Parents: 9 Back to School Pro Tips

Back to school time can be a hectic time for both you and the kiddos. These are some of our best back to school tips to help ensure this school year gets off to a great start!




Walk or ride the route your child will take and make note of school patrols, crossing guards and high traffic areas along the way. Talk to your kids about NOT talking to strangers and find out what, if any, policies your child’s school has regarding early arrivals or late pick-ups. Learn about the school’s entrance and exit policies. Then, if you can, pop in and check out what the inside of the school looks like.

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Cities Announced! 2013 Back-to-School Bus Tour

Bus Tour MapIt’s back-to-school time, which means that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior ED officials are hitting the road once again for the Department’s annual back-to-school bus tour. This year’s tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, will run September 9-13 and includes visits to states throughout the Southwest with stops in the following cities:

  • Santa, Fe, N.M.
  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Columbus, N.M.
  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Tempe, Ariz.
  • Phoenix
  • Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • Yuma, Ariz.
  • Chula Vista, Calif.

Each stop will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities, including Preschool for Allcollege affordabilityConnectEDfirst-term education efforts, and comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on education.

This is the fourth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan. Last year, the Department’s tour took us coast to coast, in 2011, the tour rolled through the Midwest, and in 2010, Duncan and his team visited the South and the Northeast.

Check back soon for additional information on the tour, or simply sign up to receive Strong Start, Bright Future tour updates in your email inbox.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Back to Healthy School Meals: USDA Congratulates Six States for Nearly 100% of Schools Meeting New Meal Standards

Cross-posted from the USDA Blog.

As we continue to combat childhood obesity in America, I am proud to say that this Back to School season our school cafeterias are at the heart of offering great nutrition for our kids. Students and schools are embracing the healthier lunches offered through the National School Lunch Program that, together with the healthier breakfasts offered through the School Breakfast Program beginning this school year and the recently announced “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards that kick in next year, continue our children on the path towards future health and happiness.

Students in Cafeteria

School cafeterias across the country are at the heart of offering great nutrition for our kids.

So how are school cafeterias faring with all the meal updates across the nation? Like I said, they are putting their hearts into it.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Florida, Montana, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina and Colorado, where all or nearly all school cafeterias are now serving meals that meet the new standards. Kudos to them!

In fact, at the end of this past school year, 79 percent of all participating school districts across the country had notified their states that they were meeting the new standards! This represents a significant achievement for the first year of implementation. We are confident that the remaining schools will make the changes needed to qualify for the performance based reimbursement in the coming year.

In Colorado, for example, Jane Brand, Director of the Office of Nutrition at the Colorado Department of Education, tried several innovative approaches to become the first state to complete certification and validation of all schools. Initially, the Colorado staff mailed jump drives with all the paperwork and instructions to each school district. Some schools were better than others at mastering the system and utilized the jump drives. For the rest, Brand and her staff hit the road and met face to face with dozens of districts small and large across Colorado. The hands-on approach worked to relieve the stress many districts felt in getting through the process. Brand also cross-trained her staff and encouraged school districts to share ideas and information on how to master the process.

The best news is that changes in schools are expected to have a positive impact. Research shows that school-based programs that encourage healthy eating, physical activity and positive body image attitudes are among a range of actions that can help reduce levels of childhood obesity. We are already seeing a promising reversal in childhood obesity rates, and this fall, with a return to healthy eating in schools, I expect nothing less than more progress.

Dr. Janey Thornton is Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture

6 More Back-to-School Tips for Parents

Visit the School

When visiting the school, walk or ride the route your child will take. Speak to your child about talking to strangers, and observe along the route any areas in which your child must exercise caution.

Look for the school patrols, crossing guard, or police officers on the streets near the school. Find out the school’s policy for early arrivals, and if needed, organize with other parents to have adults stationed outside the school to watch the children until the school allows them to enter.

Introduce Yourself

Back to School LogoFind out the school’s entrance procedure before visiting your child’s classroom, and how his/her teacher prefers to be contacted.

Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher. Ask the teacher the times he/she is available to talk to parents.


Now that you know the teacher of your child, offer to help with class trips or with school activities. Are more books needed in the library? Offer to hold a book drive or find a company that will donate books.

Does the teacher need assistance with particular projects in the school? If time permits, offer to be a classroom parent or to organize other parents to help in the classroom or at the school. If you can’t make it to the classroom during school hours, ask if there are things you can do from home or on the weekends that would be helpful.

Afterschool and Extracurricular Activities

If the school offers afterschool and/or extra-curricular activities, find out ways you can assist. If the budget restricts afterschool activities, find ways you or members in the community could assist. 

Make Homework a Priority

Make homework time a daily habit. Find a quiet and consistent place at home where your child can complete his or her homework.

