U.S. Department of Education Proposes Regulations Extending Religious Liberty Protections to Participants in Federally-funded Programs

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Education (Department) today announced proposed regulations that would provide beneficiaries of programs supported by Department grants with new religious liberty protections while continuing to ensure equal protection of the laws for faith-based and community organizations that receive Federal financial assistance and provide services under Department programs. The proposed regulations formally implement Executive Order 13559, which requires agencies that administer or award Federal financial assistance for social service programs to implement protections for the beneficiaries and prospective beneficiaries of those programs to ensure that they are protected from discrimination on the basis of their own religion or religious beliefs, or based on a refusal to attend or participate in a religious activity.

The proposed regulations set forth changes to current regulations, including:

  • Clarifying that decisions about the awarding of grants and subgrants must be based on merit and must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference.
  • Replacing the term “inherently religious activities” in the existing regulations with the term “explicitly religious activities” in order to more closely align with current constitutional standards and clarify the scope of activities covered by the regulations.
  • Defining the terms “direct Federal financial assistance” and “indirect Federal financial assistance” so that faith-based organizations understand that certain religious liberty protections are triggered under the updated regulations only if a faith-based organization receives direct Federal financial assistance.
  • Requiring that, if a beneficiary or prospective beneficiary of a Department program supported by direct Federal financial assistance objects to the religious character of an organization that provides services under the program, the organization must make reasonable efforts to refer that individual to an alternative provider.
  • Requiring that faith-based organizations supported with direct Federal financial assistance from the Department provide beneficiaries with a written notice informing them of a variety of religious liberty protections, including steps that must be taken to refer the beneficiary to an alternative provider, if the beneficiary requests such a provider.

The public will have 60 days from the date the proposal is published in the Federal Register to provide comments on the proposed rule. For additional information and to view the proposed regulations, visit https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection.

NPRM Fact sheet

Engaging Families and Communities to Bridge the Word Gap

This post originally appeared on the Too Small to Fail blog and cross-posted from the ED.GOV blog.

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Children begin learning from the moment they are born. By seeing, hearing, and exploring the world around them, particularly through close loving relationships with their families and caregivers, babies’ brains rapidly develop. The more enriching experiences they have with those who love and care for them, the more they grow – especially when words are involved. Research has found that providing infants, toddlers, and young children with consistent, language-rich experiences –talking, reading, and singing – greatly benefits their brain development and school readiness.

However, many families lack access to the types of information and resources that can help them make everyday moments into learning opportunities that are rich in language. Researchers have found that some children are exposed to more language-rich environments than others during the early years, which can result in a gap in the quantity and quality of words that children hear and learn. The richness of children’s language environment can impact school success and outcomes later in life. .

That’s why, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, in partnership with Too Small to Fail, are providing these critical resources to families, caregivers, and early learning providers. Last week, we proudly released  “Talk, Read, Sing Together Every Day”, a free suite of resources that can help enrich children’s early language experiences by providing tips for talking, reading, and singing with young children every day beginning from birth and extending into the early years.

This toolkit is a result of a commitment made at the 2014 White House convening on “bridging the word gap.” The resources include:

Talking matters, and, no matter what language you speak – the more words the better. To make these resources as accessible and inclusive as possible, all tip sheets are available in English and Spanish, and can be downloaded for free.

Talking, reading, and singing are teaching. But more than that, talking, reading, and singing are simple gateways to opportunities for children and their families. They are brain building activities that set the foundation for school readiness and school success. These everyday activities are ones that all families and communities can engage in to ensure that their young children have the best start in life.

When families, caregivers and teachers partner to promote children’s early education, children win.

To read more about these resources, or to download them visit the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services websites or Too Small to Fail.

Libby Doggett is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education, Linda Smith is Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Kara Dukakis is the Director of Too Small to Fail.

Together for Tomorrow: Connecting the Dots

We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Staff with panelists

A primary key to strong partnerships is examining and truly understanding what it is like to function in a role different than one’s own where expectations and priorities may differ.  Recently, at the Institution for Educational Learning’s (IEL’s) National Family and Community Engagement Conference, The U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (ED CBNFP) created the space for such an opportunity where CBOs, families, and educators gathered to understand how to 1) become more sympathetic and empathetic regarding another’s needs, requests, and concerns in the educational sphere and 2) foster an atmosphere more conducive to initiating and maintaining long lasting relationships and partnerships that benefit students and promote high academic success.

