ParentCamp USA: Through My (Mom of 2 Military-Connected Kids) Lens

Cross-posted from the Families on the Home Front blog.


When I received an email about ParentCampUSA from my Managing Partner with the subject line “GO TO THIS,” I RSVP’d immediately. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to go to a camp for parents at the Department of Education? As I read more about the objective for ParentCampUSA, I realized I could not pass up the opportunity to go to a conference dedicated to helping me become more engaged in my children’s education. Really? Someone out there besides me thinks I should be engaged with the system that is responsible for my children’s road to success? Count me in!!

Truth be told I know schools want parents to be engaged in their children’s learning as well as active at their children’s school. As a school psychologist and a parent of school-aged kids, I feel I have a solid understanding of what parent engagement should be and why it is important. What I sometimes struggle with are the When, Where, and Hows of parent engagement in schools. This may be because as a military family we have moved eight times in 16 years, and when my oldest child started 7th grade, he was starting his 9th school. Transitioning between schools so frequently makes it difficult to get involved – to engage – because it isn’t always clear how a school promotes parent engagement beyond typical volunteering roles. I have found that if I take the initiative and approach educators with ideas for helping at the school they are receptive. It could be suggested if schools took the initiative to engage parents on multiple levels and invite them to schools, parents would dive in and get involved!


I went to ParentCampUSA to learn more about this initiative and determine how I can play a role in encouraging other military families to engage with their schools and learn ways to increase Parent Engagement in my school community. I left ParentCampUSA with a sense of empowerment and have already started reaching out to the school community. Keep these following takeaways from ParentCampUSA in mind if you want to join, or start, the conversation on When, Where and How you can improve Parent Engagement at your school.

  • Parent Engagement is about building a relationship between educators and families by connecting parents to the school in ways that have nothing to do with volunteering and everything to do with empowering families to play a major role in their child’s education.
  • Parents are stakeholders in the education system their children are in and entitled to a seat at the table, a voice in the discussion, and a vote in decision-making.
  • Parent Engagement efforts should be based on the needs of the families at the school. Many schools have subgroups of students with specific needs, and their parents have specific needs as well. For example, a school with military connected students should be engaging those parents at the school level, learning about their unique needs, and collaborating with these families to better meet those needs. (Note: These steps may be taken for any subgroup including ESL, immigrant populations, homeless families, families with special needs children, etc.)
  • Schools would benefit from providing the framework for parent groups. Let the schools act as the center of the community and bring parents and teachers together to discuss hot topics they are facing raising and teaching children in today’s world. Schools can bring in experts from the field from whom parents and educators alike can learn from.

I went to ParentCampUSA and put on my military family lens to determine how I can better connect the military community with the school community. I strongly believe the way to do this is to encourage parents and educators to partner together and determine When, Where and How improving Parent Engagement in a school takes place. If you are interested in bringing a ParentCampUSA to Northern VA, contact us, and we will work together to do so. If you are interested in exploring the unique needs of military families and want to include this in an upcoming ParentCamp, contact Families on the Home Front, we will help, we’re in this together!

Becky Harris is managing director of Families on the Home Front.

The Power of a Caring Adult in the Life of an Undocumented Youth

In December 1983, a 12-year-old girl was uprooted from her school, friends and neighborhood due to the El Salvadorian civil war. When she arrived in the U.S., her family faced acculturation, discrimination and struggled to make ends meet. Their support system became their local church and community center. For this girl, school was crucial for social interaction, academics, and guidance and she began to excel academically. Although her mother had not gone to school past the 8th grade, this girl’s dream was to attend college. During her senior year in high school, her future was uncertain due to her visa status. At the end of the school year a notice came in the mail announcing that the family’s green cards had been processed and — the biggest news — that she could attend college.

I was that girl.

My path led me to becoming a school social worker, serving a diverse group of students in the Washington, D.C., Metro area. Some are children, like me, who were forced to leave their country due to violence and abuse. I am on the front lines bridging school, home, and community. Immigrant children bring rich cultural backgrounds to our schools and expose their peers to different ways of understanding the world. It makes school a true global educational experience and encourages teachers to become creative in their differentiation strategies. But many immigrant children struggle with learning due to traumatic experiences, lack of resources and the daily fear that they or their parents could be deported.

Recently, for example, a young immigrant mother shared her story for the first time with me, disclosing that her five-year-old son had told her on several occasions that he wanted to die. She also told me about the violence she had experienced as a child and recalled the day she and her son witnessed her aunt’s murder. When she made the journey to the U.S., she had to leave her son with a relative where he was exposed to verbal and physical abuse. At age five, he crossed the border, and had to readjust to living with his mother, attending a new school, learning a new language, and living in a new country. In school he had difficulty remembering and staying focused. It was hard to find services, such as a mental health provider, for the family because of their immigration status and income. The family was eventually linked to a program that offers individual and family therapy. During this process the boy and his mother were facing deportation and were referred to an immigration lawyer.

The boy is now in fifth grade and has progressed socially and academically. He is reading on grade level and actively contributes in his classroom. His mother is attending English classes. She plans to study nursing and make sure her son attends college. He wants to become a police officer when he grows up. His dreams could become reality with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that allows undocumented individuals who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and who meet certain criteria to receive relief from removal or two years and work authorization (more information can be found here).

As school social workers we need to be up to date on immigration laws and have resources available for all families that enter our schools. It is our job as social workers, counselors, teachers, and administrators to ensure that all students and parents have access to the information and resources they need. I learned from a young age that schools are a safe haven for undocumented students. Let us become champions these students deserve.

Ana Bonilla is a social worker for Alexandria City Public School System and the 2014 National Social Worker of the Year.

