Autism – A Family’s Journey and the Lights Along the Way

A picture of a family - father and mother sitting in front, three adult children (the two men on either side of the woman) standing in back - all wearing black shirts in front of a brown background.Note: April is National Autism Awareness Month.

Autism.

There was a time when I couldn’t even say the word out loud. It was too painful, too devastating to utter. I wanted to believe that if I didn’t say the word, it didn’t exist. But it does exist; it’s real, and it’s beautiful, and it’s challenging all at the same time. And whether I say the word or not, my son Chris has autism.

I’ve been on this autism journey for 30 years now, more than half my life. Back in 1990, when Chris was first diagnosed, there was no autism awareness month, because there wasn’t autism awareness. Family, friends, and neighbors looked at me quizzically when I shared his diagnosis. What does that mean? How did he get it? How do you cure it? But I did not have the answers. Even the multitude of doctors we saw could not provide the answers. Since that time, there has been an exponential increase in the number of children diagnosed, and almost everyone has been touched by autism in some way. So today, when a family shares the diagnosis, others are usually aware of what it means.

As I reflect on the past 30 years I recall so many memories. I remember, as if it was yesterday, sitting in the doctor’s office; the diagnosis confirmed my fears following months of research into what might be causing the unusual behaviors of our little boy.

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Bank Accounts, Student Loans, Credit Cards, Oh My!

In addition to covering my United States Government and Politics curriculum, every year I put my students through a mini “adulting 101” bootcamp. During the first semester of school we focus on basic “adulting” skills like registering to vote, laundry care, vehicle maintenance, building a resume, meal planning, cooking, etc.

During the second semester, I focus on four financial basics that establish a foundation for these students to become financially literate adults.

  • The basics of banking includes checking accounts, savings accounts, writing checks, money orders, cashier’s checks, fees and setting up automatic payments.
  • Understanding credit, credit cards, fees and penalties, interest rates, repayment and credit scores.
  • Borrowing money, interest rates, repayment options and debt.
  • Budgeting, saving and investing.

Initially when I narrowed the focus of the financial literacy portion of my “adulting 101” curriculum, I reached out to my local bank for information and resources. They not only provided me with free resources, they also offered to present to my students. This was an awesome opportunity for a financial professional and community partner to answer questions and provide insight to these young adults getting ready to start the next, but for most, the first financial chapter of their lives.

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Honoring MLK Jr.’s Drum Major Legacy: Innovative Pathways to Success

More than a dozen people stand on either side of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos displaying their award certificates.To honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., earlier this month the U.S. Department of Education hosted the Honoring MLK Jr.’s Drum Major Legacy: Innovative Pathways to Success event. Honoring Dr. King at this time held even more significance because the following day was the 50th anniversary of his assassination, which shook the world on April 4, 1968. Although his fight for justice and peace was cut short, celebrating his legacy reminded us what it means to be persistent and righteous leaders for change, especially for the benefit of our youth in communities and schools across the nation.

Recognizing the Drum Major Spirit

ED’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans honored members of communities across the nation who have upheld Dr. King’s legacy through their extraordinary everyday acts of service, especially benefiting youth and education. These distinguished honorees received the 2018 MLK Jr. Drum Major Innovation Service Award.

As Dr. King once said, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace, I was a drum major for righteousness.” The award recipients demonstrated the drum major spirit in their own way, whether as a school administrator, faith leader, community leader, parent or other engaged leader.

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Another Journey

A picture of a father and mother with their 2 sons stand on walkway next to a canal with tourists behind them and a bridge in the background.

The Bae family during trip to England

Note: April is National Autism Awareness Month.

Just like any other school day, Eugene, my son with autism, left on the bus this morning to go to a day program provided by our school district. For the last 20 years, he and I wait for the bus by sitting on our front porch. As he steps on the bus, he shouts at me with his happy high-pitched voice, “Bye Mom!” This is our ritual to begin each new day, to meet that day’s challenges, emotions, promises and hopes.

In June this year, he will age out from the district program. I cannot help being emotional whenever I think about his first day of preschool and the journey that Eugene and our family have been on since then. On that day, I cried in the car for two hours after separating from my miserable, crying child.

Since that first day, school has been a challenging place for both Eugene and me. While Eugene was learning the alphabet and phonics, I studied the never-ending list of special education acronyms.

Just like other special education moms in this world, when my child cried about his school work, I wept on my steering wheel, but when he was happy in school, I felt like I had the world on a string. At times, figuring out how to navigate the world of special education for our son with autism while struggling with his atypical behaviors seemed like a brutal mission for a family like us, and we often felt we were not understood, not just because of our heavy Korean accents

However, our fundamental concern has not changed in these 20 years, and that is to help our son reach the final destination for his journey – Eugene being able to live an independent and inclusive life in the community. Of course, this is the same concern shared by thousands of moms and dads who have children with disabilities.

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High School Students Take a Unique Approach to Financial Education

April is Financial Capability Month. To help mark this occasion, two students offer their perspectives on their very different experiences in obtaining financial education.

 

Picture shows high school student Samuel Gelb sitting in front of some pine trees.

Samuel Gelb

Growing up, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a father who has educated me on fundamental financial principles. In my house, terms like P/E ratios, EBITDA, ROI and diversification are a part of our regular vocabulary.

From selling lemonade as a young child to buying my first stocks at age twelve, business, entrepreneurship and finance have always been a part of my life. Seeking to expand my love of investing to others, I co-founded an investment club at my school called “The Blake Asset Management Group” in an attempt to give my peers and me a chance to test our investment acumen in a real-world setting.

