Celebrate International Men’s Day By Getting Men Involved at School

By Heather Ippolito, Vice President for Family Engagement 

Involving men on school campuses and in school activities has lasting positive impacts on children. When fathers (or other male role models) are engaged in a child’s education, attendance increases and grades and test scores rise (Education Week, 2018). As we celebrate International Men’s Day on November 19, here are some ideas to help men feel more motivated and comfortable volunteering and participating in school events:

  • Ask men directly to get involved. Your school and your PTA can make it clear to men that their involvement is welcome, in part by emphasizing how men’s involvement in schools will benefit their kids and all kids.
  • Help men see that even small contributions matter.  Lots of dads tend to stay away from PTAs because they think it will take up too much of their time. Help them see that if they participate in even one thing, it will be impactful! Make sure that you have many options for volunteering that take different amounts of time and take into account things that could be done both on and off campus.  
  • Create a “Dad’s Group” with special events for male PTA members. Having a special meeting just for the guys can be a draw! Allow the men time to get to know one another, present them with the volunteer opportunities, and allow them to form connections with other male caregivers. Some units who have had success with this kind of club have also created shirts so that the dads have a special “uniform” that they wear when they are on campus (this also helps to recruit other dads).  
  • Make sure you highlight men’s participation and contributions. Whenever you publish a PTA newsletter or post on social media, you can make extra effort to highlight that men are present and helping. That will help dads see that there’s a place for them at school and in PTA. 

School communities and PTAs thrive when everyone participates. Find additional tips and research on the benefits of increasing male involvement on National PTA’s website

How to Engage High School Parents in PTA

By Kathleen Fay, California State PTA Family Engagement Commission Consultant

As kids get older, family involvement in school and in PTA tends to drop off – even as stakes grow higher. When high school PTA leaders make family engagement a central goal, they can be instrumental in keeping parents/guardians/families engaged and active. 

Your PTA gives families and community members a good reason to become engaged in the school community. By making your meetings matter – either virtually or in person, you provide your members with resources and shared power. Providing members with relevant and important information at your meetings, you can spark interest and attention and hopefully engage more families and community members. 

Here are some meeting tips:

Make sure meetings are well-planned and well-run.

Apply this approach to your agenda to bring members  to your meetings and keep them coming back: 

  • Plan.  Promptly take care of association business at the start of the meeting; allow 20 minutes for this. (See leader tips on how to do this, below.)
  • Present.  Devote the bulk of your time to a presentation by school/community leaders, subject experts, or a panel of students who are invited to speak on a topic of interest and relevance to the lives of high school parents.
  • Prevail.  A good rule of thumb is to keep your meeting to no more than 75 minutes. Your local preferences will help determine a best time limit.

How can you ensure meeting business doesn’t go on too long? 

PTA leaders make this possible by doing committee work in committee, so that precious meeting time is used to conduct the official business efficiently and effectively. High school PTA leaders need to plan carefully, prepare in advance, and make sure the business part of the agenda covers what needs to be done.  Tips for making that happen include:

Invite speakers who can share important information.

When you are spending the bulk of your meeting time on presentations, vary the topics and presenters. Here are some presentation ideas (and possible speakers) to consider:

  • What’s new this year at your high school – academics, programs, personnel, plans, facilities? (good opportunity for the principal to present)
  • Tech Talk: (maybe a panel with a teacher, a district technology expert and a tech-savvy parent)
    • Technology at school and what’s needed at home 
    • Online tools (specific to your school) and how to use them
  • All About Teen Driving – parents are really interested in this! (invite someone from local law enforcement)
  • Career Technical Education/Internships and Work-based Learning Programs: The hot new item on student resumés (ask a speaker from the Regional Occupational Program)
  • Youth & the Law – Legal issues important to parents of minor children or new laws affecting teens that often take effect at the start of the year (reach out to a district spokesperson or the legislation chair from your District PTA)
  • Student Panels: (have diverse students share their experiences and insights
    • What do you know …that we should, too?  – Students share their experiences and insights about life on campus and off
    • Activities and programs to increase student engagement What have students themselves found most meaningful?
  • Finding the Balance – Managing student priorities (good opportunity for counselors to present)
  • College Eligibility and Admissions for Community College and UC/CSU, including testing and course-taking (ask counselors and/or local college admissions officials
  • Mental Health Matters – Issues teens face; resources & approaches (invite a local youth psychologist)
  • Alcohol & Drug Prevention for students & families (use your local police or hospital to lead this)
  • All About Testing – What tests are given when, what’s involved, why do they matter? (include teachers and/or counselors)
  • College Preparation – It’s never too early (ask counselors or parents who have kids already in college)
  • Meet your… [school board members]/[superintendents]/[administrators] (pick one or more)
  • Building the School/District Budget – give parents the chance to express their priorities and understand decision making (allow extra time for this)
    • Single Plan for Student Success – Inform parents about the school site budget process and recommendations going to the district (your school principal and members of the School Site Council)
    • Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) –  Conduct an LCAP input session with district leaders so they can hear what’s important to parents when constructing the district level LCAP

