Two heroic teachers refuse to let a pandemic stop them from reaching underserved youth in their communities
Photo courtesy of Lily Read
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Now more than ever, teachers are America's unsung heroes. They are taking on the overwhelming task of not only educating our children but finding creative and effective ways to do it in an unpredictable virtual learning environment.

Lily Read and Justin Bernard, two Massachusetts educators from one of the most diverse public high schools in the U.S. (over 25 different languages are spoken in the student body!), feel ready to meet the challenges of this unprecedented school year. Their goal: find ways to make virtual education "as joyful as possible" to help support teenagers during quarantine.

"Our school is very economically, racially, and linguistically diverse," said Read, "which means meeting the needs for all those students is incredibly complex." That wide range of diversity means that they spend a lot of time in professional development, preparing to meet students where they are. This summer, educators in their district spent weeks learning everything from how to provide emotional and social support via virtual platforms, to meeting 504 plans and Individual Educational Plans for disabled students virtually, to mastering the various online programs necessary for instruction.

Bernard, now in his fifth year of teaching, also coaches the high school football team. Prior to the pandemic, there were clear expectations for student athletes, with clear goals and incentives to keep their grades up. Now, Bernard is concerned that student athletes will begin to fall through the cracks without the structure of physically going to school each day, and he is on a mission to do everything he can to keep that from happening.


Photo courtesy of Justin Bernard

"We have students from all different backgrounds and sports are important to them, not just because they have fun, but also because it also involves study hall, team building stuff, accountability for staying on top of their grades, and making sure they are going to class." When Covid-19 hit, all of that disappeared and students felt the impact immediately. Bernard stepped in to open spaces for socially distant workouts to provide a sense of normalcy. And in the months since the onset of the pandemic, he began running study halls for his football players, checking in and keeping communication open to support the kids as much as possible beyond the field and the classroom.

Photo courtesy of Lily Read

"Aside from a child's home, no other setting has more influence on a child's health and well-being than their school," according to the Center for Disease Control. Schools not only provide educational instruction, but also social and emotional guidance, predictability, meals, and safety. When schools unexpectedly shut down in March 2020 due to Covid-19, over 56 million students lost access to that safety net.

Lack of structure and supervision aren't the only challenges students face as they transition into a virtual learning environment. With virtual learning, their home lives are now on display. Read recognized this immediately when students expressed their concerns. "One of the things that we know is an issue for a lot of our students is the fact that they may live in situations that are maybe not conducive to showing their classmates on Zoom or Google Meets...it just causes them additional stress."

Because of this, one of the things she did to prepare for this school year involved buying every trifold poster board she could find—really brightly colored ones—and offer them to her students to decorate and put behind themselves when they are in "class." Read plans to personally deliver the boards to students and/or meet them at a local park so they can pick up art supplies and poster boards and hopes to make the project fun. "We are hoping this will get kids to have more face time because we know that having students on camera is actually going to benefit them if we do so in a way that will avoid actually increasing their anxiety."

The transition from in-person instruction to virtual classrooms isn't easy, but kids need structure—especially those who live in high-risk environments. And educators are thinking creatively to solve the challenges that students are facing, again reminding us how valuable teachers are to the future of our society.

"We are committed to doing everything we can to help our students feel safe, loved, supported, and keep them learning. No matter what happens in the next few months, we are all experiencing these challenges together—and we will overcome them, together," said Read.

Photo courtesy of Lily Read

Another hurdle is figuring out how to virtually teach the incoming preschoolers and kindergarteners who are not yet able to read or type and getting crucial internet access to those families. Teaching a room full of wiggly 4-year-olds is challenging in a regular classroom setting—finding ways to keep them engaged through a screen is a whole new level of difficulty.

These concerns are part of the reason why getting kids back in school (safely!) and with equitable access to technology has been the top priority of educators and parents. Procter & Gamble and United Way are working together to bridge the digital divide. No matter what age, in times when kids can't be in the classroom, families need to have affordable internet so they can stay on track with their education; otherwise, students will fall further behind.

If you would like to help teachers and families during this incredibly challenging time, P&G Good Everyday make it easy by turning your everyday actions into extraordinary acts of good.

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Welcometoterranova article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

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Racist jokes are one of the more frustrating manifestations of racism. Jokes in general are meant to be a shared experience, a connection over a mutual sense of humor, a rush of feel-good chemicals that bond us to those around us through laughter.

So when you mix jokes with racism, the result is that racism becomes something light and fun, as opposed to the horrendous bane that it really is.

The harm done with racist humor isn't just the emotional hurt they can cause. When a group of white people shares jokes at the expense of a marginalized or oppressed racial group, the power of white supremacy is actually reinforced—not only because of the "punching down" nature of such humor, but because of the group dynamics that work in favor of maintaining the status quo.

British author and motivational speaker Paul Scanlon shared a story about interrupting a racist joke at a table of white people at an event in the U.S, and the lessons he drew from it illustrate this idea beautifully. Watch:

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With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

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