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 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 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.

PTA SPOTLIGHT 2016: An Amazing Day of Art and Celebration

Spotlight Header
What an amazing day was had by all at this year’s SPOTLIGHT: A Children’s Celebration of Art and Community held at Millikin University in Decatur, IL. This year, 298 participants viewed the galleries, participated in workshops, and celebrated our children, a 39% increase over last year’s attendance. While the weather outside was gloomy, smiles brightened the Kirkland Fine Arts Center and Millikin campus throughout the day.

Having one’s art hung in a professional gallery is the dream of any artist, and our PTA Reflections’ students are no different. This year, 158 Visual Arts pieces and 96 Photography pieces graced the walls of Kirkland Fine Art Center while 106 Literature, 57 Music Compositions, 54 Film Productions, and 46 Dance Choreography pieces were available for viewing. In total, 517 creations from our talented artists were available for public viewing.

Workshops Offered New Creative Opportunities

Two sessions of workshops were offered this year, and both were well attended and enjoyed despite the rainy walk to reach some of them. Created primarily by Milliken Art Education students, the workshops had children drumming, dancing, writing, drawing, sculpting, and more throughout the afternoon. This is the first year that early registration for some workshops was closed because the maximum capacity had been reached. The Illinois PTA Board of Directors’ Workshop “A Little of This, A Little of That…” had more than 30 children participate in the first session and 40 children in the second session.

Newly created art pieces 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. A mother attending with her children wrote, “A great day of celebrating creativity. Even though we were there because of competition, the day was filled with nurturing and inspiration for the students and their families. The volunteers who piloted the workshops did so with a sense of humor and gentle guidance. Kudos to the organizers for a job well done.”

Recognizing Student Success

Our Recognition Celebration was definitely the highlight of the day. With the glow of Miss Illinois’ crown helping light the stage, we were able to recognize and personally thank 80 students participating in the National PTA Reflections program in Illinois and the Illinois PTA scholarship program. A total of 39 participations, 22 honorable mentions, 3 special artists, and 13 advancers to National crossed the stage. We also were able to honor 3 of our 4 Illinois PTA Scholarship recipients. There was nothing but smiles as they waited backstage to hear their names called, and nothing but pride after leaving the stage to pose for group pictures with Matthew Rodriguez, Illinois PTA President.



Highlights from Spotlight

  • Gavin Jursa, age 3, racing out to the front of the stage and Master of Ceremonies Brian Minsker, Illinois PTA President-Elect, running to go bring him back and lead him across the stage.
  • Sara Dixon’s smile as she crossed the stage as an Advancer to National and then again as a $1,000 Millikin Talent Scholarship recipient.
  • When Miss Illinois visited the “A Little of This, A Little of That…” workshop, a child was heard saying, “They even have a princess!”
  • When asked to complete the survey to help us plan for next year, a mother, leading her two children with their creations from their workshops in hand said, “Why take the survey, you can’t make this any better. It is a great event already!”

An Event Like No Other

Until you have attended, SPOTLIGHT may seem like just another event, but it isn’t. It is special because of the children and families that attend. It has a home because of the commitment Millikin University has to celebrating children and the Arts. It is possible because the volunteers of Illinois PTA understand, support, and believe in what we have built together for our children. As Illinois PTA President Matthew John Rodriguez said during his welcome, 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 2016 available at:

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 seven Illinois students were recognized this year by National PTA:

Award of Excellence

  • Blake Attig: Special Artist Division, Music Composition, South Suburban Cook Region
  • Kylie Buedel: Intermediate Division, Dace Choreography, DuPage West Region
  • Ethan Dawes: Intermediate Division, Film Production, DuPage West Region

Award of Merit

  • Pete Benoit: Primary Division, Film Production, DuPage West Region
  • Emma Cho: Middle School Division, Music Composition, DuPage West Region
  • Morgan Murphy: Middle School Division, Film Production, Southern Region
  • Andrew Soler: Primary Division, Photography, Northern 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, “What Is Your Story?”

Judging and Paperwork and Packaging, Oh My!

It’s time to start collecting all of those Reflections projects to get them ready for the next level. There are a few steps to keep in mind at this point of sigimg0the program.

Please remember that you only need to judge if you have collected more projects that you can pass along to the next level. The number you can send along is determined by the next level in your area. Check with your PTA president to see where your projects should go next – to a council, district, or region PTA. If you are allowed to pass along 12 projects in each category, and you only receive 2 film entries, they can both move on provided they have all the correct paperwork to go with the entry and they follow the program rules. If you receive 20 visual arts pieces and only 12 can move on, you will need to judge the artwork.

