16 Museums in Partnership With Schools = A Model for Learning

Gone are the days when the impact of art museums was felt largely within their walls, when an institution’s purpose was to house artwork and awe visitors. While this intent remains key, today’s art museums are forming partnerships outside their institutions to educate, expand their reach — and broaden their impact. Major beneficiaries of this innovation include educators and students.

This was evident on May 12, when the results of the education programs at 16 major museums were featured at the opening of the student art exhibit “Museums: pARTners in Learning 2015.” The museums are all members of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), which partnered with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to develop the exhibit on display at ED headquarters through June.

In opening remarks, Jamienne Studley, ED’s deputy under secretary of education, cited the benefits of having students “participate in the age-old challenge of understanding the world through art.” Through art, she said, students learn critical thinking, interdisciplinary skills, creativity, focus, problem-solving, teamwork, persistence and collaboration.

Ribbon Cutting

Students, art educators and, at right, ED’s Jamienne Studley, deputy under secretary of education, participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

By integrating art into other core disciplines, schools can provide students the strategies Jamie listed to master rigorous material and enrich learning. The opening highlighted ways schools accomplish such integration through collaboration with art programs at museums in their communities.


AAMD’s members alone serve roughly 40,000 schools in a given year. Their programs range from single-visit museum tours to partnerships with shared teaching, curricula design and professional development. For example, a program at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, “Stop, Take Notice,” taught art’s role in promoting social change and public awareness. The museum helped a high school highlight concerns about pedestrian safety, with a project incorporating street art, after one of the school’s students was killed in a crosswalk.

Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and incoming president of AAMD, spoke at the opening to the value of partnerships: “I want to lift up the power of partnership by sharing with you the words of a wonderful African saying. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ It’s good going together.”

Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and incoming president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, delivers remarks during the opening ceremony of Museums: pARTners in Learning 2015.

Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and incoming president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, delivers remarks during the opening ceremony of Museums: pARTners in Learning 2015.

Curriculum Integration


In Washington, D.C., the Phillips Collection developed Prism.K12, a nationally recognized program for arts integration, and approached Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia, about creating math lessons in conjunction with the museum’s recent exhibit on surrealist Man Ray. Phillips’ educators worked with Kenmore educators in art, science, technology, engineering and math to develop integrated, interdisciplinary lessons.

Guests at the opening stepped into the students’ shoes to experience one math and art lesson — “Increasing Exponentially.” For some, this required harking back to middle school for a reintroduction to the concept of exponent, a quantity representing the power to which a given number or expression is to be raised. In the case of this exercise, it was the number 2.

To master this concept, each guest built a tiny hanger from pipe cleaners. Groups of guests then constructed multi-tiered mobiles from the hangers, with each tier containing more hangers to reflect the exponential increase


Guests, including Alexandra Mosher (center) of the Phillips Collection, help construct a mobile that integrates art with math to teach the concept of exponents.

Guests, including Alexandra Mosher (center) of the Phillips Collection, help construct a mobile that integrates art with math to teach the concept of exponents.

Preparation for College and Careers

Art can launch 21st-century careers, as 16-year-old Yuliya Kosheeva explained. Yuliya arrived from Uzbekistan about four years ago. Her passion for art blossomed in 2014 when she enrolled in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Saturday Sketching For Teens. “Finding this class,” she told the audience, “helped me find myself.” During one session, she focused on a bronze sculpture of a Mexican warrior, which she used as the basis for a charcoal pencil sketch. In the class, Yuliya discovered ways to merge her love of traditional art forms with computer art, which she now intends to study in high school and college, and pursue professionally.

10th-grader Yuliya Kosheeva teaches the audience about her work “Warrior Head Hacha” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s class Saturday Sketching for Teens.

10th-grader Yuliya Kosheeva teaches the audience about her work “Warrior Head Hacha” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s class Saturday Sketching for Teens.

