Russian and Ukrainian Adopted Children Impacted by War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can we do to help? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Parents, Kids and Talking About Ukraine

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

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

— Ane Lemche, Save the Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

We Can Do This: Strategies to Address Vaccine Hesitancy through Local PTAs

Insights and Resources from our Recent Roundtable

National PTA’s urgent work to build vaccine confidence is well underway in 19 communities across the country. Recently we hosted a virtual roundtable to equip PTA leaders with accurate information and practical strategies to help address vaccine hesitancy and leverage every strategy to make schools safer for children and staff and maximize in-person learning. (Note: National PTA does not have a position on COVID vaccine mandates.)

Here, we share highlights from the conversation and resources local PTAs can put into practice right away.

Take Action to Keep Kids Safely in School: What Your PTA Can Do to Address Vaccine Hesitancy

Roundtable, February 2, 2022

  • Shaton Berry, Healthy Minds Ambassador, National PTA
  • Kate King, DNP, M.S., RN, LSN, President Elect, National Association of School Nurses
  • Laura Mitchell, Vice President of Advocacy, Montgomery County Council of PTAs, and Whole Child Fellow, National PTA
  • Michael Scott, CHES, Senior Program Manager, The Center for Black Health and Equity

  • Special Guest: Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, M.D., United States Surgeon General
  • Facilitator: Anna King, President, National PTA
  • Co-Facilitator: Nathan R. Monell, CAE, Executive Director, National PTA

Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy: The Surgeon General kicked off the conversation by thanking the PTA leaders who are already hard at work leading vaccine confidence campaigns in their communities. He noted the important role PTAs and community organizers can make in a moment like this, serving as a bridge to accurate and accessible information that is attuned to local concerns.

As a parent of young children himself, Dr. Murthy also expressed empathy toward any fully vaccinated parents and caregivers that may feel cautious about vaccinating their children, and acknowledged it is important that hesitant parents and caregivers be given the opportunity to express their concerns and be provided factual information. He observed that misinformation about vaccines circulating on social media platforms may have caused some parents and caregivers to become fearful. He noted that trusted messengers like local pediatricians, fellow parents, and other respected community members are likely the best positioned to help assuage such fears.

Kate King: School nurses are on the frontlines of the pandemic, but they can’t do this work alone. She urged collaboration among parent groups, school nurses, local boards of health and cultural organizations to help families overcome misinformation and make better-informed vaccine decisions. She urged parents and PTA leaders to speak with their own school nurse to access their recommended local resources. (If your school doesn’t have an assigned nurse, advocate for getting one!) Kate recommended several additional sources for reliable vaccination information:

Laura Mitchell: PTAs have a big role to play in helping our communities reach a safer post-pandemic stage. The key: Talk about vaccination everywhere! When families get comfortable asking questions from a trusted source, like their PTA, they are more likely to get vaccinated. Mitchell shared several successful conversation strategies from the Montgomery County Council PTA, who recently partnered with doctors to host “Vax Facts” webinars in multiple languages, teamed up with schools to get out the word about vaccine clinics, and regularly posts information in high-traffic locations, including grocery stores and their schools’ digital platforms.

Shaton Berry: When we help families make informed vaccine decisions, we’re supporting their health and mental health by reducing overall anxiety. Local PTA leaders don’t need to be health experts to navigate these conversations – they can tap into the National PTA family for ideas, tools and support. Shaton recommended three resources in particular:

Michael Scott: African-Americans continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and this population is less likely to be vaccinated and more likely to experience severe illness or death due to the pandemic. It is important to acknowledge the historical events that have contributed to vaccine hesitancy among the Black community and other historically marginalized groups, and to recognize the racial inequity that persists today in our health care experiences. Scott highly recommends these two resources, developed by or in partnership with The Center for Black Health & Equity:

As we reflect on the learnings from this round table, National PTA wants to recognize and acknowledge that some PTAs may be having a hard time determining and navigating your role in increasing vaccine confidence within communities where this issue has become especially polarizing.

In communities with a lot of hesitancy, your PTA may want to start by facilitating a forum for people to express their concerns and hear from trusted local messengers (such as pediatricians, coaches, and clergy). Your PTA can choose a couple of fact-based COVID-19 resources to share with the families who participate in the forum.

Whereas in other communities where the issue is less around hesitancy and more around eliminating barriers to access. In that case, your PTA may want to help support a vaccine clinic – or host one! – and use the power of PTA to address issues like transportation, translation services, food, awareness and so forth.

We hope you’ll find these insights and specific resources helpful. Keep your eye out for more updates from National PTA in the weeks ahead as we continue building vaccine confidence together. Together, we can do this!

