A New Vision for Serving Student Loan Borrowers

For Sarah, streamlining student loan repayment for easy access to affordable repayment plans is critical. Sarah teaches second grade in Minnesota, and works to ensure that all her students have hope for their futures and “know that the possibilities are endless for them.” After paying her monthly loan balance, she lives paycheck-to-paycheck. Public service loan forgiveness options are available to help make debt more manageable and affordable, but many teachers like Sarah struggle to learn about whether or not they qualify. The Obama Administration knows that families across the country are working hard to pay off their loans. This Administration wants to ensure that students do not have to choose between a job that serves their communities and paying their debt, and that borrowers like Sarah do not struggle to navigate student loan repayment. That’s why the US Department of Education is taking steps to reinvent customer service for federal student loan borrowers to ensure that every borrower has the right to an affordable repayment plan like Pay As You Earn (PAYE), quality customer service, reliable information, and fair treatment as they repay their loans – objectives the President put forward in his Student Aid Bill of Rights.

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Focusing on Financial Literacy for Students

April is National Financial Capability Month. Decisions about paying for higher education can have lasting impact on individuals and our economy. In keeping with our ongoing efforts to increase financial literacy among college-bound and postsecondary students, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is working with Treasury’s Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC) to teach students how to save and manage money for their postsecondary education.

The Far-Reaching Impact of Financial Literacy

Financial literacy, which can be defined as an understanding of how to earn, manage, and invest money, has a critical impact on students’ ability to make smart choices about which institute of higher education to attend, what to study, how to pay for college, and how to manage student loan debt after graduation.

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Relationships Help First Generation Students Reach Higher

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

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

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

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

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The 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge is Here!

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move! Blog.

It’s that time of year again – we’re inviting kids across the country to create healthy lunch recipes for a chance to win a trip to Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to attend the Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House!

Check out a special message from First Lady Michelle Obama announcing the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge:

The First Lady is once again teaming up with PBS flagship station WGBH Boston, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge to promote cooking and healthy eating among young people across the nation.

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

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

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Strengthening Accreditation to Protect Students

As I wrote back in February, accreditation plays a critical role in protecting students and taxpayers. Students and families trust that approval from an accrediting agency means that a school or program prepares its graduates for work and life. The federal government also relies on accreditation to affirm that the education provided by that institution or program is a worthy investment of taxpayer dollars.  Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen far too many schools maintain their institutional accreditation even while defrauding and misleading students, providing poor quality education, or closing without recourse for students. This is inexcusable. Accreditation can and must be the mark of quality that the public expects.

That’s why the Department has been working to strengthen the accreditation system. We have published information about accreditors’ standards and the student outcomes at the institutions and programs they have approved. We are taking steps to increase transparency around accreditors’ reviews of institutions and resulting actions. We will soon publish guidance to encourage accreditors to use the flexibility they have in order to target their resources to problematic and poorly performing institutions and programs. And we are increasing our focus on outcomes in our own process of recognizing accreditors.

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Socioeconomic Diversity as a School Turnaround Strategy

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The world that we’re preparing our kids for is diverse—our workplaces and our society reflect an enormous range of backgrounds and experiences. Succeeding in that world requires having had the experience of diversity in its many forms, particularly socioeconomic diversity. Mounting evidence shows that diversity is a clear path to better outcomes in school and in life. Exposure to other students from a wide array of backgrounds can boost empathy, reduce bias and increase group problem-solving skills. In short, it helps prepare students – regardless of their backgrounds – for the world in which they will live and work.

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“When You Look, Make Sure You See”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing ‘Secret Kindness Agents’ in the Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Students Share College Completion Journeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Young Artists Can Lead to Life-Long Successes

Sophomore Ona Neumann with her parents, Gregory Neumann and Maryann Povell, at the opening of the Baltimore School for the Arts visual art exhibit. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Sophomore Ona Neumann with her parents, Gregory Neumann and Maryann Povell, at the opening of the Baltimore School for the Arts visual art exhibit. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

By the age of seven, Ona Neumann of Baltimore had already reserved a treasured spot in her life for art.

“What do you do, child?” Ona’s father, Gregory Neumann, affectionately asked his little girl, who is now a sophomore at the Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA).

“I do art and I play — that’s what children do,” she replied.

