How PTAs Can Prioritize Student Safety and Privacy Online

Happy female teacher assisting school kids during an e-learning class at elementary school.

[Content warning: This article contains discussion of self-harm and suicide.]

Across the country, young people are experiencing a concerning increase in mental health challenges—so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association have declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. But in Neosho County, Mo., the number of students requiring hospitalization for mental health crises has dropped significantly and no student has died by suicide in three years.

Neosho County students face the same set of stressors as their peers. One key difference is that the district has invested in a robust suicide prevention plan—and it’s making a big impact. A core component of Neosho’s student support plan is GoGuardian Beacon, which helps schools identify online activity on school-managed devices and accounts that indicates a risk of suicide, self-harm or possible harm to others. Beacon notifies designated responders to quickly activate a school’s response plan and get students help.

“I find the Beacon alerts incredibly helpful, not only for active-planning situations, but also for the kids who are just reaching out and need a little bit of help,” says Neosho Director of School Counseling Tracy Clements. “It has saved the lives of so many kids and improved the quality of life for countless others.”

Student Safety vs Privacy: Can We Have Both?

While Clements, like many other educators, views online safety tools as an important component of their suicide prevention program, these technologies aren’t without controversy. Parents and educators want to protect young people from self-harm and other threats, but they also worry about student privacy—not wanting sensitive information about their children to land in the wrong hands or be used inappropriately.

Micki Young, a parent and PTA volunteer in Grove City, Ohio, wants strong security set up on her children’s computers. “Especially with the rise in depression and suicides, if my kids were to type in something that was potentially triggering, I would expect them to be approached in a way that was appropriate for the situation,” she says. “I have no concerns with it being monitored. It’s your school computer.”

Nicole Perretta, a PTA leader in New York and mother of four, describes herself as a fan of online monitoring and, in particular, is concerned by the real-life impacts of online bullying. “We do a lot of talking about how to be accepting, but that barrier of a screen really does empower some people to say the nastiest things,” she says. “I think that if we could just pay attention to our kids’ mental health as it relates to what they’re doing online, we would be in a better position to head off some of that negativity that follows them throughout the day.”

That said, Perretta is generally cautious about sharing personal data online and wants her children’s school to involve parents in deciding what information is shared beyond school walls. “The school respects FERPA, but sometimes I’m like, I really would have preferred you have asked my permission to share that. I would just like to be able to police what goes out.”

Mary Sotomayor, another New York State PTA leader and mom of two, believes districts have a responsibility to monitor activity on school-issued devices. “If it’s a school-given laptop or computer, there should be no privacy,” she says, but as far as who sees the data, she says, “This should be a conversation between the guidance counselor and the parent. And it should end there.” She doesn’t think that schools or vendors should hold onto records. “All kids make mistakes. They’re children, they’re learning. If you’re going to hold something against me that the school found out about because of my computer when I was 12? Mmmm. That’s kind of scary.”

“There’s going to be some contention around this type of issue,” says Tennessee PTA President Dwight Hunter, “And there should be.” Tennessee PTA successfully advocated for a resolution on data privacy several years ago based on parental concerns about the data privacy policies of outside vendors. They are also supporting and encouraging families to communicate more with their children about online safety and mental health. “Having an open conversation is so key,” says Hunter.

Our Belief: It’s Not an Either/Or

National PTA believes that student safety and privacy don’t have to be in opposition. We support clear privacy and security policies that maintain the confidentiality of sensitive data that students and families share with schools and via online services. At the same time, we believe that technology can be a powerful tool in keeping students safe. The question we think every community should be asking is, “How can families and schools partner to ensure student safety and privacy at the same time?”

Parents can play a role in supporting online safety and privacy practices by speaking up about where school or community communication is lacking on these issues and by advocating for policies that protect both their children’s health and their data.

Does Your School Practice T.A.C.T.?

Teddy Hartman, Head of Privacy at GoGuardian, suggests we think about online safety the same way we think about safety at school. Parents can and should expect schools to keep children safe while in a classroom or on a field trip—that they will be in the company of vetted adults, aboard school buses that have passed inspection, etc. Hartman asks, “If we extend that thinking to the digital learning environment, what sort of expectations do parents have for the school?”

