A New Family Engagement Partnership with the National Center for Family Literacy

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, announces the new partnership at the NCFL national conference

“Read to your child.”

“Help them with their homework.”

“Make sure they get a good night sleep.”

“And what else?…”

A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher, but our approaches to family engagement often fall short of recognizing the full potential of partnerships between schools and families. The challenges we face in education require that we go beyond these basic messages on family engagement – moving from communication to collaboration among schools and families.

This is why the U.S. Department of Education is working to develop better frameworks for family engagement, and why teacher-family collaboration is a component of RESPECT , our blueprint for elevating and transforming the teaching profession. We are also renewing our Together for Tomorrow initiative with an expanded emphasis on family partnerships to propel school improvement and produce better outcomes for students.

In support of these efforts, we are pleased to announce a new partnership with the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) to advance family engagement in education across the country.  NCFL brings to this work more than 20 years of experience providing tools and resources for educators and parents to create lifelong learning opportunities for the entire family.

Through the partnership, the Department and NCFL will jointly develop and implement strategies to raise the awareness and understanding of effective family and community engagement in education.  This will emphasize how teachers and families can better collaborate to improve student engagement and learning. We will work together to:

  • Convene community discussions on family engagement with educators, families and community leaders across the country.
  • Identify and compile promising practices and program examples for effective family engagement in education, so schools can employ leading practices that work.
  • Gather feedback on family engagement frameworks from educators, parents, advocates, and others in the education community.
  • Develop and disseminate resource materials to support family and community engagement in education. An example includes NCFL’s Wonderopolis, an online learning community that engages classrooms and families in the wonder of discovery.

We are eager to move this essential work forward, beginning with Together for Tomorrow community conversations in locations across the country.  These will spotlight promising practices and examples of school-family partnerships, and gather feedback to shape the Department’s family engagement efforts.

We also want to hear how your family-school partnerships are boosting student engagement and academic achievement.  Please email us your promising practices and program examples to edpartners@ed.gov

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

Every Child, Every Day, Whatever It Takes!

Michael Yudin Meets Student

Michael Yudin, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) talks with students in Sanger, Calif.

Earlier this week, Sanger Unified School District (Sanger, Calif.) had the opportunity to host Michael K. Yudin, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), and what a great day it was! I met Michael several years ago when I was invited to share the Sanger story while I was in Washington, D.C., to celebrate being recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. After a two-hour conversation with a large group of Department staff, the conversation continued with Michael and a small group of others for another two hours.

That day’s conversation was centered on our efforts to transition into a Professional Learning Community district and the outcomes of that effort. The staff were very interested in the journey we were on and in particular the outcomes.  Michael, in particular, was truly impressed by the broad-reaching significant improvements and outcomes made by all students, including students with disabilities, in academic achievement, graduation rates, and scores on accountability testing. Michael told me he had to visit Sanger to observe directly a district making dramatic and meaningful improvements in student outcomes.

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Migrant Life and the Inspiration of a Mother

graduation family picture

Left to Right: Merylee’s husband Reymundo Juarez, daughter Lizelena Marie, son Angel Manuel, father Mario Alcala, daughter Alexandra Ines and Merylee Juarez on the day of her GED graduation.

“Termine la escuela. No queremos que sea como nosotros, a trabajar en los campos en el frío y la lluvia.” [Finish school. We don’t want you to be like us and work in the fields in the cold and the rain.] My mom has always encouraged me to get an education and now that I am a mother myself, I truly understand the significance of her words. Even though agricultural work is honorable, migrant life is difficult and as a student, this is especially true. Time becomes a precious commodity when balancing work, school and family responsibilities.

At 10 years of age I started blueberry picking with my family in Michigan for eight months out of the year and then would live in Texas for the rest of the year. Since then I’ve held several migrant jobs including price tagging and shipping field plants. My parents, trying to give us a better tomorrow, would work long hours every day and as one of seven children, I would help to watch my siblings while my parents were gone.

