Student Loan Debt Relief Do’s and Don’ts

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

student loan debt relief do's and don'ts

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM SCAMS INVOLVING STUDENT LOAN DEBT RELIEF

YOU ARE YOUR BEST PROTECTION AGAINST SCAMMERS

DON’T pay anyone who contacts you with promises of debt relief or loan forgiveness. YOU DO NOT NEED TO PAY ANYONE TO OBTAIN DEBT RELIEF. The application will be free and easy to use when it opens in October.

DON’T reveal your FSA ID or account information or password to anyone who contacts you. The Department of Education and your federal student loan servicer will never call or email you asking for this information.

DON’T ever give personal or financial information to an unfamiliar caller. When in doubt, hang up and call your student loan servicer directly. You can find your federal student loan servicer’s contact information at Studentaid.gov/manage-loans/repayment/servicers.

DON’T refinance your federal student loans unless you know the risks. If you refinance federal student loans that are eligible for debt relief into a private loan, you will lose out on important benefits like one-time debt relief and flexible repayment plans for federal loans.

DO sign up at www.ed.gov/subscriptions to be notified when the Student Loan Debt Relief application becomes available.

DO create an FSA ID at StudentAid.gov. You will not need it for the debt relief application but having an FSA ID can allow you to easily access accurate information on your loan and make sure FSA can contact you directly, helping you equip yourself against scammers trying to contact you. Log in to your current account on StudentAid.gov and keep your contact info up to date. If you need help logging in follow these tips on accessing your account.

DO make sure your loan servicer has your most current contact information. If you don’t know who your servicer is, you can log into StudentAid.gov and see your servicer(s) in your account.

DO report scammers to the Federal Trade Commission by visiting reportfraud.ftc.gov.

Hispanic Heritage Month: “La Historia De Mi Gente”

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

Hispanic Heritage Month: "La Historia De Mi Gente"

By: Amanda Zepeda

My first teachers were my parents. Both grew up in immigrant households in the vibrant city of Los Angeles. They were Chicano latch-key-kids of the 1970s. My father began working at a young age, supplementing the family’s income with a paper route before school and gardening work with my grandfather on the weekend. My mother loved reading and writing. She was always naturally good with numbers and words, which made her stand out in her classes. Both were quick-witted and capable, and yet neither of them were particularly pushed by their parents academically. As a defiant reaction to this, my parents made it a point to repeat phrases such as “Appreciate what you have”, “Pay attention in school”, and “You’re going to college!”. They made it their mission to ‘break the cycle’ and give us what they had not been given.

My dad eventually got a job right out of high school, and my mom made her way to a four-year university, encouraged to do so by her teachers. She dropped out before graduating, but eventually went back almost twenty years later to cross that stage. The experiences that they had helped to shape who they became and thus shaped how they decided to raise my siblings and me. They taught us the importance of family, to show compassion, to persevere, and most importantly, the value of education.

I believe education is the most valuable source of freedom a person can have. Throughout history, people have been imprisoned, punished, and castigated over knowledge. Thousands have fought to obtain it and others have fought to keep people from having it. Knowledge is our way to success; knowledge of our culture, knowledge of our people, and knowledge of our history.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, I was surrounded by my Latino community. However, I did not always see myself or my community represented in school. We learned about Columbus, the California Missions, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and many other topics and yet the accomplishments of my communities were mysteriously missing from our textbooks and discussions. While those people and events are important to understand the complexity of United States history, they do not tell the complete story.

The first time I had a Latina teacher was the first time I had a teacher that spoke like me, looked like me, and had stories like mine. I did not have this experience until I was in community college. Before this, I had felt disconnected from my history, my family’s story, and myself for so long. I didn’t even realize anything was wrong. Sitting in my first Ethnic Studies class was the first time I learned about Native resistance against Europeans throughout North America, or about empowered Chicanas in the 1960s demanding social change, or about the intertwined history between the United States and Latin America. It was my history; my family’s story being told. A story of immigration, loss, trauma, love, strength, and perseverance. La historia de mi gente. I realized that this is what I wanted for the next generation. I didn’t want them to wait twenty years to hear their stories. I wanted them to see themselves reflected, acknowledged, and valued in their K-12 classes. So, I decided to continue what my parents had begun, to attempt to “break the cycle” of lack of education for as many kids as I could. I decided to become a teacher.

Celebrating Latino Heritage month to me means commemorating and acknowledging those that came before us. It means honoring our ancestors and sharing their powerful stories in and outside the classroom. Stories of community, of resistance, of love, of passion, of struggle and of achievement. Stories that we can learn from, that will bring us together, and make us stronger.

Amanda Zepeda is a second generation Chicana from the San Fernando Valley. She was a community college transfer student that graduated from San Francisco State University with a double major in History and Latina/o Studies and a minor is Race and Resistance. This is her second year as a high school educator teaching both Ethnic Studies and United States History and has been working within the education field for the past eight years.

