Unique Mentoring Program Helps Students Build Confidence and Learn Valuable Skills

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Student athletes from Urban Squash spoke with Secretary Duncan about how they can use sports for leadership development and academic success.

Recently, ED invited student athletes from Urban Squash to speak about how they can use sports for leadership development and academic success. The organization is a youth development program that combines the sport of squash with academics, mentoring, community service, and college placement for public school students in under-served communities.

Unanimously, the students expressed that being involved in the sport has made them more confident to speak up, taught them what it means to respect and help each other as a team and inspired them to make changes in their community. They also spoke about the difference it made to their academic and personal growth and how empowering it was to be part of something, “larger than ourselves.”The student athletes encouraged everyone – regardless of neighborhood or background – to get involved with community building opportunities inside and outside of school. These activities are not limited to sports teams. They identified programs in their neighborhoods geared to support youth such as non-profit organizations, community service, internships and even employment opportunities.

While most of these programs welcome students with open arms, the students acknowledged the challenge that often goes along with finding out about these opportunities. To promote accessibility and diversity in these programs, they recommended expanding outreach to a more diverse population.. As a sport that is still largely outside the mainstream, the issues of awareness and diversity are even more pressing in squash.

Ultimately, these afterschool associations serve as a cultural program to connect different students and inspire them to advance their goals. It also gives them a chance to learn from each other by working in a team with diverse backgrounds and interests. Program participants are committed to making the most out of these educational opportunities – both on and off the court – to better themselves and their communities. As one student explained, “We are student athletes but the student part comes first”Squash is an indoor racket sport played by more than 15 million people in 153 countries. Until recently, it was played almost exclusively at prep schools, elite colleges, and exclusive clubs in the United States. Thanks in large part to programs like Urban Squash the sport has become more popular in recent decades. Because of its strong link to top-tier educational institutions, it has become an effective after-school program “hook.”

Hannah Pomfret was a 2015 summer intern at the U.S. Department of Education.

Young Native Americans Share School Culture Experiences with Secretary Duncan

During the session, students discussed the importance of school culture. (U.S. Department of Education)

During the session, students discussed the importance of school culture. (U.S. Department of Education)

While many students face challenges when it comes to growing up and pursuing academic success, Native American and Alaskan Native youths are more likely than most of their peers to experience poverty and trauma, and to drop out of high school. Their school environment has a significant role in their development.

This is just one of the reasons why ED recently invited 15 young Native Americans to attend a Student Voices Session with Secretary Duncan.

This session was also a capstone to ED’s first-ever School Environment Listening Tour, a nine-city tour in seven states designed to identify the impact of school environment on young Native Americans.

During the session here at ED, the students expressed their great need for cultural and personal support.

“When native students have a space for cultural continuity in an educational setting, they are tremendously more successful,” commented Laree, a Lakota and Oglala undergraduate student from Wisconsin.

Blue and Kele, siblings from Oklahoma, are members of the Cherokee Nation and of Osage and Choctaw descent. They stressed the significance of their participation in Operation Eagle, a cultural and community group for native youths. Despite the existence of programs like this, however, they highlighted the fact that education about their culture needs to extend beyond their native community.

Blue recalled from one community event that, “volunteers came in wearing headdresses and paint on their faces … one kid had a Halloween costume of a native American. … They need to teach the kids that not everyone has a headdress; you have to earn everything … I just think it would be better to have them learn.”

Autumn, a high school student from the Pokagan Band of Potawatomi Indians, described a similar experience. Her high school mascot is the chieftain – an offensive Native American caricature – and the derogatory term “wahoo” is used for the yearbook and school dances. While these harmful images had caused many of her native friends to lose interest in school or drop out, Autumn said that she couldn’t really be mad. “It’s not [non-native students’] fault – they’ve been programmed to think we are savages by the history they’re taught.” Autumn agreed that a more inclusive history should be taught to all students.

This Student Voices session was a capstone to ED’s first-ever School Environment Listening Tour, a nine-city tour in seven states designed to identify the impact of school environment on young Native Americans. (U.S. Department of Education)

This Student Voices session was a capstone to ED’s first-ever School Environment Listening Tour, a nine-city tour in seven states designed to identify the impact of school environment on young Native Americans. (U.S. Department of Education)

When Secretary Duncan asked the students about how to increase college access and make learning relevant for Native American and Alaskan Native youths, they opened up with recommendations that included cultural programs, tutors and career counselors, more accurate history curricula, and increased college affordability. There was consensus among the students that creating a supportive school culture should start with principals and teachers modeling culturally sensitive behaviors.