If your child is having difficulty with his or her homework, make an appointment with the teacher to discuss his or her difficulty. Check with the counselor and the teacher about tutors to get your child help if needed.

Take Charge of TV

Limit the time that you let your child watch TV. Too much television cuts into important activities in a child’s life, such as reading, playing with friends, and talking with family members.

When your child is watching TV, watch with him or her when you can. Talk together about what you see. Try to point out the things in TV programs that are like your child’s everyday life.

When you can’t watch TV with your child, spot check to see what he or she is watching. Ask questions after the show ends. See what excites him and what troubles him. Find out what he has learned and remembered.

 Carrie Jasper is director of outreach to parents and families

5 Ways to Help Your Child Prevent Bullying this School Year

As children head back to the classroom, now is a great time for parents and guardians to talk with your kids about bullying. Here are five tips to help your child prevent bullying and to help them deal with bullying:

Back to School Logo1)     Establish lines of communication and talk for at least 15 minutes a day. Bullying can be difficult for parents to talk about, but it is important that children know they can talk to you, before they are involved in bullying in any way. and our partners at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have easy tips and tools that can help start the conversation.

2)     Make sure kids know safe ways to be more than a bystander. When kids witness bullying, it can affect them too. Helping kids learn what they can do to help when they see bullying can help to stop bullying. Click here for more suggestions on how bystanders can help.

3)     Know your state’s anti-bullying law and your school’s anti-bullying policy. Forty-nine states have laws requiring schools to have anti-bullying policies. Know what your school policy says and how to report an incident of bullying if you ever need to.

4)     Learn how to support kids involved in bullying. When you find out your child is involved in bullying, it is important to know how to respond. Whether your child is bullying others or is the one being bullied it is important to know what steps to take, and which to avoid, in order to resolve the situation.

5)     Take an active role in anti-bullying initiatives. The key to addressing bullying is to stop it before it starts. Work with your children, their school, and the community to raise awareness and take action against bullying. Toolkits like the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Community Action Training Modules can help you start an initiative in your community. You can get your children involved, too, by using the Youth Leaders Toolkit to help them mentor younger children.

Visit for more helpful tips on how to prevent bullying, and have a great school year!

Deborah Temkin is a Research and Policy Coordinator for Bullying Prevention Initiatives at the Department of Education

5 Questions to Ask the Financial Aid Office as You Head Back to School

Time to hang up the bathing suits and hit the books: It’s back-to-school season!

Back to School LogoFor many of you, it’s probably been months since you’ve completed the FAFSA or submitted your school’s financial aid application. Have you checked in with the financial aid office to make sure they have everything they need to disburse your financial aid? If not, here are some questions you should ask:

  • What do I need to do to finalize my award? Each school has a different process for awarding and disbursing financial aid. If it has been a while since you contacted the financial aid office, stop by or give them a call.  Often times, there are requirements you must meet before your financial aid can be paid out. Maybe you need to sign a Master Promissory Note or complete Entrance Counseling? Check with your school’s financial aid office as soon as possible so that you can be sure you receive your financial aid on time.
  • What academic requirements do I need to maintain in order to receive financial aid? In general, you need to make satisfactory academic progress. Each school has a satisfactory academic progress policy for financial aid purposes; check your school’s website or ask someone at your financial aid office to find out what the requirements are.
  • What are the terms of any loans offered? If you were offered student loans as part of your financial aid package, it is important that you understand the terms of those loans. Remember, a student loan is just like any other loan. It’s borrowed money that will have to be repaid with interest. Do you know what your interest rate is or when you are supposed to begin repayment? If not, ask. To help you keep track, try out our new Financial Aid Counseling Tool (FACT).
  • Where can I find a work-study job? Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. Federal Work-Study is unique in that it is a type of financial aid that is not applied directly to your school costs. Instead, you earn the money as you work.  In order to earn the money that has been allocated to you, you’ll need to find a work-study job. Talk to the financial aid office to find out what types of federal work-study jobs are available for students at your school.
  • How and when will I receive my financial aid payments? The million-dollar question. Every school has a different process for disbursing financial aid. You can probably find the answer on your school’s financial aid website, but if not, contact the financial aid office and they should be able to help you out.

Nicole Callahan is a new media specialist in ED’s office of Federal Student Aid 

#AskFAFSA Office Hours: Back-To-School Edition

Congratulations! You survived the campus visits, the standardized tests and the overwhelming application process, and now you are preparing for your first day of college. Maybe you’re taking this time to pick out your new bedding or purchase a new laptop, or maybe you’re spending your last days of summer cutting out enough coupons to fund the instant noodle diet you’ll be living on over the next few months. But, how are you preparing yourself financially?