Focusing Efforts for Educational System Improvements in Puerto Rico

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

Focusing efforts for educational system improvements in Puerto Rico

By: Chris Soto, Senior Advisor, Office of the Secretary

The Puerto Rico education system is at a pivotal moment with many influences converging to help accelerate positive change for the Puerto Rico Department of Education, and ultimately the students it serves. The combination of the influx of federal relief dollars, a strengthened relationship with the U.S. Department of Education, and an island-wide recognition of the urgency for structural changes that address root causes and prioritize student outcomes, provides an opportunity to take a proactive approach towards addressing long-standing challenges.

It was just over a year ago when U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona reaffirmed the U.S. Department of Education’s commitment to support the students of Puerto Rico. Since then, the work has progressed including consistent engagement with stakeholders across the island ensuring everyone’s voice is included as Puerto Rico invests nearly five billion dollars of federal education relief funds to respond to the needs of students and educators. Thanks to the help of these federal funds, schools reopened with a nurse in most buildings, hundreds of school psychologists were hired, an island-wide after-school program was launched and most significantly, teachers will see a significant pay increase starting in the next school year.

The Department of Education also constituted the Puerto Rico Education Sustainability (PRES) Team, which initially focused on three key areas: financial responsibility, safe and healthy school buildings, and federal program support. Our colleagues at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been working closely with the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) as they craft a master infrastructure plan for the repair and rebuilding of schools. Alvarez & Marsal, the PRDE’s Third-Party Fiduciary Agent, has been embedded at the PRDE and will soon release a corrective action plan for fiscal improvements. And today, the Department is releasing a comprehensive technical assistance plan that responds directly to the needs of PRDE staff in the management of federal programs and funds.

Additionally, we’ve engaged directly with Puerto Rico’s legislature, hosting an informational session about the historic amount of federal education funds made available to the island and the Department reinforced the Secretary’s message of transparency as investments are made. We’ve also worked with the PRDE, sharing best practice examples of state dashboards that track the spending of relief dollars such as those in New Mexico and Louisiana.

Following two natural disasters and a global pandemic, it is critical that trust is rebuilt with students and families across the island. The public should be aware of how federal funds are contributing to the educational recovery of their schools and actually see the benefits in classrooms across the island.

While progress has been made, we know there is more work to do.

During this year, it has become evident that in order to achieve transformational change, we must collectively address the longstanding systemic issues that continue to hinder the effective operation of Puerto Rico’s education system. That’s why the Department of Education, in collaboration with the PRDE and through feedback received from stakeholders, will develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) identifying specific areas for improvement that are critical to the system’s success. Formal listening sessions will be held throughout the island in order to ensure maximum participation from students, parents, teachers, and stakeholders. This MOU will represent the next phase of our collective work.

As communicated in Puerto Rico’s ARP ESSER Plan approval letter, ongoing engagement with all stakeholders is vital to ensure that implementation of Puerto Rico’s recovery plan and the use of federal dollars is transparent, effective, equitable, inclusive, and best meets the needs of Puerto Rico’s students.

Today is another step towards progress in order to meet the moment for the students of Puerto Rico.

Growing Pathways To Success For All Students

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

A Call to Action featuring Education, Labor, and Commerce Secretaries June 1, 1:30 p.m. ET

By: Amy Loyd, Senior Advisor

This is our moment to truly reimagine education. This is our moment to lift our students, our education system, and our country to a level never before seen. As the great Congressman Lewis said, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

-Secretary Cardona’s Vision for Education in America (2022)

Imagine a high school in which every single student is energized, excited, and engaged in powerful learning that connects them to their communities, nurtures their career aspirations, and provides them with a head start on college. These students are thriving in rigorous academics, earning several college credits before graduating from high school—including their first college math and English classes, and two classes connected to their possible future careers. These students, along with their families, receive personalized and ongoing career and college advising and navigation supports so that they make informed decisions about the classes they take, the pathways they pursue, and the goals they set for their lives.

These students also earn industry credentials that today’s employers seek and need, so that they can successfully launch careers with valuable skills and confidence. They apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings, extending their learning beyond the classroom and into the workplace and community. They explore the world of work through paid internships and apprenticeships with leading professionals who mentor them; provide them with ongoing feedback and support to help them grow; connect them to networks of other professionals; and honor their knowledge, skills, and experiences by engaging them in meaningful work that shapes their futures. Then, after high school, they all go on to earn postsecondary credentials that open the doors to future education and rewarding career possibilities. These career and college pathways are option multipliers for students, and through them, students become young professionals who transform our workplaces, our economies, and our communities for the better.

We believe that this is our moment, and our responsibility to reimagine and redesign our education system so that it better prepares every young person for a successful and joyful future. There are already exemplary policies and practices across the country that align with and advance this bold vision. Our goal is to move from a nation of great pathways programs in some places to a nation with transformative systems of multiple pathways to success for every young person.

The pandemic has laid bare longstanding inequities in education and exacerbated them further. Far too few students—especially students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, students from rural communities, students with disabilities, and students who are first-generation college-goers—have had the opportunity to get a leg up on college and career pathways while they are still in high school. We want all students, not just those fortunate to be in high-quality Career Technical Education (CTE) programs or strong dual enrollment and early college programs, to be on pathways through higher education that lead to rewarding careers.

