3 Back-to-School Things Families Need to Know

Illinois students are heading back to school now or in the next few weeks. Here are three key things that parents need to know that your PTA should be educating them about.

  1. Family engagement is critical to student success.Research shows that real family engagement, not just newsletters home or brief parent-teacher conferences twice a year, is a critical to long-term student success. Students with engaged families have better attendance, higher graduation rates, better social skills and behavior, and increased student achievement. Additional research has shown that schools would need to spend an additional $1,000 more per pupilto see the same increases in student achievement that come from a truly engaged family.
  2. Every child deserves a safe and supportive school.When a child feels safe and secure, they can focus on learning both at school and in the home. Every child should have a school and home environment safe from the threat of physical and psychological harm. National PTA recently strengthened our position on this with their position statement on safe and supportive schools.
  3. Learning starts with attendance.Simply put, children need to be in school in order to learn. It seems obvious, but chronic absenteeism is a critical issue for many Illinois schools. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are far less likely than their peers to read proficiently at the end of third grade. Families and schools need to work together as partners to make sure students attend school and to identify and address the barriers to attendance.

Your PTA’s Role

Your PTA is a critical partner in educating families about these issues and working to address them in your school. To increase family engagement, participate in this year’s National PTA School of Excellence program. PTAs in Illinois who have earned this designation have seen dramatic increases in family participation in school events, PTA meetings and volunteers, and school climate. Get your principal on board and sign up before October 1, 2018 (earlier is better, so don’t wait). Illinois PTA has created a School of Excellence Support Group to help PTA’s navigate the program, headed by Southern Region Director (and leader of Kreitner Elementary PTA’s becoming a National School of Excellence) Greg Hobbs. Contact your district or region director for more information about the program.

Address your school’s climate not only through the School of Excellence program, but also through National PTA’s Connect for Respect programto address bullying. Use the program to engage students, families, and educators on a step-by-step process to assess school climate, to discuss and brainstorm ways to overcome weaknesses found in the assessment, and to develop an action plan that educates and empowers your school community to create a safe school environment. Use National PTA’s Diversity and Inclusion Toolkitto ensure you are engaging to all families.

Work with your school principal and use PTA’s many programsto bring families into your school. As part of those programs, include a short kickoff meeting or provide handouts on critical issues to help parents support their child’s education. Use the resources in National PTA’s Local Leader Kitand Illinois PTA’s Leadership Resources(ask your PTA president for this year’s password) to show families why they should be joining your PTA.

 

National PTA’s New Position Statement on Safe and Supportive Schools

As schools across the country are increasingly impacted by violence and natural disasters, National PTA’s board of directors adopted a new position statement on safe and supportive schools during its August board meeting. The statement calls for a multi-faceted approach to address school safety that involves all stakeholders, especially students, parents and families.

“School safety is a critical priority for all parents, families, educators, students and community members that cannot be taken for granted. Every child has a right to learn and grow in a safe and supportive environment,” said Jim Accomando, president of National PTA. “National PTA recognizes that school safety is a multi-faceted issue with no one clear solution for each community. We believe any effort to address school safety must involve all stakeholders who should consider a variety of factors, including the physical and psychological safety of students.”

As outlined in the position statement, National PTA promotes the establishment of and support for school safety policies and procedures that emphasize family engagement, adequate funding for student supports and services, and conditions that create and foster positive and welcoming school environments. The association also promotes the implementation of evidence-based policies and best practices articulated in A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools, which was written and has been endorsed by the nation’s leading education stakeholders and practitioners.

The position statement further states that National PTA believes the most effective day-to-day school climate is a gun-free campus—which includes not arming teachers and administrators—but defers to local, collaborative decision-making regarding the presence of law enforcement for school building security. If the decision is made to have a Student Resource Officer (SRO) or other security agency within a school building, the association believes there must be a clearly defined memorandum of understanding between the law enforcement agency and the school that articulates the role of the SRO.