Referring to the need for recognition of Native culture within schools, Benton, of the Jicarilla Apache tribe, the youngest of the group at only six years old, concluded, “It matters, my tribe is important.”

This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department through which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.

Samuel Ryan is a Special Assistant and Youth Liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Student Voices Session: Shining a Spotlight on Native Youth in Foster Care

Youth from every ethnicity and population group experience challenges. American Indian and Alaska Native youth in the foster care system often also must contend with a disconnection from their tribal communities and cultures.

On Dec. 8th, I attended a Student Voices session at the White House hosted by the Department of Education (ED) and Department of Interior. During this time, I witnessed the Obama Administration turn a corner on an issue that is too often invisible to the general public and politicians – understanding the plight of Native youth in foster care.

Fifteen current and former foster care youth representing American Indian and Alaska Native nations from across the United States sat down with Secretaries Arne Duncan and Sally Jewell/ (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Blog author Seanna Pieper-Jordan (far right) joined fourteen other current and former foster care youth representing American Indian and Alaska Native nations from across the United States in a discussion with Secretaries Arne Duncan and Sally Jewell. (Photo credit: Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Fifteen current and former foster care youth representing American Indian and Alaska Native nations from across the United States sat down with Secretaries Arne Duncan and Sally Jewell at the event to discuss the unique struggles that Native youth face.

They all courageously shared stories of survival before entering foster care and of a heartbreaking desire to remain connected to their tribes when placed in foster homes far from their tribal communities. For me, their stories and my own share a key message — take us away from our homes and our culture, and you take us away from our identity and our drive to achieve.

After the meeting, Secretary Duncan asked how ED could help improve academic achievement and the well-being of Native youth in the foster care system.

With 566 federally recognized tribes—each with its own history, language and customs—no one curriculum plan or program can adequately provide the needed emotional, cultural and academic support for all Native youth. Fortunately, numerous tribes and tribal organizations desire a chance to partner with the government to improve the situation. My hope is that new tribal partnerships – specifically for American Indian and Alaska native foster youth – could make schools a safe and trusted alternative to the turmoil these students often encounter outside the school environment.

For me, school was my only haven, allowing me a few hours each day to forget the abuse and neglect I suffered in my most formative years. But, unfortunately, my educational experience is not the norm. My teachers did not address my behavioral problems, frequent absences from school, and lack of foundational skills, such as phonics, because I was always the brightest student in class. I also had thick skin to the racism I experienced in public school. Being Native Hawaiian, as well as American Indian, enabled me to attend Kamehameha Schools, a K-12 boarding-and-day institution that immerses students in Native Hawaiian culture. Kamehameha became my advocate, protector and family. Eventually, my school counselor became my foster mother.

I know firsthand that educational institutions can be not only a source of academic and emotional support for all students with unfortunate circumstances at home, but also a place of cultural opportunity for American Indian and Alaska Native youth disconnected from their tribal communities. So, I am happy to say that my time at the White House and with Secretaries Duncan and Jewell has shown me that the Administration is searching for new ways to improve the lives of Native foster youth. And, more personally, it showed me that people do care about what happens to the invisible.

Seanna Pieper-Jordan is a former foster care youth of Native Hawaiian and American Indian (Blackfeet) descent. She graduated from Yale University with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Sociology in 2013 and Kamehameha High School with honors in 2008. She currently works as a public policy specialist in Washington, D.C.

Doing it for Me: A U.S. Department of Education Documentary Screening and Panel Discussion on Personal Struggle and Supporting Youth

School dropouts are saddled with so many preconceptions. The popular narrative is that they are either lazy, they give up, or they simply don’t want to go to school.

To many students who decide to leave middle or high school, these stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth.

Recently, the student-produced documentary Doing it for Me was screened at ED’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. The audience was given an intimate look into the personal story of D.C. high school dropout Precious Lambert, and learned how she got back on track and helped her two best friends – Victoria Williams and Jessica Greene – navigate tough life-altering decisions.

