Cooling Off Summer Melt: From High School Graduation to the First Day on Campus

Having worked tirelessly towards this culminating moment, June is always an exciting time of year for graduating seniors and their families. Filled with college-going tasks and deadlines, the senior year is intense, and students look forward to the brief reprieve of summer. With the bulk of the college-readiness tasks behind them, all that is left for a student to do is attend commencement, update Instagram with a celebratory selfie, and report to college the first day of class, right? Well, not entirely.

Summer is a critical time for college-going seniors and an optimal time to continue to reach out and engage them in the college process. Having access to a rich social network that will continue to advise them on how to navigate their college pathway, remind them of deadlines and tasks, and help them to overcome their barriers over the summer months, is one of the most valuable tools a graduating senior can have. Here are a few resources to consider for your students social network:

  • Educators: Encourage your student to stay connected with school counselors, teachers, administrators, and college advisors over the summer months. School counselors are uniquely trained to help students navigate the college-going process and are a great resource. Some school districts specifically employ school counselors over the summer months to advise and assist seniors with challenges that may arise.
  • Parents/Guardians: Talk with your student often about the college process. Studies show that speaking frequently to your student about college increases the likelihood of enrollment by seven percentage points.
  • Peers: Connect your student with others going to college for the first time or students already enrolled in the college he or she will attend. Peer influence increases the likeliness of enrollment by over 14 percentage points.
  • Colleges & Universities: Link your student with the new learning community early. Most colleges and universities offer programs that connect with students over the summer months. While some do so through social media, reminding them about mandatory deadlines and tasks, others offer in-person programs such as freshman orientation and bridge programs. Contact your student’s admission office and inquire about such opportunities.

I’ve spoken to thousands of students over the years, and when asked who had the greatest influence in their accomplishments, without fail, nine out of ten times, they name a parent or guardian. Your support and encouragement not only inspires them to go to college, but will sustain them through their pursuit of their degree. As a Professional School Counselor, I’ve watched this moment play out in the lives of numerous families. I encourage you to stop, be present, and tell your student how proud you are of them.

Jasmine Mcleod is the 2014 Scholar-in-Residence for the American Counseling Association and Instructional Systems Specialist for  School Counseling & Psychology at DoDEA schools.

#GEARUP Alumni Hector Araujo’s Success Maximized through Educational Partnership

Lacking a strong role model, Hector Araujo’s community told him that an education was not necessary to be successful. He spent his life running races; the only problem is, this race would have led him into the criminal justice system.

That changed, though, when Emily Johnson — a Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) Coordinator from Boise, Idaho — transplanted herself into Hector’s school. He was awe-struck when he found that someone believed in him.

“She has been the greatest factor in my life,” Hector said on stage at the 2014 Building a GradNation Summit hosted by America’s Promise Alliance, before introducing Secretary Arne Duncan. “What is [most] important is that there are people in your life that are going to support you and nurture you to achieve the dreams that God has put in your heart.”

Today, the U.S. Department of Education is announcing the availability of $75 million for two new Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) competitions. The aim of this year’s GEAR UP competition is to improve college fit and readiness, so all students graduate from high school prepared for college without needing remedial courses – a problem for millions of beginning college students each year – and enroll in an institution that will help them maximize their success. This follows up on a commitment the Department made at the White House College Opportunity summit in January to help students achieve the necessary milestones that provide a pathway to college success.

This year’s competition also focuses on projects that are designed to serve and coordinate with a Promise Zone, which are high-poverty communities where the federal government has partnered and invested to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities, and improve public safety. This year’s GEAR UP program also places a priority on helping to improve students’ non-cognitive skills and behaviors, including academic mindset, perseverance, motivation, and mastery of social and emotional skills that improve student success.

Thanks to the GEAR UP grant program, Hector was the first person in his family to graduate from high school and is now pursuing his masters in higher education at the University of Arizona. He wanted to pursue a career in education because of the powerful feeling gained when helping America’s students — especially those who may lack exposure to higher education opportunities. Hector wrote in his GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy biography that “it is critical to let youth know that they are important, beautiful and capable of achieving anything.”

