South Florida’s Green Schools Forecast? Warm, Sunny, Healthy and Here to Stay!

Note: U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognizes schools, districts and postsecondary institutions that are 1) reducing environmental impact and costs; 2) improving health and wellness; and 3) teaching environmental education.  To share innovative practices in these three ‘Pillars,’ the Department conducts an annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour of honorees.

On Sept. 4, 2014, the School District of Palm Beach County was proud to welcome Andrea Falken, Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), and other federal, state, and local officials and stakeholders for this year’s “Healthy Schools, High-Achieving Students” Green Strides Best Practices Tour. Visitors were offered a unique view of how Palm Beach County is helping to grow Florida’s up-and-coming green generation, through local collaboration and district-wide programming.

Pine Jog Elementary in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Photo credit: School District of Palm Beach County)

Pine Jog Elementary, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Photo credit: School District of Palm Beach County)

The tour began at a 2012 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, Pine Jog Elementary, in West Palm Beach. Over 80 visitors were welcomed by the District’s Superintendent, E. Wayne Gent.He shared with the group our commitment to build and maintain green and healthy schools to foster high-achieving students.Visitors were treated to a choral presentation of “We’re Goin’ Green,” underscoring that all schools have an opportunity to conserve resources, improve efficiency, ensure health and wellness, and deliver inspiring environmental curriculum. Walking tours of the school highlighted all facets of this unique green school, from its pesticide-free gardens, outdoor creative learning centers, and overall sustainability curriculum, to its state-of-the-art LEED Gold certified building.

At the adjacent Pine Jog Environmental Education Center, part of Florida Atlantic University’s College of Education, visitors heard the inspiring story of their partnership. FAU President, Dr. John Kelly, emphasized his support for the District’s efforts to plant the seeds of sustainability in every Palm Beach County student. They also learned about a program central to furthering green schools efforts in Palm Beach County – the district’s Green Schools Recognition Program. The program recognizes and rewards schools for taking an innovative and holistic approach to going green and acts as a feeder program for state and national recognition.

The listening session brought together the district’s major division directors, as well as several principals, architects, and partners. For Palm Beach, green schools go far beyond buildings. They are creative centers of learning which promote sustainable practices, encourage health and wellness for their students and staff, and provide strong connections between the built and natural environments for all students, whatever their needs.

After a healthy lunch, visitors toured the newest green school in the district, Galaxy E3 Elementary, in Boynton Beach. Through dynamic leadership and strong community partnerships, Galaxy is not only the first school campus in Florida to target LEED Platinum status, but also offers its needy student population the most engaging STEM resources available, including a planetarium and aquarium, as well as other museum-quality displays, designed to hook kids on science.

To conclude the day’s event, I was honored to join the city’s mayor, Jeri Muoio, and the District’s Chief of Support Operations, Steve Bonino, in offering closing thoughts at the Lake Pavilion, another LEED construction. Here in Palm Beach County, we believe that all schools can make green strides through careful planning, maintenance, and operation, as well as through thoughtful integration of environmental principles into the curriculum. Whether they are in new or old buildings, all children deserve healthy schools to give them the best chance of being high-achieving students.

Christina Davis is the Sustainability Coordinator for the School District of Palm Beach County.

Broward Schools: Preserving the Planet for Posterity through Partnerships

Note: U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognizes schools, districts and postsecondary institutions that are 1) reducing environmental impact and costs; 2) improving health and wellness; and 3) teaching environmental education.  To share innovative practices in these three ‘Pillars,’ the Department conducts an annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour of honorees.

Shifting the culture of Broward schools through strong partnerships was the theme of the Broward portion of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) Green Strides Best Practices tour in south Florida on Sept. 5. Within the school system, our partners and priorities include transportation, facilities and construction, environmental conservation and utility management, information and technology, health and wellness, food and nutrition services and curriculum integration district offices. Our external partners, including our state, county and local municipalities and businesses, were also featured along the tour.


South Plantation High School’s environmental magnet programs were touted during the tour. (Photo credit: Broward County Public Schools)

In Broward, we’ve made recognizing and celebrating our shared successes a crucial part of our sustained green strides effort. Broward honors schools with district-wide “P3: Preserving our Planet for Posterity” recognition awards, and also this helps identify candidates for the state and national awards. The P3 awards are jointly managed and funded by Broward Schools, Broward County Division of Environmental Planning and Community Resilience, and a consortium of environmental educators, the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO).

