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The Many Roads to Becoming a Spelling Bee Champion

July 17, 2018 - 12:20pm

Aren participating in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

At age 13, our son Aren can’t cross the street by himself, or eat without dropping food all over the floor. He struggles with reading and has difficulty following simple instructions. He also has a speech impairment called cluttering that often makes his speech incomprehensible to others. On top of this, he is hyperactive and needs to burn off his immense energy frequently throughout the day.

I could write pages about Aren’s many challenges and our struggles with figuring out how to work with them. As Aren’s parents, the journey has not been easy. On the other hand, Aren constantly surprises and humbles us with what he can achieve. Early on, we decided that our mission as parents was not to focus on his disabilities. We would not dwell on or be limited by the things he couldn’t do. Rather, we agreed to seek out and develop Aren’s unique strengths while scaffolding his weaknesses in a way he could understand and embrace. We vowed to be open to exploring his talents, even where he started out with marked deficits.

To accomplish this, we decided to pursue some homeschooling so Aren could work on both his strengths and challenges at his own pace. Later, we enrolled at Connecting Waters Charter School. Here, his teachers, principal, special education occupational therapist, speech therapist, and reading tutor each provide him with invaluable individualized support and guidance. Instead of subjecting him to traditional classroom instruction, which he would likely have tuned out, we chose the path of closeguided training. The results have been remarkable. Aren has developed incredible visualization, drawing, mental math, and creative skills. He particularly loves drawing complex freeway interchanges that would make a commuter faint. Remarkably, his drawing is effortless, and he often does it while in conversation.

Aren’s drawing of a highway interchange.

When Aren was 9, my wife (staying true to being open to possibility) asked Aren if he’d like to compete in his school Spelling Bee. To be frank, my wife thought that a kid who didn’t read until just a year prior would not be interested in participating. To my wife’s surprise (and perhaps horror), he said yes. We later found out that he didn’t know what a spelling bee was; he just wanted to see what freeways we would drive to the competition. As a “human GPS,” he desperately needed to input I-580 to I-205 to Highway 120 to 99 to his system!

We were worried that Aren might be disruptive at the Spelling Bee and would not be able to sit still. But he surprised us – he put in diligent effort, was able to sit still and write legibly, and won! This victory left us both shocked and extremely proud. We were even more proud that he was able to follow through with the rules of the competition. Aren went on to represent his school in the countylevel competition, where he came in 5th place! Once again, I was completely and utterly floored, and of course glowing with pride!

This was one of many humbling moments when I learned from my son that it doesn’t matter where your starting line is.

Aren continued to showcase his strength, winning, in total, four school bees and three county competitions. Later, at age 12, he even won the California State Junior High Spelling Bee! This child who could barely read 4 years prior had somehow spelled his way to the top of his state. Aren became so enamored of spelling that he dreamed of competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. This dream seemed impossible for our kid with a speech impairment, attention issues, and a reading disability. But yet again, Aren proved himself right, and proved us wrong. He tied for 42nd place at Scripps… out of 11 million. He had fantastic support and many people cheering him on. His school’s CEO even cut her vacation short to come watch Aren compete live.

Today, Aren is a happy, healthy, and energetic 13yearold, brimming with enthusiasm on subjects as diverse as cars, chemistry, and mathematics. He is ahead of peer expectation in math and English. With strong parental involvement and support from our school’s special education department, he has come a long way in areas such as visual tracking and social interaction. His drawing skills and math talents continue to progress on his own volition. We are so excited to witness Aren’s future, his unique contributions to society, and the help and inspiration he can give to others.

Never give up, no matter where you are.


Andrew Wang is Aren’s father.

Cross-posted at the OSERS blog.

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Categories: Higher Education News

#RethinkSchool: Rural District Embraces the 3 E’s to Advance Student-centered Vision

July 12, 2018 - 7:51am

Superintendent Kirk Koennecke smiles as he recounts how his rural school district’s connection with the Lean Six Sigma business process began, as a way to offer new learning options and provide marketable skills for students.  When courses in this well-known enterprise improvement approach were offered locally, no adults signed up.  But students did – and educators at Graham Local Schools saw an opening.

School leaders seized on Lean Six Sigma training as a way to help more students gain recognized tools for the world of work. Interest has grown, and this year, every junior is scheduled to receive a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt designation through their standard business electives. Seniors from Graham High School now have the option to graduate with Green Belt certification, in addition to their diploma.

The Lean Six Sigma program is just one example of the innovation Graham Local Schools has implemented. The district offers a 21st century learning lab for students, and provides place-based, work-based and service learning experiences on and off campus. Teachers are encouraged to employ flexible spaces, changing the configuration of the classroom to adapt the learning environment to the learning.

“Success Today, Prepared for Tomorrow”

“Success today, prepared for tomorrow.” That student-centered vision drives this innovative rural education partnership in Saint Paris, Ohio.  Overall, the district serves 2,000 students in a primarily agriculture-based community of some 3,600 residents, with a handful of dedicated community, manufacturing and business partners.

The ultimate goal is for all students to chart a clear pathway to the postsecondary options and careers of their choice – what the district calls the 3 E’s of enlistment, enrollment or employment – become responsible citizens and continuous learners, and build fulfilling lives.

Gaining Real World Experience

An important part of the experience for Graham’s students is place-based learning. Graham collaborates with over 30 community organizations and businesses to provide a host of opportunities for students to apply their skills in age-appropriate real-world contexts – from career days and job shadowing to internships and apprenticeships.

Students’ experiences deepen as they advance toward graduation, with added opportunities to build their skills and explore their postsecondary options through the Career Gears program, which continues the focus on personalized instruction and on learning beyond the daily schedule.  For students in grades 7-12, the STEAM program enables students to earn college credit in career clusters such as Aviation, Biomedical, Info Tech, Pre-Engineering, Logistics, Robotics and Agribusiness.

Given the region’s rich history and base in agriculture, it’s not surprising that Graham has a thriving ag-based career-technical student organization – FFA.  What is surprising is that the club’s high-school members manage over 22 acres of commercial, sustainable farmland – named Falcon Farms after the school mascot — as well as a dry creek bed for ecological projects. The school also supports an outdoor learning lab, with trails and a variety of ecosystems, including a prairie area and retention pond, as well as a greenhouse.

Hands-on learning happens indoors as well as outdoors. Seniors in the high school business program manage “The Daily Grind,” a self-sustaining coffee shop for students and staff.  Proceeds are reinvested in the business, as well as helping to fund extra-curricular clubs and charities.

For students whose plans include college, a number of new offerings and additional supports are underway, from an early college high school program that will allow students to earn more college credits – including, for some, an Associate’s degree – by the time they graduate from high school, to plans by Clark State Community College to add bachelor’s degree programs to their offerings, to micro-grants that will assist students attending nearby Franklin University in purchasing textbooks.

A single blog post is not nearly enough room to describe the vast range of innovation and creativity on display in Graham Local Schools. Their efforts demonstrate that size is no barrier to rethinking school.

If this district in a small community in rural Ohio can do so much, why can’t more schools rethink school?


Note: This is a post in our #RethinkSchool series. The series features innovative schools and stories from students, parents and educators highlighting efforts across the United States to rethink school. Check back on Thursdays for new posts in the series. The #RethinkSchool series presents examples of approaches schools, educators, families and others are using to rethink school in their individual and unique circumstances. Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The Department of Education does not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Student Chefs Are Cooking Up Change at ED

July 10, 2018 - 1:02pm

Recently, student chefs from six cities across the country were at the Department of Education to participate in the Cooking up Change National Finals. These talented students earned their way by winning local competitions in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Orange County and Troy, Alabama. They engaged in a cook-off that saw the team from Orange County win first place and the team from Houston win second.

Rayvion and Jaleigh from Troy, Alabama, prepare their meal of Tuscan Chicken, Broccoli and Cheese Mashed Potatoes, and Apple Crisp at the Department of Education.