Secretary Duncan agrees. “We have to make sure all of our young people — all of them — have the kind of education that truly prepares them for that future,” he said at this year’s Building a GradNation Summit, adding, “We have to redouble our efforts for those who aren’t even making it to the starting line. Because high school graduation may once have been the finish line, but now it’s the beginning.”

GEAR UP grants currently fund 87 programs across the country that serves approximately 420,000 middle and high school students who often come from historically underserved backgrounds. This program offers the federal government, states, nonprofits, districts and schools an opportunity to partner together to increase these students’ chances for success.

Applications for the state and partnership grants are due by July 7, and grants will be awarded by the end of September. The Department will post further information on the GEAR UP web page.

Michael Lotspeich is an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach and a junior at the University of Illinois-Springfield.

ED Accepting Applications for Fall 2014 Internships Through July 15

interns

The Department of Education (ED) is the place where you can explore your interests in education policy research and analysis, or intergovernmental relations and public affairs, or even work with social media while learning about the role Federal Government plays in education.

If the above appeals to you, then an internship at ED may be right for you. Not only will an internship at ED provide an opportunity to learn first-hand about federal education policy while developing a variety of other skills, including writing, researching, communication and time-management skills, but interns also participate in group intern events, such as brownbag lunches with ED officials, movie nights and local tours. One of the many advantages to an ED internship is the proximity to some of the most historic and celebrated sites in our nation’s capital, all accessible by walking or taking the metro.

ED is accepting applications for Fall 2014 through July 15. If you are interested in interning for the upcoming fall term, there are three materials you must send before being considered for an interview:

  1. A cover letter summarizing why you wish to work at ED and stating your previous experiences in the line of education, if any. Include here what particular offices interest you, keeping in mind that due to the volume of applications received, you may not be awarded with your first-choice office upon acceptance.
  2. An updated resume.
  3. A completed copy of the Intern Application.

Once these three documents are finalized, prospective interns should send them in one email to StudentInterns@ed.gov with the subject line formatted as follows: Last Name, First Name: Fall Intern Application.

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

An internship at ED is one of the best ways a student can learn about education policy and working in the civil service, but it is not limited to this. Your internship at ED is where you will develop crucial workplace skills that will help you in whatever career path you choose, and it is also where you will meet fellow students like yourself, who share your passions for education, learning, and engagement.

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

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

Cities Can’t Wait When it Comes to Early Learning

earlylearning

A remarkable thing is happening. Local leaders in cities across the country are plowing ahead — in some areas, without additional funding from federal or state governments — and making commitments to quality early education. Increasingly, cities are seeing high-quality early learning programs as a way to improve their communities and to become more competitive sites for the high-skills jobs of the future.

I recently visited two very different communities—Dallas and Salt Lake City. Each city is experiencing disparate challenges and moving forward on early learning in a distinctive way, determined, in part, by the preschool policies of each state.

Let’s look at Texas first.

Texas provides preschool to more than 50 percent of its four-year-olds through the Texas Public School Prekindergarten Initiative, launched 30 years ago.  But in Texas, success shouldn’t be measured in quantity, but in quality. Unless the local districts go above state requirements, the quality of early learning programs can be low. No limit is put on class size so one teacher can have 24 four-year olds without an assistant teacher. Additionally many districts must give educators specialized training because the generalist teaching certificate doesn’t adequately prepare teachers for preschool.

Dallas is boldly addressing these challenges by improving the quality of instruction and the reach of the program. Last year school officials realized many eligible children were not signed up for preschool, so the mayor and others, with backing from the Dallas area foundations, launched a public education campaign and have now signed up more than 3,000 of the 4-year-olds who were previously going unserved.

Seeing these efforts in Dallas is heartening, making me hopeful for strengthened preschool across Texas.

Now let’s look at Utah.

If you searched the latest State of Preschool Yearbook for information on the preschool program in Utah, you’d find a page that says, “No Program” because there is no direct state funding for preschool in Utah.

Despite this, Salt Lake County offers a strong preschool program serving many at-risk children.

The Granite School District works with United Way of Salt Lake and Voices for Utah Children to provide preschool services in the 11 schools most impacted by poverty.

