7 Options to Consider if You Didn’t Receive Enough Financial Aid

The reality of college costs is that many families find themselves struggling to pay the entire college bill, despite having already filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and receiving federal, state, and institutional financial aid resources. If you find yourself in this position, here are some ideas to consider to help fill the gap between what your financial aid covers and what you owe the institution.

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TIP: The financial aid office at your college is a great resource. If you didn’t receive enough financial aid, contact your school’s financial aid office. They can help you explore your options.


For those heading to college this fall, most scholarship decisions for the academic year have already been made. However, we recommend you begin a routine of searching and applying for scholarships regularly. You should first consider scholarships local to where you graduated from high school or live; try community, religious, and fraternal organizations. You may also consider businesses in your community or those that employ your parent(s).

Then, look for scholarship resources available statewide, especially from organizations with which you may have been involved or companies in your state that are in the field for which you plan to study.

National scholarships can be very competitive, but don’t let that keep you from applying. Ask your financial aid office or academic unit about institutional or departmental scholarships (decisions may have been made for this year, but ask how to make sure you don’t miss deadlines for next year!). With scholarship opportunities, it’s always important to be careful of fraud. If you are ever concerned about the legitimacy of a scholarship, your school’s financial aid office might be able to help you make the determination.

Part-Time Work

You may have been awarded Federal Work-Study, which at most schools still requires you to find the work-study position yourself. This can help you cover some costs throughout the semester since these funds are paid as you earn them through working. If you were not awarded work-study funds, most schools have other part-time on-campus positions that can help you with some college costs. Working part-time on campus can be beneficial to your educational experience. Be cautious of working too many hours if you can avoid it. Ask your financial aid office or career services office how to apply for on-campus positions.

Payment Plans

Your school’s billing office, sometimes referred to as the bursar’s office or cashier’s office, may have payment plans available to help you spread the remaining costs you owe the school over several payments throughout a semester. The payment plan can help you budget the payments rather than paying in one lump sum, possibly helping you avoid costly late fees.

Special Circumstances Reevaluation

Sometimes a family’s finances are not accurately reflected on the FAFSA because of changes that have occurred recently, such as job loss, divorce or separation, or other special circumstance. Schools are not required to consider special circumstances, but those that do have a process by which you can petition for a reevaluation of the information on the FAFSA. This process may require you to submit documentation, and the financial aid office will recalculate your eligibility, possibly resulting in a change of financial aid awards.

Additional Federal Student Loans

If you’ve exhausted all your free and earned money options and still need additional funds to help you pay for school, contact your school’s financial aid office to find out if you’re eligible for additional federal student loans. For example, you might have reached a level of increased student loan eligibility if you completed coursework after your college awarded your aid.

Federal Direct PLUS Loans: Also, if you are a dependent student and still need assistance, your parent can apply for a Direct PLUS Loan. Some schools use the application on StudentLoans.gov and others have their own application. The PLUS loan application process does include a credit check. If your parent is not approved, he or she may still receive a Direct PLUS Loan by obtaining an endorser (cosigner.) If a parent borrower is unable to secure a PLUS loan, the student may be eligible for additional unsubsidized student loans of up to $4,000 (and sometimes more.)

Emergency Advances or Institutional Loans

Sometimes you may have college-related costs, such as housing costs or other living expenses, before your financial aid is disbursed to you. Your school may offer an option to advance your financial aid early or offer a school-based loan program. Ask your financial aid office if this is an option and always make sure you are aware of the terms and conditions (such as interest rates or repayment terms) of your agreement.

Private or Alternative Loans

Some private institutions offer education loans that do not require the FAFSA. While we recommend federal aid first, we realize it does not always cover the cost, especially for pricier schools. These types of loans will almost always require a cosigner and usually have higher fees or interest rates depending on your credit. We encourage you to first ask your financial aid office if they have a list of lenders for you to consider, but not all schools maintain such a list. If not, you can search for lenders on your own, but compare products before making your choice: look at interest rates, fees, repayment terms, creditworthiness requirements, satisfactory academic progress requirements, etc.

Before making any final decisions on how to fill the gap between your aid and your costs, it is always recommended that you meet with a representative in your financial aid office to determine what campus resources might be available before going out on your own. It might also be possible that you still have the time to change some of your choices before the semester begins: Can you change the type of meal plan you chose? The type of housing? The number of classes in which you are enrolled? Check with campus officials to see if you still have time to select a different, more affordable option.