Postsecondary credential attainment rates remain unacceptably low and inequitable, with slow growth despite concerted efforts and investments over many years. Further, the decline in enrollment in higher education—especially in our community colleges—throughout the pandemic is only widening the equity gaps in outcomes. These trends are troubling because postsecondary credentials are essential for our students, our workforce, and our economy: 70% of today’s jobs require a postsecondary credential, as do the majority of new jobs created in the post-recession economy.

The pandemic has also reshaped labor markets and the world of work, yet our education and training systems have not kept up with the dynamism of the economy. We are leaving good-paying jobs unfilled and too many hard-working Americans continue to struggle. Given this reality—and particularly as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law creates good-paying jobs in in-demand fields—this fundamental reimagination of education is more important than ever to students and the future of our nation.

To that end, we ask you to join us June 1 at 1:30 p.m. ET for a call to action virtual event focused on growing pathways to success. This event will feature remarks from Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, as well as students, parents, educators, and employers. They will all share their perspectives on the value and need for career and college pathways. Additionally, leaders from the Department of Education will provide an overview of the core strategies of this initiative and ask you to consider what commitments you can make to it.

Over the coming months, we’ll be working to galvanize a coalition of educators, employers, and community leaders committed to transforming how students transition from high school through postsecondary education and into careers. We need your leadership, partnership, and commitment to advance this critical work.

This effort builds on the proposed investment in career-connected high schools in President Biden’s FY 2023 Budget. The proposed $200 million investment in Career-Connected High Schools would support competitive grants to grow and build models of this bold vision. Funding would support partnerships between local educational agencies, institutions of higher education—including community colleges—and employers, to support early enrollment in postsecondary and career-connected coursework; work-based learning opportunities; and academic and career counseling across the last two years of high school and the first two years of postsecondary education.

The Department of Education looks forward to supporting states and communities stepping up to embrace this vision and working in partnership to build an education system through which our students fulfill their endless potential. This includes:

  • Working closely with the Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce, and other agency partners;
  • Convening students, educators, employers, and other stakeholders to learn about practices that have led to success and challenges that must be addressed;
  • Providing resources and tools to support strong pathways approaches.

The success of these pathways relies on the interdependence of diverse stakeholders: students and families, PK-12 education, higher education, business and industry, workforce and economic development, community-based and faith-based organizations, government, and other community leaders.

Whatever your relationship in this ecosystem may be, we want to hear about your work in career and college pathways. Please reach out to our team at pathwaystosuccess@ed.gov. We welcome the opportunity to connect with you more about this. Additionally, you can get news about the Department’s work to strengthen career and college pathways through the OCTAE Connections newsletter. Sign up here to subscribe.

We have before us a powerful opportunity for transformation. If ever there was a moment for us to hit a reset button in education and transform how education bridges young people to their futures, and to “lift our country to a level never before seen,” it’s now. And if not us, who? If not now, when? We look forward to partnering with you in bringing this bold vision to life.

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Fastest Growing Jobs in the Federal Government

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

Public Service Recognition Week is an annual observance that honors the people who serve our nation as federal, state, county, local and tribal government employees. This year, to celebrate Public Service Recognition Week, we’re recognizing the hardworking people who make up our federal workforce and looking to federal workers of the future. Which occupations in the federal government are projected to have the fastest employment growth from 2020 to 2030? According to data produced by federal workers at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of the occupations are related to information technology or math.

Employment in some occupations is projected to increase by 2030, despite an expected decline of 2% in federal employment overall. In fact, as the table shows, federal employment in occupations that focus on IT or math is projected to grow faster than the 8% average for occupations across all industries from 2020 to 2030. And each of these occupations had a median annual wage greater than the $71,120 median annual wage for all workers in the federal government in 2021.

Data chart on Fastest Growing Jobs in the Federal Government.

Chart 1 data below

Two occupations in the table typically require a master’s degree for entry: Statisticians, projected to have the fastest federal employment growth (23%) among those shown, apply statistical methods to collect, organize and interpret data. Computer and information research scientists design innovative uses for new and existing computing technology.

The remaining occupations shown in the table typically require a bachelor’s degree, with three also needing related work experience.

Medical and health services managers plan, direct and coordinate the business activities of healthcare providers. Applicants for federal jobs may need experience developing, evaluating, and adjusting administrative services.

Management analysts recommend ways to improve an organization’s efficiency. The experience they need for a federal position may include developing cost analyses of projects or of current or projected programs.

Computer occupations, all other includes web administrators, digital forensics analysts and document management specialists. Job duties vary by position. For example, some federal workers collect and analyze Internet services usage and performance statistics.

Data scientists extract meaningful information and insights from large data sets. Applicants for federal jobs may need knowledge, skills or abilities related to areas such as artificial intelligence, big data principles and data visualization.

Information security analysts plan and carry out security measures to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems. For federal jobs, applicants may need experience formulating program initiatives in response to critical IT security issues.

Operations research analysts use math and logic to help solve complex problems. In federal jobs, they may design, develop, and maintain systems.

