Honoring Teachers’ Commitment to Continual Improvement through Collaboration

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

Teacher Appreciation Week is one of my favorite times of the school year! Honoring the educators who spend countless hours creating lesson plans, building authentic relationships, and welcoming students into the learning space – whether it be in-person, online, or both – has been such a joy. I think back to my time growing up and fondly remember those who influenced me with their encouraging words, supportive nature, and praise of my efforts. My teachers, Ms. Pendergast, Mrs. Dixon, and Mr. Anderson were just three of many educators that left a lasting impression by showing me how much effort matters. I am grateful to them and to have this incredible opportunity to honor the efforts made by our nation’s teachers.

I am appreciative of the pre-service teachers that are just entering classrooms for the first time.  They bring such joy, hope, and creativity to the field. I have been inspired this past year watching new teachers step into the field while navigating the challenges of virtual job searches and amidst the new challenges facing education during the pandemic. The circumstances in which these educators have trained for has changed dramatically yet new teachers poured their passion into our nation’s classrooms bringing energy in the midst of immense changes to the field. I appreciate the commitment and problem-solving they are bringing to the classroom to help our nation’s students navigate new learning environments and experience academic and social success. These educators study, revise, and apply new learning to continually improve their practice.

Thank goodness for experienced mentor teachers who help usher the next generation through all the trials and tribulations of getting started in the classroom! This year was especially unique as veteran teachers were faced with new challenges of their own. Still, many took on the challenge of supporting new teachers and welcoming them to the field. It’s incredibly important that new teachers have a safe, caring relationship with experienced teachers, but these efforts take time and concerted effort. Experienced teachers work side-by-side helping new educators grow and develop professionally by offering guidance, co-developing lessons, and crafting continual feedback. At the same time, veteran educators seek out new techniques and refine their own practice. In new roles I have taken on, I have valued the people that let me ask questions and were there to support me when I stumbled. It is gratifying to see that these professional relationships often help teachers feel more connected to each other, to their schools, and to the profession.

One of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed this year is the efforts that teachers and school staff have made to personally connect with their students. Morning meetings, daily celebrations, check-ins, and even daily conversation starters about students’ lives have taken on new importance.  I’ve seen new and veteran teachers reach out and forge those special connections with their students and tying their interests into lessons.  I love hearing the connections my own children are making in their classrooms when we have been home together this past year. This special connection between teachers and their students is one I hope we continue to nurture as we return to in-person learning.

Along my life’s journey, I have been blessed to have teachers and faculty who were committed to my success, from preschool through law school. As the daughter of a math teacher and a computer scientist who served as adjunct faculty, both of my parents instilled in me a desire to help craft a better system; one where all families and students feel welcomed and supported the same way I did. I am thrilled to know new and veteran teachers are committed to supporting and learning from one another. Though new teachers and veterans both face unique challenges, they commit to improving their craft collaboratively, putting in time, effort, and attention to ongoing learning for themselves and their students. Our teachers are determined to create a path forward where all children can thrive. It is with deepest appreciation that we honor the work of these teachers, this and every week.

Donna Harris-Aikens is the Senior Advisor for Policy and Planning in the Office of the Secretary.

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First-Ever RISE Awardee Announced

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

Need a reason for celebration? In the Recognition Programs Unit of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach, we have several of them spread throughout the year.  The newest recognition award joining the family, structured to shine a spotlight good work and ignite more positive contributions, while engaging state and local stakeholders with their federal education agency, is the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees award.

In April 2019, Congress passed the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act enabling the U.S. Department of Education to begin honoring one extraordinary education support professional annually and that fall, ED launched the first cycle of the award, with nominations from governors and state education agencies, often working together, due by November 1, 2020.

Even under pandemic circumstances, ED received 32 nominations from 20 states for the RISE award including nominations for paraprofessionals, nutrition workers, custodians, security personnel, bus drivers, and other paraprofessionals. Their contributions to schools and students – especially during this pandemic year – were remarkable. The 18 internal and external reviewers remarked just how deserving they ALL were! For this reason, ED has encouraged every participating state to honor its finalists.

While we received many inspiring stories, one individual stood out. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona selected Mr. Melito Ramirez, Intervention Specialist, at Walla Walla High School, in Walla Walla, Washington for this honor, announcing the award in this video.

