(CNN) - We know education can change the world - but all over the world, even in the place you live, there are obstacles in the way of girls making that happen.
CNN Films' "Girl Rising," airing in spring 2013, follows nine remarkable girls in nine countries in their quest for an education. Throughout the year, CNN will highlight their stories, and the stories of others' around the world making a difference in education.
We bet you've got a story to tell, too. Making it through years of schooling and life lessons is tough everywhere, including cities, towns and counties around the United States. Or maybe it's OK for you, but it was tougher for your mom, your grandma, your teacher, your church leader, your role model. Maybe your sister or daughter is struggling now, or your next door neighbor, your lab partner, your roommate, your teammate.
What's your story? We invite you to share your personal experience about a challenge you faced in getting an education, or to interview a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother - any girl or woman in your community - about her biggest challenge, and how she overcame it.
Sign into CNN iReport, record a video or write about the experience and include an original photo. Your story could be featured on CNN.com.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) – In a matter of hours in December, conversations around education stopped being about standardized testing, food allergies and teacher pay. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, everybody wanted to know: What's keeping the kids in my life safe at school?
Should school staffers carry guns? Or should every school have an armed police officer? Do guns have any place on school grounds?
How does mental health fit into school safety?
And is it possible that schools and parents are overreacting – and could that hurt kids?
This week, CNN's Schools of Thought published several perspectives on school security, giving those who work or have kids in school a chance to explain what's happening in school hallways and offices around the country.
Schools of Thought readers had their own experiences and opinions to share, too. Readers posted more than 1,000 comments debating what reasonable school security policies and resources should look like – whether they be guns, police, psychologists or a hard look from knowledgeable community members.
David Thweatt, superintendent of schools in Harrold, Texas, described how his small, rural district implemented a plan to allow some staff members to carry concealed weapons in addition to other security members.
Several readers said they liked that Thweatt's "Guardian Plan" took time to vet and train staff members who wanted to carry guns.
icequeen75: "I think what this administrator (does) makes sense. It is a well thought plan that has the good guys with guns but also extensive training. I also think while we are putting guns in the hands of the good guys, we also need to think of ways to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys.
Encouraged: "Agree 100% with this article. As a kid growing up in suburban Jersey, I definitely knew my school was safer because of the presence of armed security officers. All the more better if there were more trained, but covert, armed personnel. … The poor little ones lost at Newtown deserve their memory honored by providing the means for every student in this country to know he or she is safe and protected when entering a school."
aviva1964: "I really don't know what the big deal is. Many schools already have armed guards. ... Kids see security guards at banks, at stadiums, at airports – security at school does not equate to your kids going to school in a prison, nor will it make your kid afraid to go to school. It might make them less afraid."
But many argued that guns have no place in schools, especially in the hands of those hired and trained to educate kids.
Scott B: "I love my kids enough to not want them to go to school prisons."
TomGI: "As long as the decision to arm the school staff is fully disclosed then fine with me. I want to be informed so I can pull my kids out of there. I don't want my kids going to a school with armed staff. There are alternatives to that, and I want to avail myself of them."
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - It's not the first time this has happened: Students return to school after a few weeks off, and a few things have changed. Maybe the gym floor got a shine, the new physics teacher arrived - or there's an adult with a gun.
As students across the country returned to school this week, some schools implemented new security policies or brought in new personnel. Some are temporary or pilot programs. Others are refreshes of existing plans and training.
In Utah and Texas, some educators trained in shooting or self-defense. Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio put a "posse" of armed volunteers around school perimeters. The National Rifle Association said all schools should immediately have armed officers, later adding that schools should decide for themselves how to protect children.
It's all in reaction to the December 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six staffers were killed.
“This is Columbine déjà vu,” said Kenneth Trump, a school security consultant who works with school districts across the country. For weeks he's been hearing from schools that want to review emergency plans, train staff or invest in technology they hope will increase security.
"I’m happy to see these conversations happening now," Trump said. "I’m frustrated you couldn’t pay someone to have those conversations the day before Sandy Hook."
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Michelle Rhee hasn't run the Washington, D.C., public schools since 2010, but her time in charge, and her every move in education since, still draw cheers from some and ire from others.
