World Refugee Day: Celebrating the Bravery of our Students and Their Families

From as far back as I can remember, copies of the National Geographic in my grandparents’ home fascinated me. Unfolding the maps, I placed my finger over cities with names like Yangon, Nairobi, Saigon. I looked at pictures of villages in Africa, in China, and dreamed of meeting the people there. For a girl growing up in the Texas panhandle, this was indeed a dream. Little did I know that the world would come to me in the faces of students from countries as diverse as Burma, Somalia, Kenya, Cuba, Vietnam and Iraq.

The first year I taught refugee students, my co-teacher and I had almost no knowledge of how to work with students from countries other than Mexico. Their families were placed here because so many are able to process beef for wages unheard of in their home countries without the need for much language skill.

My students are the bravest people I’ve ever met. From their drawings, a few photos, and their writing, I know that they’ve come from the kind of trauma most of us will never experience. Children from Africa came from a camp where home was little more than a tarp and a butane burner. Rationed food often ran out before resupply trucks came. Basic survival took most of their energy and school was a dream for other children.

Hawa and Shanna Peeples (Photo courtesy Shanna Peeples)

Hawa and Shanna Peeples (Photo courtesy Shanna Peeples)

Hawa, a beautiful Bantu girl who came from the Kakuma camp in Kenya, had never sat in a school until she came to the U.S. Teaching her to write her name in English was a revelation to her and she wrote it everywhere. Her enthusiasm for Texas extended to wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey over her hijab.

Tin and her family fled warfare in her native Burma (Photo courtesy Shanna Peeples)

Tin and her family fled warfare in her native Burma (Photo courtesy Shanna Peeples)

Tin, whose family fled warfare in her native Burma, handed her over a razorwire fence into a camp in Bangkok, convinced that she would find a better life in the U.S. In my classes, she tutored other students, hugged those who cried, and was a founding member of her Buddhist youth group. Others from Burma: ethnic minorities from the Karen, Karenni, and Chin cultures, joined the class and offered to share lunches out of their tiffins with their teachers.

Their smiles gave no clue to what they left behind: villages burned, family members murdered. Many were separated from parents, most from their best friends. They’ve had to quickly learn to speak and read English so they can translate for family and neighbors. One of our 14-year-olds was gone for a week because she had to translate the breast cancer treatment plan for an older relative.

When I’ve visited students and their families in what appears to be plain homes and apartments, I’ve left amazed at their creativity. The families have put up altars, rugs, tapestries, successfully grafting some of home into their new communities. Within their tightly knit neighborhoods they’ve built temples and mosques, joined churches, and celebrated weddings and funerals. But despite outward differences, these families want what we all want for our children: for the next generation to thrive and prosper.

Our refugee families help to make us a better school and our communities a better place to live because their belief in the American dream is a reminder of why our country is a beacon of hope to the world.

Shanna Peeples is an English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas. She was named the 2015 National Teacher of the Year.

Expanding the Presidential Scholars Program to Honor Students in Career and Technical Education

This post originally appeared on the White House Blog.

51st class of U.S. Presidential Scholars

Members of the 51st class of U.S. Presidential Scholars pose for a picture outside of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, June 22, 2015. (Photo by U.S. Department of Education)

Yesterday, President Obama signed an Executive Order expanding the United States Presidential Scholars program to establish a new category of outstanding scholars in career and technical education (CTE).

The announcement of this new award category of CTE Presidential Scholars is fitting because the White House also welcomed and honored the 51st class of Presidential Scholars yesterday afternoon. The Presidential Scholars program is among the nation’s most distinguished honors for high school students, and has not been expanded since 1979.

Established by President Johnson in 1964, the Presidential Scholars Program has honored almost 7,000 of America’s top-performing students. The program was expanded in 1979 by President Carter to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, literary, and performing arts. Each year, the program recognizes two high school seniors from each state and 15 scholars at-large on the basis of excellence in scholarship. An additional 20 scholars are selected for exceptional talent in the arts.

Presidential Scholar Javier Spivey speaks at a discussion

Javier L. Spivey, a member of the 51st class of U.S. Presidential Scholars, speaks at a discussion in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, June 22, 2015. (Photo by U.S. Department of Education)

All Presidential Scholars are honored for their accomplishments in Washington, D.C., where they meet with national leaders in a variety of fields. This year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan awarded each honoree a Presidential Scholar Medallion in a ceremony on Sunday, June 21.

The Presidential Scholars program is overseen by the Commission on Presidential Scholars and administered by staff at the U.S. Department of Education. This Commission, appointed by President Obama, selects honored scholars annually based on their academic success, artistic excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.

Of the 3 million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 4,300 candidates qualified for the 2015 awards determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT and ACT exams, and through nominations made by Chief State School Officers or the National YoungArts Foundation’s nationwide YoungArts™ competition.

The Administration looks forward to partnering with nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations, to cultivate and nominate the inaugural class of CTE Presidential Scholar nominees for the Commission to consider in 2016.

Next year, the White House will welcome the inaugural class of 20 CTE Presidential Scholars, who will be selected by the Commission on Presidential Scholars based on outstanding scholarship and demonstrated ability in career and technical education. Yesterday’s launch of the CTE Presidential Scholars program was supported by Senator Kaine, who led a bipartisan effort in the United States Senate to encourage recognition of excellence in career and technical education.

This announcement complements a convening that will be hosted next week at the White House, recognizing outstanding students, teachers, and administrators who have shown exceptional leadership in driving innovation in the field of career and technical education.

Roberto J. Rodríguez serves in the White House Domestic Policy Council as Deputy Assistant to the President for Education.

