Higher Education News
Back to school time can be a hectic time for both you and the kiddos. These are some of our best back to school tips to help ensure this school year gets off to a great start!
Walk or ride the route your child will take and make note of school patrols, crossing guards and high traffic areas along the way. Talk to your kids about NOT talking to strangers and find out what, if any, policies your child’s school has regarding early arrivals or late pick-ups. Learn about the school’s entrance and exit policies. Then, if you can, pop in and check out what the inside of the school looks like.
Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher and ask him or her about the preferred method of communication. (Some teachers are active on email and social media, while others prefer the phone or in-person meetings.)
Make homework time a daily habit. Find a quiet and consistent place at home where your child can complete his or her homework. If your child is having difficulty with his or her homework, make an appointment with the teacher sooner rather than later.
Limit the time that you let your child watch TV, and when you do decide to do TV time, make it a family affair. Talk together about what you see and ask questions after the show ends.
During the summer, children aren’t always on a schedule, which is understandable. But, proper rest is essential for a healthy and productive school year. Help your kids get back on track sleep-wise by having them go to bed earlier and wake up earlier at least a week in advance of when school actually starts.
Let’s face it – no one can concentrate when they’re hungry. Studies show that children who eat healthy, balanced breakfasts and lunches do better in school. Fix nutritious meals at home, and, if you need extra help, find out if your family qualifies for any child nutrition programs, like the National School Lunch Program.
It’s a good idea to take your child in for a physical and an eye exam before school starts. Most schools require up-to-date immunizations, and you may be asked to provide paperwork showing that your child has all the necessary shots and vaccines. So, check your state’s immunization requirements. And, always keep your own copies of any medical records.
Dorothy Amatucci is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.
If you work in public service, you already know that feeling of self-fulfillment that comes from helping others, but you might not realize a potential added benefit of your public service work: federal student loan forgiveness.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. I know what you’re thinking … “qualifying” is used a lot of times in that sentence. How would you possibly know if you qualify? You don’t have to guess; there’s an easy way to determine your eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Submit an Employment Certification Form (sometimes called an ECF).1. What’s an ECF and why should I submit it?
An ECF is a form that you can complete and submit to keep track of your progress toward loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. It requires you to provide some basic information about you (the borrower) and your employer. Both you and your employer are required to certify that the information on your ECF is true, complete, and correct. Once you submit your form, the PSLF servicer will determine if your loans are eligible for PSLF and if your employer qualifies. Qualifying public service employment can include government work, teaching in a public school, or working at a non-profit organization.
If you think you might qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, there is NO reason not to submit an ECF. It only takes a few minutes of your time but could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars if you qualify. There is no cost to complete the form and it will give you peace of mind when you know where you stand when it comes to forgiveness.2. When should I complete an ECF?
If you work in public service and are repaying federal student loans, you should complete an ECF right away to confirm that you are making progress toward loan forgiveness.
After your first successful ECF submission, the Department strongly recommends that you submit an ECF every year or every time you change jobs to ensure your employment qualifies under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Your servicer will also provide you with an updated count of your qualifying payments each time you’ve submitted an approved ECF.
Let me be clear: This is not a one and done. You must provide documentation that you are employed by a qualifying employer (or employers) for a total of 120 months while making timely payments on an eligible repayment plan to qualify for forgiveness. That means you’ll need to submit an ECF for every qualifying job you work at, to cover that entire period of time. And an ECF is not the same as your annual income recertification if you are enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan; it’s a completely different certification that serves a completely different purpose.
By regularly submitting ECFs, you’ll know exactly how much progress you’ve made toward loan forgiveness. Don’t wait until the end of those 120 months and find out too late that you weren’t meeting all of the necessary requirements.3. How do I complete an ECF?
Download this form. It’s a fillable PDF. Once you complete your information, print it out, sign it, and get your employer to sign it.
Then, you have three options:
- E-mail it to: AccountInfo@MyFedLoan.org.
