Know the Cyberbullying Warning Signs

Bullying on the playground or in the classroom can be seen. Cyberbullying—bullying online through social media, apps, and other online activities—is a lot harder for teachers or parents to spot. A 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report indicated that 15% of high school students had experienced cyberbullying in the past year.

Most of the time, teachers and families only find out about cyberbullying after a physical altercation at school or some other social function. Since parents and other adults in children’s lives don’t have experience from their own childhood to draw on when dealing with cyberbullying and likely aren’t even aware of the latest app, much less its potential for harm, it is important to learn the warning signs of cyberbullying.

The Cyberbullying Research Center has an information sheet for families detailing the warning signs of your child being cyberbullied or being a cyberbully themselves. The signs your child may be being cyberbullied include:

  • Unexpectedly stop using their device(s)
  • Appearing nervous or jumpy when using their device(s)
  • Appearing uneasy about going to school or outside in general
  • Appearing emotionally upset after being online (including online gaming)
  • Becomes abnormally withdrawn from usual friends and family members
  • Frequently calls or texts from school requesting to go home ill

Illinois PTA has shared how to handle cyberbullying previously, which included additional resources: National PTA’s Connect for Respect program, stopbullying.gov cyberbullying resources, and other materials from the Cyberbullying Research Center in addition to their warning signs sheet. All of these resources can help you be informed and deal with a cyberbullying problem with your child.

Another Year of Legislative Success for the Children of Illinois!

takesactionheader_final_1050px-crop-2From youth safety issues to juvenile justice, from children’s health to readiness for college and the work-force, from childhood hunger to an interim budget in a year of fiscal deadlock, the Illinois PTA has advocated successfully for all our children. The highlights are below. Illinois PTA will continue to advocate for every child, and urges you to join us this fall for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15, 2016.

Children’s Health and Safety

We have had successes in responses to children’s allergies and asthma, concussions, and childhood hunger.

Epinephrine Auto-Injectors: With as much as 25% of first time anaphylactic reactions occurring in a school setting, we cannot stress the need enough for the availability of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors. House Bill 4462, Epinephrine Auto-Injectors, now Public Act 99-0711, expands the protections currently in place to include additional circumstances in which a school district, public, or nonpublic school may have a supply of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors available in a secure location so that they are accessible before, during, and after school, including while being transported on a school bus. The statue also provides for the training of state police in the administration of epinephrine auto-injectors. The expansions provided in PA 99-0711 will help prevent injury from a severe allergic reaction by Illinois children.

Asthma: On a related issue, students with asthma will now have additional safety measures in place. House Bill 6333, School Code–Asthma Action Plan, now Public Act 99-0843, provides for additional safety protocols with the requirements that:

  • the State Board of Education work with statewide professional organizations that have asthma management expertise to develop a model asthma episode emergency response protocol;
  • each school district, charter school, and nonpublic school adopt an asthma episode emergency response protocol before 1/1/2017 that includes the components of the State Board’s model;
  • all school personnel who work with pupils to complete a program every two years concerning asthma management, prevention, and emergency response; and that,
  • each school district, public, charter, or nonpublic school request an asthma action plan from the parents or guardians of a pupil with asthma each year.

Concussions: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 3.9 million sports and recreation related concussions occur in the US annually. They are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports and recreational activities. House Bill 4365, IHSA Concussion Reporting, now Public Act 99-0831, amends the Interscholastic Athletic Organization Act to provide for the enhanced reporting of student-athletes who have sustained a concussion. Beginning with the current school year, all member schools that have certified athletic trainers are required to complete a monthly report on student athletes at that school who sustained a concussion during a school-sponsored activity that is either overseen by the athletic trainer or when the athletic director is made aware of a concussion sustained by a student during a school-sponsored (with student names removed). Beginning in 2017-2018, the data is to be compiled from the prior school year into annual report to the Illinois General Assembly. Is the legislature considering further protections for our children once they receive these reports? We will continue to monitor this topic for future legislation.

