Because Someone Asked Me To

By Traci Aucoin

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There are many challenges that await us as 21st century educators, including the opportunity for all children to have the chance to obtain a post-secondary degree. Challenges that bring opportunities that will enlist new approaches to keeping students engaged in learning so they can achieve their full potential. These challenges are why I am honored and excited to have been selected to participate in the Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship which will allow me to assist in designing curriculum that engages students and helps prepare them for 21st century learning across the state.

As a young girl, I don’t remember hearing words spoken about certain values, but I recognize that I had wonderful mentors throughout my life who modeled principles and beliefs centered in core competencies that would shape my life.  I witnessed and began to emulate habits of excellence, hard work, commitment and dedication toward a higher need.  

I believe that all my life’s experiences have positioned me for my work with GEAR UP which provides opportunities and valuable educational experiences for kids and helps them plan and prepare for post-secondary education.

I like to tell this story about one of my students, Ebna.  I met Ebna when he was in the 6th grade.  He was a quiet little boy who never spoke a word.  He wasn’t engaged in school and his grades reflected his lack of interest.  I wasn’t sure why Ebna agreed to participate in a project called HEAT, a math competition we were hosting through UL, so I asked him.  

“Ebna,”  I asked, “why did you choose to join the HEAT team?”

“Because someone asked me to,” he said.

So, Ebna, who was failing math, signed up for all the after school work, learning math disguised as getting ready for the competition.  He was open to learning, fearless of exposing his lack of math skills to others but committed to the experience.  He didn’t score well in that first competition, but year after year he continued.  The following year, Ebna moved from the bottom of the list to one of our top scorers.  

“This was one of the best days of my life,” Ebna said after he won his gold medal.  He graduated high school college and career ready and this was a kid who was already checked out of school in the 6th grade.  

Ebna reminded me of my own son, Michael who struggled in school because learning was difficult. Michael was dyslexic, but he had an advocate who could keep him connected and moving forward when learning became tough. Every day, I see my son in so many of our kids struggling who don’t always have an advocate to help them move forward.  Recently Michael graduated with honors from UL’s College of Engineering.  It was one of the best days of my life! Michael now works a job that will offer him the opportunity for a successful and happy life.

I’ve learned there are no silver bullets in education. There are lots of needs that require our attention. There is no one single thing but lots of initiatives that we can do and must do well.  I know that helping others matters, I’ve learned to surround myself with people who build, who seek to do the right thing and who unify others. I want to help kids see that they are valued and worthy of greatness so that they can grow and mature into something far more beautiful than they can ever imagine.  


Impact of Opportunity


Impact of Opportunity

By LA Fellow London Moore

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One of the many things that keeps me up at night as a high school Principal is thinking about what my students will do post-graduation. As educators we must ask ourselves, “Are we doing everything we can to prepare our children for the ever-changing 21st century that they will all too soon become active members.”  

For me this work is deeply personal. I grew up in a neighborhood seemly devoid of options. It was more about getting through the day than getting into college or on a career path.  I was one of the lucky ones.  I had a grandmother that believed in the power of education and drove me forty-five minutes each way to the other side of town so that I could obtain a quality education. That single decision from my grandmother changed my life.  It is because of this opportunity that my grandmother gave me that I feel deeply invested in giving back to youth who also may be lacking opportunities needed to achieve their full potential.  

This belief in opportunities and access has led me to the principal seat at THRIVE Academy.  We are a public boarding school where we seek out students who have perhaps not been given the opportunity that they deserve but who have limitless potential.  

It is from this seat that I am deeply invested in the Louisiana Career and Technical Education Curriculum.  Students need opportunities and students need options. What inspires Malik is different from what inspires Ronn.  What Ronn is passionate about Kia has no interest in. The role Kia sees herself in later in life is something that Sedrick never knew existed. It’s our responsibility within the walls of THRIVE to provide all of our students access to explore and discover their passion and achieve their goals no matter how vast the range of interest may be.  It is with this knowledge in mind that I come fired up to the Louisiana Education Voice Fellowship.  Currently, we are preparing our students for a world that changes daily.  We prepare them for jobs that are not even invented.  It is our duty to prepare them because our students are looking to us daily for guidance about what comes next.  

Career and technical paths are for some students the options they need to continue school.  I have a student, *Ryan, who did not see himself going to college.  It did not interest him.  He was unengaged in most of his studies and did not see a path forward for himself.  When *Ryan dual-enrolled at BRCC’s NCCER class he began to find options that excited him. He would not stop talking about becoming a welder or an electrician.  He had a renewed sense of purpose toward school.  He saw a future when before he had seen dead ends.  I tell you, *Ryan’s story because he inspired me as a principal to move away from the beaten path, to shift my schedule to crafting and creating as many access opportunities in as many fields as possible for our students. It is with this inspiration that I embark on this fellowship toward opportunities and access for students.



Foundational Skills for a Lifetime of Success

by LA Fellow Jayda Spillers

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My love for Career and Technical Education was planted by a former business teacher, Sharon Mock, at the small high school that I attended. Looking back, I now realize how she embedded workplace readiness skills within the business curriculums in which I participated.  She often quoted  Zig Ziegler and lessons from Dale Carnegie, and these stories and lessons helped shape my “people” skills as I began my first job, working in a doctor’s office, while a senior in high school. I loved the world of business and could not wait to go to college to pursue a business degree - later a business education degree as her influence was far reaching. The technical and non-technical skills that I learned in each of her business classes were my anchor as I had to work in order to pay my way through college.  But, she had given me a strong  foundation on which to build my future career aspirations, and this foundation which emphasized career readiness skills is what helped shaped my career pathway.

I worked in many business related jobs while working on my college degree (doctor’s office, banking, a small business development center, and a law office), and they each required a skill set that involved communication, critical thinking, problem solving, as well as other workplace ethics skills in order to be successful and maintain employment. After I became a business teacher, it was a natural process for me to embed these skills within my lessons. While a school-to-work coordinator, career readiness or “soft skills” as I addressed it within the Cooperative Office Education course I taught, was a priority topic that was presented within the first few weeks of school - before students became too entrenched within their work environments. I quickly learned that spending time on these topics assisted the students in maintaining healthy working relationships with co-workers and employers and was often the skill that would help them retain employment. Part of my responsibilities as the coordinator was to discuss with the individual employers any concerns they were having with students in these areas, then take their input back into the classroom and create lessons that would address the student deficits within these non-technical skills.  

After moving into an administrative role at my district’s technical high school, my focus became more technically aligned as emphasis was placed on earning industry-based certifications within each technical field. Though our programs sought business and industry input regarding the technical curriculum, not much was mentioned regarding non-technical skills that were required to maintain employment. However, a few years ago, I was made aware of employer’s concerns over the lack of soft skills when I attended a meeting of manufacturers within the Northwest Louisiana region. As I listened to the employer’s discussion, I was stunned at how serious this issue had become, and the long-term effect on both employer and employee. As explained to me, technical skills were not the issue; it was the non-technical skills that were costing employees their jobs. The employers noted their specific concerns were showing up for work, being on time, conflict resolution, ethical issues, and passing drug screenings. These were the basic career readiness skills that my former business teacher had instilled in her business students, but were not being addressed within our current schools’ curriculums.  

