Hope, Perseverance, Family, & Access to Education

On June 6, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education hosted an internal immigration reform briefing in which we shared how comprehensive immigration reform relates to the work we do at the Department of Education.  Immigration reform is not only about how the country deals with undocumented workers and the children they bring with them; it is also about how we help all immigrants assimilate and integrate into American society.

The briefing featured three student speakers who shared personal stories about their experiences with the immigration system.  These stories highlighted challenges faced by many immigrant students in financing their educations.

Claudia Rojas, a Northern Virginia Community College student hoping to one day pursue a Ph.D. in creative writing, shared her story of moving to Virginia twelve years ago under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after an earthquake destroyed her town in El Salvador. Claudia explained that her single mother works tirelessly to make ends meet and help pay for Claudia’s education, and, in Claudia’s words: “Though I often feel guilty attending college, as a first generation student, I remind myself that my degree will not be mine alone; it will belong to my mother, who couldn’t finish elementary school.”

Diego Sanchez, who is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Affairs and Public Policy, shared his story of how he did not fully comprehend his undocumented status until his academic advisor, at the age of 15, told him that he could not go to college. Diego explained that he felt his world was going to end, but instead of giving up, he applied and was accepted into a private college and thanks to his high standardized test scores, was given a scholarship that covered half his tuition. In order to pay the rest of his tuition, he joined the school choir, ran cross-country and joined the student government to obtain institutional funds.

Another student speaker, Angelo Mathay, is also a DACA recipient and currently serves as a law fellow at the National Immigration Law Center.   Angelo shared his experience that “the vast majority of immigrants I have worked with have fled poverty, violence and discrimination; they bring little except an unrelenting desire to work hard, contribute to society, and educate their children to become the next generation’s doctors, lawyers, and teachers.”  Angelo explained that he plans to practice immigration law to “help ensure social justice and equality for all.”

It is inspiring to learn what these students have all accomplished despite their challenges. Like other students across America, they are driven by a purpose to improve the world, a commitment to public service, and a belief that their education is the key to their success. Immigration reform is important not only for students like Angelo, Diego, and Claudia but for America’s future.

Gabriella Gomez, Assistant Secretary for The Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs. 

North Carolina Art Exhibit Stretches from Mountains to Sea

Ribbon Cutting at Art Exhibit

Student artists cut the ribbon to open the exhibit.

On June 21, the Department welcomed 175 students, family members, and teachers, as the North Carolina Art Education Association (NCAEA) opened its student art exhibit. For many of the guests, their day began before dawn as they boarded a bus in the mountains of North Carolina headed to the nation’s capital. The bus then worked its way towards the coast, giving added meaning to the exhibit’s title, “Artful Expressions: From the Mountains to the Sea.” The exhibit, which runs through July, features one student work from each of the 60 K–12, public and private North Carolina schools, as selected by the students’ NCAEA-member teachers.

The event was preceded by a guest reception with a performance by flautist Anna Peterson, music teacher at Yadkinville Elementary School.  One guest, a staffer from U.S. Representative David Price’s office, congratulated Isabella Kron, a graduating senior at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh. Kron, whose self-portrait was on display and who will be attending William & Mary College in the fall, said that it was an honor to have her work — a piece from her AP Studio Art portfolio — chosen as she had spent a great deal of time and effort on her art this past school year.

When discussing their art, the students had many themes in common. Several of the artists said that art was their favorite subject, and they liked seeing the final results of all their hard work. Natalie Jones, a first-grader from East Robeson Primary School in Lumberton and artist of the piece “Home,” said she liked “making new stuff.” “Musical Reflection” artist, Maisy Meakin, an 11th-grader, said she likes “making things look real.” Jeremiah Horton, kindergartner from Eastern Elementary School in Greenville, said his painting, “A is for Alligator,” blended his “favorite colors” to create an eye-catching piece.

Students playing bluegrass

Liam and Dylan Zink perform bluegrass selections.

