Since 1969, the program has annually recognized elementary through high school students from around the country for artistic ingenuity as expressed in film, dance, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts. Each year competitors are asked to bring a different theme to life in a way that is personal and meaningful. This is the 11th year ED has partnered with the National PTA to host a ceremony and art exhibit to honor award-winners.
“People who read and see and witness your work performed will create meaning from it, understand the human story, and understand the context in which you created it,” Jacquelyn Zimmermann, director of the Student Art Exhibit Program at ED, noted at the gathering. It drew students from about 25 states, from Alaska to Florida, as well as their families and teachers, arts educators and advocates, and ED staff.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke about the importance of the arts in education by noting the national focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and articulating the importance of another view, which includes the arts. “I happen to think that art is pretty important too,” she said. “So I like those who really embrace STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) education.” Following DeVos, Jim Accomando, the new president of the National PTA, expressed similar sentiments: “National PTA has long recognized the arts as an essential part of a great education.” As reflected by the top leaders of both organizations, access to and participation in the arts are at the core of an excellent education.
Student views works in the 2018 National PTA Reflections winners’ exhibit, “What Is Your Story?”
Demonstrating the value of the arts for themselves, the student artists shared their stories and reflections.
Demi Adetona, a ninth-grader from Alabama, wrote a musical piece during a plane ride from Nigeria back to the United States. Asserting that the arts have helped her in math, she explained that “[t]he arts and math complement each other because every rhythm is a math problem.”
Nikolus Linnenkugel, a first-grader from Texas and blind in one eye, created the short film “My View.” The film begins as he engages in normal childhood activities until his partial blindness is revealed. “The most important thing that I learned from my challenge is that the thing that makes me different from other people is just normal for me,” says Nikolus. “Which makes me think, if what’s different to me is normal to other people, we all have our own normal.”
Acacia Wright, a second-grader from Virginia, wrote a short story about her frustration at not finding crayons of an appropriate shade to draw a picture of herself. Acacia typically uses crayons labelled “peach” and “brown” to color her dad and mom. But Acacia’s skin is somewhere in between. “One day when I was coloring a picture of my family I had a big tantrum because I could not find a right color for me,” she wrote. “Why is there no color of me in the crayon box? My mom tells me that I am a very special color. I am the color of love. The color of love is any color I want to be. I like being the color of love.” [NOTE: Much to her delight, soon after receiving an award for this story, Acacia received a box of Crayola’s Multicultural Crayons from a neighbor.]
Caleb Dowden from Louisiana and now a first-year student at SUNY-Purchase, and Ari Jazz Hope, a fifth-grader from Alaska, each performed her winning work. Caleb’s dance was inspired by an internal urgency that is “always desiring something else” and in need of fulfillment. Ari’s music composition, “Release Your Feelings,” was motivated by her love of pop and hip-hop music.
When students were asked what inspires them to pursue the arts, their responses varied from family to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Misty Copeland, nature, Hamilton, pets, and favorite shoes. All of these and more are reflected in their artwork, encouraging their audiences to try their hands at their own stories. So, What Is Your Story? We look forward to reading it!
Student artists open the 2018 PTA Reflections exhibit at the U.S. Department of Education.
Photo at the top: Acacia Wright reads her winning essay, “My Color in the Crayon Box.”
Chareese Ross is a student art exhibit program associate, writer and editor in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.
Nancy Paulu is a writer and editor in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.
All photos are by ED photographer Joshua Hoover.
ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers with an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors it as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at Jacquelyn.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit.
It just figures that National School Counseling Week starts the day after the Super Bowl. The country gorges on guacamole-covered chicken wings on Sunday, and when America’s most misunderstood group of educators asks for three nacho chips and a high five on Monday, the country is too tired to party.
In some ways, we don’t mind. The last time we made headlines, most people surveyed felt that school counselors were more of a hindrance than a help in applying to college. Before that, we were the punch line of a car ad — “Your guidance counselor drives a minivan” — or we were known as the washed-up teachers who were given offices close to the principal so he could keep an eye on us.
But Jenny doesn’t see us that way.
Jenny was the quiet, slender girl who didn’t cause anyone trouble, except herself. When two or three students saw Jenny needed help, they went straight to the school counselor, who called Jenny into that office close to the principal to talk about it in a safe, confidential place. Jenny got help, and became an even more beautiful person.
Steve doesn’t see us that way either. Three weeks into school, he had his fifth unexcused absence, and was on his way to flunking a required course. He told his school counselor he was working late to support the newborn son no one knew he had. His counselor asked the teacher to give Steve one last break, but never mentioned why. Steve got it, graduated, and got a full-time job that paid enough to take care of his young family.