Resources for serving undocumented youth can be found here. More information about educational supports for immigrants, refugees, asylees, and other new Americans can be found here.

National Domestic Violence Awareness Month: A story about survival through education

“My life would be so much better if you were dead.”

The hate slurred its way out of his drunken mouth. His eyes were small, squinting with rage and disgust. It was a typical day – typical then was grossly defined by insults, tears, anxiety, panic attacks, and fear. In spite of the level of creativity he had employed with his words and my increasing numbness to his behavior, this felt different. I was scared. I was broken.

Today, as a survivor of emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, and in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I share my story in an effort to shine a light at the still misunderstood, overlooked, under-reported, and under-resourced topic of domestic violence.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), every 9 seconds in the U.S. a woman is assaulted or beaten, and on a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide. One of those calls was mine. There are many reasons people, in particular women, do not leave their abusive partners – from being afraid of being alone to feeling pressure from family and/or the community. This is especially of concern for women of color and the LGBT community. For the one in three Hispanic women who experience domestic violence in their lifetime, cultural and societal values and pressures, limited education and/or financial resources, language barrier, lack of support and immigration status can all play a role in their ability to report and survive the abuse.

I struggled with labeling myself as a victim. Many others do too. The lack of awareness and education about the issue can mask and hinder someone’s ability to recognize the warning signs and subsequently, ask for help. Furthermore, understanding what abuse is, is as critical as recognizing the different types of abuse that exist. Implications of domestic abuse are significant, including the impact this has on children. NCADV states that 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year. Little is still known about the full extent of the issue but key findings highlight the many risks and challenges that can last throughout their lives. For many others, including me, this is the hardest aspect throughout and after separation. Survivors of domestic violence, who are parents, will need to navigate the justice system for child custody or child support. This severely nuanced issue is often exacerbated by the manner in which police responds (reactive, not incredibly helpful), how abusers are prosecuted (if at all), and how victims of domestic abuse are treated in the court (often dismissed, at times demeaned). Much work still needs to be done on all fronts to increase the awareness of the serious, long-term consequences domestic abuse has on victims and their families.

What helped me survive? Put simply, education saved my life. The day of the beginning of my new chapter, I wrote notes to Arne Duncan and Alejandra Ceja, two of my friends and mentors. They, and a few others close friends, helped me reframe my narrative by believing in me and looking past my muted self. Through the empowerment that was linked to returning to school to finish my undergraduate degree and helping lead an ambitious educational, national agenda on behalf of the nation’s Latino community, I was able to see that I was more than I was made to believe. I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and work my way towards peace and forgiveness. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and while I navigate through the residue, I cannot overstate the life-changing meaning of having people see YOU, for whom you are and can be.

The work I do has given my children and me the confidence to withstand what comes next. This is also at the core of what President Obama and his administration, have done for not just me, but for millions of others – helping ensure everyone has a chance to succeed and providing people with second chances to live up to their full potential. Ensuring all children, including girls and young women, have access to an education will have an impact for generations to come. For my children, it already has:

As a survivor, guilt can set in frequently. One day I apologized to my son for working long hours, spending endless nights on homework that inevitably take me away from being present. For me, the commitment to education, both on a personal and professional level, is what will bring us out of a lingering despair and into a world of opportunity. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m okay. It’s okay. What you are doing…that’s far more important. You are trying to help millions of other kids who have it worse than we do.”

Recommendations for policy and service providers addressing this issue exist. It is also deeply encouraging that the Obama administration continues to address this topic through its “It’s On Us” Public Awareness Campaign to help prevent campus sexual assault, its efforts on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, a new online resource center, which includes grant opportunities, for Institutions of Higher Education, where women continue to outpace men in enrollment, federal resources and outreach activities, and its work through the establishment of the Council on Women and Girls, where I’m also a taskforce member.

What can you do to help? The National Domestic Violence Hotline features ways to get involved, including volunteering and donating to organizations that provide support for survivors. For me, working with other survivors and with advocates has been instrumental and inspiring. Every day, people are abused, dismissed, shamed and judged and it is up to all of us, to be part of the solution. Please share the resources found throughout this piece, help someone by empowering them, or simply listen or talk about the issue. It can make a world of a difference.

To learn more, including statistics, warning signs, and resources and/or if you or someone you know needs assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or visit

Maribel Duran is a mother of two;
Chief of Staff, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics;
Member, White House’s Council on Women and Girls;
Domestic Abuse Survivor

Strengthening Inter-Faith Cooperation – For a Better World

Washington, Sept. 2015: Four years ago President Barack Obama launched an initiative entitled “The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge“. As the name indicates, the President challenged the Institutions of Higher Education of his country to sound out new opportunities for inter-faith dialogue and to initiate multi-faith projects for the welfare of society. So far more than 500 universities and colleges with over three million students have followed this initiative. Some of these projects are impressive examples of inter-faith cooperation, working for instance with schools in underprivileged areas or with refugees. For this year´s conference in Washington, for the first time 50 international guests from across six continents joined the 450 delegates from American universities and colleges. Altogether, 30 different nations and as many different religious backgrounds were represented. At the invitation of Dr. Kenneth Bedell from the U.S. Department of Education, Achim Härtner, E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Reutlingen School of Theology (Germany), participated, representing the United Methodist Church in the German-speaking part of Europe. At the receptions in the White House and in the Turkish Embassy, as well as in lectures and panel discussions at Howard University and George Washington University, the urgent need for cooperation across religious borders in community service was strongly emphasized. Above all, the migration crisis caused by people fleeing from war and terror are creating increasing challenges world-wide. This calls out for refugees to be supported in their distress and for new perspectives to be offered in countries far from home. During the engaging discussions, there was widespread realization that a reinforced inter-faith effort for better living conditions for as many people as possible cannot be achieved without intentional efforts. This includes the willingness to leave one’s comfort zone and to practice, in current Methodist terms, “radical hospitality”. Melissa Rogers, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, reminded the conference of Barack Obama’s fundamental conviction: “Instead of driving us apart, religion should bring us together, for the welfare of all.“ The President himself addressed the delegates in a video message and concluded: “It’s going to take all of, as Christians and Jews, Hindus and Muslims, believers and non-believers, to meet the challenges of the 21st century. With your help, I know we will!”