It was an exciting experience for the students, many of whom had not been to D.C. before, to see their art hanging on the walls of a federal building.  One of these students, Samuel Rezac, a fifth-grade artist from Pine Elementary School, said that he may want to be an art teacher one day. Caleb Forbes, a 10th-grader from Mitchell High School in Bakersville, spoke of plans to pursue art, in some form, in college.

During the ceremony, several distinguished speakers shared their thoughts on the importance of the arts in schools. In her welcome remarks, Laurie Calvert, teacher liaison at the Department of Education and former English teacher from North Carolina, spoke of the importance of keeping the arts in schools and of the Department supporting that goal. Calvert said, “Thank you to the students and teachers, because your work inspires us every time we pass it and it reminds us why we’re here: We are here for you and we need to continually be about that. So, thank you so much for providing that jump — we need to keep it going.” Sandra Ruppert, director of the Arts Education Partnership, echoed that sentiment, saying, “The young artists and performers … along with their teachers and their families are a testament to why it is so important to ensure that a complete and competitive education includes the arts for every young person in America.”

Art work

Jeremiah Horton, far right, stands in front of his painting, “A is for Alligator” accompanied by family members.

Penny Freeland, art teacher at Forbush Middle School, and Codi Alyssa Brindle, a recently graduated student from Hobbton High School who hopes to study art education or art therapy, reminded participants that art is all around us, woven into the fabric of our society. Freeland told of turn-of-the-century snowflake photographer Wilson Bentley’s influential work. Relating his story to today’s young artists, Freeland said; “The things that you are learning, and doing, and sharing in the arts can impact people for over a hundred years. You never know what you are doing today or what you will do in your future that may be that awesome and that beautiful, so I encourage you to continue to pursue your passion in the arts, to continue to pass a heritage of the arts to our next generation.” In her speech, Brindle mirrored Freeland’s sentiment that art influences everything and gave as an example her experience teaching art to special needs children, which helped them to communicate better.

The opening also featured five student performances. Three violinists, brothers Liam (who also has a piece in the exhibit) and Dylan Zink from Brevard Elementary School, and Cherrie Yoon from St. Peter’s School in Greenville performed both classical and bluegrass music. Two pianists from Liberty Prep Christian Academy in Mooresville, first-grader Max Adair and fourth-grader Caden Mather, each played standard solo pieces, including a series of the blues tunes. Dancer Jodie Coble, a first-grader from Tanglewood Elementary in Lumberton, performed a patriotic dance with ribbon-twirling to the song “American Kid” by Go Fish.

NCAEA artistists

NCAEA artists, speakers, and performers.

In closing, NCAEA President Sandra Williams recognized each student in the exhibit individually as she called them to the stage. She told them that their art touches each individual on a personal level and allows each person to “see the world in new perspectives.” And with that, the crowd of artists, along with the rest of the large audience there to honor them, assembled for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting to officially open this superb collection of art from the classrooms of North Carolina.

Nicole Carinci is a management & program analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach and member of the Student Art Exhibit Program team.

 

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public place that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at 202-401-0762 or at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov

Seize the Summer: Keep Kids Active & Engaged in Learning

Did you know? Students can experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer months. On average, students lose the equivalent of two months of math and reading skills during the summer months. More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.

ReadingThis summer, let’s work to change that. Together, parents, guardians, and community members can help give our children the best foundation for the upcoming school year.

Stay Engaged:

Encourage reading all summer long. This will help prevent the “summer slide” and provide benefits that can be seen year-round.

  • Visit the local library and help your child put together a summer reading list. Celebrate each time he or she finishes a book, this will encourage them to complete the list by the time the summer ends.

Be Creative:

Summer is the perfect time to let your child’s imagination run wild and stimulate creativity. Kids.gov provides resources for arts and crafts projects that will keep children engaged and their minds active while having fun.

