Know It 2 Own It: Advocating for Your Rights on Campus

As we approach the end of the school year, most high school seniors are preparing for graduation and their future. At this time, I’m reminded that each passing year, more and more students with autism and other disabilities are attending college with their peers. For many of them this will be their first time away from home, a time for excitement and a time for independence. It will also be the first time where they will be responsible to advocate for their own needs at school.

The transition from high school to college can be tough, especially for students with disabilities; however, when students know their rights and where to get help, the transition can be made a little easier. Some students, such as Elijah a high school senior from Jacksonville, Florida, learn the importance of advocating for themselves and their needs for accommodations while still in high school. Here is his story and his wish for all students with disabilities.

A student’s ability to advocate for himself is important to succeed at the college level. Every year, I have an opportunity to meet and work with a group of about 15 autistic college students from various backgrounds and ranging in age. Some of them are traditional college students, others are accessing college through a TPSID program or a modified course of study. All of them say the same thing – it can be hard.

Part of my job at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network is to provide incoming students with training in self-advocacy through our Autism Campus Inclusion program and give them the tools and resources they need in order to effectively advocate for themselves and get the most out of their college experience.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, colleges and universities are required to remove any barriers impeding the student, whether these are architectural, communication related, or transportation and to provide reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices. It is, however, the student’s responsibility to know his or her rights and how to advocate for appropriate accommodations. These accommodations could include:

  • Wearing noise-cancelling headphones in class,
  • Using laptops for note-taking
  • A place to doodle, fidget, pace, or sit on the floor in order to focus and learn.
  • Live in a single dorm room, even as a freshman if needed
  • A quiet testing space
  • Alternative formats of classroom materials, textbooks, and tests

In addition to getting the word out about self-advocacy, we’ve created resources such as Navigating College and ACI to assist students with disabilities as they navigate through higher education.

Autistic and other students with disabilities will often face barriers from the day they set foot on campus. In order for these students to succeed in college, we say, self-advocacy is needed. You have to know your rights, have a plan for getting the accommodations and modifications that are appropriate and needed, and be prepared to face an array of challenges. However, by creating a community on campus and bringing students together to share their experiences we remind one another that self-advocacy is easiest when we know we aren’t alone.

The opinions expressed and materials contained in this blog are not an endorsement by the U.S Department of Education and herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the United States Department of Education.

Julia Bascom is the Deputy Executive Director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Supporting and Empowering Male Educators of Color

The Male Educators of Color Symposium convened May 8, 2015 at the U.S. Department of Education (photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

The Male Educators of Color Symposium convened May 8, 2015 at the U.S. Department of Education (photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Male educators of color are seldom recognized for our expertise in the engine that drives this country. But through the Male Educators of Color Symposium, the U.S. Department of Education shined a light on the work of the nation’s most underrepresented educators in preK-12 schools. At this gathering, some 150 plus men of various minority races discussed issues of policy, teacher mentorship, recruitment, cultural competency, and our roles in modern education.

Although collectively we comprise a very small percentage of the teaching force, our skills and dedication to the craft were largely represented at the symposium. Men traveled from as far as Hawaii to engage in the pre-planning of a significant step into changing the face of schools around the continental states.

Repairing the often-disparaging images of minorities was the crux of the conversation. In districts where large numbers of schools have students with teachers who do not look like them or lack cultural competence, we found higher rates of suspensions. We also found that minority male teachers in these schools often feel ostracized, over-worked, or idolized as disciplinarians. We brainstormed how to edify isolated minority male teachers and how to provide effective trainings on cultural awareness. We focused on enhancing cultural awareness and increasing the recruitment of minority male teachers.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan shared remarks of empowerment and provided goals for moving forward. Said Duncan, “We have to figure out how to move beyond islands of success stories to creating systems where academic success is the norm and young people have the mentors, role models, and support they need to be successful.” He added that the Department of Education accepts the charge to help create solutions. “If we are not creating real, radical change, not incremental change around the margins, then we are part of the problem.”