Hartman, a parent and a former educator himself, suggests that parents and PTA leaders start by focusing on four elements collectively known as T.A.C.T.

  • Transparency
    Make sure your school system publicly shares a list of all technology vendors, the data privacy protections each vendor (and the school) has in place, the specifics of when and on which devices the technology will be active, and how these technologies are being used to support student safety. (With GoGuardian Beacon, schools can activate the School Session Indicator, an additional layer of transparency that displays on any device being monitored.)
  • Access
    Schools must be careful in deciding who has access to sensitive student data, and parents have a right to ask who has authorization to view their child’s information at the school and through the vendor. One way to check on a vendor’s data practices is to see whether the vendor has signed into the Student Privacy Pledge or has been certified by a third-party like iKeepSafe.
  • Communication
    Schools should provide information on what parents can expect if their child’s online activity generates an alert. Schools and parents can also help one another by holding community dialogues about suicide and self-harm prevention and by sharing tools to support better mental health. The National PTA Healthy Minds program has resources and guidance for both families and PTA leaders.
  • Teamwork
    Technology is only one piece of student support. Schools should have clearly articulated protocols for how to handle a self-harm notification and a team of mental health professionals trained both on the software and how to respond to alerts.

Protecting students online doesn’t need to be a polarizing issue. Start a conversation with your principal about how your school is putting student safety and privacy into practice. We owe it to our children to take a thoughtful, nuanced approach to their privacy and safety—together.

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GoGuardian is a Proud National Sponsor of PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service. No endorsement is implied.

7 Expert Tips for Running a School Fundraiser

Running a school fundraiser may sound easy when you’re in the brainstorming stages, but you’ll likely encounter unexpected challenges along the way—especially if you’ve never run one before. Thankfully, fundraising for your school can be easy (and fun!) with the right team, planning and helpful resources, like those available from Booster. When you do it right, your school fundraiser can be a huge success that everyone remembers for years to come.

Use these seven expert tips to help you run a school fundraiser that will raise the funds you need and get the community involved. Whether you’re planning a small event or a major annual fundraiser, these tips will help you get the most out of your fundraising experience. 

Tip #1. Plan Ahead

First, give yourself plenty of time to plan. There are several reasons to do this. By starting early, you’ll have extra weeks or months to create and execute your plan, which will reduce your stress. Plus, the sooner you start your fundraiser, the more money you can raise for your school community. You can also coordinate back-to-back fundraisers so there’s no “lag time” between seasons.

At Booster, we recommend planning for fall fundraisers in the summertime, and spring fundraisers during winter break. Following this suggested schedule will allow you to ample time to plan, form your team, and get all of the pieces you need in place to launch your fundraiser for success.

Tip #2. Recruit Volunteers

When you’re thinking about how to run a school fundraiser, it may be tempting to do everything yourself, so you have complete control—but going it alone means you’ll also carry full responsibility for the workload. Instead, recruit volunteers from your school community. Talk to other parents, faculty and staff, and create a fundraising team to share the work. The more the merrier! 

Ideally, your volunteer team should include people with different skill sets. Is there someone on your team who can handle social media and emails? Do you have someone talking to local businesses? What about people who can help get kids involved? As you recruit volunteers for your fundraiser, consider making a list of “job roles” to fill. 

Tip #3. Set Goals and Expectations

As you and your team create your school fundraiser, think about your goals and expectations. Are you raising a specific amount of money for a school trip or new sports equipment? How much money do you hope to raise? If you only raise 50% of your goal, will that still be enough to help your school community with this endeavor?

Be clear about your goals and expectations from the very start. This is an important step in learning how to run a successful fundraiser. Remember, if you’re not sure how much you should be raising, talk to your school administration or seek free advice from fundraising experts like the team at Booster.

Tip #4. Have Fun and Get Creative!

There’s a reason you can’t spell fundraiser without FUN! You’ll have a more successful fundraiser if you’re enjoying yourself. Be creative and make it fun for you, your team and your community by using a theme, holiday or creative prizes to get people involved.

A fun, creative fundraiser will stand out from the crowd and encourage people to both make more donations and share the fundraiser, so their friends and family can participate too.

Tip #5. Keep Your Community in the Loop

You’re raising this money for a reason—so your school community should always understand what’s going on with their donations. Periodically update parents, teachers, staff and other community members about your progress. 

