Honoring Jan by Honoring Diversity and Inclusion

At the end of February, we lost a tireless advocate for this association, but most especially someone who had devoted her life to making the world a better place for our children. During its March meeting, the National PTA Board of Directors approved the recommendation of the Diversity Committee to name an award focused on diversity and inclusion for Jan Harp Domene. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be more fitting. Jan had a deep seeded passion for ensuring that everyone was included and treated with respect and fairness. She was someone who did not just ‘talk the talk’ – no, Jan did much more; she ‘walked the walk.’

You have recently had the opportunity to read about her many accomplishments, as well as her contributions as our National PTA President, 2007-2009. What I want to offer is some insight into Jan as a person worth knowing, as well as to Jan my friend.

I first met Jan when she served as NPTA Secretary-Treasurer during Linda Hodges’ administration (2003-2005). As Tennessee PTA president, I had the chance to work with her on a number of occasions and even had the good luck to have her serve as Nat Rep to one of our conventions. What I remember best about those first interactions is Jan’s warmth and sense of humor. Being around Jan could be such fun!

In the years that followed, our relationship grew from mere acquaintances to one of complete friendship. We traveled together, roomed together on occasion, sat up late into the night sharing our lives – in essence we shared a special bond, a deep friendship. There is something so remarkable about a person who can at once lead an association such as ours and also sit with you deep into the night to share all your secrets. But that was Jan!

More than that, Jan taught me many things about what it means to be a leader. It was her passion to ensure that the National PTA Board began to reflect the children and families of this country. Jan showed me that diversity does not just happen – we must work to make it happen. With each appointment to the Board and to committees, she made a conscience choice to guarantee that we would begin to set a standard for others to follow. It left an indelible mark on how I would choose to lead in the future.

When I got the call that Jan had died, I was speechless, shocked – it had to be a mistake. Her husband, Greg, asked if I could share some thoughts about Jan at her memorial. To say that it was one of the toughest things I have ever done would be an understatement. How do you sum up such a special gift as Jan in just a few minutes? Here are the words I shared at the memorial:

To know Jan meant so many things — above all was her love and devotion to Greg and her family — and her passion for her work.

Jan never went in to anything unless it was to succeed. She did not know the word “failure.” She could be a tough task master in the very best way — especially, when it came to PTA — and her passion for its ideals, and for our work.

Yet, she could be extremely thoughtful, especially in the way she could remember the little things.

In early December, we were able to spend one of those ‘perfect’ days together. We went to Newport Beach to have lunch and shop – it had been such a long, long time since we were able to spend that kind of time together. In the evening, we went to dinner at a favorite restaurant, Lin Chin’s, with Greg, Kris, Cali, her favorite niece, and friends – the family. And I was part of the family – we had such an incredible time — food, fun and laughter — it was quintessential Jan!

As she took me to the airport the next morning, she gave me an early Christmas gift – a Lenox china star, which reads ‘Believe.’ Jan believed in her family, in her mission as an advocate for children…..Jan believed in me.

I want to share her note with you, because it is so ‘her’ – “Remember we have a whole country of children depending on us and the work we do. Stay focused on them — and always believe in yourself. I am always here for you….Whatever!”

Her legacy is in the family that she loved ….in her California roots….it is in her tireless devotion to every child in this nation. Jan served as our National PTA President – one of only handful of individuals that have ever held that honor. She has left an indelible mark on an association that would not have been the same without her leadership.

Jan believed in the ‘all’ – not just the ‘one.’ She believed in the ‘end’ — not just the ‘beginning.’

Most of all, she showed us the value of a “single” life and how important each one of us truly can be in making a difference.

Our memories of the people we have loved are truly how we keep them alive. I have wonderful memories of Jan – our friendship wasn’t always smooth, but that is what made it all the richer. She was in many ways the big sister I never had – as I was part of her family, she was part ours. Mary Frances’s wedding would not have been the same with her and Greg!

It would mean the world to Jan to know that she will be remembered to future generations of PTA leaders and members through this award.