Cooking up Change challenges high school culinary students to create healthy, great-tasting meals that meet the real-life requirements of the national school meal program. Cooking up Change serves up life-changing opportunities, helps students realize their own potential and puts student voices front and center in the national dialogue about school food. Healthy Schools Campaign launched Cooking up Change in Chicago, and more than 2,200 students from 23 cities have participated in local contests since the program started in 2007. Winners travel to Washington, D.C., for the national finals to show off their culinary skills and engage with health and education leaders, the culinary community and Congress.

Orange County impressed the judges with their menu of Chinese Orange Chicken, Spicy Thai Slaw, Momo Otsu Mugi. The team from Houston wowed judges with their menu of Zucchini Pasta with Cajun Chicken, Pinto Bean & Tomato Soup and Bananas & Yogurt. Although there were only two winners, all of the student chefs created delicious school meals that would be a great addition to menus across the country.

Meals were judged on their originality, taste, texture and appearance. Teams scored additional points for the quality of their presentation to the judging panel. The judging panel consisted of Department of Education staff, national leaders, chefs and students. In the end, each team was a winner, having earned their way to the national finals by winning their local competition, and having demonstrated the hard work and skill it takes to create healthy and delicious school meals on a tight budget.


Sara Porter is Vice President of External Affairs for the Healthy Schools Campaign.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Overcoming Homelessness and Poverty through Education

July 2, 2018 - 1:29pm

[Note: The U.S. Department of Education’s Youth Engagement Team was pleased to host students affected by homelessness and their peer leaders from SchoolHouse Connection for a listening session with Jason Botel, principal deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. He was recently appointed vice-chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. The session provided students an opportunity to discuss obstacles that homeless students encounter in pursuing their education, and the practices and policies that can help them succeed. The students present endured repeated moves between schools and unstable living situations; they also experienced hunger, deep poverty, and in many cases, parental abandonment and abuse. Despite these challenges, they are still pursuing their educations in college.

One of those students, Latte Harris, shares her experiences and highlights the challenges she and many others face while homeless.]

Have you wondered what being homeless is like? Being homeless is like driving a car with three wheels. You don’t have all the tools you need to succeed. While other cars zip past you, hope begins to dissipate with every passing mile. It is like living two different lives. At school, I was stressed about how to hide my homelessness and, when I wasn’t at school, I was stressed about how to satisfy at least my immediate needs.

Being homeless has taught me that nothing is handed to you. A person has to work hard for what he or she desires the most. In high school, my sisters and I had to wake up at the crack of dawn to leave our motel room in Oregon with all of our belongings, and take three buses and a mass transit train to make it to school in Washington State.

Every night we stayed in a different motel. The only thing I could control was my grades. The feeling of getting an A at the end of the term was all I needed to remind me that I would survive, in and out of school. I was confident only in my education and my resolve to succeed. I knew that the only way to break the cycle of poverty in my family’s life was to gain an education. The day I received my high school diploma from Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Washington, was surreal. And, I knew I wouldn’t stop there.

Today, I am a first-generation college student at Portland State University, and I hope to major in sociology. Through my studies, I’ve been empowered to initiate change in my family that will allow us to acquire economic and socio-emotional wealth.

Being homeless robbed my family and me of an understanding of how the world works. Receiving a college degree will ensure that I can obtain the cultural capital necessary to help support my family and others affected by homelessness. It is important for me to be able to ensure that others understand how to navigate social systems and achieve success, while still offering active support.

The Department of Education has a team of individuals dedicated to addressing the needs of students affected by homelessness. The Education for Homeless Children and Youths (EHCY) Program collaborates with a variety of federal partners to serve children, youths and families experiencing homelessness. Meeting with the Department of Education’s staff was important to me because it highlighted that homeless students have the ability to achieve more when they have the right supports and services.

I was pleased to hear about the various support programs and guidance that EHCY provides to local homeless education liaisons because my liaison was critical to me, and to students in similar situations. It was important to share my personal experience with Jason Botel, because his work will impact many students like me.

Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve made it this far, and that brings me an immense amount of relief and hope as I work to break the cycle of poverty in my family’s life through educational attainment.


Latte Harris graduated from Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Washington. She is majoring in sociology at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.

Photographer: Joshua Hoover, ED Studio Team

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Categories: Higher Education News

2018 YoungArts Student Art Exhibit

June 29, 2018 - 2:23pm

The art exhibit “Total Tolerance,” featuring 2018 YoungArts winners in design, photography, visual arts and writing, recently opened at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The first YoungArts exhibit at ED, it features a collection of work from 21 student artists and celebrates religious, cultural, gender and racial diversity. The works reflect the artists’ personal views on inequality and social justice and, in some cases, are directly rooted in their lived experiences.

YoungArts has been the sole nominating organization for the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts since 1979. That year, the program was extended to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative and performing arts. Evan Plummer, senior director of education for the National YoungArts Foundation, remarked, “For 37 years, YoungArts has identified and nurtured the most promising artists in the United States across 10 arts disciplines. The winners come from all 50 states and with a passion for their artistic practice.” Two of the artists featured in the exhibit, Ameya Okamoto of Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon, and Aidan Forester of South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville, were selected as 2018 U.S. Presidential Scholars.

The arts give all students the opportunity to experience a well-rounded education and an outlet to express issues that are affecting them in their daily lives. Jason Botel, principal deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, opened the program by stating the importance of the arts in allowing for this type of dialogue. He said, “Through arts … we gain a better understanding of one another and positively influence human lives in ways that no other academic discipline can possibly duplicate.”

The audience enjoyed a performance from 2018 YoungArts winner in spoken word, TiKa Wallace. An 11th-grader at George Mason High School in Falls Church, Virginia, she shared her view of the world — a result of her experiencing different communities and schools, and finding her voice within them. Performing her award-winning piece, “Death Jokes,” she asked the audience to “consider what you say before you say it” as in “When someone says ‘I feel like I’m going to die,’ You take them seriously” because “You had no idea what it means to be so powerless until you are … Watching someone self-destruct.”

TiKa Wallace delivers a spoken word performance of “Death Jokes.”

Wallace’s mother, Katherine Williams, sent her from five to 10 years of age to the Shakespeare in the Park camp where she acted in and directed plays. Williams said “TiKa’s art gives a voice to other teens. … it is good that adults, as well, are hearing what teens are saying, thinking and feeling about the world.” Wallace said that, after she graduates, she would like to study American Sign Language interpretation and explore a career in theatre.

Amal Haddad, a senior at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland, took her first visual arts classes in high school. Her winning YoungArts piece, “United in Anger,” is an artwork series she created about the 1980s AIDS epidemic, inspired by the Gran Fury activist artist collective in New York City that was determined to use the power of art to resolve the AIDS crisis. Haddad explained that she wrote a paper on AIDS that had to be devoid of emotion. Since she didn’t have a way to express her feelings in the writing assignment, she decided to put her piece back in the printer and superimpose the slogan “United in Anger” on it. This became an award-winning piece of art. Haddad’s experience in YoungArts resulted in a phenomenal success for her: “The first time I submitted work to an arts competition,” she said, “it was accepted.” This fall, she will attend Swarthmore College to study English.

Prior to the ceremonial ribbon-cutting that formally opened the exhibit, Jacquelyn Zimmermann, director of ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program, invited the audience to speak to the artists during the viewing to help advance an understanding and tolerance of other viewpoints. She said, “The performing and the visual arts are honest, courageous revelations from various experiences and personal views of the artists on issues of inequality, social justice and intolerance. … these demonstrations of problem solving represent the value and power of the arts, and why every student should have the opportunity to learn them in school.”

Works (on left) by Presidential Scholar in the Arts Ameya Okamoto and the Total Tolerance exhibit statement.

The exhibit is on display until June 30, 2018.  You are invited to view the work and join the conversation on “total tolerance.”

Click here for photos of this exhibit opening.


Chareese Ross is in the Department of Education’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

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.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Be Safe and Healthy: Tips for a Fun-Filled Summer

June 27, 2018 - 1:50pm

June is National Safety Month and, with the onset of summer, what better time for tips to help children stay safe and healthy.

