Early Learning: A Helpful Head Start

As I listened to the group of students across the table, I wondered about how they did it? How did these students- from the south side of Chicago- overcome the obstacles that continually stand in the way for many of our kids who are all too often on the wrong side of the achievement gap? What happened that helped these kids academically achieve and change the trajectory of their lives? Wanting to hear more about their past, but not wanting to invade their privacy, I asked, “How many of you will be among the first in your family to go to college?” Five students raised their hands. I followed up, “How many of you went to preschool or Head Start?” All five hands remained in the air.

Reams of data point to the positive impact of early education on the lives of students who hail from tenuous circumstances, and the Chicago Longitudinal Study shows that every dollar invested in early education has a substantial return on investment. The data is important, but what is more important is the very real impact that early education has had on the lives of some of our most vulnerable students, including those kids from Chicago.

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Students from Chicago’s Hubbard High School meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan after the students’ briefed Department staff on issues facing their community.

I am keenly aware of the difference that early education can make in a child’s life, because it made a world of difference in my own. As the son of a father who dropped out of the eighth grade in Oaxaca, Mexico, and of a mother who could only read at the 3rd grade level, I did not have the best odds at achieving academic success.

Other than an old family King James Bible, there were no books in my house. There were no puzzles, or activities to teach shapes, colors, or numbers. I, like many students in neighborhoods similar to my own, was at a disadvantaged starting place in the game of life. I, however, was fortunate in that I was enrolled in Head Start, an early education program that aims to improve education, health, nutrition and parent involvement for low-income children and their families. In Head Start, I was taught the foundations which better prepared me for the start of my educational journey. As opposed to entering kindergarten behind, I went in with knowledge and competencies that allowed me to participate in class and feel confident in my abilities. The Head Start program helped me have a fair shot at learning, and ultimately a fair shot at life.

As a teacher of high school students who have been removed from other institutions and who have been identified as potential dropouts, I often wonder about the educational journey of my kids. The vast majority of my students come to class with significant academic deficiencies. My school has been identified as a model for helping these students overcome barriers to academic success, but does so with a significant amount of resources to help these students with academic, physical, mental, and emotional issues. Being familiar with their backgrounds, I know that most of my kids started off far behind many of their peers at the traditional school sites. I cannot help but wonder what would have been if my students had been part of a quality, early education program that perhaps could have given them the head start they needed.

As we transition to more rigorous standards and assessments, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Achievement of these standards will help our kids compete in the flat world, but if we do not make a concerted effort to help all kids start out with the same basic competencies through high-caliber, early education programs, we may perpetuate the achievement gap we seek to eliminate. The five students that I met from Chicago transcended the achievement gap and overcame challenges, due to the support of family, teachers, strong-willed determination, and quite possibly, the impact of early education.

Marciano Gutierrez is a 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, on loan from Alta Vista High School in Mountain View, Calif.

A Student’s Voice on Career and Technical Education

Flameworking. Robot building. Custom painting. High school.

These seemingly disparate ideas fit together seamlessly for 18-year-old Taylor Clow, a thriving senior I met recently at New Jersey’s Gloucester County Institute of Technology (GCIT). The Teaching Ambassador Fellows— teachers working for a year to bring educators’ perspectives to the U.S. Department of Education— have been traveling the country to meet with teachers, students, and other stakeholders to hear more about what’s working in their schools and what’s challenging them.

Taylor Clow and Dan Brown

Dan Brown and Taylor Clow. Photo courtesy of Judy Savage.

Taylor’s passion for the opportunities generated through the GCIT community was inspired, and it underscored the dramatic need for more high-functioning career and technical education (CTE) schools throughout the country. His hands-on successes are examples of what President Obama called for in his recent State of the Union address when he announced a challenge: “to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy… schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.”

After my visit to GCIT, Taylor emailed me with more about why his experience at GCIT was so valuable. Here is his student perspective on CTE:

My experiences here at GCIT have been such an adventure, full of opportunities that I embraced. Freshman year, I began it all in the Collision Repair Technology program, a part of the School of Transportation Technology. I also joined the “FIRST Robotics” team, and that was the best decision I have ever made. With the primary guidance and support of my science teacher, Rowan University, and the parents serving as mentors to the Robotics Club, we had an amazing, inspiring rookie year, full of busy nights and weekend build sessions. I learned mechanical design, construction, CAD and fabrication of parts in the Rowan machine shop. I LOVED this!

