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!  

#WalkWithMe: Join the movement to build more inclusive, welcoming neighborhoods

Photo Caption: Post on Nextdoor to invite your neighbors to walk in unity

PTA members know that change starts in the neighborhood, and Nextdoor is a place to connect with neighbors from all backgrounds. In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, one very hopeful trend has emerged—neighbors are coming together to walk in solidarity in hopes of creating more inclusive, welcoming communities.

The trend originated with Shawn, a 30-year-old Black man who has lived in and loved his Nashville, Tenn., neighborhood his entire life. Following the murder of George Floyd last year, he posted on Nextdoor to share that he no longer felt comfortable walking in his neighborhood. In response, hundreds of neighbors commented to show their support, reflect on how to create a more welcoming environment, and ultimately come out to walk alongside him. Shawn shared, “I was scared to walk alone and now look who is behind me. Look who has my back.” Countless other neighbors across the country followed in Shawn’s footsteps to start a nationwide movement.

During this time of social isolation, neighbors around the world have found new and unique ways to come together and unite around causes they care about. Nextdoor instantly connects you with everyone nearby, providing a great opportunity to spark a conversation and build real-world connections. There are endless reasons to join the #WalkWithMe movement:

  • With the devastating rise in violence and hateful rhetoric towards Black and Asian-American neighbors, take inspiration from Shawn and join a walk for racial justice and equity.
  • Knowing just six neighbors can reduce loneliness and have drastic health benefits, and a recent study found that most new friendships are made in your own neighborhood. Post #WalkWithMe to meet new people while staying outside and socially-distant.
  • Even the smallest acts of kindness can establish a sense of security and boost your neighborhood unity. Become an active participant in your neighborhood and invite others to explore with you. Whether you walk, skate, roll in a wheelchair, or cheer from the sidelines, everyone has a chance to get involved.
  • Use #WalkWithMe as an opportunity to get outside and get active as we head into summer—neighbors can be the best accountability partners.

By bringing neighbors together, we can cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on. Post on Nextdoor with #WalkWithMe to share your experience and invite your neighbors to walk.


Nextdoor is the app where you plug into the neighborhoods that matter to you. Our purpose is to cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on. Neighbors turn to Nextdoor daily to receive trusted information, give and get help, and build real-world connections with those nearby—neighbors, local businesses and public agencies.

5 Steps to Maximize Your Fundraising During the Pandemic and Beyond

Can schools effectively fundraise this school year? Many parent groups are wondering if it’s possible or even appropriate to raise funds considering job losses and the fluctuation between virtual, hybrid and on-campus learning across the country. My own children’s school went through this consideration process as well. 

Beyond being on my children’s school board, and two other non-profit boards, I’m the President of Boosterthon, the nation’s largest elementary school fundraising organization. We’re famous for exceptionally successful, fun fitness event fundraisers. We’re proud to say that’s true even in these challenging times for schools. 

When COVID hit last spring and we strategized how to best help schools fundraise, I thought through a simple five step fundraising framework that would allow any organization to fundraise more strategically now and in the future.

As part of National PTA’s Learning Lab webinar series, I shared this framework in a more detailed video, as well as the bad news and the good news of fundraising. 

The good news: It’s not only possible to fundraise, it’s critical to fundraise this school year—and schools are doing it successfully, even in the current climate.

If the pandemic has made fundraising plans foggy for your school, use this framework to give you and your board clarity, so you can make better decisions moving forward.

So, why do schools/non-profits fundraise in the first place?

In short: their cause is greater than their capital. That is a good thing. I believe the pursuit of a good cause will always outpace your current resources. The desire for better learning, more resources, and an ever-improving educational environment requires resources. So, schools fundraise to make up for the gap between what they want to achieve and what they have. It starts with their cause.

Step 1. Cause

A school’s cause is the compelling purpose of their organization. The pandemic has actually made school causes even more important. Our country is facing the biggest educational crisis in modern history. The pandemic has shown our need for better access to technology, more aid for teachers, more need for mental and physical health support, and it has certainly created greater family needs in the school community. While the cause is greater for schools, the pandemic has made the capital feel father away because of job loss and distance learning.

Best practices during these times:

  • Show complete alignment as one school. Don’t distinguish between PTA initiatives and school initiatives.
  • Look ahead to needs for next school year. Don’t just focus on present needs. With looming budget cuts in the future, raise funds now for when states will hand out smaller budgets due to less taxes due to job loss.
  • Share stories of impact whenever you can.

