Supporting and Empowering Male Educators of Color

Crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

The Male Educators of Color Symposium convened May 8, 2015 at the U.S. Department of Education (photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Male educators of color are seldom recognized for our expertise in the engine that drives this country. But through the Male Educators of Color Symposium, the U.S. Department of Education shined a light on the work of the nation’s most underrepresented educators in preK-12 schools. At this gathering, some 150 plus men of various minority races discussed issues of policy, teacher mentorship, recruitment, cultural competency, and our roles in modern education.

Although collectively we comprise a very small percentage of the teaching force, our skills and dedication to the craft were largely represented at the symposium. Men traveled from as far as Hawaii to engage in the pre-planning of a significant step into changing the face of schools around the continental states.

Repairing the often-disparaging images of minorities was the crux of the conversation. In districts where large numbers of schools have students with teachers who do not look like them or lack cultural competence, we found higher rates of suspensions. We also found that minority male teachers in these schools often feel ostracized, over-worked, or idolized as disciplinarians. We brainstormed how to edify isolated minority male teachers and how to provide effective trainings on cultural awareness. We focused on enhancing cultural awareness and increasing the recruitment of minority male teachers.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan shared remarks of empowerment and provided goals for moving forward. Said Duncan, “We have to figure out how to move beyond islands of success stories to creating systems where academic success is the norm and young people have the mentors, role models, and support they need to be successful.” He added that the Department of Education accepts the charge to help create solutions. “If we are not creating real, radical change, not incremental change around the margins, then we are part of the problem.”

The Male Educator of Color Symposium pushed some of these margins apart by helping to unify America’s minority male educators. This was a fundamental shift from the typical conversation in our school districts. We responded to a call to action for the elevation of schools and the profession. Attending the Department of Education’s Male Educator of Color Symposium was an inspiring way to end Teacher Appreciation Week.

Gary Hamilton grew up in the Dallas Independent School District, and is now a 5th grade special education teacher at Wheatley Education Campus in Washington, D.C. He has been teaching for 9 years. Gary is an America Achieves Fellow and a Teacher Selection Ambassador for the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Bridging the Word Gap

Crossposted from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services blog

“We know that right now during the first three years of life, a child born into a low-income family hears 30 million fewer words than a child born into a well-off family. By giving more of our kids access to high-quality pre-school and other early learning programs, and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their kids succeed, we can give those kids a better shot at the career they are capable of, and a life that will make us all better off.”

-President Obama

Last week, the Obama Administration, in partnership with Too Small to Fail Exit Disclaimer and the Urban Institute Exit Disclaimer, hosted a group of federal, state and local policy makers, philanthropists, researchers and advocates at the White House for a day of shared learning on “Bridging the Word Gap.” The convening is a follow-up to the President’s call to action Exit Disclaimer on early education and the word gap earlier this year.

The President and his Administration are not alone in their interest in the subject. A growing coalition across the political spectrum is devoting attention and action to children’s earliest experiences. The driving catalyst is a combination of the growing literature on developmental and brain science that has permeated public policy and public knowledge, a stubborn achievement gap, and socioeconomic-driven disparities appearing in children much earlier than any American can stomach.

So what does the word gap have to do with brain development and subsequent socioeconomic disparities? A lot. The word gap technically refers to the difference in the quantity of words a high versus low-income child hears in the first few years of life. But the word gap is really much more than that. It is a proxy for the varying levels of enriching or quality experiences children have in their early years. In this case, the quantity of words children hear is correlated with the quality of interactions they are experiencing. We know from almost two decades of research that early experiences shape brain development. If we can bridge this word gap — both in quantity and quality — and provide more children with the foundational early experiences they need to be astute learners in preschool, kindergarten and beyond, we may be able to make more progress on the stubborn achievement gap and ensuing socioeconomic disparities. But we can’t get there unless we start early — really early.