During our tour, we showcased strong Broward community teamwork, beginning as visitors boarded the eco-friendly, propane-fueled yellow school bus. Broward County Public Schools recently upgraded our bus fleet with the purchase of 98 Bluebird AutoGas buses. Each bus is cheaper to operate and emits 150,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide than a diesel-fueled bus over its lifetime.

At the first stop, Silver Ridge Elementary students shared how they connect with their local environment and its unique place in the history of Florida through their annual “Tan-a-kee-kee” festival. Students in every grade connect with the Earth as they learn about local Native American cultures and how their values and practices can help enrich and inform sustainability practices today.

The tour stopped next at Driftwood Middle School, a 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, where students exemplify the “Healthy Schools: High-Achieving Students” theme as an Academy of Health and Wellness. During gym classes, they monitor their own heart rates, study math in the garden, conduct energy audits and monitor their hydroponic system for a balance of nutrients. Students also experience a hands-on integrated curriculum that helps prepare them as environmental health and wellness stewards for the community.

South Plantation High School’s session highlighted the many levels of partnership that are required for success in a large district with diverse needs. Everyone in attendance learned at least one new best practice from the thirteen speakers representing each of the three pillars of ED-GRS, and nearly ever district division. Food and Nutrition’s healthy, fresh and local food program and Student Health Services’ asthma awareness education were featured, along with energy and water use reduction and the communication partnership with Information and Technology. The visit featured a student-led tour of the Everglades and Environmental Sciences magnet programs – including environmental research, horticulture, animal science, agricultural science and a spin around the bus loop by the award-winning Solar Knights’ solar car.


Students at New River Middle Marine Sciences Magnet Middle School spend their days conducting scientific research on the beach. (Photo credit: Broward County Public Schools)

We ended our day at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, part of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) state park system, where New River Middle Marine Sciences Magnet Middle School students spend their days conducting scientific research to better understand their local environment with the assistance of the DEP program Project LIFE – Learning in Florida’s Environment and the NOAA-funded Project GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment). These students enthusiastically shared their work and correlated their measurements to the newly installed weather station. As Greg Ira, DEP Director, Office of Environmental Education and Sustainable Initiatives, says, “There is no better place to learn about environmental and sustainability education than Florida’s State Parks. We applaud the commitment of Broward County Schools for bringing students to these unique places for real-world learning experiences right in their own backyard.

Perhaps best of all, what these students learn in their own backyard, they can take with them wherever they go, and practice over the course of a lifetime.

Dr. Lisa Ventry Milenkovic is Science Curriculum Supervisor, Math, Science & Gifted Department, Instruction and Intervention Division, Broward County Public Schools.

Be Disaster Aware, Take Action During National Preparedness Month

Safety and effective learning go hand in hand.  So, although September is a very busy time of year for the education community, it’s also a good time for students, school staff, and families to make sure they are up-to-date in their knowledge of school emergency plans, policies and procedures.


Take action during National PrepareAthon! Day on Sept. 30!

In fact, September is National Preparedness Month – and this year’s theme is Be Disaster Aware, Take Action to Prepare.

In support of National Preparedness Month and National PrepareAthon! Day, parents might want to ask school officials for details about the school’s emergency operations plan (EOP).

Teachers and school officials might also want to take the time to go over emergency procedures with their students and with their EOP planning teams. EOP planning teams consist of a wide range of school personnel, student and parent representatives, and community partners such as first responders and local emergency management staff. The planning team should be small enough to permit close collaboration with first responders and other community partners, yet large enough to be representative of the school, its families, and its community.

Our Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center has a great resource – the EOP Assess – an interactive tool geared toward helping EOP planners prepare a high-quality EOP. You can also visit the REMS TA Center website for additional information.

We also encourage everyone to take action during National PrepareAthon! Day on Sept. 30. You can download the digital media toolkit, follow @Readygov and @PrepareAthon on Twitter, and use the hashtag #NatlPrep if you want to share your participation and show your support.

Together we can celebrate National Preparedness Month and support a school year that’s safe, healthy and focused on learning!

