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Notes from the Backpack Podcast

National PTA School of Excellence

Roadmap to Excellence

The primary objective of the National PTA School of Excellence program is to help PTAs and schools strengthen family-school partnerships to benefit all students' academic success and general well-being. Your progress toward this objective is what will be assessed at the end of the school year and your action plan will get you where you want to go.

The Roadmap to Excellence is a planning and consensus-building tool to build your action plan based on your survey results and your selected focus area and objective.  It is designed to support you as you take the next steps to build and lead your Excellence team, strengthen family-school partnerships and make a substantial, positive impact on your school community. With your Excellence Team, use the recommendations in this guide, as well as other resources you see fit, when developing your action plan.

Make sure that your work plan is rooted in best practice to include at least one of the National Standards and at least one of the Four 'I's for Transformative Family Engagement as seen below. Start by focusing on two to three recommendations per National Standard for Family-School Partnerships.

National Standards for Family-School Partnerships

Welcoming All FamiliesCommunicating EffectivelySupporting Student Success

Speaking Up for Every ChildSharing PowerCollaborating with Community

Four 'I's for Transformative Family Engagement





In the breakdown below, you’ll see examples of the Four 'I's for Transformative Family Engagement (Inclusive, Individualization, Integrated and Impactful) embedded within each of the National Standards for Family-School partnerships.

Standard 1: Welcoming All Families

Our School has friendly signs and messages in multiple languages

In order for families to be involved, schools must be inclusive and provide meaningful access the school’s office and resources. This seems simple enough, yet the number of students who enter school as English Language Learners is growing and school signs and messages may be outdated, unfriendly and actually create barriers to participation.

First impressions matter when creating a welcoming school. Families will feel more welcome when they see friendly signs and messages directing them to locations throughout the school building and in communications. Take an inventory of all signs and messages in your school entrance and parking areas with special attention to increasing the ease of navigating the campus. Then, work with your school administration and membership committee to translate key signs  and messages into the languages commonly spoken by families in the school— you can use your school’s demographic data to determine the three languages most commonly spoken by families in your school community.

Start with the signs and messages families see first upon entering the building, such as welcome signs on the front door and front office entrances. Consider translating the welcome boards outside the main or guidance offices as well as marquee signs or streaming digital marquees that are used to keep families and the community informed about what is going on at the school. Make it a common practice to have translated materials and bilingual signs and bulletin boards throughout the building. Integrate name tags or name tents at meetings. Make sure the need for school safety is balanced with family-friendly language by rephrasing any messages that sound terse or intimidating. These steps will help ensure your school is welcoming from the outside in!

Our school translates communications and provides interpreters as needed

Given changing demographics, in order for public school students to be successful, we must successfully engage families from diverse backgrounds in all school activities. To achieve this, it is important to keep all families informed about issues and events occurring at the school. It is important you hear feedback from parents.

If your school is not communicating this information into families' native languages, you may be missing a meaningful opportunity. Work with your parent liaison, school secretary or parent advisory committee to review current communication practices at your school. You may need to advocate for a more deliberate communication plan to reach all school families, including a broader reach through social media. Because your communications may be frequently translated into the school's major languages already, consider building your volunteer pool of individuals who are interested in helping with translation. Recruit parent volunteers to help translate PTA newsletters and marketing for school events. This is a great opportunity to engage new volunteers who may not be available during the school day but are willing to help from home or in the evenings. You also can request translation help from your school's ESL teacher or district office. 

Our school encourages families to volunteer

Volunteering in schools is deeply rooted in PTA's vision and mission. It benefits the students, the school and the volunteers themselves. Volunteering helps families understand school and classroom expectations through hands-on experiences, developing a stronger home-school relationship and links to learning. Casting a wide net for volunteers also helps to reduce burnout among PTA members. For these reasons, the "PTA way" is always to encourage parents and families to get involved. Notify families about existing opportunities to volunteer at your school but also make it a PTA rule to be open to new volunteer positions or saying YES anytime a parent offers to help. Rather than just filling positions, be strategic and use a simple questionnaire or your annual membership forms to learn more about parents' interests or skills and match them to meaningful volunteer roles. You might find a dad who loves to write or tinker with graphic design, or a mom who is great at event planning or social media. Every PTA member has something to contribute, and every involved PTA member strengthens your family-school partnership! This personal touch will help broaden your volunteer base and engage even more families in serving their school community.

Our school shows respect to all families regardless of differences (e.g. age, gender, race, cultural background)

In 2014, for the first time, a majority of students in K-12 schools were children of color. PTA believes diversity to be a strength of our organization and public education as a whole. Our national diversity and inclusion policy states the following: "PTAs everywhere must understand and embrace the uniqueness of all individuals, appreciating that each contributes a diversity of views, experiences, cultural heritage/traditions, skills/abilities, values and preferences. When PTAs respect differences yet acknowledge shared commonalities uniting their communities, and then develop meaningful priorities based upon their knowledge, they genuinely represent their communities. When PTAs represent their communities, they gain strength and effectiveness through increased volunteer and resource support." How can you build awareness and respect for the changing demographics of your school community? Intentionally reach out to parents and families of diverse backgrounds and invite them to become actively involved in the PTA. Develop an outreach plan to increase membership and engagement in a way that is representative of your community. If your PTA does not have a diversity and inclusion committee, work to develop one to assess the current level of diversity within your PTA and address any changes that may be needed.