Logisticians analyze and coordinate an organization’s supply chain. Logisticians working for federal agencies may need to monitor the progress of a specific plan and identify the cause and impact of delays or other problems.

Aerospace engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites and missiles. Federally employed aerospace engineers may develop, analyze and lead operations for mission scenarios and flight systems.

The federal government employs workers in about 350 occupations, according to BLS. Visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook to learn about the job duties, education requirements, wages and more for the occupations highlighted here, as well as hundreds of others. Applicants to federal jobs may need specialized skills or experience. Requirements are specified in USAJobs postings and in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management standards for selected occupations.

Ryan Farrell and Maria Hussain are economists in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Follow BLS on Twitter at @BLS_gov.

Chart 1 data:

Fastest growing occupations employed by the federal government, projected 2020–30

Occupation

Employment growth in federal government, projected 2020–30

Education typically needed for entry

Median annual wage in federal government, 2021

Statisticians

23%

Master’s degree $114,050
Medical and health services managers1

18%

Bachelor’s degree $127,590
Management analysts1

18%

Bachelor’s degree $100,730
Computer occupations, all other

18%

Bachelor’s degree $105,600
Data scientists2

17%

Bachelor’s degree $80,180
Information security analysts1

14%

Bachelor’s degree $106,520
Computer and information research scientists

13%

Master’s degree $112,310
Operations research analysts

13%

Bachelor’s degree $120,950
Logisticians

9%

Bachelor’s degree $88,710
Aerospace engineers

8%

Bachelor’s degree $123,800
Note: None of the occupations typically requires on-the-job training to attain competency.

1 To enter this occupation, applicants also typically need less than 5 years of work experience in a related occupation.

2 Projected growth is for data scientists and mathematical science occupations, all other. “All other” includes occupations such as business intelligence analysts, clinical data managers, and bioinformatics technicians.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

5 Valuable Financial Tips for College Students

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

5 Valuable Financial Tips for College Students

By: Andrew O’Donnell, intern for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid

As someone currently attending community college, I can tell you firsthand about many of its benefits. Not only is community college significantly cheaper than four-year institutions and often much closer to home, it’s also a great place to begin your postsecondary education if you’re someone like me who was unsure of a specific program of study to pursue right after graduating from high school.

In addition to considering community college, it’s beneficial to weigh all of your options before deciding what college to attend. The U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard is a tool that provides data to prospective college students and their families about the costs of different colleges. This resource can be used not only to compare the costs of different institutions, but also to compare other metrics of a college such as its graduation rate, the post-college earnings of graduates, and more. The College Scorecard is a great tool for current and prospective students to make well-informed financial and academic decisions about their postsecondary education options.

Unfortunately, not all these options are taught during high school. The Council for Economic Education’s recent 2022 – Survey of the States study found that only 23 states require students to take a course in personal finance to graduate. This seems to directly conflict with the need for financial education for prospective college students who are faced with a wide array of important financial decisions, such as deciding where they will go to college and how they will pay for it.

The following 5 steps will put you on track to succeed financially throughout not just college but also life after school.

Create a Budget

Regardless of your current financial situation, creating a budget and sticking to it lets you control where your money goes instead of wondering where it went. A budget is a guide that helps you track and organize your cash inflows and outflows. Your budget should account for your personal financial goals, which may include paying bills, saving, giving to others, treating yourself, and much more. Get started by using Federal Student Aid’s simple guide to creating a budget and check out their brief video on budgeting to further your understanding.

Start an Emergency Fund

It can be difficult to prepare for all of life’s surprises. That’s why when the unexpected happens, an emergency fund can turn what could have been a financial crisis into a mere inconvenience. An emergency fund is a cash reserve that’s set aside specifically for financial emergencies or unplanned expenses. Losing a job, needing a car repair, or experiencing a medical emergency are all realistic examples of what you could use an emergency fund for. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s guide to starting an emergency fund recommends that your emergency fund is made up of roughly 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses. Make sure you keep these funds somewhere where they can be easily accessed, but also where you won’t be tempted to use them for non-emergencies! Having this financial safety net gives you peace of mind and helps protect you from having to incur debt when an unexpected expense or emergency arises.

Fill Out the FAFSA Form and Apply for Scholarships

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known by the acronym FAFSA, is a form completed by both current and prospective college students to identify their eligibility for federal aid. Filling out the FAFSA every year is a great way to determine if you are eligible to receive financial aid that can help you pay for college. The first “F” in FAFSA stands for free! It costs you nothing to fill out this form every year, and you may have to fill it out to be eligible for certain scholarships at your college anyway. Be sure to fill out the FAFSA annually. However, the FAFSA isn’t the only resource available that you can use to help pay for college. Scholarships are a form of financial aid that don’t have to be repaid! Scholarships can be offered on the basis of a variety of criteria, which can include academic merit, athletic skill, inclusion and diversity, and financial need. Scholarships can also differ drastically in terms of their amount. Be sure to check your college’s website or call their financial aid office to learn about the various scholarships that they may offer and apply for as many as you qualify for. For more information on scholarships, check out Federal Student Aid’s page on everything you need to know about scholarships.