Before an audience of ED staff and policy makers, panelists gave examples of how both the arts and the concern of teachers for their students can promote successful learning. (Photo credit: Meridian Hill Pictures)

Before an audience of ED staff and policy makers, panelists gave examples of how both the arts and the concern of teachers for their students can promote successful learning. (Photo credit: Meridian Hill Pictures)

Following the screening, Leah Edwards, the film’s co-director; Jessica Greene, who is featured in the film; Maureen Dwyer, executive director of Sitar Arts Center; and former high school dropout and current alternative school student Cristian A. Garcia Olivera, participated in the panel discussion. Before an audience of ED staff and policy makers, they gave examples of how both the arts and the concern of teachers for their students can promote a successful learning environment.

Despite being in the top 2 percent of her high school class, Jessica lacked relationships with her teachers. “It was up to me to drive myself,” she explained. She believed there was a major problem in her education due to poor communication between students and teachers, and discovered that the only way to get back on track was to take personal responsibility.

Jessica found an outlet and a path to success at Sitar Arts Center, a local organization that advances life skills for underserved youth through holistic arts programs. Though she often denied her feelings at home, Jessica said, “At Sitar I could be me; I could let loose.”

Through the work of Sitar Arts Center, Maureen was able to show how the arts are essential to critical and creative thinking — and how arts education can help students at risk of dropping out persevere beyond school. This aligns with the National Endowment for the Arts research that show students with low socioeconomic status perform better when they are engaged in the arts, and are two times more likely to enroll in four-year colleges.

Christian said that when teachers show an interest in their students it can make a huge impact on their lives. He dropped out of his traditional school and is currently (and happily) enrolled in an alternative school. “At alternative schools the teachers are really nice. The classes are really small, with only 20 kids per class, and . . . teachers teach you in a way to get to know you better,” he said.

Getting a second chance can make all the difference in the world for students like Precious, Victoria, Jessica and Christian. An audience member summed up his understanding of the film’s powerful message: “If you’ve made the bad choice, you can still fix it.”

Watch the entire discussion on ED Stream.

This event was a part of the ED Youth Voices Policy Briefing Session program, aimed at providing U.S. Department of Education staff and stakeholders with student perspectives on educational policy issues.

Samuel Ryan is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Secretary Duncan Hears From Veterans on Challenges to College Success

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Secretary Duncan recently met with student veterans. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

How do we as a country provide supports on college campuses for veterans and ensure they have access to high-quality education at an affordable price? This question helped focus a Student Voices Session that recently took place with Secretary Duncan in Washington, D.C. The goal of the conversation was to understand the issues student veterans face, identify institutions of higher education that are providing comprehensive supports, and take action at the local, state, and federal levels.

The Obama administration is encouraging institutions to sign on to the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success, a voluntary initiative through the Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs by which colleges and universities can support veterans as they pursue their education and employment goals. Already, over 1,000 schools have signed on to support service members in transitioning to higher education, completing their college programs, obtaining career-ready skills, and building toward long-term success.

Abby Kinch, a current Florida State University (FSU) student and former Air Force Cryptologic Linguist, spoke about FSU’s Veterans Center, which provides veterans with a one-stop shop for on-campus support and a place to enhance their development as student leaders. Many of the students in attendance were impressed by the resources available for veterans at FSU and said they would like to see them replicated in their colleges and universities.

Franchesca Rivera, a former Marine and current Art Institute of Washington student and certifying official, passionately spoke about the need for transparency with regard to the cost of college, what the GI Bill will actually cover, and what student veterans should expect to pay. Rivera mentioned that, while most schools serving veterans have a dedicated VA certifying official, the people in this position have a high level of turnover and therefore it is hard to get accurate information.

Veterans Affairs Undersecretary Allison Hickey responded that the VA partially covers the school’s reporting costs and that her office will look into how these positions are trained to ensure certifying officials have the knowledge needed to assist veterans pursuing higher education. Additionally, she notes that the VA has just released a more robust GI Bill Comparison Tool, which will help students find the best programs that fit their needs.

As the secretary was discussing follow-up opportunities, Samuel Innocent, a senior at the City College of New York, suggested that the Student Veterans of America and other student-led veterans’ chapters could create a nationwide student survey to provide tangible feedback on schools’ services for veterans, and on state and federal assistance programs. The goal of the survey would be to strengthen what works and re-tool programs that are not having desired outcomes for meeting veterans’ needs.

This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department in which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies. 

