College Programs for Students with Disabilities Are “Changing Culture”

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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.

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“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.

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 ed.gov/success for more images and blog posts about each stop on the tour.

Community colleges: America’s economic engines

Duncan talks with students at a roundtable at Cincinnati State

Community colleges are America’s economic engines. They are gateways to middle class jobs, and their open-access, affordable programs hold the key to college access, affordability and completion for millions of students from every walk of life.  This Administration has invested more than $2 billion in community colleges, from TAACCCT grants, to the President’s America’s College Promise proposal, to make two free years of college the norm for every responsible student, as well as the proposed American College Training Fund, to help more workers skill up for high-wage, high-demand careers.

The life-changing potential of a strong community college education was on powerful and moving display at Cincinnati State, where Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell visited as part of the Ready for Success bus tour. Among the speakers was Bryan Dell, who for years was a drug addict and dealer, before getting sober and enrolling at Cincinnati State to study social work. He spoke movingly of the turnaround in his life and the deep support from the college staff, credits in large part to Cincinnati State and its Black Male Initiative. “The one thing a person must have to succeed in this is commitment,” he said.

When Bryan arrived on campus a few years ago, he hadn’t been in a classroom since 1979 – the year he graduated from high school.  Since then, it seemed his life had jumped the rails. But Bryan had begun the long journey out of drug and alcohol addiction, and a colleague at the treatment program he was attending recommended he also consider going back to school.  As hard as it was to take that step, once he’d enrolled at Cincinnati State, Bryan never looked back. He was elected president of the Black Male Initiative, was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society, and earned a nearly perfect GPA, graduating cum laude. Armed with his Associate’s degree, Bryan transferred Northern Kentucky University – again earning top marks, and securing a Bachelor’s degree.  He’s now studying to become a licensed social worker and will graduate with his Masters degree from NKU this May – but he still gives back to the Cincinnati State community that helped him get a fresh start: continuing to support BMI, mentoring students and sharing his inspiring experience.

As Bryan puts it: he used to be addicted to drugs; today he’s “addicted to A’s.”  His journey shows how a great education can offer a second chance at a whole new life.  The America’s College Promise proposal – now a bill awaiting action in Congress – could make thousands more stories like Bryan’s possible.

Cincinnati State represents the strength of the community college model, welcoming 21st century students, including low-income, first-generation, minority, adult students with jobs and families, and workers seeking to skill up for better career ladders. During a roundtable discussion with the Secretary, school administrators, professors, students, alumni, business partners, and civic leaders had the opportunity to share some examples of the difference this hub for quality education skills training, and workforce development is making for graduates, employers, and the region’s economy.

The school offers dual enrollment opportunities, so high school students can earn credits toward a degree, and has launched a new high-quality charter school – a STEM academy right on campus. Through the “C-State Accelerate” program, low-income students with remedial get the extra support they need to get an Associate’s degree in 3 years, with tuition/textbook assistance, monthly incentives, academic coaching/career guidance.  Cincinnati State offers scholarships to help reduce college costs, and increase retention. The college’s Workforce Development Center offers everything from courses toward a technical certificate or degree, to short-term technical training tied to labor market needs.

And, targeted student networks and services help to ensure that every student has the inspiration and resources needed to succeed.  For example, the Black Male Initiative (BMI) is dedicated to helping men of color earn more degrees and reach their full potential.

The visit began with a tour of a classroom where students in Information Technology were working to set up servers and desktop computer hardware and software – part of a “capstone” project designed to provide every student with hands-on, real world experience before they graduate and join the workforce.  Through this experience, students prove they have the skills needed to configure the same complex hardware and software that’s in demand in today’s corporate world.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day four of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Preparing Students for College and Cutting-Edge Careers in Kentucky

Secretary Duncan looks at technology with students at effersontown High School Magnet

What’s one of the greatest challenges for today’s teachers and students? How to prepare students to thrive in the most competitive global economy the world has ever known, where workers won’t just have multiple jobs over the course of a lifetime – they’ll have multiple careers!  And, in our fast-paced, technology-driven marketplace, many of those jobs haven’t even been invented yet!

To learn how one school is meeting this challenge, Thursday morning brought us to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit Jeffersontown High School Magnet Career Academy – the home of the Chargers.

