President’s Education Awards Program Honors Student Achievement

The first school in Germantown, Maryland, was built in 1860. The school was just one large room with a wood stove in the center to keep the students warm in the winter, double desks, and a chalkboard. It served a few dozen children from the first to the 8th grade.

The school itself and the students and staff have come a long way since then. Today, Germantown Elementary School serves a diverse student population of about 300 students from Pre-K through 5th grade. And on June 12, I had the honor of joining them to congratulate 32 amazing students who were being recognized for their hard work by earning the President’s Education Award at Germantown’s 5th grade promotion ceremony.

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Recipients of the PEAP stand proudly at Germantown Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Surrounded by excited and teary-eyed parents, I joined Principal Amy Bryant and others to celebrate their academic success and urged them to continue setting an example for other students. As we were told by one of the former students, who had returned to offer words of inspiration, “more homework will come [in middle school] — and along with that is more responsibility.”

The President’s Education Awards Program honors student achievement and hard work in the classroom. This award, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP),recognizes students who meet key criteria. Since 1983, the program has provided individual recognition from the President and U.S. Secretary of Education to those students whose outstanding efforts have enabled them to meet challenging standards of excellence. These students often are pushing the traditional standards of thinking to come up with creative solutions to problems. Overall, these students deliver their best and bring out the best in those around them.

This year’s students received a certificate signed by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, as well as a congratulatory letter signed by the President.

The 5th grade students of Germantown Elementary School have left their mark for the classes to follow. We applaud their success in fulfilling Germantown’s mission: a learning community where students, staff, and parents work together to create a caring, safe, and positive school environment in which everyone succeeds.

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

Become an “Education Coach” and Keep the Summer Slide at Bay All Season

Summer is upon us – and with that comes what some call the “summer slide” in students’ academic skills while out of school. There are things that you as a parent can do, though, to take charge and make learning a priority even as the dog days of the season approach.

Below are some ways you can make learning like a sports game. As an “education coach” you can challenge and encourage any child in your life:

  • Set goals – What will you and your child accomplish by a set time?  Examples:  “After two weeks we will know how to count by twos to 50.” Or “After one week we will know how to print your first name.”
  • Practice – Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to work on each goal. Talk about the importance of practice and grit – patience and resilience — in making steady progress.
  • Put some plays into effect – Look for different ways to apply the skills being developed.  Example: Take your child to the store and have her add up the items you have purchased. Get some fresh and free ideas from FREE (Federal Registry for Educational Excellence).
  • Make some touchdowns that will make a difference in their upcoming school year. Help your child to see how what he has done over the summer will put him ahead in the fall. Get a workbook or reading book at the grade level in which she will be.  By mid-summer take out the book and let her begin to work on the areas she has been practicing.
  • Take your team on the road – Have fun and incorporate learning into a summer adventure. Example: Visit a museum, zoo, aquarium, beach or park. Look at maps together and identify where you will visit and how far you will travel. Have your child draw and write about their favorite parts of the trip in the order the events happened.
  • Celebrate – Have a mid-summer reward and really celebrate at the end of the summer for all the goals set that your champion has accomplished!

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

Four-year-old Talks About San Antonio’s Promise Zone

Too many of our children grow up in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty where zip codes determine destinies. To address this inequality, President Obama has laid out a comprehensive strategy to create ladders of opportunity to ensure that all children can achieve social mobility.  Education plays a critical role in this strategy, particularly in the President’s Promise Zone initiative.

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Mauricio, a four-year-old student at Tynan Early Childhood Education Center, became the star of the event. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

On June 19, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan traveled to San Antonio, one of the first of five Promise Zones, to participate in a town hall discussion on how the initiative has impacted the community. The discussion took place at Tynan Early Childhood Education Center, where Principal Gregorio Velazquez kicked off the event by introducing an unexpected guest to give the opening remarks and welcome Secretary Duncan. The speaker was Mauricio, a four-year-old student at Tynan who would prove to be the star of the event.