- Fax it to: 717-720-1628
- Snail mail it to:
U.S. Department of Education
P.O. Box 69184
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9184
Note: If FedLoan Servicing is already your federal student loan servicer, you can also upload your ECF through their online portal.Watch out for these common mistakes when you’re filling out the form:
1. Complete the entire form. Forms that are missing information or are incomplete account for almost half of the forms that get rejected. You must complete every field; if you need help completing the form, call 855-265-4038.
2. Get the proper signatures. If you AND your employer don’t sign the form, the PSLF servicer cannot assess your eligibility and your form will be denied.
3. Write clearly or better yet, type your information into the online form. If the servicer can’t read what you wrote, they won’t be able to properly determine your eligibility. When you download the form, type in your personal and employer information and then print it out to get the signatures. You don’t want to miss out on forgiveness due to something as silly as poor penmanship.4. What happens after I complete an ECF?
After you send your completed ECF, our Public Service Loan Forgiveness servicer, FedLoan Servicing will review your form to determine if (1) your loans are eligible for PSLF; and (2) your employer counts as a qualifying employer.
This assessment usually takes 5-7days. If you don’t meet these requirements, you will be notified that your ECF has been denied due to ineligible loans, ineligible employment, or a combination of these reasons. But if your loans and employer qualify, you will be notified that your ECF has been approved, and your federal loan account will be transferred to FedLoan Servicing (if your loans are not already serviced by FedLoan Servicing).
I want to emphasize that the terms and conditions of your loan(s) will not change when your loan(s) is transferred. This is a common concern from borrowers, so let me say it again: Your interest rate will remain the same and your payment amount will remain the same (unless you change your repayment plan).
Within approximately 7-10 business days of receiving notification that your ECF was approved, you should expect to receive notification from your current servicer (if it’s not already FedLoan) that your account will be transferred and then soon after, you will receive notification from FedLoan Servicing that they have received and are now servicing your account.
Next, FedLoan will take a look at the time period of qualifying employment certified on your approved ECF(s) and count the number of payments you’ve made during that time that count toward student loan forgiveness under PSLF. This part of the process could take a while, particularly if it’s the first time you submitted an approved ECF, if your ECF verified your employment for a long period of time, or if FedLoan needs to review payments you’ve made prior to 2010.
Remember, you must make 120 on-time (i.e. no more than 15 days after your due date) payments before being eligible to have the remainder of your loan balance forgiven. Once your payments are counted, FedLoan will report the number of qualifying payments you’ve made on your billing statements. They will also counsel you to get on a repayment plan that will allow you to benefit the most from PSLF (i.e. an income-driven repayment plan) and remind you to submit an ECF at least once a year.5. If I haven’t already submitted an ECF, does it mean I won’t qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?
No, it’s not too late for qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. In fact, no one will be eligible for forgiveness until October 2017. But, that doesn’t mean you should wait until next year to take action.
There are lots of caveats associated with this program and you don’t want to play a guessing game when it comes to your financial future. Even if your employer qualifies, your loans might not; or if your loans and employer qualify, you might not be on a repayment plan that qualifies for student loan forgiveness or one that results in a remaining balance after 120 payments. Your student loan servicer can help you find the right repayment plan.
Simply, get the form and get to work. Document all of your public service employment history while you were making payments on your federal student loans (going back as far as October 2007 when this program first started). Complete Section 3 of the ECF or get your current and past public service employers to do so, and get their signatures. Then, submit the completed form to FedLoan Servicing. It’s that easy.
Tara Marini is a communications specialist at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.
The post Get Rewarded for your Public Service Work with Loan Forgiveness appeared first on ED.gov Blog.
This year, I sent my youngest child to preschool.
Over the summer, we had the luxury of hours of cuddle time, reading books together, jumping on the trampoline and building endless Lego and wood block structures.
But now, it’s time for him to start his preschool journey – and I’m feeling a little hesitant about a few things.
First, I am really going to miss him every day. What if other kids say harsh things to him and his feelings get hurt? What if he trips and falls? Or, what if he has an accident and the teachers don’t comfort him as well as I can?
I’m worried about a lot – but I’m also very excited.
