Plan Now for PTA Success in the Fall

With the school year coming to a close and summer activities to look forward to, many PTA leaders may be looking to put their feet up for the next few months. But summer provides an excellent time for PTA leaders to make their lives easier once school starts back up. By doing some planning for your upcoming PTA year over the summer, you can set the stage for your PTA’s success in the fall.

Have an Officer’s Retreat

The summer months provide PTA leaders with some time to meet and plan without the extra activities and schedule conflicts of the school year. It’s a chance to have a PTA officers’ retreat relaxed in someone’s back yard with a cool drink. Invite the previous year’s officers as well as the incoming officers to discuss how the past year went and what advice those leaving office have for those just starting. Then let the previous year’s officers go, and have a discussion with your current officers about what you’d like to accomplish during the coming year. Consider what events you’d like to host, what past events you’d like to stop doing, and create your calendar for the year.

Consider taking part in National PTA’s School of Excellence Program. The sign-up period runs from now until October 1, 2017. Implementing the program at your school provides insight into how your PTA can best involve the families at your school in their children’s education. In Illinois, one PTA who successfully completed the program saw their attendance at PTA meetings jump from a handful of parents to nearly 200 at one meeting. The School of Excellence program provides your PTA with ready-to-use tools to help your PTA be successful, and the results from across the country show that those PTAs that participate see increases in membership and greater support from families for the PTA and their school.

Put Your Financial House in Order

Once your calendar is planned, make sure your PTA’s financial situation is in good shape. Conduct your audit once your fiscal year ends. Plan out next year’s budget based on what you want to accomplish. Remember that Illinois PTA events such as Advocacy Day in Springfield (November 14, 2017) and convention (May 4-5, 2018 at Northern Illinois University—Naperville) can be included in your PTA budget. Get the signatures for your PTA’s banking accounts changed to reflect the new officers, and don’t forget to change any passwords for online banking or social media accounts.

Once your audit shows a clean set of books, file your 990 form with the IRS. For PTAs with less than $50,000 in gross receipts, this is a simple electronic postcard that only takes a few minutes to complete online. Plan on sending in a copy of your approved audit and IRS Form 990 with your first membership dues payment on October 1, 2017.

Membership Matters

Members are the life blood of a PTA, and if your PTA is not actively recruiting new members, you can find your PTA in a constant struggle for volunteers, officers, and resources. Plan your membership campaign over the summer so you’re ready to take off with the start of the new school year. Use the ready-to-go membership materials on the Illinois PTA website, or develop a plan tailored to your PTA. Be sure to think beyond the school walls, as school board members, school district administrators, community members, realtors and other businesses, and even grandparents in another state have an interest in supporting your child’s school.

Get Trained

Take advantage of the free training the PTA offers—it is one of the critical things that sets PTA apart from other parent organizations and helps you avoid problems that can hurt your PTA. Your district or region director can tell you when local training will be happening in your area, and Illinois PTA will also be offering online training this fall. Don’t forget to take a look at National PTA’s online training courses as well. These free training courses are provided to help you and your PTA know what to do to be successful. When Illinois PTA steps in to help a local PTA with an issue, whether it is financial problems, IRS troubles, or conflict among board members, in almost every case the PTA’s leaders did not get trained.

Summertime, and the Living is Easy

Take advantage of the slower pace during the summer months to get your PTA ready to go for the fall. By doing so, you’ll save yourself and your fellow PTA officers the trouble of doing it all while school activities, PTA activities, and all the other activities your family is involved in are going on as well.

Photo © 2014 by Cassinam under Creative Commons license.

PTA SPOTLIGHT 2017: A Story of Art and Celebration

On May 13, the Illinois PTA 4th Annual SPOTLIGHT: A Children’s Celebration of Art and Community was held at Millikin University in Decatur. This year, 235 participants viewed the galleries, participated in workshops, and celebrated our children. We thank Mother Nature for providing our families a perfect day to make a day trip to Decatur and to be outside on the Millikin campus on their way to and from workshops.

Our story began last fall when students across the country were asked, “What is your story?” and the students in Illinois answered. Our children’s stories, depicted though their art, filled the galleries of Kirkland Fine Arts Center. This year, 166 Visual Arts pieces and 100 Photography pieces filled the walls of Kirkland Fine Art Center while 132 Literature, 50 Music Compositions, 54 Film Productions, and 53 Dance Choreography pieces were available for viewing. In total, 555 stories from our talented artists were available for public viewing in their chosen form of art.

The Story is Forever Changing

The SPOTLIGHT story continues to add new chapters. This year, 3 new workshops were added for our artists and their families to participate in:

  • Intro to Hip Hop invited our youngest guests to get up and move
  • Fun in the Sun–Solar Printing participants made a fun image using the light of the sun (thank you to Mother Nature for helping out here)
  • Intro to Acting encouraged creative expression and storytelling

These workshops were created by Milliken Art Education students and faculty members. These new workshops along with some favorites from past years had our families drumming, dancing, writing, drawing, sculpting, and more throughout the afternoon. All of the new workshops and many of the others were filled to capacity. The Illinois PTA Board of Directors once again hosted A Little of This, A Little of That… workshop for our youngest attendees and their families, where they tried they hands at 8 different projects during the 2 sessions.