Nancy Paulu is on the staff of the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

All Department photos are by Paul Wood. More photos from the event may be viewed on the Department of Education’s Flickr site.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov.

Performance Partnership Pilots: An Opportunity to Improve Outcomes for Disconnected Youth

Over 5 million 14-to-24-year-olds in the U.S. are not working or in school and, in many cases, face the additional challenges of being homeless, in foster care, or involved in the justice system.  Often disconnected from their families and valuable social networks, these young people struggle to make successful transitions to adulthood and to reach the educational and employment milestones critical to escaping a lifetime of poverty.

Government and community partners have invested considerable attention and resources to meet the needs of these “disconnected youth.”  However, practitioners, youth advocates, and others on the front lines of service delivery point to significant obstacles to meaningful improvements in education, employment, health and well-being.  These challenges include limited evidence and knowledge of what works, poor coordination and alignment across the systems that serve youth, policies that make it hard to target the neediest youth and overcome gaps in services, fragmented data systems that inhibit the flow of information to improve results, and administrative requirements that impede holistic approaches to serving this population.  Many of these challenges can be addressed by improving coordination among programs and targeting resources on those approaches that get the best results for our most vulnerable youth.

A New Approach

In response to the Obama Administration’s proposal, the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 includes a new demonstration authority to establish up to 10 “Performance Partnership Pilots” that will provide unprecedented flexibility to states, local communities, and tribes intended to remove some of the barriers to effectively serving disconnected youth, including youth who are low income and either homeless, in foster care, involved in the juvenile justice system, unemployed, or not enrolled in or at risk of dropping out of an educational institution.

The participating federal agencies will solicit interested jurisdictions to submit proposals that detail their strategy and need for flexibility, along with clear metrics of success.  An interagency review process will select up to 10 pilots that will enable communities to blend together competitive and formula grant funding that they receive from the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, and the Corporation for National and Community Service.  Pilots also will be able to seek waivers of specific program requirements that inadvertently may hamper effective services for youth.  This flexibility only will be granted to high performing jurisdictions that then will be held accountable to a set of cross-agency, data-driven outcomes.

The primary focus of this new approach will be providing disconnected youth in these communities with more effective supports to climb ladders of opportunity.  These pilots will help to unleash innovative partnerships across local governments, non-profits, businesses and other sectors that would have been impossible or convoluted under existing requirements.  In some cases, pilots will help propel collaborative and evidence-based work that jurisdictions already have underway.  Finally, the pilots as a group will provide a valuable opportunity to learn whether this model for Federal partnership improves outcomes on the ground, and how it could be extended to other Federal programs.

To enable partners to focus on what works, the Administration will use outcome-focused criteria rather than placing up-front restrictions on pilot design or content.   As a result, pilots could take diverse approaches based on community needs and priorities.  Pilots afford the opportunity to address these priority problems by integrating previously stove-piped government activities, such as creating a “no wrong door” intake process to ensure at-risk youth get the wrap-around services they need.  Pilots could also support outcome-focused public-private partnerships in which non-profits deliver specific interventions that will be measured and rigorously evaluated using real-time performance and outcome data.  Pilots would focus on improving education, employment, or other key goals, such as health or criminal justice, and should include a plan to track outcomes and measure impact.

In addition, the new flexibility afforded by pilots can accelerate the work of local leaders involved in Administration initiatives like Promise Zones or under ongoing programs, where performance could significantly be enhanced by additional flexibility.  Although funds from Department of Justice and Department of Housing and Urban Development grants cannot be blended with other Performance Partnership funds, pilots could involve close coordination with juvenile justice and housing activities that can be carried out under current law.

Making a Significant Impact

The Performance Partnership Pilots are one of several examples of the Obama Administration’s approach to empowering community-led, comprehensive strategies for improving opportunity and social mobility, including Promise Zones and My Brother’s Keeper.   This approach recognizes the importance of building coalitions across traditional silos; of bringing federal, state, local, and private resources to the table; and of making use of data and evidence to guide policies that address local needs.   Participating Federal agencies will solicit public input on how Federal, State, and local partners, along with private sector partners, can make these pilots successful, enabling them to use data and evidence to guide decisions about how to improve outcomes for vulnerable youth.

