Higher Education News
Cross-posted from Community of Practice.
While Sherry Scott was growing up in rural eastern Kentucky, she didn’t know a single person who went to college, and thought she had zero chances of ever doing so herself. When she was 13 years-old, Scott’s family left the impoverished area for better opportunities.
She went on to earn a master’s degree and now has a role in wide-spread efforts to transform the Appalachian region into one that holds promise for its families. Scott heads the Partners for Education team at Berea College, the lead applicant and now the lead agency for local efforts under several federal “place-based” programs, including Promise Neighborhoods, Performance Partnership Pilots and Full Service Community Schools. Through place-based programs, ED and federal partners work hand-in-hand with contacts in distressed communities throughout the U.S. to help them progress in education, as well as health, employment, safety and other interwoven factors that impact quality of life.
“I see myself in the kids we serve. They shouldn’t have to leave this community to have successful lives,” said Scott, now 44 years old.
While the area still struggles with poverty – 81 percent of the students in the Berea College Promise Neighborhood qualify for free or reduced rate lunches – there are promising signs of progress. For example, since 2012, the percentage of students starting kindergarten ready to learn has grown from 16 to 42 percent — a particularly hopeful boost because studies show that children who enter school with strong academic and attention skills tend to remain high achievers. Scott credits the increase to collaboration, a core thread throughout place-based work.
“Independently, community partners often don’t have the capacity to achieve major goals,” she said.
The collective efforts of traditional and non-traditional partners impact local kindergarten readiness. For example, libraries have transformed spaces to increase multi-generational learning. County health departments work with Head Start and other preschool programs to increase referrals to HANDS, a home visiting program for parents of children birth to age 2.
An unconventional partner– the Jackson County court system—helps former substance abusers who have lost custody of their children to reunify their families through a recovery program that provides increased counseling, parenting classes, and drug testing. It was formed in partnership with ED and the U.S. Department of Justice.
While federal place-based initiatives have existed for decades, their growth under the Obama Administration has been dramatic, with nearly 30 programs and participation from multiple federal, state and local partners now impacting targeted communities throughout the U.S. The holistic approach is a signature element of place-based programs, but each is unique.
For example, the Promise Neighborhoods program awards grants while successful Promise Zones applicants receive no direct funding, but receive preference points for some federal grants. Some place-based programs — like Strong Cities, Strong Communities — offer intensive technical support, only.
Scott said the collaborative nature of place-based programs makes them a real game-changer.
“A lot of previous work in this area was completed in silos. Organizations came in with a lot of funding and said ‘this is what we’re gonna do and this is how we’re gonna do it.’ Things might have changed for a time, but after that organization exited, everything reverted back,” said Scott.
She noted that cross-sector efforts of Promise Neighborhoods helped to form local “partnerships that didn’t exist before. We were bringing in law enforcement and social services and other community-based organizations to the table that were meeting each other for the first time.”
The next step, said Scott, was building a cultural competency among all partners to discourage looking at residents as “mine” or “yours,” but instead as “ours.”
“We had to tear down barriers that should have never been there, in the first place,” she said.
That value is just as important for federal staff as it is for local partners working on place-based initiatives, said Scott, who reviewed an early copy of the Forum for Youth Investment’s new report, “Transforming Government, Transforming Communities: Strengthening the Federal Workforce to Help Communities Implement Place-Based Initiatives.” The report was developed to examine the roles frontline federal staff play in helping communities implement place-based initiatives.
“Cultural competency at the federal level is critical to place-based work in rural America. It’s vital for our federal partners to have a deeper understanding of the cultural norms of students and families from our region,” she said.
In turn, federal partners provided Scott’s office structure and technical assistance to become “a results-driven organization.” “It really brought about transformative leadership to our organization,” she said.
Early findings from FYI’s report generated long-term interest from federal leaders nationwide to apply lessons learned from place-based work to a broader scale. For example, TGTC learnings are being incorporated into cross-agency training, Delivering Outcomes for Communities, and a federal interagency “Communities of Practice” website is being developed – both working to improve government contributions to create meaningful change in communities.
True commitment from people at all levels has been vital to Berea’s success, said Scott.
“We’re all committed to doing this work, we come with the background and understanding of the region, and we bring strong partnerships to the table” she said.
Julie Ewart, a communications and outreach staffer in ED’s Chicago office, is on detail to the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Place-Based Pilot Team.
So you filed your FAFSA and got accepted to a college. Congrats! Your school will send you an award letter that lists different types and amounts of financial aid you’re eligible for. These types of aid could include grants, scholarships, work-study funds, or student loans. You might see two types of federal student loans in your letter: Direct Unsubsidized Loan and Direct Subsidized Loan. Some people refer to these loans as Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans or just subsidized and unsubsidized loans. It’s important you know the basics about these two types of loans before you sign to accept either of them.1. How are they similar?
Both are federal student loans offered by the U.S. Department of Education. To be eligible to receive either of them, you must be enrolled at least half-time at your school. Both loans offer a six-month grace period before you’re required to begin repaying them.2. How are they different?
The major differences are interest and how much you can borrow. For subsidized loans, you won’t be charged interest while you’re enrolled in school and during your grace period (about six months). For unsubsidized loans, interest starts accruing (accumulating) from the date of your first loan disbursement. For both types of loans, the amount you can borrow is determined by your school, and they use several pieces of information to calculate your aid.
Quick Overview of Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans
Quick Tip: “Unsubsidized” starts with a “U” – think of it like “You” pay the interest on your unsubsidized loan.
3. Which loan should I accept?
If you need to accept loans to help cover the cost of college or career school, remember to borrow only what you need. You should accept the subsidized loan first because it has more benefits. If you have to accept an unsubsidized loan, remember that you’re responsible for all the interest that accrues on that loan.4. What if I don’t need the entire loan amount?