The program uses a sustainable financing model (sometimes called Social Impact Bonds) for funding. This model quantifies the cost savings achieved through reduced special education use and reinvests the savings into the preschool program to serve more children in the future. Early results from the Granite School District in Utah are promising, showing both significant cost savings and improved child outcomes. Other districts in the county are using Title I funding to ensure their children get a strong start.

Finally, both Salt Lake and the state have embraced technology as a way to reach more children and families. The Utah Education Network connects all Utah school districts, schools, and higher education institutions to a robust network and quality educational resources. Every Utah teacher, caregiver, and family with a young child has free access to a “Preschool Pioneer Online Library.”

The U.S. Department of Education also recently awarded an i3 grant to expand the reach of UPSTART to children from rural districts in Utah who have traditionally had less access to educational resources.  This at-home school readiness program is designed to provide preschool children with an individualized reading, math, and science curriculum (with a focus on literacy).

Many other cities also are actively promoting early learning: San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland, Kansas City—just to name a few. But cities can’t do this work alone. Nor can states. We need every governmental entity to do more to support early learning, which is why the President proposed his Preschool for All initiative, which would greatly expand services for children from birth to preschool in our nation. As the examples of Salt Lake and Dallas show, cities are moving forward in exciting ways, but they need help to reach all children.

Libby Doggett is the deputy assistant secretary for Policy and Early Learning in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Foster Care Alum: Educators Make a Difference for Foster Youth

Throughout my childhood, school was an oasis from my chaotic home life.  I reveled in learning new concepts and thrived off of the validation my teachers offered me. The classroom was the only place where I received consistent affirmation and felt safe.  When I became a foster child at the age of fifteen, my education became one of my primary concerns. I was afraid that my education would be affected, and my fears were soon confirmed.

My social worker informed me that there were very few foster homes for someone my age, and that it was highly unlikely that I would find a permanent place to stay until I graduated from high school. Changing foster homes frequently would have interfered with my ability to stay at my high school, and I was not willing to give up both a stable family and a stable education. Instead, I learned that a law called the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act would allow me to remain in my high school when living outside of the school district as long as I met the act’s definition of homeless. In Connecticut, foster youth placed in emergency youth shelters receive McKinney-Vento protections, and I chose to live in emergency shelters in order to maintain educational stability.

Although I did not have a physical house to call home, the administration at my high school provided me with the nurturing and stability that I so desperately needed. One staff member that impacted me tremendously was my school social worker, Mrs. Dietter. Whether it was a pep talk over a school lunch or a tearful conversation as I left school to an unpredictable home, Mrs. Dietter constantly validated my fears and instilled within me the belief that I would be victorious over the present life trials. My life circumstances could have easily rendered me a failed statistic, but it was with Mrs. Dietter’s guidance and support that I am the successful and happy adult that I am today. In many ways, I believe she serves as a model for how a school staff member can best serve vulnerable students.

One of the ways that she ensured my success was by offering me “tough love”. While she acknowledged that my home life was reason to be upset, she did not allow me to use my tribulations as reason to perform poorly in the classroom. Mrs. Dietter expected that I strive to achieve excellent grades in every class and that all school work was completed on time. She would be disappointed when I would slack off in the classroom and would remind me that I was a very capable student. At the time, I thought that she was being too harsh but in hindsight I realize that her insistences pushed me to live up to my potential. If she had not pushed me to achieve all that was possible, I would have let myself fail.

Fortunately with the passage of the Fostering Connections Act (FCA) in 2008, Congress recognized the importance of a consistent educational environment for students in foster care. Now youth in foster care are entitled to educational stability, and coordinated efforts by child welfare and local education agencies must be made to keep them in their same school whenever possible. Another helpful provision of the FCA is the ability for states to extend foster care to the age of 21. The extension of services allows foster youth much needed supports as they attend college. I’ve personally benefitted from this provision in the form of tuition assistance and funds to afford housing during academic breaks.

I’ve gone on to become the successful adult that Mrs. Dietter knew I would become.

I graduated from the same high school in which I started, and am currently a junior at Quinnipiac University studying political science and women’s studies. My past challenges have been transformed into a narrative that I use to inform policy as an intern in the House of Representatives.

