5 Things To Consider When Taking Out Student Loans

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Federal student loans can be a great way to help pay for college or career school. While you shouldn’t be afraid to take out federal student loans, you should be smart about it. Before you take out a loan, it’s important to understand that a loan is a legal obligation that you will be responsible for repaying with interest.

Here are some tips to help you become a responsible borrower.

  1. Research starting salaries in your field. Ask your school for starting salaries of recent graduates in your field of study to get an idea of how much you are likely to earn after you graduate. You can use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook to estimate salaries for different careers or use a career search tool to research careers and view the average annual salary for each career.
  2. Keep track of how much you’re borrowing. Don’t wait till right before you graduate to figure this out. Think about how the amount of your loans will affect your future finances, and how much you can afford to repay. Your student loan payments should be only a small percentage of your salary after you graduate (8% is a good rule of thumb!), so it’s important not to borrow more than you need. If you’ve already borrowed for your education, you can view all of your federal student loan information in one place. Go  to nslds.ed.gov, select Financial Aid Review, and log in. You can also use our Repayment Estimator to calculate what your monthly payments might be based on your current loan balance.
  3. Understand the terms of your loan and keep copies of your loan documents. When you sign your promissory note, you are agreeing to repay the loan according to the terms of the note even if you don’t complete your education, can’t get a job after you complete the program, or didn’t like the education you received.
  4. Keep in touch with your loan servicer. Your loan servicer is the company that handles the billing and other services on your federal student loan on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. When you begin paying back your loan, you will work directly with your loan servicer. Also, make sure you notify your loan servicer if you change your name, address, or Social Security number or when you graduate, withdraw from school, drop below half-time status, or transfer to another school. Staying in contact with your servicer will make it easier for you to successfully repay your student loans once you’ve left college.
  5. Stay ahead of your student loan payments. Once your loan enters repayment, you are required to make your scheduled loan payment as determined by your repayment plan.  If you’ve done your homework, your scheduled monthly payment amount won’t be a surprise and you’ll be prepared to begin making payments. But, if you do find yourself having trouble making your scheduled loan payments, take advantage of our flexible repayment options. Contact your servicer immediately to discuss ways to keep your loan in good standing.

Remember, federal student loans are an investment in your future so invest wisely and borrow only what you need. Find out more about student loan repayment, including when repayment starts, how to make your payment, repayment plan options, and more!

Tara Marini is a communication analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid

Early Screening is Vital to Children and their Families

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The Unity Sunshine Program of Unity House of Troy in Troy, New York, offers an inclusive early learning program.

How a child plays, learns, speaks, moves, and behaves all offer important clues about a child’s development. A delay in any of these developmental milestones could be a sign of developmental challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Early intervention services, like those services that help a child learn to speak, walk, or interact with others, can really make a difference and enhance a child’s learning and development. Unfortunately, too many young children do not have access to the early screening that can help detect developmental delays.

Additionally, the CDC states that an estimated one in every 68 children in the United States has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Unfortunately, most children identified with ASD were not diagnosed until after age four, even though children can be diagnosed as early as age two or younger.

While it is imperative that all young children have access to screening and appropriate services, research highlights the need to ensure developmental screening in low-income, racially diverse urban populations, where the risk of delay is greater and access to services can be more difficult. Studies found that by 24 months of age, black children were almost five times less likely than white children to receive early intervention services, and that a lack of receipt of services appeared more consistently among black children who qualified based on developmental delay alone compared to children with a diagnosed condition. The research suggests that children of color are disproportionately underrepresented in early intervention services and less likely than white children to be diagnosed with developmental delays.

Statistics such as these can help us raise the awareness about the importance of early screening. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children receive developmental screenings with a standardized developmental screening tool at 9, 18, and either 24 or 30 months of age. Children who are screened and identified as having, or at risk for, a developmental delay can be referred to their local early intervention service program (if they are under 3 years of age), or their local public school (if they are 3 years of age or older), for additional evaluation to determine whether they are eligible for IDEA Part C or Part B 619 services. Further, screening young children early may help families to better access other federal and State-funded early learning and development services, such as home visiting, Early Head Start, Head Start, preschool, and child care.