Start Building Credit and Know Your Credit Score

A credit score is an indication of how “creditworthy” you are, which is a metric used to represent how likely you are to repay a loan on time. Your credit score is important because it directly affects your ability to finance large purchases like a house or car, your eligibility to obtain lower interest rates, as well as your potential to receive housing and insurance discounts associated with a high credit score. Most credit scores range from 300 – 850 and the higher the score, the better your chances are of being approved for a loan and obtaining a favorable rate. Some of the factors that contribute to the calculation of your credit score include your bill-paying history, your amount of debt, and the amount of credit you’re using. You can find more details about how your credit score is calculated from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau here. Also get a free copy of your credit report. Repaying student loans and having a credit card you pay off on time every month are both great ways to positively impact your credit score. However, be very cautious about your credit card use because failing to pay off your credit card bill on time will harm your credit score and likely result in you being charged with extremely high interest rates on your payments!

Start Planning for Retirement

For many college students, saving for retirement may be an afterthought because it’s so far off. Despite the fact that most college students won’t retire for several decades, now is the best time to start saving in order to ensure a successful retirement. Explore all the options you have when it comes to different retirement savings accounts and choose the one that fits you best. By beginning to save now, you can benefit from the power of compound interest, the process by which your savings grow exponentially, or at a continually increasing rate. Take advantage of your youth and start saving early!

Conclusion:

Many of the financial decisions that you make during college will have a lifelong impact, which is why it’s important to become financially-literate. Continuing your education beyond high school should open new doors and provide you with new opportunities, not burden you with financial regrets. Wise financial decision-making now can lead to a prosperous financial future and help give you the upper hand when it comes to financial success.

Author’s Bio:

Andrew O’Donnell is an intern for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. He is passionate about the field of personal finance and will be pursuing a bachelor degree in finance at a four-year institution after graduating from Carroll Community College with an associate degree in business administration.

How Schools are Reducing Environmental Impacts, Improving Health, and Cultivating Stewards of Our Planet

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

Today the U.S. Department of Education named the 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Across the country there are 27 schools, five districts, and four postsecondary institutions that are recognized. These honorees employ innovative practices and policies to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.

Could your school be the next U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School? Check out these spotlights from the 2022 honorees:

inside view of a greenhouse
Crellin Elementary School in Oakland, Maryland

Environmental education and sustainability changes at Crellin Elementary School (CES) began when the school community found historic mining contaminants in the creek behind the school. Not only was CES able to remedy the pollution, but it increased the overall health of the riparian area while creating an outdoor classroom. The environmental education laboratory is an outdoor classroom where students participate in hands-on activities using the wetland, boardwalk, hemlock forest, vernal ponds, meadows, orchard, and adjacent creek. CES’s agriculture program features barns with sheep and hens, with a solar panel to maximize hens’ egg production through daylight provision. The greenhouse employs hydroponics systems. CES has made efficiency upgrades, including building automation, interior and exterior LED lights, double-paned windows, HVAC, and building envelope, leading to an immediate decrease in energy usage. Low-flow fixtures reduce domestic water consumption and rain barrels provide water for gardens and barn animals.

group of students outside in river or creek
Escuela Verde in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Escuela Verde is a school founded on ecopedagogy that is constantly striving to live out a vision of creating a just, peaceful, and sustainable future. As a project-based learning school, students explore how science and ecology connect to many other domains. Students choose a topic for their senior thesis projects that they are passionate about and complete a year-long, 300-hour project. Recent topics have involved leading nature hikes and forest bathing; improving health and well-being through biking, camping, mindfulness, and art therapy; organizing neighborhood cleanups; building a chimney swift tower; and distributing bird houses. The school has energy efficient windows, lighting, and heating/cooling systems. The school also installed a solar voltaic array on the roof, which offsets about 32% of the school’s electrical use. The school’s emphasis on food and food justice has led to an entirely vegetarian school lunch. Efforts to reduce waste include composting and the use of cloth towels and mops rather than paper towels. Escuela Verde’s guiding curriculum is based on sustainability themes, which have been adapted from The Cloud Institute’s Education for Sustainability Standards & Indicators.

group of kids shredding carrots
Suisun Valley K-8 School in Fairfield, California

Located in the heart of a viticulture area, Suisun Valley School (SVS) is a K-8 school focusing on agricultural technology.  In 2020, SVS applied a cool roof system on all school buildings. SVS has a trench drain, xeriscaping, and drip-irrigation campuswide. Students designed and maintained two 2,500-gallon cistern rain harvester systems that function with solar and wind energy. SVS raises chickens to consume waste and contribute organic fertilizer to the school garden. Together with a student devised and operated on-site composting bin system, a vermiculture program, and city organics pick-up, these efforts eliminate the school’s waste removal costs. SVS employs a full-time agriscience teacher to oversee the school’s two-acre farm, which features a three-tower indoor hydroponic center, an outdoor kitchen classroom, a greenhouse, a quarter-acre of field crops, 104 raised beds, 29 fruit trees, a vineyard, a quarter-acre permaculture guild area, an eighth-acre California native garden section, and seed/cutting production areas. The goal of the agriscience program, in addition to teaching and reinforcing state science standards, is to teach K-8 students the origins of food, how it is grown or produced, and the vital role that agriculture plays in human survival.