Dos and Don’ts for Dads Who Want to Volunteer at School 

It may be a little ambitious to say we are “Post-COVID,” but I think we can all agree that this school year has been an improvement over the enormous uncertainty we faced in 2020. Regardless of the challenges still facing us, one thing remains constant. Our kids need our active support and encouragement—at school and at home—now more than ever.  

Studies show that children who have fathers or male role models involved in their education are… 

  • more likely to get better grades 
  • have better verbal and problem-solving skills 
  • do better on achievement tests; demonstrate a higher tolerance for stress and 
  • are more likely to have positive peer relationships.  

So, I wanted to talk with someone who is committed to increasing male engagement at the local and state levels, especially as we plan for life after COVID. James Strickland is a business owner, husband and father to three school-aged children. He also serves as the Texas PTA Male Engagement Liaison, and as a “WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) TOP DOG Extraordinaire,” which means that he provides training and support for registered WATCH D.O.G.S. schools.  

Our conversation covered all sorts of things fathers and father-figures should consider if they want to volunteer, but James kept coming back to a single point—he felt that the number one thing any volunteer can do right now is to have their priorities in line. If your primary goal is to serve the kids and the school, then you need to abide by and work within whatever guidelines your school has provided. Teachers and administrators have tough jobs under the best of circumstances, and navigating the ever-challenging, ever-changing COVID-19 protocols has only made their jobs more difficult. 

Here are just a few “Dos and Don’ts” for you to consider as a school volunteer, especially during these challenging times. 

Do 

  • Ask how you can help! Especially during these times, schools need PTA members and volunteers need support. Even simply offering a listening ear might have more impact than you can imagine. 
  • Make volunteering a priority. Regular volunteers are some of the busiest people we know, and they always have somewhere else they could be. One of their superpowers is knowing how to prioritize their time to help others. 
  • Always follow the current volunteer guidelines of your district and school, especially regarding COVID-19. Remember that every decision and rule your superintendent, principal and teachers make is in serious consideration of your students’ safety.  
  • Set a good example for the kids. Be cheerful and encouraging. We hear from educators regularly that the current situation is adding additional stress on many students. Your influence can make a huge difference in the quality of their school day.  
  • Thank every person who works at the school when you have the opportunity. Certainly, the teachers and the principal, but also the secretary, school nurse, lunchroom staff and custodians. A simple “Thank you for everything you do for these kids,” will make a huge difference. 
  • Keep in mind that family engagement at school actually begins at home. Make time every day to ask your child about school. Be aware of their social, emotional and academic successes and challenges. 
  • Remember that the Teachers and Principal are your partners in your child’s education. Having a good relationship with them will make everything flow a little easier and contribute to the best possible outcomes for your child. 

Don’t 

  • Underestimate the power of simply showing up and asking how you can help.  

The bottom line is this: Our kids need us. We can maintain and grow robust and effective family and community engagement in our schools, as long as we work together and keep the best interests of the kids in mind.  

Our kids deserve the best educational conditions we can provide, and the support of moms, dads and grandparents will make a huge contribution to a positive and productive learning environment. Make the commitment to volunteer today! 


Eric Snow is the president and co-founder of WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students). 

We Can Do This

Building Vaccine Confidence by Engaging Parents

This January, National PTA launched an urgent grassroots effort to keep our children healthy and in school by building vaccine confidence in local communities. Funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the We Can Do This campaign is a nationwide effort to reach individuals and families facing barriers or hesitancy regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.

National PTA, whose 125-year history includes a long track record of public health advocacy and considerable grassroots organizing throughout the pandemic, is well positioned to help tackle this work. Nineteen state, regional and local PTAs have stepped up to lead information campaigns, community conversations, and vaccine clinics over a six-week period.

A Local Approach to a National Challenge

Reasons for vaccine hesitancy vary widely, and local PTA leaders understand the specific, often nuanced concerns in their communities. Each participating PTA is designing an outreach approach that makes sense locally. That could mean overcoming logistical barriers by hosting a pop-up clinic at a school or opening channels to accurate vaccine information from trusted sources that can be shared in the carpool lane, at sports team practices, at the community center or in houses of worship, or on Zoom.

In every case, the conversations are judgment-free: National PTA believes families have a right to ask questions and express their vaccine concerns without feeling shamed. However, we also believe that implementing layered prevention strategies is critical to protect students, teachers, staff and other members of their households, particularly those who are not fully vaccinated. And research supports that increasing vaccination rates lowers the spread of COVID, reduces serious illness, and shortens length of infection—making voluntary vaccination a key strategy for keeping schools open and maximizing critical in-person learning time for students. (Note: National PTA does not have a position on COVID vaccine mandates.)

