Know It 2 Own It: Advocating for Your Rights on Campus

As we approach the end of the school year, most high school seniors are preparing for graduation and their future. At this time, I’m reminded that each passing year, more and more students with autism and other disabilities are attending college with their peers. For many of them this will be their first time away from home, a time for excitement and a time for independence. It will also be the first time where they will be responsible to advocate for their own needs at school.

The transition from high school to college can be tough, especially for students with disabilities; however, when students know their rights and where to get help, the transition can be made a little easier. Some students, such as Elijah a high school senior from Jacksonville, Florida, learn the importance of advocating for themselves and their needs for accommodations while still in high school. Here is his story and his wish for all students with disabilities.

A student’s ability to advocate for himself is important to succeed at the college level. Every year, I have an opportunity to meet and work with a group of about 15 autistic college students from various backgrounds and ranging in age. Some of them are traditional college students, others are accessing college through a TPSID program or a modified course of study. All of them say the same thing – it can be hard.

Part of my job at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network is to provide incoming students with training in self-advocacy through our Autism Campus Inclusion program and give them the tools and resources they need in order to effectively advocate for themselves and get the most out of their college experience.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, colleges and universities are required to remove any barriers impeding the student, whether these are architectural, communication related, or transportation and to provide reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices. It is, however, the student’s responsibility to know his or her rights and how to advocate for appropriate accommodations. These accommodations could include:

  • Wearing noise-cancelling headphones in class,
  • Using laptops for note-taking
  • A place to doodle, fidget, pace, or sit on the floor in order to focus and learn.
  • Live in a single dorm room, even as a freshman if needed
  • A quiet testing space
  • Alternative formats of classroom materials, textbooks, and tests

In addition to getting the word out about self-advocacy, we’ve created resources such as Navigating College and ACI to assist students with disabilities as they navigate through higher education.

Autistic and other students with disabilities will often face barriers from the day they set foot on campus. In order for these students to succeed in college, we say, self-advocacy is needed. You have to know your rights, have a plan for getting the accommodations and modifications that are appropriate and needed, and be prepared to face an array of challenges. However, by creating a community on campus and bringing students together to share their experiences we remind one another that self-advocacy is easiest when we know we aren’t alone.

The opinions expressed and materials contained in this blog are not an endorsement by the U.S Department of Education and herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the United States Department of Education.

Julia Bascom is the Deputy Executive Director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Working to Protect College Students from Unfair Banking Practices

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is cracking down on school-bank partnerships that unfairly target college students receiving federal student aid. Last Friday, ED announced proposed regulations that would ensure students aren’t required to receive their federal student aid on prepaid or debit cards that charge fees for overdrawing the accounts. Other proposed changes would:

  • Provide protections against unreasonable account fees
  • Strengthen account transparency offered to students, and
  • Protect their personal information from being shared without their consent.

The proposal will impact over nine million postsecondary students receiving about $25 billion in Pell Grants and Direct Loans by providing tougher standards and greater transparency between colleges and companies in the rapidly expanding college debit and prepaid marketplace.

Additionally, under the proposed regulations, the Secretary would have the right to establish a method for directly paying credit balances to student aid recipients if the Department determines that student and taxpayer interests would be better served.

Some schools across the country are entering into agreements with financial institutions that require students to receive their financial aid on a prepaid or debit card offered only by that financial institution. U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said that the proposed rules would give students flexibility. “Students need objective, neutral information about their account options,” he said. “Students should be able to choose to receive deposits to their own checking accounts and not be forced to utilize debit cards with obscure and unreasonable fees.”

Ultimately, the proposed regulations are about accountability and fairness. Given the number of students affected by the emergence of these troubling practices, the amount of taxpayer-funded assistance at stake, and the expanding scope of the market, regulatory action became necessary.

The Department welcomes input on the proposed regulation and comments can be submitted online at www.regulations.gov for the next 45 days. The Department’s regulations are subject to the Higher Education Act’s “master calendar,” which means that any final regulations published on or before November 1 are effective on July 1 of the following year.