Justin Chase Brown is Director of Scholarships and Financial Aid at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Promoting Common-Ground Reforms of Social Service Partnerships

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Today, the Obama Administration is taking an important step toward common-ground reforms that strengthen the partnerships the federal government forms with faith-based and community organizations for the purpose of serving people in need. Nine federal agencies are issuing notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs) today that would clarify rules that apply to these partnerships and extend added protections for social service beneficiaries.

The impetus for these reforms came from a diverse Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (Advisory Council). In 2009, President Obama asked this Council to make recommendations for strengthening the social service partnerships the government forms with nongovernmental providers, including strengthening the constitutional and legal footing of these partnerships. The Advisory Council issued its recommendations in a report entitled A New Era of Partnerships: Report of Recommendations to the President. While Council members differed on some important issues in this area, they were able come to an agreement on a number of significant recommendations. I had the honor of chairing this Advisory Council before I took my job at the White House.

In response to the Advisory Council’s recommendations, President Obama signed Executive Order 13559. Today, agencies are issuing proposed rules to accomplish some of the aims of that Executive Order.

The proposed rules clarify the principle that organizations offering explicitly religious activities may not subsidize those activities with direct federal financial assistance and must separate such activities in time or location from programs supported with direct federal financial assistance. For example, if a faith-based provider offers a Bible study as well as a federally supported job training program, the Bible study must be privately funded and separated in time or location from the job training program.

The NPRMs also propose new protections for beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries of social service programs that are supported by direct federal financial assistance. In the proposed rules, the agencies set forth a notice to beneficiaries and prospective beneficiaries that informs them of these protections. These notices would make it clear, for example, that beneficiaries may not be discriminated against on the basis of religion or religious belief or be required to participate in any religious activities and advises beneficiaries that they may request an alternative provider if they object to the religious character of their current provider.

At the same time, the NPRMs assure religious providers of their equal ability to compete for government funds and of continuing protections for their religious identity like the ability of providers to use religious terms in their organizational names and to include religious references in mission statements and in other organizational documents. The NPRMs also state that the standards in the proposed regulations apply to sub-awards as well as prime awards, and set forth definitions of “direct” and “indirect” federal financial assistance. These areas have been sources of confusion for some providers.

The agencies are encouraging interested parties to submit comments on the proposed rules during the next 60 days. Once those comments have been received and analyzed, the final rules can be issued. Separate from the rulemaking process, agencies are continuing to work toward other modifications to their guidance, practices and communications strategies consistent with the Executive Order.

At the time the first Advisory Council made its recommendations to the President, its members stated in their report to the President:

As far as we know, this is the first time a governmental entity has convened individuals with serious differences on some church-state issues and asked them to seek common ground in this area. It should not be the last time a government body does so. Policies that enjoy broad support are more durable. And finding common ground on church-state issues frees up more time and energy to focus on the needs of people who are struggling. If adopted, these recommendations would improve social services delivery and strengthen religious liberty. They also would reduce litigation, enhance public understanding of these partnerships, and otherwise advance the common good.

We join the agencies in welcoming this news and look forward to continuing the important rulemaking process.

For each agency’s NPRM, click on the relevant link below:

Melissa Rogers is the Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Be Bold! How a teacher-led summit changed my career

Here I stood at the Teach to Lead Summit in Washington, D.C. hosted by the U. S. Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Not knowing what to expect — feeling discouraged from an arduous school year working as an Elementary Special Education Teacher, trying to meet the many needs of all of my students— I was not sure whether I belonged.

What brought me to the Summit was an idea devised by my colleague, Jane Tiernan. She submitted responses to an invitation from Teach to Lead regarding our students at P. S. 62 in the Bronx, New York, who face a variety of challenges and obstacles, which prevent them from reaching their full potential.

Intrigued by Jane’s plan for a school community that establishes connections between the school, families, students, health care facilities and outside agencies, I decided to become a member of her team. A school of this type would focus on the wellness of the whole child.

On day one of the Summit in late July, I sat through the panel discussion and intensely listened and ferociously wrote notes to reflect on later. I was so captivated by the entire forum for the evening. What an amazing sight to see! I was just in awe to be a participant in the room surrounded by so many individuals from across the nation; all here for education!

It was a lot to take in, but the energy and passion from the first day made me realize that we were all here because of our passion for education. Every person seemed to have a personal calling to become leaders at our schools—without needing to leave our classrooms or most importantly our students. Of course we all understand real change was not going to happen in two days. But that’s why Teach to Lead is helping move this work, by giving teachers a platform to share ideas and express the true obstacles we face in education, while also making sure we are heard by policy-makers.

