Not Your Mother’s PTA

pta-meeting-parents-e1316549376678With the new school year in full swing, it’s a good time to emphasize the importance of parent involvement. This is the time to make a resolution to actively engage in your children’s education. One of the easiest and most accessible ways is to join and become active in the PTA.

Do you think PTA is synonymous with bake sales?

Think again — today’s PTA is about a lot more than cupcakes

We know that research indicates that students whose parents are actively involved in their schools have better grades, attendance, behavior, and graduation rates. But PTA membership is a personal investment you make not only for your child, but for yourself too.

Many opportunities await you at your next PTA meeting. Advocating for a worthwhile mission, having a positive impact on your schools, and supporting amazing events for students are the obvious benefits of PTA involvement. But I have also witnessed more subtle perks that may come to active parents.

Here are five things that you might not know about today’s PTA:

1. Volunteer and get access.

Being an active PTA member gives you legitimate reasons to have input and to be in your children’s school during the school day.  For example, do you want to have a say in booking a children’s author, a play or a music or science program for your children’s school?  Then join your PTA’s cultural arts committee. You will work closely with your principal and teachers to plan enriching events that PTA fundraising supports.  As a member of the committee, you will be able to attend programs to assess their success.

By becoming a known quantity to school staff, you will get a birds-eye view of what’s going on and principal, faculty and staff will know you by name. This will come in handy should you ever have a question or concern. Similarly, you may be asked for your perspective as a parent when issues occur. It’s sort of like the classic Peter Sellers movie, Being There. Because you are there, you may become a go-to parent.

2. Contribute and make friends.

You will meet like-minded parents who have children of comparable ages, with whom you will share similar concerns, goals, and hopes for your children. You will form close friendships and you will help one another through the sharing of ideas. If you are new to an area or your first child is starting school, PTA is a good place to meet people.

3. Give and receive much more.

PTA provides you with a wonderful outlet and platform for your passions. For example, if you are passionate about healthy eating, you can join the PTA’s health and wellness committee, and exert influence not only on the school lunch program, but also on classroom practices, such as giving candy for rewards.

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, you are probably already a strong advocate for special education. It is essential that you join SEPTA, Special Education PTA. There you will meet like-minded parents and professionals who will provide you with a support network, cutting edge information and strategies to help your child succeed. You will have the benefit of attending presentations by outside experts. And you will be able to forge positive relationships with district special education administrators, who attend SEPTA meetings. This will give you easy access to these professionals, should you have questions or concerns.

4. Be a player and get the “skinny.”

You will reap enormous benefits if you rise to the highest levels of PTA leadership. If you are the PTA president of your school or a member of your District PTA Council, you will meet with your Superintendent of Schools on a regular basis.  He or she will update you on news, issues and problems and ask for your support. If you are a person who likes to be in the know, you will be informed of everything from district accomplishments to drug busts. You will have the information first and will be the one to share it with your members.  The superintendent will also solicit your opinion and may ask for you to poll your members on various issues, such as proposed budget cuts.

As a key stakeholder, you may also be asked to serve on interview committees, citizens’ advisory committees, and task forces.  The superintendent may also recruit you to help plan district-wide events, and to request that PTA help sponsor them.

5. Hone your skills and show what you can do.

The more you give of yourself and the more you hone your skills, the more valuable you will become to your PTA, your school, your district and community.  The seeds you plant may bear fruit in unexpected ways. Is your main job CEO of your household for the foreseeable future? Then why not put your accounting expertise to work as a treasurer? Or use your organizing skills to plan events? Utilizing your background and experience can help close gaps in your resume. Continue to dazzle everyone with your generous contribution of your talent, time and energy, and your volunteer experience could lead to paid employment!


New Study Links Parent Engagement to School Success

Breaking News – it’s now official. Parents are a more significant force in the education of their children than schools! As reported by Michele Molnar in Education Week , a new study indicates that parents who are engaged and involved are more influential in the education of their children than the schools themselves!

The study based its findings on data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, which measured the achievement of a group of 10,000 high school seniors in math, reading, science and history.

The study found that students were more successful if they came from families with high social capital —  the connection between parents and children. Although school social capital is important, students succeeded even if their schools had low social capital (teacher morale, positive learning environment, addressing needs of children). This means that the more parents engaged in their children’s education, the more successful their children were.

“The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement,” Dr. Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., and a co-author of the study, told Education Week.

Teachers, administrators, and family engagement advocates have long been making this point. When parents are engaged in their children’s education, kids get the message that they think school is important and that they value education.

Talk to your children about school, stay on top of their classwork and homework, and communicate with your child’s teacher. And don’t be shy. Take a look at the list of your rights I have compiled — and use them!