Noé’s preschool is diverse in a number of ways. Students are as young as two years old or as old as five. The student population is also made up of kids from different socio-economic backgrounds, as well as different ethnic and language backgrounds. Additionally, some families have a generational history of high levels of education while other may or may not have attained high school diplomas.
Every day, the teachers set up learning stations where students can create, arrange, construct, converse, act out, write, draw or play together.
But what’s most important is the way the teachers treat the children. They care about the children’s social-emotional health and they take the time to chat with me when they have a concern. I notice them watching the students closely, asking them questions and listening closely to how the children responds. Sometimes I see students get into arguments, usually about who gets to be included in a game or who gets to use a particular object. I notice the teachers mindfully observing. Will the children work through the problem on their own, or will they need a little guidance to help them get there? I notice their kind smiles and their gentle, yet firm, voices.
As an English/Spanish bilingual family, we know that Noé’s language and culture are regarded as an asset at his school. His Cambodian teacher is even trying to learn some Spanish to connect with him.
I also appreciate how children with autism, Down syndrome, and other special learning needs are included in his class and participate in play groups the same as other children. Noé is growing and learning in a classroom where everyone’s differences are celebrated and their contributions valued.
These formative years will allow Noé to be able to understand people better, to understand how a really inclusive community looks and feels, and understand how he’s a part of that community. That’s important to us.
Unfortunately, Noe’s preschool isn’t free, and this is a reality for many parents across the country. As a middle-class working family, we struggle to be able to pay the tuition, but we know it’s worth it.
Letting go of my kid as he ventures into an exciting new stage is tough, but I also know how right it is to send Noé to preschool. This is his time to grow and flourish and I can’t wait to root for him along the way.
Thea Fabian and her husband, Eduardo, have three children – Noé (age 4), Emerson (age 8) and Inés (age 12) – and live in Fresno, California.
Five years ago, I was tasked with developing what came to be called U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS). You may have heard of it. The recognition award is now known for honoring sustainable schools annually.
What is a “green” or “sustainable” school, you ask? Well, we established a federal definition when we created the award. That federal education definition includes three broad areas that we call Pillars. Pillar I is ‘Reducing Environmental Impact and Costs‘, including waste, water, greenhouse gases, energy, and transportation. Pillar II is ‘Improving Health and Wellness‘, including physical activity, nutrition, and environmental health. Pillar III is ‘Teaching Effective Environmental and Sustainability Education.’
State education authorities voluntarily nominate up to five schools and school districts and up to one postsecondary institution each year to the U.S. Department of Education (ED). We announce the honorees on or near Earth Day and then invite them all to a special ceremony in Washington D.C. in the summer.
That’s the part that most people know. What I’d like to discuss are the common misconceptions about ED-GRS:
- The Obama Administration developed this because they are environmentalists. Regardless of personal opinions, conservation is not ED’s mission. In fact, credit for this initiative belongs to the field. It was proposed to us by 80 national organizations – from the principals to school boards to the health organizations and school facilities advocates. They requested, in a joint letter organized by long-time environmental education advocate James Elder, that ED develop a recognition award at the intersection of school facilities, health, and environment.
- Only new school buildings can qualify. The award is structured such that schools, whether they are old or new, rural or urban, small or large, can qualify under the criteria. We ask state education authorities to send ED their highest-performing nominees across the Pillars. We don’t pit states or nominees against one another, nor do we compare different types of schools. We look to see that they are progressing in each area. ED has honored 1917 schools that are doing great conservation work. One of the things I try to ensure as Director is that we review nominees in their context. Interestingly, many of the best honorees serve a majority disadvantaged student body. I guess it shouldn’t surprise us that under-resourced schools know how to get, well, resourceful!
- It’s just a K-12 school award. While we began with just a school award in 2012, we added a District Sustainability Award in 2013; a Director’s Award (to honor a state official advancing sustainable schools practices) in 2014; and a Postsecondary Sustainability Award to honor institutions of higher education in 2015. Though the bulk of the nominations are for schools, we now have selectees from every category each year.
