Monrovia Council PTA Goes Sea to Sea for ABC’s

Monrovia School Board Member and former Mayor of Monrovia Rob Hammond raised funds, awareness and PTA pride for Monrovia Council PTA (First District) by riding his bike across the country.

On April 1, Hammond started in San Diego, California and cycled more than 3,000 miles to end up in St. Augustine, Florida after only six weeks.

“When I tell people about this adventure, there are two main responses. First is usually, “Are you crazy?” The second is, “What are you going to raise money for?” The first answer is easy. No, I am not crazy. The answer to the second question is, “I ride for you.” I wanted to raise money and awareness for the PTAs in our community, as well as promote other educational non-profit groups in our town,” said Hammond.

Hammond tracked his ride from west coast to east coast on his website,, along with the ever-increasing amount of donations in the “Jar of Generosity”. The jar is currently full of almost $5,000, which he has received from community members, businesses and even donors in other states. The funds he raises will go to directly PTAs in the Monrovia Unified School District.

“[This] is my way of raising money for the PTA and giving back to our community, which has given me so much. I know everyone would like to be able to help make our PTAs stronger and bolster other groups that work very hard to make the lives of people in our community better,” said Hammond.

The Monrovia Council PTA is made up of 8 units. These PTA units help support the school district by fundraising and organizing many events, including field trips, science nights, technology advancements, field day activities, family movies nights and much more.

View highlights from Rob Hammond’s trip from sea to shining sea and support his mission at

PTA Gives Back to Foster Children

Stephen Foster Elementary PTA in Lakewood, CA (Thirty-Third District PTA) gives back to the students in the community who need it the most. The PTA realized their school had a large population of foster youth and decided to research ways to help these more vulnerable students. They found an organization called Together We Rise – a non-profit dedicated to transforming the way kids experience foster care in America – and decided to work together to better the lives of all students.

“Our school wanted to figure out how we could give back and help kids who are in the foster system,” said Sandee Trowbridge, president of Stephen Foster Elementary PTA at the time.

Together We Rise provided PTA with duffel bags and a few items to include in them through their Sweet Cases program, and then the responsibility of filling the bags and delivering them to a foster home or agency was up to the PTA. When foster youth move from home to home, they often have to stuff their belongings in trash bags. PTA wanted the children in their community to have a better way of moving their things and something they could be happy to carry around.

Stephen Foster Elementary PTA hosted a family night, which attracted more than 400 people, and asked for community participation in changing the lives of foster children. The families filled the duffel bags with donated items such as pajamas, night lights, coloring books, socks, gloves, toiletry items and more, and the children who attended decorated the bags to make them fun and appealing.

“We received so many donations! Because of the amount, we were able to individualize the bags by age,” said Trowbridge.

Some of the duffel bags were geared towards younger children, with lots of crayons and coloring books, while others were for older children, with Harry Potter books and trendy pajamas. Sandee Trowbridge and a fellow PTA volunteer delivered the filled and decorated bags to Aspiranet Child & Family Services in Long Beach, CA just before the winter holidays.

“It was a great experience and we were very excited to give back!” said Trowbridge.

Generations of School Success

PTA member Elizabeth Chavez is making a difference at the elementary school she attended as a child and making sure her children reach their potential at the same school – Centinela Elementary School in Inglewood (Thirty-Third District PTA).

“When I first got involved with PTA, I didn’t really understand what it was. Like many parents, I thought the purpose was just to raise money. But PTA has opened my eyes and helped me understand what it is that we as parents can do for our children’s school,” said Chavez.

Chavez joined the PTA five years ago when her oldest child started kindergarten at Centinela Elementary. In the past two years of her PTA involvement, Chavez committed herself to getting to know the majority of the children at the elementary school, which enrollment was over 650 students at the time. From her interactions with the students at Centinela Elementary, Chavez found inspiration when she learned that most of them wanted their school to offer fun programs and activities to keep the students motivated.