young students looking at Monarch butterfly
Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy in Windham, Connecticut

Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy (Barrows) was designed for sustainability and use of the school as a learning tool. The school is a Connecticut Green Leaf School, National Wildlife Habitat, and Monarch Way Station. Sustainable education unfolds in specialized labs and classrooms, outdoor classrooms, raised garden beds, courtyards, walking paths, meadow, marsh area, wetland, and wooded temperate forest. Barrows’ oceanography room boasts saltwater and freshwater tanks and leverages NOAA B-Wet grant funding. A new 160-foot greenhouse will extend the growing season and enhance the urban farming curriculum. Using the outdoors as learning labs, from planting window box seeds to managing outdoor gardens, students learn firsthand about alternative energy generation from renewable energy sources. Barrows’ food share program helps students facing food insecurity, and composting efforts benefit the garden. Stormwater management features funnel water down rain chains and into a dry riverbed. Project-based learning provides a real-world context for learning STEM, both outdoor and in classrooms.

Caddo Parish Magnet High School in Shreveport, Louisiana

At Caddo Parish Magnet High School (Caddo), student green and interact clubs spearhead environmental service and stewardship, including participation in national convenings, education about the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a monthly blog, composting, and cleanup days.  Through partnerships with the Louisiana Water Environment Association, Caddo students identify ways to solve water problems. Annually, students engage in Envirothon, a state natural resources agency sponsored event, to demonstrate their knowledge of environmental science and natural resource management. Students engage in the school’s energy conservation efforts through programs and activities in Advanced Placement Environmental Science and Greens Club. Water quality and grounds efforts include student research and construction of stormwater retention areas; the installation of a greenhouse, rain barrels, raised beds, and water bottle filling stations; student water quality monitoring and storm drain marking; and the designation of a National Wildlife Federation Certified Schoolyard Habitat and Monarch Butterfly Waystation.

people outside digging with shovels and planting trees
Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois

Northwestern University (Northwestern), ranked AASHE STARS Gold, is guided by a Strategic Sustainability Plan. In 2020 and 2021, Northwestern became the first university to receive the EPA’s ENERGY STAR® Sustained Excellence Award. Partnerships with Clearway Energy and Ameresco offer solar projects and infrastructure upgrades for efficiency, while facilitating student learning. All new campus construction is required to meet or exceed LEED Gold certification, and the university already is home to 23 LEED-certified buildings. Northwestern’s facilities and grounds include solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations, bioswales and retention basins, and reflective and green roofing. Waste reduction efforts include composting. Across all departments, over 100 courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels focus directly on sustainability, with an additional 140+ courses featuring sustainability-related content. Northwestern’s Institute for Sustainability and Energy offers interdisciplinary graduate and undergraduate courses in the fields of sustainability and energy. Other departments offer environment and sustainability-related degrees and certificates, ranging from environmental engineering to environmental policy and culture. Programs, such as the Global Engineering Trek in Sustainability and Chicago Field Studies, give students opportunities to study abroad and/or work in the local community to gain experience in the sustainability field. A Green Office Certification program empowers community members to evaluate and improve their office sustainability practices.

To learn more about U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools, visit the ED-GRS website. If you are inspired to make your own school more sustainable, visit ED’s Green Strides School Sustainability Resource Hub.

Path to Digital Equity: Why we need to address the digital divide with solutions around adoption

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology blog.

Imagine creating conditions where every learner and community can fully access and leverage the technology needed for full participation in learning, the economy, and society at large. Simultaneously, every learner and community is equipped with connected devices, learning content, digital literacy skills, technical support, and a reliable, high-speed internet connection.

This vision is driving the newly-announced Digital Equity Education Roundtables (DEER) Initiative, led through a partnership between the Office of Educational Technology (OET) at the US Department of Education and Digital Promise.

Today, it’s estimated that nearly 16 million students lack adequate internet connection, access to devices at home, or both. Technical approaches, such as distributing devices and subsidizing internet subscription costs, are essential components to the solution. However, these approaches on their own will not solve the human-level challenges individuals and communities face daily. About six million learners and three million households currently face adoption[1] barriers beyond availability and affordability. Moreover, less than 25 percent of households eligible for the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit had enrolled as of December 2021, and a similar percentage of low- and middle-income households are even aware of free or discount internet offers.

