Transforming Family Engagement in High School

Even during a “normal” school year, engaging parents and caregivers of high school students can be challenging. As kids get older and more capable of organizing their own school and extracurricular lives, families often wonder what role they should play in their teen’s education.

Research demonstrates a clear drop off in participation: 92% of parents of K-2 students attended a parent-teacher conference, compared to only 58% of parents of high school students. Similarly, while more than half of parents of K-5 students volunteered at school, only 32% of parents of high school students did the same.

But… participation is only part of the story of what family engagement looks like during the high school years, when families’ roles shift to coach their teen and support them to be responsible young people who drive their own learning and success.   

So what actually works when it comes to engaging families of teenagers? How can we ensure that family engagement embodies the 4 I’s of transformative family engagement—inclusive, integrated, individualized and impactful—even amidst the challenges brought on by COVID-19? We spoke to two high school principals to find out.

Dr. Samuel Rontez-Williams, principal of Rayville High School (Louisiana) talked about making family engagement more inclusive and integrated

It’s important to make genuine efforts to check in on students and families and see how they’re coping right now.

Due to Rayville’s hybrid learning schedule, students don’t have classes on Fridays, which makes it a perfect opportunity for teachers to reach out to them and their families. Teachers at Rayville High focus on intentional relationship building by reaching out to families about when something positive happens in class, sending birthday messages, and doing small things that remind students and their families that they care about them as people. In addition to these check in calls, teachers also utilize these flexible Fridays to offer one on one tutoring and other supports.

By high school, students can play a role in encouraging family engagement.

Dr. Rontez-Williams relies on his students to help get their families excited about participating. The most successful events are ones where students are engaged, involved and showcased. For example, rather than offering a curriculum night, where teachers run through what students are learning, Rayville High School hosts an academic game night where teens enjoy competing and families can cheer them on. Academic game nights are a great example of family events that link to learning in school.

But what if you don’t even have reliable ways to reach parents? Immokalee High School (Florida) has more than 1,900 students, and the community is comprised of 41% migrant populations. With families moving around so much, principal Ms. Clara Calderon has developed strategies to make sure they’re doing their best to reach everyone. She emphasized that it is essential to focus on strategies that are individualized and impactful.

Offer personalized assistance. 

Immokalee High School is fortunate to have a 1:1 device program which ensures each family has a device and internet that they can use to communicate with the school. However, even if a family has a device and internet access, Ms. Calderon noted that it is not unusual for families to need help establishing an email address. A great deal of information comes out via email, so she makes it a priority to get families connected. If a family doesn’t have an email account on file, non-instructional staff will offer personalized support that is tailored to the needs of the family, instead of sending out impersonal instructions in the mail or hosting a webinar.

Establish a regular touchpoint and track who is engaging (and who isn’t).

As a way of staying connected with the community, every week Ms. Calderon sends out an e-newsletter in English, Spanish and Creole. But she doesn’t just hit the send button and hope for the best.Instead, she measures her success by running reports and identifying families who are not receiving emails. Her routine data collection informs her which families are getting the information they need and which families she needs to find other ways to connect with.

Ultimately, at the high school level, parents, teachers, administrators and students need to work together. Ms. Calderon summed it up nicely, saying “The more we see ourselves as part of the same team, the better off the child will be.”

As families and schools continue to work together, PTA is here to support. Get more tips on family engagement at the high school level in our new podcast episode, Surviving Quarantine with Your Teen.

The National PTA Legacy: The Past, The Present, The Future—The Work that Connects Us

In my last blog, I shared with you the story of what is happening today throughout our country. A story that connects the PTA work of today with the legacy of our founders.

We shared how our unique structure and our long history of serving all children and families made us the only organization perfectly situated to help meet the immediate needs of communities during this time, while also acknowledging and addressing the systemic causes.

Today, I want to share with you in a little more detail about what these PTAs are doing, how these PTAs are doing it and what makes PTA special in overcoming challenges and maximizing the impact.

Tackling COVID-19, Together

Amidst COVID turning our country upside down, PTAs immediately began to tackle this grant work. National PTA asked the PTAs to select one of four priority areas in which to begin this work, knowing that there was a high level of intersectionality between them. PTAs were asked to name a starting priority area only as a way to stay centered when things would inevitably get crazy and the need to pivot would become necessary. The four areas are:

  1. Food insecurity
  2. Remote learning
  3. Device and internet access
  4. Mental health

We learned that the priority areas are even more connected than originally thought and the need was overwhelming in all areas. PTAs began sending home devices, accessories for devices, school supplies, resources for mental health services, wellness and hygiene kits, books and food to students and families. We saw family engagement events online, including chalk walks, food drives and socially distanced spirit nights.  Touchless water fountains, book vending machines, outdoor learning spaces and calming rooms were installed. The creativity was endless.

Because the money quickly advanced from our funder, through our national organization and disseminated across the country, PTAs were able to support families immediately. PTAs pulled together teams to collaborate—families, school administrators, faith-based community organizations, other non-profits, local businesses, school staff and community members. Team building is essential to all community engagement work.

PTAs Change Lives

Collective impact depends on the utilization of all available resources in order to fully maximize them—efforts being coordinated and outcomes being impactful. PTAs are in a unique position to bring together these teams, because highly functioning PTAs already consist of all these folks or have access to these folks. PTAs connected with the right partners to ensure grant dollars went further and impact was maximized. 