"Rhee is one of worst friends and best enemies of public education," user david esmay commented on an opinion piece by Rhee and former New York schools leader Joel Klein on CNN's Schools of Thought on Monday. Rhee and Klein wrote about a new report from StudentsFirst, the non-profit Rhee heads, which graded states' education policies.
"She's only a standout because she has the political backing to make her so. Her policies in Washington area schools are falling apart now that she and her drive to find funding are gone," William commented.
"I don't see how anyone can take this report or Ms. Rhee seriously," commenter Christine wrote about the StudentsFirst report.
"The Education of Michelle Rhee," a documentary airing Tuesday night on PBS, follows Rhee's time leading Washington, D.C., schools, and examines her legacy there. "Frontline" correspondent John Merrow followed Rhee on her trip to a school warehouses filled with hard-to-get supplies, to the firing of a school principal and to rallies celebrating higher test scores, some of which are now in question.
Through it all, Rhee still speaks boldly about education and her ideas. Here are five quotes from the film that offer a taste of how Rhee ran the D.C. schools, and what she's done since.
“I am Michelle Rhee. I’m the new chancellor of the D.C. public schools ... and no, I have never run a school district before."
This is how Rhee introduced herself to teachers in Washington, D.C., in 2007. Rhee had spent a few years teaching in a rough Baltimore neighborhood and a decade in education reform, but was a "virtual unknown," when Mayor Adrian Fenty picked her to run the D.C. schools. Her style was direct and her objectives clear - make Washington's school's better, even if it meant changing laws, firing people, closing schools and making adults unhappy.
"We’re not running this school district through the democratic process."
Indeed, after some initial excitement, many adults were unhappy. Scenes show parents angry about school closures, district leaders angry that she defied their instructions, teachers angry about layoffs and firings. Teachers interviewed for the film said Rhee didn't consider that some kids live in extreme poverty or have fallen so far behind that they'd need more than one year to catch up.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Some 20 years ago, when Troy Gunter was a new band director, he had the crazy idea that his high school students should someday march in the Rose Parade.
It’s a lofty goal for any band. The annual march through Pasadena began in 1890 and evolved into a New Year’s Day spectacle of music, flowers and football watched by 700,000 along the route and 39 million more on TV.
Gunter's school, Valley Christian High School in San Jose, California, grew from a few hundred kids to more than a thousand. The private school's marching band ballooned to about 150 students and evolved into the school's Conservatory of the Arts. Over the years, the marching band took on more competitions, longer parades and overseas travel.
A few years ago, when Gunter and the band returned from a trip to Cambodia, an idea struck: Why not apply to the Rose Parade now, with an international partner?
Problem was, they didn’t really know any overseas bands. They weren’t sure how they could practice together, let alone organize for the grandest stage a high school marching band can reach.
With the 2013 parade deadline looming, they got in touch with Beijing’s No. 57 High School. The band’s director, Lu Jin, was familiar with the Rose Parade, and his band had played a few major events, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“Through a contact of a contact of a contact, we got together,” Gunter said. “It was like a blind date.”
Without ever meeting, Gunter, who doesn’t speak Chinese, and Lu Jin, who doesn’t speak English, agreed to go for it.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Sandy Hook Elementary School probably did everything right. Its staff and teachers worked every day to create a climate that valued kindness and posted the plan for all to see. They had lockdown drills that trained everyone to stay low and quiet in the event of an emergency. A security system introduced this year required visitors to ring a bell, sign-in and perhaps produce a photo ID. After 9:30 a.m., the doors were locked.
And now it's the home of the one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Twenty children dead and eight adults, including the shooter.
Those who know the world of school security are already predicting what comes next: A strong reaction - maybe an overreaction - by parents, schools and legislators who want to take action. Politicians will be elected on platforms of school safety. Vendors will turn up with technology and plans to sell. Schools will rewrite their crisis plans and run extra drills.
It happened after the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, and again after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.
And within a few months or years, it'll be back to cutting security budgets and fighting for time to train staff and teachers.
"The vast majority have a crisis plan on paper. It's much more common that we find those plans are collecting dust on the shelf and they're not a part of the culture or the practice," said Kenneth Trump, a school security consultant. "I don't believe we need to throw out the book of best practices on school safety. I think we do need to focus our resources, times and conversation back on the fundamentals."
