With 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!
Top 10 Back-to-School List for Parents
Back-to-school supplies have hit the store shelves reminding us that summer won’t last forever. Yes, the first day of school is on the horizon, and that means getting your children ready. Most schools prepare lists of essential school supplies that parents are required to furnish. Depending on the grade of the student, these range from notebooks to laptops. The average parent will spend $600 on school supplies, clothes, backpacks, and sports equipment.
Many parents will put a lot of thought into their children’s Back-to-School List. But preparing your kids for school is only half the battle to ensure a successful school year. Parents, too, have to be prepared, as full partners with the schools. From my perspective, it’s not enough to obsess about the list the school gives you. The list they don’t give you is equally, if not more, important. Here’s my list for parents, one that will serve you and your children well in the coming school year.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of all your children’s teachers, principal, other school administrators, and school nurse.
- Find out if anything that might affect your child has changed since the last school year. With budget cuts, schools have reduced services and personnel, so just don’t assume that everything is the same. Are time schedules the same? Does your child still have bus service? Are there any late buses? Does your school district still offer full-day kindergarten? Is the person you expected to be your child’s teacher still there, or has she been excessed or moved? Does the school have the same principal and assistant principals? Have sports or music or art been reduced?
- Know your school and school district websites, and check them frequently for calendar changes, meeting announcements and minutes, news, policies and procedures, and other information.
- Find out how your school communicates important information with parents and then be alert to those messages. Is it by automated phone message, e-mail blasts, electronically through systems such as Parent Portal, newsletters, snail-mail, or in your kids’ backpacks?
- Keep the school calendar in an accessible area and check it frequently.
- Find out when Meet-the-Teacher evenings are held, and do your best to attend them for each of your children even if they’re seniors in high school. If you can’t attend, contact the teachers to let them know you are an interested and involved parent.
- Know when PTA meetings are held, attend them, and become an active member. This is the single, best way to keep informed and become involved in your children’s schools.
- Know when and where Board of Education meetings are held, attend them, and feel free to voice your opinion during the public participation part of the meeting if you have something important you want to share. You must sign up to speak before the meeting.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Board of Education members and the District Clerk. In public school districts, trustees are elected by the residents and are usually responsive to their constituents’ opinions and problems.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of your Superintendent of Schools and other district-wide administrators. If your child has a particular issue, such as a medical problem, food allergy, or learning disability, it’s important to know the name and contact information for the central office administrator in charge of that issue. Although it is always desirable to follow the chain of command, i.e., teacher or school nurse, then principal, sometimes it’s necessary to go to a higher level in advocating for your child. Be proactive and have that information at your fingertips in case it’s needed.
Last week, I attended my grandson’s pre-school “graduation” and it reminded me that students of all ages will be embarking on new school careers in the fall. If your child will be attending a new school come September – elementary, secondary or pre-school — check out my guest post on Parenting’s “Class Notes”
Blog: Tips for Transitioning to a New School. Whether you are moving to a new neighborhood or your child is “moving up” to a new level, there are steps you can take right now to ease the transition.
Curbing the Enthusiasm of Graduation Guests
Speaking of graduations, it’s the season for high school graduations and according to the Associated Press (AP), some schools are showing no tolerance for loud and sustained cheering by guests. For example, a mother was handcuffed at one school on a disorderly conduct charge. At another school, the principal admonished four graduates for the excessive cheering of their family and friends — and meted out consequences to the students! Although they have already fulfilled all of the graduation requirements, they now must perform 20 hours of community service to receive their diplomas.
Is it fair to curb the enthusiasm of guests celebrating this important milestone? What do you think about punishing graduates for the behavior of their friends and family?
Another rite of passage that goes hand in hand with high school graduation is the prom. An increasing number of school districts have implemented sobriety tests to cut down on pre-prom drinking. In addition, they have purchased alcohol-detection devices in an attempt to keep students safe.