Today art remains central in Ona’s life as she immerses herself in both the visual arts and traditional academic classes. She was among 135 students from the nationally recognized public arts high school who recently came to the U.S. Department of Education headquarters in Washington, D.C., for the opening of the school’s visual art exhibit, The Development of the Young Artist, which featured student performers, as well.

Ona created three of the exhibit’s 50 works being displayed at ED through April. Also on hand were students’ families, BSA teachers and administrators, state and federal arts educators and leaders from Maryland, Virginia and D.C., and ED staff. Performers included jazz musicians, vocalists, string musicians, and an actress.

Senior Amber Wheeler delivers the theater monologue “I ate the divorce papers.” (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Senior Amber Wheeler delivers the theater monologue “I ate the divorce papers.” (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

The school provides 400 students with intensive pre-professional training in the arts in conjunction with a rigorous academic curriculum. Graduates go on to the most selective arts and academic programs nationwide, and achieve prominence in theater, opera, film, television, music, dance, visual arts and writing. Alumni have, for example, performed with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, played in the Philadelphia Orchestra, sung in Carnegie Hall, appeared in the Broadway production of “Hamilton!”, recorded, produced and performed music for and with Jennifer Lopez and Jay Z, appeared on “American Idol,” and had exhibits at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Other graduates apply the focus and discipline they gained at BSA to professions including finance, architecture, computer science, teaching, law, and medicine.

Seniors Saran Oseitutu and Allea Powell sing “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Seniors Saran Oseitutu and Allea Powell sing “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Ona grew up in an artistically inclined family (her mother teaches and is a potter), but other BSA students began their artistic pursuits less auspiciously.

Chris Ford, BSA’s director, told the story of Richard White, once homeless, who hobbled into the school with a broken hip, sustained in a football accident. He was carrying little else but a plastic tuba. Unfortunately, he was a week late for auditions, but Ford could not ignore the boy’s drive and spark. Richard was admitted. Today he is an associate professor of tuba and euphonium at the University of New Mexico and principal tubist for the New Mexico Philharmonic.

BSA Director Chris Ford describes six characteristics key to developing a young artist. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

BSA Director Chris Ford describes six characteristics key to developing a young artist. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

So how does one develop a young artist? Ford described six qualities that must be nurtured.

  • Curiosity — “the driver of life-long learning.” BSA wants “to connect our kids’ interests to their learning in a meaningful way.”
  • Confidence — “the willingness to take a professional risk, knowing that it may not succeed, but that one can recover and move forward.”
  • Expertise — “is at the core of learning an artistic medium to a high level — whether it be oil painting or script analysis.”
  • Collaboration — “the ability to work effectively with others, who may have different skill sets or working methods.”
  • Individual purpose — “what will you, as a unique person add to the conversation in your field or beyond it?”
  • Global perspective — “Baltimore is known as ‘The City of Neighborhoods.’ Which is great, but we need to get our kids beyond the neighborhood and into a strong place in a worldwide creative scene.”

Monique Chism, deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, cited longitudinal research supporting an arts-integrated education. Students engaged in arts overall have higher grades, particularly in high school; have fewer discipline problems; increase their odds of graduating from high school; enroll in competitive colleges at greater rates; and, among low-income students and English language learners, are more than three time as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Senior Thomas Burke with his self-portrait. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Senior Thomas Burke with his self-portrait. (Photo: Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Nancy Paulu is an editor and writer for the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Leslie Williams.

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

Scholarship Basics and Tips

Scholarship image

We all know college is super expensive; not only do you have to pay tuition, but there’s also room and board (for those of you staying on campus), a meal plan (yay for cafeteria food…), and textbooks (buying hundred-dollar books for one chapter). It’s a lot. Luckily for us, there’s help: scholarships! Of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually be awarded any money, and sometimes it can seem like a whole lot of work for a whole lot of nothing. But that’s why I’m here! I’ve gone through the process recently (and am doing it again), and I’m at your service with suggestions and tips.

A lot of these tips come from StudentAid.gov/scholarships, so check out that page for a more comprehensive, detailed guide to scholarships.


 Types of Scholarships

There are scholarships for almost everything—all you have to do is look. Applying for scholarships doesn’t have to be tedious—find scholarships for things you’re passionate about. Some scholarships are really cool. There are scholarships for animal rescue, volunteering with the elderly, etc.; you can find them through specific organizations, too.

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