Honoring Angela Palacios

Angela Palacios

Angela Palacios, Ed.D

Spanish High School Teacher

Phoenix, AZ

Dr. Angela Palacios has spent 10 years teaching Spanish with Phoenix Union High School District, where she began her teaching career at Cesar Chavez High School.  In addition to teaching, she has spent time mentoring teachers in and out of the classroom.  She also spent one year as a Curriculum and Instructional Coach for an elementary school in Phoenix.  She has served as a trainer and facilitator for the implementation of professional learning communities, curriculum and instruction, and Freshman House Academy within her school. She is currently serving on South Mountain High School’s Open House Committee, Multicultural Committee, and Graduation Committee.  She also has the privilege to call out the names at the graduation ceremony.  Dr. Palacios was recently selected to participate in the year three pilot of the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI), a joint endeavor of the National Education Association (NEA), the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), and The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (National Board).  She also participates as part of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative which convenes leaders and stakeholders from around the country to work together to form integrated strategies to help every young person find their way to class every day.

Dr. Palacios holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Communications with a minor in Spanish from the Sul Ross State University of Texas.  She earned her certification as a 6-12 Spanish Teacher at the University of Mississippi and then returned to the Arizona State University to earn her Master’s in Secondary Education and most recently completed her Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration also from Arizona State University where she conducted a study highlighting the challenges of five DREAMers and strategies they used to overcome those challenges.  As the daughter of immigrants, Dr. Palacios is aware of the sacrifices and contributions of immigrants.  She can also relate very well to challenges of obtaining a higher education on many levels.

Why do you teach?

As an educator, I strive to develop leaders that are critical thinkers and problem solvers who develop a sense of responsibility to change their own lives and that of their families and communities. I teach because it’s the best way to affect social change.   There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing student transformations in and out of the classroom.  I make every effort to teach with corazón because once you win the students’ hearts, you can equip their brain with vast knowledge.

What do you love about teaching?

Here is a video made by students that includes students and colleagues acknowledging my doctoral degree.  I made it against all odds.  I am now part of the 1% of the world with a doctorate degree.  I am part of the .5% because I am Mexican, a woman, and also a single mom.  In addition, I am proud to be part of the 8% of Latina teachers that many articles talk about. This video makes me very proud of my accomplishments.  I strive to be a positive role model and it brings me to tears every time I watch it.  To empower students and hear from their own mouths that I made a difference is priceless.  They are the reason I love teaching!

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?   

There are many teachers that helped me along the way.  My biggest supporter and mentor, however, was Mrs. Stapleton, my high school Spanish teacher.  She always provided opportunities for growth, resources, and constantly reminded me of my potential.  Had it not been for her, I wouldn’t have gone to college.  Current teachers like Bolivia Gaytan, Debbie Kunes, and Carla Flores always keep me grounded, inspired, and help me keep perspective on what is important in life.

Honoring Maria Dominguez

Maria Dominguez

Maria Dominguez

1st Grade Bilingual Teacher

Austin, TX

Maria was born in Guanajuato, Mexico where she lived in a modest house with her mother, grandmother, and three siblings. When she was eight years old, her mother received a phone call that would change her. Her father had passed away in an automobile accident in Texas. Her mother then decided that they would migrate to the United States, bringing along her four children.

She graduated high school with honors, she knew that continuing her education would be an adversity. She was an undocumented student, but she did not give up and decided to enroll in Austin Community College. As she got ready to transfer to a four-year university, she made the ultimate decision that would change her life: she would become a bilingual teacher. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Texas State University in Bilingual Education in December 2007.

Because of her legal status she could not teach at public schools. Nevertheless, she began to teach Sunday School at her church, giving her the opportunity to teach children. She later on enrolled in Texas State University for her Master’s Degree in Bilingual Education and minor in Educational Leadership.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which would grant certain undocumented immigrants a two-year work permit and a suspension of deportation. Maria was excited and thankful because she would have the opportunity to practice her profession. She applied for DACA in August 2012 and received her approval in December 2012. In February 2013, she was hired by the Austin Independent School District as a Pre-K bilingual teacher. She works at a Title I school where over 96% of the students receive free or reduced lunch. She attended a similar school and now she has the opportunity to give back to a community that reflects the community where she came from. Her students come from similar walks of life and they all share similar stories. This allows the teachers, to become their role models and make a positive impact in their lives.