According to a Newsday report, staff members have been trained in sobriety testing of students in at least 11 Long Island school districts. These include: Smithtown, Cold Spring Harbor, Connetquot, Hewlett-Woodmere, Islip, Long Beach, Northport-East Northport, Rockville Centre, Shoreham-Wading River, Three Village and West Islip.
A spokesman for Advanced Safety Devices, the Chatsworth, Calif., company that sells the Breathalyzer brand tester, told Newsday that it was unusual for school districts to purchase these devices in the past, but in recent years sales have increased to schools throughout the country.
While school administrators claim the tests are effective and have made a difference in preventing drinking, critics question whether educators should be administering sobriety tests to students.
Nine LI Budgets Pass in Revote
In a last hurrah to the school budget season, nine Long Island districts held revotes on Tuesday. In the first vote on May 15, seven of those districts had attempted unsuccessfully to override the two percent tax cap that became law in New York State this year. Eight of the nine reduced their budgets for the second round, this time adhering to the two percent tax cap.
Only one district – Elmont – submitted a 4.9 percent budget increase to the voters. A bit more than the required 60 percent of voters approved the budget, enabling the district to exceed the cap.
Clearly, New York State districts have entered a new era in school budgeting. How will the tax cap continue to impact Long Island schools, which pride themselves on being among the best in the country? During this budget season, a number of schools were closed, teachers were excessed, class size was increased, and educational programs were reduced.
What will be on the chopping block next year? Stay tuned.
In her K-12 Parents and the Public blog in Education Week, Michele Molnar wrote this week about the importance of parents staying engaged in schools over the summer. I couldn’t agree more.
She wrote about my friend, Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, Ky., who is the regional director for the central states of the National Family Engagement Alliance. Myrdin is quoted as saying that she recently contacted a school board member in her own school system to find out if her district would be applying for Race to the Top funding in the new district-grant competition.
This is but one example of how she recommends parents stay focused on school issues even though it’s summer. She notes that summer is not the time to take a break from school involvement. If parents are shy about contacting district officials, they can always get in touch with their parent organization leaders.
As someone who spent countless summers working in central administration as a district official, I urge you not to be shy. I can assure you that administrators are in your school district and in your schools even though it’s July or August. Although there is much work and planning going on, it’s also a bit more relaxed for the most part without students and teachers. And that means administrators will be available to speak with you on the phone and meet with you in person.
There are also board of education meetings over the summer. Important decisions are made in the dog days of summer, particularly in regard to hiring. If you can’t make it to the meetings, catch up with reports in your local media. Minutes of board meetings should also be posted on district websites. Remember, too, that the public elects board members and it is their job to represent you and report to you.
Depending on the district, principals typically work at least part of the summer. If you find out when your principal is at the school, it’s a good time to have a casual chat. You will notice that many principals are dressed down during the break — sans ties and jackets for men, and suits and pumps for women. So stop by the school in your shorts and sandals, and use the opportunity to find out the information you want to know as well as sharing your issues with your principal. These could include specific challenges your child has, such as health and learning concerns, or the status of particular programs in regard to budget cuts. Good principals are visible and accessible, both during the school year and the summer.
Towards the end of the summer, many teachers will be in school setting up their classrooms. It’s a great time to introduce yourself and your child, and find out about the teacher’s plans and expectations.
Contact your PTA or PTO leaders during the summer not only to get information about your school and district, but also to volunteer for the coming school year. Getting involved is not only the best way to learn the ropes of your school and district, but also to help your child succeed.
Summer vacation is around the corner – and that means that both parents and kids get a break from the rigors of the school year. If your children are enrolled in day camp or other summer programs, they’ll likely get plenty of fresh air, exercise, and exploration. But the weak economy has taken its toll on families across the board. Fewer parents have the means to afford camps, tutors, and other summer programs that can enrich learning during the summer. And school budget cuts have also reduced free summer educational programs that existed in the recent past.