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), otherwise known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, states have been tasked with identifying such barriers and more through the development of a state digital equity plan. Thus far, the field has learned the following insights, which impact learners and communities in varying ways:

  • Awareness and understanding of available programs and resources is critical. In some instances, student communities are misidentified as fully connected and do not receive the necessary communication and support, when they may actually be “under-connected.” In other instances, families’ needs such as language barriers aren’t properly addressed.
  • Access to available programs and resources can be challenging. Enrollment for broadband and related supports often call for tedious, time-consuming processes that cause confusion around eligibility, application status, distribution, and installment.
  • Trust between learner communities and services is essential. For many communities, there is a lack of existing relationships between public/private sectors and constituents, along with concerns about data privacy, hidden or unexpected fees, or future costs.
  • Building digital readiness and digital literacy among learners and communities can support adoption. Lack of opportunities to build such skills or obtain readily-available technical support prohibits individuals from taking full advantage of connectivity for learning.

“Over the last two years, we’ve learned that broadband access to the internet and technology-enabled learning are not nice-to-haves, but critically essential to providing learning continuity during disruptive and uncertain times. The future of learning will force us to utilize connected devices to create more ubiquitous and more powerful learning experiences for students independent of time and location. The $65B bipartisan investment into our country’s technological infrastructure will move us closer to achieving digital equity for all communities and students, and particularly for students of color, Native students, students who live in rural and urban communities, and for students who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority-Serving higher education institutions.” D’Andre Weaver, Chief Digital Equity Officer, Digital Promise

In the last two years, various strategies from different levels of the education system have emerged to solve for these barriers. Long-term, systemic approaches call for iterations of these solutions, driven by ongoing input from the communities experiencing the barriers, along with cross-sector partnerships to ensure that schools alone aren’t burdened with the responsibility of solving societal challenges. These strategies include:

  • Delivering personalized and accessible communication that meets families where they are, such as efforts to deploy digital inclusion teams and leveraging multiple methods to engage families with language translation available;
  • Providing multiple ways to demonstrate program eligibility and limiting the number of steps necessary to apply, along with transparency about data collection, privacy, and future costs;
  • Collaborating with community members to build a shared vision for digital equity, develop partnerships with experienced organizations and community champions who have successfully engaged in inclusion efforts, and identify and invest in shared spaces with less adoption barriers; and
  • Focusing on capacity building by offering more training for families and students, providing professional development and coaching to educators on active, inclusive, and accessible learning experiences, and providing on-demand, multilingual educator and family technical support.

“The broadband funds in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provide a historic opportunity to close the digital divide for our learners, families, and communities. We look forward to working with our partners at Digital Promise to examine barriers that impede equitable access to technology-enabled learning and provide recommendations around how leaders, especially through their digital equity plans, can overcome those challenges.” — Kristina Ishmael, Deputy Director, Office of Educational Technology

In order to learn from these strategies, OET and Digital Promise are hosting a series of national conversations to further examine barriers faced by learner communities and identify promising solutions that can lead to real impact on their abilities to access and use technology for learning. Based on these conversations, OET and Digital Promise will share strategic guidance on equitable broadband adoption considerations to support states in building their digital equity plans, as well as drive community action and commitment aligned to the vision for digital equity emphasized in the publication.

If you’d like to get involved, reach out to ed.tech@ed.gov with to share questions and your successful stories of adoption strategies. Please Include “OET DEER” in the Subject Line

[1] Whereas availability and affordability of broadband refer to the coverage of physical infrastructure and low/no-cost programs to enable access, “adoption” refers to the process by which an individual obtains daily access to the internet at a speed, quality, and capacity necessary for accomplishing common tasks, with the digital skills that are for the individual to participate online, and on a personal device and secure and convenient network.

American Rescue Plan Reengaging Students Through CTE

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

By Braden Goetz, OCTAE; Levi Bohanan & Sophie Maher, OESE

High school students are gaining new opportunities to participate in career and technical education (CTE) and prepare for in-demand jobs like teaching as a result of President Biden’s $122 billion American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER). High-quality CTE programs can boost school engagement, on-time graduation and academic learning by giving students hands-on opportunities to apply classroom-learned knowledge and skills. In the process, CTE can be a launch pad to in-demand high-quality careers that simultaneously address labor market needs.

Completing a sequence of CTE courses is associated with higher rates of on-time graduation and postsecondary education enrollment. One study using a causal design found that male students enrolled in an information technology (IT) career academy in North Carolina had fewer absences in ninth grade and were more likely to graduate on-time and enroll in postsecondary education than peers who attended a regular comprehensive high school. Another study using causal design found that students attending one of New York City’s Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) were more likely than their counterparts at regular high schools to pass the state’s high school English Language Arts exam with a score that qualified them to participate in dual enrollment courses—at the end of two years of high school.

High-quality CTE programs like those offered by New York City’s P-TECH schools and the North Carolina IT academy grow from strong partnerships between school districts, employers, and community colleges and other institutions of higher education. These CTE programs are focused on preparing students for in-demand careers that pay family-sustaining wages. Students take an integrated sequence of technical and academic courses that include opportunities to participate in work-based learning and to earn postsecondary credit or industry-recognized credentials.

