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To Rebuild, Rethink and Renew

January 16, 2018 - 12:58pm

This past fall I had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands, twice — first, in October, and two weeks later, in the company of Secretary DeVos. There, I saw firsthand the wholesale destruction left by back-to-back hurricanes. The experience was both humbling and uplifting.

During my first visit, I joined the Commissioner of Education for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dr. Sharon McCollum, on a car trip around the Islands. On our way, she noticed the owner of a damaged wholesale club store — he was outside, combing through inventory, trying to salvage any goods that Hurricanes Maria and Irma had spared.

Pausing our scheduled tour, Dr. McCollum stopped the car in front of the store. She began negotiating the sale of cleaning supplies to be used in some of the many schools under her care. Simply getting students physically back to school is a monumental undertaking, she said: they shouldn’t have to fear getting sick from mold and the like once they’ve returned to the classroom.

Her goal that day — as it is every day — was to return a sense of normalcy to the more than 14,000 students whose lives and studies were interrupted by the powerful storms. I learned that, these days, such encounters are an integral part of Dr. McCollum’s day-to-day work: staff told me she can often be found out in the field, exploring the Islands in search of supplies and other resources to help students get back to school and engaged in learning again.

This is a fundamental objective on the Islands, where the scale of devastation from the storms defies description. Surveying the damage by military helicopter, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. Roofs had been ripped off houses; stores destroyed; roads impassable. School facilities that had once been home to fine arts and music — integral parts of the culture and education on the Islands — are gone forever, with many well-loved instruments, such as the region’s iconic steel drums, lost.

Read more about Acting Assistant Secretary Botel’s visits to the U.S. Virgin Islands on Medium


Jason Botel is Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education

The post To Rebuild, Rethink and Renew appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

Calling Local Heroes Directly into Action; Apply to be an ED School Ambassador Fellow

January 11, 2018 - 1:42pm

“But I’m just a teacher…”

We, teachers, change the mindsets of self-doubters, instill a lifelong love of learning for many, care for the children of others as if they’re our own, and play a major role in creating all other professions. Yet, despite those superpowers, many of us have heard or uttered the phrase ourselves, “But I’m just a teacher,” when we’ve been encouraged to pursue leadership opportunities beyond our classrooms, schools or districts.

I’ll confess that I’ve used that phrase at various points during my career as an educator. While it might be difficult to determine why educators are often less confident in the value of their input, the self-doubt is real.

Perhaps it’s the perception that major policy decisions impacting students and schools often occur with minimum input from teachers. Maybe it’s the manner in which social media has a way of amplifying the most critical voices in any topic, including education. Or, perhaps teachers are feeling overwhelmed and fatigued from being frequent targets of criticism for issues beyond their control.

Regardless of the reasons, the voices of dedicated, creative, and solution-focused educators are often overlooked on issues that impact how they do their jobs and serve children.

Special Opportunity for Educator Input

As I’ve gained opportunities over the years to interact with individuals at the state and federal level concerning education issues, I’ve seen the importance of being in the position to share the stories of those who might not have the ability or opportunity to speak out concerning their interests. The Department of Education values and needs the input of those who interact with students on a daily basis. The School Ambassador Fellowship Program is unique because it gives teachers, counselors, librarians and other school leaders the opportunity to provide input and feedback on policy matters that impact their schools and communities.

Although Fellows will have differing goals and interests, the opportunity to hone leadership skills is a universal aspect of the program. I’ve been fortunate to work in numerous contexts as an educator – from preschool to teaching university students. Those experiences have been gratifying. Nevertheless, I’ve always questioned the lack of diversity in our teacher corps. Simply stated, there aren’t enough Black men leading our classrooms.

James Ford, Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, Abdul Wright & Kevin Dua – State Teachers of the Year for NC, WA, MN and MA – discuss their journeys as Black male educators.

Although I’ve had numerous wonderful experiences thus far as a Fellow, it has been extremely rewarding to do work supporting others who also have a desire to increase our percentage of Black male educators. Whether through work as a Teach to Lead critical friend, or as a presenter at the inaugural convening of Black Male Educators for Social Justice, the ability to develop my leadership skills while addressing that topic (and others) has been extremely rewarding. Other Fellows have addressed areas that represent their interests in education, like special education and career readiness.

Elephant in the Room

Let’s be honest. For any number of reasons you might feel that applying to represent teachers on behalf of the Department of Education is just something you don’t feel you can do. And, if your primary reason for applying to the Fellowship is based exclusively on how you feel about issues, it might be best to pursue other opportunities where you can impact our field. However, if you desire to be a voice for the students and families you support at the national level, consider applying. For me, the best time to be a true advocate for my students and my families is, always, right now.

There were 6 Fellows selected for the 2017-2018 cohort. Does that mean you have to be the BEST at something in order to be selected? Not necessarily.

Must you be creative, passionate and eager to contribute to conversations around improving the outcomes of all students? Absolutely!

Most teachers have those skills and many more to spare. They’re our local heroes. What’s your superpower? More importantly, are you willing to share it?

Apply to be a School Ambassador Fellow for the 2018-19 school year through January 31, 2018.


Elmer Harris is a 2017-18 School Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

The post Calling Local Heroes Directly into Action; Apply to be an ED School Ambassador Fellow appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

“The Spirit is There”

January 10, 2018 - 1:32pm

“When can I go back to school?”

When that experience is disrupted, getting back to school can mean everything to students. And the adults who care for them — parents, educators and civic leaders — feel a special urgency.

For our fellow Americans in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, including more than 410,000 students in grades K-12, the 2017 hurricane season severely disrupted those reliable routines. First Irma hit, leaving more than one million people — nearly a third of the population on an island the size of Connecticut — without power. Two weeks later, María followed: one meteorologist likened its impact to a tornado, 50 miles wide, cutting a path of devastation through cities, towns and countryside.

In a three-week period, I travelled twice to visit Puerto Rico — the second time with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

We wanted to see conditions on the ground in the aftermath of the worst storm to hit the island in nearly a century, and provide support to the Puerto Rico Department of Education in its efforts to rebuild.

Since Irma and María slammed the region, our Department team has been in near-daily contact with local officials, coordinating closely with other federal and relief agencies. We’ve provided technical assistance and waived burdensome regulations that would increase costs and slow down recovery. We’ve provided an initial grant and are working with the White House and Congress to provide much greater emergency funding.

We’ve sent staff — thus far, dispatching ten Department employees on temporary assignment to support revitalization efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Still, we knew we needed to learn firsthand how the Federal government, with a host of national, State, local and charitable organizations, can best help the people of Puerto Rico get back to school, get back to normal and emerge stronger than before the storms.

Read more about Acting Assistant Secretary Botel’s visits to Puerto Rico on Medium


Jason Botel is Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education

The post “The Spirit is There” appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

ED’s School Ambassador Fellows Connect with #FellowsAtED Twitter Chats

January 3, 2018 - 1:59pm

It took me a while to feel comfortable with Twitter. I opened a personal account years ago, but I just didn’t see what all the buzz was about.

Once my district started encouraging teachers to build their Professional Learning Networks, however, I reluctantly created a professional account.  I was a little skeptical that it would be more of a distraction and less of a genuine resource, but it didn’t take long to convince me otherwise. I only spend an average of five minutes a day on Twitter, and in that short time, I find new ideas, get the most recent news in education, research the latest best practices, discover the most cutting-edge apps and read inspirational quotes that remind me why our job is so important.

As it turns out, Twitter is a place for teachers to share, to learn, to grow and to connect, which is exactly what we encourage our students to do. I read a great article on teachthought.com called, “What if Every Teacher Tweeted?” and it got me thinking about the people I’m representing this year as a Teacher Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.

The 2017-18 cohort of School Ambassador Fellows are always looking for ways to connect and collaborate with other educators to bring practitioner perspective to leaders at the federal level, and social media makes it easier than ever. As a way to reach those beyond our own networks, we will be hosting #FellowsAtEd chats through @usedgov the first Wednesday of each month.

Highlighting STEM

We kicked off the series in December with a STEM focus in honor of Computer Education Week. We wanted to know how people are innovating STEM education in their schools and classrooms and communities so we could highlight those practices at the Department.

Without the Twitter chat, we never would have known that Sarah Gross’s (@thereadingzone) students from High Tech Technology High School in Lincroft, NJ have a camera trap project. They wrote a grant, set up cameras on campus as a biology research project and blog about the fascinating wildlife. Or that a group of girls from the same school started a STEMinist club.