As a teacher, Education Austin member and AFT member she has been granted the opportunity to work with the immigrant community – in particular undocumented youth. She helps U.S. residents fill out their citizenship applications and Dreamers fill out their DACA application. She has also shared her story at DACA forums. She has also attended several conferences with AFT that focus on immigration, and how members can work with their locals to help members, parents and students.

Thanks to the work she is doing in her classroom and in her community, the White House honored her this past July 24th, as a DACAmented Teacher Champion of Change. She felt thrilled to receive this kind of recognition by the White House. There needs to be constant people who advocate for students, parents and the community.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I believe I can make a positive difference in the lives of my students.  I care about my students and my goal is to help them achieve their dreams, even if that simply means believing in them. I feel I have been given the opportunity to achieve my potential and I truly believe that sometimes children only need someone who is going to care enough to guide them and motivate them.

What do you love about teaching?

The best part of being a teacher is that I am also a student, I learn with my students. We grow together; we learn together, they motivate me to try new ways of teaching. At the end of the day, everything is worth it when I see my students’ academic and personal achievements. I love to hear my students say, “I got it!” during a math lesson. I love seeing them struggling to read and seeing them become fluent readers at the end of the school year.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Yes, definitely! I had great teachers that made a difference in my life. They saw something in me that I did not see at the time. They believed in me, they made me feel like they cared about me. I remember Ms. Morin in middle school, my ESL teacher, who pushed me to learn English and motivated me to speak English because I was a very shy student. Sgt. Claywell, my ROTC instructor, who knowing I was undocumented saw my potential and helped me write letters to congressmen trying to find a way for me to go to college. I thank these amazing teachers for believing in me.

ParentCamp International: Engaging Leaders from Immigrant Communities

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

ParentCamp International included several breakout sessions. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

ParentCamp International included several breakout sessions. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

When I first heard about the first ParentCamp International, I knew I had to be there! As a Hispanic/Latina mother of a son receiving Special Education services and who works closely with international families in schools, I felt I couldn’t miss the opportunity to meet decision makers in our educational system and share stories and experiences of our groups.

It was an eventful day! In addition to hearing from representatives of the White House, Justice Department and Secretary of Education John King, we were able to network and share stories during many breakout group sessions, which were incredibly meaningful.

During these sessions, we had truly honest conversations about issues international families and minorities face in our schools and communities. We were all able to talk about how we could collaborate to make changes that would positively impact their experiences. One thing that resonated in every session I attended was that every school with a high number of non-English speakers should have one or more bilingual liaison to assist these families and create a welcoming environment.

During the session about supporting families of students in special education (a topic dear to my heart for obvious reasons), we were able to talk about making the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process friendlier for non-English speaking families. Having a child with developmental delays has taught me so much about compassion and acceptance, and whenever I sit at one of his IEP meetings, I cannot help but think about families who do not speak or understand English. Much of the terminology used in IEP documents can be very intimidating, even for English speakers! So, acknowledging something like this was very important to me. As a group, we talked about the importance of having highly qualified and trained interpreters who have a depth knowledge of all the vocabulary and terms commonly used in Special Education.

I also had the opportunity to attend a session about bridging cultural gaps between parents and children of different cultures – and this was perhaps the most enlightening. It was great to hear firsthand from immigrant parents of backgrounds that are different from my own. These parents were asking for more resources to help them get involved in their children’s education, especially more bilingual staff in schools. Many of them have the language barrier and don’t know who to look for when they need help. It was interesting to see how every school district has different programs to assist international families. Some are way ahead than others in the process, which is why we discussed how important it is for parents and community leaders to advocate for more resources and have their voices heard in events such as this.

ParentCamp International exceeded my expectations. I participated in real brainstorming sessions on how we could improve our educational system and provide international families the resources and tools to help their children be successful academically.

But perhaps the most important thing I took away from this experience was the people I met. This was a great chance to network with other parents and representatives from other school districts. I met a few parents from Virginia and Maryland who also have children in special education. We talked about our fears, struggles and hopes for the future. I also met others from Howard and Fairfax County who work with International families as well. We shared our concerns and the things we do in our schools to support family involvement. It got me thinking about the saying, “It takes a village.” It really does take an entire community to make substantial changes — and I am sure these conversations were the start of something great!