If you didn’t know that, you’re not supposed to. When someone’s life slips or they don’t know where to turn, school counselors give them the space for grace and dignity to rebuild and strengthen their lives, all without fanfare. Sometimes, if you don’t know we’re doing our job, we’re doing our job pretty well.
Of course, we aren’t perfect. Most of us work with 450 students at once, and some have twice that number. Since many principals think we should change schedules instead of lives, we don’t have as much time to help students as we’d like, and most of us were never — never — trained how to help students apply to college.
I bet you didn’t know that either.
Old habits die hard — school counselors know that for sure — but if you have a minute this week, stop by and thank your school counselor for everything you don’t know they’re doing, and put in a good word for them with the principal. We might not score winning touchdowns or drive fast cars, but when the goal is to drive 450 students to win their own big game, the minivan really rocks it.
Patrick O’Connor is a 2017-18 School Counselor Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.
Note: February 5-9, 2018 is National School Counseling Week.
Vicarious or secondary trauma invades our classrooms and leaks into the hearts of educators who carry the emotional burdens of their students. If we can honor our educators and their work by giving them the skills and space for their own self-care, then we help them stay whole and enjoy long, healthy careers being present for students and their learning.
As a school counselor, I help teachers understand the most important thing they can do for children is to keep their own mood stable. When I come into their classrooms to teach students about breathing strategies, mindfulness, yoga and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), it is not just for the students but also to offer time for teachers to connect with their own breath.
Addressing our own “caught-upness” and keeping our own mood stable
Emotional awareness, empathy, anger/anxiety management and problem solving are the backbone skills that make up Social Emotional Learning. These are highly honed skills that educators use every day and every minute. When teachers and educators embody compassionate strategies like breathing, stretching and tapping, they increase their capacity and provide safe haven for students to practice these skills.
We can be curious about a child’s behavior. What is the child trying to communicate? We can always pair our curiosity with compassion. There have been times I have felt the same way. How can we serve to help the child communicate his/her feelings more effectively without getting “caught up” in the behavior?
Can we be kind to ourselves when we do get “caught up”?
Neuroplasticity and hope
When educators feel like they belong in a safe, inclusive, and positive school, they are able to structure an environment where students feel safe, included and hopeful about their futures. This is the foundation for emotionally healthy youth and providing a culturally responsive and trauma sensitive world.
Educators are in a unique position where we can role model keeping our body calm in the midst of a child’s storm of dysregulation. By being present, we teach the child resilience and build their capacity for enduring tough moments. We can also role model self-care. We can step back, ground ourselves in the moment, take a deep breath, and say within, “It’s not about me.”
Christy Lynn Anana, M.Ed., NBCT, RYT, pictured above, is a nationally board-certified school counselor, registered yoga teacher and author of 3 books: I Can Feel Better: A Tapping Story, and A Finder of Lost Things, and Five Best Days to Run Away. She was named 2016 Washington State School Counselor of the Year.
“We need to question everything; to look for ways in which we can improve, and embrace the imperative of change. At the end of the day, success shouldn’t be measured by how much ivy is on the wall,” said U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “It should be determined by how you’re educating and preparing students for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.”
Setting this tone of innovation, Secretary DeVos welcomed over 20 education leaders from across the nation to the Education Innovation Summit on Higher Education, held recently at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington. The agenda included general discussion as well as several featured presentations.
Anant Agorwal, CEO of Boston-based edX, said that our society needs a system where universities and educators can work with learners throughout their careers, not just during the traditional college ages of 18 to 22.
Ben Nelson of the for-profit Minerva Project asked the group to consider what the purpose of higher education is. He submitted that today businesses across various fields want the same thing: employees who have a core skill but can also have the well-rounded education to learn skills in new areas.
Kathleen Plinske of Valencia College in Central Florida recommended simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for students with the greatest financial need and recommended that short-term training programs that have already been vetted and approved by another federal agency be eligible for U.S. Department of Education Title IV funding.
Jerry Davis, president of the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, said that his college is a work college. That is, all students are required to work at jobs, leading to the school’s nickname of “Hard Work U.” The school has a student-focused environment where the students’ personal needs are regularly met. For example, one student’s father was in the penitentiary, and the student’s mother had died. The college’s Helping Hand Fund paid $3,000 for the funeral costs of the student’s mother. The student went on to graduate and today is a teacher. “From my own family experience and in work colleges for over 40 years,” Davis said, “I can tell you that not everything can be solved with a computer. Sometimes it takes a personal touch to make sure students don’t fall through the cracks in our society.”