Samuel Ryan is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Students Who Have Beaten the Odds Share Their Stories with the Secretary

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Secretary Duncan and members of the most recent Student Voices session. From left to right: Darius Wesley, Jordan Roberts, Juan Montano, Rachel Scott, Michella Raymond, Deja Chapman, Tenzin Choenyi, Julia Jent, Kristen Fraenig, Anthony Mendez, and Dr. Freeman Hrabowski (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The move from middle school to high school is exciting for some students, but can be incredibly difficult for others. Some students require intensive support to stay on the path to graduation, and that support can take many different forms.

That was the sentiment expressed by Secretary Arne Duncan during a recent session of Student Voices, where young people from across the country gather and chat with senior ED staff about what it’s like to be a student in America today.

Darius was one of the 10 students who attended and, for him, this transition was almost insurmountable. His mother suffered a severe stroke and went into a deep coma during his freshman year of high school, forcing him and his siblings to move to the far south side of Chicago. On top of coping with the emotional and physical strain of his mother’s condition, because he was forced to move, he had to wake up at 4 a.m. to get to school every day, and he often stayed late for basketball practice, which took a toll on his academics. He explained, “tiredness grew over me and teachers berated me for not paying attention in class. I didn’t want to let my mother down, and as I felt alone in this situation, basketball was my stress reliever.” His coach noticed that Darius needed more support, so he offered to give him rides to school and eventually invited him to live with him. After a few months with his coach he moved in with a friend and this experience altered the course of his life.

Darius will be attending Southern Vermont College in the fall, where he has received a Mountaineer Scholarship.  Darius has become empowered to take control of his future knowing that he can overcome any obstacles he may encounter in college. Darius still continues to struggle to keep his family together but feels his success is what’s needed to keep them all together.

Rachel, a student from Washington State, told Secretary Duncan that as one of five children growing up on a farm, she also faced seemingly insurmountable challenges.

After losing her mother, she moved into the foster care system. Rachel told Duncan that “constant moving created gaps in my learning. I can do advanced math, but because of the lapses in primary education, some of the basic middle school stuff troubles me.” Luckily, she explained, she was able to eventually stay with her aunt, who became her main source of support. Once she settled into life with her aunt, things changed. During her high school career, she took advanced placement math and sciences and worked twenty hours a week at her family’s restaurant. This fall, she will attend the University of Washington to study Marine Biology and Ocean Sciences.

After hearing from several other students, Secretary Duncan then asked all of the attendees to think about who or what helped them to beat the odds and graduate high school. The students agreed that strong mentors and role models, high expectations, and relevant college information made the strongest impacts.

Do you have a unique story to tell? We would like to hear made a difference in your life and education or for the youth in your community. Please send your story to youth@ed.gov.

This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department, in which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies

Samuel Ryan is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Duncan Invites Student Feedback on College Access and Affordability

Student Voices Session

Students from the Washington, DC, metro area met with Secretary Duncan to discuss college access and affordability.

At a recent convening at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan turned to a group of student experts for answers to the college accessibility, affordability, and completion challenges America faces today. The 15 high school and college students – who brought their firsthand knowledge to the Student Voices session from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania — identified key improvements to the college application process throughout a conversation with Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Martha Kanter.

While the national conversation often focuses on the cost of college courses, books, and housing, one student said that expenses begin before setting foot on a college campus. “I’ve already spent a lot of money just applying to colleges,” said the student.

Another student said that the Department should standardize and publicize fee waivers so that students know waivers exist and apply for them.

The Secretary said that most students who fill out the FAFSA apply to just one school. “We have the best [higher education] system in the world and we think [students] should have choices,” said Duncan. “How do we get more students to comparison shop?”

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Higher Education Student Leaders Talk Policy with Arne

During the recent State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) meeting in Washington D.C., the focus was on high-level strategies and ideas. However, not too far away, there was a lesser-known meeting between Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and 17 college student leaders from across the country who were nominated by SHEEO members to meet with the Secretary.

The students were comprised of State Boards of Education representatives, state-wide student government association presidents, and campus leaders like Ryan Campione, an industrial engineering major and Student Government Association President at West Virginia University, and Alice Schneider, a senior at Texas A&M College Station and a student representative on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Overall, these students ensure that their peers have a voice in education both at the institution and the statewide level.

