Working Together to Provide Resources to Prevent Bullying This Month and Every Month

Cross-posted from the Stopbullying Blog.

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and it’s a good time for schools (including personnel and students), communities, districts, and states to take stock of current efforts to reduce and prevent bullying. Do current school climates make students feel safe, allowing them to thrive academically and socially? Are youth comfortable speaking up if they are being bullied? Are members of the community engaged and are the media aware of best practices when it comes to reporting bullying stories?

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In recognition of the efforts to improve school climate and reduce rates of bullying nationwide, the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention (FPBP) are proud to release a variety of resources aimed at informing youth, those who work with youth, members of the media, parents, and schools. These resources and more maybe found at Stopbullying.gov.

Here are several of the exciting efforts being highlighted this month:

  • #StopBullying365 – All month long, the FPBP will be using the hashtag #StopBullying365 to collect stories of how individuals and communities are taking action in bullying prevention. Join StopBullying.gov on Facebook andTwitter to learn more.
  • The FPBP are pleased to announce the start of a year-long relationship with NASA’s Scott Kelly, who will make bullying prevention a priority during his time in space. Watch Astronaut Kelly’s video.
  • KnowBullying. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) new mobile app provides parents, caretakers, and teachers with important bullying prevention information, and can help get the conversation started between parents/caregivers and children about bullying in as little as 15 minutes a day.
  • Bullying, Harassment, & Civil Rights: An Overview of School Districts’ Federal Obligation to Respond to Harassment. This video, developed collaboratively by ED, DOJ, and SAMHSA, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, outlines school districts’ federal obligations to respond to harassment.
  • Increasing Capacity for Reducing Bullying and Its Impact on the Lifecourse of Youth Involved.Site Exit Dislcaimer This report summarizes findings from the Institute of Medicine Workshop held in April, 2014, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration. More than 20 presenters shared research on how families, schools and communities can take effective action to stop bullying and reduce its harmful effects.
  • Internet Safety Two-Part Webinar Series – On October 30, 2014 from 2-3pm EDT, the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention National Training and Technical Assistance Center will host the first of a two-part webinar series. This series is a collaborative effort by DOJ, the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Agriculture, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The first webinar will focus on internet safety and cyberbullying. The second webinar will occur in mid-November and focus on sexting and sextortion. Stay tuned to StopBullying.gov for more information!
  • Media Guidelines for Bullying Prevention. Media coverage of social issues has a big impact on how communities understand and address problems. Research and expert opinion suggest that certain trends in media coverage of bullying have the potential to do harm. This guidance offers help to journalists, bloggers, the entertainment creative community, and others who are developing content about bullying to engage in responsible reporting on this important topic.

With all of these new resources and attention, it’s a great time to consider how you can help raise awareness about bullying and take action to stop it. Teens can find inspiration by visiting our Tumblr site. Tell us what you are going to do by engaging on Facebook and Twitter using #StopBullying365.

Katie Gorscak works at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Sarah Sisaye works at the U.S. Department of Education.

Progress in Action: Celebrating Hispanic Educational Achievement

Reposted from the President Obama and the Hispanic Community Blog.

The following article was published on Univision.com. You can read the original article in Spanish HERE.

Each year, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month we recognize and celebrate the rich histories and significant contributions made by Hispanics throughout this great nation. With over 54 million people, Hispanics are the largest, youngest, and fastest-growing minority group, and will represent 70 percent of our nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2060. From preschool to postsecondary education, Hispanic representation is palpable. Hispanics now make up the majority of students in our public schools, with 1 out of every 4 students in K-12 grades. Similarly, college enrollment is up more for Hispanics than any other group.

Earlier this year the President said that 2014 would be a “year of action”. In this spirit, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) officially launched our “Anniversary Year of Action” – a call to action to expand upon the progress and achievement made in Hispanic education.

As a community, we have made significant progress. According to the Census Bureau (2011), the Hispanic high school dropout rate has been cut in half from 28 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2011.The  Hispanic graduation rate has increased to 76 percent – an all-time high. College enrollment among Hispanics reached a record high and continues to increase. In 2012, the college enrollment rate among 18-to-24-year-old Hispanic high school graduates was over 49 percent, up from 31 percent in 2002.