I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, but watching my mother learn English to apply for a better job while still caring for her family, inspired me to go back to school. I passionately love to help people, just like my mother, but I realized that in order to help others, I had to help myself first. After several hurdles, I enrolled in the U.S. Department of Education’s High School Equivalent Program (HEP).  The HEP assists migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their children to obtain a GED and serves more than 5,000 students every year. It has made a tremendous impact in my life by not only helping me educationally but by also providing job placement assistance.

mother and children

Merylee’s mother, Maria De La Luz Alcala

The HEP really helped me get on the path to achieving my dreams. I may have a long way to go in becoming an elementary teacher and then ultimately a Migrant Student Counselor, but I want my children to look at me like I have looked at my mother since I was a child – as a role model. Her drive and encouragement has been a huge force in my life. This Mother’s Day, I hope she reads this blog and understands how grateful I am for her never ending support and for providing for her children the best way she knew how.

Gracias mama. I will continue to make you proud and prove that all your hard work was not in vain. ¡Porque cuando se quiere, se puede! [Because when you want it, you can achieve it!]

Merylee Jaurez is now a proud college student at South Texas College and President of the Migrant Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and Secretary of the Title I PAC in Monte Alto, Texas.

Interested in learning more about ED’s migrant programs?

Migrant Education Program (MEP): Ensures that children of migrant workers have access to and benefit from the same free, appropriate public education, including public preschool education, provided to other children. The MEP funds help state and local educational agencies remove barriers to the school enrollment, attendance, and achievement of migrant children.

College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP): Assist migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their children to successfully complete the first undergraduate year of study in a college or university, and provides follow-up services to help students continue in postseco

Surgeon General Tastes Healthy Schools’ Recipe in Chicago

student chefs with Surgeon General

Greene 5th grade chefs Daisy Salgado (left) and Gilberto Castaneda share healthy cooking tips with the Surgeon General and Mildred Hunter of the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services – Region V. Photo courtesy of the Healthy Schools Campaign

Everyone wants healthy school environments, but limited funding, space and time can challenge robust plans. The Healthy Schools Campaign has helped some Chicago schools build innovative partnerships and strong parental support to work around those issues, and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, got a taste of the results during a recent visit to Chicago’s Nathanael Greene Elementary School.

During her visit, the Surgeon General chopped fresh salad greens with Greene 5th graders and volunteers, dug-in with 2nd graders planting some of those same vegetables, and teamed-up with students jump-roping and other rainy-day recess activities in the school’s limited indoor space.

“As America’s doctor, I can tell you that what you’re doing here is special,” said Dr. Benjamin to parents representing Greene and other Chicago schools of Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables  — formed by HSC in 2006 to combat growing health disparities in Chicago.

Parents told the Surgeon General about after school classes like Zumba and healthy cooking they’ve helped implement in their schools. Many also helped their schools begin to serve nutritious breakfasts – now a standard throughout Chicago Public Schools.

“These activities make a difference for kids. We helped to make them happen,” said parent Jose Hernandez of Calmeca Academy Elementary School.

Local community and government leaders joined Benjamin for a lunch made of locally grown and sustainable items. The meal was developed and cooked by CPS high school chefs as part of a recent Cooking up Change competition.

“Three years ago, we began working with the district to challenge schools across the city to make changes to nutrition education, physical activity and other areas to meet the high standards of the Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge,” said Rochelle Davis, founder and executive director of HSC, which recently exceeded its initial goal of helping more than 100 Chicago schools to receive HUSSC certification. HUSSC is promoted through First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign against childhood obesity.

Healthy schools are a cornerstone of the National Prevention Strategy (NPS) to improve Americans’ health and quality of life.  Benjamin leads the NPS charge that incorporates the work of 17 federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education, which last week announced the 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees that are helping to create healthy and sustainable learning environments.

Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach for the Great Lakes Region of the U.S. Department of Education

PTA and ED Team Up to Improve School Safety

Arne speaking with community members at town hall“This job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.”

— President Barack Obama, December 16, 2012

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school, President Obama has called for a collaborative effort to keep our children safe at home, at school, and in the community. The National PTA and U.S. Department of Education have joined together to support schools and communities as we work towards this goal.