- Green schools are primarily about energy efficiency. A green school, as we’ve defined it, means all three Pillars, not just one. We’ve turned away highly efficient, green building standard-rated schools when they were not demonstrating a commitment to other Pillars, such as sustainability education. Along the same vein, not all green schools feature renewable energy. That is an add-on, but never a requirement. Most schools are doing less glamorous but fast payback retrofits and educating their community on conservation behaviors. As one of my architect colleagues has put it, these schools “eat their conservation vegetables before getting renewable energy dessert.”
- Pillar III is STEM or STEAM. Our Pillar III is for nominees to show that they are teaching effective environmental and sustainability education – that is, hands-on, project-based, authentic learning about how humans relate in dynamic, interdependent environmental, economic, and social systems. The best sustainability education we’ve seen is integrated through all subjects, including arts, languages, and social studies. It offers opportunities to exercise higher order thinking skills, problem solving, and collaboration, all in a real-world context. While it is popular to speak of STEM programs, robotics, and maker spaces; to educate effective citizens of the future; and to receive this award, it is not enough to have a robust STEM program. Schools must ground themselves in environmental education and education for sustainability.
- You have to spend a lot of money to become a green school. Through their conservation behaviors, efficiency upgrades, waste reduction and, yes, a few renewable energy features, honorees are saving millions of dollars annually, and putting that money into more staff positions, more school garden materials, and engaging, hands-on field trips, among many other possibilities. Precisely because school budgets are tight, administrators must be concerned with resource efficiency. It costs more to run those faucets, haul that trash, and heat those empty classrooms.
- ED-GRS requires a very long, complicated application. States are asked to show ED how their nominees are progressing in all three Pillars. How each state does that is entirely up to the individual state. There is no required federal application. In fact, I’ve often said that states can have nominees write a single narrative per Pillar. If a state has a very cumbersome application process, I’ve encouraged it to simplify. There is no federal requirement that the application be lengthy.
- ED is now certifying green schools. ED-GRS is not a certification program or a rating system. We use the award to communicate resources that all schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions can use. For this reason, any given institution can only receive the award once and we seek to honor just a small cohort each year. We don’t need hundreds of examples of innovative practices each year to communicate them. A few serves us just fine to communicate good work, and keep the administration of the award trim.
- Honoring so few schools, districts, and IHEs can’t have a broader impact. The aim of the award is to use a small number of honorees each year to communicate practices and resources that all schools can employ, so our work is all about amplification. To this end, we launched Green Strides, an effort to connect all schools with the resources these honorees are using in the three ‘Pillars’ of our award. We publish annual Highlights Reports detailing the honorees’ replicable practices. We’re on Twitter and Facebook , publish a blog, and distribute a newsletter that allows to share resources and practices in the areas of school facilities, health, and environment. To bring further attention to the honorees and their practices, we conduct an annual Green Strides Tour.
- If my state has never nominated for this award, there’s no hope of my school, district, or IHE being selected. Every year, schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions have successfully contacted and informed their state education authorities about the opportunity to nominate for this award. If your state does not already nominate, you can contact your Chief State School Officer or State Higher Education Executive Officer and request that they participate. Many of the states that already participate have designated contacts listed here.
- Green by any other name will smell as sweet. Our name is pretty important, since there is another entity with a very similar name. ED’s award is called “U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.” It has “District Sustainability Award” and “Postsecondary Sustainability Award” categories, in addition to the original school award. It is abbreviated ED-GRS. “Green Ribbon Schools” without the “U.S. Department of Education” is not ED’s award, but instead is a separate program overseen by another organization.
Now that you have a better understanding of ED-GRS, I hope you’ll use this as the tool it was intended to be – a megaphone for green school resources from federal and non-profit entities, a platform for innovative sustainable schools practices that save money while improving health and learning, and a producer of healthy, safe, sustainable school champions that can act as evangelists among their peers.
Still, we look forward to the day when all schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions are green and we can retire ED-GRS. Until then, I’ll continue to offer news of and reflections on green schools from the national perspective.
Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education.
The post Debunking Common Myths Behind U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools appeared first on ED.gov Blog.