 I am a student entering my senior year of college at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. I have had a job since I was fourteen years old, but that did not make me an expert on personal finance when my parents dropped me off at my freshman dorm three years ago. I received financial aid from the university after filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) earlier that year but I was still unaware of how to manage my expenses and my tuition payments in the most strategic way possible.

 I had lots of questions: Do I need to fill out the FAFSA every year? How do I find a work-study job? Should the money in these paychecks go toward my living expenses or toward my student loans that are accumulating? Is there a GPA requirement to maintain my aid? Should I visit the university’s financial aid counselor?

Now that I am going into my final year, although a little wiser, I still have a number of questions about how to strategically manage my college expenses. When do I start paying back my loans? Can I apply for financial aid to use for graduate school? Should I consider opening a credit card account to start building credit?

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a lot of questions about how to stay financially responsible as you head back to school. Join me and the team here at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid on August 23rd as we answer your questions at our #AskFAFSA Office Hours on Twitter.

Here’s how it works:

    • Have questions about managing your expenses and financial aid throughout college? You can start submitting your questions on Twitter and Facebook today. Be sure to include the #AskFAFSA hashtag in your tweets. We will be monitoring for questions on Facebook and Twitter from now through next Thursday.
    • On Thursday, August 23, at 6pm ET, follow @FAFSA or the #AskFAFSA hashtag on Twitter to join the conversation. We‘ll be answering your questions live. Don’t use Twitter? You can also follow along using the Twitter app on our Facebook page.
    • Can’t make the live session? A summary of #AskFAFSA Office Hours, including the full Q&A, will be posted on Storify and the blog following the event.

It is important to know the appropriate steps to take in order to stay financially responsible throughout college. We look forward to receiving your questions and chatting with you next week!

Giovanna Saffos is a Digital Engagement Intern at Federal Student Aid

What Inspires Young Teens?

What inspires young teens to do well in school?

The admission from President Obama that he wasn’t always a perfect student really struck a chord with 6th – 9th graders as they watched the President’s  3rd Annual Back-to-School speech on Sept. 28 in Chicago.

“I was really surprised when he said that he wasn’t the best student in middle school,” said Maurice, an 8th grader at Ryerson Elementary School, where he joined a small group of other students and educators from Ryerson and Gage Park High School to watch the address and participate in a follow-up discussion.

Students in Classroom

Dexter Chaney speaks with Ryerson students after watching President Obama's speech

“I always thought that to be President, you’d have to be the smartest student in your school. He wasn’t, but he became the hardest worker,” he said, sparking vigorous nods from students around him.

“My parents are always telling me that they want me to have more opportunities than they had. That inspires me,” said Dyanne, a 6th- grader.

While several teens echoed that positive response, a few others said that drug dealing and other negative influences in their neighborhoods are what drive them to succeed in school.

“I want more for myself. I want to graduate from high school and college. I think that if I put all of my efforts into school, I can be anything I want to be,” said DeAndre, a 6th grader.

The students also had plenty of suggestions for making class time more inspiring:

  • One said that there was no free time in his school day, making him often wish that he could “fast forward” through some classes.
  •  Others wished their teachers would try new ways of teaching material to make classes more interesting, and to better reach kids who don’t all learn at the same pace.
  • Several teens, concerned about plans for a longer school day in Chicago Public Schools, hoped that the extra time would include art and music classes.

Ryerson’s Dexter Chaney II — one of ED’s 2011-2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAF) – urged his students to draw on inspiration from within themselves.

“You need to be committed to being successful,” said Chaney, who was joined by Gage Park teacher Xian Barrett, a 2009-2010 TAF.  “You need to take risks, and you need to be more involved with the world around you.  Most young people don’t believe that their thoughts and ideas can make a difference, but they can.”

Click here to read more about President Obama’s back-to-school speech.

A Teacher’s View of President Obama’s Back-to-School Speech

It’s always inspiring for me, just to walk into a school at the beginning of the academic year. I see hope in freshly washed, gleaming gym floors and newly hung posters and banners. There is an excitement that is palpable. But on Wednesday, the students and teachers at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, D.C. were waiting to see President Barack Obama deliver his back-to-school speech to the nation.

The students’ nervous whispers hushed when Anita Berger, the school principal, took the mike – her voice powerful and charged – “Listen to his words,” she told her kids, “He is speaking directly to you!”

I wanted to hear those words too. All around this nation, teachers are worried that the efforts they make on behalf of kids aren’t publically appreciated. They hear harsh rhetoric which deflates their enthusiasm and makes it harder to work. Still, we love what we do because we believe it matters for the students in our class and for the future of our planet.

I wondered what President Obama would have to say to set this school year on the right course.

President Obama delivers his back-to-school address

Maryann snapped a photo of President Obama with her blackberry during his annual back-to-school speech.

