Local Professional Development Sessions Promote Collaboration to “Bridge the Gap” for Young Children

Cross-posted from the Homeroom blog.

As an early childhood educator, I often wondered about the best ways for stakeholders to work together in meeting the academic needs of young children. Recently, I had the chance to see collaborative planning and intergovernmental work in action at the municipal level, when I attended an event held by the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The theme was Bridging the Gap – School Readiness by 5, and the event was jointly organized by the office of Mayor Johnny DuPree, the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education, and the National League of Cities Institute (NLCI), to help boost the success of the city’s young children. In an effort to support teachers and child care center directors, the mayor’s office led a professional development session for educators of young children. The day also included a roundtable discussion by representatives of civic organizations, municipal leaders, and educators who committed to improving the outcomes of young children.

The professional development session was extremely beneficial for me. As an educator, I always welcome meaningful opportunities to gain new skills and learn about resources that I can implement in the classroom immediately.

One of the most memorable presentations was by Dr. Joe Olmi, the director of school psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi. He spoke on the value of social-emotional learning and the importance of teaching self-regulation in and outside of the classroom. He gave great insights on strategies such as “Time-in and Time-out,” in which consequences and privileges are built into the relationship between students and teachers.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the Department’s director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, offered her thoughts on the value of family and community engagement. She shared some powerful reflections about her grandmother, who helped her develop a love for reading. She also urged educators to enlist the help of their students’ families to foster community-building in their classrooms.

Another thoughtful presenter was Dr. Tonja Rucker, the program manager for Early Childhood Development in the Institute for Youth Education and Families at NLCI. She provided suggestions to help children and families transition from preschool to kindergarten. I also had the privilege of sharing my perspective, as an African-American male preschool teacher, on transitions within an early childhood program, and ways to increase rigor in literacy for students.

By fostering collaboration among various agencies and organizations, school leaders in this community have been able to make a positive impact in the lives of young children.

This collaboration means a lot for educators like me, who often struggle to find the resources, information and support we need to teach our youngest pupils.

To provide the best start for all our nation’s young children, we need more state and local communities to show the cooperative spirit that NLCI, the Department and the city and school leaders of Hattiesburg demonstrated in hosting this valuable “Bridging the Gap” planning session.

James Casey was a summer Leadership in Educational Equity fellow in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Six Students Tell Stories About Their Educational Successes

Cross-posted from the Homeroom blog.

What does success in education look like? And what makes it possible? Six students recently sat down at a youth panel on social and emotional learning to talk about the educators that made the biggest differences in their lives.

The students provided real examples of what Professors Kimberly Schonert-Reichl and Gil Noam presented in lectures at a recent conference in Minnesota sponsored by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Department of Education, and others.

The students’ stories illustrate the many ways that educators can play an important role in ensuring that young people succeed.

  • Rich Pennington is a recent college graduate. He talked about the difficulties he had to overcome when he was described as a stereotypical young black male. An employer who gave him a space to fail and two teachers who took time to really get to know him made it possible for him to succeed.
  • Brittany Eich describes herself as an introvert. She had teachers and family who challenged her, gave her options, and then asked her what she wanted to do.
  • Chava Gabrielle has trouble with time management. She found support from peers who were a little older, but they challenged and supported her.
  • David Kim is a college graduate. He had teachers who helped him develop the skill of expressing from the heart and not just from the mind. They showed him a technique that he is now sharing with others.
  • Gao Vue was told she had ADD, but her mother didn’t accept it. She talked about a father who was a negative influence, but taught her how to be strong.
  • Hannah Quartrom says she likes to take over and lead. Her mother was an example of how to solve problems and get through difficult situations.

Employers, teachers, family, and peers, everyone can play a role in helping students develop the social emotional skills they need to succeed.

Ken Bedell is a senior advisor in the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Center at the U.S. Department of Education.

Recognizing the Importance of Fathers

Cross-posted from the Homeroom blog.

One out of every three children in America —more than 24 million in total — live in a home without their biological father present, according to a 2012 White House Fatherhood Report. Roughly one out of every three Hispanic children and more than half of African-American children also live in homes without their biological fathers.

The presence and involvement of a child’s parents protect children from a number of vulnerabilities. More engaged fathers — whether living with or apart from their children — can help foster a child’s healthy physical, emotional, and social development. While evidence shows that children benefit most from the involvement of resident fathers, research also has highlighted the positive effect that nonresident fathers can have on their children’s lives.