One advantage of this approach is greater cooperation – everyone works together so that your PTA gatherings offer real value for all involved. 

  • Students who participate in panels gain valuable experience preparing and presenting their insights about how activities and programs increase their engagement with school.  
  • Your greater school community contributes their expertise as guest speakers on a variety of topics important to parents of teens, and representatives from other organizations that support youth in the community attend and become engaged with your PTA.  Remember to take advantage of your district’s own experts!
  • Parents benefit from greater participation in PTA and become better educated about relevant issues. A better-informed parent is a better parent!  And drawing the interest of school district leaders affords parents the opportunity to interact with these leaders directly at meetings (administrators, school board members, and superintendents).

Participation in PTA is vital to ensuring the kind of home-school connection that benefits the healthy development of youth. PTAs can positively impact the lives of members by providing programs of real value and relevance. As a PTA leader, you can help to build a connection to  local school staff and administrators by enabling direct interactions, thus boosting family engagement. The information presented in these valuable programs can help to improve parenting skills and empower families and caretakers to take a more active role in their children’s education.

Takeaways from the Family Engagement Summit (Part 2)

Byline: Heather Ippolito, California State PTA Vice President for Family Engagement

 

At schools all over the country, educators and community members are working to build stronger connections between families and schools. We already shared some takeaways from the keynote speakers at the Family Engagement Summit. Here are some ideas and best practices to share with other PTA leaders and school and district administrators. 

Moving from Involvement to Engagement
The Virginia Beach Schools Office of Family Engagement spoke about moving from involvement to engagement. Involvement is doing things to reach families (calls, emails, telling parents what to do) while engagement is doing things with families (partnering, including families in decision-making and treating them as partners). 

Virginia Beach has a districtwide Family Empowerment Group that serves as a safe space for families to share things that are happening in the district, and to work together to advocate for change. Local PTAs might consider advocating for this in your schools  —  a place to begin two-way communication and work together to solve key issues facing our families.

Getting Advice from the Experts
A digital citizenship webinar hosted by CommonSense shared tools to help schools engage families in the digital citizenship conversation.  Steps include planning, implementing, and evaluating the program. Their website is full of resources, all by grade level, that could be helpful to include in a STEAM event or in a PTA newsletter. (For more about these resources see the recent blog on our website.)

The National Parent Leadership Institute has been working with the Merced School District and a non-profit called Valley Onward for several years. The inspiring thing about this partnership is that the entire community is working together to support families. The schools and the extended community all know what an asset they are to our families and have rallied around them this could be replicated in your area using our School Smarts program. 

Thinking Out of the Box
Lisa Elliott, Superintendent of the Greenfield School District in Wisconsin shared best practices for engaging families including some out-of-the-box things. Greenfield has a district team of Family Engagement Champions that set yearly goals for family engagement. The team is made up of parents, teachers, and administrators who keep the family engagement agenda moving forward. 

They begin engaging their school district families at birth mailing a bib, book, and information on early learning to the home of every child born into their district boundaries. The district also has playgroups for children aged 0-3 called Play to Learn. They meet at the library, district office, and at school sites to help families build connections with the schools and community. Finally, they have a senior tax credit program. Seniors on social security can get up to a $500 tax credit by working in the schools as volunteers. They earn $6.50 per hour when they work and the program is paid for by the district. They match the seniors up with their talents library helpers, classroom volunteers, yard duties, etc. They have said that for the financial investment they make (last year it was around $14,000) they have seen incalculable gains (especially when they need community support for educational issues). 