Our PTAs received a tremendous amount of support, both before applying for the grant and after being awarded the grant. The support is in the PTA network itself. National PTA was happy to be a facilitator, making our organization the best and most impactful child advocacy organization in existence.  Here is how we are structuring the support.

Step 1: Community Assessment

PTAs are encouraged to engage both families and the community as well as to seamlessly work with school administrators and staff—always. This framework ensured that when PTAs were asked to conduct assessments prior to applying for these grants, there was immediate and meaningful action. Leaders know to listen, engage and empower families.

So, when COVID hit, PTAs were already prepared to quickly assess their community and determine where the greatest need existed, who the best partners might be, and how to pull together additional resources. For the leaders that needed additional help, National PTA conducted mini needs assessment workshops and helped them determine which efforts might have the greatest impact. This also helped leaders pivot—when a planned idea became difficult to implement, they had an understanding of the multitude of needs and could quickly implement another. 

Leader to Leader Community of Practice Calls

These calls, hosted by National PTA, give an overview of the space (mental health, internet and device access, remote learning, food insecurity) in which they are working and then open the time for them to talk with one another, recognizing that National PTA is not the expert—they are. They share ideas, celebrate successes and work through challenges. Being with leaders across the country allows them to think about new and innovative ideas and to hear how leaders in different areas are working around barriers.

Just about every PTA is doing something different with this grant funding. There is no one program being implemented. And, PTAs are having to adjust to unusual circumstances with changing conditions—which look different in every school district across the country.

Networking Let’s Chat Calls

One of my favorite resources that National PTA provides is simply to hold space for leaders to share with each other. We answer their questions and provide updates for the first few minutes and then they take over the call and make it their own.

These calls allow leaders who need to talk with one another a place to do so. To share. To brainstorm. To celebrate. I leave every call with a renewed sense of purpose, a love for our great organization, and humbled by the hard work of our volunteers, especially during an incredibly difficult time.

Story Telling

Lastly, we are working with our PTAs to share their story. To collect it and to tell it. The work they are doing is our legacy—our history. People will look back and say, remember the Global Pandemic of 2020? Remember how PTA came together and supported communities in need and then fought to end the systemic reasons behind the need, like—kids needing to be in school to eat and to have access to mental health services. Remember how quickly PTAs jumped into action? We created worksheets and webinars, support and templates for leaders. We are telling our legacy; we are telling our story.

Our PTA leaders are incredible. They always have been. That’s the reason we’ve survived 120+ years. That’s the reason we’ve accomplished so much. That’s the reason we make a difference. 

It is important to remember that the work PTA leaders are doing now is what connects us to our 120+ year legacy. If people don’t know what we do and who we are—they will not join our cause. I often say, our founders got angry about what was not right in the world and they did something about it. People were so passionate about the work and others joined, attracted by that passion and to the cause.

Put your focus on the work. Build your leaders from the passion.

As a PTA leader, focus on the needs of your community. Listen to your families. Do that work. That is how you connect to a legacy that has lasted for over 120 years. If we are doing the right work, people will follow and they will join your cause and when they believe in your cause, they will join your membership.


Kelly Langston is an independent contractor supporting project management for National PTA’s programs and partnerships.

Family Safety with Uber

Using Uber With Family? Health & Safety Tips To Keep In Mind

As cities start to recover and reopen and kids go back to school whether in-person or virtually, many families are relying on rideshare and delivery apps like Uber and Uber Eats. Whether it’s going to an appointment, helping your college student move around campus, or ordering lunch or dinner while working from home – we want Uber to continue being a convenient option that makes safety a top priority for parents, caregivers and families.

For the past two years, Uber has been collaborating with the National PTA to deliver important rideshare safety tips and information to families across the country.

When using Uber with family members young and old, we realize that peace of mind is what’s top of mind, especially during a pandemic. So it’s important for parents and families to be aware and understand both the policies and the safety features you can expect when using the app.

The New Rideshare Normal

Since the start of the pandemic, Uber has been working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and medical specialists to ensure that our decisions, policies and processes are guided by health experts. We also have a dedicated team available 24-7 that has been collaborating with public health officials across the country.

We launched a redesign of the Uber app experience from start to finish to encourage safety and allocated $50 million to provide free masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray for drivers and delivery people.

Working with the CDC, we developed these health and safety tips when using rideshare:

  • Wash, Wear, Air – As more people are going back to work and school, we’re deploying a comprehensive education campaign to encourage people to follow this 3-step ritual when using Uber:
    • 1) Wash your hands
    • 2) Wear a mask and
    • 3) Air out the car by opening a window during a trip to help keep the air flowing.
  • No Mask, No Ride – Uber requires all riders, drivers and delivery people using the app to wear a mask. We’ve built innovative technology to verify that a mask is being worn by prompting users to take a selfie before starting a trip. If your driver is not wearing a face cover or mask, you can cancel the trip
  • Sit in the Back Seat: To encourage social distancing, we recommend riders always sit in the back seat. And remember, we have limited the number of people in the car to 3 for UberX and Comfort and 5 for UberXL to make sure the front seat stays empty.
  • Handle your own belongings: Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, avoid letting your driver load and unload your personal belongings into the trunk of the car. Handle those items yourself to help reduce the risk of exposure.

