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!
PTO Today recently published 34 Success Tips for Middle School parent organization leaders. All of the suggestions acknowledge, “middle school is different from elementary school, and not just for the kids.” The piece offers some great ideas about how to involve middle school parents in their children’s PTAs and PTOs, while recognizing that parents have a short commitment to the middle school. Communication – with other parents, school personnel, and students – is key.
But what if you’re not a PTA leader? You’re just an average parent – stretched in numerous directions. You are amazed at the changes in your child, and wonder how you can get involved in his or her new school. Children leave the cocoon of the elementary school just at the time their bodies are changing and they are more interested in listening to their peers than their parents.
So how can parents empower themselves to help their children succeed now that they are in middle school? What is the best way to communicate with teachers and other middle school personnel? How can you nurture your child’s emerging independence at the same time that you keep a watchful eye on his/her activities?
Earlier this year, I wrote about this topic on tweenparent.com. Here are some of my tips:
- Don’t drop out of sight when your children reach middle school. This is a big mistake. Unlike elementary schools, there is usually not a need for class mothers and volunteers in the classrooms. But you should still remain actively involved. Go to PTA meetings, join committees, or volunteer to chaperone school dances and other activities. When parents are invited to events, such as meetings, concerts, plays, open houses, conferences and special programs, make it your business to attend.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of all your children’s teachers, principal, other middle school administrators, counselors, and school nurse. By all means, contact them if you have questions or concerns.
- 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 to 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.
- Help your child with organizational skills, including managing homework. Find out what method the school uses for contacting parents and helping students stay on top of homework, such as agendas or Internet sites.
- Get to know all of your child’s teachers. Ask about their expectations, as well as homework and testing.
- As much as your child may act like he/she is not interested in talking to you, try to engage him/her in conversation on a regular basis. Be a good listener. Show a genuine interest in his/her studies, activities and friends. Show sincere attention even if your child acts like he/she does not want to be in your company. If you keep up the communication, she/he will know you will be there when advice is needed.
- Since the middle school years are the period when young people are forging their identity, it is the ideal time for them to explore their interests. Encourage them to become involved in extra-curricular activities, such as music, sports, social action, etc., so they can hone their talents and skills.
- Peer pressure becomes paramount at this age. Pay attention to who your child’s friends are. Know where your child is at all times. Be alert to signs that others are unduly influencing your child.
- Pick your issues carefully. Is it more important to take a stand on fashion or values, messy room or drugs? Try to decide ahead of time where you will take your stand.
- Insist on good attendance. If your child misses school for a legitimate reason, make it clear he/she needs to keep up with schoolwork. Contact the school to make arrangements.
Middle school can be a bewildering time, for parents as well as children. Your child is becoming more autonomous, but still needs your support, engagement, encouragement, and understanding. Stay involved in your child’s school. Research indicates that the more involved parents are, the more successful their own children will be.
As we look forward to a brand new school year, parents are busily getting their children ready for the first day of school. And that means spending money. The average parent will spend $688 this year equipping children with back to school clothing and supplies. Most schools prepare lists of essential school supplies that parents are required to furnish. Depending on the level of the student, these range from notebooks to laptops.
In our difficult economic environment, this is can be a burden to struggling families. According to figures released by the US Census Bureau earlier this year, the median household income is dropping and more Americans are living in poverty — about 15% of the population.
With more families living below the poverty line since the 1990s, income dropping and rampant unemployment, parents are increasingly concerned about expenses. In the 2012-2013 school budget vote, many districts 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 that they do not have to contribute to their children’s education. In addition to school supplies, here are some of the extras parents are typically paying for:
- 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 wear, such as tee 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, such as birthdays, holidays, special events
- For back to school, PTAs can contract to provide boxed set 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 at a limit of $25. Also, parents should request that they are informed at the beginning of the school year 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.
How do you teach kids values, like compassion and charity?
How do you teach kids such practical lessons as the value of money and saving?
Houses for Change does all that — and is fun as well. It is a national campaign started by Mark Wasserman of Boca Raton, Fl., to raise awareness of homelessness and to raise funds to help homeless families. Since its launch at the end of 2010, more than 17,000 kids in over 150 cities have created their own unique Houses for Change collection boxes.