Valerie Perez Vega is a parent of four and was a ParentCamp International attendee. She also works with international families in Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland as a Bilingual Family and Community Outreach Facilitator.

Local Efforts Supporting Latino Teacher Recruitment

Posted by White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

On April 20, 2016, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) hosted the next in its series of Bright Spots in Hispanic Education (Bright Spots) Google+ Hangouts. The Google+ Hangout highlighted the tremendous efforts of Bright Spots focused on Latino teacher recruitment around the country. Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education and Maria Pastrana Lujan, Senior Advisor at the WHIEEH, hosted : Academy for Teacher Excellence, TX, Bilingual Education Program at Texas A&M University, TX, Grow your Own Teachers (GYO), IL, Mini-Corps Program at Fresno State, CA, STEM Transformation Institute (STI), FL, T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood, NC, and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The Google Hangout was a dynamic and educational discussion featuring promising practices and strategies supporting Latino teacher recruitment.

Teachers can be the most influential figure in a students’ educational journey. As the Latino population continues to grow, it is imperative to have a teaching workforce that reflects the student population and our diverse nation. Currently, one in four public school students are Hispanic, yet only 7.8% of the teaching workforce is Hispanic. Resources and support are critical to maintain top talented Hispanic teachers in education. Bright Spots are helping to combat this disparity through their efforts.

Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education, and Maria Pastrana Lujan, Senior Advisor at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, host Google + Hangout on Latino Teacher Recruitment on April 20, 2016.

Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education, and Maria Pastrana Lujan, Senior Advisor at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, host Google + Hangout on Latino Teacher Recruitment on April 20, 2016.

Throughout the Google hangout, the Bright Spots shared how each has been successful in recruiting and retaining teachers and highlighted best practices. Best practices included: creating partnerships with their local community colleges, creating teacher learning communities, and allowing hands-on student experiences during their freshman year. They also discussed the importance of outreach to bilingual students and non-traditional student teacher candidates and the importance of including family in all aspects of the process.

In fact, studies (Ceja, 2004; Gándara, 1995, 1999; Solorzano, 1986) have shown that families and communities are vital components to the educational and occupational aspirations of students. By having those who are already present in the community as educational leaders, students’ aspirations can be cultivated and realized through interaction in school settings. Increasing the number of Latino teachers will not only benefit Latino students but rather all students by bringing a diverse perspective to the classroom environment. Latino teacher recruitment efforts are effective when we collaborate and build partnerships between school districts and local colleges and universities with larger ethnic minority student populations. These partnerships can increase the number of diverse teachers by providing culturally-responsive, cooperative-learning centered, and culturally-inclusive teaching training opportunities (Bireda & Chait, 2011).

It is also important to remember that in addition to teacher recruitment, we must focus on retention. By increasing the retention of Latino teachers, we also increase the presence of Latinos in other school positions such as school counselor, administrators and other school leaders (Méndez-Morse, Murakami, Byrne-Jiménez, & Hernandez, 2015). The recruitment and retention of Latino teachers becomes the vehicle that mobilizes schools to meet the demands of its diverse student population, which then creates a welcoming and inclusive environment to learn in.

These Bright Spots clearly demonstrate that by providing Latino students with the support and wrap around services they need to be successful teachers, they are helping to ensure that our teaching workforce is as diverse as our nation’s students. A teacher candidate from the Mini-Corps Program at Fresno State said it best, “They provide the support to keep up my academics and to always strive to better myself and to hold myself to a higher standard. […] Next year, I’ll be working as a fourth grade teacher in Mendoza where I grew up.” There can be no greater measure of the positive impact these Bright Spots in Hispanic Education are making.

Fresno State MiniCorps Program


To view the full engagement video here: http://bit.ly/1X8SSiS


Teachers Advocate for Removal of Barriers and Fear for Undocumented Students

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom


Dominguez with students in her classroom. (Photo courtesy Alice Dominguez)

Dominguez with students in her classroom. (Photo courtesy Alice Dominguez)

Two words dominated the conversation at ED’s Tea with Teachers last week on the topic of supporting undocumented students: fear and hope. Educators balanced their concerns for their undocumented and mixed-status students, while acknowledging the hope that they ultimately deserve. During the tea, I couldn’t help but think of the student from my school district, who was sitting in a jail cell rather than a classroom, feeling those same emotions.