Uber With Family Basics

In addition, here are some general rideshare safety tips if you plan to use Uber with family that outline how to use the app appropriately so you can have a safe and reliable experience:

  • Is Your Child Under 18? Keep Tabs in a Positive Way – Remember that riders need to be over 18 years old to have an Uber account and kids under 18 are not allowed to ride unaccompanied or order food on Uber Eats. Make it a habit of checking your trip order history in the top left
  • Track Loved Ones – Set up a Family Profile. When one of your family members takes a trip, you will be automatically notified and can track the trip in real time. For peace of mind, have your college-aged kids and other adults use the Trusted Contacts feature so they can be prompted to share their trip status with friends or family. Riders can choose to share all trips, night-time only trips, or none at all.
  • Check Your Ride – When the car arrives, double check that the driver’s name, photo and license plate information matches what’s in the app. It’s a great reminder for everyone from your college-aged kids to older adults that they can only request a ride with Uber by using the app, and should never accept a ride from someone claiming to be a driver.
  • Call About a Car Seat – Car seats are generally required by law for young children in vehicles. If you are bringing your own car seat with your little one, call the driver in advance to let them know. Drivers may cancel a trip if proper restraints aren’t available for every rider or if they are not comfortable with a rider installing a seat in their car. Here is a resource* that discusses car seat laws by state.
  • Help Your Caregiver Out – Using the Request for a Guest feature, Uber users can order rides for loved ones over 18 who do not have an Uber account – whether it’s arranging a ride for grandparents at the airport or getting a caregiver home.
  • Study Up on Safety – Uber’s Safety Center, which riders can find by pushing the shield icon in the app during a trip, contains key safety information including tips built in partnership with law enforcement, information on driver background screenings, insurance protections and our Community Guidelines.

We know that helping cities recover starts with supporting people who need it most or who may be struggling. So Uber committed to provide 10 million free rides and food deliveries to healthcare workers, first responders, seniors and other underserved groups for transportation and access to meals.

Uber can be a convenient and reliable tool for the ever changing needs of busy families and their loved ones, especially during this challenging time. We know that family members are your most precious cargo so when it comes to safety, we know our work is never done. Wherever you’re traveling, we are committed to helping make every trip and delivery safe for all.

 

Increasing Family Engagement in Diverse Schools

I know first hand what it is like to grow up as an English-language learner and saw what a difference it made to have parents who were able to connect and engage with teachers. On a very personal level I understood what we now know from decades of academic research: That family engagement is the key to greater learning outcomes.

As an adult, I have made it my life’s purpose to remove the barriers to family engagement. In 2015, I founded TalkingPoints, a non-profit whose mission is to drive student success by unlocking  the potential of families to fuel their children’s learning, especially in under-resourced, multilingual communities. We do this through a multilingual platform that helps teachers and families communicate in 100 different languages through two-way translated messages and personalized content.

One in four US children is born to an immigrant or refugee family. Over the course of our work in partnership with teachers, schools, and districts, we have learned a lot about increasing family engagement in diverse schools. These lessons are especially critical now that so many schools have shifted to remote learning. In fact, in our most recent TalkingPoints survey, the vast majority of respondents — 73% of families and 93% of teachers — said regular communications between teachers and families were more important now than ever.  (You can download the report detailing survey findings, Family Engagement and Covid-19 Distance Learning: Data & Insights from the Field,  here.)

Below are practical tips to help build stronger, more meaningful relationships in your school community:

  1. Two-way communications channels are critical. You cannot drive family engagement by relying on one-way communications channels. That’s not how relationships work. Families need to be able to respond, ask questions, express concerns, and provide feedback. They need to feel understood and heard. Encourage families to share information with teachers – 83% of teachers believe that because of their relationships with parents they are better informed about their students’ needs.
  2. Personalization is key. If your school community includes immigrant or refugee families or families from different backgrounds, remember that they are often used to feeling like outsiders in our schools because of the significant cultural, language or even educational barriers. They may assume or feel as if the flyers and messages meant for parents in general are not really meant for them in particular. Any efforts to personalize outreach and make individual families feel as if the message is intended for them, personally, is likely to pay off in spades.
  3. Text is best. If you want to reach all families, SMS texts are the most accessible approach. Older parents or those with white collar jobs might be used to responding to email, but younger families or those with limited devices are far more likely to respond to texts. In the TalkingPoints survey referenced above, we found that almost two-thirds of families preferred text messages when receiving communications from teachers. And while 33% of English-speaking families said that they preferred email, only 22% of Spanish speakers reported a preference for email. Spanish speakers were also more likely to prefer phone calls (9%) or video calls (6%) than English speakers (phone 4%; video 2%).
  4. Don’t let the language barrier (or perfectionism!) get in the way. Any communication is better than none. Families are usually quite grateful for any effort to communicate in their language. They feel heard, seen and cared for. If your school or district doesn’t offer easy communication methods or multilingual resources, encourage your teachers to at least try TalkingPoints when reaching out to parents. It is free for teachers. Check with your principal and district, too. TalkingPoints is already deployed across dozens of districts and schools nationwide and may already be available to your school.