We also learned about some incredible tools Audra Damron (@audra_damron) uses to introduce coding to preschoolers. These are successes we should be celebrating and finding inspiration from, and we are grateful to find them through the power of a hashtag.


If you have something to share or want to be inspired by new ideas, we invite you to engage in #FellowsAtED by joining our next chat on Wednesday, January 3rd through the @usedgov Twitter account. The topic is social and emotional learning because we know, as educators, how important it is to focus on the whole child, and we want to hear how you and your schools are meeting your students’ needs in innovative ways.

I don’t consider myself a techie, but I understand the importance and value of using technology to connect to the rest of the world. If we expect our students to challenge themselves with technology, we should embrace that for ourselves and our colleagues.

Educators across the country are already connected by our desire to make an impact on our students and their futures. Let’s make it official. Let’s do this TOGETHER. Learn from each other. Inspire each other. Lift each other up when we are feeling down. Push each other. Make each other better. #FellowsAtED can make us one colossal classroom. Let’s get connected.

Applications for the 2018-19 cohort of School Ambassador Fellows are open now through January 31st.


Melody Arabo is a 2017 Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education and was honored to serve as the 2015 Michigan Teacher of the Year. She has been a third grade teacher at Keith Elementary in Walled Lake, MI since 2002.

Photo at the top: The 2017-18 cohort of ED School Ambassador Fellows

The post ED’s School Ambassador Fellows Connect with #FellowsAtED Twitter Chats appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

Coding and Collaboration with a Buddy System

December 21, 2017 - 8:54am

For several years our kindergarten and third grade students were accustomed to pairing up as reading buddies to improve their literacy skills through a mentee/mentor relationship. As a result of that success we decided to use a similar model to encourage our kids to collaboratively explore coding.

Students Engaged Quickly

The first step was to find a coding platform that was best suited for our students, one that fosters creativity and diversity and encourages students to drive their own creations and progress at their own pace. It was easy to research and there are several options that are tailored to a school setting.

Once we selected one, we quickly watched our students engage with it after only a short introduction, which was amazing.  You just don’t get that level of engagement, cooperation and excitement in young students with traditional teaching practices like paper and pencil work. Our students were paving the way and creating their own content. Whatever our students imagined soon became reality on the screen.

There was always bustling around the classroom, with students exclaiming, “Wow, how did you do that? Can you show me?” We created a “Code and Tell” component at the end of our coding time, so students could share something they discovered with the class and teach each other something new while building on their oral presentation skills.

In an effort to show students that coding can have real life applications and to provide them an authentic audience with leaders in our district, we developed the Operation Code Happiness project. Through this project, a third-grade student could write a letter of introduction, including a short survey, to members of our school district’s leadership. These administrators, also known as VIPs, were asked to complete and return the survey. Upon receiving information from the VIPs, such as their favorite color, song or photograph, coding buddies worked collaboratively to design aproject specifically with their VIP in mind.

Huge Leaps of Growth

In the spring, each set of coding buddies had an opportunity to present their creation to a room full of VIPs and others interested in learning more about the students’ creative process and experience with coding. Through this effort, we saw huge leaps of growth in students’ problem solving and resilience in the face of difficult coding challenges.  It often took several attempts before coding buddies would get their creation to look, sound and move just right.  Students were motivated to complete their project as they had envisioned it for their VIP. They also leaned heavily on each other to learn new elements and build outstanding projects.

As we talk to other teachers in our school and at technology conferences, we know this is only the beginning of coding in our classrooms. Our students are excited by this unique opportunity to take charge of their learning and to weave coding throughout multiple disciplines. As teachers, we know that it’s not our job to have all the answers all the time. It is our job to supply the right learning tools and environment to set our students up for the best learning experience possible. Coding is the perfect tool to help create a collaborative and creative environment, no matter what the age or grade level.


Juliann Snavely is a Kindergarten Teacher at Keith Elementary located in West Bloomfield, Michigan. She has been an early childhood educator for nineteen years and has been learning to code with her students since 2014. Juliann was honored to be selected as a Michigan Voice Educator Fellow (2015-16) and as the Keith Elementary Teacher of the Year (2008).

Angela Colasanti is a 3rd grade teacher at Keith Elementary in the Walled Lake Consolidated School District.  Angela is a MI Educator Voice Fellow, a Galileo Teacher Leader and is passionate about coding with her students.

The post Coding and Collaboration with a Buddy System appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

Public Comment Sought for Report on Obtaining Input from Rural Schools and Local Educational Agencies

December 19, 2017 - 3:36pm

SUMMARY:  In accordance with section 5005 of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Secretary seeks information from the public regarding actions the Department of Education (Department) can take to improve how it considers the unique needs of rural schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) as it develops and implements its policies and programs.  The Secretary intends to use this information in issuing a final report, required under section 5005, describing the actions it will take to increase the consideration and participation of rural schools and LEAs in the development and execution of the Department’s processes, procedures, policies, and regulations. (Preliminary report in pdf format)

DATES:  We must receive your comments no later than February 18, 2018.

ADDRESSES:  Submit your comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal or via postal mail, commercial delivery, hand delivery, or email.  To ensure that we do not receive duplicate copies, please submit your comments only once. In addition, please include the Docket ID (ED-2017-OCO-0139) at the top of your comments.

Federal eRulemaking Portal:  Go to www.regulations.gov to submit your comments electronically.  Information on using Regulations.gov, including instructions for accessing agency documents, submitting comments, and viewing the docket, is available on the site under the “Help” tab.

Postal Mail, Commercial Delivery, Hand Delivery, or Email:  The Department encourages commenters to submit their comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal.  However, if you mail or deliver your comments in response to this request, address them to Michael Chamberlain, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, room 5E260, Washington, DC 20202.  If you email your comments, send them to rural@ed.gov.

Privacy Note:  The Department’s policy is to make all comments received from members of the public available for public viewing in their entirety on the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov.  Therefore, commenters should be careful to include in their comments only information that they wish to make publicly available.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:  Michael Chamberlain, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, room 5E260, Washington, DC 20202. Telephone:  (202) 453-7527 or by email:  Michael.chamberlain@ed.gov.

If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf or a text telephone, call the Federal Relay Service, toll free, at 1-800-877-8339.


Background:  Section 5005 of the ESSA (Pub. Law 114-95), which was enacted on December 10, 2015, requires the Department to:

“review the organization, structure, and process and procedures of the Department of Education for administering its programs and developing policy and regulations, in order to—

(A) assess the methods and manner through which, and the extent to which, the  Department of Education takes into account, considers input from, and addresses the unique needs and characteristics of rural schools and rural local educational agencies; and

(B) determine actions that the Department of Education can take to meaningfully increase the consideration and participation of rural schools and rural local educational agencies in the development and execution of the processes, procedures, policies, and regulations of the Department of Education.”

Section 5005 also requires the Department to publish a preliminary report containing the information described above and provide Congress and the public with 60 days to comment on the proposed actions.  Thereafter, the Department must issue a final report to the Department’s authorizing committees in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and carry out each action described in the final report or explain to the authorizing committees the reason for not carrying out any action described in the final report.

Request for Information:  Since the passage of the ESSA, the Department has been engaging in the required review and report, including conducting listening sessions on issues facing rural schools and LEAs and ways the Department can address those issues.  It gives a brief overview of how the Department is organized and describes how the Department solicited and incorporated input from rural stakeholders as it developed the preliminary report.  Additionally, the report explains the processes we currently use to incorporate the rural perspective into our policies and procedures, including processes we have recently implemented in response to stakeholder input, and describes additional proposed actions we can take.

While we invite comment on the entire report, we particularly encourage comment on the proposed actions, as described in the section of the report titled “Additional Actions the Department Can Take to Increase Rural Stakeholder Input.”  Specifically, we request feedback on whether:

  1. The actions described in the preliminary report will meaningfully increase the consideration and participation of rural schools and LEAs in the development and execution of the Department’s processes, procedures, policies, and regulations; and
  2. There are other actions the Department can take to achieve this goal.

Accessible Format:  Individuals with disabilities can obtain this document in an accessible format (e.g., braille, large print, audiotape, or compact disc) on request to the program contact person listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT.