My friend, Jan, made a difference to me – much more importantly, she made a difference in PTA that will only continue to enrich and grow our association until we finally are truly reflective of the children and families that we choose to serve. Just as she dreamed!

The PTA Dad: Adventures in Unfamiliar Territory

Jay Jefferson, PTA President. These are words that I truly thought would never be associated with me. But as the saying goes, “never say never.” So how did this Dad become the leader of a PTA traditionally dominated by Moms, you ask? We’ll that’s a very interesting story that has a few twists and turns. But, here is the short version of my adventures thus far, and the lessons I have learned along the way.

After having relocated to Miami from New York City with my wife and two young children, I was eager to connect with my new community. My daughter entered Kindergarten at Carver Elementary this academic year, so my wife and I wanted to get involved our school’s PTA. We made our interest known to the “then” incoming PTA President, who informed us of two recent vacancies on the Board. We jumped at the opportunity, and agreed to join. My wife became the Vice President of Membership, and I the Board’s Secretary. Yep, Secretary -another position not commonly dominated by Dads. But since my primary interest was really to work on revamping the PTA’s outdated website, I was told that serving as Secretary would assist me in my efforts. Ok, I jokingly thought to myself, “I’m breaking the glass ceiling for all future Dads who aspire to be PTA Secretary.” Further bolstering my confidence, I proclaimed with Dad-like bravado, “I got this…no problem!”

When school began in late August, I proudly assumed my new role at our daughter’s school. After a week or so of introducing myself as the PTA Secretary to fellow parents, school teachers and administrators -the majority of whom are women- I became aware that I might have a problem. Not only had these individuals never encountered a male PTA Secretary, but they had rarely seen a Dad take an active role in school -period. Apparently, all of this was as new to them as it was to me.

Yet, instead of retreating to the background to avoid the awkward stares -which I admit I thought long and hard about doing- I decided to flip the script, and draw more attention to myself. Yeah, counter institutive, I know. But since I was already in the position, I thought I should let my role as Secretary make it less awkward for other Dads to engage with their children at school. And as I jokingly explained to all that gave me that initial look of disbelief after I would introduce myself, “The name of the organization is Parent-Teacher Association, and Dads are parents too.”

After a couple of months, the shock and awe surrounding my role as Secretary waned. My relationship with fellow parents, school teachers and administrators -again, the majority of whom are women – grew better as I allowed my actions to speak for themselves. I had initiated a new weekly PTA newsletter that I would personally edit and print, then have distributed to every parent via our school’s weekly communicator folders. Additionally, I began updating the content to the PTA’s existing website, with a focus of posting more event recaps and photos depicting all the wonderful activities taking place at the school. In doing so, I realized that I was often times the only Dad involved at many of these events. A fact I took personal since I had endured a few months of “Mr. Secretary” jokes and humorous references. What had gone wrong with my plan to have other Dads join me in my quest for equality in parent-child engagement at school? I felt truly defeated.

At that very time, the “then” PTA President decided to withdraw her child from the school, and vacate her position on the Board. In hindsight, I can now say this presumably bad situation presented a good opportunity. I was asked by the remaining Board members to become President, and this recommendation was endorsed by the teachers and administrators. Again, I thought long and hard about the challenges of assuming this new role, especially since I had just started to settle into my old role. Ultimately, I said yes, and my nomination was approved by the remaining Board members, the teacher and administrators as well as the Florida State PTA. I quickly went to work repairing and improving relationships with the teachers and administrators. Additionally, I initiated a rebranding campaign to reinforce the mission of the organization as serving to benefit every child at Carver Elementary by working to ensure they receive the best possible education. I reached out to a cross section of parents and guardians to join the new PTA Team I was building -successfully recruiting six new Committee Chairs. We have since received numerous accolades for the many activities and events we have hosted. In my few months as President, the new PTA Team and I have in the words of one teacher, “brought new life to the school through our positive energy and passion.” Yes, we’ve made great progress, but still have much more work to do -with one of my highest priorities being to encourage other Dads to participate in the PTA, and become active at school. I cherish the fact my daughter knows I love her so much that I want to be involved in her school. I especially like the twinkle in her eye when she says to her classmates, “My Dad is the PTA President.” For that, all the hard work is worth it!