Recognizing the importance of fathers in children’s physical, emotional, and social development, Shirley Jones, a program specialist in the Department of Education’s regional office in Chicago, partnered with the Detroit Area Dad’s PTA and the Detroit Public School system. Together, they organized the “Dads to Dads” forum at Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern, where 350 men, women, and young adults committed to a day of discussion on how to best support children in their communities.

National PTA President Otha Thornton, one of the speakers at the forum, challenged the parent participants to identify the barriers that prevent them from being more involved in their children’s education and lives. He also talked about finding ways to overcome these barriers and encouraged dads to develop visions for their kids’ futures.

Mentoring programs, support groups, and other resources – such as places of worship, school PTA’s, and local governments – were also presented as places where fathers might turn for support.

Panelist Rev. Dr. James Perkins spoke during the final session and stated, “Your sons and daughters will learn what’s important by what’s important to you.” He stressed that fathers can encourage their children by spending time with them, which will have a lasting impact.

Anna Leach is a confidential assistant for the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Department of Education Releases New Parent and Community Engagement Framework

Cross-posted from the Homeroom blog.

The fourth quarter of the school year is generally a time of preparation for schools and districts as they finalize next year’s budget, student and teacher schedules, and professional development for the upcoming school year. During this time of preparation, it is important that schools and districts discuss ways that they can support parents and the community in helping students to achieve success.

fce-framework graphicTo help in this work, the U.S. Department of Education is proud to release a framework for schools and the broader communities they serve to build parent and community engagement. Across the country, less than a quarter of residents are 18 years old or younger, and all of us have a responsibility for helping our schools succeed. The Dual Capacity framework, a process used to teach school and district staff to effectively engage parents and for parents to work successfully with the schools to increase student achievement, provides a model that schools and districts can use to build the type of effective community engagement that will make schools the center of our communities.

An example of how the elements of the framework can lead to improved engagement is exhibited in my hometown of Baltimore. Baltimore City Public Schools worked to support 12,000 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten homes, and to engage families in home-based literacy practices. Each week students received a different bag filled with award-winning children’s books, exposing children, on average, to more than 100 books per year. The book rotation also includes parent training and information on how to share books effectively to promote children’s early literacy skills and nurture a love of learning. Through the program, families are also connected with their local public and school libraries. At the culmination of the program, children receive a permanent bag to keep and continue the practice of borrowing books and building a lifelong habit of reading.

For more information on the Dual Capacity Framework, as well as an introductory video from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, please take some time and review our website at www.ed.gov/family-and-community-engagement. In the coming months, we will provided additional resources and information, so that schools, districts, communities, and parents can learn more about family and community engagement, as well as, share the wonderful work they are doing to build parent, school, and community capacity that supports all students.

Read a Spanish version of this post.

Jonathan Brice is deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

Higher Ground in Tucson

Cross-posted from the Homeroom blog.

During a recent trip to Tucson, Ariz., I took part in a meeting with school officials, school board members, past and present elected officials, organizers of youth programs and, most importantly, parents and students. Many of those in attendance shared powerful stories about the serious challenges facing children in south Tucson and the heroic efforts that are being made to confront the issues to ensure that children succeed.

I was reminded again of how important it is for everyone to work together to address the needs of students during the school day, but also to address the needs of the children out of school. This was the spirit I saw as people talked about programs and strategies. Every story I heard deserves to be retold, but one story in particular caught my attention because it illustrated that one person can start a chain reaction to make a difference.

It started as a love story. Jansen Azarias met Barbara “Barbie” Maestas six years ago. Barbie had a ten-year-old son named Timothy, and Jansen began tutoring Timothy. Soon a number of Timothy’s friends joined the tutoring sessions in Jason’s living room. Today, Jansen and Barbie are married and Timothy is a high school graduate and enrolled in college.

Jansen soon learned that there were many students in the south side of Tucson who shared the experiences of attending a low-performing school, broken families, gang affiliations, crime, drug abuse, incarcerated parents, poverty, and a lack of support. Inspired to make a difference, he started organizing volunteers and working out of the Mission View Assembly church. At the end of the second year there were 60 students involved in daily programs. Realizing the high need, Jansen and Barbie quit their jobs and devoted full time to what they called Higher Ground.

Today, this program reaches 150 students who receive daily homework tutoring and enrichment activities such as football, dance, jujutsu, art, boxing, bike club, and choir. Students also receive training in financial literacy and character development. Higher Ground expands its program every year, and partnered with the Tucson Unified School District to move into the historic Wakefield Middle School. The organization has also partnered with eight other faith-based groups and five community organizations, as well as with several departments at the University of Arizona, Phoenix University, and Pima Community College.