Especially in virtual learning, schools need a reason to rally and support each other—which brings us to Step 2.

Step 2. Campaign

A school’s campaign is an event or activity that builds urgency and anticipation. Your campaign is your time-sensitive fundraiser. For Booster school partners, it’s their Boosterthon fundraiser—a week-long fundraising program that concludes with a fun Fun Run or Dance Fit event that every student gets to participate in. But a campaign could be a bake sale, a direct give campaign, a gala, or a read-a-thon. Whatever you pick, choose a campaign that people will enjoy and get behind.

Best practices during these times:

  • Link your fundraiser to a tangible school improvement. Stay away from “General PTA Budget.” Get specific.
  • Equip teachers with communication about your campaign to take work off of them and ensure alignment. 
  • Ensure every student can participate. This is especially true for virtual learners. We’re proud that our virtual Boosterthon Dance Fit event allows virtual and hybrid learners to be included in the fun.

Steps 3 & Step 4. Campaigners & Channels

Campaigners are committed and connected individuals who multiply your campaign. These are the people who donate or share about your campaign with others. Identify who these people are. Are they school parents? Local businesses? School families’ extended family and friends? 

Channels are the platforms you use to engage these people. Ensure you have a communication strategy that reaches campaigners consistently on your channels—Facebook, email, Remind, etc. Be creative and varied in your communication. Try written, video, and visual communication to keep people’s attention. We recommend starting your communication several weeks in advance of your fundraiser so you can build anticipation for your event. People need time to learn about your campaign, how to participate, and follow through with giving.

Best practices during these times:

  • Families are 53% more likely to share about your fundraiser than last year. Change your call to action to campaigners from “give to our fundraiser” to “share about our fundraiser with others.”
  • Make it easy and fun for donors to give. People are used to high-performing, nicely designed mobile platforms. Select a fundraising software that makes it fast for people to donate.
  • Make it easy for families to share. It multiplies your fundraising efforts when families can share on social media, text message and email. In fact, families are 80% more likely to ask three or more people to donate than they were last year.

Step 5. Capital

Capital is the financial support for your cause. When you put everything together, from championing your cause, picking a campaign, communicating with your campaigners through various channels, the capital follows. 

Best practices during these times:

  • Corporate matching is up 10% this year. Find a fundraiser that offers corporate matching so that you can take advantage of generous programs from large organizations.
  • Add local business sponsorships. Do not be afraid to ask for support from your community partners. Find out ways you can help them as well. A true partnership is mutually beneficial.

If anything, use this five step framework as a fundraising diagnostic with your PTA Board and assess how you are doing in each of these areas to ultimately raise enough capital for your cause. Plus, you can use this downloadable fundraising checklist to help you plan for and determine the right fundraiser for your school.

Booster has made significant adjustments in each of these areas over the last school year to make our school partners as successful as possible. It’s why our school partners will end up profiting more than $41 million for education even during these difficult times.

If your board is interested in learning more about hosting a fun, flexible and successful Boosterthon fundraiser, we’d love to chat!

Arlington Science Focus School Virtual Family STEM Night 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

The event also featured presentations and demonstrations, including:

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

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

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

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

ASFS Family STEM Night Photos

National PTA Demystifies School Funding

Do you feel intimidated by issues related to school funding and education finance? You are not alone. We surveyed parents and caregivers around the country and many shared that they feel clueless and frustrated by how difficult it is to find basic information.

In fact, less than a third (32%) of participants agreed they have a general understanding of how their child’s school district uses its funding. Even fewer (29%) agreed they know where to find information on school funding in their community.

School funding is too important of a topic for parents to sit on the sidelines. Families’ voices are critical to ensure that school budgets reflect a community’s needs and priorities for our students. With that in mind, National PTA has released several resources to help PTA leaders to learn more about school funding.

Listen to our podcast episodes featuring Dr. Marguerite Roza, Director of the Edunomics Lab.
In Money Talks: School Funding 101, Dr. Roza offered practical guidance on how families can stay informed about their school district’s financial decisions and how they can advocate for the priorities they care most about. In our COVID-19 bonus episode, she shared how the pandemic has impacted school finance and she advises how advocates can adapt during this challenging time.

Read our answers to the most frequently asked questions related to school funding.
Are you curious where the money for your child’s school comes from? Are you wondering who makes the decisions about how dollars get spent? Our guide to Understanding & Advocating for School Funding will provide those answers and more.

