Parents: Tips To Help Your Child Complete the FAFSA

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If you’re a parent of a college bound child, the financial aid process can seem a bit overwhelming.  Who’s considered the parent? Who do you include in household size?  How do assets and tax filing fit into the process? Does this have to be done every year?  Here are some common questions that parents have when helping their children prepare for and pay for college or career school:

Why does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?

While we provide over $150 billion in financial aid each year, the federal student aid programs are based on the assumption that it is primarily your and your child’s responsibility to pay for college.  If your child was born after January 1, 1991 then most likely he or she is considered a dependent student and you’ll need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM).

Who’s considered a parent when completing the FAFSA?

If you need to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help you:

  • If your legal parents (your biological and/or adoptive parents) are married to each other, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your legal parents are not married to each other and live together, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated, follow these guidelines.

More information on who’s considered the parent can be found here:

Who’s considered part of the household?

When completing your child’s FAFSA, you should include parents, any dependent student(s) and any other child who lives at home and receives more than half of their support from you in the household size.  Also include any people who are not your children but who live with you and for whom you provide more than half of their support.

Do I need to wait until I file my income taxes?

In some states there are deadlines for additional monies so you’ll want to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st.  You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return.  If you haven’t done your taxes by the time you complete the FAFSA, you can estimate amounts based on the previous year if nothing has drastically changed.  After you file your taxes, you’ll need to log back in to the FAFSA and correct any estimated information.  If you’ve already filed your taxes, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically pull in your tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA.

Do I need to do this every year?

Yes, you and your child need to complete the FAFSA each year in order for your child to be considered for federal student aid.  The good news is that each subsequent year you can use the Renewal Application option so you only have to update information that has changed from the previous year!

What else do I need to know before I begin?

You’ll need to get a PIN and have all the necessary documents before you begin.  Here’s a handy checklist:

Susan Thares is Digital Engagement Lead at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

Rural Students in Florida Get Chance to Become STEM Scholars

FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

FloridaLearns STEM Scholars program is giving students opportunities to work with peers to solve problems in a variety of technical fields under the guidance of professional scientists and engineers. Photo credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

Phidell Lewis, a senior at a high school in a thinly populated area of the Florida Panhandle, had two big adventures this past summer.

He spent four days with top scientists as part of a group analyzing nanomaterials, and he attended a forum of engineers representing various industries, where he learned about STEM career paths. Both opportunities came about because Phidell is one of hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida who are STEM Scholars—part of a new State initiative to expose students to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through its Race to the Top grant.

“The STEM program allows our students to make better sense of what they’re learning on a day-to-day basis, and it helps them become better-prepared employees for our local industries,” said Ralph Yoder, superintendent of Calhoun County.

In other efforts to boost the skills of Florida’s labor force, the State is investing in training college graduates in STEM fields to become teachers, and encourages them to share that knowledge by becoming an educator.

“Funds from Florida’s Race to the Top award have expedited efforts already underway to better prepare students for college and careers,” said Brenda Crouch, Program Manager for the FloridaLearns STEM Scholars Program.”  It is a win for Florida’s economic future.

Students chosen to participate in the program are paired with mentors and receive intensive hands-on experiences with STEM professionals, rigorous courses during the school year, and opportunities to collaborate with other advanced students. Pam Stewart, Florida’s Commissioner of Education, said that the State had seen a 49 percent enrollment increase in accelerated STEM courses and STEM career academies since 2009. In some rural counties, students received industry certifications for the first time in 2013. More than 1,000 high school students have participated in the STEM Scholars program since 2012. Roderick Robinson, who mentors students in the program in Franklin County, said watching his students’ interest in STEM grow has been a “phenomenal experience.” Prior to the STEM program, many of his students were unfamiliar with STEM careers. After participating in the program, however, Robinson estimates that 95 percent of his students are now interested in STEM majors.

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7 Myths About the FAFSA and Applying for Financial Aid


I’m currently a junior in college, which means the 2014-15 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM) will be the last time I complete the FAFSA. However, my sister is going to be starting college in the fall and will be filling out the FAFSA for the first time. Luckily for her, she’ll have me to help her along the way.

Looking back to the first time I completed the FAFSA, I remember some misconceptions that I had about filling it out —and some of my friends had the same ones. Turns out these myths weren’t true. The FAFSA really is an easy-to-complete, online application that will help you plan for and finance your education.