With the help of these partners and the commitment of more than 50 volunteers, students and their parents pay nothing for participating. All programs are coordinated by a small staff of five people and an annual budget of $150,000, and even with this small staff, students and parents can reach Higher Ground 24/7 if they need anything from financial assistance to an intervention.

Higher Ground is an out of school program, but participant’s school performance has shown improvement. Last year, 93 percent of the students improved their grades and 60 percent were on the honor roll for the first time.

While Jansen and Barbie are extraordinary people, what they have done can be duplicated in other places. First, Jansen started by listening to students and taking seriously what the students said they needed. Secondly, they both used the resources and networks that they have in the community and the church to begin the work. Third, they required that the parents make a commitment. Fourth, they developed a working relationship with the school district and with other community organizations. And finally, they never lost track of where they started with a focus on listening to the kids and responding to their needs. It is a simple model that can be duplicated anywhere.

Ken Bedell is a senior advisor in the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Center at the U.S. Department of Education

Advancing Family and Community Engagement in San Antonio

Mayor Julian Castro speaking

“Families want the chance to achieve the American Dream and to pass the baton of opportunity to their children” – Mayor Julián Castro, who spoke about his Pre-K 4 SA early childhood initiative.

During our recent visit to San Antonio, we had the opportunity to learn how community organizations and schools are working together to engage families in education.

We heard from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro how the community has rallied to support the expansion of pre-kindergarten education.  In November, San Antonio residents approved funding for Pre-K for San Antonio that will provide over 22,000 four year olds with high-quality pre-K.  President Obama has put forth a “Preschool for All” proposal in his Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which calls for a partnership with states in making access to high-quality early learning a reality for every four-year-old in America. Studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in school.

We joined a family engagement convening hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and we were able to see first-hand the work of two-generation approaches to education development at AVANCE and the Intercultural Development Research Association.

During our visit to the Eastside Promise Neighborhood we learned how family and community engagement efforts being led by the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County are moving forward the three goals of Together for Tomorrow:

  • They are laying the groundwork by dedicating staff and volunteers to cultivate and sustain partnerships;
  • They are focusing on the ABCs, Attendance, Behavior, Course Performance, and College Access through things like parent volunteers doing visits to homes when students are repeatedly absent; and
  • They are celebrating and inspiring families and community members to get involved through events that are organized and executed by parents.

We also organized a community discussion to share about Together for Tomorrow, to learn more about local promising practices and examples of school-family partnerships, and to gather feedback to shape the Department’s family engagement efforts.  Hedy Chang from Attendance Works joined us to announce a new toolkit, Bringing Attendance Home: Engaging Parents in Preventing Chronic Absence

The event was live streamed and the video is available here. We were joined by our partners, the National Center for Family Literacy, and will be working with them over the coming months to deepen our family and community engagement efforts with Together for Tomorrow.

Brenda Girton-Mitchell is director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

A New Family Engagement Partnership with the National Center for Family Literacy

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, announces the new partnership at the NCFL national conference

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, announces the new partnership at the NCFL national conference

Cross-posted from the Homeroom blog.

“Read to your child.”

“Help them with their homework.”

“Make sure they get a good night sleep.”

“And what else?…”

A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher, but our approaches to family engagement often fall short of recognizing the full potential of partnerships between schools and families. The challenges we face in education require that we go beyond these basic messages on family engagement – moving from communication to collaboration among schools and families.

This is why the U.S. Department of Education is working to develop better frameworks for family engagement, and why teacher-family collaboration is a component of RESPECT , our blueprint for elevating and transforming the teaching profession. We are also renewing our Together for Tomorrow initiative with an expanded emphasis on family partnerships to propel school improvement and produce better outcomes for students.

In support of these efforts, we are pleased to announce a new partnership with theNational Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) to advance family engagement in education across the country.  NCFL brings to this work more than 20 years of experience providing tools and resources for educators and parents to create lifelong learning opportunities for the entire family.

Through the partnership, the Department and NCFL will jointly develop and implement strategies to raise the awareness and understanding of effective family and community engagement in education.  This will emphasize how teachers and families can better collaborate to improve student engagement and learning. We will work together to:

  • Convene community discussions on family engagement with educators, families and community leaders across the country.
  • Identify and compile promising practices and program examples for effective family engagement in education, so schools can employ leading practices that work.
  • Gather feedback on family engagement frameworks from educators, parents, advocates, and others in the education community.
  • Develop and disseminate resource materials to support family and community engagement in education. An example includes NCFL’s Wonderopolis, an online learning community that engages classrooms and families in the wonder of discovery.