The Male Educator of Color Symposium pushed some of these margins apart by helping to unify America’s minority male educators. This was a fundamental shift from the typical conversation in our school districts. We responded to a call to action for the elevation of schools and the profession. Attending the Department of Education’s Male Educator of Color Symposium was an inspiring way to end Teacher Appreciation Week.

Gary Hamilton grew up in the Dallas Independent School District, and is now a 5th grade special education teacher at Wheatley Education Campus in Washington, D.C. He has been teaching for 9 years. Gary is an America Achieves Fellow and a Teacher Selection Ambassador for the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Thanking Teachers Personally During Teacher Appreciation Week

ED staffers called 380 teachers from across the nation. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

ED staffers called 380 teachers from across the nation. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The Department of Education really looks forward to Teacher Appreciation Week every year!

Beginning in February, officials start planning events to let teachers know that ED respects those who make a difference in the lives of children on a daily basis. Each year a new, novel idea pops up on how to express our gratitude and this year was no different. In response to the teachers who wanted authentic engagement, our team at ED called teachers personally to thank them for their contributions.

Forty-one staff members, several of them former teachers, called 380 teachers from across the nation to express gratitude for educating America’s children. Phone numbers were obtained through recommendations of employees who have interacted with teachers that are making a difference and exemplify teacher leadership in the classroom. Employees also referred their favorite teachers from their days as students.

During the phone calls, ED staff asked the teachers for feedback. Sharla Steever of South Dakota told us that she is working hard on a new Native American initiative and was glad to participate in the Teacher Leadership Lab in South Dakota last week. Haydee Taylor-Arnold of Missouri asked us to support foreign language programs so students could become global citizens. Haydee also told her caller that having the support of Secretary Duncan as a teacher leader has been especially meaningful for her. Kathy Hopee in New York wanted us to know about our efforts to increase student engagement in STEM education programs.

Not only were teachers excited to get a call from the Department of Education, ED staff was energized by the connections. Several individuals remarked that their ability to have a conversation with teachers was the best part of their day. Dr. Khalilah Harris of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans remarked “We should do this all the time!”

Cheers to a new tradition!

Mia Long is a Lee Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Selma Invites Students to Discuss Education and Civil Rights

President Obama has said, “the story of the Civil Rights Movement was written in our schools.” Secretary Duncan has echoed that, “education is the civil rights issue of our generation.” This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches.

A recent event brought together more than two dozen students from New York and New Jersey high schools to show the film, Selma, with the film’s director, Ana Duvernay. The event was hosted by the United Nations and commemorated the new Memorial to Victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The evening aimed to “expose the legacy of slavery,” but also to emphasize the message of nonviolent organizing and the importance of education and civil rights in an international context. Selma tells the story of the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery that spurred the Voting Rights Act of 1965. More than a historical narrative, Selma shows how people of all backgrounds and life stories can come together in nonviolence to achieve progress.

Students at the event got to meet and take selfies with director Ana Duvernay. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Students at the event got to meet and take selfies with director Ana Duvernay. (Photo credit: Invision Agency)

DuVernay is the first black woman director to have a film nominated for an Academy Award.  At the event, she announced that a copy of the Selma DVD along with classroom resources will be sent to every U.S. high school, for educators to choose to use in their classrooms. When asked about the power of film in teaching history in the classroom, DuVernay said that “films are really empathy machines; they allow you to walk in someone else’s shoes, to be in someone else’s skin.” The civil rights movement is “furthered and fostered, and how it is advanced and matures certainly is steeped in the classroom.”

Students at the event were reminded of the continuity of history and their responsibility as citizens. Emily, a senior at Stuyvesant High School, said the movie showed that, “you have to get out there and speak for what’s right, especially if you are being oppressed.”

Maisha, another Stuyvesant senior, added that, “the movie very well depicts that peaceful methods of protest work.” A third student, Rabia, noted the power of film in teaching history to students. In Selma, “you can see and feel what [civil rights leaders] were going against, that the odds were not in their favor … [and] you feel what they stood up for … and [believe] that you can also take that risk now to stand up for what you believe in, even if you feel it might not work.”