Achim Härtner,

E.-Stanley-Jones Professor of Evangelism & Christian Education Theologische Hochschule Reutlingen / Reutlingen School of Theology, Germany

Learn more about the interfaith service | |

Reframing the Narrative Around STEM by Providing Role Models and Affirming the Brilliance of Black STEM Scholars


On September 18, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans held a panel discussion titled, “Overcoming the Odds: STEM Education and College Completion for African Americans” during the Congressional Black Caucus 45th Annual Legislative Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The panelists: Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, President, Alabama State University; Ken Barrett, Chief Diversity Officer, General Motors; Beverly Bond, Founder and Executive Director of Black Girls Rock and Girls Rock Tech; Kaya Thomas, Developer, We Read Too; Dr. Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, Teachers College, Columbia University; and Kamau Bobb, Program Officer at the National Science Foundation in the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering, highlighted opportunities to address the underrepresentation of minorities in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs and careers. Panelists provided ways caring and concerned adults can increase engagement and success in STEM for Black youth. Two critical ways with solutions generated during the panel discussion are discussed below.

Panelists, Beverly Bond, discussed her work in founding Black Girls Rock and the importance of providing platforms upon which Black students can feel affirmed, be inspired and supported in pursuing passion—especially in STEM. Bond underscored the importance of affirming Black STEM scholars “Black children are taught by mainstream society that they’re undesirable,” she said, “We can change their attitudes by introducing them to others like them.” Panelist Kayla Thomas, creator of the app We Read Too emphasized the importance of working with Black youth to “show how the classes that they are taking can lead to a career later on.”

Panelists and participants alike discussed the need to change the way we talk about STEM. A high school student spoke of loving math until it became too challenging and those around him suggested it was too hard to figure out. Dr. Emdin affirmed the young brother’s brilliance and challenged him to celebrate the many natural connections between physics and basketball, which he said he loved.

Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, president of Alabama State University highlighted how Historically Black Colleges and Universities are supporting African American STEM scholars by providing rigorous science and technology and ensuring Black youth feel “at home.”

Closing the preparation gap by ensuring that schools offer courses required for future STEM careers including Algebra and Computer Science.


Panelists stressed the importance of exposing African American children to STEM concepts and experiences early, using every day occurrences like the weather and grocery shopping as a practical way to introduce STEM vocabulary. While parents play an important role in teaching, schools must also be equipped to teach STEM starting in Kindergarten and continuing with upper level math and science courses in high school. Kamau Bobb, Program Director at the National Science Foundation discussed the fact that most African American students attend schools that do not offer the course required to enter into STEM careers or to pursue STEM majors. Bob and Dr. Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor at Columbia University, encouraged attendees to ask educators and schools what courses are offered to students and to demand access to the courses required to ensure Black students graduate from high school ready for college or 21st century careers. David Johns, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and moderator of the panel, closed the discussion by imploring all caring and concerned adults to show up, to “mentor, advocate for and otherwise support the learning and development of African American children without apology.”

Future Action:

Johns also announced the launch of AfAmEdFilms on September 21, 2015 at the White House. The first film, Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, continued the discussion of racial and gender disparities in STEM programs and careers and provided a platform for a solutions-oriented discussion of ways to increase access and opportunity to the STEM pipeline for Black youth. The film, as well as the panel discussion, supported several priorities of President Obama’s administration including efforts to increase access to and success in STEM courses and careers and supporting women and girls of color.

AfAmEdFilms will highlight films and multimedia that disrupt negative stereotypes and depict positive and compelling stories of African American students, families, and communities striving for academic excellence. AfAmEdFilms will also encourage active engagement and showcase resources to facilitate opportunities for caring and concerned adults to support the learning and development of African Americans. For more information, please visit

Jaasmin Foote earned a B.A. in English from Hood College. Lauren Mims is a graduate student at the University of Virginia.

New Tool Kit Provides Resources to Teach Children Learning English

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced the completion of the English Learner Tool Kit, designed to support educators in ensuring equal access to a high-quality education for English Learners (EL). This tool kit complements the English Learner Guidance that was released in January 2015 by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to remind states and school districts of their civil rights obligations to EL students and Limited English Proficient parents.

The tool kit was unveiled at Bruce Monroe Elementary School at Park View in Washington, D.C. On hand at the event were Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department; District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson; and John King, the Education Department’s senior advisor delegated duties of deputy secretary of education.

As teachers who work at the Department of Education as Teaching Ambassador Fellows, we are excited about the access this tool kit gives educators to clear-cut guidance and research on best practices in the field.

The EL Tool Kit is divided into chapters on topics such as identifying all English Learners, addressing English Learners with disabilities, and evaluating the effectiveness of a school district’s program. Each chapter can be downloaded separately and information is grouped into easy-to-find topics. For each chapter, there are key points and examples, as well as adaptations of and links to resources created and maintained by public and private organizations. By bringing together all these resources into one easy-to-use location, teachers, principals, and districts have an accessible tool kit full of free resources.

ED's John King talking with educators about the Tool Kit.