More information can be found at and in Spanish at

Amy Banks is a management and program analyst at the Center for School Preparedness at the U.S. Department of Education.

Proving the Possible

Hundreds of Memphis students with red pom-poms welcomed Secretary Duncan to town on Wednesday, the final day of this year’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour. Tennessee — in its fourth year of a federally funded Race to the Top grant — was one of the first grantees tapped to implement a comprehensive statewide plan for improving education, with broad community support.


Students from Cornerstone Preparatory School in Memphis, Tenn., cheered when the bus tour arrived. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Race to the Top — an investment that represents less than one percent of total education spending in America — has combined with other federally supported reform programs to fuel significant education improvements in states across the country. But, as Arne pointed out, the credit for encouraging early results goes to state and local partners—educators, families, faith-based, business and civic leaders — who’ve been determined to make things better for children, even though change can be hard.

“What’s going to sustain this is the hard work, the heart, the commitment of folks doing this,” Arne told more than 100 supporters of district and charter schools in Memphis. “The cumulative impact of all that hard work has been extraordinary.”

That impact is evident at Cornerstone Prep, which serves children in one of Memphis’s poorest neighborhoods. Once a school where only 2 percent of students were proficient in math, scores in that subject have increased by 23.1 points over the past three years and scores in reading and language arts have increased by 13.2 percentage points. T-shirts worn by the faculty and staff at Wednesday’s rally also attest that Cornerstone is “Proving the Possible.”

College banners are everywhere on campus, to keep everyone focused on the end goal. To the students cheering in the hot schoolyard out front, Arne delivered a back-to-school pep talk.

“A lot of people will tell you what you can’t do,” Arne said. “Don’t listen to them. Use that as fuel to keep you going.”

Changes, Challenges and Champions in Nashville

Earlier in the day, Arne joined National PTA President Otha Thornton and parents and teachers from Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools to discuss the impact in classrooms of some of the largest changes America’s schools have seen in decades.

Tennessee, like nearly every other state in the country, is in the early stages of implementing new and higher standards, better assessments and ways to use data and technology to boost student learning, as well as new efforts to support teachers and principals — all aimed at ensuring that all students are truly ready for college and careers. These changes are starting to show results, but challenges remain.

America’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high and dropout rates are down, but one-third of high school graduates report having to take remedial classes in college. “What that tells you is they weren’t ready,” Arne said, citing the statistic. “They weren’t prepared…And that simply isn’t good enough.”

In a town hall at Nashville’s William Henry Oliver Middle School, Arne applauded PTA members for their strong stand for student and teacher success during this transition.


Secretary Duncan at a town hall at Nashville’s William Henry Oliver Middle School. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

“This is new for everyone,” said panelist Kayleigh Wettstein, who teaches third grade in Nashville. “As teachers, we have to get on board and be really great role models for our students.”

Parents need support to understand these changes, too. Many nodded knowingly when ED Principal Ambassador Fellow Jill Levine, who leads a magnet school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, talked about the new ways that educators are teaching math and how those methods can be unfamiliar to parents who learned a different way to work with numbers.

For Wettstein, whose students tend to come from homes where English isn’t the first language, “not all parents are the same. We have to differentiate for our kids and we have to differentiate for our families as well.”

Parent Anita Ryan marveled at a recent project at her daughter’s school, involving All of the Above, a novel about four students and their quest to build the world’s largest tetrahedron and prove their urban school isn’t a “dead end.” Ryan’s daughter and her class read the book. They studied the math behind pyramidal shapes and the engineering involved in building giant ones. They wrote persuasive essays about winning approaches to break the record. And they worked in teams to test their theories.

The Common Core State Standards that Tennessee developed with more than 40 states encourage that kind of multi-faceted, project-based learning, Ryan said. As a result, students like her daughter “get it.” “They know it. They retain it,” she said.

One risk of this big transition in education is the potential for over-testing of students, Nashville Superintendent Jesse Register said. In his district, they have identified redundancies — “we were doing too much,” Register said — and are looking for ways to scale back testing without sacrificing important data and accountability.

“Where there’s too much testing, let’s have an honest conversation about that.” Arne said, reflecting on how he views testing in his own children’s public schools. Measuring what students know and where they need more help is a way to “make sure great teaching is leading to good results, not just teaching to the test.”