Philip Mott, a social studies teacher from Stuyvesant High School in New York noted that the civil rights movement “is a legacy that has been passed on to us that we have an obligation to pass on to our students.”

Taylor Owen Ramsey is an education program specialist in ED’s New York Regional Office.

U.S. Educators Leading on the World’s Teacher Leadership Stage

The following is compiled from reflections from the six teachers and one principal who attended the International Summit on the Teaching Profession 2015 (ISTP 2015) as representatives of the U.S. Delegation. The teachers have all been active in Teach to Lead and are members of three of the initiatives’ key support organizations – the Hope Street Group, National Network of State Teachers of the Year, and Teach Plus. Sharif El-Mekki, the author, is a Principal Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education.

Seeing the sights in Banff. Front row from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Pam Reilly, Wendy Bandi, Jennifer Aponte; Back row: Joseph Fatheree, Sharif El-Mekki and Mark Sass. Not Pictured: Natalie McCutchen (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Seeing the sights in Banff. Front row from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Pam Reilly, Wendy Bandi, Jennifer Aponte; Back row: Joseph Fatheree, Sharif El-Mekki and Mark Sass. Not Pictured: Natalie McCutchen (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

It was wholly evident to us at ISTP 2015 that great teaching is increasingly being recognized worldwide – and rightfully so — as a key catalyst to improving trajectories for individual citizens and whole countries. The theme of the summit, Implementing Highly Effective Teacher Policy and Practice, focused on: developing and promoting effective leadership among principals, teachers, and administrators, valuing teachers and strengthening their sense of effectiveness or “self-efficacy;” and encouraging innovation in the 21st-century classroom. As guests of the U.S. Department of Education, Secretary Arne Duncan invited us to attend, learn and contribute.

Being party to this international conversation was exciting. As Jennifer Aponte, a K-12 teacher from Boston said, all the countries and delegates “should be commended for tackling the most complex educational issues.” These are not easy issues and it is such a tremendous opportunity for countries to learn from one another. However it was Secretary Duncan’s decision, Joe Fatheree, 2007 IL Teacher of the Year, noted to add “an authentic teacher’s voice to the conversation” that, “helped enrich the dialogue between global leaders on the importance of teacher leadership and innovation.” A key theme of the summit was teacher leadership and by inviting teachers and a principal, the Department of Education continued promoting educators as leaders and demonstrated its leadership on this issue.

Throughout the event, we were surprised that the sessions and panels did not include active practitioners nor highlighted active teachers as experts. As Wendi Bandi, 3-4th math teacher from Fall River, MA, put it, “the format of the summit did not reflect the ideas being discussed.” Mark Sass, a high school history teacher from CO observed, “teachers were continually referred to in the third person.” While ISTP 2015 had several experts about the field share useful analyses, there were no experts in the field lending their experience and expertise. Natalie McCutchen, a middle school math teacher from KY, remarked, “I was in awe…but one aspect of ISTP that kept resonating with me was that teachers should be in the forefront of the summit; teachers needed to be the ones delivering firsthand accounts of the initiatives and programs that have proved successful in their schools… teachers need to be the voice, face, and the experts of education.”

In an unusual move, Secretary Duncan insisted that the seven us be in the room to help shape the U.S. Delegation’s commitments for 2015 and asked that Jeff Charbonneau, the 2013 National Teacher of the Year, present our commitments to the international community. This symbolized that educators were both an integral part of creating the United States’ commitments, as well as key to meeting them. In doing so, “Secretary Duncan modeled what teacher leadership looks like when you cultivate and empower teachers to flourish as visionary leaders and not just part of the backdrop,” said Pam Reilly, the 2014 IL Teacher of the Year. Indeed, the seven of us felt very empowered, and in the pursuit of continuous improvement, convened a meeting with the other teachers from around the world. Collectively we committed to supporting teachers becoming an integral part of the 2016 International Summit on the Teaching Profession. 

