2020 High School Graduates “Their Stories, Their Lives”

The U.S. Department of Education’s President’s Education Awards Program (PEAP) would like to express best wishes to 2020 high school graduates who had quite a different conclusion to their school year but persisted and are ready for their next steps. Since 1983, PEAP has recognized millions of elementary, middle, and high school graduates from across the nation.

PEAP honorees are nominated by their principal based on established criteria. They receive a certificate signed by the President of the United States and the Secretary of Education, as well as letters from each, distributed by our PEAP partner, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP).

The following stories of PEAP honorees were submitted by principals through NAESP as demonstrative of the achievement and improvement of recipients. We hope these students’ stories will inspire current and future graduates – as they inspired us – on their journey through life!

ROBERT THOMAS WATTS – Fayette County High School (Fayette, Alabama)

Principal, Dr. Jeremy Madden

Robert is diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, yet he excelled at Fayette County High School (FCHS) the past four years and graduated in the top 10% of his class. He is a four-year member of the FCHS Pride of the Tigers Marching Band. He has been awarded five-figure scholarships to the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama-Birmingham and has also accumulated nine dual enrollment hours at Bevill State Community College.

This school year, Robert was awarded the President’s Award for Excellence and achieved ACT WorkKeys Platinum Status. He also won the good citizenship award and the perfect attendance award at FCHS. He recently was notified that he will be marching at the Capstone this fall as a member of the University of Alabama Million Dollar Band.

ANASTASIYA ZASIMOVICH – Gainesville High School (Gainesville, Florida)          

Principal, David Shelnutt

Anastasiya has been a student in the Cambridge academic magnet program at Gainesville High School for four years. During her sophomore year, she was struck by a vehicle, sustaining a traumatic brain injury that typically leaves people permanently disabled. She spent a week in a coma and a half a year in intensive rehabilitation re-learning to walk, speak, and carry out basic life functions.

Anastasiya overcame the tremendous obstacles arising from the injury and two surgeries to graduate with a nearly 4.9 weighted GPA and achieve a 1540 on the SAT. She is set to attend the University of Florida in the fall and hopes to become a doctor so she can help others overcome health obstacles in their lives.

NICHOLAS STAHRR – Lancaster High School (Lancaster, New York)

Principal, Cesar Marchioli

Nick and his twin were diagnosed with a physical disability, Quad CP, at birth. As a result of his condition, he requires the use of a power wheelchair as his primary means of transportation. He has also suffered from vision impairment. While he is able to see with the use of glasses, he must utilize a slant board, keyboard overlays, and handheld magnifiers in order to see items properly.

Nick has not allowed any of his disabilities to stop him from participating in school activities and impacting those around him. He joined the band and played the bass drum without skipping a beat. He also has a special love of sports, so he joined the football team as a team manager and makes every practice, rain or shine. In recent years, he inspired the team on their trip to play in the state championship game. When team members decided to get mohawk haircuts to promote team unity, he was among the first. After losing a close but tough game, upon returning to the classroom, Nick said “It was tough, but we just have to do it again next year, because you can never give up on your goals or your dreams!” This is Nick!

He brings the same attitude to the classroom and the community that he brings to the sports arena. In a school of several thousand students, Nick is easily one of the most easily recognized and well-liked students, not because of his disability but because of his ability to bring a smile to all those he meets and inspire the same positive attitude he possesses in each of them. He also participates with his family in the Bowmansville volunteer fire department.

ANTHONY CHICCITT – Bethel Park High School (Bethel Park, Pennsylvania)

Principal, Dr. Zeb Jansante

Anthony was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as a junior. He went through treatments while continuing to excel academically and playing three varsity sports (football, basketball, and baseball). This fall, he resumed his role as starting quarterback, leading the Black Hawks into first place in the conference.

While his parents are happy to see him competing at full strength, they are even more happy knowing Anthony can handle anything life will throw his way. “You know that there will never be anything he can’t handle. And as a parent, it’s wonderful to know, because one day he won’t be here and you know that he’ll be able to take care of himself and handle everything that comes to him,” his mother says.