Listening to Parent Voices
Ari Gerzon-Kessler from Colorado spoke about recognizing the disconnect regarding family engagement. While planning a family night,  he realized he didn’t have families in the room. To correct this lack of engagement the district formed groups of parents, students, educators, and administrators at each school. Families and Educators Together (FET). The group meetings consist of 90-minutes of listening to parent voices administrators were tasked with investigating issues that come up during the listening sessions and then problem-solving with the team. They have found these groups to be very impactful (especially for administrators who listen to solutions from educational partners, like the students and parents). 

Focusing on a Key Subject – Math
Building a family math learning community including parents, district leaders, and non-profit groups is a project in a Massachusetts community. They shared that early math skills are a predictor of graduation and that parent attitudes toward math matter for student success. They began having playgroups at churches, libraries, laundromats, and other places in the community to help educate families by sharing easy things they can do to increase math skills and vocabulary at home. Their website is full of math games, videos and resources for families to encourage early math literacy.

Learning from Each Other
The programs and practices presented above are things that PTA Leaders can learn from. These are examples of why family engagement is essential to the success of our schools and hopefully they provide practical ideas for your communities. 

Please share your family engagement ideas with us using  this simple form.

Finding the Right College for your Student

By California State PTA Family Engagement Commission

A Conversation with Kelly Mattinson, Family Engagement Commission Consultant

Q. How does a student find the “perfect fit” college?

In most cases it’s a family decision. The choice needs to fulfill the needs of the student and the family , particularly when the parents are the financially responsible party or helping identify scholarships, grants or loans.

That said, the most successful college selection stories happen when three things factor equally into the decision: the social, academic and financial fit. All three are vital to a successful college journey.

Q. What do you mean by social fit?

By social, I mean “How does the school FEEL?” For example, a student should be asking:

  • Is it a large or small school, which do I learn better?
  • What clubs and activities are available?
  • Do they have a football team?
  • Do I care about school spirit?
  • Is there Greek life?
  • What is the weather like?
  • Is there dorm living?
  • How far is it away from home?

If possible, an in-person visit can be revealing. When you step on the campus, do you want to walk those grounds for the next four-plus years? Sometimes you just know the school is your place. Sometimes you immediately know it is not. If this is going to be your home for four years, it needs to feel like home.

Q. Beyond “do they have my major” what should a student look for to be sure of an academic fit?

This involves knowing a bit about your personal academic style. Do you prefer a semester or quarter schedule? How intense or laid back do you want your academic experience to be? The pace is an important factor to academic success.

Does the college offer multiple majors that interest you? Most students do not graduate with their initially intended field of interest. Having back up options is best as you discover new things about yourself and disciplines in college – that is part of the process.

Q. Isn’t a financial fit just a straightforward affordability question and aren’t more expensive colleges naturally better?

College is expensive. You get what you pay for can be true, but it can also be misleading. Just because the price tag is high does not necessarily make it the BEST. There are amazing public schools out there that come with federal and local funding packages that can help you, there are also VERY generous private universities that will invest in you given the opportunity.

When choosing your BEST fit university, make sure you are comparing apples to apples and not watermelons to grapes. Take all things into account. For example, look at the average time to graduate. If you pay $200,000 but it takes you 5 years to graduate, it actually costs you more than a 4-year university experience at $200,000 because you lose a year of earnings. In other words, sometimes a less expensive school can cost more because it will take longer to graduate. Most private universities guarantee that you will graduate in four years. There may be several reasons including that they may not have the housing or they gave you a lot of financial aid and want you to move on and give back as an alumni. (Watch for more on this and the FAFSA process in an upcoming post.)

Q. Why is the best FIT important for parents as well?

College selection and application is a process that can take up family time and parental involvement in the high school years. Some families are also able to make a financial commitment (even a financial sacrifice!) towards their child’s college experience. After all that, can you imagine your child crying because they are miserable at college? Talk about salt in the wound. I want to know my son is thriving and that he will be happy and productive in his life ahead and hopefully he will take care of me when I am old… lol. It is much easier to be happy for your kid when they are happy…. it is the worst to MISS them (and you will) and have them miserable. Trust me… if they go away to college and they’re happy, it makes it easier to not mourn their empty room.

For more resources on college and career preparation be sure to visit this Family Engagement webpage.

Kelly Mattinson is a former Council PTA President and current local PTA leader. She has worked as a college admissions planner in Los Angeles, helping families find the right fit for their students going to college.

