I visit a lot of schools each year, and it is probably the greatest highlight of my job. Getting out of Washington and into classrooms provides me with the opportunity to talk with students, teachers, parents, and college leaders on what is working and what we still need to accomplish. Their voices are the driving force behind improving education in our country.
In 2013, I visited my 49th state as Secretary of Education, and with each classroom and school visit I walk away with meaningful and memorable lessons. As 2014 gets underway, now is a good time to reflect on 2013, and particularly on five schools that left a lasting impression.
- Columbus Elementary, Columbus, N.M.
Columbus Elementary, situated just a few miles from the Mexico border is unlike any school I have visited before. Of the approximately 700 students, from Pre-K to 5th Grade, roughly 400 students wake up before the sun rises to cross the border for school each day. All the students are U.S. citizens and during the afternoon bus ride back to the border, listening to their stories inspired me.
The experience shed new light on educational challenges and youthful grit—not to mention a need to fix our broken immigration system that affects even our youngest learners. Read more about my visit to Columbus during our annual back-to-school bus tour.
- Macomb Community College, Warren, Mich.
Community colleges have never been more important. They are the cornerstones that will help us build the best-educated, most competitive workforces in the world. Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., is a shining example of a community college that is providing students with an affordable high-quality education that meets the needs of local employers.
Macomb inspired me and my hope is that more community colleges will follow suit and become regional economic engines. Read more about my December visit to Macomb.
- Northwest Middle School, Salt Lake City, Utah
After years of struggling, Northwest Middle School is now ranked number one in its district and is making exciting progress with the help of a School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the Department of Education.
During my recent visit I received candid feedback from the students, parents, and teachers about the challenges the school has overcome and the work that lies ahead. Like all turnaround successes, I am hopeful members of this school community will continue to share their successes with school leaders across the country. Read more about my December visit to Northwest.
- Ecole St. Jean de Dieu, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
The first school we visited during a recent trip to Haiti was Ecole St. Jean de Dieu. The school is part of the Haitian Minister of Education’s initiative to promote access for vulnerable school-aged children who are outside of the education system. Most of the students at this school are homeless and live on the streets during the day but attend classes in the afternoons.
Set in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods, the school’s bare walls and dusty classrooms were filled with bright-eyed students and commanding teachers. The students that attended this school, many lost parents or guardians in the earthquake and are trying to get a basic education to hopefully live a productive life on their own. I was inspired to see their commitment to receiving an education and working towards a better life. Read more about my trip to Haiti.
- Bret Tarver Early Education Complex, Phoenix, Ariz.
The Bret Tarver Education Complex in Phoenix was a vivid reminder of not just the importance of high-quality pre-k but the need to expand it. The staff at this preschool facility is doing a tremendous job of serving over 300 kids in the community, yet another 200+ remain on a waitlist.
It is encouraging to see Arizona make such a crucial investment in our children, but more than a few lucky children deserve a high-quality pre-k experience like the one offered at Bret Tarver. If we plan to meet the long-term educational challenges, we must place greater emphasis on what happens to children during their most formative years from birth to the early grades, and make high-quality early learning available to all students. Read more about my September visit to Bret Tarver.
Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education