The project was conceived as a result of Wasserman’s volunteering with Family Promise of South Palm Beach County, an interfaith organization that helps homeless families with children become independent again.
“The values kids learn from this project,” said Wasserman, “will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
Using art supplies and their imagination, children decorate pre-ordered boxes to look like a house. Participants take their boxes home and in the following weeks fill them with loose change. On a selected date, kids bring their filled boxes back to the local sponsoring group for a communal donation to any homeless organization, food bank or related organization.
According to Wasserman, Houses for Change has universal appeal. He noted that it has been adopted as a service learning project by schools and congregations. The decorated boxes have been used at community service days and birthday parties as piggy banks; at churches as Advent, Lenten and collection boxes; and at synagogues as tzedakah (charity) boxes.
Congressman Alcee Hastings recently recognized Wasserman and the Houses for Change Project in a statement on the House floor.
Houses for Change is more than an arts and crafts project, Wasserman notes. “It is an opportunity to teach about charity, homelessness, hunger and social action. It enables kids to realize that if they regularly save their loose change, it will accumulate to a large sum; and if they combine their savings with those of others, it can become a significant charitable donation that will help those in need.”
Houses for Change is sponsored by Family Promise, a non-profit organization that mobilizes communities to help homeless and low-income families. At www.familypromise.org/housesforchange there are details about how to organize this project, great photos of proud kids and parents with their creations, a TV news story, educational materials to download, and an online store to order the inexpensive undecorated boxes.
For more information, contact Chris Kaul, Family Promise Marketing and Public Relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org (908) 273-1100 ext. 43 or Mark Wasserman, Coordinator, at email@example.com (561) 699-5116.
Three separate school bus accidents on Monday – in Indiana, Washington State, andOhio — have left a student and a bus driver dead, and scores of students injured, some critically. The three crashes have fueled concerns about school bus safety.
In the Indiana accident, the bus was mangled when the driver hit an overpass without braking. In Washington, the bus rolled over after it veered off the road. In Ohio, the bus tipped and then rolled over onto its right side into a ditch.
None of the buses were equipped with passenger seatbelts, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not require in larger school buses. But those accidents have now renewed calls for passenger seat belts on all school buses.
Federal law requires seat belts on school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds, but 80 percent of the nation’s school buses do not fall into this category. Six states – New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Texas and Louisiana – have laws requiring seat belts on all school buses. But just because seat belts are installed, doesn’t guarantee they will be used.
For example, New York leaves the decision of whether the seat belts will be used to local school boards. On the contrary, the Texas law calls for disciplinary action against students who do not use them. California and Florida laws, while requiring seat belts in school buses, state that employees of school districts are not responsible for requiring students to buckle up.
The debate about seat belts on school buses has been going on for years. Despite increasingly strict requirements about helmets for bikers, seat and lap belts, and car and booster seats for children in passenger vehicles, school bus safety has not kept pace. In an ABC News interview, NHTSA spokesperson Lynda Tran said of school buses: “They are safer than their parents’ cars.” But Dr. Phyllis Agran, a pediatrician, told ABC that about 17,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each year from injuries sustained in school bus injuries.
Defenders of the status quo regarding school bus safety contend that statistics are on the side of the 24 million children who take a bus to school each day. But statistics fly out the window if it is your child who is involved in an accident.
Two of my three children were involved in school bus accidents and I have to tell you that although they were minor, it was a chilling experience to be notified that your child has been in a school bus accident. Parents have a right to expect that when they put their children on the school bus in the morning, they will get to and from school safely. They certainly don’t expect serious injuries or worse.
Seat belts have become a hot topic, but I can tell you as a former school administrator that they are not the only bus safety issues. Buses tend to be a “no man’s land” when it comes to supervision. It’s difficult for drivers to steer the bus while at the same time police kids’ behavior. Because there is no adult supervision on the bus other than the driver, school buses are fertile fields for bullying, profanity, fistfights, and other dangerous behavior, such as walking around while the bus is in motion and throwing things.
If the bus driver reports misbehavior to the school, it will be handled with an appropriate consequence. But not all bus drivers take the trouble to write a report. If your child tells you about misbehavior on the bus, take it seriously and report it to your principal or assistant principal. It’s not just annoying – it’s potentially dangerous. Be sure to inquire what steps the school takes to emphasize school bus safety. And make sure you reinforce them at home.
