From Washington, D.C. to the Reservation: Showing Love for Native Students

Santa Fe Indian School graduation is a celebration of tradition and family. (Photo courtesy: Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican)

Santa Fe Indian School graduation is a celebration of tradition and family. (Photo courtesy: Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican)

I grew up listening to my father sing traditional Acoma songs as we would drive to the mountains; I didn’t understand why until I became old enough to learn that we were going to pray. It took even longer to understand why we pray — and a couple more years to understand that we pray in the following sequence for: the land, the rain, the animals, the world, the country, the Acoma community, our families and finally for ourselves.

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Finding Success with Afterschool Physical Education Programs

The bell rings and they can’t wait. After a long day in the classroom, kids of all ages race to open fields on the other side of the school parking lot. That’s the goal, anyway. But for many kids, daily opportunities for fitness are a far cry from reality.

soccersuccess

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say school-age children should be physically active at least one hour a day. Most 9- to 13-year-olds do get their daily dose of physical activity, with more than three-quarters exercising throughout the week. But that percentage significantly declines as children grow older. In 2013, less than a third of high school students met the one-hour mark or attended physical education classes during an average school week. As children become more sedentary, their risk grows for developing chronic health problems down the road. The problem is especially acute for children from low-income families.

How do we make sure every young person — no matter where they live or their family’s income — has the opportunity to be active and healthy every day? We believe schools are an important part of the answer. Simply put: children go to school five days a week, so schools are in a unique position to help kids exercise regularly. Plus, physical activity helps kids concentrate on classroom tasks and improve their standardized test scores. That means schools have a vested interest in keeping kids active so they’ll do better academically.

Unfortunately, many school districts lack the resources to offer robust physical education programs. There are lots of reasons schools have had to cut back on physical education classes and recess: not enough funding, few safe spaces to play, the need for more classroom time to make sure every child is given educational opportunity. The number of things schools have to accomplish every day is enormous.

And that’s where the U.S. Soccer Foundation comes in.

Recently leaders from our organization met with staff at the Department of Education to discuss our partnerships with schools across the country, especially in underserved communities. We offer proven youth development programs, build fields where children can play safely, and supply much-needed athletic equipment. Afterschool programs like ours not only give students a physical outlet, they also increase the effort kids put into school, keep them from skipping class, and boost their academic confidence.

An independent evaluation of our Soccer for Success afterschool program found that 89 percent of children who started the program overweight or obese left it with improved or maintained aerobic capacity. When it came to school, 89 percent of students said they tried harder as a result of the program, and 85 percent said they tried harder to avoid violence and fighting.

We love talking to teachers about how our programs turn their students around. To enhance our children’s academic performance and help them feel more engaged in the classroom, we as a community have to do more to bring physical activity and academia together. We look forward to hearing from schools and educators about your vision for ensuring that every young person has the chance to live a full and healthy life.

Wylie Chen is Vice President of Programs and Grants at the U.S. Soccer Foundation.

The “Invisible Tax” on Teachers of Color: A Philly Point of View

Fellowship

Bringing together Black male teachers and principals and building a network of learning, support and empowerment is essential, relevant and necessary not only for Black male students, but for all students. This is the essential mission of The Fellowship, a Philadelphia-based group that was founded to support current and aspiring black male educators through advocacy, engaging policy makers, expanding the teacher pipeline, and quarterly professional development opportunities called, “Black Male Educators Convenings” (BMEC).

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Expanding Opportunity: One Child at a Time

One of the most cost-effective ways to increase equity in education and expand opportunity to our nation’s children is to invest in high-quality preschool for our youngest learners – and not just some of them, but all of them. Federal- and state-led efforts over the past seven-and-a-half years have helped our country make progress toward this goal. In 2009, only 38 states offered children access to state-funded preschool, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama called for all children to have access to high-quality, state-supported preschool. Since the President’s announcement, all but four states offer preschool to young children and nearly 40 states and Washington, D.C., have invested more than an additional $1.5 billion in support of preschool.