Newly created art pieces from the workshops were shared as families gathered in the galleries between and after workshops. Many praises and thanks were extended to Illinois PTA, Millikin faculty members, and Millikin University Art Education students for making these workshops available and enjoyable for the children and the families attending with them.

Recognizing Students and their Stories

Our Recognition Celebration was definitely the highlight of the day. With family and friends there to help use celebrate, we recognized and personally thanked 71 students for participating in the National PTA Reflections program in Illinois and the Illinois PTA scholarship program. A total of 37 participants, 19 honorable mentions, 3 special artists, and 11 advancers to National crossed the stage. We also were able to honor Madelyne Ashbaugh, one of two Illinois PTA Scholarship recipients for 2017. The smiles of our students lit up the stage as they received their certificates, ribbons, and medals from Illinois PTA President Matthew Rodriguez. Backstage, our students posed for a group photos before returning to their seats.

Highlights from Spotlight 2017

  • Special Artist Toma Obayashi’ playfulness backstage as he waited for his name to be called. (Note: If we were outside Toma, I would have let you really pop that balloon under your foot.)
  • A mother that thanked us for displaying all the children’s artwork as her son showed his artwork to everyone, “He (her son) is so proud to have everyone see his picture.”
  • Sophia and Abigail O’Quinn holding hands and jumping up and down when their realized that this year they would both be going on stage to receive their recognition. Pure joy!
  • Alex Murphy’s look of surprise when he won the guitar donated by Guitar World USA.

SPOTLIGHT: Not Just an Event

SPOTLIGHT is not just another event; it is a story in and of itself. It has main characters, the children that shared their story through their art and their families that attend. It has a beautiful setting because of the commitment Millikin University has to celebrating children and the Arts. And it has supporting cast members that make it possible, the volunteers of Illinois PTA that understand, support, and believe in what we have built together for our children. As Illinois PTA President Matthew John Rodriguez said, “There are many Reflections recognition events run by state PTAs, but none come close to what SPOTLIGHT provides for children and families.” During the next couple days, we hope you reflect on this year’s SPOTLIGHT event and it brings a smile to your face. If you attended, we would love to hear from you, and please share some of your highlight moments from the day with us.

A photo album from SPOTLIGHT 2017 available on the Illinois PTA Facebook page at http://tinyurl.com/2017PTASPOTLIGHT

National PTA Announces 2015-2016 Reflections Results

During the past school year, through the National PTA level of the Reflections Program, nearly 300,000 students in over 8,000 schools across the country and in U.S. schools overseas contributed their original works in dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts to be considered for PTA’s highest honor in the arts.

For each arts category, one Outstanding Interpretation Award is chosen. Then, for each age group in each arts category, three Awards of Excellence and five Awards of Merit are selected as well. Illinois PTA is pleased to announce that three Illinois students were recognized this year by National PTA:

Award of Excellence

  • Jessica Liu: High School, Literature, DuPage West Region

Award of Merit

  • Sara Dixon: High School, Film Production, DuPage West Region
  • Holly Bulthuis: High School, Visual Arts, South Suburban Cook Region

Illinois PTA congratulates these students on their success. We look forward to seeing what all of our children do with next year’s PTA Reflections theme, “Within Reach.”

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—School of Excellence Program

At first glance, Kreitner Elementary School in Collinsville looks like a school that would be struggling to get families involved. The Pre-K through fourth grade school has just under 400 students, and 91% are from low-income families, 100% receive free lunch, 75% are Hispanic, and 53% are English Language Learners.

And a few years ago, it was a school struggling to involve families. The PTA was made up of three to five parents most years, all of whom were alumni of the school 30 years earlier, and PTA meetings might have a dozen parents show up. Hispanic families rarely came into the school.

Today, Kreitner PTA has as many as 200 people attending their PTA meetings, membership is up nearly 600%, student achievement is improving, and 95% of parents would recommend the school to others, based on the 5 Essentials Survey. What caused this dramatic change at Kreitner? The short answer is the National PTA School of Excellence program, described by Kreitner PTA treasurer and Special Education teacher Greg Hobbs simply as, “The best thing a PTA can do.”

Starting the Process

At the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, PTA leaders and staff from Kreitner shared how they had used the National PTA School of Excellence program to engage the families at their school and transform both their PTA and their school. The School of Excellence program begins with the PTA choosing a focus for their efforts. At Kreitner, that focus was family engagement because everyone involved felt that issue was critical to everything else they wanted to happen at the school.

The next step in the process is to survey families about the school. The program offers an online survey, but only about 70% of Kreitner families have internet access at home, so the PTA felt that the online survey wouldn’t work for them. They set up a paper survey with the questions in English on one side of the paper and in Spanish on the other side. To encourage families to return the surveys, they offered a drawing for a Walmart gift card from among those who responded. PTA leaders then spent a fair amount of time entering those responses online.