Within my administrative role, I realized this was an opportunity to address this deficit more purposefully within our curriculums in order to assist our students’ future aspirations and make a positive impact on our area’s economic system. With this knowledge, I was inspired to develop a “soft skills” program for my school. Through this plan, soft skills are now embedded within each CTE curriculum at the Bossier Parish School for Technology and Innovative Learning (BPSTIL) so students are exposed to on-the-job expectations and receive an evaluation each grading period over these employer expectations. However, these career readiness skill should not only be addressed when students reach high school and are enrolled in specific courses. It is the responsibility of all educators to address these skills as we prepare students for college and careers.   

After attending the September Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship for 21st Century Learning conference, my mission of integrating technical with non-technical (career readiness) skills within the Career and Technical Education (CTE) curriculum has become more urgent. Our industry visits with Lucid and Ochsner Health in the New Orleans area solidified my understanding of what employers value in future employees and echoed the research that I have conducted on soft skills, personal visits with business and industry partners within the Bossier City area, and my background as a CTE educator. I am so proud to be a part of this fellowship and embarking on this journey to reach all students within the state of Louisiana through the shared vision of creating a new career readiness course for our students.  I look forward to seeing how this curriculum will develop and the positive outcomes that this will have on our students’ future career aspirations. My mission is stronger as I work to promote real-world experiences in CTE in order to assist  high school students in becoming college and career ready and meet the challenges of an ever-changing  global society.



Let's Tell

By LA Fellow Martha Sealy

No one told me all that I could do. As educators, we have to spread the word about self-assessment and passions. I wish someone had told me.

I remember the day vividly. During my senior year in high school, I was pondering my college major. My mom had just come home from teaching first grade and walked past me to get the mail. Because I assumed she knew everything, I asked her what college major could I pursue that involved plants. Flowers and vegetables were always my thing.

Without hesitation, my mom answered, “Horticulture.” And, she was correct.

However, I immediately snubbed my nose at “horticulture” claiming, “I hate science.” I was not aware there was a field of study using plants that was exactly what I was looking for: landscape architecture.  No one told me.

My second career choice was to become an attorney. I was the fifth child my parents were sending to college so there was a time limit: Four years. Essentially that meant no graduate school. I had no idea there were specific scholarships for certain careers including non-traditional students, or grants, or even student loans. I had worked every summer and during college for spending money, but did not consider “working my way through school.” No one told me.

Entering college right after high school, I finished in four years, and got my first real job, first grade teacher. No one told me I could be something else or suggested I follow my passion or even find funding to pursue a dream. I taught first grade for three years, but always had my fingers in the dirt. Eventually I enrolled in graduate school, and now I have a master’s degree in landscape architecture (MLA).

My story has always propelled me into helping people find their right career. After earning my MLA I went back to teaching. I taught children that by combining gardening, art, and architecture, there could be a culmination into landscape architecture.

Young people today have access to the internet, and in Louisiana, laws requiring career readiness instruction beginning in the sixth grade. In high school career readiness courses range from basic to advanced with some in-between. At some schools and in some diploma paths at least one of these is required.

As a Fellow with America Achieves, I am charged with creating a new career readiness curriculum for high school students. My cohorts met in New Orleans in September to begin the task.

We visited  the largest employer in New Orleans, Ochsner Health System. I learned about their high school recruiting program where students learn that there are other jobs in a hospital than a doctor or a nurse. A career outreach staff gave presentations offering resume writing tips including thinking about their own passions.

Jobs exist in non-clinical and professional roles in academics and research, allied health specialties like laboratory, sonography, phlebotomists, financial systems, information technology, human resources, customer service, pharmacy, housekeeping, greeters, and even a pianist, a greater array since its opening in 1942 by founder Dr. Alton Ochsner.

Another founder and current CEO, Patrick Comer, used a play on words to brand his company Lucid, defined as “thinking clearly” and “easy to understand.” Only seven years old, this market research, technology firm labels their human resources department as “people.” With a goal of hiring 100 “people” in 2017, those who work in People are going to be really busy!

Describing Lucid’s successful fundraising campaign as “telling the story, getting energy up, the excitement up,” Comer is also describing what those 100 new staffers will be doing globally and in New Orleans.

Companies today are reaching out and telling students the many job opportunities they offer. I am going to spread the word too!



Early Career Exploration

by LA Fellow Elizabeth Thibeaux-Clay

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As the dynamics of the economy change, our instruction in career exploration has to change as well. In all grade levels, there needs to be career exploration. The depth of instruction has to be age and content appropriate. Also, the goal has to be to provide our students with resources to achieve success in their careers.

In addition, students should be exposed to nontraditional careers. For example, boys can be elementary teachers and girls can be welders. In our classrooms, we should exposed students to those careers and invite people who work in nontraditional careers to give presentations to our students. The exposure to nontraditional careers should be on going in all grade levels. Additionally, there needs to be job shadowing in middle and high schools and internships during the summer for students.

Years ago, I met a young lady that followed in her father’s footsteps and became a welder. It was not an easy journey for her. Yet, she had a supportive group of mentors and was exposed to the welding career pathway at an early age at home and at school. Her middle school began career exploration in the fifth grade and all students were encouraged to follow their interests. In addition, the students were paired with groups of mentors in their career fields.  Because of the support this young woman received from her family, mentors, and school, she was able to successfully navigate the pathway to become a welder.

Students need time to explore and analyze their interests and potential careers for employment. In career exploration, students desire independence so they can make informed decisions. Career counseling and interest inventory should be used as stepping stones to career exploration. Students need time to process information to make sound decisions. In addition, there has to be opportunities for all students regardless of their career choice. These opportunities should be available in all middle schools and all high schools.

We are living in a time period where we are preparing students for jobs that do not exist yet. We need to equip students with basic skills that are flexible and based on their interests. Our students need to be exposed to more than one career opportunity in their career exploration. Some students need to travel outside their cities and their states to experience these careers.

Our school systems can achieve these objectives by partnering with the community, using mentors, and providing online resources. Early career exploration aides in the developmental growth and career success of our students.



The Power of Hearing Students

By LA Fellow Kristy Brumley

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A student’s voice can be his or her most powerful weapon for helping shape the future.  Unfortunately, the true voice of many students is seldom heard.  That voice - the protected inner expression that whispers of a student’s dreams, aspirations, and fears - is often discouraged in the traditional school setting.  According to Quaglia and Corso (2014), students at the secondary level have less opportunity to offer opinions and participate as leaders in meaningful ways than their elementary counterparts.  This finding is alarming.  Just as a student is reaching his or her prime in the educational spectrum, educators are failing students by neglecting to fully equip them with the skills needed to thrive in a 21st century workplace.

The world of work has changed. Gone are the days of spending “x” amount of years studying a skilled craft or professional program to arrive on the job and know it inside and out.  Successful 21st century businesses need employees who can adapt to changing needs, juggle complex responsibilities, and learn new ways to solve new problems.  Twenty-first century work realities call for organized systems of people of who come equipped with knowledge of core subjects not to mention people who have honed information and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, and interpersonal and self-directional skills.  In essence, jobs of the future require leaders who can self-direct, who willingly exercise personal accountability, who are life-long learners, and who can exercise social responsibility among the interests of the larger community.  

Are these work demands too far-fetched to fathom instilling them into the greater educational context?  Of course, they aren’t.  But to do so, educators have to possess these very skills and model them for students.  Educators must see beyond the outer shell and help students discover their true potential.  I can personally attest to the strength of such an educator.  My reality is uniquely painted with a background of adversity and statistics indicating that I should have been a high school dropout.  The reason I’m not, the reason that I thrived is because of an emphatic teacher who believed in the value of my “inner voice.”  Mrs. Sepulvado began a journey of truly “hearing” me in the second grade.  She continued to listen and advise well beyond my formative years in her elementary class.  Ultimately, she inspired me because she listened.  She inspired me because she cared.  She inspired me because she was a forward-thinking educator who knew the potential of allowing her students to be heard.  

