Finding My Voice and Sharing My Story with Secretary King

Jamie Talley (in white), a NAEHCY scholarship recipient, sharing her views with Secretary King.

Jamie Talley (in white) is a NAEHCY scholarship recipient.

My name is Jamie Talley, I am a National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) scholarship recipient. I experienced homelessness, and I work every day to make myself someone different than the family I was born into.

I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Washington D.C., with other NAEHCY scholars. There is one moment that I will remember forever.

You’ve been given the opportunity to sit at the table and make a difference, so make it count.

That moment was when it actually dawned on me just what was taking place. These may not have been his exact words, but this was the point Sam Ryan, Special Assistant and Youth Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education, was making just before Secretary John B. King, Jr., entered the room.

These words weighed heavily on me as I sat at the table, looking around at my peers who had experienced homelessness, just as I had. The point of this meeting was to allow for Secretary King to get insight directly from us to help inform the Department’s policies and actions.

The only thing I could think was, “Why me? What did I do right to get to be the one sitting here?”

For most of the meeting, I sat nervously listening to what my peers were saying and how open they were. Then I noticed something remarkable: Secretary King was making eye contact with each of the scholars when they spoke, he took notes, and he listened to every detail and point that was being made.

That is when I heard Ryan in my head again saying, “Make it count.”

This is when I acquired the courage to voice my opinion, and an amazing thing happened: Secretary King listened to me. I could tell as I spoke he was really considering what I was saying. To me, this shows the human side behind the policies and issues.

NAEHCY award recipients pose with Secretary King.

NAEHCY award recipients pose with Secretary King.

There were questions to consider at the meeting with Secretary King. For example, “How have your teachers helped you to be successful?” Yes, this meeting was held to, “engage students in a discussion for a better understanding of the challenges that homeless students encounter as they reflect on their high school and college experiences,” but it showed me that there is more to life than going through the motions of trying to survive. It showed me that teachers and students in these situations can make a difference. Most of all, it showed me that people care. There is more to federal policymaking than facts and politics. People are trying their hardest to make a difference.

A few weeks after our meeting with Secretary King, the Washington Post wrote an article entitled, Education Department eases financial application restrictions for homeless college students. This was one of the many topics addressed at our discussion. I would like to say how proud I am to call John King our Secretary of Education. This man cares about the lives of young people and he is making a difference.

Elizabeth Jamie Talley is a rising junior at Wayland Baptist University.

This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department through which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.


  1. I would like to respond to your comment concerning home school students, that they may not be “getting the range of options that are good for all kids.”

    We started home schooling in the mid 1980’s and of course the big concern was “socialization”. For the most part all we did was normal “family” activities, but let me briefly describe my children.

    Our first son is Daniel. He has been a successful lawyer in California for about 10 years, defending various Civil Servants in the area of labor issues. Labor disputes requires him to work through cases, which involve complex interpersonal relationships, wading through who actually said or did “what”.

    When he was growing up, he had and still has the best group of friends that any parent would desire for their children. One is a police officer in inner city Portland, one is a dentists and the list goes on. These are life long friends. All were home schooled and they are demonstrating success in every area of life.

    My daughter is about 4 years younger than her brother. She is very competitive and focused. Because of her drive she was able to graduate from high school by the time she was 16 years old.

    One of the advantages of home schooling is that lack of “age segregation”. As a result Merissa had friends who were 4 to 6 years older and 4 to 6 years younger than herself. Some of her older friends decided to seek opportunities to work in the Oregon State Legislature.

    Merissa was only 16 years old when she secured her first job as a full time office assistant for a State Representative. She did such a good job that after a few months the Representative began giving her a small bonus because of her recognized value to the office.

    Merissa told me that one of her goals was to “get along” with every office, regardless of which side of the aisle they were on. I believe that she was successful and given the political climate was a substantial achievement. Merissa later served a second term when she was 18 and she definitely understands the legislative process.

    Between legislative sessions Merissa, earned an on line associate degree and later secured a job as a Para-Legal in the area of Patent and Copy Right law. She purchased her first house when she was 21 years old.

    I do agree that not every home schooling family is as intentional as our family. What I have seen is that the worst home school families are very similar to the “average” students from the Public system.

    Of course I am prejudiced as a father, but I can say with confidence that our children and most of their home school peers were well prepared academically, set the examples as socially capable, and of the highest moral character.

    Please let me know if you would any further information.


  2. I recently had the privilege of meeting with our 14 of our first “Step Up” group beginning their college career at Eastern Florida State College. Led by college recruiter, Tracey Glidden, case manager, Calvin Brown and local high school homeless, liaisons , the combined effort led to a focused, successful beginning for these homeless students of Brevard County Schools in Florida. One of their comments will echo with me a long time…. referring to Tracey as the leader of their “FREEDOM TRAIN” out of poverty…..

  3. My fortune in life with schools and teachers is the great out pouring of love and care for adults, youth and children given into less than fortunate circumstances. America educators have teachers who help students with lunches, clothes and providing clothes for those who need to help with their interviews after graduation. Teachers are on the front line with our children who are homeless!

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