Talking about another form of accountability, Arne encouraged parents and educators to look behind politicians’ rhetoric and press them to genuinely value education and invest in public schools. For too long, politicians let standards slip to make themselves look good while students were being handed worthless diplomas. Elections, he said, are the ultimate form of accountability for officials who control education budgets and policy, but campaigns rarely focus on education, especially at the national level.

Arne threw out an idea for the next race for the White House. “In 2016, could we have a presidential debate about education, where the entire nation focuses on it? Could PTA host that debate?”

Reflecting on the tour, the Secretary noted the extraordinary ways that communities in all three states we visited—Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia—have seized the opportunity to bring about bold change in education.

“I don’t learn much sitting behind my desk in Washington. I need to get out.” (Arne has visited all 50 states and more than 350 schools in his five-and-a-half years as Secretary.) “This is a time to get better … and to do it together,” he said.

From the tour’s kickoff with First Lady Michelle Obama in Atlanta, where counselors, mentors and other role models are inspiring students to set their sights on higher education, to Space Camp at NASA’s Rocket Center in Huntsville, where kids explore the wonders of STEM, to an early learning center in Chattanooga, where parents are determined to give their babies a great start in life — partners across America are coming together to build a better future for all students.

And that’s real progress.

Melissa Apostolides is a member of the Communications Development team in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

ED Seeks Winter/Spring Interns


Become a part of the team! ED’s 2014 summer interns participated in a brown bag lunch with Secretary Duncan during their time with the department. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Have you ever wondered about pursuing a federal career? Are you interested in public service? Would you like to gain valuable work experience and help move the needle on education issues in this country?

The Department of Education may have opportunities that match your interests – and we’re currently accepting applications for interns!

Our Department is a place where you can explore fields like education policy, research and analysis, intergovernmental relations and public affairs, or traditional and digital communications, all while learning about the role federal government plays in education.

Our interns also participate in professional development sessions and events outside of the office, such as lunches with ED and other government officials, movie nights, and local tours.

One of the many advantages of interning at ED is our proximity to some of the most historic and celebrated sites in our nation’s capital, all accessible by walking or taking the Metro.

ED is accepting applications for Winter/Spring 2015 internships through October 1, 2014.

If you are interested in interning during the upcoming term, there are three things you must send in order to be considered for an interview:

  1. A cover letter summarizing why you wish to work at ED and stating your previous experiences in the field of education, if any. Include which particular offices interest you.  (But, keep in mind that – due to the volume of applications we receive – if we accept you as an intern we may not be able to place you in your first-choice office.)
  2. An updated resumé.
  3. A completed copy of the Intern Application.

Prospective interns should send these three documents in one email to with the subject line formatted as follows: Last Name, First Name: Winter/Spring Intern Application.

(Note: For candidates also interested in applying specifically to the Office of General Counsel, please see application requirements here.)

An internship at ED is one of the best ways students can learn about education policy and working in the civil service. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to develop crucial workplace skills that will help you in whatever career path you choose. And, it’s an opportunity to meet fellow students who share your passion for education, learning, and engagement.

Click here for more information or to get started on your application today.

De’Rell Bonner is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Uniting for Sustainable Excellence in Kentucky

Note: U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) recognizes schools, districts and postsecondary institutions that are 1) reducing environmental impact and costs; 2) improving health and wellness; and 3) teaching environmental education.  To share innovative practices and widely-available resources in these three ‘Pillars,’ the Department conducts an annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour of honorees.  A state and local official write about the honorees visited on the tour in Kentucky.

Locust Trace AgriScience Farm is a new, net zero construction that opened in August 2011

Locust Trace AgriScience is a new, net zero construction that opened in August 2011 (Photo courtesy of Fayette County Public Schools)

Kentucky schools have been working to make our facilities more sustainable, and to ensure that they support student wellness and environmental literacy. But it was U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) that provided the framework our state needed to address these areas cohesively. The award prompted an open dialogue and helped us reach new stakeholders who might not have otherwise been engaged in sustainability.

Ultimately, each conversation that we have about building performance, student wellness, or environmental learning is rooted in the understanding that they are most effective when addressed together. To bring all of our many partners together and highlight this coordinated work, Kentucky was pleased to co-host the first leg of the second annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour.