Slips, trips, and falls
  1. Develop an action plan for injury prevention: According to the CDC each day about 8,000 children up to the age of 19—almost 2.8 million children each year—are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. Be mindful of where children play and help prevent unnecessary falls. Check out the CDC’s Injury Prevention and Control website, and see if a plan can be tailored to your specific needs and situations.
  2. Help children be safe on the playground: With the summer months can come an increased use of playgrounds. Check out the local playground—or backyard playground equipment—to ensure that it is safe for play.
  3. Promote an understanding of the need for sports safety. The CDC advises that children wear protective gear during sports and recreation. Remind children that no one wants to intentionally get hurt and wearing proper protective gear can decrease the risk of injury.

Know the surroundings
  1. Ensure children know their address and their way home: With summer can come an increased number of activities, including going to different events and locations. If children go to the park, the community center, the local pool, or their friends’ homes, for example, make sure they know their way in both directions.
  2. Make sure children know 9-1-1: Even in familiar surroundings an emergency can arise. Let children know what situations warrant 911 calls. Practice with younger children on learning the numbers buttons on a landline and cell phone, and what they need to do differently on the cell than home phone.
Medicines and potential food allergens
  1. Help children realize the need for medicine safety: Although one can have a more relaxed schedule in the summer, remember to remain vigilant in ensuring children know about medicines and safety. Help children understand why they should only take medicine intended for them, with differences in age and weight between kids and grown-ups, for example, being one of numerous factors.
  2. Remind older children of the dangers of drug misuse: The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports a softening of attitudes among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders regarding perceived harm of non-medical use of prescription medications. Reading online about how misuse of prescription drugs can affect the brains of teens and providing students with the facts about drugs may help older children understand the biopsychological underpinnings for refraining from prescription drug misuse.
  3. Be aware of food allergens: Let children know that, while summer may offer more time to try new things, including new foods, they should check with an adult first because some foods may cause an allergic response in certain children. Problem foods for children can include eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and gluten. The allergic reaction may be mild. In rare cases it can cause a severe reaction called anaphylaxis.
Sun and water safety
  1. Provide protection from the sun: Make sure children are equipped with sun screen, hat, sunglasses and clothing that provide adequate protection against the harmful effects of the sun.
  2. Make sure children drink lots of water.  Water is necessary to keep hydrated.
  3. Reinforce water safety: Introduce the process of learning to swim. Consider signing children up for swimming lessons, and let them know about various aspects of water safety.

One more tip for summer: Keep reading and avoid the summer slide! These are just a few ideas to help children have a fun-filled summer, and be safe all year- round.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Betsy’s Blog – Combating the Opioid Crisis

June 20, 2018 - 1:22pm

The opioid crisis has produced broken families, shattered lives and indescribable tragedy throughout the United States. Drug overdoses have claimed more than 300,000 lives since the year 2000 and have become the leading cause of injury death in the country. In 2016, more than two million Americans had an addiction to prescription or illicit opioids. No community is immune to this “crisis next door.”

On October 26, 2017 President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. The Presidential Memorandum he issued that day expresses the Administration’s commitment to addressing the opioid crisis and its effects.

The Department of Education and other Federal agencies throughout the Administration are actively combating the opioid crisis. On the newly-created Opioids.gov you can see the magnitude of the crisis and the Administration’s efforts to combat it – from stopping the flow of illicit opioids into the U.S. to providing first responders with overdose-reversing drugs increasing access to treatment. Americans can share their own stories at CrisisNextDoor.gov, and I certainly encourage students, parents and educators to share how they have been impacted.

I recently visited the powerful “Prescribed to Death” memorial at the White House that honors the precious lives lost to opioid misuse. While the numbers are staggering, this memorial helped to illustrate the reality that this crisis is not about numbers, it’s about real, individual people. It’s about lives cut far too short. It’s about the grief of families losing sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers to the tragedy of overdose.

The impact on children has been especially profound. In just a dozen years, the incidence of infants born drug-dependent increased by almost 500 percent. Nearly a third of all incidents of children being placed into foster care is a result of parental drug misuse. Not unexpectedly, our nation’s schools are on the forefront of dealing with this crisis.

The Department of Education is engaged in a two-pronged approach to addressing the crisis. First, we are helping to educate students, families and educators about the dangers of opioid misuse as well as the importance of prevention and recovery. We are also supporting State and local prevention and recovery efforts and highlighting successful practices by schools.

One such school is Johnstown Elementary, located in western Pennsylvania and in a community hit hard by the opioid epidemic. I visited Johnstown earlier this year to see the school’s unique program to strengthen social and emotional learning to aid in preventing drug abuse and violence. I was impressed by the program’s focus on promoting good behavior instead of merely reacting to bad behavior and observed students as young as kindergarten putting it into practice. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, Johnstown’s approach could easily be replicated by many other schools.

The Department of Education’s website Combating the Opioid Crisis: Schools, Students, Families houses a number of resources from throughout the federal government that can help inform awareness, prevention and recovery efforts. State and local officials can also check out our recent webinar on how to respond to the opioid crisis in schools here.

These efforts are just the beginning of our work to combat the opioid crisis. We’ll continue to work with students, parents, educators, health care professionals and all others across the nation to educate Americans about the dangers of opioid abuse, help prevent opioid misuse and halt the devastation these drugs have wreaked.


Betsy DeVos is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

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Categories: Higher Education News

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Visits the Netherlands

June 18, 2018 - 1:23pm

Secretary DeVos and IMC Weekend School Ambassadors

[Note: This post originally appeared on the website of the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in the Netherlands.]

Secretary DeVos with students in Rotterdam

The U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, travelled to the Netherlands for an official program on June 11-12, as the second stop on a three country trip to Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, to explore the vocational education, decentralized school systems, and apprenticeship programs within Europe.

Her visit to the Netherlands, planned by the Dutch Ministry of Education, focused on vocational education, school choice, and advancing education options to prepare students for the modern economy. Secretary DeVos started her trip by meeting with the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Ingrid van Engelshoven, and the Ministry helped to plan her visits. She viewed how Imelda Primary School in Rotterdam has incorporated arts into the school to advance student understanding of abstract concepts and to encourage problem solving.  She spoke with students at Edith Stein College in The Hague about the Dutch educational system and challenges faced by students.  She also visited students [at] Lucia Marthas Institute for the Performing Arts in Amsterdam, where students were preparing performances for their end of year productions.

Secretary DeVos with a student at ROC Amsterdam

Secretary DeVos had a hands-on program at the Regional Vocational Education Center Westpoort in Amsterdam where students demonstrated skills they were learning in the fields of electrical engineering, automotive repair, catering, and other programs.  Her visit explored different aspects [of] secondary vocational education within the Netherlands, and how it prepares students for technological jobs.

Secretary DeVos had two round-tables during her trip.  The first focused on school choice, funding, and administration in the Netherlands with a teacher, a parent and board member, a professor and expert on Dutch education law, and a school administrator.  Her second round-table was a discussion with student ambassadors from IMC Weekend School on motivating students to seek potential career opportunities.   She also met with American teachers currently in the Netherlands as Fulbright Scholars and English Teaching Assistants.

DeVos also looked at the links between education and culture at institutions such as the Anne Frank House and the Teekenschool at the Rijksmuseum.  Each day ended with special dinners, the first hosted by Ambassador Hoekstra and the second hosted by Minister van Engelshoven and the City of Amsterdam.

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Categories: Higher Education News

8 Common Public Service Loan Forgiveness Mistakes

June 14, 2018 - 10:44am

If you are employed full-time by a government or not-for-profit organization, you may be able to receive loan forgiveness after making 120 qualifying payments (10 years), thanks to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.

But loan forgiveness is not automatic. There are a number of specific requirements you must meet. If you want to make sure you’re on the right track, avoid these common mistakes:

1. Not submitting an Employment Certification Form each year Submitting an Employment Certification Form (ECF) is the single most important thing you can do to make sure you’re on track for forgiveness. You should submit this ASAP.

In order to ensure you’re on the right track for forgiveness, it is important that you submit an Employment Certification Form (ECF)

  • as soon as you start your first public service job,
  • annually from that point on, and
  • any time you switch employers.

We use this is form to help verify you’re on the right track and to inform you about anything you should do to adjust to maximize the amount forgiven in the future.