Give notice about the fundraising dates, send reminders, and create an email list, social media group or website where you can share updates as you get closer to your goal. Platforms like Booster make it easy to create an online component for your fundraiser, which makes it super easy to keep everyone in the loop.

Tip #6. Get the Whole Family Involved

As you plan how to run a fundraiser, why not encourage the whole family to get involved? Kids can participate by decorating cookies for a bake sale, creating arts and crafts to sell, holding a car wash, or putting on a talent show. 

With kids and families involved, more people will want to donate to your fundraiser. And bonus—this is a great way to reinforce what kids are learning in school, broaden their social skills and boost school spirit.

Tip #7. Use Technology

Nothing beats an old-fashioned fundraiser, but technology like email, social media and streaming videos are a great way to broaden the scope of your fundraiser. For example, if you’re having a school talent show, relatives and friends from out-of-state can join the fun via Zoom and make donations online.

Booster makes it easy to run school fundraisers online, with online software that’s customizable for all your fundraising needs. 

Remember—You’re Not in this Alone! 

Booster is here to help you create a successful fundraiser for your school community—big or small. Have questions? Ready to get started? Connect with us today to discover how fun it is to raise funds with Booster! 

Lisa Cardinal is the manager of brand marketing and marketing operations at Booster.

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

Membership Matters: The Annual Report

Ending the year right is as important as getting it started right. One important and valuable step for wrapping up your PTA year is putting together and offering your members some type of Annual Report. This is an end-of-the-year report that sums up all of the great work your PTA has done and is a powerful resource to inspire support for your association.

Among other things, the Annual Report allows:

  • Everyone recruiting members to easily show what your PTA has done and what their membership will support.
  • Everyone who is or has been a member to see what their membership helped to support.
  • Everyone in your community to see what your PTA accomplished.
  • Your PTA to show appreciation for everyone who supported your initiatives with their attendance, volunteer work, support or sponsorships.
  • Your school to show how family engagement contributed to making a difference in your school community.

Putting an Annual Report together is not difficult. You may want to include the following:

  • The total number of members for the year.
  • The PTA mission-related activities/initiatives organized or sponsored by your PTA to support the students, the teachers, the families and/or the community—every group impacted by your work. List all your PTA did throughout the year:
    • to welcome all families
    • to promote two-way meaningful communication
    • to empower families to support their children’s academic achievement
    • to empower families to secure their child’s safety, well-being and best learning, social and emotional opportunities
    • to work alongside your school leaders to secure public funding and resources that support the best learning conditions in your school or community
    • to work collaboratively with the business, faith-based organizations and various other communities your school is part of?
  • A list of all activities organized or sponsored by your PTA that raised funds to support the mission-related activities or initiatives
  • A thank you section with:
    • A list of all volunteers who helped to make possible all activities or initiatives of the PTA.
    • A list of businesses, individuals and/or organizations who supported the work of your PTA.
  • Other special accomplishments of your PTA.

Your annual report document doesn’t need to be wordy. Just a reflection of all the work that you did. I’ve seen annual reports in the form of a written document. I’ve seen annual reports in the form of fun videos with pictures of all the activities the PTA organized throughout the year. Because of this exercise, you may discover your PTA is already doing the work of a National PTA School of Excellence and would only need to register and complete the application process to be recognized.

Distributing your Annual Report via a short message with an attachment or a link to a simple PDF or video shared via social media channels or text is also a great way to inspire your members to renew their membership and to continue to support PTA. We can’t wait to see your annual reports!

Need some help? Check out these resources:

Thank you so much for all you do to advance the PTA mission for all children.


Ivelisse Castro is a national service representative for National PTA.

Membership Matters: Focus on the Mission

FastCompany recently published an article asking, “Which brands inspire consumers the most with their missions?” The article, written by Adele Peters, reports on an annual survey called the World Value Index. The World Value Index evaluates companies, nonprofits and some social movements that have come to be identified as brands–and studies how well their purpose or mission succeeds in inspiring consumers. Do you think your community knows the PTA mission by your activities and actions?

“To make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.”