I wanted to share some of these common myths about the FAFSA and applying for financial aid with you. You can also check out Federal Student Aid’s video that addresses these common myths!

  1. I won’t qualify for financial aid because my parents (or I) make too much money.
    Actually, there isn’t an income cutoff to qualify for financial aid. Your eligibility for financial aid is based on a number of factors and not just your or your parents’ income. Plus, many states and schools use your FAFSA data to determine your eligibility for their aid. Fill out the application and find out what you can get!
  2. I don’t have good grades, so I won’t be eligible for financial aid.
    Completing the FAFSA isn’t the same as applying to college. Most federal student aid programs don’t take your grades into consideration when you apply. Just remember, once you’re in college, you do need to maintain satisfactory academic progress  in order to continue receiving federal aid.
  3. I’m too old to qualify for financial aid.
    Federal student aid programs don’t take your age into consideration.
  4. The application is too hard to fill out!
    Since it’s available online, the FAFSA is easier than ever to complete. The form uses “skip logic,” so you are only asked the questions that are relevant to you. If you’ve filed your taxes, then you can transfer your tax return data into your FAFSA automatically. And as you go through the application, there will be guided assistance in the margins to help you answer each question. Plus, the FAFSA website has a Help page that addresses most frequently asked questions.
  5.   I have to wait until I (my parents) file taxes.
    Since some colleges have FAFSA deadlines that are before the tax filing deadline, it’s important to complete the FAFSA early. You can use estimates on your FAFSA by basing them off of last year’s taxes. After you file your taxes, you can log back into the FAFSA and input your updated tax information.
  6. I support myself, so I don’t have to include parent info.
    This is not necessarily true. Even if you support yourself and file taxes on your own, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. You can determine your dependency status by answering these questions. If you are independent, you don’t need to include your parents’ information on your FAFSA. If you are dependent, you need to provide your parents’ information.
  7. I completed the FAFSA my freshman year, so I don’t have to complete it again.
    As I said, this will be my fourth time completing the FAFSA. You should complete the FAFSA each year you plan to attend college or career school.

What are you waiting for? Start your application now at!

Mark Valdez is a student at Brown University and an intern with the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

U.S. Department of Education Releases Estimated State and National Figures from 2009-10 Civil Rights Data Collection

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) collects data from public schools to help detect and prevent civil rights violations. The data collected and released by the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) can serve as an important tool for schools and districts to engage in self-analysis. The data reveals where schools and districts are lagging and where they making great progress and leading the nation in closing the opportunity gap. With this information, the public can find and learn from schools and districts defying myths about achievement and opportunity.

Today, OCR is releasing new information — based on a sample collection of school- and district-level data from the 2009-10 school year — to estimate what the results might have been at the state and national level if every public school had been surveyed.

These data files have been posted online in an effort to shine a spotlight on urgent educational concerns, while at the same time revealing where schools and districts are making great progress and leading the nation in closing the opportunity gap. However, the quality of the CRDC data ultimately depends on accurate collection and reporting by the participating districts. Each district, through its superintendent or the superintendent’s designee, is required to certify the accuracy of its submission to OCR. The technical notes posted today provide some caveats and considerations that users should take into account when using the state and national estimations, particularly for items collected for the first time in the 2009-10 school year. 

The 2009-10 data collection surveyed a sample of about 7,000 public school districts and more than 72,000 public schools, representing about 85 percent of the country’s public school students. In March 2012, OCR released to the public the school- and district-level data from the CRDC and a document analyzing some of the 2009-10 sample data. In order to deepen the understanding of students’ educational opportunities, the 2009-10 CRDC collected data for the first time on whether students have access to the critical, rigorous courses needed for success in postsecondary education or training. It also collected new data on:

  • Student retention
  • Participation in SAT and ACT tests
  • Discipline (including data on students with and without disabilities, data on in-school and out-of-school suspensions, referrals to law enforcement agencies, and school-related arrests)
  • Harassment and bullying
  • Restraint and seclusion
  • Teacher experience and attendance
  • School finance

In looking ahead to future collections, OCR continues to refine technical assistance to help districts provide data that are accurate and sufficient for meaningful analysis. The collection of data for the 2011-12 school year (which collected data from every public school, not just a sample like in 2009-10) is complete and we expect to release that data in the first quarter of 2014. And plans are underway for collecting data from the 2013-14 school year starting in the fall of 2014.

Rebecca Fitch is the Project Manager for the Civil Rights Data Collection at the U.S. Department of Education

Regional Roundup: 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge

RTT-ELC grantees announced

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced that six states—Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont—will receive a total of $280 million in grant awards from the 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) fund.

