Environmental education is an integral part of everyday life at Redtail Ridge Elementary School in Minnesota’s Prior Lake-Savage area school district. On any given day you could find: math students using trees to study circumference, students using their senses to reinforce a lesson on adjectives, kindergartners sorting man-made verses natural objects, writing nature poetry, and investigating positive and negative numbers by recording the daily temperature. Embedding environmental education into our daily routine is a reflection of the community that fills the building, viewing the outdoors as an extension of our classroom, and a constant effort to replace existing lessons with an environmental focus.
From a supportive administrator, to our diligent custodial staff, willing classroom teachers, and tireless support staff, we are all working towards our philosophy of using the environment to educate children. The willingness to help each other and draw on each other’s strengths is what makes us unique. At any time you might see a fifth grade classroom taking a kindergarten class snowshoeing and then the next day going again with a group of second graders.
Every school year starts with a lesson on the expectations of outdoor learning. As a staff we established building-wide rules for outdoor learning, which are posted at every exit to remind students of appropriate behavior. As a result, we have minimal behavior issues outdoors due to the frequency of getting outside, clear expectations, and students’ desire to be outside. The students understand that learning is not restricted to the classroom and the outdoors provides them with a hands-on, sensory, learning experience.
Teachers are forever worrying and working to make sure all the curriculum is covered. We realized that if we try to go outside on top of teaching the daily subjects we would never get it all in. We strive to replace elements of existing, required lessons with an active, outdoor, learning component. Through professional development our staff has marked lessons in teacher manuals where going outside is an option and enhances the lesson.
Our dedication to environmental concepts is validated by student academic progress and proficiencies on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments in Science. Over the past four years the Redtail Ridge fifth grade students have consistently performed above the state average. We believe that by taking classes outside for learning, it in turn increases their attention and focus upon returning to the classroom.
Overall, the staff and students at Redtail Ridge not only believe in the importance of strong environmental awareness and promoting stewardship, but also live it each and every day. This is evident from classroom experiments on the effects of pollution on plants, students following our waste dispersal program, a class sitting in the outdoor boulder garden recording observations in their science notebooks, student naturalists heading out to replenish bird feeders, and environmentally centered morning meetings.
We continue to challenge ourselves in the area of environmental education. This year we embarked on an edible school garden adventure and next year we are adding an outdoor-space specific to little learners.
Sara Aker is a 5th grade teacher and Susan Schnackenberg is a Kindergarten teacher at Redtail Ridge Elementary School in Minnesota’s Prior Lake-Savage Area School District.
Opportunity is perhaps the greatest possibility of the American promise. For two New York City high school students who came to America less than ten years ago knowing very little English, opportunity led them to the White House Science Fair where they presented their subway vacuum cleaner project to President Obama with their classmate Si Ya “Wendy” Ni, a first generation college student.
One of the students, Amro Halwah, immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13. He started school in the U.S. as an 8th grader and is currently a senior at Baruch College Campus High School. When he was young, he hated learning because he viewed it as only memorizing facts that he promptly forgot after taking a test.
While in school in New York, however, he started down a different path. He participated in several hands-on projects that unleashed his creativity and gave him the opportunity to engage in independent learning. When he got the chance to join the L-MIT Baruch InvenTeam this year, his desire to learn and contribute to the invention of last year’s seniors really excited him.
His participation on the team also made a difference in the community by addressing a problem through technological innovation. “I believe that people should be more circumspect about the problems they face in their daily lives because they tend to ignore problems they believe they do not have the power to solve,” he said when he reflected on his work on the team.
Stephen Mwingira, also a senior and an immigrant to the United States from Tanzania, didn’t think it was possible to set foot on American soil as recently as seven years ago. He certainly had no idea that one day he would be inside the White House. When he moved it was it one of the hardest things he had to do and he struggled to adjust to his new surroundings.
Everything changed when his mom encouraged him to join a robotics club in fifth grade, which unlocked his passion for technology and engineering. Robotics opened a whole new level of creativity for him, and his passion ultimately became a bit of an obsession. “I never thought that this obsession would one day grant me the opportunity of a lifetime: to present at the White House Science Fair,” he said. Stephen views STEM as something positive that everyone is capable of and that can help contribute to the well-being of the community.
Students on the InvenTeam have learned that many of the problems in our world today can be solved by science and technology. They understand that the more opportunities we create for people of all ages to delve deeper into STEM, the more problems we can solve to make the world we live in better for tomorrow.
Dr. Elisabeth Jaffe is a math teacher at Baruch College Campus High School in New York, New York. She is the InvenTeam advisor and traveled with Stephen and Amro to the White House.
As a graduate student, I‘m no stranger to filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), and when I filed my 2016-17 FAFSA, I was prompted to create an FSA ID—the username and password you need to log in to the FAFSA. I followed the step-by-step instructions, and voila! I easily created my very own FSA ID in no time!