The school serves a diverse student body of 1,400 students, including many from low-income families.  Learning is organized around career themes, through four academies.  The Design Academy features engineering, Computer-Aided Design and Drafting, and Web design; the Build Academy features robotics and electronics; the Create Academy houses the fine arts; and the Lead Academy offers JROTC and business.  All of the academies offer all the coursework needed to prepare students for college and careers, along with specialized technical training and certification and the opportunity to earn college credits along with a high school diploma.

These career academies have strong support from the surrounding cities and from the region’s employers, who see it as key to developing a competitive workforce and filling high-demand jobs.  For instance, the Design Academy houses the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies, based on a model first launched in 1990 by the Ford Motor Company to encourage students to pursue education and build successful careers in business, engineering, and technology.  Last year, the Jefferson County Public Schools was named a Ford Next Generation Learning community – on of 18 communities in the U.S. to earn this designation.  The goal of the program is to help districts and communities implement plans that improve student performance and readiness for college and careers.   Funding from Ford and America’s Promise Alliance will help the district roll out its plan.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day four of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Back-to-School Bus Tour Stops at Purdue

Arne Duncan and Mitch Daniels on stage during the event at Purdue

Following an inspiring visit to the University of Illinois Champaign, Duncan stopped stopped at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, for a conversation with students and University President (and former two-term Governor) Mitch Daniels.

At a time when college matters more than ever before to the success of individual Americans, and our nation as a whole, the nation’s attention is focused on ways to ensure that all students have the opportunity to access, pay for, and complete a quality degree that truly equips them for a great career with a strong salary, active engagement in their homes and communities, and everything else that life has to offer.  To achieve the goal of helping unprecedented numbers of students, from more diverse backgrounds, than ever, to gain knowledge, skills and a valuable degree, at a reasonable cost – we can’t rely on business as usual.  We need to innovate: at the federal, state, and local levels.  We need higher education institutions and leaders willing to do things differently.

Purdue is one of the schools showing the way.

At a time when rising tuition costs are grabbing headlines, the total cost of attending Purdue has actually fallen since President Daniels arrived on campus. Total loan debt among the student body has also fallen 18% or $40 million.  Purdue announced it would freeze tuition for two years, later extending the freeze for a third year.  Four-year graduates from the class of 2016 will be the first in at least 40 years to leave Purdue without ever having experienced a tuition hike.

The Secretary praised President Daniels and Purdue for this and other innovative efforts to help students access, afford and complete their degrees.  The two discussed the University’s focus on: building a stronger pipeline between secondary school and college with a new charter model – Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School – scheduled to open in 2017 with university-aligned curriculum and standards; redesigning coursework to accelerate degree attainment; launching a new Gallup-Purdue Index to measure the value of a college degree; and implementing proven strategies to help an increasingly diverse student population –  including more low-income and first generation college students – succeed in higher education.

Purdue was also the recipient of a 2014 “First in the World” grant from the Department.  The school is using $2.3 million in federal funding for a new “Success through Transformative Education and Active Mentoring” project: an experimental study to determine why active learning models in schools succeed, and focused on overhauling 30 courses in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and the arts. This effort builds on Purdue’s existing “IMPACT” model, which has already transformed 120 traditional lecture-style courses into active, student-centered learning environments, in past 4 years.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day three of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Family Engagement Town Hall in Indianapolis

Students on stage speaking with Secretary DuncanOn Wednesday night of the Ready for Success Back-to-School Bus Tour, Secretary Arne Duncan visited Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School in Indianapolis, where enrollment has jumped by 48 percent since 2011.

When it was opened in 1927, Crispus Attucks was the first and only public high school for African Americans in the city. The world has changed a lot in the nearly 90 years since then, but the country still needs to do more so that all of its students – especially students of color — have the chance to learn, achieve, and succeed.

Breaking down barriers to opportunity was at the heart of the discussion at Crispus Attucks, where the Secretary participated in a roundtable discussion with Indianapolis high school students. M. Karega Rausch, vice president of research and evaluation for the National Association for Charter Schools Authorizers, moderated a conversation about overcoming obstacles and striving for college- and career-readiness.