LAUREN ORLANDO – Great Bridge High School (Chesapeake, Virginia)

Principal, Jeffrey S. Johnson

Lauren was in a very serious car accident in which she sustained major injuries and nearly died. While she faced severe recovery challenges, her family and friends were always there for her, and her doctors and therapists gave her the motivation to cope with her injuries. Life happens, and she chose to never give up.

Lauren’s therapists changed her life for the better in so many ways, and she wanted to be more like them every day. She initially practiced helping others by working with her P.E. teacher, assisting in the adaptive physical education class.

Now, Lauren would like to pursue a degree in speech-language pathology. She wants to inspire others to keep moving forward and to be a constant support to them. She quotes Ernest Hemingway when he said, “Life breaks everyone, but some people become stronger in the broken places.” Lauren’s goal is to be the light for people in their darkest times and always give them hope, to never give up.

LOGAN JONES  – Charles J. Colgan, Sr. High School (Manassas, Virginia)

Principal, Dr. Timothy L. Healey

Logan lives with autism, a developmental disorder that makes social interactions and communication difficult. As a result, he always struggled to create and maintain peer relations. He was young when his father passed away and, unable to cope with both his emotions and the increasing pressures of a teenager, he began to suffer academically while in high school.

During his senior year, Logan realized that his upcoming graduation meant he would be leaving the familiar comfort of his school. Compounded with the fear of losing his mother if/when he went off to college, he began to intentionally fail a course to stave off the impending changes. As the year progressed, though, and the excitement of graduation mounted among his classmates, he realized that he wanted to graduate with his peers.

With an increased focus on his academics and a determination to not be left behind, Logan persevered. He was able to bring his grade up, pass his class, and graduate on time.

LUCAS AMRINE – W. F. West High School (Chehalis, Washington)

Principal, Bob Walters

As a child, Lucas overcame a severe speech impediment. He spent years in speech therapy and in hard work with his family to improve his speech. From that experience he developed a strong work ethic and resilience that has served him well. He has had to work very hard to improve his vision, as he also had amblyopia as a young child. He attributes his ability to overcome this obstacle as a key to achieving success as a student.

Lucas has developed a well-rounded resume for university admissions that features leadership and service to school and community and has done all this in a self-directed manner. He has worked hard to manage his time and develop a personal code of integrity. He established himself in a positive peer group and developed a strong network of support with school and community leaders. He is kind and inclusive and takes the high road, believing in the best in people and encouraging them.

To cultivate his leadership skills, Lucas stepped up as a freshman to assume critical roles and develop his oral and written communication skills. He also persevered to overcome anxiety in jazz band by pushing himself to make solo performances when he had the opportunity.

We continue to accept and fulfill orders for PEAP during school closures so that student recognition can continue seamlessly once in-school presence resumes. Principals may place a 2020 order by contacting PEAP-ACA Customer Service Center at 1-877-897-4784 or

Submitted by Frances Hopkins, Director, President’s Education Awards Program at the U.S. Department of Education


Keeping the Promise: New Tools to Navigate Your Repayment Journey

By: Chief Operating Officer Mark Brown, Federal Student Aid

Online tools

Summer is here, and I’m sure that for many of you, summer doesn’t look quite the same as it has in the past. The COVID-19 emergency has led all of us to change our day-to-day lives in order to stay healthy, and I hope that you’ve been able to weather this storm and are looking for ways to safely enjoy this time of year. Here at Federal Student Aid (FSA), we’ve had to make some major adjustments to how we do business, and we realize that it’s a challenging and disruptive time for many of you. I encourage you to visit, which has information about COVID-19 and the federal student aid programs, including answers to frequently asked questions. Additionally, if you’re a student loan borrower, you can expect to hear from us in the coming months about how we’ll be supporting you as you return to repayment following the student loan relief measures Congress put in place through the CARES Act.