Wildin David Guillen Acosta was taken from his front yard on his way to his Durham, N.C., school in January, while his mother watched helplessly from their home. He would later join nine other students from North Carolina and Georgia whose parents and classmates also witnessed their arrests from bus stops, homes, and neighborhoods. While The Department of Homeland Security has designated schools with sanctuary status, teachers across the Southeast are arguing that ICE raids are threatening our students’ daily lives as their justifiable anxieties are occupying what could otherwise be devoted to their academic pursuits.

Teachers nodded in unison as we heard testimonials of students and family members who were taken from us by ICE or who suffer from PTSD from the threats that ICE raids pose. We questioned how we can engage our biggest allies, our students’ families, when schools serve as an intimidating environment. As César Moreno Pérez of the American Federation of Teachers stated at the tea, ICE raids are, “eroding the hope that educators worked so hard to build” in immigrant communities across our nation.

The threat of deportations is just the beginning of an undocumented student’s concerns. Teachers shared frustration with the barriers that are created as a result of misinformation, particularly post-secondary financial barriers. Secretary King acknowledged that some states are more committed to supporting our undocumented students’ collegiate goals, and this is certainly the case for me, as I noted that my former students in Colorado attend college with in-state tuition, while my current students in North Carolina have found limited options when searching for scholarships and financial aid.

Most notably, it is not just students who are vulnerable to the instability of our complex immigration system. A teacher with DACA status spoke of the important role that DACA qualifying teachers can play in inspiring students, yet this important role remains unstable as we wait for the results of the most recent Supreme Court case and next election. Since DACA is an executive order, the next President could remove it, making this teacher and others like her ineligible to do exactly what they feel called to do — show their own undocumented students that their dream career is within reach.

I left this tea once again with Wildin on my mind and an inbox full of resources from other teachers. It’s always inspiring to meet teacher leaders from across the country, and in this case, I feel more supported knowing they’re committed to empowering our students in the face of the barriers imposed on them.

Alice Dominguez is an English teacher at J.D. Clement Early College High School in Durham, North Carolina, and a founding member of a recently developed caucus to support undocumented students within the Durham Association of Educators. She previously taught in Las Vegas and Denver.

Bright Spot in Hispanic Education Google + Hangout Highlights Local Efforts on Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education for Latino Students

Posted by Jaqueline Cortez Wang, Senior Advisor, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

On March 16, 2016, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) held its Bright Spots in Hispanic Education Google+ Hangout (Hangout) monthly session. The fourth Hangout highlighted the work of Bright Spots focused on STEM education and the Hispanic community. Melissa Moritz, Deputy Director for STEM Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, and I were joined by representatives from Bright Spots in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, and Texas.  The Hangout featured promising practices and strategies helping to broaden participation of Hispanics in STEM education and related fields.

According to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, between 2010 and 2020, the overall employment in STEM occupations will increase by 17%, yet Latinos are underrepresented in STEM fields and not enough are graduating with STEM degrees to match the increasing demands for these jobs. And, when it comes to accessing key math and science only 67% of Hispanic students have access to the full range. For Latinas, the underrepresentation in STEM is even greater, with only approximately 9% of Latinas obtaining a STEM-related degree at the post-secondary level [National Center for Educational Statistics, 2009]. The Bright Spots we spoke to are helping to combat these disparities through their hard work.

LNCES share their program with students in the background

In an effort to reframe the narrative suggesting the interest of Hispanic students, in particular of Hispanic girls and women, in STEM is low, we must work together to ensure access and opportunity. The Bright Spots also highlighted the importance of engaging parents, supporting educators and informing the community about the benefits of rigorous math and science courses and careers in STEM. They also stressed the need to expose students at earlier ages, starting in preschool, and to train and recruit more Latino STEM teachers who can serve as role models and can expose students further.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we also learned about efforts to increase the number of Hispanic girls and women entering STEM related fields. As a former employee working at NASA, it was especially encouraging to see Bright Spots focusing on this specifically. The Obama Administration has called for improvements in STEM education, increases in the number of STEM teachers, and additional opportunities encouraging all students, including girls and women, in science careers. Thanks to the efforts of our Bright Spots and the continued investments from the federal government, I look forward to seeing more Latinos enter and complete STEM degrees.

