35 Hilarious Tweets That Sum Up Back-To-School Season

35 Hilarious Tweets That Sum Up Back-To-School Season | HuffPost Life

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Women of #RedForEd Closing the Pay Gap

By Cindy Long

Rosa Jimenez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, is a single mom who shares a bed with her daughter in a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. She holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, but she’s still just scraping by in a city with one of the highest costs of living in the nation. Jimenez is a high school history teacher.

Fellow Angeleno Georgia Flowers Lee is a special education teacher at Saturn Elementary School in the gentrifying mid-city section. She can’t afford to live anywhere near her school, so she commutes about an hour each way from what she calls a “challenging” part of LA. She’s been an educator—her second career—for almost two decades but still struggles to make ends meet.

“You pay the bills, and you look at what’s left and you decide, ‘OK, what do I do without this month?’” Lee says.

Across the country in rural, western Pennsylvania, Missy Brant teaches kindergarten. She says there are teachers right in her backyard who earn just over the minimum wage. The starting teacher salary in Pennsylvania is $18,500 and has been since 1989, when Brant was just 8 years old and thinking of becoming a teacher like her mom. It never occurred to her that educators would be worse off now than they were then.

Jimenez, Flowers Lee, and Brant aren’t alone. Across the nation, teachers—most of them women—are underpaid and struggling. Their growing frustration has fueled a nationwide movement called #RedForEd that demands professional pay for professional work.

Professions dominated by women have lower pay, but even within the profession there is discrimination. Music educator Nancy Flanagan had to fight for her position as a band leader at a Michigan middle school. Leading a band held prestige, like coaching the football team, and the positions were given to men. After finally getting the position, she didn’t earn as much as her male peers.

“I went on job interviews where my fitness and stamina were questioned. One principal said he had no intention of hiring me because he was looking for a man for the job. He just wanted to meet the girl who thought she could handle his high school band,” Flanagan recalls.

Even her own high school band director, whom she’d admired and assisted from freshman to senior year, told her he didn’t believe in “lady band directors” and that she’d be better off as an elementary music educator. When she did get a job in the 1970s—one she kept for 30 years—she was one of the only women in an exclusive men’s club. There were seven female band directors in a state with 500-plus school districts. She was often belittled, underestimated, or ignored. Not surprisingly, she never earned as much as her male counterparts. Though she’s retired, she is a vocal proponent of higher salaries and respect for educators.

Four different women. One strikingly common experience: They all entered a profession where women are underpaid and undervalued. But that lack of equity has these women and legions more seeing red.

Below: Nancy Flanagan, a pioneer female band leader and music teacher. “Kind of looks like Congress did in the 1970s, when I started teaching,” she says. Flanagan now leads a community band and is a vocal supporter of #RedForEd.

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Five Things You’ll Hear More About in the 2019-20 School Year

As the new school year gets underway, it’s time for educators to unpack their favorite lessons and most comfortable shoes. For experienced teachers, the school year ahead will be familiar territory. But, here at NEA Today, we observe emerging trends in public education. Not everything is as it always has been in classrooms and schools!

Here are just five emerging education trends that are likely to pick up more momentum in 2019-2020.

Trauma-Informed Education

education trendsEducators heard a lot about trauma-informed or trauma-sensitive education in 2018. You’ll hear more in 2019-2020. At the NEA Representative Assembly (RA) in July, RA delegates committed NEA to continue educating members about the negative effects of traumatic experiences on students’ ability to learn and to share strategies to help, and it is a growing feature of union- or district-led professional development.

Educators need to know they can make a difference, says Delaware State Education Association’s director of instructional advocacy Deb Stevens. For example, in Franklin, Indiana, schools, every classroom has a “calming corner” where stressed-out students, who may have experienced trauma, can meet their emotional needs. “We’re moving towards trauma-informed education,” Franklin school counselor Angie Clendening told a local reporter. “The calming corner helps students self-regulate without leaving the classroom.”

Educators Prepare for 2020

When educators in West Virginia circled the state capitol in March 2019, holding signs and wearing red shirts, it felt like déjà vu. Didn’t they do the same in 2018? Meanwhile, strikes in Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland, and elsewhere showed more educators joining the #RedforEd national movement, and fighting for fair pay and funding. The coming year promises more educator-led action, especially as support for #RedforEd goals grows among parents and community.

According to the results of the recent PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 74 percent of parents and 71 percent of all adults say they would support a strike by teachers in their community for higher pay; 84 percent of parents would support a strike for more school funding. Says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García: “[The] PDK poll should remind everyone that there is still so much more work to be done to correct the years of inadequate funding of our public schools.”

NEA members live in every state, in every Congressional district, and in every ZIP code. Last year, they harnessed their power and took it to the voting booth, helping to elect pro-public education candidates at every level of government.  In 2020, they will be poised once again to make a sizable impact. The future of public education is a top issue and the 2020 presidential candidates are listening to educators. At a recent NEA forum, 10 presidential hopefuls answered questions on a wide range of topics, including school funding, testing, gun violence in schools, privatization and college debt.

“Educators are ready to make their presence felt in this election and we will play a vital role in choosing who becomes the next president of the United States,” said Eskelsen García.

Read more about why educators need to vote in 2020.

Virtual Reality in the Classroom

While we’ve been hearing about virtual reality (VR) since the days of The Matrix, it hasn’t caught fire yet. While 70 percent of 8- to 15-year-olds say they’re interested in VR, only 21 percent of U.S. homes have a VR headset, according to Common Sense research. Still, that level of student interest has led some educators to Google Cardboard for simple, low-cost VR headsets, or to CoSpaces.io. With those tools, students can “time travel” to different historical periods, experience different possible careers, or travel to places all over the world without leaving the classroom, suggest Chicago-area innovation specialist Maria Arfanakis and librarian Andrea Trudeau.

“We’re always looking for tools to transform learning,” says Trudeau, in this video explaining how to use CoSpaces. “When you’re working with middle school students, and they say they don’t want to leave your class, you know you have something magical!”

Self-Care for Educators

Just as educators are becoming more aware of the effects of trauma on students, we’re also noting the effects of stress and secondary trauma on educators.

In introducing a new business item at NEA’s Representative Assembly this summer, which requires NEA to promote mental health and post-trauma supports for educators, Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria likened the need for educator “self-care” to the recommended practice among airline passengers to “secure their own oxygen mask before helping others.”

It’s not just for the benefit of educators—it’s also to benefit their students. In many cases, local and state unions are leading the way. “Why carve time out for your own wellness only during the summer? Why not make it a focus for you this school year as well?” asks California middle-school teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron.

More Scrutiny for Charter Schools

Decades ago, hailed as a panacea for public education, charter schools were popular with policymakers. The latest evidence that the mood has shifted emerged this summer. New York legislators refused in June to lift a cap on new charters, halting charter school growth in New York City indefinitely, the New York Times pointed to a “growing backlash.”

From shoddy financial management, lack of accountability, a mixed (at best) academic record, and exclusionary enrollment practices, the charter sector’s record has come under heightened scrutiny.

An NEA “report card” issued in May found that found that nearly every state in the country is failing to require adequate oversight over the charter school sector, and educators scored some key victories against for-profit charter schools in 2019, particularly in California.

“Charter schools were started by educators who dreamed of schools in which they would be free to innovate, unfettered by bureaucratic obstacles,” said Eskelsen García. “Handing over students’ education to privately managed, unaccountable charters jeopardizes student success, undermines public education and harms communities.”

Meanwhile, as they promote free college, higher teacher salaries, and other supports for public education, 2020 presidential candidates are also speaking out against for-profit charters. (Read more about the candidates’ positions on education at educationvotes.nea.org.)

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Former Catholic School Teacher Claims She Was Fired For Being Pregnant, Unmarried

A Missouri teacher claims she was harassed and ultimately fired from her old job at a Roman Catholic elementary school for being pregnant and unmarried.

Michelle Bolen alleges that when she informed a priest at St. Therese Catholic School in Kansas City that she was pregnant, he expressed concern about the public “scandal” it would cause the school to have an unwed mother on staff.

Months later, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph refused to renew Bolen’s employment contract ― even though she had worked at the school for nearly 15 years without a problem, according to her lawsuit.

Bolen is now suing the diocese and St. Therese Catholic School’s former principal.

Diocese spokesperson Jack Smith told The Kansas City Star that the claims Bolen makes in her lawsuit are “completely spurious.” Smith said the teacher’s contract wasn’t renewed “for reasons that have nothing to do with her pregnancy.”

The diocese has tried to have the lawsuit dismissed after it was first filed in 2016, according to The Kansas City Star ― arguing that, as a religious institution protected by the First Amendment, it can’t be sued for its employment decisions.

But Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Charles McKenzie has agreed to let the case proceed to a jury trial. The trial is scheduled to start next Monday, according to court records.  

The Catholic Church teaches that sex should only happen within a heterosexual marriage, and that it should always be open to the possibility of procreation.

Longstanding Catholic doctrine forbids premarital sex. The church is also adamantly opposed to birth control and abortion. 

When Bolen approached Rev. Joseph Cisetti, a pastor with oversight over St. Therese Catholic School, with news of her pregnancy, the priest allegedly said that she’d made the right choice in “keeping the baby,” but that the decision also violated the terms of her employment contract. The priest implied that if she had gotten an abortion, they wouldn’t have had to discuss her pregnancy and its repercussions, the lawsuit alleges.

In March 2015, the priest instructed Bolen to wear loose clothing to conceal her pregnancy, the lawsuit states. The priest and the school’s former principal, Carol Lenz, later sent an “invasive, humiliating, public letter” to the entire school staff about Bolen’s pregnancy, against her wishes. The letter allegedly referred to the pregnancy as “less than ideal” and informed staff that she was not married to the child’s father.

The diocese informed Bolen in May 2015 that her contract wouldn’t be renewed for the next year. She was a first-grade teacher at the time. 

The lawsuit claims the diocese was more concerned with “keeping up appearances” than with following Catholic moral teachings.

“Even if the Diocese does not actually intend to encourage abortions, its policy and practice of disciplining and terminating unwed mothers has the effect of punishing women who carry their children to term instead of participating in abortion,” the lawsuit states.

Bolen’s lawsuit seeks monetary compensation to be determined by a jury, including unpaid wages and attorney’s fees. She’s since found a job at another school in the Kansas City area. 

In a statement on St. Therese’s website, Cisetti insisted that the school and associated parish does not discriminate against pregnant women. 

“I trust that those who know me also know of my commitment to the dignity of human life, born and unborn,” he wrote. “Wisdom, charity and prudence require both sides of a story being heard before a decision is made.”

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35 Children’s Books That Teach Empathy And Kindness

35 Children’s Books That Teach Empathy And Kindness | HuffPost Life

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How To Get Your Kids To Open Up To You About Bullying

As just about every parent knows, a foolproof way to get kids to clam up is to ask them about their days. “How was school?” typically yields a one-word answer, at best.

But it’s important to learn about what goes on in your child’s life when you’re not around ― not least because 1 out of 5 kids say they’ve been bullied at some point. This can start young, like in preschool. And if your kid is having a tough time, it’s unlikely that he or she is going to come up to you and suddenly say something like, “You know, Mom, I’m really struggling with getting teased at school.” Research suggests that anywhere between 25% and 60% of kids who are bullied don’t report it to an adult or school officials.

Here, then, are some expert-backed ways to start these conversations, so you can get a sense of whether something serious ― like bullying ― is going on.

Starting early, get in the habit of asking short, specific questions about peer play.

“It’s most important to have the foundation where as a parent you’re talking to your children about their relationships and peer relationships more generally,” said Amanda Nickerson, director of the University at Buffalo’s Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention. “You probably don’t want to launch into, ‘Has there been bullying? Have you seen it?’”

Instead, the goal is to be constantly talking to your kids about how they get along with their peers. Ask questions about who they’re playing with and how that’s going, Nickerson said. Keep it simple and specific: Who did you play with today? What was that like? What are some things you like doing with other kids? What are some things you don’t like so much?

“You’re hearing more of their story or their narrative about what’s happening,” Nickerson said. “And then you as a parent ― with your hopefully informed knowledge about typical child development… and the difference between conflict and bullying ― can start to tease out what might be problematic.” (Basically, conflict is a disagreement, sometimes a vehement one, between peers who are both able to express their views. Bullying is behavior that’s aggressive and repeated, and that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power.) Have these kinds of conversations constantly, ideally starting when your child is really young, so they become second nature.

However, if you have real reason to suspect your child has been bullied ― like if you’re seeing red flags, such as changes in behavior or unexplained injuries ― then you need to be asking much more direct questions right away. Is anyone being mean to you at school? Are they doing it on purpose? Has it happened more than once? And of course, parents should absolutely talk to their children’s teachers if they have any concerns.

Use books, movies and TV to your advantage.

In the past decade, creators of content for young kids have become a lot more deliberate about tackling bullying as a topic, and that content can be a powerful tool for conversation. For young kids, Nickerson points to “Sesame Street” episodes that have addressed bullying. There are also plenty of children’s books that directly talk about teasing, playground dynamics and even broader issues of how to be a kind, empathetic friend.