Ultimately, to prepare students for roles in the 21st century workplace, educators must be willing and capable to demonstrate empathy and understanding and seek out the unique perspectives and voices of all students.  To become leaders of change who can tolerate ambiguity and thrive in team settings, students must be taught to share the thoughts of that secret, inner voice.  Students must be taught to let go of insecurities and fears of ridicule.  Students must be taught that their ideas, aspirations, and questions are valid and are worthy of being heard.  Only then, will today’s students become tomorrow’s 21st century leaders.

As I reflect on these realities and the challenges ahead, I am honored to be a part of the Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship, a diverse group of educators who have been charged with rewriting a course to immerse students into the skills of the future.  I’m excited that our collective efficacy will assimilate in a way that mirrors the future expectations of our students.  Although the task is a large undertaking, I have faith that our efforts will make a difference in the lives of students.  Furthermore, I am encouraged by the possibilities of an education in which all students are “heard.”                       



The Month of May

By LA Fellow Heather Howle

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Fourteen of my eighteen years in the classroom passed by in nearly the exact same way.

In a typical day, the bell would ring to signal the start of learning, students would begrudgingly file into classrooms usually with teachers begrudgingly filing in behind them. Class would begin and I, the dutiful teacher, would deliver a brilliant lesson that my students were to absorb. Students would demonstrate their understanding of my efforts on tests and quizzes. Students not mastering the content were failed and the class moved on.

Fall, winter, spring and so it went until the end of the year state exams. The big event. This is what we have been preparing for all year kids. The bell would ring to signal the end of learning, students gleefully ran from the building with exuberant teachers hurdling over them to beat the buses out of the parking lot.

Sounds miserable, I know. So why, you ask, did I keep coming back for more?

Two reasons:

1. I was a good teacher… or so I thought. I was told I was doing a pretty good job. I liked my students (for the most part) and (for the most part) my students liked me.  This was how I was taught to teach.  

2. The month of May.     

The month of May? Why, yes, the glorious month of May.

I know what you are thinking right about now: “Of course, May! The last month of school. She stuck it out for the summer vacations. I knew it.”

But I loved the month of May because after testing I was allowed to teach science in any way I pleased.

We had messy, noisy investigations. We took field trips out to the school pond in our rubber boots. We sampled pond water for macroinvertebrates and calculated water quality. We dissected fish and learned from experts about otoliths. We built wood duck boxes and watched ducklings hatch. We launched rockets and determined trajectory. Parachutes still hang in the oak trees as reminders of some of our miscalculations. We had FUN and we LEARNED.

I couldn’t wait to get to school each day in May. I looked forward to each new project. I didn’t think from day-to-day lessons, but instead I thought in terms of long-term projects with checkpoints. The students became the drivers and I took a back seat. Well, maybe I was a back seat driver, but I’ve come a long way in that regard.

Fast forward to 2014, a pivotal year, when I was offered the opportunity to start a STEM class. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I did know how I wanted to do it: I wanted the entire year to be the month of May.

So, I designed a robotics and engineering curriculum and wrote grants to fund the program. We have 40 Lego Mindstorm EV3 robots, 8 underwater ROVs, ChromeBooks, programming laptops, iPads, a 3-D printer; the works. Students keep a digital portfolio of their programming successes (and failures) and must adhere to strict deadlines. I now assess students with skill-based performance tasks.  We compete and win robotics competitions across the state.  It’s a super cool class. However, it’s not the equipment, curriculum or accolades that I am most proud. It’s the enthusiasm for the class.

All year I’m excited to go to robotics class. All year kids meet me at the door to get in first. All year kids beg not to leave the class when bell rings. “Just a few more minutes, I almost have it!” All year kids stay after school to perfect a program. All year is the month of May.

As we challenge ourselves to imagine the classroom of the future, what do you see? For me the picture is clear, I see the month of May.



Opportunity NoWhere to Now Here!

By LA Fellow Ellyn McKinney

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The 25 years spent in a profession I absolutely love has afforded me the opportunity to reflect on this work many times. However, most recently, the impact of a simple word, why caused me to deeply explore how a teacher’s contribution to the world of education can truly make a difference in the life of a child. Such is the case of a student whose life was forever changed by the actions of teachers who cared and set my course to be bold, ask why more often and create a venue for possibilities.


Sidney was 17 years old, a struggling 11th grader who was beyond disenchanted with school.  He was capable but his grades were marginal - bringing to life the reality that grades and test scores should not define a child. Driven by a climate and culture in the academic world that the outcome of high school is a bridge to college, the school building was his dread. Sidney’s genius was found in his love for people, keen communication skills, and love for outdoors coupled with his interest in mechanics. His  teachers recognized these qualities and began to search a better way for him to find success. . . and they did.

Hours of conversations, meetings and thoughtful investigation opened doors that provided a new learning venue through mentorships, internships and finally an entrepreneurship to build his own successful business. The message was strong in that school did not have to operate between the hours of 8-3, 5 days a week, 9 months a year - between the months of August and May. The classroom was found in industry learning labs through project based instruction.  

Today, Sidney is a licensed HVAC Technician. He's happy, successful and loves his work.

I have such admiration for him. Our roles reversed as he taught me more about education than any textbook or college course. Sidney taught me to look beyond the four walls of a classroom to teach math, economics, English and citizenship. He taught me to be more intentional in my approach to plan with students and parents. He taught me to be a better teacher - and even more to be a better parent.

You see, Sidney is more than a student who taught me to speak up and to sometimes scream from the top of my lungs,to always find a way. Sidney is more than a student.  He is my child - and for this reason, I will spend every day of my professional journey being intentional, looking for a better way and never, ever placing students into a mold that someone else set for them.

He taught me to believe and that we have the power to know that opportunity is Now Here!  




A Path to Career Readiness: One Student’s Journey

by LA Fellow Courtney Guidry

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I did not realize on my first day of teaching Introduction to Engineering Design that my outlook on 21st century skills would forever be changed by a fourteen year old boy named Eric.

His voice would arrive in class before his actual physical body, with his louder than life laughs entering from the hallway. He loved building and working with his hands. He stated he wanted to be an engineer but hated math, reading, and group projects. He often had to be reminded to stay seated because he would wander around the classroom like a politician works a room. Between the two of us, we had an inside joke that he needed a seatbelt while in class in order to focus. While Eric was able to make people laugh and was extremely personable, he struggled academically, with reading and math levels well below the fourth grade. His boisterous personality was to compensate for the fact that he did not really dislike any subjects, he had just never really been taught and undergone true remediation. The system had failed him.

Once the coursework kicked in, Eric quickly realized that becoming an engineer would be extremely difficult given his deficiencies. He revealed that he did not really want to pursue college but it was the only option teachers ever talked about. We started talking about all the other options out there: vocational/technical schools as well as certifications he could earn while in high school that could lead to a job and, furthermore, a career.

We came up with a plan: to focus on what he was good at, what he enjoyed, and devise a course of action for future career success. For the remainder of the school year, Eric concentrated on 3D modeling, a skill he discovered he excelled at and one in which he could have a career in the field without attending a four-year university.

