HealthIT is an Opportunity for Job Creation in Rural Communities

“Who else can provide healthcare in rural Mississippi besides these small rural hospitals? With so much responsibility and so few resources, they need all the help they can get,” said Jim Rice, RN, MBA, Health IT and Electronic Health Record Consultant at the Mississippi Health IT Regional Extension Center.

Mississippi WorkshopWe traveled to Mississippi recently to launch a pilot project between White House Rural Council partners from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Education to expand access to information and federal funding to support health information technology (HealthIT) infrastructure and workforce needs for Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) and other small rural hospitals The Mississippi pilot is part of a larger pilot initiative across five states.

Critical access and small, rural hospitals are often the foundations of their communities’ health care systems. They extend local access to care where it would not otherwise be available. Rural community hospitals also are typically the largest or second-largest employers in the community and often stand alone in their ability to offer highly skilled jobs.

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Green Schools Concept Taking Root in Rural Alabama

John White in Talladega

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach John White visited Munford Elementary in Talladega County, Ala. as part of the “Education Built to Last” tour of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. Photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Education.

Last week, I traveled with Andrea Falken, director of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Program, to Talladega County public schools in the Appalachian Mountains of Alabama.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice, district staff, teachers, students and community leaders all turned out to show us why the green schools notion makes sense educationally and financially in rural areas during the first leg of the “Education Built to Last” tour of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

Teachers have engaged students in their own learning by connecting lessons to research and discovery in the mountains, forests and streams right outside their classroom windows. Facility improvements have saved millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of kilowatts of electrical power, and turned school buildings into tools for learning.

Partnerships with the Forest Service, local farms and other businesses have increased students’ awareness of health and nutrition, their personal impacts on the environment, and career pathways in their local communities.

“That’s real world stuff,” said Talladega County school board member Johnny Ponder, while giving a tour of Munford Elementary, one of six U.S. Forest Service-adopted schools nationwide. Its interactive, museum-quality exhibits were produced with support from public and private sector partners. They include visual and audio information on birds, other wildlife and their habitats, fire prevention, jobs in the forest, and they are routinely used to enhance the school’s curriculum across all subject areas.

The 2013 ED-Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Award winners were recognized for reducing their environmental impacts, including energy use, waste and water; creating healthy learning environments, fostering wellness practices, and providing effective environmental education that includes STEM, green careers, and civics to prepare students to succeed in the 21st century. The tour is a chance to share best practices by connecting schools to ED’s Green Strides resources. In the coming weeks, the tour will continue in New England, the Great Lakes and the West Coast.

“We want to get the word out about what works in these schools. It’s not because they are uniquely rich. They are resourceful, have great partnerships, and are using cutting-edge educational practices,” Falken said.

At Fayetteville High School in Sylacauga, Ala., students have used classroom computers to research environmental science before heading outdoors to construct and plant gardens, follow forest rangers into the marsh to test water quality and conduct other experiments with the forest service.

Like many rural schools, Winterboro High School in Alpine, Ala., is a hub of community activity. In fact, community members brought stone from the foothills in wagons pulled by mules to build the school in the 1930s. Recovery Act funds were used to purchase and install insulation in Winterboro High for the first time in 2009. Other facility improvements have led to Energy Star certification at Winterboro and 14 other Talladega County Schools for a district-wide energy cost avoidance of $4 million annually.

Today, Winterboro High is a modern 21st Century Community Learning Center that extends learning with a project-based curriculum that is infused with technology and links science, math and language arts with environmental education during the day and after school.

John White is deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Rural Teachers Turn to Tech to Support Teaching and Learning

Inside a classroom at Chantry Elementary School in the small town of Malvern, Iowa, four 1st grade students are gathered around a table facing Becky Curtis. She is teaching them to read.

It appears to be a traditional reading intervention class. However, they are not alone.

A state away in Omaha, Neb., Mrs. Patty Smith is observing the small group via WebEx software and a webcam on an open laptop sitting on a table behind the students. Occasionally Mrs. Smith speaks with Ms. Curtis through a small listening device. The technology is allowing Mrs. Smith to communicate, see and hear the students’ responses and their teacher’s instruction.

Children ReadingThey are part of Project READERS, a large-scale distance coaching study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). UNL is using technology to connect trained coaches with more than 200 teachers in over 40 rural schools in eight states, where reading-support experts would not be available otherwise.

Ms. Curtis is a special education teacher who volunteered for the professional development project to improve her skills and serve as a reading intervention specialist.

As they begin to read a story together, the students are hanging on their teacher’s every word, using their fingers to point and decode letters, repeating words, blending sounds, and improving their phonemic awareness.