Electronic Access to This Document:  The official version of this document is the document published in the Federal Register.  Free internet access to the official edition of the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations is available via the Federal Digital System at:  www.gpo.gov/fdsys.  At this site, you can view this document, as well as all other documents of this Department published in the Federal Register, in text or Portable Document Format (PDF).  To use PDF, you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is available free at the site.

You may also access documents of the Department published in the Federal Register by using the article search feature at:  www.federalregister.gov.  Specifically, through the advanced search feature at this site, you can limit your search to documents published by the Department.

(Copy of the preliminary report in pdf format)

The post Public Comment Sought for Report on Obtaining Input from Rural Schools and Local Educational Agencies appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

Fighting Off the Wolves: ED and HHS Host Landmark Human Trafficking Prevention Event

December 15, 2017 - 9:44am

Human trafficking, exploiting people through forced labor and commercial sex, is modern-day slavery.  ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students maintains that schools can and should be safe places where students can thrive.  Unfortunately, the trafficking of America’s students, both for labor and for commercial sex, is a dark presence in our nation’s schools, jeopardizing the health, safety, and the very lives of students.

In late October, ED hosted a powerful event in tandem with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), during which a panel of parents, survivors, and subject matter experts, along with representatives from ED, HHS, and the community, discussed ways in which we all need to be working to keep our children out of harm’s way.  In addition, attendees were privileged to view an advance screening of “I Am Little Red,” a groundbreaking short film co-written by young trafficking survivors and aimed at students.

Human trafficking involves exploiting a person through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor, commercial sex, or both.  Victims of human trafficking include men, women, boys, girls, and transgender individuals from other nations lured by the promise of a better life in the United States, as well as adults and children who were born and raised in the United States.  In fact, many child victims of human trafficking are students in the American school system.  School administrators and staff need to be aware that cases of child trafficking are being reported in communities throughout the nation.  No community—urban, rural, or suburban—school, socioeconomic group, or student demographic is immune.

Federal Actions to Combat Human Trafficking

At ED’s event, which focused on trafficking awareness and prevention, officials from ED and HHS opened the session by discussing actions the federal government is taking to combat trafficking, as well as future plans for policies and procedures.  David Esquith, the Director of ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS) in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, spoke about ED’s role in working with school communities.

“We inform school communities about the problem,” he said.  “We provide technical assistance; we encourage [schools] to embed human trafficking into their emergency operations plans.  And we work with partners at the federal, state and local level to come up with solutions to this very serious problem.  We’ve put out a guide called Human Trafficking in America’s Schools.  It’s intended to address and help schools respond to this issue, to recognize the problem, and to take the proper course of action.”

He also called out the multi-pronged approach ED is using in the fight against trafficking.  “We host webinars, we use social media, and we present at national conferences,” he said, pointing to four technical assistance centers based in OSHS: the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments,, the National Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Neglected or Delinquent Children and Youth , the National Center on Homeless Education, and the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center.

Grassroots Activity

Esquith then shared success stories, noting that individuals in school communities already have been spurred to action as a direct result of working with ED.  “Upon reading the guide, we had one parent inspired to set up an organization called Impact Virginia,” he said.  “She is planning a summit in 2018.  It’s that kind of grassroots activity that we hope the work at the Department and our partners at HHS have inspired and supported.”

“When schools reach out to us, to all of you, we have to be there for them,” he said, charging the audience to view trafficking as a human rights crisis.  “It’s our responsibility as not only the adults, but as the professionals in this field.  That’s why we’re here today.”

Modern Day Slavery

Charles Keckler, an associate deputy secretary at HHS, reflected upon our nation’s great orators to conceptualize the scale of the problem.  “Trafficking is modern day slavery, and it put me in mind of what Lincoln said:  If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong,” Keckler said.  “That tells us, if trafficking is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”

Keckler outlined the steps HHS is taking as they approach trafficking from a public health perspective, discussing the programs of the Office on Trafficking and Persons, which funds a national network of victim assistance programs to support survivors of trafficking, and collaborates with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to provide resources and information on trafficking through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  He also mentioned that the HHS-funded National Human Trafficking Hotline increasingly is expanding beyond just a voice number to texting and social media strategies to engage youth affected by human trafficking.

Keckler also commented that HHS is paying close attention to the potential for trafficking in the nation’s child welfare system, commenting on how HHS’s Children’s Bureau manages grants to address trafficking in the child welfare system.  The Family and Youth Services Bureau also addresses issues of human trafficking that involve runaway and homeless youth.

“The people and the children that are affected by trafficking are far too often those who, to put it simply, don’t have somebody looking out for them,” Keckler noted.  “So… what we have to do as a government, as a department, and as a society, is to help them look out for themselves, and to provide resources and people and communities who can help look out for them.”

“Because, as we can see today, the wolves are out there.”

Movie Sneak Preview

The session then segued to the exciting advance screening of “I Am Little Red,” by filmmaker Mary Mazzio.  Mazzio introduced the eight-minute short by discussing why she wanted to create a product that would speak directly to children.  “We’ve heard from survivor after survivor that none of them had a clue that this was happening, and they turned around and there it was,” she told the audience.  “Many of these children were three to six months in to what seemed to be a relationship with a close friend, friend of a brother, or friend of an uncle, without understanding.”

“Then, all of a sudden, they were in a room all alone with two adult men.”

To achieve her goal, Mazzio worked directly with young trafficking survivors, who gave her specific situations and language to use.  She also consulted with parents who had experienced trafficking of a child, and trafficking survivors who now are parents seeking to break the cycle of intergenerational abuse and trauma.  As a result, “I Am Little Red” uses the familiar story of Little Red Riding Hood to depict four common situations that can lead to trafficking, and to help young children recognize warning signs.

Panelists Share Their Stories

Following the screening, a panel of parents, survivors, and subject matter experts shared their perspectives on how trusted adults can prevent trafficking.  The panel consisted of Yvonne Ambrose, whose 16-year old daughter became a victim of human trafficking; Elizabeth Corey, a former trafficking victim who now is an advocate and life coach for trauma survivors; and Savannah Sanders, a former trafficking victim who founded the resource website Sex Trafficking Prevention.  Each woman shared the similarities and differences in their stories, emphasizing what could have been done differently to help them.

Ambrose, who recently testified before the Senate, talked about how trafficking can lurk anywhere, even in places that look innocuous, and on websites that sound harmless.  Ambrose’s daughter, Desiree Robinson, was led into a trafficking situation through a classified advertising website.  When Robinson realized what was happening and tried to escape in December 2016, she was violently beaten and murdered.

Corey emphasized the idea that children can be trafficked anywhere, commenting that traffickers can lurk in schools and in average communities.  “A lot of times when I speak with people who are just hearing about trafficking for the first time, the first thing they say is ‘Oh yeah, I hear that happens in Asia,’ ” she said.  “Or, if we’re really lucky, they might see media of it happening in the U.S.  They’ll say ‘Yes, it happens to foster children, right?  I think I saw something on that.’  This is about bringing it to everyone, so that those people who are parents in the schools, around the country can understand that this is happening in their child’s school.  It is happening.  I don’t care what school it is, it’s happening in their child’s school.”

Elaborate Cross-Section of Victims

The panelists shared with the audience the necessity of not viewing trafficking victims as a homogenous group with a specific profile.  Sanders pointed out that the elaborate cross-section of victims creates complexity in looking for red flags, because exploitation can happen in many different ways.

“We often kind of see this ideology of what trafficking is, with stories about pimps with stables and multiple young girls, but… it can be parents that are trafficking their children for rent, drugs, or money,” she said.  “It can be something that happens to somebody that’s experienced abuse.  It could be somebody that’s recruited online.  It’s not a simple issue.  We have to look at the complexities of children and their families and their systems, and we have to start creating change within an entire system.”

She also pointed out how many victims are trafficked by a familiar person.  “A lot of my work in training parents is actually trying to break that mentality of stranger danger,” she observed.  “We tend to focus on the people that might look different from us, or act different from us, or have different jobs than us, but … over 90 percent of victims know their abuser.  It’s about what they’re doing, not what they look like.”

Interconnected to Other Forms of Trauma

Corey then shared part of her story, which was unique in that her biological parents were her traffickers.  While her life looked perfect from the outside, there were unimaginable horrors occurring on the inside.

