Coming OUT for Safe Schools

Cross-posted from the Stopbullying Blog.

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School continues to be a dangerous place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.   A 2014 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that 65% of LGBT students heard homophobic remarks frequently or often, 56% of LGBT students reported personally experiencing LGBT-related discriminatory policies or practices at school, and 33% of LGBT students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

“Despite increased public acceptance of LGBT people in general, many school campuses remain toxic environments for LGBT students, contributing to higher rates of suicide, depression, homelessness and HIV infection,” said Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean.

In 2013, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in coordination with other community partners, including the GSA Network, developed and launched OUT for Safe Schools™ to help make schools safer for LGBT students. More than 30,000 rainbow badges were provided to LAUSD teachers, administrators, and staff to wear voluntarily that proudly identify themselves as allies and protectors of students who are LGBT.

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Teachers Advocate for Removal of Barriers and Fear for Undocumented Students

Dominguez with students in her classroom. (Photo courtesy Alice Dominguez)

Dominguez with students in her classroom. (Photo courtesy Alice Dominguez)

Two words dominated the conversation at ED’s Tea with Teachers last week on the topic of supporting undocumented students: fear and hope. Educators balanced their concerns for their undocumented and mixed-status students, while acknowledging the hope that they ultimately deserve. During the tea, I couldn’t help but think of the student from my school district, who was sitting in a jail cell rather than a classroom, feeling those same emotions.

Wildin David Guillen Acosta was taken from his front yard on his way to his Durham, N.C., school in January, while his mother watched helplessly from their home. He would later join nine other students from North Carolina and Georgia whose parents and classmates also witnessed their arrests from bus stops, homes, and neighborhoods. While The Department of Homeland Security has designated schools with sanctuary status, teachers across the Southeast are arguing that ICE raids are threatening our students’ daily lives as their justifiable anxieties are occupying what could otherwise be devoted to their academic pursuits.

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So You Want to be an Intern at ED

Marina Kelly is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education. (Photo: Department of Education)

Marina Kelly is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education. (Photo: Department of Education)

Although it can seem a little daunting at first, interning in Washington, D.C. is one of the most formative experiences a student can have. After interning in both the private and public sector, I have found that some practices are best practices, no matter where you intern. Here are some tips to get the most out of your internship experience:

Ask Questions

I was somewhat bewildered my first week at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by the unending acronyms used to describe everything from organization names, to standardized tests, to new laws. When it got to the point where there were whole sentences I could not understand, I realized I should start asking questions – and did!

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Nature-Based Curriculum a Hit with Students and Staff Alike

Students gather around a tree as part of the school's nature-based curriculum

Students gather around a tree as part of the school’s nature-based curriculum

Environmental education is an integral part of everyday life at Redtail Ridge Elementary School in Minnesota’s Prior Lake-Savage area school district. On any given day you could find: math students using trees to study circumference, students using their senses to reinforce a lesson on adjectives, kindergartners sorting man-made verses natural objects, writing nature poetry, and investigating positive and negative numbers by recording the daily temperature.  Embedding environmental education into our daily routine is a reflection of the community that fills the building, viewing the outdoors as an extension of our classroom, and a constant effort to replace existing lessons with an environmental focus.

From a supportive administrator, to our diligent custodial staff, willing classroom teachers, and tireless support staff, we are all working towards our philosophy of using the environment to educate children. The willingness to help each other and draw on each other’s strengths is what makes us unique. At any time you might see a fifth grade classroom taking a kindergarten class snowshoeing and then the next day going again with a group of second graders.

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White House Science Fair Presents Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity For First-Generation Students

Pictured (Left to right): Melody Kwan , LMIT InvenTeam advisor and Spanish Teacher at Baruch College Campus High School; Stephen Mwringa; Amro Halwah; Si Ya (Wendy) Ni and Dr. Elisabeth Jaffe.

Pictured (Left to right): Melody Kwan , LMIT InvenTeam advisor and Spanish Teacher at Baruch College Campus High School; Stephen Mwringa; Amro Halwah; Si Ya (Wendy) Ni and Dr. Elisabeth Jaffe.

Opportunity is perhaps the greatest possibility of the American promise. For two New York City high school  students who came to America less than ten years ago knowing very little English, opportunity led them to the White House Science Fair where they presented their subway vacuum cleaner project to President Obama with their classmate Si Ya “Wendy” Ni, a first generation college student.