Next year, at this time, each country will travel to Berlin to share the progress they made towards and lessons learned from the commitments they announced in Banff. How the summit is formatted will also tell a story about countries’ commitment to teacher leadership. It is exciting that so many great minds are devoted to tackling some of teaching’s most complex issues. We are confident that we can build on the successes of the 2015 Summit and include more practitioners among those great minds. As leaders in U.S. schools, we are committed to help make this happen.

Sharif El-Mekki, is principal of Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker in Philadelphia and a 2013-15 Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow of the U.S. Department of Education.

#MoveInMay: How Movement Made Me; Celebrating National Physical Fitness & Sports Month

Cross-posted from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition blog

I can’t imagine growing up without sports and play. Moving my body – whether it was riding my bike with my brother Wes, shooting hoops, or playing tag at recess – seeded a lifelong love of physical fitness and the confidence to pursue my Olympic dreams.

felix-blogphoto-28apr2015

From playing capture the flag in physical education class to double dutch on the playground to joining the school’s track and field team, physical activity was an instrumental part of my mental and physical development. There is no question that being active from early childhood through high school helped me excel both in the classroom and as an Olympic sprinter. I want every child in America to experience those same benefits of physical activity.

While math class prepares us to solve problems and English teaches us the fundamentals of writing and grammar, movement instills invaluable life skills. It is through a game of Red Rover that kids begin to develop an understanding of cooperation, and through hide and seek that critical thinking is sharpened. When children learn how strong their bodies are by swimming a lap or biking up a hill, they develop a sense of accomplishment and a positive body image. And, when kids learn how to play kickball, volleyball or baseball, they learn how to work with others to achieve a goal.

Even more, some of our earliest challenges happen through physical activity and sport. Remember being frustrated because you kept getting caught in tag? Or when your friend broke the rules in foursquare? Or losing every soccer game of the season? This is where kids learn how to deal with conflict, how to win and lose with grace, and how to socialize with their peers and elders.

With a degree in elementary education and passion for helping kids succeed, I understand that quality education is needed more than ever. I also know that being physically active for at least 60 minutes during the school day leads to an increased level of focus and performance in the classroom. With that evidence, just think about how powerful active learning environments can really be!

So, I challenge all school leaders, teachers and parents to find new and creative ways to get your students moving and playing this May. You can start by enrolling in Let’s Move! Active Schools, part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, aimed at ensuring 60 minutes of physical activity a day is the new norm in schools across the country. Also, Fire Up Your Feet and Safe Routes to School National Partnership have some great resources for educators to track physical activity during the school day and help incorporate National Bike to School Day (May 6) into your curriculum. And, USA Track & Field even has a RunJumpThrow program that introduces kids to the basics of track and field.

Thank you for making a difference and for your dedication to our nation’s youth. Kudos on a great school year, and I look forward to seeing your kids moving more this May!

Allyson Felix is a  member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Member and Six-Time U.S. Olympic Track & Field Medalist.

Get Your School Prepared for Disasters With America’s PrepareAthon!

Students participate in an emergency drill during an America’s PrepareAthon! event in Smyrna, Georgia. (Photo credit: FEMA)

Students participate in an emergency drill during an America’s PrepareAthon! event in Smyrna, Georgia. (Photo credit: FEMA)

It’s time for America’s PreparAthon!

Every spring, parents and educators across the country are encouraged to practice preparedness in the event of an emergency. Now is a great opportunity to make your campus a safer and more resilient one by joining the millions of people across the country participating in National PrepareAthon! Day on April 30.

Schools are an effective channel to reach students and families by conducting preparedness activities and messages. Teachers, faculty, staff, and administrators have the unique ability to make schools and institutions of higher education more prepared to withstand and recover from an emergency.

Twice a year America’s PrepareAthon! promotes national days of action – specifically April 30 and September 30 – to highlight the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies.