Though policy is key to improving the lives of vulnerable Americans, legislation is futile without members of the community stepping up to assist those individuals on a personal level. In the case of foster children, educators and school staff are often the only stable adults in that youth’s life, much like how Mrs. Dietter was the only consistent mentor I had throughout high school. Social and emotional learning are as important as core curriculum, and educators can use the relationships with their most vulnerable students as an opportunity to foster moral growth in those children.

Lexie Gruber, 21, is an alumni of foster care, and just finished her junior year as a political science major at Quinnipiac University.

On the heels of National Foster Care Month, the U.S. Department of Education released new guidance today to make it easier for caseworkers, child welfare agencies and tribal organizations responsible for the placement and care of children and youth in foster care to have direct access to their education records. Read more.

Engaging Young Women in an Authentic Mentoring Experience

STEM Mentoring Cafe LogoThis is a cross-post from the Department of Energy’s blog.

It is a well-known fact: The percentage of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines and careers is disproportionate to the amount of men in those same fields. As jobs in the 21st century become more technologically based, it is imperative that capable creative minds from diverse backgrounds integrate themselves into these STEM arenas. From leaders in government and industry who understand the critical shortage of STEM workers (especially females) on the far end of the pipeline to educators of all levels on the near end of the pipeline, there needs to be a concerted effort to bridge the gap between these two seminal points. Enter the STEM Mentoring Café, a unique pilot program in Washington, DC, the brainchild of AnneMarie Horowitz of the Department of Energy and Camsie McAdams of the Department of Education.

The mentoring event, hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, took place on May 19, 2014 from 4:30pm-6:00pm. Thirty female STEM professionals from 16 different government agencies arrived with their “tools of their trade”, ready to interact with eighteen (18) teachers and thirty-eight (38) 5th-8th grade students to share their passion for their STEM careers. The participants assimilated quickly to the “speed-dating” format, with STEM professionals moving from table to table during the five rounds of 10-minute intervals, enabling students and teachers to ask questions and learn about STEM professions during each roundtable discussion.

As a facilitator, I watched the students engage and listened to their well-versed questions from “What is the favorite part of your job?” showing distinct interest in how the professional connected to her job, to “How does that work?’’ exuding excitement and curiosity in the science and engineering aspect of the profession. At each “mini-interview”, the students carefully recorded the mentor’s name, job, cool facts and additional notes in their STEM Mentoring Notebook provided at the event. The collective “vibe” in the room was palpable; the symbiotic relationship of mentors describing what they love to do in their work-life with students’ searching for the jobs that synced with their passions and interests created an incredible buzz—full of smiles and fun throughout. By the end of the event, many of these young women had found their voices and were happy to share their favorite part of the day with the group.

It was a fantastic event in and of itself, and there’s even more. Research shows that female student’s self-concept plays an integral role in choosing a career path. In addition, the more students identify with same-sex experts the more likely they will be to pursue a STEM career. So not only did the STEM professionals attend the event and personally meet the students, they also committed to follow-up mentoring sessions with the teachers and students in the coming school year.

Reluctance to leave an event is typically an indicator of success. That was certainly the case at the STEM Mentoring Event! Students gathered their certificates and slowly made their way to the exits with their teachers, sometimes stopping to chat with their new friends whether a STEM professional or a peer. As the teachers and students left the auditorium, they were given a collection of educational resources from many of the agencies. As the lights dimmed and the last of the guests departed, it was readily apparent that something had changed in the last two hours. It was quiet now but the echoes of the sounds remained, the delightful cadence of bridges being forged and the hope of what would come.

Melinda Higgins is an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at NASA’s Office of Education, Headquarters and Goddard Space Flight Center.

#AskArne: Teaching and Leading

At this year’s National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Teaching and Learning Conference, over 5,000 educators from all 50 states shared in two days of teacher paradise, which included some of the most influential and knowledgeable trailblazers in education. I felt proud to be part of the event and even more proud to witness history in the making.

Watching Secretary Duncan unveil a new initiative titled “Teach to Lead,” I saw heads nodding and smiling. Even though I work at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), hearing that ED is partnering with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to focus on advancing teacher leadership is music to my ears.

But is it really? As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow I have had the opportunity to listen to hundreds of educators the past few months talk about what it means to be a teacher leader. Their responses range from self-initiated teacher leaders, who reach out to help colleagues on a daily basis, to teachers who are excited to take on new roles, but don’t know where to start. Others want to join in but feel they already have too much on their plates.