Even books and shows that don’t explicitly address bullying ― or where the bullying is just a small part of a seemingly unrelated narrative ― can be a good way into these types of talks. If one character is being unkind to another, use that to start a casual conversation with your kid about their own experiences with their peers.

“Although I’m not suggesting that parents don’t ask directly about this, context matters,” Nickerson said. “And I do think the more you can do it in a preventive or proactive way ― and understanding where this fits in with other peer-relationship issues ― that’s going to build a stronger foundation, and make your kids more apt to talk to you about these issues. Which can be difficult for them, and for parents, to talk about.”

Where and when you have these conversations can make a big difference in terms of what information you’re able to get. Nickerson says some kids need a bit of time and space to decompress after school, so asking them about how things went the minute they walk in the door isn’t necessarily a great idea.

Talking to your children in the car can help. “Things spontaneously come out more. I think some of it is because they’re captive,” Nickerson laughed. “But you also don’t necessarily have to make direct eye contact.”

Some parents find they’re able to have better conversations with their kids right before bed, when they’re a bit more relaxed, she said. Others have found it helps to give their children a notebook where they can write any questions or comments that they find a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing.

Play around with it a bit, being sensitive to the fact that sometimes kids are willing and eager to talk about what is happening with them ― just not necessarily when their parents are asking.

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Has the Personalized Learning Hype Worn Off?

Many, if not most, public school educators recognize the pattern. A new education buzzword or trend enters the conversation about public education. Proponents say it is nothing less than a “game-changer” that will “revolutionize” student learning. The hype surrounding this new idea is usually borderline messianic, but is backed by enormous amounts of corporate money. Anyone who raises the slightest objection or reservation is often branded a stuffy defender of the status quo.

The idea is embedded in a few school districts and steadily begins to expand. Within a year or two, it’s clear that – oops! –  the promised positive results have yet to materialize. A backlash grows. By this point, tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent, time and resources have been wasted, and proven ideas about what really works in the classroom have been marginalized.

Sound familiar? The U.S. public education system has been squeezed by a series of half-baked innovations or “reforms” over the past couple of decades, driven by a “failing schools/bad teacher” narrative. The tireless activism of educators and their allies has, to certain extent, stalled the momentum behind many of these policies, including for-profit charter schools, vouchers, and high-stakes testing.

The latest education trend to find itself in the hot seat is personalized learning.

By now, most educators have heard of personalized learning.  Many have implemented some version of it in their classrooms. No one seems to agree precisely on what personalized learning means and what it entails, beyond a general consensus that it involves tailoring instruction and curriculum to individual students’ needs.

This general idea is hardly new and, behind it all the recent hype and noise, personalized learning can be appealing, says Faith Boninger of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC).

“Many educators are attracted to and enthusiastic about the child-oriented promises held out by various approaches to personalized learning,” explains Boninger. “This is children having more freedom to pursue their own interests and teachers having more time to mentor children individually, to develop a strong relationship with each child and provide each one what he or she needs at any given time.”

So far, so good. But the modern version of personalized learning is tightly hitched to digital technology and data – and the outsized and powerful for-profit corporate interests behind it.

Or as Peter Greene succinctly put it: “Personalized learning smells like money. Lots of money.”

Faulty Assumptions

Boninger, along with Alex Molinar and Christopher Saldaña, examines the alarming direction personalized learning has taken in a new study. The researchers raise red flags that should alarm anyone anxious about the nexus of digital technology, corporate privatization, powerful backers such as Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch, and the lack of oversight that has allowed personalized learning to proliferate in school districts across the country.

Marketed aggressively to districts by tech companies, many programs have been designed around several “false assumptions” about teaching and learning that are central to the agenda advanced by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Tech-infused personalized learning is “so carefully and forcefully marketed as satisfying the needs of both children and educators, it sounds like a perfect solution to everyone’s problems.”- Faith Boninger, National Eduction Policy Center

This vision of personalized learning extols continual assessment, record-keeping, and feedback that rely on a steady and endless stream of quantitative data. Perhaps more than any other factor, the resulting concern over threats to student privacy, has undermined personalize learning’s popularity.

And, as Boninger, Molinar and Salda write in the NEPC report, the central assumption behind these programs “narrows pedagogical practices and curriculum because they must be limited to elements that can be both logically structured and measured making them, not coincidentally, technology friendly.”

Once a district buys into this premise, tech companies may appropriate an even greater space in it schools than they had before.

Cynthia Roy, a teacher in New Bedford, Mass. says districts are being made “irresistible offers.”

“It is difficult for schools with tight budgets to turn away technology. Even if we are growing skeptical of the bright and shiny offers pitched by ed tech companies, many of us are still desperate enough to accept them,” Roy explains.

In addition, says Boninger, district leaders often lack the time and expertise to properly evaluate what they’re being sold. “When they’re told that a product will adaptively respond to children’s specific needs, for example, how are they supposed to determine if that’s really true?”

Hyper-Individualized, Industrialized Learning Environment

The research into personalized learning is thin at best. What is available shows little or no substantive improvement in student learning. In January, ChalkBeat reported that Summit Learning, the online platform funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, turned down an offer by the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research to evaluate its program.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calls personalized learning “one of the most promising developments in K-12 education.”(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A team of educators in East Pennsboro, Pa., avoided some of these pitfalls by ensuring that personalize learning was done by them, not to them. Profiled by NEA Today in 2017, the teachers were leaders in both the design and implementation of the program, opting for a hybrid blended learning model that merged technology with project learning – all without relinquishing their role in the classroom.

That wasn’t Paul Emerich’s experience at a private school in Silicon Valley. The educator was initially excited about going deep in a tech-centric personalized learning environment. Emerich quickly became disillusioned by what he called a stressful and isolating (for both teacher and student), “hyper-individualized, industrialized” learning environment fueled by “big data and a playlist.”

The company behind the schools didn’t have the research or the evidence to support its approach, Emerich wrote on his blog, and student results were no better, if not worse, than results at the public school he taught at previously.

“Their primary concern was not the children’s education: their primary concern was monetizing the tools….Hyper-individualization does precisely what the emerging body of research says it does and more: it isolates children, it breeds competition, it assumes that children can learn entirely on their own.”

Emerich details his experiences and lays out his vision for personalized learning in a new book, “Reclaiming Personalized Learning: A Pedagogy for Restoring Equity and Humanity in Our Classroom.”

‘Teachers Don’t Need Apps For This’

Sensing a looming backlash, a couple of companies in 2018 issued a document calling for a personalized learning message makeover. The document instructs like-minded stakeholders to tone down the hyperbole about technology, data, and increased “student agency,” (parents are increasingly nervous about all three) and talk more about how great these programs are for teachers.

“In an effort to generate excitement, we inadvertently scared the public,” the report said.

This should also sound familiar. School privatization advocates have tried to rebrand school vouchers and other schemes to make them more palatable to a skeptical public. As with these initiatives, the problems facing personalized learning need much more than a PR reboot.

personalized learning

Many educators, while supporting the general idea behind personalized learning, believe tech companies have essentially hijacked the concept. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

The NEPC report recommends that policymakers and schools take a step back from promoting and implementing these programs “until rigorous review, oversight, and enforcement mechanisms are established.”

The authors also call on states to establish independent entities to establish safeguards to protect student and teacher data, review curriculum and pedagogical approaches, and open all assessment instruments and algorithms associated with personalized learning materials to review by third-party education experts.

While the heightened scrutiny in into these programs is welcome and long overdue, interest in personalized learning remains high.

The problem, says Boninger, is that tech-infused personalized learning is “so carefully and forcefully marketed as satisfying the needs of both children and educators, it sounds like a perfect solution to everyone’s problems.”

Resisting that sales pitch when you’re under considerable pressure to avoid being perceived as failing or resistant to change can be difficult.

“We can transform the public education system so that no district is desperate and vulnerable to these schemes,” says Cynthia Roy. “Fully funding our schools is one answer. Another would be to resist narratives of incompetent educators and failing public schools.”

Teachers know what they are doing and welcome innovation in the classroom, she adds.

“Professional educators are fully capable of merging knowledge domains – technology, content, and pedagogy,” says Roy. “They know how to differentiate instruction to truly personalize learning. Our public school teachers do not need apps for this. They do not need businessmen to tell them how to educate, nurture, and innovate,’ 

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Moms’ Hilarious Back-To-School Photo Shoot Deserves An A-Plus

Every year, parents find comical ways to celebrate the joy of their kids finally going back to school after a summer of nonstop chaos. This year, four Florida moms are giving parents across the internet a good laugh with their viral photo shoot.

Shawna Genua, owner of Wee Winks Photography in Minneola, texted three of her neighborhood mom friends ― Bridgett Brown, Jennifer Patterson and Robyn Pedretti Kelly ― on Sunday, the night before the first day of school. She told them to put on their robes, grab some wine, their kids and some lawn chairs, and meet in Brown’s driveway for a photo shoot.

It’s fair to say these Florida moms aren’t too sad about their kids going back to school. 

“Of course, we all said yes!” Pedretti Kelly, the woman on the far right with the big ol’ wineglass, told HuffPost. “We all posted [the photos] the next morning and thought it was just a fun thing for us to do for ourselves. And then it took off like we never imagined.”

Genua was inspired to do the shoot after seeing so many parents posting on social media about how sad they were to see their kids go back to school.

“Sure, we’ll miss our kids, but parents need a break after busy summers,” Pedretti Kelly said.

In the photos, the moms gleefully pose with wineglasses, beer bottles and a box of donuts, along with a sign that says “First day of school 2019. #ByeFelicia.” (Pedretti Kelly said it’s actually fruit punch, not wine, in the glasses.)

“Some of you are sad. This is me and my girls. We will be juuuuuuust fine,” Genua captioned the photos on Facebook.

The moms drank fruit punch, not wine, during the actual shoot. 
The moms drank fruit punch, not wine, during the actual shoot. 

The four women have 18 kids between them. They all moved into the same neighborhood within the past year.

“None of us knew each other upon move-in, but as soon as we met, we just clicked,” Pedretti Kelly said. “We knew we’d be friends forever. We had found our village.”

The women became fast friends after moving into the same neighborhood.
The women became fast friends after moving into the same neighborhood.

Pedretti Kelly said the teenage kids in the group were “mortified” by the photo shoot at first, but were singing a different tune after the pictures picked up steam on social media.

“Once it went viral, we suddenly became the ‘cool moms!’” she said.

Though the response to the photos has been largely positive, Pedretti Kelly said there have been some Negative Nancys rolling their eyes and telling them to “get a job.”

“To them, we say, ‘We DO have a job — we’re moms. That’s the hardest job in the world!’” she said. “Plus, two of us have jobs outside of being a mom. I personally have three jobs!”

Parents across Facebook are loving the photos — for the most part, anyway. 
Parents across Facebook are loving the photos — for the most part, anyway. 

But for every mean-spirited comment, there have been plenty of celebratory ones from parents laughing about how hard they relate to the message in the photos.

“We love our kids more than life itself, but we also need to take a break and laugh sometimes,” Pedretti Kelly said. “We need to recharge and reset.”

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Why Educators Need to Vote in 2020

Teachers need the vote in order to have more schools and better schools…”

Teachers need the vote in order to protect the children of their district from the vicious interests that constantly exploit them.”

Any of this sound familiar? Nearly 100 years after these words were printed, teachers are still fighting to have their voices heard.

Back then, educators’ voices were instrumental in the push for women’s suffrage*, called to action by arguments like the one in this 1915 flyer:

Source: VCU Libraries

So many of the issues educators faced then are still challenging the education profession today, but educators, then and now, deeply care about the political issues that affect their students. They know that if they don’t have their rights protected, neither will their students.

The 99-year anniversary of the 19th amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote (thought the right didn’t extend to women of color until decades later) reminds us that there is a lot at stake for the education world during the 2020 election, and we’ve come up with our own list of reasons why educators need to use the vote they worked so hard to gain.

  1. Betsy DeVos – Do we even need to continue this list after mentioning her? Her lack of experience in public education, strong support for vouchers and online schooling, and attacks on our students’ rights and education funding make DeVos public enemy number one for educators. Our students deserve a Secretary of Education who wants to invest in their future not line her pockets.
  2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness – If educators and other public servants make 10 years’ worth of qualified monthly payments on their federal student loans, they can receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness. But that’s not what is happening, because the program is broken. Fewer than 1 percent of eligible public servants who apply actually receive the loan forgiveness they were promised. Educators deserve a government that fulfills their promises to public servants everywhere.
  3. Gun Violence Prevention – NEA members believe schools should be safe places for learning. They reject the idea of arming teachers and other educators and oppose using federal funds for that purpose. NEA members want a government that will expand mental health care in schools and research gun violence as a public health issue.
  4. Education Funding – All our students deserve access to a high-quality education, but funding for public education keeps decreasing. Public schools received $3.7 billion, or 19 percent, less for Title I students during the 2017-18 school year than they did in 2010. The federal share of IDEA funding is now less than 14 percent, far short of the 40 percent Congress promised to provide. Educators need a Congress that is willing to put students, and their right to a quality education regardless of zip code, first.
  5. Retirement Security – The Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the Social Security benefits of people who work in jobs regardless of whether they are covered by Social Security—for example, educators who take part-time jobs to make ends meet. Most of the people hurt by the GPO and WEP are public servants (read: educators), who should be rewarded with retirement security, after all their years of public service.
  6. Workers’ Rights – All public education employees deserve the right to negotiate a fair contract. Bargaining ensures that career education employees have a respected voice in the workplace and are involved in both identifying and solving school and classroom issues, which in turn promotes student learning. After the blow the Janus Supreme Court case dealt unions last year, we need a government that respects educators’ right to bargain.
  7. Voting Rights – The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned discriminatory practices and extended voting protections to millions of racial, ethnic, and language minority citizens. In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. As efforts to suppress the vote continue—for example, through measures to deter student voting or limit absentee ballots—the need for protecting the vote persists.