While much warranted attention has been placed on ensuring that all children have access to high quality preschool, the conversation at the White House last week was largely about what happens before preschool, in the first few years of life. Lead researchers in the field, like Dr. Anne Fernald of Stanford University reinforced the point that learning starts at birth and disparities between lower- and higher income children start early, in infancy and toddlerhood, in part due to the language environment young children are exposed to. Dr. Kathy Hirsh Pasek of Temple University presented data that show that the “conversational duet” (i.e. repeated back-and-forth interaction between caregivers and young children), is the most critical component of the language environment. Her findings demonstrate that toddlers who engaged in more “conversational duets” with their caretakers fare better in language measures down the road, regardless of their families’ income level. Dr. Dana Suskind of the University of Chicago drove home the point of the day in stating that: “Babies aren’t born smart. They’re made smart.” In all, the conversation focused on how, as a community, we can ensure that caregivers have the tools they need to “bridge the word gap,” be “brain builders,” and provide their infants and toddlers with enriching early experiences that foster cognitive and social-emotional development and truly prepare kids for preschool, kindergarten and school beyond.

At the convening, the Obama Administration highlighted several efforts to do just that. A coordinated effort by HHS, ED, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to bridge the word gap and enhance young children’s earliest experiences was unveiled, including:

  • An HHS-sponsored challenge to innovators to build low-cost technologies that help caregivers engage in more high-quality interactions with their young children
  • An HHS-funded research network to help connect academics from multiple disciplines to contribute to word gap solutions
  • A Word Gap Toolkit, jointly developed by HHS, ED, and Too Small to Fail, that will include a suite of resources for parents, caregivers, and teachers on enriching the language environment of our youngest children
  • A $2 million investment by ED, HHS, and philanthropic partners on a National Academies of Science study focused on how to best support young children who are dual and English language learners
  • A Parent Early Learning Toolkit to help parents identify high-quality early learning programs, funded by ED and co-developed with HHS
  • A “prescription to the library” that provides a new way for pediatricians to encourage reading and library use, as well as a deeper partnership to address the word gap that will likely include over 150 libraries and 75 museums, co-administered by IMLS and Reach Out and Read

Last week’s event at the White House focused all eyes, ears and brains on babies and helped us move toward ensuring that our youngest children, particularly infants and toddlers, have a diverse coalition of champions behind them. Our policies, investments, and attention as a country should be tightly aligned with what the science says: that brain development and learning start on day one. If we want to ensure that America remains competitive in an ever-evolving world economy, we must make sure that all of our children, starting at birth, have access to the high quality early learning experiences that will “bridge the gap” and set them up for a bright future.

Check out the White House Fact Sheet to learn more about the Administration’s efforts to “bridge the word gap.”

Shantel E. Meek is a Policy Advisor for Early Childhood Development at Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

What is ESEA?

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The law represented a major new commitment by the federal government to “quality and equality” in educating our young people.

President Johnson, Johnson, seated at a table with his childhood schoolteacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, delivered remarks during the signing ceremony for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Photo credit: White House Photographer Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library & Museum)

President Johnson, seated at a table with his childhood schoolteacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, delivered remarks during the signing ceremony for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. (Photo credit: White House Photographer Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library & Museum)

When President Johnson sent the bill to Congress, he urged that the country, “declare a national goal of full educational opportunity.”

The purpose of ESEA was to provide additional resources for vulnerable students. ESEA offered new grants to districts serving low-income students, federal grants for textbooks and library books, created special education centers, and created scholarships for low-income college students. The law also provided federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education.

In the 35 years following ESEA, the federal government increased the amount of resources dedicated to education. However, education remains a local issue. The federal government remained committed to ensuring that disadvantaged students had additional resources, however, because as a nation we were falling short of meeting the law’s original goal of full educational opportunity.

No Child Left Behind

In 2001, with strong bipartisan support, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to reauthorize ESEA, and President George W. Bush signed the law in January 2002.

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002. (Photo credit: Paul Morse/White House)

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002. (Photo credit: White House photographer Paul Morse)

NCLB put in place important new measures to expose achievement gaps, and started an important national dialogue on how to close them. By promoting accountability for the achievement of all students, the law has played an important role in protecting the civil rights of at-risk students.

However, while NCLB has played an important role in closing achievement gaps and requiring transparency, it also has significant flaws. It created incentives for states to lower their standards; emphasized punishing failure over rewarding success; focused on absolute scores, rather than recognizing growth and progress; and prescribed a pass-fail, one-size-fits-all series of interventions for schools that miss their state-established goals.

Teachers, parents, school district leaders, and state and federal elected officials from both parties have recognized that NCLB needs to be fixed. Congress was due to reauthorize the law in 2007, but has yet to do so.