Kentucky’s districts that integrate the three pillars of ED-GRS let students take ownership of their school facilities and well-being.

In Scott County, students at Northern Elementary explained to guests how they measured the brightness of their classrooms and then removed overhead bulbs to save money and ensure a better learning environment. At Georgetown Middle School, school leadership emphasizes comprehensive health, ensuring that students have adequate physical activity and nutrition — even outside of school hours — with breakfast, dinner, and weekend meal programs.

At Rosa Parks Elementary in Fayette County, visitors saw the results of the students’ campaign to reduce car idling near school in order to improve public health. The Wellington Elementary School Living Lab team then taught visitors about their sustainable building’s features, including photovoltaic solar panels, a rainwater capture and reuse system, a thermal hot water system, permeable pavers, a rain garden, automatic lighting controls, native landscaping, and an outdoor classroom.

Rosa Parks Elementary School

Rosa Parks Elementary School uses the U.S. EPA’s Portfolio Manager to track its energy reduction progress of more than 70 percent achieved through simple conservation measures. (Photo courtesy of Fayette County Public Schools)

At Locust Trace Agriscience Farm, a student guided visitors through the net zero-building that opened in August of 2011. The school featured permeable pavement, solar panels, solatube daylighting, a green roof, and a constructed wetlands waste disposal system. This low-environmental impact, low-utility cost facility supports green agricultural career paths ranging from Agricultural Power Mechanics to Veterinary Science. Additionally, the small school has formed unique partnerships on the 82-acre farm that benefit other nearby organizations, including culinary and horse training programs.

The tour was a powerful reminder of how Kentucky’s independent programs for sustainability, environmental education, energy management, and health at diverse statewide and local organizations have come together in one unified effort to support schools moving toward the Pillars of ED-GRS.

Seeing the tremendous positive impact this approach has on student achievement in our state, we’re more committed than ever to making our school campuses greener and healthier, and our students more environmentally literate. In order for our community to collaborate in ensuring that all students achieve at high levels and are prepared to excel in a global society, the choice is clear.

Elizabeth Schmitz is Executive Director at the Kentucky Environmental Education Council, part of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. Tresine Logsdon is the Sustainability and Energy Curriculum Coordinator for Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky.

Not Just Teachers: Supporting Students’ Success

As summer ends and the school year begins, we often think about teachers and students heading back to school. While teachers prepare lessons and students learn new concepts we can’t forget the service employees who provide support that enable the schools to run efficiently.

Instructional support in schools can play a key role in student success. Paraeducators –– support staff responsible for assisting in the delivery of instruction — help provide such support by assisting with classroom management, organizing instructional materials, helping in libraries and media centers, and translating, to name a few of their responsibilities. Perhaps most importantly, paraeducators reinforce the efforts of teachers in the classroom, and help increase student outcomes.

This is why, as President of the California School Employees Association, I want to take the time to tell the story of one school employee in the Golden State who really shines.

Paraeducator Michele Delao, a 2011 California School Employees Association Member of the Year, uses her knowledge and warmth to help special education students learn. For the past eight years as special education paraeducator at Bear River School in Wheatland, California, she has brought light-heartedness and laughter to the serious mission of showing special education students that they can thrive.

The staff of Bear River School laud Delao’s ability to help students focus and grasp instruction.

Michele Delao helps a student on an assignment.

Michele Delao helps a student on an assignment.

“She has a very striking sense of humor that comforts the kids and takes the pressure off,” explains Angela Gouker, principal of Bear River School. “Most of these kids know they’re a little bit behind or struggling in some areas. She makes learning fun so that they forget that pressure.”

Delao says it’s satisfying to see the students’ progress. With her help, the students can attend mainstream middle school classes even as they’re working to master the basics.

With budget cuts and fewer staff dedicated to special education, the paraeducators at Bear River School  have taken on a larger load of students with a broader range of learning disabilities. Despite the challenge, Delao tailors her approach to fit each student.

“They’re having great difficulties and there are great variations in each person,” she says. “But because there are only three of us, our groups are really not as targeted as we would like. I have to find a middle ground and at the same time try to meet individual students where they are.”

Understanding  the needs and challenges of working with diverse learners, including special education students, Delao comes to work each day fired by  the energy, compassion and will to give the students she mentors a boost toward academic success. And, she does it all with a smile.