We need your educator voice to be heard in the 2020 election. We know you’ll make the right decisions for educators and students everywhere. Take a moment to check your voter registration.

If you’re already registered, we ask you to register three of your friends and amplify your impact in 2020. Let’s make our educator voices heard!

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Learning Your Way Toward Wellness

Welcome back to school (BTS)! Maybe by the time you read this, you will already have gone to your BTS breakfast, seen some keynote or other, and set up your classrooms.

Maybe you’ve hung some new posters, or added a new beanbag to your reading nook. Maybe you’ve been given your student rosters, learned about the Individualized Education Program and 504 plan goals, strategized about how to implement the new textbook, translated this year’s parent letter into various home languages, or updated your classroom website with pictures from your summer.

I’m hoping you have returned refreshed and ready to embrace the new family of students that you will be given this school year.

Maybe you spent the summer building your toolbox and learning new strategies, or maybe you did the equally important task of taking care of your own brain’s wellness and needs.

But why stop there? Why carve time out for your own wellness only during the summer? Why not make it a focus for you this school year as well?

Addressing Your Needs Addresses the Needs of the Job

One of the best ways we can take care of ourselves is to continue our own learning. And one of the most effective and successful ways we can teach learning and knowledge acquisition to our students is to model it ourselves. In other words, by continuing our own growth throughout the school year, we not only address our own needs, but the needs of the job itself. I think about Merlin’s quote from T.H. White’s book, The Once and Future King (a quote which hung in my living room growing up):

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff
and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never
fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it.

That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you.”

So as this school year starts, don’t just think about how you are going to teach, but what you are going to learn. Are you going to take a class totally out of your wheelhouse?

Are you going to do one of those wine-and-painting classes with friends or perhaps monthly go to a local museum and walk around with the audio tour? Maybe you’ll just pick up a book about a subject you know nothing about.

Regardless, the goal for this school year is to continue your own learning and nurture your own brain so that you can nurture your students’ as well. Learning keeps us engaged in life and in this difficult profession.

Being the Model Learner in the Classroom

When teachers are engaged, that trickles down to students. When students are engaged, their achievement not only increases, but classroom management issues decrease.

When achievement rises and issues decrease, it is easier for teachers to go deeper into curriculum as well as form relationships with students.

Meaningful curriculum plus meaningful relationships between teachers and students positively impact achievement, and teacher engagement is, of course, triggered again. And so on.

Tell Me About Your Engagement Goals and Ideas

This school year, I really want to focus this column on my fellow teachers and their engagement as learners. After all, as teachers, we are the models in the classroom. And if our primary goal is to help raise generations
of curious learners, then the best way to do that is to nurture our own curiosity and model learning ourselves.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Learning impacts our own wellness so it’s vital that we continue doing it ourselves. We deserve it.

So here’s what I’m going to do this year: I’m going to learn about you and what you find engaging. Then, I’m going to report back. Begin by filling out this survey.

It shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes or so, and I will share the trends in the results in a later post. Please also feel free to share the survey via Twitter or other social media. The survey closes on December 31, 2019.

Continue to check back here for ways to engage both you and your students as lifelong learners. Who knows? Maybe I’ll feature you and your best professional development experience in an upcoming column for our readers to celebrate and learn from. Meanwhile, I hope throughout this school year that I can feed you with advice, humor, and understanding. Let’s make this profession, a darn hard profession, more engaging and effective together.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a teacher at Jefferson Middle
School in San Gabriel, Calif., and the author of Just Ask Us:
Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement.

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Evangelical College Kicks Out Transgender Student For Getting Top Surgery

An evangelical Christian college in Tennessee kicked a transgender student out of its dorms this month after discovering he had surgery to help his body align more closely with his gender identity. 

Yanna Awtrey claims he was expelled from Welch College in Gallatin mere hours after coming out of top surgery, a term often used in the trans community to describe a double mastectomy.

In a Facebook post, Awtrey described how the school’s decision left him without a permanent place to stay while he recovers from major surgery.

“The physical pain right now is nothing compared to witnessing a lack of empathy for our fellow man,” the 21-year-old wrote. “I don’t understand other people’s cruelty.”

Welch College is owned and operated by the National Association of Free Will Baptists, an evangelical Christian denomination that holds conservative views about gender and sexual orientation. Awtrey’s parents are Free Will Baptist missionaries currently living in Bulgaria, he told the Nashville Tennessean, so they wanted him to attend the college associated with their religious tradition. Awtrey was working toward degrees in biology and theology.

Awtrey said he has long experienced gender dysphoria, which the American Psychiatric Association describes as “a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.” He said he’s had suicidal thoughts since he was 11 years old.

He began taking hormone therapy in January, he wrote, and the “spark of hope and happiness” that resulted from that treatment helped influence his determination to get top surgery. 

It was “an act of self-preservation and self-love,” he wrote on Facebook about his decision to get top surgery.

Yanna Awtrey speaks about his expulsion from Welch College in this video by the Nashville Tennessean.

Awtrey said the day of his operation, Aug. 2, was simultaneously the “best and worst day of my life.” He said he woke up from the surgery that day and cried out loud from happiness. 

But when a family friend came into his hospital room and realized what kind of surgery he’d had, Awtrey told NBC, the woman called his parents and his college.

Hours later, he said he got an email from the school’s vice president for student services, Jon Forlines, informing him that he wasn’t allowed back in campus dorms. 

Awtrey said he later had a hearing with Welch College’s disciplinary committee, where he reportedly was told he’d violated the school’s rules prohibiting “sexual perversion.” The committee suspended Awtrey for two school terms, the Nashville Tennessean reported.

Welch College told HuffPost that it believes individuals experiencing gender dysphoria should be “treated with love and compassion.” But it maintains that “attempting to alter one’s bodily identity constitutes a rejection of God’s design for humanity.”

The college confirmed to HuffPost that Awtrey was no longer permitted to live in its dormitory because the surgery was incompatible with the college’s “beliefs and expectations for members of its community.” The college said it promised to provide Awtrey with hotel accommodations and funds for food during the student’s “recovery period.” The college said it also offered to provide “in-home health care,” which the student reportedly declined. 

Refusing to use Awtrey’s preferred pronouns, the college insisted reports that it “responded inappropriately or unlovingly to the student’s situation are inaccurate.” 

“Throughout Yanna’s time at Welch, we have treated her with love, respect, compassion, sensitivity, and privacy, though we always clearly communicated our community standards regarding gender identity,”  Welch College President Matt Pinson said. “We at Welch love Yanna and have shown her that love in a way that accords with our deeply held religious beliefs.”

Awtrey told the Tennessean that the school only offered to pay for his food and housing for one week. He said the recovery period for the surgery would last two months.

Homelessness is a critical problem for transgender Americans. One in five transgender Americans say they’ve experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. More broadly, LGBTQ youth make up as much as 40% of America’s homeless youth population ― often because of family members’ rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Awtrey is now estranged from his parents. Family friends have agreed to take him in temporarily while he recovers from surgery. Afterward, he said, he hopes to find a job.

Awtrey said that he decided to go public with his story so that those who share Welch College’s convictions realize that their theology has real and dangerous consequences for trans people.

“You say God is the personification of goodness, that he cannot do evil by his hand. Yet the costs seem so high,” he wrote on Facebook. “I’ve seen and heard my trans friends attempt to die by their own hands because their relatives prefer their death over existence.”

Although he’s been ostracized by Christians, Awtrey said, he’s learning that “Christianity and the Christian community are two very different things.”

“I do think of myself as a Christian,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the worst people I’ve ever met are the people who claim to be Christians … it’s something I’ve had to work through … to look toward God instead of toward people.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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Students and Educators Work Together to Create Inclusive Environments for LGBTQ Students

In 2008, the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” triggered a controversy in Loudon County, VA, that led to it being taken off the shelves in school libraries. “And Tango Makes Three,” which highlights the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo that raised a chick together, was charged with “promoting the gay agenda.”

In 2019, fourth grade teacher Susan Hayden now includes books that incorporate LGBTQ characters in her own classroom library.

What changed in Loudoun County?

In February, the board, in a tight 5-4 vote, approved a policy affirming equal opportunity, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, to a safe and inclusive educational environment. Two years ago, the board failed to pass a similar motion.

Hayden, whose ties to Loudoun County Public Schools are not only as an educator but as a mother of a transgender student, immediately understood the positive impact the new policy would have.

“It was such good news, I almost couldn’t believe it,” said Hayden, “We are making progress. It’s going to be better for kids next year, and the year after that.”

Teacher Susan Hayden marching in a July 4th parade.

More inclusive policies to create safer, more welcoming LGBTQ environments have taken hold in other school districts this year.

In May 2019, Hamilton Southeastern Schools in Indiana also voted to update their anti-discrimination policy to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Activists in Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado have passionately fought for an improvement in anti-discrimination practices protecting LGBTQ students and staff.  While a decision on implementing the policy has yet to be reached, activists are determined to fight until the change is made.

While certain districts have been successful in enacting these policies, progress has been incremental and by no means universal, said David Aponte, co-chair of GLSEN Northern Virginia.

“With a lack of support at the national level or at the state level, LGBTQ+ students and staff are consistently left to wonder if they can truly be themselves at school,” said Aponte. “Since states like Virginia do not protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination or encourage the development of inclusive curricula, it is up to the school systems to show their commitment to all of their students, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.”

Educators like Hayden understood that at this moment, school districts individually have a responsibility to advocate for LGBTQ protections in schools. Thus, she, along with so many other Loudoun County community members, were determined to rally behind the anti-discrimination policy.

“I’m a Normal Kid”: Transgender Students Thrive in Supportive Schools
Although MJ’s school has no official policy for transgender students, administrators and educators have adopted informal practices designed to respect their gender identity. With gender-inclusive policies in place, educators can help transgender students stay safe and engaged in school.

‘Conversation Has Opened Up’

Justin Heid, an elementary school teacher in Frederick County, Maryland, has seen improvements in the climate of his district since the passage of a comprehensive policy to protect the rights of transgender students in 2017.

“The biggest change that I’ve seen is that the conversation has opened up. Teachers are offered after school trainings and workshops to learn about LGBTQ+ issues,” Heid explained. “Teachers and staff members have Safe Space stickers, especially in elementary school classrooms. I have a gay pride flag on my lanyard that I wear every day, and a pin that says ‘Celebrate Diversity.’ I didn’t think when I first came to Frederick that I would ever be able to do that.”

On the national level, congressional efforts to implement LGBTQ student and staff protections are also underway.

In 2018, lawmakers reintroduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would “would explicitly prohibit public K-12 schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the Human Rights Campaign.

In May, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act,  While this act provides sweeping civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, it  also ensures the rights of transgender students to use preferred pronouns and to access bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

The Equality Act would also operate as a protective measure for LGBTQ students to defend themselves against bullying in schools.

It is up to the school systems to show their commitment to all of their students, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.” – David Aponte, GLSEN Northern Virginia.

In an April letter to the House of Representatives in support of the bill, Marc Egan, NEA’s director of government relations, stated, “Discrimination against LGBTQ+ citizens violates our core American values of equality and fairness. The Equality Act is an important step in our nation’s continuing march toward fairness for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

These bills have yet to become law, however, and, as the Center for American Progress recently reported, the U.S. Department of Education under Betsy DeVos has scaled back civil rights enforcement for LGBTQ students.

Justin Heid offers encouragement and advice to educators who want to help lead efforts to pass LGBTQ protection policies in their districts.

“Reach out to organizations that may not be a part of the school, like GLSEN, like NEA, like your local association. I truly believe that the biggest thing is having that team. And being ready to put the time in. Because these changes are not going to happen overnight,” explained Heid.

Missy Dirks, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA) said the union listened to the students, raised the visibility of the issue, organized members to engage with the local board of education, and educated  community members.

“Students were speaking about their need to feel safe. FCTA supported them by sharing publicly the local data from the CDC Youth Risk Behavior survey and a GLSEN national survey data, which clearly demonstrated the urgency behind creating safer schools,” Dirks explained.

She added: “By educating people on the real suicide and violence against LGBTQ+ students data it made the conversation stay focused on the safety of our children and not politically charged talking points.”

Susan Hayden in Loudon County acknowledges that changing minds can be difficult. She urges educators to find allies in individuals who are receptive but may need more time and information.

“I work really hard to not be overly critical of someone who is beginning the journey of understanding issues of marginalized students,” she said. “As long as you start, that’s the important thing.  In changing attitudes, it is about the policy change, but also the ongoing growth that we are all engaged in as a community,” said Hayden.