We recognize there is more work to do and that it’s a shared responsibility—everyone will have a role to play in ensuring the continued success of our community. Over the coming year we will highlight “Bright Spots” that are providing a quality early childhood education, robust and rigorous K-12 education experiences, supporting increased participation in STEM courses, promoting promising practices, partnerships, and institutions of higher education that are graduating more Latinos ready and prepared to enter the competitive workforce, preparing more Hispanics into the teaching profession, while highlighting collaborative efforts supporting our young Hispanic girls and boys through the President’s initiative My Brother’s Keeper.

We will continue working towards the President’s 2020 goal of once again leading the world in college completion. Over the last 12 months, the Initiative has been deeply committed to amplifying the Administration’s education agenda, building partnerships and expanding commitments to support education for Hispanics, while also highlighting the Hispanic community’s progress. Through a number of activities – from national policy forums and back-to-school tours to webinars and twitter chats – we reached over 100,000 stakeholders around the United States and Puerto Rico. We heard from parents, students, non-profit, state and local government, business and philanthropy leaders, and educators about their work and challenges. Through strategic outreach and engagement, we learned that the Hispanic community is not only making great strides but eager to reframe the narrative.

We look forward to building on previous successes and producing more helpful tools like our “¡Gradúate! A Financial Aid Guide to Success”, published this May. The bilingual guide – designed to help students and families navigate the college enrollment and financial aid process includes key information about federal financial aid resources available and on scholarships supporting all Hispanic students, including those granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and non-U.S. citizens. We will continue to work towards increasing the number ofHispanic teachers through innovative strategies, such as our #LatinosTeach social media campaign launched this month.

And just this Monday, the White House, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, honored Latino Educators “Champions of Change” who are doing extraordinary work to educate the next generation of Americans. These Champions have distinguished themselves by devoting their time and energy to creating opportunities for young people to succeed, particularly in low-income communities. The event showcased these leaders and the exceptional contributions to this country. Because, we know that by highlighting progress in action, we will ensure a bright future for the Hispanic community.

President Obama Announces the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge

Reposted from the White House Blog.

In February of this year, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative to ensure that all youth, including boys and young men of color, have opportunities to improve their life outcomes and overcome barriers to success. The initiative aims to bring together government, law enforcement, business, non-profit, philanthropic, faith, and community leaders around shared goals for young people in this country.

And now, the Administration is taking this effort local, by engaging Mayors, tribal leaders, and county executives who are stepping up to lead in their communities. In a speech this past Saturday at the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) awards dinner, President Obama announced the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, which will encourage communities (cities, counties, suburbs, rural municipalities, and tribal nations) to implement coherent cradle-to-college-and-career strategies aimed at improving life outcomes for all young people, consistent with the goals and recommendations of the White House’s MBK Task Force’s May, 2014 report. Rather than build a new federal program, or provide a top-down solution to problems that are often unique to local neighborhoods, the President has called upon local leaders, and sought to provide them the support and momentum they need, to design and implement strategies that are proven to work to address a set of challenges that are too often taken on in silos.

There is already incredible work being done by elected and community leaders around the country. This MBK Community Challenge is about harnessing that energy, expanding upon it, and operationalizing plans of action to functionally channel it at the local level.

“We need to address the unique challenges that make it hard for some of our young people to thrive,” the President told a packed house at Saturday’s CBC awards dinner. “[W]e all know relatives, classmates, neighbors who were just as smart as we were, just as capable as we were, born with the same light behind their eyes, the same joy, the same curiosity about the world — but somehow they didn’t get the support they needed, or the encouragement they needed, or they made a mistake, or they missed an opportunity; [so] they weren’t able to overcome the obstacles that they faced.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher for our young people, or our country, which is why we’re seeing such eagerness from local officials and community leaders. Already,135 mayors, county officials, tribal leaders, Democrats, and Republicans have signed on. And we’re going to keep welcoming them aboard in the coming weeks and months. These are the leaders that often sit at the intersection of many of the vital systems and structural components needed to enact sustainable change through policy, programs, and partnerships.

But even with leadership from the top in these communities, this must be an all-hands-on-deck effort. To that end, business leaders, non-profits, philanthropies, and local school-systems are organizing themselves independently to support communities’ efforts.

