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.

College Programs for Students with Disabilities Are “Changing Culture”


For too many kids in classrooms like mine in New Haven, Conn., disabilities can be sources of shame, indicators of what students can’t do, instead of what they can. As part of the Department’s Ready for Success bus tour, I got to see two universities where students with disabilities are not just enrolled in college, they’re thriving, finding success academically and socially in a way that many never could have imagined.

Staff at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Central Missouri go beyond procedural compliance to provide, what Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs, called an “on-ramp to the rest of our kids’ lives.” Federal data suggests that students with disabilities are less likely to attend four-year colleges than their peers; these examples prove that doesn’t have to be the case.

Meridith Bradford said college counselors at her New Jersey high school “said I was crazy” when she shared her plan to attend a four-year college. With the support of the University of Illinois’ Beckwith Residential Support Services program, Bradford, who has cerebral palsy, is now a senior and one of the student managers for the university’s wheelchair basketball teams.


“When I was in high school, I had an aide follow me everywhere whether I liked it or not,” Bradford said. “When I get my college degree, I know it’ll be me getting it under my own power.”

The 26 students with severe physical disabilities in the Beckwith program live in an accessible dorm and hire a team of personal assistants who help them with daily living tasks like eating and dressing. “If I would’ve gone anywhere else, I would’ve had to have lived at home,” said Dan Escalona, a sports columnist for The Daily Illini who has muscular dystrophy. “The independence aspect is a big reason why I came.”

Today, students with disabilities at the University of Illinois graduate at about the same rate as others in their same programs, according to Tanya Gallagher, dean of the College of Applied Health Sciences.

Meanwhile, at the University of Central Missouri, students with intellectual, cognitive, and developmental disabilities are learning to lead independent lives.

Julie Warm knew she wanted her daughter, Mary, who has Down syndrome, to attend college ever since Mary was in first grade. She also knew that no appropriate program existed.

She reached out to 19 area universities before she connected with Dr. Joyce Downing, a professor in UCM’s College of Education, who was enthusiastic about designing a program.

Today, Mary, 23, is an alumnus of the university’s THRIVE program and is studying to be a preschool assistant teacher, so she can “teach kids to accept people and not grow up to be bullies,” she said.

Students in the THRIVE program live together and take a range of classes, both in the university and customized to their needs. They also take on two internships in fields of interest and experience counseling to develop their life and social skills.

“In the past, schools would’ve put them in a vocational role,” said Michael Brunkhorst, one of the instructors with the THRIVE program. “I say, raise those expectations because all of our students have proven that they can do much more than was thought they could do.”

Programs like these involve “changing a culture,” said Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services at the U.S. Department of Education.“It’s more than just providing services to students with disabilities,” he said. “It’s about the value and talent that these individuals can contribute to our society.”

After these visits, one of my first tasks upon returning to school was to welcome a new fifth grader with an individualized education plan. My experiences at these universities left me hopeful that by the time he graduates, more universities will have programs like these that go above and beyond to harness students’ talents for the good of us all.

Matt Presser is an Instructional Literacy Coach at King/Robinson School in New Haven, Conn., and a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at 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.


The Impact of Teach to Lead

Across the county, teachers are working to solve some of the biggest challenges facing education today. They do this work in their classrooms with students, in their schools and professional associations, and—increasingly—in collaboration with other educators who seek opportunities to lead the transformation of teaching and learning and to have a voice in the development of policies that affect their profession. On September 26-27, the Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) will offer a forum for educators to transform their best ideas into actionable plans by bringing together 29 educator-led teams in Tacoma, Wash., for Teach to Lead’s sixth summit.

Teach to Lead started as an idea in March 2014 to recognize the importance of—and challenges faced by—teachers, and to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership, especially those that allow teachers to stay in the classroom. Today, Teach to Lead has received a groundswell of interest from teachers around the country.

Over the past 18 months, educators have submitted more than 560 ideas for expanding teacher leadership through Teach to Lead, from Hawaii to Florida and Maine to Alaska. And nearly 200 teacher-driven action plans—developed through the Teach to Lead network and with the support of key stakeholders—are being implemented by educators at the school, district, and state levels. What’s also encouraging is that 85 organizations are committed to supporting and sustaining the work of teachers engaged with Teach to Lead across the country.

Summits are an opportunity to help spotlight and advance the groundbreaking, teacher-led work happening in states, districts, and schools. Teachers have gathered in Louisville, Ky.; Denver; Boston; and Washington, DC. For the educators who join Teach to Lead’s summits, 91 percent report that they plan to stay in touch with people they meet at the summits to share promising practices and successes. And through in-person and virtual settings, Teach to Lead has connected more than 4,000 educators, creating a large network of professional support.