The bad news is that when students return to school after summer vacation, they’ve often lost one to three months of learning. Research indicates that math skills are most in jeopardy. Elementary students at all socio-economic levels typically lose math skills, while middle class students often make slight gains in reading.
The good news is that there are a number of strategies that you can use to ensure that your child doesn’t lose learning and skills over the summer. In the June/July issue of Long Island Parent, I offer 10 suggestions to help parents continue their children’s learning during the summer months. To read the whole article, go to: http://liparentonline.com/features2.html
Here are a few of the tips:
- Encourage reading by providing your children with plenty of books that interest them. Use school summer reading lists and library grade-level reading suggestions. Visit the library often and check out special summer events. Read with your children, and discuss the books they are reading with them. If you are really ambitious, organize a book club with a few of your child’s friends.
- Understand that any topic of interest to your child can be a source of learning. For example, if your child is interested in baseball, surround him or her with baseball books and magazines. Watching a baseball game and keeping score or cataloguing baseball cards can be a lesson in statistics, i.e., RBI, ERA.
- Car trips can evolve into math or geography lessons. Instead of the perennial kid question: “Are we there yet,” ask your children to estimate and calculate the travel time to a destination. Encourage your kids to recognize different state license plates, and talk about those states with them, fostering their geography skills.
- For social studies learning, make day trips to local historical sites, such as Teddy Roosevelt’s home at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, or FDR’s home in Hyde Park, NY. Overnight trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Boston, offer a wealth of information about our nation’s history. And for science skills, don’t overlook children’s science museums and zoos, as well as outdoor natural wonders to explore, such as caves, beaches, and parks.
- Don’t overlook the kitchen as a wonderful learning lab. Involve your children in cooking and preparing meals, and they will exercise their reading, math and science skills. For example, have them read recipes, measure ingredients, and observe how the combination of different ingredients leads to the creation of something amazing. For advanced learning, ask questions, such as how many pints are in a quart, or what made the dough rise?
Remember to keep learning fun. You want your children to return to school in September with improved skills and a renewed love of learning!
This week I look forward to attending the Brentwood (N.Y.) High School Awards Night as a presenter of two scholarships in memory of my father, Herbert Fischman, who was a teacher and principal in the school district for 25 years. With this gesture, I will join with many other individuals and groups who together award hundreds of scholarships to Brentwood’s deserving graduates. I suspect that we are all part of a much larger group this spring who will also donate scholarships to high school graduates across the country.
In these difficult economic times, it hardly seems like a $500 or $1,000 scholarship makes a difference, but it does. Many of the students are awarded multiple scholarships, so while most of the individual awards are modest, they can add up — and numerous students receive sizeable support.
But it’s not just about the money. It’s about honoring young people who have excelled in spite of adversity, and who passionately want a shot at college. One of those Brentwood graduates, Samantha Garvey, made national headlines earlier this year when she was named a semi-finalist in the Intel Science Competition while her family was living in a homeless shelter. She is president of her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, and has a 3.9 grade point average.
But you don’t need to have Samantha’s resume to receive a scholarship. The more that are available, the more opportunity there is to acknowledge young people who work hard to do their very best, as well as those who exemplify character traits that our communities and country desperately need, such as service and caring. I have to confess that the scholarship was not my idea. Vicki Novak, a Brentwood graduate who later became president of the Smithtown Council of PTAs, had the council donate the scholarship when my father died in 2005 and I was the administrative liaison to the PTA Council.
It wasn’t until three years ago while writing a book with my husband and brother that a light bulb went off in my head. Our book is about honoring memories and carrying on legacies, and the idea for the scholarship came from two of our interviewees — Nick Clooney, the father of George Clooney and brother of Rosemary Clooney, and Yeou-Cheng Ma, the sister of cellist Yo Yo Ma. Both separately suggested that one of the most accessible ways of honoring a loved one was to establish a scholarship in his or her memory. It was then that I made the commitment to continue the scholarship each year.