No child in this country should feel like they need to “beat the odds” in order to get ahead, and certainly shouldn’t feel like they are on their own as they try. Our young people deserve better than that, and as a country, we can’t afford to let so many of our children, our future workers, and our future leaders slip through the cracks.

Already on the ground in communities from coast to coast, leaders are responding to the President’s challenge. They are convening stakeholders, setting up data standards, setting goals and priorities, and preparing to redouble their efforts to give every young person a real shot at success, no matter who they are, where there from, or the circumstances into which they were born. Because when we work together to help all young people reach their full potential, we will be that much closer to reaching our full potential as a nation. The My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge is a call to action, and we all have a role to play.

Learn more about the Challenge and please visit MBKchallenge.org to accept the President’s challenge.

Broderick Johnson is an Assistant to the President, White House Cabinet Secretary, and Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and Jim Shelton is the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Education, and the Executive Director of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force

 

6 Things You MUST Know About Repaying Your Student Loans

When it comes to repaying your federal student loans, there’s a lot to consider. By taking the time to understand the details of repayment, you can save yourself time and money.

REMEMBER: You never have to pay for help with your federal student loans. If you have any questions at all, contact your servicer. They provide FREE help.

This should help you get started.

When do I begin repaying my federal student loans?

You don’t have to begin repaying most federal student loans until after you leave college or drop below half-time enrollment. Many federal student loans will even have a grace period. The grace period gives you time to get financially settled and to select your repayment plan. Note that for most loans, interest will accrue during your grace period.

Your loan servicer or lender will provide you with a loan repayment schedule that states when your first payment is due, the number and frequency of payments, and the amount of each payment.

Whom do I pay?

You will make your federal student loan payments to your loan servicer*, not the U.S. Department of Education (ED) directly. ED uses several loan servicers to handle the billing and other services on federal student loans. Your loan servicer can work with you to choose a repayment plan and can answer any questions you have about your federal student loans. It’s important to maintain contact with your loan servicer and keep your servicer informed of any changes to your mailing address, e-mail, or phone number so they know where to send correspondence and how to contact you. How much do I need to pay?

Your bill will tell you how much to pay. Your payment (usually made monthly) depends on

  • the type of loan you received,
  • how much money you borrowed,
  • the interest rate on your loan, and
  • the repayment plan you choose.

You can use our repayment estimator to estimate your monthly payments under different repayment plans to determine which option is right for you. Just remember, if you would like to switch repayment plans, you must contact your loan servicer.

How do I make my student loan payments?

There are several ways you can submit payments to your loan servicer, including options to submit your payment online through your loan servicer’s website.

TIP: Your servicer may offer the option to have your payments automatically withdrawn from your bank account each month. You may want to consider this option so you don’t forget to make your payments.

What should I do if I’m having trouble making my student loan payments?

Contact your loan servicer as soon as possible. You may be able to change your repayment plan to one that will allow you to have a longer repayment period or to one that is based on your income. If switching repayment plans isn’t a good option for you, ask your loan servicer about your options for loan consolidation or a deferment or forbearance.

Note: Several third-party companies offer student loan assistance for a fee. Most of these services can be obtained for free from your loan servicer.

What happens if I don’t make my payments?

Not making your student loan payments can result in default, which negatively impacts your credit score. This may affect your ability to borrow for things like buying a car or purchasing a home. Your tax refunds may also be withheld and applied to your outstanding student loan debt. There is never a reason to default. The Department of Education offers several options to ensure that you can successfully manage your student loans. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty making payments, contact your loan servicer for help.

*If you are repaying federal student loans made by a private lender (before July 1, 2010), you may be required to make payments directly to that lender.

Nicole Callahan is a digital engagement analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Community Colleges: The Secret Sauce

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Work in Progress blog.

Motlow State Community College in Tennessee is working with Bridgestone Tire Company and other employers to expand their mechatronics program, creating a training facility on-site at Bridgestone to prepare students to move quickly into high-skill jobs.

Estrella Mountain Community College is leading a consortium of five Arizona colleges to develop the workforce and talent pipeline required by the region’s energy and mining industries.

Bellevue College in Washington state, together with eight other schools, is launching a program to train veterans and their eligible spouses in the high-demand, high-wage field of health information technology.