  • NGA Kids – Choose from a variety of activities or projects from the National Gallery of Art, enjoy an animated musical adventure, take a tour through the sculpture garden, and more.
  • Smithsonian – Are your children fans of Night at the Museum? Then this is the perfect activity for them. Here you are magically taken to the museums at night. To get back home, you have to solve mysteries and help your new friends find their artworks.

Stay Active & Healthy:

In addition to academic risks, children can also be at an increased risk of weight gain when they are out of school during the summer months. Take advantage of the warmer weather and keep youth active outdoors.

  • KidsHealth.org – How do you feed a picky eater or encourage a child to play outside? Learn how to keep your child healthy with the right foods and exercise.
  • Let’s Move! – Opportunities for kids to be physically active, both in and out of school and create new opportunities for families to be moving together.
  • USDA Summer Food Program-  This U.S. Department of Agriculture program provides free meals to all children 18 years old and under in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.

For additional tips throughout the summer, follow @usedgov on Twitter, and check out the U.S. Department of Education Facebook page.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Duncan Stops in Kentucky and Ohio to Talk Early Learning

Secretary Duncan and student

Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

The United States has to get out of the “catch up game” Secretary Arne Duncan said last week during a visit to an early childhood center in Kentucky. “Investing in high-quality early childhood education will help all our children get off to a strong start,” he said. Duncan joined local business, education, law enforcement, military, faith-based, and state leaders in Louisville last Thursday for a round table discussion at the St. Benedict Center for Early Childhood Education.

Duncan also participated in a community town hall later in the day at the YMCA Children’s Center in Middletown, Ohio. Both centers have been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

“Everywhere I go, there’s great work but tremendous unmet need,” Duncan said during his two-state visit. “We want to invest in and partner with states to provide services to more children.”

Duncan also spoke of the importance of providing a high-quality pre-kindergarten experience because it not only sets children on a positive trajectory for later school success, but also helps to develop their cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Research shows that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs demonstrate higher achievement levels in the elementary grades, show greater interest in learning, are less likely to require special education, and are more likely to graduate from high school. Research also shows early learning is a great investment: there is a documented $7 to $1 return on investment over time.

Earlier this year, President Obama put forward a plan to make access to high-quality early learning a reality for every 4-year-old in America. The proposal will drive states and local school districts to be more engaged in improving outcomes for their youngest learners and will ensure that all children start kindergarten prepared for success in school and life.

Visit www.ed.gov/early-learning to learn more.

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

Las Vegas Parents Get Fired Up for Education

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Keynote speaker Helen Littlejohn told parents they are critical to the success of their students

Like many around the country, parents in Nevada’s Clark County School District are hungry for information about how they can support their children’s education.  At a recent event hosted by the school district and its community partners, Las Vegas-area moms and dads had the chance to learn new information and find practical answers to their questions in a supportive atmosphere. “Family Enrichment Day provides an opportunity for families to connect to learning and to foster school-to-home relationships,” said Eva Melendrez, the District’s Parent Services Coordinator. “The event makes learning fun, through interactive workshops and activities for the entire family,” she added.

The Clark County School District focuses on increasing parent participation in a number of ways, with community partnerships and Parent Centers and Family Resource Centers on several campuses. Staffed by AmeriCorps volunteers, the centers focus on communities experiencing high dropout rates. They also have a district-wide Parent Engagement Forum that provides valuable two-way information and feedback concerning social and academic issues.

For the first time, the Las Vegas Alliance of Black School Educators was a co-sponsor of the event. “It was a great experience for us to start getting more African American parents and families to participate,” said Tracey Lewis, local chapter president. “We are looking forward to continuing this collaboration with the district and expanding our efforts,” she said. “This is about getting important information to families in clear, understandable ways,” she added, “so they can prepare their students for college.”

Over 400 parents representing 53 schools joined students at the Clark County family engagement fair.  Staff from the U.S. Department of Education were on hand with a clear message: parents are critical partners in the educational success of their children. “We must teach our children to be critical, creative thinkers, problem solvers who will invent the next great things, who will fearlessly attack the challenges of our time and those of the future,” said keynoter Helen Littlejohn, the Department’s communications director for the western states. Littlejohn led a chant of “¡Tú tienes la fuerza!” – “You have the power!” – and shared stories of parents in communities of color supporting education.