Mike Zeliff, dean of faculty and students at the Jack Welch Management Institute, said, “We treat our students like customers and rely on their willingness to recommend our program and our professors as a key performance measure. The curriculum is designed to learn it today, apply it tomorrow, and return to the classroom to talk about their observations.”
At the end of the nearly four-hour summit, Secretary DeVos thanked the participants for creatively meeting the needs of the students that they serve. “I welcome your continued input to me and to the department on ways that the federal government can get out of the way on some of the things we need to get out of the way of,” she said. “And tell us the ways we can support meaningfully the things you are doing to serve students.”
Joe Barison is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Communications and Outreach
“There are a number of challenges and opportunities facing American students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “And Washington, D.C. does not have all the answers. But government can be good at bringing people together to highlight their creative thinking and new approaches.”
Secretary DeVos welcomed nearly 20 education leaders and entrepreneurs from Maine to California to the Education Innovation Summit on K-12 learning, held recently at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington.
During the next three-and-a-half hours, the secretary of education listened as extraordinary educators – representing school districts, a university system, a private academy, a state department of education, a non-profit organization, a faith-based school and home schooling – spoke of creativity and innovation inside and outside of the classroom focused on helping each child to realize his or her potential. The common ground was that these educators saw a deficiency; they found the cause; and they found a solution to the problem.
Tom Rooney, superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District in a rural part of Central California, described the experience of a new Lindsay High School principal on the principal’s first day on the job, when he was visited by a father and son. The father said that his son was holding a Lindsay High diploma in his hand.
The father handed a newspaper to his son and said, “Go ahead, son. Read this newspaper out loud for the new principal of Lindsay High School.” After a moment of silence, the son put his head down and started to cry. “Dad, you know I don’t know how to read.”
Rooney said that his district took a good look at where its system had faltered. Looking outside of academia, Rooney noted that at Apple, “Steve Jobs was creating the ideal listening experience. He was not saying, ‘How do I sell more CDs.’ He was saying, ‘What is the ideal listening experience that listeners need?’ That’s innovation.”
At Amazon, Rooney said, “Jeff Bezos was thinking, ‘What are the ideal reading and shopping experiences?’”
Rooney then asked, “What is the ideal learning experience?” With this question, Rooney and his team created a new system based upon engaging their community to take ownership for the learners in the community. In the spirit of Jobs and Bezos, Lindsay Unified School District says it’s all about the learner.
Stephen Mauney, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District in rural North Carolina, spoke about his district’s digital conversion. The program provides iPads in kindergarten and first grade, while making available laptops in second grade through 12th grade. “We wanted to close that digital divide between our students with means and those that did not have economic means to have access to technology,” Mauney said.
But technology is a means and not the end. “Many systems will put devices in the hands of their kids and their teachers, and they see no real change in academic achievement.” Mauney said that Mooresville Graded staff believe that tying academic achievement to a major technology initiative is not just good pedagogy. It’s a moral imperative.
Secretary DeVos thanked the participants for their contributions and summarized the day’s major theme. “We’ve heard from leaders,” she said, “who are asking, ‘What’s the ideal learning experience?’ And we’re trying collectively and individually to answer that question.”
Joe Barison is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Communications and Outreach.
School choice is not about picking this building or that classroom – it’s much bigger than that. It’s about freedom to find the best way to learn and grow. Learning can, should, and will look different for each unique child, and we should celebrate that!
During the week, ED highlighted success stories of students who were able to find the right fit for their educations.
School Choice Opened My Eyes to a Diverse And Culturally Enriched World
“Today, I’m a junior at Howard University. But things could have turned out differently if I didn’t have the opportunity to pursue a different educational path when I was younger.
“Thankfully, my parents were given the option to exercise school choice, which is, unfortunately, not the norm for every student in America.”
Toni Airaksinen, a current senior at Barnard College in New York, illustrates the powerful impact of school choice and how a student’s potential for prosperity can be supported with access to educational options.
“My family was constantly faced with difficult situations due to our lack of finances. They didn’t have time to worry about my schooling. But, I knew I wanted something better out of life,” says Toni.
Read more about how Toni’s “humble beginnings did not prevent her from the accomplishment of graduating high school and going on to college” on Medium.