Flexibility Under NCLB

In 2012, after six years without reauthorization, and with strong state and local consensus that many of NCLB’s outdated requirements were preventing progress, the Obama Administration began offering flexibility to states from some of the law’s most onerous provisions. To receive flexibility, states demonstrated that they had adopted and had plans to implement college and career-ready standards and assessments, put in place school accountability systems that focused on the lowest-performing schools and schools with the largest achievement gaps, and ensured that districts were implementing teacher and principal evaluation and support systems.

The flexibility required states to continue to be transparent about their achievement gaps, but provided schools and districts greater flexibility in the actions they take to address those gaps.. Today, 43 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico have flexibility from NCLB.

Looking Ahead

President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan remain committed to reauthorizing ESEA to ensure that all young people are prepared to succeed in college and careers, that historically underserved populations are protected, and that schools, principals, and teachers have the resources they need to succeed.

President Obama poses with students at an elementary school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama poses with students at an elementary school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.” (Photo credit: White House photographer Pete Souza)

Some have suggested that the new version of ESEA, which would replace NCLB, should roll back the accountability requirements for states, districts and schools, and allow states to shift funds from lower-income to higher-income districts. With graduation rates at an all-time high and improving for all groups of students, such changes would turn back the clock on the progress our country has made in closing achievement gaps.

In January 2015, Secretary Duncan laid out the Administration’s vision for a new ESEA. The vision includes an ESEA that expands access to high-quality preschool; ensures that parents and teachers have information about how their children are doing every year; gives teachers and principals the resources and support they need; encourages schools and districts to create innovative new solutions to problems; provides for strong and equitable investment in high-poverty schools and districts; and ensures that action will be taken where students need more support to achieve, including in the lowest-performing schools. Learn more about the new vision here.

Interested in receiving the latest ESEA news in your inbox? Sign up for email updates.

A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

All parents hope their child will start school ready for success. Unfortunately, not every parent can find the high-quality early learning opportunity that sets their child up for success.

Earlier today the U.S. Department of Education released a new report outlining the unmet need for high-quality early learning programs in America. Roughly 6 in 10 four-year-olds are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs, and even fewer are enrolled in the highest quality programs.

Unmet Need

While both states and the federal government invest in early learning, these efforts have fallen short of what is needed to ensure that all children can access a high-quality early education that will prepare them for success.

Significant new investments in high-quality early education are necessary to help states, local communities, and parents close the readiness gap that exists between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.

unmetneed_blog

For Latino children, the unmet need is especially great. While Latinos are the fastest growing and largest minority group in the United States, making up a quarter of 3- and 4-year-olds, Latinos demonstrate the lowest preschool participation rates of any major ethnicity or race.

And while most children who have access to preschool attend moderate-quality programs, African- American children and children from low-income families are the most likely to attend low- quality preschool programs and are the least likely to attend high-quality preschool programs.

Building on Progress

To address the unmet need for high-quality preschool, states and the federal government have invested in initiatives to expand access. These investments provide a strong base upon which we can build voluntary, universal access to high-quality early education that will prepare our nation’s students for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Over the past decade, governors from both political parties have pushed for the creation
and expansion of publicly funded preschool programs. Since 2003, states have increased
their investment in preschool by more than 200 percent.

The federal government has also worked to improve the quality and expand early learning through the Head Start program. Twenty states have also received support through the Early Learning Challenge program, which helped states improve early childhood workforce preparation and training, and strengthened health services and family engagement.

Congress took an important step in 2014 to address inequities in access to high-quality preschool by supporting the Preschool Development Grants program, a 4-year, federal-state partnership to expand the number of children enrolled in high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities. Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico applied, but due — in part — to limited funding, only 18 grants were awarded.

PDG_blog

Preschool Development Grants will not cover every child in the funded states; however, these states will be another step closer to the goal of expanding access to high-quality early learning across the country. Over the 4-year grant period, and with continued funding from Congress, these states are expecting to enroll an additional 177,000 children in high-quality preschool programs, which will help put children on a path to success in school and in life.

Support for Early Learning

Over the last several years, an impressive coalition of education, business, law enforcement, military, child advocacy groups, and faith-based leaders have joined together to support the expansion of high-quality preschool programs. These groups recognize that investing in high-quality preschool means that more students will graduate from high school, go to college or join the armed or public services, and become contributing, productive members of our society with fewer youth and adults entering the justice system.

The evidence supporting early learning is clear. Research shows that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs have better health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes than those who do not participate.