Parents’ Bill of Rights

  1.  You have the right to be your children’s best advocate and expect that their unique and special needs are met by the schools in a safe and supportive learning environment in each grade in each school year.
  2. You have the right to communicate with your children’s teachers, principal, and school nurse as often as you see fit.
  3. You have the right to easily access and understand information about your children’s schools, school district, teachers, administrators, facilities, policies, procedures, and programs.
  4. You have the right to have access to your children’s educational records, information regarding services offered by the schools, and expectations about your children’s instructional programs, grading criteria, attendance and behavior.
  5. You have the right to be treated with respect, fairness, and understanding, free of discrimination and prejudice, by all staff, faculty, and administration in your children’s schools and school district.
  6. You have the right to attend all public meetings, including PTA, Board of Education, and committee meetings.
  7. You have the right to complain, without fear of retaliation, to teachers, building and district administrators, and Board of Education.
  8. You have the right to attend Board of Education meetings and address the board during the public audience part of the meeting.
  9. You have the right to know official complaint procedures within the school, school district, and outside agencies, and pursue them if necessary, without fear of retaliation.
  10. You have the right to ensure that your children are learning in safe, healthy, and caring schools, free of discrimination, prejudice, bullying and harassment, and that their physical, emotional, social, academic and special needs are met on a daily basis.

School Shorts – Food for Thought

With all of the attention focused on the Penn State scandal, three provocative education stories have gotten little attention. All of the issues below are worthy of an in-depth discussion. I’d love to hear your opinion on any or all of these. Please leave your comments on the bottom of the page or tweet me @DrMerylAin. 

Is Pizza a Vegetable – What Do You Think? 

Education Week recently reported that pizza with tomato sauce would be considered a vegetable in school lunch programs under changes proposed by Congress. The Agriculture Appropriations bill approved by a conference committee of House and Senate members would also make other changes to rules about what’s served in school lunch programs. In the Education Week piece by Nirvi Shah, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the following:

“At a time when child nutrition and childhood obesity are national health concerns, Congress should be supporting the U.S. Department of Agriculture and school efforts to serve healthier school meals, not undermining them. Together the school lunch riders in the agriculture spending bill will protect industry’s ability to keep pizza and French fries on school lunch trays.”

What do you think?

Is Pizza a Vegetable? In School Lunches, Congress Says Yes http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2011/11/pizza_would_be_a_vegetable_in.html

Are High School Lockers Obsolete? 

USA TODAY reported that a growing number of US high schools are eliminating lockers. Proponents of lockerless schools contend that new technology, such as iPads, are rendering the need for lockers obsolete. Supporters say removing lockers cuts down on noise and lateness, enhances school safety, and saves money. The Madison County, Mississippi School District saved $200,000 by going without lockers in its new high schools. Other schools are removing lockers from older buildings. 

Are lockers obsolete or do students still need them? 

Hall lockers? Some schools say no – http://USATODAY.com http://usat.ly/vI9KXu

Should Parents Go To Jail if Their Kids Skip School?

Parents in Halifax County, NC may be heading to jail if their children have poor school attendance. The Halifax County court system, three public school systems and county agencies have joined forces in a new initiative called the Tri-District Truancy Procedure to address student attendance issues. 

After more than six unexcused absences, a parent or guardian will be notified by mail that they may be in violation of the Compulsory Attendance Law and may be prosecuted if the absences cannot be justified under the school system’s attendance policy. In addition, after more than six unexcused absences, school personnel will work with the student and family to find out the cause of the absences to determine what should be done. If a student has 10 unexcused absences at the discretion of the school principal, the district attorney’s office may be notified in writing, along with the Department of Social Services. 

A criminal warrant for school attendance law violation against the parent or guardian will be secured, and the parent or guardian will have to attend a truancy hearing, which could result in a 120-day jail sentence. 

School and court officials indicated these new procedures would send a message to parents about their responsibility to make sure their children are in school. 

Is this the right message to send to parents? 

Courts to punish parents on school attendance issues http://www.rrdailyherald.com/news/courts-to-punish-parents-on-school-attendance-issues/article_da2ff198-0966-11e1-86d9-001cc4c002e0.html


News and Views – What Do You Think?

This week the news has been full of education stories of interest to parents. So many, that instead of giving my opinion on one topic, I’ve compiled a list for you of six of the most provocative issues.  I’d love to hear your opinion on any or all of these. Please leave your comments on the bottom of the page or tweet me @DrMerylAin. 

1. The Today Show reported that French schools have banned ketchup in an effort to promote healthy eating and combat childhood obesity. As anchor Savannah Guthrie pointed out, “First they give us French fries, and then they take away the ketchup!” 