Standard 2: Communicating Effectively

Our school communicates with families in multiple ways (e.g., email, phone, website)

In order for families to be effective advocates for their children, the school must provide caregivers access to key information. This is an important step toward establishing open communication between school and home and building trust between key partners in a child’s education. Your school and PTA can communicate with families via multiple channels.  
Of course, personal connection is always best! With broader outreach, In today’s world, social media is more likely to reach families than paper. If you haven’t already, think about how your print communications could be converted into digital formats. For example, your PTA may use a newsletter to communicate about upcoming events and other issues that are important to your school community. After hard copies are sent home to parents, post this newsletter on your school and/or PTA website or send it to families via an email listserv. Updates via text or telephone messages also are appreciated by today's PTA member. Develop a pool of volunteers who will focus on effective ways to communicate with families through technology and multiple languages if needed.

Our school provides clear, two-way conversations about student progress or needs

The Dual Capacity Framework, released by the Department of Education in 2014 and revised in 2019 addresses the importance of two way communication between home and school for student success. Positive and frequent communication matters, parents contact should not be limited to, or initiated by, something negative. Frequent, two-way communication is important.

PTAs can take a lead in strengthening the communication skills of both parents and teachers that will help build meaningful, two-way communication at your school. Research also suggests that professional development programs should actively promote the development of communication skills for teachers. Work with your school administration to find out what professional development opportunities are currently provided to the staff, and discuss the importance of training on effective two-way communication with parents. Your PTA can facilitate the training or work with school administrators to find a presenter. Consider offering workshops for families that explain effective communication techniques and whom to contact when they have a problem. Work with the school administration to establish a policy that promotes positive two-way communication strategies (regular positive calls or notes, home visits, etc.). 

Our school helps families understand how they can support their child's learning

In order for families to be meaningful partners for student success, they must have access to information and understand how their children are progressing in school. Ideally, teachers and parents should be able discuss students' individual learning styles, family cultural experiences, strengths, and academic and personal needs regularly and develop personalized goals. PTAs can 1) lead an assessment of current information exchanges at your school to determine if there is a need to build or strengthen the process; 2) work with the school administration to set clear expectations for staff responses to families; 3) request that teachers provide specific strategies that parents can use at home to support learning in the classroom; 4) host parent meetings for each grade level or subject to present academic goals for the year and solicit family members' feedback using the school district's curriculum guides (describing goals for each subject and grade level are great tools to support this strategy); 5) establish personal education plans (PEPs) to support students' education or career goals; or 6) review and update homeschool compacts at Title I schools for discussion at parent-teacher conferences and individualization if a student is not meeting standards.

Standard 3: Supporting Student Success

Our school involves parents in planning for transitions (e.g. middle, high, post-secondary, careers)

Engaged families results in greater student success, especially during critical transitions along their PK-20 educational journey. Identify the transition planning services that your school currently offers. Explore ways for the PTA to partner with the school to support families as they transition through the PK-20 education spectrum. PTAs can help ease families' natural anxiety during school transitions with strategic activities including: 1) holding joint meetings with PTAs of neighboring schools so families can meet some of the other parents in their children's future schools; 2) hosting spring orientation programs to help prepare students for their next grade level or school; 3) working with school guidance counselors to organize visits to the middle school or high school for transitioning parents and students; or 4) providing opportunities for prekindergarten parents to attend an orientation at the elementary school to ease this important transition. Planning can also go beyond visiting the neighboring school or providing orientations. Develop partnerships with local businesses to expand opportunities for career exploration and preparation. Plan a career fair at your school and invite individuals from many different occupations. Allow time for older students to visit stations and learn about the education paths that individuals took to be successful in specific careers. For younger children, invite professionals to visit individual classrooms to discuss career options.

Our school uses adequate technology to meet the needs of today's students

Technology is used daily in our schools, from smartboards in classrooms to calculators for math instruction and digital card catalog systems in school libraries. Knowing more about the technology used in your school can help your PTA better support learning. Request a list of the technology available at your school or develop a simple questionnaire to identify the ways that your school currently uses technology to engage students and involve parents. Review the survey results with your school principal or site council to determine how your PTA can support technology needs at your school. For example, if your school does not have smartboards in all classrooms, enough calculators, Elmo projectors or adequate software, communicate these needs to parents and consider focusing your PTA's annual fundraising efforts on addressing them. You also can look for outside funding from businesses or foundations via grants to help you fund technology upgrades.