Since borrowers who are interested in PSLF should be on income-driven repayment plans, we recommend submitting your annual ECF at the same time you recertify your income-based payments.

2. Making mistakes on your Employment Certification Form

Your ECF could be rejected if you make mistakes. Here are some common mistakes we see:

  • Missing information: Two of the most common missing items are the employer’s address and Employer Identification Number (EIN). You can find your employer’s EIN on your Wage and Tax Statement (W-2). Don’t submit your ECF without all the required fields filled in.
  • Inconsistent information: This occurs when you provide information on a new ECF that is inconsistent with info from a previous ECF. Most commonly, we see inconsistent employment begin dates.
  • Correction errors: If corrections are made on the form, initials must be provided next to the change.
    • If you’re correcting the borrower sections (Section 1 or 2), we need your initials.
    • If you’re correcting the employer sections (Section 3 or 4), we need the employer’s initials.

Tip: The ECF requires a signature from an “authorized official” at your employer. This is typically someone in your human resources office. Ask your employer who your organization has authorized to certify employment if you’re uncertain.

3. Not consolidating your FFEL, Perkins, and parent PLUS loans

There are different types of federal student loans, but only Direct Loans qualify for PSLF.

If you borrowed before 2011, or if you have Perkins or parent PLUS loans, you may need to consolidate your loans in order to qualify for PSLF.

  • To check which types of loans you have, log in to StudentAid.gov/login. If you see a loan type that doesn’t include the word “Direct,” you’ll need to consolidate it to get PSLF for that loan.
  • To fill out the consolidation application, go to StudentLoans.gov.
4. Not enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan.

You can get PSLF only if you enroll in and make payments under one of the income-driven repayment plans. While payments made under the 10-Year Standard Repayment Plan also qualify for PSLF, you will have fully paid off your loan within 10 years (i.e., before you can qualify for forgiveness) if you pay under that plan. Therefore, an income-driven plan is your best option. Not only will it help you qualify for PSLF, but most people enrolled in income-driven repayment plans see a reduction in their monthly payment amount—win-win! You can apply for an income-driven repayment plan on StudentLoans.gov.

Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness: You may have a second chance to get Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) if your application was denied because you were on the wrong repayment plan. With the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, Congress set aside a $350 million fund to offer PSLF to borrowers who were denied for being on the wrong student loan repayment plan. This is a one-time-only expansion that will only be available until the funds run out, so it’s important to take action early. For complete eligibility requirement and to learn how to apply, visit StudentAid.gov/tepslf. 5. Missing your income-driven repayment recertification date

In order to remain eligible for income-driven payments, you must recertify each year. If you don’t, your payment will likely go up—possibly significantly. Recertify every year at the same time on StudentLoans.gov. This is a good time to submit an updated ECF too.

6. Staying on a deferment or forbearance

When you are in deferment or forbearance, you don’t get credit toward the 120 payments you need to qualify for PSLF. Every month you stay on deferment or forbearance, you’re pushing back your forgiveness date. Here are some tips to help you avoid this mistake:

  • If you want PSLF, you should be on an income-driven repayment plan. Your payment amount under these plans should be affordable because it is calculated based on your income. If it’s not affordable, and especially if you are on the Income-Based Repayment Plan, contact your servicer to see if you qualify for a different income-driven plan that will lower your monthly payment even further. Or, if you’ve had a drop in income since you last had your payment calculated, you can recertify your current income-driven repayment plan early.
  • You can waive periods of deferment—for example, if you’re working full-time for a qualifying employer while in graduate school, you could consider waiving any in-school deferment that is applied to your loans so you can start making qualifying payments. Contact your servicer to waive a deferment.
7. Missing payments

You shouldn’t miss loan payments, but it’s especially important if you’re working toward PSLF. Your payment won’t qualify if it’s more than 15 days late.

8. Not being strategic with early or extra payments

You cannot receive forgiveness any sooner than 10 years—even if you pay early or extra every month. For PSLF, you must make 120 separate monthly payments—and you can receive credit for only one payment per month, no matter how much you pay. If you consistently pay more than you have to, it will reduce the amount forgiven once you reach the 120 payments necessary.

However, one instance where we’ve seen borrowers interested in making additional payments while working toward PSLF is when they receive an employer-provided student loan repayment benefit. If your employer does provide these benefits and you’re working toward PSLF, consider inquiring whether the payment can be broken out monthly, as opposed to being paid as a lump sum. That way, it covers multiple scheduled monthly payments and not just one.

The easiest way to avoid these mistakes is to submit your ECF early and often and to keep in touch with FedLoan Servicing, our PSLF servicer. They are available to help you every step of the way.

BONUS: Answers to some PSLF FAQs:

  • Private loans do not qualify for PSLF.
  • Qualifying employment is about who your employer is, not the job you do for your employer. For example, if you are a government contractor, but your employer is a for-profit company, your employment would not
  • Payments don’t have to be consecutive—you can leave public service and come back and still qualify without starting over.
  • Any amount forgiven under the PSLF program is not
  • You can calculate your projected forgiveness amount using our repayment calculator.


Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

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Categories: Higher Education News

President’s Education Awards Program: A Celebration of Student Achievement and Hard Work in the Classroom

June 11, 2018 - 11:15am

President’s Education Awards Program (PEAP) student recipients are selected annually by their school principal. This year, PEAP provided individual recognition to nearly 3 million graduates (at the elementary, middle and high school level) across the nation at more than 30,000 public, private and military schools from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Outlying Areas — American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands — and American military bases abroad.

Students received a certificate signed by President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Schools also received letters from the President and the Secretary.

The Department encourages schools to be on the lookout for 2018-19 school year materials from PEAP program partners: the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). The materials outline how to order certificates to award students before the end of the school year. Certificates are FREE, and there is no limit.

Please review the participant list at to see if your school is currently involved. If not, contact your local school/principal and urge them to participate for the upcoming school year.

Background –

PEAP was founded in 1983. Every year since then, the program has provided principals with the opportunity to recognize students who meet high standards of academic excellence, as well as those who have given their best effort, often overcoming obstacles in their learning. Eligible graduating K-12 students are selected by their principal under two categories.


  • The President’s Award for Educational Excellence – This award recognizes academic success in the classroom. To be eligible, students must meet a few academic requirements, including a high grade point average or other school-set criteria and a choice of either state test performance or teacher recommendations.
  • The President’s Award for Educational Achievement – This award recognizes students that show outstanding educational growth, improvement, commitment, or intellectual development in their subjects but do not meet the academic criteria above. Its purpose is to encourage and reward students who give their best effort, often in the face of special obstacles, based on criteria developed at each school.

Recent School Celebrations –

At Fairland West Elementary School  in Ohio, Principal Teresa Johnson presented 51 fifth-grade students with the President’s Award for Educational Excellence on May 22. Johnson read the letter of congratulations from President Trump, and students received a gold-embossed certificate signed by the President and Secretary.

The awards were presented to students by their fifth-grade homeroom teachers: Mrs. Sullivan, Mrs. Black, Mrs. Staggs, Miss Dillon, and Ms. Thompson.

Ombudsman Alternative Center in Mississippi serves high school-age students in Natchez School District who meet criterion and can take classes at their own pace to earn their high school diploma.  Two Natchez students were recognized by PEAP this year, receiving certificates for their academic achievements. Principal Allison Jowers announced the students’ awards in May at the local board meeting, saying both students had earned the honors through their hard work and dedication to education. Jaila Queen, a freshman, earned the academic excellence award, while Briana White, a senior, earned the educational achievement award.



Two Natchez students Jaila Queen (left) and Briana White (right) received awards signed by President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for their academic success this year.

The program also receives great feedback throughout the year. From Long Pond School in New Jersey, which celebrated their students’ achievement on May 24: “This is the 34th year that Long Pond has participated in this program, and it’s really exciting to be part of it.” Principal Bryan Fleming closed the event with the reading of the anonymous poem “Just One,” which speaks of the many ways a small effort can spark greatness. The poem ends with the lines, “One life can make a difference, that one life could be you.”