The LGBTQ Experience in Schools: 50 Years After Stonewall 
We asked six educators to share their stories of being out in the classroom and how they are continuing the lessons of Stonewall. Their answers are as diverse as the rainbow flag is colorful.

Read Across America’s Diverse Books Celebration
A February reading event at Ashlawn Elementary School in Arlington, Va. and was sponsored by NEA and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, to support and celebrate our nation’s transgender and non-binary students.

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New Jersey Mayor Says LGBTQ Movement Is ‘An Affront To Almighty God’

A New Jersey mayor called the LGBTQ movement “an affront to almighty God” this week while opposing a recently passed law that requires schools to teach students about LGBTQ history.

Alfonso Cirulli, the mayor of Barnegat, New Jersey, spoke out against the law in a Tuesday town committee meeting, according to the Asbury Park Press. Cirulli, a 60-year-old former assistant principal, urged other residents of the small beach town to pressure New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to reverse the law, which passed the state legislature in January.

“The government has no right to teach our kids morality,” Cirulli said at the meeting, adding later: “We’ve crossed over the line into absurdity.”

Cirulli, a Republican in his third term as mayor, also said it is “time for the righteous to stand up for their rights.”

The law in question requires that all public middle and high schools “include instruction, and adopt instructional materials, that accurately portray political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

New Jersey is the second state after California to enact legislation requiring students to learn about LGBTQ history. The law applies to the 2020-2021 school year.

Mayor Alfonso Cirulli of Barnegat, New Jersey. 

Cirulli’s comments were met with swift criticism from Barnegat residents and others on Twitter. The mayor responded to critics, telling The Washington Post he believes the law goes too far.

“They could go to the extremes with this, like bringing in a drag queen to kindergartners,” he said, adding that he worries it will lead some children to have “an identity crisis.”

Cirulli did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. 

Dr. Brian Latwis, superintendent of the Barnegat Township School District, wrote in a statement on the district’s website that the schools will comply with state guidelines.

“Barnegat Schools will do everything we can to navigate challenges and difficult situations with sensitivity to all members of this Barnegat family,” Latwis wrote.

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How To Help Your Children Cope With Hate Speech And Mass Shootings

Like it did for many Latino families, the El Paso mass shooting hit home. It seems families like mine are being targeted in the most hateful way. I’m a naturalized citizen from Venezuela, my husband is Mexican American from El Paso, and my two sons were born in the United States. Incidents like this and the extremist hate speech being echoed in the dark corners of the internet continue to change our reality and shape my children’s future. This reality may not be new, but it’s more fueled than ever and challenges parents to find ways to talk with their children about what they’re seeing, hearing and experiencing online and off.

Communities across the nation are feeling pain, sadness, grief, outrage and frustration that stem from feeling powerless over tragic events fueled by hate. Helping kids navigate media and tech and define their place in our families, in our communities and online is more essential than ever. Here are some tips that may be helpful when talking to your kids.

Share some hope and celebrate diversity

Be proud of who you are and pass it down to your kids. Show your kids that diversity ― that meeting and learning about people from all different backgrounds ― enriches your life and your community. Share the fact that the United States is increasingly diverse, with 40 million people born in another country and more than 50% of kids in public schools in the U.S. belonging to a minority group. Diversity should be celebrated and is what makes communities stronger. Media can be a great support for this.

Resist isolating

Lean in to your emotions. Reach out to your family, friends, and community, share your experience, and keep talking. If you belong to a faith-based community, find out if they’re offering extra support for families. If you or someone in your family is undocumented, look to community organizations or legal groups who are offering help.

Talk to your kids as much as they’re interested in talking

Use reliable news sources to have a meaningful discussion with your kids. Refer to current events in the news to spark discussion. Make sure that you include points of view of ethnic media outlets or reporters who belong to minority groups to have a more complete understanding. Here’s an article on how to explain the news to your kids and one on the impact of media violence on kids.

Focus on what connects us all

Whether you are first-generation or fifth-generation American, most of us have roots as immigrants. Books, movies, and your family history are great tools to educate your kid about immigrants in America and their role in building this country.

Try unplugging for a little while

Limit the time you and your family spend on social media platforms. Some days it might be better to disconnect and focus your energy and attention on meaningful discussions or relaxing times with your loved ones.

To combat hate, talk to your kids about peace and what that means for them. Have conversations about what it means for you to have a peaceful life. Explore ideas with your kids. Encourage them to respect others’ opinions, beliefs, and lifestyles. Here are some books you can read with kids about racism and social justice, the Holocaust, diversity, and the immigrant experience.

Encourage your teens to build community

Ask your teenagers to add their voices offline or on with other youth who are feeling the same. Knowing and feeling that they are not alone, and having a sense of belonging and community, can help them navigate these challenges.

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ESP Rights In the Spotlight on the World Stage

Education International gave voice to education support professionals across the globe at its 8th Annual World Congress held last month in Bangkok, Thailand.

Education International (EI) is a 400-member federation of global teachers’ trade unions representing 32 million education personnel, and its World Congress is a meeting of the decision-making body that determines the policy, programs, and budget for the organization.

This year the World Congress voted unanimously in support of the rights and status of Education Support Personnel (ESP) and to officially declare May 16th as World ESP Day to recognize their work and contribution to quality education.

Attending the congress was an NEA delegation that include ESP members Lois Yukna and Saul Ramos. Ramos, a paraeducator from Massachusetts and the 2017 ESP of the year, addressed the World Congress in favor of the resolution to support ESPs. NEA Today spoke to Ramos about his experience at EI.

What was your goal in addressing Education International’s World Congress?

Saul Ramos: I wanted to convey to the Congress that ESPs are a vital part of public education and how we all need to work together, not only in our schools but in our unions. I wanted them to know how proud I am to be a part of NEA and to set NEA as an example of equality for all educators — that ESP members are recognized as partners and colleagues and are celebrated and honored. Speaking to a World Congress with representation from over 170 countries is something that I never would have imagined doing, and to have them vote unanimously in favor of the resolution and understand the importance of was beyond emotional. I am forever grateful for the opportunity.

How did your address impact other ESPs from around the world?

Saul Ramos at the EI World Congress in Thailand in July.

SR: I met leaders from other countries interested in organizing their ESP colleagues. A leader from Italy told me they have organized their ESPs but was interested in the NEA model and asked for more information. A leader from Africa told me my speech had inspired him to begin organizing his ESPs and bring them into their union. Union leaders from around the world recognized that ESPs all have similar issues: low pay, a lack of respect, a lack of relevant professional development, and the threat of privatization. Fortunately, many countries are moving forward in recognizing their ESPs and fighting for their rights.

Did you have any “small world” moments?

SR: I spoke to a leader from the Dominican Republic who was excited I spoke Spanish so we could communicate in his home language. He asked me what state I was from and when I said Massachusetts, he lit up and said, “Really? My daughter lives in Massachusetts near Boston in a city named Worcester.” When I told him that is exactly where I live, his eyes opened wide and he said, “Oh, wow! It really is a small world after all.”

Aside from addressing the World Congress, what was another highlight of the meeting?

SR: I had the opportunity to meet EI President Susan Hopgood from Australia. When I gave my speech, she congratulated me for being the 2017 NEA ESP of the Year. Later, at the ESP Round Table, she thanked me for my speech and remarked on how much she enjoyed my conclusion: “You can’t spell ‘Respect’ without ‘ESP.’” She now has one of our NEA “rESPect” pins.

Watch Saul Ramos address the World Congress:

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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Accusing Harvard Law Review Of Bias Against White Men

A federal judge has tossed out a lawsuit accusing Harvard University’s legal journal of discriminating against white people and men when choosing student editors and articles, saying the suit fell “woefully short” of providing enough facts about who was harmed.

A Texas anti-affirmative action group Faculty, Alumni, and Students Opposed to Racial Preferences filed the lawsuit last October. A similar Texas-based group called Coalition for Meritocracy at Universities joined the lawsuit in January, adding new allegations regarding Harvard Law School’s faculty hiring policies, according to the Harvard Crimson, the school’s student newspaper.

The lawsuit challenged the Law Review’s “holistic review” policy used to choose 18 of the journal’s 48 editors. Such a review can take into account factors like race, gender, sexuality, physical disability and sexual orientation.

Both groups alleged that “at least one” of their own members is currently a student at Harvard Law and has experienced such discrimination, but declined to identify the students or provide other information about them.

Both the university and the legal journal filed separate motions to dismiss the case in December, alleging that the groups did not provide enough information on those students to make substantial claims. The judge allowed those motions on Thursday.

“In no meaningful way do these [allegations] ‘identify’ members such that their individual standing to pursue claims against any of the defendants might be assessed,” the judge’s motion stated in explaining the dismissal. “For example, without at least some descriptive information, it is impossible to evaluate whether it is plausible that the HLRA applications of the ‘current students’ referenced … were, or will be, impacted by the challenged component of the member-selection policy.”

The lawyer who represented the groups was Jonathan F. Mitchell, a conservative lawyer who served as a Supreme Court clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, worked at the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration, and served as a volunteer attorney on the Trump transition team after the 2016 presidential election, according to The New York Times. Trump nominated Mitchell as chairman of the Administrative Conference of the U.S., an agency that advises the government on how to improve administrative workings, though that nomination still awaits Senate confirmation.

Mitchell and Harvard did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. 

Harvard was also dealing with a separate but similar complaint last year. Anti-affirmative action group Students For Fair Admissions had filed a lawsuit alleging the Ivy League school discriminates against Asian American undergraduate applicants. The Justice Department said in August 2018 that the school failed to demonstrate that it does not discriminate on the basis of race in its admissions policy.

The Supreme Court permits institutions of higher education to consider race in admissions decisions but says the decision must be made in a specific way to promote diversity and should be implemented for a limited time.

Asians make up about 5.6% percent of the U.S. population and comprised 22.2% of Harvard’s admitted undergraduate class in 2017.

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Forget Screen Time. Here Are 25 Best Podcasts For Kids

As screen time concerns are on the rise, many parents are turning to podcasts as a fun (and often educational) way to engage kids without the screen. But as children’s audio content has flooded the airwaves, it can be a challenge to find the good stuff that’s also appropriate. Luckily we’ve discovered some excellent kid-friendly podcasts that you and your family will love listening to. (For more age-targeted picks, try these podcasts for little kids or these favorites with tweens and teens.) If you’re not super familiar with how to “do” podcasts, check out this guide which has everything you need to get started, including a list of podcast players.

Check out these 25 awesome picks for kids including perfect bedtime stories, science exploration, cool news and more.

For the whole family

Kids are always asking seemingly simple questions that have surprisingly complex answers, such as “Why is the sky blue?” and “Who invented words?” This cute biweekly radio show/podcast takes on answering them. Each episode features several kid-submitted questions, usually on a single theme. With the help of experts, it gives clear, interesting answers. Best for: All ages

This fun and fast-moving spin-off of the popular Brains On! podcast is a family-friendly debate podcast. A kid judge listens to and scores the rousing, fact-based arguments of two contestants. With episodes like “Dragons versus Unicorns” and “Pizza versus Tacos,” kids will be hooked, and they won’t even notice that they’re learning how to defend their ideas along the way. Best for: Big kids

This charming fantasy adventure will have listeners of all ages glued to the speakers until the very end. Two young princes seek to save their kingdoms and in the process face villainy, dragons, romance and a magical forest full of danger. Though kissing happens, it is treated with sweetness and humor. A fairy tale for our times, this audio drama is a great introduction to the world of fiction podcasts. Best for: Tweens

This popular NPR radio show is now also the most downloaded podcast in the country. It combines personal stories, journalism and even stand-up comedy for an enthralling hour of content. Host Ira Glass does a masterful job of drawing in listeners and weaving together several “acts” or segments on a big, relatable theme. Teens can get easily hooked along with their parents, but keep in mind that many episodes have mature concepts and frequent swearing. Best for: Teens

Great for learning

The catchy soundtrack is the star in this delightful podcast from children’s music duo Andrew & Polly (not surprising since the hosts have created songs for Wallykazam! and Sesame Studios). But this funny program also covers a range of topics by talking to actual kids as well as experts, providing thoughtful fun for young ones and their grown-ups. Best for: Preschoolers and little kids

Kids like to be informed and engaged, but talking to kids about the news can be a challenge. This podcast, created by moms who are broadcast journalists, offers young listeners five minutes of kid-friendly news (followed by a quick quiz) each day, five days a week. Perfectly timed for waking up, KiDNuz lets you start the day off on a worldy note. Best for: All ages

Reminiscent of the TV show Drunk History (minus the alcohol), this amusing podcast features people telling interesting, little-known stories from history with an emphasis on fun and humor. Although it’s not specifically a music podcast, each episode contains an often-silly song that’s sure to get stuck in your head. There’s even a quiz segment, so kids will learn something, too. Best for: All ages

This excellent biweekly podcast features middle schoolers talking about a popular middle-grade or YA book as well as sharing their favorite book recommendations. Public radio figure Kitty Felde runs the discussion, and each episode includes a passage of that week’s book read by a celebrity guest. Best for: Tweens and teens