Last spring’s distance learning has taught us more about the power of family engagement and strong home-school connections than the mountains of academic research papers written on the subject. Distance learning blurred the lines between teachers and families and increased empathy and understanding. Thrust into a more active role to help with their children’s online learning, parents realized teaching is harder than it looks. Teachers developed more empathy toward parents, too. Some had to wear their professional teacher hat while supporting their own children’s learning at home. Others got a better understanding of their students’ life circumstances after reaching out to ask about device and WiFi accessibility. Teachers learned which families had lost jobs and were struggling to keep kids fed and which were working double shifts and unable to provide supervision. Many teachers forwarded information on food banks; some even dropped off groceries. Remote learning underlined what we suspected all along: When it comes to raising and educating children, we are all in this together. And the “family engagement” muscle we all built this spring is the silver lining that will help us drive better student outcomes this fall and beyond.

How School of Excellence Participants Supported Their Communities During Quarantine

By enrolling in the School of Excellence program, PTAs make a commitment to transforming family engagement and building meaningful connections in their school communities. National PTA points to our participating School of Excellence participants as true leaders in strengthening family-school partnerships and, as such, these PTAs are often presented exclusive opportunities. As part of our relief efforts, and in partnership with our generous sponsor TikTok, National PTA awarded $5000 in emergency relief grants to 110 PTAs across 28 State PTA Congresses who were actively participating in the 2019-20 School of Excellence program when the pandemic hit. That’s a total of $550,000 to help PTAs meet the most pressing needs in their school communities during COVID-19, specifically in the areas of:

  • Social Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health
  • Food Insecurity
  • Distance Learning
  • Internet and Device Access

Let’s take a look at some of the information provided in the top-ranked grant application of some of the 2019-20 School of Excellence participants and recent grantees!

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL WELLBEING AND MENTAL HEALTH

After speaking with their school and community partners, Casselberry Elementary School PTSA in Florida is choosing to focus on social emotional wellbeing and mental health of their students to combat the absence of supports offered in school. “It is imperative that our PTSA uses the information and resources available to us to ensure we are advocating for all of our children, but especially those with the greatest unmet needs,” says Lindsay Feist, Casselberry Elementary School PTSA Leader. With their grant funds, Casselberry Elementary School PTSA first plans to reach out to their school community with a translated survey to learn more about their greatest needs. Then, they will distribute mental health/wellness bags to their families that include information, resources and activities to help families feel more prepared and willing to communicate and cope with any anxiety and sadness. Lindsay adds, “We hope this will serve as a reminder that PTSA is still here and working with school administration to ensure that we are serving ALL of our children through this time.”

Bernice Knox Wiley Middle School PTA in Texas is taking a similar approach to combating the mental health needs of their students through the pandemic. With the grant funds, this PTA also plans to develop, assemble, and distribute Wellness Kits to provide students with calming activities and techniques that can help to reduce stress as well as reinforce positive coping skills. While kits are geared toward the needs of students, the PTA also hopes they can be used by family members to develop the same coping strategies and provide some relief to caregivers/parents who are experiencing high levels of stress. The components of the kits were recommended by OT , mental health and other experts and may include:

  • Sensory calming items like stress balls, liquid/galaxy bottles or small weighted fabric fidgets
  • Focus items such as age-appropriate crossword puzzles, coloring books or small art kits
  • Breathing and regulation cards including yoga poses
  • Laminated resource sheets, including counselor contacts and free, online resources such as the Headspace app.

Pelham Road Elementary School PTA in South Carolina is also focusing on social emotional wellbeing and mental health because, as Holly Haga states, “With families facing the challenge of working from home and homeschooling for the first time along with the fear brought about by the pandemic they are under more stress than ever. Crisis schooling, as some have called it, has left families struggling to find a work life balance and in some cases further disadvantaging the already disadvantaged. The stresses felt during this time are so far reaching the CDC has included a children-specific “Stress and Coping” area on their COVID-19 section of their website.” The Pelham Road Elementary School PTA plans to use the grant funds to purchase the Second Step program for their counseling department. With classroom and virtual lessons, offered in English and Spanish, the PTA feels that this will them to support their students well into the future.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help improve mental health in your school community!

  • Organize neighborhood chalk-your-walks or bear hunt
  • Share free links to exercise or art classes
  • Create and post videos of teachers and staff for students on social media
  • Create and post videos of students doing fun activities on social media
  • Connect families to social workers
  • Create virtual spirit weeks and post photos
  • Send out weekly newsletters
  • Collect cards for local nursing homes
  • Create art and share it via a virtual gallery
  • Reach out to local business for support

FOOD INSECURITY

Most of our students at Simonsdale Elementary in Virginia receive free or reduced meals and rely on the school to provide them with breakfast and lunch throughout the schoolyear. Since their school was closed due to Covid-19, Simonsdale Elementary PTA heard that many of their families were struggling financially and that their students were not eating properly. In an effort to assist their families in need, the PTA is planning to use the grant funds to fill the gap of missed meals by providing a combination of hot meals and grocery boxes to feed “the body, heart, and soul” of their school community families and members.