Participants were entertained as well as informed. The day was packed with academically enriching activities in math, science and literacy, in addition to a “Let’s Go to College!” session offered by the state-funded campaign Go to College Nevada.  Parents also learned some effective ways to engage with teachers, in order to better support their students.

parents2

Clark County parents filled the breakout session rooms to learn about ways to support their children.

The event was held on a college campus, to “demystify” the college environment and allow participants to grow comfortable navigating the grounds.   For students and parents alike, the day at UNLV underscored the importance of great teaching and learning, and fostered the desire to finish high school and pursue higher education.  Participating parents gave the day high marks, and highlighted what they’d learned, from the importance of reading with their children, to a new found confidence that the students in their family could earn a college degree.

While Nevada moves forward in developing evaluations that will hold teachers and administrators accountable for family engagement, officials are working to design additional opportunities for district-wide parent engagement, as well as supporting schools as they create school-family engagement plans. As Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky says, “Together, we can ensure the success of every student in every classroom – without exceptions, and without excuses!”

Department of Education Staff

Class of 2013: Graduate with Peace of Mind

This was originally posted on the HealthCare.gov blog.

To the Class of 2013:

Congratulations on a well-earned graduation. I know how much hard work it took to get here today.HealthCare

This is a time when you’re making big decisions about the future. You might be embarking on a new career, transitioning to a different city, and thinking about the start of this next exciting stage in life.

I’m sure the last thing you’re thinking about is health insurance. But unfortunately, the unexpected can happen.

The good news is that now the Affordable Care Act provides protections and benefits that give you greater control of your health care.  The law helps you by:

  • Making it possible to stay on your parent’s health plan until you turn 26, giving you the flexibility to make choices about your future without worrying about where you’re going to get health insurance.
  • Requiring most insurance plans to cover proven preventive services—like birth control and certain cancer screenings—without you paying a penny.
  • Barring insurers, beginning in 2014, from denying you coverage because of a pre-existing condition, like cancer, asthma, or acne, or making you pay more just because you are a woman.
  • Creating an online Health Insurance Marketplace, where you can find coverage that meets your needs and budget. You can also find out if you qualify for financial assistance.Sign up now at HealthCare.gov for updates; enrollment begins October 1, 2013.

Bottom line: Because of the Affordable Care Act, you’ll be able to begin this next chapter of your life with the peace of mind and security health insurance provides.

Congratulations on your achievement!

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

Cooking up Change – Students Transforming the Future of Food in Our Schools

healthy schools logo
Today’s Lunch Menu: Tenacious Turkey Chili with a side of Sunshine Fries and a helping of Jalapeno- Infused Peach Crumble for dessert. Sounds delicious, right? Well believe it or not, this mouth-watering meal is not only tasty, affordable, and healthy- but was made entirely by high school students.

students prepareing for cooking up change

On Monday, June 10th, the U.S. Department of Education hosted student chefs from high school culinary programs as part of Cooking up Change, presented by the Healthy Schools Campaign. This healthy cooking contest puts student front and center by challenging them to create a great-tasting lunch that meets nutrition standards on a tight budget. After winning first place in their local Cooking up Change competition, eight teams of student chefs traveled to Washington to lend their voices, and their culinary creativity, to the national conversation about the future of food in our schools.