ED’s John King talking with educators about the Tool Kit.

Across the country, public school teachers serve more than 5 million ELs. As teachers ourselves, we can attest that being given a tool that provides support for closing the achievement gap between ELs and native English speakers is invaluable. Looking at this new resource, we are reminded of the many EL students who have sat in our classrooms, bringing with them a rich diversity of languages, cultures, and experiences. As educators, we are hopeful that this new resource will make it less complicated to find answers about how to best meet the needs of our students and provide them with every opportunity to reach their fullest potential.

Aman Dhanda and JoLisa Hoover are Teaching Ambassador Fellows with the U.S. Department of Education.

During Hispanic Heritage Month and Every Day, #LatinosTeach!

Today, nearly one in four students in our nation’s public elementary and secondary schools is Hispanic. Yet, less than one in 10 teachers—or roughly just 8 percent of America’s teaching force—is Hispanic. As the Hispanic population grows, it’s critically important that our teacher workforce reflects our increasingly diverse nation. Hispanic children can benefit by being taught by educators who share their experiences and culture. But it’s also important for all students to learn from teachers who are diverse, dedicated, and passionate.

This Hispanic Heritage Month, during the week of Sept. 28 through Oct. 2, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics is launching a Latinos Teach digital campaign, highlighting Hispanic educators and encouraging more Latinos to consider careers in teaching.

Every parent knows the difference a great teacher makes. And research shows the enormous good that skilled, well-trained teachers can do. Throughout this week, the Initiative will feature online profiles of caring and committed professionals who serve in our schools and inspire young people to achieve their greatest potential.

As a part of this effort, Dr. Jill Biden and Erica Castro, wife of U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro—both teachers themselves—have spoken about the important work that educators do each day. In a video released today, Dr. Biden and Mrs. Castro encourage Latino teachers to tell their story and ask others to share the story of a Latino teacher in their lives, using the hashtag #LatinosTeach.

Watch the video, engage in the discussion on Twitter, and consider becoming involved in the Latinos Teach movement by committing to a career in education.

“A teacher can have a powerful impact on Hispanic students; not just sharing knowledge and helping them grow, but also serving as a role model,” noted Alejandra Ceja, executive director of the Initiative. “We are grateful for the leadership and dedication of the many talented Hispanic teachers in our nation’s schools; and through the #LatinosTeach campaign, we hope to inspire even more Latinos to consider the teaching profession as a way to give back to their communities.”

For more information about the Initiative and other efforts celebrating its 25th Anniversary Year of Action and Hispanic Heritage Month, visit

White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans Launches Film Screening and Discussion Series at the White House


On September 21, nearly 100 high school students from Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia gathered at the White House to participate in the launch of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans’ (Initiative) Screening and Discussion Series (AfAmEdFilms). Panelists who spoke during the event include: Robin Hauser Reynolds, Director of Code: Debugging the Gender Gap; Dr. Kimberlyn Leary, Senior Advisor to the White House Council on Women and Girls; Dr. Kamau Bobb, Program Director and Directorate for Computer and Information Science & Engineering at the National Science Foundation; and Chiamaka Okoroha of Microsoft.

AfAmEdFilms will highlight films and multimedia that disrupt negative stereotypes and depict positive and compelling stories of African American students, families, and communities striving for academic excellence. AfAmEdFilms will also encourage active engagement and showcase resources to facilitate opportunities for caring and concerned adults to support the learning and development of African Americans. The first film, Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, discussed racial and gender disparities in STEM programs and careers and provided a platform for a solutions-oriented discussion of ways to increase access and opportunity to the STEM pipeline for Black youth. The film supports several priorities of President Obama’s administration including efforts to increase access to and success in STEM courses and careers and supporting women and girls of color.

Megan Smith, United States Chief Technology Officer Policy, provided opening remarks, encouraging students to see the “magic in technology, math and science.” Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code, addressed the audience, arguing that the solution to increasing the number of Black women and girls in STEM is to, “get girls interested in coding early on, so we can change the pipeline. The future is literally in your hands, and it will be written in code. There is no knowledge gap, just an opportunity gap,” she said.

During the panel discussion following the screening, of CODE David Johns, Initiative Executive Director, highlighted how the Initiative is increasing STEM success, including by collaborating with the National Science Foundation to ensure that students have access to Computer Science, Algebra, and other gateway courses required for success in STEM.

Miaela N. Thomas, M.S., School Counselor of Frederick Douglass High School, watched a transformation in her student as the youngest panel member, recent Computer Science graduate Chiamaka Okoroha, spoke on the panel. “The look in her eyes was something I’d never seen before and when she said, ‘I want to take a picture with her and meet her, I knew then that she had finalized what she wanted to major in when she goes to college,” she said.

Johns closed by reminding the students they are obligated to graduate from college; find their passion by celebrating and creating things that interest and move them; and use their brilliance for good—to improve our communities and our country.

Each month, the AfAmEdFilm Series will highlight an important theme in the field of African American education. For more information visit

Additional Films included in the AfAmEdFilms Series are as follows:

He Named Me Malala
The Souls of Black Girls


The Rule

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete



The E-Word: A Documentary on the Ebonics Debate

MPAA: American Promise

The Homestretch

(Please note: This list is not exhaustive and subject to change.)

Federal Agencies Moving Hispanics Forward

Throughout his time in office, President Obama has called on leaders from all sectors to help ensure our country’s future. In the spirit of this shared responsibility, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics this week released a series of commitments, a new report and a set of education data plans outlining the Obama Administration’s work to improve the lives of the 55 million Hispanics who live in the United States—whether through increased access to high-quality early learning and STEM education, more grants to Hispanic-serving colleges, more opportunities to participate in the internships or greater apprenticeships with small businesses.