Takeaways from the Family Engagement Summit: Part 1

By California State PTA Family Engagement and Communication Commission

What do focusing on equity, motivating and validating others, understanding learning goals, pivoting away from passive information, and bridging the digital divide have in common?  All of them can strengthen family engagement and all were themes of the Family Engagement Summit I attended virtually last week. 

 It was wonderful to join family practitioners from throughout the country at the conference, even though the in-person event was held in the Eastern time zone, which made for some very early mornings!  

There was so much good information that I want to share with all of you that I’m dividing it into two parts.  This first blog post will cover the keynote speakers who were incredibly inspiring! Part two (coming soon) will cover the workshops I attended. Enjoy a little taste of this amazing conference! 

Equity Occupies a Central Place in Family Engagement
The conference kicked off with an impassioned presentation by Principal Baruti Kafele. He is an equity expert, principal, author, and speaker who spoke to us about critical questions for effective family engagement. My favorite nugget from Principal Kafele was his 5 simple things our children of color need: 

  • Believe in me… without judging me or comparing me to my peers
  • Get to know me… beyond who I am in the classroom
  • Prove that you care about me… and therefore are committed to me
  • Challenge me to maximize my potential… while taking the time to learn how I learn
  • Expose me to my history… Because I need to know who I am

He also stressed that all children need to know that they are brilliant in order to help close the attitude gap between those students who have the will to achieve excellence and those who do not. We as PTA leaders need to keep these things in mind as we advocate for all children equity is the job of everyone!

Motivation and Validation Make a Difference
Day two, we heard from Kim Bearden, award-winning teacher and co-founder of the Ron Clark Academy. She spoke about 6 Principles of Communication from her book Talk to Me:  Find the right words to inspire, encourage, and get things done.  

Two of those principles of communication are motivation and validation. We need to always keep our motivation in mind as we do this work. If we are not motivated by what is best for the kids, but we are motivated by our personal interests, we won’t come across the way we are hoping. The principle of validation makes sure that we see all people and not allow anyone to feel invisible. This is so important on school campuses we have many families that don’t feel included or feel like what they say isn’t valued and this must change if we are going to have transformative family engagement. 

Students and Families Need to Understand the “Why” Behind Learning
Christine Darden was our very inspiring opening to day three. She is a mathematician, data analyst, and aeronautical engineer who devoted much of her 40-year career in aerodynamics at NASA to researching supersonic flight and sonic booms. She worked at NASA after the time period covered in the film, Hidden Figures, but shared many of the same experiences and challenges.  

While most of the math she shared with us went right over my head, her work as a math teacher left me with her greatest nugget: our students need to understand the why behind what they are learning. Oftentimes she heard, “I will never use this math, why do I need to learn this?” so she made it a point to give practical examples of how the math she taught can be used. This also applies to families we need to understand the rationale behind what our children are learning so we can reinforce that at home. 

School-to-Family Outreach Should be Active and Forward-Looking
The family engagement expert, Dr. Steve Constantino was a special keynote for virtual attendees. He has been working in the family engagement field for nearly thirty years. He has written several books including his recently updated Engage Every Family: Five Simple Principles which is used as a guide for schools who want to increase their family engagement.  

My biggest takeaway from Constantino is that we need to move from a passive form of family engagement to an active one. In the passive model, we engage families by telling them about things that have already happened: parent teacher conferences, and other things that our children have done.  In the active model, we help families understand what is about to happen in the classroom and how they can support it. This doesn’t have to look vastly different from what is happening now, we just need to pivot a bit. For example, instead of just sending home a folder full of old papers for a parent to sign, place a paper in that folder that states what is coming next (a lesson on weather), ask the parents to ask their child about it (tell me about the different types of weather), then have the parents write the child’s response and sign that. Or at family nights help families see the connections between the math or literacy games they are playing and their child’s curriculum.  

If we can partner with schools to make these changes then we can move towards his idea of family engagement that says, “Every family, every teacher, every child, every day,” which is an amazing goal!

We Must Bridge the Digital Divide
Finally, we heard from Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, a policy-maker working on the digital divide. She reminded us that prior to the pandemic we had the “digitally invisible” in our country. People from lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, people of color, and the elderly were not the focus of digital equity but now they must be! Besides education, so many services now rely on a device and internet connectivity (social services, shopping, medical appointments, etc.) we must ensure that we leave no family off-line. Being connected is essential to life in our country. 