“National PTA believes teachers and administrators are there to educate our children and should not be acting as armed security in classrooms,” said Nathan R. Monell, CAE, executive director of National PTA. “Families, students, educators, administrators, counselors, law enforcement, community leaders and elected officials must work together to ensure students feel safe and schools and communities have the resources and capacity to provide a positive and healthier environment for all students.”

How Do You Tell Your PTA’s Story?

At this year’s National PTA Convention, Illinois PTA President Brian Minsker was speaking with PTA members from Tennessee about their efforts in raising the age for juvenile courts there. He shared the Illinois PTA report on Young Adults Involved in the Justice Systemwith them. One of them asked him to join their PTA, which he did. [Membership Tip: Many people will happily join your PTA just to support your work and the kids you serve if you just ask.]  

Shortly after convention, he received an e-mail that was sent to all of their new members highlighting what Frayser Community PTSA had done in the previous year in three videos. Whether it is video of an event, a movie made from pictures taken during an event, or a simple PowerPoint with pictures running in a loop, this is a great way to share what your PTA is doing for children to get people to join. Consider having a laptop at your PTA table at school registration or Open House night showing a video or slideshow. Far too often people are afraid to join PTA because they think you will ask them to volunteer. Instead, don’t stress the need for PTA volunteers and show them how your PTA is making a difference for kids—then they’ll want to volunteer. The rest of this post is courtesy of Regenia Dowell, President of Frayser Community PTSA in Memphis.

Frayser Community PTSA STEM + Families Night

Frayser Community PTSA received a grant from National PTA to host a STEM + Families event. As part of the event, community members from local businesses joined in as volunteers, including a chemist from PMC, workers from Charms Candy Company, and engineers from Federal Express. They helped with activity stations where family could have hands-on experiences doing experiments.

Student Storm the Hill

Student Storm the Hill is an annual event hosted by Tennessee PTA. Frayser Community PTSA was able to take middle and high school students from district, charter, and private schools in their community to the statehouse. PTSA members and teachers served as chaperones. The PTSA provided transportation, breakfast, and lunch, all at no cost thanks to a Community Enhancement grant from two of their County Commissioners.

Students were given packets that explained how a bill becomes a law. They gathered in the state House of Representatives and sat in the members’ seats. The students conducted a mock legislative session, voted on the bill they had discussed, and got to watch the votes tabulated on the light up voting board. The students were also able to meet with their representatives to share their concerns about what was important to them.

 

MLK 50 Celebration

The 50thanniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a big event in Memphis. Frayser Community PTSA partnered with WKNO PBS Kids to have a free community event for people in the neighborhood to come together to celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. King. The PTSA brought in community service agencies, entrepreneurs, schools, and faith-based groups to ‘Invest in the Dream”—the children of Frayser Community PTSA. Information booths were set up with trivia games that provided a free book to each child correctly answering questions. There was a petting zoo, train rides, inflatables, a rock climbing wall, and a balloon artist to keep kids entertained. The PTSA also had an essay contest for middle and high school students.

 

How does your PTA tell its story? Share it with your district or region director so Illinois PTA can highlight the great things your PTA is doing for kids.

Key Questions to Ask at Your Child’s School

The start of the new school year is fast approaching. The US Department of Education has created I Have a Question…What Parents and Caregivers Can Ask and Do to Help Children Thrive at School: A Parent Checklistto help you fulfill an important part of your child’s education—engaging with your child’s school in a way that truly matters.

The booklet was created with help from National PTA, America Achieves, the National Council of La Raza, and the United Negro College Fund. In it, you’ll find key questions to ask at your child’s school, including:

  • How will you keep me informed about how my child is doing on a regular basis?
  • How can we work together if my child falls behind?
  • What programs are in place to ensure that the school is a safe, nurturing, and positive environment?
  • How much time is there for recess or exercise?
  • How much time do teachers get to collaborate with one another?
  • How does the school make sure that all students are treated fairly?

The booklet also provides information on what to do beyond asking questions and tips from teachers to support your child’s success. The booklet concludes with resources from National PTA and other organizations, as well as specific information on bullying, finding additional academic support, children with delays or disabilities, financial aid for college, and homeless children. Download the PDF today.