Then, Broderick Johnson, assistant to President Obama and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, followed by Secretary Duncan, held a conversation with students that touched on two specific goals of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative: graduating more students ready for college and careers, and encouraging young people to complete postsecondary education or training. MBK was introduced in 2014 to ensure that all youth, including boys and young men of color, have opportunities to improve their life outcomes and overcome barriers to success.

Students take a group photo with Secretary DuncanStudents rose to the occasion, asking their own questions about what they can do to advance justice for the generation they are part of, and beyond.

As part of the initiative, the White House launched the MBK Community Challenge, to bring communities together to implement cradle-to-career strategies that improve outcomes for all young people. As one of the first cities to accept the Challenge, Indianapolis hosted its own MBK local action summit last year.

In Indianapolis and across the country, cities are making progress toward the goals of MBK – but America isn’t there just yet. To move the needle on some of our most pressing challenges – including and especially those we face in education – we must continue to speak honestly about the obstacles to opportunity that far too many of our young people face.

Then – and only then – can we truly move forward with community-led solutions that promote equal opportunity for all students.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day three of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Back-to-school bus stops for college tour at University of Louisville

Bus in front of Jeffersontown High School

Secretary Duncan stopped to pick up students at Jeffersontown High School before heading to the University of Louisville for a college tour and discussion.

Secretary Arne Duncan told more than a dozen high school seniors from Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday that the challenges they face in attending college will also be their badge of strength.

Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell talked with students in a round table at the University of Louisville during a stop on the Ready for Success bus tour aimed at helping students think about navigating the college experience. Many will be the first in their families to attend college, or to do so in this country, and they spoke of a variety of challenges – particularly, that while their parents want to support their college-going goals, they don’t know firsthand how to help.

A student whose parents immigrated from Tanzania spoke of the language barrier they face: “English is not their first language. Or their second. Or their third.”

Secretary Duncan told them that their role as pioneers should give them pride, and should be a source of strength for them – and, together with Under Secretary Mitchell, laid out tools that can help them, including the new College Scorecard.

All of the high school seniors were from nearby Jefferson County Public Schools – and, while they were all interested in attending college, some had fears about getting there. Unfortunately, fear prevents far too many academically-qualified young people from reaching their full potential beyond high school. More than half of high-achieving students from low-income families – 53 percent – never apply to schools with median SAT and ACT scores similar to their own. In fact, most students apply to just one, unselective school.

Secretary Duncan on a college tourAlongside University of Louisville Executive Director of Admissions, Jenny Sawyer, and Department of Education Under Secretary Mitchell, Secretary Duncan answered questions from high school seniors about the importance of higher education.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined the conversation, and Secretary Duncan praised his 55,000 Degrees initiative, which aims to help the city transition from manufacturing to innovation by increasing the number of college graduates in the city. He urged students to follow the guidance of Muhammad Ali, combining vision and effort: “Think big, and do the road work.”

Duncan urged students to remember that graduating, not merely  going to college, is the goal, and spoke of his own experiences being homesick when he went away to college at Harvard.

But the most electric moment came when Sawyer called out one of the students in the discussion and announced that he had been admitted to the University of Louisville.

Following the conversation, the Secretary joined the students on a campus tour, where dialogue continued.

All Americans – regardless of their zip code – deserve access to high-quality education that makes the journey to the middle class possible. The Obama Administration has taken several steps toward that goal, including simplifying the FAFSA, raising the maximum Pell Grant, introducing new tools and resources, and more.

Seeing Teacher Leadership in Action – #ReadyforSuccess in Cedar Rapids

Teach to Lead at Roosevelt

As an educator, there is great value in visiting classrooms and observing the profession of teaching in action. As a 6th grade teacher in California, I did this many times in my school. In my role as a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I have the added opportunity to visit schools across the country, learning from a diverse set of colleagues.

This week, I visited classrooms in the state of Iowa as part of the Department’s annual back-to-school bus tour. Iowa recently implemented the Iowa Teacher Leadership Compensation System (TLC) which is designed to reward effective teachers with leadership opportunities and higher pay across the entire State. The Council Bluffs Community School District, where Superintendent Dr. Martha Bruckner set a vision for the year of “Defying Gravity”, and the Cedar Rapids Community School District were two of the first districts to receive state teacher leadership grants and are in their second year of implementation.