While criteria for selecting pilots are still being developed, the Administration may look to factors that can demonstrate a State or community’s potential for making a significant impact, including:

  1. A strong outcome-focused plan based on a needs assessment that targets services to those youth most in need.  Applicants would select practices that are most likely to improve outcomes for target populations as well as the cost-effectiveness of government services.  Plans would identify outcome metrics and key interim indicators for measuring progress, including education, employment, and other measures in areas such as health or criminal justice, and also specific data sources that can be used to effectively capture progress.
  2. Capacity to effectively implement an innovative pilot project through strong partnerships with the necessary State, local, nonprofit and private sector partners, and a strong governance structure that effectively manages the partners and their resources.  Pilots must demonstrate having the data capacity that will enable State or local leaders to manage for results, using outcome-focused performance agreements and continuously improving performance by tracking key indicators.  Sites must also have a strong track record of proper stewardship of Federal funds.
  3. A plan to use and build knowledge about what works by adopting research-based practices and interventions that have shown promise in earlier high quality studies, by embedding appropriate evaluation designs into the pilot and by participating in a network of other pilot communities that will share best practices and lessons learned
  4. Need for flexibility to improve outcomes. Proposals should present a compelling case for how their requested flexibilities under the pilot would allow them to better serve the target population.

Johan Uvin is deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, and Kathy Stack is advisor for evidence and innovation at the Office of Management and Budget

Investing in the Future: Native American Youth and Education

On November 13, 2013 at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, we were honored to co-host a session for tribal leaders from federally-recognized Indian tribes with my colleagues from eight federal agencies. The purpose was to listen, learn and share pathways to federal resources with the distinguished representatives of a wide range of tribal governments. The context was improving education for the children of Indian Country. Co-host, David Bean, an elected third-term member of the Puyallup Tribal Council, stressed the importance of hearing recommendations from tribal leaders in formulating federal policy to improve education in many areas: governance, curriculum, teachers, equity, diversity, health services, student support, and administration. Bill Mendoza, Oglala and Sicangu Lakota and Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, joined us and reported on progress made in implementing previous recommendations from our nation’s tribes, but emphasized there is much more to be done. We were especially impressed with David Bean’s personal history, grounded in “the teachings from his mother, Gloria R. Bean, his elders and his education from the University of Puget Sound to guide him in preserving, supporting and protecting the Constitution and By-laws of the Puyallup Tribe and the Constitution of the United States.”

What We Heard

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Help ED Improve How We Evaluate State Assessment Systems

We are in the midst of an important shift in K-12 education. Nearly all states are beginning to implement college- and career-ready content standards and are in the process of developing new aligned assessment systems to measure whether their students have the knowledge and critical skills they need to be ready for tomorrow’s jobs. These new systems are in direct response to educators and parents asking for assessments that are more than just “bubble tests,” and provide better information to inform and improve teaching and learning in our classrooms. Do you have ideas for how ED should evaluate states’ assessment systems? Do you have thoughts on how we should support states during a time of transition to new, higher standards? We are asking for your input between now and September 30, 2013.

As required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), ED reviews and approves certain state assessments through panels of peer experts. More information about ED’s process is available here. This peer review process has been instrumental in helping states improve the reliability of their assessment systems and the accessibility of these assessments for all students, including students with disabilities and English learners. But in order to keep up with the new and more robust demands of what high-quality assessments need to be able to do, on December 21, 2012, ED suspended this peer review process in order to update it to align with the vision of what high-quality assessments should be. Specifically, in ESEA Flexibility, ED defined a high-quality assessment as one “that is valid, reliable, and fair for its intended purposes; and measures student knowledge and skills against college- and career-ready standards in a way that:

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Local School Communities Get Outdoors at Urban Waters Sites

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a 13 agency initiative, aims to stimulate local economies, create jobs, improve quality of life, and protect health by revitalizing urban waterways and the communities around them, focusing on under-served urban communities. At Partnership sites across the country, federal, state and local governments, non-profits and schools are working together to safeguard natural resources for generations to come and ensure that students receive effective environmental education.

