By: Naomi Stern, Federation of American Scientists Environmental Sustainability and Infrastructure Impact Fellow, U.S. Department of Education
This September, I had the honor of participating in the 2023 Green Strides Tour in California. As a fellow with the U.S. Department of Education, I knew that the schools and districts we would visit represent diverse examples of how sustainability is implemented. I was excited to see schools in my home state of California that have embedded sustainability across their school operations, resulting in improved learning and health conditions. Along the way, I encountered unparalleled passion, enthusiasm, and dedication on the part of entire school communities.
By: Montserrat Garibay, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director, Office of English Language Acquisition
I clearly remember my first day of middle school as a newly arrived student from Mexico in Austin, Texas, I didn’t speak a word of English and was nervous to start a new life with my mother and sister. My first class looked like the United Nations, students from all over the world speaking different languages, we were shy and scared. It wasn’t until, our ESL teacher, Mrs. Hernandez welcomed us with a big smile that I knew t I was going to be fine. My feelings were confirmed when I heard her speak Spanish.
The ED Games Expo is the annual public showcase of game-changing forms of education technology created through more than 50 programs at the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, and across government.
National and State data sets released over the past several weeks underscore the need for urgent, collective action to improve regular school attendance. While the latest data reflect the 2021-22 school year, when impacts of the pandemic were much more acute, it is important to note that rates of chronic absenteeism – defined as missing at least 10% of school days, or usually around 18 days of school each year – were increasing even before the pandemic. Since chronic absenteeism includes both excused and unexcused absences, multiple interconnected factors may contribute to the challenge; these include transportation barriers, students’ physical and mental health, or housing instability. We must raise the bar for consistent school attendance and work together to combat chronic absenteeism.
The ED Games Expo is the annual public showcase of game-changing forms of education technology created through more than 50 programs at the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, and across government. The 9th annual Expo will occur from September 19 to 22.
One-third of American schools are located in rural areas. We want to ensure rural students have every opportunity to pursue careers in their communities and local regions — as well as in our increasingly complex global labor market. To that end, ED launched the Rural Tech Project, a $600,000 challenge to advance technology education and prepare students for the careers of today and tomorrow.
The 2023 Green Strides Tour in Northern & Central California will stop at ten U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools to celebrate their achievements.
Students at Los Altos High School, a 2021 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, work together to plant trees on their school campus.
Year round, the ED Infrastructure and Sustainability initiative shares innovative practices and resources in the areas of sustainable schools; whole child health; and environmental education through its U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS). Each fall, we have the pleasure of visiting the school communities of past ED-GRS honorees and highlighting their efforts once more through our annual Green Strides Tour. This year, the Green Strides Tour will head to Northern and Central California with the theme Schools for Climate Solutions.
By: Andrea Suarez Falken, Special Advisor for Infrastructure and Sustainability, U.S. Department of Education
Before presenting this year’s awards, Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten addresses the 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) at the ceremony on August 8th in Washington, D.C.
On August 8, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recognized 26 schools, 11 school districts, and four postsecondary institutions, as well as one state education official at a Washington, D.C. ceremony for efforts to cultivate sustainable, healthy facilities, wellness practices, and hands-on, outdoor, environmental learning. The event was sponsored by the Spencer Foundation.
For far too long, there have been invisible walls between K-12, higher education, and workforce systems treated like they’re set in stone. That you need to complete one before moving on to the next. But the reality is that there’s a lot more overlap, and it’s time to Raise the Bar and reimagine high school in this country.
Parents across the country, with different lived experiences, are united by our belief that we can be the catalysts to create transformative change that benefits all children in our public education system. That change can only happen when we commit to truly embracing the power of parent participation, collaboration, and shared responsibility in creating a more equitable and inclusive education system. We are more than just participants in parent-teacher conferences and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. We are on the frontline, fighting for and actively changing policies that will positively impact not only our children today, but also future generations of students.
Being on the frontline means refusing to accept the status quo, choosing instead to harness our frustration into a drive for change and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with schools and teachers to face the challenges ahead and ensure children have what they need to be successful. For example, as schools began to reopen following the pandemic, a bus driver shortage in Buffalo, NY threatened to halt access to afterschool programs. The children who rely on buses to go to and from school are our lower-income, children of color – the same children who were most impacted by learning loss and the mental health toll caused by the pandemic. School closures during the pandemic and the subsequent lack of transportation left our children feeling further disconnected and facing more instability. This, in turn, led to more frustration, more fighting at school, and higher school suspension rates at a time when they were already higher than ever before.