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

Help Us Get the Word Out About Tools and Resources for Student Loan Repayment

Federal Student Aid is the largest provider of student financial aid (including federal student loans) in the country. Once it’s time for borrowers to repay their student loans, we’re also here to help with free tools and resources to make the repayment process easier.

Federal Student Aid recently launched a student loan repayment campaign to educate borrowers about affordable repayment options and to provide them with the tools and resources they need to make informed decisions. We need your help to spread the campaign’s important messages!

Here’s what you can do today:

  • Direct student loan borrowers to StudentAid.gov/repay to learn more about the affordable repayment options we offer.
  • Visit FinancialAidToolkit.ed.gov/repayment to explore plug-and-play resources you can use to educate borrowers about student loan repayment. Some examples of what we offer include social media content, fact sheets, infographics, videos, and repayment calculators.

On the Financial Aid Toolkit page, we’ve got a section,3 Easy Ways to Spread the Word,” that provides a rotating selection of shareable content you can use to help borrowers better understand their repayment options. Every two weeks, we will refresh this section with updated information such as a short video, a popular tweet, or a link to a blog post. We encourage you to share this content with individuals and organizations in your network through e-mail, social media, your website, and any other channel that works best for you.

Our campaign runs through June 30, but valuable, free repayment resources are always available at StudentAid.gov/repay for borrowers and at FinancialAidToolkit.ed.gov for mentors and advisors.

Thank you for your support!

Wendy Bhagat is Director of Awareness and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Bullying Rates Drop

Bullying remains a serious issue for students and their families, and efforts to reduce bullying concern policy makers, administrators, and educators. According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “As schools become safer, students are better able to thrive academically and socially. The Department, along with our federal partners and others, has been deeply involved in the fight against bullying in our nation’s schools.” This is why we are so pleased to share that, after remaining virtually unchanged for close to a decade, new data indicate that the prevalence of bullying is at a record low.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics latest School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, in 2013, the reported prevalence of bullying among students ages 12 to 18 dropped to 22 percent after remaining stubbornly around 28 percent since 2005.

“The report brings welcome news,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said.  “Parents, teachers, health providers, community members and young people are clearly making a difference by taking action and sending the message that bullying is not acceptable. We will continue to do our part at HHS to help ensure every child has the opportunity to live, learn and grow in a community free of bullying.”

Bullying can occur anywhere and to any student. There are three types of bullying: physical, relational (or social) and verbal. Research shows that students who are bullied are more likely to struggle in school and skip class. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, be depressed, and are at higher risk of suicide.

Since 2010, the Department of Education along with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Justice, have acted to combat bullying and cyberbullying through work such as StopBullying.gov. However, it is the work of educators, bus drivers, parents, and students, that have taken a stand to put an end to bullying. Your hard work and dedication is making a difference!

To learn about bullying and how to take action to end bullying, please visit StopBullying.gov and join the conversation on the StopBullying.gov Facebook page!

Sarah Sisaye is a Management and Program Analyst in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

Duncan Highlights Grad Rate, Calls for More Action

Secretary Duncan sat down for a conversation with America’s Promise Alliance’s president and CEO, John Gomperts, Tuesday to talk about the state of education in the country. The conversation came on the heels of the APA’s release of the Building on a Grad Nation report that both highlighted the record high school graduation rate at 81.4 percent and indicated the nation remained on pace to meet the organization’s goal of 90 percent on-time graduation by 2020.

While Duncan celebrated the promising gains in the graduation rate—particularly among students of color—he called for more action to not only improve graduation rates, but to ensure that those who graduate are truly ready for college and career. “This is not mission accomplished,” he said. “This is not the promised land.”

Making sure students today are college and career ready is the real measuring stick for success in today’s knowledge-based economy – not just getting a high school diploma. If a student shows up to college in need of remedial courses, then we as a nation still have much work to do.

