7 Education Initiatives Led by Michelle Obama

Much attention is paid to the education-related initiatives led by President Barack Obama. However, First Lady Michelle Obama has also focused on many aspects of education in the U.S. during her tenure in the White House. Let’s talk about seven education-related efforts led or supported by the First Lady.

  1. The need for post-secondary education: Obama’s Reach Higher initiative encourages high schools graduates to attend a four-year university, community college or a professional training program.

The Reach Higher initiative supports President Obama’s “North Star” goal to make America have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

To kick off her initiative, the First Lady launched two video contests. The prize would be a visit from Obama to the winning school to share her knowledge about higher education and life after high school.

  1. The necessity of school counselors: According to Michelle Obama, “One in five American high schools doesn’t have any school counselors. And that’s appalling.”

She has also stated that the ratio of school counselors to students is one counselor for every 471 students.

Obama highlighted that school counselors are key to her “Reach Higher” program, and mentioned that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released new guidance for superintendents and school principals, and stated that they can and should use their budgets to create professional development units for school counselors. Michelle Obama and the President feel strongly that every school counselor should have quality and relevant professional development opportunities.

  1. Girls’ education: Michelle Obama urged international leaders to show courage and commitment of girls who make sacrifices to earn education at an event devoted to fighting a global learning crisis. She believes children around the globe deserve quality education.

During her keynote speech held on the sidelines of the United Nations’ General Assembly, Obama recalled Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai, who became a celebrity around the world after surviving a gunshot to the head by the Taliban for being vocal for girls’ education.

The First Lady said, “If we truly believe that every girl in every corner of the globe is worthy of an education as our own daughters and granddaughters are, then we need to deepen our commitment to these efforts.”

Obama has also urged teenage girls in America to take education seriously.

Obama wrote a letter to the readers of Seventeen.com, encouraging young students to work hard in school and recognize the privilege of attending schools in the US — a country where education is free and girls are urged to attend.

She points out that many places in the world don’t give girls this luxury. She writes, “In some places, girls are viewed as less worthy of an education than boys, so when a family has limited funds, they’ll educate their sons instead of their daughters.”

“We are really focusing on education broadly in the United States and girls’ education internally.” The Princeton graduate points out that she doesn’t just care about girls’ education now that she is a first lady. She is passionate about education for girls and will be for the rest of her life.

  1. Education for African-Americans: At a White House gathering Michelle Obama called education the “single most important” issue facing African-Americans in our country.  She pleaded with young people to make attending school a priority.

The First Lady emphasized the importance of staying in school — even if the school is “bad” with poor facilities and outdated technology — at a Black History Month panel discussion celebrating “women of the movement.”

Mrs. Obama attributes her own success to education and often touts the importance of young people and their pursuit of post-secondary education. She says that education will help solve issues like racial profiling, mass incarceration and voting rights.

The First Lady wants kids to go to class every single day. She points out that today’s children still often fail to meet their full potential and young African-American women often don’t attend higher education. She insists that if children fall behind in school, they fall behind in life.

  1. Arts education: At the ceremony for the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards held at the White House, Mrs. Obama spoke about the importance of arts in our country’s schools and how these programs inspire students to dream big.

“You light a fire in them,” she said. “You help them grow emotionally and socially.”

Part of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award recognizes the top youth development programs that utilize engagement in the arts and the humanities to improve academic achievement, graduation rates and college enrollment. Programs teach students dance, music, and graphic design.

Out of more than 350 nominations, 12 after-school programs were awarded and will receive $10,000. Mrs. Obama shined the spotlight on Aurora, Colorado’s “Job Training in the Arts” and Los Angeles’s after-school dance program “Everybody Dance!”

Mrs. Obama has stated that an estimated 6 million children have no access to arts education, and another 6 million have a “minimal” exposure.

  1. Healthy school lunches: First Lady Michelle Obama has said that she is willing to “fight to the bitter end” to ensure that the school lunch nutrition standards she helped draft stay in place — despite a Republican-drafted bill that would allow some school exemption. The First Lady lobbied for higher nutrition standards that went into effect in 2012 that called for more vegetables, fruits and whole grains in school meals, along with less fat, sugar and sodium. Over 90 percent of public schools in the U.S. have subscribed to the standards since their enactment.

The industry-backed School Nutrition Association is now pushing back against the standards, saying that less lunches are being sold because children do not want to buy the healthier lunches. This, in turn, hurts the food industry that supplies the ingredients to make school lunches — healthy, or otherwise.

A House of Representatives bill authored by Alabama Republican Robert Aderholt would give school districts the opportunity to skip the nutrition requirements for one year. According to Aderholt, the change came on too quickly and that schools need time to adjust.

The First Lady says it is giant step backwards and one that sends the wrong message about the nutrition provided in the nation’s public schools. In a New York Times piece, Michelle Obama said the attempt to “lower nutrition standards in our schools” is motivated by nothing more than financial tactics. She also made it known that she will fight loudly and aggressively to block the legislation.

  1. Fashion education: Michelle Obama hosted 150 students for her Fashion Education Workshop, which is a part of her Reach Higher initiative. The First Lady’s aim was to promote education and enable young fashion enthusiasts to pursue fulfilling careers in the industry.

The workshop gave the students a chance to meet with teachers, theorists and entrepreneurs for a series of workshops, enjoy a seated lunch, and seek advice from a panel of professionals in the industry. The event brought together aspiring fashion designers and stylists, writers and entrepreneurs from 14 East Coast high schools and colleges.

The effect of the event was one of overwhelming support within the design world and for those who aspire to join it.

Some of the influencers in attendance include Lela Rose, Eva Chen, Cecilia Dean, Alexis Bittar, and Sara Blakely of Spanx. The women were there to share fashion industry advice from their perspectives, some from mass brands and some high-end glamour.

The First Lady is passionate about education, and I applaud her for her dedication to see students invest in their education. Her efforts, in conjunction with the President’s, over the past few years are sure to make an impact on the state of P-12 and higher education in the coming years.


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