Last month, I was pleased to announce that the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services worked together to launch Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! This initiative encourages early developmental and behavioral screening and follow-up with support for children and families by providing a compendium of research-based screening tools and “how to” guides for a variety of audiences, including parents, doctors, teachers, and child care providers. Research shows that early identification can lead to greater access to supports and services, helping children develop and learn.

I’ve seen first-hand how States and local providers are working to ensure that some of our most at risk children get the supports and services they need…early. I’ve met with providers of early childhood services from Las Cruces, New Mexico to East Boston, Massachusetts. The Unity Sunshine Program of Unity House of Troy in Troy, New York offers a fully integrated and inclusive early learning setting for young children with disabilities to learn alongside their typically developing peers. I’ve also learned how critical it is for States and local providers to engage, support, and empower families of young children with disabilities.

Early screening and identification are critically important steps towards giving young children with disabilities a strong start in life. Check out Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive! and learn how you can support some of our most vulnerable children and their families.

Michael Yudin is Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education

 

Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault in Schools: Resources and a Call to Action

Every year, about 1 in 10 American teenagers experiences physical violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend, and many others are sexually and emotionally abused. Dating violence can inflict long‑lasting pain, putting survivors at increased risk of substance abuse, depression, poor academic performance, suicidal ideation, and future violence. The U.S. Department of Education is dedicated to working with students, families, educators, and communities to prevent abuse and support survivors.

In one Texas high school, a student was raped in the band room. After reporting it to her teacher, she was told to confront her attacker to discuss what happened. The school district then accused the teenager of “public lewdness” and then removed her from her high school. She – and the rapist – were sent to the same disciplinary school.

Rather than supporting her, she was punished by the people charged with protecting her.  The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigated and found that the school had violated Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. As part of the settlement, the district agreed to, among other things, revise its policies and procedures, provide mandatory annual training for staff, and designate a counselor at each school as “on call” for students reporting sexual harassment.

The Department of Education, our federal partners, and countless schools and colleges nationwide are committed to preventing incidents like this. We are working together to raise awareness, develop effective prevention strategies, and educate young people about healthy relationships. We recognize that the real work of preventing teen dating violence and sexual assault happens at the local level, in schools, in homes, and in community centers across the nation. Schools must clearly communicate that they will not tolerate violence of any kind, will respond to any students who report it, and will hold offenders accountable. It is also critical that we support those students who have experienced violence, which may include providing access to academic support or counseling.

The Department is vigorously enforcing compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act—laws that help make our schools safer. The following resources provide more information to support schools and communities in their efforts to create safe, healthy learning environments and identify, investigate, and remedy teen dating violence and sexual assault:

If you, a friend, or a loved one, is in an abusive relationship, the National Dating Abuse Helpline will offer immediate and confidential support.  To contact the Helpline, call 1‑866‑331‑9474, text “loveis” to 22522, or visit www.LoveIsRespect.org.

Community College Students Talk Transitions with Secretary Duncan

When someone says, “I want to go to college,” a traditional four-year college or university often comes to mind.

Many don’t think of community colleges as an option, even though they are the single largest sector of the U.S. higher education system, enrolling nearly half of all undergraduates each year.

Community colleges provide opportunity and access to millions of students, helping them prepare for a degree at a four-year institution, obtain an associate’s degree, or retrain and retool for the 21st century global economy.

On March 18, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with student leaders from the American Student Association of Community Colleges to discuss the importance of community colleges. The student leaders were in Wastington for their annual national Student Advocacy Conference.

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Are You Ready to Pay for College?

On April 1st President Obama announced April as National Financial Capability Month with a focus on ensuring all Americans have the tools they need to navigate the financial world and gain economic freedom. In today’s economy, financial capability is essential for managing through some of life’s biggest transitions, including paying for college. A solid understanding of money management basics makes it easier to avoid scams, spot misleading information, and make sound financial decisions on financing your education and avoiding unmanageable debt when you graduate.