During day two, I felt that even though there were numerous professionals in the room, I mattered, and they embraced me because I was here to make an impact on education for students at P. S. 62 and beyond.

After a few presentations and keynote speakers, it was time to work. And do I mean work. This was not about providing frivolous teacher leadership development. With the guidance and mentoring from the best critical friend ever, Brian Bishop from The Hope Street Group, (as well as observers who became honorary team members), we came together for the task at hand. Teachers led teachers as teams of professionals with expertise from various forums discussed logic models, problem statements, goals, inputs, outputs and outcomes…all for the betterment of student achievement. Yes!

The Teach to Lead DC Summit had my inner voice shouting, “Yes…Our teams small original idea had evolved and was still evolving into an actionable plan that was going to bring about real tangible change!”

The true essence of the Summit came to me at the end of day two. We were shown a video of an impromptu speech by Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education at the U. S. Department of Education. All I remembered from the video during the day was hearing the words “Be Bold!”

It was not until 1AM the next morning that Ruthanne’s words fully resonated with my spirit. It brought me back to my first year of teaching and reminded me of why I became a career changer twelve years ago. Two simple words—Be Bold—told me what I was doing, despite the many difficulties and daily frustrations within the profession, that I had a purpose.

Sitting in that room, repeatedly saying “Be Bold,” “Be Bold,” “Be Bold!” I felt like Ruthanne and Teach to Lead knew that I was contemplating leaving the field, and she was personally speaking to me to stay in the fight. There it was…a personal message that is priceless! Watch the video below to see the moment I shared my revelation — with Secretary Duncan in the room!

I left the Teach to Lead Summit reminded that if I do not advocate for my students, then who will? And if I don’t do it now and make connections and build networks, then when?

With the knowledge and insight gained from the Teach to Lead DC Summit, our project – Team Making Connections – we are already taking steps to develop and implement a multi-faceted school community that is responsive to the whole child and will lead to all children making better life choices. We are committed to developing a wraparound school (I learned this term during the Summit).

Thank you Secretary Duncan, Ruthanne Buck and the Teach to Lead team for saying that REAL change in education cannot happen without teachers as key, respected stakeholders in development and implementation!

Natasha Bodden is an Elementary Special Education Teacher at P. S. 62 Bronx, New York

Study Abroad: Developing Global Competencies

Rachel Warner studied abroad in India and has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies as part of her internship at ED.

Rachel Warner studied abroad in India and has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies as part of her internship at ED.

As an intern in the International Affairs Office at ED, my main project of the summer has been collecting and presenting data on how well students in the United States develop global competencies. Globally competent people have knowledge about the world and use it to investigate beyond their immediate environment, recognize various perspectives, communicate with others, and translate ideas into actions. In schools this is done through international-based subjects such as foreign languages or world history, global knowledge entwined in other subjects, digital exchanges, and study abroad programs. Unfortunately, the data on study abroad show a dismal tale of how students are developing global competencies.

My study abroad experience in India was one of the best opportunities I have ever had, but unfortunately only 14% of U.S. students study abroad at some point during their degree program. I learned about Indian culture, religion, history, and development, all while interacting with diverse people. I also worked on what I believe is one of the most important skills: asking critical questions with humility and respect. Whether I continue to travel to different cultures or stay at home in our increasingly diverse communities, engaging with others in a respectful way is necessary to having positive and peaceful interactions.

Study abroad also teaches students how to be leaders and engage with the interconnected problems that our world faces today. Research about leaders in 30 different countries reported that nearly half of them had international experience. Our world is becoming increasingly interconnected. One in five U.S. jobs is tied to international trade and hiring managers view international skills as increasingly important. Having the ability to engage with those from different backgrounds and communicate effectively enables positive change to occur. In order to handle global challenges and be leaders in the globalized future, students need to have international experiences that expose them to people of different backgrounds and beliefs.

Next spring, I have the opportunity to participate in a Semester at Sea voyage around Asia and Africa. SAS is a study abroad program where you learn on a ship and travel between 15 ports, which you then have the opportunity to explore. On the ship each student takes a comparative lens course, which connects course content to each country we visit. The reason I choose SAS for my semester abroad, however, was their idea of integrating global content into courses. One of the courses I plan on taking is International Management. In the course, students apply case studies from the countries visited to business concepts, and also participate in a field lab. I will gain firsthand experiences that will help me gain greater comprehension and appreciation of the material.