Our school includes students as active participants in discussions of expectations and work quality (e.g. parent teacher conferences)

Traditionally, parent-teacher conferences are a the key time to focus on student learning and to emphasize the parents' role in their child's education. During these conferences, teachers usually review strengths, strategies for areas of weakness, and informal and formal assessment data. However, the person directly affected by this data---the student---frequently is not included in the discussion. Having the teacher, student and parent in conference together demonstrates a true partnership between home and school. Take the first step: Talk to your school principal about establishing policies and procedures to allow students to attend parent-teacher conferences. Or, with older students, discuss with your principal the possibility of allowing students to take the lead at parent teacher conferences. In student-led conferences, teachers meet first with students individually to discuss their current performance in the classroom and on state tests. During this discussion, the student chooses an area of focus for the parent conference. Students reflect on their performance and identify a goal for improvement. Together, the teacher and parent then identify strategies that will help the student reach his or her goals. This process demonstrates to the student a true partnership between home and school. Consistency throughout the school is important when implementing this process so offer to help the principal and teachers develop a policy and procedures to support student-led conferences.

Our school explains the academic standards and how the curriculum is connected to them

Families need to understand academic standards to support learning. Like teachers, parents need regular opportunities to strengthen their knowledge of academic standards and curriculum as these are constantly evolving. Open houses, back-to-school nights, curriculum nights and parent-teacher conferences are all great opportunities for PTAs and schools to provide parents with specific information about the student academic standing and progress. Your school may follow the Common Core State Standards. If your state has not yet adopted the Common Core State Standards, work with your department of education to disseminate information about state standards and how parents can help their children meet them. Work with your school to host an "All You Need to Know About the Common Core" event to provide new opportunities for teachers to work with parents on what students are learning under the academic standards by age, grade level and subject. Share sample test questions with parents so they can practice what their child learns in the classroom. Encourage parents to attend parent-teacher conferences, ask questions about academic standards and ask to see their child’s work samples as well as samples of work that meets specific standards.

Standard 4: Speaking Up for Every Child

Our school informs and encourages families to advocate for students at the school, local, state and/or national level

PTA is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the United States. PTA makes every child's potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. Help your PTA members understand advocacy and why it is important. Your PTA belongs at the table with decision makers! Participate in a school board meetings or local hearings about a specific need or interest of your school or community. Consider what issues or concerns your PTA can advocate for on the state or federal level, such as funding for education or arts in education. Check to see what issues are currently on your state PTA's policy agenda or the national PTA agenda to align with local needs and interests. Refer to our Advocacy Toolkit.

Our school listens to families concerns and demonstrates a genuine interest in developing solutions

PTA should be the champion for families within the school community. Your PTA can provide families with information about how to be engaged or resolve problems at school. Work with your school to develop a chart showing whom to contact when specific problems arise. Make this chart available on the PTA and/or school website and in print for parents to reference whenever they have concerns. Work with your school to respond publicly to suggestions from families on specific issues. Dedicate a section of your school newsletter or website to responses to items from the school's "suggestion box." Your suggestion box might be a physical box located in your school's main office and/or a "virtual suggestion box" on the school or PTA website.

Our school provides information on family rights and responsibilities under federal and state laws

In order for students to be successful, key partners must know their rights and be accountable for their responsibilities. Families need to know the school administration, their children's teachers and the school's expectations for students and parents. They also need to understand the school's procedures and their rights, in case a problem arises. The PTA can help families by distributing information about parent engagement mandates in state and federal programs such as the Every Student Succeeds Acts (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Post information about each of these mandates on the school and PTA websites with links to related programs or host someone from the school district to present this information to families. Beyond the mandates, explore whether your school district offers additional workshops for family members about school and district programs, policies, resources and the skills needed to access them. Distribute information about these opportunities to families and encourage them to participate. You also might work with your district to host a Parent University or similar program.

Standard 5: Sharing Power

Our school establishes policies that recognize and respect diversity (e.g. cultural, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic)

Family-school partnerships are collaborative relationships that involve school staff, parents and other family members of students. Effective partnerships are based on mutual trust, respect and shared responsibility for the education of all children at your school. An inclusive approach to school decision making can help build trust with all families. Work with your school to inform families about issues or proposed changes to policies and provide them with an opportunity to respond. Families will feel respected when their opinions are valued, and their concerns have been heard.

Your PTA can work with the school to address barriers to family engagement and student success that are related to diversity of race, income, culture and religion. Use data from your family survey to identify concerns. Then, work with your school leadership team or advisory council to problem solve and address any current policies that do not recognize and respect the diverse student population at your school. Advocate for representation by diverse members at council and advisory meetings where decisions will be made that affect students.

When the school and families from all backgrounds assume collective responsibility for identifying and breaking down barriers to family engagement related to race, ethnicity, class, family structure, religion and physical and mental ability, the entire school community wins. If your PTA does not have a diversity committee, work to establish one. Advertise the opportunity to serve on this committee to all parents. This committee can act as a liaison between the school and families regarding policy concerns or new policy development.