Childhood Hunger: Children don’t do well in school if they’re hungry. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school, and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence. Approximately 1 in 5 Illinois children are affected by hunger. Senate Bill 2393, Childhood Hunger–Breakfast, now Public Act 99-0850, is intended to help with this ongoing issue. PA 99-0850, amends the Childhood Hunger Relief Act to provide for “breakfast after the bell” program beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, according to a model that best suits its students. This Act also provides that the Illinois State Board of Education is to:

  • collaborate with school districts and nonprofit organizations knowledgeable about equity, the opportunity gap, hunger and food security issues, and best practices for improving student access to school breakfast;
  • distribute guidelines for the program’s implementation; and,
  • post a list of opportunities for philanthropic support of school breakfast programs on its website.

The statute also allows schools and school districts to opt out under certain circumstances.

Education

Two new statutes have been enacted to address student achievement in Illinois.

College and Workforce Readiness: The lack of readiness for college and/or the workforce is a concern for parents, students, and employers across Illinois. Approximately one-half of Illinois high school graduates entering as full-time freshmen in Illinois public community colleges require remedial education. House Bill 5729, creates the Post-Secondary and Workforce Readiness Act (Public Act 99-0674). The statute is a plan to address these student achievement concerns by creating:

  • a postsecondary career expectations model to be adopted for public school students in grades 8 through 12, defining activities where school districts, parents, and community-based organizations should support students, and the related knowledge students should have;
  • a pilot program for competency-based high school graduation requirements;
  • transitional mathematics courses from high school to college level;
  • a statewide panel that will include ISBE to recommend competencies for reading, and communication and strategies for achieving this in high school coursework; and,
  • College and Career Pathway Endorsements and State Distinction programs to provide student incentives and encourage their exploration and development.

After-School Program Grants: Senate Bill 2407, Department of Human Services–Teen REACH Grant Program, now Public Act 99-0700, amends the Department of Human Services Act to provide that, subject to appropriation, DHS will establish a establish a competitive state grant program—Teen Responsibility, Education, Achievement, Caring, and Hope (Teen REACH)—to support local communities in providing after-school opportunities for youth 6 to 17 years old that will improve their likelihood for future success, provide positive choices, reduce at-risk behaviors, and develop career goals. These grants are to be awarded to community-based agencies, in which successful grantees are to plan and implement activities to address outcomes in 6 core areas: improvement of educational performance; life skills education; parent education; recreation, sports, cultural, and artistic activities; the development of positive adult mentors; and service learning opportunities. 

Juvenile Justice

We have been successful in advocating for justice-involved youth in relation to the reporting of serious incidents impacting their health and well-being, legal representation, and expungement of records.

Critical Incidents While in the Juvenile Justice System: With the passage of House Bill 114, Juvenile Court–Critical Incident Report, now Public Act 99-0664, provides additional protections to a minor who is committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. These protections include the Department notifying the court in writing of a critical incident which involves a serious risk to the life health or well-being of the youth within 10 days of the incident. The report is to include the actions the Department took in response to the incident.

Legal Representation for Youth: Research has shown that children do not understand the “Miranda warning,” do not understand the implications of making a statement to the police, and are more likely than adults to make a false confession. Senate Bill 2370, Juvenile Court–Counsel Representation, now Public Act 99-0882, requires that:

  • children under 15 be represented by legal counsel during custodial interrogations for homicide and sex offenses,
  • all interrogations of youths under age 18 for any felony and misdemeanor sex offenses be videotaped, and
  • police read children the new Miranda-type warning detailed in the statute.

While Illinois PTA does not believe this bill went far enough in protecting the rights of children in police custody, it is a move in the right direction.

Expungement of Juvenile Records: House Bill 5017, Juvenile Court–Expungement, now Public Act 99-0835, amends the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 to provide that whenever a person has been arrested, charged, or adjudicated delinquent for an incident that occurred before she or he turned 18 that would be an offense if committed by an adult, that person may petition the court for the expungement of related law enforcement and juvenile court proceedings. Once the related juvenile court proceedings have ended, the court is to order the expungement of all related records in the possession of the Department of State Police, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, and law enforcement agencies for those circumstance specified under the act.

