the past school year and discuss your association’s goals. This gives you a chance to identify specific needs, necessary changes, and volunteer gaps for the upcoming school year. 

It’s also an excellent time to get together for some fun, team-building activities that help you get to know each other a little better! Have a barbecue, talk about your summer plans, or just relax on the patio together. It’s a nice way to foster an enjoyable, cohesive team atmosphere. Just remember to follow the CDC’s COVID-19 safety precautions!

Tip #2: Check in with School Administrators

Your school administrators can be hard to catch during the school year. However, during the summer, their schedule slows down considerably, making it an ideal time for a casual touch-base. 

They’ll likely be planning for the upcoming school year, which gives you the perfect opportunity to ask about their financial needs and goals. Are they hoping to give the playground a facelift or expand technology? This insight will be valuable as you plan your fundraising goals and programs for the year ahead. 

The informal feel of summer also creates a unique space for some relationship-building conversation with your administration. Building a strong connection with your school’s leadership team is key to a successful partnership.

Tip #3: Organize Your “Back to School” Welcome Packet

A little preparation goes a long way! Use this time to pull together the information you will need for your PTA’s “Back to School” welcome packet. Include a calendar of events, important dates, and membership information. Don’t forget to save the date for the official PTA Back-to-School Week, Sept. 13-17, 2021—National PTA will be sharing yearlong solutions, resources and program opportunities to help plan your school year, engage your school community and get support for students and families.

Assembling welcome packets is an easy task for children, so don’t be afraid to enlist the kids to make it go faster. It’s the perfect activity for a rainy afternoon!

Tip #4: Begin Recruiting Volunteers for Next School Year

During the summer, people are less stressed and more likely to say yes to upcoming school-year commitments. Get a jump on recruiting additional volunteers now to start your year off with a full volunteer team. Check out the National PTA Membership page for ideas.

The best way to recruit volunteers over the summer is with a volunteer form you share online. Find out the benefits of a volunteer form, what to include on your form, and grab our free volunteer form template here.

#5: Continue to Communicate with Parents

Don’t shut down your communication channels just because school is out. Staying connected with parents and families is essential, even during summer vacation. 

You can use social media and email to check in, publicize volunteer needs, share exciting school news, and give teasers to get people excited about the fun events you have planned for the upcoming school year. Just remember to keep it light and infrequent.

The back-to-school season can be hectic, especially for active volunteers like you. These five summer tips will ease the transition and lighten the load so your PTA will be all set for another successful school year! 


Booster is the parent brand for the Boosterthon Fun Run which exists to strengthen schools by increasing funds and inspiring students through a remarkable fitness and character-building experience. Dedicated to growing intentional leaders and creating remarkable experiences, Booster is located in Atlanta, GA.  Founded by Chris Carneal, Booster serves schools in more than 37 states.

Meet the 2021 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awardees!

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

The 2021 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients are:  

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

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

Helen Keller Jr High School PTA   

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miami Beach Senior High PTSA  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hembree Springs Elementary School PTA  

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

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

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

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

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

Start Your Journey to Excellence 

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

The New PTA Normal: 4 Tips This New School Year

After the upheaval and uncertainty of the past year and a half, do you find yourself anxious to get your PTA back to “normal?” What is “normal” anyway? Merriam Webster defines normal as, “conforming to a type, standard or regular pattern; characterized by that which is considered usual, typical or routine.” So maybe, after all that has happened, none of us should aspire to be “normal.”

After all, as Maya Angelou once said, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” It is time to strive for amazing so we can accomplish astounding outcomes for children and families. This begins with two simple questions. What did we learn in the past year and half? How can we use it to do even more for children and families?

Connected, Even While Apart

PTAs around the country reported that Zoom membership meetings had higher attendance than pre-COVID-19 pandemic face-to-face meetings. They told us people with work schedule conflicts, babysitting needs, disabilities and transportation challenges were suddenly able to attend PTA meetings because they were virtual. These individuals reported how excited they were to particpate and many offered to volunteer.