Jaqueline Cortez-Wang and Melissa Mortiz host the STEM Google Hangout

The next Google+ Hangout will take place on Wednesday April 20, 2016 on Latino Teacher Recruitment. We hope you will join us as we work together to move the needle on progress for Hispanic students across the nation.


Encouraging Girls in Math and Science Practice Guide

Educate to Innovate

Funding for Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Programs

Funding for HSIs and STEM Programs

Green Ribbon Schools

Bright Spots In Hispanic Education National Catalog

Civil Rights Data Collection – College and Career Readiness Snapshot


View the full engagement video here: https://youtu.be/afImTdQ3DOk

The 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge is Here!

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move! Blog

It’s that time of year again – we’re inviting kids across the country to create healthy lunch recipes for a chance to win a trip to Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to attend the Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House!

Check out a special message from First Lady Michelle Obama announcing the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge:

The First Lady is once again teaming up with PBS flagship station WGBH Boston, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge to promote cooking and healthy eating among young people across the nation.

The challenge invites kids ages 8-12, in collaboration with a parent or guardian, to create an original recipe that is healthy, affordable, and delicious. One winner from each U.S. state, territory, and the District of Columbia will win the opportunity to be flown to Washington, DC and the opportunity to attend the 2016 Kids’ “State Dinner” here at the White House, where a selection of the winning recipes will be served. Kids will also have the opportunity to learn from television personality and member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition Rachael Ray.

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks in the East Room at the 2015 Kids’ “State Dinner.” (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks in the East Room at the 2015 Kids’ “State Dinner.” (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Check out USDA’s MyPlate to ensure your child’s recipe meets the nutrition guidelines by representing each of the food groups, either in one dish or as parts of a lunch meal, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. In addition, in celebration of the MyPlate, MyState initiative, the 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge is putting a spotlight on homegrown pride across the country and encouraging entries to include local ingredients grown in your family’s state, territory, or community.

We can’t wait to see what kids create this year – so good luck and get cooking! Don’t forget to submit by April 4!

Learn more:

Kelly Miterko is Deputy Director of Let’s Move!

Socioeconomic Diversity as a School Turnaround Strategy

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom


The world that we’re preparing our kids for is diverse—our workplaces and our society reflect an enormous range of backgrounds and experiences. Succeeding in that world requires having had the experience of diversity in its many forms, particularly socioeconomic diversity. Mounting evidence shows that diversity is a clear path to better outcomes in school and in life. Exposure to other students from a wide array of backgrounds can boost empathy, reduce bias and increase group problem-solving skills. In short, it helps prepare students – regardless of their backgrounds – for the world in which they will live and work.

Socioeconomically diverse schools are especially powerful for students from low-income families, who historically have not had equal access to the resources they need to succeed. For example, in Montgomery County, Maryland, children in public housing who attended the district’s most advantaged elementary schools performed better over time than those attending higher-poverty schools, despite additional per-student funding provided at higher-poverty schools.

Given what we know about the benefits of diversity, we are interested in exploring how the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program can be used to promote voluntary, community-supported efforts to expand socioeconomic diversity in schools and improve student outcomes. These grants are awarded to states that then make competitive subgrants to school districts that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds and the strongest commitment to raising student achievement in their lowest-performing schools.


Join the conversation

We welcome your input on how we can support school districts or consortia of districts, with support from their states and local communities, to use SIG funds to implement socioeconomic diversity strategies.

We are interested in your thoughts on the use of SIG funds, including your views on the following:

  1. The use of SIG funds to support district-wide socioeconomic diversity strategies aimed at increasing academic outcomes for students in lowest performing schools.
  1. Current SIG requirements for states and districts that may restrict the use SIG funds to increase the socioeconomic diversity of schools, if any.
  2. Other policies or conditions (e.g., high concentrations of students in poverty, strong community and stakeholder engagement, written assurances from effected districts and schools) that need to be in place for districts to successfully implement a comprehensive socioeconomic diversity plan that increase academic outcomes for students in its lowest performing schools.
  1. Methods and measures states and districts could use to demonstrate progress in implementing a comprehensive socioeconomic diversity plan.

