Understanding Advanced Placement (AP) Courses

If you have a high school student in your house, you are likely at least aware of advanced placement (AP) courses. AP courses allow students to take classes in high school that, should they do well enough on the AP tests in the spring, give them college credit. In Illinois, every student scoring a 3 or higher on an AP test must be given college credit by Illinois public colleges and universities.

What you may not know about AP courses is that the time to start thinking about them is earlier than junior year of high school. Even incoming freshmen should be thinking about AP classes, because the courses they take now can determine whether or not they can take AP courses in the later years of high school. Great Schools published an article covering all of the basics of AP classes, including a list of questions to ask at your high school. Among them are:

  • What AP classes are offered, and what are the prerequisite classes that your student needs to take in order to take an AP class?
  • What scores students have received on specific tests and are same teachers teaching these AP classes?
  • What is the workload for particular AP classes your child is interested in?
  • Is the AP curriculum the school is using aligned to the AP test?

Advanced placement classes are a great way for students to prepare for college and save money by earning college credits while still in high school. For families concerned about the cost of taking an AP exam, keep in mind that there is financial aid from the College Board as well as some school districts. Be sure to read the full article at Great Schools to learn more.

Photo © 2008 by Amanda Munoz under Creative Commons license.

6 Things to Wrap Up Your PTA Year

May is a busy month for PTAs with Teacher Appreciation Week, end of the school year activities, and electing new officers. As a PTA leader, you’re probably a bit worn out from everything your PTA has done this past year. But making sure your PTA is successful next year begins with wrapping up this year. Here are six important things to do before your PTA year ends.

  1. Register your new officers. Illinois PTA sends out a Local Unit Packet each year filled with resources to successfully run a PTA. However, that packet can’t be sent if Illinois PTA doesn’t know who the new officers are. Be sure to register your new local unit or council officers as soon as they are elected so they can get the materials and information they need. Even if you have the same officers as last year, you still need to register them to confirm their contact information.
  2. Prepare for your audit. Your bylaws spell out how your audit should be conducted. Remember, nobody authorized to sign checks can be on the audit committee, though it is helpful for the treasurer to be accessible to the committee when they are conducting the audit. Make sure the committee has all of the financial records, including treasurer’s reports, the checkbook register, the ledger (or spreadsheet or wherever you record income and expenses against your budget lines), deposit and expense vouchers, copies of meeting minutes, and last year’s audit report. Be sure to have the audit committee sign off on the audit report form.
  3. Thank your volunteers. Most people don’t volunteer for personal recognition, but recognizing and thanking them for their service keeps them coming back and encourages others to step up and start volunteering. Whether it is something simple like a small reception with punch and cookies or supporting the Illinois PTA Scholarship Fund with the purchase of a volunteer award, thanking your volunteers in a public way is essential to keeping your PTA running well.
  4. Make sure procedure books are up to date. A procedure book helps preserve your PTA’s knowledge and makes it easier for a new volunteer to get up to speed on their position. Make sure your officers and committee chairs have written up what they’ve done, how they did it, and what they would do differently the next time. Be sure to keep a copy in the president’s files in case a procedure book doesn’t return at the end of the year.
  5. Get your new officers (and anyone else) trained. Nobody would expect to walk into a new job, be shown to their office, and told, “Okay, there you go. Get started. Good luck!” It should be the same way with a volunteer job. Illinois PTA has several free training courses to help PTA leaders (and any interested PTA member) learn how to do their PTA job. Contact your district or region director or Illinois PTA Leadership Development Director Brenda Diehl to find out when training is scheduled in your area or to set up training. Be sure to take a look at National PTA’s E-learning Library of online courses, many of which are available in both English and Spanish.
  6. Pass on materials. It seems so obvious—you’re leaving a position, and you need to pass on all the materials to your successor. Yet this simple, common sense task fails to happen more often than you would guess. Far too often, district and region directors hear from new PTA officers that they didn’t get any materials to help them do their jobs. If you’re an outgoing president, make sure your officers and committee chairs are passing on their procedure books and other materials. If you’re an incoming president, keep in touch with both your new officers and chairs and the outgoing officers to make sure your board has the tools they need to be successful next year.

Photo © 2013 by Geneva Vanderzell under Creative Commons license.

The Homework System for ADHD Kids

Homework can be challenging for kids, and not just the homework itself. Kids have to write down the assignment properly, bring home the right books and materials, keep track of due dates, and remember to hand in the completed homework—all of which can be extra challenging for anyone with poor memory, focus, or attention to detail. ADDitude, a website of resources and advice for those who have ADHD or parent a child with ADHD, created a slideshow of their 13-step homework system designed for children with ADHD or learning disabilities, though the system would help any kid who struggles with homework. Among the suggestions are:

  • Get the teachers on board
  • Set up a home routine
  • Designate a homework location
  • Use a timer
  • Take breaks and refocus
  • Have a plan for long-term assignments

If your child is struggling with any step of the homework process, whether they have ADHD or not, be sure to check out the full slideshow to help you set up a system in your house. It may take a few months to become a habit, but creating consistent routines at home and school will help both you and your child stress less about homework.

3 Things High School Seniors Should Know About Student Loans

College is expensive, and as the resolution on financial literacy just adopted at the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention noted, student loan debt is the largest debt in the country, surpassing even credit card debt. US News & World Report has long been known for their college rankings. With high school seniors and their families making college decisions and figuring out financial aid packages, the site has posted an article about the three things high school seniors should know about student loans. These are:

  1. You are responsible. Student loans are repayable even if you drop out of college and are often not able to be discharged via bankruptcy.
  2. You can make payments while in school. Paying the interest on student loans while you are still in school is generally not required, but doing so can significantly reduce the amount of money you owe after graduation. Your family, if also borrowing to pay for your education with a deferred payment loan, should consider paying the interest costs while you are still in school.
  3. Private and federal loans differ greatly. Financial aid can be confusing, with a variety of savings plans, loans, and grants that vary in availability based on your family’s financial situation. Federal student loans are quite different from and have several benefits that aren’t available with private loans. Families should get the maximum in federal student loans available to them before turning to private loans.

The US News & World Report article goes into each of these three points in more depth, so be sure to check it out. In addition, if your family is still navigating the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, be aware that the IRS has recently shut down the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that automatically imported your tax form information to the FAFSA form due to data security issues, so you will need your family’s tax information in hand when filling out the FAFSA. The tool is expected to be available again sometime in the fall.

Photo © 2016 by airpix under Creative Commons license.