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.

A picture of a mother standing behind her son.

Young and Eugene Bae

As a family we have had to adjust the sails of our ship quite a lot to reach this destination. We had to get past phrases like “below average range” or “socially maladjusted” since they were not helpful in steering the path for our son. As a family, we now see more clearly the incredible strengths and positive qualities of a young man who is able to say proudly “I am a person with autism.” We have learned that it is more helpful for us to make sure that Eugene is in the center of all service plans than putting systems first and having him fit around these systems.

Because of putting Eugene at the center, we have become more efficient in figuring out how to change the world around us and finding the resources we and Eugene need to reach our goal. As Eugene grew, our family grew too and our minds opened up to the new experiences that our son brought us.

I am not completely positive about Eugene’s future in the community. I see and feel the gaps between how my family and how society see the possibility of Eugene becoming a “successful” member of the community, and how we define success.

Many people still have a difficult time moving away from the stereotype that measures people with autism and other developmental disabilities as a social cost. However, I also believe that our society is moving in a better direction, becoming more able to envision a person with a disability as a valuable asset.

We have witnessed the notably increased capacity of our schools and workplaces to accommodate individuals with disabilities since the first form of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act became law in 1975. These accomplishments were not possible without the sacrifices and efforts of so many parents, educators, and leaders of this country. Today, their legacy continues through the next generation of families, educators, and leaders, and it only expands as we as a family sail toward the final destination of our journey.

The next three months will be an interesting time for our family. Frankly, it makes me nervous thinking that Eugene will no longer be in the classroom. There will be no more IEP meetings to attend and no school buses to pick him up.

Eugene and our family know that this is a start of the next stage of journey. However, this time, Eugene will be the captain of the ship, steering us toward that goal of independence and community inclusion. This time, I am not crying; I will take a deep breath to prepare myself for another thrilling sea of possibilities and opportunities.

 

Young Seh Bae, Ph.D. is Executive Director of Community Inclusion & Development Alliance (CIDA), a federally funded Community Parent Resource Center in Queens, New York. She was a faculty member of Teachers College, Columbia University, and served as president of Korean-American Behavioral Health Association.

Cross-posted at the OSERS blog.

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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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Educators: Add “Adaptable Skills” to the Educational Mix; Advice From Advanced Placement Capstone Students

An education committed solely to acquiring skills and knowledge required for specific jobs — calculus, chemistry and American government, for example — has limitations. Schools that also instill adaptable skills students will need in many workplace contexts — written and oral communication, critical thinking and creativity, for example — can provide a better path to 21st-century success.

Five Fairfax County, Virginia high school juniors conveyed this message during a recent visit to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters, where they showcased their Advanced Placement Capstone™ project on how well the United States’ modern education system prepares students for post-college success.

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Youth Voice is Key to Spark Effective Change

Last week, nearly 70 students from four states visited the U.S. Department of Education, and inspired ED staff to improve the education system in America to work for all students. These students were anything but diffident, for they came prepared to ask questions, all curious to know what the federal government’s role is in education.

Each group of students shared the uniqueness of their programs and the challenges they face in their schools. These students exhibited determination, optimism, civic engagement and forward thinking. They let us know that their voices are the key to spark effective change.

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Students Use Self-Directed Learning to Serve Their Community, One Foot at a Time

Surrounded by farm fields in rural Arkansas, Abby Simmons, Matthew Cook and Darshan Patel, 8th grade students at Armorel High School, completed a community based project that garnered national media attention earlier this year. They successfully printed a 3-D prosthetic foot for an Indian Runner Duck named Peg.

The high school students teach themselves how to use 3-D printers and run state-of-the-art software in for photography, design, video, music and virtual animation (just to name a few) under the guidance of Armorel High School teacher Alicia Bell.

“You can teach yourself how to do different software,” Simmons said, “or anything you would like to learn about.”

The students attending the rural school in the unincorporated community of Armorel are eager to help alleviate needs they discover in their community and school. They design solutions using technological tools and resources, while developing invaluable skills in critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration.

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ED Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Announces MLK Jr. Drum Major Innovative Service Award

The Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education’s White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for African-Americans, invite you to participate in the 2018 Martin Luther King Drum Major Innovative Service award nomination process.

The MLK Drum Major Innovative Service Award goes to volunteers who perform extraordinary every-day acts of service. The term, service, may include leading through outreach, mission-driven service, volunteerism, and ministry focused on innovative educational experiences for students.

Many Americans serve on a daily basis, every month, year after year through faith-based organizations and as volunteers for community groups, addressing a variety of critical education needs. Our focus is to recognize these extraordinary volunteers.

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Rural Montana Students Become Citizen-Scientists through Place-Based Learning

Teacher Judy Boyle stands at a cooler containing water and small fish. She is holding a net and handing out fish two students standing at the cooler. In the background other students are releasing their fish into a lake.Six Montana students are warmed by a campfire with their teacher, Judy Boyle, and some of their parents who have come along on the ‘field study trip.’ The students, ranging from 1st to 7th grade, journal about the symbiotic relationships and geothermal features they observed and recorded during the day. Place-based education is one way Boyle enables her students to engage with science, their natural environment and community.

The Advantages of Being a Small, Rural School

Life in Divide, Montana, may look a little different from the norm in more populated areas. The two-room schoolhouse serves the six students enrolled at Divide Public School. On their commute to school, the Divide students and their teacher could be held up by a different kind of traffic – a herd of elk.

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HBCUs: Vital to U.S. Competitiveness

Since 1837, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been educating and preparing, primarily, but far from exclusively, African American students – nearly a quarter of HBCU students are non-Black – to contribute to the American experience. These institutions help fill the nation’s dual pipeline of productivity: providing diversely talented employees and creating employment opportunities. They consistently add both workers and job-creation to their state and local economies.

Despite being historically under-resourced, in 2014, the nation’s 101 accredited HBCUs injected $14.8 billion in direct spending impact to the national economy, adding more than 134,000 jobs, on- and off-campus, according to a recently published landmark study, HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, commissioned by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).

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