The grants aim to help build comprehensive systems that improve the quality of early learning and development programs throughout the winning states – a down payment on constructing high quality early learning systems that reaches all families. RTT-ELC supports states in their systemic efforts to align, coordinate, and improve the quality of existing early learning and development programs across multiple funding streams that support children from birth through age five.

Under the Obama administration, RTT-ELC has awarded over $1 billion to provide a strong start for our nation’s youngest children and to put them on the path to a bright future. The program is a key part of the administration’s comprehensive early learning agenda in combination with President Obama’s Preschool for All proposal. To learn more about yesterday’s announcement and the administration’s ongoing efforts to improve access to high-quality early learning, read this blog postfrom officials at the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Here is a small sample of the coverage that the 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge announcement has generated in winning states:

PA — The Philadelphia Inquirer: Pa., N.J. among states sharing ‘Race’ funds

State education officials said major initiatives that will be funded by the grant include establishing 50 early childhood education “innovation zones” to develop strategies to support and engage families in the lowest performing-elementary schools, and launching four “Governor’s Institutes” that will bring together nearly 3,000 prekindergarten to third-grade educators to share experiences and strategies. “Quality matters,” said Barbara Minzenberg, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for the Office of Child Development and Early Learning. “It makes a difference in outcomes for children.”

PA – Allentown Morning  Call: Pennsylvania secures $51.7 million for early childhood education

The money will be used to improve access for children with high needs to quality early learning and development programs, Dumaresq said. It will also increase access and delivery of high-quality professional development for early learning educators, according to the state. The state will use its new School Performance Profile, which gives every public school a number grade out of 100, to identify the lowest performing elementary schools.

MI – Detroit Free Press: $52M federal grant will benefit education of 182,000 low-income Michigan children

The state aims to increase access to high-quality early childhood programs, increase opportunities for home care providers to improve the quality of their programs and expand training, especially for home care providers. Working with families, the state plans to ensure that more parents understand and are engaged in their child’s early learning. That includes involving more families and providers in efforts to identify and promote children’s physical, social and emotional health.

MI – The Detroit News: Michigan gets first federal Race to Top school grant

The Obama administration said Thursday that Michigan will receive $51.7 million in federal dollars aimed at improving access for early childhood education throughout the state. After several unsuccessful tries, Thursday’s award marks the first time Michigan earned federal Race to the Top dollars under President Barack Obama’s signature competitive educational grant program. “We had the No. 1 application, so that’s pretty cool,” Gov. Rick Snyder told The Detroit News editorial board Thursday afternoon in praising the grant award.

GA – The Augusta Chronicle: Georgia one of six states awarded millions for early childhood learning programs

Cagle said child care facilities participating in the voluntary program will receive higher reimbursements for expanding access to low-income children. Money will also go toward incentives for joining the evaluation system, which rates facilities on criteria such as learning environment, staff qualifications, physical activity and food nutrition. “We think investing early will increase educational outcomes,” Cagle said. “It will prevent much of the retaining of students in grades, which costs us about twice what it cost normally to educate students. We want to get it out there early and prevent having to invest on the back end.”

GA — Savannah Morning News Georgia receives Race to the Top funds for early learning programs

Georgia’s plan for its $51.7 million share of the Race to the Top-Early Learning funds is to use $25 million to increase the number of preschool and child care centers that earn quality ratings through Georgia’s voluntary Quality Rated System. Currently 1,300 of the 6,000 programs in the state have applied, according to Cagle. But he plans to increase that number by using the grant money to provide bonus payments to centers that earn high quality ratings. Centers can earn those ratings by implementing age-appropriate instructional programs outlined by Georgia Bright from the Start.

KY – Lexington Herald Leader: Kentucky among 6 states to receive $280 million in early-learning grants

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said quality early childhood education can mean the difference between success and failure for kids — especially those from low-income families. Better preparing young children for school has positive long-term effects on school achievement, whether a student is retained or placed in special education and ultimately whether he or she graduates from high school ready for college and career, Holliday said.

KY – Louisville Courier-Journal: 

The money, part of the 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, will be awarded to the Kentucky Department of Education, which can use the money to establish quality early childhood education programs from birth to kindergarten, ensure that quality program standards are applied to all early learning programs in the state, promoting health and family engagement strategies and improve efforts to inform parents of early childhood program opportunities.