In her upcoming book Dr. Turner-Lee also states that because education is the trajectory to social mobility, this is an equity issue. In our PTAs we can continue to work to help ensure that every child gets access to the technology and internet access that they need by facilitating partnerships with community groups and advocating in our communities to make this a reality. 

Let’s All Put These Ideas into Action!
While I just scratched the surface of these amazing speakers, I hope you have found a nugget of something to take back to your PTA to begin working on. There is so much to learn in this area and so many great books on the topic. If you would like us to do a book club focusing on family engagement books, please email familyengagement@capta.org and if there is enough interest we will make it happen!

Futureproof: A Book About Your Kids’ Futures (and Yours)

By California State PTA Family Engagement and Communication Commission

 

Futureproof, written by technology writer Kevin Roose, offers new perspectives and interesting food for thought on matters that shape the relationship between families and schools today. The book suggests “nine rules for humans in the age of automation.”  It’s an important topic if you want to ensure that your children’s education stays relevant in future job markets while also supporting their social and emotional health. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly integrated into every aspect of our lives, at work and at home, how can we protect people from being replaced by automation and preserve our humanity?

Among the author’s more interesting insights is that rather than try to compete with computers in terms of productivity and efficiency – where the computers have the upper hand, so to speak – we should focus on developing those human skills and attributes where we do have the advantage: our creativity, our ability to make sense out of novel and chaotic situations, and our capacity to understand and personally relate to the feelings of other humans. Our future success depends on being able to do the things that the computer can’t do – things that highlight the efforts and contributions made by other people (examples include products or services described as artisanal, concierge, personal, or hand-crafted).  

PTA has a role to play

Roose recommends we “build big nets and small webs.”  The term big nets refers to the kinds of social safety programs established to protect children, youth, and families in times of crisis (a common focus for PTA advocacy efforts). PTAs themselves can be thought of as small webs since our local associations are frequently on the front lines finding creative ways to help families when they find themselves in need or distress, as recently demonstrated during the pandemic. For many members of our school communities, PTA activities and support for family engagement offered a means of resilience, encouragement, aid, and friendship during difficult times.

Recent news stories about the lack of accountability among social media companies and the implications of the content they relentlessly provide may be motivating you to reexamine technology use in your own households.  It could be time for you as PTA leaders to consider the growing influence of the digital world more broadly and decide how that should influence PTA strategies for family engagement related to the education offered in your local schools. 

Implications for what schools teach

Roose notes that while “many ideas have been proposed and tested for bringing our educational system into the twenty-first century,” most have dealt primarily with how we teach, rather than what we should teach.  His recommendations for practical skills that maximize the advantages of people over machines include:

  • Attention Guarding – Finding ways to maintain our focus despite a persistent onslaught of external forces trying to distract us.  This isn’t simply a matter of maintaining productivity but is important in our ability to exercise control over where we choose to direct our attention.
  • Room Reading – It takes emotional intelligence to be able to “read a room” – a skill that is valuable in the workplace.  Roose suggests that women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ people may be particularly adept at this as it has long been an essential skill for their success in the dominant culture. 
  • Resting – A surprising skill to cultivate is the ability to allow yourself sufficient rest to help prevent burnout and exhaustion, and to reconnect with our human selves.  Roose suggests, “In the automated future, as more of our contributions come from big breakthroughs, inspired ideas, and emotional aptitude, being well-rested is going to become even more critical.”
  • Digital Discernment – As people increasingly get their news and information from social media networks, it becomes ever more important to engage critical thinking skills to distinguish truth from fiction and to differentiate between credible sources and sponsored content.  “…It’s going to get even harder in the coming years with the rise of algorithmically generated text, realistic conversational AI, and synthetic video (‘deepfakes’) produced with the help of machine learning,” Roose cautions.
  • Analog Ethics – In an age when our value will come from our ability to relate to other people, Roose asserts that treating people well, acting ethically, and behaving in prosocial ways will remain essential to lifelong success. Schools that offer social-emotional learning programs to children are more likely to produce well-socialized, responsible adults able to cope with change.
  • Consequentialism – Organizations that create or use AI systems need to anticipate the ways these products can be misused, exploited, or gamed. Consequentialist thinking can be useful both in spotting flaws in technological systems before they cause catastrophic problems and, in other areas such as medicine, law enforcement, and human rights, being alert to where significant opportunities for error exist. Roose recommends incorporating consequentialist thinking as a standard part of STEM curriculum.