Q: How healthy is your child’s lunch program? Is there anything you would like to see banned?

http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/why-are-european-schools-banning-ketchup/6g37xqg 

2. For parents who are worried about their children’s whereabouts, there’s a new app that makes checking in a game. “Our view is that what makes kids safer is communication and being close to their folks,” said the new iPhone app’s co-creator Matthew Bromberg, “And I don’t want to know where my kid is on the map every single moment. I just want to know what’s going on.”

Q: Do you agree or is this too much control for parents to exert over their children?   http://mashable.com/2011/10/19/imok/

3. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon repealed teacher-student Facebook restrictions. The controversial law had limited online chats between teachers and students and some alleged that it threatened free-speech rights. 

Q: Do you think students and teachers should be Facebook friends?

http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2011/10/21/463731usteachersonfacebook_ap.html via @educationweek 

4. Some elite private schools in New York have reduced the burden of homework on their students.

Q: Do your kids have too much, too little, or the right amount of homework? http://nyti.ms/oWpCn1 

5. Idaho schools will tie merit pay to factors such as parent involvement. In some south-central Idaho schools, teacher bonuses will be based on parent participation, including attendance at parent-teacher conferences. 

Q: Will this promote or stifle parent-teacher relationships?   http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/10/24/464180idteachersmeritpay_ap.html

6. Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned educator and creativity expert, discusses changing education paradigms in a must-see provocative video. He takes on the education establishment, arguing that today’s students are not being properly educated. 

Q: Do you agree or disagree? Let’s discuss.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=share


Parent-Teacher Conferences – Do You Need A Bribe?

It’s the season for parent-teacher conferences and I urge every parent to embrace this opportunity to sit down with your children’s teachers, no matter if your kids are in kindergarten or high school. 

This is your opportunity to find out specifically how your children are doing, and generally what’s going on in their classrooms and in their schools. I have to admit I was a bit disheartened when I recently came across a NEA (National Education Association) article advising teachers of tactics that they might want to use to “lure” parents into attending parent-teacher conferences. I’d be interested in knowing whether you think the parents in your school need to be cajoled into meeting with their children’s teachers, or whether they understand communicating with them is one of the best things they can do to help their kids succeed.  

Among the strategies recommended in the article are student-led conferences, in which students actually prepare and participate in the conference. The article said that feedback on this type of conference was “overwhelmingly positive,” and that there is a growing trend to encourage parents to bring their children to conferences. Other teachers had students prepare and present Power Point presentations to show their parents what they were learning. This tactic reportedly ensured record attendance. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with involving students and giving them a chance to be present, but I’m not sure that quite fits the definition of a parent-teacher conference. It seems to me the parent-teacher conference is one of the few chances you get to sit down with your kid’s teacher — adult to adult — and discuss what’s best for your child. 

Then there were the “bribes” to entice parents to meet with the teachers. These included: extra credit for students whose parents showed up, personal invitations, raffle tickets, a dessert bar, and goody bags. Finally, it was reported that some teachers go on home visits to meet parents who cannot get to the school. 

It’s commendable that some teachers go to such lengths to accommodate parents, but I would think parents would prefer to see the teachers’ creative energies going instead to inspiring the students. 

The article didn’t mention adjusted hours for working parents, which should be pro forma nowadays in all schools and something that parents should insist upon. Similarly, if your work schedule does not allow you to get to school on a particular day, request an alternate date or a phone conference.  

Here are 7 tips for a successful parent-teacher conference:

  1. Come prepared with questions and take notes. Always ask how you can support your child’s learning at home.
  2. Don’t be passive. If you have a particular question or concern, don’t be afraid to bring it up. Be specific. 
  3. Discuss your child’s social and emotional development as well as academic performance. Be sure to let the teacher know if there is anything going on at home that may impact your child’s behavior and performance in school, such as divorce, illness in the family, or a new baby.
  4. If there is a problem, describe how it makes you or your child feel without being defensive or negative. Actively listen to what the teacher says. Come to an agreement about what is best for your child.
  5. Schedule follow-up meetings or telephone calls to be sure the plan is working.
  6. Find out how the teacher communicates with parents, e.g., online, newsletters, agendas, etc.
  7. If you are not satisfied with the conference, you may ask to meet with an administrator.  

Try This: The New Parent-Teacher Conference  

http://www.nea.org/home/40927.htm#.Tpiih8U_Alo.twitter


Would You Bully Chris Christie?

Concerned that he was being perceived as a bully, TV Host David Letterman recently volunteered to stop his persistent fat jokes about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Letterman’s biting humor is nothing new, but when the charge of bullying was raised he backed off.