All three of these efforts – and many more – are the result of a bold, unprecedented investment the Obama administration has made to expand job-driven training at community colleges nationwide.

The program is called TAACCCT – that stands for Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training.  As acronyms go, I’m not going to say it’s our very best work. But as a commitment to building a 21st century workforce, as a tool to prepare people for the jobs of today and tomorrow, it is second-to-none.

Today, I joined Vice President Biden at the White House for the announcement of the fourth round of TAACCCT grants — 71 of them in all, worth a total of more than $450 million. That comes on top of the nearly $1.5 billion awarded in the first three rounds. With today’s announcement, roughly 700 colleges nationwide have received TAACCCT funding since 2011.

I’ve seen these grants and the programs they support in action. I saw it last year with Dr. Jill Biden when we traveled to a community college in North Carolina to tour their state-of-the-art program in critical infrastructure. The same day we hopped down to South Florida where another TAACCCT grantee has a top-notch aviation institute.

Most importantly, these grants change lives. Joining us at the White House today was Gary Pollard, a former Army medic who is starting a $60,000-a-year job thanks to cyber technology instruction he received through TAACCCT-supported programs at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) in Maryland. Last year when I visited the college, I met both Gary and Ginny Quillen, a woman who’s faced considerable challenges in her life. Ginny was abused as a child; she was involved with drugs and served time. But through hard work and resilience, she’s overcome the adversity. And with the Information Assurance and Security certificate she earned at AACC, today she makes $52,000 a year in a job she loves and a field she’s passionate about.

No one receives a TAACCCT grant without putting industry partnerships front-and-center. The idea is to align curriculum with the needs of businesses – so ready-to-work Americans can move right into ready-to-be filled jobs. When employers go to hire graduates of these programs, they can have confidence in the relevance of the credential…because they helped design the credential.

What we’re doing is creating a foundation with a lasting impact. This is a Dwight Eisenhower moment — TAACCCT is to our skills infrastructure what the interstate highway system was to our physical infrastructure. President Eisenhower took the long view some 60 years ago and invested in the building blocks that continue to power our economy to this day. And decades from now, our grandchildren will benefit from the on-ramps to college and the off-ramps to middle-class jobs that we’re constructing today.

Community colleges are incubators of innovation and opportunity. They are the secret sauce of workforce development, empowering communities, strengthening businesses and invigorating local economies. Today, we’re not just investing in new facilities, technologies or classroom tools; we’re investing in people’s highest and best dreams. And we’re investing not just in today’s needs, but in American prosperity for generations to come.

Tom Perez is U.S. Secretary of Labor.

Working Together to Increase FAFSA Completion

In 2012, 32 percent of Indianapolis’ youth were living in poverty, and 57 percent of school-age youth were receiving free or reduced-price lunch. Yet, despite that high level of need, only a third of Indianapolis’ graduating high school seniors were completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Roderick Wheeler, community impact director for education with the Central Indiana Community Foundation, found those numbers frustrating. He decided to take action, and enlisted the help of the Indiana Youth Institute (IYI).

Wheeler and IYI believed the number of students filing the FAFSA would increase if they could connect schools with resources, information, and tools to help students complete their forms, and if they could change the perception that the FAFSA process was complicated. To test their theory, they worked to put the right pieces in place, and added a dash of competition. They created a county-wide Indianapolis FAFSA Completion Challenge. The Marion County high school with the highest percentage increase of senior FAFSA filing would win $5,000 for college and career readiness initiatives.

During the 2012-13 school year, seven county high schools participated. The schools were connected through the Educash program of EduGuide, a non-profit online training program designed to teach schools how to promote a college-going culture and assist students with FAFSA completion. In addition, IYI connected school counselors to local experts who could assist with financial aid nights, staff FAFSA completion events, and work at “College Goal Sunday” locations.

Through tremendous efforts, every school increased its FAFSA filing numbers – and the results were impressive. For instance, Perry Meridian High School, which had never hosted a FAFSA filing event, partnered with the office of the mayor of Indianapolis to offer both tax preparation and FAFSA filing for families. Ben Davis High School hosted several successful events, increasing its FAFSA completion by 23 percent that year – and winning the competition.