Secretary Miguel Cardona announces first-ever RISE award recipient

Over his distinguished 40-year career, Ramirez has worked for multiple school districts in more than a dozen different roles such as migrant home visitor, summer school coordinator, special education secretary, and bus driver. Ramirez now conducts home visits, bridges the gap between home and school for Spanish speaking families, and works to secure the mental health and technological resources students need.

Ramirez is known for his help in organizing a multilingual adult night school. He supports students as they apply for and participate in youth leadership programs — including rising well before dawn each weekend to drive them five hours to programming across the state. Ramirez is also credited with diminishing tensions among rival gang members in the 1990s when gang conflict was high in the Walla Walla area by coordinating supervised out-of-school activities.

Mr. Ramirez with his award

Today, we celebrate Mr. Ramirez for demonstrating courage and resourcefulness over decades of service. We are reminded of the critical work of all classified school employees in supporting student success.  Individuals interested in nominating or applying should contact their governor’s office to inquire about state-specific process. Governors’ office and state education agency program administrators may contact RISE@ed.gov with any questions and to indicate a state’s plans to participate for the coming cycle.  We look forward to celebrating many education support professionals in the years to come!

Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees Award, as well as Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, and ED’s Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison.

A Letter to America’s Teachers

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

I never could predict what might happen in Mr. O’Neil’s art classes; I just knew I couldn’t wait for the next assignment.  Back then I didn’t realize all the ways this dynamic educator, a rare man of color leading our diverse classroom of second graders, was serving as a pioneer and role model for me and my peers in John Barry Elementary School.  But I’ll never forget how his teaching made me feel.  As a second grader, I remember looking up — watching him encourage, challenge and guide us – and thinking: “I want to be like him.”

In the years since embracing that calling and starting my career as a classroom teacher, I’ve kept that sense of purpose and wonder.  And my goal in all the administrative roles I’ve held is to facilitate great teaching and learning: to support and expand the transformative impact that skilled, caring classroom teachers have for students, schools, and communities.

Every day America’s teachers change lives, and every day those lives change the world.

Now, this truth can seem to recede as you rush to keep up with the day’s intense pace, and your students’ needs and opportunities. Yet, from the first bell on the first day of the school year, you build a relationship with each of them. You learn their strengths and struggles, laugh with them, cry with them, worry over them, cheer for them – and at the end of the school year, help them transition to their next grade level adventure. You know all those experiences – both the academic and life lessons – have changed both you and them for the better.  You empower them to grow in skill and character — expand their understanding of the world and how to shape it — explore their interests and decide where to make their mark.

Teaching is not a job anyone just falls into. It is mastery of a craft: in fact, the craft that enables all the others. In my experience, great teachers are also quintessential lifelong learners. You use your command of learning science, your insights into your students’ unique needs and aptitudes, as well as the lessons of the past, the realities of the present and the inspiration, innovation and ingenuity of the future to help each new generation become leaders for today and tomorrow. Throughout the year you support your fellow educators, add to your tools through professional development, provide feedback on assignments, sponsor sports, service learning, clubs and other extracurricular activities, collaborate with parents –in addition to everything you pour into your students during class.

Even in this unprecedented year, you rallied, finding new ways to engage with students. In the face of tragedy, you learned new technologies and built virtual classroom communities, all while caring for yourselves and your own families.  As we heal, recover, and rebuild, this pandemic presents a chance to forge opportunity from crisis and reimagine education on every level. We will use this time to address inequities in our education system, and your contributions will be invaluable.  The work won’t be easy, but the impact of your success will be profound, for students and communities. I urge state, local, and elected officials to make sure classroom teachers have a voice in your plans and efforts to reimagine education; second to parents, they know our students best.

I look forward to learning and listening from you in the days ahead.  And, from all of us at the Department of Education: Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. There’s a reason teacher like Mr. O’Neil – and all of you – are memorable.  There’s a reason student in America’s classrooms watch you share your curiosity, energy and passion for ideas and think, “I want to be like them.”

You are embodiments of possibility, champions of your students’ potential and stewards of their success.

Dr. Miguel A. Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education.

Building STEM Communities with Community Colleges

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Energy blog.

April is Community College Month. We’re jumping in to celebrate by sharing our STEM workforce development and education outreach opportunities. These programs target students from the more than 1,000 public and private community colleges across the United States. (And did you know that Dr. Jill Biden is a community college teacher alongside her role as First Lady of the United States?)