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The first step in paying for college is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at www.fafsa.gov. Federal Student Aid has over $150 billion in financial aid available for college and it all starts with the FAFSA. The FAFSA is FREE, so you should never have to pay to have someone submit it for you. In addition, many states also have state aid available to help finance your education. You’ll want to make sure to complete your FAFSA by the priority deadline for your state to be eligible for those additional funds.  You should also spend time looking for scholarships. Many are based on your interests, community service, organization affiliations, etc. and not just your grades. StudentAid.gov has lots of great information and resources on planning and paying for college including how to search for scholarships.

Once you’ve completed your FAFSA, you won’t get a check in the mail from the government. There’s a little more to it than that. Once you’ve been accepted to the school of your choice, they will send you a financial aid award letter listing all the financial aid you are eligible for. The timing of the aid offer varies from school to school, and you could receive an aid offer as early as spring (awarding for the fall). You’ll want to be an informed consumer and make sure to closely review your aid offer. You can also compare offers from different schools to see which might be best for you. And you don’t have to accept everything that’s offered.  The rule is free money first (scholarships and grants), then earned money (work-study), and then borrowed money (federal student loans). Check out this handy chart that illustrates the order in which you should accept financial aid.

If you do have to take out student loans make sure to borrow only what you need and try and limit borrowing to federal student loans. Federal student loans typically have lower interest rates and more flexibility when it comes time to pay them back. Federal Student Aid also has a Repayment Estimator which can help you get an idea of what your monthly student loan payment may be when you graduate. This tool will help you see what impact the loans you are about to get can have on your future finances. Don’t wait until you’re ready to graduate to find out what those student loan payments might be and wonder if you can afford them!

Education is an important step in getting a good paying job and can lay the foundation for your financial future. Plan ahead and make smart decisions about how you finance it.

Susan Thares is the digital engagement lead at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid

Washington State Teachers Bring Real-World Problems to the Classroom

Cross-posted from the OII blog.

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Teachers at Sammamish High School meet for collaborative PBL curriculum planning. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Miller/Edutopia)

Changing a high school curriculum — such as moving it from traditional pedagogy and assessment to problem-based learning (PBL) — is a huge challenge, and one that the faculty and students at Sammamish High School in Washington state’s Bellevue School District know well. They’re three years into a five-year transition to PBL with support from an Investing in Innovation (i3) Development grant.

Since the inception of their i3 project in 2010, teachers and administrators at Sammamish High School have collaborated and redesigned 30 courses to incorporate PBL. They believe it will better prepare their students for college and careers by making content across the curriculum more engaging and relevant to the world students will encounter after high school. “Turning the school inside out,” is how Suzanne Reeve, a Sammamish High teacher leader, describes it.

Collaboration has been key for teachers and students as they make the transition from Sammamish’s traditional curriculum to problem-based learning. Seventy-five teachers so far have worked in subject-area teams to create rigorous coursework that engages all students. It’s a “really challenging mental shift” for the teachers, according to Adrienne Curtis Dickinson, another of the PBL teacher leaders, but the course redesign process is giving teachers a voice and the ability to decide where best to integrate problems or projects into the curriculum.

Dickinson, who is social studies teacher at Sammamish, is reporting on her school’s journey in Edutopia™, part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, that is collaborating with the Bellevue schools on the implementation of its i3 project. Click here to read her latest report and watch a companion video in “Case Study: Reinventing a Public High School with Problem-Based Learning.”

Restructuring the core subjects of math and English were especially challenging. But with thoughtful planning, student-designed games enhanced a unit on probability by increasing the engagement of students who struggled with math. In English classes, students are engaging with literature texts in different ways, such as writing about how the big ideas in classic works are relevant to their lives and society today. Across the curriculum, students find themselves more engaged in the coursework and collaborating with each other for projects as they take ownership of their own learning.

Holly Clark is a management and program analyst in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and the program officer for the Bellevue School District i3 grant.

Kids: Time to Get Cooking!

Kids – it’s time to get cookin’! Entries are now being accepted for the third annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner.