In the book’s final pages, Roose urges readers to step into the broader conversation, to “learn the details of the power structures that are shaping technological adaptation and bend those structures toward a better, fairer future.”  

This is certainly an opportunity for family and PTA engagement – to use our collective influence to help shape education, public policy, and the technological landscape to benefit children, youth, and families.

Family-School Partnership Standard #4: Speaking Up for Every Child

by Heather Ippolito, Vice President Family Engagement Commission

October 2021 Family Engagement

The fourth PTA National Standard for Family-School Partnerships calls for empowering families to speak up and advocate for their child and other children to ensure that students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that will support their success.  

Families often need help in this area, as many don’t feel comfortable speaking up in school or district meetings. PTA and school administrators can do so much to help build confidence in our parents and caregivers. Here are a few ways you can help build capacity in this area:

Parents need to understand their rights and responsibilities. The California Department of Education oversees rights that are written into law as part of the California Education Code. Many families are unaware that they have the right to do things like review the curriculum their child is learning, observe their child in their classroom and participate in committees or councils at the school and district levels. School administrators and PTA units can help families understand these rights by doing annual information nights in multiple languages, including these rights in newsletters or on the website, and advertising opportunities for parent engagement in the committees and councils.

As issues arise on your campus, your PTA can host discussions for parents, students, teachers, staff, and administrators to come together and work toward solutions. Having all parties in a room together can spark creative solutions to issues and allow everyone to feel heard and involved.

Provide families with advocacy training. Advocacy is a scary term for many parents, but at the school level, advocacy can be as simple as asking your teacher for a resource your child needs or sharing a concern with the school principal. Show parents that all forms of advocacy small at the school site or larger efforts like speaking to legislators are welcomed and needed for our children to succeed. 

Families need to understand how the school system works. Who do they talk to if they have concerns about their child? When should they involve the principal? What offices at the district office are there to support student learning? California State PTA has the School Smarts Family Engagement Program that, over seven sessions, helps families at your school answer those questions and build capacity for greater advocacy and involvement. You can get more information about this program by emailing programsupport@capta.org 

You can download the comprehensive document PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, or get started with this brief summary. You might also want to share our previous blog posts: 

Introduction to the National Standards

Standard 1- Welcoming All Families

Standard 2- Communicating Effectively

Standard 3- Supporting Student Success

Sunday is Gold Star Mother’s Day

by Heather Ippolito, Vice President Family Engagement Commission

Family Engagement for September 2021 Image

This Sunday, September 26th is Gold Star Mother’s Day.  Gold Star Mother’s Day is designated as the last Sunday in September and is designed to honor mothers who have lost a son or daughter during military service.  As we honor their sacrifice and celebrate the lives of their children we want to help our PTA units support military families who may be at their site.  We have created a new page on our website devoted to Military Families that we hope you will visit.  Take a moment on this most special of holidays to recommit your PTA to supporting all of the diverse families on your campus- including our military families. 

 

Back to School Week September 13-17

by Heather Ippolito, VP Family Engagement

This coming week National PTA celebrates Back to School Week.  From September 13-17 they are hosting activities and encouraging school sites across the country to hold events to welcome students and their families back to campus.  Visit their website to see a wealth of resources for encouraging families to join your PTA and ideas for how to do PTA activities virtually or in a hybrid fashion.  Also be sure to follow their social media channels so that you won’t miss any of the fun ideas and activities they will be sharing all week long.

The California State PTA Family Engagement Commission has some back to school ideas for you to use now as well– regardless if your community started school this week or a month (or more!) ago — these are events we know work!  We’ve held them at our schools to help students and families feel connected as school resumes.