Although the data was disheartening, it can help us formulate a vision for how the development of global competencies can be promoted in the future. There are many great programs out there that help teach students about the world and how to apply that knowledge. Interning at the Department has allowed me to meet many people who are passionate about helping students succeed. I have faith that international education can be promoted and encouraged and our students can succeed in the changing international arena.

Rachel Warner is a rising junior at the College of William & Mary. She interned in the International Affairs Office in Summer 2015.

San Antonio Independent School District Honors All Students’ Learning Through the Arts

On July 9, 2015, student artists and performers, along with educators, arts education leaders and ED staff gathered at the Department of Education for a ceremony to open an art exhibit featuring over 60 works by students in 30 schools from the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD, Texas). Given the title “Through Our Eyes” by the students, the exhibit honors the importance art has for them in their community.

SAISD is an urban school district serving approximately 54,000 students. Of those, 95 percent are Latino and the vast majority come from low socio-economic backgrounds (the whole school district is Title I-funded). But Luz Barraza, a principal at an early childhood center in San Antonio, warned against categorizing the students as “at risk.” Instead, she said, “we need to view our students as really resilient.” One needed only to glimpse at the students’ work in both the visual and performing arts to recognize the truth in those words.

San Antonio dancers phenomenal women

Three students from SAISD’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy perform to Maya Angelou’s poem “Words” about phenomenal women. (U.S. Department of Education/Joshua Hoover)

During the opening, students from the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, the only all-girls public school in the district, performed dance pieces focused on the theme of influential, empowering women. One piece, “The Story of Rosa Parks,” opened with a young dancer seated in a chair, her wrists in handcuffs, reading a newspaper whose major headline was about the undoing of the violation of civil rights; as she twisted her way across the stage, the dancer threw off her chains in defiance. In another piece, a trio danced to a poem by Maya Angelou. With legs lifting and heads swinging in unison, it was easy to see that each one was, in Angelou’s words, a “phenomenal woman.”

11th-grader Karease Williams performs “The Story of Rosa Parks” in dance.

11th-grader Karease Williams performs “The Story of Rosa Parks” in dance. (U.S. Department of Education/Joshua Hoover)

Texas, so often associated with strong high school football teams, also has a rich history of honoring the arts. In fact, every elementary school student in the state must have 45 minutes each of art, music, and theater instruction every week, and every high school employs three full-time teachers in the arts ̶ visual arts, music, and theater.

Omar Leos, the district’s coordinator of visual and theater arts as well as the organizer of the exhibit and the students’ trip to D.C. for the opening, attributed the prominence of the arts to the fact that there are so many art contests in the state. People realize that athletics are not the only grounds for competition, “the arts can compete, too,” Leos said. SAISD’s school board vice president, Arthur Valdez, was also very proud to be able to say to those present that his school board had just funded eight new full-time art teacher positions for the elementary schools in the district to ensure that every child will have an arts education.

Student artists and performers with their teachers along with the speakers at the opening. (U.S. Department of Education/Joshua Hoover)

Student artists and performers with their teachers along with the speakers at the opening. (U.S. Department of Education/Joshua Hoover)

Indeed, the arts have played an important role in the lives of many students. According to Leos, data collected by the district found that the students involved in the fine arts performed better on both discipline and attendance measures. For many of the students at the opening, the arts were also a way of expressing what might be hard to put in words. One young woman explained that her abstract piece, “Transcendence,” was about her mom, who passed away in 2007, transcending to heaven. The transition from dark to light across the canvas symbolized her own passage to happiness. Another artist, whose piece featured a self-portrait overlaying a smattering of text, reflected that the words and images she painted were things she often ruminated about; putting those thoughts on paper helped her stop overthinking them.

In addition to learning how to communicate emotions clearly and powerfully, artists learn “how to take a critique, … how to build up and play to the strengths of their peers, … and how to stand up and defend their work and their value.” These “things that make great artists,” Lucy Johnson, the Department’s deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach and former mayor of Kyle, Texas, told the audience, “also make great leaders.” She concluded her speech by encouraging the students to “never stop thinking and behaving like artists.

Malkie Wall is an intern from Middlebury College in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

More photos from the event may be viewed on the Department of Education’s Flickr site.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov.

Know It 2 Own It: Celebrating 25 years of ADA with Tony Coehlo

What better way to wrap up our year-long celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) than by hearing from a primary sponsor and advocate for the landmark legislation, Tony Coehlo. Here are few of his thoughts on the passage of the ADA and what needs to happen to continue moving forward.