At the Tacoma, Wash., summit, teams of educators and supporter organizations will work over two days to translate more than 160 ideas into concrete plans that educators can take back to their districts and schools. Some of the educator-led teams will focus on issues such as aligning professional development with project-based learning in classrooms; integrating English language learning concepts into daily teaching practices; and developing programs to expand parent and community involvement in education.

There has never been a more critical time to recognize the importance of meaningful teacher voice in decisions that are made in schools, districts, and states. Earlier this month during the Department of Education’s annual back-to-school bus tour, I visited with teacher leaders at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. What I saw there was nothing short of revolutionary. The state is in its second year of implementing a statewide system of teacher leadership that allows teachers to lead from the classroom and honors that leadership with greater compensation. These leadership positons are developed by local stakeholders and cooperatively staffed by teacher and administrative selection teams. I heard directly from teachers and principals about the impact that teacher leadership is having on their practice. Iowa is leading the nation when it comes to building strong models for teacher leadership.

We know that attracting and retaining effective educators in our classrooms is one of the most critical challenges that high-need schools face. We also have seen that when teachers are given the opportunity to lead, with autonomy, time, and a real voice in decision-making, the results can be remarkable and lead to increased learning outcomes for students.

A recent Los Angeles Times article highlighted Mission High School in San Francisco and the impact that the school’s teacher-supported and led initiatives has had on teachers and students. Mission High School has been able to address teacher retention through teacher supports, such as building in time where teachers can plan lessons together and design assessments that measure a broad range of skills critical for students to master.

Teachers also have created action groups where they review data and investigate the root causes of achievement gaps. These groups then create action plans to address the gaps. Graduation rates at Mission High have gone from among the lowest in the district, at 60 percent, to more than 80 percent. In 2013, Mission High’s graduation rate for African-American students was 20 percent higher than the district average.

I’m encouraged to see the progress at Mission High School, the work of teacher leadership in Iowa, and the many projects Teach to Lead has helped to support. The impact of teacher leadership is powerful and we must continue to find ways to support, highlight, and finance these efforts across the county. When teachers are given the opportunity and space to lead, the results are extraordinary.

What we know from the past five Teach to Lead summits is that teachers have some of the best ideas to solve many of the biggest challenges facing education. It’s our job to keep asking teachers, what do you need, and how can we work together? For more information, please visit:

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

Our Top 10 Favorite Photos from the #ReadyforSuccess Bus Tour

Our 6th annual Back-to-School Bus Tour was a blast! Below are some of our favorite pictures taken during the tour!

Secretary Duncan met students during a visit to the Woodland Early Learning Community School in Kansas City.

Secretary Duncan met students during a visit to the Woodland Early Learning Community School in Kansas City.

President Barack Obama joined Secretary Arne Duncan during the first day of the Bus Tour in Des Moines.

President Barack Obama joined Secretary Arne Duncan during the first day of the Bus Tour in Des Moines.

Secretary Duncan is welcomed by students at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids.

Secretary Duncan is welcomed by students at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids.

Secretary Duncan participated in a panel discussion with state and local leaders and heard about the importance of teacher leadership and the role the Teach to Lead program has played in advancing their work.

Secretary Duncan participated in a panel discussion with state and local leaders and heard about the importance of teacher leadership and the role the Teach to Lead program has played in advancing their work.

Secretary Duncan took a selfie with students after meeting with them at the Williamsfield Community Unit School District.

Secretary Duncan took a selfie with students after meeting with them at the Williamsfield Community Unit School District.

Secretary Duncan joined coaches and players of the Illini men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams during his visit to the University of Illinois, Champaign. The University, through its Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) is one of the nation’s best in serving the needs of college students with disabilities.

Secretary Duncan joined coaches and players of the Illini men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams during his visit to the University of Illinois, Champaign. The University, through its Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) is one of the nation’s best in serving the needs of college students with disabilities.

Students demonstrated their knowledge at Jeffersontown High School Magnet Career Academy when Secretary Duncan visited.

Students demonstrated their knowledge at Jeffersontown High School Magnet Career Academy when Secretary Duncan visited.

Students joined Secretary Duncan on a tour during his visit to the University of Louisville. All of these high school seniors were from nearby Jefferson County Public Schools and talked with Duncan about their hopes – and concerns – regarding higher ed.

Students joined Secretary Duncan on a tour during his visit to the University of Louisville. All of these high school seniors were from nearby Jefferson County Public Schools and talked with Duncan about their hopes – and concerns – regarding higher ed.

Bryan Dell, a former drug addict and dealer, told Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell about the importance that Cincinnati State and a strong community college education has played in his life since he has been in recovery.

Bryan Dell, a former drug addict and dealer, told Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell about the importance that Cincinnati State and a strong community college education has played in his life since he has been in recovery.