Loftis Middle PTA in Tennessee is hoping to use the grant funding to maintain and expand the food assistance program that they started through their School of Excellence workplan and continued when school was dismissed for COVID-19. The PTA made a commitment to try to provide food on a weekly basis to the community by creating bags of food to go with the weekend sack packs with a letter explaining the food program and community partnerships. Since many of these students were bus riders without transportation, they delivered boxes of food to homes as needed. Christy Carroll Highfill, Loftis Middle PTA Leader says, “Delivering food to areas of the greatest of need in our community is something that is life changing in many ways. It has been an opportunity to see where some of our students in the greatest of need live and venture into neighborhoods where you realize that the need is much greater than what so many see or understand. This has created a passion within our PTA to ensure that every family has access to the resources they need.” One of their continued goals is create small stationary, free pantries that can be placed within the community so that families who do not wish to be identified can have access to resources without any worries. Another goal is to create mobile pantry systems that can be taken by volunteers into neighborhoods and safe locations that would be accessible to all, including those beyond their student body.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help combat food insecurity in your school community!

  • Create a little free pantry
  • Offer to support and communicate out school/district efforts
  • Pick-up, drop-off or drive students to food assistance
  • Encourage community donations to local food banks/drives
  • Reach out to local businesses for support

DISTANCE LEARNING

Parklawn Elementary PTA in Virginia is choosing to focus on distance learning as not all of their students have been able to take part in the online component and many have only able to participate in limited ways. With the closure of libraries and summer learning loss in mind, the PTA is planning to provide summer educational packets including leveled books, games and activities with an emphasis on the arts. In addition to supporting students’ learning, the PTA is hoping this may also provide an emotional boost. PTA Leader Elizabeth D’Cruz states, “We really would like to bring as much joy as possible to each student in our school, especially those hardest hit by the financial hardship of the current situation.” Parklawn Elementary PTA is imagining that these educational packets will bring engagement for siblings and adult guardians, to “brighten over 1,000 children’s lives”.

To address barriers to learning as a result of the COVID-19 school closure, Pleasant Hill Elementary School PTA in South Carolina is hoping to establish a Learning Resource Lending Program (LRLP) for the PHES community. PTA Leader Rachel Onello shared that the LRLP will enable loaning of learning kits to PHES families that will include books, parent resources, easy-to-implement tips to facilitate at-home reading skills, and reflective reading activities to build comprehension. To focus on equity for the most vulnerable, the LRLP would also provide a loaner device for students with no access to devices at home to allow these students the same opportunity to complete online learning activities as their peers. Not only will the LRLP augment the distance learning activities provided by the school district, but it will also address key barriers to book and device access created by the COVID-19 school closure. Further, distribution of kits individualized to student needs will serve to buffer against summer learning loss and help prevent skill decay in reading and comprehension. The LRLP will also offer sustainability beyond the immediate COVID-19 crisis, allowing kit contents and devices to be returned to the school and redistributed for future needs, reaching the greatest number of PHES families with a focus on equity for the most vulnerable.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help provide distance learning opportunities to your school community!

  • Offer virtual story times
  • Provide updates from the governor on COVID-19 and share student-accessible information
  • Find parents who can assist with online tutoring
  • Set up online study groups by grade-level
  • Reach out to local businesses for support

INTERNET AND DEVICE ACCESS

The Bailey’s PTA in Ohio plans to distribute devices to their diverse population of learners and ensure internet connectivity to help alleviate the learning loss. Although their district is working hard to provide these services, many of Bailey’s families and students haven’t had access. The PTA sees this as an issue of equitable access to learning opportunities and is concerned about how the isolation our students are facing will impact their engagement and motivation to learn over the long-term. During the summer, elementary school students will have the opportunity to focus on math and literacy skill-building using self-directed print and digital materials. In addition, they will have the opportunity to connect with teachers virtually during office hours for support. Increasing digital access will help alleviate the learning loss many will experience from being unable to access our district’s distance learning curriculum.

John Burroughs Elementary School in Ohio, like many, was not planning on distance learning this year and as such did not have the technological capacity to provide equipment for every family to be able to participate in distance learning. The school had 180 Chromebooks and allowed each family to sign out one per family, leaving several families scrambling to find available computers. John Burroughs Elementary PTA plans to replace 15 laptops to help with distance learning, testing and online enrichment as well as traditional classroom learning.

Hidden Oaks PTSA in Florida will be making sure their families have access to devices so that each child and maybe multiple children in each home can successfully complete their schoolwork whether in school or at a distance. In addition, the PTA will use the funds to educate their families on the applications used for distance or classroom learning and will partner with local internet providers to accomplish this goal. PTA Leader, Pam Arrieta said, “We want to make sure that our kids and our families in our community have internet access, are educated on internet applications, and have the technology that is best suited to their individual child’s learning needs.” To reach all community members, they will use a variety of communication tools (calls, emails, web pages and social media) to inform their community and translate learning tools in languages, including Spanish, English and Creole.

Above all, don’t let funding be a barrier for school and community improvement efforts. Here are some low/no cost ideas to help provide internet and device access to your school community!

  • Equip families with the knowledge of what free/low cost internet options are available in your area
  • Partner with local businesses to provide free WiFi locations for families
  • Advocate for expanded internet and broadband access by sharing your families’ story
  • Host a device drive to help get gently used devices into the hands of students

National PTA encourages you to apply for COVID-19 Relief Funding and enroll in the School of Excellence program.