“She really cares about what she does – she cares about people – and that sense of humor comes through,” Gouker said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Michael Bilbrey  is president of the California School Employees Association.


Moving Sustainability Forward in the Mountain State

Note: U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) recognizes schools, districts and postsecondary institutions that are 1) reducing environmental impact and costs; 2) improving health and wellness; and 3) teaching environmental education. To share innovative practices and widely-available resources in these three ‘Pillars,’ the Department conducts an annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour of honorees. Two non-profit organization school sustainability leaders write about the schools and district honorees visited on the tour in West Virginia.


At Eastwood Elementary, in Morgantown, West Virginia, enhanced wall and roof insulation and a geothermal heating and cooling system allow the school to use about 25 percent less energy than a conventional one of the same size. (Photo courtesy of Eastwood Elementary)

Here in West Virginia, we were excited to highlight our U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School (ED-GRS) honorees during the second annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour. West Virginia was a fitting place to kick off the 2014 tour because, when the ED-GRS program was announced a few years ago, non-profit organizations like ours were quick to offer support to our state education agency.

Before 2011, many organizations were holding green schools workshops and events that helped participants develop plans to become more sustainable. But ED-GRS has provided a common goal for those engaged in the sustainable schools movement, and a new direction for our conversation on healthy schools and high-achieving students.

What has emerged is West Virginia Sustainable Schools (WVSS) initiative, which we use to recruit applicants for the national award. Led by the West Virginia Department of Education, WVSS has become a conduit through which agencies and organizations channel sustainability programming in curriculum, health and wellness, and facilities to schools.

ED-GRS has helped what was once a small but deeply-rooted sustainability community to grow less isolated, and more effective. Now we are using a few exemplary schools to inspire other schools to expand their efforts.

For this reason, it was a particular pleasure to have federal, state and local visitors tour our ED-GRS honorees to learn about innovative, hands-on curricula, community partnerships, and sustainability practices that advance learning, health and cost savings.

From pulling invasive garlic mustard weed to monitoring water quality in a local stream, Petersburg Elementary School, our first stop, partners with field experts to effectively teach science and stewardship while conserving Appalachia’s precious land.

Later, at Wyoming County Career and Technical Center, in the heart of coal country, students, school leaders, and community partners led guests through an energy efficient modular home, a 8.4 kW solar array, a biodiesel processor, and a recycling trailer, all student-built in sustainable career pathways.


Cameron Middle-High School in Cameron, West Virginia. Both the school and Marshall County, a District Sustainability Awardee, have received U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools accolades. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Middle-High School)

In Marshall County Schools, we toured Hilltop Elementary and Cameron Middle-High School. Marshall County has made sustainable building practices and learning a priority from early learning to agricultural technology programs, saving the district over $5 million in 10 years. From low-impact buses to green cleaning, recycling to school gardens, these schools are teaching environmental concepts, along with entrepreneurial and civic skills, and wellness practices, in healthy, safe, lower utility-cost facilities.

Finally, visitors toured Eastwood Elementary in Morgantown, where every attention was given to reducing environmental impact and improving health in the construction of the new facility, from its geothermal heating and cooling system to expansive daylighting to safe and healthy building materials.

Where we once felt we were facing an insurmountable task – striving for increased health and a sustainable future for the children of our state – we now feel a new sense of purpose and momentum. A sustainably literate, college- and career-ready, and civically-engaged generation of West Virginians is on the rise. Striving toward the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools’ three Pillars is now our unifying Mountain State goal.

Vicki Fenwick-Judy is Director of the Appalachian Program at The Mountain Institute. Mark Swiger is a USGBC Center for Green Schools’ Chapter Committees National Chair.

Building Momentum: Education Leaders Convene at the White House to Help Address the Developmental Education Challenge

Higher education leaders met at the White House to build on the momentum generated at January’s College Opportunity Summit and focus on addressing a key barrier to postsecondary completion.

Some students begin their college careers ill-prepared for college-level math or English. After the excitement of enrolling in college, these students are often surprised and disappointed to learn that their high school experience did not equip them with the skills necessary for success. That means they often must complete remedial or “developmental education” coursework in order to catch up to their peers, which can add time and expense to their pursuit of a degree. Unfortunately, many students do not finish this sequence of developmental courses, and only a small percentage end up graduating. It’s frustrating for the students and the college faculty who want to help them reach their goals.