  • Boo Hoo/Yahoo Breakfast for Parents- The first day of school is hard on parents, especially for our TK or Kindergarten families.  They are having to leave their little one on campus for the first time and it can be a little stressful on both parent and child.  While the teachers are taking care of the kids in the classroom, our PTA hosts a coffee and continental breakfast for parents.  Our principal comes and introduces themself, families have an opportunity to meet other parents, and our PTA shares a little bit about our programming and the benefits of becoming a PTA member.  The event doesn’t last more than an hour on the first morning of school, but it was always a family favorite event. School already started? There is no reason not to hold this to celebrate the first week, month or quarter!
  • Ice Cream Social-  Prior to the start of the school year, we invited families to campus for an ice cream social.  We bought giant bags of popsicles and ice cream from either the cafeteria or a warehouse store, set up a table on the school playground, and allowed families, students and our PTA to mingle.  The kids loved the opportunity to see their friends and play, while the parents greatly appreciated the sense of community they began to form with other families at school. School already started? Everyone in your community will love ice cream on the second week, or the eighth just as much as the first day.  
  • Family Picnic- Our school held a family picnic on the Friday after the first week of school.  We encouraged families to bring blankets, chairs and their dinner to the school playground.  PTA had music playing, we invited an ice cream truck or a mobile shaved ice company to park near the school, and we sometimes put out games like the parachute or giant connect four for kids and families to play.  It was a wonderfully low-key way to chat with other families, for kids to show their parents the cool playground that they had been exploring all week long, and oftentimes our administration or some teachers dropped by. School already started? Picnics can happen anytime!
  • Have your Mascot welcome the kids to school on day 1- Most schools have some sort of costume that goes along with the school’s mascot.  Ask for a parent volunteer to wear it on the first day of school as the children arrive.  This is a great photo opportunity, it helps ease the anxiety of some children to be welcomed by a friendly face, and you can promote your PTA by asking them (or their assistant) to hold a “Join PTA” sign with a QR code that links them to your membership site.  School already started? Your Mascot can bring the party any day of the fall semester!

Note:  Try to have your back-to-school events be no-cost or low-cost.  You don’t want price to be a barrier to attendance at welcome back events– this is a chance for all families to feel welcome on your campus.  These give-back events are for relationship building and to help our children and families feel comfortable at school.  They shouldn’t be for fundraising.

If your school isn’t allowing on-campus events this fall many of these things can be held in a local park, community center, library, or other non-campus location.  Or modify your event to make it virtual: Coffee with the Principal (on Google Meet) or a drive through ice cream social with student made signs on the vehicles, or even a socially distant ice cream social!. This may mean a little extra planning on your part, but the returns in helping families and students feeling connected to one another and to your school will be worth the investment of your time.

Family-School Partnership Standard #3: Supporting Student Success

By Heather Ippolito, VP Family Engagement

As we continue our series about the  PTA National Family-School Partnership Standards  we want to remind you that we have several blog posts around this topic: 

The third standard of supporting student success encourages families and school staff to continuously collaborate to support students’ learning and healthy development both at home and at school, and to have regular opportunities to strengthen their knowledge and skills to do so effectively.  Here are some ideas of ways to bring this standard to life on your campus:

  • Help parents understand what their child needs to succeed in school by holding grade-level meetings to cover the state standards, assessments, and expectations at the beginning of the year.  
  • Testing data can be confusing to families.  Parents should be given resources to fully understand their child’s assessment reports and the school should also share full-school data with families.  This could be done at a coffee with the principal, a parent night event, or at a PTA/PTSA Meeting.
  • Parent conferences or goal-setting meetings are a great way for families and school personnel to connect, but these should be two-way conversations– not just an opportunity for the teacher to do all the talking.  Parents should be encouraged to share their hopes and goals for their child and to convey their families’ cultural experiences that may influence how their child learns. 
  • Families should be encouraged and welcome to participate in classroom and on-campus activities (when it is safe to do so).  The PTA can help facilitate this by making sure families are aware of the volunteer opportunities and any of the requirements necessary to participate (district training, fingerprinting, etc.).
  • Parents also need to understand how they can support learning at home.  Teachers can be a huge help with this by sharing ideas with families including visiting museums, seeing movies or concerts, or other opportunities for learning outside of the classroom walls.  The PTA can also support this by bringing educational experiences onto the campus to help ensure that every family can participate.
  • After-school or summer learning can also be beneficial to students.  PTA can help facilitate classes or other educational experiences to make learning fun for the kids and keep the learning happening outside of the traditional school day. 
  • California State PTA has an online Resource Library to help parents find resources to continue learning at home.  You can search by keyword, grade level, school subject, or type of resource (video, website, PDF, etc.). 

Do you have a great suggestion for supporting student success?  Please share it with us and you may be featured on our social media.