One of the students, Amro Halwah, immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13. He started school in the U.S. as an 8th grader and is currently a senior at Baruch College Campus High School. When he was young, he hated learning because he viewed it as only memorizing facts that he promptly forgot after taking a test.

While in school in New York, however, he started down a different path. He participated in several hands-on projects that unleashed his creativity and gave him the opportunity to engage in independent learning. When he got the chance to join the L-MIT Baruch InvenTeam this year, his desire to learn and contribute to the invention of last year’s seniors really excited him.

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AfAmWomenLead Initiative Offers Diverse Cultural Experiences for Women and Girls of Color Nationwide

The African American Women Lead (AfAmWomenLead) Initiative was established by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans as a unique opportunity to harness the collective impact of the nation’s largest women civic organizations. AfAmWomenLead partners have committed to meet a monumental goal — one million hours of service with Black women and girls across the nation in 2016. AfAmWomenLead provides a platform for organizations, institutions, individuals, and other partners interested in engaging and supporting the development of Black women and girls.

Nationwide, women and girls of color celebrated the humanities and cultural experiences during Women’s History Month. (Photo collage courtesy Venicia Gray)

Nationwide, women and girls of color celebrated the humanities and cultural experiences during Women’s History Month. (Photo collage courtesy Venicia Gray)

To celebrate the important roles women and girls play in history, AfAmWomenLead choose March—Women’s History Month—for a national day of service surrounding cultural experiences and exploration by participating in Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day Live!

The Smithsonian, a key AfAmWomenLead partner, presented a special edition of its magazine’s Museum Day Live! To, “inspire women and girls of color in underserved communities.” Museum Day Live! extends participating cultural centers zoos, aquariums, and museums across the country to offer free, ticketed admission. Museum Day Live! had an incredible impact and included more than 520 partnering museums nationwide in every state and the District of Columbia.

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The Key to Our Success? A Well-Rounded Curriculum, Each and Every Day

When I first came to Acacia Elementary School as the turnaround principal in 2003, I noticed three things: first, we had excellent teachers – but student performance was struggling and parent involvement was lagging. While many struggling schools in similar situations make the decision to boost up their reading and math interventions at the expense of classes like art and music, we did not.

Acacia first graders have talent! They performed songs for a production of 'Stone Soup'. The arts are an integral part of the well-rounded curriculum. (Photo courtesy Christine Hollingsworth)

Acacia first graders have talent. They performed songs for a production of Stone Soup. The arts are an integral part of the well-rounded curriculum. (Photo courtesy Christine Hollingsworth)

Walk through our school today and you’ll see monthly special events with standing-room only attendance; kindergarteners excited to apply what they learned in reading class to P.E., like using patterns, for example; and a third grade music class where students are learning about beats, syllables, and counts so they can write powerful haikus in their writing classes.

While other districts debated whether to cut classes like music and art, the Washington Elementary School District Governing Board stood up for us because they understood that these “specials” are vitally important to the whole child. And our board has seen that as a result of that investment, students are doing better than ever.

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Relationships Help First Generation Students Reach Higher

Reykdal, a finalist for the American School Counselor Association ‘s 2016 National School Counselor of the Year award visited Washington, D.C. with Steffany Heredia, a senior at Olympia High School. (Photo courtesy Kim Reykdal)

Reykdal, a finalist for the American School Counselor Association ‘s 2016 National School Counselor of the Year award visited Washington, D.C., with Steffany Heredia, a senior at Olympia High School. (Photo courtesy Kim Reykdal)

Every spring, as March Madness heats up, it’s not just basketball brackets bringing on the fever pitch of competition. In many high schools, March Madness is about college acceptances; who’s gotten them, and who hasn’t. Information about the “have’s” and the “have not’s” in the ever-increasing race to be branded a “success,” travels instantly along the hallways and social media highways.

For first generation college students, this annual “race to nowhere”, as a recent documentary termed it, often ends before it even begins unless someone outside of their nuclear family guides them through the college application process. In many public schools, overwhelming caseloads leave school counselors without the time and resources necessary to provide students with adequate career and college guidance. Administrators must rely on teachers and other staff, or specific college preparatory programs like AVID, to help prepare students for a variety of 2 and 4-year college options, and other post-high school pathways.