So, will your PTA go back to “normal” this year with all face-to-face meetings or will you mix it up, allow more access, and throw in some or all virtual meetings? Your state PTA can help you on your path to amazing. Learn more about making the most out of virtual meetings with this video training.

Raise Your Voice for Every Child!

PTAs also reported finding their voice during the pandemic. They saw a niche and filled it, ensuring their members and community were connected and informed, speaking with one voice on behalf of their members. Many of these leaders were new to local advocacy and reported how great it felt to have an impact. They told National PTA that new members joined because of their PTA’s advocacy, seeing value in PTA for the first time and recognizing PTA was more than a fundraising machine.

So, does your PTA go back to the same routine, or do you continue to find ways to amaze and network families and community and raise your collective voices for what children and families need? Check out National PTA’s Public Policy Platform to find Policy Briefs you can use to address inequities in your community.

PTA is Not a Building

PTA leaders worked hard to overcome the mistaken impression that you need a school building to PTA. They discovered that events could be held in public spaces, that other PTAs and community associations and PTAs were excellent partners in getting things done, and that programming could happen in a virtual space.

They learned what community and non-school based PTAs have always known—you do not need a building to PTA. And, they changed the perception of PTA from a school-based fundraising organization to a community-centered resource for families, and discovered new partners, funding, and members. So, will your PTA return to its typical line-up of activities, or will you instead PTA Beyond the Building and amaze your community?

PTA’s Path to Amazing

Studies show that many Americans do not want to return to a normal workday with the same old routines and expectations. Do they want to return to a normal PTA? PTAs around the world learned to adapt to the sudden, drastic change in environment caused by the pandemic, so PTAs can definitely handle whatever the 2021-2022 school year throws at us. And we can take what we learned during the shutdown and make PTA an even stronger force for children and families.

If your PTA paused last year, start small. Use a National PTA program or grant to get going. If you need help recruiting members, visit the new National PTA membership webpage for resources and ideas. And, if you are part of a PTA that strives to return to “normal,” listen to Alice Hoffman, who wrote, “When are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes lack of courage.” Amazing and courageous—that is something for all PTAs to aspire to be.


Deborah Walsh is the manager of membership outreach for National PTA.

The Value of Versatility: PTA Programs at Home

If we learned one thing from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that we all needed to take a step back and reconsider how to engage PTA members, students and families in school communities—and that you don’t need a school building to stay connected to your PTA members and your school community.

In response, National PTA has revamped and reimagined our programs to launch PTA Programs at Home—completely customizable program options that you can adapt to meet the unique needs of your school community. You can host an online virtual event, or you can offer program activities for families to complete at their own pace, with or without technology! Choose from STEM + Families Science Festivals at Home, STEM + Families Propelling Our World at HomePTA Connected Smart Talk Program at Home, and Healthy Hydration Program at Home.

Close to 30,000 children, family members, school staff and community members participated in PTA Programs at Home during the 2020-2021 school year. 98% of families that completed the PTA Programs at Home satisfaction survey said that they would like to do more of these activities with their family. That’s amazing and a testament to how engaging the programs are!

The benefits don’t stop there, though. Many PTA leaders reported that their choice to offer PTA Programs at Home led to more parent and caregiver engagement, which led to increased PTA membership. Some PTAs even reported they were able to reach families that had never attended a PTA or school event!

We learned so much from PTA leaders through these new program offerings and want to ensure that everyone throughout our PTA network is aware of just how easy it is to offer PTA Programs at Home. 76% of PTA leaders responded that PTA Programs at Home toolkit and materials were very useful! 74% of PTA leaders found our National PTA technical assistance to be very helpful as well!

That’s right—at National PTA we are always working to provide your PTA with support. When you decide to host PTA Programs at Home, you gain access to technical assistance, networking opportunities with other PTA leaders, grab and drop program materials, an upcoming Programs calendar to help you plan your program year, and storytelling resources to help your PTA tell your story! But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what our PTA Programs at Home participants have to say.

PTA Programs at Home Highlights

Keeth Elementary PTA located in Winter Springs, Fla., ran the PTA Programs at Home STEM + Families Propelling Our World Program this school year, reaching over 700 students and family members. The PTA made the program available for families to participate at their own pace, providing an opportunity for families to do the activities together, building science, technology, engineering and math skills through challenging engineering design challenges. Check out this cool video!