”My parents were married, and they were people in society that everybody thought were powerful and great and good,” she told the crowd.  “I grew up while being trafficked in that type of home, and nobody was really paying attention.  I really want to stress that we have to take the spotlight off of trafficking just by itself, and really look at the way trafficking is interconnected and interrelated to other forms of trauma.  There was plenty of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect that was happening within my house.  Not all parents have the best interests of their child at heart.”

Sanders outlined how in her situation, a long history of sexual abuse and trauma made her a prime target.  “When I was trafficked at 16, I was trafficked by a gang, because I had a long history of sexual abuse and trauma,” she recalled.  “One of the things that I talk about in my book is the way a trafficker can spot a vulnerable child from a mile away, yet most of the adults in their lives cannot spot that vulnerable child.  By the time I met the man that would traffic me, I was so broken down, so vulnerable, so hurt, and in so much pain, he didn’t even have to use any of those tactics.  He just simply put his hand on my back and told me I’d be working for him.  My life to that point groomed me for that moment.”

“We have to flip that script,” she continued.  “Instead of a vulnerable child being available to be exploited, we need to be seeing that vulnerable child so we can love the hell out of them while they grow up and release those vulnerabilities.”

Educating Ourselves

Corey noted that educators have the best opportunity outside of the family to recognize trauma.  “Educators … have a lot of responsibility to see the traumatic behaviors,” she said, even as she acknowledged that teachers already have full plates, and it is asking a lot to challenge them to step into the realm of recognizing traumatic home lives.  “Yes, I’m putting a ton on you, but it’s so important that we educate ourselves as to what it looks like.  Trafficking, sex, internet safety — all of these things come into our schools.  The more we can get kids to disclose if something is wrong at home, the better.”

The panelists examined the role technology and social media are playing in sex trafficking today, observing that children are exposed to technology at ever-younger ages, and that the anonymity of the internet creates dangerous situations, such that parents need to be well-versed in the potential dangers accessible on every computer and mobile device.  “Nowadays, with social media, you don’t know who’s on the other side talking to you,” said Ambrose.  “It could be an adult, or it could be another kid who is trying to befriend you to traffic you.  We need to educate ourselves, we need to educate our educators, and we need to educate our health care providers as well.”

A Hopeful Note

The hopeful note on which all three panelists agreed was that a child at the intersection of trauma and trafficking has the opportunity to avoid danger if an adult in their life can reach out a hand.  “I’m not expecting teachers to be therapists,” said Sanders.  “Every single classroom in America [contains] traumatized children.  There’s no way to get around that.  But what are we doing to incorporate support systems in our schools for trauma?  It’s about identification.  It’s about just seeing a child.  Now that I’m an adult and I look back on my life, I know who my abusers were.  I know what they did to me.  It was horrific and it was sad.  But do you know who I remember?  I remember every safe person that came into my life through that process.  They saw me and they loved me.  When I felt seen, I felt connected.  That’s my call to action.”

Read the HHS story on this event.

View the event in its entirety on Mediasite.


Jennifer Padgett is the deputy director of internal communications in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

The post Fighting Off the Wolves: ED and HHS Host Landmark Human Trafficking Prevention Event appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

Very Special Student Artists Display Vision, Imagination in VSA Exhibit at U.S. Department of Education

December 5, 2017 - 1:03pm

Seventeen-year-old Keevon Howard has mastered one cardinal rule laid down by his high school art teacher, one that resonates beyond the classroom. “Don’t erase,” his teacher counselled — accept the mistake and weave it into your composition. Coping is a vital life skill, she said, so whatever you put on the paper, that’s what you deal with.

Keevon was at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters in Washington, D.C., for the opening of the 13th annual VSA exhibit, a joint project of ED and the Department of VSA and Accessibility at the Kennedy Center. His collage is on display at ED through December, along with the works of other students with disabilities from five countries. The opening, and the panel discussion, “Changing Lives Through Arts Education,” drew artists and their families, ED staff, representatives from VSA and the Kennedy Center, and arts educators and advocates.

“You can express yourself better with art than with words,” the Rhode Island teen said. In his collage, light and dark scraps of newsletter are crowded around the heads of a nuzzling mother and child. “The dark surroundings symbolize all of the problems in the world,” he explained.

Amid the chaos, however, the mother and child, illuminated by yellow paint, remain connected. Keevon’s mother, Kinya Howard, said her son has behavioral issues and created his artwork during a time when the two often clashed. Struggles notwithstanding, Keevon’s bond with his mother has blossomed.

Keevon Howard and his mother, Kinya Howard, with his collage “Strength in the Face of Hardship”

The exhibit is titled “Ubuntu: Yo Soy … Je Suis … I Am … Because You Are.” A South African concept, “Ubuntu” colloquially translates to “my humanity is connected to yours.” Like Keevon’s work of art, all of the pieces in the show explore this relationship among humans via a variety of visions and of mediums. Click here for photos of the exhibit.

During the panel discussion, the hopes and goals of the student artists and people close to them came through forcefully: to develop a voice, to connect and to communicate.

“The world can be very hard and very harsh on those who are different from the mainstream,” said Jeannine Chartier, executive and artistic director of VSA Arts Rhode Island. Chartier has a personal link to her vocation; the limp with which she walks is the result of childhood polio.

Another panel member, 25-year-old Mara Clawson, a 2016–17 winner of a VSA Kennedy Center Emerging Artists with Disabilities award, has a neurogenetic disorder, as well as developmental delays. “Her first language was sign language, and we didn’t know if we’d get beyond ‘I want more,’” Mara’s mother, Michelle Marks, explained.  When Mara was about 11, however, a teacher placed newsprint and pastels in front of her, “and the world came out in an amazing conversation of stories about eggs falling out of nests and bowling pins flying,” Marks added. “We had no idea that this was inside of her.”

The artistic capacities of special education students are often underestimated, according to panel member Carmen Jenkins-Frazier, a D.C. arts teacher at the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens. “If you have patience and your children are able to trust and understand that you are there for them, and they feel secure in your space — then anything is possible in that classroom.”

The panel moderator was Mario Rossero, senior vice president of education at the Kennedy Center. From his experience in this role and as a former arts teacher, Rossero offered these thoughts: “When students create artwork it plays a critical role in their learning, growth, development, and ability to make connections; they are often able to communicate complex ideas that would be difficult to say through other means.”

Kimberly Richey, ED’s acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitation services, said, “Our partnership with VSA allows us to say to all of our employees and all of our visitors every day that arts education develops knowledge for all people, no matter their differences — cultural, geographic, abilities, age, gender — and that we each have a lot to learn from the artists, not least of which is about having the courage to be creative in our life’s work.”

Following the panel discussion and the ribbon-cutting ceremony by the students, attendees reflected on what they had learned at the opening.

“I liked the focus on artists with disabilities,” Kali Wasenko, an external engagement specialist at the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities, remarked. Beyond demonstrating the importance of art as therapy, she added, “the exhibit is very validating of their talents as artists.”


Nancy Paulu is a writer and editor in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Chareese Ross is a student art exhibit program associate and editor in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Photo at the top: A ribbon-cutting signaled the official opening of the Kennedy Center/VSA exhibit. 

All photos are by ED photographer Leslie Williams.

ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers with an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors it as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at Jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov or visit https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit.

Click here for a Washington Post article on the exhibit.

Click here to find a teacher resource guide providing visual art lesson plans to engage students with disabilities.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Proud to Serve Again

November 21, 2017 - 1:05pm

Each year our school hosts a Veterans Day assembly and breakfast. After this year’s assembly, a number of students shared how they were surprised and excited to see my military photo during the slideshow tribute. Some were shocked and amused to see a serious looking and clean shaven Master Sergeant Harris instead of their bearded and smiling classroom teacher, Mr. Harris. I suppose the topic of my 22 years of military service and transition to teaching isn’t something I routinely discuss with students.

Teaching is a family tradition for many educators. That’s not my story.

The Idea Is Planted

Teaching was never on my radar while growing up. The idea to teach was planted many

Elmer Harris

years ago while working within a school but in a different capacity. I was a military recruiter in my early 20s and regularly visited local high schools in an effort to enlist young men and women into the Air Force. During visits to one school, one of the guidance counselors would always walk past my table and casually say, without stopping, “You should consider teaching.” I’d always laugh and reply, “No thanks” to his back as he waved and kept moving to another task in his building.

Fast forward several years and it seems that guidance counselor’s not-so-subliminal messages worked. After retiring from the Air Force I eventually began the process to become a teacher through the Troops to Teachers program.

