Three Lessons from My Unorthodox 10th-Grade Year

My name is Sophia Pink. I’m a high school junior at Washington International School in Washington, D.C., and recently had the privilege of speaking at the 9th Annual Private School Leadership Conference about my experience of creating a hybrid approach for 10th grade.

As a freshman in high school, about two months into 9th grade, I was frustrated. I liked my school, but I spent all my time marching to other people’s orders, and had little time to work on projects in technology, science, and moviemaking that I was really interested in. So I thought about it for a while, and came up with an unorthodox idea. Instead of filling my days with going from class to class, I would take the time to work on projects that really interested me. And, to keep up with my core academics, I would take advantage of the new world of online education.

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Virtual Poetry Slams Deliver Multiple Benefits for Urban Youth

Kimbrlyn Hernandez was so excited when she learned that she and her 8th-grade classmates at M.S. 145, Bronx, N.Y., would be going to Chicago and San Francisco for poetry slams. But the “trip” to those cities to share her poems would take seconds rather than days, thanks to the Internet and Global Writes, Inc., a nonprofit organization committed to promoting literacy, communication, and collaboration among young people and an OII grantee. As the virtual encounters and “trips” began, Kimbrlyn’s thoughts were random sentences, but as the sharing and “travel” continued and she gained both confidence in her writing and comfort in the interpersonal relationships she formed online, Kimbrlyn’s poetry evolved.

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What You Get When You Mix Arts with Science

It was a classic “win-win” on display when Secretary Duncan visited a preschool classroom at Brightwood Elementary School in Northwest Washington, D.C., recently. The children were learning concepts in science through music and dance. Nationally, in many schools and districts science is not taught in the elementary grades, much less in preschool. And based on a recent Department of Education report on arts education, in many places, particularly urban school districts, the arts are missing as well in early learning.

Teacher Kalpana Kumar-Sharma and her students make arts and science connections through music. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Teacher Kalpana Kumar-Sharma and her students make arts and science connections through music. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Secretary Duncan, accompanied by D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, visited teacher Kalpana Kumar-Sharma’s classroom to see how an innovative approach to combining the arts and science is working as the result of an OII arts education grant to the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning in the Arts. Like many other Wolf Trap early learning programs, Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts) pairs a teaching artist who is skilled in arts integration with the preschool teacher.

While Brightwood Elementary is not explicitly a STEM or arts focused school, Artist Laura Schandelmeier has been visiting the Brightwood classroom weekly for several months to collaborate with Ms. Kumar-Sharma on lessons that combine dance and music with science. Based on the model that has evolved over the past three years in nearby Fairfax County preschool classes, the goal is to leave Ms. Kumar-Sharma with an understanding of arts integration and the skills and confidence to implement future integrated lessons on her own. Click here to read an OII home page article about the Early STEM/Arts project funded by the
Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) grants program.

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Department Announces Highest-Rated Applications for Investing in Innovation 2013 Competition

(Nov. 8, 2013) The U.S. Department of Education today announced results for the fourth round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) competition, which will award the 25 highest-rated applications (HRAs) more than $135 million to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement. These 25 potential grantees, selected from 618 applications and representing 13 states and the District of Columbia, must secure matching funds by Dec. 11, 2013, in order to receive federal funding.

“In this era of rapid change, we must make sure that our students are keeping pace with the rigor, relevance, and changing demands of the 21st-century job market,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “I am encouraged by the innovative ideas to accelerate student achievement demonstrated in these applications.”

Of the 25 HRAs, 18 are in the “Development” category and seven are in the “Validation” category (see list of applicants below). This year, the Department did not identify any potential grantees for the “Scale-up” category, instead choosing to invest in promising projects in the other two categories. The Development category attracted the greatest participation similar to the past three years of the competition. With the 18 Development HRAs from this competition, there will potentially be a total of 77 Development i3 grantees nationwide implementing new, promising practices to improve outcomes for students.

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Community Festival Marks Promise Neighborhood Launch in San Francisco

A festive celebration for families and the community marked the official beginning of the Promise Neighborhoods grant in San Francisco recently. Dozens of families in the city’s Mission District attended the more than three–hour festival at John O’Connell High School to officially announce a $30 million Promise Neighborhoods implementation grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was on hand to congratulate the community and leaders of the new Mission Promise Neighborhood, and cited the important contribution the grant will make to local leaders committed to the basic principle of the Promise Neighborhoods initiative: focusing on high academic achievement through wrap-around support for students and families to minimize the impact of a difficult economic environment on the classroom.

The deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Marco Davis, also noted that the Promise Neighborhoods program “is an outstanding example of engaging all aspects of a community.”

Also on hand for the launch was Joe Barlson, communications and outreach director for ED’s regional office in San Francisco. Click here to read his blog about the event.

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OII Grant Invigorates Partnerships with History and Humanities Organizations

The late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who himself made history as the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, was passionate about the importance of the U.S. Constitution — he carried a copy in his suit-coat pocket — and about American history. He believed strongly that students need a deep understanding of the significant events and turning points in our Nation’s history. Under his legislative leadership, important opportunities were created for teachers of American history to strengthen their knowledge and improve their pedagogy, notably OII’s Teaching American History (TAH) grant program.

Authorized in 2001 to improve student achievement in American history by providing high-quality professional development to K-12 teachers, TAH grants have supported hundreds of school districts. The grant program supports professional development programs that put a premium on teachers engaging with primary sources via partnerships with a wide variety of cultural entities — from humanities programs of colleges and universities to museums and libraries to state and local historical societies.

