Transgender students share their stories with Secretary Duncan. (Photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)
ED recently invited a group of transgender students to speak about their school experiences at a roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan and senior officials.
During the roundtable in the Secretary’s conference room, students expressed the need for greater awareness of and school support for addressing issues affecting transgender students. They emphasized the importance of having their gender identity and expression respected within their learning community and feeling safe in school.
During the discussion, students talked about their experiences in school, such as being prevented from using the proper bathroom as well as being punished as a victim of bullies’ physical assaults. They also talked about what a tremendous difference it makes to their ability to learn and feel safe at school when they have the support of educators who believe in them.
ED officials listened to the students’ recommendations about how we can foster safer educational communities for transgender youth and ensure that all students can learn in safe and healthy environments. Among other things, students advocated for:
schools to implement proper bathroom and locker room utilization,
consistent recognition of appropriate names and pronouns, and
elimination of the school to prison pipeline.
ED welcomed the dialogue and the chance to hear from these students. As one student explained, “It’s all about being true to yourself.” Embracing individuality and authenticity is a lesson that we all can learn from these courageous students.
Samuel Ryan is the Special Assistant and Youth Liaison and Hannah Pomfret attends McGill University and is an intern at U.S. Department of Education.
During the session, students discussed the importance of school culture. (U.S. Department of Education)
While many students face challenges when it comes to growing up and pursuing academic success, Native American and Alaskan Native youths are more likely than most of their peers to experience poverty and trauma, and to drop out of high school. Their school environment has a significant role in their development.
This is just one of the reasons why ED recently invited 15 young Native Americans to attend a Student Voices Session with Secretary Duncan.
This session was also a capstone to ED’s first-ever School Environment Listening Tour, a nine-city tour in seven states designed to identify the impact of school environment on young Native Americans.
During the session here at ED, the students expressed their great need for cultural and personal support.
“When native students have a space for cultural continuity in an educational setting, they are tremendously more successful,” commented Laree, a Lakota and Oglala undergraduate student from Wisconsin.
Blue and Kele, siblings from Oklahoma, are members of the Cherokee Nation and of Osage and Choctaw descent. They stressed the significance of their participation in Operation Eagle, a cultural and community group for native youths. Despite the existence of programs like this, however, they highlighted the fact that education about their culture needs to extend beyond their native community.
Blue recalled from one community event that, “volunteers came in wearing headdresses and paint on their faces … one kid had a Halloween costume of a native American. … They need to teach the kids that not everyone has a headdress; you have to earn everything … I just think it would be better to have them learn.”
Autumn, a high school student from the Pokagan Band of Potawatomi Indians, described a similar experience. Her high school mascot is the chieftain – an offensive Native American caricature – and the derogatory term “wahoo” is used for the yearbook and school dances. While these harmful images had caused many of her native friends to lose interest in school or drop out, Autumn said that she couldn’t really be mad. “It’s not [non-native students’] fault – they’ve been programmed to think we are savages by the history they’re taught.” Autumn agreed that a more inclusive history should be taught to all students.
This Student Voices session was a capstone to ED’s first-ever School Environment Listening Tour, a nine-city tour in seven states designed to identify the impact of school environment on young Native Americans. (U.S. Department of Education)
When Secretary Duncan asked the students about how to increase college access and make learning relevant for Native American and Alaskan Native youths, they opened up with recommendations that included cultural programs, tutors and career counselors, more accurate history curricula, and increased college affordability. There was consensus among the students that creating a supportive school culture should start with principals and teachers modeling culturally sensitive behaviors.
Referring to the need for recognition of Native culture within schools, Benton, of the Jicarilla Apache tribe, the youngest of the group at only six years old, concluded, “It matters, my tribe is important.”
This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department through which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.
Samuel Ryan is a Special Assistant and Youth Liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.
Secretary Duncan recently met with student veterans. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
How do we as a country provide supports on college campuses for veterans and ensure they have access to high-quality education at an affordable price? This question helped focus a Student Voices Session that recently took place with Secretary Duncan in Washington, D.C. The goal of the conversation was to understand the issues student veterans face, identify institutions of higher education that are providing comprehensive supports, and take action at the local, state, and federal levels.