You may also inquire about the supervision of bus drivers. If the school district owns a fleet of buses and the drivers are district employees, they are usually better screened, supervised, and monitored than if the district contracts with a private company for their buses and drivers. If you have reason to believe a bus driver is engaging in dangerous or suspicious behavior, be sure to report it to your school district immediately.
The following bus rules should be emphasized by the school and reinforced by you with your child at home.
- Kids should go directly to their seats. They should remain seated and facing forward for the entire ride.
- Children should speak quietly and make every effort not to distract the driver.
- Students should not throw things on the bus or out the windows, or play with the emergency exits.
- The aisles of the bus should be clear at all times. That means no walking around or placing objects that may cause someone to trip.
- In an emergency, children must listen to the driver and follow instructions.
- Students should never put head, arms or hands out of the window.
- At their stop, children should wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before getting up. They should then walk, not run, to the front door and then exit using the handrail.
A plan that would virtually end school bullying and make school discipline kinder, gentler and more meaningful is being proposed for schools throughout the country.
The man behind this revolutionary concept is Dr. Robert Goldman, a Long Island psychologist/lawyer. He is intent on changing the culture of schools based on lessons found in his book, No Room for Vengeance, and his work with the Suffolk County Probation Department.
Goldman’s book, co-authored with Victoria Ruvolo, tells the true story of an incident that took place on the Long Island Expressway in November 2004. A teenager tossed a 20-pound frozen turkey out the rear window of the car he was riding in and it broke the windshield of an oncoming car, hitting and nearly killing Ruvolo, its driver. But instead of going to prison for up to 25 years, the offender, Ryan Cushing, 18, was allowed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree assault at the insistence of Ms. Ruvolo.
As a result of Ruvolo’s compassion, Goldman developed a program of repentance for juveniles, one believed to be the first in the country.
After Cushing entered his plea and was leaving the courtroom — knowing he would be sentenced to only six months in jail, five years probation and one year of community service — he stopped in front of Ruvolo who was standing at the end of a row and hugged her. The two cried openly.
“I’m so thankful that you are doing well,” he whispered to Ruvolo, whose face had to be rebuilt using metal plates and screws in a 10-hour operation.
“You’re such a wonderful person,” he continued, sobbing uncontrollably as others in the courtroom choked back tears. “Never did I intend to hurt anyone, especially someone as special as you. I prayed for you every night; I never meant this to happen.”
“It’s OK, it’s OK,” Ruvolo told him. “I am going to be watching over you now. Just do good with your life.”
Inspired by her compassion and challenge to create a venue where Ryan could do something good with his life, Goldman developed a program called TASTE, an acronym that stands for Thinking errors, Anger management, Social skills and Talking Empathy.
The program in Suffolk County’s juvenile justice program offers young people a chance to apologize to their victim in writing or in person. Goldman, who is now the supervising psychologist in the Probation Department, said that Ryan’s community service required him to address youngsters in the TASTE program. It is for youngsters 12 to 15-years-old who have pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes (including shoplifting, criminal trespass, assault, graffiti and aggravated harassment) and have been sentenced to probation or had their cases adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Goldman noted that Ryan continued speaking to groups with Ruvolo well after his one-year of community service ended.
The hour-long probation programs — which can range from four to 16 sessions, depending on the needs of each youngster — also involve the participation of the youth’s parents. Goldman and his colleagues at the Probation Department run TASTE, which focuses on teaching the juveniles about self-control.
The key to the program is to have youngsters stop and think of the long-term consequences of their actions before they act.
Now Dr. Goldman wants to bring this program to schools as an alternative to suspension.
“Rather than throwing them out of school, thereby rewarding them for their behavior, I would hold them accountable by putting them through this program and having them make peace with their victim — especially in the case of bullying,” Goldman explained.
This is an intriguing program and one certainly worth considering. As the Hearing Officer in Superintendent’s Disciplinary Hearings for more than a decade, I often felt hamstrung in meting out consequences. New York State law allows only for suspension as a punishment. Counseling, alternative behavior modification programs, and creative solutions can only be recommended, not mandated.