I was the captain of the robotics team for three years; what started out as a club has provided me with the goal and direction for my future to study at Rochester Institute of Technology as a mechanical engineer. I have been offered a summer job with one of our mentors.

As a result of my passion and enthusiasm for STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics], my science teacher and my guidance counselor nominated me for the High School Scholars Program at Rowan University Engineering Clinic, and I was selected to participate.  The workshops and lectures were so exciting to be a part of, and I was paid. The networking with Science Teachers, Engineers and students from all over the region all interested in promoting STEM was actually a building block for me to get involved in many other interests.

Through my study, I became very interested in doing custom painting with airbrush on vehicles. During my sophomore and junior years I became involved with GCIT’s fabulous SkillsUSA program, which provided opportunities for me to compete in the State of New Jersey’s Custom Painting competition. Both years I competed, I won a gold medal and received tools, a large toolbox, and an experience of a lifetime. I also won two $20,000 scholarships. During my senior year, I served as a mentor to younger students.

Because of the accelerated academic program at GCIT, I had earned enough credits to graduate early second semester. I used this opening to apply for a flameworking class at Salem Community College, and I was thrilled when I was accepted. Because of the GCIT administration’s help with this arrangement, I have had an incredible opportunity studying flameworking with glass guru Paul Stankard, one of the most renowned glass artists in the country.

When senior year came along I applied to three colleges: Michigan Technological Institute, Ferris State University, and Rochester Institute of Technology. I was accepted into the mechanical engineering department of all three schools. I have also been accepted into the Scientific Glass Technology program at Salem Community College.

I attribute my success to the guidance and leadership of my teachers, and to my guidance department for their support. My SAT scores were not that exceptional, but I impressed my teachers enough to believe in my hands-on abilities and skills to write amazing letters of recommendations for me.

Sincerely,

Taylor Clow

Here’s a blog post about the school visit by Judy Savage, Executive Director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. Also check out Taylor’s website featuring some of his work at taylorclow.yolasite.com

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-2013 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

Math and Science the Right Way

“That’s it! I’m digging in!”

With that, a third grader at Griggs Elementary in Mobile, Ala., pulled on his surgical glove to examine an owl pellet for rodent bones.

Engaging explorations in STEM content are daily occurrences for the young mathematicians and scientists-in-training at Griggs and other schools throughout the state of Alabama. Here, students benefit from rigorous, hands on, investigative science and math instruction provided through a partnership with the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, or AMSTI. This state-funded initiative partners with K-12 schools to ramp up the integration of STEM education at the elementary school level.

Students Dissect Owl Pellets

Students at Griggs Elementary in Mobile, Ala., examine an owl pellet for rodent bones.

On the day we visited schools in Alabama, while one class at Griggs examined owl pellets, another room of students focused on the importance of fractions in math by examining strategies for dividing a paper “brownie” square into equal parts. In a classroom at J. Larry Newton Elementary School in Fairhope, students discussed the importance of measurement precision as they performed chemical tests on household substances like baking soda and flour.

Outfitted in goggles and gloves, the students owned the roles they took on in class and told us about their futures. “I love math” and “I’m going to be a scientist” were common statements among these young children.

What was so remarkable was that throughout these classrooms, the students conducted much of their own learning and challenged each other with questions. The teachers were the facilitators, not lecturers, who nurtured and compelled their students to be risk takers, critical thinkers, and data analysts. Students were encouraged to be curious and that curiosity was used as the natural foundation for the lessons. Said one teacher, “I used to be one of those lecturers, but now…I see my students’ excitement, and I’m excited to facilitate.”

These partnerships illustrate effective math and science instruction, accomplished through authentic experiences that allow students to take the lead in discovery and learning. Across grade levels, these elementary school students are engaging in scientific and mathematical discourse, defending their hypotheses, explaining their thinking, and examining their strategies.