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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Financial Aid Award

Generally, the first step in applying for financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The schools you listed on the FAFSA will take that information and use it to calculate the financial aid you’re eligible for.  Your financial aid awards may vary from school to school based on a number of factors including: your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the number of credits you will take each term, your cost of attendance (COA) at each school, your eligibility for state and institutional aid at each school, and your year in school. Keep in mind that many schools have a priority deadline, so the sooner you apply each year, the better. Here are 5 things that will help you better understand how financial aid is awarded:

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“When You Look, Make Sure You See”

Dwayne, Julian, Martina and Jared Ballen. Dwayne Ballen was a featured speaker in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services’ recent Google Hangout on Inclusion in Early Learning Programs. (Photo courtesy of the Ballen family.)

Dwayne, Julian, Martina and Jared Ballen. Dwayne Ballen was a featured speaker in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services’ recent Google Hangout on Inclusion in Early Learning Programs. (Photo courtesy of the Ballen family.)

A few years ago my sons Julian and Jared attended tennis camp at the University of North Carolina. During the camp’s awards ceremony, tennis coach Sam Paul announced that counselors and campers unanimously agreed Julian clearly won the category for best attitude.

Coach Paul quickly realized during the camp that Julian, who has autism, was not at the same athletic level as other campers, many of whom were younger and more skilled.At the same time, he had something valuable to contribute.

Coach Paul took the time to not just “look “but “see” Julian, and what he witnessed, he later told me, left an impact. No matter the task facing Julian, it was always carried out with a smile and cheerful readiness. He also noticed the positive effect Julian’s presence had on other youngsters.

A number of the campers began to take attitude cues from Julian. In a couple of instances, a potential tantrum was replaced with a more reflective, and productive reaction. It was the Julian effect in full flower.

What Coach Paul engaged in that week was inclusion. He had no professional training for it, nor was he necessarily pre-disposed to do so. He simply wanted Julian to have the same experience as the other children attending camp. Inclusion should be practiced throughout society and not just confined to those areas where special programs and trained professionals are in place.

My brother Michael provided another clear example of inclusion during our family’s 2013 Thanksgiving gathering at his house. During a post-meal trivia game, Michael announced that he wanted Julian as his partner. The subject of the afternoon was Disney trivia. Michael was acutely aware of Julian’s passion for all things Disney, especially the animated movies and theme parks.

Julian, full of excitement and a staggering amount of Disney knowledge, was the star as he and my brother destroyed a team comprised of five other family members. Michael, a municipal police department official, found a way to bring his nephew out of the corner and to the table of engagement. All it took was recognition and desire. That is inclusion.

My wonderful wife, Martina, and I have always believed that inclusion is a full family endeavor that takes all forms. Julian does the same amount of chores his brother Jared does. If one takes out the trash then the other is expected to roll out the recycle bin. Julian is expected to clear his dinner placement and put the dishes in the washer. He has responsibilities that fit with his capabilities, just like his brother. This too, is inclusion.

I’m hopeful that we all consider opportunities to practice inclusion in everyday life. It begins with the simple idea of, “When you look, make sure you see.” It’s also important to understand that inclusion is not just a one-way street. Those being included often have something to teach us about ourselves and the human community. I’m sure Coach Paul would wholeheartedly agree.

Dwayne Ballen is the author of ‘Journey With Julian’, an autism advocate and speaker, and a network television sportscaster with the CBS Sports Network. Dwayne Ballen was a featured speaker in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services’ recent Google Hangout on Inclusion in Early Learning Programs.

Developing ‘Secret Kindness Agents’ in the Classroom

One evening, a grandfather told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.” – From The Tale of Two Wolves

Pearson giving a TEDx talk on the importance of kindness projects. (Photo courtesy Ferial Pearson)

Pearson giving a TEDx talk on the importance of kindness projects. (Photo courtesy Ferial Pearson)

On December 12, 2014, Avielle Richman was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School along with 19 other young children. Avielle’s death hit me hard because she reminded me of my own daughter – the same age and curious eyes, loving nature, kind heart, and friendly spirit. Over the past 15 years, I have taught thousands of students and I will admit, there are few of whom I have found myself truly afraid. They would put their hands in their backpacks and I would think, “This is it. Today we die.” Luckily, that never happened.