Building on these results, the program was expanded for the 2013-14 school year. Schools from the first year chose to participate again, and several new ones joined. Financial aid experts from ISM College Planning, a local nonprofit, helped families understand the financial aid process and explained the likelihood of qualifying for aid, not loans, while handling a host of other questions to reduce families’ anxiety about the FAFSA.

Indiana’s March 10 FAFSA deadline is the earliest in the nation. Yet, with a combination of federal and state financial aid and other supports, the cost of higher education and the college application process should be less daunting for students in the state. The Indianapolis FAFSA Completion project will keep working with schools and families to ensure the financial aid process is easy and understandable – so more students in the Hoosier State can fulfill their college dreams!

Kate Coffman is the Director of College and Career Counseling at the Indiana Youth Institute. IYI offers the free www.driveofyourlife.org and www.triptocollege.org websites, which allow Hoosier students to explore career and postsecondary options.

Kicking Off the Fourth Annual Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships blog.

Acting on a recommendation by the first Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, President Obama established the Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge to build bridges of understanding across our differences, especially among rising leaders, and to serve our neighbors. Interfaith service involves people from different religious and non-religious backgrounds tackling community challenges together – for example, Protestants and Catholics, Hindus and Jews, and Muslims and non-believers – building a Habitat for Humanity house together. Interfaith service impacts specific community challenges, while building social capital and civility.

This week, the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Department of Education, and Corporation for National and Community Service hosted a gathering to kick off the President’s Fourth Annual Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. More than 500 college students, chaplains, faculty, and administrators – including over 50 college presidents – participated in the two-day event.

The Challenge has grown by leaps and bounds since 2011 when President Obama first encouraged college presidents to establish or expand programs in interfaith and community service. Currently, more than 400 institutions of higher education participate in the Challenge.

The national gathering this week began with Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, welcoming college presidents and supporters. It concluded with remarks by Treasury Secretary and former member of the CNCS Board of Directors, Jack Lew, and a showing of the award-winning film, Of Many, which follows the friendship and interfaith partnership of New York University’s Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. These two sessions bookended a series of fascinating panel discussions, presentations, and community conversations involving a diverse array of academics, students, advocates, governmental officials, and think tank scholars. 

A new step forward for the Challenge this year was the fact that recognition for interfaith community service was included in the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. The Honor Roll, launched in 2006, annually highlights the role colleges and universities play in solving community problems and placing more students on a lifelong path of civic engagement by recognizing institutions that achieve meaningful, measureable outcomes in the communities they serve. The President’s Honor Roll now recognizes higher education institutions in four categories: General Community Service, Interfaith Community Service, Economic Opportunity, and Education. Also for the first time this year, a school was selected as a winner of a Presidential Award for Interfaith Community Service. That honor went to Loras College, a Catholic affiliated school in Dubuque, Iowa. One of the school’s many achievements is partnering with the AmeriCorps VISTA program to recruit and retain volunteers to tackle a range of challenges. This year and every year, the Campus Challenge demonstrates President Obama’s longstanding commitment to expanding and supporting national service, which he recently highlighted at the White House’s 20th Anniversary of AmeriCorps celebration.

Thanks to all who make the goals of interfaith and community service a priority, and a very special thanks to the Department of Education’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships for its leadership in planning and organizing this week’s event. We are excited about future of the Challenge.

If you’d like to learn more about the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, contact the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Education at EdPartners@ed.gov.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Secretary Arne Duncan, Wendy Spencer, and Melissa Rogers present Loras College a Presidential Award for Interfaith Community Service through the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll at George Washington University.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Secretary Arne Duncan, Wendy Spencer, and Melissa Rogers present Loras College a Presidential Award for Interfaith Community Service through the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll at George Washington University.

Melissa Rogers is the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Helping Federal Student Loan Borrowers Manage Debt, Repay Loans

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We’ve been telling you that new data shows that a lower percentage of students are defaulting on federal loans.

That’s great news for students, taxpayers and our economy. But we know there is still more work to do. We want every student to leave college without feeling burdened by their debt.

In the past few years, we’ve undertaken several new initiatives to help borrowers manage their debt and repay their loans.

Our financial aid counseling tool is now available. There is also extensive financial aid information on StudentAid.gov, including details on flexible loan repayment plans, which allow borrowers to repay their loans based on their income.