I want you to know that even with all of the changes we’ve had to make, we’re working as hard as ever to keep empowering students, parents, and federal student loan borrowers to better manage their federal aid. In this third post in the “Keeping the Promise” series, I’d like to share some exciting new features on, our front door on the web for the most-trusted information, tools, and resources about federal student aid. In recent months, we’ve introduced items like an employer database in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Help Tool and the brand-new Annual Student Loan Acknowledgment.

We know that PSLF gets a lot of attention, and we realize that you may not always clearly understand the eligibility criteria. From examining PSLF application data, we know that lots of people are applying for loan forgiveness before they’ve met the criteria. For example, more than 80 percent of PSLF applicants were not yet eligible for forgiveness—at the time they applied—because they didn’t have eligible loans that were in repayment for 10 years. Clearly, our communications need to be more specific, and we’re taking steps and listening to your feedback.

That’s why in 2018, FSA launched the PSLF Help Tool, which helps you understand your eligibility for loan forgiveness under PSLF. We’re now adding an employer database to the tool. Now, you’re able to input your employer’s Employer Identification Number (EIN) to know if your employer is eligible, ineligible, or likely ineligible to meet the qualifying employment criterium for PSLF. We think this resource will provide you even more clarity about successfully navigating the program.

And, your success is exactly what we had in mind when we launched another resource, Loan Simulator. This tool allows you to simulate potential repayment options based on your goals, like paying your loans down faster or reducing the amount of interest you’ll pay on your loans.

We know that behind every student loan account is a student or parent, and your road to repayment is as unique as you are. We want to provide everyone with resources to navigate repayment. So, we’ve updated the Loan Simulator to add additional repayment plan scenarios, specifically for those of you who have a variety of loans, such as a combination of Direct Loans, Perkins Loans, and Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans. Later this year, we’ll release another version of Loan Simulator that helps you understand what your monthly payment will look like should you want to return to school and borrow more federal student loans.

We also have a new resource for students who are currently enrolled in college or career school: the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgment. If you’re a new borrower, this tool is designed to help you get a sense of what your loan balance, monthly payment, and expected salary could be based on the school you plan to attend and your program of study. If you’re a seasoned borrower, the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgment will show you how much you have borrowed to date, how close you are to your lifetime borrowing cap, and what you can expect your future monthly payments to be. We’re hoping that this tool will help you become a more informed borrower and eliminate any surprises down the road.

Finally, we want to tell you AND show you that your experiences with the federal student loan programs matter to us. That’s why we have created the Feedback Center on There, you can use this tool to submit a complaint, report an issue, provide us with feedback, or manage an open case. You’ll also now be able to view the status of your case, upload new documentation, and add messages that will be reviewed by a customer service representative. This information is very important to me; in fact, I get briefed weekly on what feedback we’re getting from our customers, so please keep sending us your thoughts and experiences.

We’re excited about all of this progress … progress we’re making for you. I’ll write again soon to share more new tools and upgrades that will improve your experience with Federal Student Aid. In the meantime, check out these new features and let us know what you think!


We’re Taking Steps to Improve Federal Loan Servicing

By: Chief Operating Officer Mark Brown, Federal Student Aid

You may have heard that changes are coming to student loan servicing, and that’s true.

But, there’s no need to panic. Your loan servicer will not be changing this year.

In fact, long before your loan servicer changes, we’ll communicate with you. We’ll make sure you have lots of advance notice, we’ll explain how your loans will be serviced going forward, and we’ll make sure your account transfer is as seamless as possible.

As a matter of fact, we’ve set out to make all of your experiences with federal student aid better. In 2017, Federal Student Aid (FSA) launched the Next Gen FSA initiative to bring the federal student aid experience into the 21st century and improve how you—students, parents, borrowers, and schools—interact with our programs. Things we’ve done include making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form easier to access and complete and making it easier for you to manage your federal student loans by giving you helpful tools and resources, such as the PSLF Help Tool and Loan Simulator.