State Budget

Thank you to those of you who helped seek the passage of an adequate and sustainable budget in Illinois in a year of grid-lock and finger-pointing. Over 2,000 messages were sent by Illinois PTA supporters to legislators, the governor, and local newspapers regarding the need to support education, after school programs, and services for families and children with an adequate and sustainable budget. This created an atmosphere where there was at least some movement in a difficult year: the passage of a stop-gap budget with Senate Bill 2047 which provided funding through December, including for school funding, the Illinois State Board of Education, and state colleges. Is this enough? Absolutely not. We need an adequate and sustainable fully-funded budget to ensure that our children and Illinois families thrive and that schools, colleges and universities, and public service providers can plan for the future.

How can you help? Join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to stay up to date on Illinois issues and plan to join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Questions concerning advocacy issues? Please contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty at lgarbaty@illinoispta.org.

News from National Convention—Plan Your PTA Year with National PTA Programs

PTA Convention 2016 LogoOne of the major benefits of having a PTA is being able to take advantage of National PTA’s numerous free turn-key programs. A workshop at the 2016 National PTA Convention spelled out how PTA leaders can plan their entire PTA year using these programs. By taking advantage of these programs, PTAs can easily and effectively:

  • Address important issues in their school
  • Support the school’s education goals
  • Engage families in the school and PTA
  • Grow their membership

School of Excellence

Based on PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, the School of Excellence program helps PTAs partner with their school to welcome families and empower them to support student success. PTAs choose to focus their family engagement efforts on one of three topics: Education, Health and Safety, or the Arts. The program uses a Family-School Partnership Scan to develop a family engagement improvement plan tailored specifically to your PTA and school. The survey is repeated at the end of the year to document the improvements that your PTA has accomplished.

The timeline for the School of Excellence program is:

  • Enroll your PTA in the program between April 1, 2016 and October 1, 2016.
  • Complete your Family-School Partnership Scan by December 1, 2016 to receive your customized Roadmap to Excellence.
  • Complete the National PTA School of Excellence application before June 1, 2017.
  • Celebrate your excellence! All National PTA School of Excellence recipients receive a toolkit to support celebration activities.

The School of Excellence program has documented its success in making all families feel welcome, helping schools communicate effectively, and more. Sign up today to start your PTA on the path to excellence!

Reflections

Reflections is PTA’s longest-running and most widely recognized program, providing over 300,000 students the opportunity to engage with the arts each year. Students enter artwork based on a specific theme at the local level in one of six categories:

  • Visual Arts
  • Photography
  • Music Composition
  • Film/Video Production
  • Dance Choreography
  • Literature

A Special Artist category began a few years ago to include those students who need accommodations to participate in the program.

After judging at the local PTA level, student artwork advances through the council, district or region, state, and national level. National winners are displayed at the US Department of Education and highlighted in an online gallery by National PTA.

The 2016-2017 Reflections theme is “What Is Your Story?” You can find entry forms, tools to run a Reflections program at your school, and much more on the Illinois PTA website. Contact Illinois PTA Cultural Arts Director Joan Scovic at jscovic@illinoispta.org to be added to the Illinois PTA e-mail list for Reflections chairpersons or if you have any questions about the program.

Family Reading Experience

March is National Reading Month, and PTA has the Family Reading Experience, Powered by Kindle ready to help PTAs engage families in a fun event to help them understand the simple ways they can support their child’s core literacy skills for kindergartners through fifth-graders. In addition, PTAs that register their March 2017 Family Reading Experience event by December 1, 2016 are entered into a drawing for free Kindles for their school.

The Family Reading Experience provides PTAs with all the tools they need to promote their event as well as all of the materials needed at the activity stations. There are four different themes available, with materials split between grades K-2 and grades 3-5:

  • On a Safari
  • Under the Sea
  • Out of this World
  • Around the World

The variety of themes lets PTAs rotate the materials from year to year or to have another event sometime other than March. Materials are also available in Spanish to support your school’s English Language Learners.