“It really broke my heart because I realized we didn’t have any of those things at our school. I made sure I continued to have conversations with the students to let them know that PTA was there to listen to them and that we would try to make those changes happen at our school,” said Chavez.

Centinela Elementary School held their first school dance in February for children in all grades, from pre-K through sixth grade, called the Friendship Dance.

“The kids had an amazing time. As I saw the little ones dancing with the bigger kids, it made me smile. It was only a one-day event, but the memory will forever stay in my heart,” said Chavez.

Chavez also helped organize a program called “A Day With the PTA”, where three students from each class at all grade levels had the opportunity to come and spend time with the PTA once a month. The members had snacks, board games, hula hoops and other activities available for the children to participate in and interact as a group and connect with the PTA.

“Being involved with PTA has made me understand that our children want to attend school and want to do better, but sometimes they need someone to tell them that things will be okay. That’s why I love being part of PTA – you get to have that connection with them and understand them a little better,” said Chavez.

Santiago Hills PTA is building awareness and excitement for membership

SantiagohillsMembership is growing for Santiago Hills PTA in Irvine (Fourth District PTA) thanks to strengthened visibility.

Membership Chair Karen Chao emphasized that communication is critical when increasing membership. The PTA started using social media this year, creating accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and also learned to be visible and have a physical presence on campus.

Chao shared that they tried several new visibility and engagement strategies this year as they asked people to “be a piece of the PTA puzzle.”

One strategy that they introduced was “Popcorn Friday,” where any child whose parent had either joined the PTA or donated to the pledge drive received free popcorn at lunch. Santiago Hills started a campaign at a couple of back-to-school night events in the days before school started and immediately got the info out to everyone once school began. They also created packages that combined
membership, pledge drive donations and yearbook purchases.

Chao noted that having a stronger PTA through increased visibility allowed them to introduce new programs and bring back ones they had not been able to have for some time, including a primary-art program, a writing program and after-school enrichment classes.

“With a strong PTA, we also helped make some major facilities improvements on campus in the last few years,” she said. “If the PTA had not worked so hard at publicizing these bigger needs, we would not be able to help the school improve or build membership.”

More about this PTA

  • K-6 School
  • 619 Students
  • 10% Free and reduced school lunch
  • 18% English Language Learners
  • +100 PTA members over same time last year*
  • After Class Enrichment, Meet the Masters AA Program,
  • Around the World Cultural Fair, Book Fair, Tiger Trotters Running Club, Reflections Parent Speaker Series
    *as of October 2016 reporting.

Creating Community at Annie Pennycook Elementary

AnniepennycooksmallPTA membership at Vallejo’s Annie Pennycook Elementary (Eighteenth District PTA) is not just about the school, but the whole community.

President Amid Brock said the PTA saw a community in need, and is trying to fulfill it.

“We want to bring our community together,” he said. “We strive for community service and the PTA is there to support every child.”

Social media plays a huge part in their community engagement and increased membership. The PTA’s Facebook page and website are frequently updated with the many great new things that they have come up with, getting more families and volunteers active. These activities include family game nights and a recent community-service night, which included free immunizations, haircuts and resources for children and families.

In addition, the PTA donated laptops and tablets as giveaways to increase membership and also help the kids’ educations and parent communication. These engaging events and activities not only help bring in more members, but also build the entire community.

Seeing engagement and progress makes people want to join, said Brock: “Families want to see their name on the bulletin board, and we have succeeded in getting most of the teachers signed
up with our PTA.”

More about this PTA

  • K-5 School
  • 576 Students
  • 67% Free and reduced school lunch
  • 17% English Language Learners
  • 38% Increase in PTA membership
  • Dr. Seuss Night, Red Ribbon Week, Book Fair, Field Day

School Smarts: ‘Empowerment for the Parents’

schoolsmarts_facilitatorsPara leer este en español, haga clic aqui.