Principal Velazquez describes Mauricio as a remarkably intelligent student. Throughout the school year when he visited Mauricio’s classroom, he was struck by Mauricio’s inquisitiveness and politeness. He stood out among his peers, always asking thoughtful questions and exhibiting extraordinary manners.

The crowd of parents and school administrators was gleaming with pride as young Mauricio, with the help of a step stool, marched up to the podium and confidently began to speak. With incredible poise, Mauricio thanked Secretary Duncan, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, and the parents and community members in the crowd for visiting Tynan.

“We will continue to need your support as we move up to the next level of our education,” he read. “We appreciate all you do to help us with our journey on becoming responsible students and citizens.”

As Mauricio finished, the audience erupted with cheering and applause. Secretary Duncan was beaming, clearly moved by Mauricio’s stellar performance. It was not only the eloquence of Mauricio that touched the audience, but also what his performance symbolized.  Mauricio was the epitome of the great success of Tynan and the progress of its surrounding community as one of the Administration’s first designated Zones.  He demonstrated that, especially for early learners, a good education goes a long way and has a profound impact on future success.

To date, the Department has awarded more than $200 million in Promise Neighborhood grants.  The Promise Zone Initiative has worked to foster partnerships between communities and businesses to create jobs; increase economic security; expand educational opportunities; increase access to quality, affordable housing; and improve public safety. The first five zones are in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Promise Neighborhoods will play an important role in several of the zones.

Anna Kamen is a rising senior at Princeton University. She is interning with the Press Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

 

The Importance of Hearing from Teachers Around the World

A sweeping majority of secondary school teachers in the U.S. report that they are satisfied with their jobs — that is one of the main takeaways from a new survey, called the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). The survey provides a unique opportunity to hear from U.S. teachers and to compare the views of educators in this country with those from educators around the globe.

According to the report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 89 percent of U.S. teachers are satisfied with their job – nearly the same as the international average of 91 percent. According to the survey, which reflects self-report by “lower secondary” teachers (grades 7, 8 and 9 in the United States), 84 percent of U.S. teachers surveyed stated that they’d choose teaching if they could decide on a career path again. This positive response is higher than the average (78 percent) for other TALIS countries.

In 2013, TALIS surveyed more than 100,000 lower secondary teachers and principals in 34 education systems around the world, asking them for their views on job satisfaction, working and classroom conditions, professional development, teacher appraisal, and more.

Unfortunately, while U.S. teachers and principals are positive about their jobs, their optimism doesn’t extend to believing that society values their work. Only one-third of U.S. lower secondary teachers believe the teaching profession is valued in U.S. society, which is slightly above the TALIS average, but well below other high-performing education systems. In Singapore, 68 percent of teachers believe their society values their profession; in Korea, 67 percent do; and in Finland, 59 percent feel that way.

TALIS shows highs and lows in the area of teacher training and professional development as well. Lower secondary teachers in the U.S. report higher-than-average levels of education and participation rates in professional development (PD), but they are less positive about the impact of PD. For example, nearly all U.S. lower secondary teachers have completed higher education. And, 84 percent of U.S. teachers report that they attend courses or workshops, compared with the TALIS average of 71 percent. But in every PD content category, U.S. lower secondary teachers are less likely to report a moderate or large impact on their teaching.

TALIS also shows that U.S. lower secondary teachers tend to work independently, with 42 percent of teachers reporting that they never engage in joint activities across classes and age groups. Half of U.S. teachers report that they never observe another teacher’s classes or provide feedback to peers.

TALIS presents an opportunity for teachers, principals, policymakers and others to delve more deeply into data that can be beneficial in the effort to support and elevate the teaching profession in this country.

Engaging with teachers in discussions on teacher leadership through new initiatives like Teach to Lead and the Department of Education’s RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching) project are important parts of the effort to make teaching a valued and respected profession on par with medicine, law, and engineering in this country. It’s our hope that the next TALIS survey, which will be conducted in 2018, shows even further increases in teacher satisfaction, collaboration, and their perception about the value of their critical profession.

For more information, please see TALIS data tables at NCES, the OECD’s U.S. country report, and the OECD’s international report.