When I think about the size and scale of an undertaking such as Teach to Lead, it is easy to become cautious, if not skeptical. How we will be able to highlight all of the different types of teacher leadership that occur in schools throughout this country already? How will we even define teacher leadership, given the many forms it may take? How will we involve principals and state and district leaders in a vision of teacher leadership that truly improves education? Will they be willing to share power and rethink structures to create systems for teacher leadership to thrive?

What I am not skeptical about is whether or not teachers will embrace leadership. I have seen firsthand that teacher leadership is alive and well. Monika Johannesen a veteran teacher from Dan Mills Elementary School in Nashville, Tenn., explained that in her 20 years of teaching, not a day has gone by that she hasn’t helped teachers foster their craft. Her ability to collaborate and build relationships within her school has directly impacted the school’s success, and she is viewed by all as a teacher leader.

As the Teach to Lead initiative takes off, I am encouraged that teachers are the ones being called on to help shape it. As Teaching Ambassador Fellows continue to engage with teachers from the field and work with the National Board to engage educators via survey, I am reassured to hear Arne Duncan voice sentiments like these, “Teachers have spoken eloquently about how important it is to have a voice in what happens in their schools and their profession — without leaving the classroom.”

I recently sat down with Secretary Duncan to ask him how @TeachToLead will work, but more importantly how we will maintain the integrity of teacher leadership, without it being just more thing on our plate. Ultimately, creating an initiative by teachers for teachers can and will lead to historic transformative change that will boost student learning and provide a critical next step for the teaching profession as envisioned in the RESPECT blueprint.

I look forward to next year’s National Board conference to see how far we have come and the milestones we “teacher leaders” have accomplished. The road ahead is not an easy one, but it is one worth taking.

Tweet us your ideas @TeachtoLead using the hashtag #TeachToLead.

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

My Brother’s Keeper: Voices of Young Men in Denver

Sometimes, all it takes is an honest conversation to be reminded of the power and courage of so many of our country’s students. Earlier this month, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics convened 10 Hispanic young men from the Denver area to sit down with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Colorado Lt. Governor Joe Garcia, Metropolitan State University (MSU) of Denver President Stephen Jordan, and a few other guests, to have just that – an honest conversation.

The roundtable was held at MSU Denver. The young men were students at MSU Denver or at area high schools, and they shared stories about their lives, the challenges they have faced and overcome, the supports that have helped them through, and the things they believe need to be changed or improved to help more Hispanics and other young men of color succeed.

Many of the high school students are regular participants in activities with Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve educational equity for Denver students. They shared their experiences around issues like school discipline and need for mentorships. In the video below, you’ll see that the conversation was powerful and moving. It provided insight into how we as a society need to support young men of color, and reminded us of the potential that exists in them.

Marco Davis is Deputy Director for the White House Initiatives on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. Learn more at www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper.

How to Make Student Loan Payments Based on Your Income

Maybe you’re just getting out of school and you got a letter from your student loan servicer about repayment, or maybe you read on a blog or in the newspaper about an income-driven repayment plan. Maybe you’re not really sure what they are, how they work, or what they could mean for you. Let me give you the fundamentals.

First, let me explain the naming. “Income-driven repayment” is an umbrella term for three different repayment plans available to those with federal student loans:

Notice how the names of all three plans reference “income” or “earnings”? Well, that’s because, under these plans, your payment amount is based on how much money you make. To really understand the differences between income-driven and “traditional” repayment plans, you must understand how your payment amount is calculated under each type of repayment plan.

How Monthly Payments Are Calculated

“Traditional” repayment plans are those such as the Standard and Extended Repayment plans. These traditionalists take three variables—the interest rate, principal balance, and repayment period—and determine the least amount of money that you can pay each month to pay the loan off by the end of the repayment period (usually 10-25 years, but sometimes as much as 30 years). This means that borrowing more, having a higher interest rate, or having a shorter repayment period will increase your monthly payment (and vice versa). Those three variables are all the traditional repayment plans care about—they don’t care if you can afford that payment, they just want your loan to be paid off within a specific time frame.