In Norman, Okla., Adams Elementary PTA is planning a “community love”-themed pop-up vaccination clinic in mid-February. They’ve selected an accessible location (the high school parking lot) with drive-through and walk-up options and have partnered with local businesses—including a toy store and a bakery—to offer food and other kid-friendly incentives. Adams Elementary PTA made it a priority to bring in a partner that could increase comfort among the community’s Spanish speaking population; bilingual staff from a local pediatric practice will be on site to answer questions. The PTA is working closely with a large lab company that will handle all the clinical components (e.g., vaccine doses, nurses, etc.).

Around 600 “shots in arms” are expected to be delivered at this one pop-up clinic. Ultimately the goal is “keeping kids healthy and in school as many days as possible,” says Christel Wesley, Adams Elementary PTA President, “which means that our kids are getting food, growing academically, and their social and emotional needs are being met.”

The Serious Work PTAs Were Built to Do

The thoughtful, locally attuned organizing happening in Norman, Okla., is exactly why We Can Do This chose National PTA as a partner. “Our goal with the public education campaign is to reach as many people as possible with accurate, science-based information about COVID-19, especially vaccines and boosters. We want them to have the information they need to make decisions on how to protect themselves, their families, and their communities against the worst outcomes of COVID-19,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States. “By working with trusted community partners who serve a diverse range of community members, such as the PTA, we can meet people where they are and help ensure that people feel confident making informed decisions about their health.”

While most of this activity is being organized in (and for) individual local communities, National PTA recently hosted a virtual event with the US Surgeon General, community organizations, and fellow PTA leaders on February 2 to address common questions about the vaccine and to share specific actions that PTAs everywhere can take to increase vaccine confidence in their communities.

This is challenging, fast-moving work that National PTA expects to have a lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of students across the country. We look forward to sharing more stories and outcomes from our PTAs in the months ahead.

Learn More and Take Action

If your PTA is looking to maximize in-school student learning days by addressing vaccine hesitancy, check out the updated COVID-19 Resources page for useful materials and guidance.

And if your PTA is interested in hosting a community vaccination site, check out this resource. Hosting a vaccination clinic is easier than you think!

National PTA Grantee Cohort

State PTAs

  • Alaska
  • Washington

District, Council, and Regional PTAs

  • Miami Dade County Council (Miami, Fla.)
  • Montgomery County Council (Rockville, Md.)

Local PTAs

  • Adams Hill Elementary (San Antonio, Texas)
  • Adams Elementary (Norman, Okla.)
  • Bethesda Elementary (Durham, N.C.)
  • B.M. Williams Primary (Chesapeake, Va.)
  • Crestwood Intermediate (Chesapeake, Va.)
  • Forest Ridge Elementary School (Laurel, Md.)
  • Lawrence Number 2 School (Inwood, N.Y.)
  • Little Run Elementary (Fairfax, Va.)
  • Loftis Elementary (Hixson, Tenn.)
  • Martha Lake Elementary School (Lynnewood, Wash.)
  • Oak Grove Elementary (Bloomington, Minn.)
  • Ruth Oliver Walker Elementary (Florissant, Mo.)
  • Sanders Elementary School (Austell, Ga.)
  • Solar Prep for Boys (Dallas, Texas)
  • Urbana High School (Urbana, Ill.)

We Can Do This is a nationwide campaign to increase confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and reinforce basic prevention measures. It is funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services and facilitated by the Fors Marsh Group. Learn more at WeCanDoThis.HHS.gov.

Rock Your Kickoff: How the Right Start Gets the Best Fundraising Results

Authored by Mariah Muller 

A new calendar year means new needs for your PTA and school to meet to give every child a high-quality education. But what’s the key to getting students, volunteers and teachers excited and engaged for your next fundraising campaign? A motivational fundraiser kickoff event! Here are some tips on how to plan and execute the best one possible. 

What is a Fundraiser Kickoff, and Why Do You Need One? 

Every good fundraiser starts with a kickoff event. Your fundraiser kickoff is how you communicate the purpose and details of the fundraiser in an approachable, organized way. More importantly, your event is an easy and fun way to generate excitement from participants, including students, volunteers, teachers, parents, community members, and anyone else whose support you need to get the most out of your fundraising campaign. 

So, the first tip to making your fundraiser kickoff the best it can be is holding your kickoff event right at the start of your fundraising campaign. When planning your fundraiser, put just as much thought and preparation into the kickoff as the rest of the campaign. 