This nationwide recipe challenge aims to promote healthy eating among America’s youth. Children and their parents are encouraged to create original lunchtime recipes that are healthy, affordable and — above all else — delicious.

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Fifty-six children (one from each state, DC, Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories) and their parent or guardian will be flown to Washington D.C., and have the opportunity  to attend a Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. A selection of the winning healthy recipes will be served.

Let’s Move! has teamed up with Epicurious, the Department of Education and USDA to sponsor this gastronomic challenge and encourage healthy eating habits.

The rules are simple: the recipe must be healthy, delicious, original, affordable, and meaningful. Details and past examples are available here. All entrants are encouraged to reference the MyPlate nutritional guidelines to ensure recipes meet the primary criterion of being healthier.

Recipe submissions will be accepted through April 5th … so head on into the kitchen soon!

Learn more:

Dorothy Amatucci is a new media analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Student Leaders Speak About Preparing for 21st Century Careers

Everyone wants a fast track to a job they’ll love.  And, what student wouldn’t enjoy the chance to develop leadership skills and explore a field of interest – before they enter college and the workplace?

America’s Career and Technical Student Organizations – or CTSOs – have a proud history of helping future professionals gain the skills and experience they’ll need to excel in a wide range of challenging careers, like health care, education, technology, business and finance, management and marketing, agriculture, or manufacturing.  Many CTSOs got their start early in the last century.  But today, these groups are intently focused on helping students to master 21st century realities.

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At the event. Pictured, from left to right: Cole Simmons, Lyndsay Robinson, Devindra Persad, Kyle Clement, Arne Duncan, Carter Christensen, Daria Ferdin, Caleb Gum, Mollie Miller, and Brian Will

In February, to honor Career and Technical Education Month student representatives from nine of the nation’s CTSOs traveled to the Department from as far away as Florida, to meet with Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier. Some of these students already attend college; others are high school students making plans for postsecondary education.  All of them were eager to explain the ways that CTSOs – from the Future Business Leaders of America and Health Occupations Students of America, to SkillsUSA and the Technology Students Association – help make sure their members can seize the opportunities in today’s competitive economy.

The students discussed their CTSOs’ missions, goals, and recent events.  Secretary Duncan asked how their involvement in these organizations is preparing them for success in college and careers.  Devindra Persad answered, “I think being in a CTSO strengthens our minds and lets us know that when we graduate we will be doing something.”

Devindra should know: over the past seven years, he has served as HOSA’s Regional Secretary, Regional Vice President, and Florida HOSA State Southern Vice President. This involvement has led to real-world experiences at local level, with his neighborhood fire department, all the way to the national level, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of the Surgeon General.

The students expressed confidence in the skills their organizations have taught them, and described ways that their participation has allowed them to discover their passions and set a clearer course for the future.  Nearly all of the CTSO groups host state and national competitions, as well as conferences for their members to network together and participate in development workshops.

SkillsUSA representative and New Jersey native Daria Ferdin made it clear that access is open to all interested students. “With joining a CTSO,” she said, “the great thing is that it doesn’t matter what race or religion or economic class you are; everyone is able to do it.”  Many CTSOs provide scholarships and other forms of financial assistance for members with limited resources.  Daria’s organization offers a wide umbrella for students interested in trade, technical and skilled service occupations; she explained that the lessons she’s learned during four years of membership, combined with her cinematic arts classes, have brought her dream of starting a production company within reach.

According to these youth advocates for CTSOs, there’s just one challenge: increasing the general public’s awareness of just how much these organization can help students. Carter Christensen serves as national President for DECA, a student organization focused on equipping emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.  “It’s not just about telling parents how great CTSOs are,” he noted, “but getting schools to recognize it, too.”  Through DECA, Carter has spent the past year traveling and speaking at events across the United States. In addition to public and civic events, he has also served as spokesman on CTSO issues, representing DECA and other groups in meetings with policymakers in the capitol of his home state of South Dakota.

These students came to Washington with a mission: to offer Secretary Duncan and the Obama Administration their perspective on the advantages of CTSO participation.  And, no one who met these articulate and motivated young people could doubt their message: career and technical student organizations provide the information and exposure students need to shape their college and career goals, along with experiences that help them feel confident and able to take charge of their futures.