Our school considers families equal partners in decision-making (e.g. policy, curricula, budget, safety, personnel)

Families should have a voice in decision-making about issues affecting children both at school and within the community. Strong family-school partnerships make this collaboration possible, but partnerships require sharing power. In a true partnership, all parties have equal say in important decisions. Brainstorm ways that your school can include and consult with parents when making decisions that affect the school community. Share your ideas with school leaders and work together to bring them to life. Whenever key changes are needed at school, look to see if there is a system to notify parents and solicit their feedback for consideration in advance of decisions. Consider hosting a dialogue between families and school personnel about current issues and policies at school or in the district. Host an annual event where school board members are invited to come and brief families on state and district-level policies.

Our school provides families information on the school improvement plan

Families have a role in helping the school to improve in areas where it is struggling or where school staff would like to do better. PTAs should take an active role in educating parents about your school’s improvement plan. Be sure families know that your school improvement plan exists, and why. Work with your school to make the plan accessible to families and to create and publicize ways that families can provide input. Make sure parents know who to ask if they do not understand the plan. Consider including a section in your monthly newsletter or on the PTA website called, “Did You Know?” This section could be used to provide information to parents about the school improvement plan and how they can give feedback on the plan. Report parent input to your advisory council or committee to enhance family-school collaboration and help meet the needs of all students. Focus PTA events and activities strategically to help achieve school improvement goals.

Standard 6: Collaborating with Community

Our school distributes information on community resources that serve the needs of families within the community

Schools are part of a community wide ecosystem that, when united together, support student success. At every event and meeting with families, make it a priority to have a table with information about relevant community resources. Post links to community resources on your website and include them regularly in your newsletter. Work with your school social worker, counselor or family engagement coordinator to develop a survey to assess the needs of your school community. Based on the survey results, create a school bulletin board and/or resource table for parents with brochures about local health services, service learning opportunities and other resources that families need most. You can even invite community partners to set up and staff their own tables to inform families about the resources they offer. Explore the creation or enrichment of a comfortable, inviting family resource center or room to further share community connections and resources.

Our school has partnerships with local businesses, community organizations and service groups to advance student learning or assist the school or families.

Collaborating with the community builds support for your local school and connects the school to additional resources that support a shared vision and commitment for student success. Work with your school to develop a list of local businesses and community organizations with whom your school or district has or would like to form a partnership. From this list, begin to identify and integrate resources from the community to strengthen school programs, family practices and student learning and development. For example, partnerships with businesses can provide resources to enhance the school's curriculum. Ask your school's existing partners and other local businesses for donations to support technology needs, field trips, attendance rewards, special projects or other student incentives as outlined in your school improvement plan. If your school has established some partnerships within your community to advance student learning, take it to the next level. Work with your partners to assess school needs. Brainstorm with them how they can help develop programs to support student success and/or find creative ways to provide additional funding or programs at your school.

Our school is a central part of the community

PTA believes that schools are central to communities health and vitality. When schools are central to their communities, the PTA and other community partners are constantly looking to connect families to neighborhood resources to increase student learning, build stronger families and create healthier communities. Explore how frequently your school facilities are used for community events during the school year. Work with your school administration to increase the number of events occurring at your school by inviting families and other community groups to use the facilities for their activities like boy scout or girl scout troop meetings, recreational sports teams events, Zumba and/or exercise classes, book clubs, medical or social service clinic hours or even High School Equivalency or job training programs.

Focus Area

After using your survey results to assess the current state of family-school partnerships, your Excellence Team will choose a shared objective for the school year in one of three areas:

  • Improving education
  • Ensuring students' health and safety
  • Supporting the arts
  • COVID-19 Recovery

This objective will provide a focus for your PTA's efforts to further engage families and build a stronger family-school partnership.

The School of Excellence program's primary aim is to increase the strength of your family-school partnership. Therefore, your School of Excellence applications will be assessed on the basis of how your family-school partnership has improved during the year, rather than how much progress you have made toward your chosen programmatic objective. In other words,the goal will be for your Final Survey results to show improvement in the areas that did hit the ALWAYS mark in the Baseline Survey.

The following section provides resources offered by National PTA and our partners to support you as you work toward making a substantial, positive impact on your school in the selected area. When creating your plan of work, be sure to incorporate best practice in transformative family engagement with at least one of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships and at least one of the Four ‘I’s for Transformative Family Engagement (as seen above) into the area you choose to focus on.

Improve Education

To support implementation of college-and career-ready standards and assessment (Common Core State Standards)

Today, most good jobs require some type of post-secondary education or training. That often rests on success in school according to state standards and support out of school via family and community engagement. 

State standards for student success, most often the Common Core State Standards, are designed to improve educational outcomes for students by developing a set of consistent, clear K–12 academic standards in English language arts and mathematics. Studies have shown that when curriculum allows teachers to cover select topics in greater depth, rather than numerous topics superficially, student achievement is improved. In addition, teachers using assessments aligned to the new standards are better able to respond to students’ educational needs. 