While I expected our club’s first meeting to revolve around potential investment ideas, I was surprised to see that most of those in attendance actually knew little about stocks, and even fewer knew how to analyze a stock at the most rudimentary level. Most surprising was the number of students who lacked an understanding of broader and more important general financial literacy concepts like interest, diversification, and the importance of saving.

Recognizing that it would be difficult to run a club where few members possessed the necessary knowledge to invest, the leadership team and I restructured our club’s focus. We decided to measure our success not by the investment profits we generated but rather by the number of students we educated. Consequently, I designed and created a financial literacy course and made it available to all students at my high school.

The initiative, which was taught through the club, was a major success. Due to strong demand, what was initially intended to be a 5-week course turned into a 12-week class with interactive lesson plans and guest speakers. Students gained a thorough knowledge of basic financial concepts.

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After Hurricanes, USVI Residents Choose Hope

After three devastating hurricanes struck the Caribbean, the Department of Education undertook a series of actions to support the U.S. Virgin Islands through their recovery process. As part of that effort, ED staff committed to travelling to the Islands to provide resources, assistance, and expertise.

In November, as the ED team began their descent into the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, the large-scale devastation left by Hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria became alarmingly clear. Once lushly green, the landscape had turned muddy and brown. Roads were washed out entirely; buildings were roofless or pushed off their foundations; parts of the islands were left in total darkness. Businesses — the lifeblood of an economy so reliant on tourism — were shuttered.

The team, which included Iyauta Green (Risk Management Service), Joy Medley (Office of School Support and Rural Programs), and Mark Robinson (Risk Management Service), then began a five day trip to assess the damage that the storms had left behind.

They also spoke with administrators — including private school headmasters — teachers, students, and staff at the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) administration, including Commissioner Sharon McCollum. From them, ED staff learned about the many needs facing the Islands and their students.

The storms hadn’t just created immediate, physical interruptions. They’d also halted progress toward a larger priority for the USVI: to diversify the workforce. Dr. McCollum had long wanted to keep the local economy competitive, and was concerned about students leaving the island — and taking their skills and talents with them. Instead, post-hurricanes, nearly 10 percent of students had left the USVI to continue, or finish, their education.

And students still on the Islands were required to adapt to a “new normal.” Many school buildings were either closed or operating on split schedules. At Ulla Muller Elementary School on St. Thomas, children ate FEMA packets instead of hot lunches.

Read more about the ED team’s visits to the U.S. Virgin Islands at Medium…

 

5 Ways to Cut the College Price Tag

Working as a Financial Aid Counselor, families often ask me how they can pay for college. More often than not this conversation takes place during the student’s senior year in high school. As a first-generation college student, there are things I wish my family and I had known to help us save on our college bill. These are a few things that families can do to help cut the cost of college:

1. Community colleges can be great options

Community college offers the most affordable education out there. At community college you can complete the general education classes that every school requires, and then transfer to a 4-year school where you can take classes specific to your major. Also, community college is a great place to gain technical skills and earn a short-term certificate to get you started in the workforce.

2. Buy used textbooks or rent them

Buy used books or check to see if you can rent textbooks at your school or online. After the class is over, sell your books back online, to the bookstore, or to someone else.

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Betsy’s Blog: Listening Sessions on School Safety and Climate

Over the past several weeks there has been much discussion around how school discipline policies can ensure a safe and supportive climate where children can learn. While there are many different approaches, everyone agrees that discrimination against any student is abhorrent and wrong. Federal laws prohibit such discrimination in our nation’s schools, and the Department’s Office for Civil Rights vigorously enforces these civil rights laws to ensure equal access to education.

According to the Civil Rights Data Collection, African-American students are subject to exclusionary discipline (such as suspensions or expulsions) at higher rates than white students. The data show similar patterns for other groups: for example, boys are suspended more often than girls, as are students with disabilities when compared to students without disabilities. It was in response to this data that the prior administration issued a Dear Colleague Letter, or federal guidance, to states and school districts instructing them to adopt new approaches to school discipline so as to ensure that these students are not disproportionately impacted. Many in the education community cheered this guidance as a positive step.

But since the guidance was released, many educators, parents and students have raised concerns that schools have actually become less safe by restricting teachers’ and administrators’ ability to maintain order in their classrooms. They claim that the guidance ignores the law and places statistics over students without addressing the behavior of individual students and how educators should respond and discipline students when necessary. They view the guidance as creating an unsafe environment that has harmed learning.

That’s why earlier this week the Department hosted two listening sessions about the 2014 guidance. We brought in teachers, parents, students, administrators, researchers, advocates and union representatives to hear their varying views on whether the guidance should be kept as is, amended or rescinded.

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Help Secure Your Future by Discovering Financial Literacy Resources Available to You

Note: April is National Financial Capability Month.

On August 28, 2017, I accepted an offer to work with the U.S. Department of Education’s  Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) through the State Department’s Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) internship program. I imagined that I’d be doing typical intern duties, but didn’t foresee how much I’d learn about financial literacy, or the level of understanding I would gain on how to earn, manage and invest money.

I didn’t even know that this was a skill or area of study before last August, and as a third-year undergraduate student at Yale, I wish I could have learned sooner about financial capability – making informed decisions about college access, applying for aid, budgeting and borrowing and managing debt.

Financial literacy, or financial capability, is a very important area of study. Included in the Secretary’s Final Supplemental Priorities for Discretionary Grant Programs from the U.S. Department of Education is a priority area for “[s]upporting instruction in personal financial literacy, knowledge of markets and economics, knowledge of higher education financing and repayment (e.g., college savings and student loans), or other skills aimed at building personal financial understanding and responsibility.”

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