Community colleges educate a diverse student population across age, family educational attainment, race, and area of study, reflecting the nation as a whole. They often reach students who are unable to access traditional, four-year degree programs. According to the U.S. Census, more than 30 percent of college students are undergraduates at two-year colleges. More than half of students in community colleges  attend part-time as they develop workforce skills and earn associate degrees, certificates, or baccalaureate degrees. Students at community colleges are able to obtain a high-quality education that’s affordable and can launch them straight into careers or other four-year degree programs.

America is poised to make a major investment in community college infrastructure. The American Jobs Plan proposes spending $12 billion for facilities and technologies as well as identifying strategies to address access to community colleges in education deserts.

Internships Program

The DOE’s flagship program is our Community College Internships (CCI) program through the Office of Science. It’s a competitive 10-week paid internship for community college students. Students can work at one of 16 participating DOE national laboratories under the supervision of lab technicians or researchers. They work on technologies, instrumentation projects, or major research facilities in support of DOE’s mission. Host laboratories also offer additional professional development opportunities, including workshops, laboratory tours, and scientific lectures. Internships are offered in the spring, summer, and fall.

Applications for the Fall 2021 term of this program are due on May 27, 2021.

Community College Internships participant Nabeel Jaser used his interest in engineering to advance research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source facility.
Community College Internships participant Nabeel Jaser used his interest in engineering to advance research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source facility.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The experiences of CCI participants mirror the diverse research done at our national laboratories. At Argonne National Laboratory in 2018, Brenda Escobedo developed a device that mimicked a piece of the Gammasphere Accelerator. Engineers at Argonne were in the process of upgrading the detector and used Escobedo’s device to test the upgrade.

Mwesi Musisi-Nkambwe interned at Brookhaven National Laboratory through both the Community College Internships program (2003) and the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships program (2004). During his internships, he improved the interface in the control room of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (an Office of Science user facility) that technicians use to manage the equipment.

At Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2016, Nabeel Jaser worked to improve the efficiency of the beamline of one of the most intense pulsed neutron beams in the world. With his mentor, he constructed a tool that scientists could use to change out samples more quickly.

Community colleges provide opportunities for millions of Americans from all walks of life and while the American Jobs Plan is paving the way for even more Americans to benefit, the DOE’s internship program is just one of many ways it supports STEM workforce development and education. For more resources for college and graduate students in STEM from the U.S. Department of Energy, visit STEM Rising.

Shannon Brescher Shea is a Social Media Manager and Senior Writer/Editor for the Office of Science.
AnneMarie Horowitz has been with the Energy Department since 2009, and is the Director of STEM Rising, a priority Departmental initiative to highlight the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs and resources of the agency.

Let’s Urge High School Seniors to Complete the FAFSA® Form Today

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

By: Federal Student Aid

As students and families prepare for education beyond high school, cost is a critical consideration. At Federal Student Aid, we know students and families often have to make tough decisions about higher education, and we know the COVID-19 emergency has made some of those decisions even harder.

In typical times, submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form is the first step students and families should take to access federal dollars for college or career school; this is especially true during this challenging period.

In addition to federal student aid, submitting the FAFSA form also can unlock opportunities for aid from some states, postsecondary institutions, and private organizations. Because many states have limited funds, students and families should know their state’s deadline and submit the FAFSA form as early as possible.

At Federal Student Aid, we’ve seen an alarming decline in the number of high school seniors who’ve submitted the 2021–22 FAFSA form. In fact, compared to the same time last year, there’s been a 9.2% national decline in first-time FAFSA submissions by high school seniors (data as of Feb. 26, 2021). In several states—like Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, and West Virginia—the decline reaches double digits.

Data sources: U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 American Community Survey One-Year Estimates; U.S. Department of Education office of Federal Student Aid: 2020–21 FAFSA® Application Cycle (Oct. 1, 2019–Feb. 26, 2020) to 2021–22 FAFSA Application Cycle (Oct. 1, 2020–Feb. 26, 2021)

When we closely examine the states with the greatest declines in first-time FAFSA submissions, we find overlap with some of the states with high percentages of individuals living below the poverty level.

Higher education remains a prominent avenue for upward mobility in America. That’s why Federal Student Aid’s mission is to fund America’s future, one student at a time. By being the most-trusted source of information about federal student aid, we want to ensure all students can access higher education regardless of their ZIP code.

