Ideas that Work, office of special programs U.S. Department of Education

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Family, School, & Community Engagement Newsletter: U.S. Department of Education Releases Parent and Family Digital Learning Guide

 November 2020

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Safely Reopening Schools and Expanding Educational Options

With visits, calls, and virtual showcases, Secretary DeVos and Department of Education (Department) senior officials are promoting safely reopening schools and expanding educational options for students and families.

On Oct. 16, DeVos toured two Iowa apprenticeship programs, Vermeer Manufacturing’s program in Pella (joined by Governor Kim Reynolds) and Dordt University’s work-based learning program in Sioux City.

Next, on Oct. 19, the Secretary delivered a keynote address at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Then, on Oct. 20, the Secretary spoke about the need to transform and adapt K–12 education during this time of COVID-19 as part of the Milken Institute Global Conference.

Also in October, traveling across the American South, the Secretary participated in a roundtable discussion with Kentucky Pastors in Action in Louisville; visited Florida Virtual School headquarters in Orlando (joined by Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran); toured Belton Preparatory Academy and Anderson Institute of Technology in South Carolina (joined by Deputy Secretary Mitchell Zais and State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman); and participated in a roundtable discussion with Black Led Schools of Choice in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Separately, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (delegated the duties and responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services) Mark Schultz, and Director of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Service’s Office of Special Education Programs Laurie VanderPloeg hosted more than a dozen virtual showcases. Brogan featured Hills-Beaver Creek Independent School District in Minnesota; St. Timothy Christian Academy in Plano, Texas; University Charter School in Livingston, Alabama; Fort Huachuca Accommodation Schools in Arizona; Avon Local Schools in Ohio; Havasu Preparatory Academy in Lake Havasu City, Arizona; and Pima Unified School District in Arizona. Schultz featured Spectrum Charter School in Monroeville, Pennsylvania; Brehm Preparatory Academy in Carbondale, Illinois; and statewide vocational rehabilitation services in Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona, and Nebraska. VanderPloeg showcased Pattison’s Academy charter school in South Carolina.


Welcoming Safe and Supportive Learning Environments

This year, back-to-school time has presented historic challenges that changed the way schools across the country welcomed students back, regardless of the instructional model. Actively addressing school climate and culture and attending to students’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being are more important than ever to ensure all students and families feel welcomed, safe, and supported in their school environments.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Institute of Education Sciences, and Office of Special Education Programs have compiled welcoming safe and supportive learning environments, resources to support teachers and school and district leaders. These resources include School Climate Improvement, Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment in Our Nation’s Classrooms, “Mindfulness in Education: An Approach to Cultivating Self-Awareness That Can Bolster Kids’ Learning,” Returning to School During and After Crisis, and Supporting Students with Disabilities at School and Home.

You can find similar resources at the following websites: Office of Elementary and Secondary Education ResourcesCenter on Positive Behavior Interventions and SupportsNational Center for Pyramid Model Innovations, and Institute of Education Sciences’ COVID-19 Evidence-Based Resources.


Back-to-School Success Stories

Secretary DeVos and other Department senior leaders continue to visit, both in-person and virtually, schools across the country that have safely and successfully reopened.

They found that teachers are so excited to be able to say “HOORAY!  YOU’RE HERE!  YOU’RE HERE!  YOU’RE FINALLY HERE!” as they look out into their classroom. Even when remote learning is the best option for an individual student, they too are benefitting from out-of-the-box thinking like “cameras in every classroom [allowing teachers] to stream 'real time' instruction into students’ homes,” as some of their peers learn in person. Students all over the country, including those who “struggled in traditional academic settings due to their social-emotional needs” are now able to once again return safely to their classrooms where they are provided “much needed therapeutic and behavioral interventions.” Additionally, parents are offered peace of mind as their children return to a “focus on important academic and social- emotional needs, [in] a physically safe place to learn.”

To read more about these safe and successful school reopenings in the words of parents, teachers, school officials, and community partners, please visit

To submit a testimonial, please reach out to [email protected].


Updated COVID-19 Resources 

During this coronavirus pandemic it is important that states, communities, educators, and families are equipped with resources and flexibilities that empower students to continue pursuing their education goals. COVID-19 resources for schools, students, and families are available at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also continues to provide updated guidance for school settings.

Please send questions on which the Department can be helpful to [email protected].


School Ambassador Fellowship Program Now Accepting Applications

The Department is seeking outstanding teachers, principals, counselors, psychologists, librarians, and other school-based professionals who interact with students on a daily basis to bring their expertise to serve as School Ambassador Fellows. The program is intended to expand fellows’ knowledge of the national dialogue on education and, in turn, facilitate the learning and input of other educators and community members. Applicants may choose to apply as Washington Fellows — a full-time appointment, where fellows are based in residence at the Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., or as Campus Fellows — a part-time appointment, where fellows collaborate with Department staff while maintaining their regular school responsibilities in their home communities. The application period closes Jan. 11, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. 

Over 130 educators from across the nation have participated in this highly competitive yearlong fellowship experience, and the Department regularly seeks the feedback of those within the Ambassador Alumni Network.