Assisting these students and helping them graduate was the topic of a recent gathering at the White House.

On August 12, leaders from across the higher education, philanthropic and non-profit communities gathered to discuss the research, evidence, and challenges associated with reinventing developmental education. Secretary Duncan framed the developmental education challenge as both a completion and equity issue, saying, “As you know, we can no longer use the traditional approach to developmental education, which has been a long sequence of remedial classes that do not count toward a degree and few students are able to complete.”

He told the participants, “I want to congratulate you on the innovative work you are doing on your campuses to redesign and accelerate developmental education and reduce time to degree. Not only will this help more students graduate but it will also help close the persistent college completion gaps because we know that large numbers of minority students begin their college careers in developmental education courses.”

Throughout the day, participants engaged in insightful, real-world discussions on the obstacles and opportunities of implementing developmental education reform:

  • Carol Lincoln of Achieving the Dream noted the importance of scaling effective reforms
  • Gregory Peterson of Long Beach City College highlighted how data can influence the developmental education reform process
  • Mike Leach of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges explained how this particular state system was able to scale developmental education innovation statewide with a federal TAACCCT grant
  • Uri Treisman of the Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin discussed the importance of making developmental math relevant to a student’s career aspirations

The event was also an opportunity to introduce the new Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness, which is funded by a grant awarded by the Department of Education’s Institute for Educational Sciences. Thomas Bailey, the new center’s Principal Investigator, was on hand to engage the audience on the topic of research and how best to utilize the work of the center to address this challenge.

The participants also discussed the importance of faculty and staff engagement in strategic efforts to improve developmental education outcomes.

This Developmental Education meeting is part of the White House College Opportunity Initiative, a call to action by the President and First Lady to accelerate college completion through a set of targeted commitments by colleges and universities, non-profit groups, states and cities, philanthropy and other allies.

The participants in the August 12 event added new commitments to the list generated at January’s summit and will contribute significantly to the momentum building for the next White House Summit in December, 2014. Yet, even as the higher education community focuses on improving the delivery of developmental education and its outcomes for students, the ultimate goal is to ensure that every student in America receives a world-class education, graduates from high school truly prepared for college and career success, and arrives on campus with no need for remedial education.

Those are powerful reasons to build momentum — and strive for results.

Mark Mitsui is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges in the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Tips for Developing a Strong Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher

The start of the school year is the perfect time to build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher.

It’s a good idea to let your child’s educator know you want to partner with him or her, and share the responsibility for your child’s academic growth.

Here are some tips to bear in mind:

  • Keep in touch! Make sure your child’s teacher has multiple ways and times of day to contact you. Provide as many ways as possible – which might include a work, cell, and home phone number and email address if possible.
  • Mark your calendar! Ask your child’s teacher about the best ways and times to contact him or her. Keep in mind that most teachers are in the classroom all day, so after school may be the best time to call or to make an appointment to meet with him or her.
  • Reach out! Let the teacher know that you as a parent are there to help. Volunteer to assist with school trips or functions at school that might require additional adult supervision.
  • Stay informed! Within the first few weeks after school starts, find out from the teacher if you child needs any assistance in one or more subject areas. Find out what resources are available at the school and what resources the teacher would recommend to help your child keep improving.
  • Team up! Remember, you and the teacher have the exact same goals. You’re both working to ensure the academic development and progress of your child. So, sit down together and figure out what you can do at home to reinforce what your child’s teacher is doing in the classroom. That way, your child can keep learning long after the school day ends!

For more ways to start off the new school year, read the Parent Power booklet.

Carrie Jasper is director of outreach to parents and families at the U.S. Department of Education.

Local Professional Development Sessions Promote Collaboration to “Bridge the Gap” for Young Children

As an early childhood educator, I often wondered about the best ways for stakeholders to work together in meeting the academic needs of young children. Recently, I had the chance to see collaborative planning and intergovernmental work in action at the municipal level, when I attended an event held by the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The theme was Bridging the Gap – School Readiness by 5, and the event was jointly organized by the office of Mayor Johnny DuPree, the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education, and the National League of Cities Institute (NLCI), to help boost the success of the city’s young children. In an effort to support teachers and child care center directors, the mayor’s office led a professional development session for educators of young children. The day also included a roundtable discussion by representatives of civic organizations, municipal leaders, and educators who committed to improving the outcomes of young children.