VT – The Times-Argus: Vt to get $37 million for early education

Calling it the “largest single investment in early childhood education in Vermont’s history,” Gov. Peter Shumlin celebrated news of the grant award Thursday. “This grant award will move our early childhood system forward by improving quality and access of education and services, supporting and expanding our early childhood workforce, supporting families in need so that they can provide a better start for their children and more,” Shumlin said. “It will mean more families will have access to high-quality early learning and development programs.”

VT – The Burlington Free-Press: Vermont wins education grant

“This major federal grant will significantly improve early-childhood education in our state and better prepare our kids for school and the challenges and opportunities in life,” Sanders said in a statement. Winning states created proposals to expand and improve services, particularly for children with high needs. That includes children from low-income families, those with disabilities and those learning English. The program, jointly administered by the U.S. Education Department and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, is designed to supplement state investments for children from birth to age 5.

NJ – The Associated Press: N.J. among 6 states to get ‘Race to the Top’ money for early childhood education programs

This is the third time these early learning grants have been issued. Fourteen other states were previous winners. In total, nearly $1 billion in grants has been distributed. The winning states must show a willingness to carry out comprehensive improvements to programs focused on children from birth to age 5. Details were expected to be released later today about what the winning states proposed to do with the money. “This investment is a down payment to support and implement high-quality early learning programs across the country,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “There is still a lot more work for us to do.”

NJ – The Asbury Park Press: N.J. to receive $44.3 million in Race to the Top funds

The grant will fund an initiative that sets standards to guide the quality of programming, broadens training for program staff, and provides parents with a Consumer Reports-like rating system of early learning providers, according to the state. The plan’s cornerstone is the statewide rating improvement system, called Grow NJ Kids, to expand from a pilot of 56 programs to 1,790 over four years. Participants will follow a set of standards aimed at improving programming quality, according to the state.

Stephen Spector is the deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

We Have to Quit Playing Catch-Up

Only one in three four-year-olds attend a high-quality preschool program — and the number for three-year-olds is much lower. Across the country, children remain on long preschool waiting lists, and families who could benefit from support as they raise their children remain unserved.

Early LearningToday, six states learned that they will have vital new support to build systems that help to solve that problem. Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) funding was awarded to Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. These states join 14 others that have received RTT-ELC grants and are building their capacity to serve preschool children with quality, accountability, and efficiency.

These new awards bring the Obama Administration’s education funding commitment in early learning systems building to more than $1 billion. With that investment and their own state funds, a bipartisan group of forward-looking governors have worked to increase support for high-quality early learning in their states.

President Obama has put forward a plan, called Preschool for All, that would make high-quality preschool available and affordable for all families, without adding a dime to the deficit. Last month, a bipartisan group in Congress introduced bills to support high-quality preschool services for low- and moderate-income families.

And, many states, and cities, are building new organizational structures, aligning systems, eliminating redundant programs, and raising the bar for teacher preparation. A recent report from the Education Commission of the States documents 38 bills from 25 states that establish state preschool programs; implement quality rating and improvement systems; pilot a school readiness assessment, and more.

In Michigan — one of the new RTT-ELC states — leaders realized that a robust investment in early learning is the best way to rebuild the state’s economy.  Led by Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Mich.), the state legislature voted to invest $60 million more next year on preschool programs. This funding increase of nearly 60 percent will add up to 16,000 more four-year-olds to state-funded preschool next year.

Ultimately, RTT-ELC is only a down payment on early learning – strong systems are not enough. High-quality early learning programs fail to reach the majority of America’s youngest learners – due to a state’s limited capacity, lack of resources, or both. Much more needs to be done.

We have to quit “playing catch-up, and level the playing field for our children before they start kindergarten,” as Secretary Duncan recently said at a global education summit. As business and military leaders, law enforcement officials and educators have repeatedly said, high-quality preschool is the right move to make sure our youngest children are ready for the world ahead of them.

Libby Doggett is the deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning at the U.S. Department of Education. Linda Smith is the deputy assistant secretary and inter-departmental liaison for early childhood development at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

College Ratings Listening Tour: College Value and Affordability

A system of college ratings will help students choose among colleges and encourage institutions to improve. This fall, the Department of Education set out across the country tolisten to everyone who wanted to talk about how we can make college more affordable and a solid investment for families and taxpayers.