“While we should be encouraged by projections like the one in this year’s Grad Nation report, we know that more hard work remains to truly prepare all—not just some—students for success in college, careers and life. Education must be the equalizer that can help overcome the odds stacked against too many of our students,” Duncan said during the event.

Duncan argued that a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is necessary if we are to fulfill the right of all children to have a real opportunity to succeed.

We must “work with huge urgency, honesty, and humility,” Duncan said, if we are going to ensure that our nation, that is for the first time majority minority, continues to show progress that ensures all kids get the opportunity to succeed.

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

Goodbye, Federal Student Aid PIN. Hello, FSA ID!

FSA ID Blog Post Image

If you’re a student, parent, or borrower and you’re logging in to a U.S. Department of Education (ED) website – like fafsa.gov, the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS®) at www.nslds.ed.gov, StudentLoans.gov, StudentAid.gov, and Agreement to Serve (ATS) at teach-ats.ed.gov – you will be asked to create new log-in credentials known as the FSA ID.

The FSA ID – a username and password – benefits you in four ways:

  • It removes your personally identifiable information (PII), like your Social Security number, from your log-in credentials
  • It creates a more secure and efficient way to verify your information when you log in to access to your federal student aid information online
  • It gives you the ability to easily update your personal information, like your phone number, e-mail address, or your name
  • It allows you to easily retrieve your username and password by requesting a secure code be sent to your e-mail address or by answering challenge questions

Creating an FSA ID is simple and only takes a few minutes. You’ll have an opportunity to link your current Federal Student Aid PIN to your FSA ID. Doing so allows you to use your newly created FSA ID almost immediately to log in to the five ED websites listed above. Even if you’ve forgotten your FSA PIN or don’t have one, you can still create an FSA ID.

The final step in creating an FSA ID is to confirm your e-mail address. You’ll be sent a secure code to the e-mail address you entered when you created your FSA ID. Once you retrieve the code from your e-mail account and enter it – to confirm your e-mail address is valid – you’ll be able to use this e-mail address instead of your username to log in to the five ED websites, making the log-in process EVEN simpler!

Remember, your federal student aid account information is valuable. Only the owner of the FSA ID should create and use the account. And you should never share your FSA ID.

For more information about the FSA ID, please visit StudentAid.gov/fsaid.

April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid.

Thanking Teachers Personally During Teacher Appreciation Week

ED staffers called 380 teachers from across the nation. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

ED staffers called 380 teachers from across the nation. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The Department of Education really looks forward to Teacher Appreciation Week every year!

Beginning in February, officials start planning events to let teachers know that ED respects those who make a difference in the lives of children on a daily basis. Each year a new, novel idea pops up on how to express our gratitude and this year was no different. In response to the teachers who wanted authentic engagement, our team at ED called teachers personally to thank them for their contributions.

Forty-one staff members, several of them former teachers, called 380 teachers from across the nation to express gratitude for educating America’s children. Phone numbers were obtained through recommendations of employees who have interacted with teachers that are making a difference and exemplify teacher leadership in the classroom. Employees also referred their favorite teachers from their days as students.

During the phone calls, ED staff asked the teachers for feedback. Sharla Steever of South Dakota told us that she is working hard on a new Native American initiative and was glad to participate in the Teacher Leadership Lab in South Dakota last week. Haydee Taylor-Arnold of Missouri asked us to support foreign language programs so students could become global citizens. Haydee also told her caller that having the support of Secretary Duncan as a teacher leader has been especially meaningful for her. Kathy Hopee in New York wanted us to know about our efforts to increase student engagement in STEM education programs.

Not only were teachers excited to get a call from the Department of Education, ED staff was energized by the connections. Several individuals remarked that their ability to have a conversation with teachers was the best part of their day. Dr. Khalilah Harris of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans remarked “We should do this all the time!”

Cheers to a new tradition!