I observed four major elements of effective teacher leadership in both districts:

  • flexibility in developing systems and positions of leadership that work for individual district needs
  • student centered transparent collaboration among all stakeholders
  • support and guidance from school and district administration to successfully implement these systems, and
  • time and space for teachers to effectively collaborate with one another.

The classroom instruction, grade level collaboration, and professional development sessions that I observed in both districts made it clear that placing value on teacher leadership results in student success. One of the most significant drivers to this success was peer-coaching from a student centered perspective.  The coaching conversations we witnessed were focused on the needs of the students, not the deficits of the educator.  This perspective promotes a growth perspective for both teachers and students.

Duncan holds a sign with students at Roosevelt High in Cedar RapidsAt Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Secretary Arne Duncan observed a coaching session between Laura Zimmerman, an English Language Learner teacher, and Anne Ironside, an Instructional Design Strategist. During the session, the teacher and coach participated in a respectful post-observation lesson discussion of specific teaching strategies and evidence for the progress towards goals set for students. The coach shared feedback, asked clarifying questions, provided resources for future lessons, and kept the conversation focused around students. As a teacher, it was compelling to watch Secretary Duncan witness the power of teacher leadership and hear Principal Autumn Pino discuss the benefits of such teacher leadership opportunities, stating, “This has been the most rewarding work we’ve ever done.”

Following the session, the Secretary then held a panel discussion with state and local education leaders in about the development of the TLC system, the role of Teach to Lead in advancing their work, and the successes they have seen as a result of the tangible support teachers and administrators receive to be the instructional leaders in their buildings. Local leaders stressed that the driving force behind the district’s success is undoubtedly the support for teacher leadership, and they made it clear that sustaining teacher leadership initiatives is a continued priority for supporting student success.

After just two days among these Iowa school districts’ teacher leaders, it’s clear that schools are indeed “Defying Gravity” and it is systemic support for effective teacher leadership that is taking them to new heights.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day two of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Aman Dhanda is a 6th grade teacher at Woodland Prairie Elementary School and is currently a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

In Illinois, a Powerful Showcase of Abilities: Academic, Athletic, and Civic

Students playing wheelchair basketball

Day three of the Ready for Success bus tour began on the leafy campus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: a school with a tremendous track record of doing creative things to help all students thrive in college, earn a degree, and find fulfilling careers. Illinois is the most diverse public university in the Big Ten, and that diversity embraces students with disabilities.

In fact, 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. So much so, that the graduation rate for students with disabilities, at 91 percent, is higher than the campus average!

And, within a year of getting their degree, 84 percent have launched their careers or started graduate or professional school.

Since the 1940s, this pioneering campus has seen many disability firsts in U.S. collegiate history – in academics, sports, and every phase of campus life, including being the first postsecondary institution to form a disability service fraternity, first to install curb cuts to accommodate students with disabilities, first to offer a study-abroad program for university students with disabilities, and first to offer varsity letter awards to student athletes with disabilities.

The Secretary started the morning out right with the game that’s closest to his heart, joining coaches and players of the Illini men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams – holders of 15 and 14 national championship titles, respectively – to observe a fast-paced, action-packed morning workout.

The coach of the women’s team, Stephanie Wheeler, is also Head Coach of the Women’s U.S Para-Olympic Basketball team. And, the United States Olympic Committee has designated the university a US Paralympic Training Site, offering an elite training environment for Paralympic track and field hopefuls. At the 2012 London Games, athletes from the university’s wheelchair track and field training program took home 10 of the nation’s 28 medals.

Asked to comment on what he’d seen, Secretary Duncan said, “The opportunities this school is creating, and all the potential the students represent – it’s just extraordinary.”

Duncan talking with students in the gym

After that rousing warmup, we sat down with students, alumni, educators and community partners to hear more about their experiences.  Participants pointed out that because DRES is part of the University’s College of Applied Health Sciences, there’s a unique opportunity for researchers and developers, professors, students, and even outside funders to partner in pilot-testing state-of-the art solutions to serve people with disabilities – from accessible elevators and transportation systems to learning technologies.

The message was clear: the school community has worked hard to build a culture of success that includes proactive support and constant innovation.