Enso, which published a list of the top 10 brands on the World Value Index, identified two questions that you can ask yourselves and your board to improve your community’s awareness of the PTA mission:

  1. Are we inspiring our parents to use their power to support the mission?
  2. What could we be doing more of to inspire and engage people in our purpose and create more value?

Take some time this summer to answer these questions with your board.

This past year, National PTA served 16.5 million children out of the 50 plus million children in the USA. Out of all PTAs, more than half—55%—are in Title 1 schools. A recent PTA study asked parents if they believed that their local PTA lived up to the mission. The response was eye-opening as many participants were unaware of the mission.

Once they heard the mission, they felt that ours is a cause that they could support.

We have a great deal more work to do to secure our children’s future. You are our grassroots ambassadors and we need you to live the mission. PTA is about advocacy, family engagement and student success.

As PTA, we believe in speaking up for all children and our members lend their support on all advocacy efforts both federally and statewide. PTA is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association and has been for the past 120 years. And we’re not slowing down. Over the last year, National PTA endorsed 17 bills and sent over 70 letters to Congress to advocate on behalf of children and families.

We know that parents first want information to help them raise their children. Please take a few minutes to check out the PTA website, where you can find a wide variety of information under the Family Resources tab, such as our parent guides, health, safety and special education information. Or, feel free to share the Our Children Online Magazine, which offers more general parenting advice. As PTA members, you can take those resources and deliver them to your community.

Family engagement resources and activities can be found on our website as well.  The School of Excellence program embodies the values of PTA—school and community improvement through effective family engagement—and can bring the home and school closer together.  The program provides a roadmap on how to implement change in your school. Enrollment starts now and ends Oct. 1, 2018.

National PTA also offers grants for other activities, including arts education and STEM programs. It is important to check the PTA website often.

As you plan for your year ahead, take a hard look at our PTA mission and plan activities that promote student success and family engagement. Our education systems and schools are facing difficult issues such as school safety and budget cuts—so get involved. We need YOU.

Thank you for all that do in the name of PTA for families, children and educators each and every day.


Mary Jo Neil is a national service representative for National PTA.

Becoming a School of Excellence: Pearson’s Corner Elementary School PTA

Do you want to step up your PTA’s involvement in school improvements or do you want to see the meaningful work your PTA and school is already doing recognized nationally? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to become a nationally-recognized PTA School of Excellence? Here’s how one PTA took part in the program and celebrated their designation as a 2017-2019 National PTA School of Excellence.

During the 2016-2017 school year, Pearson’s Corner Elementary School (PCES) PTA in Virginia committed themselves to improving family, school and community partnerships by enrolling in the School of Excellence program. After taking a Baseline Survey of their school community, PCES PTA created a plan to improve and implement effective engagement practices at their school—building off the Roadmap to Excellence they received from National PTA with recommendations customized to their survey responses and focus areas.

Ashley Owen, PCES PTA President and School of Excellence Program Leader said, “the Roadmap to Excellence tool was an invaluable resource that our board was eager to reference to help shape our efforts.” Towards the end of the school year, PCES PTA administered a Final Survey to their school community to see if their hard work had made a difference. Upon submission and review of a Final Application, in August 2017, PCES PTA was designated as a 2017-2019 National PTA School of Excellence.

This amazing PTA worked hard throughout the school year to improve their communication efforts. The PCES PTA disseminated information in a variety of ways, including a monthly newsletter, a trusted website and a popular Facebook page that was updated several times each day with friendly greetings. They also had a PTA bulletin board, posted information on the school marquee, sent information using the school’s email blast system, sent PTA information in student folders and sent information in the mail. Their easy-to-navigate PTA website looked professional and acted as a clearinghouse of information seen as a reliable and trusted a source of information.  Furthermore, a PTA newsletter was used to communicate upcoming events and news. It was distributed through email, posted on the website and publicized on Facebook.

To honor their School of Excellence designation, PCES PTA worked with the school principal to hold a celebration ceremony during the school’s Fall Festival. Their excitement for this event and honor can be felt through Owen’s remarks; “We are so excited to be recognized for the significant progress we made over the past school year with welcoming and empowering our families to support student success and school improvements. We focused our commitment to building an inclusive and welcoming school-community and were excited about our results. We worked with determination toward this honor and are proud to share with everyone this accomplishment. This honor is so exciting for us, for Hanover County and our local and state PTA! We are shouting it from the rooftops and wanted to let you know!”