Mia Long is a Lee Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Supporting Innovation in Higher Education through First in the World

The Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to access and complete a postsecondary education. In an era of rapid change and innovation, we have sought to encourage those colleges and universities developing new ways to serve students better, especially low-income and first-generation students.

That’s why I’m thrilled that we’ve announced the second round of the First in the World grant program. This year we will award $60 million to colleges and universities to encourage innovative new practices on campuses, including $16 million to Minority Serving Institutions.

Applying for a grant

For the first time this year, the First in the World program will have two tiers: a “development” tier for innovative projects that are supported by “strong theory” (defined in the grant announcement) and larger grants in the “validation” tier will be awarded to applications for interventions supported by significant evidence. Since a key goal of the FITW program is building an evidence base, all funded grants will include rigorous evaluation.

In the development tier, projects will be funded in three areas (with specific descriptions in the announcement):

  1. Improving teaching and learning
  2. Developing and using assessments of student learning
  3. Facilitating pathways to credentialing and transfer

In the validation tier, projects will be funded in these four areas:

  1. Improving success in developmental education
  2. Improving teaching and learning
  3. Improving student support services
  4. Influencing the development of non-cognitive factors

We seek proposals from institutions of higher education, including those that partner with other institutions or organizations. Visit the FITW website for links to the announcements, application information, and webinar details.

Call for peer reviewers

Peer reviewers, not ED staff, review and rate all FITW proposals – they play a critical role! So we need strong, knowledgeable, innovation-minded peer reviewers. If your institution is not applying for a grant, please consider applying, or encourage colleagues with the requisite skills to apply. Information can be found on the FITW website.

Building on success

The Department is excited that by the fall, we will have awarded more than $135 million to support innovation in higher education in the last two years. All of the 24 grants from the 2014 competition are underway. Some examples include:

  • Gateway Community and Technical College (KY) is redesigning programs to encourage students to progress more quickly through college, including by redesigning remediation and classroom spaces.
  • Hampton University (VA) is redesigning many courses, including through the use of project-based learning and the incorporation of technological tools (such as the Khan Academy) into courses.
  • Southern New Hampshire University is developing an online competency-based program to wholly reimagine remediation. It will include modules, assessments, practice opportunities, and games that could be embedded within a student’s academic program.

We are mindful that a key role of the U.S. Department of Education is encouraging innovation, including through funding, regulatory flexibilities, and celebrating best practices. In the FITW program, we look forward to supporting the most innovative new thinking to support first-generation and low-income students.

Ted Mitchell is the Under Secretary of Education.

Selma Invites Students to Discuss Education and Civil Rights

President Obama has said, “the story of the Civil Rights Movement was written in our schools.” Secretary Duncan has echoed that, “education is the civil rights issue of our generation.” This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches.

A recent event brought together more than two dozen students from New York and New Jersey high schools to show the film, Selma, with the film’s director, Ana Duvernay. The event was hosted by the United Nations and commemorated the new Memorial to Victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The evening aimed to “expose the legacy of slavery,” but also to emphasize the message of nonviolent organizing and the importance of education and civil rights in an international context. Selma tells the story of the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery that spurred the Voting Rights Act of 1965. More than a historical narrative, Selma shows how people of all backgrounds and life stories can come together in nonviolence to achieve progress.

Students at the event got to meet and take selfies with director Ana Duvernay. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Students at the event got to meet and take selfies with director Ana Duvernay. (Photo credit: Invision Agency)

DuVernay is the first black woman director to have a film nominated for an Academy Award.  At the event, she announced that a copy of the Selma DVD along with classroom resources will be sent to every U.S. high school, for educators to choose to use in their classrooms. When asked about the power of film in teaching history in the classroom, DuVernay said that “films are really empathy machines; they allow you to walk in someone else’s shoes, to be in someone else’s skin.” The civil rights movement is “furthered and fostered, and how it is advanced and matures certainly is steeped in the classroom.”