  • Twin Echo School PTA, located in Collinsville, Ill., ran the PTA Programs at Home Healthy Hydration Program. One PTA leader said, “We reached over 450 individuals! Many of our students were unaware of the sugars in their favorite drinks. By educating them and showing them other healthy options through this program, we influenced them to choose healthier options and to choose water!”
  • Hembree Springs Elementary School PTA, located in Rosewell, Ga., was able to engage over 120 students and families through the PTA Programs at Home Science Festival Program. They hosted a live, virtual event and provided activities for families to do while watching at home. Students and families were so excited! One family member was so inspired by the event that they decided to volunteer to be on the PTA Board for the upcoming school year, to ensure that the PTA can continue offering these fun and engaging programs!
  • Lynn Wood Elementary School PTA, located in Broken Arrow, Okla., ran the PTA Programs at Home Smart Talk Program, serving 75 students and family members. With students and families more online than ever before, they knew an event like this was critical. One PTA leader shared, “We believe this program allowed our PTA to facilitate a focused engaging task for families that truly fostered transformative engagement amongst our school community.”

How We PTA: Every Child. One Voice.

As you begin planning for the 2021-2022 school year, remember: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just realign your efforts with the available resources from National PTA to fit the needs of your school community. Check in with your State PTA as well to see if they have additional tools.

Please reach out to National PTA if you need support in determining how PTA Programs at Home can work for your school community!  Follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletters. National PTA has a wealth of information, right at your fingertips. We are here to support you!

New Tools to Advance Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

National PTA is committed to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) but what does that look like in action? To answer that question, we partnered with 14 local units to test out new DEI strategies which led to the development of three new tools, the Diversity Profile, the Facilitator’s Guide, and the Action Plan Template. If you’ve already reviewed the Local Leader Guidance for DEI and are wondering what next steps you should take, read on to explore our latest tools! 

Diversity Profile 

Who lives in your community? This may seem like a simple question, but answering it well requires an in depth understanding of the families at your school. Our Diversity Profile Template will walk you through important demographic questions about your community. Questions like: what religions are represented? What is the racial demographic breakdown of your community? What is the median household income?  

After finding out that information, challenge yourself to think critically: Does your PTA board and membership reflect your community? 

Facilitator’s Guide 

If you notice that there are voices missing, it is time to figure out why. How can you create a more inviting PTA that offers leadership opportunities that draw in all members of your community? Our Enhancing DEI Facilitator’s Guide offers step by step instructions for hosting a listening session where you can learn more about how families want to engage with the school and the PTA. The guide includes a meeting agenda complete with questions you can ask families to better understand their experiences and reimagine your PTA in ways that better meet everyone’s needs. Most of all, these conversations are opportunities for intentional relationship building with families who you may not typically interact with! 

One of the grantees shared that their use of the facilitator’s guide really made an impact: “Even though we needed to conduct our listening sessions on Zoom in order to be COVID-safe, our virtual introductions to new-to-PTA parents are already starting to blossom into real-life relationships now that our school has reopened.” 

Action Plan 

Listening is an important first step, but you can’t stop there. After you listen to families, the real work begins. How will you address their concerns, answer their questions, implement their ideas?  

Another grantee shared their own DEI goals, “The first thing we want to do is have a workshop for new PTSA leadership and committee chairs (and anyone else interested) on culturally responsive skills. We want to improve outreach and communication and be sure that our meeting agendas speak to issues that are relevant to all families and that our meetings are conducted in ways that are inclusive.” 

Our Enhancing DEI Action Plan Template provides a structure for you and your board to plan next steps like these. Remember to keep families in the loop as you continue your planning! The action plan is a great way to re-engage the families you listened to. Ask them to weigh in on the draft and make additions or edits. These new strategies and initiatives will be most successful if they are co-created by the PTA board and the rest of your community! 

For more guidance on how your PTA can use these tools, watch our webinar, ”Turning Your Commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion into Action” and keep up with our latest resources at www.pta.org/diversity!