Picking the winner went beyond the taste buds. Each team was asked to discuss the inspiration for their meal and the various challenges they faced throughout the process. Many cited their culture as the basis for their dish. Team Memphis gave a shout out to famous Southern BBQ with their BBQ Chicken Tacos while Team Los Angeles stayed true to their roots with their Tex-Mex Cornbread and Black Bean Mountain dish- both equally delicious! The challenges were a common theme throughout the teams. Each team was given strict guidelines of 10 ingredients with a budget that mirrors the constraints that schools face across the country. These student-designed meals have been seen on school lunch menus across the country, including their very own cafeterias, proving that cafeteria food can truly be both balanced and delicious!

students distributing food

With full stomachs and smiles all around, the winning team was chosen. Team Orange County, Cesar Amezcua, Cecilia Magana and Carlos Ortiz, culinary students from Valley High School took home the top prize for their dish “Pita Packs a Punch,” with Hot and Sweet Slaw and Delicious Apple Crepes. Not only was their dish healthy and packed with flavor, but their stories were inspirational. The students spoke of their plans to attend vocational colleges to achieve their dream of becoming executive chefs, each will be the first in his or her family to attend college.

“This was so important to us because we want to make a difference in our school”, said Amezcua, and he was able to achieve just that.

Congrats Team Orange County and to all the student chefs! And of course, many thanks to those who help our students learn the importance of healthy lifestyles.

For more information on the Healthy School Campaign, follow @HealthySchools and join the conversation with #CookingUpChange.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. 

A Student’s Perspective: Five Reasons to Study Languages

international education panel

Marianne Zape speaking at ED’s “Succeeding Globally through International Education and Engagement Panel”

Recently, I participated in a panel discussion on ED’s international strategy, “Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement.”  Maureen McLaughlin, senior advisor to Secretary Duncan and director of international affairs, asked me what advice I would give to U.S. students contemplating whether or not to study another language.

My suggestion? You absolutely should! For one, it’s fun, and beyond that, there are countless benefits. Here are my top five reasons for learning another language:

  1. Learn about new cultures and ideas. Language and culture are intertwined. Whatever language you choose to learn, it will always tell you something about the society in which it is spoken. Whether it’s through words whose meanings have evolved over time, popular sayings, or knowing cultural faux pas to avoid, you will learn more than just grammar and vocabulary.
  2. Better understand your own language. When you learn a new language, your natural reaction will probably be to compare it to your own. You’ll start to notice similarities and differences in mechanics and structure that will make you think more about your first language.
  3. Establish meaningful connections. Making an effort to speak to someone in his or her native language, even if you’re not the best at it, shows how interested you are in getting to know them. I’ve also learned that there is no better way to improve than to have a native speaker help you. They may not know that you’re familiar with their language at first glance, but when you make the effort, you might just get a really good tutor and a new friend. I did!
  4. Gain a professional advantage. Having foreign language skills can set you apart and give you an edge over the competition. Many sectors hire bilingual or multilingual candidates to avoid costly mistranslations, deliver services to non-English speakers more efficiently, and to gain access to documents unavailable in English. While researching the French Revolution for a class, I found so many intriguing sources–journals and letters–that weren’t in English. Familiarity with French allowed me to incorporate them in my work.
  5. Build resilience, confidence, and independence. Like all new things, learning languages can be daunting, but the challenges you face are part of the process that make it even more of an achievement! Knowing that you have the skills to navigate on your own and communicate effectively provides a sense of security and comfort even in an unfamiliar environment.

Be it personal or professional, learning another language is a truly meaningful experience with benefits that can last a lifetime.

Please click on this link to watch the full May 23 panel discussion.

Marianne Zape, an intern with ED’s International Affairs Office and a student at UC San Diego, speaks Tagalog, English and French.

Adult Learners Share Stories of Personal Triumph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Things to Consider When Taking Out Student Loans

student loan repaymentFederal 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. Keep track of how much you’re borrowing. 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, so it’s important not to borrow more than you need. To view all of your federal student loan information in one place, go to nslds.ed.gov, select Financial Aid Review, and log in.
  2. 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.
  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 you didn’t like the education you received.
  4. Make payments on time. You are required to pay the full amount required by your repayment plan, as partial payments do not fulfill your obligation to repay your student loan on time.  Find out more about student loan repayment, including when repayment starts, how to make your payment, repayment plan options, and more!
  5. Keep in touch with your loan servicer. Notify your loan servicer when you graduate; withdraw from school; drop below half-time status; transfer to another school; or change your name, address, or Social Security number. You also should contact your servicer if you’re having trouble making your scheduled loan payments. Your servicer has several options available to help you keep your loan in good standing.