Schools across the country could benefit from such educational experiences and instructional practices. As the Teaching Ambassador Fellows continue to conduct outreach with educators in schools across the nation, we’ve seen pockets of best practices like these in Alabama. But if our country is going to meet the President’s goals and the needs of the economy, this type of system-wide partnership and STEM instruction must become more of the norm. Early exposure to and experience with STEM is critical to fostering future STEM professionals. Given the national priority and importance of early childhood education, we must also start thinking about how to begin such exploration early, even in pre-school and kindergarten.

In Alabama, math and science is being done the right way. Let’s learn from this example and build more.

Jennifer Bado-Aleman is an English teacher on loan from her school in Gaithersburg, Md., and Patrice Dawkins-Jackson is the Gifted Instructional Support teacher at the Dunwoody Springs Elementary in the Greater Atlanta area. Both are serving as 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellows for the Department.

Third International Summit on the Teaching Profession: Sitting at OUR Table

International Summit Logo

This time of year I typically dream of travelling someplace warm, but today I woke up wishing I were in Amsterdam.

As a Social Studies teacher, I would appreciate the opportunity to dive into the city’s rich history. Today I want to be there to participate in the third International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

Education leaders from around the world, including 150 teachers, are at the 2013 Summit to discuss teacher quality and evaluation. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report prepared for the Summit, 1 in 4 teachers globally never receive feedback from their school leadership. This highlights an opportunity for leaders to learn from each other about improving teacher evaluation and quality at the Summit. For example, today, the Dutch Education Minister shared that Holland is using peer review in teacher evaluation—a best practice learned from the U.S.

The previous Summits have been great learning opportunities for the U.S. delegation and inspired two important initiatives. One is the RESPECT vision statement for strengthening and elevating the teaching profession (shaped by over 4,000 American teachers). The other is Transforming the Teaching Profession, a framework developed by national groups representing teachers, superintendents, school boards, and state leaders that puts forth a common vision for teaching and learning.

Today in the Twitter feed for the Summit, a number of people tweeted a quote from the Estonian delegation, “Education is under heavy pressure. Either we make more and better rules. Or we must liberate the teacher profession…” As a teacher, I know that I want to be in a profession that is shaped by teachers. But owning our profession is not simply about being seated at a table set by others; we need to recognize that is our table.

While teachers and union leaders from the U.S. and other nations are at the Summit, I can’t personally be at the table in Amsterdam this week. Still, I can be informed and engaged. Here are some things I am doing:

  • Following the Twitter feed #ISTP2013 and participating in a conversation tomorrow on Twitter.

  • Reading the OCED background report for the Summit.

  • Reflecting on how I would answer the questions that are guiding this year’s summit and sending responses to the Teacher Mailbox, TeachTalk@ed.gov.

    • How is teacher quality defined by policy makers, the teaching profession and society? What standards are set and by whom?
    • How is teacher quality evaluated? What systems are in place and how are the evaluations carried out?
    • How do evaluations contribute to school improvement and teacher self-efficacy? What impact can be expected on teaching and learning from teacher evaluation?
  • Engaging in conversations with my colleagues.

  • Watching Secretary Duncan’s video played during the opening session.

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

Lisa Clarke

Lisa Clarke is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and social studies teacher on loan from Kent, Washington.

Teaching Computer Coding in K-12

Image from code.org.Where can you go to find— in one place— Arne Duncan, Mark Zuckerberg, Marco Rubio, Stephen Hawking, and Snoop Dogg agreeing with each other? Not sure? Now add into the mix Dr. Oz, Richard Branson, and Michael Bloomberg. Give up?

The answer is the overflowing, impressive testimonial page on CODE.org, a new nonprofit created to promote the teaching of computer coding into America’s schools. Founded by Hadi Partovi, CODE.org shines a light on 21st century society’s need for computer scientists and programmers.  According to stats on the CODE.org website, 90 percent of American schools currently don’t offer coding while, by 2020, there will be about a million more computer jobs than computer science students. Partovi aims to connect engineers with schools and to help educators bring computer programming to their classrooms.

The linchpin of the awareness campaign is a short video featuring Zuckerberg, Will.i.am, NBA All-Star Chris Bosh and a host of other tech leaders and trendsetters. The video, directed by Lesley Chilcott, a producer of An Inconvenient Truth, portrays learning to code as fun, not exceptionally difficult, and the gateway to a creative, fulfilling career. Released February 26, it has already accumulated over 9 million views.