The professional development session was extremely beneficial for me. As an educator, I always welcome meaningful opportunities to gain new skills and learn about resources that I can implement in the classroom immediately.

One of the most memorable presentations was by Dr. Joe Olmi, the director of school psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi. He spoke on the value of social-emotional learning and the importance of teaching self-regulation in and outside of the classroom.  He gave great insights on strategies such as “Time-in and Time-out,” in which consequences and privileges are built into the relationship between students and teachers.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the Department’s director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, offered her thoughts on the value of family and community engagement. She shared some powerful reflections about her grandmother, who helped her develop a love for reading.  She also urged educators to enlist the help of their students’ families to foster community-building in their classrooms.

Another thoughtful presenter was Dr. Tonja Rucker, the program manager for Early Childhood Development in the Institute for Youth Education and Families at NLCI. She provided suggestions to help children and families transition from preschool to kindergarten. I also had the privilege of sharing my perspective, as an African-American male preschool teacher, on transitions within an early childhood program, and ways to increase rigor in literacy for students.

By fostering collaboration among various agencies and organizations, school leaders in this community have been able to make a positive impact in the lives of young children.

This collaboration means a lot for educators like me, who often struggle to find the resources, information and support we need to teach our youngest pupils.

To provide the best start for all our nation’s young children, we need more state and local communities to show the cooperative spirit that NLCI, the Department and the city and school leaders of Hattiesburg demonstrated in hosting this valuable “Bridging the Gap” planning session.

James Casey was a summer Leadership in Educational Equity fellow in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Academic Mobility: Have Degree, Will Travel

Last month in Rome, I attended an international meeting focused on increasing academic mobility by making it easier for individuals to use their college degrees in other countries. The annual meeting of the European Network of Information Centers (ENIC) draws participants from 55 countries, as well as representatives from UNESCO and the Council of Europe.

You may not have heard about “academic mobility” before, but it’s actually nothing new. From the time of the first universities in medieval Europe, students and scholars have traveled great distances and crossed borders to engage in academic pursuits. But what makes academic mobility such a prominent issue today is its scale and rate of growth.


Participants in the 21st ENIC-NARIC Conference, held in Rome, Italy, July 6-8, 2014.
(Photo credit: Italian Center for Academic Mobility and Equivalencies)

The demand for higher education in many countries has increased significantly, while the number of international students worldwide also continues to grow, rising from 2.5 million in 2004 to 3.6 million in 2010. And for all students earning academic credit or degrees abroad, ensuring that those credentials will be recognized when they return home is critical to their future prospects for employment or further study.

Years ago, just after graduating from college, I spent an additional year studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As is the case with most students who go abroad, immersion in another language and culture was a life-changing experience. I didn’t realize it at the time, but not only was I starting down a path toward a career in international education, I was also engaging in something called academic mobility.

Today, as the U.S. representative to the ENIC network, I provide information to counterparts in other countries to help in their evaluation of U.S. credentials, including those that are less well known outside of the United States—like associate degrees and industry-based certifications. I also respond to inquiries from U.S. graduates wishing to work or pursue graduate studies abroad and to questions from foreign-educated graduates planning to work or go to graduate school in the United States.

But the recognition of degrees is just one aspect of academic mobility. Academic mobility comprises all cross-border education activities that involve the movement of people, programs or institutions. And as globalization continues and higher education evolves along with it, academic mobility is becoming a topic of increasing relevance.

Today, I understand the benefits of academic mobility from professional as well as personal experience.  And now more than ever, events and challenges around the world affect all of us on a day-to-day basis. That’s why I’m passionate about working with my international colleagues to help students expand their horizons through study abroad and to facilitate the recognition of degrees and other credentials. Academic mobility helps create more globally competent citizens with the 21st century skills that every nation – and the world as a whole – needs.

Rafael Nevárez is an International Education Specialist in the International Affairs Office. He serves as U.S. representative to the European Network of Information Centers (ENIC) and as a vice president on its steering committee, the ENIC Bureau.