Pre-K 4-yr Olds

Despite these promising developments, a new report from NIEER shows that thousands of children from low- and middle-income families in communities across the country still do not have access to quality preschool.

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Helping Schools Ensure the Civil Rights of Transgender Students

By the time Landon – a high school student in Massachusetts – entered his freshman year, he had already been in and out of the hospital for multiple suicide attempts. He had been pulled out of school because he wasn’t able to get through the day, and he needed medication to sleep.

Today, Landon is back in school – a vocational school he transferred to as a sophomore, after coming out to friends and family as a transgender boy – and things have gotten a little easier for him. Landon’s new school is committed to treating every student with dignity and respect, and together they have found ways to allow Landon to survive and thrive in his new surroundings. But getting there has taken time, and the path hasn’t always been clear.

In recent months, we’ve heard from a growing chorus of educators, parents, and students around the country about the need for guidance on how schools can successfully support transgender students and non-transgender students in compliance with federal civil rights laws. In fact, just this week, the National Association of Secondary School Principals called for the Department to release guidance and best practices on creating an inclusive and respectful environment. Schools want to do right by all of their students and have looked to us to provide guidance on steps they can take to ensure that every student is comfortable at their school, is in an environment free of discrimination, and has an opportunity to thrive.

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ParentCamp International: Engaging Leaders from Immigrant Communities

ParentCamp International included several breakout sessions. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

ParentCamp International included several breakout sessions. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

When I first heard about the first ParentCamp International, I knew I had to be there! As a Hispanic/Latina mother of a son receiving Special Education services and who works closely with international families in schools, I felt I couldn’t miss the opportunity to meet decision makers in our educational system and share stories and experiences of our groups.

It was an eventful day! In addition to hearing from representatives of the White House, Justice Department and Secretary of Education John King, we were able to network and share stories during many breakout group sessions, which were incredibly meaningful.

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The Positive Effect of Physical Fitness and Self-Care in a Dynamic School Community

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, which means it’s time to celebrate physical fitness and how it can transform the classroom experience. Physical fitness promotes teamwork, healthy living and optimism for young learners.

Students practicing mindfulness. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Students practicing mindfulness. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

As a spring intern here at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), I was recently given the chance to accompany ED staff during a trip to the Brightwood Education Campus in Washington, D.C., where the entire community is dedicated to the mission of mind and body wellness. Students in all grades learn coordinated exercises designed to stimulate their bodies and their brains. Students at Brightwood come from many different cultural backgrounds and many of them are English-language learners – and the emphasis on exercise and mental health awareness is just one of the many tools educators use to promote diversity.

During my visit to Brightwood, I saw students leading group stretches with their peers, “tapping” out their stress and taking time to walk around the room to improve their circulation. In a pre-K classroom, the students sat in a circle while one student led the exercises. While they sang traditional songs such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” they would do the exercises in sync. The students had just woken up from nap time, so these exercises were intended to reactivate their brains and keep their focus in the classroom. The peer-influence is great to see first-hand because when one student would get off task, their friends would help them get back into the activities. After the exercises the students had a chance to sit up tall, close their eyes, and breathe in unison. Beyond just physical fitness, students and teachers participated in meditation and stretching in order to ease their minds and connect with other people around them.

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Career Pathways Leading Improved Services

Ensuring that everyone in this nation is equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed is crucial in our competitive, global economy. One key part of this effort is ensuring that young people and adults of all skill levels who are transitioning to new careers or looking to enhance their careers receive the supports they need to do so. Too often, though, our systems for helping hard-working Americans acquire marketable and in-demand skills can be complex and difficult to navigate for students, job seekers, and employers alike. The good news is that career pathways are a promising solution to that challenge. Career pathways are integrated collections of strategic programs and services that help students and job seekers transition from education to employment. They connect the necessary adult basic education, occupational training, postsecondary education, career and academic advising, and support services so that students and workers can successfully prepare for, obtain, and progress in their career.