Ms. Curtis is working with precision, making sure her pupils can hear patterns and the rhythm of stressed and unstressed pieces of compound words. They identify and repeat the smallest units of sound.

When incorrect, the students and Ms. Curtis repeat and persist until the sounds are exactly right.

This rural education R&D, using a high-speed broadband connection, appears less intrusive than traditional coaching with an additional teacher physically in the classroom. At no point is Ms. Curtis competing for her students’ attention.

UNL is investigating the effects of distance coaching using technology on rural teachers’ knowledge, practice and student outcomes. Early elementary school teachers also learn and apply methods for collecting and using data to make instructional decisions.

The large-scale study is part of work conducted at UNL’s National Center for Research on Rural Education (R2Ed), which is funded by a five-year grant from the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education.

Near the end of class, Ms. Curtis bursts into laughter, unable to contain the private conversation she is having with Mrs. Smith about her students and their responses to her instruction.

The children immediately log-in, asking “What did she say? What did she say?” With a smile on her face, Ms. Curtis removes her hand from her mouth to tell her students, “She said I was awesome you guys!”

There are high-fives all around as Ms. Curtis tells her students how well they were reading. Before class ends, Ms. Curtis unplugs her ear-bud from the laptop and asks the students to turn to face Mrs. Smith for a quick debrief conversation.

Their time is up and class ends for the day. As the children run from the room, it is obvious their secret is out.

From Omaha to Malvern they’re all learning together.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Building Better Futures with Education

Karley Holland of YouthBuild

Karley Holland, from Rogue Valley YouthBuild in Medford, Ore., is a passionate advocate for individual freedoms and wants to affect positive change in her community.

When Kim Phinney, senior director of YouthBuild USA’s rural and tribal development program invited me to attend AmeriCorps’ Conference of Young Leaders, I knew the participants’ stories would be more inspirational than anything we could say to the young people being honored.

Thirty of 115 Youth Build members, who came to Washington DC recently from urban, suburban and rural areas, were in town for the Council of Young Leaders elections. They shared stories of the challenges in their lives, including teen pregnancy, domestic violence, incarceration, drug abuse and abandonment. But they made no excuses.

Instead, they emphasized their current paths to an education and a better life. They described how they want to “pay it forward,” and help other young people stay in school and overcome many of the same challenges.

In YouthBuild, they found a second chance — in some cases multiple chances — to obtain an education, acquire marketable skills, chart a new direction to employment, and become leaders in their communities. (YouthBuild receives federal funding from the Department of Labor and has partnered with the Department of Education to give youth a voice in decisions being made related to their education.)

With the support of North Central West Virginia YouthBuild, Caleb Gartman will earn his high school diploma this spring. He wants to start his pursue of a college degree in music this fall.

Karley Holland, from Rogue Valley YouthBuild in Medford, Ore., is a passionate advocate for individual freedoms and wants to affect positive change in her community. She has earned certificates in CPR and Occupational Safety and Health, and is on track to earn her GED this spring. She plans to start college or work full time this fall.

“Life happens,” one of the students said, and with education as a foundation, Caleb, Karley and their peers are headed in a new direction with plans to affect positive change in their lives and in their communities.

Nationally, more than six million 16-to-24-year-olds are disconnected from school or work, about half of whom are high school dropouts. The average person employed without finishing high school earn an average of $20,241, more than $10,000 less than a high school graduate according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The consequences of dropping out of high school can often result in a lifetime in poverty and dropouts make up approximately half of the country’s prison population.

Disadvantaged 16-24 year olds in YouthBuild programs work full-time for six to 24 months toward their GEDs or high school diplomas, while learning job skills by building affordable housing in their communities. Emphasis is placed on leadership development, community service, and the creation of a positive network of adults and youth committed to each other’s success. At exit, they are placed in college, jobs, or both.

Many of the young people in this year’s class also have acquired a sense of civic duty and expressed a desire to assume leadership roles in the organization that gave them a second chance to achieve their dreams.

They are living proof of the power of education to change lives and break cycles of crime and poverty.

 John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

CTE Can Fill The Gap, Open Doors to America’s Future

CTE panel at ED

An educator asks a question during “How Career and Technical Education is Addressing the Nation’s Skills Gap,” a recent ED Policy Briefing. Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover.

Brian Will was inspired to investigate careers in family and consumer sciences in seventh grade. Today the Deep Run High School student is a consultant to the FCCLA Virginia state association and on track to pursue college and the career path of his choice.

