By Paul Caron, CNN
(CNN) - When Alissa Parker first heard there was a shooting at her 6-year-old daughter’s school, she immediately thought of the building’s security weaknesses and wished she’d spoken up.
“Knowing the location of where Emilie’s classroom was, if anyone gained access to that building, I knew that my child was very vulnerable,” she said.
Parker’s daughter, Emilie, was among 20 first-graders killed in the December 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Six months since then, parents, school leaders and lawmakers around the country have raised questions about how to make schools more secure. Many schools reacted by immediately increasing security personnel and hiring consultants to assess their security plans. An Education Week analysis found nearly 400 bills related to school safety filed in the months after the deadliest K-12 school shooting in U.S. history; legislators proposed arming teachers and adding guards or police officers. Many proposed shoring up the security of school buildings.
Parker and other Sandy Hook parents started the Safe and Sound, an initiative to help communities improve their school security plans.
As parents gathered information after the shooting, they realized schools all over the country are vulnerable, said Michele Gay, whose 7-year-old daughter, Josephine, was also killed at Sandy Hook.
“One line of defense is all they had, and once that is penetrated, anything can happen. That is the problem with most schools,” Gay said. “We are about empowering folks … gathering everybody at the table - local police, fire, custodians, teachers and when appropriate, students. Everyone needs to be at the table to make it work.”
After the Sandy Hook shootings, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed new gun regulations into law and created the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, a 16-member public safety panel set to make recommendations about school safety, mental health and gun violence.
In its preliminary recommendations, the commission suggested:
- Requiring that all K-12 classrooms be equipped with doors that can be locked from the inside by the classroom teacher.
- Requiring that all exterior doors in K-12 schools be equipped with hardware capable of a full-perimeter lockdown.
- Creating a panel of design and security experts to establish, within 12 months, recommendations for safe design.
But what might make those buildings safer?
By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
Editor's note: Van Jones, a CNN contributor, is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter: @VanJones68.
(CNN) - The student debt fight is back - with a vengeance.
Once again, current students are facing the possibility of interest rates on Stafford Federal student loans doubling.
Once again, we are asking what our leaders are doing about a crisis that gets worse every year.
Once again, the answer is: Not much.
It is the only form of household debt that has continued to rise during the Great Recession. It is also the only form of debt that cannot be discharged under bankruptcy or even death, as parents who have lost children have discovered to their horror. It is preventing young people from buying homes and starting businesses.
In short, student debt is a $1.1 trillion anvil dragging down the entire U.S. economy.
Unfortunately, the conversation in Washington is not about big fixes, but simply how to avoid making matters worse by letting interest rates rise.
CNN Films' "Girl Rising" documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world. Watch June 16 on CNN
By Betsy Anderson, CNN
(CNN) - Eulalia goes to school on a motorcycle.
The 10-year-old girl lives in the Puno region of Peru with her parents and six siblings. There is no school near Eulalia's home, so on Mondays, her father gives her a ride down the mountain on his motorcycle to a boarding school run by the humanitarian organization CARE. She attends school during the week and comes home on the weekends.
For Eulalia, this ride to school is a journey into a promising future that is hard to come by in Peru. She is one of nearly a million indigenous children who struggle to get an education.
According to CARE, 73% of indigenous kids in Peru are behind in school for their age and nearly 30% don't go to school at all. Most people in the Puno region live in poverty and parents have no choice but to have their children work to help support the family. Child labor is often used for illegal gold mining in the area.
Eulalia's father is a poor alpaca shepherd, but he wants his daughter to have a better education than he had and he has made it a priority. The school doesn't charge Eulalia's family for school fees, but her parents try to contribute in other ways such as with crops or labor. Soon, her little brother will also be attending the school.
By Robert Balfanz and John Gomperts, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Graduation season is in full swing, bringing with it a lot of discussion about life and opportunity. Inevitably there will be news stories about graduation ceremonies or a new YouTube video sensation focusing on commencement words of wisdom. While inspiring, those stories never give a full portrait of this rite of passage in America.
High school graduation—once the end of educational achievement for many—is now really just the starting line. The changing economy means that people who don't receive any post-secondary education will have access to only 40% of jobs in the next decade.
The beginning of this year's commencement season coincided with the 30th anniversary of one of the most important education reports the nation ever produced. "A Nation at Risk" warned that a mediocre education system put America's future in such serious jeopardy that had a foreign power imposed this poor performance on us, "we might well have viewed it as an act of war."
Yet three decades later, the reading and math skills of America's 15-year-olds still rank, respectively, as "average" and "below average" among developed nations. So, as you attend your next graduation ceremony, here are five things you won't hear but need to know.
Not everyone eventually gets a diploma.
In reality, fewer than 80% of students receive a regular high school diploma (not simply a GED) within four years. That number drops to less than 70% for African-American students and lower yet for students with disabilities and English language learners.
(CNN) - Balaal Hollings, a senior at Northwestern High School in Detroit, was shot in the head in April after trying to break up a fight at the party. For weeks, the honor student, homecoming king and class president was in the hospital, fighting for his life.
But he stunned his classmates this week by walking on stage during their graduation ceremony, wearing a helmet, tassel and graduating robe. His classmates rose to their feet, and many cried.