By the end of that year, he earned his certification in 3D modeling software.

While technical skills are important for success in a 21st century world, they are only half of the puzzle. I knew our plan had to concentrate just as much on practicing and mastering soft skills.  We practiced collaborating with others, writing professional emails, and presentation skills just to name a few. I worked with him to become literate in terms of the digital world and incorporated aspects of global awareness into his final project assignment.

By the end of the school year, Eric became one of the superstar students at our school in terms of technical and soft skills growth. He was asked by numerous teachers and by administrators to present to other students about the importance of soft skills. Eric was able to articulate how these skills had helped him during his freshman year in addition to how integral they will be for his future.

It was through Eric that I realized how important career readiness skills are for every student, not just the ones that plan to attend college or know exactly what career path they will choose. Each and every other student deserve to have access to a high quality curriculum to help them navigate and be successful in a 21st century world.



She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy


She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy

By LA Fellow Rob Howle

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If you leave the large city of Baton Rouge and travel north down La. Hwy 1 towards Marksville, you will arrive at the small town of New Roads, Louisiana. New Roads is a tight-knit community in Pointe Coupee Parish that is situated on the banks of the beautiful False River (which is not actually a river, but that is a topic for a different time). Pointe Coupee Parish has a small power plant, but its main industry is farming. Pointe Coupee Parish is ranked in the top five in the state for the production of sugarcane, soybeans, and wheat.  As you travel through the parish on a fall day it's obvious that farming is a crucial part of the economy, because in field after field people are “cutting the cane” or about the “cut the cane.” As a newly hired principal, my job was to open a new STEM-based school in the town and recruit students from the public and private schools to attend.  As I worked to accomplish this task, I discovered three realities that I did not anticipate.

Reality #1 There were two types of STEM curriculums: one was affordable and useless and the other was amazing but ridiculous expensive.

Reality #2 No one wanted to give me a grant for a school that didn’t exist yet.

Reality #3 No one knew what the heck STEM even meant!

As I traveled to different parts of the parish and held parent meetings, the question I heard over and over was, “What is STEM and how can my child benefit from a school with a STEM based curriculum?”  I gave the typical talking points answers.  A STEM curriculum will help your child with deep thinking skills, it’s challenging and more hands-on, and it will eventually help them get a good job. I traveled to meeting after meeting, answering the same questions the same ways until one night a parent asked, “What does STEM mean?”  I answered the question with the typical science, technology, engineering, & math without going into much detail.  A few days later something amazing and surprising happen. It all started with a tractor.

I was working out of the school board office, which was only about six miles from my school.  The school was going through major renovations because the facility had been closed for years and was in a serious state of disrepair.  I travelled to the school weekly to check the progress of the renovations but on this particular day my commute was taking longer than normal.  I found myself stuck behind an enormous, green monstrous tractor that was slowly moving down the road.  As I crept down La. Hwy 1 behind the tractor it hit me (not the tractor, a realization).  My whole view of why we should have STEM concepts in schools were misguided for Pointe Coupee Parish’s needs.  

Pointe Coupee Parish is a rural community, and rural communities have plenty of STEM opportunities, but those opportunities present themselves in a different matter than urban communities.  Eureka!! Farming is a STEM job.  From the design of the tractor's engine, transmission and general operational parts, to the electrical and computer systems that actually control the operation of the tractor, a tractor is a STEM job opportunity.  The advancements in tractor technologies have made farming easier and more efficient but have also created very complex systems, so that the average tractor dealerships will struggle to find competent mechanics who can not only repair the engine system, but also the computer systems.  Normal supply and demand theories tell us that mechanics that can repair all systems of a modern tractor will be in high demand, thus their salaries will be higher than the average mechanic.  

This outlook on STEM within the rural community changed my whole perspective of the future of STEM.  I began to see STEM in many aspects of rural life.  Farming is its own industry within the rural community and it supports many small businesses that  include STEM jobs.  From pesticides, fertilizers, and soil consultants, to crop dusters and soil renewal methods, these all are STEM jobs that are created as a result of the modern farm.  To engage a community in STEM efforts, it is important that we understand their needs and how STEM will help lead their youth to success beyond high school.



What are the Best Next Steps for Students?

By Ambrosia Grant

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The rewriting of Louisiana’s Career and Technical Education Curriculum is exciting and impactful work that will shift the focus away from the idea that college and career is an “either or” decision. I currently serve as Academic Dean at Helen Cox High School in Harvey, LA and I am also member of the Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship. I truly feel that the work we are doing will empower every educator to impact generations of learners in becoming both college and career ready.

A travesty occurs when students graduate without the belief that they can be successful.  This lack of self-efficacy could be due to transferable skill sets, lack of knowledge of postsecondary options, or simply being unaware of their own gifts, passions and talents. As I write this, I am thinking of a student I knew who graduated as valedictorian of her class. Her name was* Cassie. Cassie graduated without a plan. She confided in me that she felt overwhelmed when she began to receive college acceptance letters and scholarship offers.

She would be the first in her family to attend college, but suddenly she was not sure she was ready. The prospect of accepting an offer out of state was frightening for her; but not as frightening as the idea of college itself. Cassie decided to attend trade school instead, but soon dropped out. The last time I saw Cassie she was working a food service job, and still unsure of her next steps.

There are many students like Cassie who are still searching for direction after high school. Every student needs a sense of self-efficacy - a belief that they can be successful in their chosen path. When a student graduates equipped with job-ready skills, along with certifications that allow them to earn;  this helps to curb the urgency and anxiety of planning their next steps. When a student receives effective mentoring and; job shadowing, along with strategic internship and externship opportunities they began to have a sense of where their gifts and talents could best be realized in the workforce. Even if they are the first in their family to do so, they will be well prepared to take their next step.

Career and Technical Education should empower students to take advantage of a plethora of options before them.  In order to meet the diverse needs of our students, real world career exploration and strategic partnerships between school communities and businesses will be an important part of preparing students for both college and career readiness.



You Dropped Something...

By Angelina Drago

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It’s a typical Friday in my ProStart lab. I look around the work-based learning kitchen at my students. My diverse group of 18 kids, 18 backgrounds, 18 sets of strengths and weaknesses, and 18 visions and destinies beyond this room. Yet here they are, together in this place, in their chef coats and hair restraints, engaged in various tasks. Playful banter is in the air. Among the running jokes, I hear, “you dropped something - sanitize!” I need not say a word. There’s a palpable sense of care in the room – care for themselves, care for each other, and care for their work.   

One of the students, Alicia, is leading a group in preparing 100 lbs of chicken for our hungry football players before the game. She’s attentive in monitoring and mitigating the contamination risk.

At another station, Danielle is working solo, baking fresh bread for the inevitable football carb-loading session. She’s bouncing around the kitchen between batches, socializing at will.

On the other side of the kitchen, students are tasked with stacking and decorating two special order cakes, including a solar system cake.  Wade, a student who has been practicing cake decorating on his own for several years, is particularly excited about the project, and he plans to show his colleagues a mirror glaze. He immediately gets to work carving the first cakes.

I casually make my way around the kitchen stations, providing feedback and assistance as needed, and enjoying the moment. Fourteen months ago, when I first met this group of new students, they didn’t trust me. I didn’t trust them. They didn’t trust each other. Most joined the program with hope of finding access to snacks. Yet here they are, working as a team, fueled not by snacks, but by passion, confidence, and care. I look forward to navigating opportunities with them. I’m proud to recommend any one of them for a job. Then Wade hits the floor.