School Choice Helps Student with Disabilities Reclaim the Path to Postsecondary Success
Trevor Beauchamp of La Crescenta, California, was born with spastic cerebral palsy, a condition that severely limits his mobility and requires extra effort, even when walking a few steps. Understanding the importance of education, he willingly embraced the daily struggle to navigate his school campus’s hilly terrain. After he broke his knee and was given little accommodation, he and his mother re-evaluated his school options.
Did you know that game-based learning is gaining popularity in education as more young people and adults learn from games in and out of the classroom? Well-designed games can motivate students to actively engage in content that relates to coursework, and to master challenging tasks designed to sharpen critical thinking and problem solving, as well as employment and life skills.
On January 8, 2018, the 5th annual ED Games Expo occurred at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The event was organized in collaboration between the Department of Education’s (ED) Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Kennedy Center’s Education team. The event showcased more than 100 learning games, most developed with funding from 17 different government programs within and outside ED. The games were for students of all ages in education and special education and covered topics across STEM, reading, social studies and social development. Many incorporated emerging technologies, such as virtual reality, augmented reality and maker spaces with 3D printing stations, as well as engaging approaches to learning, such as narrative adventures and puzzle games.
A Unique Opportunity
This year the Expo featured panel sessions with game developers and live demos by more than 80 developers from around the country. At a daytime panel session on the Millennium Stage titled “So You Want to Be a Game Developer,” 13 different game developers shared inspiring stories for why and how they became game developers. The audience included more than 500 DC-area school students, many of whom took the microphone and asked questions such as “What is it like to be a game developer?” and “What can I do to be a game developer?”
The live demos of learning games and technologies occurred across multiple galleries on the Terrace Level of the Kennedy Center. Across the day and into the early evening, the students and more than 200 other visitors played games while meeting face-to-face with the developers. The experience provided a unique opportunity for attendees to discuss how the games were developed and to learn about the research findings on how games can impact student performance.
Learning Games Emerge Across Many Government Programs
Along with being a fun and rich learning experience for everyone, the Expo demonstrated the impact of a wide range of government programs that invest in learning games as a strategy to advance their mission to support education and learning.
Outside of ED, learning games at the Expo were supported by ten different government programs, including the SBIR programs at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture, and the National Institutes for Health and research programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health. A group of games were also developed from programs at USAID, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Lastly, the Kennedy Center joined the Expo this year in recognition of the arts and creativity embedded in the game development process. The Expo provided tangible opportunities for students to learn directly from game developers how they use the creative artistic process to design multi-modal, differentiated games that are engaging, customized learning experiences for all. Through its Education programs, the Kennedy Center encourages a broad audience of students and stakeholders to consider game development as an opportunity for a range of learning experiences, through concept ideation, design, coding, graphic art creation, musical score writing and performance, or research and evaluation during and after development.
Edward Metz is a Research Scientist at the Institute of Education Sciences within the Department of Education, where he leads the SBIR and the Education Technology Research Grants programs.
Jeanette McCune is the Director of School and Community Programs in Education at the Kennedy Center.
Follow IES (@IESResearch) and the Kennedy Center (@Kencen) for updates on the next ED Games Expo and other initiatives.
This past fall I had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands, twice — first, in October, and two weeks later, in the company of Secretary DeVos. There, I saw firsthand the wholesale destruction left by back-to-back hurricanes. The experience was both humbling and uplifting.
During my first visit, I joined the Commissioner of Education for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dr. Sharon McCollum, on a car trip around the Islands. On our way, she noticed the owner of a damaged wholesale club store — he was outside, combing through inventory, trying to salvage any goods that Hurricanes Maria and Irma had spared.
Pausing our scheduled tour, Dr. McCollum stopped the car in front of the store. She began negotiating the sale of cleaning supplies to be used in some of the many schools under her care. Simply getting students physically back to school is a monumental undertaking, she said: they shouldn’t have to fear getting sick from mold and the like once they’ve returned to the classroom.
Her goal that day — as it is every day — was to return a sense of normalcy to the more than 14,000 students whose lives and studies were interrupted by the powerful storms. I learned that, these days, such encounters are an integral part of Dr. McCollum’s day-to-day work: staff told me she can often be found out in the field, exploring the Islands in search of supplies and other resources to help students get back to school and engaged in learning again.
This is a fundamental objective on the Islands, where the scale of devastation from the storms defies description. Surveying the damage by military helicopter, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. Roofs had been ripped off houses; stores destroyed; roads impassable. School facilities that had once been home to fine arts and music — integral parts of the culture and education on the Islands — are gone forever, with many well-loved instruments, such as the region’s iconic steel drums, lost.