We welcome your input until April 12. If you have any comments please send them via email to SIG.StrongerTogether@ed.gov.

Free Consumer Protection Tools for Educators and Students

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education blog

A guest blog by Cristina Miranda, Division of Consumer and Business Education, Federal Trade Commission 

April is Financial Literacy Month! Find free tools to help students understand consumer protection basics – including financial literacy – in plain and simple language at Consumer.gov in English and Consumidor.gov in Spanish. This free educational website from the Federal Trade Commission can help students learn how to avoid scams, manage their money, use credit and loans carefully, and protect their personal information.

Federal Trade Commission

Federal Trade Commission

The site is easy to use, easy to navigate, and accessible to people with different learning preferences and literacy levels. Educators can access free articles, videos, and worksheets about managing money, – including making a budget; credit, loans, and debt, how to get and fix credit; and avoiding scams and identity theft. Other tools include presentations, and lesson plans (arriving Spring 2016). You can also hear content read aloud; just click the “listen” button next to each article in either English or Spanish.

It’s easy — and free — to use and share Consumer.gov and Consumidor.gov information. Everything is in the public domain and there are no copyright limits. Users can download copies to hand out, link to a page or copy text into a newsletter.

Request printed copies of the Consumer.gov and Consumidor.gov materials as a sample pack, including all topics in English and Spanish, or in tear-off pads of 50 for each topic. Students can refer to these one-page flyers when making financial decisions, or complete the Making a Budget worksheet to make their own monthly budget. Copies may be ordered from ftc.gov/bulkorder (unlimited quantities) and the FTC will ship them for free.

Both Consumer.gov and Consumidor.gov are featured resources in the LINCS Learner Center, which connects adult learners to freely availalbe learning sites.

Students Share College Completion Journeys

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Students from a variety of socio-economic and racial backgrounds discussed the idea of belonging during this Student Voices Session. (Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students from a variety of socio-economic and racial backgrounds discussed the idea of belonging during this Student Voices Session. (Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

“If you feel like you belong, you can achieve anything.”

This was the overarching sentiment expressed by many students during the latest Student Voices session, which focused on college completion at Minority Serving Institutions.

Both Secretary John King and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell were on hand to listen and engage students from a variety of socio-economic and racial backgrounds around the idea of belonging.

Many students present expressed a concern about the general lack of support from school counselors and said this made them feel as though they didn’t belong at college.

Other students said it was one unique relationship – whether with a teacher or professor – that enabled them to attend and complete college because this individual took the time to listen, work alongside them and help them navigate the system.

One Native student said she felt misunderstood and taken advantage of because her high school counselor took it for granted that she would be able to fill out the online FAFSA application without realizing that she lacked access to resources such as wi-fi.

As a DACA student myself at this session, I recalled how college personnel sent me to one office after another with disjointed pieces of advice when I was attempting to find resources to pay my tuition.

Hearing these concerns about the need to improve school and college advising, Secretary King emphasized how the Department of Education is trying to share best practices with universities to better support undocumented students. He also said that ED is attempting to increase funding to prepare more school counselors.

Evan Sanchez, another undergraduate at the session, explained that he thinks college personnel should alter their advising schedules to better meet the needs of working or non-traditional students who are juggling multiple responsibilities.

Joanna DeJesus, a CUNY Macaulay Honors College student, recommended more purposeful communication across departments so that students do not receive conflicting advice.

Finally, the students agreed on the importance of universities to exert greater efforts in aiding students beyond college, such as assisting with job placements and providing financial literacy guidance.

The session itself, which was only supposed to last 30 minutes, continued for more than an hour. The fact that Secretary King stayed to listen to everyone’s stories demonstrated how much he valued our perspectives and diverse experiences. It is not everyday that there are Native, Asian-origin undocumented, Black, and Latina and Latino students engaging in the same conversation.

I think it’s important to recognize that educational policy decisions cannot be made without student input since it directly affects us. Secretary King ensured that our voices were not only heard, but that we felt like belonged in such a space to be able to share our personal journeys and recommendations.

Syeda Raza is an E3! Ambassador at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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