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - In an election year when education didn’t draw much attention, some voters considered Tuesday the future of charter schools in their states.
In Washington, there was a narrow lead for an initiative that would allow the opening of the state’s first public charter schools.
Washington is one of nine states that doesn’t have any public charter schools. Initiative 1240 would allow eight charter schools per year in the state, up to 40 over five years. At the end of that period, the charter system would be up for review. The system would be free and open to all students, and independently operated.
Critics argued the initiative was an expensive proposition at a time when schools were already underfunded, and that it didn’t serve enough students.
Supporters said the schools would create competition among schools and increase the choices available to parents and students. They liked that the schools wouldn’t be bound by district curriculum mandates or teacher unions’ contracts.
In Georgia, with most ballots counted, voters favored a constitutional amendment that would allow a state commission to approve school charters, even if local and state boards deny them.
by Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
Dearborn, Michigan (CNN) - If the crooked blue staircase, colorful crank and dangling bathtub looked familiar, well, that's the point.
Ahh, yes. At this annual celebration of DIY culture, of course this would appear: a scaled-up version of "Mouse Trap," the Hasbro game bent on marbles zigging through a plastic labyrinth. And the circus voice? That would be Mark Perez, creator of the larger-than-life board game. Almost every run begins with a boardwalk-style sales pitch of his grand machine.
"Are there any engineers in the house?" a voice bellowed over the sound system, drawing a few claps.
"Who likes to do math in here?" it demanded, drawing ... nothing.
"Let's not have this weak applause for math! MATH!"
Perez played "Mouse Trap" a lot as a kid - kind of. Nobody followed the rules, he said. They just liked to build the machine and make it work. In his house, they built and rebuilt the contraption so often, they'd get a new version of the game every couple years.
"I decided one day to put three of them together to see if I could make them all work and hopefully not poke my sister's eye out," he said.FULL STORY
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
Highland Park, Michigan (CNN) – A few weeks before school began here, parents filed into the high school cafeteria to meet the people just hired to revamp one of the state's worst-performing districts: their own.
They came with questions. What time would the school day start? What were these new uniforms they’d heard about? Would all the schools stay open? Would the same teachers be there? The same kids? Was there anything worth saving?
For years, financial and academic turmoil plagued Highland Park schools. The state of Michigan says the district ran at an operating deficit five of the last six years. Barely 800 kids still attended its three schools, and even those buildings were overgrown with weeds and tagged with graffiti.
There was a lot of cash coming in, more than $14,000 per student, but there weren’t enough textbooks to go around. Standardized test scores were embarrassingly low; among 11th-graders, 10% scored proficient in reading and 5% proficient in math. Some kids went on to college, but nobody – 0% – of kids reached the ACT's college readiness benchmarks.
The district drew national attention this summer when the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a "first-of-its-kind" lawsuit against the state, education leaders and Highland Park schools for allegedly failing to teach students to read at grade level.
Now the state-appointed emergency financial manager had handed the district over to a charter school operator, the Leona Group, for a five-year contract worth more than $750,000. In a statement, the Michigan governor’s office said it moved to address “a long overdue fiscal and academic crisis that was crippling the district” because it “can’t and won’t accept academic failure.”
For some here, it was a hostile takeover. For others, a new hope.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) It starts at the mall, with a girl in a pink dress, browsing alone.
"Why is she at the mall?" a teen behind her sputters. "She ain't got no money."
Mona Lisa hears it. It's not the first time she's been picked on. She argues a little, tries to ignore them, but they bump into her and call her names. She wants to run, wants to be strong, wants all this to just go away.
At home later, the phone rings: "I just wanted to tell you, you should kill yourself," a voice cackles. "You're ugly and nobody will ever love you."
After a day like this, Mona Lisa believes what she's hearing. She grabs a handful of pills and climbs out the window. With voices in her head yelling louder and louder, she jumps.
Actress Alexis Lee crumples to the floor. The jump isn't real, the dress is a costume, the play is fiction, at least at the moment. But Mona Lisa and Alexis aren't so different. At 17, Alexis has been bullied and teased, been made to feel ugly, like she's nothing. She moved to escape terrible situations, only to be delivered into worse circumstances. She's got scars from where she cut herself, memories from when she tried to kill herself.FULL STORY