America’s PrepareAthon! offers materials to facilitate preparedness for six natural hazards: earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, wildfire, and winter storm. The program also offers a variety of customizable promotional materials for these hazards so educators, parents and community leaders can tailor outreach materials to specific audiences.

The time is now to take the next step for preparing your school or institution of higher education for the hazard that might impact your area.

Visit ready.gov/prepare to:

  • Take Action: Know your hazards and choose your activities.
  • Be Counted: Create your account and register your activities.
  • Spread the Word: Download materials to promote your day of action.

Watch Secretary Duncan discuss how your school can get involved:

Gwen Camp is Director of Individual and Community Preparedness for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

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

Working to Protect Students and Borrowers as Corinthian Colleges Ceases Operation

Corinthian Colleges, Inc., today announced the effective end of all operations. Given the wide public interest in this matter, and our Departments involvement in it, I wanted to provide some background and explain what has happened, as I have done in the past.

Corinthian’s closure follows a series of enforcement actions by this Department and by states aimed at protecting students and safeguarding the interests of taxpayers. The Department took action in June 2014, when Corinthian failed to respond to the Departments repeated requests for answers about questionable practices, including concerns that Corinthian was using false and misleading job placement data to market its schools and recruit students, and that it might be changing student grade and attendance data to hide performance problems. To mitigate further damage, the Department intensified oversight of Corinthian, ultimately leading to an agreement that put Corinthian on the road to closure. As first step in that process, Corinthian sold 56 Everest and WyoTech brand campuses in November 2014.

As Corinthian was attempting to manage its closure plans, the Department’s enforcement actions against the school continued.  On April 14, the Department announced the results of one portion of its investigation – findings regarding Corinthian’s Heald campuses as it related to placement rate reporting.  Corinthian’s misrepresentations regarding placement rates were serious, and the Department initiated a fine action of approximately $30 million against the school.

At the time the Department first took action on Corinthian, approximately 72,000 students were enrolled; today, about 15,000 remain at 30 campuses under the control of Corinthian in five states. The closure decision was made by the company, following Corinthian’s failure to find a buyer for the remaining campuses willing to abide by conditions put in place by the Department to protect students, borrowers and taxpayers.

These actions are part of a larger effort by the Department of Education to take strong steps to protect the interest of students and taxpayers. The Obama Administration has led unprecedented efforts to protect consumers from predatory career colleges. It has established new gainful employment regulations to hold career training programs accountable and ensure that students are not saddled with debt they cannot repay. These regulations ensure that programs improve their outcomes for students or risk losing access to federal student aid. Last year, the Department announced a new federal interagency task force to help ensure proper oversight of for-profit institutions.

Taking strong actions on Corinthian has been an important part of that effort. Given today’s announcement by Corinthian, our first and most pressing concern is for the students who were enrolled. We will contact Corinthian students about their options, and will post additional information on our website. In addition, the Department will send staff from our Federal Student Aid team to as many campuses as possible to talk directly with students. We are working with state community college systems to ensure that students have options to continue their education. Students at schools that have closed may be eligible for closed-school loan discharges; students who were enrolled at Corinthian in the last 120 days will receive information about their options from the Department and from loan servicers.

We will do everything we can to ensure that Corinthian makes good on its obligations to students and taxpayers to the extent possible. In addition, we encourage Corinthian students to pursue debt relief with their state, especially as many states have tuition recovery funds. In all of this work, we ask states to prioritize students and their educational best interests.

As Secretary Duncan has said, we will continue to hold the career college industry accountable and demand reform for the good of students and taxpayers. We hope Congress will join us in that effort.

Students seeking better life options should be assured that their investments will pay off in increased knowledge, skills, and opportunity. As Corinthian closes its doors for good, the Department will continue to keep students at the heart of every decision we make and will communicate with Corinthian students about all their options going forward. What these students have experienced is unacceptable and we look forward to working with Congress in an effort to improve accountability and transparency in the career college industry. A college education remains the best investment a student can make in his or her future, and this Administration will continue to work to make a college degree affordable for all students, to hold colleges accountable, and to safeguard the interests of taxpayers.