Also, as you probably remember, back in June President Obama directed Secretary Duncan to allow all federal student loan borrowers to cap their monthly payment amounts at 10 percent of their monthly income. We’ve begun to put that directive into effect, with the goal of making the new plan available to borrowers next year.

And thanks to a wide variety of outreach efforts, more than 2.5 million Direct Loan borrowers are currently enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan.

We’ve also recently renegotiated terms of the federal student loan servicer contracts to help federal student loan borrowers better manage their debt. We’ve created additional incentives for companies that service federal student loans to improve counseling and outreach to ensure borrowers select the repayment plan best-suited to their financial circumstances, reduce payment delinquency, and help avoid default.

And we’re taking steps to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt by requiring career colleges to do a better job of preparing students for gainful employment.

It is important to remember there are options for those who have defaulted, as well. There are resources and several options for getting back on track at studentaid.gov.

If you need help repaying your federal student loans, you can also always contact your loan service provider to learn about repayment options.

Remember: there is no application fee to consolidate student loans. Do not pay for services that the U.S. Department of Education offers for free!

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.

4 Things You Should Do Before Repaying Your Student Loans

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One perk of having a federal student loan instead of a private student loan is that you are not required to start making payments right away. In fact, many federal student loans have a grace period*, or a set amount of time after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment before you must begin repaying your student loans. For most student loans, the grace period is 6 months but in some instances, the grace period could be longer. The grace period gives you time to get financially settled and to select your repayment plan.

For those of you who graduated in the spring, you’re probably nearing the end of your grace period. Your loan servicer, a company that works on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to process and manage student loan payments, has probably contacted you letting you know how the repayment process will work and when your first payment is due.

Here are four things you should do now, before you make that first student loan payment:

  1. Get Organized

Start by tracking down all of your student loans. Did you know that you can view all your federal student loans in one place?

Just log into StudentAid.gov/login using your Federal Student Aid PIN to view your loan balances, interest rate, loan servicer contact information, and more.

Note: Don’t forget to check your personal records to see if you have private student loans.

  1. Contact Your Loan Servicer

Your loan servicer is the company that will be collecting payments on your federal student loan on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. They are also there to provide support. Your loan servicer can help you choose a repayment plan, understand loan consolidation, and complete other tasks related to your federal student loan, so it’s important to maintain contact with your loan servicer. If your circumstances change at any time during your repayment period, your loan servicer will be able to help.

To find out who your loan servicer is, log in to StudentAid.gov. You may have more than one loan servicer, so it is important that you look at each loan individually.

  1. Estimate Your Monthly Payments Under Different Repayment Plans

Federal Student Aid has a great repayment calculator that allows you to compare our different repayment plan options side by side. Once you log in, the calculator pulls in information about your federal student loans, such as your loan balance and your interest rates, and allows you to estimate what your monthly payment would be under each of our different repayment plans. It also allows you to compare the total amount you will pay for your loan over time and can tell you the amount of loan forgiveness you’re expected to qualify for if you choose one of our income-driven repayment plans. Try it!

  1. Select the Repayment Plan That Works for You

One of the greatest benefits of federal student loans is the flexible repayment options. Take advantage of them! Although you may select or be assigned a repayment plan when you first begin repaying your student loan, you can change repayment plans at any time. There are options to tie your monthly payments to your income and even ways you can have your loans forgiven if you are a teacher or employed in certain public service jobs. Once you have determined which repayment plan is right for you, you must contact your loan servicer to officially change your repayment plan.

* Not all federal student loans have a grace period. Note that for many loans, interest will accrue during your grace period.

Nicole Callahan is a digital engagement analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Secretary Duncan Hears From Veterans on Challenges to College Success

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Secretary Duncan recently met with student veterans. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

How do we as a country provide supports on college campuses for veterans and ensure they have access to high-quality education at an affordable price? This question helped focus a Student Voices Session that recently took place with Secretary Duncan in Washington, D.C. The goal of the conversation was to understand the issues student veterans face, identify institutions of higher education that are providing comprehensive supports, and take action at the local, state, and federal levels.

The Obama administration is encouraging institutions to sign on to the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success, a voluntary initiative through the Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs by which colleges and universities can support veterans as they pursue their education and employment goals. Already, over 1,000 schools have signed on to support service members in transitioning to higher education, completing their college programs, obtaining career-ready skills, and building toward long-term success.