The Basic Components of a Fundraiser Kickoff 

Since there are so many different types of school fundraisers—from selling spirit wear to hosting a fun run or dance event—there are just as many different ways to approach your fundraiser kickoff. It all depends on the type of campaign you are running! However, your kickoff event should include at least the basic elements listed below. 

  • Purpose: One of the best ways to get people excited about participating in your school fundraiser is to tell them exactly why you’re raising money. Don’t be afraid to share specifics! Donors love to know how their money will help the school, and volunteers and participants love to know that their hard work is going to a good cause. Use your kickoff event to clearly communicate the purpose of your fundraiser. 
  • Details: After explaining the campaign’s purpose, it’s time to share details about how the fundraiser will work, including important deadlines, event dates/times and locations, and any other information volunteers and participants need to know. 
  • Materials and Literature: As you plan your kickoff event, ask yourself—are there are there any flyers, newsletters or other materials that students and volunteers will need in order to participate in the fundraiser? Consider how will you share those materials—will there be a letter or email sent out to parents with more information? It’s critical to have a plan for disseminating important literature or communicating what will be sent out after the event. 
  • Prizes or incentives: Some fundraisers—such as sales, fun runs and auctions—incorporate prizes or incentives to promote participation. Your fundraiser kickoff event is the perfect time to show off these incentives to get people even more excited.  

Conveying Your Message: Innovative Ways to Host a Fundraiser Kickoff 

  • Host a In Person Event 
    One of the most popular fundraiser kickoff events is a school assembly. Kickoff events work best when there is a large audience all gathered together, so the attendees can feed off each other’s excited energy. With an assembly, you can get the whole school community involved, featuring speeches from school administration and performances by student groups such as the school band or cheer team. All of this helps people feel like part of a big fundraising community. 
  • Host a Virtual Event 
    Of course, assemblies may not be possible or safe these days. If that’s the case at your school, don’t worry—you can still get people just as excited through a virtual event. To mimic the feel of an assembly as closely as possible, line up exciting speakers and entertainment just as you would for an in-person event.

    Use accessible technology and make sure all participants have access to the links and passwords they’ll need to log into the event ahead of time. Don’t forget to have a practice run to make sure all of the technology works as intended. There are a lot of details to consider when hosting a virtual event, but with enough planning, it can be exciting and fun for everyone. 

Other Key Considerations for Your Fundraiser Kickoff 

  • Create a Kickoff Video 
    Whether you’re hosting an in-person event or a virtual event, you should create a kickoff video to play for attendees. Include the basic components listed earlier in this blog in your video, such as the purpose and type of fundraiser, date and location of the event, and how volunteers or donors can participate. 
     
    This is your chance to show off your school’s personality and create an entertaining but informative experience for your audience. You can then post the kickoff video on your fundraising website, school website, social media platforms and more. It’s an investment that goes a long way!
  • Make the Most of Social Media 
    Social media is a crucial promotional tool for any fundraiser. To make the most of your kickoff event, take photos and videos of the event and post them on social media with a custom hashtag, and include links to your fundraising or donation page. Ask kickoff attendees to also post about the fundraiser on their own social media accounts. Soon enough, word-of-mouth about your fundraiser will spread like wildfire. 
  • Have a theme 
    Want to add some extra personality to your fundraiser kickoff? Consider having a theme for your fundraiser and introducing it during the kickoff event. Boosterthon’s Character Program is one way to dress up your fundraiser with a fun, memorable theme that promotes good values for the people who benefit most from fundraising … your students! 

Learn more about how Boosterthon can help make your fundraiser dreams a reality, from kickoff to collection, at Boosterthon.com. 

How Your PTA Can Support Social and Emotional Learning 

We know social and emotional learning (SEL) happens at home and at school, but how do we bridge the two learning environments? That’s where your PTA comes in! 

National PTA has introduced our Healthy Minds program to help families and schools work together to support kids’ mental health and well-being. SEL is a key component of our approach to healthy minds! Throughout the pandemic, PTAs across the nation doubled down on their commitment to SEL in big and small ways. 

For example, to combat feelings of isolation and stress in their communities, many PTAs distributed mental wellness kits. These bags of resources provided a range of materials including everything from stress balls and fidgets for children to use to aromatherapy candles.  

Several PTAs also collaborated with school counselors to support their communities. In Georgia, Bartlett Middle School PTSA implemented a new “Coffee with the Counselors” event series, during which counselors would choose a hot topic and facilitate a discussion for families and students. Families were able to get professional advice on relevant issues and access a safe space to practice having these important discussions with their children. 