The things we’re doing are addressing your pain points with the federal student aid programs. One thing we’ve heard from you is that it can be confusing knowing where to go or who to call for information you can trust when you need it.

That’s why a big part of the work we’re doing for you is giving loan servicing a makeover. Did you know that now, instead of calling one of nine loan servicers, you only have to call 1-800-4-FED-AID to get your call routed to the right place? That’s only the beginning!

Earlier this month, we awarded contracts to some companies that will be responsible for all kinds of contact with you, including answering any type of calls, sending email communications, engaging in chats, and answering social media inquiries. The companies also will process the millions of forms our customers and postsecondary schools submit each year.

The work covered by the newly awarded contracts includes  more than answering loan servicing-type questions; it’s for anything you can think of related to federal student aid, such as FAFSA questions, questions about grants, and questions from financial aid professionals from schools around the world.

Even though we awarded the contracts, these companies won’t start doing this work immediately. We’ve got to first put the tools, technology, and training in place to ensure that you get the right answer with every interaction.

To make sure there’s no interruption with your current loan servicer, we’ve made it possible to extend the servicing work for FedLoan Servicing (PHEAA), Great Lakes, Navient, and Nelnet through December 2021 and for CornerStone, Granite State – GSMR, HESC/Edfinancial, MOHELA, and OSLA Servicing through March 2022.

When the time comes to transition your account into the Next Gen environment, you’ll receive emails, messaging on social media, and a wide array of other communications about what to expect and how to continue to manage your account.

For now, there’s no impact to how your federal student loans are serviced.

You should continue to visit and follow us on @FAFSA and the Federal Student Aid Facebook page for the most-trusted information about your federal student loans.

Mark Brown is the chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid. He’s a proud grad of Tuskegee University, where he received federal student aid.  Mark is also an advocate for quality and accessible education for all. Follow him on Twitter, @FSACOO.


A Bright New is on the Horizon prototype

Since the beginning of this Administration, Secretary DeVos has encouraged creativity and innovation at every level, challenging state and local leaders to “rethink” education for our nation’s students while calling on the Department of Education to “rethink” how we engage with and serve students and parents.

Given that challenge, we set out to “rethink” the primary way in which the American public engages with us online: The Department’s website is the primary gateway for administrators, teachers, parents, and families to engage with the Department, learn about our programs and access critical resources. We knew a strong, user-friendly redesign would help the public connect with important information and appropriate staff, reduce frustration and improve the overall user experience.

As part of this “rethink” effort, we launched an open innovation challenge in March to improve the overall quality of the design, navigation, interactivity, and presentation of the Department’s website. We used, a government website that encourages the public to help solve challenges unique to federal agencies, to solicit small-scale prototypes for the redesign and judged prototypes for innovation, design quality, and ability to adhere to federal requirements.

The proposals were evaluated on the following criteria: 1) non-traditional improvements that maximize user experience; 2) new adaptations and innovations in color, layout, typography, animation, illustration, video, and photography; and 3) new technologies and innovative tools. They were also reviewed for the overall quality of proposed redesign with consideration given to the following: 1) clean, simple, modern aesthetic; 2) ease of navigation; and 3) integration social media, video, photography, and plug-ins.

We received an astounding 60 submissions and after several rounds of review, 22 experts from across the Department identified the most innovative, future-forward, and user-friendly designs.  The grand prize goes to U.Group of Washington, D.C. The first runner up is Agileana of Brambleton, VA. The companies will share a $50,000 cash prize.

“We are honored for this opportunity to help reimagine the Department of Education’s website to better meet user needs,” explained U.Group CEO, Lena Trudeau. “Our team applied their expertise in digital transformation to create a concept that is human-centered, beautiful, and functional. We hope our design will provide valuable insights into unlocking’s potential.”

U.Group offered a human-centered, action-driven platform that puts the information Americans need at their fingertips. Rather than rely on beautiful design alone, U.Group paired its creativity with in-depth research, content strategy, and experience working with government, consumer and education organizations. To respond to this challenge, U.Group hosted user interviews, conducted landscape analyses, and completely rethought the site’s information architecture. A prototype of the winning design can be viewed here.