So what have I discovered in my adventures thus far? Well, I’ve learned that there are times when you choose the situation with which to become involved, and then there are times when the situation chooses you. As a PTA Dad, I have learned to embrace both. Furthermore, my quest for equality in parent-child engagement at school will be won one Dad at a time -but we will get there. “I got this…no problem!”

A Successful Event for Families during Take Your Family to School Week

Editor’s note: Below is a note from two local PTA leaders in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, about their Take Your Family to School Week event. Their PTA was one of 45 PTAs to receive a Take Your Family to School Week grant of $1,000.

Northrop PTSA is incredibly tired today :-), but we wanted to share the link to the pictures from our event last night. It was incredible! The event was more than we could ever have expected.

We believe the actual count for attendance is around 600 people. We had 38 tables in our common area for businesses, colleges and organizations and 12 parent round table discussions ranging from legislation and advocacy by Indiana PTA. The scholarships and financial aid information and discussion were very popular. There was also great information about preparing for college, graduation requirements, and the Indiana Department of Education sent a representative to talk about the common core state standards.

Check out these pictures at this link below. They really tell the story of our event: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.297213710342704.73912.184820444915365&type=3.

We can’t thank National PTA and the AXA Foundation enough for making this happen with the Take Your Family to School Week grant. We couldn’t have done it without the grant. The AXA Foundation is the philanthropic arm of AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, and a Proud National Sponsor of PTA.

The funny part is that as soon as it was over the first comment made was, “We’re going to have to expand the area for next year!” It wasn’t a question of if we would do it again… we are already planning! Happy Take Your Family to School Week!

Kathie Green & Theresa Distelrath
Northrop PTSA Co-Presidents

My Inspirational Visit to a Local PTA for Take Your Family to School Week

I was so excited to represent National PTA as a member of the National PTA Board of Directors at a local event in honor of Take Your Family School Week. I went to Norco Elementary in Norco, California to participate in their event and present them a “big” check because they were one of 45 PTAs to receive a Take Your Family to School Week grant of $1,000.

What an amazing visit to Norco Elementary! I was amazing to see the turnout of parents. I drove two hours through heavy rain thinking that few parents would turn out… but not so. The event was supposed to be a picnic with parents, teachers, the principal and students. However, the rain caused us to move the picnic inside the cafeteria which could not hold more than one grade at a time, so each grade took turns in the picnic.

We started with the first grade class and there were many parents eating with their children. Almost every grade level had as many parents for the picnic. Sandy Ramirez, 23rd District PTA President, participated in the “big” check presentation during the third grade picnic.

In addition to mothers and grandparents, there were so many fathers taking time to be with their children. It truly was a great turnout of parents.

Norco Elementary is nestled in a horse ranch community with a diverse community of students. Amy Shainman, the school principal is wonderful! It’s no wonder the school has the support it has of the PTA and parents. I observed her interaction with parents and students and she was so caring and warm.

I wish we had pictures to share but, Kathleen Camarillo, the PTA parent who wrote and submitted the grant application, will forward the pictures of the event to us and we’ll post them then.

We did have heavy rains all day but the sun is out again in sunny California. I have lots of snow in the mountains near my home… What an inspirational experience!

Founders Day

Here at PTA, we are very proud of our history, filled as it is with such accomplishments as the establishment of universal kindergarten, a juvenile justice system, and the National School Lunch Program. In 1912, we established February 17 as Founders Day to honor our founders, Alice McLellan Birney, Selena Sloan Butler, and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and draw attention to our legacy of service. It seemed only natural to extend our celebration to the entire school community by establishing PTA Take Your Family to School Week during the week of Founders Day.

Just as we honor our founders, for several years now, students, teachers, and school principals and staff have been welcoming families to school during this special week with family breakfasts and lunches, school assemblies, games, and many other creative activities to honor them. Parents have commented that PTA Take Your Family to School Week not only made them feel welcome to participate at school but also gave them the first real insight into how their children spend their days. For some family members, the event represents the very first time they ever walked through the school doors.