My ED Internship: A Full Experience

MichelleFugateMy decision to intern at the Department of Education was an easy one. After declaring a Public Affairs major with an Education Policy minor at The Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs, I was confident that ED would be the perfect fit for me. Working on the ground and personally experiencing educational inequities at a school in Orlando, Florida, made seeing the policy at the federal level the next best step toward making a change.

I spent my spring semester working with the incredible press team in the Office of Communications and Outreach. The press team has a hand in nearly everything that goes on at the Department of Education, from pre-kindergarten to higher education. Communication is our primary goal on our team (hence the name), but I think the ‘outreach’ segment of our job is what touched me the most.

Throughout my time with the press team, I managed many day-to-day tasks, from news roundups of the Department’s events, press outreach to gain coverage of our initiatives, or social media analysis of hot button issues in the realm of education policy. Our office was constantly moving, as talks to craft a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act began in Congress. But my work extended far beyond the day-to-day. I had the opportunity to prepare reporter bios and issue summaries for Secretary Arne Duncan’s press calls and join the team in staffing the meetings. I attended the Secretary’s budget hearings and speeches as the Congressional discussions with other interns. As my spring capstone course met one evening, we discussed our workdays while waiting for our professor. I eagerly told my group about the Secretary’s press call I sat in on that morning with student reporters that featured a special guest: President Barack Obama!

Seeing the macro, federal level of education through the press office at ED was the perfect counterpart to my on-the-ground experiences in education. It was truly humbling to see the work of my team, the Secretary, and the Department as a whole come together to engage families and communities with our nation’s work in education. We often saw (and heard of) the disparities in our education system and all the work we have to do—our programs can only do so much for so long. But it was unexplainably encouraging to see all of the work the teachers, parents, and students have done, as they go above and beyond anything the Department has started.

Spending a semester at ED working with dedicated, hardworking individuals to engage the community in educating our nation’s children will remain unmatched alongside the rest of my college experience.

Michelle Fugate is a fourth year student at The Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs. She interned at the U.S. Department of Education in Spring 2015.


ED is accepting applications for Fall 2015 internships through July 15, 2015.

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: StudentInterns@ed.gov with the subject line formatted as follows: Last Name, First Name: Summer 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. In addition to our office of communications and outreach, interns can explore fields like education policy, education law, business and finance, research and analysis, intergovernmental relations and public affairs, all while learning about the role federal government plays in education. An internship with ED also provides students with an opportunity to meet fellow students who share your passion for education, learning, and engagement.

Student Chefs Compete in Cooking up Change National Finals

Nine teams of high school culinary students from across the country are headed to Washington, D.C., to compete in the Cooking up Change National Finals on Monday, June 8, at the U.S. Department of Education. Cooking up Change is a dynamic culinary competition that challenges student chefs to create healthy school meals that their peers enjoy and that meet the national nutrition standards for school food. Each team qualified for the national finals by winning a local Cooking up Change competition in their hometown. After preparing and presenting their meals to a panel of esteemed judges—including national policymakers, nutrition experts and celebrity chefs—a national champion will be crowned.

Created in 2007 by Healthy Schools Campaign, Cooking up Change presents the future of school food with healthy, fun, locally inspired meals that appeal to kids. By complying with school nutrition standards and using only commonly available school food service ingredients and equipment, students create recipes that include no more than six steps so that their meals can be easily replicated on a large scale and in real school kitchens. Students have limited time to develop their recipes, test their creations and refine their ideas based on peer feedback and professional nutritional analysis.

Through creativity and hard work, Cooking up Change participants create healthy school meals that their peers love, and that can serve as a model for the future of school food.

“We’re incredibly impressed by and proud of the Cooking up Change National Finals qualifiers” said Healthy Schools Campaign President and CEO Rochelle Davis. “These students are doing much more than taking part in a cooking competition; they’re showing us the way toward solving the political debate over school food. While working within the constraints of the national nutrition standards, they’ve created healthy school meals that their peers love. By taking a page out of their cookbook, we can make healthy and delicious school meals a reality for all students.”

Each Cooking up Change student-designed meal complies with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) school nutrition standards for calories, fat and sodium content, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, including side dishes, which meet USDA Smart Snacks in Schools standards.

Through Cooking up Change, students not only learn about healthy cooking and the complexity of the National School Lunch Program, it’s also an opportunity to urge their national leaders to support student health and learning by maintaining a high bar for school food. It’s a message that’s particularly important this year as Congress moves to reauthorize the school nutrition standards that were recently adopted to address the nation’s childhood obesity crisis.

For more information about the Cooking up Change National Finals and to meet the teams and learn about their award-winning menus, go to cookingupchange.org.

Let’s Stop Summer Hunger

Let's Stop Summer Hunger GraphicDuring the school year, more than 21 million children rely on free and reduced school meals, but during the summer, only 3.8 million participate in the USDA’s summer meals program. This means that too many kids are at risk of hunger because they are out of school. For many students, school meals provide for over half of their daily calories during the school year, which means that providing these children with access to healthy meals is a big priority.

To help prevent summer hunger, the USDA partners with schools, local governments, and community organizations to provide free meals to children during the summer.

This means that any child under the age of 18 can go to a designated summer meal site and eat for free. But we need your help in ensuring that no child goes hungry this summer. During Summer Food Service Program Kick Off Week, observed June 1- 5, our colleagues at USDA want to invite everyone to help spread the word about this important program.

How you can help:

Be a Summer Meal champion in your community! Check out USDA’s Summer Meals Toolkit:

  • Get the word out through community-based outreach
  • Find info on program policy and administration
  • Get ideas for planning and collaborating with stakeholders

The USDA also has a Summer Food site finder that will be updated soon.

Learn more about Summer Food Service Program.

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, Ava 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 Ava 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.