Building Real Family Engagement with Your PTA Events

PTAs tend to do a lot of events. From carnivals and fun fairs to class parties to PTA programs like Reflections, PTAs know how to provide fun and engaging activities for families. And while this type of family engagement does a good job of getting families through the school doors, PTAs could do better at creating real family engagement that makes a big difference for children.

Research has shown that truly engaged families are critical to student success, providing the equivalent of an additional $1,000/student of spending. But to get that kind of result, families need to do more than just walk through the school doors and have a good time. They need to be engaged to support student learning outside the school walls.

Edutopia recently published an article on making the most of families’ time at school. While aimed at teachers and school administrators, the article provides some useful guidance for PTAs on creating events that build real family engagement. The family engagement that makes a difference is that which gets families in the classroom, participating in their child’s learning and activities that they do at school, and learning and understanding data about their child’s performance. Here are some key points from the article for PTAs:

  • Work with your school administration to create events that tie into current learning objectives. Improving student achievement won’t come from families taking pictures of kids in costumes at a Halloween parade or Thanksgiving performance. When these events get families in the school, take advantage of that to get them into the classroom as well by including math games around the theme of the event. Focus on those key ideas that your school is trying to get all children to master, like reading fluently on grade level and understanding basic math facts.
  • Make sure your events work with teachers’ schedules as well, especially if you are trying to include academic supports in your events with teachers’ help. Find out what other things are going on in teachers’ lives around the time you want to hold your event. Is it the same time that teachers are busy with end-of-semester assessments or preparing materials for parent-teacher conferences?
  • Time your events to work for all of those involved. School day events won’t work for working parents, and evening events are often hard for teachers to attend. Late afternoon or early evening events may work for both teachers staying after school and families getting off of work. Consider feeding everyone as part of your event.
  • Work with teachers to integrate an event’s theme into what the classes are doing. If you’re doing a circus themed event, having teachers integrate that theme into their lessons and showcasing that work during the event can build excitement among the children to get their families to come and see what they have been learning and doing.

With just a few tweaks and by working with your teachers and principal, PTAs can turn events into a fun time that supports families and student achievement, and that is how PTAs can create transformative family engagement.

5 Things to Know About Illinois’s New School Funding Formula

Last August, Illinois adopted a new evidence-based funding (EBF) formulafor providing new state funding for schools. The new EBF formula estimates what it actually costs to provide a quality education to students in each of Illinois’s 853 school districts (called the adequacy target) as well as the local tax resources available to the district to meet that funding level (their local capacity). State funds are then distributed with more money being directed to the school districts with the largest gap between their local capacity and their adequacy target.

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability has released a new report covering how the new EBF formula is working. Here’s what you need to know about it.

  1. Collectively, Illinois school districts are $7.37 billion short of adequate funding.The legislature and governor have verbally committed to increasing K-12 education funding by $350 million each year over 10 years. Note that this amount covers less than half of the total additional funds needed to provide a quality education to every Illinois student.
  2. Only 146 districts (17%) had resources above their adequacy target. The other 707 districts (83%) are below their adequacy target.
  3. Those districts furthest from adequacy (known as Tier 1 schools), are spending on average $5,000/student less than their adequacy target. By contrast the school districts at or above their adequacy target (Tier 4 schools) are spending about $3,000/student above adequacy.
  4. Of the $366 million of additional state funding that went through the EBF formula, 89.1% went to Tier 1 schools.This indicates that the new formula is correctly directing the most new money to the districts most in need.
  5. 63% of the new funding went to school districts that had 59% or more of their students coming from low-income homes.6% went to districts with low-income students making up 40% or more of their population. Again, this indicates that the new EBF formula is directing additional funds to those students who need additional supports.

The new funding formula represents a significant step in the right direction towards improving Illinois’s least-equitable school funding in the country. However, closing the gap between current funding and adequate funding will require continued commitment from legislators and the governor to increase state school funding. As part of the new funding law, a Professional Review Panel was created to oversee implementation, and Illinois PTA has a seat on that panel. In addition, the scholarship fund set up by the law (which Illinois PTA opposed) to get around Illinois’s constitutional ban on providing public funds to private schools will divert up to $75 million to private schools each year and it is not entirely clear how those funds are being handled.

 

Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Life can be stressful at times, even for kids. Concerns about grades, peer pressure, friend issues, bullying, traumatic events, and more can lead to stress. Some stress can be productive—cortisol, the “stress hormone,” increases blood sugar, metabolism, and memory function, and provides a temporary boost to physical and mental ability. Those brief periods of stress can be productive and help a child be motivated to accomplish tasks that might be a little intimidating.

However, when stressful feelings continue over time, cortisol impairs brain functioning and suppresses the immune system. During childhood when the brain is still connecting the neural circuits for dealing with stress, chronic stress can rewire the brain to become overly reactive or slow to shut down when faced with threats. Chronic stress in childhood can evenincrease the risk of diseases in adulthood.