Best bedtime podcasts

These 10- to 15-minute stories are a perfect way to lull your little one to sleep. The podcast is updated every other week, and each episode contains a kid-friendly story, read by a soothing narrator. Short and sweet, it’s as comforting as listening to your favorite picture book read aloud. Best for: Preschoolers and little kids

Thanks to the hosts’ soothing voices and a pre-story meditation, your kid might fall asleep to this podcast before the story even gets underway. But if not, the gentle adventures on Ahway Island will also sweep them off to dreamland. This podcast teaches kid-friendly mindfulness practices like “deep dragon breaths” that can be carried into waking life as well. Best for: All ages

With wacky episode titles such as “What if Legos were alive?” and “What if sharks had legs?,” this series takes ridiculous “what if” questions submitted by young listeners and turns them into a new story every two weeks. Host Eric O’Keefe uses silly voices and crazy characters to capture the imaginations of young listeners with a Mad Libs-like randomness. Best for: Kids

One of the first kids’ podcasts to grasp podcasts’ storytelling capabilities, this podcast is still going strong with kid-friendly renditions of classic stories, fairy tales, and original works. These longer stories with a vivid vocabulary are great for bigger kids past the age for picture books but who still love a good bedtime story. Best for: Big kids

Best podcasts for road trips

This serialized podcast tells the story of an 8-year-old boy living on an interplanetary space station who explores the galaxy and solves mysteries with his friends. With no violence or edgy content and with two seasons totaling over 13 hours of content, this sci-fi adventure is perfect for long car rides. Best for: Kids and tweens

In the tradition of The NeverEnding Story, this original fable centers on a magical book that takes its readers to a world where they find the strength to overcome any obstacle. The writing itself is beautiful, and the stories are immersive. Themes can be serious (bullying, homelessness) but are handled with sensitivity and remain appropriate for kids. These powerful, modern stories are sure to entertain and provoke meaningful family conversations. Best for: Big kids and tweens

Inspired by old-timey radio shows complete with over-the-top sound effects ― this exciting serial podcast follows a plucky journalist who goes on adventures looking for her big scoop. Tweens will love Eleanor’s wit and daring and might even pick up some great messages along the way. There’s even a “Road Trip Edition” episode with the entire first season in a single audio file. Best for: Tweens

This Peabody Award-winning scripted mystery series has been called a Stranger Things for tweens. With a voice cast of actual middle schoolers, a gripping, suspenseful plot, and interactive tie-ins, this story about an 11-year-old searching for his missing friends will keep tweens hooked to the speakers for hours more than five, to be exact. Best for: Tweens

Structured like a community radio show for the fictional desert town of Night Vale, the mysterious is ordinary and vice versa in this delightfully eerie series. Both the clever concept and the smooth voice of narrator Cecil Baldwin have helped the show develop a cult-like following. It’s a bit creepy and dark for kids, but older listeners will find it perfect for a nighttime drive along a deserted highway. Best for: Teens

Best podcasts for science lovers

NPR’s first show for kids is exactly the sort of engaging, well-produced content you would expect from the leaders in radio and audio series. Hosts Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas exude joy and curiosity while discussing the latest news in science and technology in a way that’s enjoyable for kids and informative for grown-ups. Best for: All ages

Similar to But Why, this is another radio show/podcast that takes kid-submitted science questions and answers them with the help of experts. What makes this one different is it tends to skew a bit older, both in its questions and answers, and it has a different kid co-host each week. The result is a fun show that’s as silly as it is educational. Best for: Kids and tweens

Often compared to a kid-friendly Radiolab, this podcast not only addresses fascinating topics but also tries to foster a love of science itself by interviewing scientists about their process and discoveries. The hosts don’t assume that listeners have a science background but even kids who think they don’t like science may change their minds after listening to this podcast. Best for: Kids and tweens

From the people behind the award-winning website HowStuffWorks, this frequently updated podcast explains the ins and outs of everyday things from the major (“How Free Speech Works”) to the mundane (“How Itching Works”). Longer episodes and occasional adult topics such as alcohol, war, and politics make this a better choice for older listeners, but hosts Josh and Chuck keep things engaging and manage to make even complex topics relatable. And with over 1,000 episodes in its archive, you might never run out of new things to learn. Best for: Teens

Best podcasts for music fans

A delightful offering from a music education specialist and his co-host daughter will get kids of all ages singing, rhyming, moving and engaging in all kinds of musical games. The segments, games, and songs are so silly and upbeat that the whole family will enjoy participating. Little listeners can even add their voice to the theme song in the podcast’s electronically compiled kid’s choir! Best for: All ages

Kids’ music can be … well, annoying. But “kindie rock” (aka, indie rock for kids) is here to help. This two-hour podcast styled like a DJ radio show features new and old songs that kids will love, many by parents’ favorite musicians. Selections are generally high-energy rock, folk, or even punk-inspired songs, but listeners will also hear mellower tunes, as well as bilingual (English/Spanish) songs and hip-hop hits for a well-rounded musical experience. Best for: All ages

Families can enjoy rock and roll without the downsides with this fun radio show/podcast. Each week there’s a new playlist combining kids’ music from artists such as They Might Be Giants, with kid-appropriate songs from artists that grown-ups will recognize, such as Elvis Costello, The Ramones and John Legend. It’s a perfect compromise for parents tired of cheesy kids’ music. Best for: Kids

This weekly podcast from NPR covers the latest and greatest in new music with a particular focus on emerging artists and indie musicians. It covers a wide range of genres and even includes artist interviews and live performances. Some songs contain adult themes and explicit language, but teens will love discovering a new favorite that you’ve probably never heard of. Best for: Teens

Common Sense Media editorial intern Mandie Caroll contributed to this article.

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Chrissy Teigen Visits Public Library For 1st Time In 23 Years And Is Blown Away

The public library just won over a prominent new advocate.

“Bring the Funny” judge and social media master Chrissy Teigen wrote on Twitter Wednesday that she visited the library for the first time in 23 years and totally dug it.

She participated in story time with her 3-year-old daughter Luna and perused shelves full of cookbooks.

“I could not believe my eyes,” she wrote.

“seriously. go to the library,” she wrote in another tweet. “It’s a delight.”

Even better, no reservations required.

There are nearly 17,000 “individual public library outlets” in the United States, according to a survey by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. And we suspect the branch where Teigen and Luna dropped by got a nice little boost.

We just have one question: When is she going to bring 1-year-old Miles along, too?

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The Eight Ps of Parent Engagement

Getting parents more engaged in school is a necessary variable in the equation of student success. In fact, parent engagement can have a direct impact on student engagement itself. Multiple studies prove that students whose parents are actively engaged in their schooling typically show the following:

-Higher grades
-Higher test scores
-Greater social skills
-Better reported behavior
-Easier adaptation to school
-More likely to continue into post-graduate education

It’s only logical that involved parents positively impact student achievement. According to an NEA 2008 report, when schools, parents, and families work in partnership to support students, then those students succeed at a higher level. It’s also important to note that when a school engages more parents, all children benefit, according to a 1995 study called A Generation of Evidence: The Family is Critical to Student Achievement.

That’s great, Heather. You might be saying to yourself. But how? How do we engage parents in our schools when they themselves are busy and stressed and many are just struggling to get their students to school on time?

So I’ve developed what I’m calling The Eight Ps of Parent Engagement. These are meant to help guide a teacher or school or district in making outreach decisions to increase parent engagement.

Of course, it’s easy to know how to increase parent engagement, but it’s not as easy to actualize the steps to make it happen. Don’t worry, however, you don’t have to do it alone. Partner with parents to create a think tank devoted to outreach and dedicated to increasing the numbers of engaged parents. And don’t limit those you partner with to those who are already engaged. Call directly to invite others. Create a shared vision where school is seen as a positive place for all stakeholders, and get ready to launch a campaign to engage more parents than ever.

Your students will thank you for it and they, too, will be more engaged.

parent engagementHeather Wolpert-Gawron is a teacher at Jefferson Middle School in San Gabriel, Calif., and the author of Just Ask Us: Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement.

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Inside The NAACP’s Civil War Over Charter Schools

When three local NAACP branches in California passed April resolutions opposing the national group’s call for a charter school moratorium, school choice advocates greeted the news with glee. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos voiced her support in an interview. The Wall Street Journal published a flattering editorial about the move, describing it as a welcome “revolt.”

But leaders at the California state NAACP say this so-called “revolt” is fake news. They say the main member who pushed these actions ― a woman named Christina Laster ― is being paid by a right-wing group connected to the Koch brothers to infiltrate the organization and sow chaos. They also note that, despite the media attention, these resolutions were dead on arrival at the national organization for failure to follow proper submission protocol or rejection by higher committees.

In July, California leadership asked the national NAACP to initiate an investigation into the three branches ― Southwest Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino ― and their leaders’ motivations.

“It’s definitely a funded and deliberate effort to try and do a hostile takeover,” said Rick Callender, the second vice president for the California Hawaii NAACP.

Laster, on the other hand, denies the accusations and says she has been bullied by organizational leaders for simply expressing her opinion and representing the voice of local members.

They felt I was creating division to make it seem like we were breaking away as an organization. But it wasn’t that at all,” Laster, education chair of the Southwest Riverside branch, told HuffPost. “It was my desire to bring to the forefront what works and what doesn’t work.”

The NAACP ― the nation’s oldest civil rights organization ― passed a national resolution in October 2016 calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools. The resolution came out of the San Jose branch and made its way through multiple committees to get passed by national. The resolution was controversial at the time, but in some ways was a harbinger of a new liberal resistance to charters, a type of public school that is privately operated.

Since that time, charter schools ― once a bipartisan cause ― have faced more resistance. In California, legislators have introduced a series of bills designed to roll back the growth of charters, including a now-failed bill that called for a statewide moratorium. At the national level, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has cited the NAACP’s call for a moratorium when unveiling his own anti-charter education plan.

From the start, the NAACP’s stance was polarizing. About 26% of charter school students are black, and polls show that these schools are moderately popular among black Democrats.

Then, in April, internal dissent was formalized when the three California branches passed local resolutions opposing the national stance.

Christina Laster is photographed at the NAACP’s 2019 national convention in Detroit.

Laster became the face of this dissent, telling the LA School Report, “By us coming out with the resolution, people can be aware that the moratorium is not helping our kids.” Laster stayed in the press even though the resolution from her branch languished, writing op-eds about her support for charter schools and getting quoted about NAACP issues.

From the start, Laster’s place of employment made her a source of suspicion.

Laster works for the California Policy Center, a conservative think tank that’s an affiliate of the State Policy Network. According to a 2012 report from the Center for Media and Democracy, the State Policy Network is a main driver of legislation created by the pro-business American Legislative Exchange Counsel and has deep ties to Charles and David Koch, the energy billionaires who spend vast sums of money to promote conservative causes and candidates. The California Policy Center is dedicated to pushing education reform causes, with a focus on beating back the state’s teachers union. The group has been behind a number of lawsuits designed to hurt unions’ bottom lines.

Laster serves as president of the Inland Empire and San Diego Parent Union, a project of the organization.

Callender believes that Laster was sent to join the NAACP by her employer to try and do a “public relations hack job.”

But Laster said her employer didn’t even know she was involved with the NAACP until she brought it up, months into the job.

Will Swaim, president of the California Policy Center, also insisted she was a member of the NAACP before she “found us,” and dismissed the group’s allegation as a “conspiracy theory.”

However, a January blog post on the center’s website characterized Laster’s school choice advocacy as the CPC “teaming up” with the NAACP.

The employment histories of members in other branches, too, have raised eyebrows. Kamaal Martin, an officer in the San Diego branch, works for the California Charter Schools Association as a regional director, according to the organization’s website.

These are people on the payroll of charter school associations and payroll of organizations that are trying to attack the greatest civil rights organization in the U.S.
Rick Callender, California Hawaii NAACP

To NAACP leaders, this makes Martin’s motives dubious. He did not respond to requests for comment.

“These are people on the payroll of charter school associations and payroll of organizations that are trying to attack the greatest civil rights organization in the U.S.,” said Callender.

But Laster has long been supportive of school choice. She home-schooled her now-adult children. Until recently, her youngest son and grandson attended district schools, but they faced racist discipline, she said. She recently moved her grandson into a charter school, hopeful that it might serve him better.

She has watched district schools fail black students for decades, she says, arguing: How could anyone blame her for wanting better?

She speculates that the NAACP is merely doing the bidding of the state teachers union, the California Teachers Association, and insinuates that NAACP leadership are the ones getting paid off. Joette Spencer Campbell, who was involved in the San Bernardino branch resolution, echoed the sentiment, telling HuffPost via email, “That corrupt culture is why [California] state NAACP leadership is so quick to falsely accuse their own branches of being paid-off.”

Callender said he finds the accusations absurd, noting that the NAACP “has connections to everybody,” not just the union.

The California Teachers Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Still, disagreements between Laster and state leaders have continually gotten ugly and spilled out into public.

In a blog entry Laster wrote for the Education Post in July, she made multiple accusations against NAACP leaders. She said they had sent her threatening letters and suspended her from her post as education chair, only to reinstate her when she pushed back. Most damningly, she claimed members were assigned to monitor her at a recent lobby day in Sacramento, and these members even followed her into the bathroom.