The moment for this is now. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a priority area for our country. In 2010, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released a report entitled Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education for STEM and America’s Future, which claimed:

The success of the United States in the 21st century—its wealth and welfare—will depend on the ideas and skills of its population. These have always been the Nation’s most important assets. As the world becomes increasingly technological, the value of these national assets will be determined in no small measure by the effectiveness of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the United States. STEM education will determine whether the United States will remain a leader among nations…“

Through CODE.org, Hadi Partovi is rightly asserting the need to include the teaching in K-12 schools of computer science amongst the critical STEM disciplines. As the PCAST report makes clear, the stakes are high. And if you don’t trust that, just listen to Bill Clinton and Ashton Kutcher.

— Dan Brown

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C

Duncan Addresses Gun Violence in New “Ask Arne” Video Series

As a teacher and a parent, what our nation’s education leaders think, really matters to me. And with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about to begin a second term, it matters even more.

Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of a new #AskArne video interview series, where the Secretary addresses the hot topics and burning questions in education today. In light of the President’s announcement to address gun violence, the first episode, titled “Free from Fear,” focuses on gun violence, school safety, and out of school factors influencing student achievement.

For the #AskArne videos, the questions for the Secretary will be derived from feedback the Department receives via social media and through the outreach of EDs Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

The Fellows, who work for the Department for a year, play a key role in connecting with educators and other stakeholders around the country, and then connecting voices from the field with top federal policymakers, including Secretary Duncan. As an explanation, this year I am on sabbatical from teaching at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C. to work full-time at ED as part of this year’s team of Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

I hope you find this clip from our first interview informative and interesting, and with your feedback, we’re looking forward to future installments that will address the Department’s 2013 agenda and the topics that are on the minds of teachers, parents, students and stakeholders.

Submit your ideas and questions for future #AskArne episodes on Twitter, on Arne’s Facebook page or in the comments below.


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

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

Also, the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship is now accepting applications for its 2013-2014 cohort. More information can be found here.

Language and Learning on the Border

The RESPECT Project, a vision for transforming teaching and leading, is the result of hundreds of conversations with thousands of educators across the country. The Department of Education’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAFs) are continuing to talk with teachers throughout the country about the RESPECT Project and have reached out to other important stakeholders as well. This month the Fellows travelled to Arizona and New Mexico, including a visit by Kareen Borders, Toni Hull, Cindy Apalinski with a group of stakeholders in Columbus, N.M., (Deming Public School District).

School Crosswalk Sign“Unique”, “determined”, “challenging”, “amazing place.” These are just some of the phrases that parents, teachers, administrators and community members used to describe Columbus Elementary School in Columbus, N.M., during RESPECT discussions last month.

A border school located three miles from the Mexican border, Columbus faces unique challenges that include students who are predominantly living in poverty and who are English language learners. The remoteness of the school from students‘ homes also places extra pressure on educators and families.

Despite the American promise of equal opportunity, children of poverty and children of color often lack equal access to educational opportunities. Secretary Arne Duncan recently addressed the opportunity gap when he said, “In America, in 2012, children of color not only confront an achievement gap, they confront an opportunity gap that, too often, is unacceptably wide.” Yet, we found Columbus to be overflowing with hope, happiness, academic rigor and a commitment to bicultural education.

For all of the real challenges to ensuring educational equity, we saw examples of culturally responsive education, rigorous classroom instruction, and structures that are reducing the opportunity gap.  Principal Hector Madrid affirmed that these children deserve the best education. “We do everything we can to make education possible for our students since they are American citizens,” he said.

Classes that include dual language instruction, heritage studies, and rigorous core classes provide a holistic approach that includes recognition of the uniqueness of each student along with high expectations. Teachers plan together and present lessons in Spanish and English. During a math class visit, I observed first-graders working collaboratively on math problems, working one on one with the teacher and principal, and explaining their answers to each other.

When asked what she thought of her school, one first-grader responded, “I like it here. I get to learn and teach my friends. I’ll show you.” Those three simple sentences spoke volumes to me. She feels safe and nurtured in her school and quite simply likes it. She recognizes that she is learning and also has the opportunity to work collaboratively with her peers–a valuable skill. And, she holds the belief that her learning is valuable and can and should be communicated to others.