The FSA ID replaced the Federal Student Aid PIN (check out this blog post explaining why). Students, parents, and borrowers must use an FSA ID to log on to certain Department of Education (ED) websites like fafsa.gov, StudentAid.gov, and StudentLoans.gov. The FSA ID is a more secure way to access and sign important documents without using personally identifiable information (PII).
More than 30 million FSA IDs have been created, and people, like me, have used their FSA ID more than 146 million* times. With any new process, there are some myths floating around about creating and using an FSA ID. Let’s tackle some of those right now…Myth #1:
It’ll take a long time to create my FSA ID.
On average, it takes about seven minutes to create an FSA ID. If you previously had a Federal Student Aid PIN, you can link it to your FSA ID; this will help eliminate a few steps in the process. Federal Student Aid (FSA) has a variety of resources, like this helpful video, that walks you through each step of creating an FSA ID.Myth #2:
Only students need to create an FSA ID.
If you are a dependent student, then your parent will need an FSA ID, too (if he or she will sign the FAFSA electronically). That’s because you will need to provide your parent’s information on your FAFSA and your parent, will need to sign the FAFSA, as well. But here is something very important—your parent must create his or her own, separate FSA ID. Your parent shouldn’t use your FSA ID, and you shouldn’t create an FSA ID for your parent.
If you’re not sure if you’re a dependent student, visit StudentAid.gov/dependency.Myth #3:
It’s okay to let someone else create or use my FSA ID.
Not okay. Each individual person needs to create his or her own FSA ID. A Parent should NOT be creating an FSA ID for their child, and a student should NOT be creating an FSA ID for his or her parent. For example, if a parent tries to create both the parent’s and child’s FSA ID, it’s easy to mix up information like Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and usernames and passwords. Because we verify your information with the Social Security Administration (SSA), it’s crucial that this information be correct. Also, if someone else creates your FSA ID, how will you know the answers to your challenge questions if you need to retrieve a lost username or password?
Also, FSA IDs are used to sign legally binding documents, so giving someone access to your FSA ID is like allowing them to forge your signature. Be sure to create your own FSA ID, and save yourself the trouble.Myth #4:
I need an e-mail address to create an FSA ID
You do NOT need an e-mail address to create an FSA ID. If you don’t have an e-mail address, you can leave this field blank. Adding your e-mail address is strongly recommended, though, because once your e-mail address is verified, you can enter it instead of your username when you log in. You can also use your e-mail address to retrieve your forgotten username or password or to unlock your account. It’s easy to update and verify your e-mail address by clicking “Edit My FSA ID.”Myth #5:
As a parent, I can use the same e-mail address for both my FSA ID and my child’s.
An e-mail address cannot be used with more than one FSA ID. If you choose to provide an e-mail address when creating your FSA ID, the student will need to include his or her e-mail own address, and the parent will need to include his or her own e-mail address. If you don’t have an e-mail address, you can leave the field blank.Myth #6:
I need an FSA ID to fill out the FAFSA.
The fastest way to sign and submit your FAFSA is to use an FSA ID. That said, if you or your parent don’t have an FSA ID, you can still submit the FAFSA. If you fill out the FAFSA online, but don’t have an FSA ID, you can choose the option to submit your FAFSA without signatures, and print and mail a signature page. If you can’t fill out the FAFSA online, you have other options.
Students without access to a computer can receive assistance from a wide range of college access organizations, like the National College Access Network (NCAN); a student can also visit a local library, use a computer at school, as well as get help from school counselors.Myth #7: The Social Security Administration has to verify my information before I can use my FSA ID.
If you’re filling out a FAFSA for the first time, you can use your newly created FSA ID to sign and submit your FAFSA right away. But, if you need to submit a renewal FAFSA or make corrections after you’ve submitted your FAFSA—and you did NOT link your PIN when you created your FSA ID—you first have to wait for the SSA to verify your identity. The verification process takes one to three days.
Make sure to enter your information exactly as it appears on your Social Security card to avoid delays. Once your information is verified, you can use your FSA ID to submit your renewal FAFSA, make corrections, access your loan history, and a host of other things.
If you’re a parent, you never have to wait for the SSA match to sign your child’s FAFSA. However, if you sign the FAFSA when your SSA match status is listed as “pending” and it later returns “no match,” we will remove your signature from your child’s FAFSA. If that happens, you will either need to resolve the conflict with the SSA and sign electronically again, or print and mail a signature page.Myth #8:
Confirming my e-mail address can take up to 24 hours.
You should receive your e-mail confirmation within three minutes. Although, your e-mail account’s spam filter could delay your confirmation. It’s a good idea to add the FSA ID e-mail address—FSA-ID@ed.gov—to your address book to make sure you get your confirmation.Myth #9:
I forgot my password, and it’s going to take 30 minutes to reset it.
You only have to wait 30 minutes if you reset your password using your challenge questions.
But, the easiest way to reset your password is to enter your verified e-mail address. Once you do, you can use your FSA ID immediately.
* These figures are accurate as of April 11, 2016.
Alexis Anderson is an intern at Federal Student Aid’s office of communications. She is a graduate student at The George Washington University studying Strategic Public Relations.
Photo by Getty Images.