While the students are the recipients of the scholarships, attending the assembly and presenting the scholarships has been both cathartic and therapeutic for me. For example, I met retired teachers who worked in my father’s school and who shared with me their reminiscences, as well as their affection and admiration for my dad. In addition, listening to others speak about their loved ones confirmed that dedicating a scholarship, no matter what the amount, helps to keep alive the memory of those who are no longer here.
Since establishing the Herbert J. Fischman Memorial Scholarship, I have met some amazing students, parents, teachers, and principals. Some of the past recipients have sent me thank you notes expressing their appreciation.
One female student wrote:
“It is with great appreciation that I thank you and your family for allowing me to be one of the recipients of the $500 Herbert J. Fischman Memorial Scholarship. Words can’t describe how grateful my family and I are for your help towards my future. In this economy every little bit helps.”
And a young man who was on his way to an Ivy League college wrote the following:
“I would like to thank you for your generosity and support toward my college education. I would also like to pay respect to your father since he did serve in the community for an outstanding 25 years and is most likely respected by former colleagues and students. It still must be tough to cope with this loss since it is just over five years, but I know he still lives through people like you who give back to the community of Brentwood.
I am of Mexican and Haitian descent and I will be the first in my family to attend college.
I am blessed that I am one of the recipients of your scholarship. I will work hard to keep the spirit of your father alive and I will not let you down.”
In these difficult economic times where discretionary funds are diminishing, a scholarship, no matter how small, can enhance the life of a young person. It also perpetuates the living memory of a loved one.
For one thing, Teacher Recognition Day — as the single day dedicated to teachers used to be called – coincided with my first big success at school. I was in the third grade and my teacher was Mrs. Briggs, a large, smiley, cherubic woman who clearly loved her students, their parents – and teaching! She gave us an assignment to write something about Teacher Recognition Day. I whipped up a poem and I could see from Mrs. Briggs’s beaming face that it was a winner. She had me share it with the class, then she shared it with the other teachers – and it was even published in the school newspaper! It’s not at all surprising that my double ambition to be a teacher and a writer began back in the third grade.
Shortly after my poetry success, my father went back to school to become a teacher. He eventually landed a job teaching fourth grade in a school with many disadvantaged children. A number of his students were immigrants and knew very little English. I was fascinated as we sat at the dinner table and he told us how, for example, he had taught Pedro how to say, “I have to go to the bathroom,” in English.
He then proceeded to teach my brother and me how to say it in Spanish. Later as a principal, he was instrumental in bringing a breakfast program into his school because he realized early on that kids couldn’t learn if they were hungry.
My father, as a teacher and as a principal, was my inspiration not only for my own career in education, but for my doctoral dissertation. It studied how caring principals promote a culture that enables children to succeed.
As a lover of current events, politics, and history, I got my Master’s Degree in teaching social studies from Columbia Teachers College. The department faculty there was inspirational and truly excited about teaching. We learned about the inquiry method – where students were given the tools to be social scientists and construct their own knowledge from original sources. Sound familiar? Years later, this same method was dubbed DBQ – Dated Based Questions. I couldn’t wait to try out all the wonderful things my teachers at TC taught me.
I hit the jackpot when I was hired to teach American History and Government at Schreiber High School in Port Washington, NY. My colleagues were on the cutting edge of educational theory and practice; together we brainstormed, discussed, and created our own teaching materials. It was wonderful to teach social studies. But we all knew that we weren’t just teaching a subject; we were teaching young people. To be successful, we needed to know where our students were coming from, and we made it our business to find out. We hung out with students during our free periods, we talked to other teachers and guidance counselors, and we were in touch with parents. The administrators were visible and accessible to students and staff. In other words, we cared about kids.
In my dissertation, I studied principals who promoted an ethos of caring in their schools – principals who consistently went above and beyond to meet the needs of children, and to meet the needs of teachers and parents as well. Not surprisingly, these principals built faculties of caring teachers.