During the meeting, the dialogue and policy recommendations were astounding, with Secretary Duncan noting that when he was the students’ age, “I wasn’t thinking about these complex policy issues. We need these innovative and creative ideas that students design.” The policy recommendations from the students included:

  • Ensure work study correlates to a student’s concentration area or public service.
  • As ED looks to make college more affordable, they should look into Oregon’s proposal to allow students to attend college tuition-free and debt-free but sign a contract pledging to pay to the State of Oregon or their institution a set percentage of their income for a set number of years.
    • Rethink the way Federal financial aid is disbursed, because many students are looking at school year round especially during the summers. Specifically allow students to plan their courses for the year, including summer, and allow them to decide where to allocate their aid. Additionally, disburse payouts in a two weekly format rather than a lump sum, because students can better manage their funds in small installments.

Towards the end of the session, two adult learners spoke up to Department of Education Senior Policy Advisor Leigh Arsenault when she probed further about ways to personalize the FAFSA. Lisa Latour, a non-traditional student at Towson University suggested, “Change the way FAFSA is calculated; specifically look into ways of ‘personalizing’ the form to include other metrics that are attached to an IRS form, for example mortgage an credit card debt.” Latour went on to suggest that ED could look into using IRS information to tailor a personalized holistic view of a person’s true economic value and it would better describe their financial need.

As the meeting came to a close, the students were energized and looked to keep the dialogue going, and Duncan relayed his commitment to having student voices integrated into the policy dialogue at the Department of Education.

Watch the video below for more about this meeting, and sign up to receive email updates from ED’s youth liaisons.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Samuel Ryan is special assistant to the assistant secretary and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Adult Learners Share Stories of Personal Triumph

The inspiration for Alma Miller to obtain her GED started with a simple statement from her youngest son: “Mom I challenge you to finish your GED.”

Attaining the GED would be no easy feat for this mother of four who dropped out of school when she was sixteen. Fortunately for Alma, her children stepped up and volunteered to tutor her in preparation for the exam.

Today, Alma Miller is a proud GED  recipient but most importantly, she’s an inspiration to her children, just as much as they are an inspiration to her.

Miller is one of eleven adult learners who recently met with Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier at the Department of Education (ED) to share their stories and make recommendations on how ED can improve services offered to adult learners.

Dann-Messier acknowledged that these adults face many barriers to success in the labor market. Some of the barriers she cited were: a lack of a high school diploma, no postsecondary degree or training, and an inability to speak, read, and write English well.

Each of the adult learners at our recent meeting displayed a tremendous amount of courage in order to overcome the odds associated with returning to school as adults, but what is more laudable is the strength they found in their families and in support organizations.

“I was an honor roll student in high school, but I just kind of lost my way,” said Shamika Hall, the state vice-president for the Delaware Career Association.

Hall lost her sister to an act of senseless gun violence, a devastating tragedy that altered her life’s course. She credits her family and the James H. Grove Adult High School in Wilmington, Del., for helping her get back on track. Watch Hall tell her story below:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Secretary Duncan said that he was inspired by each of the adult learners resilience and tenacity. “It’s pretty remarkable to hear not just where you’ve been but how far you’ve come, and most importantly, where each of you are going,” he said.

Before the meeting concluded, Reuben Holguin, an ex-gang member and convicted felon, showed Secretary Duncan his inmate ID. He said that even though he acquired his GED, completed college courses and changed his life around, he will always carry his inmate ID with him to remind him just how far he’s come.

The adult learners who stopped by ED were in town to attend VALUEUSA’s National Adult Learner Leadership Institute, and Dann-Messier thanked VALUEUSA, the only national literacy organization governed and operated by current and former adult learners for helping to organize the meeting with Secretary Duncan.

This fall, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will release the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The goal of PIAAC is to assess and compare the basic skills and the broad range of competencies of adults ages 16-65 around the world. PIAAC covers 23 countries, including the United States. OECD will also release a country report specific to the U.S. to accompany the data release. The report will identify policy implications for improving the skills of adults in the U.S.

De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Youth Succeed with Great Educators, Help from ED

Think back to that moment when you decided to pursue your dream. Who influenced your decision? A mentor? A parent? Or maybe a friend? For many people, their moment was sparked by an educator.

Earlier this month, the Department of Education (ED) welcomed four individuals to participate in an ‘ED Youth Voices’ panel discussion that introduced students, teachers, and communities to the policies and programs that the four youth credit with helping them succeed.