Maureen McLaughlin is senior advisor to the Secretary and director of international affairs and Curtis Valentine is a Council on Foreign Relations fellow working with the International Affairs Office.

2014 U.S. Presidential Scholars Reflect on Their Experiences

The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established by executive order of the President 50 years ago. The program recognizes and honors some of our nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors and was expanded in 1979 to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative, and performing arts.

Each year, 141 students are named Presidential Scholars, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.

In a previous post, as part of the 50th anniversary of the program, ED collected reflections from past winners. Now we look at reflections from current winners who recently experienced their National Recognition Program.

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First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a group photo with Presidential Scholars in the East Room of the White House, June 23, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Erika Carrera, U.S. Presidential Scholar from Nevada

The Presidential Scholars Program was, without a doubt, the best program I have had the privilege and honor of participating in. I was able to create a permanent connection with so many outstanding individuals, from all across the United States. I learned about other cultures and customs. Although we were all different, we had a unique bond and  unique stories to tell. This program taught me that everyone holds different values and ideas; yet when we come together, it is our differences — our viewing the world from dissimilar perspectives — that helps us solve the problems we face.

Being a Presidential Scholar is something I will keep with me for the rest of my life. I only hope to be able to return in future years to help another generation of scholars on their path toward success.

Michael Chen, U.S. Presidential Scholar from Colorado

My favorite part of the National Recognition Program was the diversity of talents and passion that I saw within each individual scholar and in the group as a whole. The incredible performances by the Arts Scholars and the unique presentations of talent at the talent show on the last day, really exemplify what it means to be a Presidential Scholar: we are a group that can succeed at anything we put our minds to. Indeed, I am looking forward to hearing about the amazing things that all of you will do in the future! #psp4life

Ray Lu, U.S. Presidential Scholar from Texas

The National Recognition Program was an experience I will never forget–considering all of the amazing people I met, experiences I had, and thoughts I shared. From inspired and brilliant peers, to congressmen and the First Lady herself, each and every person had a profound impact on me, in terms of understanding other people, recognizing the nuances of the world around us, and discovering more about my passions. The fellow Presidential Scholars I encountered were some of the most engaging individuals I had ever held conversations with, and we had much in common through our virtues and values in life. The Program itself was a catalyst for us to create this network of people that could serve as both a support system and a friend group. Lastly, the pensive atmosphere was enhanced by the questions we asked and the answers we gave in return. The most lasting memory from my time in DC will be a conversation I had late at night on the final day with 20 fellow Scholars. We shared our future goals and gave thoughtful answers to the question, “Why were we selected as Presidential Scholars?” The responses opened my eyes in terms of perspective, and I realized, at the very end, how humanizing the entire process was. In essence, my time at the National Recognition Program was not only a moment of celebration, but also a vivid period of growth as I turn to face what the future holds.

Michael Mei, U.S. Presidential Scholar from Pennsylvania

We met. All fifty states rolled from our tongues and suddenly we felt everywhere at once. We savored the taste of that complete and eclectic cornucopia of places. We relished the “Oh, you know him!?” and the “What’s it like out there?” alike. We knew as we talked that each of us harbored remarkable stories and had done remarkable things. And we knew that even the piles of accolades upon which we sat could not come close to defining us completely. We were defined by our smiles, our reckless aspirations, our passionate and unwavering voices. And we were defined by the solemn and bursting pride with which we received an award, meant not just for us, but also for our parents, friends, and communities. As we stood at the East Room of the White House in our best attire, we had the sense of having arrived, not at a final peak, but at a sort of springboard to higher summits. Some inexplicable and wildly sure sense of hope. And as our senators took the podium and urged us to political engagement, we silently pledged ourselves to new and daunting responsibilities. Most memorable? Seeing the Presidential Arts Scholars perform at the Kennedy Center: their show, at once electric and contemplative, moved some of us to tears. Dances and stanzas poured with terrifying spontaneity, sometimes unfathomable and discomforting (as art should be) but always virtuosic. A performance, I learned, is different when the people on stage are not only the premier young artists of the country, but also good friends. Then, all too soon, the final night: “See all those kids fist-pumping and going crazy?” Someone marveled. “They’re some of the best students in the country.”

