Author: Alex Baker

PTLA Holds Third Session of Academy Year

By Sophia Xiong
CCBP Volunteer

The UA Parent Teacher Leadership Academy (PTLA) held its third session of the Academy year Dec. 6 on the campus of The University of Alabama (UA). The day’s topic was “Collaboration and Communication.” During the morning and early afternoon, teachers attended Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) workshops and lectures for elementary teachers. Kara Bernal and Kristi Garcia, both with the Tuscaloosa City Schools, gave the lecture “Breaking through Language Barriers to Create Partnerships.” They introduced some of the obstacles bilingual students could face in school and provided examples. Bernal has been the ESL (English as a second language) school social worker for the Tuscaloosa City Schools for almost 19 years, and for the past four years has also served as the moderator/interpreter/translator for the Hispanic parents participating in PTLA. Garcia serves as the coordinator of the ESL program for Tuscaloosa City Schools. She began working in the program in 2008. She has also worked with Global Café through UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), as well as Voces de los Padres, a parent-led educational advocacy group, to assist limited or non-English-speaking families with involvement in schools and with the difficulties of assimilation into a new community.

During the TLA session for middle school teachers, Dr. Lisa Matherson and Dr. James Hardin gave a lecture on “From Parent to PARTNER: Digital Tools for Building Bridges.” Matherson, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Education at UA, has served as the LiveText FEM coordinator since 2015 and works with stakeholders in their implementation of the LiveText FEM tool for the College. Hardin is a clinical assistant professor of technology applications and assessment systems in UA’s College of Education. He has served as the College’s LiveText coordinator since 2010, and is also the College’s director of the Innovative Teaching and Technology Lab. Matherson and Hardin not only provided a list of digital tools teachers could use to communicate with parents, but also offered tips for them in the communication process. Following their presentation, Dr. Sara McDaniel, associate professor in UA’s College of Education, presented “School & Family Partnerships with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.”

This meeting was the first session for teachers that offered different workshops provided simultaneously. In TLA for middle schools, teachers could choose between “Grades and Test Scores: Who Knows What They Really Mean?” by Andrew Maxey, and “Reading Activities for the Family” by
Carrie Jo Powell. Maxey is the director of special programs for Tuscaloosa City Schools. He served as director of middle school education for the district for the last two years and continues to lead system work at the middle school level. He also writes and speaks publicly about effective grading practices, transforming the role of the teacher in public education and leadership that works. Powell has been an instructional coach at Hillcrest Middle and Hillcrest High Schools since 2016. Prior to being named to her current position, she taught English at Hillcrest Middle for 15 years.

In elementary TLA, teachers could choose two of three available workshops. Topics included “Handling Sensitive Conversations” by Krista Snyder, “Transformational Family Conferences and IEPs” by Hannah Ruggles and Dr. Holly Morgan, and “Mindset Matters” by Lynn Evers.
Snyder is a speech language pathologist at Communication Advantage Inc. She received both a BS and an MA degree in communicative disorders from The University of Alabama in the 1980s. Her nearly 40 years of experience have provided an enriching career focused on giving communicatively challenged people of all ages the gift of improved skills. Ruggles is a graduate research assistant in CCBP, pursuing her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. She works directly with PTLA under the direction of Morgan, who is director of Community Education at CCBP. Evers is an elementary math specialist in the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative at UA.

“How to communicate with parents and students is a very critical thing for educators,” said Taril Slater, a Matthews Elementary School teacher. “I found myself sometimes in difficult conversations; where I know what I want to say, but you need to be professional and say the right thing. I learned a lot from the first workshop about that.”

Teachers said what they learned from the workshops was very useful and could be applied in their classrooms. “I’ve never learned about mindset until two years ago,” said Kaylee Neal, a teacher from Cottondale Elementary School. “Now I realize that it really is the effort you put into it or the time you put into it, but you have to make a choice to do those things. So now, I can make sure that my kids know that now and they are not waiting until adulthood to make those same decisions.”

Saving Lives Graduation 2018

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Fellow

Saving Lives celebrated the culmination of several months of hard work and determination by each church in the health and wellness advocacy program on Sept. 18 at the Bryant Conference Center.

Before being given certificates of achievement and expressing what the program meant to them individually, the 19 Saving Lives advocates from five area African-American churches displayed posters detailing each of their advocacy projects.

At Plum Grove Baptist Church, Shaunta Sanders and Javelin Lewis served as the advocates. Their project was to create a Healthy Eating Expo by connecting and engaging community members. Lewis said the program “empowered” her to take its health message back to her congregation. “We got out into our church and we felt equipped. We were excited about it and our church got excited.”

For Lewis the Saving Lives message held a personal meaning. “It took me some time before I could make the connection, but I kept thinking about my own mom. She didn’t work out, she didn’t eat healthy and she smoked for as long as I think I’ve been alive,” Lewis said. She explained that her sister from Tennessee called to tell her that their mother had collapsed at church. Nine days later she died.

“It was a hard thing to swallow,” Lewis said. “She’d had an aneurysm while at church praising God.” She added that the Saving Lives Initiative has given her hope. “I feel like we can save some mamas. I feel like we can save families. It’s called Saving Lives. We can do that if we take this information and we take it into our churches and we put in the hands, minds and hearts of people. People can live.”

Lewis explained how the program has made a difference and can continue to make a difference in the African-American community, because knowledge is empowering.

“Sometimes these things happen because we don’t know. We don’t have the right information. We don’t have the right direction and we don’t know which way to go,” Lewis said. “Well, Saving Lives gives us that. So, to the advocates here, please know that this is not a little task that you’ve undertaken. This is a very big thing. But just know that God is with you and will take you from beginning to end.”

