Aligning National PTA and Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities: School Meals

As the number of students qualifying for free and reduced school meal programs increases, and the obesity epidemic spirals ever onward, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHKFA) takes on increased interest for PTAs as the act seeks to improve nutritional standards and access to nutritious meals for students.

The National PTA calls for the reauthorized legislation to:

  • Improve and enhance opportunities for parents to participate in the development of local school wellness policies.
  • Maintain, at a minimum, the current school nutrition standards and Smart Snack guidelines.
  • Deliver technical assistance and resources to schools that are not meeting the nutrition standards.
  • Provide federal grants and loan assistance for schools to improve kitchen infrastructure and equipment.
  • Oppose any attempt to “block grant” the school nutrition program, or reduce the number of students eligible to participate in the free and reduced-price school meals program.

Over the past two decades, the Illinois PTA has recognized and responded to the needs of students by adopting positions relating to:

  • Eating disorders and risk of nutritional deficiency as part of the school health curricula (2000).
  • The dissemination of information on the detrimental effects of childhood obesity (2005).
  • Best practices for addressing and treating childhood obesity through local PTA units, councils, districts and regions in cooperation with other like-minded associations and organizations (2005).

We continue to support the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program, and Illinois PTA supported the Breakfast After the Bell bill in 2016. Currently, both the National PTA and the Illinois PTA are watching federal legislation (S1064, HR2401) which are designed to remove the stigmatization of students participating in either of the programs mentioned above.

As schools continue to refine developed health and wellness policies, which include nutritional guidelines, the Illinois PTA will continue to call upon school districts to include parents in the decision-making on revisions to health and policies.

College-Bound Student? Fill Out FAFSA Now

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application period began October 1, and families in Illinois with a college-bound student should fill out the form as quickly as possible. The reason for that is that Illinois’s Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants are provided on a first-come, first-served basis until the funds are depleted, and the state usually provides no more than a 24-hour warning for when those funds are gone.

When filling out the FAFSA, be sure to avoid these 12 common mistakes:

  1. Not completing the FAFSA form.
  2. Not using the correct website.
  3. Not filling out the FAFSA form as soon as it’s available.
  4. Not filing the FAFSA form by the deadline.
  5. Not getting an FSA ID before filling out the FAFSA form.
  6. Not suing your FSA ID to start the FAFSA form.
  7. Not using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT).
  8. Not reading definitions carefully.
  9. Inputting incorrect information.
  10. Not reporting required information.
  11. Listing only one college.
  12. Not signing the FAFSA form.

Finally, don’t forget to check out the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) website for additional information and help in filling out the FAFSA.

October is National Dental Hygiene Month

Did you know tooth decay (cavities) is one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood in the United States? Untreated tooth decay can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning.

  • About 1 of 5 (20%) children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
  • 1 of 7 (13%) adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
  • The percentage of children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 years with untreated tooth decay is twice as high for those from low-income families (25%) compared with children from higher-income households (11%).

The good news is that tooth decay is preventable. Fluoride varnish, a high-concentration fluoride coating that is painted on teeth, can prevent about one-third (33%) of decay in the primary (baby) teeth. Children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer decayed teeth than children who live in areas where their tap water is not fluoridated. Similarly, children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste will have less tooth decay.

Promote dental hygiene and National Dental Hygiene Month by inviting a local dentist to speak at an upcoming meeting or work with school administrators on a school wide rally. Find more oral health information at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

October is Fire Safety Month

Fire Prevention Week is scheduled for October 8-14, with Home Fire Drill Day on October 14.

While no school is immune from the risk of a fire, the chances of it happening can be reduced or, if it does occur, losses can be kept to a minimum by following a few tips:

  • Conduct fire drills regularly
  • Ensure all exits are properly marked and nothing blocking the exit
  • On the day of a drill, sound the alarm so students and staff get familiar with the sound
  • Each classroom should have a map displayed showing the closest exits. Staff should review on a monthly basis with students.
  • Predetermine an exterior location where everyone meets until an all clear signal has been given to reenter.

How can PTAs be involved with promoting fire safety?

  • Ask local administrators to speak at a future meeting to discuss fire safety plans for the building.
  • Partner with local fire departments to bring in speakers, host smoke detector inspections, or give away smoke detectors.
  • Ask Administration to include PTA members on safety committees.
  • Share fire safety tips with families and school personnel via newsletters, bulletin boards, emails, and social media.
  • Encourage families to practice fire drills at home.