Goldman also wants to give principals more authority — rather than automatically requesting a Superintendent’s Hearing — to impose more than a five-day suspension. He notes that implementing TASTE in schools would give kids — particularly those involved with drugs and similar offenses — along with their parents and school personnel the opportunity to explore why the offense occurred, how the school was impacted, what such behavior does to the community.
“Let the children hear the consequences of their behavior on the school so they can understand,” Dr. Goldman said. “Let them become part of the program, part of the solution. Let them mentor others on the dangers of drugs.”
In addition, Goldman is currently developing a curriculum, based on the TASTE principles that he hopes to implement throughout the country, starting with New York. He says it fulfills the requirements of The Dignity for All Students Act, which will take effect in New York State in July. It was enacted to protect students in public schools from discrimination and harassment. New York joins 11 states, which have already passed similar legislation, including California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
The Dignity Act protects against all forms of harassment, especially those based on race, color, weight, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex. What’s notable about this legislation is that it amends state education law to require schools to incorporate diversity and discrimination awareness and sensitivity training into lessons on civility, citizenship, and character education. Additionally, schools are also required to develop effective responses to harassment and bullying, and to implement strategies to prevent these behaviors.
`Tis the season and everywhere we look there are suggestions for gift giving. No doubt on your list of recipients are your children’s teachers. Newspaper articles, TV spots, websites and blogs — not to mention catalogs — provide a potpourri of possibilities for teacher gifts. There’s a lot of pressure out there to give your children’s teachers the right gift. So what should that be?
You might want to start by examining your school’s policy on gifting. Some schools set a limit, e.g. $25, some don’t allow it at all, some specify one gift from the entire class, while others say nothing on the subject. Whatever your school’s policy, it’s likely to be ignored by at least some people. My experience has been that parents feel very pressured to give the teacher a gift she/he will appreciate, and worry that no gift could influence the teacher’s perception of their child.
Some parents go all out, while others begrudgingly do the minimum. I will never forget that when I was in first grade my teacher announced to us that Becky had given her the best gift in the class. She had been invited to Becky’s house for lunch and Becky’s father, a dress manufacturer, presented her with a beautiful dress. I remember that I and the other children felt powerless and unworthy as she opened our gifts. Throughout the year I understood implicitly why Becky was the teacher’s pet.
Those days may or may not be gone. There are still some parents who will lavish expensive gifts on teachers, causing others to be resentful. There are some parents who believe teachers don’t need “tips,” and others who simply can’t afford it in these difficult economic times.
Conversely, as a former teacher and administrator, I can safely say that most teachers don’t even want gifts. They truly appreciate a lovely note or card expressing appreciation, or perhaps even a homemade gift or gift card. But while receiving a truckload of extraneous gifts is flattering, they usually don’t know what to do with all the random stuff they get.
Case in point: one year I sent an email to all 1,000 teachers in our district asking for new items that we could use to put together gift baskets for the elderly in the community. I was inundated with “stuff” — unwanted Christmas presents. We recycled the gifts, assembling beautiful baskets wrapped in cellophane and curling ribbon, and made a lot of people happy. It’s amazing how a potholder, dishtowel, and hand lotion can be made to look so good with the proper wrapping!
There are some schools that ask parents to refrain from giving teachers gifts and instead suggest they honor their teachers with a contribution to any number of worthwhile causes. In this way, families can contribute what they are able to afford – or not at all if they are strapped – and the gift is from the entire class. Here are some ideas:
- A gift card to a supermarket or department store for a needy family
- A class collection of non-perishable food items for a local food pantry
- Purchasing holiday gifts for a homeless family
- Providing a holiday dinner for a needy family
- A donation to a charity
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently suggested several humanitarian organizations, many of which would be appropriate as an educational exercise for students.
For example: donations to CARE can provide school uniforms; contributions to Heifer International provide gifts of livestock and training to help families improve their nutrition and generate income, and Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program screens children for vision problems and provides eyeglasses.
Don’t forget your local charities; it’s meaningful for kids to know they are helping those close to home.
Even if it’s too late to change your school’s culture now, start a discussion now – and maybe things will change next year. Engaging parents and children in choosing the cause and bringing it to fruition will infuse both kids and adults with the true meaning of giving