Expanding early learning — including high-quality preschool — provides society with a return on investment of $8.60 for every $1 spent. About half of the return on investment originates from increased earnings for children when they grow up.

Moving Forward

This year, as Congress seeks to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), our nation is at critical moment. Congress can honor this important legacy and moral imperative – as our nation observes ESEA’s 50th anniversary – by reauthorizing a strong education law. This new law must reflect real equity of opportunity, starting with our youngest children.

By making a significant investment in preschool a key component of ESEA, we can help America live up to its highest ideals, as a place with real equity of opportunity. Congress has a chance to honor and extend the civil rights legacy of our education law by providing all children — no matter where they live or how much money their parents earn — an equal opportunity to begin school ready to succeed.

STEM Programs at the Department of Education: Supporting Teachers and Students

This is crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

This week, the President recognized some of the best and brightest science and engineering students from across the country during the 2015 White House Science Fair. At the Department of Education (the Department), we share the President’s commitment to supporting science education that is student-centered and grounded in real-world settings. We have made great strides in improving and broadening science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for all students by including STEM priorities in dozens of competitive grant programs in recent years. Most recently, the Department announced that the 2015 Ready-to-Learn Television grant competition will, for the first time, include a priority to support the development of television and digital media focused on science.

STEM has also been included as an area of focus in the Race to the Top-District program, which is focused on providing students with a personalized educational experience — meaning where the pace of learning and the instructional approach are tailored to the needs of individual learners. Highlights include: Galt Joint Union Elementary School District in California, which has launched afterschool STEM clubs to provide students the opportunity to explore robotics; and in Springdale Public Schools in Arkansas, students are using spatial technology to map bus routes and have created an interactive online system for the local community.

In addition to targeting resources to support the development and implementation of STEM programs, we have also begun to make steady progress towards the President’s goal to recruit and prepare 100,000 additional STEM teachers by 2020. At last year’s White House Science Fair we announced the inclusion of a STEM priority in the Teacher Quality Partnerships grant competition. This past fall we announced grant awards that support 24 new partnerships between universities and high-need school districts to recruit, train and support more than 11,000 new teachers over the next five years — many in STEM fields. A number of other grant programs focus on providing STEM teachers with the training and resources necessary to teach to rigorous standards in these fields, including: the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program, the Teacher Incentive Fund, the Math and Science Partnerships program and Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow.

Ensuring equity within the STEM fields is essential to our overall efforts to transform educational opportunity for our most underserved students in urban and rural communities. To commemorate this year’s 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the launch of the 25th Anniversary Year of Action: Fulfilling America’s Future. Part of this effort focuses on increasing educational outcomes and opportunities for Hispanic students in STEM. One effort already underway is the Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) – STEM program which supports HSIs in increasing the number of Hispanic students attaining degrees in STEM to prepare them for success in the 21st century STEM economy.

Because we know that learning happens inside and outside of formal school settings, ED’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program is collaborating with NASA, the National Park Service, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to bring high-quality STEM content and experiences to students from low – income, high-need schools. We are particularly pleased about these programs’ commitment to Native American students, which will provide about 350 students at 11 sites (across 6 states) out-of-school STEM courses on environmental monitoring and citizen science.

To support more students with opportunities to engage in “hands-on” activities to support STEM learning, we will be conducting a Makeover Challenge. This effort will seek innovative solutions to update Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that meet the needs of employers in the advanced manufacturing industry. Currently in the planning process, ED hopes to launch a future competition that will prototype state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities by providing technical assistance, professional development, equipment, hardware, and technology to support CTE manufacturing programs.

Advanced manufacturing is not the only place where we are looking into the future. ED’s STEM team recently launched a series of workshops with STEM experts and visionaries — including teachers, researchers, and education experts — to develop a 10-year strategic vision for STEM education and innovation. This vision will inform future policy and research (both public and private). It will also guide us as we work to ensure all children have the opportunity to develop the skills that will ignite a life-long interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Stay tuned for more information on the future of our work and to learn more about other innovative STEM programs currently underway at the Department.

Russell Shilling is the executive director of STEM in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

The Pathway to Success at King/Drew Magnet High School

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

King/Drew Magnet High School isn’t just preparing its students for graduation; it’s preparing them for life.