Authentic, meaningful family engagement makes a difference for student success. Some of our amazing Southern California School Smarts Parent Engagement Program partners recently shared their thoughts on why family engagement matters and how School Smarts helps empower parents:

Diana Marmolejo-Reymundo: “We respect the place of the parent as the first teacher: We can learn so much from them in the educational community. When they give us the gift of their children, we are able to work together in partnership. The School Smarts program is instrumental in providing an opportunity for growth, learning and leadership, using art activities and communication to build a stronger community, school and education for parents and students together.”

Tiffany Perry: “I think it’s so powerful for parents to feel they have an avenue to build community, and to come and learn in a safe place to share their opinions and their voice. I love School Smarts and love seeing parents empowered!”

Trini Hernandez: “There are always statistics that show the importance of family engagement, but once you see School Smarts in action and realize what it does for parents and see what it does for children, it’s amazing. You see the children so proud of their parents and the parents beaming with pride – there are your statistics!”

Gina Gallo: “I was a schoolteacher for 32 years and we never had a program like School Smarts. I’m still onboard to help children, and now we have help and empowerment for the parents: School Smarts!”

Feel free to share your family-engagement thoughts and stories with us at

School Smarts: ‘A Lifetime of Knowledge’

wendysmithers_speech_SMALLWendy Smithers (at right in scarf) is a School Smarts Parent Engagement Program facilitator. She was honored to share her personal and professional experiences at a recent California Association of Bilingual Education convention.

How many of you are teachers? Paraprofessionals? Parents? Today I would like to share with you my experiences as a facilitator of the School Smarts Parent Engagement Program and its connection to the arts. A recent PTA newsletter clearly stated that family engagement is the number-one predictor of student success.

Family engagement has a big impact on improving student outcomes and building connections between the home and school. As a facilitator of School Smarts I can share with you the many success stories of parent involvement and student achievement.

Motivation and Inspiration

I have facilitated School Smarts several times in South San Francisco and Millbrae. Each time, my heart sings with motivation and inspiration from the parents. It’s about making the connections with the parents from school to home and back. Just like in your classroom, you see the children’s smiling faces, hands eagerly raised, I have experienced the same with parents. They nod, smile, talk amongst themselves. At the end of each session, they hug you and thank you for the new information learned. And they laugh! You know you are making a difference when you connect with them and they respond back so eagerly.

School Smarts has seven sessions and one wonderful graduation. Session One begins with sharing family values, and education is always one value that comes up as most important to the parents. Because it’s an important value, we talk about how to set up your home for homework and how important it is to turn off the screen time and video games Monday through Thursday. And because they value education, the parents try it and follow through.

The results are astonishing! By the second session, about 99 percent of the parents are onboard with turning off screen time and reorganizing homework time! Then I ask them to be sure to look in their child’s backpack every night. They think this is so funny – until the next week, when they share that they did look in the backpacks and they discovered incomplete homework and notes from the teacher and school. We now have empowered parents! They are onboard to make changes and connect to school.

schoolsmarts_hand_wendyAs a facilitator, I observe as parents discover and grow within each of the seven sessions. Communication skills become stronger. They begin to talk more with each other, ask questions – and they realize the teacher is available to talk with them. They realize the door to the classroom is open to them. They become motivated to communicate with the teachers. They share their experiences:

  • “Teacher, my son really loved his homework!” or
  • “Teacher, can you please help my child with the word problems?” or
  • “Teacher, I have set up a homework system at home!”

Instead of ignoring the problem, or not talking to the teacher, parents are confident to ask for help.

As you probably know, in many Latin countries, the parents never enter the school. They walk their child to school, but never enter. They hang out at the front of the school. You probably see this at your school. The parents hang out at the entrance, but are unaware they can go into the classroom. School Smarts builds their confidence to not only visit the classroom, but also to talk, question and share with the teacher. Now the seeds of the home-school connection have been planted and are growing.