These efforts highlight over 350 activities, programs and initiatives supporting the educational attainment of our country’s students, including Hispanics. The announcement of Commitments to Action signifies the federal agencies’ steadfast dedication on behalf of the largest, youngest and arguably the fastest-growing population in the nation. The report summarizes the Federal Interagency Working Group on Educational Excellence for Hispanics’ efforts to help ensure federal investments, programs, and opportunities are effectively shared with the Hispanic community, assess and suggest improvements to federal policies, regulations and programs that apply to Hispanic students and communities, and ensure efforts and funding reflect the diversity of the nation’s population and the growing number of Hispanic Serving Institutions while strengthening the link between the Federal government and the nation’s Hispanic communities.

Today, nearly one in four students in our nation’s public schools is a Hispanic youth. Making sure these young people have the opportunity to achieve their dreams isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s also a matter of our shared success as a country. In just the next few decades, Hispanics will represent nearly one in three American workers. It’s clear; the future of our nation is closely connected to the future of our Hispanic communities.

To help move the Latino community and the nation forward, the Initiative issued a national call of action to the public and private sectors. Recognizing that Latinos must continue to graduate from high school college and career ready, and in even greater numbers, having access to quality, well-rounded learning experiences in our public schools with support at the federal, state, and local levels is critical.

This Hispanic Heritage Month marks the 25th anniversary of the existence of the Initiative. The Initiative was originally established by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to address the educational disparities faced by the Hispanic community. Since then, the Hispanic community has been recognized by multiple presidents and more recently by President Barack Obama through the renewal of the Initiative.

Maribel Duran is the Chief of Staff for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and leads the Federal Interagency Working Group on Educational Excellence efforts.

Starting Early: Connecting Culture and Language to Student Success


During my recent visit to Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u Iki Public Charter School on Hawaii Island, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with students of all ages, teachers, parents and administrators. As is normally the custom, I was greeted by the students and teachers with a welcome protocol (chant and song). I have visited a few Hawaiian immersion and medium schools over the years, and I am always touched by this expression of “aloha.” The school’s entire program from infant and toddler through grade 12 is an integrated laboratory school program for the state’s Hawaiian language college in Hilo. The entire system and similar schools statewide grew out of the community-driven Punana Leo Hawaiian language preschools. Nawahi is a Hawaiian medium school and the students are taught in Hawaiian.

— Kiran Ahuja (@KiranAhujaAAPI) September 21, 2015

In March 2014, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao Public Charter School in Waianae on Oahu Island – his first trip to Hawaii as Secretary. He met with Native Hawaiian educators and learned about the incredible efforts to not only preserve the Hawaiian language, but also link language and culture to improving educational outcomes for Native Hawaiian students. Another important component for improving outcomes for Native Hawaiian students is investing in early education. Hawaii was awarded a $2 million Preschool Development Grant this year as part of their four-year $15 million plan to develop a state preschool system and provide high-quality preschool for children from families at our below the 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line. The preschool funding also targets unique preschool efforts that focus on Hawaiian language and culture, and Nawahi is one of the first sites utilizing this grant to draw more students into their current preschool Hawaiian medium program. The state has plans to provide high-quality preschool in 18 classrooms in high-need communities throughout the state for approximately 900 children from low-income families by the end of 2018, if funding is not cut by Congress.

Expanding access to high-quality preschool is critically important to ensuring that every child in America has the opportunity for lifelong success. Despite the evidence showing the importance of early learning, House and Senate committees have authored spending bills that eliminate Preschool Development Grants, a program that is in the middle of building and expanding high-quality preschool in over 200 high-need communities across 18 states that span the geographic and political spectrum.

Eliminating the Preschool Development Grants program would mean a loss of high-quality preschool for more than 720 children from low-income families in Hawaii over the next two years. In Keaau, and throughout Hawaii and our nation, there is still a huge unmet need for high-quality preschool for all our children. Our hope is that every child, regardless of circumstances, succeeds in school and in life. High-quality preschool programs, like the one I saw at Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u Iki Public Charter School, provide the benefits of early education – proven to be an important first step in improving the life trajectory of a young person’s life.

Kiran Ahuja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

A Look Back: How One School Community Responded to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

With the recent anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this past August, I found myself reflecting on my experiences following the fall 2005 disaster. My home state of Texas served as one of the primary evacuation locations for Katrina and then, not even a month later, was hit by Hurricane Rita. While the circumstances of each were dramatically different, they highlighted the ways schools serve as safe havens for students and the community during times of crisis.

As a teacher in Leander, TX just outside Austin, the devastating stories of the 1,833 lives lost during the storm haunted me. But I knew it was the survivors that needed our immediate attention. Texas, which received the vast majority of the evacuees, went to great lengths to help those impacted by the event get back on their feet.

My state, for example, made it easier for displaced students to enroll, and helped them meet their basic needs. Teachers and students went to great lengths to create a sense of normalcy for these young people, many of whom were traumatized, and get them up to speed with our state standards.

My Aunt, a school nurse outside of Houston, witnessed firsthand the physical and emotional toll the storm had on its victims. She treated many students with badly infected feet caused by walking through dirty flood waters. As she provided first aid, the children told her of their loss and fear of leaving behind their homes (or what was left of their homes).

Just a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina, we were shocked to hear that another major hurricane was coming and this time it was headed towards the Texas coast. Rita made land fall on the Texas/Louisiana border on September 24th, 2005 with winds of up to 120 mph and over six inches of rainfall across the region.