For instance, the Beckwith Residential Support Services program pairs students with disabilities and trainee personal care assistants, so both members of the team can work together gain skills and meet their academic and professional goals.  And, the school is building on a strong record of serving a thriving student veteran community with veteran-focused academic and transition support system, and a menu of educational opportunities at the undergraduate, professional, and graduate levels, by launching, just this fall, a groundbreaking new Chez Family Foundation Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education.

As one school representative put it, “we’re always looking for the next big thing, the next invention, the next creative solution to make things better for students.”  “That’s the right mentality,” the Secretary agreed. “You’re making good investments in the kinds of things our young people need – and our country needs their talent.”

Students in the roundtable – enrolled in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs – described the personalized support they were receiving. Retired Illinois Army National Guard Sgt. Garrett Anderson talked about his education journey since returning from a 2005 deployment in Iraq with severe injuries, after an IED exploded beneath his Humvee. With help from his family and the school community’s special focus on supporting veterans with disabilities, he is now pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Illinois in Rehabilitation Counseling.

Kushal Parikh – a student in the Masters of Social Work program – has also taken advantage of the school’s support for entrepreneurship through the I-Venture Accelerator, a program that allows top student to establish startups at the University. As Vice President of ChairDrop, he’s working to helping travelers with physical disabilities have access to wheelchairs and other medical devices at their destination, like rental car companies at airports.

Secretary Duncan talks with a student in a the gymIn addition to pursuing degrees in social work and engineering, respectively, undergrads Brianna Malin and Brian Strole have brought Eye-to-Eye to the University: an afterschool mentoring program for middle school students who, like the program’s co-founders, have ADHD or other learning disabilities. The program pairs middle schoolers with college mentors with similar experiences, in order to demonstrate the power of goal setting, ensure the students receive individualized support, and teach them to advocate for themselves.

Alexis Wernsing, an Art History major, is already planning to earn a Master’s degree in Art Education and teaching at a community college.  Alexis is part of an interdisciplinary team with Illinois’ School of Art and Design, along with the Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty, that developed and piloted an award-winning wheelchair voice amplifier. She described how open and inclusive the school community was from her very first semester, adding: “that’s great, because I remember what it was like to be afraid.”

Meridith Bradford, a senior with cerebral palsy who is majoring in Recreation, Sport and Tourism, with a concentration in Sport Management, explained that she specifically selected the University because of its top-notch wheelchair basketball teams, which she now helps to manage.

Bradford said she has made it her mission to help break through stereotypes about who can pursue higher education, so that “younger generations can have an easier transition than we did.”  Another explained: “Being able to speak up for yourself is the best skill this university has given us.”

As the bus pulled away, one thing was certain: the University of Illinois is providing national leadership in serving all students and proving that, with appropriate and meaningful supports, many more students with disabilities can complete college and be workforce ready.

“This school has made a decades-long commitment to serving students with disabilities,” Secretary Duncan noted, “because they understand that all students are assets.  What they are doing here is changing students’ lives.  Every student has a tremendous amount to contribute; they just need a chance.”

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day three of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Going Open in Williamsfield

Williamsfield

Secretary Duncan arrives at Williamsfield on his annual back-to-school bus tour.

On Tuesday afternoon the Ready for Success back-to-school bus rolled into Williamsfield, Illinois, where Secretary Duncan met with students, teachers, and administrators at the Williamsfield Community Unit School District.

Williamsfield is a small, rural, Future Ready district serving approximately 300 students in one building—Pre-K through 12th grade—with fewer than 100 students attending the high school. Located in a village of 650 residents, the school is the hub of the community. Several staff and faculty members have deep familial ties to the village, reflective of a community whose size and demographics have remained relatively consistent over the years.

Administrators, teachers, and other district leaders recognized that the majority of their learning materials had limitations. Instructional material was outdated and not aligned to new learning standards; textbooks were one-size-fits-all with few accessibility features; and texts were rigid and unmodifiable, making it hard for teachers to personalize the learning experience.

Some of the district’s teachers took the initiative to find new, more capable instructional materials on their own, which lead them down the path to openly licensed educational resources. They soon had the full support of Superintendent Farquer who had previously worked with the Illinois Open Education Resource development team readying open tools for district and teacher use. Working together, the Districted replaced several textbooks with openly licensed educational resources.

Selfie with Students

Secretary Duncan takes time for a selfie after meeting with students at Williamsfield.