Families have a role to play in supporting student success under state standards. Family Engagement across the PK-20 spectrum makes a difference in who goes to college and who has more post secondary financial success.  PTAs can help parents understand the state standards, including Common Core State Standards, and how they can partner with schools to support student learning outcomes. This will benefit parents, teachers and students by supporting a shared understanding of what is expected in school. Today, more than ever, we need to leverage student learning outside of the school building. In the United States, about 15 percent of an average life is spent at school. So, how can we leverage parent support of curriculum and classroom learning even if those same parents don't know current standards or have been successful themselves in school? One great strategy is Academic Parent Teacher Teams.

To increase family engagement supporting student success (literacy, math, science)

Does Family Engagement REALLY matter for student success? Yes! The benefits of family-school-community partnerships are many: higher teacher morale, more family engagement and greater student success. Students with engaged families generally earn higher grades and test scores, attend school regularly, have better social skills, and graduate and go on to post-secondary education. Parents serve an important role in learning once school is over, too. Student academic achievement starts at home, and PTAs play an important role in helping families understand how to encourage learning and support a whole child approach to educational success- physical, mental and emotional development. How parents are engaged matters- focus on relationship building (1:1 meetings, home visits, positive calls home) not transactional connections (talking at or giving information to parents). 

To increase involvement from dads and other male role models

PTAs can partner with schools to strengthen and extend the positive effects of male engagement. PTAs can jumpstart male engagement initiatives to draw more dads into schools and enhance family engagement at school, home and beyond (See: Male Role Models In Schools Help Reduce Misbehavior).

To grow volunteer opportunities and volunteer participation among families

The value of volunteering to support education is immeasurable. Volunteer service can take place in the classroom, at events or activities such as field trips or assemblies, or even at home after school hours. When parents volunteer, they demonstrate their support to their children. They also significantly increase the resources available to their children by expanding the resources available at school. PTAs can support volunteer participation by providing creative and diverse opportunities to connect families to all aspects of the school community and work to eliminate any barriers to volunteer opportunities. Every parent or caregiver has an area of expertise that they can contribute to enrich some aspect of your school or programs. Build upon the strengths of your diverse family volunteer pool.

One of Dr. Joyce Epstein's Six Types of Parent Involvement is volunteering. There are countless ways for parents to help out, like chaperoning a school trip or administering surveys to gauge the skills of other parents who want to volunteer. Volunteering doesn't just include activities that happen during the day -- it includes any way that parents get involved at school. Rather than just filling positions, be strategic and use a simple questionnaire or your annual membership forms to learn more about parents' interests or skills and match them to meaningful volunteer roles. You might find a dad who loves to write or tinker with graphic design, or a mom who is great at event planning or social media.

To prevent school dropouts

According to research by America’s Promise Alliance, a student drops out of school every 26 seconds. National PTA believes that every student should be afforded every opportunity to graduate from high school while being adequately prepared for and encouraged to pursue postsecondary education, including vocational education. PTAs can help by building family-school-community partnerships that bring the entire school community together to encourage students and support their success.

There are many factors that put a student at risk to dropping out of school. Many times not all risk factors apply to all students. However, research has consistently indicated the following risk factors as variables that lead to a student dropping out of school: Lack of parent engagement, Poor academic performance, Work/Family economic needs, Lack of a supportive adult, Disconnect between school academics and work, Not enough individualized attention (See: Dropping Out: Why Students Drop Out of High School and What Can Be Done About It).

To grow family participation in advocacy

The fourth standard in the National PTA Standards for Family-School Partnerships encourages empowering families to be advocates for their own and other children, to ensure that students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that will support their success. All children need an advocate, someone to speak out and stand up for them. School staff and PTAs can make a critical contribution by ensuring all students have an advocate, (whether it's a family member, teacher, or community volunteer), by offering opportunities for parents and community members to learn and practice the special set of skills that speaking up for children requires.

Advocacy can be local, statewide or national. Local matters most!! Principals come and go. Curriculum comes and goes. What stays constant in school communities are the families, staff and students. The individual and collective power of these key educational stakeholders is needed now more than ever. In short, if we are not speaking up, others are speaking on our behalf and their interests may not align with those most impacted at the school site level.

Ensure Health & Safety of Students

To promote healthy lifestyles at home and at school

Whole child education is dedicated to developing socially, emotionally, and academically successful students. Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet and getting the recommended amount of physical activity every day are important to maintaining a healthy weight and maximizing academic performance. Barriers to providing nutritious foods and opportunities for daily physical activity exist both at home and at school; these barriers can be diminished through a stronger family-school partnership around advocacy, mobilization and family education—PTA’s areas of expertise.