Last year, in a speech at the FFA National Convention, Secretary Duncan told a cheering crowd of 15,000 CTSO members, “Our nation needs your skills, your passion, your compassion, and your talents to compete and prosper in a knowledge-based, globally competitive economy.”

The students who visited the Department in February made it clear that they were ready to answer the call – and that America’s CTSOs had helped them to get there.

This discussion is part of the ongoing Student Voices Series, where students engage with the Secretary of Education and senior staff to solicit and help develop recommendations on current programs and future policies. 

Sam Ryan is special assistant and youth liaison at the U.S. Department of Education

The White House Hosts Its First-Ever Student Film Festival

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President Barack Obama speaks with students in the State Dining Room prior to the White House Student Film Festival in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Back in November, we asked K-12 students across the country to create short films on the role that technology plays in their classrooms. We asked them to tell us why technology is so important, and how it will change the educational experience for kids in the future.

And they responded with nearly 3,000 films.

Today, in collaboration with the American Film Institute, we hosted more than a dozen of the young filmmakers at the first-ever White House Student Film Festival, where we presented our 16 official selections. Special guests included Kal Penn, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, along with Conan O’Brien who addressed the students by video.

To kick things off, President Obama addressed the attendees and told the young filmmakers how great their movies were:

[I]n my official capacity as President, let me just say these movies are awesome. Like all great movies, yours do something special — they tell a story. They help us understand, in this case, the amazing things that are going on in classrooms and how technology is empowering our students and broadening their imaginations and challenging them to dream bigger and reach further.

The President also talked briefly about his ConnectED initiative, which aims to connect 99 percent of America’s students to next-generation, high-speed Internet over the next five years. He announced $400 million in new commitments from Adobe and Prezi to make free software available to teachers and students, helping introduce creative learning materials to America’s classrooms. Coupled with the $750 million in commitments that the President announced earlier this month, private-sector leaders have pledged – in February alone – to invest more than $1 billion in America’s students.

Read his full remarks here.

Lights, camera, action!

If you missed the livestream of the event, don’t worry – the film festival’s official selections, as well as the videos that received honorable mentions, are below for your viewing pleasure:

OFFICIAL SELECTIONS:

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Today: The First-Ever White House Student Film Festival

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The very best person to talk to about how modern technology is changing our classrooms isn’t me, or even the President.

It’s a student who is actually learning from those tools every day — accessing school assignments online, watching online video lessons to learn a new concept, or even talking directly with other students around the world with new technology.

That’s why, a few months ago, the White House challenged students all across the country to create short films answering a simple question:

Why is technology so important in the classroom — and how will it change the educational experience for kids in the future?

The response was overwhelming. And today, the 16 official selections are going to be screened at the first-ever White House Student Film Festival.

You’re going to want to tune in for this one. Watch the official selections, then tune in today at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Today’s going to be a fun day, but this event speaks to something much bigger.

That’s because these students’ films all illustrate the critical conversation about education in our country right now: the importance of connecting our classrooms.

The fact is that right now, only around 30% of our students have the high-speed Internet access they need for digital learning. That means millions of kids across the country aren’t currently benefiting from the kinds of technologies that made the student films you’ll watch today possible.

The President’s ConnectED initiative is making sure that changes — by connecting 99 percent of students to next-generation, high-speed broadband within five years.

Want to see exactly why that’s so important? Just take a look at some of the incredible things kids can produce when they’re connected.

See the official film festival selections, then make sure you’re watching the event at 2:30 p.m. ET today.

Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Expanding Opportunity with Help from the FFA

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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan meets with FFA students before the 2013 FFA National Convention in Louisville, KY last November. This week is National FFA Week.

Editor’s Note: In celebration of National FFA Week (Feb. 15-22), we asked McKenzie Baecker a former ED intern and current student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to guest author this post.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and graduating high school with a class size of 40 makes it easy to assume that I didn’t have the opportunities or the quality education needed to succeed beyond the classroom. However, since joining the FFA (formerly known as the “Future Farmers of America”) as a seventh grader, a foundation was laid to open many possibilities for my future. The student organization helped me network with agricultural leaders, interact with students from across the country, and grow as an individual.