The workshop entitled, Together for Tomorrow:  Connecting the Dots, included education advocates and employees from various backgrounds who demonstrated how educational improvement is everyone’s responsibility – including students, principals, teachers, school staff, families, CBOs and volunteers.  The workshop provided its attendees a) specific examples of where communities and schools have connected the dots and b) general guidelines for successful partnerships.

Dr. William Truesdale, Principal of Taylor Elementary School in Chicago, spoke about his role in integrating families into the school to participate in advancing the school’s mission.  He mentioned how he framed the engagement around six fundamental human needs as expressed by Steven Covey and Tony Robbins. Ms. Jamillah Rashad, Elev8 Director who serves as a community liaison and parent/student advocate for the Marquette School of Excellence, voiced how the power of one-on-one relationships can strengthen efforts in raising school achievement.  As an example of how these relationships work, Ms. Rashad directed the audience to engage in a brief conversation with someone with whom they were not familiar as a demonstration of the role and importance relationship building plays in helping schools and students thrive.  Becoming a Man (BAM), an organization which currently serves over 2,400 young males in 20 schools in the Chicago area in an effort to “develop social-cognitive skills strongly correlated with reductions in violent and anti-social behavior” in “at-risk male students,” also presented in the workshop.  Led by Youth Counselor, Zachary Strother, who expounded upon how BAM’s six core values positively impacted its students, four BAM youth expressed how the organization has helped to improve their success in the classroom and changed their lives for the better.

One of the most important takeaways from the workshop was that parents and extended family members can serve as bridge builders between schools and community groups.  They often serve as leaders or members of CBO’s that can partner with schools.  The session allowed both its participants and audience members to leave with a greater confidence in their own ability to encourage and support school, family, and CBO partnerships that support student success.

 

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Eddie Martin is a special assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Cradle to Career Initiative

As Mayor of Louisville, I’ve learned that city government plays a major role in making sure that all of our city’s young people have a chance to succeed. That is why I launched the Cradle to Career Initiative that recognizes that whether you are a baby in a crib or an adult getting a new certification, you must constantly be learning if you are to succeed. Cradle to Career has four pillars: Early Childhood, K-12, 55K, Louisville’s postsecondary completion goal, and 21st Century Workforce. Our friends at the Metro United Way convene the Kindergarten Readiness Pillar in which more than 40 individuals and organizations meet regularly to discuss strategies to get our children kindergarten ready. In the past few years we have increased kindergarten readiness from 35% to 51% and we are committed to attaining our goal of 77% by 2020.

Although Louisville has incredibly exciting momentum, there are some challenges that remain.  We still have families that struggle and kids that are behind the first day they show up for kindergarten.  Too many kids – almost 50 percent in Louisville – arrive for their first day of kindergarten already behind. But, over and over again I hear the same thing: The number one way we can dramatically improve our youngest citizens’ life potential is with quality early childhood education.

You want to create more high tech jobs of the future and fill those jobs?  Get more kids into early childhood programs.

You want to lower our crime rate and keep Louisville a safe place for our families and businesses?  Make sure those early childhood programs are quality programs.

You want fewer kids dropping out and more enrolling and completing a postsecondary degree?  Give parents the tools they need to help their kids on Day One.

To continue dialogue around early childhood development and kindergarten readiness in Louisville, local leaders, educators, parents and community members were invited to participate in one of 15 community conversations hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National League of Cities. These conversations included early childhood education, afterschool learning and postsecondary success, and explored ways that cities are working to close the achievement gap and increase student outcomes. Louisville’s community conversation was the last one in this series of events held over the last year.

Dr. Libby Doggett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education, Dr. Tonja Rucker from the National League of Cities, and the Reverend Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education all participated in this important community dialogue. We were also thrilled to have U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan join us to provide closing remarks on the importance of partnership between the federal government and local communities in improving educational opportunities and outcomes across the pipeline, from Pre-K to college.

This community conversation was a terrific stimulus for the work we have been doing around kindergarten readiness and has re-energized us with fresh ideas on how to continue tackling early childhood education and development challenges for our youngest citizens and their families. I am grateful the USDE chose Louisville to have this important conversation, and excited for the work to come.

This post is a guest blog entry by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. More on the Cradle to Career Initiative can be found online on their website

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Greg Fischer was elected Louisville's 50th mayor in 2010 -- and was sworn in for a second four-year term on January 5, 2015.