Adminstrator Jackson with students at Scott School rain garden

Adminstrator Jackson with students at Scott School rain garden.

In the Los Angeles, Calif., Paddling and Safe Routes

The National Park Service, the LA Conservation Corps, and partners created the “Paddle the LA River” program. Over 1,000 people, including urban school children, have now kayaked or canoed the river. The National Park Service is also developing “Safe Routes to the River” that will connect Los Angeles Unified School District school sites to river gateways with enhanced trails.

In New Orleans, La., a New-Old Watershed Education Center

The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has raised over $1 million in private funds to rebuild a lighthouse as an educational center for water quality and water resources.  The new-old Canal Lighthouse Education Center will serve adults and children and feature interactive displays on the history of the lighthouse and the canal, the ecology of Lake Pontchartrain, and the impacts of Hurricane Katrina.

On the Anacostia River, Washington, DC, Youth Paddling and Greener Schools

As part of the Youth Paddling Program sponsored by the National Park Service, 1,000 kids from DC area schools enjoyed learning about recreational opportunities and participating in watershed education while paddling the Anacostia. Meanwhile, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation implemented low environmental impact development practices at seven schools, reducing pollution to the river and educating students about the importance of managing storm water. As part of the project, DC Greenworks, a local non-profit, engaged 150 volunteers to design and install green roofs, rain gardens, rain barrels, permeable pavement, bio-retention plantings and other storm water management technologies at schools. The lessons developed during the collaborative design process will be introduced into the schools’ curricula with the help of local non-profits.

In Denver, Colo., Youth River Rangers and a Children’s Forrest Corridor

Youth River Rangers, a green jobs pilot, gives urban youth the opportunity to sample, analyze, and map water quality, complete green jobs internships, and apply for environmental education certification.  The Greenway Foundation of Denver will oversee the scaling up of this youth training program.  In addition, with funding from the U.S. Forest Service and the EPA, Johnson-Habitat Park will soon house a children’s forest corridor for kids to explore along the South Platte River and a virtual online “base camp” to help connect youth to these outdoor recreation opportunities.

In Baltimore, Md., Career Exploration and on-the-Job Training

The U.S. Forest Service helped Maryland fund green jobs for watershed restoration, including urban youth positions with paid arboriculture training and work experience which allowed them to improve the heavily urbanized Gwynns Falls Trail.

In Portland Ore., Local School Develops a Rain Garden 

Adminstrator Jackson at Scott School

Adminstrator Jackson at Scott School

The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership worked with the Harvey Scott School to design and build a rain garden on a school site that had been a safety hazard.  The project involved classroom visits, field trips to other sustainable stormwater sites and a community design charrette.  In addition, partners provided classroom environmental education lessons on soils, watershed, and native plants.  Students cleared the project site of weeds, dug the infiltration swale, and planted the swale and an outdoor classroom with 1,210 plants.

Across the nation, Urban Waters partners are connecting environmental practitioners to schools who help students — especially the neediest – connect to and learn about their urban waters and spark their interest in environmental careers.  These partnerships are ramping up green infrastructure efforts, engaging children in hands-on projects and the science, math, engineering and technology behind them, and providing jobs and skills to teenagers in the promising green sector.  Together, partners are revitalizing local economies, preserving precious local resources and protecting the health of the neediest.

Now that’s the kind of community partnership green schools are made of!

Read about the Urban Waters Federal Partnership.  Find resources, including partners and grants, and informational webinars to make your school community safer, healthier and more sustainable.