In approved ARP ESSER state plans, some states have identified expanding CTE opportunities as a strategy in their state-level efforts to return students to the classroom safely, engage them in learning, and equitably address the disruptions to teaching and learning caused by the pandemic. A state must subgrant no less than 90 percent of ARP ESSER funds to school districts. Up to ten percent of the ARP ESSER funds awarded to state educational agencies may be used for state-level activities. This includes a requirement that states set aside at least 5 percent of their funds to address the impact of lost instructional time, at least 1 percent for summer enrichment programs, and at least 1 percent for afterschool programs—and all these resources must be used for evidence-based interventions that address the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic.

For example, last summer, approximately 2,300 youth participated in the New Mexico’s Summer Enrichment Internship Program. Youth worked 20 hours per week for 6 weeks in dozens of paid career opportunities. NMPED used $9.89 million of its ARP ESSER allocation to support the initiative. In its approved ARP ESSER state plan, NMPED also indicates that it will award funds to community-based organizations to implement evidence-based afterschool programs to students, some of which will include paid internships for high school students.

Ohio reports that it will use ARP ESSER state-level funds for several CTE-related initiatives, including Work-Based Learning Incentive Grants that will be awarded to local workforce development boards “to incentivize employers to develop high school on-the-job internship, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship opportunities for students.”

Florida intends to use funds available to address lost instructional time for a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Accelerator project. Florida plans to engage experts in the field to develop state standards for computer science as well as evidence-based practices to implement these standards.

North Dakota reports in its approved state plan that it will use ARP ESSER funds to “create a pathway for high school students, including members of groups that have been traditionally underrepresented, to gain knowledge and work experiences in the education field.” Through this pathway, students will be given opportunities to earn college credit in the education field while in high school at public schools across the state.

The ARP ESSER funds that are awarded by state educational agencies to local educational agencies (LEAs) help meet a wide range of needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic, including reopening schools safely, sustaining their safe operation, and at least 20 percent of each LEA’s allocation must be used for evidence-based interventions that address the impact of lost instructional time by addressing students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs resulting from the pandemic. These funds also may be used by LEAs for CTE programs and other activities authorized by the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006.

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Cultivating Mentorship Opportunities in Hayward Promise Neighborhoods

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

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cultivating mentorship opportunities in hayward promise neighborhoods

By Edgar Chavez, Executive Director, Hayward Promise Neighborhoods

Mentorship is an opportunity to help others feel seen and explore all possibilities for their future. Reflecting on my work with young people for over a decade, I didn’t always see the power of these principles. As leaders, we tend to lead with outcomes rather than relationships. To see ourselves and others in our wholeness means also understanding past and present forces that shape our everyday experiences so that we may be open to new possibilities, especially during these anxious times.

Hayward Promise Neighborhoods (HPN) has leveraged its unique educational assets to nurture community-sustaining mentorship opportunities with students and families. For nearly a decade and two U.S. Department of Education grants, our 11-partner collaborative led by Cal State East Bay (CSUEB) has worked to bring our institutions closer to our families and communities. The pandemic has highlighted persistent inequities across our schools and neighborhoods, primarily working-class communities of color, which experienced COVID-19 transmission rates that ranked among the top in the Bay Area. Despite the move to distance learning, our partners continued to provide virtual spaces for mentorship and social-emotional learning while building the capacity of our schools and partners through monthly convenings. In 2021, our HPN partners documented over 9,373 points of contact with students through dozens of school and community-based activities from birth to college.

HPN partners like Chabot College and CSUEB place college students—most of the Hayward graduates—as interns in HPN schools to create mentorship experiences through student identity-based courses and activities. College mentors serve as aids in African American Literature and English learner courses for Latinx and Afghan students, and lead enrichment clubs to help students develop a college-going identity, such as Chavez Chicxs (female and non-binary Latinx students), Pacific Islanders Unite, and STEAM Team. Students who are the first in their families to go to college have a safe space to explore their cultural identity and the possibilities of pursuing postsecondary education. At the same time, college mentors are navigating their first-generation identity and sense of belonging on college campuses by giving back to their school communities. Robin Galas, the Director of TRIO, a federally funded program to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and HPN programs at Chabot College, says that in these spaces, mentors and students are told, “You get to redefine who is a college student. Your very presence defines what it means to be a college student.” HPN continues the mentorship pipeline for Hayward graduates at CSUEB with a Student Success Coach from the community, where we have seen a 32% increase in enrollment, including Chabot transfers, and more students earning above a 2.5 GPA from 61% to 81% since 2018.

By adopting a dual-capacity approach to mentorship, we create mutually reinforcing mentorship experiences integrated into learning contexts and sustained by community connections. As students navigate the educational pipeline, they take on mentorship roles to their younger peers and, together, explore new possibilities for their futures as college-goers and educators. With COVID-19 continuing to disrupt student learning and wellbeing, we have an opportunity to focus on the needs of both educators and students by providing them with the tools and frameworks that meet them where they are right now.

I grew up in unincorporated Hayward as an English Learner. Local teachers, mentors, and college programs inspired me to be the first in my generation to earn a bachelor’s and graduate degree. Many of us return or stay in our communities when we do not see more of us in postsecondary and professional spaces. As a director during these times, I see my role in sustaining learning and leadership environments where our identities are a source of strength and where we can imagine new possibilities for each other and future generations.