The Obama administration is encouraging institutions to sign on to the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success, a voluntary initiative through the Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs by which colleges and universities can support veterans as they pursue their education and employment goals. Already, over 1,000 schools have signed on to support service members in transitioning to higher education, completing their college programs, obtaining career-ready skills, and building toward long-term success.
Abby Kinch, a current Florida State University (FSU) student and former Air Force Cryptologic Linguist, spoke about FSU’s Veterans Center, which provides veterans with a one-stop shop for on-campus support and a place to enhance their development as student leaders. Many of the students in attendance were impressed by the resources available for veterans at FSU and said they would like to see them replicated in their colleges and universities.
Franchesca Rivera, a former Marine and current Art Institute of Washington student and certifying official, passionately spoke about the need for transparency with regard to the cost of college, what the GI Bill will actually cover, and what student veterans should expect to pay. Rivera mentioned that, while most schools serving veterans have a dedicated VA certifying official, the people in this position have a high level of turnover and therefore it is hard to get accurate information.
Veterans Affairs Undersecretary Allison Hickey responded that the VA partially covers the school’s reporting costs and that her office will look into how these positions are trained to ensure certifying officials have the knowledge needed to assist veterans pursuing higher education. Additionally, she notes that the VA has just released a more robust GI Bill Comparison Tool, which will help students find the best programs that fit their needs.
As the secretary was discussing follow-up opportunities, Samuel Innocent, a senior at the City College of New York, suggested that the Student Veterans of America and other student-led veterans’ chapters could create a nationwide student survey to provide tangible feedback on schools’ services for veterans, and on state and federal assistance programs. The goal of the survey would be to strengthen what works and re-tool programs that are not having desired outcomes for meeting veterans’ needs.
This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department in which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.
Samuel Ryan is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education
When someone says, “I want to go to college,” a traditional four-year college or university often comes to mind.
Many don’t think of community colleges as an option, even though they are the single largest sector of the U.S. higher education system, enrolling nearly half of all undergraduates each year.
Community colleges provide opportunity and access to millions of students, helping them prepare for a degree at a four-year institution, obtain an associate’s degree, or retrain and retool for the 21st century global economy.
On March 18, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with student leaders from the American Student Association of Community Colleges to discuss the importance of community colleges. The student leaders were in Wastington for their annual national Student Advocacy Conference.
Everyone wants a fast track to a job they’ll love. And, what student wouldn’t enjoy the chance to develop leadership skills and explore a field of interest – before they enter college and the workplace?
America’s Career and Technical Student Organizations – or CTSOs – have a proud history of helping future professionals gain the skills and experience they’ll need to excel in a wide range of challenging careers, like health care, education, technology, business and finance, management and marketing, agriculture, or manufacturing. Many CTSOs got their start early in the last century. But today, these groups are intently focused on helping students to master 21st century realities.
At the event. Pictured, from left to right: Cole Simmons, Lyndsay Robinson, Devindra Persad, Kyle Clement, Arne Duncan, Carter Christensen, Daria Ferdin, Caleb Gum, Mollie Miller, and Brian Will
In February, to honor Career and Technical Education Month student representatives from nine of the nation’s CTSOs traveled to the Department from as far away as Florida, to meet with Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier. Some of these students already attend college; others are high school students making plans for postsecondary education. All of them were eager to explain the ways that CTSOs – from the Future Business Leaders of America and Health Occupations Students of America, to SkillsUSA and the Technology Students Association – help make sure their members can seize the opportunities in today’s competitive economy.
The students discussed their CTSOs’ missions, goals, and recent events. Secretary Duncan asked how their involvement in these organizations is preparing them for success in college and careers. Devindra Persad answered, “I think being in a CTSO strengthens our minds and lets us know that when we graduate we will be doing something.”