Sandy Underscores Maintenance, Utility Cost Control, Schools as Shelters, and Environmental Education

While U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) honorees are outstanding examples of healthy, safe and efficient school facilities and outdoor environments, ensuring that all schools meet basic standards of health, safety, efficiency, and modernization, so that students and staff can achieve to their full potential, is our goal. The impact of Hurricane Sandy on schools underscores the importance of facilities’ maintenance and environmental health, controlling school utility costs, and schools as emergency shelters. It also highlights the need for effective environmental education.

We know that capital projects and maintenance expenditures are often scaled back when budgets are tight. The result is an accumulation of deferred maintenance, which leads to higher school operational costs and more equipment malfunctions. When maintenance is deferred in school buildings, these facilities are more vulnerable to damage from natural events. For example, a roof with old flashing, is more likely to come loose and tear off in high winds; masonry in need of repointing is at greater risk for collapse; and trees that have not been maintained are more subject to falling and damaging nearby structures.

As many of our ED-GRS honorees have discovered, by redirecting a portion of utility savings, they can undertake health and safety promoting maintenance and infrastructure improvements.  These honorees stay on top of repairs by controlling their utility costs with behavioral changes and retrofits to existing buildings. They also adhere to strict contaminant controls and other indoor environmental health standards. Because of their regular upkeep and healthy environment efforts, there are potentially fewer dangers, such as lead, chemicals, and asbestos that might contaminate debris or water, at all schools that follow Green Ribbon practices and make use of available resources, when storms hit.

The storm also reminds us of public schools’ role in their communities as vital emergency shelters and polling stations. During Sandy, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island schools served as community evacuation centers, including 2012 ED-GRS honoree, Alder Avenue Middle School, in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., which served as an evacuation center.

Importantly, Alder Avenue and fellow ED-Green Ribbon Schools implement environmental education programs that teach students about the dynamic relationships among human, ecological, energetic, economic and social systems. This includes how human activity can cause meteorological changes on our planet. Alder Avenue takes students out of the traditional classroom setting and introduces them to tangible outdoor learning excursions. Their Catawba Project program is packed with differentiated instruction that incorporates core content standards and appeals to all students. It also is infused with character-building service-learning initiatives designed to partner middle school students with township leaders, environmentalists, parents, and community members to work together to help solve real environmental problems.

A wealth of resources is available to help inform a safe and healthy post-hurricane cleanup in our schools and communities, among them FEMA repair grants and food assistance from the USDA. In addition, there are countless tools for getting utility costs under control and teaching environmental education on the ED-GRS resources page.  Sign up for the ED-GRS newsletter or find us on Facebook.

Call With Education Grantmakers

On October 31, the Department of Education hosted a quarterly conference call for education funders with Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton. Despite the Hurricane, hundreds of foundation and corporate leaders dialed in to participate in this interactive discussion about the Investing In Innovation Fund (i3).

Secretary Duncan and Jim Shelton talked about the lessons learned from past i3 competitions, the online Foundation Registry i3 hosted by the Foundation Center, and the need to maintain momentum for scaling innovations and evaluating what works. As the Secretary stated in his closing comments, “I think i3 is one of the best examples of a public-private partnership that exists not just in our Department, but frankly, across other Federal agencies”

Read the transcript, or listen to the call Audio icon.

Results Driven Accountability Effort – Question Five

OSERS‘  Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)  appreciates the comments and suggestions posted in response to the RDA  questions one, two, three and four.

OSEP will accept comments on question 5 until November 9, 2012.

The Office of Special Education Programs’ (OSEP’s) vision for Results-Driven Accountability (RDA) is that OSEP will target its work and investments to best support states in improving results for infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities. OSEP worked internally to develop a set of Core Principles to guide its RDA work.

Do you have  any comments or input on these RDA Core Principles?