Learn more and apply for emergency grants by July 12 at PTA.org/COVID19Grants.

Let us help guide your relief efforts while you work to strengthen family-school partnerships and earn national-level recognition as a 2020-2022 National PTA School of Excellence. Visit PTA.org/Excellence to learn more and ENROLL in the 2020-21 School of Excellence program.

Journey to Excellence: How to Become a Nationally-Recognized School of Excellence

The National PTA School of Excellence recognition program opens the lines of communication and critical thinking within school communities to make data-driven decisions that yield positive, long-term results.

By enrolling in this year-long program, your PTA and school administrators are making a joint commitment to identify and implement an action plan for school improvement based off of direct feedback from your school community. Throughout the school year, you will work with a committed team of PTA leaders you choose to strengthen the family-school partnerships in your community. And National PTA will be there every step of the way to offer support and resources rooted in PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships and the Four ‘I’s of Transformative Family Engagement. In the final stage of the program, your work be evaluated and, if progress has been demonstrated, you will receive the two-year National PTA School of Excellence designation.

Let National PTA support you in stepping up your PTA’s involvement in meaningful engagement for continuous school improvements by enrolling today at PTA.org/Excellence!

The steps in the program are as follows:

Step #1: Enroll and Gain Support (Enroll by Oct. 1)
Enroll at PTA.org/Excellence and start to build your Excellence Team to improve family-school partnerships through the school year.

Step #2: Deploy Baseline Survey (September-November)
Use National PTA’s Baseline Survey to gain feedback on current family-school partnerships at your school.

Step #3: Set a Shared Objective (September-November)
After you’ve compiled your survey feedback, work with your Excellence Team and school administrators to identify and prioritize your shared goals for the school year.

Step #4: Complete Initial Application (Submit by Nov. 1)
With one, main focus area and objective in mind, you will complete an online Initial Application with your survey results and plan ahead.

Step #5: Follow Roadmap to Excellence (Throughout School Year)
Using recommendations on the Roadmap to Excellence and in collaboration with your administrators and School of Excellence Team, you will implement actions to address barriers and expand methods for effective family and community engagement throughout the school year.

Step #6: Deploy Final Survey (March-June)
Towards the end of the school year, you will conduct a second survey by using National PTA’s Final Survey to gather feedback from your school community. The results will help your Excellence Team evaluate your progress over the school year and identify continued areas for grown.

Step #7: Complete Final Application (Submit by June 1)
With the Final Survey results, you will complete a Final Application that includes a narrative for you to share your greatest accomplishments as a result of taking part in the program and how you made gains by putting theory into practice.

Step #8: Celebrate Your Excellence (August)
In August, Schools of Excellence will be named and honored with the National PTA School of Excellence two-year designation. Awardees will receive information on how to plan school and community celebrations as well as a banner to hang prominently at your school. Your PTA will also automatically be considered for our Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award, presented to our top three Schools of Excellence each year. In addition to national recognition, the designation will open up the doors for new opportunities that come with an honor of this caliber!

Join the ranks of over 1,200 PTAs who have earned this prestigious distinction and make improvements to your school that have long-term impact.

Enrollment for the 2020-2021 School of Excellence program is open through Oct. 1. To learn more and to enroll, visit our website at PTA.org/Excellence. Contact Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


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

 

Top 10 Ways to Grow School Spirit From Afar

When my children’s school closed in March, the president and vice president of our parent association were adamant about maintaining a sense of community among students and families while social distancing.

They came up with a virtual Spirit Week that they hosted on the parent association’s Facebook page, encouraging families to post pictures of their children participating in the different activities comprising Spirit Week. The idea was fantastic, and it got me thinking about other ways to nurture school spirit virtually.

 Here are 10 ideas to consider for your school:

 1. Participate in the Boost Educators Challenge

Encourage each student’s family to challenge the rest of your school’s families to give their teacher(s) a shout out or thank you over the school’s social channels. We started this challenge at Booster. Check out BoostEducatorsChallenge.com for details.

 2. Host a School Spirit Week on Facebook and Instagram 

Host a daily fun activity for students or families to do from home and post their work on the school’s Facebook or Instagram page. An easy way to incentivize kids to play along is by selecting one participant at random to receive a special prize.

 3. Start a “Five Days of Gratitude” Project

It feels good to do things for others, so why not launch a card or letter writing project where students write letters or make cards to send to frontline and essential workers like doctors and nurses. You can select the group that’s done the most for your community during the pandemic.

 4. Open a Commemorative Online Pop-up Shop

You might consider an online pop-up shop for Kindergarten to fifth graders to purchase items to remember this milestone year. If you want to make it a fundraiser, funds raised might be used for school needs like e-learning initiatives, food for students in need or perhaps a local food bank or other charity. Check out Booster Spirit Wear for some milestone celebration ideas.

 5. Host a Virtual Graduation Ceremony

This could be an invitation-only event hosted on Zoom or through another online conferencing provider so school families can watch the graduation remarks live. You might also consider creating yard signs for newly-graduated students, if it feels right for your school community.

6. Feature a Teacher & Student Talent Showcase

You probably have some super talented teachers and students at your school. Why not host a talent show night using Zoom or another online conferencing provider that will allow many people to watch and cheer participants on? If you want to make it interesting, allow the audience members to vote for their favorite acts!