Students at the event were reminded of the continuity of history and their responsibility as citizens. Emily, a senior at Stuyvesant High School, said the movie showed that, “you have to get out there and speak for what’s right, especially if you are being oppressed.”

Maisha, another Stuyvesant senior, added that, “the movie very well depicts that peaceful methods of protest work.” A third student, Rabia, noted the power of film in teaching history to students. In Selma, “you can see and feel what [civil rights leaders] were going against, that the odds were not in their favor … [and] you feel what they stood up for … and [believe] that you can also take that risk now to stand up for what you believe in, even if you feel it might not work.”

Philip Mott, a social studies teacher from Stuyvesant High School in New York noted that the civil rights movement “is a legacy that has been passed on to us that we have an obligation to pass on to our students.”

Taylor Owen Ramsey is an education program specialist in ED’s New York Regional Office.

U.S. Educators Leading on the World’s Teacher Leadership Stage

The following is compiled from reflections from the six teachers and one principal who attended the International Summit on the Teaching Profession 2015 (ISTP 2015) as representatives of the U.S. Delegation. The teachers have all been active in Teach to Lead and are members of three of the initiatives’ key support organizations – the Hope Street Group, National Network of State Teachers of the Year, and Teach Plus. Sharif El-Mekki, the author, is a Principal Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education.

Seeing the sights in Banff. Front row from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Pam Reilly, Wendy Bandi, Jennifer Aponte; Back row: Joseph Fatheree, Sharif El-Mekki and Mark Sass. Not Pictured: Natalie McCutchen (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Seeing the sights in Banff. Front row from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Pam Reilly, Wendy Bandi, Jennifer Aponte; Back row: Joseph Fatheree, Sharif El-Mekki and Mark Sass. Not Pictured: Natalie McCutchen (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

It was wholly evident to us at ISTP 2015 that great teaching is increasingly being recognized worldwide – and rightfully so — as a key catalyst to improving trajectories for individual citizens and whole countries. The theme of the summit, Implementing Highly Effective Teacher Policy and Practice, focused on: developing and promoting effective leadership among principals, teachers, and administrators, valuing teachers and strengthening their sense of effectiveness or “self-efficacy;” and encouraging innovation in the 21st-century classroom. As guests of the U.S. Department of Education, Secretary Arne Duncan invited us to attend, learn and contribute.

Being party to this international conversation was exciting. As Jennifer Aponte, a K-12 teacher from Boston said, all the countries and delegates “should be commended for tackling the most complex educational issues.” These are not easy issues and it is such a tremendous opportunity for countries to learn from one another. However it was Secretary Duncan’s decision, Joe Fatheree, 2007 IL Teacher of the Year, noted to add “an authentic teacher’s voice to the conversation” that, “helped enrich the dialogue between global leaders on the importance of teacher leadership and innovation.” A key theme of the summit was teacher leadership and by inviting teachers and a principal, the Department of Education continued promoting educators as leaders and demonstrated its leadership on this issue.

Throughout the event, we were surprised that the sessions and panels did not include active practitioners nor highlighted active teachers as experts. As Wendi Bandi, 3-4th math teacher from Fall River, MA, put it, “the format of the summit did not reflect the ideas being discussed.” Mark Sass, a high school history teacher from CO observed, “teachers were continually referred to in the third person.” While ISTP 2015 had several experts about the field share useful analyses, there were no experts in the field lending their experience and expertise. Natalie McCutchen, a middle school math teacher from KY, remarked, “I was in awe…but one aspect of ISTP that kept resonating with me was that teachers should be in the forefront of the summit; teachers needed to be the ones delivering firsthand accounts of the initiatives and programs that have proved successful in their schools… teachers need to be the voice, face, and the experts of education.”