Download RDA Core Principles:

The following core principles underlie and will guide OSEP’s RDA work:

  1. OSEP is developing the RDA system in partnership with our stakeholders.
  2. The RDA system is transparent and understandable to states and the general public, especially individuals with disabilities and their families.
  3. The RDA system drives improved outcomes for all children and youth with disabilities regardless of their age, disability, race/ethnicity, language, gender, socioeconomic status, or location.
  4. The RDA system ensures the protection of the individual rights of each child or youth with a disability and their families, regardless of his/her age, disability, race/ethnicity, language, gender, socioeconomic status, or location.
  5. The RDA system provides differentiated incentives, supports, and interventions based on each state’s unique strengths, progress, challenges, and needs.
  6. The RDA system encourages states to direct their resources to where they can have the greatest positive impact on outcomes and the protection of individual rights for all children and youth with disabilities, and minimizes state burden and duplication of effort.
  7. The RDA system is responsive to the needs and expectations of the ultimate consumers (i.e., children and youth with disabilities and their families) as they identify them.

Download the RDA Core Principles:

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School Lighting Upgrades Save Money, Allowing Schools to Make Health and Achievement Promoting Repairs

America’s schools spend more than $8 billion each year on energy – more than is spent on textbooks and computers combined.  About 26 percent of electricity consumed by a typical school is for lighting alone. Often, even more is spent to compensate for the heat generated by outdated lighting fixtures.  These expenditures on utilities could be redirected toward ensuring the general good condition, health, safety, and educational adequacy of school buildings, particularly for those in greatest disrepair.  If your school hasn’t updated its lighting in the past five years, a lighting retrofit could present an opportunity to reduce the amount of energy you use for lighting by 30 to 50 percent and for cooling by 10 to 20 percent.

The health benefits of lighting upgrades are both indirect and direct: cost savings generated by energy efficiency upgrades can be used toward health and safety promoting building renovations and the upgrades themselves can have positive health impacts.  For example, upgrading to newer lighting fixtures can reduce the risk of exposure to harmful contaminants, such as Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), carcinogens that can lead to a variety of adverse health effects on the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems.  Trained personnel can carefully dispose of old PCB-containing lighting fixtures and replace them with new fixtures free of PCBs.

Attention to appropriate lighting levels and an increased use of natural daylight can also improve student performance. A 2003 study found that classrooms with the most daylighting had a 20 percent better learning rate in math, and a 26 percent improved rate in reading, compared to classrooms with little or no daylighting.  Improving daylighting doesn’t have to involve a renovation.  It can be as simple as moving stacked supplies away from windows to let the natural light shine in!

Des Moines Central Campus High School in Des Moines, Iowa, a 2012 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, improved its energy efficiency through targeted lighting upgrades, completing extensive renovations that transformed the Central Campus building from a 1918 Ford car factory into a modern educational space with energy-efficient lighting.  Renovations to the school’s facilities took advantage of available natural light and reduced the need for artificial light.

Increasing the lighting voltage – or the energy required to move the electronic charge along the circuit – from 120V to 277V helped to improve the lighting circuit efficiency. Replacing all fluorescent T12 magnetic fixtures with more energy-efficient T8 fixtures improved the quality and efficiency of the lighting. Finally, sensors installed in the school eliminated energy waste in unoccupied areas.

As of 2012, these and other improvements have helped Des Moines Central Campus to reduce its energy use by 28 percent compared to a 2008 baseline. The school regularly tracks its energy performance using Portfolio Manager, EPA’s free ENERGY STAR measurement and tracking tool.  As a result of Des Moines Central Campus High School’s success in reducing environmental impact and costs, the school earned the ENERGY STAR from the EPA.  This work in Pillar I, coupled with its efforts to improve health and wellness and provide effective environmental and sustainability education made it a 2012 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.

