ED Youth Voices Newsletter

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29 August 2014  |   Sign up to receive ED Youth Voices

In this issue:


Secretary Duncan reading to students on bus

U.S. Department of Education Announces "Partners in Progress" Back-to-School Bus Tour to the South

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior Department officials will visit Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee for the Department's fifth annual back-to-school bus tour from Monday, Sept. 8, to Wednesday, Sept. 10. The theme of this year's tour is "Partners in Progress," which will highlight the states' commitment to encourage reform and innovation and help all students to achieve success.

"As our children head back to school, I am optimistic about our ability to elevate and strengthen education in America," said Secretary Duncan. "This bus tour through Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama is an opportunity to see innovation in education at work and discuss progress, promise and results. I look forward to meeting with teachers, parents, students and education leaders who have been our partners in making progress for our nation's children."

Along the stops throughout the tour, the Secretary will discuss the changes in education and the challenges that accompany them, all while highlighting the champions of reform—teachers, parents, community members, and others—who are leading the effort to improve education for all students. Secretary Duncan will also showcase the investments the Department has made in each state and discuss initiatives such as Investing in Innovation (i3), Race to the Top state grants, Preschool for All, College Access and My Brother's Keeper that are aimed at improving outcomes for students.

On Monday, Sept. 8, the Secretary will travel to Georgia to host events in Atlanta and Carrollton. On Tuesday, Sept. 9, Secretary Duncan will travel to Alabama and Tennessee to hold events in Birmingham, Huntsville and Chattanooga. On Wednesday, Sept. 10, the Secretary will conclude the tour in Tennessee with events in Nashville and Memphis.

Last year, the Secretary visited cities across the Southwest. In 2012, the tour traveled across the country. In 2011, the tour covered portions of the Midwest and in 2010, the back-to-school bus tour included the Delta region in the South and the Northeast.

As part of the "Partners in Progress" tour, senior Department officials will also hold additional events highlighting the Obama Administration's work to increase access and opportunity for students. Additional information about Secretary Duncan's schedule and senior Department officials' events will be announced in the coming weeks.


Secretary Duncan takes a photo following his meeting with a group of young people.

Students Who Have Beaten the Odds Share Their Stories with the Secretary

The move from middle school to high school is exciting for some students, but can be incredibly difficult for others. Some students require intensive support to stay on the path to graduation, and that support can take many different forms.

That was the sentiment expressed by Secretary Arne Duncan during a recent session of Student Voices, where young people from across the country gather and chat with senior ED staff about what it’s like to be a student in America today.

Darius was one of the 10 students who attended and, for him, this transition was almost insurmountable. His mother suffered a severe stroke and went into a deep coma during his freshman year of high school, forcing him and his siblings to move to the far south side of Chicago. On top of coping with the emotional and physical strain of his mother’s condition, because he was forced to move, he had to wake up at 4 a.m. to get to school every day, and he often stayed late for basketball practice, which took a toll on his academics. He explained, “tiredness grew over me and teachers berated me for not paying attention in class. I didn’t want to let my mother down, and as I felt alone in this situation, basketball was my stress reliever.” His coach noticed that Darius needed more support, so he offered to give him rides to school and eventually invited him to live with him. After a few months with his coach he moved in with a friend and this experience altered the course of his life.

Darius will be attending Southern Vermont College in the fall, where he has received a Mountaineer Scholarship.  Darius has become empowered to take control of his future knowing that he can overcome any obstacles he may encounter in college. Darius still continues to struggle to keep his family together but feels his success is what’s needed to keep them all together.

Rachel, a student from Washington State, told Secretary Duncan that as one of five children growing up on a farm, she also faced seemingly insurmountable challenges.

After losing her mother, she moved into the foster care system. Rachel told Duncan that “constant moving created gaps in my learning. I can do advanced math, but because of the lapses in primary education, some of the basic middle school stuff troubles me.” Luckily, she explained, she was able to eventually stay with her aunt, who became her main source of support. Once she settled into life with her aunt, things changed. During her high school career, she took advanced placement math and sciences and worked twenty hours a week at her family’s restaurant. This fall, she will attend the University of Washington to study Marine Biology and Ocean Sciences.