But today, many students across the nation are missing out on federal student aid—including critical need-based aid—by failing to submit the FAFSA form. Each year, the federal government provides more than $115 billion in federal grants, work-study funds, and loans; in award year 2018–19, about one-quarter of that aid was in the form of grants, awarded to students with financial need.

We need your help reaching students and their families. We need your help telling them that submitting the FAFSA form today—despite current uncertainties—opens up options for the future.

The U.S. Department of Education has reminded financial aid professionals that they have the authority to adjust financial aid packages based on factors, such as changes in family income. A few weeks ago, Federal Student Aid asked education leaders in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. to join us in making FAFSA completion for high school seniors a priority. And, many have responded!

For example, following a recent FAFSA completion campaign in Louisiana, FAFSA submissions increased by 5%, and education officials are making plans for a follow-up outreach campaign. Arkansas officials are partnering with Federal Student Aid, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations to develop electronic resource kits for students and families. They’re even using TikTok, the social media video-sharing platform, to engage students!

Reaching students and families where they are is why we created the myStudentAid mobile app, which is available for iOS and Android devices. The mobile app offers a convenient option for students and families to fill out and submit the FAFSA form from a cell phone or tablet. There’s a personalized dashboard, along with checklists to help students and families stay on track and the option to sign up for text alerts about important actions they need to take.

Help us spread the word to students and families to take action by filling out and submitting the 2021–22 FAFSA form today. And, please let them know there are several ways to get help if they need it when applying for federal student aid. They can

  • access enhanced help topics on the FAFSA form;
  • visit studentaid.gov/resources;
  • use our virtual assistant, Aidan®, on StudentAid.gov or the myStudentAid mobile app;
  • tweet @FAFSA; and
  • speak with a customer service representative at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

Working together, we can encourage students and families to fill out the FAFSA form today to open doors to their future.

Celebrating Heroic Women Breaking Glass and Winning Gold

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

celebrating heroic women breaking glass and winning gold

Women have made history, shattered glass ceilings, and forged paths in an array of fields spanning from STEM and space exploration to the arts and sports. Through their achievements women have fought for and advanced equality. Some of these remarkable women and their achievements are featured in a new special exhibit housed in the White House. In partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH), the U.S. Department of Education, and the Office of the First Lady, the White House is honoring and celebrating the achievements of women during and beyond Women’s History Month. Celebrate their legacies and lasting impact with us.


From performing heroic work in World War II to demonstrating groundbreaking athleticism in sports, these women have forged paths for future generations to follow. Using the Smithsonian’s virtual Learning Lab, you can take a stroll through the White House’s Center Hall and get an intimate look at the extraordinary women and the objects symbolizing their achievements, on loan from the NMAH.

Women’s History Month Learning Lab

Among the historic artifacts is a 1960s copywriter’s Spanish-language dictionary, which once belonged to Sara Sunshine, a Cuban refugee who cracked the glass ceiling of New York’s advertising industry. Fast forward to 2012 when women were kicking through the glass ceiling at the Olympics. On display is a soccer ball from the 2012 Olympic Games autographed by the gold medal-winning U.S. Women’s National Soccer team. They not only made history by winning gold, they were also part of a significant moment. It was the first Olympics to have female competitors in every sport and the first in which each participating country entered a female representative.

The White House exhibit and Smithsonian Learning Lab are only part of the experience. Discover more women leading throughout history and explore the entire Women’s History collection using the resources below:


From Sec. Cardona: A Letter to Parents & Students

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

Click here for a copy of this letter in Spanish

To our Nation’s Parents and Students:  

I write first, as your new Secretary of Education, to acknowledge the extraordinarily challenging year you’ve endured. Between the health crisis, economic hardship, staunch national division, and the struggle to make progress in learning while apart from teachers and peers, the impact of the pandemic is still very real and will be felt for years to come.   

And yet, you’ve kept going. As a parent of two who experienced these same concerns and uncertainties, and an educator who has been moved by the resilience of the students and families I’ve met, let me say: you deserve recognition and you have my deepest thanks.   

Brighter days are ahead. We are making progress. More schools across the country are reopening for in-person learning, and they’re doing so with the help of clear, science-based guidance from experts in the field. The Department has released part one of a COVID-19 Handbook to help schools implement guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we’re working on the second volume. Together, these guides will provide more evidence-based strategies for schools to minimize disruptions caused by school closures, especially for our most vulnerable students and communities and address the impact of COVID-19 on educational opportunity across communities. 