 Ted Mitchell is the Under Secretary of Education

Addressing Sexual Assault as a Community

Cross-posted from the Department of Justice blog.

As we recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to take a moment to reflect on the work of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to address and prevent sexual assault in schools and communities across the country. The impact of sexual assault can reverberate throughout a community, and the response to sexual assault within a community – from a residential advisor in a college dorm to a special victim’s unit detective – has a profound and lasting impact on the health and well-being of a sexual assault survivor.

Over the past few years, the division has engaged with law enforcement, prosecutors and schools to promote a comprehensive, integrated and effective response to reports of sexual assault. In doing so, we look to assist both schools and law enforcement in their efforts to protect students and address the needs of sexual assault survivors. As more people across the country are working together to prevent and improve the response to sexual assault, questions are frequently asked about the role of colleges and universities and why sexual assault is not handled exclusively by law enforcement.

Let’s be clear. Sexual assault is a crime and must be dealt with appropriately. However, the responsibility for addressing sexual assault does not stop at law enforcement. Schools also have a civil rights obligation to respond appropriately to reports of sexual assault.

Every school is responsible for providing a safe, nondiscriminatory environment to all students. Sexual assault can interfere with or destroy a student’s ability to get an education. We have heard from survivors of sexual assault who are fearful of being in the same classroom as their attackers or are subjected to harassment and retaliation by classmates for reporting the assault. We have heard from too many students who left school after being assaulted.

Under federal civil rights laws, schools must respond to reports of sexual assault, investigate where appropriate and provide a prompt, effective and impartial resolution. It is not enough just to respond to individual complaints from survivors. To effectively address and prevent sexual assault, schools need to respond to reports from all sources, especially when assaults are repeatedly perpetrated by the same student or at the same location. Having an appropriate and effective response system in place increases student confidence and trust in their school and the ability of the school to provide for their safety.

To provide a safe and nondiscriminatory learning environment, schools must be able to administer discipline where appropriate. This administrative response serves a unique and critically important function and must happen in addition to any criminal prosecution. A school disciplinary proceeding is not, however, a criminal proceeding, and should never be viewed as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Schools do not have the authority and are not asked to determine whether alleged perpetrators of sexual assault committed a crime.

That is the role of law enforcement. And law enforcement – including campus police, local police and prosecutors – play a critical role: as one of the key responders to reports of sexual assault, and as partners with schools, victim advocates and others in the effort to protect the community from sexual assault. Indeed, the importance of communication and coordination among each of these partners in both responding to and preventing sexual assault cannot be underestimated. In our experience, when everyone works together, survivors of sexual assault are more likely to report and to receive services, exhibit greater confidence in the criminal justice and school systems and feel far better supported throughout the process.

In Missoula, Montana, to address serious shortcomings in how the University of Montana-Missoula and local law enforcement investigated and responded to sexual assaults, the division reached agreements with the university, its campus police, the city police department and the county prosecutor’s office. This first of its kind multi-pronged approach to combating sexual assault – which reaches from the campus to the courthouse door – has resulted in significant improvements in the response to sexual assault within the Missoula community. We, along with our colleagues at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, are working with leaders from across the community as they implement these agreements so that whenever sexual assaults are reported, policies and procedures are already in place; first responders and investigators are trained to handle the report appropriately; and supports and services are more readily available and better coordinated. It is with this kind of focused attention and collaboration that sexual assault can be eradicated from our communities and students can feel safe and supported in school.

Vanita Gupta is Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Games for Learning Summit: Expanding the Conversation Between Educators and Game Designers

Cross-posted from Medium.

Whether it is using quick warm-ups like Game of Phones or highly immersive experiences with Mario Kart and Minecraft, digital games can be powerful motivators for learning. It is with this in mind that we are eager to expand the conversation between teachers and game developers.