Register for our upcoming webinar, Understanding Families’ Perspectives on School Funding.
National PTA partnered with five council PTAs in Florida, Texas and Washington to learn more about families’ perspectives on school funding. After talking with more than 150 parents, we are ready to share our findings with you. Join us Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 8:00 p.m. EST to learn: 

What do families actually know about school funding? What areas do they feel are adequately or inadequately funded? And what are the implications of this for PTA leaders’ work advocating for all children?

Join us for a presentation of these research results and learn directly from a panel of PTA leaders about their own experiences advocating on issues related to school funding. Register now.

Let’s raise our PTA voice for better school funding and education finance! You can find the complete list of tools and resources mentioned here at PTA.org/SchoolFunding. All of these resources, including the upcoming webinar, are also available in Spanish.


Rebecca Bauer is the Family Engagement Specialist for National PTA.

2021 Healthy Habit New Year’s Resolutions

Help minimize the spread of germs this new year

Even though the calendar has turned to a new year, COVID-19 is still a presence in our lives, and practicing healthy habits is as important as ever. So, this year, choose New Year’s resolutions that will help minimize the spread of illness-causing germs.

Lysol and National PTA recommend the following 2021 resolutions for the entire family:

  • Wash your hands often.
    Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself from getting sick. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and remember to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Always wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
    Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Use the inside of your elbow if you do not have a tissue available. It is also important to wash your hands right after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose.
  • Avoid touching your face.
    Infection occurs when germs enter the body, increase in number, and cause a reaction to the body. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

If your children are learning in-person, encourage your school to use the Lysol Welcome Back Packs, so New Year’s resolution tips are not forgotten at school.

Welcome Back Packs are available for educators nationwide to download and print. They include fun and educational resources such as informative posters, fun activities, useful stickers templates and engaging lesson plans that encourage healthy habits such as handwashing, social distancing and wearing masks.

For more information on healthy habits and to download the Welcome Back Packs, please visit Lysol.com/HERE. Have a healthy new year!


Lysol is a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA.

The Holiday Season Online Safety Refresh

Now that all of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been packed away, we’ve entered the final sprint of the year—the holiday gifting season! Historically, the holidays are a time when devices are purchased in families, whether the gifts are first-time devices or upgrades.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is even more likely that holiday wish lists will include devices this year. That means this is an important time for families to begin or do a refresh of key online safety tips.

The hardest part in any conversation is the beginning, which is why National PTA developed The Smart Talk—an interactive resource that walks families through a series of guided questions to help them start a digital safety conversation and help parents and teens navigate the digital world together.

In addition to encouraging families to use The Smart Talk, National PTA has also been working with TikTok, the leading short form video app which is popular among teens, to educate families on the “Three T’s” of online safety: Talk, Try, Teach.

  1. Talk to your teens about the apps they use, what they like, and if they aspire to become creators. National PTA’s The Smart Talk resource helps families navigate things like how to determine who should ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ your account, when to share photos or videos online and how to respond to negative comments or posts.
  2. Try the app together. Quality conversations stem from mutual understanding, so it’s important for parents to know and experience their teens’ favorite apps. For example, we encourage families to review resources like TikTok’s Youth Portal, Top Tips for Parents and Community Guidelines together as they discover how the app works and learn about the code of conduct that is expected for their online behavior.
  3. Teach your teens about the tools available in-app. We encourage families to show their teens how to find an app’s safety center and review the content together. For example, TikTok has several settings to control public presence/discoverability, followers, comments and more. In addition, TikTok’s Family Pairing lets parents link their own account to their teen’s account and directly set certain limits and controls, like the types of videos they can see and who can see their teen’s videos.

This year’s holiday season may look a bit different as social distancing continues. While families may not be able to see each other in person and travel may be more limited, technology has helped people to stay connected. Learning about online safety together and having open, ongoing conversations can help everyone have a positive experience.

For more tips and resources to help your family navigate the digital world and be safe online, visit PTA.org/Connected.


This post is sponsored by PTA Proud National Sponsor TikTok. TikTok is a supporting sponsor of National PTA’s PTA Connected initiative, which strives to help children act safely, responsibly and thoughtfully online. Through the initiative and National PTA and TikTok’s collaboration, National PTA and TikTok are helping parents learn more about how their teens are using TikTok; educating families about safety on the app; and guiding parents in having opening, ongoing conversations with their teens to ensure they are using social media productively and responsibly.  

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

Alyssa Montchal is manager of programs and partnerships for National PTA.

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.