Surprising Results

The results of the survey were surprising to both PTA leaders and school administrators. The School of Excellence survey is designed to give schools and PTAs a mapping of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as providing a “Roadmap to Excellence” that the PTA can use to work towards their goal. PTA leaders and school administrators had long assumed that the reason Hispanic families did not come to PTA meetings or events was due to the language barrier. What the survey showed, however, was that these families did not feel welcome at the school or in the PTA.

Transforming a PTA and a School

Based on the results of the survey and using the Roadmap to Excellence, Kreitner PTA developed a plan to welcome every family into the school. They began by working with their school district to translate PTA materials into Spanish and convinced the district to pay for a translator at their PTA meetings.

They worked to get teachers on board with the PTA as well. Their “Building a Strong PTA” membership drive had each teacher who joined the PTA get a cutout of a hammer with their name on it posted on their door (and classroom aides who joined added a second hammer). When families joined the PTA, a nail was added to each teacher’s door that had a child from that family. They held a drawing for a $25 gift card for classroom supplies for the teacher whose class had the highest percentage of membership by the end of October. The result was every teacher joining the PTA, including all of the traveling teachers who were only at the school part time.

Member Benefits

With all of the teachers on board and a growing number of families joining, Kreitner PTA then decided to provide some local member benefits for joining the PTA. Every year the PTA would have a fall festival that served as their primary fundraiser. Families would purchase tickets for students to participate in games and activities for $0.25 each and could purchase a hot dog for $1.00 at the festival. For PTA members, Kreitner provided PTA members a couple of activity tickets and a free hot dog for each child in the family. Families could purchase a PTA membership at the door, so some families could actually save more than they spent on a PTA membership that night alone.

While the member benefits cost the PTA at the door, they still made money at the festival through additional ticket and hot dog sales. Membership jumped to 147, up from 25 the year before. The real benefit for Kreitner PTA, though, was getting many more families coming through the school door and becoming familiar with the PTA, teachers, and staff.

Involving the Kids

So how did Kreitner PTA get 200 people at a PTA meeting? By including the kids at many PTA meetings. They helped form a dance team that does traditional Mexican dances and had them perform at a meeting. Another PTA meeting featured a schoolwide talent show, while another featured artworks for sale created by every student.

Before the PARCC assessments last spring, they hosted a PARCC Pizza Night for students and families. Families could choose to hear the program in either English or Spanish, rather than the English with Spanish translation that the PTA uses for most events and meetings. Students attended with their families and could demonstrate what they had learned that year and how they were ready for the PARCC assessment. The PTA included a drawing for one of three gift cards as well to encourage families to attend.

The End Result

Kreitner PTA completed its follow-up survey last spring and was named a National PTA School of Excellence. But beyond the recognition, Kreitner PTA leaders noted a significant milestone for the PTA. Even as more Hispanic families attended PTA meetings with the translator translating everything, PTA business was generally conducted with the English-speaking parents making motions and contributing most of the discussion on those motions before everyone voted. However, at a recent PTA meeting, a motion was made in Spanish, discussed in Spanish, and the vote conducted in Spanish, all with English translation.

That is not to say that Kreitner PTA still doesn’t face challenges. Post-election immigration fears have reduced the number of Hispanic families attending PTA and school events, and PTA leaders and school staff are working to deal with those concerns. However, everyone involved with the School of Excellence program feel that it has provided them with the tools, insight, and ability to address these challenges as well as any future ones.

Sign Up Your PTA for the School of Excellence Program

Sign-up for the National PTA School of Excellence program begins in early April and runs through October 15. Keep an eye on the National PTA webpage on the program as well as National PTA and Illinois PTA social media for the launch of the 2017-2018 program. While you are waiting, you can share the results of the 2015-2016 School of Excellence program with your principal and superintendent. Those results include a 30% increase in families’ perceptions of how their child’s school is doing on all six of the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships.

Student Competitions You Didn’t Know Existed

Most PTAs are aware of the annual PTA Reflections program focused on the arts, and chances are you’ve seen the Scripps National Spelling Bee on the news. Those are just two examples of the many competitions that are available to students each year. Kudoswall has created a list of 50 competitions in a variety of areas that might inspire your child to challenge themselves to do their best in a subject or talent that they love. Among the competitions listed are:

  • National Geographic Bee: Hosted by National Geographic, this competition challenges kids’ geographic knowledge.
  • Kids Philosophy Slam: Focuses on critical thinking skills and open to all K-12 grades, the slam has children creating essays or artwork on a specific topic (2017 topic: Is the pen mightier than the sword?) in order to be crowned “The Most Philosophical Student in America.”
  • Congressional Art Competition: Sponsored by the Congressional Institute to recognize high school students’ artistic talents, with winners having their artwork hang in the U.S. Capitol for a year.
  • NASKA: Members of the North American Sport Karate Association can compete in variety divisions and skills.
  • National STEM Video Game Challenge: Open to middle and high school students, this competition aims to motivate interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) by transforming their interest in playing video games into designing and creating their own.
  • C-SPAN’s Student Cam: A competition for students in grades 6-12 to submit a short documentary film (5-7 minutes) that focuses on a topic related to the annual theme.

Be sure to check out the full list with your child to see if there is a competition that sparks their interest so you can start planning on fielding a team or participating next year.