As a longtime PTA member, leader, and now National President, I can’t imagine not “going to school” with my children, meeting their teachers not only during parent-teacher conferences, but also during the day when I can see and appreciate what they do, not only for my children, but for so many children. I always enjoy spending time with other parents and their children during PTA Your Family School Week, and feel this celebration is exactly what our founders might have envisioned. After all, the dream of establishing a national PTA was first imagined when Alice McLellan Birney sat drinking lemonade during a summer retreat in Western New York with some other mothers who were as concerned as she was about the state of education and child welfare in our nation.

I wish all of our PTAs a happy Founders Day and a memorable PTA Take Your Family to School Week. Our sincere thanks to AXA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, for sponsoring this special week. If you are a parent who has never had a chance to participate in this event, what are you waiting for? We’d love to have you join us!

National Title I Conference Keynote: Reality is Broken

In her engaging, forward-thinking session Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal makes the case that the gamer spirit — an attitude of fun, dedicated, collective problem-solving — is our greatest asset as we face the social, economic, and environmental problems of the 21st century. She argues that game designers are effectively happiness engineers, experts in making difficult tasks engaging, and that we should draw on their smarts as we frame the challenges of our time. According to world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, the reason for this mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In this groundbreaking exploration of the power and future of gaming, McGonigal reveals how we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.

Click Here

National Endowment for the Arts Task Force

Somewhere inside each of us, especially when we are young, lies a budding artist. Fostering that creativity–nurturing that spirit to let our imaginations fly–is the very essence of educating a child.

This past Wednesday (November 30th) the National Endowment of the Arts announced that it will lead a new federal level task force that will emphasize research on the arts and well-being at all stages of life. Chief among the departments involved is the Department of Health and Human Services. In an era of tightening school budgets that see funding for arts programs and classes eliminated or cut altogether, this is a much needed step forward in recognizing the importance of arts in education. Studies continue to endorse the well-known fact that when children express themselves through the arts, they are more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, more likely to participate in a math or science fair and more likely to be elected to a school office.

Something PTAs nationwide understand well! That is why each year, hundreds of thousands of student participants in National PTA’s Reflections arts program can attest to how the arts impact their lives and their ability to express themselves.

No child should be denied the chance to develop their talent or be denied an outlet for their artistic expression because of budget cuts. Thousands of PTAs across the country and in our military based schools overseas make it possible each year for our children to be involved in the arts through Reflections. Sadly for many, they may not have had the opportunity otherwise.

As parents, PTA leaders, and members Urgent Blog Request, we commend the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the other federal departments that are working on this important research on the arts. We stand ready to assist them in any way possible!

Every child in this nation deserves the chance to have a well-rounded education and to have the tools to reach their full potential as they grow into adulthood. The arts are a vital ingredient!

Visit PTA.org/Reflections for more information about National PTA’s Reflections program and to find out how your PTA can participate in next school year’s program.

Thanksgiving

There is a crisp breeze coming through my windows today, and the last ofleaves are slowing drifting off the trees……autumn is most certainly here. This is most definitely my favorite time of the year! Harvest season, and especially Thanksgiving, holds special childhood memories for me. Growing up as the daughter of an Arkansas farmer, I learned a greater appreciation for this time of the year. On many a Thanksgiving holidays, my father left the table to return to the field—there were soybeans yet to harvest.  At our Thanksgiving table, we gave thanks not only for our family, but also for a bountiful harvest.

During the next few days, as you reflect on your many blessings, I have a question for you to consider. Are we thankful for our beloved association, for PTA? Our families are what we are most thankful for, of course, but in our everyday lives, we each volunteer a good deal of time and energy to the causes of education, our communities’ schools, and PTA.

Are we thankful for PTA?

Are we thankful for the dream of a few to make a significant difference in the welfare of this nation’s children in a time when women did not even have the right to vote? The National Congress of Mothers put into motion an organization that 115 years later is recognized as the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the United States. We have a rich heritage of advocacy and more importantly, a history of success.