After hearing from several other students, Secretary Duncan then asked all of the attendees to think about who or what helped them to beat the odds and graduate high school. The students agreed that strong mentors and role models, high expectations, and relevant college information made the strongest impacts.

Do you have a unique story to tell? We would like to hear made a difference in your life and education or for the youth in your community. Please send your story to youth@ed.gov.

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


Secretary Duncan talking to young student.

New Preschool Grant Program Will Expand Opportunity to More of America’s Early Learners

Across the country, there is a great need for early learning. But the need isn’t just for preschool seats — it’s for high-quality early learning programs that can put children on the path to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

Research has shown the powerful benefits of high-quality early education. Children who receive rich early learning experiences are less likely to need special education services. They’re in better health, and they get better jobs. Yet, today, only 30 percent of 4-year-olds in the U.S. participate in state preschool, and 10 states don’t offer it at all. Among other industrialized nations, the U.S. ranks 25th in enrollment of 4-year-olds in early learning.

President Obama has issued a call to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America. Recently, an important down payment was made toward that goal when Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced the availability of funds through the Preschool Development Grants program.

This new $250 million federal program will support states to build, develop, and expand voluntary, high-quality preschool programs for children from low- and moderate-income families. It will be jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. All states — including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico — are eligible to apply by Oct. 14, 2014.

Secretary Duncan noted, “Through the Preschool Development Grants, we continue our efforts to create educational opportunities that prepare our youngest Americans for success in kindergarten, through elementary school and beyond. This new grant competition will prepare states to participate in President Obama’s proposed Preschool for All program — a federal-state partnership that would promote access to full-day kindergarten and encourage the expansion of high-quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds from low- and middle-income families.”

For more information about the new Preschool Development Grants program and how your state may apply, visit here. For more information on early learning at the U.S. Department of Education, visit here.


Financial aid graphic photo

Financial Aid Not Enough? Ideas on How to Fill the Gap

The reality of college costs is that many families find themselves struggling to pay the entire college bill, despite having already filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and receiving federal, state, and institutional financial aid resources. If you find yourself in this position, here are some ideas to consider to help fill the gap between what your financial aid covers and what you owe the institution.

Learn more here.


My Brother’s Keeper Data Jam: Old World Values with New World Strategies and Tools

Student at data jam.

When President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, he called on Americans to make sure that every American — including our boys and young men of color — can reach their full potential.  On August 2, over 150 people showed up early on a Saturday morning for a “Data Jam” hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with Georgetown University and the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. The Jam took place at Georgetown Downtown in Washington, D.C.

The My Brother’s Keeper Data Jam brought together a diverse group of high school students, teachers, data scientists, data visualization experts, developers and community and non-profit leaders. The aim was to find new and better ways to use data to highlight opportunities and create solutions that can improve life outcomes for all students, including boys and young men of color. It was a powerful day.

A group of young men started us off with compelling spoken word performances that reminded all in attendance of the incredible challenges they face and enormous potential they hold. While acknowledging the role they had to play in changing the narrative of their own lives, they made plain the real danger and risks they face each day and expressed frustration in having to overcome the negative stereotypes that are applied to them and their peers.

The attendees then broke into teams focused on the six universal goals outlined in the My Brother’s Keeper 90 Day Task Force Report– entering school ready to learn; reading at grade level by third grade; graduating from high school ready for college and career; completing post-secondary education or training; successfully entering the workforce; and reducing violence and providing a second chance. The teams were designed to capitalize on the range of perspectives and expertise among the participants. The student and teacher team members almost uniformly commented that they had never before been engaged in developing or even asked about tools and resources that impact their daily lives.

Nearly 20 teams worked through the day on crafting compelling ways to show data and creative solutions to chronic challenges – ranging from strategies to reduce preschool suspensions and expulsions to websites that enable students to find career paths and the required education or training to access them. At the end of the day, seven teams were voted by other participants as having the most promising ideas, and those teams committed to moving these and other ideas forward.

Learn more about the event here.