Lewis’ sentiments were echoed by other advocates. “I just want to thank God for the Saving Lives Initiative. I want to thank God for giving me the information through the Saving Lives Initiative. I don’t think there is any other organization where I have learned so much about health” said Valerie Cleveland, who works as a counselor at a nursing home.

Cleveland is a member of Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church and she helped to organize a program entitled “Let’s Talk” which helped start a conversation about death and dying, advanced directives, powers of attorney, funeral arrangements and more.  “We know we are going to die. So let your family know of your wishes. Don’t leave that stress on your family,” Cleveland said. “This is so dear to my heart because I work in a nursing home.”

During their initial meeting they engaged members of their congregation through presentations by an attorney and hospice staff members. “We did reach our goal because we got our participants to thinking,” Cleveland said. “I’m hoping that when we have our second workshop, those papers that we hand out, they’re going to bring them back and we’re going to notarize them and that’s all they need.”

“I was personally convicted to start to thinking about the conversations that I need to have in my family,” said Dr. Nicole Prewitt, who serves as the director of programs and partnerships for community engagement at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP) and directs Saving Lives activities. Prewitt recalled her father explaining to her family his final wishes before his untimely death. “My dad passed away at 59 unsuspectedly, but I remember how he was kind enough and loved us enough to share that information.”

Letrell Peoples, who attends New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Northport, said her church had struggled to create a senior ministry for years, but she lacked the motivation to start the program until connecting with Saving Lives. “The academy gave us the little push and the structure and the guidance that we needed,” she said. “It took seven years for us, but this was the time and we thank Saving Lives.”

Saving Lives is a faith-based wellness program established to advocate for healthy families and communities through faith. For more information about the program, email Prewitt at or call her at 205-348-9819.


UA’s Parent Teacher Leadership Academy Receives National Award for School, Family and Community Partnerships

Schools participating in at least one PTLA program area:

Alberta School of Performing Arts
Arcadia Elementary
Berry Elementary
Big Sandy Elementary
Brookwood Elementary
Brookwood Middle
Buhl Elementary
Central Elementary
Collins-Riverside Middle
Creek View Elementary
Crestmont Elementary
Davis-Emerson Middle
Duncanville Middle
Eastwood Middle
Faucett-Vestavia Elementary
Fayette Elementary
Fayette Middle
Hillcrest Middle
Holt Elementary
Lake View Elementary
Lamar County High/Intermediate
Livingston Junior
Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary
Matthews Elementary
Maxwell Elementary
Meadow View Elementary
Myrtlewood Elementary
Northington Elementary
Oakdale Elementary
Rock Quarry Elementary
Rock Quarry Middle
Sipsey Valley Middle
Skyland Elementary
Southview Elementary
Thompson Intermediate
Thompson Middle
Thompson Sixth Grade Center
Tuscaloosa Magnet Elementary
Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle
University Place Elementary
University Place Middle
Vance Elementary
Verner Elementary
Vernon Elementary
Walker Elementary
Westlawn Middle
Westwood Elementary
Woodland Forest Elementary
York West End Junior

TUSCALOOSA — A national network based at Johns Hopkins University has recognized a University of Alabama program for establishing successful community partnerships with area public schools.

The Parent Teacher Leadership Academy (PTLA) earned a national Partnership Organization Award for helping local schools develop “goal-oriented programs of family and community engagement,” according to an announcement from Johns Hopkins University’s National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS).

“PTLA’s research-based approach is helping public schools in Alabama improve student attendance, behavior, achievement, health, graduation rates, and postsecondary plans,” according to Dr. Joyce L. Epstein, director of NNPS.

“This award is further recognition of the success of our ongoing community engagement strategy,” said Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, vice president of the Division of Community Affairs. “It provides evidence of the direct impact this program is having on one of the nation’s most important institutions, our public schools.”

Dr. Holly G. Morgan, director of Community Education for the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), said, “The University of Alabama is privileged to work with such dedicated teachers and parents. We are seeing outstanding results in our major goals of strengthening student performance and motivation through the effective establishment and ongoing work of school, family, and community partnership teams. Parents and teachers have expressed that the Academy has not only fostered personal leadership growth but has enhanced communication at all levels throughout their schools.”  

Each year, classes prepare and execute special projects designed to improve the overall educational experience within the schools. In 2018, the 10th year of the program, a record 50 PTLA projects were conducted. Projects addressed key areas that parents and teachers developed to promote cooperation among community members, students, parents, teachers and school administration.

Member schools involved in PTLA total 49 from six different school systems — Tuscaloosa City, Tuscaloosa County, Alabaster City, Fayette County, Lamar County and Sumter County.

PTLA is a joint initiative of participating school systems, CCBP and UA’s Colleges of Education and Human Environmental Sciences. It utilizes research-based practices to provide professional development to parent and teacher leaders who use their knowledge to support student achievement through strong school, family and community partnerships. Selected parents and teachers are given opportunities to develop their knowledge and abilities as leaders within their school communities.

The program is divided into six program areas: Elementary Parent Leadership Academy, Elementary Teacher Leadership Academy, Middle School Parent Leadership Academy, Middle School Teacher Leadership Academy, Pre-K Parent Leadership Academy, and Hispanic Parent Leadership Academy.

Dr. Elizabeth K. Wilson, senior associate dean in the College of Education, and Dr. Blake Berryhill, family therapy program director in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, represent their respective colleges as PTLA faculty partners.