6 Summer Reading Challenges

With school out for the summer, your kids are probably looking forward to free time, swimming, and spending a lot of time with games, apps, and more online. Getting them to put aside all those fun activities and spend some time reading this summer can be a challenge, but reading is the most effective tool in fighting the “summer slide.” In fact, research shows that students who read over the summer are better prepared for the next grade level than students who don’t. To help you get your reluctant readers cracking a book this summer, Common Sense Media has created a list of six summer reading challenges and resources to support them.

The six challenges are different from the usual “read as many books as you can” that many summer reading programs use. They are:

  1. Read the book(s) before you see the movie.
  2. Find a book your reluctant reader will love.
  3. Have a tech-free vacation.
  4. How fast can you finish the series?
  5. Get ahead for the next school year.
  6. How many essential books have you read?

Each of the challenges comes with lists and guides to help you find the right books for your child’s age, interest, and reading level. Check out the details at Common Sense Media.

How School Districts are Using Their New Funding

Illinois enacted a new school funding formulain August 2017. Known as the Evidence-Based Funding (EBF) model, it calculates what adequate funding for a district would be and directs the majority of additional state funds to those districts furthest from adequacy. The legislature has committed to providing an additional $350 million per year for the next ten years. The first year of additional funding began last year, and last month the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) has released a special issue of their newsletter focused on how 50 districts from across the state are spending this new funding.

The report features stories from districts large and small located all over the state. The diversity of the districts still share one common theme—the additional funding has been a “godsend.” For too many years, Illinois has underfunded its schools (and continues to do so even with the EBF model), resulting in districts relying on property taxes to try and fill the gaps where they can, but in many cases having to cut funding for critical programs. With new funds coming to districts for the past two years, here’s a sampling of what’s been happening:

  • Adding reading supports in elementary schools in East Moline SD #37
  • Reducing the size of elementary classrooms, adding instructional coaches, and taking steps to address the teacher shortage in Galesburg CUSD #205
  • Maintaining class sizes, updating instructional materials, and providing additional mental health resources for students in Belleville TWP HSD #201
  • Addressing the social-emotional needs of students, especially those of at-risk students, in Quincy SD #172
  • Creating “innovation zones” at the elementary level in collaboration with its teachers to improve student achievement and lengthen the elementary day by 45 minutes in Rockford Public Schools #205
  • Hiring full-time art and music teachers and creating three STEM labs with smart boards, a 3-D printer, robotics, and computers for students to learn coding in Chicago Ridge SC #127.5

There are many more stories in the reportshowing how the new funding is making a difference for the students of Illinois. If the General Assembly stays committed to its promise to increase funding by $350 million years, all Illinois school districts will not reach 90% of their adequate funding level for another 30 years. It is essential that PTA advocates continue to ask legislators to increase the growth in education funding to bring our schools to adequate funding faster.

Teaching Your Kids Safe Online

Our children are often referred to as digital natives—people growing up immersed in a digital world. And while they may be comfortable with technology and online activities, they are not born knowing how to be safe in that digital world. Just like our parents taught us how to be safe running around unsupervised in our neighborhoods growing up, we now need to teach our children those skills for the digital world. We may not be digital natives and may not necessarily know all the ins and outs of online safety, but there are many resources available to help us teach our kids to be safe online.

PTA Resources

The Smart Talk: Created as a collaboration between National PTA and LifeLock, this online tool walks you and your child through a conversation about online safety and boundaries. As you go through the discussion covering topics such as screen time, social media, and privacy, you and your child develop an agreement that you can print out at the end detailing how they will behave online. National PTA also provides resources to host a Smart Talk Conversation between parents and students at your school.

Be Internet Awesome: Developed by National PTA and Google, the Be Internet Awesome program is a ready-made presentation for families about online safety and digital citizenship. The toolkit from National PTA provides you with everything you need to host the program, including promotional materials, guides, handouts, evaluation forms, and more.

Digital Families: This program was created by National PTA and Facebook. Using the toolkit, your PTA can promote and host an event that helps families understand the online world their children are growing up in. Topics including bullying, how to respond to online interactions, and online safety are covered.

Other Resources

Net Cetera: This guide from the Federal Trade Commission guides parents through age-appropriate conversations about online safety, including inappropriate conduct, contact, and content. The guide highlights the key topics you’ll want to discuss with your kids as well as how to keep your computer secure and to protect your child’s privacy.

NetSmartz: NetSmartz is operated by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. They have videos for kids and teens on topics such as cyberbullying, online exploitation, and sexting. Resources for parents include tip sheets on gaming safety, cyberbullying, social media safety, and more. The site includes resources and videos developed specifically for teens and tweens.

ConnectSafely: A non-profit focused on educating everyone from kids to seniors about safety, privacy, and security online. They feature a collection of guides for parentson topics such as cyberbullying, educational technology, Snapchat, and more. They also have a collection of online safety tipsin English and Spanish.


Preparing for and Surviving a Tornado

This spring has seen a significant number of tornadoes across Illinois and the country. Today’s guest post comes from Ready.gov on how to prepare for, survive, and recover from a tornado.

Tornadoes can destroy buildings, flip cars, and create deadly flying debris. Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. Tornadoes can:

  • Happen anytime and anywhere;
  • Bring intense winds, over 200 MPH; and
  • Look like funnels.


  • If you can safely get to a sturdy building, then do so immediately.
  • Go to a safe room, basement, or storm cellar.
  • If you are in a building with no basement, then get to a small interior room on the lowest level.
  • Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls.
  • Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You’re safer in a low, flat location.
  • Watch out for flying debris that can cause injury or death.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.


Prepare NOW

  • Know your area’s tornado risk. In the U.S., the Midwest and the Southeast have a greater risk for tornadoes. [Note: Illinois averages 64 tornadoes per year.]
  • Know the signs of a tornado, including a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud; an approaching cloud of debris; or a loud roar—similar to a freight train.
  • Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts. If your community has sirens, then become familiar with the warning tone.
  • Pay attention to weather reports. Meteorologists can predict when conditions might be right for a tornado.
  • Identify and practice going to a safe shelter in the event of high winds, such as a safe room built using FEMA criteria or a storm shelter built to ICC 500 standards. The next best protection is a small, interior, windowless room on the lowest level of a sturdy building.
  • Consider constructing your own safe room that meets FEMA or ICC 500 standards.

Survive DURING

  • Immediately go to a safe location that you identified.
  • Take additional cover by shielding your head and neck with your arms and putting materials such as furniture and blankets around you.
  • Listen to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, or local alerting systems for current emergency information and instructions.
  • Do not try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle.
  • If you are in a car or outdoors and cannot get to a building, cover your head and neck with your arms and cover your body with a coat or blanket, if possible.


  • Keep listening to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, and local authorities for updated information.
  • If you are trapped, cover your mouth with a cloth or mask to avoid breathing dust. Try to send a text, bang on a pipe or wall, or use a whistle instead of shouting.
  • Stay clear of fallen power lines or broken utility lines.
  • Do not enter damaged buildings until you are told that they are safe.
  • Save your phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.
  • Be careful during clean-up. Wear thick-soled shoes, long pants, and work gloves.