Frances Hopkins is director of the President’s Education Awards Program at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Categories: Higher Education News

U.S. Department of Education Announces New Website to Assist State Education Policy Makers Access ESSA Resources

June 11, 2018 - 8:14am

The U.S. Department of Education is pleased to announce the launch of the Comprehensive Center Network (CC Network) website. The CC Network website brings together a compilation of more than 700 resources developed by 23 Comprehensive Centers and over 200 projects currently underway in states across the country and makes searching by state or topic easier.

Through a single website, the CC Network portal, anyone interested in learning more of the broad range of education initiatives funded by the U. S. Department of Education, through the Department’s comprehensive centers, may examine the hundreds of efforts underway, or completed, through the nation’s network of centers.  Visit the site today at www.CompCenterNetwork.org and follow CCN on Twitter for important website updates.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Betsy’s Blog – Switzerland Apprenticeships

June 8, 2018 - 8:44am

There’s a lot we as Americans can learn from other countries and how they set their students up for successful lives and careers. That’s why as part of my first trip abroad as Secretary I chose to visit Switzerland and witness their innovative approach to apprenticeships. There this sort of educational opportunity is not only the norm, it is highly coveted by students!

In Switzerland, the education sector partners closely with businesses to provide apprenticeships for students in a variety of professions. Two-thirds of current Swiss students pursue their education through one of the 250 types of government-recognized apprenticeships. Meanwhile, only 17 percent of U.S. students have worked in an internship or apprenticeship related to their career goals.

Swiss apprenticeships include programs for welders and carpenters, like they do in the U.S., but Swiss students can also apprentice in the healthcare, finance and law fields as well. In fact, CEOs of multiple major Swiss companies began their careers as apprentices. That’s not commonplace in America, but perhaps it should be!

Such a robust culture of technical education demonstrates three key things. First, that young people can be productive members of the workforce. Second, that businesses should take an active role in cultivating the next generation of talent. And third, that hands-on learning should not be seen as a last resort for those who struggle in a traditional classroom setting.  All students benefit when they have the chance to apply what they are learning in school to solve problems and accomplish practical applications in the workplace.

There are a multitude of paths a student can pursue in higher education, and each should be seen as valid. If a path is the right fit for the student, then it’s the right education. No stigma should stand in the way of a student’s journey to success.

That’s why President Trump directed his Administration to find ways to expand apprenticeships back here at home. We joined with leaders from business, labor and education with the charge to expand the number of options to “earn and learn”, and to encourage the private sector and higher education to advance this important opportunity for our nation’s economic future. We made a number of concrete, common-sense recommendations, which you can learn more about here.

It’s true that education in the United States isn’t exactly the same as it is in Switzerland, and that U.S. companies don’t have the same experience in delivering apprenticeships as Swiss companies. But there’s still much that we can learn from the Swiss model. It’s our hope that Swiss companies operating in the U.S. will help lead the way by setting the best examples for other U.S. businesses to participate in apprenticeships. The many opportunities apprenticeships afford students are worth highlighting and expanding, and we’ll continue to do so.


Betsy DeVos is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

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Categories: Higher Education News

What Students Can Do to Avoid Summer Melt

June 6, 2018 - 2:50pm

In our last post, we talked about the phenomenon of summer melt, where up to 1/3 of the students who graduate high school with plans to go to college never make it to a college campus.  We discussed what the student’s support team could do to help keep the student on track—but there’s also plenty the student can do to make sure their college plans don’t get derailed.

Open every piece of snail mail you get from the college, and read all of it.  You’re probably used to getting all kinds of mail from all kinds of colleges, but once you’ve decided on a college, anything and everything they send you needs to be read.  Just ask the student who opened the letter congratulating him for being admitted.  He didn’t read the next page, which told him he had a $42,000 scholarship.  Read it all.

Continue to check your email account.  Email may be almost as old school as snail mail, but it’s still how many colleges communicate with students—especially if they need something in a hurry.  The only way you find out what they need is to check email about three times a week in the summer.  And make sure to check your junk email folder; some colleges send emails to thousands of students, and your email account may think it’s spam.  It isn’t.

Look for the checklist.  Most colleges send you a checklist with everything you’ll need to do over the summer, and when you need to do it.  This checklist may come by snail mail, or as a link in an email, or maybe as a text.  Print it out, and put it on your refrigerator at home; that way, your parents can help you keep track of what to do as well.  If your college doesn’t give a checklist, there are others out there, such as this one from College Board.

Confused? Ask.  If there’s any point over the summer when you don’t know what you should be doing, call the college.  I know—students aren’t really crazy about talking to people on the phone, especially if they think the college will get the feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Do it anyway.  Once a college admits you, they will move heaven and earth to have you register, attend and graduate.  There is nothing—NOTHING—they haven’t been asked before, so don’t feel like you’re the only one.  In fact, colleges have Student Services offices because so many students have so many questions.  If you don’t know how to contact them, call the admissions office, and they’ll tell you how.

It’s easy to feel alone in this transition to college, but you have a home team of family, friends and counselors who are there to help, even in the summer.  There’s a ton of people at your college—your new home—who want to help you too, even though they haven’t met you.  All you have to do is ask.

Make this happen.


Patrick O’Connor is a 2017-18 School Counselor Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Summer Melt: Why One Third of College-Bound Students Don’t Make It to Campus in the Fall

June 4, 2018 - 1:18pm

Graduation is one of the most exciting times in the life of a school counselor, but as tempting as it is to look at graduation as the end of a school counselor’s work with a class, the exact opposite is true, especially for students heading to college.  An astonishing number of students who walk across the stage at graduation with plans to go to college never get there. Too many students overlook the letters and emails colleges send over the summer, asking students to complete financial aid forms, turn in important health documents, sign up for orientation and more.

If a student misses any one of these steps, the college will assume the student isn’t coming to college after all, and they’ll remove them from their attendance records.  Suddenly, due to a couple of missed emails, the student’s plans for the fall, and for their future, take a turn for the worst.

This phenomenon is known as summer melt, and it affects more students than you might believe.  According to surveys, up to one third of all students who leave high school with plans to attend college never arrive at any college campus that fall.  Summer melt tends to hit low-income students hardest, as well as students who are the first in their family to go to college.

Realizing the devastating effect summer melt can have on students, there are some key steps the student’s support team can take to make sure their senior is on campus come the fall.

Text them reminders over the summer.  School counselors can still support their students after graduation by texting them.  Weekly reminders to check their email, complete their financial aid forms and register for classes can go a long way to keep students on track.  Texting programs can make it easy for counselors to reach large numbers of students quickly, so this really doesn’t take away from their summer vacations—and it can make a big difference.

Continue those weekly meetings.  Parents have long been advised to meet weekly with their senior for 20 minutes to discuss their college plans. Those meetings should continue in the summer, so families can review any mail or other communications the college has made.  If doubts arise over what should be done, they can call the college and discover the next steps to take.

Head to campus.  Older siblings can become part of the support team by taking the new high school graduate for a summer visit to campus.  Summer melt sometimes occurs just because the student has doubts or concerns about being successful at college, or if they’ve made the right choice.  There’s no better way to lose those doubts than to see themselves at school, meet their adviser, try out the food and buy some bookstore swag.  This is a perfect way for brothers and sisters to bond with a sibling, reminding them of the ties that don’t change, even if life does.

Students often feel overwhelmed by all the forms and information colleges ask for, and missing even one of those requests can really set back a student’s college plans.  Working together as a team throughout the college selection process—from the junior year, all the way to the fall of the student’s first year on a college campus—parents, counselors and siblings who are there to support and help the student every step of the way can make a world of difference.


Patrick O’Connor is a 2017-18 School Counselor Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Categories: Higher Education News

APAHM Filled with Amazing Celebrations and Thoughtful Discussions

June 1, 2018 - 2:59pm

As May came to an end so did this year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (APAHM) festivities. This month was full of amazing celebrations and thoughtful discussions. In DC alone there were many events hosted at federal and local government offices.

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (Initiative) kicked off APAHM activities at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on May 3rd. Hosted by the DOE Asian American Pacific Islander Network, the theme for this month’s focus was “Unite our Vision by Working Together”.

