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.
by Family Engagement Commission
On September 12th we celebrate Grandparents Day to honor all of the contributions that grandparents have made in our lives. While it can be a wonderful idea to bring grandparents to campus for some sort of celebration, we need to remember that not every child has a relationship with their grandparents, some grandparents live too far away to attend, and due to health challenges some grandparents may not feel safe venturing on to a school campus.
In order to be more inclusive and responsive to the issues above, many schools celebrate a Very Special Person Day, Intergenerational Day, Grandfriends Day, or a Special Friends Day that would allow children to indicate a grandparent or another significant person in their lives to be recognized.
Here are a few ideas to have a fun (and inclusive) Grandparents Day celebration at school:
- To ensure that every child can participate you can do things like buddy up children whose grandparents can’t attend with students who do have grandparents in attendance or invite other special guests (district administrators, community business owners, etc.) to attend and be paired with students who don’t have someone in attendance.
- You could work with parents to ask grandparents or special friends to send in a video message, card, or letter that could be part of a classroom celebration. This way you don’t have to worry about visitors on campus, but everyone can still celebrate this special day.
- Remember that some grandparents have more than one child at a school, so you need to consider this as you plan your event. If the grandparents are expected to visit the classroom for part of the day, you might want to stagger the times so that grandparents could visit every grandchild who attends that school.
- Have grandparents act as celebrity readers for classrooms (they can either do this live or virtually). This is a great way to combine literacy with a fun, community-building activity! And all the kids can have an “adopted” grandparent.
- Ask students to interview a grandparent or other special adult and share what they have learned with the class. This helps families whose grandparents live too far away or are unable to travel still feel like they are a part of the celebration.
- For a high school spin on this activity– have a “Senior” section at the football game and invite grandparents and other local seniors to attend. This is a fun way to bring seniors onto the campus to interact with the high school students.
- Another idea for middle school or high school students is to have them organize a “Senior Prom” or dance for local seniors. They can help decorate, select the music and the food and then the night of the event they can “chaperone” and dance with the senior citizens.
- Always remember to ask grandparents to join the PTA whether your event is in person or virtual. We love having grandparents or special friends as PTA members!
Do you have plans for Grandparents Day? We would love to hear about it! Please use this form to share with us your ideas and they may be featured on our blog or social media!
by Education and Family Engagement Commissions
The website, Raising a Reader, recently shared these statistics about reading and literacy:
- Less than half of the 16 million U.S. children who live in poverty enter school with the language and reading skills needed for success.
- 6 out of 10 children in the United States currently fail to read proficiently by grade 4.
- Low-income children without exposure to books before age 5 enter Kindergarten on average with a 30-million word deficit.
- Reading under-achievement by grade 4 = long-term academic failure
September 8th is International Literacy Day and California State PTA knows the important role that parents play in helping children cultivate a love of reading. Here are some resources for you to help your child along their literacy journey:
- Raising a Reader – California State PTA has great tips for helping children to develop language skills and become lifelong readers.
- 4 Tips to Boost Literacy Skills – Learn four ways to eliminate a “word gap” for your child.
- Reading Tips for Families – This website has videos, a daily calendar of literacy activities to do, as well as a reading glossary to help parents increase their child’s reading skills.
- Our Resource Library has several tools as well for students from preschool to high school. Simply search “reading” or “literacy”. You can also search “books” for some great reading lists.
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.
By Family Engagement and Health & Community Concerns Commissions
Each month the Family Engagement Commission is going to share an activity that you can do with your school, council, or district. The goal is simple– let’s get families having fun and discovering new things together.
For September, we are partnering with the Health and Community Concerns Commission to encourage families to participate in our Family Walking Challenge. Gather the entire family to take a nightly stroll or an early morning power walk to end or start your day. Walkthrough your neighborhood, walk to school, or even walk the aisles of the grocery store– anything where the family is being active together.
Every week we will be asking you to share your progress with us (and we might even send some surprises to folks who participate)! If you would like to join us on this challenge please visit https://forms.gle/RLZS4NnQeebrRQk16 . We will put you on the mailing list for future challenges AND we will give you weekly inspiration to help you stick with it.
So put on a good pair of shoes, grab the family and embark on this month-long walking challenge.
Link to Unit/ Council/ District Leader Information Sheet
Family Walking Challenge Parent Guide (flier)
by Heather Ippolito, VP Family Engagement
The Family Engagement Commission this term consists of a Vice President, nine members of the CA State PTA Board of Managers (five of whom are District Presidents), and two consultants. We are located around the state from San Diego to Marin County and represent a wide range of stages of parenthood.
Watch the video and Meet the Family Engagement Commission
Our commission of dedicated volunteers is here to serve you in the following ways:
- Highlighting the amazing work you are doing at your school site in the area of family engagement, (so please take a few minutes to tell us your family engagement stories using this form)
- Facilitating training and workshops via webinar or in-person at PTA council, district, or state events
- Planning amazing convention workshops for the California State PTA Convention in Ontario April 29-May 1, 2022
- Updating the family engagement pages of the website
- Providing you with updates in the form of blog articles and social media posts
- Monitoring family engagement legislation
- Partnering with the School Smarts Committee to educate school districts and PTA Leaders about our award-winning family engagement program School Smarts.
by Heather Ippolito, VP Family Engagement
In July we introduced the PTA National Standards for Family School Partnerships and Standard 1- Welcoming All Families on this blog. Today we are going to share some tips and best practices for Standard 2:
The school, district, the PTA, and families need to engage in regular, two-way, meaningful communication about student learning and engagement opportunities. This is one area that we hear complaints about regularly– parents feel like information is just pushed out to them– they are not being invited to participate in the conversation. Parents want to be heard, to share their thoughts and opinions, and to feel included in what is happening at the school.