Today, our voice is 5 million strong. We are active in the halls in Congress and in state houses across this country. We can be found at school board and community meetings raising our voices on behalf of those who have no voice. But are we thankful?

There is a quote that perfectly sums up how I feel about this incredible association. It is one that most of you are very familiar with: “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove….but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” Making a difference for our children—all children—deeply matters to me, and PTA has given me the training, support, and opportunities to fulfill my passion. Am I thankful for PTA? Most definitely!

Over the next few days and weeks as we are busy with holiday preparations, let us give real thought to why we believe in this association. Please take a few moments out of your busy schedule and put those thoughts into words. It is important that as we count our many blessings, we remember to think about the intangible things in our lives that make a difference.  PTA makes a difference each and every day, and you drive the possibility of that difference!

May you and your families enjoy a bountiful Thanksgiving! You are a blessing to the millions of children across this nation and around the world.

Never forget—you are their voice.

Championing Arts in Education for More Than 40 Years

National PTA recently announced the 2010-2011 Reflections award recipients. The announcement made me look back at our history with and the importance of arts in education. It’s no secret, arts programs and classes are often the first to be cut from the school day when education budget cuts hit.

This is so unfortunate because studies continue to show that when children express themselves through the arts, they are more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, more likely to participate in a math or science fair, and are more likely to be elected to a school office. National PTA and its local PTAs nationwide know these facts.

We believe in the importance of arts in education. We believe that children should not be denied an outlet for their artistic expression because of budget cuts. That’s why for more than 40 years we have sustained our very own Reflections arts program. Thousands of PTAs across the country have made it possible for students to be involved in the arts, when they may not have had the opportunity otherwise.

We’re proud of the millions of students that have participated in this amazing program throughout the last four decades. This year PTAs at all levels have seen, first hand, the true talent our students have from pre-k through the 12th grade. Either in visual arts, literature, photography, music composition, film production or dance choreography our students have an untapped talent that so many of us would be amazed to see.

For example, I was in Arkansas recently for the Arkansas PTA convention. I took part in their awards program in which more than 400 students and parents attended… and that’s just one state! It’s inspiring to see that we’re all working together to continue to champion arts in education.

Visit the National PTA newsroom (onevoice.pta.org) for the announcement of the 2011 national winners and visit the general website for more information on how your PTA can participate in next school year’s Reflections program.

Finally, please join me in celebrating the best and the brightest our PTA schools have to offer when it comes to arts education!

Proposed Family Engagement Bill Will Strengthen Education

Earlier this week, the Family Engagement in Education Act was introduced in the Unites States Congress by Representative Todd Platts (R-PA), Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE). Known as S.941/H.R.1821, this legislation will help increase parent and family engagement throughout our country and lead to student success. See news release here: http://tiny.cc/2niwy.

Simply put: parent engagement equals student achievement. Parents, grand-parents, other family members and all adult role models can bring the needed dedication and experience to the table to help make student success a reality.

For years, school districts and local schools have lacked the resources to implement research-based practices that meaningfully engage parents. This legislation can help provide the resources that take increased engagement to the level we all agree is needed.

The bill would provide incentives to districts and schools to implement best practices, such as parent leadership academies, placing family engagement coordinators in schools, and professional development for educators on how to partner with families.

The Family Engagement in Education Act would also strengthen the sole federal program dedicated to parent engagement, the Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs), to scale-up research-based strategies for engaging families. PIRCs currently serve more than 16 million parents in all 50 states.

As policymakers in Washington work to fix No Child Left Behind, this bill puts forth a framework for true partnership with parents and families in education reform efforts – and it does all of this without authorizing any new federal spending.

We know that partnership is pivotal in ensuring reforms passed on Capitol Hill are sustainable in our districts and schools. There is a lot going on in our nation’s capital and we know Congress has a full plate, but PTA leaders, members and all families should share their support for this legislation and contact their Representatives and Senators to urge them to do the same. For information on how to do this, visit http://capwiz.com/npta2/home/.

For 115 years PTA has worked to better the health and educational experience for every child. Now is the time to add your voice to this very important conversation. Get involved and support S.941 and H.R.1821, helping make every child’s potential a reality!