Meanwhile, in Utah, Bonneville Elementary PTA used a National PTA COVID-19 Relief Fund Grant to collaborate with school leadership to create a wellness center for students. They transformed an unused classroom into an inviting, therapeutic space distinct from the academic setting. A partition separates the Wellness Center into two main areas:  

  • In the Wellness Room, students can take a break during the school day when they feel stressed or overwhelmed. It is a place to process and connect.  
  • In the Resource Room, parents can find materials to help them manage mental health at home and in the community.  

You can learn more about Bonneville’s innovative approach in our Mental Health/Social-Emotional Support COVID-19 Relief Case Study

If you’re feeling inspired by these SEL success stories, here are some tips for getting started in your own community! 

Educate families about social and emotional learning, and why it matters! For families to reinforce social and emotional learning at home, they need to first understand what SEL is and how their children can benefit from it. There are so many ways PTAs can promote learning in their community, from sharing relevant informational and family activity handouts and podcast episodes, to hosting a book club or an event night. 

Help families and teachers develop a common vocabulary when talking about SEL. Discover what language your school uses when talking about social and emotional learning and life skills. Perhaps they use the CASEL wheel, the Second Step Program, or their own homegrown approach with school-selected core values. Either way, it’s important that all community members are on the same page! You can learn more about key SEL skill areas at PTA.org/SocialEmotional.  

Host activities and events that will help students (and their families) build social and emotional skills. You can incorporate SEL activities into your already existing events like your Fall Festival or even as a welcome before a movie night or pizza party. Feelings Charades is a great example for younger kids that can be adapted to fill just a little bit of time, or a longer window!  

Looking for a fun way to get tweens and teens to grapple with bigger SEL topics like identity, purpose, and decision-making? Hosting an event night where middle and high schoolers write Letters to their Future Selves is a fun way to prompt meaningful reflection. 

For even more ideas and resources, visit PTA.org/SocialEmotional  

Family Literacy for All

National PTA’s Family Reading Experience recently turned five years old, so we decided it was time for a refresh. Over the past year, National PTA has worked with literary content experts to help us re-design programming to be more accessible to the everyday parent and PTA leader by engaging the whole family in reading activities. With our funding from Office Depot, National PTA was able to pilot these new resources last spring with select PTAs across the country.

Sandra West, President of Miami Dade Council PTA in Florida, led the pilot work for her PTA and shared her thoughts about the experience with us.

How did Miami Dade Council PTA go about planning literacy programming?

Miami was, and is, still deep in the COVID-19 pandemic. Holding in-person events wasn’t an option. We started putting our collective heads together to seek authors willing to read their books on Zoom. The council would purchase the books and then mail them to participants. The United States Postal Service offers special media rate service that is affordable. Each book typically costs less than $3 to ship.

We were quite delighted to find that among our board members we had two authors and they knew many more authors. We began contacting them to schedule readings and arrange the purchase of the books.

Danielle Joseph read her book I Want To Ride The Tap Tap, which you can watch on YouTube. After the success of our first reading, the council was contacted by Coral Gables Family Literacy Festival organizers to participate in their Memorial Day Weekend Festival. The goal of the Festival was for every child to leave with a book, and we fulfilled their goal by giving away over 200 books. The only requirement to receive a book was for them to join our newsletter mailing list. Using that list, we promoted our second Zoom author, Andrew Toffoli, who read Susan Bear Anthony, which you can also watch on YouTube.

Another project of the Family Literacy Committee was a partnership with the Miami Dade County Public Library System to host authors and give away the corresponding books. Every three weeks or so, a different branch of the library hosts an author read and the council provides the books to be distributed.

Did you face any challenges in your literacy work?

One of our challenges has been negotiating discounted books. To find discounts we contact the author, the publishers, distributors and bookstores. A resource that has been amazing has been Scholastic. At first, we purchased discounted books through the Scholastic Book Club but then we were introduced to the Scholastic F.A.C.E. program, which allows us to purchase deeply discounted books with the promise that we will give them away and not sell them.

The initial pilot funds provided by Office Depot have been matched three-fold by the council, so this can be a continuous program offered to the 350,000 students in the fourth-largest school system in the USA. Thank you so much to National PTA and Office Depot for getting us started!

If Sandra’s family reading experience program excites you, make sure to check out our revamped Family Reading Experience page with our new PTA Leader Resources on how to plan your own literacy programming in your PTA! Happy reading!


 Sandra West is the president of Miami Dade County Council PTA.

This Tool Teaches Children and Families to #BeCyberSmart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Does a PTA Become a National School of Excellence?

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

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

BELLA VISTA PTA, CALIFORNIA

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

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

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

SAMUEL BISSELL ELEMENTARY PTA, OHIO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILSON MIDDLE SCHOOL PTA, TEXAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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