Abby Kinch, a current Florida State University (FSU) student and former Air Force Cryptologic Linguist, spoke about FSU’s Veterans Center, which provides veterans with a one-stop shop for on-campus support and a place to enhance their development as student leaders. Many of the students in attendance were impressed by the resources available for veterans at FSU and said they would like to see them replicated in their colleges and universities.

Franchesca Rivera, a former Marine and current Art Institute of Washington student and certifying official, passionately spoke about the need for transparency with regard to the cost of college, what the GI Bill will actually cover, and what student veterans should expect to pay. Rivera mentioned that, while most schools serving veterans have a dedicated VA certifying official, the people in this position have a high level of turnover and therefore it is hard to get accurate information.

Veterans Affairs Undersecretary Allison Hickey responded that the VA partially covers the school’s reporting costs and that her office will look into how these positions are trained to ensure certifying officials have the knowledge needed to assist veterans pursuing higher education. Additionally, she notes that the VA has just released a more robust GI Bill Comparison Tool, which will help students find the best programs that fit their needs.

As the secretary was discussing follow-up opportunities, Samuel Innocent, a senior at the City College of New York, suggested that the Student Veterans of America and other student-led veterans’ chapters could create a nationwide student survey to provide tangible feedback on schools’ services for veterans, and on state and federal assistance programs. The goal of the survey would be to strengthen what works and re-tool programs that are not having desired outcomes for meeting veterans’ needs.

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

Samuel Ryan is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Huntsville Shows Off Impressive STEM Learning Resources

Reposted from the OII Blog

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Alabama A&M University leaders (l. to r.) Provost Daniel Wims; President Andrew Hugine, Jr.; senior-year computer science student Charlevester Wims; and College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences Dean Chance Glenn join OII’s STEM executive director, Russell Shilling (second from right), following Education Secretary Arne’s Duncan’s visit to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center. (Photo courtesy of Alabama A&M University)

As Education Secretary Duncan’s bus tour departed Huntsville, Ala., on September 9th, I remained to explore the STEM and technology education programs in the area. Huntsville, home to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center, has the advantage of being a small city with huge resources to support education. I wanted to see what they were doing that might be exported to a wide range of schools across the U.S.

After Secretary Duncan’s visit to the Space and Rocket Center and its Space Camp, I was greeted by the president of Alabama A&M University (AAMU), Dr. Andrew Hugine, Jr., along with staff and students. Once on their beautiful campus, Dr. Chance Glenn, dean of the College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences, discussed the various programs AAMU has developed to help students pursue and excel in STEM fields.

As of 2012, the college, according to the American Society for Engineering Education, ranked No. 4 of 352 in the production of African American engineers and No. 11 for female engineers. This success is credited to multiple programs that support students at various points in their academic careers. AAMU, for example, provides full, four-year scholarships to 12 STEM Star Scholars, covering their tuitions and fees. The Summer Bridge program, which brings students to the campus for two weeks prior to starting their freshman year, focuses on mathematics, social development, and study skills, as well as a providing a campus orientation.

A roundtable discussion with faculty, staff, and current and past students from engineering, computer science, and the basic sciences concluded a very motivating visit to the AAMU campus.

The following day, I met with the Huntsville City Schools superintendent, Dr. Casey Wardynski, and his staff to discuss their STEM and technology strategies and tour a few of the local schools. At Blossomwood Elementary, I chatted with teachers and students about their work in robotics, information technology, and math. The Huntsville strategy has been to provide iPads for classroom use up to second grade and laptops for the rest of the student population to use at home and in school. Technology use was particularly well integrated in mathematics instruction, but also evident across the curriculum.

At Huntsville Middle School, laptops were again being well utilized in classroom instruction, especially in mathematics. Students were also actively learning to develop computer games in classrooms that have been well adapted for group work. I was particularly impressed by the school’s collaboration with the Elizabeth Forward school system in Pennsylvania. A particularly innovative application developed at Elizabeth Forward was being used to demonstrate linear progressions. In the application, students physically interact with a room-sized screen projected on the floor combined with sensors to track their movements. It’s a very good example of how hubs of innovation in local areas can propagate leading practices and why we need to continue to build opportunities to bring these innovators together.