My family near Houston evacuated to Austin like many others and spent 22 hours on the road for what should have been a four-hour drive on an exceptionally hot day and night. It was predicted that the hurricane had shifted and might make it as far inland as Austin – directly over the evacuation routes – exacerbating the anxiety of everyone involved.

Buses in traffic

Once again, our schools stepped up. My district, for example, designated seven schools as evacuation centers. The district’s administrators, teachers and other employees even volunteered to run the centers because the number of Red Cross volunteers had been depleted by Katrina. These were initially meant to provide safe haven for up to 1,500 evacuees, but within 24 hours, that number swelled to 3,500 and a few days later, the total was 4,200.

Leander’s schools also became a refuge for hundreds of pets and livestock. This was a lesson learned from Katrina where many people refused to evacuate because shelters wouldn’t accept their animals. During that unforgettable weekend we provided meals, clean beds, working showers, and TVs to monitor the storm. We also provided medical care for both people and animals and even helped welcome a new baby and puppy into the world.

Looking back, I’m so proud to have been a part of an education community that immediately stepped up to create a safe and nurturing environment for students and neighbors from near and far. As the country goes back to school this fall, it reminds me of just how many educators across the country help students cope with trauma on a daily basis. It’s an honor to be part of the profession that does this and a legacy of Katrina and Rita worth remembering a decade later.

 JoLisa Hoover is a 4th grade teacher at River Ridge Elementary School in Leander, Texas and a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.


Young Women Empowering Their Communities: Championing Change

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: On Tuesday, the White House honored 11 young women who are leading and empowering their communities as Champions of Change.

On Tuesday, the White House honored 11 young women who are leading and empowering their communities as Champions of Change. The program brought together young women from diverse backgrounds to share their stories of leading in their communities. The young women spoke of how they found the strength to lead, to inspire others and of those work of mentors and teachers who they relied on for help.

Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

As part of the event, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released an important an important new fact sheet on implicit bias and inclusive STEM education and in conjunction with the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence published a new report “Fulfilling America’s Future: Latinas in the U.S., 2015.”

In addition, in support of inclusive STEM education, the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST) at Arizona State University announced the National Academic STEM Collaborative, a network of 10 academic partners and nine organizational partners who have committed to identify and scale effective, evidence-based strategies to improve STEM diversity in the nation’s colleges and universities, with a focus on women and girls from under-represented communities.

To expand STEM mentoring to girls in underserved communities, The National Girls Collaborative announced EmpowerHer, an expansion of “The Connectory” (a portal offering one-stop shopping for over 11,000 STEM mentoring and afterschool programs across the United States). A new interactive map will make it easier for parents and teachers in Promise Zones, Choice Neighborhoods, and in cities served by the Administration’s Tech Hire Initiative to locate STEM mentoring opportunities. Additionally, Time Warner Cable has committed $100,000 towards a small grants competition to link mentors and girls.

To support affirmative visibility for girls and young women from underrepresented communities, the Smithsonian announced a special edition of it signature “Museum Day,” on March 12, 2016, which for the first time will be themed to “inspire the nation’s girls and young women of color.”

The Council on Women and Girls also highlighted a new webpage featuring information on advancing equity and empowerment for women and girls of color and their peers.

Before the event, the Champions shared their reflections with us:

Asha Abdi

I’ve always heard of the concept of repressed memories and feelings. I never thought I had any until the images of the 2011 famine had awoken a surge of feelings and pain I never knew existed. I was once a Somali child sitting under a make shift tent in a refugee camp on the coast of Kenya. It rained on the first night and the women were rushed to a nearby warehouse. I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t find my mother. I can still feel the pain of what seemingly felt like my heart dropping to my feet. I rushed outside screaming for her and once I barely passed the door, I heard her yell out for me, she was in a corner breast-feeding my little sister.

That first night is the reason why I have decided to focus my life on giving back to not only those back home in Somalia, but also to my local community and those less fortunate. My faith and history have taught me that I have to be grateful and thankful for what I have. I could still be in a refugee camp, just like the 500,000 Somali’s who make up the largest camp in the world in Northern Kenya.

I have chosen to live my life by using the tools and passions I have for community and resource development to support the youth, especially young women, to have the set of skills needed to be successful in the fast pace and competitive world of Silicon Valley and to also help build a solid foundation for as many people as I can in Somalia.

Asha Abdi is a Faith Relations Coordinator VISTA at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco; as well as Director of Communications and Partnership with Agoon Foundation.

Diali Avila

When I was 17 years old, I became part of a community-based radio show, which consisted of segments about health, arts, education and advocacy. It was a way for us to talk about the issues that were happening around our community, as well as to celebrate the talent in the city. After a few years of being on-air, we started a non-profit organization to raise money for undocumented students — youth who unfortunately are at the mercy of decision makers that at times make it harder for them to continue their education. So far, we have awarded close to $50,000 in scholarships.

People take control of their lives through education; this empowers them to make decisions on their health, their future, and much more. My work with Planned Parenthood started when I joined the Affordable Care Act campaign to help families and individuals enroll in health care. After the ACA campaign, I started working on a campaign to implement comprehensive sexuality education in high schools. Young people should have access to medically accurate sexual education; learn about consent and healthy relationships, as well as their own bodily autonomy. Education is power, and access is our right!

Diali Avila is an Outreach Organizer with Planned Parenthood Federation of America and founding member of the Isac Amaya Foundation.

Yesenia Ayala

When I was in high school, one person completely shaped the path I was going to take with my life. My English teacher, Mr. Mullarkey, challenged, motivated, and believed in me when nobody else did. I was working full time, helping my parents raise my siblings, and trying to keep on top of my academics at a predominantly Latino school in Los Angeles. My family doubted the importance of higher education, but with Mr. Mullarkey’s guidance, I learned of a new possible future: Posse and Grinnell College.