To be fair, Letterman has not been alone in targeting Christie. Other comedians, political pundits, and average Americans have also derided Christie’s size.  

Chris Christie, New Jersey Governor

Politicians are accustomed to being the butt of jokes – Christie even mentioned it when he announced Tuesday his decision not to run for president — but did the Christie fat bashing cross the line?

The criticism has nothing to do with whether you are or are not a supporter of Gov. Christie. And let’s be real, Chris Christie is a tough, centered guy, who can withstand whatever is dished out. But what do these fat jokes say about us – about our tastes, our values, our society?

As we observe National Bullying Awareness Month, and we ask our children and our schools to prevent bullying, we ought to take a hard look at ourselves too.  Are we promoting bullying by repeating and laughing at fat jokes?  Are we encouraging bullying by scornful and sarcastic remarks that we make about gays and others? Are we a party to bullying when we don’t step in and say something when we observe it?  Are we allowing bullying to fester when we don’t report it to the school?

We know that youngsters learn what they live, and that children, even at a very young age, hear much more than we think they do. They are also very adept at picking up non-verbal cues. What messages are we sending our children? Are we tacitly encouraging them to be bullies?

Most children who are bullied are not as resilient as Chris Christie. When asked about his weight, his standard answer is: “I eat too much.”  And few doubt that he is fully capable of destroying the bullies – if he wanted to. Youngsters who are bullied may develop anxiety about seeing the perpetrators at school and elsewhere. Their school performance may be affected and they may shun other activities. They may become depressed, and sadly some even take their own lives as 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer recently did.

Parents, teachers, and school administrators need to be vigilant about bullying. We need to talk to children about both being bullied and about being bullies. But first and foremost, we should be role models for kindness, caring, and understanding.

Current and prospective laws against bullying may be too simplistic to solve the problem. Aren’t we as adults essentially responsible for bullying? The prevention of bullying begins with all of us examining our words and our behavior.


The Hidden Costs of Public Education

About 15 percent of American households were living in poverty last year and that number is increasing as the median household income drops, according to newly released statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

That means the official poverty rate has reached its highest level since 1993. That translates to a total of 46.2 million people – the largest number since the government began tracking poverty in the 1950s. And because the poverty level for a family of four begins with an annual income of less than $22,314, many experts believe that a family of four needs to make twice that to feel secure.

Unemployment is predicted to remain above 9 percent for the foreseeable future, and parents are increasingly concerned about expenses and inflation. In last May’s school budget vote, most districts mindful of taxpayers’ pocketbooks scaled back programs and cut staff to keep tax increases low.

But is public education really free? Just because parents pay taxes doesn’t mean they do not have to contribute to their children’s education. Here are some of the extras parents are typically paying for:

  • School Supplies: The average parent spent $600 this year equipping their children with back to school clothing and supplies. Most schools prepared lists of essential school supplies that parents were required to furnish. Depending on the grade of the student, these ranged from notebooks to laptops.
  • Tissues: To save district funds, many elementary schools ask parents to send in boxes of tissues and other supplies for use by the entire class.
  • School Spirit garments: T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, etc., are popular items at all levels.  Students may be asked to wear these for special events at school.
  • Musical instruments: purchase or rental
  • Sports equipment and uniforms
  • Field Trips
  • Fundraising: School, PTA, Special Interest, e.g. sports, music, theater.
  • Celebrations: birthdays, holidays, special events

What Can Parents Do?

  • For back to school, PTAs can contract to provide boxed sets of school supplies by grade at a cost less than shopping for supplies on your own. The school will supply a list of school supplies by grade. For example, Staples does this through http://www.schoolkidz.com. Ask your PTA to investigate this money-saving option.
  • Parents can lobby the principal or superintendent of schools and request that fundraising activities be reduced and consolidated. Parents may prefer to write one check for a set amount instead of being compelled into participating in a perpetual round of sales and fundraisers.
  • If parents believe that the cost and incidence of field trips are excessive, parents have the right to question school’s field trip practices and ask that guidelines be established to limit frequency, distance, and cost per field trip, e.g. two per grade with a limit of $25. Also, parents should request that they be informed at the beginning of the school year of what their expenses will be for field trips.
  • Request that your school limit expectations for children’s birthdays at school.
  • Lobby to scale back spirit wear and unnecessary sports paraphernalia, such as sweatshirts and sweat pants. It’s hard to say no when everyone else is buying it and your child wants it too.
  • Volunteer with your presence and skills at school and at special events and fundraisers instead of with your pocketbook.
  • Parents should know that all schools provide help to families who cannot afford school-associated expenses. Don’t be afraid to ask your principal if you need financial assistance.