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McKenzie Baecker a FFA member, former ED intern and current student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

In nine years of FFA membership, my agriculture teacher pushed me outside my comfort zone by encouraging me to compete in speaking contests and attend leadership conferences to meet new people. I served in leadership capacities and have given back to my community through a variety of service projects. It did not take me long to realize the positive impact that FFA can make on students and I found myself developing a passion for the organization and agricultural education. After experiencing all of this and watching the enthusiasm of other agriculture teachers, it felt natural for me to pursue my own career in agricultural education.

Along with my classroom/laboratory instruction and Supervised Agricultural Experience, FFA opened the door to the opportunities and quality education that many believe does not exist in a small, rural school. The combination of all three of these elements and dedicated agricultural education teachers, I left high school both college and career ready.

In 2010, I started college at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls as an agricultural education major and FFA came with me. While college has been filled with many wonderful experiences, one of the most valuable was this past fall when I had the opportunity to intern with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in Washington, D.C. After receiving the offer, I traded my barn boots for heels and this small town girl hit the city. While working on rural education outreach efforts at ED, the puzzle piece I had of growing up in rural Wisconsin and graduating from a small school suddenly fit into a much larger picture. I was surrounded by talented individuals who were all working to ensure our nation’s students receive the quality education they deserve.

As I approach my final year of college, I am eagerly awaiting my turn to make a positive difference in the lives of students, whether that is teaching in a classroom, or working on educational issues at the government level. Agricultural education puts in students’ hands what they need today so they can be themselves tomorrow, and I am ready to play my part in that noble task. FFA has led me here and my desire to influence positive change in education is keeping me here.

McKenzie Baecker a former intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach and a senior at the University of Wisconsin-River Fall.

Students, Educators to Join First Lady During State of the Union

In less than 12 hours, President Barack Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union Address. Education is sure to be one of the topics the President addresses in a speech that will lay out “practical proposals to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and empower all who hope to join it.”

For decades, First Ladies have invited extraordinary Americans that match the themes of the State of the Union Address to join them in her viewing box. This year, educators and students are well represented:

Joey Hudy
“Maker” and Intel Intern – Anthem, Ariz.

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Joey Hudy is a self-described “Maker,” part of a growing community of young people, adults, and entrepreneurs who are designing and building things on their own time. Joey first shot to fame in 2012 when, at 14-years-old, he attended the White House Science Fair where the President took a turn using the contraption he had made — the “extreme marshmallow cannon” – and launched a marshmallow across the East Room. Joey then handed the President a card with his credo: “Don’t be bored, make something.” Now 16, he has continued to live by his motto, appearing at Maker Faires all across the country. Joey, a proponent of STEM education, is determined to teach other kids about how they can make and do anything they want. Joey lives in Anthem, Arizona with his mom, dad, and older sister. Earlier this month, he started as Intel’s youngest intern, a position Intel CEO Brian Krzanich offered him on the spot at his Maker Faire exhibit.

Kathy Hollowell-Makle
2013 DCPS Teacher of the Year – Washington, D.C.

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Kathy Hollowell-Makle was named 2013’s District of Columbia Public School’s Teacher of the Year after more than 15 years teaching in the District. Kathy began as a Teach for America corps member in the District in 1998 and currently teaches at Abram Simon Elementary in Southeast Washington, DC. By the school year’s end, more than 90 percent of her students demonstrate early literacy at proficient or advanced levels and last year, more than 80 percent of her students advanced two or more reading levels. Kathy contributed some of her experience and expertise to a roundtable with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding early childhood education. Kathy emphasizes a positive attitude and focuses on fluency in reading, writing and counting, explaining: “The best part of teaching is having former students recognize me, and being able to see how wonderful they turned out to be.” Kathy lives in Washington, DC with her husband Stephen and two sons Amir and Ian. She is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Aliana Arzola- Piñero
2013 Kids State Dinner Attendee – San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Aliana Arzola-Piñero, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, is in fourth grade at the Colegio Puertorriqueño de Niñas. Aliana is an avid reader and gymnast who loves to cook with her grandma, something she’s done since she was two-years-old. She participated in the 2012 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge sponsored by the First Lady. While she didn’t win, she worked hard, tried again, and her perseverance paid off as she proudly represented Puerto Rico at the 2013 Kid’s State Dinner hosted by the First Lady. Her winning recipe “Yummy Eggplant Lasagna Rolls,” incorporates the “My Plate” guidelines. Aliana has worked hard to translate her experience visiting the White House into concrete steps to benefit her community, championing healthy eating and an active lifestyle for kids.