Alvon Brown found inspiration in the mechanical processes of working with his hands in an HVAC career and technical education program, and is now eager to pursue engineering after graduating from The Edison Academy at Edison High School.

Brian and Alvon’s stories are just two of many that illustrate the impact of early career and technical education awareness. Many similar stories were told about how career and technical education is addressing the nation’s skills gap at a recent ED Policy Briefing to celebration National CTE Month at the U.S. Department of Education.

“The students were spectacular,” Assistant Secretary of Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier said of the panelists at the briefing. “They were poised, articulate, self-confident and spoke eloquently about their CTE experiences and how well prepared they are for college and to pursue the career of their choice.” Also joining Brown and Will on the panel were Natalie Tran, the Future Business Leaders of America chapter president at River Hill High School, and David Kelly, the national president of the Health Occupations Students Association (HOSA) and an undergraduate at New York University. CTE Panel

Dann-Messier and Senior Advisor on College Access Greg Darnieder hosted a pair of conversations – one with educators and business leaders, and a second with Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) participants. Both conversations focused attention on the need for better alignment between high-quality CTE programs and the labor market, more collaboration among industry, secondary and postsecondary education partners, accountability for improving academic outcomes, and the need to support innovation.

Employers are seeking people with the skills to fill more than three million job vacancies each month. Whether you believe there is a skills gap or a training gap, early career awareness is an important part of the solution. Marie Zwickert, a business development manager for Cisco, emphasized the need to address the lack of technical and workforce readiness skills by raising standards and increasing participation in secondary and postsecondary CTE programs.

Last year, the Obama Administration proposed a blueprint for raising standards and transforming CTE nationally. High-quality CTE programs and Career Academies, like the Cisco Networking Academy, and CTSOs, teach employability skills that include working in effective teams, communications and problem solving, and help to increase students’ technical content knowledge and understanding.

Where rigor and expectations are high, CTE students display a sense of pride that attracts other students to the programs.  Students are earning industry-recognized credentials in a wide array of sectors, gaps between college and career readiness are closing, and doors are opening for students to pursue today’s in-demand jobs and the careers of the future.

 John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Teachers Taking Action

Have we really been talking about the need to improve teacher recruitment and retention for decades?

Educators meeting in Indianapolis and video-conferencing in from throughout the nation for the 2013 National Agriculture Education Summit said yes, and that it’s time to do something about it.

State agriculture education directors, teachers, principals, and stakeholder groups recently spent two days sketching out action plans to address agriculture education teacher shortages in their states, and they were told to finish by the end of the month. That’s right. The time is now for action. Teachers Taking Action

They have joined the national Teach Ag campaign, which began two years ago as an initiative of the National Council for Agricultural Education. The campaign is led by the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE), which found agriculture teacher shortages in 28 states during its annual survey.

Depending on the state, schools have difficulty finding qualified and effective agriculture teachers for high school programs that are vital to the agriculture industry, including:

  • Animal and Plant Science;
  • Crop Science;
  • Agriculture Mechanics;
  • Biotechnology; and other areas.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack welcomed the opportunity to work with the Teach Ag campaign, the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and all partners to recruit and retain the next generation of great teachers.

Our nation struggles with teacher shortages across many subjects and with developing teachers for students with special needs. However, the challenge of improving teacher recruitment and retention goes far beyond supply and demand.

As a nation, we must elevate the teaching profession and give teachers the respect they deserve if we are to solve this annual dilemma.

Research shows that the teacher is the single most important factor in a student’s academic success. For this reason, President Obama has requested Congressional approval for an unprecedented $5 billion to support states and districts willing to pursue bold reforms that can help better prepare, support and compensate ALL teachers in his Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

The Department of Education’s 2013 budget proposes a new 25-percent set-aside in Title II funds – $640 million – for state grants to create and expand high-performing pathways into teaching and school leadership, enhance the profession, and reduce shortages of teachers in science, technology, engineering and math – including agriculture.

If we are going to educate our way to a stronger economy, we must work with teachers, principals, colleges of education, and employers to strengthen teacher preparation. We must find mutually agreeable solutions to the thorny issues of evaluation and compensation.

And we must reengineer our most important profession to make teaching our most sought after profession. Why? Because we need the smartest, most talented people we can find teaching our students.

That’s how we will educate our way to a stronger economy and a more prosperous future.

John White is ED’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach.

National CTE Month Marks Pivotal Moment

This month, students, educators, stakeholder groups, and even regulators will highlight what works in career and technical education (CTE).