I have always found it is important to really know your audience. Do they understand the Core standards? Can they navigate and interpret the new standards-based report card? Do they have good questions to ask at conference time? Do they understand the educational system in California? These are questions I ask myself as I prepare for each session. As a facilitator, I want to teach new concepts that the parents need to know and empower them with new knowledge.

Just like your students, parents work best in small groups where they can share and build communications skills. Having understood the Core standards, many parents now form well-though-out conference questions:

  • “In what areas is my child proficient or exemplary?”
  • “What can I do at home to increase his mastery of standards?”
  • Or sharing with the teacher the homework routines set up at home.

Parents are proud – and knowledgeable. It is exhilarating to see parents becoming empowered and participating in their child’s education. School Smarts gives them these skills.

The Power of Art

Art is also a critical component in School Smarts. It is with the art projects that they realize how important art is for their children. Art is a tool which allows all children to show what they know — to model high levels of comprehension in all subjects. You have seen the difference with your ESL students when they can illustrate the beginning, middle or end of a story. They can demonstrate their comprehension of stories read, the details, word meaning, sequencing, main idea with details, character description, cause/effect, dialogue: all through art, at any grade level. It is with art that all students can demonstrate what they know as they learn English. And art is a cross-cultural medium – there are no language barriers. When the students create projects at home, the whole family participates. We all benefit from the diversity and cultural impact shown in the art.

schoolsmarts_art_wendyIt is through the power of art that meaning and comprehension shine. Cultural ties are revealed through art. Family art projects form the home-school connection. At School Smarts, the parents participate in an art project almost every session. We celebrate the parents’ art by hanging it up in the school cafeteria or halls. Children delight and are proud of their parents’ art – they beam with pride:

  • “My mom and dad go to school!”
  • “My mom made this of me!”
  • “My dad volunteers in school!”

And because their parents attend School Smarts, the children find themselves improving more in class as well: improving in grades and subject matter. Education is valued. Children excel. Family engagement is a predictor of student success.

Community is built through art, and with it the development of stronger communication skills. I once asked a kindergarten parent how will she make sure her kindergarten student masters the Core standard of identifying geometric shapes. She thought about it and answered, “I will point out the shapes of street signs as we walk to school.” Brilliant! Talking to her child and observing the environment; making connections to school curriculum. She will take control and be sure her child masters this standard. She has knowledge of these core standards at each grade level and understands how the school and home work together to build success.

The Home Benefits, the School Benefits, the Community Benefits

wendy2Parents grow and find themselves, not just good communicators, but now they are leaders in the school community and advocates for education at their school sites. Parents are empowered to not just join PTA, but to attend meetings and participate! They join other committees and volunteer in school. As leaders, they understand how important it is to be involved in education. We tell them this from kindergarten through 12th grade! And it’s not IF you go to college – it’s WHEN YOU GO. Parents speak at school-board meetings. Parents also apply this new knowledge and find themselves advancing in their jobs or going back to school. Many parents have been inspired to get their GED or take courses in English – even going to college and graduating! New life goals are made and a future for them and their children moves forward.

At the end of the Seventh Session, we ask parents to make a goal that they can fulfill and hopefully demonstrates leadership and advocacy in the school community. Many parents join PTA! And they attend meetings! They begin to participate and find their voices. Other parents promise to read to their child every night. Families together: Friday pizza night with families in their pajamas and on the couch reading together with no TV!

They also set goals to always check their backpacks every day, too! What was so funny in the beginning has become a way of life! I love it. Setting goals gives them a reason to participate and become involved with their child’s education.