You don’t have to accept all the student loans offered to you! It’s OK to accept a lower amount than what you see in your award letter, just talk to the financial aid office at your school. If you need more money later in the year, your school can give you more loan money.5. What should I do if I have unsubsidized loans?
Consider making interest payments right away if you can—it will save you money in the long run. This is because when you graduate or leave college, interest accrued during your time in school gets added to your principal loan amount. So, unless you paid your interest while in school, when you’re ready to repay your unsubsidized loan, interest will accrue on a new, higher principal loan amount.
Do you have more questions on Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans? Go to the FAQs on our website.
Sandra Vuong is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.
May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, which means it’s time to celebrate physical fitness and how it can transform the classroom experience. Physical fitness promotes teamwork, healthy living and optimism for young learners.
As a spring intern here at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), I was recently given the chance to accompany ED staff during a trip to the Brightwood Education Campus in Washington, D.C., where the entire community is dedicated to the mission of mind and body wellness. Students in all grades learn coordinated exercises designed to stimulate their bodies and their brains. Students at Brightwood come from many different cultural backgrounds and many of them are English-language learners – and the emphasis on exercise and mental health awareness is just one of the many tools educators use to promote diversity.
During my visit to Brightwood, I saw students leading group stretches with their peers, “tapping” out their stress and taking time to walk around the room to improve their circulation. In a pre-K classroom, the students sat in a circle while one student led the exercises. While they sang traditional songs such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” they would do the exercises in sync. The students had just woken up from nap time, so these exercises were intended to reactivate their brains and keep their focus in the classroom. The peer-influence is great to see first-hand because when one student would get off task, their friends would help them get back into the activities. After the exercises the students had a chance to sit up tall, close their eyes, and breathe in unison. Beyond just physical fitness, students and teachers participated in meditation and stretching in order to ease their minds and connect with other people around them.
I spoke with Kalpana Kumar-Sharma, a pre-K teacher who began this initiative. She explained that she started by talking to parents and students one-by-one about the importance of health and offering them individual exercises and diet changes. She then said she was able to expand her ideas about physical fitness and mindfulness throughout the school because of the one-by-one conversations.
The emphasis on mind and body awareness at Brightwood has changed the school culture for the better. Parents, students, and staff are all invested in their own personal health and development and, in turn, they are better to their peers. Having a common mission of health and wellness allows the community to break down cultural barriers and engage in a discussion about an issue that affects everyone. While students are becoming healthier, teachers are also a major part in getting healthier as well. Teachers complete the exercises right alongside their students. Teachers and students working toward common personal goals allow for a better connection and communication. Planting the seed of healthy living at an early age will allow the students to feel more supported as their lives become more stressful both academically and personally.
It was such an amazing experience to visit a school that puts mental and physical health first and to witness a part of its rich and inviting culture.
Brett Swanson is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education and a Junior at George Washington University.
Ensuring that everyone in this nation is equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed is crucial in our competitive, global economy. One key part of this effort is ensuring that young people and adults of all skill levels who are transitioning to new careers or looking to enhance their careers receive the supports they need to do so. Too often, though, our systems for helping hard-working Americans acquire marketable and in-demand skills can be complex and difficult to navigate for students, job seekers, and employers alike. The good news is that career pathways are a promising solution to that challenge. Career pathways are integrated collections of strategic programs and services that help students and job seekers transition from education to employment. They connect the necessary adult basic education, occupational training, postsecondary education, career and academic advising, and support services so that students and workers can successfully prepare for, obtain, and progress in their career.
Career pathways have received strong and consistent support over the past decade from philanthropic partners, and both government and philanthropy have invested in research and demonstration projects that produce promising practices and evidence of what is working and where.
Across the nation, support from the business community has also been key to successful local efforts. Career pathways demand private sector engagement to ensure that participants are training for and getting experience in real jobs with real advancement opportunities. By working together, state and community partners can create career pathway systems with on-ramps, bridges, and stackable credentials, to help close the gap between vacancies and the numbers of under- and unemployed youth and adults eager to get to work.
While career pathways are not a new concept to our communities, convening 12 agencies across the federal government to work together to promote career pathways is historic and is critical for promoting further scale.
In April 2012, the U.S. Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services formed a federal partnership and issued a letter of joint commitment to promote the use of career pathways to assist youth and adults in acquiring valuable skills and industry-recognized credentials through better alignment with employers of education, training and employment, and human and social services.
Building on that work, we have expanded support to multiple agencies to foster better coordination of programs and services. Today the Obama Administration is demonstrating a strengthened commitment to promote career pathways, providing updated information and resources from the expanded federal partnership to help states, regions, local entities and tribal communities integrate service delivery across federal and state funding streams. While state and local partners build career pathway systems, at the federal level, we recognize that we can support our partners’ efforts through our policy, performance, and funding.
Through shared definitions and goals for career pathway systems, the federal government is taking steps toward removing obstacles for state and local areas to streamline programs and services to make it easier for individuals, including those with significant disabilities, to navigate and succeed in attaining their career goals.
Our federal agencies continue to incorporate career pathways approaches into a wide range of program investments, evaluation and research activities, and technical assistance efforts. Learn more about federal career pathways initiatives at these websites: https://peerta.acf.hhs.gov/ofa-initiative/103, http://cte.ed.gov, and https://careerpathways.workforcegps.org, as well as the websites of each federal agency partner.
Mark H. Greenberg is Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Johan E. Uvin is Deputy Assistant Secretary Delegated the Authority of the Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
Portia Wu is Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training at the U.S. Department of Labor.