Later, as an administrator, I verified time and again the conclusions of my dissertation. What matters most in schools is a caring environment, which addresses the needs of every child. Those are the schools where students are most successful. All of the current emphasis on standardized testing totally misses the mark. Teachers need to be able to meet the varying needs of their students, and exercise their creativity, judgment, and professional expertise. There is not a magic bullet for education that can be imposed from the outside. Caring teachers, led by caring principals, have been and continue to be the solution.
More than a half-century later, I still remember the poem that I wrote for Teacher Recognition Day, and I am still writing and learning! Thank you to all my teachers and my colleagues!
Teacher Recognition Day
Is for us to recognize,
Our teachers, who in the United States
Are so highly prized.
All the teachers deserve this day
Not just a few
So my dear teachers
May God bless each one of you.
Unfortunately, these tests are being used for very high stakes decisions. For example, in New York, 40 percent (in Florida, 50 percent) of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on test scores. The pitfalls in standardized testing were recently exemplified by a ridiculous question on a New York State about a pineapple racing a hare!
Standardized testing, and its concomitant problems — such as teachers being forced to teach to these tests — is a huge concern in education today. Parents need to keep informed about this as well as many other school issues.
How informed a parent are you? Here’s a pop quiz for parents. There are no trick questions!
1. How would you characterize your relationship to the professionals in your children’s school(s)?
(a) I know the names of my children’s teachers, principal, and central office staff, but do not interact with them.
(b) I have a cordial relationship with them, and am comfortable contacting them about issues or problems.
(c) I resent their salaries and benefits.
(d) I don’t interact with them.
2. How would you describe your involvement in your PTA and district?
(a) I attend PTA and Board of Education meetings and take an active part.
(b) My spouse attends some meetings, talks to the PTA president, and keeps me informed.
(c) I’ve been to a couple, but think these meetings are a waste of time.
(d) I have no idea when meetings are held and never attend them.
3. How do you get information about your school and district?
(a) I check school and district websites on a regular basis.
(b) I read local newspapers and online media, check school and district websites, and speak to teachers, administrators, and Board of Education members.
(c) I am generally too busy to keep informed, but if there’s an issue I speak to my neighbors.
(d) I don’t get involved in politics and have no idea of what’s going on.
4. How involved are you in the 2012-2013 budget process?
(a) I have been following issues in local media, and plan to vote.
(b) I have regularly attended budget and Board of Education meetings.
(c) I haven’t been involved, but I don’t like the excessive spending.
(d) I can’t be bothered and I want to move to North Carolina.
5. How satisfied are you with the quality of education in your school district?
(a) I am very pleased with my children’s teachers, but am concerned about cuts to educational programs.
(b) I moved here because of the district’s reputation, and my children are flourishing.
(c) My taxes are rising and I’m not so sure it’s worth it.
(d) I am dissatisfied and disillusioned.
6. If your child were a victim of bullying in school, what would you do?
(a) I would speak to my child’s teacher and brainstorm solutions and strategies.
(b) I would check the school’s bullying policy, and would ask for a meeting with the teacher, principal, and guidance counselor.
(c) I would complain to my friends.
(d) I would do nothing, and hope that it would stop.
If you answered mostly a’s and b’s, Congratulations — you are an involved parent!
If your answers were mostly c’s and d’s, it’s time you got more involved in your children’s education. Research indicates that the more parents are involved in their child’s schools, the more successful their child will be.
A child’s best advocate is an informed parent.
I’m honored to let you know that I have joined the new blogging team at ParentNet® Unplugged, a site that invites parents, educators and community leaders to participate in frank conversations about family engagement in education. As you know, parent engagement in education is my passion and I am thrilled to connect with other experts, who share my commitment and interest in exploring and learning about this important subject.
Research indicates that positive family-school-community partnerships promote children’s social, emotional, and academic learning and development. I am joining a distinguished group of professionals and parents, who practice and write about the importance of parent engagement, school-family partnerships, and related issues and concerns.
My article this month is Parent Power: Be Engaged in Your School District’s Budget Process.