Remember, federal student loans are an investment in your future so invest wisely.

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

Join the Conversation to Improve Transition from School to Work for Youth with Disabilities

Today’s young people must graduate from high school with the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century global economy.  And that certainly includes youth with disabilities.  To that end, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy are working closely together to create opportunities for youth with disabilities to graduate college and career ready.

Our economy demands a talented and diverse workforce.  President Obama has called on the Federal Government to hire an additional 100,000 workers with disabilities by 2015.  Senator Harkin joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in setting a goal to increase the size of the disability workforce from under five million to six million by 2015.  Delaware’s Governor Markell, as Chair of the National Governor’s Association, has called on state governments to identify business partners who will work with them to develop strategic plans for the employment and retention of workers with disabilities.

We believe that all youth, including youth with disabilities, must graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills to be successful in the workforce. While in school, students with disabilities must be held to high expectations, participate in the general curriculum, be exposed to rigorous coursework, and have meaningful and relevant transition goals and services aligned to college- and career-ready standards. Research has shown that effective transition services are directly linked to better postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. Research also tells us that to flourish in the workplace youth with disabilities must also be provided with the opportunity to develop leadership skills, to engage in self-determination and career exploration, and to participate in paid work-based experiences while in high school.  With only 20.7 percent of working age people with disabilities participating in the labor force, compared to 68.8 percent of those without disabilities, we must do better!

That is why we’re currently hosting, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Social Security Administration, the first-ever national online dialogue to help shape federal agency strategies for helping young people with disabilities successfully transition from school to work. We know that we cannot do this alone. To bring about lasting change, we need educators, service providers, disability advocates, policymakers, and youth with disabilities and their families to provide input. We want and need to hear from you!

Akin to a “virtual town hall,” this dialogue invites members of the public to help us learn what’s working, what’s not, and where change is needed, with particular focus on how various federal laws and regulations impact the ability of youth with disabilities to be successful in today’s global economy. This “Conversation for Change” started on May 13 and runs through May 27th. More than 2,000 people have participated, and we want you to join-in also! We encourage everyone who is interested in improving transition outcomes for youth with disabilities to contribute.

We hope you will lend your voice to our efforts to ensure inclusion, equity and opportunity on behalf of America’s youth with disabilities.

Join the online dialogue!

Michael Yudin is the acting assistant secretary of education for special education and rehabilitative services.  Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. 

What Is a Student Loan Servicer and Why Should I Care?

repayment plan imageSo you took out a federal student loan and now it’s time to pay it back. I was in your exact position 2 years ago and even though I was working at Federal Student Aid, the student loan repayment process had me overwhelmed.

One of my first questions was: Why am I receiving federal student loan bills from a company rather than the U.S. Department of Education? If you have asked yourself a similar question, this may help:

What is a loan servicer?

A loan servicer is a company that handles the billing and other services on your federal student loans. So those bills you get in the mail? There is a good chance they are coming from a loan servicer on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education.

How do I find out who my loan servicer is?

To view information about all of the federal student loans you have received and to find contact information for your loan servicer, visit www.nslds.ed.gov and select “Financial Aid Review.” You will then be prompted to log in using your Federal Student Aid PIN, so make sure you have that handy.

Note: If you have multiple federal student loans, you may have more than one loan servicer, so make sure you click through each loan individually for information specific to that loan.

Why should I care?

There are lots of reasons you should care!  Among many other things, your loan servicer

Moral of the story: Keep in contact with your loan servicer.

The student loan repayment process can be confusing, especially if you’re new at it, but your loan servicer is there to help. Make sure you stay in touch with them and use the resources they have available for you.

Nicole Callahan is a new media analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.