Income-driven repayment plans take these variables and stand them on their heads. These plans say, “you’ll pay what you can afford: a percentage of your ‘discretionary income’” (hint: that’s something less than your total income). Depending on the plan, that may be 10%, 15%, or something else. What you ultimately pay depends on the plan you choose and when you borrowed, but in all cases, it should be something you can afford. Sometimes, it can be as low as $0 per month.

Student Loan Forgiveness and the Income-Driven Repayment Plans

Because your payment under the income-driven repayment plans is not calculated to ensure that your loan is paid off within a specific time frame, the plans have another special feature: loan forgiveness. These plans do have a repayment period—20 or 25 years. However, it’s not the point at which your loan must be paid off; instead, it serves as a counter toward loan forgiveness. Under these plans, if your loan is not repaid in full at the end of your repayment period—20 or 25 years—then the remaining balance will be forgiven. Let me be clear: this is not to say that everyone who selects an income-driven repayment plan will receive forgiveness. You may end up paying your loan off in full before you’re eligible for some forgiveness. Because your payment is based on your income, your payment changes when your income rises (or falls). Your income is the “x” factor, and we don’t know what will happen to it in the future. Under these plans, then, you may pay your loan off in full, or not, but the income-driven repayment plans are happy either way.

What else affects whether you will receive loan forgiveness? Well, it’s those familiar variables of loan balance and interest rate. Remember, interest accrues each day on whatever your principal balance is. The income-driven repayment plans do not change this fact. So, even though your payment isn’t related to how much interest is accruing, that interest still accrues and must still be paid before you can pay down the principal balance on your loan. Ultimately, because your payment is less than it would be under another plan and may even be less than the amount of interest that accrues on your loan, then you will pay down your principal balance more slowly and increase the likelihood of receiving loan forgiveness. This also means that your loan will cost you more over time. Does this mean that you shouldn’t choose an income-driven repayment plan? Of course not! But, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t explain that there was some sort of cost to receiving this benefit.

Disclaimers

To be a good bureaucrat, I need to give you a few disclaimers before I wrap this up:

  • If you receive loan forgiveness under an Income-Driven Repayment Plan, it may be considered taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service.
  • The Income-Based and Pay As You Earn Repayment plans both have an eligibility criteria that tests to see whether you “need” to enter the plan—this test checks how much federal student loan debt you have relative to your income.
  • There are loan-based eligibility criteria that I didn’t even mention, but know that these plans are only available for federal student loans—loans made under the Direct Loan and Federal Family Education Loan Programs, to be specific.
  • If you are married, how you file your federal income tax return matters; sometimes it matters a lot.

How to Apply

In closing, let me give you some actionable steps that you can take:

  • Use the Repayment Estimator to model your eligibility and payment amount for an income-driven repayment plan.
  • If you have still questions, call your loan servicer and discuss whether one of these plans is a good fit for you.
  • Apply online at StudentLoans.gov. Because this stuff is complicated, check the box that allows your loan servicer to put you on the income-driven repayment plan with the lowest monthly payment amount. 

The English language was not marred through the use of acronyms in this blog post. Ian Foss has worked for the Department of Education since 2010, and, thanks to the Income-Based Repayment Plan, has been able to eat more than just ramen noodles since he finished school.

6 Things High School Grads Need to Do Before Leaving for College

graduation

Getting ready for your last high school prom and counting down the days till graduation are all you can think about.  Yes, freedom and plans for a fun-filled summer are just around the corner.  Before you know it, you’ll be loading up your belongings in the family minivan and headed off to college.  You’re so ready, right?  Well, maybe not.  Here are some tips for things to do this summer before you head off to college.

Downsize, Get Organized & Learn How to Do Your Own Laundry

You’re not going to be able to take your whole closet and every cherished belonging with you to the dorm.  Start downsizing now and make a list of all the things you’ll need to take with you.  A clean and tidy space will make things a lot more manageable.  Most likely you’ll go home a time or two on break and you can swap out things that you don’t need for things that you do.  But, in between those trips home, you’ll need to learn how to do laundry.  Those whites can turn into some interesting colors and transform into a smaller size if you don’t know your way around a washer and dryer.