Within my first few weeks of college, I realized how thankful I was for Mr. Mullarkey’s support. He encouraged me in the face of cultural opposition and inspired me to act similarly in my new home in Iowa. I became involved with Al Éxito, a state non-profit organization in nine communities that focuses on mentoring Latino youth, helping them graduate from high school and continue with post-secondary education. I helped create programs to inform parents about the education system in the United States, financial aid, essay-writing, and the entire college application process. My leadership with Al Éxito aided in the development of Latino youth leadership programs for Iowa high school students, allowing them to receive additional support from both the organization and their communities. Ultimately, I envision Al Éxito expanding and serving all of Iowa, and I plan to coordinate additional curriculum for teachers. After all, it was a teacher who made it possible for me to be able to help others.

Yesenia Ayala is a second-year student at Grinnell College where she is pursuing a sociology and Spanish double major with a concentration in Latin American Studies.

Meredith Boyce

My name is Meredith Boyce, and I am an 18 year old computer science student who started a program to service computers for blind students who use them for school work. During the past four years, my life underwent major changes. In 2011, an arteriovenous malformation (a fancy word for a kind of brain aneurysm) burst in my brain, and I required emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. This ordeal left me with epilepsy, neuropathy, and a scarred optic nerve, which caused me to go mostly blind. I had been at a private school before this happened, but with my new disabilities, I required more assistance than that school could provide. I transferred to the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind in the tenth grade and became a student at the Blind School’s mainstream program at Spartanburg High School.

With the assistance of the School for the Blind, I went on to succeed in all of my classes at Spartanburg High School and at Daniel Morgan Technology Center. I had learned about computers before my brain injury and still was in awe of their potential in the 10th grade. The School for the Blind needed help taking care of the aging laptop computers that some students used to complete school work. I started by servicing the computers of my fellow mainstream students and teaching them how to utilize their assistive software to its fullest capacities, but it grew into a larger venture when students back at the main campus of the School for the Blind came to me for small repairs and help. I spent hours every week running diagnostics and doing repairs on students’ computers in the tenth grade. I did all of this while taking all honors classes and learning to read Braille because my vision was still declining.

In the eleventh grade, I enrolled in the partnership program at Daniel Morgan Technology Center through Spartanburg High School and was the only girl in the computer science department. I took the computer repair class because I thought that I should probably get some formal training if I was going to continue working on the blind students’ computers. It wasn’t easy being the only girl and the only person with a disability at Daniel Morgan Technology Center. I remember a substitute teacher asking me if I was lost when I walked into the room because, “cosmetology is down the hall, sweetie.” (Gender inequality doesn’t suddenly right itself as soon as one girl enrolls in a male-dominated field.)

At the same time, Spartanburg High School started a program where they assigned each student a MacBook Air. There was a learning curve for every student, but especially for the visually impaired mainstream students who were accustomed to using assistive software on their old PCs. I didn’t know how to teach my peers about VoiceOver or Zoom because I had never used them myself. I screwed up a lot at first, but eventually I got the hang of it and was able to teach my friends how to use the new software.

By the twelfth grade, the School for the Blind implemented the same program as Spartanburg High School and got MacBook Airs for each student. I was asked to advise the Blind School’s technology leader on what students would need to transition to Macs. I got to be a part of that transition as a peer technology coach and taught some on campus students how to work with their new devices. When I went over to the campus after school for Braille lessons or sports practices, there was always somebody who needed my help. I was happy to give it, even though it made me late for practice more than once.

I graduated this year from Spartanburg High School with honors and from the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind as the Blind School student with the highest GPA. I am going to college in the same town as the Deaf and Blind School and I still plan to go back to campus and assist when I can.

Meredith Boyce is a student at Converse College in South Carolina.

Rita Herford

Growing up on a family farm I never put much thought into how our food was made. I was always involved in agriculture, so I knew the farm to fork journey. After returning home to my farm after college it became clear to me that a large percent of the population had little knowledge of how farms like mine grow safe, quality and affordable food for the rest of the world.

I feel very passionate about agriculture and helping consumers connect with farmers to learn where the ingredients that make up their foods come from. I am utilizing social media, giving farm tours, and partnering with organizations such as Farm Bureau and The American Society of Sugar Beet Technologist (ASSBT) to help drive transparency about our farm.

Our farm, like thousands across the U.S. strive to produce quality, safe and affordable food while using sustainable farming practices. Water and soil quality are very important at our farm, not only for us now, but so many more generations can enjoy the land. Being a Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) verified farm is one way we make sure we are being sustainable. We are also part of the Kellogg’s Origins Great Lakes Program, measuring continuous improvement on our farm as we strive to optimize our practices.

Rita Herford is a farmer from Michigan where she grows wheat, sugar beets, corn, dry edible beans and soybeans with her family.

Faatimah Knight

I was born in Brooklyn, New York in the neighborhood of Flatbush that was, and still is, colored by the Caribbean immigrant experience. All my life my mother taught, counseled and advocated for workers’ rights in her union and my father also taught and worked as a health care practitioner. Since childhood I had in my parents’ examples that good work was work that benefited other people.

There were so many reasons behind why I started the Respond with Love campaign to help rebuild black churches burned down by arsonists in the South. I had the somewhat-rare blessing of a good idea coming to me at a very prudent time. The greater blessing, however, was having the conviction to follow through, the people to partner with, and the providence to be successful.