How to Cope with Stress

Much of how to cope with stress applies to anyone, adults or children.

  • Take care of SELF (Sleep, Exercise, Leisure, and Food)—get plenty of sleep, get some exercise, do something fun and relaxing to take a break, and eat healthy.
  • Talk to others, sharing your problems and how you are feeling and coping.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol—while they may seem to ease stress in the short term, over the long term they create problems that increase stress.
  • Take a break from what’s causing your stress.
  • Recognize when you need more help.

Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Stress often comes in part from feeling unable to manage what life is giving you, and for children, there are many things that can leave them feeling helpless, as they have less experience in dealing with difficulties. Keep in mind the coping strategies above, and talk with your child to help them to process what is causing their stress. Additional ways you can help your child cope are:

  • Maintain a normal routine—familiarity helps to provide a sense of stability.
  • Talk, listen, and encourage expression. Give your child opportunities to talk, but don’t force them. Listen to what their thoughts, feelings, and worries are, and share some of yours. Keep the lines of communication open, and check in with them to see how they feel after a week, a month, or more.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any changes in behavior, including sleeping, eating, and connecting with friends. Even small changes may indicate your child is having trouble dealing with stress.
  • Reassure your child about their safety and well-being, particularly if the stress is caused by a traumatic event.
  • Connect with others—your child’s teachers and other parents may have additional suggestions on how to help your child cope.
  • Promote a growth mindset. If your child is stressed about their grades or school work, developing a growth mindset can help. Research indicatesthat while many students’ stress levels increase after receiving a bad grade, students who believe that intelligence can be developed are more likely to see academic setbacks as temporary, they stress less over a bad grade, and they return to normal stress levels more quickly afterwards.

What Schools Can Do

Teachers and other school personnel see students almost as much as their families during the week, so they may also notice children exhibiting signs of stress. In addition, some student stress may stem from poor academic performance, bullying, or other stressful situations related to school (e.g., worries about safety after news coverage of a school shooting). Here’s how schools can help students cope with stress:

  • Reach out and talk. Create opportunities for students to talk, but don’t force them. Try asking questions like, what do you think about these events, or how do you think these things happen? You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation. When children talk about their feelings, it can help them cope and to know that different feelings are normal.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are students talking more or less? Withdrawing from friends? Acting out? Are they behaving in any way out of the ordinary? These changes may be early warning signs that a student is struggling and needs extra support from the school and family.
  • Maintain normal routines. A regular classroom schedule can provide reassurance and promote a sense of stability and safety.
  • Take care of yourself. You can better support students if you are healthy, coping, and taking care of yourself first.

Resources

If you need to reach out for extra support or immediate help, contact one of the following crisis hotlines:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish-speaking callers)
  • Youth Mental Health Line: 1-888-568-1112
  • Child-Help USA: 1-800-422-4453 (coping with stress)
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

Every Student Counts, Every Day Matters

Eighty percent of success is showing up. Nowhere is that more true than for our kids in school. Chronic absenteeism—missing at least 10% of the school days in a year for any reason, excused or unexcused—is a primary cause of low academic achievement and a powerful predictor of those students who may eventually drop out.

Missing 10% of school days seems like a lot, but in reality it is only missing two days each month. And it’s important to remember that even excused absences are included when measuring chronic absenteeism. An estimated 5 to 7.5 million students are chronically absent each year.

Chronic absenteeism is caused by many different issues—chronic health conditions, housing instability, involvement with the juvenile justice system, unsafe conditions in school, among many others. Students from low-income households, students of color, students with disabilities, students who move frequently, and juvenile justice involved youth are more likely to struggle with attendance problems, and these are most often the students who already face significant challenges in school. Research also indicates that chronic absenteeism can negatively affect the academic achievement of other students in the classroom, not just the absentee.

Chronic absenteeism is such a critical issue that Illinois created the Illinois Attendance Commission in 2015 to address the issue. Chronic absenteeism is also likely to be part of the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure(IBAM) that will be used to assess schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It may also count as a double measure for those students in kindergarten through second grade.

There are several resources that PTAs can use to help educate and inform families on the importance of student attendance. The Illinois Attendance Commission has created a short video with long-time Chicago broadcaster Merri Dee.

 

The US Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice have collaborated to create a toolkit for communities to address chronic absenteeism. The toolkit, called Every Student, Every Day, offers information, suggested action steps, and lists of existing tools and resources to help organizations and individuals who touch every aspect of a student’s life to work together to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism.

The organization Attendance Works has additional data and resources on how your PTA and school can address chronic absenteeism. Among the items available are:

Talk with your school principal or district superintendent about what they are doing to address chronic absenteeism and what your PTA can do to help.