Meet Pete the Cat!

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Students talk and sing with Pete the Cat as he shared a fun story about his day.

I am not sure there would have been such a crowded room if the invitation had read “Come learn the steps for the dialogic reading process.” But thanks to the teachers who maintain close working relationships with the children and their families, 84 percent of the 74 families were present to participate in a fun-filled evening with “Pete the Cat.”

This night in Louisville, Kentucky was a celebration of some of the work being done by the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) with the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) as a key partner. They are working together to improve kindergarten readiness through the use of 1) High impact family engagement; 2) Specific intergenerational literacy strategies in the home and community tied to classroom strategies.

The lunchroom was brimming with excitement as the children and families shared in a light evening meal at the McFerran Early Childhood Center. Something really special was about to happen and the children could hardly wait to go upstairs for a time of reading and sharing.

Mrs. Starr Logsdon modeled a dramatic reading of Pete the Cat including a guest guitarist to play as the children (and the grownups) sang along as Pete was rocking in his school shoes!

Each child knew the color of the station where he/she could take the family to play after the reading was finished.

As the parents followed, the children were tracing the outline of shoes, role playing the story they just heard, practicing sequence, and talking and singing with Pete the Cat as he shared a fun story about his day from the time he strolled to the bus until the school day ended. The children jumped with joy when they

Students traced the outline of shoes as inspired by the book Pete the Cat.

Students traced the outline of shoes as inspired by the book Pete the Cat.

received their own copy of the book to take home.  Parents received the PEER Sequence worksheet to help them make reading to their children more effective. In addition to PEER, CROWD questions were also asked (link below).

  • P-Prompt (ask a question)
  • E – Evaluate (think about what the child said)
  • E – Expand (add to the child’s response)
  • R – Repeat (ask the child to repeat)

This Family Learning Event at the McFerran Early Childhood Center represents an example of NCFL-trained JCPS teachers utilizing select literacy strategies to build parent capacity to engage in joint learning with their children based on NCFL’s model. The extension of classroom strategies in to the home and community is the crux of this concerted effort to improve kindergarten readiness in one urban school district in America.

This event was attended by Dr. Libby Doggett, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Early Learning, and Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the US Department of Education

Resource: Prompts for Dialogic Reading Process
CROWD poster & Sequence 2-sided

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

Well Deserved Recognition: Presidential Award winner CSU, Dominguez Hills

I was one of the people who reviewed applications for the Presidential Awards as part of the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. I remember that California State University, Dominguez Hills had a strong application. So, when they were chosen in the General Community Service category I was pleased. But I had no idea how deserving they were until I joined John Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff at the Corporation for National and Community Service, to present the Presidential Award at their Community Engagement Symposium.

The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll was established by President George W. Bush in 2006 to honor colleges and universities that have exemplary community service programs for their students. Each year institutions of higher education submit applications that highlight their programs to solve community problems and set students on paths of life-long commitment to civil engagement. Schools apply in the categories of General Community Service, Interfaith Community Service, Economic Opportunity, and Education. In each category schools are recognized as members of the Honor Roll, members with distinction, finalists, and one school in each category is given the Presidential Award.

Community engagement is the reason that CSU Dominguez Hills exists. They were founded in 1965 after the Watts Rebellion which was triggered by a white police officer pulling over a young African-American, Marquette Frye. A crowd gathered to protest. This was followed by six days of rioting that brought attention to issues of urban poverty. One response to the rebellion was that Governor Pat Brown immediately moved to establish a college that would serve the needs of people living in South Los Angeles including Watts. The college was founded to engage the community.

At a Community Engagement Symposium organized to celebrate all the community engagement and the honor of the Presidential Award, 41 community engagement projects were highlighted with booths, awards, and presentations. Dr. Vivian Price put community service into context with a slideshow and presentation that showed the potential of service learning. President Willie Hagan, Provost Ellen Junn, and Vice Provost Mitch Maki all showed their support for the students and staff. But the real energy behind community engagement at CSU Dominguez Hills is Cheryl McKnight, director of the Center for Service Learning.

McKnight clearly has support from faculty who integrate service learning into their courses. For example, in Anthropology 330, a Service-Learning and Community Engagement course, students not only learned about North American Indians, but they also helped organize a Pow Wow. She has support from President Hagan and the administrative staff. Students provide leadership and organize community engagement. An example is three design students who worked with a non-profit to support a project that responds to the needs of pets that are caught up in a domestic violence situation.