Agileana investigated who would likely visit the website and why, what devices they would likely use to navigate the site, the speed of those devices, special abilities or disabilities they might have, and in what circumstances they might visit the website. The company tested the solution with a focus group that represents the Department’s target web visitor segments, observed and listened to their feedback. Agileana iteratively improved the prototype based on their feedback. A prototype of their design can be viewed here.

“Our team used an agile, iterative, and user-centered design approach to the challenge to make the experience more engaging and accessible for visitors,” said Agileana CEO Blake Newman. “Particularly with the pandemic, as more government agencies strive to deliver citizen services over the web rather than in person, we were honored to take part in this important effort.”

As we continue to think – and rethink – ways to get information quickly to those who need it most, we are excited to take this big first step toward a new Next steps include synthesizing the best elements of the different proposals into a comprehensive redesign plan and the eventual implementation of new design. Our goal is a dramatically improved Interested parties should monitor the Department’s Forecast of Contract Opportunities for more information on the anticipated procurement method, type of competition, estimated solicitation and award dates, point of contact, and other relevant information.


The Versatile Student Loan Calculator: Loan Simulator

Loan Simulator

For many students and their families, getting a higher education means getting federal student loans. To help you decide how much to borrow and understand what repayment would look like, the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid provides a loan calculator called Loan Simulator.

Loan Simulator can help current loan borrowers estimate payments and simulate certain scenarios. There are future enhancements in store to help students who are new to loans simulate borrowing money and those with loans simulate borrowing more money for a current or future program of study.

Planning Ahead for Repayment

Let’s say you’ve completed your first year of college and have some loans under your belt. You want to visualize how your potential loan debt relates to repayment after you graduate or leave school. Using Loan Simulator, you can get an idea of your typical loan balance based on national data by school type:

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

Or based on a specific school:

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

With this information, you can see what repayment could look like.

To get even more options (for example income-driven repayment options), you can use our built-in College Scorecard salary estimator.

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

Nearing Repayment or in Repayment

What if you’re finished with school and in the thick of repayment? When you log in, Loan Simulator uses your loan information to recommend repayment strategies that work best for your income and repayment goal.

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

Loan Simulator uses the options you select and information you enter to recommend a repayment plan that meets your needs. It can also calculate your adjusted gross income (AGI), which is used to calculate monthly payments under some repayment plans. Without an AGI, you might be missing out on some repayment options.

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

You can skip guided questions and use the sidebar to enter information quickly and experiment with changing your repayment goals and other options.

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

Note: It’s important to include your AGI to be considered for income-driven repayment plans. These plans are based on a borrower’s income and family size and may result in payments as low as $0. They are also good options for those seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Personalized results also allow you to compare multiple repayment plans to see which best fits your needs. You can select up to three repayment plans:

Screenshot of Loan Simulator

To compare them side by side:

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

Loan Simulator also offers “Other Options to Consider” to help you further explore different repayment goals.

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

You can use the slider bar on the “Want to Pay Off Your Loans Faster?” option to see how an extra amount per month or an extra one-time payment can reduce the total amount paid and bring the payoff date closer.

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

Considering or Already Tracking for PSLF

Do you work in the public sector? Loan Simulator asks whether you are considering PSLF:

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

Then uses this information to select the repayment plan that meets your goal and qualifies for PSLF. It also shows the potential loan amount to be forgiven.

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

Struggling With Payments

When you are struggling to make payments, Loan Simulator can help you by estimating payments under an income-driven repayment plan and suggest which deferment and forbearance options you might choose to temporarily stop payments on your student loans.

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.

Loan Simulator also shows you the impact of deferment or forbearance on your overall loan balance.

Screenshot of Loan Simulator

Check out this Loan Simulator video!