To learn more about how efficiency upgrades can save your school energy costs and allow it to address critical facilities health and safety, ensuring students have a fair shot at performing at their best, visit Energy Star for Schools and the ED-GRS resources page.  Hundreds of schools across the country are proving that you do not have to wait to improve the quality of your school facilities.  Lighting upgrades are but one way that energy efficiency upgrades and the cost savings they produce can support healthy, safe, and high achievement promoting school environments.

Andrea Falken is director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

9/11 Flag Still Flies in America’s Schools

9_11_flag“In case you are wondering what that tingle at the back of your neck might be – that’s the feeling of what it means to be a part of a community.”

–Mike Koth, assistant principal, Northern Highlands (N.J.) Regional High School

Our school recently held a National 9/11 Flag Stitching Ceremony that included students, local dignitaries, first responders and members of the “New York Says Thank You Foundation.”

But it was the story of how the 9/11 flag got to this high school auditorium in Allendale, N.J., that had every student riveted.

When the Twin Towers fell, a flag on 90 West Street–right across the street from the wreckage—continued to fly. Soon, the proud stripes and stars became tattered and battled as the rough and twisted metal at Ground Zero. Charlie Vitchers, a construction superintendent for the cleanup, wasn’t having it. He sent a crew up to remove what was left of the flag and he then kept its tattered remains in storage for seven years.

Then, in 2008, a tornado leveled Greensburg, Kan. and Charlie, who was a construction volunteer for the “New York Says Thank You Foundation,” brought the flag shreds with him to the relief efforts. While some volunteers rebuilt Greensburg, others stitched the remains of the town’s surviving flags to the remains from the 9/11 flag. The shared act of stitching and reconstruction created a sacred bond while honoring all who had fallen.

But the story didn’t end there. Since 2008, the 9/11 flag has traveled to all 50 states, adding stitches from flags as diverse as the original Star Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 to the flag that slain President Lincoln rested upon as he died. Members of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s family and survivors from the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood are among many who have added their stitches and hope to the banner.

“We invite first responders to place a stitch in the flag,” Mike Koth announced, with his voice full of emotion. The students and faculty – many of whom are first responders in their free time – rose and formed a line to become a part of this flag’s history. And it kept going during lunch as students and teachers gobbled down their sandwiches so that they too could touch and honor this flag.

Northern Highlands Regional High School was the first high school in New Jersey to receive the flag for a stitching ceremony, but the school isn’t going to let it end there. The ceremony launched the school’s commitment to the “9/12 Generation Project”- the first high school in our nation to do so – which will connect students to a variety of service learning opportunities so that they can focus on giving back.

Koth’s words at the ceremony highlighted the importance of standing together in a world where the United States is known for the solidarity and generosity of its people:“It’s why our constitution begins with the words ‘We the People,’ it’s why our flag was still there, and it’s no coincidence that people around the world refer to our nation as the US… they do so because it’s about us. Together we stand and together we can make a difference.” The presence of the 9/11 flag reminded the students and teachers at Northern Highlands Regional High School of the power of service, citizenship and compassion.

Maryann Woods-Murphy

Maryann Woods-Murphy is a 2011-2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, a 2012 America Achieves Fellow, and the 2010 New Jersey Teacher of the Year.

Read about Secretary Duncan’s message about the importance of national community service.


The Education Department Wants to Hear From You!


At a White House event this past January, the Obama Administration released its Road Map for civic learning, “Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy.”  This Road Map, developed by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), is a call to action to reinvigorate civic learning and engagement for students, families, communities and leaders in education, business, labor, philanthropy and government. We envision a nationwide commitment to preparing all students for citizenship as informed, engaged and responsible members of our society.  The Road Map outlines nine steps ED is undertaking to increase civic learning and engagement across our country. You are invited to watch the release event and read ED’s Road Map to learn more.