Potential judges are actually all around you! Art teachers, professional photographers, English teachers, journalists, etc. can be found in your school and in your circle of acquaintances. Reach out to people who have knowledge of the art type and you’ll be surprised how easy it can be to find people to help.

When you set up the projects for judging, make sure the entry form is folded in half. All information that identifies the student’s name, school, etc. should be folded under and hidden. In the Local Leaders’ Guide there is a great rubric that your judges can use, along with a chart they can use for recording their scores. This rubric provided by National PTA uses a 40 point system that makes the judging easier for everyone involved.

For the paperwork, make sure that all of the student’s information is included on the form. There must be a title, an artist statement, and signatures from both the student and the parent attesting that the piece is original work and that PTA can use the project as part of the Reflections program. At the bottom of the form, the information about your dues, insurance and bylaws should be something that your local unit PTA president can help you with.
In order to protect student artwork, we are once again requiring that visual art and photography pieces are wrapped in cellophane. This is to protect the artwork as it is displayed and forwarded through the program. Each set of rules has detailed instructions on how the different categories should be packaged for the next level.

Congratulations on getting to this phase of the program! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me, Joan Scovic, Illinois PTA Cultural Arts Director, at or 224-400-8530.


Submitted by Joan Scovic, Cultural Arts DirectorWorld Logo Color 2(1)

Reflections is the National PTA Arts program that encourages children to create works of art in six different arts categories. The program has a different theme each year, and the theme for the 2014-2015 school year is “The World Would Be A Better Place If…”

Each local unit PTA received a flash drive with the Local Unit Packet (LUP). Among the plethora of information provided by Illinois State PTA is a section devoted to the Reflections Program. These files are also available online for download here.

One of the documents included with this information is the quick start guide. This one-page overview of the program provides helpful tips for offering the Reflections program in your school. This month’s article will revolve around how you can “familiarize yourself with the Reflections program” and “setting a due date and creating your flyers.”

Familiarize Yourself with the Reflections Program
There are six arts categories: Dance Choreography, Film Production, Literature, Music Composition, Photography, and Visual Arts. The LUP contains copies of the rules for each of these arts categories.

There are four age divisions: Primary (Preschool to Grade 2), Intermediate (Grades 3-5), Middle School (Grades 6-8), and High School (Grades 9-12).

In addition, there are two methods that can be used to submit artwork created by special artists. Children with special needs can enter in traditional age divisions. Qualifying students follow all general and arts category rules, but receive accommodation to submit Reflections entries in the grade division most closely aligned to their functional abilities. Alternatively, Special Artists can enter through the Special Artist Division. The Special Artist Division is non-graded and limited to students whose physical, cognitive, or mental health challenges meet ADA guidelines. Qualifying students entering this division create their own artwork in any category, but may receive non-artistic accommodation and assistance from an adult.

Children can create as many works of art in as many categories as they like.

Finally, one of the best ways to learn more about the program is to participate in one of the National PTA Reflections 101 Webinars. These webinars explain the program, how to promote Reflections in your school, judging the projects, and recognizing your students. The webinars are free – sign up for one today using the following registration links: September 9, 2014, October 14, 2014.

Setting a Due Date and Creating Your Flyers

Each local unit sets their own due date. As a local chair, you just need to provide yourself with enough time to promote the program and collect the artwork from your students at the beginning of the year. Then, once you have the artwork, be sure to leave enough time to package it all, check the paperwork, judge the projects if necessary, and meet your next deadline. Check with your local unit PTA president to find out the next level of the program in your area: Council, District, or Region. Follow the due dates set by that chairman.

The LUP contains several flyers that you can customize with your own contact information and due date. You can also create your own flyers.

Promote the program at all of your back- to- school events, during orientation events, ice cream socials, meet the teacher days—any event that includes your families! Set up a table and share the news about how the arts help children and then encourage participation in the Reflections program. Utilize your newsletter, website, backpack mail, morning announcements, social media—any outlet that will help spread the word! You will be amazed at how creative our children can be!

Stay informed

If you are on Facebook, please take a look at the new Illinois PTA Cultural Arts Facebook page: This page will include information about a variety of cultural arts topics, along with updates, reminders, and tips to help you build a successful Reflections program at your school this year.

Best of luck getting your program off and running this year! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at