Tony Coehlo was the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Tony Coehlo was the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) I’ve reflected on the momentous occasion when

President George H. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. The groundbreaking civil rights legislation would prohibit discrimination, while ensuring equal opportunity, for individuals with disabilities.

Though much more commonly appreciated now, at the time the ADA transformed the fabric of American life for individuals with disabilities.

Prior to the law, individuals with disabilities had no unique rights. A blind person could be legally removed from a restaurant because he couldn’t read the menu. A woman in a wheelchair could be legally removed from a movie theater because her chair was an inconvenience to others. And men and women throughout the country were legally refused employment because they had a disability of some kind.

For myself, I came to learn this. First diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager after being in an accident in my family’s pickup truck on our dairy farm in rural California.

Though at first my family hid the diagnosis from me, and it later drove me into dark period in my life, through the grace of many committed people, I eventually turned my energy into passion for making life better for others.

In fact, what drove me to pursue public office was my epilepsy.

As I became more educated about disabilities, and grew into leadership positions within the House of Representatives, I learned that there was a whole group of our population that was experiencing discriminatory actions.

This realization lead me and several others to pursue the creation and passage of ADA.

Today, approximately 59 million (or one in five) Americans suffer from a disability. And while ADA provides many basic rights, there is still much to be done.

The Obama administration has been most aggressive in implementing and enforcing the rights promised by ADA but we must make sure the momentum continues through the 2016 presidential election and into the next administration.

From a policy perspective gaps remain when it comes to providing good jobs and quality transportation to disabled individuals.

Having employment provides a sense of pride and legitimacy in American society. It also provides a paycheck and the ability to live independently.

And access to transportation is crucial because it too often is the hurdle that prevents a person with a disability from being able to dependably remain employed.

These are truths regardless of whether you are disabled or not. We just need to do better at ensuring that those who are disabled have access to each as equally as those who do not.

Globally, we need to continue the discussion as well by encouraging the U.S. Senate to ratify the International Disabilities Treaty

For these reasons and more we need young people – and everyone with a disability – to participate, speak up, share their stories and get active in bringing about this important social change.

Please join me in renewing our commitment to the ADA’s promise as we celebrate the incredible progress we have made as a nation during the past twenty-five years on behalf of millions of people.

Former U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho was the author of the ADA.

Suicide and Race

This post originally appeared on the SAMHSA blog.

In 2013, there were more than 41,000 deaths as a result of suicide in the U.S.  Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death, claiming more lives each year than death due to motor vehicle crashes. Especially alarming, it is the second leading cause of death for young people age 10 to 24.

Suicide rates vary considerably within different population subgroups and are affected by factors such as socioeconomic status, employment, occupation, sexual orientation, and gender identity. For example, the rates of suicide were almost four times higher for men than for women and were highest among Whites. In 2013, suicide rates were 11.7 per 100,000 for American Indians/Alaska Natives, 6.0 per 100,000 for Asians/Pacific Islanders, 5.3 per 100,000 for Hispanics, and 5.4 per 100,000 for African Americans.

However, racial and ethnic disparities can be deceptive.

In July of this year, JAMA PediatricsExternal Web Site Policy published a research paper analyzing childhood suicide trends from 1993 to 2012. One critical issue the authors found was that while school-aged suicide trends have stayed constant, trends on a racial level have changed substantially. In fact, the stable overall suicide rate has “obscured a significant increase in suicide incidence in black children.”

Obviously, this finding is concerning on many levels. However, more research is needed to understand the risk and protective factors for African American children and youth and to see if they are experiencing more exposure to violence, traumatic stress, and/or aggressive school discipline. Another example where more research is needed includes studies on earlier puberty in African American children to determine whether it is a risk for depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Also, more knowledge is needed from the research lens to determine if there is sufficient evidence that religiosity and social support are in fact protective factors for this population or if the protective factors have changed over time.

It is essential to understand how culture and identity impact development and health.  The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans visits communities around the country to engage with students, families, educators and other partners to better understand how we can work collectively to support African American students.  Toxic stress in urban communities as well as stressors such as micro aggressions in affluent ones are regularly raised as issues by students and the caring adults who support them. According to The National Institutes of Health, one in threeExternal Web Site Policy African Americans who need mental health care receive it.  To support President Obama’s goal of restoring the country to its role as the global leader in education, and to improve educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages, we must address mental health concerns.