To kick off this joint effort, National PTA President Betsy Landers recently joined Secretary Arne Duncan for a town hall meeting to discuss school safety at Loch Raven High School in Baltimore, Md. The event included an open conversation with students, parents, teachers, and community members about school safety in the community. Over 350 community members attended the town hall to voice concerns and share ideas on how we can work together to create a safer learning environment. Watch the video archive of the event here.

Conversations as important as this one must continue long after everyone leaves the town hall. Here are a few good resources that may be helpful to you as we work to improve school and community safety:

U.S. Department of Education –

The National PTA –

     Safety Tool Kit

  1. “Look-a-likes” – poison prevention (en Español)
  2. “Cycling skills clinic”  – bike safety (en Español)
  3. “Get low and go” – fire, burns and scalds prevention (en Español
  4. “Fire escape map” – fire, burns and scalds prevention (en Español)
  5. “Safety sleuths” – playground safety (en Español)
  6. “The ultimate playground” – playground safety contest (en Español)

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

National Park Week…Did You Know?

Did you know that each year in April, America celebrates National Park Week, a chance to hike, learn, share, and give back in the Nation’s nearly 400 National Parks coast-to-coast? National Park Week is a chance for educators to get active and experience the powerful content knowledge, values, and skills embodied by our Nation’s remarkable cultural, natural, and recreational heritage — all for FREE!Students playing in park

This year’s National Park Week runs from April 20th to April 28th, with free admission to all national parks from Monday, April 22nd, to Friday, April 26th. There is a lot for school communities to discover about National Parks. For instance, Did Your Know…?

…That, over 250 teachers participate in a summer professional development experience called Teacher Ranger Teacher each year with the National Park Service? Teachers learn about park educational programs and resources while experiencing ranger talks, interpretive hikes, or monitoring wildlife in National Park Units.

Night Sky

…That, parks across the country will offer kid-friendly programs on National Junior Ranger Day – Saturday, April 20th. Last year, more than 800,000 children became Junior Rangers! In addition, the “Songs for Junior Rangers” CD has been awarded the Gold Seal from the Parent’s Choice Foundation in Spring 2013. The set includes a 20-page illustrated booklet of lyrics and photos, and a poster map.

…That many National Parks provide outstanding views of the night sky, and are a great place to be acquainted with our galactic neighborhood and look beyond our planet? The National Park Service has developed a Junior Ranger Night Explorer program, encouraging young park visitors to explore the dark side of their national parks.

Park ranger with students

…That Research Learning Centers (RLCs) provide the opportunity for educators to bring real-world, place-based science to students in accordance with state education standards? RLCs can help create an engaging and relevant experience for your students. In 2012, the RLCs partnered with over 200 K-12 schools and other educational organizations.

…That Hands on the Land, a national network of field classrooms, connects students, teachers, families, and volunteers to these special places all across America. Within the communities of Hands on the Land sites, public, non-profit, and private partners customize hands-on experiences using local natural, historical, and archaeological settings to bring classroom learning to life.

… That the National Park Service (NPS) is engaging in “Biodiversity Discovery,” a variety of efforts, such as bioblitzes, in which members of the public, including scientists, students, and visitors work together to discover living organisms in the parks.

Find a list of ranger-led programs and plan your adventures here. You can also use the website to share your park experiences and photos and help support parks.  Whether you are a teacher searching for classroom materials or a student doing research or service learning, find your local National Park here 

Hey Kids, Let’s Get Cooking!

Recipe Book

Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert

Cross-posted from letsmove.gov.

First Lady Michelle Obama is once again challenging America’s most creative junior chefs to put their talents to good use and whip up some delicious lunchtime recipes.

Let’s Move! is thrilled to announce the Second Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner, a nationwide recipe challenge that originated to promote healthy eating among America’s youth, sponsored by The White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and Epicurious.