The most pressing challenges we face aren’t new. Since I began teaching more than 20 years ago, opportunity gaps remain. There are still unacceptable disparities in high school graduation rates and higher education is still out of reach for too many students, including learners of color, those from low-income families, and those, as I was, who would be the first in their families to attend.   

These inequities aren’t just holding our children back from achieving their full potential – they’re holding our nation back, too. We all benefit when our children have high-quality opportunities to develop their skills and build their knowledge – and then, share their gifts and talents with the world.  

Our first priority is to return students to the classroom for in-person learning, but we know there’s more work to be done once we’ve achieved that goal. We’re also working toward building better career pathways, making college more affordable, ensuring all students have access to high quality schools with a balance of quality coursework that include the arts and sciences, supporting teacher quality and improving teacher diversity, ensure teachers receive the support and respect they need and deserve, expanding access to high-quality preschool, and supporting high-quality career and technical education.   

President Biden’s plans are bold, but they match the urgency that the challenges before us demand. And as Secretary, I will always keep students and their success at the heart of the Department’s work.  

We know that, given the right support, resources and opportunities, our potential is boundless. Despite our worries as parents, this year we’ve seen new proofs of our children’s ingenuity, optimism, and ability to overcome the toughest of circumstances.   

If we all commit to approaching the remainder of this school year – and the years to come – with this same mindset of possibility, dedication, and innovation, we can and will make good on our promise to America’s students. As an educator and as a parent, I commit to safeguarding and advancing the dreams of your children, as I commit to the dreams of my own son and daughter.  

Our nation’s students deserve – and they will get – our very best efforts, our most collaborative thinking, and our deepest belief in their abilities. Together, we can build a future of promise and opportunity that makes no exceptions.  


Secretary Miguel Cardona

Recognizing Hispanic National Blue Ribbon Schools

Since 1982, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has recognized public and private schools based on their overall academic excellence or progress in closing the achievement gap among student subgroups. Each year the U.S. Department of Education celebrates the achievements of these great American schools. Throughout its 38-year history, the program has recognized over 9,000 schools and this year, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognized 367 schools nationwide.

Of the 367, 47 honorees are schools serving a Hispanic student population ranging from 40 to 100 percent located in 14 states and the District of Colombia.

Hispanics make up 26.8 percent of all K-12 public school students and 11.3 percent of all private school students. These National Blue Ribbon Schools are leading the way in preparing Hispanic students for academic success. The White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative (Initiative) celebrates each one for this national recognition. The Initiative congratulates the administration, staff, teachers, families, and communities that collaborate to ensure Hispanic students are succeeding. These schools are models for other schools with a high or growing Hispanic population on achieving excellence in academic achievement and closing academic gaps. The variety of programming within these schools demonstrates that when students are placed in the education setting that best fits them, excellence follows. The Initiative looks forward to further highlighting these schools and sharing their success.

The 2020 National Blue Ribbon Schools with a high Hispanic student population are:

School City State
Mexicayotl Charter School Nogales AZ
Phoenix Union Bioscience High School Phoenix AZ
Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Technology Academy High School Los Angeles CA
Carleton P. Lightfoot Elementary School Alta Loma CA
Coyote Canyon Elementary School Rancho Cucamonga CA
James Monroe Elementary School Bermuda Dunes CA
LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy Hesperia CA
Ward (E.W) Elementary School Downey CA
South Street School Danbury CT
Oyster-Adams Bilingual School Washington DC
Miami Arts Studio 6-12 at Zelda Glazer Miami FL
Somerset Academy Middle South Miami Miami FL
Somerset Academy Miramar South Miramar FL
H.R. McCall Elementary School Waukegan IL
Hodgkins Elementary School Hodgkins IL
John Hancock College Preparatory High School Chicago IL
Northside Elementary School Saint James MN
HCST County Prep High School Jersey City NJ
Lillian M. Steen School Bogota NJ
Gil Sanchez Elementary School Jarales NM
Pinon Elementary School Santa Fe NM
Veterans Tribute Career and Technical Academy Las Vegas NV
South Bronx Classical Charter School Bronx NY
Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design Brooklyn NY
Frederick Elementary School Frederick OK
Marvine Elementary School Bethlehem PA
Alvarado Elementary South Alvarado TX
Desertaire Elementary School El Paso TX
Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School Dallas TX
Early Childhood Development Center Corpus Christi TX
Early College High School Farmers Branch TX
Edward Roberson Middle School Houston TX
Edward Titche Elementary School Dallas TX
Heights Elementary School Laredo TX
Henry W Longfellow Career Exploration Academy Dallas TX
High School for Law and Justice Houston TX
Hobbs Williams Elementary School Grand Prairie TX
John Z. Leyendecker Elementary School Laredo TX
Kelly-Pharr Elementary School Pharr TX
Maude Mae Kirchner Elementary School Quemado TX
Memorial Elementary School Houston TX
Reilly Elementary School Austin TX
Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences Fort Worth TX
Transmountain Early College High School El Paso TX
Vista Academy of Austin-Mueller Austin TX
Windsor Park G/T Elementary School Corpus Christi TX
Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy Houston TX