Wade hits the floor! He nicked his finger on the knife earlier and waited until after we bandaged him to pass out. All six feet of him falls back to introduce his head to the floor. Hard. Soon after he begins to convulse, my brain catches up with my heart. “Call -- Nurse!” I stammer. “Talk to him. Don’t touch him. Cushion his head.”  In two minutes, Aron and Mia return with the nurse. In the meantime, as I call Wade’s mom, I watch Nila remove her chef jacket to cushion Wade’s head, while Alicia sits on the ground near him, gently asking him questions. The rest of the students are back to work at their stations. The atmosphere has changed. The EMTs arrive quickly, and they quickly take him away.

Wade is okay, and I think we will be, too. Upon reflection, I wonder if there’s more meaning hiding in the timing of that day. Only a week earlier, I joined a convening of educators, united in the purpose of retooling career education for all Louisiana students. As we embark, we are challenged with the task of identifying the skills that my kids - future grownups and professionals - need to be successful in the uncharted 21st century workforce.

That day, my students responded appropriately to an unexpected grownup situation. But while a year of lesson planning certainly yielded productive workers, I can’t recall a lesson plan with an objective focused on preparing them for the unexpected. Yet they were prepared for this.  But what did I do to prepare them? What can we do to prepare our kids for the unknown?



What is Cyberbullying? And How to Prevent It...

By Laura Pearson, creator of Edutude

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When you think of bullying, what comes to mind? Name calling? Getting beaten up? Spreading rumors? How each of us sees bullying is personal because it stems from our own life experiences. We’ve all been bullied in some way: verbally, emotionally, and even physically. We’ve been made to feel like we don’t fit in, we don’t measure up, or we don’t belong. Moreover, most of us have probably even been the bully at one time or another.

According to, bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

Bullying knows no age, race, gender, weight, or sexual orientation. You can be bullied for being old or young, white or black, male or female, fat or thin, straight or gay. You can be bullied for what you wear or how you talk. You can be bullied for your differing abilities, your intelligence, or your athleticism. The only qualification for being a victim is that you don’t fit with the narrow view of what’s “cool” in the eyes of the person or group doing the bullying.

Bullying can be blatant, in the form of hate speech, written threats, or physical attacks. Or it can be more subtle. Known as microaggressions, these displays of discrimination are less overt and, as a result, often go unnoticed and uncorrected. Microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidation are categorized by an intentional disregard for or lack of sensitivity to a person’s differences and are just as hurtful as their full-blown counterparts: assaults, insults, and invalidation.  

Bullying can be perpetrated in any number of ways. As adults, bullying often takes the form of discrimination like racism, sexism, and classism. Maybe a female coworker is passed up for a promotion in favor of a male counterpart, even though she is more qualified. As children, it comes along in the form of schoolyard taunts, back-of-the-bus whispers and, most recently, online attacks.

Unlike when we were kids, technology is a fact of life. And, in many cases, that’s a good thing. Technology can be a powerful teaching and communication tool, providing access to knowledge and resources well beyond those available in textbooks or at the local library. But it can also be dangerous, allowing children untethered access to one another’s lives via sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, oftentimes with little to no adult supervision.

That’s why more than half of parents to school-aged children are worried their child will be bullied via social media… and for good reason. Approximately one third of students say they have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetime, while 15% of kids admitted to cyberbullying others. These experiences can lead to low self-esteem, increased depression, and other mental health problems. Cyberbullying has even been a major contributing factor in cases of suicidal ideation and suicide.

So how, as a parent, can you protect your child from the perils of cyberbullying?

  1. Pay Attention - You know your child better than anyone. Is he or she acting strangely? Anxiety or anger after spending time online could be a sign your child is experiencing cyberbullying. You should also look for changes in general behavior or demeanor, like uncharacteristic bouts of depression or a change in sleeping or eating habits.

  2. Have a Conversation - Teach your children about online issues before it becomes a problem. Explain what cyberbullying is and how to handle it, and let them know they can always come to you if they encounter anything inappropriate, upsetting, or dangerous. Don’t threaten to take away access to technology, however, as it will only make your child more secretive.

  3. Get Involved - Kids won’t always come to their parents if there is something wrong, so it’s important to build a network of people who care about your child and will look out for them. Get to know your kids’ teachers, coaches, and even their friends’ parents... and don’t hesitate to reach out to them if you suspect your child is being bullied.

  4. Monitor Online Engagement - Since most cyberbullying takes place at home, maintaining transparency is important. Start by keeping an eye on your child’s social media profiles from your own accounts, and ensure you can access his or her account if necessary. You may even want to consider limiting social media use to common areas of the home, rather than allowing it to happen behind closed doors.

  5. Set Limits - Part of the reason cyberbullying is so detrimental is because it’s inescapable. It doesn’t stop when the kids go home for the day, on the weekends, or over summer break. Limiting screen time and social media access will give your child a break from being connected. Just make sure you tell them why you’re doing it, so they don’t think it’s a punishment.

Laura Pearson is the creator of Edutude. She believes that every student has great potential and aims to help as many as possible unlock it. With Edutude, she strives to find unique, creative ways for parents and educators to encourage students to be challenged, motivated and excited by learning.



Nobody Ever Asked Me

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As a 10th grade English teacher, I realized if I worked with my students to set goals, they were more invested in their studies and they were more engaged in their lessons – which naturally led to a higher level of success.  It started as a lesson teaching S.M.A.R.T. goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused and Time-bound.  It grew to a two page student document that included individualized short-term and long-term goals covering personal, social and academic areas, learning styles, results from interest inventories and an assessment history.  I wanted my students to set achievable goals and then gradually build on these goals to incorporate their future career aspirations.  I wanted my students to have all of the “tools” needed to achieve these goals – answers to questions like “How do I learn best?”  “What motivates me?”  “What am I passionate about?”  “What scores do I need to attend the college I desire?”  

Everything was on one document in the front of their binder they could reflect on every day.  I met privately with each student so we could complete the document together.  It was a great idea.  Only one problem – it was too late.  

Brittany was the student who sat in the back of the class.  She always completed her work but never engaged in conversation, never answered questions aloud, never drew any attention to herself, and never made eye contact.  She was a struggling reader.  The majority of my students that year were reading between a 4th – 6th grade reading level.  When Brittany and I met and we reviewed her data she was interested – but she didn’t speak.  It was only the two of us at a table and no other students were within earshot.  I struggled - how can I engage her?  I asked her one of the questions on the form:  What are you passionate about?   She stared at me.  I shared my passions – teaching, reading, cooking, gardening - in hopes of opening the door for her.  Finally she said “I don’t think I have any.”  I continued on with the questions.  “What type of career do you want?”  Again - no response.  

I asked her, “Brittany, has anyone ever asked you what you wanted to do?  What you like to do?”  Tears fell down her face as she whispered her response, ”No, never.”  During our work to complete her goals she eventually shared with me that she had no encouragement at home, she took care of her younger siblings, no one in her family graduated high school and the only goal she had ever had was to graduate high school.  I wish I could say that after this meeting she blossomed and eventually left high school to pursue a productive career.  What that meeting did do was grow her confidence in class.  Eventually she started to become more engaged, ask questions, and speak up.  The fact that I had cared enough to ask established a trust that aided her to leave her safety zone and believe she could achieve.