Aaron Orbey, U.S. Presidential Scholar from Massachusetts

Having never before toured D.C., I enjoyed the distinct pleasure of visiting our Capitol with such humble and humbling, such inspired and inspiring, new friends—artistic scholars and scholarly artists alike. Exciting too, was the guidance of past scholars serving as advisors, whose presence reminded me that this network of awesome people will continue to grow and stay with us. I don’t ever want to forget the hush of voices as the First Lady strolled into the East Room or the tessellating of shadows on the Kennedy Center stage as the lights dimmed and an audience, enraptured, erupted into applause. But I’m not worried because I think I’ll always remember. And I’m so grateful for the experience.

Six Months of PROGRESS

Six months ago, the Department of Education launched a new blog, PROGRESS, to highlight innovative ideas, promising practices, and lessons learned through K-12 education reforms across the country.

Incredible work is happening throughout the U.S. in schools, districts, and states to improve teaching and learning, and, as Secretary Duncan has pointed out, the best ideas do not come from Washington, but from individuals in the field working to improve outcomes for students.

PROGRESS has focused on showcasing the exciting transformations that are taking place in classrooms and communities from the perspective of students, teachers, principals, and local leaders on the ground. It has featured states and districts that are actively preparing their students for college and careers upon graduation, ensuring that educators are receiving the kind of high-quality support and opportunities they need to be effective, and transforming systems and structures so that every student can succeed.

For example, over the past six months, PROGRESS has explored how states like Kentucky and Massachusetts are promoting college and career readiness for their students; Colorado and the District of Columbia are involving teachers in the creation of new, more rigorous curricula and empowering teacher leaders to guide change in their districts; Delaware, Tennessee, and institutions of higher education in California are building more effective teacher and leader preparation and career pathways; districts in Florida and Maryland are providing opportunities for students to explore STEM fields; Hawaii and Delaware are using data systems to support instruction;  Baltimore City is engaging its communities and parents to transform schools; and Ohio is making strides to improve its lowest-performing schools.

In the coming weeks, you’ll also be able to read about Rhode Island’s efforts to recognize and bolster the impact that support professionals are making on student achievement. You’ll also learn about Florida’s rigorous job-embedded principal preparation programs, a New York district’s effort to engage parents in their quest to raise standards in their classrooms, and much more.  Stay tuned!

We are excited and encouraged to celebrate the progress that teachers, students, schools, and school systems are making every day.  To stay updated on these efforts, sign up for email updates from PROGRESS or visit us at www.ed.gov/edblogs/progress.

PROGRESS is always looking for great examples of reform in action from the field.  If you have an idea that you would like to share with us, please email us at progress@ed.gov.

We Want to Hear from You: New and Improved Feedback Platform Now Online

The U.S. Department of Education has created a “one stop shop” to make it easier for you to give us feedback.

Our Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review webpage is now online. This resource offers all of the information you will need to submit comments on current and proposed regulations, which could go a long way to help reduce regulatory burdens and generate results that are efficient and easier to understand.

When you visit the page, you will find a link to all Education regulations open for public comment via regulations.gov, a link to all existing Education rules via the electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR), and a link to the easy-to-use form for submitting comments on existing regulations.  All links are conveniently found in the same location as the Department’s plan for retrospective analysis, status reports, and contact information.

ED recognizes the importance of maintaining a consistent culture of retrospective review of regulations. We’re dedicated to streamlining and modifying ineffective and inefficient regulations, while ensuring our rules are concise and minimize burden to the greatest extent possible.

Above all else, we’re committed to implementing regulations that support states, local communities and schools, institutions of higher education, and others in improving education nationwide and in helping to ensure that all Americans receive a quality education.

We continue to seek greater and more useful public participation in our rulemaking activities and welcome your comments, ideas, and suggestions!