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Digital Media Academy Promises Bright Futures


A Digital Media Academy student illustrates a live canvas for the DC Promise Neighborhoods Initiative.

A Digital Media Academy student illustrates a live canvas for the DC Promise Neighborhoods Initiative.

For 15 young people in the Kenilworth-Parkside community of Washington, D.C., a summer learning experience provided by the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) helped to change their lives. Over 29 days and through more than 130 hours of digital instruction and immersion, participants in DCPNI’s first Digital Media Academy took to their community, to classrooms, and to nationally recognized media enterprises in the D.C. metropolitan area to discover new passions, learn marketable skills, meet adult mentors, and set a course for their future success.

During the first week of class, DMA youth explore hands-on, project-based learning.

During the first week of class, DMA youth explore hands-on, project-based learning.

DCPNI, one of 12 Promise Neighborhoods implementation sites nationwide, tapped into a rich array of digital and media arts resources in the nation’s capital — from Black Entertainment Television and CNN to the Newseum — to help the young people find their own voices and use them to improve their neighborhood. The students gained valuable creative skills in computer programming and graphic design, coupled with editing videos and music and operating cameras. In the process, they also gained valuable leadership skills, implemented social change through art, and effectively used the media to positively influence their peers.

It’s off into the real world to shoot their first PSA for this DMA production crew.

It’s off into the real world to shoot their first PSA for this DMA production crew.

The students, according to DCPNI Executive Director Ayris Scales, were constantly amazed by new ideas and opportunities, and they shared them in daily journals and local media interviews. Among their favorites experiences were being exposed to Google and exploring the Newseum, as they realized the importance of the media and the fundamentals of working hard while having fun. More importantly, while they created public service announcements on teen pregnancy that encouraged young people to live for their future dreams, the DMA students made important strides toward achieving their own future dreams.

Many of the DMA students now realize how gifted they are and just how bright their futures can be. They graduated from the program, but remain in the hearts of the DCPNI mentors, staff, and professionals who supported them, many of whom said, “It was the best job and best summer I ever had.”

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National Nonpublic School Leaders Attend Annual Conference

The Office of Non-Public Education (ONPE) hosted the 9th-Annual Private School Leadership Conference on September 23 at the Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Each year, the invitation-only event brings together 100 of the nation’s top private and home school educational leaders from across the country. Also attending were representatives from state and local education agencies who are responsible for administering federal education programs on behalf of private school students.

The annual conference provides a forum to address Department of Education programs and initiatives, listen to the concerns of the nonpublic school community, highlight innovative practices, and facilitate discourse between the Department and national nonpublic school leaders.

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Teaching American History Veteran is Teacher of the Year

Meet Jill Szymanski, a 4th/5th-grade teacher at Red Clay Consolidated School District in Wilmington, Del., who was recently named the 2013 National History Teacher of the Year.

Ms. Szymanski, a 16-year veteran of the classroom, credits her growth as a history teacher in part to her participation for three years in the Delaware Social Studies Education Project, a grantee of ED’s Teaching American History program. Teaching American History grants support professional development in American history content by stressing the importance of making history engaging and helping students to think like historians. James G. Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, said Ms. Szymanski has an “ability to push her students to think critically through the use of primary and secondary source documents and visits to historical sites, and her boundless energy.”

The National History Teacher of the Year Award is co-sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, The History Channel, and Preserve America to honor outstanding K–12 educators of American history. The honoree receives a $10,000 prize as well as a trip for her and two students to New York City for an awards ceremony. Click here to read the full article about this year’s awardee on the Gilder Lehrman Institute website.

 Cross-posted from Teaching Matters, ED’s newsletter celebrating teachers and teaching.

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New OII Grants to Increase Access to High-Quality Schools, Effectiveness of School Leadership, and Role of Arts Education Nationwide

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this week announced nearly $105 million in Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) grants that will help to ensure high-quality leadership in high-need schools, develop model arts education efforts nationwide, and increase public school choices for parents.

In announcing $13.3 million to 20 projects under the School Leadership Program (SLP), Secretary Duncan said, “High-quality examples of leadership can help shape a school’s culture and create an environment where students are excited to learn.”  The five-year grants will help prepare individuals to meet state certification requirements to become principals or assistant principals as well as provide professional development to current principals and assistant principals. More than 1,500 aspiring or current school leaders in almost 100 high-need school districts across 15 states will be served by the grantees’ programs and services. Full information about the new SLP awards can be found here.

Acknowledging the role the arts play in helping students gain the skills needed to succeed in college and careers, the $2 million awarded under the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination program (AEMDD), according to Secretary Duncan, “… will help organizations establish and implement sound practices that can be used in classrooms across the nation.” The eight grantees vary from nonprofit arts education organizations to a higher education institution to both charter and traditional public schools, all of which have strong partnerships to develop and implement their projects. Click here for the ED press release on the AEMDD awards.

Magnet schools can increase public school options for parents and students, and the $89.8 million in Magnet School Assistance Program (MSAP) grants will “help students gain access to challenging curricula that will help prepare them for college and 21st century careers,” said Secretary Duncan in announcing the grants to 27 school districts in 12 states. The districts will use the up-to-three-year grants to establish new magnet schools or expand existing magnet programs. Click here for complete information on the MSAP grants.

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