We are eager to move this essential work forward, beginning with Together for Tomorrow community conversations in locations across the country.  These will spotlight promising practices and examples of school-family partnerships, and gather feedback to shape the Department’s family engagement efforts.

We also want to hear how your family-school partnerships are boosting student engagement and academic achievement.  Please email us your promising practices and program examples to edpartners@ed.gov

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

One Million Volunteer Mentors and Tutors

Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships staff from the U.S. Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) participated in the United Way Education Town Hall on March 31, 2001 in Washington, D.C. The event was held at Trinity University, and brought together students, teachers, nonprofit and business leaders, and education advocates, and representatives from government.

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes, United Way Worldwide President CEO Brian Gallagher, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the United Way Town Hall. Photo by Max Taylor.

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes, United Way Worldwide President CEO Brian Gallagher, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the United Way Town Hall. Photo by Max Taylor.

United Way Worldwide President and CEO Brian Gallagher announced United Way’s commitment to recruit one million readers, tutors and mentors to enhance the education and lives of young people.

CNCS CEO Patrick Corvington talked about how education is a central priority for national service. “More than half of our funding goes to education,” said Corvington. “We make it possible for great nonprofits across the country to support tutors and mentors and school volunteers that reach three million disadvantaged youth each year.”

The event moderator, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, interviewed Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Duncan praised the United Way’s commitment saying that when community organizations and schools work together our young people from the toughest of backgrounds can do extraordinarily well.

Barnes highlighted the role that CNCS serves in helping to channel the energies and good intentions of everyday Americans into volunteer opportunities that support students and schools.

Talking about the importance of high-quality mentoring, Secretary Duncan said, “All of us need those adults in our lives who are going to help us uncover those gifts, uncover those talents, that we may not even know that exist within us. And for students that don’t have the support that we would like for them to have at home, this will change their lives forever.”

Duncan urged the United Way to join with the Department, states, and local school districts to focus the efforts of these one million new volunteers on helping to turn around the nation’s lowest performing schools. He emphasized that partnerships will help increase the rate of change for these schools and communities.

The Town Hall was broadcast live on the internet, and the full video is available here . The event underscored the mission and work of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Education to promote student achievement by connecting schools and community based organizations, both secular and faith-based. We applaud the United Way’s commitment, and will continue working with them and other faith and community organizations to propel school improvement.

Let us know your thoughts, if you attended the event and whether you are helping in this commitment by clicking here . We want to hear your feedback.

Michael Robbins serves as the Senior Advisor for Nonprofit Partnerships, Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Bridging the School-Community Divide in Digital Learning

ED’s Michael Robbins led a session on digital learning and collective impact in education at this year’s SXSWedu in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of Instagram user chbrenchley.

ED’s Michael Robbins led a session on digital learning and collective impact in education at this year’s SXSWedu in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of Instagram user chbrenchley.

Cross-posted from the Homeroom blog.

I recently had the opportunity to speak at SXSWedu – a national education convening leading up to the South by Southwest festivals and conferences in Austin, TX. What began three years ago as a handful of education-focused sessions at SXSW Interactive has grown into an inspiring and informative gathering of over 4,000 participants from across the world.

Jeff Edmondson, the managing director of Strive, and I led a session on digital learning and collective impact in education – how technology can improve how schools, families, and communities collaborate to advance student engagement and learning. The power of technology to transform education was a major theme at SXSWedu, but the discussions in Austin underscored my concerns about how K-12 digital learning transitions are evolving.

Many conversations were intensely focused on technology to support school-based initiatives, but missing attention on how digital learning should connect students to their passions, peers, communities, and careers. We will miss essential opportunities to transform schools if transitions primarily create digital versions of traditional analog education processes – trading textbooks for tablets and paper files for databases.

At the other end of the spectrum were SXSWedu sessions on learning outside of schools, many of which approached schools as hurdles to be overcome instead of partners in learning. Frustrated by the slow pace of change, efforts like the maker movement andopen badges have chosen to move ahead outside  K-12 institutions and bureaucracies. Despite significant advancements, most of these are on the sidelines of school district digital learning transitions, more likely to be the subject of TED talks than digital curricula or school turnaround plans.

