As school lets out for the summer, families’ thoughts turn to vacations, outdoor activities, and picnics, but for some, there is also thoughts of how to feed their family. For those families taking part in the free and reduced lunch program, the end of the school year means the end of the ten meals per week that their child had at school. Summer food programs can help fill that need.
More than 1,000 summer meal sites are available in Illinois this summer, funded through the US Department of Agriculture and administered by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Some are specific to children signed up for a summer program, while others are open to all children under 18. Despite the large number of participating sites across the state, 33 Illinois counties have no summer meal sites.
Your PTA can help spread the word on summer meal sites by sharing information with families from the Summer Feeding Illinois website. There you will find information videos, resources, and more about the program. Families can also find a summer meals site near them by:
Share these resources with your families. No child should go hungry in Illinois this summer.
The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) released a report detailing the results of conversations with low-income African-American students from across the country about their perceptions of their schools. That report, A Seat at the Table: African American Youth’s Perceptions of K-12 Education, presents compelling information on how PTAs can help support student success not just for African-American students, but for all students.
The UNCF report is the third in a series, following reports on the perceptions of African-American leaders and parents on K-12 education. Among the key findings of the report are:
- 89% of students believe it is important to continue their education beyond high school.
- 66% of students said doing well in school was their top priority.
- Students’ top priorities for improving their school were more engaging teachers (35%), one-on-one attention/smaller classes (24%), and better technology/computers (22%).
- Students’ concerns regarding their commute to school included trash or litter (40%), speeding cars/bad drivers (37%), gang intimidation (29%), unsafe public transportation (27%), and people harassing me (20%).
The Challenge to PTAs
When it came to the obstacles for getting into or finishing college, students reported several things that PTAs could help schools address. Those obstacles included:
- Financial: High cost of college (57%); Don’t know how to pay for it (21%), Need to work full-time to support self (19%)
- Academic: Scoring well on standardized testing (22%), Not good at math (20%)
- Support: Lack of support services in school (11%), Don’t understand the FAFSA process (10%), Don’t understand the admissions process (7%)
PTAs have an opportunity to work with school guidance counselors, teachers, and administrators to help all students overcome these barriers. Ways that PTAs could help include:
- Hosting family information nights on how the college admissions process works or what classes students should take in middle and high school to be prepared to go to college.
- Hosting FAFSA completion nights where families are walked through the financial aid process online and have completed the FAFSA form by the end of the event.
- Sharing scholarship information with families.
- Working with teachers to provide information to families on how to support their students in classes they may be struggling with.
While the UNCF report is focused on African-American students, PTAs can use the results to implement programs and events that will support the success of all students.
Do you know if your school district has a school wellness policy, and if so, what’s in it and what the district is doing to implement it? If your district participates in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, they are required to develop such a plan and to permit parents to participate in its development. They are also required to update and inform parents about its content and implementation. There are many resources to help your PTA get involved in your school’s wellness policy, and this year’s Illinois PTA Convention will also feature a workshop on how parents can change a school’s health culture by Action for Healthy Kids.
National PTA spells out how your PTA can be involved and ensure that parents’ rights and the legal requirement to be included are followed. These resources include:
- A summary of what an effective, comprehensive school wellness policy should include
- A School Wellness Committee Toolkit from Alliance for a Healthier Generation to help committees convene, plan, and implement their action plans (Note: login required)
- Model School Wellness Policies from the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity
- School Health Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Local School Wellness Policy Outreach Toolkit from the US Department of Agriculture to help communicate school wellness information to families and school staff
- WellSAT 3.0 from the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity that measures the quality of written wellness policies.
School wellness is a community issue, and your school district is required to include families in the development and implementation of their policy. Ensure that your PTA has a seat at the table to advocate for your child and the children of your school district.
Action for Healthy Kids, who will be presenting at the 2019 Illinois PTA Convention, has created a flexible online program to helps schools become healthier environments for students, staff, and the communities they serve. The free Game On program focuses on both eating better and moving more. An online guide walks you through how to get organized and make a difference at your child’s school. There are also $1,000 grants available(application deadline April 5, 2019) to support implementing Game On at your school.
The Game On online guide makes it easy to implement the program, spelling out how to implement each of the six steps.
- Gather Your Team
- Assess and Track Progress
- Create and Implement an Action Plan
- Find Activities
- Engage Families and Communities
- Receive Recognition
The program aligns with the components of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Childmodel and has proven results. Using the Game On program, 74% of schools met all of their school district wellness policy requirements within three years.
Check out the Game On program, apply for a grant by April 5, 2019, and be sure to attend the Action for Healthy Kids workshop at the Illinois PTA Convention in Champaign on May 3-4, 2019.
Photo courtesy of pngimg.com under Creative Commons license.