In the wake of the attack at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the South saw a number of black churches burned by arsonists. Some feared that these attacks were in direct relation to the shooting at Emanuel AME and to the killer’s call for a race war. These fires were reminiscent of very old tactics to intimidate black communities across the South. Such a thing would take our country back to an era of unimaginable violence and ignorance. I felt compelled to do something that would take a stand against hate. I wanted to show myself that I did have to be crippled in fear and sadness by the hateful acts of others. The campaign raised over $100,000 in under three weeks, making it successful beyond my team’s wildest imagination. Most of the donors were individual Muslims from all over the country who were moved deeply to help.

As a black American Muslim I am implicated in anti-black racist violence. I am blessed to have so many intersections in my identity that although they make me a triple minority, also serve to broaden my scope in the best of ways. The values my parents instilled in me growing up in a Muslim home, as well as the edification I received in my religious and liberal arts education at Zaytuna College continue to inspire me to serve others with whatever small gifts I have been given. My hope is to continue to make a positive impact—especially in the lives of the vulnerable—through my writing and advocacy work.

Faatimah Knight is pursuing her Masters in Religious Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary. She has her Bachelors in Islamic Law and Theology from Zaytuna College.

Ashley McCray

At my university there is a severe underrepresentation of native students, faculty, and administrative staff. Enrollment of native-identifying students has steadily decreased since 2012. My work seeks to challenge and shift the university’s views regarding native contributions. Specifically, I fight for curriculum reform, for diversity and inclusivity in syllabi and classrooms, ongoing education regarding native issues and issues that affect other marginalized and oppressed communities for all incoming students, faculty, staff, and administration.

I come from a long line of strong native women who have overcome obstacles such as extreme poverty, alcohol and drug dependency, domestic violence, and sexual assault. My mother’s family comes from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Many of my grandmothers and aunts were and remain instrumental to the fight for native rights and thus I see my activism as an extension of their work. I strive to carry forth my ancestor’s memories, struggles, stories, and acts of resistance to pave a better path for my people.

Ashley Nicole McCray is a Ph.D. student in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine program at the University of Oklahoma, where she studies indigenous knowledge and serves her department as a graduate assistant.

Swetha Prabakaran

I would never have entered computer science if I hadn’t seen powerful women in this field from an early age, such as my mother and my freshman Computer Science teacher. Being able to see women I admired and looked up to in this space gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my love for computer science.

By 2020, we’ll have more than 1.4 million tech jobs in the US, but girls still hesitate to enter engineering and technology due to stereotypes. Without encouraging more young women to enter programming, we will never be able to fill those positions.

It was in that moment that my non-profit, Everybody Code Now!, was born. When I took my first Computer Science class in high school, I didn’t think that one day I’d be the one teaching kids to code. I really wanted other girls to have strong mentors and exposure to tech the way I did.

Through Everybody Code Now!, I’ve been able to teach hundreds of kids to code and raise thousands of dollars to run more science and engineering activities in schools. I’ve seen elementary school girls who had never heard of programming blossom into confident students building websites about their favorite sports or animals and watched the quietest students become the classroom leaders.

I hope to continue expanding Everybody Code Now!’s programs, both nationally and internationally, and show even more girls that they can become community leaders, innovators, and Champions of Change.

Swetha Prabakaran is a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology with a focus on Computer Science. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Everybody Code Now!

Katie Prior

The year I started playing the trumpet, my great-grandfather, a World War II Army veteran, was in hospice care. My family talked about how great it would be if I could play Taps at his funeral, but he passed away before I had a chance to learn the notes.

Five years later, I learned that many veterans’ funerals have an audio recording of Taps because there aren’t enough military trumpet players available for every funeral. I realized that this was an issue I could do something about! I could use my trumpet for more than just performing for my parents at band concerts. I decided to recruit my trumpet-playing friends to help, too.

Experiencing the effect that live Taps has is truly inspiring. As anyone who has lost a veteran loved one can tell you, the final salute of Taps is something that stays with you long after the ceremony. Every time you hear Taps for the rest of your life, it reminds you of that loved one and the sacrifices they made for our country.


This is why I founded the Youth Trumpet & Taps Corps. We are a non-profit service organization that trains, supports, and recognizes high school trumpet players who use their musical gifts to honor the veteran community. We now have volunteers in 6 states and plans to expand nationwide.

I hope to inspire my peers to use their own gifts, whatever those gifts may be, to serve others and make the world a better place.

Katie Prior is a tenth-grade student from Oklahoma who earned her Girl Scout Gold Award for founding the Youth Trumpet & Taps Corps.

Amanda Tachine

I come from a land of juniper and pinon trees, beautiful yucca plants, and a breath-taking array of mesas, canyons, and valleys. I come from a lineage of strong and courageous Navajo people, who laugh, love, hope and pray. I am a Navajo mother, wife, daughter, granddaughter, teacher, writer, and advocate. Where I am from and whom I am connected to influences the way I live my life.


My passion and vision is to inspire and increase Native peoples’ attainment of a college degree. I believe that higher education is a means toward the betterment of our tribal nations and society at large. To help achieve that vision, Helios Education Foundation, University of Arizona, Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Nation, and the Navajo Nation supported efforts to implement Native SOAR (Student Outreach, Access, and Resiliency), a mentoring program that strives to increase college aspirations and attainment for Native Americans. When higher education institutions work closely with Native communities, they have a powerful role in creating positive change for Native peoples and tribal nations. Currently, I am grateful to be a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Center for Indian Education at Arizona State University where in which I look forward to advancing efforts to increase Native peoples’ dreams of receiving a college degree.

Dr. Amanda R. Tachine is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Center for Indian Education at Arizona State University.

If you would like to continue the conversation, you can share your story on, YouTube, Vimeo or other online sharing services using #ImagineHer.

Katharine Gallogly is a special assistant in the White House Office of Public Engagement