In August the President outlined an ambitious agenda to combat rising college costs and improve the value of education so students and the nation can achieve our goals of growth, opportunity and economic strength.  He asked the Department of Education to reach out widely as we create a system both to help students and families choose colleges and eventually to reward colleges’ performance on key measures of opportunity and completion that are important to the nation. He also asked us and to honor his “firm principle that [the Administration’s] ratings be carefully designed to increase, not decrease, the opportunities for higher education for students who face economic or other disadvantages.”  –August 22, 2013, Buffalo, NY.

College Listening Tour

Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton gets feedback during an open forum at Louisiana State University.

So we fanned out across the country to listen. First, we gathered national student organizations, because students are at the heart of this effort to improve education and put it within everyone’s reach. In November, we held four Open Forums in the Los Angeles area at California State University- Dominguez Hills, George Mason University in the Washington, D.C., area, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We also arranged meetings in Chicago, Boston, Richmond, Las Vegas, and Annapolis, MD, before wrapping up the Fall portion of our outreach earlier this week in Davis, CA.  We gathered a wide range of perspectives from college leaders, students and faculty from all levels and sectors, and from parents, business people, college counselors, education associations, and policy analysts. In all, we held more than 55 meetings with thousands of participants. We also invited comment from the public, and continue to welcome ideas, at

What have we learned? It was no surprise that people want the option of college for themselves and their families, that choosing among colleges is hard, and that people worry – a lot — about the cost. Many students and groups that advise low-income students about college responded positively to the plan for ratings that would incorporate measures of college access, affordability and outcomes.

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My Confidence in Future Young Scientists


Cross-posted from the EPA’s It All Starts with Science blog 

The students were taking part in “enrichment clusters,” sessions in which they learn about one important public issue in depth. I was invited by 2nd-grade teacher Ms. Claborn to visit her cluster on water purification and to present a real-life example of a water filter.

I had recently worked to develop an affordable filter that removed not only bacteria and contaminants from water, but also arsenic, a poisonous substance that affects nearly 150 million people across the world today. I had the opportunity to present my water filter at the 2012 Intel International Science Fair, where I won 3rd place and EPA’s Patrick J. Hurd Sustainability Award. The Hurd Award included an invitation to present my project at the annual National Sustainable Design Expo, which showcases EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program.

I presented the filter to the class and answered questions, learning just as much from them as they did from me.  I was invited to stay for the remainder of the cluster, where the students were putting final touches on their own water filters. Ms. Claborn gave each of the students some muddy water to run through the filters. It was exciting for me to see the children’s smiles as they looked at the clean water slowly trickling out of the open edge of the soda bottle after traveling through the sand and rocks. The filters were based on a water filtration activity that EPA designed specifically for students.

Afterwards, I was invited to attend the upcoming STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) exhibit that the school was hosting. The students’ mini filters would be on display, and I was invited to display my filter alongside theirs. As the stream of curious parents and students came in, I gladly talked about both what the students did and my own filter, and what this means for the future of environmental sustainability issues like water.

This was my first opportunity to present my work outside of my school and science fairs. I felt very honored and happy to be able to give something back to the community. I hope to find ways to keep doing so!

Thabit Pulak

About the Author: Guest blogger Thabit Pulak of Richardson, Texas was the winner of the Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012. As part of this award, he was invited to attend and exhibit at the National Sustainable Design Expohome of the P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability in Washington, DC. He was also the recipient of the 2013 Davidson Fellows Award

Financial Aid Shopping Sheet Updated to Provide Students with More Transparency

In the summer of 2012, the Obama Administration introduced the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet so that families could have a clear, concise way to see the cost of a particular school. The Shopping Sheet provides a standardized award letter allowing students to easily compare financial aid packages and make informed decisions on where to attend college.

Shopping Sheet Example

An example of the information on the Shopping Sheet

So far, nearly 2,000 institutions have committed to providing the Shopping Sheet to their prospective students.  Those institutions represent over 43 percent of, or over 8.1 million, undergraduate students across the United States.

Since institutions started adopting the Shopping Sheet, we’ve received input from students, parents, guidance counselors, and financial aid administrators. The feedback suggests that institutions and students are becoming more familiar with the Shopping Sheet, so the newest edition of the Shopping Sheet includes only modest changes. To improve clarity, ED has identified minor language changes and has added a glossary to better explain financial aid terms.  Additionally, data used to populate college outcomes used on the Shopping Sheet (graduation rate, loan default rate, and median borrowing) have also been updated to be one year more current.