I delivered the keynote address, noting the President’s Proclamation of May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and the many contributions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have made in the arts, sciences, government, military, commerce, and education in the United States. The address highlighted Paul Chu, a scientific hero and pioneer in the field of superconductivity, Founding Director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston, and the ways he helped pave the path for others in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields.

The Initiative also participated in other APAHM events across federal agencies including at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

The Asian American Government Executive Network celebrated its Senior Executive Service Development Program Induction and Graduation Ceremony. I keynoted the ceremony, discussing the importance of having mentors and coaches and the role that networking with quality plays in professional development. The speech also shared ways to stand out so others will appreciate and take note of your hard work.

Our intern, Sai-kit Jeremy Lee, participated in the U.S. Department of Education’s heritage month observance with Neel Saxena, Executive Director of Asian American LEAD in a discussion moderated by Okhee Shim with the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Services. They discussed issues that AAPI youth are concerned about.

On May 15th, the Initiative co-hosted the 2018 AAPI Business Summit in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) and National ACE. This summit convened AAPI business leaders from across the nation to discuss growth strategies as well as federal resources available to them. There was also a panel of young business leaders discussing challenges and obstacles that the newer generation of AAPIs is facing. Acting National Director Edith McCloud from MBDA and I signed a memorandum of understanding committing our offices in support of AAPI businesses and the economy.

On May 17th, the Initiative hosted our own Community Leaders Forum. This forum provided an opportunity for community leaders to engage with senior level federal officials to discuss issues impacting the AAPI community. We also rolled out the strategic areas of focus to the community. Keep an eye out for our blog page to read more about this event.

Attendees enjoy a cultural performance at the WHIAAPI Community Leaders’ Forum.

The month wrapped up with events hosted by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Department of Commerce where I sat as a panelist discussing AAPIs in the workplace and AAPIs in the Administration.

While APAHM may have come to a close, the achievements and history of AAPIs all across the United States will continue to be noted and celebrated by the Initiative, the Department or Education and the Administration.


Holly Ham is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Photo at the top: Minority Business Development Agency Acting National Director Edith McCloud and White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Executive Director Holly Ham sign a memorandum of understanding.

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Categories: Higher Education News

She Will Never…

May 31, 2018 - 12:09pm

[Note: May is Better Hearing and Speech Month.] 

Those were the words I heard over and over again when my oldest child was born 27 years ago. She will never read past a third grade reading level; she can only hope for a menial or labor-oriented job; this is the best her writing will ever be so maybe you should just accept it, maybe you are in denial. Sound familiar? I am sure that I am not alone as a mom. Many of us have heard these words from well-meaning and well-intended professionals who are only trying to help.

In July of 1990, I gave birth to a very healthy and beautiful baby girl, Laurin. I mean, she was adorable (seriously, picture the Gerber baby.  That was Laurin.). She seemed to be doing everything ahead of the developmental milestones: crawling, sitting up, etc. But then, on Christmas when Laurin was five months old, my sister came to me and said, “I just tripped and knocked over some pots and pans behind Laurin and she didn’t startle.”

It is safe to say that this single moment radically changed my world.

Throughout the next month, I tested Laurin’s hearing: clapping my hands behind her, clanging pots and pans, you name it. Yes, sometimes she turned and other times she did not. What’s a mom to do? It was then time for Laurin’s six-month well-baby checkup. I told our family doctor that I thought there might be a problem with Laurin’s hearing. His fateful response was, “It seems unlikely, but you are her mother and you know her best. Let’s just get her hearing checked.” All I could visualize was my Gerber baby sitting with big clunky headphones strapped on her head. How in the world could they test her hearing? All I knew of hearing tests was from my elementary school days—sitting very still, listening intently for a beep so I could raise my hand. Before we walked out of our doctor’s office, we had an appointment to see an audiologist.

The next few weeks were a blur—lots of crying, lots of testing, lots of unknowns, and then the audiology appointment. To be honest, I was so lost. It was like I stepped into a whole other world—one of strange words and acronyms, ABR, amplification, speech banana, Db, frequency… this was just the start of all of the special education lingo that was to follow shortly after our audiology appointment. So yes, Laurin’s auditory brainstem response (ABR) was basically a flat line. I’m not sure exactly what I felt, but I can say that Laurin was clueless. All she wanted to do was to play and explore the world around her. Our audiologist broke the news to us in a very direct and factual way, which was such a relief. He also said that he could be wrong. We went for a second ABR and his diagnosis was confirmed—she was profoundly deaf in both ears. Bilateral deafness; yes, another new vocabulary term added to my repertoire.

Looking back, I didn’t realize that the diagnosis was the easy part of this journey. After the diagnosis, our audiologist informed us that we needed to decide on a methodology. Huh? Consider amplification. Hmm? He also shared that there were very strong and opposing opinions about what were the best ways to teach children who are deaf. Later I learned that this was an understatement. He sent us off to do our research. Now remember, this was 27 years ago, and there was no internet. We went old school: our local library. We checked out every book they had on deafness and began to read.

I also received a wide array of advice: there is a residential program 30 minutes down the road; do not take no for an answer. I clung to this advice, which firmly cemented that I was Laurin’s mom and I had to make the decisions. It came from a Parent Educator at the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, North Carolina’s PTI (parent training and information center). Little did I know, my Parent Educator would later become my confidant and mentor. Just knowing that she was on the other end of the phone, or joining us for a training session, was such reassurance as we journeyed through Laurin’s life.

Four years later, we decided to have another baby. We felt like we had things somewhat under control. Laurin was fully included with her peers in our local childcare program. The school system was doing all kinds of creative supports and services for her. Her team and I decided that it was time for a cochlear implant. I had it all mapped out: surgery on June 1, second baby the middle of July—what could go wrong? Everyone told me that Laurin’s deafness was a fluke, right?

Her sister came on the fourth of July, and yep, you guessed it, she was another baby with hearing impairment. I wish I could say that I didn’t cry,  but I did. However, this time I was a pro at the vocabulary and acronyms. This time, her big sister had already blazed the trail. Fast forward 20 plus years, and I am an empty nester. Both girls are grown and married. The youngest graduated college two years ago. And Laurin, her big sister? Well, as someone who was told she’ll struggle, and of course never earn academic honors…she of course graduated high school with honors, in the top 10% of her class; went onto college (which wasn’t for her); lived abroad; worked a variety of jobs until she figured out her path; and will graduate from college this May!

To say that I am proud of both of my daughters is the understatement of the century. I’d like to think that I played a role in their success and accomplishments, but truth be told, they came into this world as amazing women! It took persistence, and truly a village’s worth of blood, sweat, and tears from more people than I can name to make success and happiness a reality for them.

So what’s next for me?  Hopefully grandbabies one day!


Rene Averitt-Sanzone is Executive Director Parents’ Place of Maryland.

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Categories: Higher Education News

National Blue Ribbon Schools—Breaking the Mold

May 29, 2018 - 12:31pm

Somerset Academy Davie in Davie, Florida– a 2017 National Blue Ribbon School

National Blue Ribbon Schools are special places, each unique to their communities, their students, their staff and their leaders, yet they are producing outstanding results for all their students regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or zip code.  They are closing the gaps in student achievement and, in most cases, demonstrating consistent excellence.

Each year, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program visits a handful of schools to learn more about what makes these outstanding schools tick.  Video profiles offer glimpses of dynamic students, teachers and principals in action—a day in the life of a National Blue Ribbon School.

Featured below are two 2017 National Blue Ribbon awardees led by recipients of the 2017 Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership: Principal Ursula Annio and Principal Kristen Hughes.  These schools prove that there are no one-size-fits-all approaches to educating students.  Rather, by setting high expectations, offering a rich curriculum with high academic standards and providing the right student supports, students from all backgrounds can excel:

Still Making the Grade showcases P.S. 748 — Brooklyn (NY) School for Global Scholars.  Originally designed as a district-based application school for gifted and talented students, P.S. 748 features a self-created and evolving curriculum that uses project-based learning and departmentalized, interdisciplinary learning to prepare global citizens for the future.  Two years ago, District 20 re-defined P.S. 748 as a zoned, neighborhood school.  As the gifted and talented students aged out, a new and more diverse student body replaced them.  The shift in students was due to overcrowding; their ongoing excellence was due to a stellar staff who coupled high expectations with targeted supports.