Welding ClassThe U.S. Department of Education has joined the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) to celebrate February as National CTE Month. Each organization has assembled a month-long schedule of activities that focus on outstanding programs. ED also will draw attention to the need to transform secondary and postsecondary programs that are no longer relevant in today’s marketplace.

The 2013 celebration marks a pivotal moment for CTE. This year, we all have a chance to work together to promote an increase in rigor and relevance and to support replication of programs that work. As a nation, we cannot continue to allow some youth and adults to be stuck in outdated vocational courses that do not prepare students for in-demand careers.

Which path the nation takes will be determined during the Fiscal Year 2013 budget process and whether Congress takes up reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Act, which provides federal support for secondary and 2-year postsecondary programs.

Last spring, the Obama Administration released a blueprint for transforming CTE. Through a $1 billion investment in CTE and an additional $1 billion career academies initiative, the Obama Administration’s 2013 budget proposes to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Act and support CTE in four key areas:

    • Alignment: Ensuring that the skills taught in CTE programs reflect the actual needs of the labor market so that CTE students acquire the 21st century skills necessary for in-demand occupations within high-growth industry sectors.
    • Collaboration: Incentivizing secondary schools, institutions of higher education, employers, and industry partners to work together to ensure that all CTE programs offer students high-quality learning opportunities.
    • Accountability: Requiring CTE programs to show, through common definitions and related performance measures, that they are improving academic outcomes and enabling students to build technical and job skills.
    • Innovation: Promoting systemic reform of state-level policies to support effective CTE implementation and innovation at the local level.

This month, we will join ACTE and several of their “CTE Works” events, as well as initiate additional conversations about the need for more high quality career training programs that lead to industry recognized credentials, and prepare students for postsecondary education and careers. We encourage you to check back often for upcoming events and activities.

Follow the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #CTEMonth, and share photos of students and teachers in action to illustrate great CTE programs on Twitter and Instagram.

John White is deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

It’s Never Too Late to Learn

Two young men, from different backgrounds, each tell a tragically similar story of their mistakes, which resulted in felony convictions and incarcerations. Their names aren’t important, but their stories are.

Both men are using education to take charge of their futures and be productive citizens.

During a recent trip to Iowa, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier and I met these men and several more like them, trying to make positive changes in their lives through education. We spent a day learning about adult education and corrections training programs in Cedar Rapids, before traveling to Dubuque for the Rural Community College Association’s annual conference.

Group Photo

Deputy Warden Bill Sperfslage, Anamosa Education Coordinator Mary Feeney-Wilfer, Kirkwood Community College High School Completion Director Marcel Kielkucki, Deputy Director of Offender Services Jerry Bartruff (front row) Kirkwood C.C. Executive Director of Government Relations Steve Ovel, Warden John Fayram, Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier, Deputy Assistant Secretary John White outside the Anamosa State Penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa.

Having served their sentences and exited the correctional system, these two men now support each other and their fellow classmates in Kirkwood Community College’s Kirkwood Pathways for Academic Career Education and Employment (KPACE) program.

Kirkwood seeks to help lower-skilled, low-income adults, the unemployed and underemployed advance to successively higher levels of education, employment, and financial stability through the KPACE program. KPACE weaves together basic skills and workplace-readiness training, academics and certification attainment with support services through partnerships with the United Way of East Central Iowa and community-based organizations.

Believing that everyone’s situation is unique, Kirkwood has taken bold steps beyond simply offering courses and certifications. Kirkwood and its community partners, including United Way, are working with formerly incarcerated adults to make a successful re-entry into society.

According to the National Reentry Resource Center, federal and state corrections facilities held more than 1.6 million prisoners at the end of 2010 – approximately one of every 201 U.S. residents. At least 95 percent of state prisoners will be released back to their communities at some point.

The U.S. Department of Education recently released a new resource, Take Charge of Your Future, to help justice-involved adults connect to education and training opportunities. ED also provides funding for efforts to reduce recidivism by supporting in-prison education services through two formula grant programs: the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006. A federal Office of Correctional Education was created in 1991 by the Perkins Act and currently resides in ED’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Rapid increases in the U.S. prisoner population over recent decades have increased the need for educational services in correctional settings.

Inside and outside of Iowa’s Anamosa State Penitentiary, a maximum/medium security institution that currently houses more than 1,150 offenders, we witnessed the hope that literacy and job skills training can bring.

The Iowa Department of Corrections and Kirkwood Community College are working together to offer inmates opportunities to earn a GED, learn computer skills and programs, including the production and printing of books in brail for the blind, and trades that include welding and carpentry while behind bars.