Congratulations, Pearson’s Corner Elementary School PTA and thank you for sharing your story with us!

You too can join the ranks of over 600 PTAs across the nation in becoming a designated National PTA School of Excellence. By enrolling, your PTA will identify and implement an action plan toward school improvement while attracting new, action-oriented members who want to focus on issues that affect our children the most. And being a National PTA School of Excellence will open the door to other opportunities and honors for your school. To enroll in the School of Excellence program, visit PTA.org/Excellence or email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


Amy Weinberg, MA is the Manager of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA and serves as the primary contact for the 2018-2019 School of Excellence program.

Join the First-Timers Experience at National PTA Convention!

Are you a PTA mission believer and achiever? A PTA leader of leaders? An advocate who wants better for our students and schools nationwide? Then we’ll see you at 2018 National PTA Convention & Expo June 21-24 in beautiful and historic New Orleans, La.

In true New Orleans hospitality, we will welcome our first-time attendees with extra kindness. We will show you how to navigate National PTA’s largest and most comprehensive leadership development experience while making the networking easy for you!

Here are your three FIRST steps to making sure this is your best PTA decision ever:

  1. Come to the First-Timers’ Boot Camp. Join the Convention General Arrangements Committee and other first-time attendees at this must-attend event designed just for you on Thursday, June 22 at 1:15 p.m. in Room 235/236. Walk in knowing who you came with and walk out knowing at least five new friends. You’ll hear about the business, special events and learning experiences at Convention, and then your National PTA First-Timer Friend will help you design a plan for workshops and networking experiences that will match your goals for the weekend. Finally, you will take a tour of important locations like the workshop rooms and General Meetings. Leave this workshop feeling oriented, confident and connected.

 

  1. Meet back up with your First-Timer Friends for an Expo Hall tour and #PTAProud team-building experience. Your National PTA First-Timer Friend will give you a special invitation to explore an Expo Hall tour designed just for you. Meet National PTA’s sponsors, connect with National PTA Board Members in the PTA Booth, and then head over for a fun #PTAProud Team-Building Experience. Enjoy a fast-paced icebreaker with your new friends and then take a group selfie at our #PTAProud Wall. Leave this experience with a #PTAProud Recipe for Teamwork that you can take home and facilitate your own PTA team-building experiences!

 

  1. Pack a sweater—even though the average temperature in New Orleans is 90. Trust us. Every Convention Center looks a little different but offers the same chilly relief from blazing summer heat. So, bring a sweater or jacket that will help your mind to stay focused on all the possibilities National PTA’s Convention has to offer!

If this is your first time at National PTA’s Convention & Expo, get the VIP treatment—join the First-Timers Experience!

Didn’t register yet? There’s still time. Visit PTA.org/Convention to register today.


Mary Pat King is the director of education and leadership development at National PTA.

5 Secrets to Finding the Perfect Balance as PTA Leader AND a Parent

(Sponsored Post) Let’s be honest. Parents are some of the busiest people on Earth. And when you add in a PTA leadership role, it can be tough to juggle responsibilities at home and at school. So how do you strike the right balance?

After working with thousands of PTA leaders, and helping them run over 10,000 successful fundraisers during the past 16 years, at Boosterthon we’ve learned a thing or two about serving in a parent organization. Here are five simple secrets to creating a healthy balance between being a parent and a PTA leader.

 1. Schedule and save

Leading the PTA requires a ton of planning and time-consuming work. One way to overcome this is by scheduling time for PTA-related work (just like you would for any other job). For example, try setting aside several hours one weekday for PTA meetings, projects or just getting organized. Knowing this time is blocked out on your calendar will allow you to be fully present in other areas of your life. And because you’re not worried about finding the time to get the work done, you’ll be far less likely to feel overwhelmed.

 2. Next, flex

Whether it’s a last-minute PTA project or a DIY project at home, we all know things don’t always go as planned. Having flex time built into your schedule can help you catch up. Find some open time in the week and protect it like you would an important meeting. That way you can use your scheduled flex time to catch up before heading into a busy weekend.