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Russell Shilling (center) joins faculty and students at the Huntsville Center for Technology to learn about Greenpower Team USA. The Huntsville City Schools, which was the only U.S. competitor in last year’s international Greenpower competition, is expanding participation in the unique STEM learning initiative. (Photo courtesy of the Huntsville City Schools)

One of the most interesting aspects of the schools tour was the visit to the Huntsville Center for Technology, where I was introduced to Greenpower Team USA. Last October, Huntsville students competed in an international competition held in the U.K. to design, build, and test electric cars. The cars are built from scratch, including the aerodynamic composite bodies.

The Huntsville team won the Best Newcomer Award and the Siemens Innovator Award their first time out, placing 10th out of 32 competitors in the 90-minute race and 32nd out of 74 competitors in the four-hour race. Speeds average around 30 mph, but duration and durability are the primary goals. They were the only team outside of the U.K. in the finals. Team Huntsville has brought the concept home to the U.S., building test tracks around several Huntsville high schools to increase student participation citywide. And with the U.K. competitions including a category for 9- to 11-year-olds, which uses “Goblin Car” kits that average top speeds of 15 mph, Greenpower is an engaging way for STEM learning to reach a wide age range of students.

Clearly, Huntsville benefits from some unique local assets not available to all school systems, but many others could learn from the city’s leadership in developing technology integration strategies and their hands-on approach to STEM education.

Russell Shilling is Executive Director of STEM in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

One District’s Quest to Transform Learning through Technology

What does it mean to be a “Future Ready” school district?

More than 160 teachers, parents, students, and business and district leaders from across Tennessee recently gathered at the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools’ Martin Center to discuss the answer to this question and talk about the upcoming Future Ready District Pledge.

The Pledge establishes a framework for districts to achieve the goals laid out by the White House ConnectED Initiative. Some of these goals include: upgrading high-speed Internet connectivity, providing access to educational devices and digital content, and preparing teachers to use technology effectively to improve student learning and their own professional development.

The event – part of the U.S. Department of Education’s fifth annual back-to-school bus tour – was hosted by Kecia Ray, Executive Director of Learning Technology for the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and Richard Culatta, Director of the Department’s Office of Educational Technology.

Some of those who attended the event demonstrated what #FutureReady meant to them. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Some of those who attended the event demonstrated what #FutureReady meant to them. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

During the discussion, teachers, students, administrators, and community leaders talked about their roles in shaping the way technology can transform learning.

One teacher from the MNPS Virtual School said his staff was already “rockin’ Future Ready but could certainly use the infrastructure attention, as well as community involvement.” Other educators emphasized the importance of professional development and training. One MNPS teacher said teachers needed professional development on how to use devices for specific instructional purposes, while another teacher suggested, “Our perception needs to change from technology being ‘another thing’ we need to learn, to being ‘the way’ we teach and learn.”

The educators expressed the importance of building the right infrastructure, imagining the classrooms of the future, ensuring teachers are ready to utilize and benefit from technology, and bringing into the work parents, community members, school board members, and others . District leaders also recognized the value of mentoring other districts, noting, “The only way to be successful is to collaborate, just like we expect our teachers to do.”

Parents talked about blended learning, which combines classroom and online instruction, noting that without consistency across the country, individual districts would need to clearly define this learning approach for their teachers and students. Some parents also emphasized the importance of understanding what was going on at school, suggesting that “if parents knew what was happening in the classroom, they would know the right questions to ask their students.”

Students also gave their points of view.

Tenth-grade Big Picture High School student Jarred Enyart facilitated a conversation with nearly 30 middle and high school students. The teens expressed excitement about incorporating Future Ready into their learning experiences.

One student wondered, “If students had 45 minutes of rich learning online, would they have more motivation to succeed and learn?” Another offered an example of the personalized learning available in Future Ready schools, noting, “I had maxed out on AP classes and was interested in medicine. I was able to access a variety of opportunities because of the internet.”

As the event concluded, one student offered some excellent advice, urging the participants to use technology “as a tool, not a crutch.”

We will continue to bring you details about the Future Ready pledge. Follow the hashtag #FutureReady on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

James Liou is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.