I don’t know who learned more through this process – me or my students.  It shaped my teaching philosophy and helped me adjust my teaching style to incorporate career readiness in every aspect of my teaching.  

We need to begin early.  We need to educate the “whole” student.  

We need to expose.

In elementary school we should focus on encouraging and opening avenues of various interests to our students.  At this age we should expose students to goals and make a focused effort to connect classroom learning to the real word.  We need to scaffold success for our students so they will have the confidence to succeed.  Students should be taught they are part of a large world and the responsibilities that come with contributing to mankind.  

In the middle school years students should have access to career exposure classes, service-learning, interest and personality inventories, college campus tours, and business and industry tours.  We need to make the connection of curriculum to student career goals and aspirations.  

When students enter high school, we should continue to build on this foundation by ensuring schedules integrate career goal paths with coursework.  Schools should have college and career preparedness programs – for all students.  Career preparedness programs should include mentoring through participation in organizations and clubs specifically geared towards interests and career goals.  Rigorous classes and projects, including electives, after school and summer tutoring, college campus tours and attendance to college fairs, and career internships should also be provided.

Prior to entering education, I worked in the private sector.  So many times prospective employees submitted resumes with typos.  They came to interviews in jogging pants or slippers.  Basic communication skills required in the workplace were lacking in many applicants.  We need to incorporate positive body image, communication skills, confidence building activities, and technical writing.  Soft skills should be implemented in all content areas at all grade levels.  Students should be able to look someone in the eye when they shake their hand.  

It doesn’t begin and end with the specific content we teach. We should keep  in mind that we are not just preparing students to enter the next grade level but to enter the workforce and/or college.  These skills are life skills – we are molding our students to grow into productive, compassionate, and determined citizens.  Part of educating the entire student involves helping to create awareness in them that they are part of a larger group – teaching humanity and empathy to our students is essential.  

Exposing our students to diversity, situations outside of their experience, and to all possibilities are not just good ideas,  they are the foundation by which we should teach.  What good does it do to have a literate student who does not have the confidence to look someone in the eye or join in a conversation?  How will that student ever meet their full potential?  

No students should have to wait until the 10th grade for someone to ask them about their career aspirations and their passions.  Brittany deserved more.  All of our students deserve more.



Professionalism Skills Lead to More Informed Post-Secondary Choices

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Louisiana Fellow Carlin Jacobs

In my first year of teaching high school students, I did not realize the impact that I would have on students’ abilities to adapt to 21st Century demands.

Thinking back to 2009, I was a young educator building digital media programs in a small New Orleans school. To veteran administrators, programs such as graphic design, video production, and audio engineering seemed to be a more advanced version of the Microsoft Office suite. Hiring industry professionals and training them to be teachers was not the norm.In fact, the norm was more like moving an art teacher into a graphic design instructor role, as it was assumed those positions were the same. Being that industry professionals were not being recruited, I was tasked with teaching four different preps to approximately 180 students. My students instantly enjoyed the new course offerings, but not all students understood what would be taught throughout the course.

You see, to my high schoolers, graphic design looked more like MTV advertisements and album covers.

I’ll never forget one student, Alice, who constantly complained about my strict guidelines and frequent rants in reference to overall professionalism and professional creativity. She complained, but always completed her assignments with fidelity. Her friends loved to chime in and saying things like, “You always want us to use these basic fonts and boring images.” Despite this,  Alice was sure to submit her assignments according to the guidelines. As the school year progressed, I remember Alice saying, “You know, this class isn’t all that bad,” and I finally got her to crack a smile.

During the summer of 2017, I was sitting at work and received a Facebook notification that alerted me that I had been tagged in a recent post. I clicked on the notification and saw that Alice wrote a post that said the following:

“Shoutout to Mr. Carlin Jacobs! I always complained about how I couldn't design anything and never wanted to do his assignments. But, it's paying off now. I can design flyers, posters, business cards, invitations, videos, etc. the way I want them. And the best part is, it saves me money!”

Attached to this post was a picture of an advertisement for a company she started. As I smiled, I clicked on the comments below the post, where people were asking her to design materials for various other projects. But what made me smile the most was the fact that she used those “basic fonts!” Though it was a graphic design class, the embedded career readiness skills are what made Alice successful. All those rants about professionalism, professional creativity, managing client relationships, problem solving, etc. are what helped shift her mindset.

I do not think I have all of the answers on how to  ensure that every student in our nation is successful. However, I believe that instilling professionalism skills and exposing students to as many career opportunities as possible before high school graduation will help students make more informed post-secondary choices. And this, I hope, will lead to more student success.



Using My Past to Prepare Students for the Future

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Louisiana Fellow David Schexnaydre

The answer was a kind, but firm, “No.” I got on my knees and gave a final plea.


It was January of 2001 and I was a Senior at Destrehan High School in Destrehan, La. Somehow, I’d been scheduled into a Law Studies course for my final semester of high school, and after only one day in the class I knew it was not a good fit for me. I made my case with the assistant principal to have my schedule changed, but she was having none of it.

“Besides, you may end up liking that class,” she said. “They compete in the Louisiana Mock Trial Tournament every year. You may be good at that. You have a lot of the skills that the class requires.”


Her explanation fell on deaf ears. My plan for my final semester of high school consisted of taking it easy and hanging out with my friends; not spending it toiling away reading through a mock law studies case and sitting in classroom reading affidavits, listening to rebuttals, and cross-examining fake witnesses.

My plan, however, was irrelevant. I was in Law Studies and I was staying. My dreams of exhibiting the symptoms of “senioritis” vanished into a cloud of dust.

A funny thing happened on my path paved with doom and gloom, however; I wound up loving the class.

I made friends with the students in the class and we rallied around the idea of being the first team in the school’s history to win Regionals and make it to the State Finals. We spent hours poring over the specific language in affidavits, anticipating cross-examining questions, and deliberating over the best way to pave a line of questioning to get a witness to spill the information we were looking for. We’d get together for hours on weeknights and weekends, trying to gain an edge on the competition. We enlisted the help of one of the Judges from our local judicial district to get some advice. We even taped ourselves and broke down the tape to find flaws in our presentation and fine-tune our approach. We were maniacs.

The result: we were indeed the first team from Destrehan High School to win the Regional Mock Trial Competition and compete in the State Mock Trial Finals.

I reflected on this experience as I drove home from the first Educator Voice Louisiana Fellowship Convening. Tasked with creating a new college and career readiness course for the students of Louisiana, we’d spent hours engaged in productive sessions that highlighted the changing economy and the working world that our students will soon enter. After meeting with employers from different fields and looking at data about what skills our current students need to be successful once their formal schooling commenced, it was clear that employers need employees with “soft skills.”

I thought about the soft skills that I use as an adult, and I tried to think about when I developed them or was forced to use them growing up. How had I learned to be a good communicator, a contributing member of a team, and a critical thinker? What were the stimuli that helped me become organized, hard-working, emotionally intelligent, and adaptable?

This line of thinking led me back to the law studies course. Never once were these skills explicitly mentioned in class, but in order to achieve our core goal, we had to use them and we had to use them well. I likely had some of these skills prior to the course, but this real-world application forced me to put these skills to use at a level of depth that was never previously required. Indeed, it has been said that the true test of someone’s skill and aptitude is having them apply it in unpredictable, real-life settings. That’s exactly what the course required us to do. While soft skills weren’t the focus of the course, they were absolutely a byproduct. I didn’t explicitly know I’d need those soft skills in my everyday life and career, but I do, and fortunately, I have them. I have my experiences throughout my education to thank for that.