Healthy systems are wholistic. However, public education can be compartmentalized by grade level, school sites and neighborhoods.  Community schools are an example of seeing public schools as hubs, where you can bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities including a focus on healthy students. Physically, socially, and emotionally; students live and learn in a safe, supportive, and stable environment, and communities are desirable places to live (See Coalition for Community Schools and Attendance Works).

PTAs can play an important role in increasing physical activity and improving nutrition by engaging families, teachers, administrators and students in programs and activities that encourage the school community to be active and eat healthier foods; empowering families to partner with schools to advocate for and support the implementation of healthy changes around nutrition and physical activity; educating families about the importance of good nutrition and physical activity; and providing families with tools to create an environment at home that supports the positive changes happening at school.

To customize and implement local school wellness policies

The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 requires school districts that participate in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast program to develop local school wellness policies (LWPs) that address student nutrition and physical activity. The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act expanded the scope of the program, requiring schools to (1) permit parents to participate in the development of LWPs, and (2) update and inform parents about the policies’ content and implementation.

School policies ensure that good work and programs are not lost in the often constant turnover of site principals, district administrators and elected officials. Nothing is more demoralizing for staff, families, students and community members to come together, create meaningful programs, projects and/or change and then have it disappear with a leadership change. Written policies can protect that work.

Parents often are unaware of their right to be involved with their school’s wellness committees and to have a say in practices and policies related to school nutrition and physical activity. Engaging parents in local wellness policy (LWP) development and implementation and measuring those policies’ effectiveness are important strategies to ensure strong LWPs are implemented in schools. Strong family-school partnerships, where parents are engaged and invested in their children’s success, are not beneficial solely for academic and behavior reasons; they translate into strong LWPs that are successfully implemented in schools, thus improving the overall environment and improving student health and welfare in both the short-term and long-term (See 5 Tips for Writing Meaningful Policy and Procedures for Schools and School Wellness Policies).

To address the problem of hunger among families in the school community

Nearly 49 million Americans—including 1 in 5 children—live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. Hunger prevents kids from reaching their full potential. Children who don’t have enough to eat are likely to get sick more often, do not perform as well in school, and are less likely to graduate from high school and go on to college. Federal nutrition programs play a critical role in helping children build healthy minds and bodies. Unfortunately, statistics show that these resources are not reaching all of the children who need them. PTAs and schools can work together to develop school policies and procedures that ensure that every student has access to a healthy meals, every day. PTAs also can educate families about the importance of eating breakfast every day, the impact of hunger on student performance, and how to buy and cook nutritious, low-cost meals.

To prevent injury at home and at school

Child safety is of paramount concern for all parents. According to National PTA partner Safe Kids Worldwide, unintentional injury is the leading killer of children between the ages of 1 and 14. Many injuries and deaths can be prevented by teaching parents and children simple ways to avoid the most common risks. Evidence has shown that family education and school health programs can have a positive effect on children’s risk behaviors and injury rates. PTAs can develop and host events that bring community resources, schools and families together to learn about the leading childhood injury risks; discuss how injuries can be prevented; and identify areas, equipment and behaviors within the school and home environments that could be safer for children (See Parents for Healthy Schools).

To promote Internet safety

Growing up in the digital age provides unlimited opportunities for students to connect, learn and share information. While this has many benefits, families can feel overwhelmed as they navigate the new challenges associated with raising technologically savvy kids. Having an open dialogue with students about making smart, safe and balanced online decisions helps students successfully learn and grow online. It is important that students feel prepared to make responsible decisions independently since online access is rarely restricted to certain times or places; direct supervision is not always possible.

An important component of digital wellbeing and education is parent involvement. The PTA has an important role to play. PTAs can partner with schools to offer programs for families wanting to know more about digital safety, security, literacy, access and citizenship. Providing resources to parents can help them maintain open communication with adolescents about the ever-evolving digital world. PTAs can also work with schools to develop and evaluate an acceptable use policy and disseminate it to families.

To prevent all forms of bullying and encourage healthy peer relationships

Bullying is a reality for many of America’s school children and one of the most pressing issues parents and educators face today. More than 3 million students are victims of bullying each year, and almost 4 million participate in it. Research shows that bullying behaviors have a long-term traumatic impact on the overall well-being of all children involved.

School climate refers to the overall quality and character of school life, and research shows that more positive school climates often have less incidents of bullying between students. One of the most effective strategies to reduce bullying in schools is to focus on a school-wide approach of building a culture of respect and tolerance. PTAs can be an instrumental force in creating positive school climates by engaging all members in the school community to promote healthier social interactions. PTAs also can convene these stakeholders in a conversation about solutions and can mentor student leaders in strategies that help to create a respectful culture. Finally, PTAs can help parents develop the skills they need to collaborate with the school to solve problems when challenges around bullying arise—whether their child is the target of bullying, a bystander or the one causing harm.