Let us introduce you to these inspiring individuals:

Student speaking

Linda Moktoi, senior at Trinity Washington University

Meet Linda Moktoi. As a current senior at Trinity Washington University, Moktoi is proud to say she’ll be achieving her dream of graduating college in just a few short weeks.  “I chose to pursue knowledge over ignorance,” she said. Moktoi did so with the financial support provided by Pell Grants from ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Moktoi’s grace, confidence, and determination shined through and will no doubt lead her to succeeding her next dream of becoming a news broadcaster.

 

 

Student speaking about GEAR UP program

Nicholas Robinson, junior at Potomac High School

Meet Nicholas Robinson. An enthusiastic junior at Potomac High School (Oxon Hill, Md.), spoke of how the early awareness college prep program GEAR UP, changed his “mind & heart” in 8th grade about whether to go to college. “Before I got involved in GEAR UP, I didn’t think I was going to college, but they were always asking me what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be.” That extra support and guidance has helped Nicholas stay on track to graduate and focus on his future goals.

 

Educator speaking about IDEA Act

Scott Wilburn, teacher at Pulley Career Center

Meet Scott Wilbur. As a current teacher and former student that struggled with learning disabilities, Wilbur shed light on how programs funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) helped him as a student and continues to help him serve others with disabilities as a teacher at the Pulley Career Center in Alexandria, Va. “IDEA provided me with access to support, helped me graduate college,” Wilbur said. Each year the IDEA Act helps thousands of students with disabilities receive support to assure success in the classroom and that they have the tools needed for employment and independent living in the future.

Student speaking about School Improvement Grants

Carl Mitchell, senior at Frederick Douglass High School

Meet Carl Mitchell. Carl is just one of the many students that have benefited from the recent changes at Frederick Douglass High School spurred in part by an ED School Improvement Grant (SIG) which has helped turnaround their school and provide a better learning environment for students. Mitchell, a bright college bound senior who also doubles as the school mascot (Go Mighty Ducks!), attested to the sense of community that is fostered at Frederick Douglass. When asked what motivates him, he responded by saying “It’s not just about getting the degree for me, it’s for all the people that helped me. I owe them and don’t want to let them down.” An aspiring graphic designer, Mitchell will be the first in his family to attend college. His support team, including his principal, teachers, and peers joined him at ED as he proudly represented the Douglass community.

Linda, Nicholas, Scott, and Carl are just four of the millions of students and educators that are able to achieve their dreams with the help of great educators and federal programs from the Department of Education. Little do these individuals know though, that by sharing their story they are following in the footsteps of those who inspired them, and are inspiring us.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Our next ED Youth Voices Policy Briefing Session will include students reforming education at the local level: teacher evaluations, DREAM act, school safety and more. Watch the session live on June 27th from 10-11:30am at edstream.ed.gov. 

The Time is Now: Students Talk School and Community Safety with Secretary Duncan

Duncan meets with students

Secretary Duncan talks with students about school safety as part of his ongoing Student Voices Series. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

The fight to end the school-to-jail track and reestablish restorative justice practices is personal for Jasmine Jauregui, a youth organizer from the Youth Justice Coalition.

“I have a family with a history of incarceration. My father is serving a life sentence at the moment and I don’t feel comfortable around [school resource] officers.”

Jauregui is just one of a number of students who recently met with Secretary Arne Duncan and David Esquith, director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS), at the Department of Education to discuss school safety. The students, who work to break down silos and make their schools and communities safer, represented coalition members of the Alliance for Educational Justice (AEJ), the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) and Padres y Jovenes Unidos (Parents & Youth United).

One day before the students met with Secretary Duncan, they participated in a rally on Capitol Hill calling on Congress to implement positive approaches in response to gun violence and address the impact of school safety policies.

Secretary Duncan applauded the students’ efforts to make their voices heard to lawmakers and was interested in hearing some of the alternative recommendations they’ve developed.

“Rather than promote more school resources officers (SROs) in schools, we want school administrators to promote positive measures such as positive behavior intervention and restorative justice,” said Yuki Diaz, a youth organizer of Padres y Jovenes Unidos via video teleconference.

Other students agreed, saying that they felt their schools needed an increased presence in guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists.

Secretary Duncan said that he believes each school is unique and should have the flexibility to choose school resource officers or social workers and counselors in order to prevent violence.

Padres y Jovenes Uniodos recently reached a historic partnership with the Denver’s police department and school district that limits the role of police in schools. The organization is hoping that their interagency agreement will be used as a model for other urban schools confronted with alarming rates of misconduct and violence.