All of this leads me to the main point here: the world is changing and students are going to need not only academic skills, but soft skills as well. Many of our current students will be employed in jobs that likely don’t exist yet. How do you prepare someone for the unknown? My guess: you create environments in which they obtain and hone skills that will help them be successful in any context. And that’s essentially what we’re tasked with as a Fellowship. Over the coming months, we’ll pore over research, deliberate over the smallest of details, write and revise curriculum and plans, and explore how to best prepare our students for the uncertain future. The hope is that it culminates in a career readiness course that prepares the students of Louisiana for the future, no matter where the future brings them or what the future entails.

I always meant to go back and thank Mr. Glen Greene for the environment he created in that Law Studies classroom. I never made the time to visit him though, and he passed away only a few weeks ago. I’d like to think, though, that instead of me thanking him, he’d be just fine if I helped create a new course for the students of Louisiana that does for them exactly what he did for me.

That’s the vision, and I’ll spend the next 16 months working with America Achieves, the Louisiana Department of Education, and the rest of the Fellows making that vision become a reality.


Louisiana Department of Education Launches Educator Fellowship Program to Enhance Career Education


Louisiana Department of Education Launches Educator Fellowship Program to Enhance Career Education

For Immediate Release

Louisiana Department of Education Launches Educator Fellowship Program to Enhance Career Education

The Louisiana Department of Education is partnering with the national, non-profit organization America Achieves to launch the Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship for 21st Century Learning. The Fellowship is an opportunity for the State’s most forward-thinking educators to learn about the rapidly changing economy and implications for students, and to pair this learning with their educational expertise to create a new career readiness course for Louisiana public schools.

The course will help all students statewide to better understand their career opportunities and prepare themselves for future college and career success.

“Louisiana has made great strides in advancing career and technical education for all students,” said State Superintendent John White, noting the Department has worked with regional teams of employers, educators and workforce experts to develop nearly 50 graduation pathways, establish paid summer internships and boost the number of students earning industry-based credentials. “As we continue to create hands-on opportunities for our students outside the classroom, we must also ensure they are receiving updated and innovative experiences inside of it. There is no one better to tailor that curricula to Louisiana’s needs than our own educators and industry leaders.

The Fellowship will connect 24 teachers, counselors, principals and district leaders from across Louisiana with state leaders and industry experts to learn about the changing set of skills, knowledge and preparation students need to be successful in the jobs of the future.

The Fellowship will work with industry leaders statewide in the development of the course. This month, Ochsner Health System, one of the largest employers in the state of Louisiana, is hosting the educator Fellows to show them the range of 21st century careers available in the health care industry, and to have conversations with company leaders about the skills people need to be successful at Ochsner. “As the healthcare landscape continues to change, there is an ever-growing need for well-trained healthcare professionals,” said Missy Sparks, Vice President of Talent Management at Ochsner Health System. “Programs like this fellowship provide the opportunity for the next generation of healthcare professionals to get an early start to a meaningful and fulfilling career, and for employers like Ochsner Health System to play a role in developing the future of our workforce.”

“We are very excited for the opportunity to host the Fellows at Lucid headquarters.  We feel strongly about being part of our community, improving our workforce, and helping better prepare those from Louisiana with the training and skills they need to work at a rapidly growing technology company like Lucid,” said Nicole Patel, Vice President, People at Lucid.

Fellows will also review best practices of Jump Start, Louisiana’s premier career and technical education program, and study innovative methods for 21st century teaching and learning from across the country and around the world.

The course that these educators help the State create will replace Journey to Careers, the State’s current career readiness curriculum.

“Every young person in Louisiana ought to be able to leverage their hard work and education to get on track for a good job and career,” said America Achieves Executive Chairman Jon Schnur. “This fellowship helps equip Louisiana students for successful careers by building bridges between local educators and employers and between education and work.”

“The professionals chosen for this Fellowship are among the most innovative and successful educators in Louisiana,” said Charlie Cummings, Senior Director of Educator Voice Fellowships at America Achieves. “This is a unique opportunity for State leaders in government, higher education, and industry to learn from them, and also to help them learn more about what their students need to be successful during and after high school.”

More information about the Fellowship and the 24 educators who have been selected for this initiative can be found here.

Contact: Charlie Cummings, Senior Director




Fellow Feature: Kathleen Kanu-Thompson


Kathleen Kanu-Thompson (2015-2017, Michigan Fellow)

State and City of Residence:

Rockford, MI

Job Description: 

Fourth Grade Teacher

What brought you to work in education?

Education is a second career for me. I initially graduated and worked for 8 years in business. Although I enjoyed all the interactions that are associated with the business world, I ventured out to become a teacher. The impetus of this decision was the birth of a son. My son experienced reading difficulties in his early grades. After continual discussion and cajoling on my part of his urban classroom teachers, they continued to insist there was not a significant problem with his reading. Thankfully my family had the financial ability to move to another district, where he was tested to be 2 years behind in reading. It was this experience that drew me to teaching. I understood the concerns parents may have, and the limits that the teaching system could present. So teaching here I came! My goal was to become part of the solution.   

Tell us about something that you have done in education that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community?

After working in an urban district for 3 years, I was chosen to be part of the Reading First grant in the State of Michigan. It was through these years that my instructional content grew 10 fold. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to learn from experts in the field of reading and dyslexia. The learning I received was then shared with the teaching team I worked with. This shared learning help provide the necessary foundational skills to the K-3 teachers I worked with.

After having completed this portion of my career, I then returned to the classroom. Yet my learning never ceased. In the year 2008 I became a fellow the the Lake Michigan Writing Project, part of the National Writing Project. Although my central role was in the classroom, I was able to continue my knowledge sharing around the topic of writing. It was from this experience that I appreciated the ability of the written word to inform and possible persuade others to learn about issues important to the children and teachers in my world.

After growing with experience, I received the opportunity to become a fellow with Michigan Educator's Voice - America Achieves. The year with these colleagues allowed me to expand the written word through social media, blogs, and letters to policy makers. From my work with policy, I have been informing my teaching colleagues about issues that affect our profession. Strategies for following policy through the legislative process and strategies to address phone calls have been shared and practiced. My proudest moment was when I heard colleagues talking about a bill, and their conversation with their legislature.

As my career continues to blossom, I have continued to participate in growth opportunities...Instructional Rounds facilitating from Harvard, participating in the presentation for with Learning Forward to further teacher's voice in their career, and most recently an opportunity to participate in our state's Governor Education Summit all part of my work with Teacher's Champions. These past two decades have been tremendously challenging! I look forward to what more will come my way as I try to influence positive changes in education.

What’s your favorite part about being an Educator Voice Fellow?

Several months ago, we had a chance to talk and interview a fellow cohort member. I truly appreciated the opportunity to talk about issues facing them in their districts. What I most appreciate about my work with America Achieves is the chance to discuss educational policy with people outside our realm.  

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?

It is essential that educators are brought into the discussion about policy decisions that affect children. We must advocate for the those who cannot advocate for themselves. Equity, not just equality, must be the focus of our decisions.

Anything else you’d like to share?

If I were 20 again, I would love to become a dog trainer!

If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be?

Right now...Where's the Love, Black Eyed Peas

What’s the best thing a student ever said to you?

