We Need to Talk About it: Supportive Environments are a Necessity for Quality Schooling

Students at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Students at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Students excel when they feel both welcomed and supported. At Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA), we believe that quality schooling is dependent upon quality relationships with students and families. This philosophy creates a space to better serve our community in a socially just way.

That’s why CNCA created and sustained an educational model that uses the per-pupil funding that we receive from the state to support strategic resources like full-time mental health practitioners and professional development for teachers and administrators on trauma-sensitive instruction. We also conduct home visits and teach ethnic studies as part of the curriculum to both affirm our relationships with students and to assist them in navigating life circumstances. We’ve found that these types of school climate investments help our students redirect energy to learning and it shows in their academic performance.

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Learning to Let Go: It’s Time for Preschool

This year, I sent my youngest child to preschool.

Over the summer, we had the luxury of hours of cuddle time, reading books together, jumping on the trampoline and building endless Lego and wood block structures.

Chowin' down! (photo courtesy of the author)

Chowin’ down! (photo courtesy of the author)

But now, it’s time for him to start his preschool journey – and I’m feeling a little hesitant about a few things.

First, I am really going to miss him every day. What if other kids say harsh things to him and his feelings get hurt? What if he trips and falls? Or, what if he has an accident and the teachers don’t comfort him as well as I can?

I’m worried about a lot – but I’m also very excited.

Noé’s preschool is diverse in a number of ways. Students are as young as two years old or as old as five. The student population is also made up of kids from different socio-economic backgrounds, as well as different ethnic and language backgrounds. Additionally, some families have a generational history of high levels of education while other may or may not have attained high school diplomas.

Every day, the teachers set up learning stations where students can create, arrange, construct, converse, act out, write, draw or play together.

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Finding My Voice and Sharing My Story with Secretary King

Jamie Talley (in white), a NAEHCY scholarship recipient, sharing her views with Secretary King.

Jamie Talley (in white) is a NAEHCY scholarship recipient.

My name is Jamie Talley, I am a National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) scholarship recipient. I experienced homelessness, and I work every day to make myself someone different than the family I was born into.

I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Washington D.C., with other NAEHCY scholars. There is one moment that I will remember forever.

You’ve been given the opportunity to sit at the table and make a difference, so make it count.

That moment was when it actually dawned on me just what was taking place. These may not have been his exact words, but this was the point Sam Ryan, Special Assistant and Youth Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education, was making just before Secretary John B. King, Jr., entered the room.

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Making the Impossible Possible as a Migrant Student

Blog author Yesenia Solis. (Photo courtesy the author)

Blog author Yesenia Solis. (Photo courtesy the author)

Months ago, traveling to Washington, D.C., seemed unbelievable to me, but recently this is exactly what I did. I am a rising senior from Avenal, California, and I want to someday be part of the government to make a change. So, thanks to the Ivy League Project – a program that encourages economically disadvantaged students to apply to the most prestigious universities in America – I was able to travel across the country to visit the Department of Education and several famous schools along the East Coast.

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A Celebration of Professional Careers in the Arts With Savanah College of Art and Design

On July, 21, 2016, the Department of Education’s (ED) newest student art exhibit — featuring works crafted by both B.F.A. and M.F.A. students in painting, photography, printmaking and illustration from Georgia-based Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) — was unveiled as opening ceremonies took place at ED’s headquarters.

Throughout the proceedings, SCAD demonstrated the qualities that cement its position as a top-tier college of the arts, and the essence of its mission statement — that the Savannah College of Art and Design exists to prepare talented students for professional careers, emphasizing learning through individual attention in a positively oriented university environment — shone through to all the guests.

If one thing stood out above all else on opening day, though, it was the deep and undeniable impression that SCAD leaves upon its students. In addition to SCAD artists’ mastery of their mediums, unveiled at the opening, they benefit from the college’s full commitment to supporting their continuous growth and aiding them in developing their career paths beyond graduation.

Attendees at the SCAD art exhibit opening take a moment to appreciate and admire the new pieces of art on display.

Attendees at the SCAD art exhibit opening take a moment to appreciate and admire the new pieces of art on display.

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Building the Next Generation of Assessments in Education

Cross-posted from the White House blog.


Summary: Thanks to recent advances in technology and in the data sciences, a new era of assessment is on the way in education.

In October 2015, in a Testing Action Plan, President Obama called for a new approach to testing and assessment to better serve students.  The plan outlines a set of principles to reduce the time spent on standardized tests, and improve the quality and usefulness of tests for students and educators, including building new and more innovative technological-based assessment tools.  More recently, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its proposed regulations on assessments under Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which the President signed in December 2015, to clarify how states can utilize a number of innovative approaches to assessment, including better integration of technology.  ED also published draft regulations for public comment on the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority under Title I part B of the ESSA, which will allow states to pilot new approaches in a subset of districts as an alternative to statewide tests as they work to scale innovative tests statewide.  Read more here.

These steps by Congress and the Administration are creating conditions whereby educational technology can help transform how tests are delivered while reducing the amount of classroom time spent on assessment.  With the emergence of next-generation web- and app-based assessments, students are now engaging in activities and games that measure knowledge and performance in real time and provide immediate results. These new forms of technology regularly track progress toward mastery of grade level content, adapt and support learning to meet individual needs, and generate teacher reports to inform instruction.  The best learning games allow students to play through hard, complex challenges and demonstrate mastery by succeeding at the game itself, making assessment engaging and rewarding.