Callender says none of this is true and that her claims, especially that she was followed into the bathroom, sound “like a level of paranoia that is unreasonable and very strange.”

“The bottom line is she is being paid to try and manipulate the NAACP, and we’re volunteers trying to do the right thing for the community,” he said.

Now Laster is unsure of her future with the civil rights group. She attended the group’s recent national convention, but says she found it hostile and uncomfortable. Behind the scenes, though, she says she has received silent support from members all over the country.

Members of “the older generation have come to me and said, ‘Christina, you’re doing the right thing, we’re proud of you,’” said Laster. “They tell me, ‘Keep going. We didn’t know what had happened to our organization.’”

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Parents Continue to Stand Beside Educators In Fight for Funding

Almost eighteen months after educators ignited the #RedforEd movement to call for greater investment in our public schools, parents – and the general public – are unwavering in their support.

According to the 2019 Phi Delta Kappan (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 74 percent  of parents and 71 percent of all adults say they would support a strike by teachers in their community for higher pay. Furthermore, 84 percent of parents would support a strike for more school funding, and similar numbers would support a strike for greater teacher voice in a school’s academic policies.

For the eighteenth consecutive year, adults surveyed in the PDK poll named inadequate funding as the most pressing problem facing U.S. public schools.

The PDK poll has been tracking public opinion on schools since 1969. For the first time in 18 years, the poll this year includes responses from educators.

While the #RedforEd movement has scored multiple victories in communities across the country – not only securing more education funding but also changing the national conversation around the future of public education – the movement is only getting started. Politicians now recognize that teachers and education support professionals are a force to be reckoned with, one that’s getting ready to make an impact in 2020.

“Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of NEA members and parents have stood together for the public schools our students deserve,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “And yet, while the #RedForEd movement has helped more students and educators get the support they need, today’s PDK poll should remind everyone that there is still so much more work to be done to correct the years of inadequate funding of our public schools.”

Still, as the poll results make clear, the majority of teachers remain frustrated and angry.

Sixty percent of teachers say they are unfairly paid, and 75 percent say schools in their communities are underfunded. Sixty-one percent of parents and 60 percentof all adults agree.

But as any educator will tell you, the importance of being paid close to what other college-educated professionals make is only part of the story. It’s also about respect and support. According to the PDK poll, only 52 percent of teachers say their community values them.

Feeling valued, unsurprisingly, is often connected to better pay. Among teachers who say their salary is fair, 68 percent say the community values them. If they do not believe their salary is fair, that number falls to 42 percent.

The PDK poll found that inadequate pay, stress/burnout, and lack of respect are the top three reasons why teachers have considered leaving the profession over the past few year. Fifty-four percent of teachers say their schools are underfunded have thought about making this change, compared to the 39% who say their schools are adequately funded.

A recent city-by-city analysis by USA Today found that new teachers can’t afford the median rent almost anywhere in the nation. Second, even third, jobs are commonplace. Add to undue stress and lack of support to the mix and many educators find they cannot continue in a job they otherwise love.

“Low educator pay comes at a very high cost,” Eskelsen García said. “To recruit and retain talented teachers for the long haul we have to pay them what they’re worth. In the end, it’s students who pay the price for low teacher salaries.”

PDK survey respondent Deanna, a mother of two from Colorado, agrees.

“They are the people who are with our kids day in and day out. They are rearing our children along with us. You wouldn’t want just anybody to be part of your village. Our school district rarely retains good teachers. Who would stay when they’re not being paid a livable wage?”

The 2019 PDK survey also took parents and the public’s temperature on a number of controversial, although important, issues affecting public schools.  Here are some of the findings:

  • 77 percent of parents and 75% of all adults believe that the best way to assess a school’s performance is to look at student progress over time, instead of a test score at any given time.
  • 97 percent of all adults believe schools should be teaching civics. Sixty percent of parents and 70 percent of all adults also say it should be required.
  • 58 percent of all adults say schools should offer Bible studies as an elective, and 6 percent say it should be required, totaling 64 percent who favor Bible classes in some form. Sixty-eight percent of parents and 58 percent of teachers agree.
  • Among parents, 69 percent believe mediation is an effective approach to managing school discipline, compared to 72 percent of teachers. Overall, two- thirds or more of parents, teachers, and all adults see mediation or counseling as more effective than detention or suspension.
  • A slim majority (54 percent) of parents and the public believe academics should be a school’s focus. Forty-five percent of teachers believe it should be preparing students to be good citizens, while 37 percent say academics. Only about 2 in 10 of parents, teachers and all adults say workforce preparation should the top goal.

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6-Year-Old Says No To Bullying With Sweet Back-To-School Shirt

A 6-year-old boy named Blake is highlighting the power of kindness and friendship just in time for back-to-school season.

Last week, Blake’s mother, Nikki Rajahn, posted a photo of her son wearing a shirt that says “I will be your friend” on Facebook. She also shared the sweet backstory.

“I told him that as a back to school gift, I will make him any shirt he would like. It could have anything- a basketball theme, football, etc. which are all his favorites,” she wrote. After thinking about it, Blake asked her, “will you please make me a shirt that says ‘I will be your friend’ for all the kids who need a friend to know that I am here for them?”

The Georgia mom ended her caption with the hashtag #stopbullying and concluded, “Never underestimate your kid’s heart for others! I love my sweet Blake!” The post has received more than 10,000 likes, and the comments section is filled with positive reactions and requests for the mom to make more of these shirts.

“We are overwhelmed with the response and did not expect this at all,” the mom of four told HuffPost.

Rajahn has a business called Unfading Adornments that accepts custom orders for personalized shirts, hats, tote bags, party decorations and more. According to Rajahn, Blake specifically wanted his shirt to be brightly colored and easy for people to read.

Following the her son’s viral moment, Rajahn decided to create a website to sell more “I will be your friend” shirts, with a portion of each sale going to the Real Life Center, a local nonprofit that aims to help families and individuals cope with hardship.

“Once a few orders came in, I let Blake know, and he said ‘Good! Now more and more people will have more and more friends!’” she said. “He is a great kid with a big heart for others.”

Rajahn said her son naturally loves serving others, but says his Christian faith has inspired him to do more. During his summer break, he participated in a toothbrush and toothpaste drive for the Real Life Center.

“As soon as he found out about the drive, he told us we had to go to the store to hurry up and buy some toothbrushes and toothpaste,” Rajahn said. “We said we would take him to the store, but he needed to use his own money. He said that was fine, so we asked how much he wanted to spend. He said, ‘This is for people who don’t have any, right?’ and we said yes. He very matter-of-fact answered, ‘Well all of it!’”

Ultimately, Blake’s mom is grateful to see her son serve as a positive example to kids and adults.

Said Rajahn, “My hope for the post is for everyone to know that no matter their age, you can always have compassion and love for others.”

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I’m Drowning In $120K Of Student Debt And I’m Suing Betsy DeVos To Make Her Fix That

I am drowning in more than $120,000 of student debt after being defrauded by a for-profit college, and I refuse to wait for relief from the Trump administration.

That’s why I am going on the offense and suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. More than 158,000 other former students are doing the same. Many have been waiting more than two years for the department to cancel their debts under a law called Defense to Repayment (DTR), which requires debt discharges for scammed students. 

Recently, nearly 900 of us submitted testimony in the case. While it is now widely known that student debt has reached crisis levels, statements from former students reveal the specific impact that student debt, particularly debt from predatory schools, has on people’s lives.

A survey of the defrauded students found that 96% feel their lives are worse off now than before they went to school. Nearly half have put off getting married and having children because of debt. Student debt is a national crisis, with more than 44 million people together owing $1.5 trillion, but these testimonies provide even more evidence of the suffering that former for-profit college students experience. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seemed to blame students for being defrauded, the author writes. “There are bad actors,” she testified, “on both sides of the equation.”

In 2007, I enrolled in the Illinois Institute of Art in Schaumburg, Illinois, to earn my bachelor’s in fine arts. Now I’m not sure I will ever be able to repay my more than six-figure debt. My credit is ruined. Before I filed my application for DTR and my loans were placed into forbearance, debt collectors would call me as many as 10 times a day at all hours. They even called my recently deceased grandmother as well as other members of my family, none of whom are listed on my loan documents.

The worst part is the effect that this debt has had on my family. My children have never known a life free from debt and all the anxiety that it causes. My 59-year-old mother holds some of my loans via the Parent Plus loan program. That means that until these loans are canceled, she cannot retire. This debt has already affected three generations of my family. 

To add insult to injury, I received a worthless degree from the school I attended. The quality of the education was dismal. Students had to learn from free online tutorials and YouTube videos. Instructors would frequently be late or absent, and many classes covered the same content under a different name. During my enrollment, the school engaged in fraud, which was later revealed in an $11 billion whistleblower lawsuit. Recruiters showed prospective students falsified career placement statistics and offered inflated salary numbers. They also lied about the equipment and facilities that would be available to students. 

This debt has already affected three generations of my family.

While I struggle every day with this debt, I am also convinced that debtors can win relief if we band together. DTR is the provision in the Higher Education Act that established rules for college financial aid programs. It was made public a few years ago by borrowers who had attended Corinthian, a chain of for-profit colleges that had been under investigation for scamming students since 2007. 

The Obama administration eventually agreed that predatory loans should be canceled under the law. In fact, 28,000 people saw their loans disappear in the first mass student debt cancellation in US history. But Obama’s Department of Education did not finish the job. 

Soon after her appointment by President Donald Trump, DeVos stopped processing borrower defense claims. Not a single loan has been canceled for more than a year. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked DeVos about the delay in a congressional hearing, and she seemed to blame students for being defrauded! “There are bad actors,” she testified, “on both sides of the equation.”

That is why I and my fellow borrowers will force America’s billionaire education secretary to finally follow the law. In the final accounting, we are fighting for more than just debt relief. We are organizing for the right to a true education that doesn’t put us in debt. To win that battle, we know that we must stand together and refuse to be silent. 

This article was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Based in Chicago, Ami is an organizer with the Debt Collective. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Art Institute. 

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My Husband And I Thought Education Was Our Way Out Of Poverty. Now We’re $718K In Debt.

Otis and I were students in the same second-grade class in Cleveland back in the 1990s. I distinctly remember his braces and big ears. He was quite mischievous, and I may have fallen in love watching him run on the playground; the sun beaming from his metal grin. The little girl back then, with curly pigtails and unlaced K-Swiss shoes had no idea that she was staring at her future. 

When my family moved to another city in Ohio, I assumed that I would never see Otis again. That was until the birth of social media, which changed everything. Ten years later, his Facebook friend request sparked our destiny. 

It was the summer of 2008. The best summer of my life. We were both 18 and heading off to separate colleges. Starting a new relationship was very ambitious of us. Our friends thought we were crazy, but it just felt right. Otis wasn’t like most guys. Since the age of 16, he knew that he was going to be a dentist. I knew that Otis was the stable man that I needed to build a successful life with.

I think our troubled pasts were driving forces in our relationship. I grew up in inner-city Cleveland. My parents were teenagers when I was born, and I don’t remember them ever being together. I lived with my mom most of the time and she did the best that she could, raising six children alone. Although my family was on welfare and frequently moved around, my parents would constantly remind me of the importance of education and financial independence.

Neither of my parents had a college education. After high school, my mother became a hairstylist, and my dad was a mail carrier. My grandparents were also trade workers. Money was always an issue for my family, and I recall being aware of our economic status as a child. The option of my parents paying for college did not exist. There were no college accounts or trust funds. We struggled to live, and college was my answer to break the cycle. 

Although my family was on welfare and frequently moved around, my parents would constantly remind me of the importance of education and financial independence.

Otis, on the other hand, grew up in a stable home. His parents were married, lived in the suburbs and made a profitable living as successful real estate brokers. When Otis turned 12, his family’s stability came spiraling down. It started with the tragic death of his older brother and the incarceration of his father. His mother tried to support the family on her own during the recession. Every bit of their savings was used, but overall they were unable to recover. Otis and I were young, hopeful and eager to learn from our parents’ mistakes. Together, the sky was the limit. 

I applied to Miami University of Ohio after reading a mail brochure. The school launched a scholarship program for underprivileged students. I was accepted and later committed to the university without any idea where it was or what the campus looked like. Attending Miami was the best decision. Not only was the majority of my tuition covered with scholarships, but the campus was beautiful. I graduated in 2012 with $23,025.88 in student loans. With my English degree in hand, I was ready to face the world and chase down a dream job in magazine publishing, but I was stuck. I had zero leads on where to start job-hunting and lacked the confidence to try. I was frozen, Otis had to stay in Pennsylvania for another year to finish his degree in biology at Lincoln University. So, I made the decision to go back home to Cleveland and work until Otis graduated. From there we would make plans to get married and move to wherever he was accepted for dental school. 

Life did not go as planned. Otis and I could not secure high-paying jobs. Otis accumulated $80,000 in undergraduate debt, grappled studying for the Dental Admission Test and couldn’t get the test score needed for acceptance. I doubted my ability as a writer and began to explore a career in the mental health field.

If Otis and I agreed on anything, it was definitely the importance of family. We were married in 2014 and due to some birth control errors had a surprise baby in 2015. Although we were not planning to have children yet, starting a family was a big deal. The two things that we wanted in life were children and financial happiness. I stopped working to stay home and raise our son with plans to expand our family. After leaving work, I was confronted with intense identity issues: Who was I without a career?