Devindra should know: over the past seven years, he has served as HOSA’s Regional Secretary, Regional Vice President, and Florida HOSA State Southern Vice President. This involvement has led to real-world experiences at local level, with his neighborhood fire department, all the way to the national level, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of the Surgeon General.
The students expressed confidence in the skills their organizations have taught them, and described ways that their participation has allowed them to discover their passions and set a clearer course for the future. Nearly all of the CTSO groups host state and national competitions, as well as conferences for their members to network together and participate in development workshops.
SkillsUSA representative and New Jersey native Daria Ferdin made it clear that access is open to all interested students. “With joining a CTSO,” she said, “the great thing is that it doesn’t matter what race or religion or economic class you are; everyone is able to do it.” Many CTSOs provide scholarships and other forms of financial assistance for members with limited resources. Daria’s organization offers a wide umbrella for students interested in trade, technical and skilled service occupations; she explained that the lessons she’s learned during four years of membership, combined with her cinematic arts classes, have brought her dream of starting a production company within reach.
According to these youth advocates for CTSOs, there’s just one challenge: increasing the general public’s awareness of just how much these organization can help students. Carter Christensen serves as national President for DECA, a student organization focused on equipping emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. “It’s not just about telling parents how great CTSOs are,” he noted, “but getting schools to recognize it, too.” Through DECA, Carter has spent the past year traveling and speaking at events across the United States. In addition to public and civic events, he has also served as spokesman on CTSO issues, representing DECA and other groups in meetings with policymakers in the capitol of his home state of South Dakota.
These students came to Washington with a mission: to offer Secretary Duncan and the Obama Administration their perspective on the advantages of CTSO participation. And, no one who met these articulate and motivated young people could doubt their message: career and technical student organizations provide the information and exposure students need to shape their college and career goals, along with experiences that help them feel confident and able to take charge of their futures.
Last year, in a speech at the FFA National Convention, Secretary Duncan told a cheering crowd of 15,000 CTSO members, “Our nation needs your skills, your passion, your compassion, and your talents to compete and prosper in a knowledge-based, globally competitive economy.”
The students who visited the Department in February made it clear that they were ready to answer the call – and that America’s CTSOs had helped them to get there.
This discussion is part of the ongoing Student Voices Series, where students engage with the Secretary of Education and senior staff to solicit and help develop recommendations on current programs and future policies.
Sam Ryan is special assistant and youth liaison at the U.S. Department of Education
Secretary Duncan meeting with youth from the School Based Health Alliance and Young Invincibles. Photo courtesy of John Schlitt.
When thinking about issues facing young people today, the first that come to my mind are education, jobs, and traffic safety. It’s easy to forget how important access to affordable health care can be on getting a quality education, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently sat down with students to discuss health care and its importance. Duncan heard from students who are part of the School Based Health Alliance National Youth Advisory Council (SBHANYC) and Young Invincibles, two organizations working to promote accessibility to affordable health care for students.
Jhana Parikh, a high school junior from Raleigh, N.C., told Duncan that her school did not have a school-based health center, leading her to advocate for the creation of an on-campus center for her peers. Parikh believed that it was necessary to have a safe and secure health facility in their community, which prompted her to take action.
Another student shared her motivation for becoming involved in healthcare advocacy, explaining that when her father became sick, her family did not have access to affordable health care. She saw first-hand how healthcare costs can drag a family into debt.
A common theme throughout the discussion was how personal this issue is to each of these students. They’ve overcome a great deal of adversity and are now working to make sure others do not face the same challenges they did, or at a minimum have the tools to overcome them.
One of the lesser-known provisions of the Affordable Care Act is construction money for school-based health centers. This is a big step in ensuring students have access to health care, but one member of SBHANYC believes schools still need additional money for operational costs of the health centers. Towards the end of the dialogue, a student asked Secretary Duncan if he would support a $50 million line item in the FY 2015 budget to help cover operational costs for these school-based health centers. The Secretary understood that for a lot of low income students, the school-based health centers are extremely vital in providing basic medical supports.