Many parents become inspired to share their career with the school. One graduate – a dentist – gave dental-hygiene education to each kindergarten through fifth grade class at one school. This was an incredible give-back to the community. The kids loved his big model of teeth that demonstrated how to properly brush their teeth! Other parents got fingerprint clearance and TB-tested to become legal volunteers at school. At one school, the PTA was losing its charter – the parents’ goal was to increase membership. They organized themselves to work in partners and signed up for different times of the school day to meet and talk with parents to join PTA. Membership increased to 75 parents! And the graduates of School Smarts were elected to the executive board! At another school recently renovated, parents worked with the art teacher and classrooms to construct tile murals for the new hallways! Gardens and raised beds appear as parents work with teachers and students to build stronger school community. As we say, “Si se puede – it can be done!”

Graduation is another emotional, momentous event. In some school graduations, mortarboards are purchased, parents walk down a red paper carpet to the stage with “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background. For many, this is their first graduation. Tears are in their eyes. Mine, too. The children sit silently, in awe of their parents. They too will graduate. Family pride – valuing education – building a future.

Because of School Smarts, parents are moving forward. Families are moving into the future with educational goals. Parents communicate well, demonstrate leadership and advocacy for all kids in education. Parents become leaders and families achieve. The rewards are a lifetime of skills and knowledge. They have started a change at home that will continue after their children are grown.

The home benefits, the school benefits, the community benefits – across all cultures and languages. School Smarts is a program which gives our parents and their children a future. It builds home-school connections through art, communication, leadership and advocacy. Thank you!

Do you have a family-engagement success story to share? Email

Family Engagement’s a Team Effort in Pomona Unified School District

Four years in, School Smarts is making a difference

schoolsmarts_groupphoto2A family-engagement movement is taking place in Los Angeles County, and parents like Maggie Uceda are proud to be a part of it.

As a volunteer at Pomona’s San Antonio Elementary School, Uceda already was familiar with the school community. But when she heard about California State PTA’s School Smarts Parent Engagement Program from her principal, it definitely got her attention.

“I first heard about School Smarts when the principal brought the program to San Antonio,” she said. “It was a new program, and we were the first ones in the district to try it. She asked me to participate in the class and bring my friends, so we took the very first School Smarts class. From there, it took off!”

With the School Smarts academy, Uceda enjoyed learning more about how to advocate for her children – as well as all children in her school community.

“Our grandparents always taught us values when we were young,” she said. “Now, as a mom, this is something that is important to me. I know that it is my turn to teach my children these values because School Smarts taught us that parents are the first teachers of our children.”

But learning about advocacy and engagement and becoming more involved as a parent wasn’t enough for Uceda: She was so inspired by her experience that she trained to become a School Smarts facilitator. In that new role, she finds personal reward in motivating other parents and family members to reach goals big and small, and to have a true voice in their children’s school and the surrounding community.

“For me, being a successful parent is being involved with my children’s school.”


Uceda is just one of the growing number of dedicated Pomona Unified School District School Smarts graduates. Since its beginning four years ago as one of the first School Smarts programs in the state, School Smarts has been embraced at all levels of the district to not just engage, but to empower families.

While the district had used an introductory parent-engagement program for some time, Diana Marmolejo-Reymundo felt something was missing. As district coordinator of pupil, community and employee relations, Marmolejo-Reymundo and others believed more in-depth, meaningful training and engagement was needed to support Pomona students and the diverse family community. The challenge was finding the tools for success.

“The programs we have used in the past were missing a key element – the next step!” she said. “School Smarts offered a solution by building the capacity of parents by empowering, training and supporting them to take the lead with a solid program and curriculum that focuses on how to help parents help their children.”

“It’s about being partners in education,” added PUSD Superintendent Richard Martinez. “We wanted to create an atmosphere and environment supportive to schools and parents. It’s so much more than just helping out in the classroom.”

So when district and parent representatives heard about School Smarts, excitement followed.

Lynn Miyamoto was serving as First District PTA president when California State PTA launched School Smarts as its premier parent-engagement program. She had heard about the new program at a California State PTA meeting, where she and other participants learned that the search was on for the first academy locations. Miyamoto and other PTA volunteers like Pomona Council PTA President Steve Richmond brought the idea to the school district, which became interested and worked to incorporate the engagement program.