Game Changer tells the story of White Street School in Springfield, Massachusetts, where demographics had been the steady explanation for low student achievement.  Families were reluctant to send their children to a school were only 4% of fifth graders scored Proficient in any subject.  In 2010, the state singled out the school for a takeover if it did not improve.  Three years into a stalled turnaround effort, a small team of passionate educators, who had recently moved a similarly situated school from Struggling to Excellent, arrived at White Street to effect change.  Within two years, the state re-classified White Street as Excellent.  Now, families are coming back.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has produced more than 50 video profiles of honorees to showcase the myriad ways that successful schools meet their students’ needs.  These profiles capture urban, suburban and rural schools, in both affluent and low income neighborhoods, where students are thriving.

Learn more about the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program here.


Aba Kumi is Director of U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Schools

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Categories: Higher Education News

Student Artists From Rose Tree Media School District Celebrated at the U.S. Department of Education

May 22, 2018 - 12:45pm

Students from the Rose Tree Media School District celebrate their success at the U.S. Department of Education.

About 250 student artists, teachers, parents, and school administrators from the Rose Tree Media School District in Pennsylvania, along with U.S. Department of Education (ED) staff, recently celebrated the students’ “Interpretations of Portraiture” exhibit at ED headquarters in Washington, D.C.  It featured 85 pieces of artwork from all six of the district’s K–12 schools, each of them a unique portrait.

The exhibit and opening took five years of collaborative development led by Art Coordinator Kathleen Devine, its previous coordinator Meg Barney, and others in the district. This true community effort had extraordinary results.

Student artists take joy in their work with Art Coordinator Kathleen Devine (on right).

The program commenced with remarks by senior officials from ED and the Rose Tree Media schools. “There is an inextricable link that exists between the success of students academically and those schools where there is a well-integrated arts and music program,” said Frank Brogan, currently delegated the authority to perform the functions and duties of the assistant secretary of postsecondary education at ED.

James Wigo, superintendent of the Rose Tree Media schools, noted the culture resulting from a well-rounded curriculum’s impact on creativity. In the district’s schools, he said, “Each and every day we get to hang around the most creative people on the planet . . .  teachers and students. . . . There is no better job on the planet than to be in contact with these fine young people.” Indeed, the audience was elated as it came to know many of those students and teachers through their visual art and performances.

Students from the Rose Tree Media Elementary Honors Chorus perform “In the Arms of an Oak.”

Students displayed their musical talent during a broad range of performances: a coed, 20-voice high school chorus, the Penncrest Ambassadors, which, less than a day earlier, was awarded a first-place gold rating at the WorldStrides Onstage Heritage Choral Festival in Montreal, Canada; a flute trio, the Penncrest Flute Ensemble; a coed, four-school, 23-voice elementary school chorus, the Rose Tree Media Elementary Honors Chorus; and a 33-piece middle school jazz group, the Springton Lake Middle School Jazz Ensemble.

We had the pleasure of talking with students about the impact of the arts on their lives and learning.

Kevin Morrison, an eighth-grader, plays the tenor saxophone. He said that participating in band provided him an opportunity to make friends and bond with others, and forced him to confront his stage fright.

The Springton Lake Middle School Jazz Ensemble performed “Birdland,” with Kevin Morrison on saxophone (far right, on floor level) and Frank Brogan at podium.

Summer Peterson, a senior at Penncrest High School, credits her teachers with “helping to mold me into the artist I have become today.”  In her self-portrait, Summer’s long, dark hair flows across half of her face, leaving just one eye visible. This work,“Summtime,” she said, “started as a vision, which then became a reality because of the passion of her teachers and her school art program.” They taught her, she said in her remarks, that “art is both a community service and a path to expanding your artistic horizons.”  Indeed, she has achieved the position of co-president of the National Art Honor Society as she moves on to postsecondary art studies.


Summer Peterson stands next to her artwork.

Beatrice Cressler stands next to her artwork (second from the bottom).










Beatrice Cressler, an eighth-grader at Springton Lake Middle School, believes that everyone is an artist in their own way. In her remarks, she called on her peers to use their creative abilities to enrich their lives: “I believe that, through art, every individual is able to remake their own world. So go remake your world and make some art.”

The program ended with a ceremonial ribbon cutting and a viewing of the artwork. This moment brought meaning to a statement from Elizabeth Schneider, a district school board member, who spoke at the opening: “[Art] gives us a peaceful joy that connects us to who we really are and then releases us back into the flow of life.” This celebration of the arts from the classroom reminded us all of the critical importance of the work of educators, education leaders and families on our behalf as a nation of learners.

Rose Tree Media students participate in the Department’s ribbon-cutting tradition.

Click here for photos of this exhibit opening.


Chareese Ross and Nancy Paulu are in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

All photos are by ED photographer Paul Wood.

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.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Seventh Cohort of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Announced

May 17, 2018 - 2:17pm

On May 16th, the U.S. Department of Education named the 2018 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Across the country, 46 schools, six districts, and six postsecondary institutions were honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.

The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 25 states and the Department of Defense Education Activity. The 2018 cohort includes 40 public schools, including two magnet schools and two charter schools, as well as six nonpublic schools. Forty-five percent of the 2018 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body.

Curious what it takes to be a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School? Here are a few of the actions that the 2018 honorees are taking:

Students began gardening offsite in 2013 and secured funding to construct an onsite gothic arch hoop house in 2014 to grow vegetables complete with solar.

Magnificat High School, Rocky River, OH

Ever since Magnificat High School (MHS) opened in 1955, the school has reflected the Humility of Mary Community charism of humility connecting MHS with “the whole earth community” and the justice theme of Care for God’s Creation. The 19-acre campus is developed with this in mind.

Magnificat has participated in a demand response program through its energy provider since 2013, earning annual rebates. The school’s most recent renovation included the installation of occupancy sensors, light tunnels, and sustainable furniture, paneling, and flooring. Students installed a rain garden planted with natives, diverting a 2,500 sq. ft. roof section of stormwater from the city sewer system.

Students have inventoried and evaluated campus trees and actively develop plans to re-forest the campus. Rain barrels are used to supplement irrigation of the vegetable garden.

In 2008, the Magnificat recycling program was formalized with single-stream recycling and a separate contract for composting. Magnificat began its conversion to a paperless environment in 2011, offers two water refilling stations, and the cafeteria uses compostable plates and utensils.

Magnificat is a no-idling campus with signage posted at student pick-up locations. The school encourages community members to walk or ride a bike to school, and students walk to all local field trips.

Students’ gardening efforts have resulted in the donation of over 670 pounds of organically grown vegetables to the local Meals on Wheels program. The hoop area was expanded in 2015 to include a 3-season pavilion to be used as outdoor classroom space.

It is a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and also certified and registered as an official Monarch Waystation through Monarch Watch. In 2012, Magnificat obtained the Fair Trade School recognition.

Magnificat’s Sustainability and Seeds of Service Club (SOS) students have been invited to conduct tours and presentations.  Marine Science Club students engage in experiential learning on the Floating Lab at Hinckley Lake. Students participate in a two-day biodiversity investigation on campus and quantify their findings. They visit a recycling center/landfill and a waste-water treatment plant. Retreats in natural settings for students are offered at every grade level. Magnificat introduced “Mother Earth,” (the environmental science teacher dressed in character) to the school community in 2008 and she appears at school gatherings to help raise awareness.

Fifty-eight percent of Central’s electricity is renewable, thanks to an impressive roof-mounted solar array.

Central High School, Grand Junction, Colorado

Central High School was built in the 1960s, and the current building has been modernized and retrofitted to increase energy efficiency.  Central reduced energy use by 39 percent, greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent, water by 36 percent, and reduced the number of individual fluorescent lights from 1489 to 154. The school is working to relocate its current greenhouse to a planned outdoor classroom, so that environmental science classes can mentor and work alongside students in special education.