 7. Start an “Art Smiles” Project

Consider hosting a school-wide art project. Assign each class a special theme to celebrate in art. Your school could donate the student artwork to a local nursing home or senior living facility near the school. This will “wow” the residents and allow your students to have their artwork on display. Check out this article about seniors receiving similar special gifts.

8. Do a Give Back Spirit Event

If your school wants to join together on an initiative that drives school spirit and raises funds that can be used for essential school community needs (i.e., Chromebooks, internet access, food for families, e-learning platforms, etc.) or even a local charity, the new, fully virtual (but still super fun!) Boosterthon At Home program might be an option for your school.

 9. Host a Virtual Career Day

This could be hosted for a single class or the entire school or both. What a great opportunity to have students learn about different job functions! This is another opportunity to showcase folks who’re making a difference in the community. You likely have many parents at your school you can honor.

 10. Start a Virtual Family Trivia Competition

An online trivia competition between grade-level families or play teachers vs. students. There are many services out there (take a look at Crowdpurr) if you want to get a membership and even customize the questions.

Any member of a school community can help boost school spirit and keep your school culture thriving. If you’re a PTA leader, perhaps you can get one or two of these ideas going to end the school year on a high note. If you’re a parent, perhaps you can share the ideas in this blog with your school administrators and/or PTA leaders so they can consider a spirit activity or two.

What I do know is that the social component of school is harder to “do” remotely, but every bit as important (and memorable) to students as distance learning. So why not rally school communities around something uplifting and fun to end the year on a high note?

 


Kim Miller works full-time for Booster and is a mom with two children, ages four and seven. 

National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service and no endorsement is implied by this content.

From One Parent to Another: How to Support Your Kids’ Learning at Home

Last week was tough. It was Week One of our new normal. For me, that means I was at home trying to juggle my job and my children. As I’m sitting here writing this, my 13-year-old is texting me to get his younger brother to quiet down so he can do his virtual math. I agree with my teen: I also need quiet so that I can work. And yet younger brothers need to be free to make some age-appropriate noise.

None of us are experiencing much peace and quiet in our household. On the contrary, there’s a ton of digital noise and a scramble to connect my kids to their teachers. We’re so busy coordinating their virtual learning — and my virtual working! — that we’re missing out on the best learning we have to offer them as parents: conversation around a book shared between us.

The most important thing a parent can do to support their kids’ reading growth is to ask questions before, during, and after reading. That’s the magic formula. It has always been true, and it is never more important than now.

As parents, we may not deeply understand the science of reading the way that educators do. But we still have something absolutely fundamental to offer our children: We can sit down with our children and a book. We can point out letters and tell them what we know about letter sounds. We can talk with them about the ideas and pictures in the book.  We can ensure they associate books with love and belonging. There is no smaller classroom than a family’s living room, and there is no better way to personalize instruction than through a parent. After all, what could be more personal than a parent and child sharing a book at bedtime?

When you’re reading with your child, it’s helpful to keep in mind a simple view of reading: to read well, children need to be able to figure out the words and they need to be able to understand the story. All of us stuck at home right now with our kids can absolutely help our children figure out the words and understand the story.

I know that any family can succeed at this because I’ve seen it firsthand. Thousands of families from all across the country join Springboard Collaborative every year to learn how to better support their children’s at-home reading. They plan for reading time every day and commit to asking questions before, during, and after reading. These Springboard partners are moms and dads, grandpops and grandmoms, aunts, uncles, siblings, neighbors – with varying degrees of literacy, but all sharing the common distinction of being caring adults committed to supporting their children’s learning. They take their responsibility as at-home reading coaches seriously, and their kids’ literacy development has proven that just as every child can learn to read, every family can learn to coach a young reader.

Never in the modern history of our education system has the importance of family engagement been more apparent than it is right now! ~50 million children are home from school and likely will be for the remainder of the school year. Parents, how can you ensure your kids don’t fall behind in their reading? Springboard is here to help!

Check out Springboard’s new family resource page (linked here). We made you a user-friendly coaching plan with weekly strategy videos, daily lesson plans, and corresponding e-books! Parents are being bombarded with content, which can be more overwhelming than it is helpful. Springboard’s resource portal focuses on “the how”, not just “the what.” We’re also giving parents free access to Springboard Connect, an app with strategies tailored to your child’s current reading needs. Finally, we’re offering parent workshops virtually on Facebook Live (in English and Spanish). Any family can sign up for these supports for free.

Check out the family resource portal, come back often, and follow Springboard on social media for the very latest #ReadFor15. We invite any family to use these resources free of charge. We implore all families to set aside at least 15 minutes every day during the quarantine (and beyond!) to ask questions before, during, and after reading. The simplest action is often the best one, and, by taking this simple action, you’ll be on track to transform these weeks at home from an educational barrier to a springboard for your child. You are your children’s first and best teacher—now is your time to shine!

With gratitude and respect,

Aubrey White
President, Springboard Collaborative

 

Customize Health for Your Community! With a Healthy Hydration Event

SPOTLIGHT: Apples PTA (Stamford, Connecticut)

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

The Healthy Hydration Program is a great way to promote drinking water and infused water to students and families. The program can be coupled with so many different types of events such as a Healthy Lifestyles Night or a Field Day. Since we at APPLES PTA serve a preschool, our students are three and four-years old, so it was important that we made the event as fun and engaging as we could.

