School Smarts Information Session

Throughout the state, schools and families have used School Smarts to develop parent leaders, strengthen communities, and create effective partnerships between families and their schools. Register below to join us for a virtual review of the program and its impact on parent graduates. Choose the date and time that works best for you!

July 13 Registration Link:

July 14 Registration Link:

Click here to learn more about the School Smarts program.

School Smarts Information Session

Throughout the state, schools and families have used School Smarts to develop parent leaders, strengthen communities, and create effective partnerships between families and their schools. Register below to join us for a virtual review of the program and its impact on parent graduates. Choose the date and time that works best for you!

July 13 Registration Link:

July 14 Registration Link:

Click here to learn more about the School Smarts program.

Family-School Partnership Standard #5: Sharing Power

By Heather Ippolito, Vice President for Family Engagement

When families and schools work together as equal partners in decision-making, students succeed. Parents/caregivers, students, school staff, and administrators should partner to develop programs, practices and policies that have the best interests of all students at heart.  

Here are a few ideas for how your PTA can help foster collaboration using our Family-School Partnership Standard #5: Sharing Power, on your school campus:

  • Show parents the importance of participating in the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) meetings. By law, parent (and student) input must be taken into account when a school district creates their annual plan, but if parents aren’t participating and sharing their thoughts or suggestions their voice is lost. Informing families when LCAP meetings are and how they can participate is a great way to ensure that the parent voice is reflected in the LCAP. 
  • Sponsor parent information events for families when new textbooks, curriculum, or school district policies are being proposed. This shows parents their input is valued in school or district decisions. PTA newsletters or websites are great places to advertise these events so parents can add them to their calendar. 
  • Include parents on school and district committees. To ensure that parent voice is included, families need to know what opportunities there are for participation and what the requirements are to join the committees. PTA units and councils can share this information with families and encourage participation. 
  • PTA leaders should be trained in facilitation skills that encourage families from diverse backgrounds to speak up. Helping our local leaders understand how to lead meetings and events to encourage participation from all parents will help to ensure that PTA programs truly address the needs of all families in your school. Your local PTA council or district is a great resource for training in this area (or plan now to attend workshops at our statewide PTA Convention in April of 2022).

This article is part of a continuing series covering the PTA Standards for Family-School Partnerships. You can see the other blog posts in this series below: 

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.

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 

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

Fall Family Challenge

by Family Engagement Commission

Thank you to all of the families, schools, PTA councils, and districts who joined us in the September walking challenge.  Remember that you can use that  family engagement idea at any time during the year. We’ve done the work for you by creating a newsletter, weekly emails, and all the other handouts you will need for the program.  

As October begins, the focus is on all of the fun things your family can do together in the fall.  This season can be a busy one for families with school back in session, after-school sports and activities abounding, and several holidays, but we want to remind families to slow down and take some intentional time to come together.  To that end, we have created a calendar with 31 activities on it for families to choose from throughout the fall. We also have a list of over 50 activities the California State PTA Family Engagement Commission has brainstormed that you can use to create your own calendar. 

We invite you to join us this fall as we expand our engagement with these fun fall activities.  If you want to join in, fill out this simple google form and we will send you weekly reminders, tips, and tricks. 


If your PTA wants to use these family engagement ideas with your members, here are the handouts we’ve created: 

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. 


Question: College? When do we start talking about college? Answer: NOW!

by California State PTA Family Engagement Commission Consultant, Kelly Mattinson

The best time to discuss and prepare for college is now. That said, your three-year-old does not need to decide where they are going to college BUT open discussion about attending college can be a common topic at the dinner table, no matter what age your kids are.  

I was raised in a family where college was expected.  Now, college is not for everyone, but in today’s world, a college degree is comparable to my mom’s high school degree.  I don’t say that lightly, the world is very complicated and a degree (a focused area of education) is going to help you succeed in a specific career, but success does not rely solely on a piece of paper.   College is not for everyone, the trades are VITAL and we will discuss that at another time, but for today we are focused on opening the conversation about high learning.  

When you are taking vacations/road trips as a family, why not drive through some of the wonderful colleges and universities in our world?  That being said, there are over 5,000 Universities in the US alone, so you won’t see them all.  Visiting campuses is fun. Each one is unique, many have a rich history and often the architecture is lovely.  Touring just opens the conversation about life post-high school.  

Watching movies, sporting events, and seeing where family and friends attend can also help you discover Universities that you didn’t know existed.   Use your PTA resources, encourage guest speakers to come to meetings, visit college fairs and see what the world offers. Exposure and investigation is necessary to choose the best college path for your individual student’s needs. It plants the seeds and will allow them to grow as your child matures.

My recommendation is to deal with each life chapter as it comes, elementary students should focus on their experience, middle schoolers the same – new exposures with electives and extracurriculars widen their experience and open it for high school life.  Please let your high schooler be a HIGH schooler.  Whether you loved high school or not; it is the time to learn a great deal about the world, other people, values, and what topics interest your student.  A well-rounded High School experience, coupled with familiarity with what’s out there, will help your student choose the college that fits them best when the time comes.

Once your high school student is adjusted to high school life, get ready to plunge into the college search. In other words, serious college exploration should begin in High School.   

Each young person’s journey is their own, each of your children will have a unique voyage… just support, share and keep an open mind to THEIR path and you will create a successful and happy citizen.  That is what is most important, don’t you agree?