Elizabeth McFadden is the Deputy General Counsel for Ethics, Legislative Counsel, and Regulatory Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

Building on Progress: Closing the Gender Gap and Expanding Women’s Access to Non-Traditional Occupations

Fifty years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women in the United States still earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men. The pay gap for women of color is even greater. One of the primary reasons for this persistent gap is the concentration of women in comparatively lower-paying and non-supervisory professions – well over half of all women continue to be employed in lower-paying sales, service, and administrative support positions. President Obama’s Equal Pay Task Force sees this issue as one of the greatest barriers to pay equality and is working with the Departments of Education (ED) and Labor (DOL) to expand women’s access to non-traditional occupations.

ED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) is commissioning a study that will examine gender equity in secondary career and technical education. Specifically, it will look at whether girls and young women in high school have access to high-quality programs that prepare them for careers in non-traditional occupations – for example, law enforcement, construction, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions. Similarly, DOL has commissioned several studies that identify barriers women face in accessing these occupations, as well as successful evidence-based strategies to increase employment opportunities in these professions.

Later this year, ED and Georgetown University will convene thought leaders, policymakers, practitioners, researchers, advocates, and girls and young women for a conversation on ways to improve the prospects of girls and women in career and technical education and other rigorous college- and career-preparation programs. The aim is to develop a forward-looking strategy to prepare women and girls for in-demand careers within high-growth industry sectors.

Both agencies also are working with unions and labor management to expand quality training programs. To date, over 40 unions and labor management partnerships have pledged to expand low-skilled workers’ access to their training programs and share best practices on effective workforce and career pathway programs. This collaboration represents almost 8,000 employers and will provide unprecedented access to educational and training opportunities, as well as supportive services necessary for women and working families to be successful.

Despite progress over the years, there is still a long way to go to fulfill the vision of equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work.

“Our nation has made great progress in expanding economic and educational opportunities for women, but business, industry, labor, and government at all levels still have so much work to do to ensure that every American, regardless of their gender, is treated fairly and gets equal pay for equal work,” said Secretary Duncan.

While women increasingly are the primary breadwinners in American households, many other women remain stuck in comparatively lower paying jobs with fewer benefits. The promise of equal pay for equal work means, for many, a promise of equal preparation for and access to better paying, non-traditional occupations and inclusive workplaces that are free of discrimination and offer policies that support working families. The Administration is doing its part to make sure that promise is kept.

Patrick Kerr is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Kansas City regional office.

Empowering Our Children by Bridging the Word Gap

Reposted from the White House blog.

Research shows that during the first years of life, a poor child hears roughly 30 million fewer total words than her more affluent peers. Critically, what she hears has direct consequences for what she learns. Children who experience this drought in heard words have vocabularies that are half the size of their peers by age 3, putting them at a disadvantage before they even step foot in a classroom.

This is what we call the “word gap,” and it can lead to disparities not just in vocabulary size, but also in school readiness, long-term educational and health outcomes, earnings, and family stability even decades later.

It’s important to note that talking to one’s baby doesn’t just promote language development. It promotes brain development more broadly. Every time a parent or caregiver has a positive, engaging verbal interaction with a baby – whether it’s talking, singing, or reading – neural connections of all kinds are strengthened within the baby’s rapidly growing brain.

That’s why today we are releasing a new video message from President Obama focused on the importance of supporting learning in our youngest children to help bridge the word gap and improve their chances for later success in school and in life. The President’s message builds on the key components of his Early Learning Initiative, which proposes a comprehensive plan to provide high-quality early education to children from birth to school entry.

The President’s message is part of a week-long campaign organized in partnership with Too Small to Faila joint initiative of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, to raise awareness of the importance of closing the word gap. The video series follows the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families that explored innovative solutions to help expand opportunities for working families and businesses. The Summit explored a wide range of issues, including expanding access to affordable child care and early education opportunities for families.

Our children’s future is so important, bipartisan leaders are all doing their part to help close the word gap. Watch messages from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and Cindy McCain, and share these messages with your networks to help spread the word about this cause.