Being a part of two cultures, two languages, two countries, will give these children a unique grounding—one that definitely allows them to bring multiple perspectives to the table. One of the roundtable participants summed it up by saying, “There’s a lot of respect in Columbus. We are bi-national and bi-cultural.” This recognition of the importance of multicultural perspectives is a step in the right direction of eliminating the opportunity gap.

As classes ended, I watched the children as they bounced out of class, skipped to the buses, laughed and chatted while swinging backpacks, to return home for the evening. In the morning, they will be welcomed by teachers, principals, and an entire educational community committed to closing their opportunity gap.

Dr. Kareen Borders

Dr. Kareen Borders is a Regional Teaching Ambassador Fellow from the Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor, Washington.

View a video of Principal Hector Madrid’s feedback about the RESPECT Project.

Teacher Cabinets: Bringing Teacher Voice to the Education Reform Conversation

As a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow, one of the many roles I am lucky enough to engage in is that of a conduit between America’s teachers and the Department of Education (ED). I get to sit down with teachers all across the country–sometimes virtually, but often in person–and hear how things are going in their classrooms, in their schools, and in their districts. Then I present that feedback to policy and program folks at ED, giving them critical information to process and, in many cases, act upon.

This formula is singularly responsible for a recent initiative coming out of ED called the RESPECT Project. RESPECT aims to transform the teaching profession so that teachers are as well prepared, developed, compensated and respected as other professionals. One result of this movement is a short vision document written by teachers that outlines ways the teaching profession must change if it hopes to be on par with other respected professions in this country.

Highly visible in this document–and certainly pushed to the front in many of the teacher roundtables in which I have been involved–is the importance of teacher voice in the ongoing conversation about reform. For too long the educators on the ground have lacked an effective way to directly inform and influence education policy and programs at the federal, state and district level. Many of those serving in education offices may not have seen the inside of a classroom from a teacher’s eye view, and it is important they understand our view as they develop and implement policies that affect us in the classroom.

The good news is that recently more and more states have begun to realize the importance of listening to teachers and have made plans to bring the wisdom and experience of teachers into the education reform movement by creating teacher cabinets.

Most recently, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, proposed the the formation of a Virginia Teacher Cabinet, and other states have similar efforts under development. Virginia’s Teacher Cabinet will be comprised of teachers from each superintendent region of the Commonwealth, will be led by the Virginia Teacher of the Year, and will provide an annual report to the governor on the “State of Teaching in Virginia.”

As a Virginia public school teacher, I am excited about the opportunity for fellow educators to be able to lend their invaluable experiences and insights to state-wide reform efforts. I believe this will serve as the crucial catalyst to move reform-talks into reform-action. And as more states follow suit with their own versions of these teacher-led panels–which will undoubtedly take place–I firmly expect a wave of teacher reform to roll over our country, transforming this beloved profession into what it deserves to be.

Mike Humphreys

Mike Humphreys is a 2012-2013 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches physical education in Arlington, Va.

Applications for 2013-2014 Teaching Ambassador Fellowship Now Open

“It is critical that we work collaboratively with teachers to develop policies that will truly transform and elevate the profession. I am proud of the work our Teaching Ambassadors do every year to talk with and listen to other teachers across the country as well as the direct input they have given staff.” – Secretary Arne Duncan

We are happy to announce that applications for the U.S. Department of Education’s sixth cohort of Teaching Ambassador Fellows are now open. The application period will run from December 19, 2012, and is scheduled to close on January 29, 2013 at 11:59 pm Eastern Time. For more information about the application process, visit our program page at www.ed.gov/programs/teacherfellowship or go directly to the applications for the Washington and Classroom Fellowships on www.usajobs.gov.

TAFs meet with Duncan

Before their fellowship ended, 2011-12 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellows gave Secretary Duncan one final briefing. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Since 2008, the Department has employed eighty outstanding teachers on a full or part time basis through the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship program. This highly selective program was created because we believe that teachers should have meaningful opportunities to both contribute to and understand the policies that impact their students and school communities. We know that when families, students, and other teachers want information about education, it is most often to teachers that they turn.

The Teaching Ambassador Fellowship supports the Department’s mission by employing a diverse cadre of teachers to gain significant knowledge about the Department information and resources, share this information with other educators across the country, and contribute their classroom expertise to the national dialogue.