The school may be located in one of the most disadvantaged parts of Los Angeles, California, but its students are reaching for the highest levels in education – and they are succeeding. Students at King/Drew not only gradate in high numbers, fully 90% of those who graduate go on to attend college, including many of the country’s top schools, and they receive millions of dollars in merit-based scholarships and university grants.

“All students should be prepared for college and for careers because they should have all options open to them,” says English Teacher Latosha Guy. Teachers at King/Drew are preparing their students for the future by meeting their full range of needs, from career internships and fairs to after-school health and educational tutoring.

Teachers and students across the country are working together to focus on college and career readiness by setting and reaching higher standards inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers are helping their students succeed by nurturing and building their confidence along the way. As student Symmon-e Scott puts it, “High expectations make me nervous, but I know I can do it if I really put my mind to it.”

In this new video, see how teachers are helping students overcome challenges in the community to succeed at school and in life. Improving Education: A View from King/Drew Magnet High School shows how students truly believe that “there is no other pathway that will bring you success like education.”

We will continue highlighting extraordinary educators doing remarkable things in classrooms nationwide in our video series. To learn more, visit our Partners in Progress page.

The Importance of Transforming Adult Learning

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Several years ago, Carmen — a single, widowed parent — immigrated from Mexico to California to create a better life for herself and her two-year-old son. When she arrived in the U.S., she spoke very little English. She enrolled in ESL classes at New Haven Adult School and then went on to earn her GED. But Carmen soon realized that she needed to acquire more skills in order to find a job that paid a living wage. While working part-time, maintaining a home and raising her children, Carmen went on to earn her Adult Education Teaching Credential. She eventually completed her Bachelor of Arts degree. Today, Carmen is a computer skills instructor at New Haven Adult School, where she inspires ESL students to achieve their most ambitious education and career goals, just as she did.

Carmen’s story illustrates the importance of supporting low-skilled adults who are working hard to support their families. Last year, approximately 1,300 school districts and 370 partner organizations invested $231 million in federal resources and $614 million in state resources for foundation skills training.

While these investments are critical, unfortunately, they are not enough. The international Survey of Adult Skills showed an alarming 36 million American adults have low literacy skills. Since the survey’s release, ED has been hard at work to create a solution at the federal level. Congress also took action, passing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in July 2014, refocusing federal workforce development, adult education, and vocational rehabilitation systems to prepare adults for 21st century work. The Vice President’s office coordinated the Ready to Work job-driven training agenda. Most recently, the President announced the Upskill America initiative to enlist employers in this effort.

But there is still more that needs to be done. The Making Skills Everyone’s Business report, released today, emphasizes that addressing the challenge of adult skill development must be a shared responsibility.

Because the negative effects of low skills ripple through society and the economy, improving the education and skills of adult learners can pay substantial dividends for individuals and families, businesses and communities.

This report lays out seven strategies for establishing convenient, effective, high-quality learning opportunities. It challenges those of us in education to work more closely with employers to prepare students for in-demand jobs with advancement potential. It challenges employers to work more closely with educators to ensure effective training programs that lead to meaningful skill development. And it calls for making career pathways available and accessible everywhere, an effort that will be aided by the implementation of WIOA.

Importantly, this report recognizes the persistent gaps among learners of different races and abilities. As a nation, we must face the fact that achievement gaps, fueled by opportunity gaps, do not close on their own. Rather, they continue to fester and grow, contributing to inequality and unfairness, a widening income gap and inter-generational poverty that threaten our economic and civic prosperity. Educators must reach out to community- and faith-based institutions and employers to design new and scale up promising models that provide youth and adults with skill development and job opportunities.

Ted Mitchell is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education and Johan E. Uvin is Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

¡Estudia, Hay Dinero! There’s Money to Study!

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

 

First Lady Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan participate in an interview with Don Francisco of UNIVISION at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, MD, Feb. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan participate in an interview with Don Francisco of UNIVISION at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, MD, Feb. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan sat down recently with Don Francisco, the renowned host of Univision’s longest-running TV show, Sábado Gigante, to discuss the importance of filling out the FAFSA. The message is simple: ¡Estudia, Hay Dinero! or, There’s Money to Study!

Students and parents filled a classroom at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, to hear the First Lady tell her story of achieving her dreams by going to college. The First Lady spoke of her experience as a first-generation college student whose parents offered lots of moral support and encouragement even though they had not gone to college themselves. She told the students, “I’m actually just like you. There’s no magic. It requires hard work”.