The Joys And Challenges

While many assume that structure and discipline are key traits that make teaching a good fit for veterans, the ability to be compassionate and relatable have been vital to my success with military students and families. I’m able to engage military parents in the education process because I’ve been in their position of feeling slightly lost while continually navigating new homes, jobs and school environments. I also understand and adjust when children occasionally act out of character when their mothers and fathers deploy or return from war zones.

I’ve never had a student who lost a parent, but I’ve met many on their first day of school accompanied by a parent with a prosthetic limb or cane due to war-related injuries. While some may stare and silently wonder what happened, I’m eager to engage and have them share about their time in service. It’s a simple way to quickly establish relationships with military parents.

The Veterans Day assembly was a success. Parents enjoyed breakfast, and my students walked around with their heads high and chests out after their presentations. I was proud as well.

Despite the upheavals and occasional uncertainty faced by my military students and their families, they continue to show amazing resilience. I’m proud that I get the opportunity to support those who continue to serve, and I’m extremely proud and honored to play a role in shaping the lives of their most precious treasure. While it would feel odd to thank another vet or active duty person for their service, I never have a problem routinely asking a very simple question….Have you ever considered teaching?

Elmer Harris is a 2017-18 School Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

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Categories: Higher Education News

FLOTUS, Secretary Visit Highlights Anti-Bullying Efforts

November 8, 2017 - 12:41pm

As a School Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education, I had the opportunity to help plan and coordinate a visit for First Lady Melania Trump and Secretary Betsy DeVos to Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield, MI. The school was selected because they had pledged their commitment to anti-bullying initiatives promoting inclusion and acceptance. Orchard Lake Middle School prides itself on diversity and anti-bullying programs, so the principal and staff knew that they would be a good fit for FLOTUS’s bullying prevention platform.

Breaking Bully Stereotypes

I have spent the last decade focusing on breaking bully stereotypes and shifting the conversation around such a critical topic, so I jumped at the chance to be part of this work at a national level. Most of the bullying I faced as a student occurred in middle school, so I was shocked to see it happen with my third graders. The most surprising part, however, was when I realized which students were doing the bullying. Some of my sweetest, smartest, and most seemingly innocent kids were often the ones doing the most harm. I see the same trends and patterns with every class.

One thing these kids all have in common is that they do not see themselves as bullies since they do not resemble the exaggerated characters in TV and movies. No one is a bully all the time, and this misconception makes it hard for kids to accept their actions as bullying behavior. This problem can be perpetuated in any school lunchroom when kids are left feeling isolated and excluded, while the classmates doing the excluding don’t understand the harm they cause. Effective anti-bullying initiatives can really help change those dynamics, and having the First Lady and Secretary share that message really helps kids pay attention.

Students Realize the Magnitude of the Event

I was able to be at the school for most of the day, hours before the special guests arrived. I could feel the energy in the building as students buzzed with anticipation. It was fascinating to watch all that happened behind the scenes and the planning and manpower it took to execute a one-hour visit. But the students reminded me why this event was so important. While the adults were scurrying around making sure things were running smoothly, the middle schoolers were enjoying the moment, recognizing the magnitude of what was happening. They knew their school was being highlighted and it meant they were doing something right, and that is an empowering feeling.

Sharing a message with kids about the importance of compassion and kindness is something that everyone should stand behind, and that day, everyone did. It is a big deal to have the First Lady and Education Secretary of the United States at their school, and this is something that these kids will remember for the rest of their lives. I am quite sure they will also remember that no one should eat alone either.


Melody Arabo is a 2017-18 Washington School Ambassador Fellow.

Photo at the top: A student takes a selfie with First Lady Melania Trump. (Melody: “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the picture at the top is worth a million smiles. It perfectly captures the joy that was felt in the room by students who realized they were experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”)

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Categories: Higher Education News

Longest Serving Sergeant Major of the Army to Highlight ED Veterans Day Program

November 6, 2017 - 1:00pm

Here at the Department of Education, autumn is more than back to school.  In addition to all the back to school activities, we also host significant events each year tied to our nation’s history.  Veterans Day is one of them and is observed at the Department each year close to November 11.

2017 marks the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I and Veterans Day originated from that war. November 11 marks the date of the armistice that ended hostilities in 1918.

In fact, President Woodrow Wilson signed the following proclamation to commemorate the first Armistice Day, held on November 11, 1919: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

ED’s 2017 Veterans Day Program

This year’s Veterans Day program theme is “Military members serve with their hearts – We honor them with our thanks.”

The program will be held on Thursday, November 9 at 10:00am in the LBJ Auditorium.  The keynote speaker this year is Kenneth O. Preston, who retired as the 13th Sergeant Major of the Army and was the longest-serving Sergeant Major of the Army.  According to the U.S. Army web page, “There’s only one Sergeant Major of the Army. This rank is the epitome of what it means to be a Sergeant and oversees all Non-Commissioned Officers. The Sergeant Major serves as the senior enlisted advisor and consultant to the Chief of Staff of the Army.”

In that position, Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Preston served as the Army Chief of Staff’s personal adviser on all Soldier and Family related matters, particularly areas affecting Soldier training and quality of life. Throughout his 36-year career, he served in every enlisted leadership position from cavalry scout and tank commander.  SMA Preston holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from TUI University and has earned numerous medals and awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, and the Bronze Star Medal.

This year’s program will include appearances from representatives of the National Security Council and the Veterans Administration.  The University of Maryland USAF Color Guard and the North Point High School ROTC will participate.


Anthony Fowler is Interagency Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Still Ripe after 100 Years; ED Panel Discusses the Constitution and World War I

November 2, 2017 - 2:38pm

To comply with the law that requires all schools that receive federal funding and all federal agencies to observe Constitution Day, September 17, here at the Department of Education, we focused on the Constitutional issues that arose during World War I. We chose to focus on World War I because 2017 marks the centennial of the U.S. entry into that war.

Secretary DeVos introduced this year’s program, held on September 18, by highlighting the importance of the Constitution with the following comments:

You see, the text of the Constitution is about limiting government, not a so-called living document that can suddenly usurp the power of the people on the whim of any politician or social norm. Yet this self-evident philosophy has been lost somewhere along the way. Unfortunately, too many kids aren’t even at the “School House Rock” level. Broadway elevated Alexander Hamilton’s name to cultural fame but too few know the real Hamilton. The author of the Federalist Papers also wrote that, and I quote, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments or musty records, they are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself and can never be erased.”

This year’s program featured two distinguished historians; Edward G. Lengel, Chief Historian at the White House Historical Association, and Tony Williams, Senior Teaching Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute.  Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director of The Constitutional Sources Project, served as moderator.

Although it has been 100 years since World War I, the panelists agreed that World War I and the issues that arose from that era are very much with us today.

“I think the impact of this war on our society was much, much, much greater than people realize,” said Lengel.  “We have tended to view this war from a distance. We have tended to view it through stereotype – that it was simply a brutal slugfest with millions of casualties with millions of people dying and accomplishing nothing whatsoever.  And we have very little understanding in this country – not just of its impact in Europe, but on its impact on every day people in the United States.”

In fact, many of the issues which are contentious today were issues during World War I as well.   Williams took civil liberties as an example.  In his description, the America of 1917-18 would be unrecognizable to us today.

Two pieces of legislation, the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act, were passed in Congress with the intention of limiting free speech.  Williams set the stage by describing President Wilson’s views on opposition to the war:  “Wilson commented several times on dissent against that war and dissenters who voiced their opinions.   He said the opponents of his war policies were ‘pouring the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life.  Those creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy, must be crushed now.’”

“The Wilson administration moved quickly, unfortunately, to suppress dissent and civil liberties,” said Williams.  “The Attorney General, Thomas Gregory, drafted the bill that would become the Espionage Act, which made it a crime to interfere with the operations of the military, or to cause insubordination, disloyalty, rioting, or refusal of duty — or shall willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment services of the United States.   The Attorney General on one occasion said, ‘May God have mercy on them for they need expect none from an outraged people or an avenging government.’”

The Wilson Justice Department went into action to enforce the law and “prosecuted 2,000 plus cases under the Espionage Act,” said Williams.  “Congress created the Espionage Act not just to curtail free speech, but more specifically, to prevent interference with the draft or conscription.  Over 1000 convictions were upheld by the courts, including a very famous socialist, Eugene Debs, and leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW.”