While it takes the commitment of a whole school to develop a high quality community engagement program like CSU Dominguez Hills has, clearly one key is to have a person like McKnight who pulls everything together and keeps the community service agenda on everyone’s mind.

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Ken is a Senior Adviser in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Fowler Head Start: Beneficiaries of the Pre-School Development Grant and a Place where Parents Can Dream Too!

Parents speak about their future dreams and plans, and showcase these aspirations in artistic portfolios

Parents speak about their future dreams and plans, and showcase these aspirations in artistic portfolios

My dream is to speak English.  I also want to finish school, and this photo shows how I plan to look and dress in the job I want to have.  My hopes are to one-day gain a job as secretary or in an administrative position.-Fowler Head Start Parent  (Translated into English)

Can you imagine a school where parents are encouraged to dream – something that we, as adults, seldom do now that we have grown up?  The Fowler Head Start Program inspires such action as it intentionally facilitates opportunities for parents to envision and express artistically a world where all of their hopes and dreams come true.

At Fowler Head Start, the principal and his staff have discovered that investing in the lives of a child’s parent/caregiver drastically improves the student’s educational possibilities.  As a part of the Fowler family, not only do parents feel more inclined to participate in activities hosted by the school, but they also contribute to the planning and organizing of the events.  This comes directly as a result of the school’s constant care for and engagement of the whole family.

In recognition to its commitment to its students and families, Fowler is a beneficiary of the U.S. Department of Education/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Pre-School Development Grant – a grant created to “support State and local efforts to build, develop, and expand High-Quality Preschool Programs so that more children from low- and moderate-income families enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life.” Fowler understands that in order for a child to have the chance to succeed in life, the school must also invest in the whole family’s needs.

During a visit to Phoenix, U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Staff (CFBNP) were privileged to observe how the incorporation of family into the classroom space greatly contributes to a student’s learning.  Three, four, and five year-olds graced CFBNP staff with a student performance entitled, “Trip to Shanghai.”  Students danced, sang, and told tales of Ancient Eastern folklore. The artwork, planning, and preparation for the event were guided by both the teachers and the families of the students.

Welcome to Shanghai!  Decorations created by parents and teachers for the students’ performance

Welcome to Shanghai! Decorations created by parents and teachers for the students’ performance.

Fowler staff expressed how the relationship between teachers, the principal, and the families helped spark the academic interests and imagination of its students.  The creativity was evident when Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell was led on a tour and discovered beautiful artwork (including a fabulous portrait of herself crafted by a three-year-old!) created by students, including pictures of the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Fowler has gathered data to show that students who attend high quality early learning programs such as Fowler, excel in reading and math at a higher rate than their counterparts of the same age who do/did not attend Head Start.[1]

The staff and teachers at Fowler have earned the trust of the families they serve.  This trust stimulates a parental desire to become more involved in their children’s academic pursuits and helps children stay excited about learning.

[1] FESD #45 AIMS Reading: % Passing Comparison – Performance of Head Start vs. Non-Head Start Students

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Wow! A 95.5% Graduation Rate!

CFBNP Director, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Principal Cabrero, and Arizona Department of Education Staff celebrate the achievements of Franklin Police and Fire, including being named as U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School

CFBNP Director, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Principal Cabrero, and Arizona Department of Education Staff celebrate the achievements of Franklin Police and Fire, including being named as U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School.

Wow, a 95.5% graduation rate at Franklin Police and Fire High School! Congratulations! The opportunities available to students demonstrate why Franklin Police and Fire in Phoenix, AZ was honored as a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education.  For the school, excellence in education is possible for all of its students through the care and collaboration of its community partners, families, and school members dedicated to ensuring their students’ success. In the present moment where community ties are stressed and distrust may continue to grow between citizens and those who have sworn to protect and serve them, Franklin Police and Fire is committed to changing such a paradigm and engaging in promising practices that continue to drive student achievement.

In four years as Principal at Franklin Police and Fire High School, Lorenzo Cabrera and his staff have accomplished amazing feats in this area. On a recent Together for Tomorrow site visit to the school, U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Staff saw up close the benefits of how the school and its partners from the police force and fire department are working together to raise student achievement.