Teaching Ambassador Fellows are outstanding teachers, with a record of leadership, strong communication skills, and insights into educational policy based in classroom expertise. They come with networks of support from their professional communities and have participated in training or development programs that have prepared them to write and speak frequently about teaching, educational leadership and/or policy.

The Washington Fellowship is a full-time appointment based at the Department’s Headquarters in Washington. The Classroom Fellowship enables teachers to participate on a part-time basis for the Department, in addition to their regular school responsibilities, working in collaboration with the Department’s Regional Offices.

All Teaching Ambassador Fellows spend one year learning about key federal programs and policies; sharing their expertise with federal staff members; and providing outreach and communication about federal initiatives to other educators on behalf of the Department in order to help teachers understand and implement these efforts at the federal, state and local levels, to improve the likelihood of their success. For the Fellows, the program adds greater knowledge of educational policy and leadership to their toolkits to contribute to solutions at all levels for long intractable challenges in education.

Teacher leaders — please consider applying and share this information with your colleagues!  Sign up for updates on the application process and call 1-800-USA-Learn or email us at TeacherFellowship@ed.gov with questions.

Click here to read Homeroom blog posts from current and former Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

Moving Toward Better Academics: The Red Hawk Way

On the blacktop and playgrounds during midday recess, Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo., takes the shape of countless other schools across this country: laughing, red-faced children walking that fine line between having fun and pushing boundaries; forgotten sweaters strewn about on fence posts and tree branches; yesteryear’s worn playground equipment seemingly keeping the whole dance in motion.

Yet this is where the commonalities between Red Hawk and the vast majority of other schools end.

As a 2012-13 Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department of Education, I was lucky enough to visit Red Hawk as part of the Department’s back-to-school bus tour across the country.

Red Hawk Elementary

Red Hawk Elementary in Erie, Colo.

Red Hawk principal Cyrus Weinberger was kind enough to put his school on display for me, and in particular the school’s national recognized movement program. Weinberger and Red Hawk physical education teacher Tanya Erands developed and implemented the program that is the school’s lynchpin, and contributed to the school’s recent recognition, including Academic Growth, during the latest round of district reviews.

During the visit, I watched the entire student body—including those with disabilities–engage in their daily dose of “Morning Movement.” The 4th graders collected popsicle sticks as they crisscrossed the soccer field, the 3rd graders jumped rope, and the 2nd graders walked a mile of laps around the building, while the younger grades danced, jumped and twisted to a variety of online dance-alongs in their classrooms.

More than just a catchy subplot and fresh angle, this commitment to movement really seems to be working. If the raw data is not enough, take the word of Jamie Nesbitt, a 4th grade teacher who previously taught in one of the district’s Title I schools. He shared with me that more seat time and fewer breaks ruled his former school, resulting in restless students and more trips to the principal’s office. Principal Wienberger has only dealt with one incident during his fifteen months at Red Hawk, and that surrounded a fight that broke out during a recess football game.

Perhaps the LEED Gold  building is the foundation for this winning culture, or maybe it’s the 1500 square foot student-maintained garden that keeps kids on the up and up. I shouldn’t forget about the Math, Science, Integration of the Arts & Technology Focus this school maintains, or the daring health-food initiatives on which it refuses to compromise (non-food birthday celebrations . . . what?). Together, these many traits represent the well-rounded, 21st century education our children need and too rarely receive.

But in a vast sea of out-of-this world impressive initiatives and programs, I believe just one statistic swims alone in summing up the Red Hawk way: Last year 96% of third, fourth and fifth graders said they look forward, each and every day, to coming to school. Now if that’s not something to marvel at, I truly don’t know what is.

Mike Humphreys is a 2012-2013 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches physical education in Arlington, Va.

Celebrating CTE in Nevada

Brenda Dann-Messier at Veterans

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier talks with students at Veterans' dispatch training lab. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Traditionally, education has led many students into a career. However, at some schools, careers are leading students to an education.

Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier recently met with the students, staff, and business partners of the Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy in Las Vegas to discuss career and technical education (CTE) and how it benefits students and the community.

Dann-Messier’s visit was part of ED’s Education Drives America back-to-school bus tour, and one of many stops she made during the tour to discuss the blueprint for transforming career and technical education and ways the Department of Education can support CTE education.