The Department of Education has already provided technical aid to help nearly 18,000 schools implement evidence-based strategies to improve school climate. “One of the things that the President is proposing is a new $50 million initiative to scale up positive behavioral interventions and supports,” said David Esquith.

Other youth activists such as Nicole Cheatom of the Baltimore Algebra Project said that it shouldn’t have taken the tragedy at Sandy Hook to build momentum on school and community safety. She cited that a school shooting occurred last year at Perry Hall high school in Baltimore, and that it didn’t receive national attention.

Earlier this month, ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students awarded more than $35,000 to the Baltimore, County, Md., high school. The Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) grant will assist with ongoing recovery efforts.

Christina Cathey, a youth activist and college student at Tugaloo College said that she hopes the Department continues to support alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment and push out in schools. She said that ED’s leadership can serve as a catalyst at the local-level.

Click here to read the President Obama’s plan to make our schools safer.

Click here to read the students’ joint issue briefing.

De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Asst Secretary Delisle and Youth Lend Their Voices to Combatting the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Last week I met José, who visited the U.S. Department of Education for a roundtable discussion on school discipline policies. He described experiences at his Chicago high school that left him with the uneasy feeling that he had to keep his “guard up” while trying to learn. José came to Washington for a congressional hearing on discipline, where I testified, and we invited him and other students from the Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) project to come back to ED to talk more.

In our ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department, students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.

Delisle at Senate Hearing

At a Senate hearing on Dec. 12, Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle testified about the importance of keeping students in school, and out of the judicial system and prison.

At last week’s session, the Chicago youth offered their ideas for improving school discipline practices and ending the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a widespread pattern of pushing students – particularly those who are disadvantaged – out of school and into the juvenile justice or prison systems.

While all educators strive to demonstrate positive, caring discipline practices in their classrooms, and a large number of schools and districts implement effective strategies for managing student behavior, far too many schools overly rely on discipline policies that remove students from the learning environment. Across the country, during the 2009-2010 academic year, upwards of three million students were suspended, nearly 110,000 were expelled, and more than 240,000 were referred to law enforcement.

I was heartened by the words of Tiara, a youth participant at the roundtable, when she described why she feels so strongly about stopping this trend. She said, “There is a racial issue here, too, when Black and Latino students are being punished more severely than their White peers and being incarcerated at higher rates.”

Recent data support Tiara’s observation. African-American students are more than three-and-a-half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than White students. Disparities in discipline rates are also apparent for students with disabilities, who are more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as their non-disabled peers. These disparities, which also exist between male and female students, raise concerns that some schools are not providing all youth with equal access to education, which potentially violates civil rights laws.

We also know that when students are removed from school as a disciplinary measure, the likelihood that they will drop out or become involved in the juvenile justice system dramatically increases. A 2011 longitudinal study of nearly one million students in Texas by the Council of State Governments revealed that about 15 percent were suspended or expelled 11 times or more and nearly half of those students also became involved in the juvenile justice system. During the roundtable, Brian, a graduate of Chicago’s Kelvyn Park High School, noted that teachers and principals can help to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline by learning how to implement discipline policies that respond to students’ needs and the root causes of their misbehavior.

I echoed Brian’s sentiment prior to my discussion with him and his peers during my testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on December 12. I appreciate that Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who represents the students from VOYCE, convened a hearing on school discipline, a topic that comes up often when Secretary Duncan and my colleagues at ED talk with students. I talked with the subcommittee about the importance of providing teachers and school leaders with appropriate alternatives to suspensions and expulsions. That work begins when we focus on helping educators to build the competencies and skills they need to maintain safe, engaging classrooms.

We also must increase capacity at the local level for developing positive school climates and supporting students through promising, evidence-based discipline practices. Currently, the Department is reviewing behavioral frameworks – including Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports – to determine if such approaches might help ED better focus its technical assistance to schools. Encouraging states and districts to review their discipline policies also is critical to ensuring that every school has in place an equitable code of conduct that does not more frequently or more harshly impact particular student groups.

Partnerships across the education, health, child welfare, and justice sectors are vital to keep all students safe, in school, and learning. To find out more about the Department’s work in this area and how the agency is collaborating with other organizations and federal stakeholders, read my full Senate testimony here.

Deb Delisle is the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.