Understand Your Financial Situation

Each family’s situation is different – make sure you understand what your family may or may not be able to contribute.  You should’ve already applied for financial aid.  If not, you need to complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ASAP!  Make sure you list on the application the school code of the college you plan to attend so your information is sent to that school.  If you still haven’t decided it’s best to list any school you think you may attend.  The financial aid office will then notify you of any financial aid you might be eligible for.  Know what each of those types of aid is and in what order you should accept them.  Visit StudentAid.gov for information on planning and paying for college.  Do you have enough money to pay for school?  Will you need to work part-time?  Make a budget and know what you can spend on certain things.

Get a Good Calendar and Prepare for a Whole New World of Time Management

One of the biggest challenges for a lot of you will be time management. When you head off to college, you won’t have somebody there to wake you up, make you breakfast and send you out the door in clean clothes with completed homework in hand.  Set yourself up early with a class schedule (make a course syllabus your new best friend) and a system that works for you.  You need to know deadlines for registration, papers, financial aid, coursework and everything in between.  Your chance of succeeding academically will rapidly evaporate if you don’t manage your time well.  You’re worth the investment – manage it well.

Craft a Good Resume and Learn How to Network

No, don’t wait until you’re approaching college graduation to write a cover letter and resume, you need one now.  Having a compelling and professional resume and cover letter is vital to applying for part-time jobs, internships, etc.   You might want to also consider changing your email address.  Employers probably won’t be impressed with an email address like justheretoparty@XXmail.com.  Work experience can be just as important as good grades when looking for jobs after college graduation.   Internships not only provide you with knowledgeable experiences in your field, but they also provide great networking opportunities.  Don’t settle in and nest, put yourself out there and go to as many networking events as possible.

Embrace Coupons and Master the Art of a Good Deal

Another difficult thing to learn is skipping those unnecessary splurges.  Yes, I know it’s all about YOLO but you need to embrace BOGO.  Coupons aren’t just for stay at home moms anymore.  Scoring deals whether in newspapers, magazines or with online sites like Groupon and Living Social it’s easier than ever.  But don’t get so caught up in the deals that you buy vouchers for and you don’t end up using.  That can cost rather than save you money.  Save those splurges for when you score a great “Buy One Get One” free or other greatly discounted offer.    Ask about student discounts and if available a studentadvantage card.  Start practicing this summer.  It’ll impress your friends and it’ll be a little more money in your pocket when you get to campus.  Another great way to save money is buying used textbooks rather than new.  Search sites like bigwords.com, Amazon, and TextbooksRUs to name a few.  If you buy new and then resell them back to the college bookstore check online sites first for what they’re worth.  College bookstore buy back rates are sometimes as low as 10% of what you paid for it new.  Lots of students are also now renting textbooks on sites like chegg.com.

Learn How to Keep You and Your Things Safe

Yes, you need to remember to lock your dorm room and place that lock on your laptop.  Losing your laptop can wreak havoc on your studies and a theft due to an unlocked door can also ruin your relationship with your roommate.  Start practicing being more aware of your surroundings and keeping yourself safe.  Program your school’s campus security number into your phone.  You never know when you might need it.  Safety also applies to protecting your social security number, PIN and passwords.  Your social security number is one of the main identifiers when checking on things like financial aid, grades, and registering for classes.  Make sure all your passwords and important numbers are not on a post-it-note on your desk.  Store them in a secure place.  Not protecting your identity and important information can have lasting long-term effects on your ability to get a job and apply for credit.

Congratulations on a job well done and making the decision to advance your education!

Susan Thares is the digital engagement lead for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. 

How Teacher Shadowing Benefits ED Employees

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Diana Schneider, an education program specialist at ED, engages with a student at H.D. Cooke Elementary in Washington D.C. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

I recently had the privilege to visit H. D. Cooke Elementary School in Washington, D.C.  The school has a population of 398 students with 44% English Language Learners (ELLs). I was shadowing Flora Lerenman, a 3rd grade English as Second Language (ESL) teacher.

Our morning started off with meeting with the instructional coach for literacy. The teachers shared their schedules to make sure the coach has the opportunity to watch and support all the teachers during the coming weeks. It was incredible to see the support and the resources available to the teachers that help them ensure the academic success of their students.