Student Marcus Montano explained during the visit that he chose to attend Veterans because he wanted a “real-world education and not just standard curriculum.” The school has two program areas, Law Enforcement Services and Emergency Medical Services, with multiple labs that allow hands-on learning experiences.

The type of CTE taught at Veterans increases motivation for students in all areas of study, as they realize the direct connection between the core curriculum and a career. Student Leah Bories said she felt “limited by not having the right teacher or the right material. I wanted this so bad. I want to learn. I want to succeed.”

Dann-Messier at Desert Rose

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier talks to a students in the Environmental Horticulture Science program at Desert Rose Adult High School. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Veterans’ partnership with local employers is the type of community collaboration promoted in ED’s CTE blueprint. The community and business partners are also benefiting from Veteran’s unique career training. Students from Veteran’s are turning internships at local businesses into careers upon graduation. Some students have even used their training at Veteran’s to become dispatchers for emergency services, which is helping them pay for college. Sgt. Dan Lake of the North Las Vegas Police Department believes the program is future-focused, because “students can begin to build a future as juniors in high school.”

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier also held a roundtable at Desert Rose Adult High School and Career Center, in North Las Vegas, to hear how CTE is being used to help students find success. Desert Rose serves a diverse population of students, many of whom have previously dropped out or become credit-deficient.

At Desert Rose, students can learn multiple trades while obtaining high school credit at their own learning pace. This combination of CTE and personalized learning has led to many students achieving success.

Senior Elizabeth Gomez said that this personalized focus is helping her succeed in school and getting her ready for a job. “I have a really good resume now” she said. The blueprint for transforming CTE calls for accountability for improving outcomes and building technical and employable skills. Desert Rose students are already realizing the benefits of obtaining such skills at a young age.

Some students have already obtained a job through the CTE offered at Desert Rose. After winning numerous awards, including a gold medal from the Skills USA competition, and obtaining multiple certifications from Desert Rose high school, student Keith Griffin was able to find a job in Hawaii and is preparing to move his family “from the desert to the tropics,” he says.

Aaron Bredenkamp is a 2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches at Westside Career Center, an Alternative High School in Omaha, NE. He joined Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier during her visit to Las Vegas.

Teachers’ Voices Heard on U.S. Department of Education Bus Tour

Over eighty meetings with teachers and school leaders in a two-week cross-country blitz—not bad work for a team of twelve Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAFs) working for a year with the U.S. Department of Education.

The Department of Education’s third annual back-to-school bus tour kicked off at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, California on September 12 and culminates with rally at the Department’s plaza on September 21, with nearly a hundred events in between featuring Secretary Arne Duncan and top federal officials. While Secretary Duncan’s appearances have naturally soaked up most of the attention—whether he is dancing at a Denver elementary school for “Let’s Move” or honoring the Topeka, Kansas site of the Brown vs. Board of Education case—TAFs have been hosting intimate events to ensure that educators’ voices are heard.

The Teaching Ambassador Fellowship, now in its fifth year, includes six teachers from across the country on leave from their schools to work full-time for a year with the U.S. Department of Education, and six who remain teaching in their local districts while consulting and conducting outreach part-time with ED. The September bus tour has been a prime opportunity for TAFs to lead important discussions on how to improve student outcomes. As a TAF just six weeks into the fellowship, it was refreshing for me to hear from folks around the country.

The outreach extravaganza started in California as ten current and former Teaching Ambassador Fellows fanned out across the Bay Area to talk with educators. In one memorable event, Seattle-based TAF Kareen Borders hosted a discussion with current and future science teachers at the NASA Ames Research Center. Locales for TAF-led discussions in California included district and charter schools, where teachers weighed in on the Obama Administration’s education agenda, the RESPECT Project for transforming the teaching profession, and their own thoughts on how to increase student learning.

Travelling to over 30 communities in 11 states, TAFs convened teachers in Silicon Valley, Las Vegas and across Wyoming through Louisville, St. Louis and Richmond and many rural communities in between. At Salt Lake City Community College in Sandy, Utah, Arizona-based TAF Cheryl Redfield and I recruited local National Board Certified Teachers to facilitate breakout sessions at a 200-person educational technology summit. At Emporia State University in Kansas, TAF Cindy Apalinski from Linden, New Jersey met with teachers-in-training and introduced Secretary Duncan at a town hall attended by approximately 400 future educators.