The Back-to-School Bus Tour ended with a college access rally and town hall at Carnegie Mellon that highlighted the importance of STEM education.

The Back-to-School Bus Tour ended with a college access rally and town hall at Carnegie Mellon that highlighted the importance of STEM education.

All photos taken by Department of Education photographers Paul Wood and Joshua Hoover.

Check out for more images and blog posts about each stop on the tour.

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

Guidance for Competency Based Education Experimental Site Released

The Obama Administration has worked steadily to increase access to and completion of high quality degrees for students of all ages and backgrounds. One specific thrust has been to remove barriers that stand in the way of innovation in higher education, including those that prevent promising new educational models from expanding. Competency based education (CBE) is one example of a promising new delivery model with the potential to improve degree completion, reduce costs to students and improve transparency and alignment of learning outcomes to the needs of employers and society. And the field is growing – recently, a survey suggested that as many as 600 postsecondary institutions in the United States are currently designing or implementing CBE programs.

In 2014, the Department of Education launched three experiments under the Experimental Sites Initiative – Competency-Based Education, Limited Direct Assessment, and Prior Learning Assessment – as an opportunity to learn more about this and related delivery model and to experiment with Title IV disbursement models designed to incent student achievement and student success. Among those, the Competency-Based Education experiment provided the most expansive regulatory waivers and modifications, and in the time since that experiment was announced, it has become clear that additional detail and guidance from the Department of Education regarding that experiment would be helpful to both institutions and accrediting agencies.

I am delighted to say that we are ready to release the CBE Experiment Reference Guide for institutions participating in the CBE experiment. We believe that this Guide will offer tremendous support for both experienced and new CBE providers as they implement this experiment. We recognize that many of you were anticipating that the Guide would be released earlier this summer, but it was very important for us to have a high level of confidence that the guidance it contains is on very firm ground. The Guide can be located at

Additionally, by the end of this year, we will be issuing an expansion of the current CBE experiment. The CBE experiment was designed to offer institutions a new approach to financial aid disbursement in the hopes of incentivizing student success and cost reduction. Following the release of the 2014 Federal Register notice, we received additional feedback from institutions about the approach provided in the 2014 notice, and we have been working to respond to this feedback. When the expansion is released, we are confident that this experiment will be even more useful to the field, particularly to institutions using a subscription-based tuition model with their CBE programs. As part of the experimental site initiative, ED will be gathering significant data from the participating institutions to enable a rigorous evaluation of the impact of CBE programs on issues of completion, affordability and transparency of degrees.

As always, I encourage and welcome your comments, suggestions and feedback. We are eager to learn from these CBE experiments, and we remain committed to responsible innovation to enhance learning outcomes, lower cost and improve completion rates in higher education.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

Hispanic Heritage Foundation Recognizes White House Initiative with Prestigious Award

Alejandra Ceja, executive director for the Initiative

Alejandra Ceja, executive director for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, accepts the Hispanic Heritage Award.

The Hispanic Heritage Foundation held its 28th Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards on Sept. 17 at the historic Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. The awards celebrated Hispanic culture and heritage and recognized Latino leaders in sports; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; innovation; youth work; education; music and health.

This year, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) was awarded the education award for its 25 years of service to the nation’s Latino community. Alejandra Ceja, executive director for the Initiative, received the award on behalf of WHIEEH.

“I’m extremely honored to receive this award on behalf of the Initiative,” said Ceja. “As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and the Initiative’s 25th anniversary, let us remember that investing in the educational attainment for Hispanics is absolutely critical to the success of our country. The Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s recognition of our efforts reflects the important role education plays in the lives of Latino students and families across this country. We look forward to working to ensure Latino students, and all students, have the opportunity to achieve their goals and dreams.”

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was entering the final leg of his “Ready for Success” bus tour, recognized the Initiative’s accomplishments.

“I am happy to congratulate Executive Director Alejandra Ceja and her entire White House Initiative team on receiving the Hispanic Heritage Award for Education Leadership,” said U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s recognition of her leadership and the critical work her team provides is a testament to the service and dedication of our commitment to our nation’s students and families.”

Created in 1990 to address the education disparities of the nation’s Latino community, particularly the alarming drop out rate, the Initiative has continued to work with local, state and federal stakeholders in support of the educational attainment of Latinos.

Under the Obama Administration, the mission of the Initiative is to restore the country to its role as a global leader in education and strengthen the nation by expanding educational opportunities and improving educational outcomes for Latinos of all ages. The Initiative also works to ensure that all Latinos receive an education that prepares them for college, productive careers and satisfying lives.

To learn about the Initiative’s efforts throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, visit and to see the other Hispanic Heritage Foundation honorees visit: 

Alberto Betancourt is a member of the press team in the Office of Communications and Outreach