This fall, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services will team up with Too Small to Fail and the Urban Institute to host an event designed to increase public understanding and make progress on this important issue. This event will highlight initiatives across the country focused on bridging the word gap, including:

  • Too Small to Fail’s Talking is Teaching public action campaign aimed at educating parents about the importance of talking to one’s baby and testing out community-level approaches, including in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Too Small to Fail is working in partnership with the George Kaiser Family Foundation. This campaign will engage pediatricians, business owners, faith-based leaders, librarians, and others to share with parents and caregivers how simple actions (e.g., describing objects seen during a walk or bus ride, singing songs, or telling stories) can significantly improve a baby’s ability to learn new words and concepts.
  • Georgia’s Talk with Me Baby, a scalable, public action strategy aimed at increasing early exposure to language and public understanding of the primacy of language. This program provides professional development to nurses, the nation’s largest healthcare workforce, who will coach new and expectant parents to deliver “language nutrition” to their kids. With funding from the Greater United Way of Atlanta, this collaborative effort brings together the Georgia Department of Public Health and Department of Education, Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Georgia Tech.
  • The City of Providence’s Providence Talks, which provides members of the Providence community, where two-thirds of kindergarteners enroll below national literacy standards, with home-based caregiver coaching interventions. These interventions harness innovative technologies from the LENA Foundation, including word “pedometers” that record and provide quantitative feedback to caregivers on the number of words spoken and the number of conversations had with children. Providence Talks is hosted by Mayor Taveras of Providence, Rhode Island, and is supported by the Bloomberg Foundation.
  • The University of Chicago, School of Medicine’s Thirty Million Words® Initiative with its tiered intervention approach to optimizing caregiver-child talk at the individual, community, and population levels. Researchers recently received funds from the PNC Foundation to support a five-year longitudinal study of the program’s impact.

To learn more about the Administration’s commitment to early childhood education, click here. Stay tuned for more details on our fall event. And if you’re interested in joining this effort or sharing the great work you’re already doing, email us at wordgap@ostp.gov.

Maya Shankar is Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
 

The Road Often Traveled: My Story of Student Loan Debt

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Dexter L. McCoy discussed college affordability and student loans with Secretary Arne Duncan and Dr. Jill Biden. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Bogalusa, the Louisiana town where I was born, is far from an example of economic success or upward mobility. With high unemployment and abject poverty, education is the only option for individuals who want to move beyond the community.

I was born to a teenage mother who, despite having a child when she was still a child herself, worked hard to achieve more than was expected in Bogalusa. She was fortunate to have hard-working parents who supported her, and she earned a scholarship to attend Louisiana State University. Yet, my mom had to take on the burden of significant student loans. My stepfather, son of a schoolteacher and an electrician, found that he, too, had to take out sizable loans. Years later, I was fortunate that my parents made sacrifices that took me away from Bogalusa to Houston, where I had exposure to more opportunity.

Going to college was seen as mandatory in my family. But, when they looked at just how much higher education would cost, their zeal for sending me to get my degree was dampened. Simply put, the $52,000 in tuition and fees at a university in Boston — a school I loved and wanted to attend — were too much for my parents to pay. Even with a partial scholarship, the education I sought was unaffordable for us. Like many middle-class Americans, my parents did not make enough to pay for my school, out-of-pocket, but earned too much for me to get enough financial aid. So, I had to take out student loans.

I was blessed with parents who helped pay for my education, despite still paying off their own student loans. I was also fortunate to work at on-campus jobs that helped ease the financial burden on my family. It was a lot to manage on top of being very active in campus leadership and having a rigorous course load, but somehow we found a way to make it work.

My time in college did not come without its share of problems, though. I had medical issues arise that required test upon test and numerous hospital visits in search of answers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mounting financial burden became huge: my family was forced to decide if I would get the treatment I needed or continue paying for school. This choice is not one that any family should have to make.

We are told from an early age that college is the commodity necessary to have a stable, solid lifestyle and to be contributing members of society. The reality is, though, that college expenses are so great that many, including me, will have to work that much harder for years to get ahead of the tens of thousands of dollars we’ve had to take out in loans. It is a sobering thought, but one that we must face.

What other choice do we have?

Dexter L. McCoy graduated from college in May 2014. He recently attended a conversation on college affordability with Sec. Arne Duncan and Dr. Jill Biden, where he discussed his experiences with student loan debt.

