Over the last few months, staff of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) visited adult charter schools and schools for disconnected or opportunity youth in the D.C. area. We were inspired by the dedicated students, faculty, and staff and saw the need for more high-quality and adequately resourced adult and family charter schools, pilot schools, or other blended learning or hybrid schools for adults and opportunity youth in the United States. There are currently 36 million adults and 5.3 million disconnected or opportunity youth in the country who could benefit from access to such schools.
“Our kids need an education that is reflective of them, that challenges them, and helps them to better understand who they are in the world.”
Last April, I was able to take advantage of an opportunity to explore this powerful idea. My team and I were able to travel to New Orleans to attend a Teach to Lead Summit. Our hope was to bring the perspectives and ideas we have on education from our various sites (Denver, Rochester, Boston, Baltimore) and turn them into well…something. Not only did the summit allow us two days to work on and develop how to address our idea for culturally responsive instruction and emancipatory pedagogy, it also gave us time to come together and create something not only professionally but personally.
As we reflect on the important work that we have been able to do throughout the Administration, we wanted to highlight some of our key messages. This is part of a reflection series presented by the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Ensuring educational access for all youth requires partnerships beyond the classroom. Educators have partnered with youth, families, faith-based and community organizations to create a culture of educational excellence and academic achievement. It is this intentionality of partnership that has created vibrant and cohesive school communities across the country. These communities provide a space and place necessary for academic achievement. The Department of Education Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships (ED Center) plays a key role in promoting student achievement by connecting schools and community-based organizations, both secular and faith-based.
Through Together for Tomorrow, promising practices for educational achievement are shared among schools, families, national service programs, and community-based organizations. These practices continue to propel improvement of our lowest-performing schools. This partnership is possible with the cooperation of the Corporation for National and Community Service and community partners such as, the Boys and Girls Club, United Way, and National Center for Families Learning.
In addition, the ED Center formed an Memorandum of Understanding with the National League of Cities Institute, to increase visibility, understanding and appreciation of the role that mayors can play in leading educational change in their communities by advancing strong early childhood opportunities, citywide high-quality afterschool programs, and strategies to improve postsecondary success rates.
Resources and tools provided through the Department of Education have helped faith-based and community organizations, educators and families address challenges like “bridging the word gap”; improving parent and family engagement and other items in the Education Matters bulletin.
As educators and communities begin implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act we know that continued partnerships, between schools and community-based organizations, both secular and faith-based, will be crucial to fulfilling our shared vision of, in the words of President Obama, the “fundamentally American ideal—that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will through education.”
Reverend Brenda Girton-Mitchell, J.D. is the Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.
June 28, 2016, Day 2 Facebook recap: “We woke up early and went on a bird walk at 6am, spotting different species of hummingbirds, black King Vultures, and peculiar plants. Students collected the guano from their bat poop tarps from day 1 and got to analyze and learn about the seeds bats help disperse. We then walked across the suspension bridge to a site along the Serapiquí River to collect water and animal samples to determine the health of the river. Which was great since after lunch we went white-water rafting!
Traditionally, when we think about schools and family involvement, we picture “moms.” Moms getting their children up in the morning, fixing lunches, and walking children to school. Moms helping with homework, going to parent-teacher conferences and volunteering at school. This vision makes sense, given that at one point in our society, mothers were the primary caregivers and school volunteers. However, our society has changed and so have moms.
We know that children thrive when they have adults caring for them and supporting their education. And adults are stronger when they have each other to support them in raising their children. Mothers and fathers, step-parents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, foster and adoptive parents, grandparents, family friends, and neighbors all pitch in to ensure the most positive outcomes for children. It truly takes a village to raise a child to reach his or her potential.
As research has shown for decades, and continually supports, parent involvement in schools is a crucial factor in children’s academic success. The shift from “parent involvement” to “family engagement” acknowledges that the reality of who is “parenting” a child is broadening and there needs to be more meaningful input and dialogue between schools and families.
When I signed up for the Army, it was not a popular time to serve our country in the military. People who understood what it meant to serve congratulated me, while others thought I was making a big mistake, or worse, ridiculed me because of Vietnam, but I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfathers before me. I ended up working in security and some hours as a physical activities specialist, which involved physical fitness and sports for the unit. I felt that I was fulfilling two desires at that time – serve as my family had and to earn the GI bill for my education.
From a young age I knew that I wanted to be a mom. I would envision my future as a mother who would be annoyingly affectionate, always smothering my kids with hugs and kisses as they squirm saying “enough ma!” A mother who would be class mom or on the PTA. A mother who would be cheering on the sidelines of all my sons games and lugging a handful of costumes to all of my daughters dance competitions.
My first year as a principal I wanted a great school, and I wanted it immediately.
I remember feeling that pit in my stomach, reminding me that every child and parent was depending on me to deliver the best educational experience possible. I remember including in the parent newsletter ways for parents to engage their children in conversation about school. I was asking my parents to have their children rate their experiences at school because I knew the children would be honest, maybe brutally honest. I was that principal who wanted to know the good, the bad, and the ugly so that we could always strive towards being the best! What I realized, after my whirlwind tour of trying to make a school great, is that the “WE” must be built within the culture of the staff—not just the principal.
I also learned that a principal’s leadership does not change a school overnight.
Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what to teach next. Lesson planning is a constant internal monologue: What’s next? What’s important for my students now? Where do we go after that? In the early days of my career, I was obsessed with what I perceived my students were lacking. They couldn’t spell. They couldn’t punctuate. They can’t. They won’t. They don’t. As an educator, it is all too easy to fall into that trap.
When I was obsessed with what I perceived my students weren’t able to do, I was also making rash and frustrated decisions about what was most important to teach them next. But what is important to teach our students? The case can be made that all subject areas are important, but students often lack the educational opportunities to put their learning from these subject areas to work in the real world.
Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of Education John King gave an inspiring speech on civic education at the National Press Club. As part of his speech, he called for a commitment to nonpartisan constitutional education in our classrooms. At the same time, he recognized that civic education isn’t easy. Even for teachers and administrators with the best of intentions, these conversations—which often cover some of the most contested issues at the center of our public life—can skew partisan. This is no small problem.
To navigate these conversations effectively, teachers must have training on how best to facilitate these discussions and must receive support from their principals, their administrators, and the wider community. However, teachers must also have access to trusted, nonpartisan information about our Constitution and its history—information that can be hard to find in our polarized age. That’s where the National Constitution Center comes in.
During a morning in mid-October, I stood on a corner in Washington, D.C., accompanied by two friends as we patiently waited for the illuminated walking man to give us safe passage across the street. The view before us was an expansive building stretching the majority of the block of Maryland Avenue — the United States Department of Education. It was our destination that day – where we would meet 250 other parents and educators from across the nation.
Soon, we found ourselves among smiling faces and friends – all bustling about and mission driven.
I was a fairly mediocre teacher when I first started. Sometimes I look back on my first few years and wonder why my students didn’t walk out on me. My old slides look atrocious; my handouts were too wordy; my instruction was completely teacher centered: me talking, me explaining, me doing some weird dance.
There were some long, sad, doubt-filled nights my first few years of teaching. I thought frequently about moving into law. For the first several years of my career, every spring, I would thumb through an LSAT prep book and browse law school catalogues. It wasn’t until my seventh year that I didn’t get that “ritual spring itch.” That’s when I knew I had hit my stride.