In addition, the Department annually recognizes outstanding school leaders from National Blue Ribbon Schools through the Terrel H. Bell Award. This award recognizes principals for their vision and collaborative leadership style that have transformed their schools. This year, the Department recognized 10 remarkable principals. Three of the principals were Latinas:

The Initiative congratulates these Latina school leaders for their achievements.

Celebrating Hispanic-Serving Institutions

In celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s important to recognize the contributions of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and the remarkable impact they have had on communities across the country. The Hispanic-Serving Institutions designation was first created in the Higher Education Amendments of 1992. The statutory requirement for an institution to qualify as an HSI is that it must be an eligible public or private non-profit institution of higher education and have the enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students that is at least 25 percent Hispanic students. This requirement ensures that HSIs are supporting first-generation and/or low-income Hispanic students.

With over 60 million Hispanics  in the United States, and 3.6 million of them postsecondary students, here are some fast facts about HSIs.

HSIs have been critical to making the promise of a postsecondary education a reality for many Hispanic students and to increasing the number of certificates and degrees attained by Hispanic students across the country. They have helped provide important pathways for in-demand jobs, apprenticeships, internships, fellowships, mentorships, and work-based learning initiatives through public-private partnerships and have partnered with their local school districts to offer dual enrollment programs. These and many more innovative contributions of HSIs are worth celebrating not just during Hispanic Heritage Month, but all year long.

A Support System to Uplift My Educational Journey

As a first-generation Mexican-American college student, pursuing higher education was something I once thought was impossible. It wasn’t until my first year in community college that I realized just how badly the K-12 public school system had failed to prepare me for a college education. Not only did I lack the fundamental reading and writing skills but also the social and cultural capital necessary to navigate the system of higher education. During my first year at Santa Monica College, I quickly realized how challenging it was for me to balance family and academic responsibilities. Living in a single-parent household, my mother relied on my financial support to make ends meet. I was pressured to work long hours and find additional time to dedicate to studying. Balancing family and educational commitments became too stressful and eventually impacted my academic performance. Understanding the repercussions of this, I knew it was essential for me to find a support system on campus who could help me navigate the system of higher education and improve my academic performance.

Despite the challenges that confronted me, I took the initiative to reach out to my former English professor, who has been instrumental in my academic and professional career, for guidance and academic support. After my first meeting with him, I began to recognize my potential and ability to enhance my reading and writing skills while becoming critical of my educational goals. This profound transformation allowed me to regain the confidence I needed to pursue and accomplish my educational goals.

Upon graduating from Santa Monica College, I transferred to the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science and education sciences. With newfound confidence, I have also joined several programs on campus such as the UC Irvine Pre-Law Outreach Program. Furthermore, I worked for the Early Academic Outreach Program as a Student Coordinator. In this capacity, I provide academic support to underserved high school students by assisting them with college planning, enrollment for the SAT/ACT exam, and the University of California and California State University admissions process.

Reflecting on my educational journey, from community college to UC Irvine, I can appreciate how it has shaped the resilient and persistent person that I am today. I have accomplished many incredible things that have enriched my college experience and influenced my educational and professional aspirations.

Walter Ramirez is a senior at the University of California, Irvine and a summer 2018 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

The content of these posts reflects the opinions of individuals who wrote it and is not an endorsement or statement from the U.S. Department of Education.