Focusing on the Needs of Rural Students

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Students Emilea Pitts, John Hall, Amy Brewer, and Braxton Eiserman showcase the technology they use at Sebastian Middle School, a rural school located in Breathitt County, Kentucky. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The National PTA has designated June as the Month of the Rural Child, a time when parents and communities explore ways to become involved and support students in rural schools.

Otha Thornton, President of the National PTA has noted, “Nearly one in four high school students in rural areas won’t graduate. To help address the unique challenges rural schools face and ensure all students graduate and reach their full potential, it is essential that families are engaged and that strong partnerships are built between families, schools and communities.”

For one rural Kentucky school district, technology is helping to create strong partnerships between schools and the community, and federal GEAR UP funds are helping to make this possible. Alonzo Fugate, GEAR UP Academic Specialist for Breathitt County Schools in eastern Kentucky, works with students on a weekly news program using iPads purchased with GEAR UP funds.

“Many of our students do not have access to technology at home, so it is vital that they are able to use it effectively in the schools,” he said. The program, featured on the school website, serves as a source of pride for the students and teachers involved and provides an avenue for parent and community involvement.

Some students are even planning their career paths based on their experiences. Fourteen-year-old Brooke started working with the school news program when she was in fifth grade and has been interested in becoming a news reporter ever since. The iPads also are important to  other class projects. For example, Brooke and another student recently created an app called “Fashion SOS” for a science fair project, which blended their personal interests in the fashion industry with technology, resulting in a unique educational experience.

In the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, students in Breathitt County face the challenges of going to school in rural America: traveling longer distances to get to school, having limited access to technology at home, overcoming geographic isolation, and contending with limited financial and educational resources. Thanks to the introduction of technology in the classroom, students there are now provided with the tools that can help them graduate high school college-and-career ready.

In his recent remarks to the National PTA, Secretary Arne Duncan referenced nearby Leslie County High School in Hayden, Kentucky, as another model of success in rural education. In 2010, it was ranked 224 out of the state’s 230 high schools. Today, the school is ranked 16th in the state and graduates 99 percent of its students thanks to the extraordinary commitment from the leaders and educators who joined forces to turn things around.

“Every student – no matter where they come from, what zip code they live in, or challenges they face – deserves the opportunity to truly learn and succeed,” Secretary Duncan said. That statement rings true this June—during the Month of the Rural Child—and every day.

McKenzie Baecker is an intern in ED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education and is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Recognizing the Importance of Fathers

One out of every three children in America —more than 24 million in total — live in a home without their biological father present, according to a 2012 White House Fatherhood Report. Roughly one out of every three Hispanic children and more than half of African-American children also live in homes without their biological fathers.

The presence and involvement of a child’s parents protect children from a number of vulnerabilities. More engaged fathers — whether living with or apart from their children — can help foster a child’s healthy physical, emotional, and social development. While evidence shows that children benefit most from the involvement of resident fathers, research also has highlighted the positive effect that nonresident fathers can have on their children’s lives.

Recognizing the importance of fathers in children’s physical, emotional, and social development, Shirley Jones, a program specialist in the Department of Education’s regional office in Chicago, partnered with the Detroit Area Dad’s PTA and the Detroit Public School system. Together, they organized the “Dads to Dads” forum at Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern, where 350 men, women, and young adults committed to a day of discussion on how to best support children in their communities.

National PTA President Otha Thornton, one of the speakers at the forum, challenged the parent participants to identify the barriers that prevent them from being more involved in their children’s education and lives. He also talked about finding ways to overcome these barriers and encouraged dads to develop visions for their kids’ futures.

Mentoring programs, support groups, and other resources – such as places of worship, school PTA’s, and local governments – were also presented as places where fathers might turn for support.

Panelist Rev. Dr. James Perkins spoke during the final session and stated, “Your sons and daughters will learn what’s important by what’s important to you.” He stressed that fathers can encourage their children by spending time with them, which will have a lasting impact.

Anna Leach is a confidential assistant for the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.