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“Advocacy is an Obligation, Not a Choice”: NBCDI Parent Power BootCamp

As President and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) I have the privilege of speaking before many audiences, but I’ve never been more excited to come before a group — and to hear the immediate feedback about the impact of the day — than I was during National Black Child Development Week. Themed “A Week of Action,” the centerpiece of the week was NBCDI’s first Parent Power BootCamp. Held in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the Parent Power BootCamp brought parents, caregivers and advocates together to “Get In-formation” – focusing both on exchanging knowledge and action planning to get in position to do the work of being relentless advocates and accountability agents on behalf of our children.

Caring and concerned adults wrote lessons learned and messages of affirmation to parent advocates across the nation. (Photo credit: National Black Child Development Institute)

Caring and concerned adults wrote lessons learned and messages of affirmation to parent advocates across the nation. (Photo credit: National Black Child Development Institute)

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Building a Summer Stride, not a Summer Slide

Tawana Bostic and students.

Eighth grade Higher Achievement Summer Academy Scholars listen attentively to Center Director, Tawana Bostic, as she reviews Newton’s Third Law of Motion.

School’s out, temperatures are rising, and, for many students across the country, the summer slide has begun. Each summer, low-income students lose two to three months of reading skills and two months of math skills. As the center director for an after school and summer academic program for middle school students in Washington, D.C.’s historically underserved neighborhood of Anacostia, I see these statistics firsthand every day.

Many of the students from the community we serve take one of three paths in the summer. In some of our better case scenarios, students are either required to enroll in remedial classes to move onto the next grade or they sign up for recreational programs that do not have an academic component. At worst, students stay at home where they either watch TV, play video games, or spend hours on the computer. For many of the students in these categories, the only interaction they have with math is getting change from a store clerk when purchasing snacks. Their reading interactions are limited to social media posts – nothing that requires critical thinking skills.

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Investing In Positive School Climates at Yes Prep

In a June 28 speech at the annual conference for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Nashville, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King challenged charter school leaders to rethink how and why they address student behavior in our schools. Dr. King charged all charter school leaders gathered last week to honestly consider our own approaches. That includes YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, where I am the CEO.

In fact, over the past few years, YES Prep has done just that—and we’ve realized that our approach to student behavior and discipline needs to change. We have an intrinsic responsibility as educators to educate every single student who comes through our doors.

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Immigrant Heritage Month: In Their Own Words

Diversity of all types – race, ethnicity, national origin and economic status, family structure and gender identity, sexual orientation and disability status, religion or native language – benefits all students. Diversity is not a nicety but a necessity.

In honor of Immigrant Heritage Month, these educators share their personal stories in their own words:

Celebrating Our Heritage & Student Diversity

My name is Alfonso Treto and I am a first generation Mexican-American and public school teacher. Coming to the United States, my parents had to struggle for the American dream. My mother emphasized the importance of an education. I was raised with the idea that a proper education would create many opportunities for me.

Alfonso Treto

Alfonso Treto

I can say that teaching is a profession that chose me. As a teacher’s assistant, I witnessed students being treated differently which motivated me to become a teacher and provide an opportunity to all students regardless of their background. Many of the students see me as a role model because of the similarities of upbringing.

Working for M-DCPS Title I Migrant Education Program I have had the privilege of serving families from very diverse backgrounds. Recently there has been an influx of unaccompanied minors who have made a treacherous journey by themselves as well as escaping violence and seeking protection in search of a better life. Some students are fearful of what is going on politically however they have learned to respect and celebrate their differences. All students know that with determination (ganas) they can overcome any obstacle.

Alfonso Treto teaches high school students in the Title I Migrant Education Program in Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Miami, Florida. 

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Shattering Stereotypes of Women and Girls in Non-Traditional Career Technology Education

Although progress has been made to ensure all girls and women have access to a quality education, I am reminded that forty-four years after the passage of Title IX, there are still lengthy strides to be made; fewer than two percent of plumbers, and three percent of electricians are women. In contrast, women and girls are disproportionately enrolled in career and technical education (CTE) programs for many traditionally lower-paying jobs.

This is why, the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) recently released guidance to make clear that all students, regardless of their sex, must have equal access to the full range of CTE programs offered.

From left to right: Dr. Joann Fey, Asst. Superintendent ISD, Alejandra Ceja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Exellence for Hispanics, Andrea Martinez, Architecture Instructor, Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., Samantha Dorwin, Mary Arrasmith, Coordinator of Technical Education in West Baton Rouge Parish, and David Lloyd, Director of Student Success at UDC.

From left to right: Dr. Joann Fey, Asst. Superintendent ISD, Alejandra Ceja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Exellence for Hispanics, Andrea Martinez, Architecture Instructor, Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., Samantha Dorwin, Mary Arrasmith, Coordinator of Technical Education in West Baton Rouge Parish, and David Lloyd, Director of Student Success at UDC.

Following the White House’s United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., ED joined other federal agencies and held an event focused on improving the lives of women and girls. In keeping with the theme, “Today, we’ll change tomorrow,” ED hosted over 100 community advocates, government leaders, students, influencers and innovators to discuss how access to CTE is helping all students, including girls and women, change the world.

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Kids Cook Up Change in ED’s Kitchen

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How does a lunch of Moroccan stuffed zucchini, Moroccan salad and spiced pear cups sound?

This is just one of the 10 creative and delicious school meals cooked up during the Cooking up Change national finals earlier this month at the Department of Education. Cooking up Change is a dynamic culinary competition that challenges student chefs to create healthy school meals that their peers enjoy. Not only are these meals delicious, they also comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) school nutrition standards for calories, fat, sodium, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, including side dishes, which meet USDA Smart Snacks in Schools standards.

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