Take Your Family to School Week

Take Your Family to School Week occurs each February around the founding date of PTA, February 17. This year’s Take Your Family to School Week will be held from February 13-17, 2017. The Take Your Family to School Week Toolkit provides your PTA with ready-to-use event guides to bring families into your school, including a Creative Career Fair, a Multicultural Expo, and other PTA programs highlighted in this article. The toolkit also provides promotional materials in both English and Spanish as well as sample letters to request donations, contact the media, thank volunteers and sponsors, and highlight your event on social media.

Connect for Respect

Connect for Respect (C4R) is National PTA’s initiative to help students, parents and educators to create school climates full of safe and supportive peer relationships. Research shows that one of the most effective ways to prevent bullying behavior is to create a positive school climate. School climate encompasses everything that contributes to a student’s experience with a school—from the physical building to policies, staff and peer culture. Positive school climates exist in schools where students, families and educators all work collaboratively to build a culture of respect.

The Connect for Respect Toolkit guides PTA leaders on ways to engage students in improving the school climate and reducing bullying. The toolkit also includes materials to help build a team, to assess the current school climate, to engage your school community in a dialogue, and to develop an action plan to address the issue. The toolkit also provides links to resources from other organizations on bullying prevention.

Healthy Lifestyles

November is Healthy Lifestyles Month, and PTA has a wide variety of programs available to help PTAs approach this issue. These programs include the Improving Energy Balance Toolkit to help families balance healthy eating and exercise and the Fire Up Your Feet program that helps PTAs raise funds while engaging students and families in physical activity. PTA also provides information to help local PTAs advocate for:

Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship

National PTA collaborated with LifeLock to create The Smart Talk interactive website to help families have conversations about responsible technology use and put their agreed-upon rules into writing. PTA also created a promotional toolkit to encourage families to begin the conversation. The program has been well received, and PTA is now creating a Smart Talk Event Kit that will be available soon to help PTAs host a digital safety event.

Every Child in Focus

National PTA’s Every Child in Focus is a campaign to strengthen family engagement in schools by celebrating the achievements and reporting the disparities within diverse populations and by sharing resources and advocacy tools to help understand the needs of every child. Each month, National PTA spotlights the educational issues surrounding a particular group, highlights their accomplishments, and focuses on ways to help engage families. The campaign is a school-year-long series that provides educators, families, and PTAs with the information they need to deepen family engagement in schools through the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships.

The campaign reinforces National PTA’s mission to advocate for every child—with one voice—so all families feel invited and welcomed within PTA and are equipped with the tools to support their child and improve the school, which makes a difference for every child. National PTA provides a variety of ways that your local PTA can engage with the campaign. A guide for hosting a leadership event focused on Hispanic students is already available, with event guides for students living in poverty and LBGTQ students coming soon.

Teacher Appreciation Week

Teacher Appreciation Week will be May 1-5, 2017, and National PTA has now created an event toolkit to help PTAs celebrate the teachers that are making a difference in the lives of children every day. The toolkit features thank you cards, appreciation certificates, flyers, ready-to-use graphics for newsletters and social media, and messages ready to share on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

STEM + Families

National PTA’s newest program is the STEM + Families Initiative that was announced at the 2016 National PTA Convention. Created in partnership with Bayer and Mathnasium, National PTA plans to provide 100,000 STEM experiences for families by June 2018. Program details will be coming out over the next few months, but everyone who cares about STEM education can take the STEM + Families Pledge to connect to the initiative and receive more information as it becomes available.

National PTA Back-to-School Kit

The National PTA Back-to-School Kit is now available and provides PTA leaders with ready-to-use information and resources on running a PTA. This year’s Back-to-School Kit is a restricted member benefit, so PTA members will need to register for free access to the kit. Registration is quick and easy, and National PTA has created a short video to describe the registration process. In addition, PTA leaders at the local, council, district, region, and state level that register for the Back-to-School Kit will receive a special membership recruitment packet in the mail approximately three to four weeks after registering.