The President began to speak, flashing a wide smile. He urged the students to take challenging classes so that we could “race ahead as a nation.” He explained that it’s vital to wonder, question and “color outside of the lines.” The president then inspired us with stories about students who are doing research that may create new treatments for cancer, creating community service websites or raising money to offer loans to students from low-income schools. “The point is,” he said, “you don’t have to wait to make a difference.”

I watched the students’ faces light up as the President spoke. His words were really hitting home. He told them that even though it might all seem “a little intimidating,” they could count on “people all across this country — including myself and Arne [Duncan] and people at every level of government.”

But as a veteran teacher, with 32 years in the classroom, the President’s words mattered most when he said that it was the teachers, who “might be working harder than just about anybody these days” juggling home and school life, without the benefit of fancy perks or salaries. “They do it,” he said, “because nothing gives them more satisfaction than seeing you learn. They live for those moments when something clicks; when you amaze them with your intellect or your vocabulary, or they see what kind of person you’re becoming. And they’re proud of you.”

When the President left the gym, I felt like he had not only created a powerful message of aspiration and achievement for all America’s children, but he’d honored teachers everywhere. He let teachers know that he understands that they make sacrifices every day that go unnoticed.

Maryann Woods-Murphy

Maryann is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Allendale, NJ.

President Obama on Back-to-School: “Set Your Sights High”

President Obama greets students after delivering his back-to-school speech.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with students after delivering his third annual Back-to-School speech at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. Sept. 28, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

This afternoon, students from across the country tuned in as President Obama addressed them directly in his third annual Back-to-School speech. The President encouraged America’s students to use their time in school to try new things, discover new passions and hone their skills to prepare themselves for the kind of profession they want in the future:

It starts, obviously, with being the best student that you can be. Now, that doesn’t always mean that you have to have a perfect score on every assignment.  It doesn’t mean that you’ve got to get straight As all the time — although that’s not a bad goal to have.  It means that you have to stay at it.  You have to be determined and you have to persevere.  It means you’ve got to work as hard as you know how to work.  And it means that you’ve got to take some risks once in a while.  You can’t avoid the class that you think might be hard because you’re worried about getting the best grade if that’s a subject that you think you need to prepare you for your future…

And that’s why when you’re still a student you can explore a wide range of possibilities.  One hour you can be an artist; the next, an author; the next, a scientist, or a historian, or a carpenter.  This is the time where you can try out new interests and test new ideas.  And the more you do, the sooner you’ll figure out what makes you come alive, what stirs you, what makes you excited — the career that you want to pursue.

The President explained that being engaged in school is not just for the students themselves, but for the country as a whole. He acknowledged that young people today are growing up fast and students have a lot of responsibility to take on, “because you’re not just kids.  You’re this country’s future.  You’re young leaders.  And whether we fall behind or race ahead as a nation is going to depend in large part on you.”

That’s why President Obama called on America’s students to set a goal to continue their education after they graduate from High School. “The fact of the matter is, is that more than 60 percent of the jobs in the next decade will require more than a high school diploma — more than 60 percent.  That’s the world you’re walking into.”

The President also spoke about the tireless work America’s teachers do on behalf of our students:

Teachers are the men and women who might be working harder than just about anybody these days.  Whether you go to a big school or a small one, whether you attend a public or a private or charter school –- your teachers are giving up their weekends; they’re waking up at dawn; they’re cramming their days full of classes and extra-curricular activities.   And then they’re going home, eating some dinner, and then they’ve got to stay up sometimes past midnight, grading your papers and correcting your grammar, and making sure you got that algebra formula properly.

And they don’t do it for a fancy office.  They don’t — they sure don’t do it for the big salary.  They do it for you.  They do it because nothing gives them more satisfaction than seeing you learn.  They live for those moments when something clicks; when you amaze them with your intellect or your vocabulary, or they see what kind of person you’re becoming.  And they’re proud of you.  And they say, I had something to do with that, that wonderful young person who is going to succeed.  They have confidence in you that you will be citizens and leaders who take us into tomorrow.  They know you’re our future.  So your teachers are pouring everything they got into you, and they’re not alone.

Watch the video of the President’s Back-to-School address:

President Obama’s Back-to-School Speech

As students begin their school year, President Barack Obama will deliver his third annual Back-to-School Speech at 1:30 PM EDT on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, DC.

The President’s Back-to-School Speech is an opportunity to speak directly to students across the country. In past years, President Obama has encouraged students to study hard and take responsibility for their education, urging students to set goals, to believe in themselves, and to be the authors of their own destinies.

Schools across the country can watch the speech live on MSNBC as a special feature of NBC News’ “Education Nation” – part of NBC’s weeklong series of education reports and programming across the network’s shows and platforms beginning September 25. The back-to-school speech will also be streamed live at

For more information, and to view the President’s 2009 and 2010 back-to-school speeches, visit