To support students’ emotional and mental well-being

Mental and emotional well-being is essential to overall health. Anxiety, stress, depression and impulse control disorders are associated with a higher probability of risky behaviors, domestic violence, chronic and acute conditions and premature death. Early childhood experiences have lasting, measurable consequences later in life; therefore, fostering emotional well-being from the earliest stages of life helps build a foundation for overall health and well-being. Schools and PTAs can work together to provide a safe and supportive educational environment for students that fosters academic success and helps them realize their full potential. PTAs also can play a role in bringing communities together and linking families with resources.

To advocate for safer routes to school (bicycling, walking, parking, busing)

The commute to and from school is an opportunity to increase students’ physical activity, reduce fuel costs and promote family engagement for younger students who require a parent escort. Unfortunately, while communities, schools and families promote the idea of walking and biking to school, the reality is that many students in urban, suburban and rural areas do not have access to safe walking and biking routes. Parents cite safety issues and traffic concerns as the number one reason for not allowing their children to walk or bike to school. To ensure that children arrive to and from school safely, PTAs can partner with schools to advocate for improved infrastructure—including sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, crossing signals, traffic signals and street lighting—and encourage transportation planners and engineers to design and improve roadways that provide safe routes to school.

To ensure emergency preparedness for school and personal safety

The threat of violence has grown in a number of schools across the country. School safety is a crucial component of effective learning, and children and school personnel deserve a safe environment in which to learn and work. Families, educators, community members and government must work together to ensure a safe learning environment for all students, where they can flourish and grow free from violence and other safety threats. PTAs can partner with schools to develop policies around safe and supportive schools. PTAs also can play a role in educating families about how to help prevent violence in their school, and how best to talk to their children about school violence.

To prevent student substance abuse 

Students often are exposed to alcohol, drugs and tobacco at home, with friends and at school. Misuse of these substances at a young age can be harmful to a student’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development, and it increases risky behaviors, automobile fatalities and the risk of substance misuse later in life. Parents are an important influence on their children’s behavior. PTAs can provide parents with education about how talk to their kids about drugs, alcohol and tobacco risks and avoidance, and can offer tools to help parents encourage their children to make good choices. PTAs also can partner with schools to promote safer communities and advocate for prevention of alcohol, drug and tobacco use and zero-tolerance policies at all school-based activities.

To promote teen driver safety

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America, with teens involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. Inexperience and immaturity combined with speed, drinking and driving, not wearing seat belts, distracted driving (e.g., cell phone use, loud music, other teen passengers), drowsy driving, nighttime driving and drug use aggravate this problem. PTAs can help educate parents about how to talk to their kids about traffic safety before they start driving, set rules and consequences and model safe behavior. PTAs also can partner with schools to promote safer, distraction-free driving to teens.

To improve the environment for students with allergies, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy or other chronic conditions

Responding to the needs of students with chronic conditions in the school setting requires a comprehensive, coordinated and systematic approach. Students with chronic health conditions can function at their maximum potential if their needs are met. Their attendance, alertness and physical stamina will improve; they will have fewer symptoms and restrictions on their participation in physical activities and special events; and they will experience fewer medical emergencies. Schools and PTAs can work together to provide a safe and supportive educational environment for students with chronic illnesses and to ensure that they have the same educational opportunities as do students without chronic illnesses.

Support the Arts

To increase access to arts programs

The benefits of student participation in the arts are many: It levels the playing field for underserved students, develops the whole child, nurtures creativity and teamwork and connects families and schools to one another and to their communities. All students deserve a quality arts education, but access to all creative arts disciplines—including dance, media arts, theatre, music and visual arts—is often patchy or nonexistent, especially for at-risk and underserved student groups. Schools and PTAs committed to quality learning in the arts can work together to identify opportunities for families and staff to take an active role in support of arts education, encouraging leaders to enhance existing programs and activities to support an arts-rich school. (See Why Arts Education Is Crucial and Who's Doing It Best).

To increase resources for student learning in the arts

Sufficient supplies and classroom/performance spaces are essential to sustain student learning in the arts. PTAs can partner with schools to ensure that all creative arts disciplines have the necessary resources to support students in developing lifelong skills. Supplies for arts learning will vary by creative discipline (e.g., music for dance, books for literature, computer software for media arts, instruments for music, costumes for theatre, and paints and brushes for visual arts). Learning and performance/presenting spaces also will vary by discipline (e.g., studio and gallery for visual arts, computer labs for media arts, and practice rooms and stages for dance, music and theatre).

To build successful community partnerships

Connections with community nonprofit arts organizations and government agencies provide opportunities for collaboration and cross-sector support, which add value and strength to your PTA’s role as an advocate for arts learning in your school. Making new connections and strengthening existing partnerships can help enhance or provide new opportunities for student learning; increase the visibility of arts programs, performances and events; and generate resources for arts education programs in your school.

To advocate for the value of arts in education

The decisions of school leaders can indicate whether yours is an arts-rich school. Positive indicators include a commitment to integrating the arts into other core academic subjects, providing professional development for arts teachers and building capacity for arts programs. However, a school’s commitment to arts learning may be faltering when funding and goals are unclear, resources provided to principals are untapped and arts programs are not visible to the community. Advocating the importance of stand-alone and integrated art curriculum and accompanying resources is critical moving forward.