Students and families are mostly left to themselves to connect the dots between school-based and non-school learning. The students most disadvantaged by these silos are ones already facing the greatest challenges inside and outside the classroom, and they could benefit the most from the digital learning that transcends the school-community divide.Partnerships between schools, families, and community-based organizations are an important way to bridge this divide, and ensure the success and sustainability of digital learning transitions.

I’ll be facilitating conversations to delve deeper into these issues as part of a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) that begins April 8 – advancing the Department’s efforts through Epic-ed to support digital learning transitions. Please join us for the MOOC to share your ideas on partnerships among schools, districts, teachers, community organizations, education technology companies, families, and others to ensure the digital learning revolution propels engagement and achievement for all students.

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

Community Partnerships for the Digital Learning Revolution

Cross-posted from the Homeroom blog.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that my hometown of Huntsville, Alabama – The Rocket City – has launched one of the largest school district transitions to digital learning in the nation. I recently visited Huntsville to learn from their experience, and my conversations there reinforced for me that community and family partnerships are essential for the success of digital learning. We have unprecedented investment in education technology, but we don’t yet have the corresponding developments in partnerships to help transitions to digital learning succeed.Young boy with tablet device
Community partnerships are key to realizing a digital learning revolution that is more than trading textbooks for tablets. This is an inflection point in education – a critical opportunity to transform how schools, parents, and community-based organizations collaborate to ignite student curiosity and engagement in learning.

Community and family partnerships can also reduce the possibility that digital learning transitions will exacerbate achievement gaps. Students that face the greatest challenges in and outside school need comprehensive supports to evolve so that digital learning doesn’t further disadvantage them.

Our community organizations, including faith-based organizations, have tremendous opportunities to support and shape the digital learning transition through four key areas of collaboration:

    • Expanding access and digital literacy;
    • Bridging between schools, families, and communities;
    • Service and volunteering in education; and
    • Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning.

Expanding access and digital literacy.

Many students don’t have access outside school to computers, broadband connections, and basic technical support. The Obama Administration is working with a public-private partnership called Connect2Compete to expand low-cost internet, computers, and digital literacy instruction to low-income families.  Connect2Compete is building a network of local community partners, and community organizations can go here to learn more and link up with their efforts.

Bridging between schools, families, and communities.

Community and faith organizations can bridge the gap between home and school with their strong connections to families. Internet-based student data and learning management systems can improve collaboration between teachers, families, and community partners. Community-based organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, a Together for Tomorrow challenge winner, are using joint data systems with schools to focus student support services where they have the greatest impact.

A new report from the Department on Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World, highlights the need for more efforts that connect community partners with school data systems. The report emphasizes that “young people learn and develop in a wide range of settings,” and we need to better use data “to support the full range of student needs and interests—both inside and outside schools and classrooms—to improve learning outcomes.”

Service and volunteering in education.

Digital learning systems are making it possible for partners to assist students using lessons developed by educators that are aligned with the school curriculum. This is expanding the range of volunteers that are confident and effective at assisting students inside and outside the classroom. Service and volunteer partners can also advance student learning through digital tools such as remote connections into classrooms, Open Education Resources, and internet-connected real-world experiences.

Digital partnerships aren’t limited to academic assistance, and can boost other key student outcomes.  iMentor is using digital learning to improve student behavior and increase college access. Their internet-based systems help train and support adult volunteers, who mentor students both virtually and in-person.

Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning

Digital learning partnerships can help community-based organizations transform American education by expanding learning beyond the classroom. “Anytime-anywhere learning” is a key goal in our education technology plan and schools can’t accomplish this goal alone. Schools can partner with community-based initiatives like the HIVE Learning Networks that use new technologies and media to better connect students to their interests, aspirations, communities, and careers.

Community partners are using digital badges to change how and where students earn academic credit. For example, the Providence After School Alliance is developing digital badges as a central component of their credit-bearing afterschool and internship programs.

Getting started with digital learning partnerships.

The Department is participating in Digital Learning Day on February 6. Community organizations can learn more and jumpstart their digital learning partnerships at digitallearningday.org.

There are valuable information resources at our Office of Education Technology web page and Epic-ed, our initiative to support digital learning transitions. If you are already part of a digital learning partnership, share your examples on our Facebook page at facebook.com/edpartners.

The guidebooks on community partnerships and digital learning are yet to be written, so it is vital that community partners, families, schools, and education technology initiatives work together to develop their pathways to digital learning partnerships. Together we can ensure that digital learning boosts engagement and learning for all of our students. Education technology can help us create a community culture of education success, where everyone sees education as his or her responsibility, and there are clear and compelling pathways to assist.

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education