Central is proud of its physical fitness commitment of 225 minutes per week, the staff’s monthly participation in Wellness Challenges, and the requirement for all students to take advisory classes for 90 minutes a week. Central offers a recreation club that plans monthly activities, including kayaking, paddle boarding, skiing, snow shoeing, river rafting, hiking, and biking. A component of each outing is teaching stewardship and ecology of each area visited.

The Outdoor Wilderness Leadership in Science program teaches participants science concepts and leadership skills that prepare them for an opportunity to become camp counselors for a weeklong wilderness camp for sixth grade students. All students at Central are required to take an environmental science course or AP Environmental Science, typically during their freshman year. Exposure to units such as natural resources, weather and climate, ecosystems, populations, and interactions has stimulated tremendous growth in student understanding of the need to be environmentally responsible and civic-minded. The Green Team at Central is a student-run organization and a direct result of this dedication to environmental science curriculum.

Being located near the Konza Prairie, one of the last remaining tallgrass native areas in the Flint Hills, allows MOUSD students access to a pristine prairie in which to investigate plants, animals, ecosystems and environmental disturbances.

Manhattan-Ogden Unified School District, Manhattan, Kansas

In Manhattan-Ogden Unified School District (MOUSD), in north central Kansas, all students learn, grow, and work to reduce environmental footprint, impact, and costs through millions of dollars’ worth of water and energy conservation and savings in tight budget times for the state.  MOUSD provides all students with environmental and sustainability lessons at each grade level, in order to prepare for the changing world, as well as build hubs in the community for best practices to be shared as a world-class school district.

Uniquely positioned in the Flint Hills region of tallgrass prairie and in the agricultural heartland, MOUSD offers an innovative space for learning. For the past five years, the district has completed incredible student-centered projects districtwide at multiple sites with evidence-based results. Since 2013, MOUSD has been awarded some $250,000 from local, state, and federal sources to invest in specific projects that have allowed students to have equitable access to tools for environmental learning.

The entire district has been diverting millions of pounds of trash from the solid waste streams into commingled recycling bins, with a local business partner helping to bring recycling to the small rural community.  In 2017-18, MOUSD has organized Go Green Champions and Leadership Teams. There are fresh fruits and vegetables daily with the secondary schools having salad bars. A fruit and vegetable of the month and fruit and vegetable program help to showcase local produce.

Onsite gardens, greenhouses, and composting help to offer nutrition, science, and agricultural education and reduce waste. The district nearly halved its water consumption in one year and reduced energy use by over 20 percent in three years.  Repurposing and Recycling Education Space (RARES) serve as a gathering point for low-tech tools, project-based learning, open inquiry projects, reverse engineering, and creative expertise, making good use of items that would otherwise go to the landfill.

The district offers bicycle safety education, a community based bicycle loaner program, designated carpool lanes, and a no-idling policy. The custodial team has moved away from all cleaning chemicals to Tersano, a system that turns tap water into a safe, effective cleaner and sanitizer. Each building is using advanced HVAC systems with high efficiency appliances.

Through Jacksonville State University, middle school students study Terrapin Creek near Piedmont, Alabama. On campus and out in the community, JSU aims build future naturalists, scientists, and children with a general love for the outdoor world.

Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama

Jacksonville State University is home to the Little River Canyon Center. Opened in 2009, it is one of the state’s first LEED-certified public buildings.

The facility is used to offer sustainability education to the public. For 26 years, JSU Field Schools have provided diverse, in-depth programs, including environmental education programs, outdoor recreation programs, field trips, outreach, summer camps, general public programs, and festivals that are designed to nurture an appreciation of Alabama’s natural and cultural significance, celebrate diversity, and foster stewardship of the natural world.

Throughout campus, energy management systems in JSU buildings monitor and control temperature and identify operational issues. HVAC upgrades improve indoor air quality and respiratory health through better ventilation, as well as contaminant and moisture control. The installation of campus hydration stations three years ago has saved 83,300 bottles and food service has saved 5,800 gallons since 2010 by going trayless.

JSU is a tree-friendly campus with drought-tolerant and runoff-resistant landscaping. External vendors provide removal and recycling of waste and properly dispose of all hazardous waste and chemicals. The “When You Move Out, Don’t Throw It Out” program began in 2017, in partnership with the Salvation Army.

The Gamecock Express, JSU’s diesel transit system since 2009, provides alternative transportation and features bike racks for those combining two alternative modes of transit. Food service provider Sodexo uses 92 percent Green Seal certified cleaning products and works closely with local produce distributors to maximize the fruits, vegetables, and dairy products sourced locally. The recreation outdoor adventure program provides resources that allow students to access the local outdoor areas more effectively, from kayaking to rock climbing to fishing to mountain biking to hiking.

JSU offers a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a concentration in Ecology and Environmental Science for graduates pursuing careers in those disciplines. The JSU Biology department is the home to the Center for Tick-Borne Disease Ecology. JSU’s Alabama Math and Science Teaching Initiative (AMSTI) distributes 2,700 science kits to teachers in 15 school systems in 7 counties and 70 schools, educating 67,500 students.

You can view the list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, and read a report with highlights on the 58 honorees. All schools can find resources to move toward the three Pillars on ED’s Green Strides.


Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

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Categories: Higher Education News

A Counselor’s Thank You to Teachers

May 11, 2018 - 11:15am

We hear about all the great teachers in the counseling office.  The one who set the times tables to the tune of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” ensuring kids will remember them forever, even if it will take a while to get to eight times nine.  Mr. Jones, the history teacher who dressed up like Benjamin Franklin for an entire week and never once broke character.  The tenth grade English teacher who finally explained “I after e” in a way that made sense.  When you put that much thought into a lesson, it’s makes for memorable teaching.

Of course, that’s not the only way teachers become memorable.  The teacher who said just the right words at just the right time to the bully who had incredible art talent, making the student more comfortable with who they really were, and less of a bully.  The teacher who wore the cut-rate perfume a special needs student gave her at Christmas, every time that student had a spelling test—the same perfume she’d wear when attending that student’s graduation from medical school. The teacher who shows up at the Saturday soccer league and cheers loudly for all of her students on the sidelines, even though her students are spread throughout both teams, and it’s forty degrees out.

You can’t analyze a test score to determine what these teachable moments do to the learning and learning habits of students, but everyone seems to understand what they do to students’ learning, and students’ lives.  Like recess, these teachable moments inspire in ways we can’t quite measure, but we still know their worth is beyond measure.

These aren’t just discrete, feel-good stories.  Most of my counseling work for the last thirteen years has involved working with students in college placement.  In that time, every student—every single one—has had the chance to go to college; most have earned at least one merit scholarship, and for those who have been out for four years or more, nearly all of them have finished college on time.

Almost none of that is due to me.  It’s a tribute to the teacher who took a group of six year-olds into the woods for an entire class period and told them to watch and listen—and they did; to the teacher who had flags from 45 nations in his fourth-grade Social Studies classroom, and talked about the country each flag represented for a full year; to the two teachers who took significant scorn from their colleagues every year they wanted to team teach Lord of the Flies, because it threw such a wrench into the middle school schedule.

Making the most of college—and learning a trade for that matter—isn’t at all about getting in.  It’s about the absorbing, the becoming, the grappling of new ideas that doesn’t end until the idea is now an honored friend. That state of mind, the acquisition of the habits needed to do that kind of learning, is the essence of teaching.  It is alive and well in the classrooms of the colleagues I eat lunch with.  More important, it is in the hearts, minds and souls of the students they serve.

This week reminds me of the story of the principal who was interviewing candidates for a middle school English position.  The first five interviews were all remarkably short, where the principal asked each candidate what they taught.  When they responded, “I teach English”, the principal said, “I see.  Well, thank you for coming in.”

The interview with the sixth candidate started with the same question, “What do you teach?”  When the candidate responded, “Why, I teach students about the wonders of the English language”, the principal responded with, “I see.  Tell me more about that.”

It is one thing to consider Teacher Appreciation Week as a triumph over the long odds of limited budgets, aging facilities, crowded classrooms and wonky Internet connections.  That’s an important discussion to have, but this week is more about those who serve, and what they leave their students with. In the end, that is all teaching ever was; it is what it must continue to be, if our world is to continue to flourish.

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Categories: Higher Education News