Mr. Williams quoted a fellow historian, who said that, during World War I, “liberty and justice were compromised in ways more extreme and extensive than at any other time in American History.”

And so, in wrapping the Constitution with World War I, we acknowledged the men and women who have served in the armed services to defend our Constitution. Although they are no longer with us, their descendants and legacies are, and the legal lessons learned during that period are still very much with us.

View the Constitution Day program.


Anthony Fowler is Interagency Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Categories: Higher Education News

A Day in the Life of a Principal

October 30, 2017 - 1:07pm

The principal’s day is a reflection of many complex interactions such as:

  • communicating with multiple types of stakeholders,
  • managing financial resources,
  • connecting daily with students,
  • leading professional development, and
  • being a collaborative team player.

You may be wondering how one person could accomplish all of this in one day, so I welcome you into one of my days at Jackson Hole High School.

7:30 – 8:00 am Read, review, and respond to approximately 33 emails sent between 6:00pm yesterday and 7:30 am today. 8:00 – 8:30 am Assist school district information coordinator in creating communication for all parents and students in our school about a guest speaker who will be visiting. 8:30 – 8:50 am Walk the halls and visit teachers before the first class. 8:50 – 9:15 am Work with the school counselor around a student who needs additional support.

In order to be most effective, timely responses are essential to meet the needs of our stakeholder community, especially when requests to speak to students come in. Trying to match the guest speaker’s goals with the needs of our students while aligning to school and district goals can be hard, but is necessary to supporting our community.

9:15 – 9:30 am Conduct a targeted walkthrough classroom observation around how to engage ELL students in accessing core content. 9:30 – 9:50 am Begin to plan our next teacher professional development day. Review best practices around the benefits of family engagement. Finalize plans for “learning walks” with community members who would like to tour our classrooms. 9:50 – 10:10 am Work with the athletic director to discuss academic eligibility policy and activities handbook. 10:10 – 10:30 am Discussion call with a consultant group that will be visiting our school in order to get our feedback on the state funding formula.

My collaboration with the school counseling department, athletic director, and instructional leadership team fosters reflection and instructional strategies that engage all learners. As the instructional leader of the school, designing professional development and modeling effective practices is absolute necessary.

10:30 – 11:00 am Develop a team of teachers who will meet with a school funding consultant group to provide their perspective of our school, curriculum, vision, master schedule, and students. 11:00 – 11:30 am Walkthrough observations in English, social studies, and science classrooms. 11:30 – 12:00 pm Respond and review 28 emails that have come in since 8:00 am. 12:00 – 12:20 pm Walk through halls and classrooms, connect with students in library, and discuss what classes students are having the most success in and why.

I involve teachers in key stakeholder meetings to gain a better understanding of our school and the instructional program. I must be visible, accessible, and communicating with students on an ongoing basis in order to monitor our school culture.

12:20 – 1:00 pm Meet with teaching team to discuss hosting a Veterans Day lunch for veterans in our community. 1:00 – 1:45 pm Supervise the lunchroom area while speaking with students, simultaneously checking and responding to emails. 1:45 – 1:55 pm Email examples of “unit overviews”, a school wide goal for all classes to allow students to see written summaries of units and assessment criteria. 1:55 – 2:15 pm Communicate with principal peers in the school district to set up our “Principal Professional Learning Community.”

Inviting and hosting community events provides opportunities to directly engage our students and their families. Speaking of engagement, working with other school administrators is critical in self-development and strengthening the profession.

2:15 – 3:25 pm Work with our school resource officer to update emergency evacuation maps. Conduct an evacuation drill with the whole school. 3:25 – 3:50 pm Review Gates Foundation K-12 priorities around school reform. 3:50 – 6:00 pm Supervise volleyball game while connecting with parents.

Ensuring the safety of students and faculty is my primary responsibility and equally important as continuing to develop and improve student learning opportunities through the latest research. This is at the core of being a reflective and adaptive lead learner.

The day of the principal can be both predictable and chaotic. My role requires the ability to situationally pivot on the fly in order to meet the immediate needs of students, parents, faculty, and other stakeholders. I must be sensitive to a variety of immediate and long term demands, while simultaneously balancing the interests and beliefs of the school community. However, regardless of the complexity, keeping student achievement at the core of the work can act as a grounding mechanism to assist in decision making and doing what is best for students. Thanks for joining me in a day of my life.


Scott Crisp is Principal at Jackson Hole High School and a 2017-18 U.S. Department of Education School Ambassador Fellow.

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Categories: Higher Education News

A Vocational Rehabilitation Success Story: Joseph Cali

October 26, 2017 - 12:38pm

Note: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

The New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS), which receives Federal funding from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services’ Rehabilitation Services Administration, is pleased to share Joseph’s (pictured above) success story in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

Following an automobile accident in 2006 resulting in paralysis, Joseph spent several months in physical therapy and rehabilitation and now uses a motorized wheelchair. Joseph went on to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling in 2014 – both from Rutgers University. Joseph also acquired specialized certificates in physical rehabilitation, supervision, and management.

When Joseph connected with the Vocational Rehabilitation program at DVRS, he was working part-time as an Adjunct Professor at Brookdale Community College. Joseph sought assistance from DVRS with modifying his van to independently travel to work and obtaining full-time employment. With the support of DVRS, Joseph took part in a pre-driver and behind-the-wheel driving evaluation to assess his driving needs. DVRS also supported the funding of modifications to Joseph’s van along with the necessary driving instruction.

On the employment front, DVRS certified Joseph as eligible for the Schedule A hiring authority with the Federal government. After attending a Federal job fair, Joseph interviewed with the Social Security Administration, who hired Joseph as a Claims Adjuster in Neptune, NJ. Joseph now works full-time and reports being satisfied with his career path and the services he received from DVRS. A special congratulations to Joseph who recently shared that he is engaged and will be getting married soon!


Chris Pope is a WIOA Implementation Team Facilitator in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services’ Rehabilitation Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Education.

(Cross-posted at the OSERS blog.)

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Categories: Higher Education News

Vocational Rehabilitation Success Story: George (Burt) Petley

October 18, 2017 - 9:54am

Note: In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA), a State VR agency which receives funding from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services’ Rehabilitation Services Administration, is pleased to share Burt’s success story. 

Burt began his path to employment in a sheltered workshop in 2007, where he did packaging and sorting tasks. Burt’s fellow participants and supervisors said he was dependable and with the support of his sister, Christie, Burt had reliable transportation. While Burt sometimes had difficulty with decision-making, repetitive tasks were an area where he excelled.

In March of 2017, Burt and Christie attended a group meeting at the sheltered workshop with GVRA staff, who presented on Vocational  Rehabiliation  (VR) services. Sherry Harris, from GVRA’s Augusta office, and Janice Cassidy, from the Athens office, explained supported employment and job coaching can be conduits toward competitive integrated employment and greater personal independence. Sherry and Janice explained that, in an inclusive workplace, individuals with disabilities would have the opportunity to earn the same wages as their coworkers and would not necessarily have to sacrifice services they may receive through a Medicaid waiver. Burt also learned about GVRA’s Work Incentive Navigators, who help individuals determine how going to work impacts disability benefits.

George “Burt” Petley

After hearing about the big picture and the spectrum of VR services available, Burt left the sheltered workshop program where he had spent the past ten years. He applied for VR services in June of 2017, first enrolling in a program where he learned socialization and independent living skills and took classes like American Sign Language, pottery, cooking, woodworking, healthy living, social skills and employability. That experience not only proved to be a valuable training opportunity for Burt, but it also led to a job offer when he was hired as a Woodworking Associate. Burt now works 13.5 hours/week earning minimum wage refurbishing furniture and looks forward to working more than 20 hours/week by the end of the year.

According to Burt’s family, he is content as a woodworker. Janice Cassidy shared that “Working with Burt has been a collaborative effort, but in reality, he is truly the star of this story. It began with his simple desire to do something other than continue to work at a sheltered workshop where he had worked for 10 years. Yes, he was certainly given information, told of resources and received supportive services from those helping him. Ultimately though, the person who took the necessary steps to move forward toward achieving his work goal was Burt. He exemplifies GVRA’s definition of true success. He made independent choices for his life, gathered necessary information, sought out potential resources and acted on choices made to realize the goal he was working toward. We wish Burt continued success in his work.”


Chris Pope is a WIOA Implementation Team Facilitator in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services’ Rehabilitation Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Education.

