Thanking Your Volunteers

The holidays are a time for reflection and gratitude. It’s also the midpoint of the school year, which makes it a good time as a PTA leader to take a bit of time to think about what you’ve accomplished so far and what lies ahead.

A good part of your PTA’s success depends on your volunteers, which makes the holiday season a good time to show them some gratitude. One meaningful way to show your appreciation to your volunteers is a simple thank you note. If you’re not sure what to say, this love to know blog post provides some sample thank you notes and tips on writing them.

If writing is not your style or strength, check out the Appreciate Volunteers website. The site was created by two longtime volunteers who know the passion and dedication volunteering takes and who wanted to help those managing volunteers recognize them and their efforts. The site has a variety of categories, including:

  • New Volunteers
  • Simple Volunteer Recognition
  • Volunteer Anniversaries
  • Volunteer Appreciation Gifts
  • Volunteer Appreciation Ideas
  • Volunteer Parties
  • Volunteer Recognition Events
  • Volunteer Recognition on a Budget

Showing your volunteers your appreciation and gratitude for the time and effort they put forth for your PTA helps to keep them involved going forward and can help bring in new volunteers. There’s a benefit for you as well: studies show that expressing gratitude can make you happier.

13 Necessary Next Steps for Parents After an Autism Diagnosis

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), about 1 in 68 children has been identified as being autistic, with boys being approximately 4.5 times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. The latter detail is still being debated, as autism diagnosis criteria were developed primarily with data from boys, autism presents differently in girls, and girls may be better at masking their difficulties in order to fit in with their peers; all of which may mean that the occurrence of autism is even higher.

The increased diagnosis of autism means that many families are struggling to understand and come to terms with what this means for their child and their child’s future. The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism published an article earlier this year on 13 next steps for parents after and autism diagnosis. They are:

  1. Give yourself time to adjust.
  2. Give the people around you time to adjust, and keep them in the loop.
  3. Give yourself time to process information critically.
  4. Give yourself time to learn which organizations and people to trust.
  5. Give yourself time to figure out what autism means for your child.
  6. Give yourself time to figure out what communication looks like for your child.
  7. Give yourself time to figure out which supports, schools, therapies, and environments will help your child succeed.
  8. Give yourself the space to be flexible about needs, and pick your battles.
  9. Give yourself time to find autistic role models for your child.
  10. Give yourself time to think about shared traits.
  11. Give your child space to grow and change.
  12. Give yourself time to figure out what your child really enjoys.
  13. Give yourself time to plan for your child’s future without you.

An autism diagnosis can be a relief that the challenges you and your child have been facing have an explanation. It can also bring worry and concern for your child’s future. Be sure to read the full article for details and resources linked to each of the above points. There is a growing community of autistic teenagers and adults online sharing their experiences and speaking up for others on the spectrum that can also help a family understand what an autism diagnosis means (see the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag on Twitter).

NASA’s Kids’ Club

STEM education—focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math—has received a lot of attention in recent years. Part of the reason for that is STEM jobs are experiencing significant growth and are expected to continue to do so, but the number of STEM workers our education system is producing is not keeping up with that growth, especially among women and minorities.

To help get young students excited about STEM fields, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had created NASA Kids’ Club, a collection on online games and activities that provide a safe place for children to play and explore as they learn about NASA and its missions.

NASA and the exploration of space are naturals for engaging children in STEM. Indeed, many current scientists and engineers attribute their interest in their fields to the inspiration provided by the Apollo moon missions.

The games and activities included at NASA’s Kids’ Club align with the Illinois Learning Standards for Science, which are based on the Next Generation Science Standards. The parent information page for NASA’s Kids’ Club shares which activities align with which grades and standards. And while the activities align with Kindergarten through fourth grade standards, any pre-K or elementary aged student can enjoy the activities.

Essence of ESSA: Growth versus Proficiency

Today’s guest post comes from the Real Learning for Real Life coalition, of which Illinois PTA is a member. The coalition helps families and communities understand how our education system is changing to provide the children of Illinois the best education possible. The article details how schools in Illinois are changing instruction as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) shifts the focus on student achievement from proficiency to growth. The coalition has also created a short 99-second video about the difference between growth and proficiency.

Academic Progress at Zion School Shows Promise of New System

Third and 4th graders at Beulah Park Elementary School in Zion are gaining crucial skills as they make inferences while reading books as varied as Junie B. Jones and a biography of 19th century scientist Mary Anning. Now that progress will be recognized in the way Illinois evaluates its schools.

Illinois’ plan as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, the replacement for No Child Left Behind, provides a system for rating Illinois schools and for providing struggling schools with additional help. Illinois’ ESSA plan, developed by the Illinois State Board of Education, emphasizes academic growth in rating schools. Parents use the ratings to better understand their child’s school—or where to send their child to school—and the state uses the ratings to determine which schools will get additional assistance. The test scores of 4th graders improved by 17.5% last year, one of the largest improvements of any school in Illinois.

“It’s about closing the academic achievement gap, and growth really matters for that,” said Dr. Keely Roberts, Superintendent for Zion School District 6.

Lynn Butera (left), principal of Beulah Park Elementary School and Dr. Keely Roberts (right), Superintendent of Zion Elementary School District

No Child Left Behind emphasized academic proficiency, test scores from a single moment in time, rather than academic growth. Proficiency often correlates with a student’s race, income level or disability status and doesn’t provide a sense of a school’s academic progress. Schools have more control over academic growth. The vast majority of students at Beulah Park are minority and low-income, and 22% of students meet or exceed PARCC standards in 4th grade English language arts. ESSA will still take into account proficiency, which is particularly critical in the upper grades as it relates to college admission.

“We care about kids surviving in the world and getting into schools like U of I,” Roberts said. “The bar shouldn’t be lower for proficiency because that’s limiting to our children.”

A recent reading exercise in Valencia Samuel’s 4th grade class compared the biography of a 19th century scientist, Mary Anning, a famous fossil collector, with a modern story about saving porpoises. The concept of compare and contrast was reinforced in the classroom and in smaller sessions with individual students. Understanding the progress students are making helps the school make informed decisions about staffing individualized support sessions and the allocation of time during the school day.

“We look at every child and set goals,” said Lynn Butera, Principal at Beulah Park for the past 15 years. “We’re using data from our [assessment] scores and mastering skills and continuously growing to be more proficient.”

ESSA will provide a more nuanced picture of Illinois’ education system, funding for initiatives such as professional development of teachers and an updated plan for supporting schools. Its true promise is in the end goal of lifting achievement and helping prepare all students for college, career and a healthy life.

“Growth is what it’s all about,” said Julie Dobnikar, a 3rd grade teacher at Beulah Park for 16 years. “It’s about knowing when I have made a difference.”

The mission of the Real Learning for Real Life coalition is to close achievement gaps and prepare the whole student for college, career, and life after high school. In order to achieve this mission, we are working toward improving understanding of ESSA. Click here to receive email updates from Real Learning for Real Life.