Kirkwood is also working with its community partners to help ex-offenders find stable employment and housing—other key success factors—upon re-entry. Two hundred businesses have committed to hiring Kirkwood students, including ex-felons. The Corporation for National and Community Service’s AmeriCorps program and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) are providing social and educational services, and helping the community work on prison re-entry issues.

Community colleges have long offered innovative and valuable career training opportunities for youth and adults of all ages and in various stages of their lives. Kirkwood is offering solutions for safer communities through education and public-private partnerships.

John White is deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. 

Join us for the National Rural Education Technology Summit 2.0

Whether you’re on a farm, in a small town, or at home in your slippers, we’re inviting you to join us on Monday, April 30, from noon to 6 p.m. ET for the National Rural Education Technology Summit 2.0, as we use the power of technology to overcome distance, bring resources to rural schools, and engage administrators, teachers, and students in this free virtual conference.

To join the summit, visit and register today. After registering, you will be able to view the program, which will include live STEM sessions ideal for classroom participation, afternoon professional development opportunities, and messages from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Smithsonian Institution Secretary G. Wayne Clough, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski,

You will also learn more about college and career-ready standards implementation, and utilizing the Department of Education’s online communities of practice.

In between sessions, visit the virtual resource hall for information on a variety of federal programs, loans, and grant funding opportunities. Most of all plan to participate with presenters and each other, chatting at the Summit and live on Twitter using hashtag #ruraled. See you at the Summit!

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach, U.S. Department of Education

@RuralED’s John White Answers Questions During #AskFAFSA Office Hours on Twitter

Did you know that completing and submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) increases the likelihood that a student will enroll in some form of post-secondary education?

Students in rural communities are least likely to enroll and complete postsecondary education and career training. In an effort to help rural youth and adults with the financial aid process, I hosted #AskFAFSA Office Hours live on Twitter last night. The audience definitely kept us busy! ED’s Rural Outreach Team and the FAFSA Team worked together to get the audience’s toughest financial aid questions answered.

We had some great questions come in on a variety of topics:

Completing the FAFSA!/thinh_lee/status/183321611410223104

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#AskFAFSA Hours with @RuralED’s John White

For students in rural areas who may need help paying for college, it’s important that you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA.)

FAFSAWe understand the financial aid process can often be overwhelming, especially if you’ve never gone through it before. That’s why the @RuralED team wants to know what questions you have about the financial aid process and the FAFSA.

On March 27th at 6pm EST, @RuralED & @FAFSA will be hosting Office Hours live on Twitter to answer all your financial aid questions – especially the tough ones!

Here’s how it works:

    • Follow @FAFSA & @RuralED on Twitter for information and tips.
    • Start submitting your questions today using the hashtag #AskFAFSA. We’ll continue to take questions throughout the week.
    • On March 27th at 6pm EST, the FAFSA team and I will be on hand to answer your #AskFAFSA questions on Twitter. Follow the Q&A live through the @RuralED and @FAFSA Twitter accounts.

If you can’t make the live session, a summary of the live chat including the full Q&A will be posted on the blog following the event.

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the form to fill out in order to apply for student grants, work-study, and loans. To receive federal student aid for the 2012-13 school year, you must complete the 2012-13 FAFSA at  Some financial aid is first-come, first-served, so we encourage all potential and returning students to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. Remember, four-year colleges and universities aren’t the only schools that accept the FAFSA. Community colleges, trade schools nursing schools, online schools, and career schools do too.  So check your FAFSA deadline and complete the FAFSA today:

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach

Note to schools: Did you know that you can now access FAFSA submission and completion data for your school? 

How Are You Increasing Opportunities in Rural Schools?

President Obama’s FY2013 budget request includes a discretionary funding increase of $1.7 billion for education, maintains critical formula funding that many rural schools depend on, and proposes new grant opportunities to support innovation. Many rural schools are forming partnerships to increase their capacity to compete for federal dollars, overcome their unique challenges, and increase student achievement.

On Feb. 22 at 3 p.m. ET, join John White, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach, and Sterling Speirn, president & CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for a Twitter chat about partnerships, innovation, and education reform in high-need rural schools. The Kellogg Foundation has supported rural applicants in the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund grant competition, and supports programs that propel vulnerable children to achieve success in many rural communities.

This is your chance to ask us questions and to describe unique rural partnerships and innovative solutions that are helping to overcome the challenges of distance and isolation in your rural communities. Send tweets at any time before or during the Twitter chat using the hashtag #ruraled. White will respond live @RuralED and Speirn will tweet @WK_Kellogg_Fdn.

Following the event, you can find a summary of the Q&A session at