At the end of the meeting, students were interested and excited to collaborate with each other to share their passion for high quality affordable healthcare for all students.
During the recent State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) meeting in Washington D.C., the focus was on high-level strategies and ideas. However, not too far away, there was a lesser-known meeting between Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and 17 college student leaders from across the country who were nominated by SHEEO members to meet with the Secretary.
The students were comprised of State Boards of Education representatives, state-wide student government association presidents, and campus leaders like Ryan Campione, an industrial engineering major and Student Government Association President at West Virginia University, and Alice Schneider, a senior at Texas A&M College Station and a student representative on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Overall, these students ensure that their peers have a voice in education both at the institution and the statewide level.
During the meeting, the dialogue and policy recommendations were astounding, with Secretary Duncan noting that when he was the students’ age, “I wasn’t thinking about these complex policy issues. We need these innovative and creative ideas that students design.” The policy recommendations from the students included:
Ensure work study correlates to a student’s concentration area or public service.
As ED looks to make college more affordable, they should look into Oregon’s proposal to allow students to attend college tuition-free and debt-free but sign a contract pledging to pay to the State of Oregon or their institution a set percentage of their income for a set number of years.
Rethink the way Federal financial aid is disbursed, because many students are looking at school year round especially during the summers. Specifically allow students to plan their courses for the year, including summer, and allow them to decide where to allocate their aid. Additionally, disburse payouts in a two weekly format rather than a lump sum, because students can better manage their funds in small installments.
Towards the end of the session, two adult learners spoke up to Department of Education Senior Policy Advisor Leigh Arsenault when she probed further about ways to personalize the FAFSA. Lisa Latour, a non-traditional student at Towson University suggested, “Change the way FAFSA is calculated; specifically look into ways of ‘personalizing’ the form to include other metrics that are attached to an IRS form, for example mortgage an credit card debt.” Latour went on to suggest that ED could look into using IRS information to tailor a personalized holistic view of a person’s true economic value and it would better describe their financial need.
As the meeting came to a close, the students were energized and looked to keep the dialogue going, and Duncan relayed his commitment to having student voices integrated into the policy dialogue at the Department of Education.
“This may not mean anything to somebody who is accustomed to civic action or to somebody who has always recognized the power they have. But for me, being a poor black girl from Baltimore, knowing I helped pass two pieces of important legislation makes me feel invincible.” –Taikira White, The Intersection
Through civic engagement, Taikira White and Dawnya Johnson, high school juniors from Baltimore, learned to advocate for themselves and their peers on issues that impact their daily lives. Both students participate in The Intersection, an organization that helps students from underserved areas in Baltimore attend and complete college, give back to their communities and engage in civic action. By canvassing their neighborhoods, organizing rallies, telling stories and holding press conferences, White and Johnson’s engagement contributed to Maryland’s adoption of the Maryland DREAM Act last year and Governor Martin O’Malley’s Firearm Safety Act this year.
In June 2011, Dawnya’s cousin, her closest friend and mentor, was shot on the streets of Baltimore and died before an ambulance arrived. “I lost hope,” she said, “I came extremely close to dropping out of school…and I didn’t care about anything or anyone, least of all myself.” Since becoming involved with The Intersection, Dawnya transformed herself from “that bad kid,” as her teachers called her, to the honor roll student and community leader she is today.
These two powerful young women recently spoke to staff from the U.S. Department of Education at the “ED Youth Voices: Students Transforming Schools and Communities” policy briefing. We learned how their work has empowered them to be better students and leaders, both inside the classroom and out. “Too often, our voices are overlooked because we are students, because we are not able to vote! We are not roaming black mobs of youth, we are tomorrow’s leaders,” Taikira declared passionately.
Heaven Reda, a recent high school graduate, spoke at the event on behalf of the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) describing how their civic engagement efforts to include student input in official teacher evaluations gave Massachusetts’ students a voice in their education. “There was a huge disconnect,” Reda explained, between what teachers were teaching and what students were actually learning.