We, teachers, change the mindsets of self-doubters, instill a lifelong love of learning for many, care for the children of others as if they’re our own, and play a major role in creating all other professions. Yet, despite those superpowers, many of us have heard or uttered the phrase ourselves, “But I’m just a teacher,” when we’ve been encouraged to pursue leadership opportunities beyond our classrooms, schools or districts.
I’ll confess that I’ve used that phrase at various points during my career as an educator. While it might be difficult to determine why educators are often less confident in the value of their input, the self-doubt is real.
Perhaps it’s the perception that major policy decisions impacting students and schools often occur with minimum input from teachers. Maybe it’s the manner in which social media has a way of amplifying the most critical voices in any topic, including education. Or, perhaps teachers are feeling overwhelmed and fatigued from being frequent targets of criticism for issues beyond their control.
Regardless of the reasons, the voices of dedicated, creative, and solution-focused educators are often overlooked on issues that impact how they do their jobs and serve children.
Special Opportunity for Educator Input
As I’ve gained opportunities over the years to interact with individuals at the state and federal level concerning education issues, I’ve seen the importance of being in the position to share the stories of those who might not have the ability or opportunity to speak out concerning their interests. The Department of Education values and needs the input of those who interact with students on a daily basis. The School Ambassador Fellowship Program is unique because it gives teachers, counselors, librarians and other school leaders the opportunity to provide input and feedback on policy matters that impact their schools and communities.
Although Fellows will have differing goals and interests, the opportunity to hone leadership skills is a universal aspect of the program. I’ve been fortunate to work in numerous contexts as an educator – from preschool to teaching university students. Those experiences have been gratifying. Nevertheless, I’ve always questioned the lack of diversity in our teacher corps. Simply stated, there aren’t enough Black men leading our classrooms.
James Ford, Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, Abdul Wright & Kevin Dua – State Teachers of the Year for NC, WA, MN and MA – discuss their journeys as Black male educators.
Although I’ve had numerous wonderful experiences thus far as a Fellow, it has been extremely rewarding to do work supporting others who also have a desire to increase our percentage of Black male educators. Whether through work as a Teach to Lead critical friend, or as a presenter at the inaugural convening of Black Male Educators for Social Justice, the ability to develop my leadership skills while addressing that topic (and others) has been extremely rewarding. Other Fellows have addressed areas that represent their interests in education, like special education and career readiness.
Elephant in the Room
Let’s be honest. For any number of reasons you might feel that applying to represent teachers on behalf of the Department of Education is just something you don’t feel you can do. And, if your primary reason for applying to the Fellowship is based exclusively on how you feel about issues, it might be best to pursue other opportunities where you can impact our field. However, if you desire to be a voice for the students and families you support at the national level, consider applying. For me, the best time to be a true advocate for my students and my families is, always, right now.
There were 6 Fellows selected for the 2017-2018 cohort. Does that mean you have to be the BEST at something in order to be selected? Not necessarily.
Must you be creative, passionate and eager to contribute to conversations around improving the outcomes of all students? Absolutely!
Most teachers have those skills and many more to spare. They’re our local heroes. What’s your superpower? More importantly, are you willing to share it?
When that experience is disrupted, getting back to school can mean everything to students. And the adults who care for them — parents, educators and civic leaders — feel a special urgency.
For our fellow Americans in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, including more than 410,000 students in grades K-12, the 2017 hurricane season severely disrupted those reliable routines. First Irma hit, leaving more than one million people — nearly a third of the population on an island the size of Connecticut — without power. Two weeks later, María followed: one meteorologist likened its impact to a tornado, 50 miles wide, cutting a path of devastation through cities, towns and countryside.
In a three-week period, I travelled twice to visit Puerto Rico — the second time with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
We wanted to see conditions on the ground in the aftermath of the worst storm to hit the island in nearly a century, and provide support to the Puerto Rico Department of Education in its efforts to rebuild.
Since Irma and María slammed the region, our Department team has been in near-daily contact with local officials, coordinating closely with other federal and relief agencies. We’ve provided technical assistance and waived burdensome regulations that would increase costs and slow down recovery. We’ve provided an initial grant and are working with the White House and Congress to provide much greater emergency funding.
We’ve sent staff — thus far, dispatching ten Department employees on temporary assignment to support revitalization efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Still, we knew we needed to learn firsthand how the Federal government, with a host of national, State, local and charitable organizations, can best help the people of Puerto Rico get back to school, get back to normal and emerge stronger than before the storms.