“We started to see that the district and community really embraced School Smarts,” said Miyamoto, who currently serves at California State PTA’s School Smarts chair. “Now we’re doing train-the-trainers and graduates like Maggie are becoming facilitators. We’ve seen it grow by leaps and bounds!”

Marmolejo-Reymundo noted the pure team-effort success of the program, which is supported by the board of education, superintendent, district staff, principals, teachers, school staff, PTA Council, First District PTA, school-site councils, parents, students and community members. She offered advice for other districts seeking to do the same.

“Build on success, reflect constantly, hear and value the voices of all including the critical ones, continue learning and, above all, remember that parents are valued partners,” she said. “Allow the strength of School Smarts to percolate and you will see how it will permeate into the hearts of others.”


Martinez attends School Smarts graduations and events, where he sees family engagement and empowerment in person.

“The kids who come to their parents’ graduations are so excited – you see it in their faces!” he said. “There’s a ripple effect: Our kids are learning something that they must accomplish because their parents did it, too. The effect on children and families is in the classroom and beyond.”

“I was blown away – we started to see that the district really embraced it,” said Miyamoto. “Before, the schools had been struggling, but now parents and families were engaged. That’s exactly what we hoped for.

“Welcome parents and empower them to be engaged with their schools and their kids: Pomona Unified School District and School Smarts are doing it!”


  • PUSD program start date: 2012
  • First PUSD School Smarts program: San Antonio Elementary School in Pomona
  • Current number of academies and programs: 15 academies at 9 schools
  • Current number of district facilitators: 7
  • Graduates to date: 340
  • Languages: School Smarts offered in all 6 available School Smarts curriculum languages in PUSD.

With ‘Battle of the PTSA Memberships,’ Students Are the Real Winners

battleofthememberships_collage_webIt’s not unusual for schools to have friendly rivalries, but two high schools and their unit and council PTSAs are taking intermural competition to a fun, feisty and engaging level.

The city of Downey features two high schools – Downey and Warren – both of which have active PTSAs supported by Downey Council PTA (Thirty-Third District PTA). And even more than that, the two high schools also maintain an active yet happy matchup between their respective Vikings and Bears. So when the PTSAs and council came up with a membership idea building on that companionable competition, it proved to be a real winner.

As Downey Council PTA Membership Chair Claudia Cano reported, the two schools’ PTSA and council volunteers hit upon using the California State PTA high-school scholarship – exclusively for PTA student members — as an incentive for seniors to join their PTSAs and apply for the awards. But there was more to the plan than just increasing membership rolls.

“Our greater goal was to inform the seniors on specific details pertaining to the scholarship and its requirements,” she said. “It gave us an opportunity to put the ‘why’ in joining PTSA.”

So helping the students was definitely the “why.” As for where, when, who and how, the volunteers reached out to a local museum – the Stay Gallery – conveniently located (on “the perfect neutral-ground space”) right between the two high schools for a January 19 event. The museum took the effort to heart, creating a special graphic flier that was distributed far and wide via social media by volunteers, teachers, district staff and even by the local paper and Downey Mayor Alex Saab.

“Everyone who could help get the word out did and that, to me, showed that we are one united community,” said Cano.

While a huge rivalry soccer game happened to be scheduled for the same evening as the “Battle of the PTSA Memberships,” students and their parents still came to sign up for memberships and get all the details about the California State PTA scholarship program and more helpful PTA news and information. What’s more, those who were not able to make it due to the Vikings/Bears soccer game were made so aware by the pre-“Battle” promotions that the PTSAs are continuing to get emails and calls asking to join.

“The exposure of this event has created a lot of buzz in our community, and the membership numbers are increasing,” said Cano. “This all-in-good-fun experience has been so rewarding in so many ways – people are really starting to notice the PTA presence in our city!”

Does your unit have a unique membership campaign? Do you know an amazing PTA program or volunteer? Let us know, too! Share your story with