Students work with local fire and police departments where they learn skills such as CPR, First Aid, and team building. The students’ physical and emotional resilience are tested as they endure rigorous training and are confronted with difficult scenarios that firefighters and policemen often encounter daily. These scenarios are also reviewed in the classroom, where students have the opportunity to analyze and discuss how to maintain proper procedure while under duress. Moreover, students’ ethical insights and implicit biases are often challenged as they critically engage current controversies and events that have received national attention involving police forces across the U.S. Above all else, students are taught the value of integrity in their relationships with these partners and education within the school.  Because integrity is so important to the school, students are the required to recite its definition daily – “doing what is right even when no one is looking.”

In addition to its partnerships with the fire and police departments, Franklin Police and Fire High School promotes high student achievement though academic rigor, small class sizes, and heavy emphasis on college access. Students can receive college credit, earn various certifications, and even secure summer internships and employment, such as wildlife job opportunities offered through the Bureau of Land Management.

The partnership between Arizona State University’s (ASU) America Dream Academy (ADA) and Franklin Police and Fire helps families improve the educational outcomes of their youth. In ADA, the parents/caregivers of “at-risk” K-12 students partake in a nine-week program to “gain the knowledge and skills necessary to improve the educational development of their children, including methods to improve parent/child relationships; how to reduce dropout rates; and ensure high school graduation.” Such an initiative allows families to “take charge of their children’s education” as it helps to “build stronger families and communities.“

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

More Than a Checkmark – Together for Tomorrow

Together for Tomorrow Mural across the street from Downey Elementary School

Together for Tomorrow Mural across the street from Downey Elementary School

  “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.”

                                                                                                -Martin Luther King, Jr.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. conceptualized the thought of a beloved community in his 1956 speech, Facing the Challenge of a New Age, he envisioned a society where all people regardless of race, background, or position, were united in a common purpose to establish justice for all and ensure a better society for generations to come.   Almost sixty years later, such a vision and approach is still necessary as we recognize the varied injustices and inequities that exist within some of our lowest performing schools.  When we often think about improvement in these schools and the opportunities of creating a culture of education excellence and high achievement, we may not readily view families and community based organizations (CBO’s) as equal partners in this process.  However, such engagement by the aforementioned groups is essential to ensuring educational success for all youth.  Their roles in the educational sphere are just as important as those of school teachers, principals, and officials.

For many school districts, the creation of such a vibrant, educational community – where students’ grades improve consistently and the educational environment is healthy and safe – may seem to be a daunting task as strong ties between school, family, and community stakeholders seldom exist.  Yet, on a recent visit to Harrisburg, PA, the U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) observed how Downey Elementary, under the guidance of the Harrisburg School District and in partnership with families, CBO’s, and institutions such as Messiah College, defies these odds.   Through Together for Tomorrow, an initiative that spotlights and fosters partnerships among schools, families, national service programs, CFBNP staff observed how the collective care and capacity of these stakeholders breathes life into the cultural fabric of Downey and inspires students to step into their roles as academic leaders.

 When I grow up, I want to be a scientist.  I want to cure all types of sickness and cancers.  I am learning about some of this in my science class, and when I finish the fourth grade next year, I am going to the Math Science Academy where I can learn much more!

These words, spoken by a third grade student at Downey Elementary, echoed the similar sentiments of many Downey students who proudly communicated to CFBNP staff that they 1) were leaders, 2) planned to go to college, and 3) planned to make their neighborhoods a better place.  It was evident and also communicated by Downey Elementary Principal Travis Peck that the school and community encourage students to recognize their leadership capabilities and take responsibility in assuring their own present and future successes.

In addition to positive encounters with youth, CFBNP staff also met with parents who spoke highly of how the school included them in the education process and sought the welfare of their children.  One parent stated,

 A few months ago, my child was a victim of bullying at his former school.  After talking with school leadership, the problem still continued until I had to remove him from the school. I then transferred him here to Downey.  Just a few months later, my child is not only safe, but he is successful, is a leader, and is respected by students and teachers.  I think it is important for someone to ask “What it is about Downey that makes it such a positive and safe learning environment in the same neighborhood as my son’s former school, which is only right down the street?”

ED CFBNP Special Assistant Eddie Martin, Jr. with Downey Principal Travis Peck (left) and Messiah College Department of Education Chair, Don Murk (right).

ED CFBNP Special Assistant Eddie Martin, Jr. with Downey Principal Travis Peck (left) and Messiah College Department of Education Chair, Don Murk (right).