Our kids loved testing the infused water! I think they really enjoyed the novelty of the little cups and pouring out of the large five-gallon infused waters. The fan favorite was Strawberry-Basil (I was surprised since basil is a strong taste).

With the help of our school’s administration, we got the word out for the Healthy Lifestyles Night via a flyer that was sent around to families by print in the student backpacks and electronically through the teacher distribution lists. Our principal was super supportive, as usual. We have a Facebook group where we posted an announcement of the night and reminders as we got closer to the date. We also sent out emails to our PTA Membership distribution list to announce the event and send reminders.

In marketing the event, I would recommend starting two weeks prior. Two weeks gives enough notice while still staying in the forefront for families because, let’s be honest, families are all running around just trying to keep up most of the time. If you do it too early, it can become background noise and compete for families’ attention against other PTA happenings you may have going on.

The biggest obstacle for us was finding volunteers. Our school administration saved the day and got the teachers heavily involved in staying for the event and running stations. We couldn’t have done it without their help!

Now for the event! We wanted to highlight the physical, nutritional and hydration parts of a Healthy Lifestyle. In order to best manage the crowd, we split them up into three groups and held the event in three rooms that rotated. We had a cooler in each room with bottled water for anyone to take from.

In one room, we had kid Zumba with a table that had fruit and veggies in the shape of a rainbow with the sign “Eat the Rainbow”. In another room, we had a fun and engaging nutrition workshop where the kids were taught about what should be on their plate. Last but not least, we had a hydration room! This room featured the Sugary Beverage Station and Infused Water Station. We also added a ring toss with bottled waters where the kids could win a variety of healthy prizes.

As a thank you gift for families that attended, we passed out gift bags that included an infuser for water, a bottle of water, and a day pass to a local children’s museum. We also raffled off play balls and little soccer balls to the kids on their way out. All this spring boarded from the Healthy Hydration Program! My advice: You can make it as big or small as works best for your school.

Take Action:


Authored by Valentina Conetta from APPLES PTA in Stamford, Conn.

Disclosure: Nestlé Waters North America is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and a Founding Sponsor of National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of a 2019–2020 Healthy Hydration Grant, sponsored by Nestlé Waters North America. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

 

 

Fun for the Whole Family! At a Healthy Hydration Event

SPOTLIGHT: Dufief Elementary PTSA (North Potomac, Md.)

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

Incorporating a Healthy Hydration Event into our PTA calendar was so easy! We hosted a Bike Rodeo and simply added the Healthy Hydration Stations at our event. Our school is in the middle of a very suburban walkable and bikeable neighborhood.

Although there are many students who ride their bikes casually, we wanted to provide a forum to spread safety tips about biking safely on neighborhood streets including how to be seen and following the rules of the road when biking on the street. We partnered with Montgomery County Safe Routes to School, who provided several loaner bikes and helmets for the event so the students without their own bikes and helmets could still attend, participate and enjoy the event.

To market our event to both students and parents we used our PTA newsletters, made announcements at our PTA meetings, posted on our website and to our PTA Facebook page. To reach students outside of our PTA members, we made morning announcements at the school and sent home backpack fliers.

We set up our welcome table, along with the Healthy Hydration Sugary Beverage Station, outside the entrances to our all-purpose room and gymnasium. We were a little nervous about attendance since the Rodeo took place during a short week before the Thanksgiving holiday. However, we had so many parents and students show up, that we had to extend the event to the blacktop outside the school, in addition to using the school gymnasium! Next time, we’d love to plan this event at a time of year when we could utilize outdoor space.

Our principal, Mr. Gregg Baron, was incredibly supportive. In addition to including the event in the school morning announcements and his weekly newsletter, he also attended the event, put on a helmet, and jumped on a bike, leading some of the students in the activities. His engagement and enthusiasm were infectious. He really made both students and parents feel welcome and excited to be at the event.

We would definitely consider having a Healthy Hydration event as part of our Back-to-School picnic, spring outdoor Dragon Fest, or other large activities in the future. We had a lot of positive feedback about the fruit-infused water from both parents and students. They were surprised that the only thing added to the water was fruit! In addition to the stations, we plan to incorporate and serve water at all our upcoming events in a more intentional way including our Math Night, Talent Show evening and family Game Night.

We had many parents and students express surprise at how much sugar was in common beverages. Adults were extremely enthusiastic about the fruit-infused water, and several took the recipes home with them. The hands-down favorite was the Lemon/Lime water.

Here are our top recommendations when hosting your Healthy Hydration event, from one PTA leader to another!

  1. Make sure that you leave ample time and space in your event for students and parents to visit the Hydration Station.
  2. Make sure to encourage parents to try the fruit-infused waters as well. We found parents were often the most interested in trying the different types of waters initially, which led to more children wanting to try the recipes.
  3. Consider encouraging parents and students to bring water bottles to the event to fill up on any leftover flavored water after the event!
  4. Think carefully about how to manage sign-ins, photo releases and follow-up surveys. We found it challenging to manage this aspect when so many attendees were eager to participate in activities right away.

Take Action:


Authored by Jamie Pflasterer from Dufief Elementary PTSA in North Potomac, Md.

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