Cristian Avila
DREAMer, “Core Faster” and Voter Engagement Coordinator, Mi Familia Vota – Phoenix, Ariz.

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Cristian Avila, 23, was brought to the United States with his younger brother and sister when he was nine-years-old. Though Cristian became an All-American scholar by 7th grade and received a full scholarship to a private Jesuit high school, he was limited by his undocumented status. Last year he received temporary relief from deportation through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The 23-year-old Arizona resident started volunteering with Mi Familia Vota, a non-profit Latino civic engagement program, at the age of 16, and he was one of the core fasters in the Fast for Families demonstration late last year at the foot of the Capitol, which the President, Vice President, First Lady and Cabinet and Administration officials visited. After 22 days, he passed on the fast to others but has continued to push Congress to take up comprehensive immigration reform. Cristian is fighting for commonsense immigration reform so he can one day join the US Marine Corps and serve our country in uniform.

Sabrina Simone Jenkins – Charleston, S.C.

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Sabrina Simone Jenkins – through obstacle after obstacle – has persevered in getting herself educated, determined to make a better life for herself and her family. Sabrina is a single mother to her teenage daughter Kenya. After serving in the Air Force, Sabrina took classes at DeVry University while working full time, graduating with a 3.7 GPA at the age of 42 – all while caring for ailing family members and becoming seriously ill herself. Sabrina then earned her master’s degree in human resources in 2012. Sabrina is currently saddled with nearly $90,000 in student loan debt, something that will only worsen as she pays for Kenya to go to college. Sabrina’s remarkable resolve through incredibly difficult circumstances brought her to the attention of The Shriver Report, which seeks to highlight the 1 in 3 American women living on the brink of poverty. The President is determined to help people like Sabrina – Americans who are working hard and doing the right things – get ahead.

Antoinette Tuff
DeKalb County Bookkeeper – Atlanta, Ga.

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On August 20, 2013, the world learned of the compassion and heroism of Antoinette Tuff, the DeKalb County bookkeeper who prevented a shooting at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school in the suburbs of Atlanta. Tuff, a mother of one daughter and one son, talked the would-be shooter down, sharing her personal struggles, discussing love and doing her best to connect with him until he surrendered before harming anyone. Now, instead of being known for another tragic school shooting, August 20, 2013 is remembered for one woman’s grace under pressure. The President called Tuff after the ordeal and has said what she did was “remarkable.” Antoinette has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal for civilian heroism.

Estiven Rodriguez
Student, Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School – New York, N.Y.
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Estiven Rodriguez is the son of a Dominican immigrant, he arrived in the United States when he was nine years old and didn’t speak any English. When he entered Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) in the sixth grade, he still spoke and understood very limited English. Now a high school senior, Estiven is one of the top students in his class and will attend Dickinson College in the fall on a Posse Foundation Scholarship, making him a first-generation college student. “At only 16, 17 years old, he, in many ways, embodies the spirit of a life-long learner. He is a model student,” said Erick Espin, Estiven’s 11th grade United States history teacher. Outside of his academic studies, Estiven is also a member of the school’s math club, and soccer and track teams. Earlier this month, Estiven attended an event at the White House on expanding college opportunity.  His story underscores the importance of the President’s goal to give all kids a chance to get ahead, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

Watch an enhanced version of the State of the Union on WhiteHouse.gov, and find out how you can engage with the Administration following the address.

 Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education