In response, parents mobilized other parents, joining forces with the University of Buffalo, as well as local stakeholders and organizations, to form the Buffalo Education Equity Task Force. The task force met weekly with educators and leaders at every level of government to address the transportation crisis and lack of equitable access to afterschool programs. Working together, we arrived at a resolution that ensured equal access and reliable transportation to programs for all our children.
That is transformation with tangible results.
Of course, transformation is an ongoing process and relies on trust as the cornerstone of successful partnerships. By fostering trusting relationships between parents and school leaders, we lay the groundwork for collaboration and positive change. For teachers, this might look like reaching out not only to address challenging classroom behaviors, but also to tell us when our children are achieving and thriving. This seemingly small action can be transformational, bringing perspective and building the trust needed to move mountains. It shows parents that educators see our children as precious, complicated, still-growing human beings, while also allowing them to understand the depth of our commitment and investment.
Parents and families must also do our part. By actively embracing our crucial role in our children’s education, we unlock the key to their academic and personal growth. We must continue partnering with educators to develop strategies that address the needs of our children, ensuring they receive the support and resources necessary to succeed and thrive in life, not just pass through K-12 education. Only by working together can we create an environment that fosters a love for learning, embraces diversity, and promotes equity.
Our commitment to transforming the education system extends beyond our individual experiences. We advocate for systemic changes that benefit all underserved communities. Among other issues, we have pushed for legislation to minimize suspensions by supporting the mental health needs of our students in restorative – rather than punitive – ways. By joining forces with other parents, community leaders, and policymakers, we amplify our collective voice and advocate for policies that promote equity and dismantle systemic barriers.
We strive to create a more inclusive and just education system for all children. Children should be free to learn about, express, and celebrate their identities while also demanding the right to read proficiently and have a pathway to success and opportunity in the future. Working together, we can overcome the historical barriers and biases that have hindered our children’s educational journeys. Through open dialogue, mutual respect, and shared goals, we forge a path toward an inclusive and supportive education system. Our children’s generation and generations to come are counting on us.
Samuel, Pascale and Tonya are parent leaders with National Parents Union (NPU). With more than 1,000 affiliated parent organizations in all 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, NPU is an authentically parent-led organization that seeks to channel the power of parents to improve the lives of children, families and community across the United States.
Now that we’re in July, we’ve gone through Mental Health Awareness Month (May) and Pride Month (June). In these two months, we’ve seen so many examples of efforts around the country to support LGBTQI+ youth and provide these students with more access to high-quality mental health support. However, we don’t hear a lot about rural LGBTQI+ students. What is being done to make sure that students from some of our most isolated communities have access to the community and resources needed to flourish?
Being a queer student in a rural area comes with a unique set of challenges. In my experience, to be queer in Wyoming is to be isolated and alienated. We face the challenges of having little to no access to mental health professionals specializing in our needs, having low acceptance and support from peers and/or family, and growing up hearing heartbreaking stories like Matthew Shepard’s.
These factors have led to generally poor mental health and higher suicide rates among queer youth in rural areas. There is a constant struggle of feeling both ignored in the ways we need support and targeted in areas where we are weaker by political forces and societal bias. Wyoming’s LGBTQI+ youth community faces increasing levels of bias as information about the queer community and our many identities becomes more accessible.
While queer students face a lot of struggles, it isn’t all bad. I’ve found that it can be isolating to be queer in Wyoming, but it can still be possible to have a close community with those around you. Our community has built itself to withstand the challenges that come our way and support each other in times of struggle. With youth-centered events put together by Laramie PrideFest and various student clubs centering queerness across Wyoming, many students have the opportunity to connect with and build community if they actively seek it out. This comes in the form of weekends with students from Laramie and Cheyenne, gathering together for conferences, queer history trivia, and events like Pride flag making or book clubs throughout Pride month.
While my journey has had and continues to have its challenges, I am fortunate that I have been able to find community and support from my family. Many of my rural peers have not had access to this support and face an uncertain and often scary future as a result. Work from the U.S. Department of Education to support the mental health of students, particularly queer students in rural America, is incredibly important and potentially lifesaving, along with the Department’s resources like Creating Inclusive and Nondiscriminatory Environments for LGBTQI+ Students in School. There needs to be not only more mental health providers in our rural schools, but also ones who are prepared to support the unique needs of rural LGBTQI+ students. I am eternally grateful to the mental health experts who have supported me on my continuing journey to affirm my identity, and every rural and queer student deserves the same.
Kai Edwards is a sophomore at Laramie High School. He is focused hard on his goal to educate those around him and create a safer, more comfortable world for himself and his peers.