After the interview, parents and seniors gathered in the school’s computer lab to complete the FAFSA with the help of school counselors and staff from Federal Student Aid.

When talking to the students about their future goals, many were honest about their experience and even admitted that they messed up at the beginning of high school. They explained that they realized the importance of going to college because it’s key to a better future. One of those students said she wants to pursue a dream of becoming a fashion designer. She understands that in order to have a promising future, she needs to get a degree. With the support of her family and friends, she will graduate this spring and attend community college in the fall.

Both the First Lady and Secretary Duncan understand that parents may be nervous about their kids leaving home or may be apprehensive about completing the form. But they urged all the parents to encourage their kids to reach higher, to complete their educations, and to own their futures.

The Department has simplified the FAFSA, making it easier now for students and families to complete. It’s no secret that going to college is expensive, but like Secretary Duncan said, “It’s the best investment you could make.” In only twenty-five minutes a student and family can have access to the billions of dollars in federal aid the government offers towards education. It costs absolutely nothing to fill out the form, but can be the factor that helps a student achieve his or her dreams.

Remember: There’s money to study! If you or a student you know has not yet filled out the FAFSA, visit www.studentaid.gov to answer your questions and link you to the FAFSA. Congratulations to all of the students making the choice to Reach Higher!

Rahje Branch is the Reach Higher intern in the Office of the First Lady. She is a sophomore studying at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA.

Let’s Break Down Ethnic And Gender Barriers in STEM Fields

Cross-posted from The Huffington Post

As a Hispanic woman in a male-dominated field, I’ve experienced firsthand how one’s gender and ethnicity can create unjust roadblocks on the path to professional success. As a result, women and Hispanics are both underrepresented in the STEM industry, but I believe we can break through these barriers.

To share a personal example through my experiences and career, I’ve learned that you never know when one opportunity may lead to another. A few years ago, I was named to a Hispanic business publication’s list of Top Five Women and was invited to attend an awards ceremony. While there, I had a conversation that led to me being asked to join the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. It was one of those times where I paused and thought, “The White House?!?” Of course, I agreed to serve immediately.

It’s been a great experience for me, but you don’t have to serve on a White House panel to make a difference. We can all help inspire change, and to do so, there are key steps we can take with our children and mentees to encourage higher representation of both minorities and women in these critical fields. And they’re easy to remember — just think STEM:

  • Strong encouragement: It comes from parents, grandparents, teachers, friends and the media. A young person’s confidence should be developed and nourished so that they know they can do what they want to do even if it’s in a field where they’re outnumbered. Confidence is key.
  • Time and resources: Give a little bit of your time or financial resources. Collectively, we can support organizations that promote focus and leadership.
  • Exposure to industry leaders: Do this at an early age, and do it repeatedly throughout their education. Many students want to go into professions that help others, and think that they must become a doctor or nurse to fulfill that desire. But engineers have had profound effects on human civilization and the technological advances we all enjoy today. Their work has reached — and helped — billions of people.
  • Model behavior: Role models are important and can have considerable impact on a young person’s choices. If a young girl can see a woman whose profession is STEM-based, they can point to her and say, “If she can do it, so can I.”

If we can all work on these initiatives, young women and minorities will feel more supported and confident engaging in STEM and in their dream careers. Furthermore, the talent they can bring to the field will not only diversify, but help achieve our full potential of discovery and technological innovation.

Alicia Abella is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Join Shakira and Secretary Duncan for a Twitter Q&A on Early Education

Crossposted from The White House blog

For every dollar we invest in early childhood education, we see a rate of return of $7 or more through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these kids as adults.

Early education is one of the best investments our country can make. Participation in high-quality early learning programs—like Head Start, public and private pre-K, and childcare—provide children from all backgrounds with a strong start and a solid foundation for success in school.

Tomorrow, President Obama will host a White House Summit on Early Education, announcing new commitments and building on his call to expand access to high-quality early childhood education to every child in America.

As part of the Summit, Grammy award-winning artist Shakira and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be taking to Twitter on Wednesday, December 10, at 10:00 a.m. ET to answer your questions about early education. Shakira is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and has been a strong advocate for high-quality early education.

Here’s how you can get involved:

Learn more about the President’s plan to expand access to high-quality early childhood education, and then join Shakira and Secretary Arne Duncan for a Twitter chat on Wednesday, December 10, at 10:00 a.m. ET.