Ha!! I've been blessed to have letters written to me over the years, but it's not what they say, but how they behave after they've left my class. Students call my name down the hall to just say hi. Students who take the time to come and say good-bye when they leave the school. Students who return to see you when they visit the school. Most recently, I've had several third graders visit my class (due to sub shortages), one student said, "I don't want you next year." I asked, "Why?" His response, "You're hard core!" I'll take that as a compliment!

What’s your dream vacation?

A beach...a clean beach...a quiet, sunny, clean beach. (Perhaps in Santorini)

What is one fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

I was rescue by helicopter from a backpacking trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

What is your other favorite thing to do?

Walk with my dogs.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Miriam Wright Edelman

What is one book every educator must read?

The Education of Richard Rodriquez.



Two Years Is the Worst Amount of Time to Teach

NY Fellow John McCrann originally published this blog post on EdWeek on July 24, 2017.

I'm reaching the end of my second year writing this blog so I think it's about time that I move up in the Education Week world. I have been doing the week-to-week work of writing and have a sense of the kinds of stories the magazine publishes and who reads them. Move over Michele J Givens, time for President John Troutman McCrann to take the EdWeek reins.

This is, of course, a joke.

I have certainly learned a lot from my two years of writing this blog. I've received advice from the professional staff. I've gotten feedback from engaged readers. It is a fact that I have a better sense of the kinds of writing that will engage and energize EdWeek readers today than I did back on Sept. 1, 2015 when I posted my first post.

Yet, I've come to believe that this knowledge actually makes me less qualified to run the organization or an organization like it today than I would have been two years ago.

The issue is not with what I know, but with the confidence that one gains identifying and addressing what Donald Rumsfeld called "known unknowns." You spend two years doing something and you realize: "I'm way better at this than I used to be...there's all these things I used to not know which I know now." This is a great starting point, but not a good place to end. Rumsfeld continues:

"But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones."

(One might rightfully wonder from today's historical position which category of "unknowns" lead to Rumsfeld's disastrous handling of the war in Iraq. I'll leave that for another blog and blogger.)

Doing something for two years and then setting out to make policies or change practices in that arena is a bad idea. Two years is not enough time to fully understand the complexities of a complex system. Sure, I know some stuff now that I didn't know about my own blog and the folks who read it, but there are millions of things about the running of Education Week that I don't even know to ask about. It turns out that those are the more complicated problems that make Givens's job difficult.

I came to this understanding as I transitioned from my first two years of teaching into the next stage of my career. Like many, I had a hard time even putting one pedagogical foot in front of the other as a first year teacher; however, by the end of my second year, my students were working productively and learning. I got a high rating from my principal and my students did quite well on end of year state standardized tests. Teaching? I got this.

Fortunately for me, my teaching career didn't stop there.

As I started my third year, I realized that while I had been busy trying to get students to function in basic ways I had been missing a whole set of deeper, more difficult problems.

The fact that I no longer had to devote huge portions of my cognitive bandwidth towards basic functioning allowed me to understand the classroom ecosystem more fully and to realize just how complex the acts of teaching and learning are. Furthermore, I began to realize that some of the "solutions" I'd developed to address basic issues were creating stumbling blocks or barriers to this deeper work. Forcing students to copy and execute steps in a specific order for a problem set involving linear equations can help class flow smoothly but it also leads to over-generalizations and misconceptions about linear relationships.

We had a group of interns at our school this spring from an elite Northeastern college. The young people, most of whom had just finished their first year of college, came with a confidence and passion for which I have a deep appreciation. I could see myself in their idealism. I also recognized my own younger, more naive self in their assertion that they would like to "teach for a couple years before going into education policy" in order to create "systemic change."

Of course, I understand that the idea for this career path doesn't come out of thin air. Teach for America turned 25 last year and continues to treat teaching as more stepping stone than career. This organization may be the most explicit in articulating the "teach for a couple years then move on" career path, but it is certainly not the only place that young teachers-to-be are getting this message. Early in my career, I remember hearing this sentiment from a variety of professors, teachers, and principals.

Instead of accepting the premise that high achieving young people won't be engaged by teaching for an entire career we ought to attack it. Share stories of the ways in which our 10th or 20th or 30th year teaching has changed our thinking or challenged ideas we used to hold. Work to make teaching the kind of profession that is sustainable and sustaining. Think creatively about ways to engender "leading without leaving." Maintain and ameliorate the kinds of external motivators (like job security, benefits, and pensions) that make the career attractive.

Two years is the worst amount of time to teach.Years 3-12 of my career have been so much more rewarding for me as a thinker, problem solver, and learner. A two year classroom teaching career is also likely to lead to an overly-simplistic view of our work and what kinds of policies would make things better for young people. Young idealistic college graduates with an interest in doing engaging work that promotes social justice ought to make a real investment in a community and career.

John McCrann is a math and physics teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City's District 2. He works for fairness and justice in his classes as well as in his role as Chapter Leader of his school's United Federation of Teachers chapter. He is an outdoor leadership trainer, curriculum developer, and Math for America Master Teacher Fellow. His advocacy work centers around experiential education, performance-based assessment, fair labor practices, and genuine teacher leadership.



Fellow Feature: Elaine Menardi


Elaine Menardi, Colorado Policy Fellow

State and City of Residence:

Denver, CO

Job Description:

Education Program Coordinator, Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum

Why do you work in education? 

I was a kid once. I know what it is to be curious... filled with a sense of wonder and a desire for discovery. I live by the prime directive: To reach the child who hungers for purpose in #PivotTheModel design school learning.

Tell us about something that you have done in education that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community? 

Together with Policy Fellow, Jess Buller, we proposed HB 17-1201, a STEM High School Diploma Endorsement which was signed into a law in Colorado. This is a great opportunity for students to showcase their hard work and be rewarded for academic excellence. The endorsement will add a mark of distinction for high-achieving students and show employers and colleges they will be successful in their future endeavors.

What’s your favorite part about being an Educator Voice Fellow?

I have enjoyed being a firsthand participant in the policy-making process. Before becoming a fellow, I had no idea how accessible the political system and legislators were. Having initiated a policy project that is going to the Governor's desk to be signed into law is hugely gratifying and exciting.

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?

I hope for the day when educators at all levels will focus more intentionally on giving students the awesome secret sauce:

Autonomy + Mastery + Purpose = Drive

If we can inspire students with the passionate drive to excel, we will have done our jobs well.

If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be?

"In my dream, the angel shrugged & said /

if we fail this time /

it will be a failure of imagination /

& then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand."

Brian Andreas

What’s the best thing a student ever said to you?

Oh! I get it now!

What’s your dream vacation?

A month on the International Space Station or at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

"Failure is not an option." Gene Kranz, Mission Control to Apollo 13 on April 13, 1970.

What is one book every educator must read?

Creative Confidence by David and Tom Kelley AND The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Prior to becoming the Education Program Coordinator at Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum, Elaine Menardi cultivated her math skills with 7th and 8th grade students at Yuma Middle School. She believes in the power of a growth-mindset and knows that the best learning happens when teachers and students see themselves as partners who explore questions and discover new ideas together. Curiosity and perseverance fuel her drive toward all things STEM where she frequently showcases the work of students via online media and video. After graduating from Colorado School of Mines, Elaine began her career as an electrical engineer. Working in Research and Development for the (then) Adolph Coors Company, she is listed among the team of patented inventors for a proprietary machine vision can identification system. Elaine is deeply invested in teaching design thinking to students and educators to strengthen their creative confidence and imagination to ensure a successful future for 21st century learners.