Help Your Child Be the First in the Family to Go to College

studying-703002_960_720May 1st was college decision day for high school seniors—the day they let the college of their choice know they were coming. Some of those students will be the first in their family to attend college, and they face challenges that those whose parents went to college don’t deal with. But helping your child become the first in your family to go to college actually starts much earlier than junior or senior year.

7 Keys to Supporting Your Child’s College Dream

Getting a child ready to attend college after they graduate high school means making sure they start their high school years off with the right classes to put them on the college track. Here are seven key things families can do to help their child attend college:

  1. Start keeping track of your child’s classes in the ninth grade (or earlier). Not every freshman class in a subject is the same. For example, in order to take a pre-college math class (e.g., Trigonometry or Statistics) as a senior, a student needs to have taken Algebra II as a junior, which requires taking Geometry as a sophomore, which in turn requires taking Algebra I as a freshman. If your child doesn’t start off on that path from the start, they will have a much harder time getting on it later. Even in middle school, some courses may help line your child up for dual credit or Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school that can cut down on college costs by earning college credits while still in high school.
  2. Meet with the counselor(s) every year. Your child’s school may have one guidance counselor for all students, one for each grade level, or several counselors that each take a class and follow them throughout high school. There may also be a college and career center counselor as well. Meet with your child’s counselor each year to make sure that your child is taking the classes they need to go to college after graduating.
  3. Learn about college. Discuss with your child what their interests are and what sort of degree they would be looking for. Start thinking about how big or small of a college or university your student wants to attend. Attend college fairs and ask questions of the representatives. Find out what it takes in terms of grades, test scores, and more to get into those colleges and universities your child is interested in.
  4. Visit at least one college campus. It doesn’t have to be one your child is necessarily interested in, just one nearby. Visit the admissions office, take a campus tour, and investigate what programs may be available to let your student experience life on campus. For first in the family students, the college world is very different from anything they’ve experienced before. Next, visit colleges your child is interested in attending. Look for sponsored or free opportunities to visit (possibly through your child’s high school). Some colleges now offer virtual tours online. Have your student meet with college representatives from those schools when they visit the high school.
  5. Prepare to take college admission tests (SAT or ACT). Illinois has provided a free college admissions test (the ACT) to all high school juniors in the past, but the lack of a state budget this year prevented the SAT (Illinois’s new choice) from being offered this year. If there are fees, ask how they can be waived. Students on free or reduce lunch often do not have to pay testing fees.
  6. Get college applications in advance. When your child has narrowed down where they want to apply to, get the applications early, know what they require, and file on time. Many applications have different deadlines depending on if your child is applying for early decision, early action, or regular admission. Have your student work on their essays well in advance. Their English teacher, a guidance counselor, or college center counselor will often be willing to provide feedback to help them write the best essay they can.
  7. Apply for financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the basis for many college financial aid decisions, so be sure to complete the form and get it submitted as early as possible. Look for grants and scholarships as well, many of which are specifically targeted at first-generation college students.

Learn from the Experience of Others

While your child may be the first in your family to attend college, they are not the first person ever to be the first in a family to attend. There are many articles and websites that share the experiences of students and families who had a first-generation college student. These can help your child learn what extra challenges they may face in college, from feeling like an outsider to culture shock to different social standards. These challenges can be at least as difficult as those of the classroom.

PTA SPOTLIGHT 2016: An Amazing Day of Art and Celebration

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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?”

Second Annual Spotlight Celebrates Illinois’s Amazing Children

Families from across Illinois gathered this past Saturday at Millikin University for Spotlight: A Children’s Celebration of Art and Community. The event at Kirkland Fine Arts Center showcased 11081325_10152684873140988_1690164095784135673_napproximately 500 PTA Reflections entries that advanced to the state level of judging, provided a wide variety of workshops, and recognized student artists and leaders from across the state.

The day began with a welcome (and a little showmanship) from Millikin University President Dr. Patrick White before families headed out for a wide variety of workshops. Developed by Millikin arts students and Illinois PTA leaders, the workshops focused on a variety of arts, including drawing comics, writing, working with clay, drumming, dancing, and more.

Following the workshops and fortified with cookies and punch, participants headed into the auditorium for the recognition ceremony. Highlights of the ceremony included the recognition of the special artists participating in the PTA Reflections program, awarding medals to those whose entries advanced to the National PTA Reflections judging, recognizing the winners of the two Illinois PTA scholarships, and the presentation of the Illinois PTA 2015 Outstanding Youth Service Leader awards to three amazing young people making a difference in their community. The ceremony concluded with Millikin University awarding $1,000 scholarships to attend Millikin in any field of study to the five high school level artists whose work advanced to the national level.

As Dean of Millikin’s College of Fine Arts, Laura Ledford, said in echoing the PTA Reflections theme, “The work of the young artists here today represents the continuing commitment of PTA to nurture creativity, curiosity, and wonder in the lives of our children, and Millikin University is proud to share and support that commitment. The world would, indeed, be a better place if the rich, innovative thinking and doing instilled by quality arts education had the support it deserves. Many thanks to the Illinois PTA for making the world a better place.”

Be sure to check out Illinois PTA’s Facebook page and its Cultural Arts Facebook page for lots of pictures and additional information on this wonderful event celebrating the accomplishments of our children.

Plan Now to Celebrate PTA Founders’ Day

Alice McLellan Birney aspired to create a better world for children at a time when many of them left school early in their teenspot_founders-day-01age years to begin working in factories. Alice found someone who shared her vision in Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and on February 17, 1897 they began to implement that vision with the first National Congress of Mothers meeting in Washington, DC. More than 2,000 mothers, fathers, teachers, laborers, and legislators attended that first meeting, establishing what has become the largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the country.

In 1970, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers merged with the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers—founded by Selena Sloan Butler to serve those schools in states that legally mandated segregation—to form the National PTA. Those three women, the founders of PTA, worked to improve the lives of every child at home, at school, and in their community. On February 17th, we remember their vision, reflect on our achievements, and renew our commitment to speak for every child with Founders’ Day celebrations.

If your PTA, PTSA, or PTA Council has not celebrated Founders’ Day in the past, consider planning a simple celebration this year. Use it as an opportunity to bring your school and community together to celebrate your PTA’s accomplishments, recognize volunteers and teachers, and showcase your students’ talents. You can find numerous ideas and resources for a Founders’ Day event online, including planning guides from California PTA and Georgia PTA, among others. National PTA provides some history you can share at your event as well as a short 8-minute video on PTA’s advocacy on behalf of children over the last 118 years.

If you plan on honoring volunteers, teachers, or others who have made a difference for your PTA, consider purchasing an Illinois PTA volunteer recognition award. Available awards include an honorary Lifetime Membership, Book of Recognition, Achievement Award, Distinguished Service Scroll, and Educator of the Year Award. Proceeds from all awards support the Illinois PTA Scholarship Fund, which awards scholarships annually to high school seniors who will be going into education or education-related fields (e.g., school nursing, school social work). Please order your awards three weeks prior to your event to ensure they arrive in time.