COVID-19 Relief

Your Excellence Team may choose to focus on your greatest community needs that resulted from the impact of COVID-19. Please consider the most vulnerable populations in your school community and keep a focus on equity when choosing what supports to provide. Consult with your PTA Board, your school administration, district-level school supports, school educators, counselors and social workers as well as local businesses/nonprofits to help you reach your goals. PTAs across the nation have shared their greatest needs with us, primarily in the areas of food security, mental health and social emotional support, distance learning and internet/device access. Below, please find ideas and recommendations to get started in this work.

Food Security
  • Support your school district’s meal pick up and deliveries with additional meals, groceries and/or food supports. By sharing information about district-wide efforts, your PTA can reach the hardest to reach families in your community. Your Excellence Team may also be able to pick-up, drop-off or drive students to food assistance programs.
  • Connect with Local Food Bank(s). Organize information (e.g. location, hours, operations) to let families know how to access these resources in your community. Be sure to consider all options for distributing and translating information so all families can be informed. Your Excellence Team can also encourage community donations to food banks/drives in your community. Check out the new No Kid Hungry Meal Finder.
  • Help Food Pantries Identify New Locations. Ideally, families should not have to travel far to get to a food pantry.This could be at your school, the library, community center, or other central locations. Connect with local food banks and non-profits to advocate for and support satellite food pantry locations.
  • Find additional resources to combat the effects of the pandemic with National PTA’s COVID-19 Resource Page.
  • Read this blogpost for examples from School of Excellence participants who are supporting their school communities during this challenging time.
Mental Health and Social Emotional Support
  • Issue and encourage participation in virtual contests, daily challenges and morale boosters to lift spirits. Celebrate School Spirit Week Online, collect cards and artwork for local nursing homes, create a weekly e-newsletter with fun, free engaging activities to do at home, host a virtual talent show or art contest, post weekly videos to social media featuring members of your school community, share free links to exercise or art classes, use National PTA’s ArtsEd Resources to start your arts program, virtual art gallery or Reflections program.
  • Promote community engagement activities. Organize a theme-based chalk-the-walk, stuffed animal window safari or scavenger hunt.
  • Coordinate the creation of wellbeing kits (e.g. first aid, hygiene and/or mental health care packages). Work with your school district or school administration to distribute (zero contact) or create a form for families to order supplies. Work with community supporters to ask for donations.
  • Connect with your community. Reach out to the mental health workers in your school and beyond to connect families to curriculum and resources.
  • Find additional resources to combat the effects of the pandemic with National PTA’s COVID-19 Resource Page.
  • Read this blogpost for examples from School of Excellence participants who are supporting their school communities during this challenging time.
Distance Learning
  • Ensure that all guidance, opportunities and instructions for families are available in all languages spoken in your community. Advocate for your families to ensure that everyone is receiving the same educational opportunities. Enlist parent liaisons to support, encourage, translate and transcribe information as needed.
  • Share distance learning and enrichment resources. Curate a list of resources to enhance your school curriculum and then post them online and/or distribute hard copies to families. Gain volunteer support to provide rotating tutoring services, grade-level study groups or virtual story times and literacy activities online. You can use special Office Depot discounts for PTAs to have the packets printed and shipped directly to where you need!
  • Coordinate the creation of learning supply kits. Identify supplies that could be distributed to families with food pick up, if your school already has this in place. Examples could include school supplies (e.g. notebooks, pencils, markers, etc.) or enrichment kits to promote hands-on engagement in the arts, STEM (e.g. National PTA’s STEM @ Home experiment kits), physical activity, or reading book kits.
  • Find additional resources to combat the effects of the pandemic with National PTA’s COVID-19 Resource Page.
  • Read this blogpost for examples from School of Excellence participants who are supporting their school communities during this challenging time.
Internet and Device Access
  • Equip families with the knowledge of what is available to them to access the internet at home. Many service providers have updated their low-cost or free internet offers. Create and print a flyer to share at school distribution sites. Also consider sending an email to essential businesses in your community to ask if they will post or distribute to customers, if able. EveryoneOn ( specializes in helping to increase internet accessibility for families across the country. Enter your zip code into their website to identify the offers in your area (no identifying information needed!).
  • Provide families with the tools they need to access the internet at home. Partner with the appropriate school resource staff to purchase and help organize the distribution of WiFi hotspots to families without internet connections in your community.
  • Ensure that families have enough devices for all members of their family. Organize a remote device drive to collect used devices, sanitize them and set them up with the appropriate school applications before distributing to families in need. Partner with your school technologist, media specialist or librarian to ensure everything is set-up correctly.
  • Find additional resources to combat the effects of the pandemic with National PTA’s COVID-19 Resource Page.
  • Read this blogpost for examples from School of Excellence participants who are supporting their school communities during this challenging time.