More to Come

By October 2020, Loan Simulator will have added functionality. It will show borrowers an estimate of how much federal student aid may be available, what happens if they take out more student loans, and how doing so can impact their repayment plans. Stay tuned!

Screenshot of Loan Simulator.



5 Things to Know About Current Repayment Flexibilities and Your Federal Student Loans

5 things to know about repayment

On Aug. 8, 2020, President Trump extended the 0% student loan interest rate and suspension of payments on federal student loans owned by the Department of Education (ED) until Dec. 31, 2020. These relief measures began on March 13, 2020, and below you’ll find a recap of the resulting repayment flexibilities for student loan borrowers and relevant considerations.

Check out for the latest updates.

1. Your Monthly Payments Are Suspended for ED-Owned Loans

ED placed your ED-owned student loans in a payment suspension that started March 13, 2020 and is scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2020. This means you don’t have to make monthly payments during this time. If you made a payment during this time, you can request a refund through your loan servicer.

Federal loan servicers were directed to report to credit reporting agencies as if regularly scheduled payments were occurring during the payment suspension period. Delinquency will not be reported during the payment suspension period.

Flexibilies for forbearance

Generally speaking, if you were up to date on your payments before the payment suspension period began, interest accrued prior to March 13, 2020, will not capitalize. This means no outstanding interest will be added to your principal balance when the payment suspension ends. However, if you were in the type of deferment or forbearance in which interest would normally capitalize prior to the payment suspension period, then interest accrued prior to March 13, 2020, will capitalize when your original deferment or forbearance ends or on Jan. 1, 2021, whichever is later.

If you were in your grace period before the payment suspension period began, any outstanding or unpaid interest on your account will capitalize as it usually does when you enter repayment.

2. Temporary 0% Interest Rate on Loans Owned by ED

From March 13, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020, the interest rate on ED-owned student loans is automatically set at 0%. That means your student loans will not accrue (i.e., accumulate) interest during this time.

Student Loan Eligibility

Student Loan Eligibility

If you are able, continuing to make manual payments on the loan servicer’s website has some benefits.

0% Interest Rate Period

3. If You’re Struggling Financially, You Have Multiple Payment Options

Auto-debit payments will automatically resume after Dec. 31, 2020, if you had auto-debit set up prior to payment suspension. If you are worried you won’t be able to make your next payment after the payment suspension ends, you have options.

ED offers a variety of income-driven repayment (IDR) plans based on your income. Under an IDR plan, payments may be as low as $0 per month. Check out’s Loan Simulator to identify available options that meet your needs and goals.

If you are already on an IDR plan but are currently unemployed because of the COVID-19 emergency, you can update (recertify) your information to see if you qualify for a new, lower payment amount by logging in here and complete the steps below:

Income-Driven Repayment Plan

Any changes to your payment amount will take effect after the payment suspension ends. If none of these options seem beneficial to you, contact your loan servicer to discuss additional forbearance options after the payment suspension ends on Dec. 31, 2020. However, please  remember that interest accrues for most borrowers on a general forbearance.

4. Already on an IDR Plan? Your Recertification Deadline Has Been Extended

As part of the administrative forbearance, your recertification date has been changed from your original recertification date. You will not have to recertify your income before Dec. 31, 2020. You will be notified by your loan servicer when it is time to recertify.

5. Avoid Coronavirus-Related Scams!

There is no fee for this payment suspension or 0% interest period—not from the federal government and not from your loan servicer. If someone asks for money for either of those reasons, it’s a scam. Your loan servicer provides free help with your questions or concerns about your loan payments. There is no coronavirus-related loan forgiveness for federal student loans. Learn more about avoiding student aid scams.

Disclaimer: This article contains general statements of policy under the Administrative Procedure Act issued to advise the public on how ED and Federal Student Aid (FSA) propose to exercise their discretion as a result of and in response to the lawfully and duly declared COVID-19. ED and FSA do not intend for this article to create legally binding standards to determine any member of the public’s legal rights and obligations for which noncompliance may form an independent basis for action.