News from National Convention—Resolutions

PTA Convention 2016 LogoAt the 2016 National PTA Convention in Orlando, four resolutions were adopted by the convention delegates. PTA resolutions and position statements are official documents outlining the opinion, will, or intent of the association to address national problems, situations, or concerns that affect children and youth and that require national action to seek solutions to the issue. They serve an important purpose in formalizing and focusing the positions of the association on various important and relevant issues. The four resolutions adopted were:

Electronic Cigarettes and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) and Youth

The resolution on electronic cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems focused on the growing use of electronic cigarettes among children and youth as well as the increased poisoning of young children who come into contact with the concentrated nicotine liquids used in the e-cigarettes. The resolution calls for PTA to advocate for legislation restricting the advertising, marketing, and sale of e-cigarettes to youth under 18 as well as restrictions or prohibitions on using e-cigarettes in public places. The resolution also calls on PTA units at all levels to educate youth, parents, school boards, and local officials on the dangers of e-cigarettes.

The first part of the resolution, dealing with restrictions of sales and marketing, has largely been accomplished with the recent issuing of regulations by the Food & Drug Administration. In addition, Illinois PTA has been covering this topic and providing information on it for over 18 months, and we will continue to do so.

Homework: Quality Over Quantity

The resolution on homework recognizes the value of homework as an important part of a child’s education. However, there is a growing perception among parents that the homework load on children has increased in recent years, and research indicates that for the early grades that is true. The resolution notes that homework that requires parental input and supervision or additional resources such as a readily-available internet connection can further increase the achievement gap and create inequities based on family resources.

The resolution calls for PTA support teachers, schools, and districts in promoting meaningful homework and using evidence-based guidelines in assigning homework. The resolution also encourages PTAs to advocate for school districts, school boards, and administrators to review or implement homework policies that address quality, quantity, and equity concerns in their district.

Recognition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) Individuals as a Protected Class

The resolution on recognizing LGBTQ individuals as a protected class notes that every child should feel safe at school. Thirty percent of LGBTQ students have missed a day of school because they didn’t feel safe going to school, and LGBTQ students are more likely to be bullied in school, more likely to be homeless, and more likely to become involved in the Juvenile Justice System. The resolution also notes that harassment and bullying policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are associated with students feeling safer, lover levels of bullying, decreased incidents of sexual harassment related to sexual orientation, increased teacher and staff intervention, and a greater reporting of incidents.

The resolution calls for PTA to support recognizing LGBTQ as a protected group in current civil rights legislation, Department of Education guidance, and Department of Justice guidance. The resolution also encourages PTAs to review school bullying policies and to support amendments that specifically address sexual orientation and gender identification/expression as they relate to harassment and bullying. Finally, the resolution call for PTAs to advocate for additional professional development for teachers and staff on supporting all students and incorporating age-appropriate, medically accurate, and culturally sensitive information on LGBTQ issues into health and other appropriate curricula.

As noted in a convention workshop on supporting LGBTQ students and families, addressing this issue is about changing behaviors, not beliefs. It is about ensuring that every child feels safe and supported at school and that every family feels welcomed. The revised National PTA Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit has a section specifically devoted to supporting LGBTQ children and families to help PTAs address this issue.

Water Safety and Instruction

The resolution on water safety and instruction states that drowning is the third highest cause of death of youth 19 and younger and that over half of the drowning incidents for children 9 and younger occur in residential settings.

The resolution calls for PTAs to educate families, students, school personnel, and communities on water safety and swimming instruction. PTAs are also called to advocate for consistent, quality standards for water safety and swimming instruction and for policies and legislation to make such programs accessible for all students. Illinois PTA has addressed water safety in the past and noted in a recent One Voice Illinois post that a free pool safety sheet is available from the Consumer Product Safety Commission in both English and Spanish.