BSAC’s campaign, “We’re the Ones in the Classroom: Ask Us!” to address this issue was successful, but told the audience that there is always more we can do. “So often we see a budget as a limit, when there is so much you can do with so little,” she said. “Let a student teach for a day, or help them build a curriculum or a strong student government. There needs to be someone who tells them, look, you are powerful.”
The briefing, organized by ED’s Youth Engagement Team, brought together over 100 ED staff and even more watching via online, to hear the students stories. For the past two years, ED’s Youth Engagement Initiative has worked with young people to better understand their needs and the obstacles to their successes, and ED has used that information to better align federal programs with the needs of young people. Thanks to incredible students like Taikira, Dawnya, and Heaven, our job is made easier as they step up as leaders in their communities and lend young people everywhere a voice in their government.
If you are interested in learning how to engage youth in your school or districts or are already doing that please reach out to the ED Youth Engagement Team at email@example.com.
Elena Saltzman, OCO Intern attending Brown University and Samuel Ryan, Special Assistant and Youth Liaison
Leaders from the National Council of Young Leaders met with Secretary Duncan as part of his regular Student Voices series. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.
They are resilient. They are smart. They are united. They have beaten the odds and last week six leaders from the National Council of Young Leaders met with Secretary Arne Duncan and Deb Delisle, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education to share their recommendations for increasing opportunities for youth and decreasing poverty.
The National Council of Young Leaders is a newly established council with a diverse group of young people. The council, which launched on September 19, has 14 founding members ranging in ages 18-34, representing both urban and rural low- income areas, who advise policy makers, business leaders and foundations on issues affecting low-income youth and their communities.
Secretary Duncan encouraged the students to be straight forward, “We’re always trying to have a real candid conversation about what we’re doing well, and what we’re not doing well,” he said. “We feel this huge sense of urgency to improve what’s going on around the country.”
In August and September the council researched issues and used their personal experiences to create a comprehensive list of six recommendations they believe will help create safe, welcoming, opportunity-rich communities for every child born in America.
Ending the school-to-prison pipeline was of great concern to the council. Ladine Daniels shared his experience of struggling to re-enter society having been through the school-to-prison pipeline. “One of my biggest problems with the criminal justice system,” Daniels explained. “Is that too often the time doesn’t fit the crime and we don’t have a lot of opportunities when we get out of jail because we’re still looked upon as criminals.”
What kept Daniels from re-incarceration was a mentor who introduced him to the “Pathways to a Green Economy” program. The program provides people who are ex-offenders, a single parent, or low-income the opportunity to learn marketable skills for the green economy. Secretary Duncan mentioned restorative justice concept, emphasizing repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior, which is incorporated in ED’s Correctional Education work.
Council member, Anays Antongiorgi, discussed the importance of keeping students engaged in school by providing them culturally relevant curriculum and high-quality teachers who are passionate, culturally competent and incorporate strengths-based youth development in their approaches to teaching.
“I had two teachers that were very caring, however they were teaching 200+ students so they didn’t have time to provide me with individual attention,” Antongiorgi said. “Nor did they provide classroom materials that supported my learning style.”
In reflecting on the meeting, Secretary Duncan noted that “it is powerful to see a Council with different mix of people ethnically and geographically- rural, urban, suburban speak with one voice, even though you don’t agree on everything. You are all leaders and could teach us here in Washington a thing or two.”
Earlier this month, future teachers from the National Education Association (NEA) Student Program met with Secretary Duncan to discuss ways to reinvigorate teacher preparation and enhance communications with the Department of Education.
“These future teachers were frank,” Mary Ellen Flannery of the NEA wrote about the discussion. “They want to be respected for their choice to serve students, schools, and communities, they said. And they want to be better supported as they make the transition from student to teacher.”
Over the past year, ED has launched the RESPECT project to elevate the status of teaching profession. The Department’s top officials and Teaching Ambassador Fellows have held 250 roundtables with more than 3500 teachers to discuss and gain feedback on transforming the teaching profession so that teachers are as well prepared, developed, compensated and respected as other professions.