Here are some tips for communicating more effectively with the families on your campus:
- Use terms that your parents can understand– many families don’t understand educational jargon and abbreviations so try not to use them!
- Get to know your families to discover how they like their communication– are they on specific social media platforms, do they prefer email, texts, phone calls, fliers, or a combination of things.
- Communication must be in a family’s home language. There are lots of tools to help with this– from Google Translate for your website to using school staff as translators and interpreters. Note: Translators transpose writing into a different language and interpreters translate speaking into a different language.
- Family nights at the school site offer a chance for families, teachers, and administrators to interact and have meaningful conversations about curriculum and other issues that impact our children. Use these events to build relationships so families feel able to turn to the school when they need help for their children.
- Be consistent with your communication. Post to your social media regularly and/or have a monthly newsletter. Families like to know that they will be receiving information from the PTA and the school regularly.
- Survey families to identify their issues and concerns, and plan with school officials for ways to respond to those.
If you see a great example of family engagement, we want to hear about it. Take a moment to complete this simple form so that we can recognize units, councils, and districts that are doing amazing work in the area of family engagement!
by School Smarts Committee
For nearly 125 years PTA has helped parents and caregivers make lasting connections to their school campus to benefit all children. Over the last ten years our School Smarts family engagement program has helped over 10,000 parents understand the way the educational system works and how they can participate in it, make connections with staff and parents at their school sites, and shown them how to best support their child and their community.
On August 24th from 10-11 a.m. our School Smarts Program Manager, Bianca De La Torre, will give a tour of the program for interested administrators, school districts and PTA leaders. Come hear about how the program can increase family engagement on your campus and how this program can directly support student success.
PTA Leaders – Invite your school principal to learn more about this amazing program and how families at your school can benefit from it. Join us on August 24th from 10-11 a.m. Register here.
By Heather Ippolito, Vice President for Family Engagement
PTA units are always asking our state leaders “How can we get more people to attend our association meetings and events?” The Leadership Services and Family Engagement commissions teamed up and found some really great strategies to help answer this question that you might want to try in the upcoming school year.*
- Have snacks.
- Partner with the school to offer childcare.
- Offer translation and interpretation services so that EVERY parent can participate in your meeting. (Note: You also need to invite them in their home language.)
- Play music as they enter to give the room a fun atmosphere — we know PTA meetings aren’t boring, but other parents might have that impression.
- Have opportunity drawings for all in attendance. You can give away spirit wear, homework passes, or gift cards that have been donated by local businesses.
- Incorporate a student performance as part of your meeting. Parents love to see their kids sing, dance, show off that poster or project they’ve been working on, etc.
- Give a homework pass to every parent who attends. Work with your school principal on this particular incentive to make sure that every teacher is on board with this incentive.
- Provide parent education at your meeting. We have seen success with inviting the local library to talk about reading programs, the sheriff to talk about bullying or biking safety, or even asking your principal to share about different issues impacting parents. This is a great chance to work with the organizations in your community since they often offer free programs that families will find useful.
- Bring in guest speakers. Your guests can either be entertaining or educational, but oftentimes a new name can draw a large audience.
- Pair your meeting with another event. You could have your meeting right before the Family Math Night on campus or at the bowling alley before Family Bowling Night — either way you are far more likely to draw a crowd.
- Finally, really think about the time and location of your meeting. Are you meeting at a time that’s good for you, or a time that is good for your families? Is your meeting location convenient? Many units think the school is the only place for a meeting, but we do have other options. We can meet at a park, the library, a community center, or other places where our parents frequent. Really be intentional in asking our families the best times and places to meet.
*Note: We know that this year may still have a combination of in-person, virtual, and hybrid events and meetings. Many of these ideas can be adaptable to your particular needs.
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As the summer ends, many workshops, webinars, and virtual conferences are preparing educational leaders, teachers, and parents for the return to school. Our Family Engagement Team has attended several of them.
Here are some of the take-aways:
- We can no longer move forward with families on the sidelines of education. The pandemic brought families into the classrooms as learning went virtual and parents were forced to monitor/assist with their child’s learning. Now that these lines of communication and collaboration between our schools and our families have been opened it is critical that we continue on this path.
- We have spoken for years about the impact of family engagement on students (higher test scores, better attendance, etc.) but we need to mention the impact of family engagement on families as a whole. Dr. Karen Mapp sites the following things that parents experience as a result of being involved on their child’s school campus:
- Their role perception shifts from just a “mom” or “dad” to a “teacher”, “mentor”, or “expert”
- They gain confidence in their ability to shape and influence their child’s learning
- They have an increased sense of accountability and begin to advocate for all children
- They become empowered to take on new challenges– that could include serving on district committees, running for school board, etc.
- Family engagement is not a program but a practice— something that every school, administrator, and teacher needs to embrace so that our children can be the best they can be. Families must be part of the team of experts.
- Families are as vital to student success as school climate and teachers. A 20-year study from schools in Chicago found there are 5 essential supports for successful schools: leadership (administration), professional capacity, parent/community ties, student-centered learning climate, instructional guidance (professional development).
- Social and emotional learning (SEL) is of particular importance this year. SEL has been a huge topic in most of the workshops about returning to school. If you want more information to understand just what SEL entails and how families play a major role in social and emotional learning, watch this five-minute video from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).
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