“Last year’s Kids’ State Dinner was one of my favorite events we’ve ever done for Let’s Move! because it perfectly captured how young people, parents, community leaders and businesses can come together for innovative, healthy solutions,” said First Lady Michelle Obama.  “Last year’s young chefs impressed and inspired me with their creativity, and I can’t wait to welcome a whole new group to the White House this summer and taste their creations.  So kids, let’s get cooking!”

The second Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ “State Dinner” invites parents or guardians and their kids, ages 8-12, to create and submit an original lunch recipe that is healthy, affordable, and tasty. Each recipe must adhere to the guidance that supports USDA’s MyPlate to ensure that the criteria of a healthy meal are met. Entries must represent each of the food groups, either in one dish or as parts of a lunch meal, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy foods, with fruits and veggies making up roughly half the plate or recipe.

Fifty-six children and their parent/guardian (one pair from each of the 50 states, plus the U.S. Territories, D.C., and Puerto Rico) will be flown to Washington, DC where they will have the opportunity to attend a Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House this summer, hosted by Mrs. Obama. A selection of the winning healthy recipes will be served.

Recipes can be submitted April 3 through May 12  online at recipechallenge.epicurious.com, or via mail at “The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge c/o Epicurious.com,” 1166 Avenue of the Americas, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10036.  

Learn more:

Summer Meals Kickoff

With summer right around the corner, it’s time to think about making sure children have access to healthy meals while school is out. Children who experience hunger in the summer are more likely to suffer from health problems and “summer learning loss,” which interfere with academic success.

Image for Summer Meal Kickoff

To close that gap, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partners with schools, local governments, and community organizations to provide free meals to children when school is out for the summer.

Any child age 18 and under may go to a designated summer meal site and eat for free. This summer, meals will be served at various locations around the country, and the USDA is always seeking new partners to help spread the word and participate in the program.

For more information about helping ensure meals are available to low-income children in your community, visit the Summer Food Service Program page.

Also see the Economic Benefits of Summer Food interactive map.

Five Hot Homework Tips for Parents

Learning doesn’t stop when the last bell rings at school. When students bring work home, it is a great time for parents to play a role in their child’s education. Homework has many benefits, such as providing extra time for research or practice, helping students develop study skills and teaching time management skills. Here are five tips to help your child benefit by the time spent on assignments and maximize their learning.

  1. Boy ReadingStudy space: Set up a quiet, well-lit area for your child to complete his or her homework. Try to remove any distractions from the surrounding area, like televisions, computers (unless used for the assignment) and loud conversations.
  2. Imitation: Children imitate their parents. When your child is focusing on homework, join them in a similar, focused activity. Crack open a favorite novel while they complete their reading assignment, or balance your checkbook while they work through their multiplication tables.
  3. Time management: Teach your child how to manage their time. Schedule events, homework, and tasks at home. For instance, after school, set a specific time as “homework time” and for tasks at home give them time limits.
  4. Encourage independence: Some homework assignments are meant to be done by the student alone, and hovering can take away from the child’s learning process. Try to step back, and if intervention is really needed, make sure to provide guidance, not just answers.
  5. Tackle a challenge: Teach your child how to identify the difference between the “hard” homework questions and the “easy” ones. Have them set aside the easier questions for later and tackle the hard ones first

Click here for more homework tips for parents, and click here for the tips in Spanish.

Margaret Yau is a student at the University of California, San Diego, and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Resources for Parents following Traumatic Events

Here at the Department of Education, as elsewhere throughout America, our hearts ache for the Newtown, Conn., community. In a letter today to school districts around the country, Secretary Arne Duncan noted that, “Whenever a school experiences violence and the lives of children and adults are lost, we struggle to find words to express our emotions and explain how this could have happened.”

Mother talking with childMany parents and family friends are having a difficult time expressing their own feelings of anxiety, worry or sadness, and often we do not know how to talk with children about such a senseless and horrific tragedy.

Below is a list of resources specifically designed for parents and guardians to provide guidance on talking to children following a traumatic event.

For a complete list of resources visit ED’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center, and read Secretary Duncan’s “Resources for Schools to Prepare for and Recover from Crisis.”