In an unusual move, Secretary Duncan insisted that the seven us be in the room to help shape the U.S. Delegation’s commitments for 2015 and asked that Jeff Charbonneau, the 2013 National Teacher of the Year, present our commitments to the international community. This symbolized that educators were both an integral part of creating the United States’ commitments, as well as key to meeting them. In doing so, “Secretary Duncan modeled what teacher leadership looks like when you cultivate and empower teachers to flourish as visionary leaders and not just part of the backdrop,” said Pam Reilly, the 2014 IL Teacher of the Year. Indeed, the seven of us felt very empowered, and in the pursuit of continuous improvement, convened a meeting with the other teachers from around the world. Collectively we committed to supporting teachers becoming an integral part of the 2016 International Summit on the Teaching Profession. 

Next year, at this time, each country will travel to Berlin to share the progress they made towards and lessons learned from the commitments they announced in Banff. How the summit is formatted will also tell a story about countries’ commitment to teacher leadership. It is exciting that so many great minds are devoted to tackling some of teaching’s most complex issues. We are confident that we can build on the successes of the 2015 Summit and include more practitioners among those great minds. As leaders in U.S. schools, we are committed to help make this happen.

Sharif El-Mekki, is principal of Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker in Philadelphia and a 2013-15 Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow of the U.S. Department of Education.

#MoveInMay: How Movement Made Me; Celebrating National Physical Fitness & Sports Month

Cross-posted from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition blog

I can’t imagine growing up without sports and play. Moving my body – whether it was riding my bike with my brother Wes, shooting hoops, or playing tag at recess – seeded a lifelong love of physical fitness and the confidence to pursue my Olympic dreams.

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From playing capture the flag in physical education class to double dutch on the playground to joining the school’s track and field team, physical activity was an instrumental part of my mental and physical development. There is no question that being active from early childhood through high school helped me excel both in the classroom and as an Olympic sprinter. I want every child in America to experience those same benefits of physical activity.

While math class prepares us to solve problems and English teaches us the fundamentals of writing and grammar, movement instills invaluable life skills. It is through a game of Red Rover that kids begin to develop an understanding of cooperation, and through hide and seek that critical thinking is sharpened. When children learn how strong their bodies are by swimming a lap or biking up a hill, they develop a sense of accomplishment and a positive body image. And, when kids learn how to play kickball, volleyball or baseball, they learn how to work with others to achieve a goal.

Even more, some of our earliest challenges happen through physical activity and sport. Remember being frustrated because you kept getting caught in tag? Or when your friend broke the rules in foursquare? Or losing every soccer game of the season? This is where kids learn how to deal with conflict, how to win and lose with grace, and how to socialize with their peers and elders.

With a degree in elementary education and passion for helping kids succeed, I understand that quality education is needed more than ever. I also know that being physically active for at least 60 minutes during the school day leads to an increased level of focus and performance in the classroom. With that evidence, just think about how powerful active learning environments can really be!

So, I challenge all school leaders, teachers and parents to find new and creative ways to get your students moving and playing this May. You can start by enrolling in Let’s Move! Active Schools, part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, aimed at ensuring 60 minutes of physical activity a day is the new norm in schools across the country. Also, Fire Up Your Feet and Safe Routes to School National Partnership have some great resources for educators to track physical activity during the school day and help incorporate National Bike to School Day (May 6) into your curriculum. And, USA Track & Field even has a RunJumpThrow program that introduces kids to the basics of track and field.

Thank you for making a difference and for your dedication to our nation’s youth. Kudos on a great school year, and I look forward to seeing your kids moving more this May!

Allyson Felix is a  member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Member and Six-Time U.S. Olympic Track & Field Medalist.

#ThankATeacher During Teacher Appreciation Week!

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week!

Great teaching can inspire and affect the lives of students — and we wanted to share a few of those sentiments with you!

We asked students of all ages to give us their thoughts about their favorite teachers:

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While we all agree teachers deserve a special day and week, the U.S. Department of Education wants to honor educators year-round.

Download your own graphic and tell us why you want to thank a teacher! Then share on social media using #ThankATeacher and help us spotlight great teachers across the country. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook for more. And get more inspiring info about teachers who are leading from the classroom through Teach to Lead.

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.