Since the release of the Road Map, ED has been implementing a strategy to achieve its nine objectives.  As part of this process, ED is seeking the public’s input on how we understand “civic learning and engagement activities” and how we can best support these activities.  We encourage educators, practitioners, students, researchers, and any other interested parties to submit opinions, ideas, suggestions and comments pertaining to the outline below:

A.     How ED Defines “Civic Learning and Engagement”

Activities that help students become informed and engaged members of society by providing nonpartisan opportunities for development of civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions.  Civic learning and engagement activities include:

  1. Development, through the study of American history, civics and government, of students’ foundational civic knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors.
  2. Participation in interactive activities (e.g., service learning, community-based projects, simulations, media campaigns, advocacy, etc.) that provide students the opportunity to apply their learning to the needs of their community through action and reflection, thus broadening understanding of how to apply knowledge to improve societal outcomes. Activities should be selected and organized with input from faculty and students and can be developed in partnership with educational institutions, faith and/or community-based organizations, government agencies, philanthropies, businesses, and other stakeholders.

B.     How ED will Support Civic Learning

Of the nine objectives ED is implementing to support civic learning and engagement activities, we specifically request feedback on how to best:

  1. Convene and catalyze the education community to increase and enhance high-quality civic learning and engagement opportunities.
  2. Identify civic learning and engagement indicators to measure student outcomes and encouraging further research to learn more about appropriate and effective program design.
  3. Leverage federal investments and public-private partnerships to support civic learning and engagement activities where permitted and feasible.
  4. Highlight and promote civic learning and engagement opportunities for students, families and other stakeholders as collaborators and problem-solvers in education.

Please submit all comments to civiclearning@ed.gov or post them on directly on this blog.

This is a moderated site. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. We intend to post all responsive submissions on a timely basis. We reserve the right not to post comments that are unrelated to this request, are inconsistent with ED’s Web site policies, are advertisements or endorsements, or are otherwise inappropriate. To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. For more information, please be sure to read the “comments policy” tab at the top of the Web page.

The fine print: Please understand that posts must be related to Civic Learning Initiative, we encourage posts that are as specific as possible, and, as appropriate, supported by data and relevant research. Posts must be limited to 1,000 words. All opinions, ideas, suggestions and comments are considered informal input. If you include a link to additional information in your post, we urge you to ensure that the linked-to information is accessible to all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. Additionally, please do not include links to advertisements or endorsements; we will delete all such links before your comment is posted.

Again, thank you for your interest in this opportunity to support civic learning. We look forward to hearing from you.

ED-Green Ribbon Schools Inspire Other Schools

At the inaugural ED-Green Ribbon Schools awards ceremony, the 78 winning schools were given an important homework assignment.  Each school was challenged to return to their community and adopt a future green school.  These partnerships will help to share best practices in reducing schools’ environmental impact and cost; improving health and wellness; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education. Several 2012 ED-Green Ribbon Schools have already begun to work with schools in their communities:

  • Longfellow Elementary School in Long Beach, California has partnered with a local middle school to form a green schools coalition in order to disseminate good practices to area schools.
  • Hilltop Elementary in Wheeling, West Virginia has created Sustainable Schools Learning Kits for area schools through the use of a $54,000 grant from an anonymous donor.
  • Fishburn Park Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia participates in a “Green Spot” on a local radio station and previously filmed a segment on “what it takes to be green” for Blue Ridge Public Television. Summer school students weed a neighboring middle school’s garden through the summer, getting a practical lesson on being a good neighbor.
  • Grand View Elementary School in Manhattan Beach, California has received visits from three local principals interested in replicating their greening efforts.
  • At Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. students work with children at Brightwood Elementary School, Phoebe Hearst Elementary, and St. Coletta’s, a school for students with developmental disabilities.

As you can see, the work is never done for ED-Green Ribbon Schools. In addition to inspiring tomorrow’s biologists, chemists, nutritionists, and engineers, ED-Green Ribbon Schools also have the job of inspiring tomorrow’s green schools. Learn more about the work ED-Green Ribbon Schools are doing in their communities here.  Find resources to help move toward the three Pillars of the award here.  Connect with ED-GRS on Facebook.

Kyle Flood