Building Global Competitiveness Virtual Roundtable

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (WHIEEAA), housed at the Department, invites you to attend the upcoming virtual roundtable titled Building Global Competitiveness: Supporting International Learning Experiences for Black Students on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. EST. This discussion, moderated by WHIEEAA’s newly appointed executive director Terris Todd, will enable participants to have access to information, resources, best and promising practices from the Department, other federal agencies, and the field. Register today.


U.S. Department of Education Releases Parent and Family Digital Learning Guide

 On Oct. 23, 2020, the Department released the Parent and Family Digital Learning Guide, a resource to help parents and guardians understand how digital tools can provide tailored learning opportunities, engage students with course materials, encourage creative expression, and enrich the educational experience.

 “As technology continues to iterate and benefit every part of our lives, all students need more opportunities to leverage the potential of technology in education,” said Secretary DeVos. “We hope families can use the information we release today as many of them are relying on technology more so than ever before and are navigating learning from home.”


Artemis Moon Pod Essay Contest

 NASA’s Artemis Moon Pod Essay Contest, open until December 17, challenges U.S. K-12 students to imagine leading a one-week expedition to the Moon’s South Pole.  Just imagine: You and a crew of astronauts will explore the lunar surface, making key discoveries to assist future explorers.  Describe your team -- the number of astronauts in your crew, their personality traits, the skills they possess, and the attributes you would want in crewmates.  And what machine, robot, or piece of technology would you leave behind to help future astronauts explore the Moon?  Essays will be divided into three groups for judging by grade level -- K-4, 5-8, and 9-12.  Every student who submits an essay will receive a certificate and be invited to a NASA virtual event featuring an astronaut.  Semifinalists will be invited to represent their state in a series of Artemis Explorer sessions with experts.  Nine finalists will have the opportunity to travel with a parent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center next summer to learn about lunar exploration.  The national winner in each group will win a family trip to see the first Artemis flight test, watching the world’s most powerful rocket launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


The Parent’s Guide to Filling Out the FAFSA® Form

The Department realizes parents often play a large role in the process for completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The Department’s Homeroom blog contains helpful information for parents.


COVID-19 Resources for Children From Birth to Age 5

The ED-funded Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center developed a COVID-19 website with resources for states and local programs serving young children with disabilities and their families. One of its newest interactive infographics is COVID-19 Family Resources to help families navigate the ECTA website for COVID-19 tools and information to support their children's learning and development. This resource was developed by ECTA and the Center for IDEA Early Childhood Data Systems (DaSy), with extensive contributions from parent training and resource centers across the country.


Dual Language Learners Program Assessment

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)-funded National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning developed the Dual Language Learners Program Assessment (DLLPA). The DLLPA helps Head Start, child-care, and pre-K programs ensure the full and effective participation of children who are DLLs and their families. It outlines strategies for a coordinated approach across management systems and program services, and programs can use it to assess systems and services for improving school readiness. The tool also supports cultural and linguistic responsiveness and family engagement.


Raising Awareness of the Need for Adoptive Families

The Children's Bureau, within HHS, funds the National Adoption Month initiative each November through a partnership with AdoptUSKids and Child Welfare Information Gateway. Child Welfare lists resources for families seeking to foster and adopt children. 


American Indian and Alaska Native Teacher Webinar Series

Many communities continue to use physical distancing and stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of COVID-19. Because of this, families experiencing domestic violence may have a harder time finding support and resources. At a Sept. 10 webinar, the HHS-funded National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement facilitated a discussion on responding to domestic violence during COVID-19. Presenters discussed key ways early care and education programs can support resilience building for families experiencing domestic violence.


Childcare and Distant Family Adds to Remote Learning Challenges for Delaware Military Families

Did you know that online learning can cause stress for young students? According to an article from Stars and Stripes, “Military families are often familiar with the challenges of two working parents and changing schedules, but this season of remote learning has been especially difficult.” 


Understanding Child Trauma and Resilience: For Military Parents and Caregivers 

This new resource offers military parents and caregivers information about childhood trauma, supporting their child after a traumatic event, and resilience. Included is a checklist to assist parents with keeping track of behaviors their child or adolescent may be displaying, as well as tips for initiating conversations with children of all ages. The development of the document was a collaboration between the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s Military and Veteran Families Program, Alaska Child Trauma Center and Child and Family Services at Alaska Behavioral Health.


Count Us In: Advancing Equity in Rural Schools & Communities

The Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium recently published Count Us In: Advancing Equity in Rural School & Communities, a collection of articles on how equity relates to rural America and its students and schools. The publication highlights a parent’s perspective blog on Living Through Spring 2020 in Rural America.


International Education Week

The U.S. Department of State and the Department are part of a joint initiative to promote International Education Week and programs that prepare Americans for an international environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences. Parents, family members, students, and education professionals can learn more about international programs and options from USA Study Abroad.


Homeless Youth Awareness

One of every 30 children in the United States experience homelessness. Along with losing their home, community, friends, routines, and their sense of stability and safety, many homeless youth are victims of trauma. In support of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network is providing resources to help communities, families, educators, and professionals better understand and assist homeless youth.



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