(Cross-posted at the OSERS blog.)

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Categories: Higher Education News

Things People Say

October 12, 2017 - 1:00pm

Note: October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.


Number One. “Did you know?”

They never complete the thought, as if just looking at him implies what they’re really asking. I ache to play dumb: Know what? That he would almost never cry as a baby and be a champion sleeper? That he would love to swim but hate to play soccer? That I could love him ‘til it hurts and still get so annoyed by some of his antics? As obnoxious as my brain screams for me to be, I simply answer “No. After losing the first one, I didn’t want to take any chances with this very wanted baby.”

The mention of my previous sorrow precludes them from saying anything directly about those tests, so I leave it at that. I resist ranting about warped concepts of perfection or the technologies the medical community pushes that are incapable of measuring the value of those born “dappled.” If I launch into my diatribe, their eyes glaze over as they nod in the faux agreement children give their parents when they just want the scolding to stop. I can always tell when they’re thinking, “I would have the test.” I couldn’t guess what they would do if it were positive.

Number Two. “My sister’s/cousin’s/brother-in-law’s/landlord’s daughter/nephew/classmate/neighbor is ‘like him’.”

What, rakishly handsome? Lucky them. A consummate flirt? Better watch out! The self-appointed town mayor, greeting every person or animal we see on the streets? Good luck getting anywhere quickly with such a gregarious kid.

I suppose it’s an attempt to connect, a way to say “he’s okay” because they know someone who knows someone who… But sharing an extra chromosome doesn’t make anyone like someone else any more than two people having green eyes does. Don’t tell me these six-degrees individuals are “like” each other. They aren’t.

Number Three. “He’s so high-functioning.”

Yeah, far more than I am at 3:00 a.m. “MOMMY!” “urgh…?” “WHY ARE YOUR EYES CLOSED?!” “I’m sleeping, baby.” “WHY?!” “unnnhhh…” “READ TO ME!!!!” (seriously?)

Number Four. “Funny, you can’t see it.”

What’s there to see? His almond shaped eyes that look through me as the spark of laughter flickering within them sears my soul? His cute little hands with that long crease across his palms holding mine, petting the cat, learning to write his name, wiping away tears when he’s mad? The orthotics helping reshape his desperately flat feet?

What exactly are you looking for that will legitimize him in your eyes? Maybe I should carry the envelope with the verdict handed down by some anonymous technician. Perhaps the letter from the state when the lab automatically reported his existence to the county health department “for statistical purposes.” What can’t you see? He’s a kid, growing up loved. What else are you looking for?

Number Five. “I’m sorry.”

You should be. You’ll never hear the thoughts he speaks to me with his smiling brown eyes as he tilts his forehead to rest against mine. You’ll never drink in the heat that radiates from his head or taste his soft hair on your lips. You’ll never be awakened (again) at 3:00 a.m. by the hot air from his mouth on your face as he whispers, “Mommy, I want snuggles.” You’ll never know how it feels to celebrate every jump forward in development that other parents take for granted, but when he finally does it, it’s a very, very large molehill.

You should be sorry that you can only see back in time. This is a new era with new opportunities and new ideas about potential and worthiness. I’m only sorry it’s taken this long and that we still have so far to go.

Number Six. “That’s awesome!”

Thanks, Brian—you are the right kind of friend. May everyone with a kid “like mine” know a man like you.

Number Seven. “I don’t know how you do it.”

I’m his mother. Still confused?

Things I Say:

“I’m so proud of you.” “Boy, you’re handsome!” “Why won’t you let me cut your nails?” “TURN THAT DOWN!” “Wanna go bowling?” “Sweetheart, don’t let the dog beg like that.” “Would you please put this stuff away?” “You’re just too good to be true/Can’t take my eyes off of you.” “No, I don’t want to smell your feet.” “I love you, my sweet angel. You’re my heart and soul, my love and my life.” “You know you drive me nuts, right?”

Number One Thing I Say. I’ve loved my son since before he was ever born. What else is there to say?


Jessica Wilson and her son, Jasper (aka Jaz, Jazzy, the JazMaster, or Dude!), live in a cozy house of fur with two crazy dogs and two lazy cats. Their favorite activities include singing movie hits, dancing in the kitchen, snuggling and traveling the world together. Jessica is Director of Communication and Dissemination for the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) and Resources for Access, Independence and Self-Employment (RAISE) projects with the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) in New Jersey.

(Cross-posted at the OSERS blog.)

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Categories: Higher Education News

Learning Outside from the 2017 Green Strides Tour in Georgia

October 11, 2017 - 1:00pm

I had the honor of attending the Georgia Green Strides Tour 2017 with Andrea Falken of the U.S. Department of Education and Keisha Ford-Jenrette of the Georgia Department of Education, and numerous other national, state and local partners.  We rode a van to some of the school sites that had been honored over the years as U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. This year’s two-day tour focused on the theme “Taking Learning Outside,” and covered a wide range of approaches.

Our first stop, Pharr Elementary, had surveyed its teachers to learn their challenges in teaching and turned those into active, outdoors learning opportunities, which include hands-on outdoors learning modules to learn social studies lessons among the branches of a courtyard tree, various language arts rock gardens, as well as alphabet, word and numbers incorporated into garden pathways and signage.

At our second stop, Mason Elementary students were working toward answering the driving question of “How can we, as entrepreneurs, create a company to consistently produce enough to donate to the local community?”  Students used their extensive hydroponics and aquaponics lab to determine which growing method might yield the greatest output.  They also got dirty in an outdoor classroom pavilion and handicap-accessible raised garden beds.

Our third stop, High Meadows School, demonstrated its commitment to outdoor learning from its founding principles. Students take advantage of a large outdoor play area, “The Meadow,” featuring a tire swing, natural play areas for digging and tree climbing, outdoor boat and dragon constructions, monarch waystations, native plantings, a stick fort, a retired train car turned office space and playing fields in which the various grades learn cooperation and collaboration during all-school outdoors time.  Students also learn to care for goats, chickens and horses under the skilled guidance of a full-time animal husbandry instructor.

Ford Elementary was our last stop on day one and demonstrated a tremendous ability to sustain and even grow an outdoor learning program over more than 20 years.  Teachers explained how by letting students drive learning, there is always something new to discover and add.  Each year, students have studied various areas of their campus and evaluated how to make it a safer and healthier place to learn.  This has led to students creating numerous outdoor classrooms, learning gardens, a compost station, a boardwalk to the site where they test stream water, trails, chicken coops, as well as dozens of other smaller outdoor projects, utilizing nearly every bit of outdoor space.

Morningside Elementary kicked off day two, a day which featured the more urban schools in Atlanta. Students at this school demonstrated their mindful, sustainability learning through their drum circle, work with a master gardener and learning from local business partners who offer cooking demonstrations and taste testing in the outdoor amphitheater cooking station.

On limited land in an historic neighborhood, The Paideia School demonstrates a useful model for urban farming at campuses constrained by space.  The full-time urban gardener and several part-time staff lead students to farm neighbors’ who volunteer their unused lands and successfully produce food in the city.  How waste fits into this work is kept on the minds of these students with compost and recycling bins placed throughout the campus.  The school hosts an annual zero-waste dinner for the community and features an amphitheater, fire truck climbing structure, monarch waystations and fairy garden, among other outdoor learning tools.

Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School leverages its outdoor space to teach about healthy, local foods and cooking. The dedicated chef and school farmer work with students to learn about how food is grown and prepared, the benefits of local purchasing and how sustainable, healthy nutrition impacts students’ bodies and minds.  Students’ palates are thoughtfully broadened and the menu is coordinated with the curriculum. Students took part in the publication of a cookbook with some of their favorite recipes.

At our last stop, Georgia Institute of Technology, a 2016 Postsecondary Sustainability Awardee, we learned more about GIT’s Serve-Learn-Sustain initiative, which is engaging students from all of the colleges on campus to give back to their community. Students have focused learning beyond the boundaries of their college campus and are using the skills they have of collecting data to engage the community in the solutions, such as how to reduce carbon emissions and study population diversity in the area.


Suzanne Haerther is Community Project Manager at the U.S. Green Building Council – Georgia.