 3. Be realistic and communicate expectations

When working with others on a PTA project or event, you should first consider your schedule and how much “PTA time” you have available. Here’s a tip: Be realistic. Don’t try to do it all. Then communicate openly and clearly to ensure everyone understands the expectations on timing. Most people are working to establish the same type of balance in their lives, so others will understand if you have to say no.

 4. Don’t be afraid to ask for H-E-L-P

As a PTA leader, one of the most important parts of your job is building relationships with other parents. Many parents genuinely want to help out. Get to know the volunteers who sign up to help at events, and let them know how much you value them. Make note of parents who sign up regularly to volunteer, and ask if you can contact them directly with other volunteer needs.

Building relationships you can lean on is crucial in maintaining more balance in your life.

 5. Focus on your family

As PTA leaders, you spend a lot of time at various PTA events throughout the year, and many of them occur outside of school hours. Getting your kids involved gives them a sense of pride and allows you to spend time working together as a family to help your school. Who knows? Your kids might just love making posters for book fairs, greeting new students at the open house and helping with carnival set-up.

A Final Thought

Remember, no one gets the whole “being a parent” thing perfectly right. Give yourself grace as you seek to strike the right balance between parenting your kids and volunteering at your school. But remember, it’s because of committed parents like you that schools thrive. And to that we say this: Thank you.

Boosterthon is an elementary school fundraiser on a mission to change the world by helping schools raise more and stress less. With over 2,400 schools and 1.6 million students across America participating in our programs, we’re reinventing the way schools do fundraising. To learn more, visit Boosterthon.com

Membership Matters: Reevaluating at the End of the School Year

It’s hard to believe, but the school year will be over in just a few short months. Right now is the perfect time to take a step back and evaluate the impact that your PTA has had on your community over the past year. Have you created a welcoming environment for parents, teachers and community members? If you feel that you may have missed the mark or would like to try some new things, now is the time to try out some new tactics.

In a recent article in FastCompany titled, “The Best Brands Are The Ones That Build ‘Belonging’,” enso co-founder Sebastian Buck explains that most people today essentially live in social isolation. This means that despite the fact that we communicate more than ever—with the advent of social media, texting and emailing—these means of communication are impersonal, and we end up feeling more alone than ever before.

Buck cites several disheartening statistics to back up his point, including the following: 40% of Americans report feeling chronically lonely and only half of the population trust their neighbors. It seems that we have lost the ability to spontaneously begin the meaningful, in-person conversations that build relationships and communities. But PTA just may be the perfect solution.

Association trends show that individuals want to join groups to belong. Here is an opportunity for PTAs to create a strong community where families, teachers and the community can interact and connect with one another. From these interactions, your community will develop trust and empathy toward each other as well as learn about each other’s similarities and differences.

So before the school year ends, ask yourself and your fellow PTA members the following:

  • What can you do to build these relationships?
  • Have you considered having an icebreaker at the start of your general meetings—something to get folks talking to people that they would not otherwise reach out to?
  • Could you do some large team building activities to get the community involved?

At a recent training, we did an exercise where individuals walked around and greeted each other. The concept was simply to say hello; however, the activity went to a new level and participants ended up hugging each other.

Another idea that we played with was to thank people for coming to a training session by saying “thank you” in some fashion. I observed participants giving each other high fives and hugging each other. Could you imagine how your members would feel if you ended your meeting or training session in this manner?

The last few months of the school year provide you with the chance to try something new and to build stronger relationships with your members. Give it a try, who knows what kind of connections you might make!

Mary Jo Neil is a National Service Representative at National PTA.

It Takes a Village: Lessons on Developing the Whole Child

I know you’ve got a lot more on your plate than your next work deadline. You have to pick your kids up from swim practice; you are worried about that cough your dad had over the holidays; you are daydreaming about writing that novel. The same is true of your children—they also have more to worry about, and way more to contribute, than taking the next test.

As adults, we are able (most of the time) to strive for balance in our lives. But our children don’t have enough experience to be able to do that yet. In order for them to be successful, we have to be able to show them how to manage the stress that daily life brings.

That’s where social, emotional and academic development comes in. The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development is spending two years talking to parents, teachers and students to explore how schools can develop the whole child. And on a site visit to Tacoma, Wash., last month, commissioners got some powerful answers.