The U.S. Department of Education and Games for Change, with support from the Entertainment Software Association, will host the Games for Learning Summit April 21 at the 2015 Games for Change (G4C) Festival. With more than 250 participants, including nationally recognized educators, the designers of some of today’s most popular video games, and members of the U.S. Department of Education, we are hopeful that this event will encourage collaboration focused on the learning needs and interests of young people in the U.S.

gamesforchange

Collaborating and designing with the learning interests of young people in mind requires a shift in thinking from all stakeholders. Based on the conversations we’ve had with teachers and students, there is a hunger for better games that support better learning today. With the recent release of The Ed Tech Developer’s Guide, the pathways for developing for impact are clearer than ever.

At the beginning of the school year, the two of us (along with a handful of amazing teachers) spent a weekend enmeshed with teams of game designers at the White House Education Game Jam. Focused on games that could provide powerful learning resources for schools, we have continued to be optimistic about the results that such collaboration can yield.

A recent game-design project in Chad’s classroom highlights some of what game-based learning has to offer us as teachers and students. Inspired by games ranging from Geometry Dash to Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure, students working in teams of four completed their own Scratch games like Wasteland Adventures, World Championship Soccer, and Sanic Pong. Each ‘studio’ of four students brainstormed genres, tropes, and mechanics for games they wanted to create and play. Then they got to work. Programmers started to code. Artists worked with platforms like Piskel and Google Draw. Sound Engineers scoured freesound.org and Sound Bible for sound effects and composed theme music with Online Sequencer. Student project managers kept everyone working and talking with one another through shared docs and folders.

The project helped students develop media literacy, soft skills like collaboration, and technical skills like managing an online repository of A/V assets, to say nothing of the logic, math, reading, and writing skills they demonstrated in navigating tutorials, communicating online, and building their games. Students even discussed gender norms in character design and traditional gaming narratives. Game-based learning isn’t about consuming a product to pick up a fact or two; it’s about learning to analyze or produce pieces of interactive media that require critical thinking, persistence, and problem-solving to master, critique, play, and make.

Now, with several White House Education Game Jam alumni and friends coming to the Games for Learning Summit, we are excited about focusing on articulating the thinking, dialogue, and spaces for collaboration between developers and educators.

We’re looking forward to continuing conversation far beyond the Games and Learning Summit. We need to work together to answer questions like: How can we help one another make and use games to fulfill educational needs in the classroom? How can we put the best interactive content in the hands of students for the most meaningful educational experiences — those focused on discovery and decision-making? Let’s figure out game-changing ways to harness the power of play for the work of learning in schools.

Join the conversation on Tuesday by watching the live stream and Tweeting your contributions with #G4L15.

Antero Garcia (@anterobot) is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education and teaches pre-service teachers as an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University.

Chad Sansing (@chadsansing) teaches technology and project-based learning at the BETA Academy in Staunton, Virginia.

More Than a Checkmark – Together for Tomorrow

Downey TFT

For many school districts, the creation of a vibrant, educational community where students’ grades improve consistently and the educational environment is healthy and safe may seem to be a daunting task.

Yet, on a family and community engagement school site visit last month in Harrisburg, Penn., members of ED’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) observed how Downey Elementary, under the guidance of the Harrisburg School District and in partnership with families, CBOs, and a college institution, defies these odds. Through Together for Tomorrow, an initiative that spotlights and fosters partnerships among schools, families, and national service organizations, the collective care and capacity of these stakeholders breathes life into the cultural fabric of Downey and inspires students to step into roles as academic leaders.

“When I grow up, I want to be a scientist. I want to cure all types of sickness and cancers. I am learning about some of this in my science class, and when I finish the fourth grade next year, I am going to the Math Science Academy where I can learn much more!” one third grader said.

These words echoed the similar sentiments of many Downey students who proudly communicated to CFBNP staff that they are leaders, plan to go to college, and will try to make their neighborhoods a better place.

Parents also spoke highly of the school.

“Months ago, my child was a victim of bullying at his former school. … Now here at Downey … my child is not only safe, but he is a respected leader. It is important to ask, ‘What it is about Downey that makes it such a positive and safe learning environment in the same neighborhood as my son’s former school, only right down the street?’” said one parent.