During his visit, Secretary Duncan asked Superintendent Tim Farquer, Principal Zack Binder, teacher Lori Secrist, and others about the benefits and challenges of the district’s transition to open resources.

Watch this video on how Williamsfield decided to go open:

The Williamsfield event also included the previewing of 50 videos that capture best practices of effective district leaders who use education technology in their schools. The videos can serve as professional learning for district leaders and others.

In conjunction with the visit, the Department announced that school technology expert Andrew Marcinek will serve in the Office of Educational Technology and focus on helping both K-12 and higher education connect with teaching, learning and research resources in the public domain that are freely available to anyone over the web. He will work with tool providers and developers, district and state leaders, and educators.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day two of the Ready for Success bus tour:

President Obama Joins the Ready for Success Bus Tour

 

President Obama at the Bus Tour Town HallPresident Barack Obama joined Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa, as part of as the Duncan’s Sixth Annual Back-to-School Bus Tour. The President and Secretary Duncan hosted a town hall with high school students and their parents to discuss college access and affordability.

The President also announced a new initiative to allow students and families to apply for financial aid earlier – starting in October as the college application process gets underway – rather than in January. Being able to fill out the FAFSA earlier in the admission process will help students and families understand the true cost of attending college – taking available financial aid into account – and make more informed decisions.

 

 

Together with the newly launched College Scorecard – which is redesigned with direct input from students, families, and their advisers – students will have more information to choose the right college than ever before.

Watch the town hall with President Obama and Secretary Duncan:

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up Day One of the Ready for Success bus tour:

“Ready for Success” Begins with Early Learning

Cecilia Muñoz Blog Post 2015 Bus Tour – Woodland Early Learning Community School, Kansas City, MO

Cecilia Muñoz talks with a student at Woodland Early Learning Community School in Kansas City, MO, as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready For Success Back-to-School Bus Tour. (Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood).

Every year, back-to-school time can be a period of great expectation and excitement for students, educators, and families, so when Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked me to join him on his sixth annual “Ready for Success” back-to-school bus tour, I jumped at the opportunity. The first stop on this five-day trek across seven states was the Woodland Early Learning Community School in Kansas City, Missouri. Located within a mile of five public housing developments, Woodland provides more than 300 3- and 4-year-old children, many of whom are from low-income or immigrant families, with high-quality early education. Woodland offers the kind of opportunities we want to see for every child: quality adult-child interaction; engaging environments with intentional playful learning; and a focus on the entire family. At Woodland, they don’t just enroll the child into the preschool program, they enroll the whole family.

Woodland recognizes that the health and wellbeing of the parent directly impacts the development of the child: the healthier the family, the healthier the child. To support children and families, Woodland uses a community school model and has co-located support services at the site. The Parents as Teachers (PAT) program, for example, helps families develop good parenting skills and connects parents and caregivers with critical resources. The more we assist families in addressing their day-to-day challenges, including supporting the child’s special needs, the better the chances of successful child participation in school, leading to improved outcomes.

Duncan with Student at Woodland

Secretary Duncan and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Head Start classroom of Barbara Fulbright, a skilled veteran teacher of 42 years. Mrs. Fulbright’s classroom was magical and full of joyful youngsters busy building block structures, exploring with writing instruments, and developing social skills through play-acting in the housekeeping center. They were so engaged in learning, I don’t think they even noticed us! Later that morning, Secretary Duncan announced the release of a new Policy Statement on the Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. The statement underscores the importance of making sure that all young children with disabilities receive access to inclusive, high-quality early childhood programs where they are provided with individualized and appropriate support in meeting high expectations.

Children with disabilities and their families face significant barriers to accessing inclusive high-quality early childhood programs, like the programs at Woodland. Sadly, in many parts of our country, there is still a huge unmet need for high-quality preschool. And where there are programs, they often are not welcoming for children with disabilities. President Obama continues to call on Congress to renew our federal commitment to our youngest children and to the future of our country by partnering with states to provide high-quality preschool to every child in America regardless of race, ethnicity or national origin, zip code, wealth, first language, or disability.

All parents hope their child will start school ready for success. Unfortunately, not all parents can find the high-quality early learning program that is right for their child. Let’s all work together to make the opportunity of early learning a reality for every child in America.

Cecilia Muñoz is Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council