The two things we wanted in life were children and financial happiness.

I’d scroll down my social media timeline and compare myself to others. They appeared to be traveling, shopping and building perfect homes. On the other side of the screen, I was pregnant, full of dreams and broke. I later enrolled in school for my master’s degree to fill an emotional void. A decision that cost me $64,595.44. After three years of rejections, Otis gave up on being a dentist, and he earned an MBA in health administration for a whopping $101,000. Whew, I’m out of breath typing about it! Our problem was that we were trying to fit into a life that I don’t believe was designed for us. 

Otis and I come from a city where healthy and educated Black families were few and far between. Without any resources, Otis and I were drawing the road map to success while voyaging to our destination. Externally, we did everything right. We graduated from college, were married, purchased a house and had children. Our career paths just didn’t follow along, and worse yet, we were drowning in $268,621.32 in student loans. Looking back, I understand that we couldn’t have it all when we wanted it. 

The American dream requires sacrifice. Love and family simply wasn’t something we were willing to give up. I didn’t have married parents. I lived between two homes with half-siblings. I was determined to create the family I never had. I think we live in a culture that measures a person’s worth in numbers. It’s about credit scores, salaries and bank accounts. From what I see, love is desired by many but is deemed negotiable. If I were to live by numerical standards, my life would be over. But it is the love that we have for God, each other and our children that have kept Otis and me hopeful.

The itch of an old dream reemerged and Otis applied to dental school a final time. On Feb. 27, 2019 he was accepted. The American dream is not cheap, and when he graduates it will cost my family a total of $718,000 in student loan debt. So you can imagine my excitement when presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced his plan to cancel all $1.6 trillion of student debts if elected. 

I think we live in a culture that measures a person’s worth in numbers. It’s about credit scores, salaries and back accounts. From what I see love is desired by many but is deemed negotiable.

My husband and I were first-generation college students in our respective families. Choosing to attend a four-year university was not a lighthearted decision for either of us. Our education was the way out of poverty. Now, my husband is a first-year dental student. Despite his earning ability, we are still burdened with massive debt. His salary as a medical professional cannot save us. It seems as in our attempt to flee destitution; we are peddling back towards it.

America has the highest average tuition cost in the world. The U.S. is also the land of opportunity but crawling out of the sand hole of poverty requires tremendous loss. Nothing is free here. Otis and I grew up fiscally challenged but as American citizens, we had the chance to work hard and achieve success. Every postgraduate decision was a leap of faith. My husband’s road to dental school was competitive and expensive. Our upward ladder to success was a slick one. 

Today, we are eager to provide a fruitful life for our two children. We desire to give back to our community, support businesses and help our parents. The expectation was to work and support our families in a country that would support us in return. But the high tuition costs and ballooning interest rates limit us. I feel that Americans are sold a dream and then punished for pursuing it. 

I hope that our nation will learn to empathize with others and value its citizens more than monetary gain. The future should look bright for us, but life currently resembles rush-hour traffic while driving through a dark tunnel. My husband and I have experienced many struggles and, with perseverance, have overcome those barriers. Whether or not our student loans are erased, we’ve found our peace and will pay it off slowly. Although our debt cannot be avoided, it does not rule our lives, it will not stop us from being happy. 

Have a compelling first-person story you want to share? Send your story description to pitch@huffpost.com.

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Here’s How To Make Amazon Echo A Great Learning Tool For Your Kids

It doesn’t take long for kids to become BFFs with Alexa. But unless you set some limits, your kids can order products, listen to explicit music and use the device when they should be sleeping or doing homework.

You can solve these problems, plus get some fun extras, by enabling FreeTime in your Alexa app. FreeTime is Amazon’s suite of free parental controls, available on most other Amazon devices such as Kindle and Fire TV. (You can get even more content, such as alarms read by characters like Moana and SpongeBob, by subscribing to FreeTime Unlimited.)

To set up FreeTime on your Echo, you have to enable it through your Alexa app. Once you’ve added it, you can manage the settings either through the app or by logging into your Amazon account and going to your Parent Dashboard. When you’re ready to add skills, check out some of our faves.

Remember, the Echo and other smart home devices have privacy issues. While FreeTime makes your Echo kid-friendlier, it also allows Amazon to collect your kid’s data, including their name, birth date, contact information and voice recordings. It’s a trade-off that only you can decide is right for your family. (Learn more about kid’s privacy.)

The steps below apply to the free, built-in parental controls available for all Echo devices. How to enable FreeTime on Alexa:

  • Launch your Alexa app.

  • Tap the menu (the three parallel lines in the top-left corner).

  • Tap Settings, then Device Settings.

  • Tap the name of the device for which you want to enable FreeTime.

  • Scroll down and tap FreeTime.

  • Toggle on FreeTime.

  • Tap Setup Amazon FreeTime (if you’ve set up FreeTime on other devices, your child’s name will appear here; tap Continue).

  • Tap Add child.

  • Follow the prompts to add your kid’s name, gender, and birth date, and choose an image and tap Add Child.

  • Tap your child’s name under Who will use FreeTime? Tap Continue.

  • Go through the verification process and read and accept the privacy policy.

  • This process turns off voice purchasing, enables the explicit filter for music, links your available music services, and enables drop-in, calling, and messaging (which you can turn off in your kid’s profile).

Now you can go into your Parent Dashboard to fine-tune your kid’s profile settings:

  • From the Home screen, tap the menu (the three parallel lines in the top-left corner), tap Settings, and scroll down to FreeTime.

  • Tap your kid’s name under Parent Dashboard Settings.

  • Here you can add content such as audio books, Alexa Skills and apps, set daily time limits, and pause devices.

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Outrage At Ole Miss Over White Students Posing With Bullet-Riddled Emmett Till Sign

One week after a photo emerged of white University of Mississippi students posing with guns in front of a bullet-riddled sign honoring murdered civil rights icon Emmett Till, campus groups and faculty have denounced the school’s weak response, demanding the administration discipline the students and remove a Confederate statue from university property.

The three students in the photo were suspended by their fraternity, the Ole Miss chapter of Kappa Alpha, an organization with its own racist history. (The fraternity’s website refers to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as its “spiritual founder.”)

But Anne Twitty, an associate professor of history at Ole Miss, said the three students should be expelled.

It’s not a question, Twitty told HuffPost, of “what we owe the students who engaged in this behavior.” Rather, she argued, “it’s how we make sure current students, especially black students, feel safe and welcome at our institution, and how we make it plain to racist students that they are not welcome and that this behavior will not be tolerated.”

Twitty added that she doesn’t think the school has a First Amendment obligation to tolerate the students’ racist actions. 

“I think these things are often framed [as] freedom of expression or freedom of speech, but the reality is, these students’ conduct infringes on broader 14th Amendment rights minority students have,” she said. “Their conduct makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to provide minority students the educational opportunities they are entitled to.” 

The photo was uncovered by ProPublica and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting. Originally posted on Instagram, it shows three Ole Miss students — Ben LeClere, John Lowe and Howell Logan — posing in front of a shot-up plaque marking the spot in Mississippi where Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. Till, a 14-year-old black boy, was tortured and killed in 1955. An all-white jury acquitted the two white men who would later admit to murdering Till. His death was a catalyst for the modern civil rights movement. 

The photo of the three Ole Miss students was posted at a time when hate crimes are on the rise for the fifth consecutive year. White supremacist homicides are also increasing, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Ole Miss’ Black Student Union and the Associated Student Body, in a joint statement provided to HuffPost, said that although the three students’ actions may not have technically violated the school’s code of conduct, they certainly violated the university’s creed, which includes a pledge to “believe in respect for the dignity of each person.” 

The photo “disrespects the dignity of a significant population of our campus community,” the student groups said. (Fourteen percent of the student population at Ole Miss is black, a drop of 4 percentage points from 2010.)  

The photo came to the attention of the administration in March when a student filed a bias report to the university’s Office of Student Conduct. The school referred the report to university police, who referred it to the FBI. 

The university chose to defer its investigation until the FBI made its own determination about the photo. But interim Chancellor Larry Sparks told ProPublica this week that a “lapse in communication” led to the school being unaware that the FBI had concluded its investigation ― which found that the photo didn’t represent a crime or a specific threat. 

Sparks said Ole Miss is now investigating the photo, although school spokesman Rod Guajardo said last week that while the image is “offensive,” it does not constitute a violation of the university’s code of conduct. The incident, Guajardo noted to ProPublica, happened off-campus. 

It’s unclear if the three students shot the Emmett Till sign themselves, or if the bullet holes were already there. The sign, like other Till memorials across Mississippi, has been a frequent target of white supremacist terror and vandalism.  

In their statement, the Black Student Union and the Associated Student Body demanded that the administration make violations of the university creed “actionable” so “appropriate consequences can be taken when these situations arise.” 

“We expect this course of action to be taken within 90 days after the release of this statement,” the groups said.

When reached for comment about the student groups’ demand, the administration at Ole Miss merely referred HuffPost to Sparks’ earlier statement.

Jarrius Adams, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Ole Miss who was active in the Black Students Union and was president of the school’s gospel choir, said black students at the school aren’t shocked by the photo of their fellow white students mocking the Emmett Till memorial.

“It’s not the most egregious thing that’s happened here, even during my tenure at the university,” Adams said. “We’ve been dealing with stuff like this in Mississippi and on our campus for decades.” (In 2014, for example, white students from a different fraternity hung a noose around a statue of James Meredith, the first black student to integrate the school.)

The latest incident, Adams said, just makes it “hard to defend the school.”

“It makes it harder to say it’s not bad,” he explained. “To say ‘I’m safe here, Mom, don’t worry.’ This is the emotional distress. It’s not fair for African-American students. We already come from communities [in Mississippi] where our schools are underfunded, the roads and bridges aren’t the best, our parents are working several jobs to make ends meet, and then finally we get the opportunity to go to a flagship university, this wonderful institution, and it’s supposed to be fun, but we can’t enjoy it because we’re fighting racist bullshit like this.”

Many students and faculty at Ole Miss want this Confederate statue removed from the campus.

In recent years, students have agitated for Ole Miss to make more of an effort to address its history of white supremacy. Plaques have been installed on campus noting that slaves built some of the school’s buildings. The marching band no longer plays “Dixie” at sports games. The Mississippi state flag, which includes a Confederate battle emblem in its upper left corner, was removed from school grounds.

But a prominent Confederate monument remains on campus, and in February, Adams helped lead a student protest calling for its removal. Neo-Confederate groups then held their own rally on campus in support of the monument.

Two weeks later, the Associated Student Body and the Faculty Senate passed unanimous resolutions calling for the Confederate monument on campus to be relocated. The monument, the student resolution said, “undermines our mission to maintain an inclusive and safe environment.”

Sparks voiced his support of the resolutions ― but noted that the board of trustees for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, who are appointed by the state’s Republican governor, had to approve of plans to move the monument.

It was around this time that LeClere posted the racist Instagram photo.  

“As long as the Confederate statue [stands] in the center of campus, these kinds of sickening actions will be all too common and we will continue to be a campus that attracts racists, drawn by our iconography and virulent past,” Antonia Eliason, an Ole Miss law professor, tweeted in July.

Jared Foster, communications chair for Students Against Social Injustice, agreed with Eliason’s assessment. 

“The truth is that the University draws these people in from different cities and states to the Oxford area,” said Foster, a 21-year-old senior at the school.  “It is beyond time for serious efforts to take place addressing the root cause of these issues.”

Jessie Wilkerson, an assistant professor of history and Southern studies at Ole Miss, told HuffPost in a statement that she sees white supremacy as a “daily and persistent threat on our campus and in our community.”

“I can only wish (and it seems like wishful thinking at this point) that this particular racist episode might be a breaking point when the administration will listen and fully commit itself to the daily work of dismantling white supremacy,” she said. “That point of reckoning has yet to occur.”

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Union Power in Florida Leads to Mental Health Win for Students

Last summer, Florida Polytechnic University dismissed the only full-time librarian and only mental-health counselor on its campus. Both were active union members who advocated openly for students.

Two days later, Florida Poly professor Christina Drake drove to the state’s higher education board meeting and warned board members of the potential danger to students: “The termination was so abrupt,” she said, “there was no time or ability for the counselor to put into place a continuity of care for her patients, including those for which there is concern for suicide.”

Six weeks later, a student committed suicide.

Then, a few weeks after she spoke up, Florida Poly fired Drake, too.

University administrators may have hoped to silence faculty concerns around student mental health and a “toxic” campus culture, but it’s not easy to silence caring educators, especially those who belong to unions. The United Faculty of Florida (UFF), an affiliate of NEA, stood up for its Florida Poly members, persisting in a year-long pursuit for justice.

Last week, they won. In response to UFF’s dogged legal work, the state labor relations board ruled that Florida Poly had violated state labor laws in firing Drake and the others, and ordered Florida Poly to re-establish the positions of assistant librarian and wellness counselor, which have been vacant since June 2018, and reinstate all three employees with back pay, plus interest.