"First of all, I want to thank God," he told his classmates. "It is so good to be alive."
By Doug Gross, CNN
(CNN) - Saying Web access is essential for students to compete in a wired world, President Obama on Thursday will announce an initiative to bring high-speed Internet to almost all of the nation's schools by 2018.
At a speech in a high-tech middle school in Mooresville, North Carolina, Obama was scheduled to order federal agencies to earmark funds for providing broadband and wireless access to 99% of U.S. public schools in the next five years, according to senior administration officials. The president is tasking the Federal Communication Commission with spearheading the project, and is also asking the FCC to fund high-speed connections at libraries.
"We are living in a digital age, and to help our students get ahead, we must make sure they have access to cutting-edge technology," said Obama in a statement released by the White House.
"So today, I'm issuing a new challenge for America - one that families, businesses, school districts and the federal government can rally around together - to connect virtually every student in America's classrooms to high-speed broadband internet within five years, and equip them with the tools to make the most of it."
The initiative, called ConnectED, also will ask private-sector industries for help in getting the most modern technology, educational software and apps into students' hands, and in providing tech training for teachers.
The effort does not require approval by Congress.
(CNN) - There's not one, not two, but 29 valedictorians graduating from Redmond High School in Oregon this year. The school implemented a new system that adds weight to some classes, and enables students to receive up to a 5.0 GPA. But these students had three years under the old system, and all qualified to be valedictorian, CNN affiliate KTVZ reported.
It's expected to be a one-time phenom in Redmond, school officials said, but it's not the only place to have far more than one valedictorian. Just last year, a high school in Ocala, Florida, graduated 25 valedictorians - there, the top students all earned a 5.0 because of the college-level classes they'd taken.
(CNN) - What makes the United States "so mediocre when it comes to education?"
When that loaded question was posed to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, he said he thinks it's because both parents are working - "mom is in the workplace." ("It's not a bad thing," he added after making his initial point.)
What do you think of Bryant's response? What changes in education have you noticed as more women entered the workforce? Share your thoughts in the comments.
(CNN) - Haralson County, Georgia, school bus driver Johnny Cook couldn't get the story out of his head: A middle school student told him he hadn't eaten, and had been turned away from the lunch line because he owed 40 cents. Cook wrote about it on Facebook, and the story spread.
Haralson County Superintendent Brett Stanton says it didn't happen that way; the child would have been offered a bagged lunch, Stanton told CNN affiliate WGCL, but he didn't go through the lunch line.
Cook says he still believes the student; the bus driver was fired after he refused to remove the Facebook post and apologize. "I'm proud that I was able to take a stand where others might not have been able to, and that I can maybe, in some little way, cause a change," Cook told WGCL.
It's not the first time a student has reported going without a meal because of school lunch debt; in some cases, they've been told to dump the food they've selected and are given an alternative snack, such as cheese and juice. Middle school students in Attleboro, Massachusetts, were turned away from lunch earlier this year, and about 40 elementary students in Edgewood, Kentucky, went without regular lunch during state testing period because of overdrawn accounts, CNN affiliate WCPO reported.
How should schools handle kids whose lunch accounts are overdrawn? What's your school's policy? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments or on Twitter @CNNschools.
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
Editor's note: Elizabeth Landau is a health and science writer and producer for CNN.com. She is a 2006 graduate of Princeton University. Here she offers a personal take on the terror that can accompany such a happy milestone.
(CNN) - On paper, I was ready to graduate. In my head, though, I never wanted that moment to arrive.
Sure, I was academically qualified. I had already been through the festivities that Princeton lavishes upon its graduating seniors in the week prior to The Day: The Reunions parade, a hilarious talk by David Sedaris, an outdoor sing-along, an inspirational speech by Bill Clinton, the bestowing of honors and awards, and a prom-like gala where soon-to-be-graduates and parents danced awkwardly. Princeton really likes to celebrate things.
The final ceremonial act would, superficially, be the easiest and least meaningful: Commencement – put on the cap and gown, sit through a few speeches, receive my diploma.
But in those last hours as a student, the perky, optimistic, ready-for-anything face I’d worn for four years melted away. I completely fell apart.
“Boludita, don’t cry,” my college sweetheart told me that morning, using a Spanish word meaning something like “little stupid one” that we had adapted into an affectionate nickname.
There was much to look forward to – an overseas trip! Graduate school! This all felt remote and less appealing because of graduation.
“I can’t help it,” I told him. “I don’t want to leave. I don’t want this year to be over. Nothing will ever be this good again.”
We bid farewell so he could catch a flight and I could get to graduation procession.When I was standing alone on the sidewalk with tears streaming down my cheeks, a single thought would not go away: “I will never be happy again.”
I wish that I had known Marina Keegan, the Yale graduate whose beautiful essay about graduating has been widely cherished since her untimely death in a car accident at age 22 last year. Marina’s incredible insight and wisdom led her to write, “The notion that it's too late to do anything is comical. It's hilarious. We're graduating college. We're so young. We can't, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it's all we have.”
It’s clear from Marina’s essay that she loved her time at Yale. I still get teary-eyed reading her words because it sounds as though she is directly addressing 22-year-old me - I who believed on graduation day that nothing was possible anymore.