Click here for more information and to see documents in additional languages.

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

Duncan Tours Neighborhoods and Schools Impacted by Sandy

Duncan visits students on Staten IslandSecretary Duncan talks with students at PS 38 during a visit to Staten Island on Thursday. Photo by Andy Kropa for the U.S. Department of Education.

The wind and rain of Hurricane Sandy are long gone, but the physical devastation and the emotional wounds still linger in the neighborhoods of Staten Island, N.Y. During a visit to Staten Island schools on Thursday, Secretary Arne Duncan listened as students described—many with tear-filled eyes—how Hurricane Sandy has changed their lives. “We saw our house go under,” said one New Dorp High School student, explaining to Duncan that coming back to school and receiving love and support from her teachers has been a “big help.”

Duncan started the day by participating in a roundtable discussion with educators, parents and students at New Dorp High School.  The participants described the important role the school played during and after the hurricane. During the visit, Duncan tweeted that the stories had been heartbreaking and inspiring:

Following the roundtable discussion, Duncan toured the greatly damaged Midland Beach neighborhood with United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, and then stopped at PS 38 where he participated in a Toys for Tots distribution for local families.

“Amazing students,” Duncan said of the visit. “I’m so thankful for the help they’ve received, and that they’re actively helping others. The principals and teachers in the schools I visited here have built a remarkable sense of community. The children know they are loved,” he said.

Click here for more information on how you can help the survivors of Hurricane Sandy, and find additional Sandy resources and help at fema.gov/sandy.


A New Framework: Improving Family Engagement

Duncan at Stanton

Secretary Duncan visited a classroom at DC’s Scholars Stanton Elementary School. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

For many, it’s just common sense. The more a student’s family is engaged in their child’s learning and in the improvement of their child’s school, the better off the student and the school. On Wednesday, Secretary Duncan joined more than 80 family engagement thought leaders at DC’s Scholars Stanton Elementary School to discuss the strong correlation between family engagement and academic outcomes, and how the Department of Education can provide more support.

Research supports the common sense idea that family plays a vital role in student performance. Yet despite the evidence and logic, many schools and educators struggle with how to cultivate and sustain effective family engagement initiatives. The Department of Education has taken some steps to provide more support in the area of family engagement, but Secretary Duncan readily admits that it hasn’t done enough.

As part of Wednesday’s event, Dr. Karen Mapp of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a consultant to Department, unveiled a draft framework of new ideas about the possible future direction and focus for family engagement at the Department of Education.

The framework had been a year in the making as Dr. Mapp met with a variety of senior staff members to gauge how a framework embedded with research and modeled after best practices would be operationalized at the Department.

Stanton Elementary is an example of how a school can build positive relationships with families and allow teachers to gain family support in and out of the classroom. Stanton’s family engagement strategy is the type of initiative the new framework would endorse. Through a partnership between the Flamboyan Foundation and Scholar Academies, Stanton utilizes Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT), replacing traditional parent-teacher conferences.

Panel at Stanton

Stanton Teacher Melissa Bryant explains how family engagement made her want to keep teaching. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

APTT, developed by Maria Paredes, brings parents into classroom more often than once a year and creates an environment where families work as a team to improve the class’s performance, sharing strategies for supporting their students at home and learning techniques from the classroom teacher. Teachers also visit their students’ families at home, too. Stanton’s success with APTT, as well as help from a Department of Education School Improvement Grant, has contributed to a dramatic increase in the academic performance of students and a cultural shift at the school.

During the visit, which included classroom visits, Secretary Duncan listened to a panel discussion with panelists Principal Caroline John, teachers Melissa Bryant and Megan Lucas, and parents Katrina Branch and Michael Hudson. The panelists spoke passionately in support of family engagement and how it has benefited the entire school community. Bryant said that family engagement “made me want to keep being a teacher.”

Mapp and ED will continue to receive feedback on the framework in the coming year. Stay tuned to the Homeroom Blog for future updates. You can also watch a short video of the APTT model at Stanton.