Click here to read more Student Voices Sessions, which are designed to engage young Americans with policy issues so that ED can learn from their perspectives to connect policies with student needs.
Samuel Ryan, OCO Regional and Youth Outreach Associate
Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier recently met with student members from Career and Technical Student Organizations to discuss the department’s Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education (CTE).
“We’re really here to hear your stories and to listen,” Duncan told the students. “Honestly, you guys are doing some really interesting things. CTE is something that we really think has been an underutilized tool that helps young people build positive futures, stay in school and get good jobs.
Much of the discussion centered on the blueprint’s idea of CTE programs competing for federal money under the Carl D. Perkins Act. The opinion was generally positive, but some students voiced concern on states’ ability to judge quality CTE programs. For example, one student wondered whether a CTE program might be punished for being in low demand in a state, but in high demand in other parts of the country.
A personal story that was shared by a student officer in Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) highlighted the impact of CTE programs for students. He moved to Pakistan when he was six and eight years later, came back to the United States to face many challenges with language barriers, navigating the educational system and with different school environments. One of the organizations that helped him was FBLA, “I made new friends, and it helped me figure out that what I really want to do is pursue a career in public service –and help people. [FBLA has] been a great experience for the last four years and helped shape the person I am today.”
Another important topic in the conversation was reshaping the public image of CTE. One student explained her disappointment of being turned away from her dream school because her previous CTE courses were not thought to be as rigorous as AP courses, which her school does not offer. Dann-Messier explained how the notion of CTE’s training for low-paying fields is far from the truth. Many of the careers that CTE prepares students for are highly technical and in demanding occupations.
The voices of student members of Career and Technical Student Organizations are integral to transforming the CTE field. Innovation is going to come from the practical ideas of highly trained young people like the ones heard at this Student Voices Session.
The discussion is part of the ongoing Student Voices Series where students regularly engage with the Secretary of Education and Senior Staff to receive recommendations on current programs and future policies.
Samuel Ryan, Regional & Youth Outreach Associate, OCO
Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.
While many students sign yearbooks and trade digits and Twitter handles as school closes, Secretary Arne Duncan began June on assignment: using student input to expand Department efforts to help eliminate bullying against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) student community.
June is LGBT Pride Month, and to kick off the month, and as part of ED’s Student Voices Sessions, the Secretary met with eight students from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network to hear directly from the students about their experiences and to discuss bullying and possible solutions.
Students shared examples of their school’s environment and the steps they’re taking to improve the climate for LGBT students. Each student mentioned the need for teachers to have sensitivity training, because many have not encountered discrimination against LGBT students and do not know how to address it. One student approached the problem by holding a session on a teacher professional development day with the support of the principal. The student said this approach was wildly successful, and the teachers started showing their support for LGBT students by wearing “I support” pins. “We are no longer ‘those students,’ he said. “Teachers see us as their students along with everyone else.”
Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood
The students were emphatic about the need for comprehensive data to prove the widespread bullying and harassment of LGBT youth. They urged Secretary Duncan to start collecting information about behavior toward the LGBT community through the Civil Rights Data Collection. By identifying the severity and scope of LGBT bullying and harassment across the country, schools, students and families will be informed and advocates will be able to communicate concerns to schools and communities, as well as to policymakers. Knowing the nature and breadth of problems will help everyone create comprehensive solutions that work for both schools and students.
ED has helped fuel the national dialogue around bullying through two national bullying summits over the past two years, which brought together federal officials from several agencies, nonprofit leaders, researchers, parents, and youth to begin a national discussion around the issue and identify areas that need additional guidance and clarification to support bullying prevention efforts. A third summit will be held later this year. Later this week, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali will testify in a Senate hearing on bullying in schools held by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) in, Des Moines, Iowa.
Read more from our Student Voices Sessions, which are designed to engage young Americans with policy issues so that ED can learn from their perspectives to connect policies with student needs.
Samuel Ryan, Regional & Youth Outreach Associate, Office of Communications and Outreach