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Thanks for Teaching Me Out of My Comfort Zone

Last year, the week after Teacher Appreciation Week, Moe Liss, the teacher who had the greatest influence on my life of any teacher, was being honored near Paterson, New Jersey, my home town. I decided that no matter how many late night buses I had to take to get there and back, I had to attend — it was worth it to honor a great teacher. In celebration of this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to share my feelings about honoring the teacher who influenced me the most.    

The author in his office at the U.S. Department of Education. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The author in his office at the U.S. Department of Education. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

It was great to be back in my home territory of Northern New Jersey with several hundred people of various ages that I recognized from my childhood. They were there to celebrate the contributions of Moe Liss, my high school teacher in economics, who went on to support many community causes and train many teachers at a local teacher’s college — a role he still plays in his youthful eighties.

My memories of Mr. Liss (I still cannot call him Moe) were not all pleasant. In his class, he challenged his students to think and learn and use the full range of their abilities. It was not always a happy or comfortable experience, but he always made me learn, and I always was improved by the experience, even though I may have not realized it then. He pushed me and other students way out of our comfort zones and taught me to be inquisitive and to think critically — skills that drive my thinking today and every day in my work at the Department. What he taught me then still serves me very well today — to be a lifelong learner and to use that learning to solve problems. He still drives me to think creatively, solve problems, and continually strive to improve.

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The Importance of Learning from Other Teacher Leaders

TAW

This year during Teacher Appreciation Week, I would like to express my gratitude for several organizations that appreciate teachers who want to grow as professionals while remaining in the classroom.

In recent years, I found that my greatest passion was to elevate our profession by focusing on the classroom teacher as a leader. This was a natural fit for me since I served for over 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, where I developed as a leader with formal leadership training. Much of my success as a teacher has been grounded in the leadership competencies I learned during my military career. I wanted to create similar leadership development opportunities for my colleagues.

So, how does a middle school science teacher from a small district in Massachusetts follow her passion to create leadership development opportunities for teachers? She takes advantages of national level leadership opportunities!

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What the Department Has Said About Teachers – It’s Worth a Listen

Much like America’s teachers, the U.S. Department of Education sometimes gets a bad rap.

You know the drill. So many times, the stories of frustrated teachers or bad apples get bigger play on social media and in the news than the stories of the millions of American teachers who, like my friends and colleagues, change lives every day. Meanwhile, federal policymakers get blamed for not being omnipotent, as many think they should be, or for not talking to real teachers. However, since the start of this school year, my Teaching Ambassador Fellow colleagues and I have spoken with literally thousands of teachers around the country and brought back to ED what we’ve heard.

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Listening to Teachers: Why It’s Important We Hear Your Voices

“Teachers have made a huge difference in my life. Among my key priorities this year is lifting up our nation’s teachers and the education profession. The Teaching Ambassador Fellowship and Teach to Lead are great steps in this direction. I am eager to work with the Fellows to do even more to support educators as they work to expand educational equity and excellence each day.” – Secretary (and high school social studies teacher) John King on the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship website.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAF) are expected to learn about federal education policy, reach out to teachers and schools and reflect with Department of Education staff what they hear. As a Washington-based TAF, on leave from my school for the year, I have had the unique honor of bringing the voices of teachers I meet across the country directly into discussions at the Department of Education. One way we have done this recently is through monthly meetings we call Tea with Teachers.

Secretary King engages with teachers during a Tea with Teachers session in February. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary King engages with teachers during a Tea with Teachers session in February. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

During Tea with Teachers, educators from across the United States are invited to come share their unique experiences with Secretary King and other staff members on key topics like teacher retention, challenges faced by Native American youth, meeting the needs of students who are refugees, creating safe learning spaces free from discrimination, and the unique problems faced by students who are undocumented.

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