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Categories: Higher Education News

ED Releases Secretary’s Proposed Priorities for Competitive Grant Programs

October 11, 2017 - 9:50am

Today, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released the Secretary’s proposed priorities for ED’s competitive grant programs and launched the 30-day public comment period. Once we consider the comments received and issue the Secretary’s final priorities, the Secretary may choose to use one or more of them in competitions for new grant awards this year and in future years. These priorities align with the vision set forth by the Secretary in support of high-quality educational opportunities for students of all ages.

The proposed priorities are:

  1. Empowering Families to Choose a High-Quality Education that Meets Their Child’s Unique Needs.
  2. Promoting Innovation and Efficiency, Streamlining Education with an Increased Focus on Improving Student Outcomes, and Providing Increased Value to Students and Taxpayers.
  3. Fostering Flexible and Affordable Paths to Obtaining Knowledge and Skills.
  4. Fostering Knowledge and Promoting the Development of Skills that Prepare Students to be Informed, Thoughtful, and Productive Individuals and Citizens.
  5. Meeting the Unique Needs of Students And Children, including those with Disabilities and/or with Unique Gifts and Talents.
  6. Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education, With a Particular Focus on Computer Science.
  7. Promoting Literacy.
  8. Promoting Effective Instruction in Classrooms and Schools.
  9. Promoting Economic Opportunity.
  10. Encouraging Improved School Climate and Safer and More Respectful Interactions in a Positive and Safe Educational Environment.
  11. Ensuring that Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families Have Access to High-Quality Educational Choices.


For more information about these priorities and to submit comments, please follow this link to the Federal Register: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/10/12/2017-22127/proposed-supplemental-priorities-and-definitions-for-discretionary-grant-programs.

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Categories: Higher Education News

The Path Begins: Forest Kindergarten

October 10, 2017 - 1:00pm

It’s a rainy day in Walker County, Georgia. In most schools, this would mean a day indoors with children and teachers wishing they could be outside. At Gilbert Elementary, you can look out the window and see a group of kindergarteners, in lime green rain suits, splashing their way across the playground on their way to the forest. These students will spend the next two hours making mud pies, building boats from found materials and observing the differences rain makes in their environment.

Gilbert is home to two Forest Kindergarten classes. Rain or shine, hot or cold, the students spend half of their instructional day in the 300 acres of forest. The concept is not a new one. Kindergarten after all means “children’s garden,” but in the days of high-stakes testing and ever-changing standards, the name has come to mean something very different. Forest Kindergarten is a return to the original intent. Students learn to be creative, solve problems and build relationships with their classmates and their environment.

The Forest Kindergarten program at Gilbert is in its third year. The students are performing above their peers on grade level assessments, and they leave the program with the relationship skills, creativity and grit necessary to be successful in the future.

When these students leave Kindergarten, they continue to have opportunities for outdoor and environmental education. The Gilbert Elementary curriculum is built around year-long research projects at each grade level. Kindergarten students raise chickens. First grade has a pollinator project with the Tennessee Aquarium. Second grade does a native plant study with partner schools from around the state. Third graders are organic gardeners. In fourth grade, students manage the forest. They use trail cameras to track wildlife and work with an arborist. Fifth grade focuses on energy conservation and alternative energy. There is also an indoor aquaponics lab, the SPLASH Lab, and a school-wide recycling program.

Gilbert Elementary is proof that change can be made in a traditional public school. The school is 25 years old. There were no grants or outside benefactors, no changes in requirements from the state and no overhaul of the staff. With 87 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced priced lunch, the staff relied on hard work and small donations to make the vision for the school a reality. Gilbert was named a 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, earned STEM certification from the state of Georgia and been recognized as a Title I Reward School for High Growth, all while moving away from the teach-to-the-test mentality that is so prevalent in education today.

The vision is expanding across Walker County. Other Forest Kindergarten programs are being planned; outdoor education and gardening programs are sprouting up at several elementary schools; and Ridgeland High School’s STEM academy incorporates agriculture in their program. The goal is to create a cohesive vision across Walker County that begins with Kindergarteners splashing across the playground on a rainy day.


Matt Harris is Principal of Gilbert Elementary School.

Damon Raines is Superintendent of Walker County Schools.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Student Artists and Writers Spark a Celebration of Creativity; 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Winners Exhibits Open at ED

October 5, 2017 - 1:47pm

On Sept. 15, 2017, for the 14th year, the U.S. Department of Education opened the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards exhibit of works by students from across the country, with a special exhibit this year of winners from Harris County (Houston), Texas. Presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and founded in 1923, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards is the longest-running and most prestigious award program for teenagers in the U.S. This year, 330,000 pieces of art and writing were submitted, and only 2,700 students were selected as national winners. Of those national winners, the Department has the honor of exhibiting 66 for the entire year, along with an additional 30 artists from Harris County, Texas, through Oct. 31, 2017.

A standing-room-only audience of 230 students, family members, educators, arts leaders, and ED staff joined in the celebration. Featured ED speaker Jason Botel, acting assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, summed up the value of arts education from his perspective: “Through these exhibits at the Department of Education, and the opportunities your schools provide, we can gain a better understanding of each other.”  Virginia McEnerney, executive director of the Alliance, pointed out that many past winners are contributing immensely through their talents in other fields because of their success in the Scholastic competition: “If you want to be a human rights activist or an educator or an entrepreneur,” she said, “we talk to lots of people in those fields who also point to this experience of winning a Scholastic Award as having been seminal and essential to them.” 2016 National Student Poet Joey Reisberg, now a senior at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, Maryland, recited two of his poems, giving us perhaps a reason for the arts: “So much in this life is so unnoticeable— ” (from Lamedvovniks, The Thirty-Sixers).

2017 Scholastic winners in art and writing, with, in front row (l to r), Virginia McEnerney, Joey Reisberg, and Jason Botel.

Following the ceremony, the Herb Block Foundation, which awards Scholastic winners for their editorial cartoons, held a workshop for the students.

The student artists and writers made clear that their educators were instrumental in helping to define themselves as artists. Mt. Vernon (Virginia) High School’s principal Dr. Anthony Terrell and art teacher Sally Gilliam, along with 25 current students, came to celebrate award recipient Jaron Owens. Gilliam shared that, when the award announcement was made, “[Jaron] jumped out of his chair and told me that he didn’t realize that he could be a serious artist. At that moment he realized that he did have artistic talent.” Terrell spoke of the impact of the event on the students from his school: “These students are now inspired to make more meaningful artwork because next year their work could be featured here.”

The parents noted that, without great teachers, their children may not realize their talents. Grace Sanders, artist of an untitled photograph, confessed that she didn’t think her photo would win because, to her, she was just splattering paint on her face. But she submitted the photo because her teacher saw something special in it. Grace’s mom said, “Grace likes to hide all her power and beauty in the dark” and that she was grateful this award gave her the confidence to talk about her work.

We had the opportunity to talk with other student award winners in the shows, who shared these reflections about their works:

“I had a vision and just went for it. It took me about three or four months to create the piece. The wiring took me four hours.” Virginia Dragoslavic, NSU University School, Davie, Florida, on her ceramic vase.

“My friend had a hard childhood. The bottom [of my drawing and illustration] represents her broken past filled with depression and darkness. As you move up, the piece starts to lighten. It is the representation that she could finally see her beauty.” Edward Bustos, Langham Creek High School, Houston, Texas

“My [writing portfolio] was heavily influenced by my environment. It is about race, identity, and who you are and who you have become.” Zainab Adisa, Pittsburgh CAPA School, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“My [editorial cartoon “A”] was inspired from a prompt from a literary arts magazine looking for pieces about what holds people back. I thought about stress from pressures of homework, grades, college applications, and student life. ” Evie Polen, Gaston Day School, Gastonia, North Carolina

Evie Polen won a Gold Medal for her editorial cartoon, “A,” portraying the stress of high school.

“My [drawing and illustration] is based on a Scottish proverb, “You can’t keep the birds of sadness from flying above your head but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.” Allison Maeker, Klein Oak High School, Spring, Texas

The national show will remain at the Department through July 2018, and the Harris County exhibit will remain through October 2017.

Franklin Nwora, Kipp Academy Middle School in Harris County, with his winning digital art piece, “Heaven’s Rain,” pictured on the right.


Morgan Bassford is an intern from American University in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Chareese Ross is a student art exhibit program associate and editor in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Photo at the top: 2017 Scholastic winners cut the ribbon to formally open their exhibit.

You can view additional photos from the event here. All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Leslie Williams.


The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at Jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov or visit https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit

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Categories: Higher Education News