Learning the answers to these and other questions will help us address this troubling trend. Suicide is a serious and preventable public health problem in the United States. SAMHSA is working with our partners across the country on suicide prevention, but we know that we cannot do this work alone and need the help of educators, parents, brothers, sisters, pastors, and many others. Please consider joining the National Action Alliance for Suicide PreventionExternal Web Site Policy. Also know the signs of suicidal behavior and seek help by contacting the National Suicide Prevention LifelineExternal Web Site Policy if you or someone you know is thinking about attempting suicide. If you don’t know where to find help, SAMHSA can help you find local resources for behavioral health through the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator and our toll free helpline 1-800-662-HELP(4357). If you are part of the healthcare and social services workforce, download our newest suicide prevention app Suicide Safe. Together we must address and work to decrease and eliminate suicide in all populations.

Find more information on suicide prevention

Jorielle R. Brown, Ph.D.is Director of the Division of Systems Development at the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and David J. Johns is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans

Barbershops Cutting Into the Achievement Gap


On June 29, staff from the Department listened and learned with a group of over twenty barbershop owners from around the country who were in Washington, D.C. for a hair battle.

As we celebrate, engage and Read Where You Are today, you might see tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts already on “newsfeeds” with great photos of reading in barbershops. What you might not know, and I am proud to share, is how this all began – when the Department of Education starting chatting with barbers about how we can use all of our tools, scissors included, to cut the achievement gap. At a meeting earlier this year about the importance of summer literacy, a colleague smartly mentioned a need to engage everyone in the community. Our brainstorming left us with a long list, and a colleague specifically mentioned barbershops knowing the important role they play in communities across our country, and especially in communities of color. I immediately thought of a friend, who also happens to be a barbershop owner from Washington Heights in New York City who has made it his priority to give back to his clients, their families and the larger community. As we often do in meetings, I took my “next steps” and reached out to my friend, excited about what could be in store. My work at ED is rooted in who I am, as a student, mentor, tutor, Posse Scholar and American raised in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn. Having grown up around beauty salons and barbershops, I know what happens there and what’s been happening since has the potential to make a very big difference. In fact, my mother is a hair stylist and has worked in the field for decades.


On June 29, thanks to some truly remarkable small-business barbershop owners, staff from the Department listened and learned with a group of over twenty barbershop owners from around the country who happened to be in Washington, D.C. for an industry event, a hair battle. Our conversation was about how to understand how barbershops can do more to help the students and kids we all care about, how barbers as individuals could be empowered, and how barbers can make a difference.

The two hour meeting was one of the most powerful meetings in my career. These barbers walked us through all that they are doing both formally and informally on a daily basis to change the lives of young people living in their communities – offering free haircuts for good grades, coaching sports teams, mentoring and employing at-risk and disconnected youth, teaching classes in correctional facilities, hosting holiday parties, etc. They are acutely aware of the powerful and influential role they play in their communities, which are often low-income and communities of color.

Like the ED staff in the room, the barbershop owners were there to learn too. They needed to know key statistics, data points and free resources that they could share with their clients while they had them in their seats to drive home the importance of reading. They wanted to be introduced to the Administration’s Place-based work, and the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force efforts, so they had an idea of the federal infrastructure that existed in their communities already. They wanted to learn from other groups and communities to better understand where they might fit in.

One month later, I am in awe of how quickly an idea, a conversation and a few phone calls have become a truly inspired effort of barbershop owners committed to make a difference. They are joining our #readwhereyouare Day of Action and were some of the first to tweet and Instagram. I have spent most of my career behind the scenes, working on strategic partnerships, working predominately with the corporate and philanthropic sectors. Today, as these barbershop owners create more awareness and helping kids read as you read this blog post, I can say with certainty that what is ahead of us is going to be big and I remain inspired, excited, and eager to see how these men are going to change lives.

Danielle Goonan is a Special Assistant working on strategic partnerships in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Engaging Families and Communities to Bridge the Word Gap

This post originally appeared on the Too Small to Fail blog.


Children begin learning from the moment they are born. By seeing, hearing, and exploring the world around them, particularly through close loving relationships with their families and caregivers, babies’ brains rapidly develop. The more enriching experiences they have with those who love and care for them, the more they grow – especially when words are involved. Research has found that providing infants, toddlers, and young children with consistent, language-rich experiences –talking, reading, and singing – greatly benefits their brain development and school readiness.

However, many families lack access to the types of information and resources that can help them make everyday moments into learning opportunities that are rich in language. Researchers have found that some children are exposed to more language-rich environments than others during the early years, which can result in a gap in the quantity and quality of words that children hear and learn. The richness of children’s language environment can impact school success and outcomes later in life. .