Through the release of college search and transparency tools, such as the College Scorecard, Financial Aid Toolkit, and the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, the Obama Administration continues to demonstrate its commitment to improving transparency in the college selection process. Institutions interested in adopting the Shopping Sheet may contact the U.S. Department of Education at For more information on the Shopping Sheet, including a list of participating institutions, visit

Michael Itzkowitz is a special advisor in the Office of Postsecondary Education

Five Tips to Keep Kids Learning During the Holidays

Holiday and winter breaks are just weeks away, and while students and teachers will get a well-deserved break from the classroom, it doesn’t mean children need to stop learning. Here are a few tips to keep children’s minds sharp and challenged during their break, and it might just prevent cabin fever:

    • ReadingAsk your child’s teacher or search online for worksheets or projects that can be done over the holidays. For 20 to 30 minutes a day, review with your child math concepts, spelling words, or sentence structure. You can also work together in starting a cool science project.
    • Have your child read to you daily from the newspaper, a magazine, or excerpts from their favorite book, and let your child see you reading.
    • Use the winter break to strengthen your child’s vocabulary. This is a perfect time to start a treasure chest of words, by having your child look up new words, then write the word and definition on 3×5 cards. Use the word in a sentence or have them write a story based on the word. This exercise will reinforce reading comprehension and writing skills.
    • Give your child an opportunity to appreciate the arts by attending free events like concerts or plays during the holidays, or stop by a local museum.
    • Give a book or educational gift that will keep on giving throughout the year.

Don’t forget to thank your child’s teacher with a special present, gift card or note before the holiday break.

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

Principal Ambassador Fellowship Officially Launched

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan officially launched the Department of Education’s Principal Ambassador Fellowship yesterday by naming three principals to serve as the inaugural class of Campus Principal Ambassador Fellows. They are: Sharif El-Mekki of Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker campus in Philadelphia, PA; Jill Levine, principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet School in Chattanooga, TN; and Rachel Skerritt at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, DC.

You can learn more about each of them on the Department’s Principal Ambassador Fellowship website in the coming days. In short:

SharifSharif El-Mekki has served since 2007 in the charter school serving 750 middle and high school students. The Shoemaker campus is a three-time winner of New Leaders’ EPIC award for being amongst the top three schools in the country for accelerating student achievement. El-Mekki serves on Mayor Michael Nutter’s Commission on African American Males and is an America Achieves Fellow.



JillJill Levine has served as principal since 2002 of two campuses which serve 850 pre-K to 8th grade students. Normal Park has been named a Magnet School of Excellence every year since 2005 and in 2012, Levine was named National Principal of the Year by Magnet Schools of America. Levine serves on Tennessee’s First to the Top Advisory Committee and Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee.



RachelRachel Skerritt has been principal of Eastern Senior High School since it was re-launched in 2011 as a turnaround high school. Under her leadership, Eastern has earned authorization as an International Baccalaureate school and last spring scored the second highest proficiency rates amongst comprehensive high schools in the District of Columbia on the DC-CAS exams. Skerritt is also a published novelist and frequent contributor to The Root, an off-shoot of the Washington Post.

In its inaugural year, the Principal Ambassador Fellowship program is meant to recognize the important impact that a principal has on instruction, the school environment, and talent management and to better connect this expertise and knowledge with education policy makers. The 2013 U.S. Department of Education Principal Ambassador Fellows will work with our current Teaching Ambassador Fellows as well as our Resident Principal to help kick start and shape the new program.

Investing in the Future: Native American Youth and Education

On November 13, 2013 at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, we were honored to co-host a session for tribal leaders from federally-recognized Indian tribes with my colleagues from eight federal agencies. The purpose was to listen, learn and share pathways to federal resources with the distinguished representatives of a wide range of tribal governments. The context was improving education for the children of Indian Country. Co-host, David Bean, an elected third-term member of the Puyallup Tribal Council, stressed the importance of hearing recommendations from tribal leaders in formulating federal policy to improve education in many areas: governance, curriculum, teachers, equity, diversity, health services, student support, and administration. Bill Mendoza, Oglala and Sicangu Lakota and Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, joined us and reported on progress made in implementing previous recommendations from our nation’s tribes, but emphasized there is much more to be done. We were especially impressed with David Bean’s personal history, grounded in “the teachings from his mother, Gloria R. Bean, his elders and his education from the University of Puget Sound to guide him in preserving, supporting and protecting the Constitution and By-laws of the Puyallup Tribe and the Constitution of the United States.”

What We Heard

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