What is helping Downey Elementary to become a vibrant and cohesive school community is its intentionality in making sure that all stakeholders have an equal share in providing for the life and educational needs of the students. For example, organizations such as the Harrisburg Symphony, Salvation Army, and United Way have engaged in unique and innovative methods to serve the school.  Messiah College continues to make its contributions to Downey by engaging its students in various service learning projects that enhance both the appearance of the school and the learning opportunities for its students.  The school houses a Parents’ Academy that encourages parents’ participation in school and allows them to receive up to 15 credits towards a college degree. Teachers receive training on engaging students and parents. Downey also contains on onsite health clinic to address the health needs of students.   Additionally, the elementary school has a Vista member employed through the partnership between Messiah College and the Corporation for National and Community Service who helps to build the capacity of the school.  The Harrisburg School District also has a Parent Engagement Specialist who oversees Parent Liaisons and implements programs to help parents become better advocates for their children.

Most importantly, all of the previously mentioned partners, in addition to the Principal, Superintendent, and other officials overseeing the school, seem to care deeply about the students and have established good report with one another as they have embarked upon a common goal to promote the holistic welfare of their students.  For Downey, engaging families and communities in the life of the school extends beyond addressing a simple requirement or “checking the box” of community inclusion.  They recognize the power and benefits of working with families and CBO’s to raise student achievement.

During lunch with CFBNP Staff, the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of the Harrisburg School District expressed that they were pleased with the progress that Downey Elementary has made under the scope of Together for Tomorrow.  Alongside the Principal, they expressed that the school still has room for improvement but are excited about the direction it is heading with the support of their partners within the school and the greater community.  Collectively, these stakeholders reveal that anything can be accomplished by working together to achieve a cause that improves the life outcomes of our youth.  Educational inequities can be addressed, injustices can be corrected, and students can ultimately thrive.

 

Ceiling Panel Mural Created by Downey Elementary Students

Ceiling Panel Mural Created by Downey Elementary Students

 

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

CFBNP Participates in Module Madness

“My dream is to become the Athletic Director at the University of Alabama one day.  I have applied to the University of Alabama and am determined to get there.  I know that it may be difficult to make that happen and there will many temptations, but this is my goal and I believe I can achieve it.”

The previous statement serves as one of the many aspirations spoken by local students to U.S. Department of Education (ED) Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) staff during a recent visit to Bowie, MD.  Recently, CFBNP staff had the opportunity to lead a My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) workshop for youth from the Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virginia regions as a part of Jack and Jill of America’s (Prince George’s County Chapter) 2015 Module Madness event.  Module Madness is an annual youth development initiative divided into several different workshop components (called modules) that focus on youth leadership and financial literacy.  CFBNP staff addressed two of these modules – self-discipline and life skills – by coaching and working with teen facilitators to lead breakout sessions for over 65 students ranging from the 3rd to the 12th grade.

Special Assistant Eddie Martin listens to the youth.

Special Assistant Eddie Martin listens to the youth.

The breakout sessions for the MBK workshop ranged from CFBNP staff helping 11th-12th students to brainstorm and create career roadmaps that explain in detail the steps they should take to achieve their career passions to engaging 3rd-5th grade students on what makes them feel powerful and how they can work to create positive change in their schools and communities.  Additionally, all students shared remarks in a final session entitled “The Reflection in a Mirror,” where youth discussed 1) how society often perceives them based upon their ethnic background and 2) the challenges they can individually and collectively overcome to succeed in life.

The students were very insightful, genuine, and self-reflective as they participated in the different sessions. For example, when asked to examine Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” one student replied that such a perspective can be applied to all areas of our lives, and we should not let anyone negatively influence how we perceive ourselves.  Additionally, when students were asked how they could work to transform any personal weaknesses into strengths, one male courageously admitted that that though he often has little patience with family and peers, he plans to communicate more effectively with them to mitigate his frustrations and get along better with others.

Overall, the workshop served as one of the many ways that the ED CFBNP participates in White House and ED Initiatives to celebrate the efforts of schools, families, and community organizations to improve the life outcomes of youth, and how the team works with these groups to create a culture of educational excellence within our society.  Such efforts allow us to carry out our mission to help ensure that all youth, especially those who are most vulnerable, have the opportunity to pursue their career dreams and aspirations by receiving a sound education and the support of a caring community.

 

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell with the youth.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell with the youth.

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.