Seeking and respecting teacher perspectives must be a crucial part of shaping policies that teachers ultimately implement. Over the past two weeks, Teaching Ambassador Fellows have been on a mission to learn from a wide range of stakeholders from across the country. The next step after the bus tour dust settles is to report back to senior staff and Secretary Duncan.

Here is a sampling of what TAFs heard along the way:

On the importance of great teaching:

“Technology won’t save education; great teachers with great tools will save education.”

“All you need is a teacher and a program to open students’ hearts and minds to help them become global citizens.”

“Never forget how complex the teaching profession is. Great teachers have to make high stakes decisions almost every minute of their day. Any policy changes that try to teacher-proof the curriculum are bound to fail.”

“Middle school STEM is so important because that’s when they are trying to figure out who they are.”

“We can teach students about heroes, or we can create our own heroes.”

On professional development and career paths:

“I love the classroom, but I need opportunities to advance that aren’t taking me away from being in the classroom.”

“We need to be in an ongoing process of growth, professionally, not just stuck as either a ‘new’ educator or an ‘experienced’ one.”

“I would love to stay in the classroom, but can I afford to stay in this pay grade forever? No. So, unfortunately, I will have to leave. I need the opportunity to stay.”

“We want to better ourselves. Let us. Offer teachers the opportunities to advance, not just by seniority or maxing out by credits.”

“Teachers want to be in positions that allow them to learn while they still teach. They want to learn their subject and their craft.”

“Merit pay is okay as long as teachers are evaluated on what we value.”

“Ideally leaders would move into a leadership role, and eventually return to the classroom. However, returning to the classroom would mean a pay cut, and it’s difficult for someone who has ‘lived the life’ to then go back to their old salary.”

“After five years of teaching, I moved into a mentorship role. From there I could really study the profession and study it from an academic standpoint, rather than an emotional one. I really grew from that. We have term limits for mentors to allow more people to do it and to stay in touch with the profession.”

“We don’t just need mentors at the beginning of our careers—we need them throughout.”

“So much that I’ve learned about good teaching has been by watching great teachers.”

On the future of education:

“The achievement gap won’t be closed by one person working in isolation; we need to work together… a group of teachers together is a real impetus for change.”

“We need to demystify the definition of college and career readiness so that every student can actually attain it.”

“In our work, it’s not that good things aren’t happening; it’s that we aren’t doing the good things enough.”

“Not all education happens in the classroom.”

“We can’t continue to fund schools the way we do and hope to be successful. There’s a possibility of three weeks being cut off our schedule if a sales tax initiative does not pass is November [in California].”

“A huge recruitment issue is respectability—we’re just not respected as teachers, so we need to better educate the public.”

“If we want to improve our schools we need to get back to basics and build relationships in our schools and communities.”

“The idea of a ‘full teaching load’ needs to change. If you asked me what I would ideally be doing, I would teach a 3/5 load full-time, and spend the extra energy on those classes. Class sizes do matter. To think about doing anything else in addition to our full-time load is impossible.”

“It is up to our current and future educators now to lead the country in the direction we need to go.”

On teachers’ realities:

“To go to these meetings where every trainer and attendee has an iPad, but not one of my students does, that’s an issue.”

“I see teachers working their hearts out, one kid at a time.”

“Data doesn’t say what relationships make happen.”

“Our country’s acceptance of mathematics illiteracy is appalling.”

“We have too many things to do, so we can’t do any of them well, and especially not with a 32 minute planning period.”

“We need leaders who make us feel wanted, valued. We need to know our input is valued… we also need this among ourselves, letting each other know that we’re valued and respected.”

“Collaboration is about trust.”

“Teachers don’t operate in a vacuum and kids need lots of other support service to survive. From psychological help, to breakfast programs, to extra support for struggling students, to basic health needs. If that’s not available, no matter how good of a teacher you are you are not able to get the best from students.”

“At one point my contract said that I taught 20% mentored 80%, but in reality the teaching part actually took 75% of my time and 90% of my emotional space. Serving as a leader and a teacher I asked myself the following question, “If you’re teaching, can you do anything else well at the same time?”

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.