That’s why, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, in partnership with Too Small to Fail, are providing these critical resources to families, caregivers, and early learning providers. Last week, we proudly released  “Talk, Read, Sing Together Every Day”, a free suite of resources that can help enrich children’s early language experiences by providing tips for talking, reading, and singing with young children every day beginning from birth and extending into the early years.

This toolkit is a result of a commitment made at the 2014 White House convening on “bridging the word gap.” The resources include:

Talking matters, and, no matter what language you speak – the more words the better. To make these resources as accessible and inclusive as possible, all tip sheets are available in English and Spanish, and can be downloaded for free.

Talking, reading, and singing are teaching. But more than that, talking, reading, and singing are simple gateways to opportunities for children and their families. They are brain building activities that set the foundation for school readiness and school success. These everyday activities are ones that all families and communities can engage in to ensure that their young children have the best start in life.

When families, caregivers and teachers partner to promote children’s early education, children win.

To read more about these resources, or to download them visit the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services websites or Too Small to Fail.

Libby Doggett is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education, Linda Smith is Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Kara Dukakis is the Director of Too Small to Fail.

President’s Education Awards Program Honors Students Achievement and Hard Work

Benjamin Stoddert Elementary School is a public school located in northwest Washington, DC. Benjamin Stoddert Elementary School, named after the first U.S. Secretary of the Navy, is located in the Glover Park neighborhood of Northwest Washington DC just north of Georgetown. Stoddert serves a student population drawn from the neighborhoods of Glover Park, Cathedral Heights and Burleith (between Georgetown and Glover Park), as well as a number of out-of-boundary students from throughout the District and Bolling Air Force Base.

The school was opened in 1932 to serve the population of recent extensive new housing developments. Before the school opened, children had to ride streetcars to schools in other parts of the city. The school’s huge green space to the east was the cradle of the DC Stoddert Soccer League, which was founded in 1977.

The school serves a very diverse student body, serving kids from over 20 countries, including the embassies of China, France and Russia; there are more than 35 nationalities represented at the school.

Stoddert prides itself on its environmental initiatives. It was the first geo-thermal school in District of Columbia Public School System, and has a student Green Team whose member manage recycling and composting programs, and serve as tour guides for visitors to the school. Stoddert also has an award-winning school garden which has become an integral part of its science education program.

Six students were honored to receive the President's Education Award this 2014/2015 Program Year

Six students were honored to receive the President’s Education Award this 2014/2015 Program Year

Surrounded by supportive parents with such hope in their eyes for their anxious soon to be middleschoolers. I joined Principal Donald Bryant and others to celebrate their academic success and urged them to continue to stay focused and surround themselves around positive friends and always be the light in all situations, help others and let their greatness rub off on others.

The President’s Education Awards Program honors student achievement and hard work in the classroom. This award, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), recognizes students who meet key criteria. Since 1983, the program has provided individual recognition from the President and U.S. Secretary of Education to those students whose outstanding efforts have enabled them to meet challenging standards of excellence. These students often are pushing the traditional standards of thinking to come up with creative solutions to problems. Overall, these students deliver their best and bring out the best in those around them.

This year’s students received a certificate signed by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, as well as a congratulatory letter signed by the President.

The 6th grade students of Stoddert Elementary School have set a great foundation for those students to follow.

Cómo involucrar a las familias y comunidades para eliminar las desigualdades en el vocabulario de los niños

Este artículo se publicó originalmente en Too Small to Fail blog.


Los niños aprenden desde que nacen. Al ver, oír, y explorar el mundo que los rodea, especialmente con la cariñosa ayuda de sus familiares y cuidadores, la mente de los bebés se desarrolla rápidamente. Mientras más experiencias enriquecedoras tienen con sus allegados, más crecen —especialmente en cuestión de lenguaje. La investigación demuestra que dar regularmente a los bebés y a los niños oportunidades de hablar, leer y cantar, estimula grandemente el desarrollo de la mente y quedan mejor preparados para el aprendizaje escolar.

Sin embargo, muchas familias no tienen acceso a la información y recursos que pueden transformar momentos cotidianos en oportunidades para desarrollar el lenguaje. Los investigadores han encontrado que algunos niños están expuestos a ambientes más ricos en lenguaje, mientras que otros niños están expuestos a menos lenguaje durante los primeros años de vida. Esto puede causar disparidades en la cantidad y la calidad del vocabulario que escuchan y aprenden. La cantidad y variedad de lenguaje que los niños escuchan en casa puede afectar su rendimiento escolar y posterior éxito en la vida.