Furthermore, the success of any teacher comes from ongoing professional development, as well as the support and mentoring from the administrators. In the National Professional Development program within Office of English Language Acquisition, one of our goals is to improve instruction to ELLs and assist educational personnel working with these students to reach high professional standards. The team collaboration, support, and mentoring at H. D. Cooke Elementary was an example of supportive implementation as a team.

Without skipping a beat, Flora moved on to co-teaching writing with another 3rd grade teacher. They were focusing on synthesizing students’ biography research into original pieces. I was able to work with students in a small group.  The teacher, Ms. Rytter, was very welcoming and it was very encouraging to see that Flora is considered part of the class when it came to working with the students.

Next, Flora took some 3rd grader ESL students to the ESL classroom to provide guided reading instruction in small groups. She had three different reading level groups, comprised of students from different 3rd grade classrooms. This coordination was done on Flora’s own time, without any breaks.

The most memorable experience of the day was with one of the groups, which was reading the book I Hate English by Ellen Levine. This book was perfect in a class where English is the majority of the students’ second language, and the students could connect and relate to the story.

Having been through the acculturation process myself as a 6th grader, I found that I really related to the character in the story, as well as the students reading the book. I saw myself in those students and hoped my presence provided an encouragement.  Not only was I able to share my own stories with the students as an ELL, I was able to share and show students the Chinese language. It was wonderful to see the excitement in the students’ faces.  Even during lunch duty with Flora students were still asking how to say things in Chinese.

As a federal employee at the U.S. Department of Education, I often think about how we can support our teachers and allow them to maintain their passion and commitment to inspiring future generations. Teachers delight in the success of their students and I know that for so many their internal motivation is to help and grow each student that enters into the classroom.  We need to have more open dialogue and opportunities, such as this experience, in order for us to better support and provide resources to the educators to do the job that they are passionate about and committed to.

Diana Schneider is an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education.

5 Ways to Pay Off Your Student Loans Faster

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The first thing people say when they find out where I work: “Can you delete my student loans for me?”

If only I had that power. Just like many of you, I am a student loan borrower. Each month, my federal student loan servicer, withdraws my $381.35 student loan payment from my bank account and I still cringe every time. (Do you know how many pairs of shoes I could buy with that money?) Point is, I understand what you’re going through.

That said, there are manageable ways to pay off your student loans faster than you had planned and save yourself money by doing so!

Here are some ideas:

  1. Pay Right Away Even though you’re usually not required to, consider making student loan payments during your grace period or while you’re still in school. If you’re short on cash, consider at least paying enough each month to cover the amount of interest you’re accruing. That way your interest doesn’t capitalize and get added to your principal balance. Not doing this was one of the biggest mistakes I made with my student loans.
  2. Sign up for Automatic Debit If you sign up for automatic debit, your student loan servicer will automatically deduct your student loan payment from your bank account each month. Not only does this help ensure that you make payments on time, but you may also be able to get an interest rate deduction for enrolling. Contact your loan servicer to see if your loan is eligible for this benefit.
  3. Pay More than Your Minimum Payment Even if it’s $5 a month!  Paying a little extra each month can reduce the interest you pay and reduce your total cost of your loan over time. If you want to ensure that your loan is paid off faster, make sure you tell your loan servicer that the extra amount you’re paying is not intended to be put toward future payments. If given the option, ask your servicer if the additional payment amount can be allocated to your higher interest loans first.
  4. Use Your Tax Refund One easy way to pay off your loan faster is to dedicate your tax refund to paying off some of your student loan debt. Part of the reason you may have gotten a refund in the first place is because you get a tax deduction for paying student loan interest. Might as well be smart about the way you spend it.
  5. Seek Out Forgiveness and Repayment Options There are a number of situations under which you can have your federal student loan balance forgiven. There are forgiveness and repayment programs for teachers, public servants, members of the United States Armed Forces, and more. Most of these programs have very specific eligibility requirements, but if you think you might qualify, you should definitely do some research. Also, research whether your employer offers repayment assistance for employees with student loans. There are many who do!

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid. She is scheduled to finish repaying her student loans in 2021, but is hoping that by taking her own advice, she will finish much faster.