I was there as a parent advisor to the Commission. Here are three strategies we saw in Tacoma that hold exciting potential for communities across the country:

  1. Leverage the Power of the Community

Schools have a pretty single-minded focus: educate our kids. But what leaders in Tacoma realized is that you don’t have to bend other organizations to your priorities in order to build a community effort around supporting students—you just have to let everyone play to their strengths.

Take Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute (SAMI) for example. This high school, set in the middle of Point Defiance Park, uses its working relationship with the city Parks Department to foster experiences that are truly hands on, and sometimes unexpected. My student tour guide at SAMI told me about a calculus test she recently took while seated by the aquarium’s shark tank. She said the dimness and serenity helped her focus. Students manage ongoing research projects, train to be docents at the zoo, and can work on internships that allow them to apply their learning in real-world settings.

  1. Listen to Students and Teachers

We all know teachers wear many hats. That’s why it’s critical to understand that focusing on students’ social, emotional and academic development doesn’t have to be burdensome. In fact, Tacoma teachers say the Whole Child Initiative has made them feel more supported and free to do their jobs. The initiative has slashed tardy arrivals and absences, boosted test scores and reduced discipline referrals across the district. During my visits to Tacoma’s public schools, I witnessed how teachers are valued as front-line experts and are given opportunities for leadership.

Tacoma also actively includes student voices. At each school I visited, it was clear that not only do students feel listened to, they feel empowered: empowered to resolve their own conflicts, to speak with authority and pride about their schools, and be active participants in shaping their schools’ cultures. For example, students at Jason Lee Middle School advise educators on improvements that can be made and are an active part of the rule-making process. The PTA motto of “every child, one voice” was truly on display in Tacoma.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative

Each child, classroom, school and district is different. What’s unique about your community? You may not have Point Defiance Park, but what about a creative partnership with that homeless shelter down the road?

Tacoma’s schools are flourishing under the Whole Child Initiative, but to replicate that success will mean stepping outside of our comfort zones of fall festivals and fun runs. It will mean focusing on how we, as parents and community members, can do that extra little bit to establish meaningful relationships with the world outside of the school walls.

Our children are complex. Let’s help make sure their educations develop all their potential.

Van Overton is the executive director of SpreadLoveABQ (an organization committed to developing creative fundraising solutions for child advocacy groups); the co-founder of Duke City Dream Lab (an organization that works to make the arts accessible to all children); a three-year member of the New Mexico PTA Board of Directors; and an active volunteer in Albuquerque schools. Van is a member of the National Commission’s Parent Advisory Panel.

Celebrate Take Your Family to School Week All Week Long

Take Your Family to School Week (Feb. 11-17) is more than just a one-night event, it is a weeklong celebration of family engagement and the great work PTAs have done to support the school community.

This year we came up with an easy way for every family to participate in celebrating PTA—Daily themes!

Maker Monday: Celebrate the arts in your school community.

  • Showcase the artwork of your 2018 Reflections participants by creating a display in the school entryway. Share pictures of students, teachers and parents enjoying the display using #PTAProud.

Try-It Tuesday: Help create healthy eating habits by encouraging families to try a new food or recipe.

  • Pick a fruit or vegetable to be an honored guest! Set-up tasting stations throughout the cafeteria where students can try your featured ingredient prepared in different ways. Share the recipes that you used with your school community.

Writer Crush Wednesday: Share your love of reading!

  • Set up an area before or after school for students to read classic love poems and to write their own. There is no better valentine then one that comes directly from the heart! Check out this list for some school appropriate poems.

Techie Thursday: Use this day to highlight the “T” in Stem

  • Share an interview with the school technology administrator or robotics coach and ask them what things they wish the greater school community new about the technology opportunities within your school. Even better, set-up an online chat where parents or families can ask the questions live!

Family Celebration Friday: Celebrate all the families in your school community!

  • Use this day to take the time to thank everyone for celebrating with us this year!

With these themes every PTA member and school can participate in Take Your Family to School Week. We cannot wait to celebrate the founding of National PTA with you all week long! Remember to use #PTAProud to show how you are celebrating Take Your Family to School Week on social media! And, Make sure to share your events with us!

Alyssa Montchal is a Programs & Partnerships Program Manager at National PTA.