Por eso, los departamentos de Salud y Servicios Humanos, y Educación de EE.UU., en colaboración con la iniciativa Too Small to Fail (Demasiado joven para fracasar), proporcionan estos recursos críticos a las familias, cuidadores y proveedores de educación temprana. Recientemente, lanzamos con orgullo “Talk, Read, Sing Together Every Day” (Hablemos, leamos, y cantemos juntos a diario), un paquete gratis de recursos que pueden enriquecer desde temprano el lenguaje de los niños, y consejos sobre cómo hablar, leer y cantar con los niños todos los días desde que nacen hasta la primera infancia.

Este paquete de herramientas es el resultado de un compromiso hecho en 2014 durante la conferencia de la Casa Blanca sobre cómo reducir la desigualdad de vocabulario. Estos recursos incluyen:

Conversar es importante, y no importa en qué idioma – mientras más palabras hable al niño, mejor. Para que estos recursos lleguen a más personas, todas las hojas de consejos se publican en inglés y español, y se pueden descargar gratis.

Hablar, leer, y cantar son una manera de enseñar y aprender, además de abrir oportunidades para los niños y sus familias. Son actividades que desarrollan la mente y la fundación de la preparación y el éxito escolar. Estas actividades cotidianas son las que todas las familias y comunidades pueden realizar para asegurar que los niños pequeños tengan el mejor comienzo en la vida.

Cuando las familias, cuidadores y maestros se unen para promover la educación temprana, los niños ganan.

Para ver y descargar estos recursos, visite los sitios web del Departamento de Educación de EE.UU.; Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos de EE.UU.; o de Too Small to Fail.

Libby Doggett es subsecretaria adjunta de Política y Aprendizaje Temprano en el Departamento de Educación de EE.UU., Linda Smith es subsecretaria adjunta y encargada de educación temprana en el Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos de EE.UU., y Kara Dukakis es directora de la iniciativa Too Small to Fail.

Sweating the Small Stuff is Key to Improving School Climate and Discipline

It was the first day of school for 6th grader Zuliet Cabrera at The Urban Assembly Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, or LGJ, as our school is known in the Bronx and in New York City. She, along with 97 other new 6th graders, stood eagerly, though anxiously, in the lobby waiting for directions. My assistant principals (APs) and I were standing in the lobby to meet new students and welcome returning students back to school.

I looked over at Zuliet with a smile on my face, said good morning, and she immediately burst into tears. One of my APs, Ms. Hernandez, said, “This is Raylyn’s little sister; let me find her.” Raylyn soon arrived and we all talked and welcomed Zuliet to LGJ with hugs all around. It wasn’t too long before tears were dry and Zuliet was ready to move forward.

As districts and schools across the country are rethinking school discipline, it’s important to note that creating a positive school culture—one that is safe and supportive of all students and lays the foundation for high student achievement—is not about creating enough rules to cover every infraction a student could possibly violate. It is about creating systematic routines and rituals that students, faculty, staff, and families are invested in, and that encourage young people and adults alike to always do the right thing, whether the right thing to is follow certain school rules or give a tearful 6th grader a reassuring hug.

Each morning, my three APs and I greet our students and sweat what some might call the “small stuff.” We smile and welcome students to school; check and remind them about dress code; look directly at them for any hint of a problem, worry or concern; and, if we see or sense that one of our students is in need, we ask and address it immediately.

Many of our students’ challenges are identified and addressed because we simply don’t allow anyone to walk by in the morning without greeting them with a smile. Some concerns require a quick conversation, while other issues are more complicated and require the expertise of our social worker. What’s critical is that adults at LGJ work together and quickly so our students aren’t going through the day carrying the weight of worry on their shoulders. Creating a safe and supportive school climate at LGJ would be impossible without constantly communicating about the small stuff.

From Zuliet’s first day at LGJ, our priority was that she and her peers felt safe, supported, and part of our school family. At LGJ, we work to ensure the elements of any strong family – love, care, concern, communication, high expectations, and belief that all members of the family can achieve success.

Zuliet will begin the 10th grade this September. Four years later, we don’t talk much about the tears that flowed on her first day of school. But we often look at each other and share that silent memory, and when we do, she knows the LGJ family is and will always be there for her. And it all started with a hug.

Meisha Ross-Porter is Principal at The Urban Assembly Bronx School for Law, Government, and Justice in New York City.