What is helping Downey Elementary to become a vibrant school community is its intentionality in making sure that all stakeholders have an equal share in providing for the life and educational needs of the students. Organizations, such as the Harrisburg Symphony, Salvation Army and United Way, have employed innovative methods to serve the school. Messiah College engages its students in various service learning projects that enhance Downey’s appearance and learning opportunities for students. Downey houses a Parents’ Academy that encourages participation and allows them to receive up to 15 college credits. Teachers train on engaging students and parents, while a Parent Engagement Specialist oversees Parent Liaisons and implements programs to help parents become better education advocates. Downey also contains on onsite health clinic. Additionally, the elementary school has a Corporation for National and Community Service Vista member who helps build the capacity of the school.

For Downey, engaging families and communities extends beyond addressing a simple requirement or “checking the box” for community inclusion. They recognize the power and benefits of working with families and CBO’s to raise student achievement.

Read more great stories from ED’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on their blog.

Eddie Martin is a special assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Working to Stop Sexual Violence on U.S. College Campuses

Secretary Duncan heard from students from campuses across the country during a recent Student Voices session. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan heard from students from campuses across the country during a recent Student Voices session. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

One sexual assault is too many, which is why the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) are playing a strong role in working to address and prevent sexual assault on college campuses.

As part of these efforts, Secretary Duncan recently hosted a Student Voices session with students from campuses across the country to listen to their concerns and learn about the promising actions their colleges and universities are taking to tackle this pressing challenge.

The students represented institutions from California to Georgia and North Carolina to New York.

Under Secretary Ted Mitchell and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon joined Secretary Duncan for the discussion.

“This roundtable is an opportunity for [us] to hear from diverse students from multiple institutions in order to inform our work. We hope this is the kind of conversation that can happen across all of our institutions – one that continues the work of identifying best practices, and increasing the focus on keeping students safe,” Mitchell said.

The roundtable allowed for young leaders – like Raymond Smeriglio, Temple University’s Student Body President – to share his school’s efforts to create awareness and tackle this troubling problem.

“Temple recently conducted a six-month review of the school including three months of groundwork to see what additional resources were needed on campus, and what the campus was already doing right,” Smeriglio explained.

Students also discussed the most effective ways to align awareness efforts between K-12 and institutions of higher education.

Youth leaders like Kevin William Harvey, a senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, shared what their schools are currently doing to help build strong partnerships with city leadership, raise awareness, and collaborate with experts in the local community.

Molly Walker, from Duke University, shared that many Duke students participate in a program called “Duke Splash,” where students have taught weekend classes to high school youth about gender violence.

Spelman College’s Briana Brownlow discussed her school’s Survivor organization, which coordinates a mentorship program using the arts to help elementary school students begin to be aware of the issues surrounding sexual violence.

Students also talked about the many ways the Obama Administration engages students to address this problem, including the recent launch of the“It’s On Us” campaign, which encourages all members of campus communities to actively think about ways to prevent sexual assault.

The Administration is very concerned about sexual violence on U.S. campuses, and has launched several initiatives to address this issue. In January 2014, President Obama and Vice President Biden established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

In April of that year, the Task Force released its first report to the President, which includes recommendations to colleges and universities on how to eliminate sexual violence on their campuses. In conjunction with the release of this report, ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a frequently asked questions document to follow up on our Dear Colleague Letter. The Task Force also created NotAlone.gov, which the students praised for including resources from across the government on preventing and addressing sexual assaults in schools.

OCR has also increased transparency around its investigations of this issue. For the first time, the office made public the list of colleges and universities under investigation for their handling of sexual violence complaints.

No one should feel the threat of sexual assault as they pursue their education. This country’s college campuses should be free of violence, and it is our shared responsibility as a nation to end this outrage.

As the students and Department staff who attended this important Student Voices session agreed, finding the solution really is on all of us.

Devon King is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach and a senior at Boston University.