Although Florida Poly had claimed that the librarian and counselor jobs had been eliminated because of departmental reorganizations, the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) found “competent substantial record evidence of anti-union animus” at Florida Poly, including evidence that faculty feared retaliation, and no other “legitimate purpose” for the terminations.

The university also will be required to post a notice informing employees of their labor rights, and will be required to pay UFF’s case-related fees and expenses.

“I am ecstatic that the labor board has vindicated our claims,” said Kate Bernard, the librarian. “As someone who believes that students come first, seeing how the university has deteriorated over the four years I worked there was, at best, disturbing and, at worst, life threatening. I implore the Board of Governors to finally act and hold the responsible parties accountable.

“For our team, unionizing and collective bargaining was never about jobs and salaries; our union was formed to help make Florida Polytechnic the outstanding, cutting-edge, student-centered university it was founded to be. To be truly world-class, you must put student needs first and listen to your staff and faculty.”

Mental Health Issues

When Florida Poly asked its only on-campus counselor, Casey Fox, to pack up her desk and leave campus immediately, its leaders opted to privatize mental-health services and replace Fox with an off-site, 24-hour telephone “hotline” for students in crisis.

Meanwhile, mental health issues on U.S. campuses are soaring. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24. Depression is at an all-time high on college campuses as record numbers of students seeking help, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH). In its 2017 report, CCMH found that more than a third of students who seek mental-health counseling on campuses have “seriously considered” suicide.

At Florida Poly, faculty say they’ll never know if the student’s suicide death could have been prevented by Fox’s continued care. But they worry that several variables—the campus’ geographic isolation in central Florida, its preponderance of white male students who spend a lot of time playing video games alone in their dorm rooms—make them particularly vulnerable to mental-health issues.

“Florida Poly students need to have a full-time, on-campus wellness counselor again,” writes Fox. “They can no longer be the only university students in the nation without easy access to essential services. In fact, there should be more wellness counselors; a hotline and crisis services are insufficient. I cannot adequately express my sadness at the loss these decisions ultimately led to—known and unknown hardships on countless students and their families.”

“Anti-Union Animus”

Mental health isn’t the only issue at Florida Poly, which opened in 2014. Early last year, an anonymous letter was sent to university trustees, saying “In the last 9-12 months things here at the university have gotten progressively worse, and while myself and others have tried to bring these things to light we continuously are made to feel incompetent,” according to a report in the Lakeland Ledger.

The letter mentioned outsized administrative pay raises, a retributive culture, and mental health. “We have one counselor here doing a job meant for three people,” the letter said, putting the campus “dangerously close” to an avoidable tragedy. But when university president Randy Avent was asked by local journalists about the letter, he said he was more concerned with the “group responsible for the letter” than the issues it raised.

Meanwhile, union members—especially those on the contract bargaining team, like Bernard and Fox—were irritating university administrators with their insistence on bargaining for employee benefits, notes the state labor board’s report. The university had opposed unionization from the start, and were hostile partners at the bargaining table.

Their opposition turned illegal when they began retaliating against employees for their union activities, which are protected by state labor law. In its sharply worded order, PERC notes Florida Poly’s misleading explanations for the job terminations. It notes Bernard and Fox’s protected union activity and calls it a “motivating factor in the university’s decision to lay them off,” and that the elimination of specific jobs must be bargained in contract negotiations with the union. PERC also notes Drake’s excellent job performance, her research and publications, and finds that she too was terminated by Florida Poly because of protected union activity.

Says Patrick Luck, Florida Poly’s union president: ‘“While we remain disappointed that the administration’s actions required the union to file this Unfair Labor Practice, we are certainly pleased with the hearing officer’s findings and the Final Order. We hope this is a step toward building a better university — one that treats its employees fairly, where faculty are allowed to fulfill their educational missions without interference or fear of retaliation, and where students receive high quality academic and support services.”

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New York Bans Schools From Arming Teachers

New York has banned schools from arming teachers and other non-security staff under a new law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Wednesday.

The measure, which went into effect immediately, limits the ability of schools and colleges to authorize teachers, professors and other staff from carrying guns. It includes an exception for school resource officers, police and other law enforcement staff at the school.

“The answer to the gun violence epidemic plaguing this country has never been and never will be more guns, and today we’re expanding New York’s nation-leading gun safety laws to further protect our children,” Cuomo said in a statement.

President Donald Trump has expressed support for arming teachers, even suggesting that teachers carrying firearms receive a bonus. Multiple states, including Florida, have permitted or pushed bills to let teachers carry guns in schools, arguing that it would allow them to quickly respond to armed attackers. 

But law enforcement officials and educators warn of the harmful consequences of allowing more guns into schools, including the potential for law enforcement officials to mistake an armed teacher for a threat, as HuffPost reported in 2018.

“While hundreds of districts across the country have decided to arm teachers in response to mass shootings, in New York, we said ‘not here,’” state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a measure Wednesday limiting schools’ capacity to arm their staff.

Another bill that Cuomo signed Wednesday instructs New York police to create standard regulations for bolstering gun buyback programs.

“Arming teachers with guns can only lead to additional tragedies,” Assemblywoman Judy Griffin (D), who backed the school firearm bill in the state Assembly, said in a statement. “While we will always remember the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, this legislation ensures that teachers will never have the burden of choosing between protecting their students or themselves from a violent shooter.”

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Prisoners Unlearn The Toxic Masculinity That Led To Their Incarceration

It’s been 10 years since George Luna was behind bars, but he still goes back to correctional facilities on a regular basis. He has spent most of his life cycling in and out of the justice system in Northern California. Now, he says he’s out for good and he’s looking to help other inmates do the same.

The former inmate is a facilitator of a prison rehabilitation program that teaches men about gender roles and how ingrained ideas of masculinity have contributed to their violent crimes. GRIP, or Guiding Rage into Power, started at San Quentin State Prison in 2013 and has expanded to five state prisons across California.

“First and foremost, we can cry,” Luna said to inmates gathered for a training in May at Avenal State Prison. “We can show emotion, and I’ll be honest with you, that’s a courageous motherfucker who’s willing to stand up and show his emotions and, through tears and all, be courageous and tell his story.” 

Luna lives in Hollister, California, but sometimes travels up to six hours to facilitate the trainings.

“When I leave, I probably cry maybe two, three times, thinking about the day, about things that happened,” Luna told HuffPost after arriving at his motel near the prison. “It’s just — I got to compartmentalize while I’m there. But when I get out, some things hit me hard when I hear some of these guys’ stories.”

George Luna listening to an inmate during one of the small group breakouts during a GRIP training.

During the trainings, inmates open up about their traumatic experiences, such as sexual assault, abandonment by their family and domestic violence inflicted by loved ones. Revisiting what they call this “original trauma” is an integral part of their work. It’s the experiences they had as young boys that formed the basis of their coping mechanisms and survival tactics.

“I’ve been a vicious person most of my life, my young and adult life, and in and out of prison,” said Harold “Happy” Miller, a GRIP member and former member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. “And in sentencing, the judge deemed me an extreme menace to society and a cyst growing on the spine of life. I made my mother scared of me.”

The trainings at Avenal take place once a month over 12 months. Throughout the program, inmates learn about the “male role belief system.” They learn that when men live “inside the box,” they’re only allowed a narrow field of emotions ranging from anger to indifference. It’s what many might recognize as some of the basic tenets of feminism.

“I’m gonna act tough and in charge. That was me,” said Michael Cabral, a current inmate and facilitator at Avenal. “Now look at me. Thirty-two years old and I went to shit because I’m doing fucking 16 years to life in prison. All because what? I didn’t want to be loving? But that’s who I truly am.”

Luna said learning these lessons transformed his life. He recalled seeing family members assault their wives and how it warped his perception of the world. 

“Society says the male dominates,” Luna said. “They try to breed it in you that you can’t be anything else, except [a] masculine, hardcore, callous person, but men can be loving and have compassion.” 

Inmates entering the GRIP training room at Avenal State Prison.

Inmates entering the GRIP training room at Avenal State Prison.

Most of the inmates have gone through other prison rehabilitation programs. But GRIP is different, they said, because the work they do inside the training goes deeper than other programs. 

“What this has done for me in here this past year, it’s giving me back, once again, my humanity,” Miller said. “I gained my empathy back towards people. And my emotional intelligence is right now over-the-top for me. And it’s restored my faith that my mother used to have in me today and my children.”

The inmates largely attribute the program’s effectiveness to two factors. The first is GRIP’s authenticity. Most of the people leading the trainings are former or current inmates. It’s what made the program stand out to Luna when he first signed up for it in 2007. 

“If they haven’t walked in my shoes, how will they help me?” Luna said, referring to other programs’ facilitators.

This aspect is something the warden of Avenal State Prison, Rosemary Ndoh, sees as vital to its success.

“If you’ve done time, you have credibility,” Ndoh said. “I’m saying to inmates, ‘You can make it.’ I’ve never done time. But when somebody else who’s done time comes back and says to them, ‘Look at me, I was there with you, but look at me now,’ then you build up hope. Hope is something everybody needs.”

The program’s emphasis on self-acceptance instead of self-improvement, like many other rehabilitation programs, is another reason why inmates say it works.

“Self-improvement says that you don’t have what it takes yet, but we’re going to try and get you there,” Cabral said. “Self-acceptance says that I know you’re hurt and I know you’re hurting, but underneath that is still that good, decent, pure human being who deserves to live, who deserves to love, who deserves to be free.”

Inmates stand outside the GRIP training room during one of the breaks.

Inmates stand outside the GRIP training room during one of the breaks.

Nearly one-third of the program’s graduates have gotten out on parole and, according to GRIP, only one inmate has returned. These numbers are in stark contrast to California’s average recidivism rate.  About 65% of people who were released from custody in the state were either convicted of a crime or violated their parole within three years, according to a 2012 state report by the California Department of Corrections And Rehabilitation. 

Though California realigned its priorities to focus on rehabilitation in that year, the state’s recidivism rate hasn’t improved much. It raises the question of whether the majority of programs are achieving what they’ve set out to do.

“Something about that term ‘rehabilitation’ for an individual, to me, suggests that an individual is broken, like something that’s innately inside of themselves,” said Alicia Virani, associate director of UCLA School of Law’s Criminal Justice Program. “I think that can be really condescending.”

She added that rehabilitation programs often put too much emphasis on the individual instead of the bigger issues at hand. 

“Our society needs to be rehabilitated,” Virani said. “It’s a systemic problem that leads to most situations in which people are overpoliced, surveilled, criminalized, and end up in the criminal justice system.”

Jacques Verduin, the founder of GRIP, said he based the curriculum on 23 years of work inside prisons, “as opposed to someone sitting in Sacramento deciding what to do.”

“Anger is a second emotion,” he said. “Fear, shame or sadness are underneath it. Violence is learned. No one is born armed and dangerous. We can unlearn it.”

Uncovering these layers in the hope of transforming their lives is precisely what drives inmates to sign up for the program.

“There’s a hopelessness that I felt,” said Anthony Hansen, an inmate at Avenal and a GRIP participant. “I needed to rediscover who I am — who I truly am — who I was as a kid and not who I taught myself to become.”

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Illinois Parents Reportedly Gave Up Custody Of Their Kids To Help Get College Scholarships

Dozens of wealthy families in Illinois have reportedly been using a controversial tactic to help their children pay for college: They give up legal guardianship so the teenagers can claim dramatically lower incomes and earn need-based financial aid, according to reports from two news organizations published Monday.

ProPublica and The Wall Street Journal each detailed the efforts in separate articles after uncovering dozens of applications filed by Chicago-area parents to financially divorce themselves from their kids over the past year and a half.

As part of the strategy, wealthy parents allegedly file paperwork to transfer legal custody of their kids to other relatives, friends or even co-workers. When the transfers are complete — often during their junior or senior years of high school — students are then able to declare themselves financially independent on college applications. In one instance detailed by the Journal, a student whose parents owned a $1.2 million home only had to declare $4,200 in income from a summer job.

That student was able to obtain about $47,000 in scholarships and federal Pell grants to attend a private university that costs $65,000 per year.

The practice is legal, but the Journal notes that the Education Department is looking into the matter. The agency did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

“It’s a scam,” Andy Borst, the director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told ProPublica. “Wealthy families are manipulating the financial aid process to be eligible for financial aid they would not be otherwise eligible for. They are taking away opportunities from families that really need it.” Borst also spoke with ProPublica.

ProPublica noted that laws in Illinois governing the transfer of legal guardianship are broadly written and that as long as the parents, children and the court agree, a judge can approve the transfer even if parents are able to financially support their kids.

Almost all of the cases cited by ProPublica and the Journal echo language that says the new guardians “can provide educational and financial support and opportunities to the minor that her parents could not otherwise provide.”

It’s unclear if the tactic has been used in other states. The Education Department does not mandate students report their parents’ income on federal financial aid forms if they have been legally declared independent.

The reports come just months after the unfolding of a college admissions scandal that saw more than 50 people charged with allegedly buying their kids’ way into elite universities around the country. Celebrities including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were named in the investigation, and many parents were said to have paid $200,000 to $400,000 to secure their children spots at universities such as Yale and Georgetown.

Investigators called it the largest admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Justice Department, and it set off a nationwide reckoning regarding everyday access to elite colleges that have grown more competitive in recent years.

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