Like many mothers, after Sandy Hook I had a difficult conversation with my own children who asked why someone would murder kindergarteners? My nine-year-old son said that whenever he was bullied in school, he would get angry and feel like lashing out, but then someone would be kind to him, and the feeling would go away. My daughter then asked, “What if people had always been kind to the shooter every single day? Maybe he wouldn’t have done it.”

Naïve as it may have been, when I returned to school, my daughter’s comment led me to devise a plan. I would give envelopes to my high school juniors, assigning them to specific acts of kindness in exchange for a prize. At my students’ suggestion, we agreed that we all had to draw an assignment every week, including me, without expectation of a reward. We brainstormed a list of random acts of kindness that could happen at school and didn’t cost any money. My students acknowledged the risk it took to perform these random acts – they didn’t want to stick out from their peers – so we gave each other Secret Kindness Agent names (mine is Agent Mama Beast) and kept the acts anonymous. Every week, we had a ceremony where I would play some cheesy song while each Agent came up to draw their assignment. We wrote an oath and acknowledged the risks and at the end of the week we would reflect on what happened, how we felt before, and how we felt after we did our assignments. Perhaps it comes as no surprise, not only did I see the culture of our school change, but I also saw the change within my students.

When I came across the Cherokee fable, The Tale of Two Wolves, I brought it to class. I asked my students if they had ever been bullied and every hand in the room went up. I then asked if anyone had been the bully and again, every hand went up, perhaps a little less eagerly. We realized that the idea that there are “good” or “bad” people in the world was a myth. As the grandfather says, both wolves dwell within us.

Through the Secret Kindness Agents, our good wolves were gaining on our evil wolves. With time now spent acknowledging the bad wolf and feeding the good wolves, I find that when a student reaches into their bag, rather than a gun, I expect a poem, a card, or some other random act of kindness.

Ferial Pearson is an Instructor in the Teacher Education Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She started the Secret Kindness Agent Project with students at Ralston High School where she served as a Talent Advisor for the Avenue Scholars Foundation. She has since helped over 30 other communities start kindness projects, wrote a book and started a Facebook Page with the students. This week the Kennedy Center honored her as one of the winners of the Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award.

Students Share College Completion Journeys

Students from a variety of socio-economic and racial backgrounds discussed the idea of belonging during this Student Voices Session. (Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students from a variety of socio-economic and racial backgrounds discussed the idea of belonging during this Student Voices Session. (Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

“If you feel like you belong, you can achieve anything.”

This was the overarching sentiment expressed by many students during the latest Student Voices session, which focused on college completion at Minority Serving Institutions.

Both Secretary John King and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell were on hand to listen and engage students from a variety of socio-economic and racial backgrounds around the idea of belonging.

Many students present expressed a concern about the general lack of support from school counselors and said this made them feel as though they didn’t belong at college.

Other students said it was one unique relationship – whether with a teacher or professor – that enabled them to attend and complete college because this individual took the time to listen, work alongside them and help them navigate the system.

One Native student said she felt misunderstood and taken advantage of because her high school counselor took it for granted that she would be able to fill out the online FAFSA application without realizing that she lacked access to resources such as wi-fi.

As a DACA student myself at this session, I recalled how college personnel sent me to one office after another with disjointed pieces of advice when I was attempting to find resources to pay my tuition.

Hearing these concerns about the need to improve school and college advising, Secretary King emphasized how the Department of Education is trying to share best practices with universities to better support undocumented students. He also said that ED is attempting to increase funding to prepare more school counselors.

Evan Sanchez, another undergraduate at the session, explained that he thinks college personnel should alter their advising schedules to better meet the needs of working or non-traditional students who are juggling multiple responsibilities.

Joanna DeJesus, a CUNY Macaulay Honors College student, recommended more purposeful communication across departments so that students do not receive conflicting advice.

Finally, the students agreed on the importance of universities to exert greater efforts in aiding students beyond college, such as assisting with job placements and providing financial literacy guidance.

The session itself, which was only supposed to last 30 minutes, continued for more than an hour. The fact that Secretary King stayed to listen to everyone’s stories demonstrated how much he valued our perspectives and diverse experiences. It is not everyday that there are Native, Asian-origin undocumented, Black, and Latina and Latino students engaging in the same conversation.

I think it’s important to recognize that educational policy decisions cannot be made without student input since it directly affects us. Secretary King ensured that our voices were not only heard, but that we felt like belonged in such a space to be able to share our personal journeys and recommendations.

Syeda Raza is an E3! Ambassador at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department through which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.