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Photo: Library of Congress
In the early 1900s, people knew ventilation was essential to stop the spread of tuberculosis. Above, an open-air classroom in Chicago.

Now is the time we start to learn which of the many approaches to conducting school during a respiratory pandemic works best — and where. An outdoor version of school might work better in the South than the North.

Or maybe not. New England once held school outdoors, right through the winter. People in those days knew that ventilation was essential to slowing the spread of tuberculosis. The attitude to science was different then.

Dustin Waters writes at the Washington Post, “Nine schoolchildren sat at their desks wrapped in chunky layers of flannel, their feet resting on heated soapstones as the frigid New England air stung their faces. In January 1908, amid a tuberculosis epidemic, these Rhode Island students were part of a unique experiment to combat the infectious disease: America’s first open-air school. …

“In the early 1900s, it was estimated that as many as 30 percent of school-age children in Providence carried tuberculosis, a bacterial infection that often attacked the lungs. Although many of the infected children showed no outward symptoms, the infection could lie dormant for years and ultimately contribute to death in adulthood. To combat this, medical experts urged the importance of plenty of sunshine and fresh air.

“Tuberculosis specialist Mary Packard — one of the first women to graduate from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine — wrote to the Rhode Island state medical examiner in August of 1907 to propose a plan. Along with fellow Hopkins-educated physician Ellen Stone, Packard had overseen an open-air summer camp for tubercular children. The students who attended the camp were set to return to their cramped classrooms in the city at the start of the school year. The doctors feared that any progress that had been made over the summer would be lost. They suggested the creation of a new type of classroom.

“Work soon began on an unused schoolhouse on Providence’s East Side. The large, open classroom on the second floor was painted a soft shade of green, save for the wall facing south. This was demolished and replaced with a row of large windows operated by pulleys. Despite the harsh winter temperatures, these windows remained open during class — filling the room with fresh air and sunlight. …

“The school’s pupils varied in age and grade level, but they did share a similar set of characteristics: They were all underweight, anemic and weak. For some in attendance, it was their first opportunity to participate in an actual classroom due to a lifetime of poor health. Some had recently lost parents to tuberculosis. Each child was weighed and examined by a physician after arriving to class.

Then the children would be wrapped in large flannel sacks lined with paper and cotton, many of which were donated by a local church’s sewing circle.

“Each student’s desk sat atop a movable platform that allowed for the pupils to be easily shuffled around during the day to chase the rays of direct sunlight. Students were led in breathing exercises and singing practice to strengthen their lungs. Owing to its former use as a cooking school, the classroom was outfitted with a cavernous oven that served as a source of warmth.

“News of the school quickly spread, with newspapers across the country running an identical report shortly after the school opened: ‘Little faces that were sallow and pinched a few weeks ago have a healthy flush, and children who were too tired to play are beginning to show some interest in life. All of this … is what the fresh-air school has accomplished.’ …

“Wrote historian Richard Meckel in a 1995 article in Rhode Island History. ‘Virtually all the children attending the school had gained weight and improved in general health, and even a few had been able to return to normal classrooms.’ …

“[In today’s pandemic,] members of the Providence Teachers Union are worried that some classrooms are not safe. One of the concerns, according to the Providence Journal, is ventilation and classroom windows that are unable to open.”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Few things equal the joy of dancing, as I keep learning from my 5-year-old granddaughter and the videos Suzanne and Erik send of her living-room performances. They make me want to get up and boogie, too.

A teacher in Africa who loves ballet thought, Why not? There may be no ballet in Nigeria, but kids need to dance.

As Noor Brara explains at the New York Times, “In June, a minute-long video featuring a young ballet student dancing in the rain began circulating on the internet. As the rain falls, forming puddles between the uneven slabs of concrete on which he dances, Anthony Mmesoma Madu, 11, turns pirouette after pirouette.

“Though the conditions for such dancing are all wrong — dangerous, even — he twirls on, flying barefoot into an arabesque and landing it. …

“The wide reach of the video — it has been seen more than 20 million times on social media platforms — has turned a spotlight on the unlikely story of a ballet school in a poor suburb of Lagos, Nigeria: the Leap of Dance Academy.

“Founded in 2017, the academy has transformed the lives of its students, affording them a place to dance and to dream. And in the last few months, it has inspired influential people in ballet to lend a hand. Seemingly overnight, a world of opportunity has opened up: for the students, scholarships and invitations to attend prestigious schools and companies overseas; and for the school, sizable donations, which will allow for building a proper space, outfitted with a real dance floor.

“For now, the Leap of Dance Academy is housed at the home of its founder, Daniel Owoseni Ajala, in Ajangbadi, Ojo, on the western outskirts of Lagos. Every day after school, Mr. Ajala’s 12 students walk to his apartment, where he pushes aside his furniture and spreads a thin vinyl sheet over the concrete floor for class, throwing open the doors and windows to let in the light. …

“Much of this is filmed and posted to the school’s Instagram feed, where the students’ joy is evident in each video, their movements precise and praiseworthy — as the comments, hearts and trembling star emojis left by their fans attest. …

” ‘In the beginning, people kept saying, “What are they doing?!” ‘ Mr. Ajala said. ‘I had to convince them that ballet wasn’t a bad or indecent dance, but actually something that requires a lot of discipline that would have positive effects on the lives of their children outside the classroom. I always say, it’s not only about the dance itself — it’s about the value of dance education.’

“When Mr. Ajala, 29, founded Leap of Dance three years ago, he was a self-taught recreational dancer with a dream: to open a ballet school for students who were serious about learning the art form and possibly pursuing it professionally one day. …

“As a child, Mr. Ajala became obsessed with ballet after watching “Save the Last Dance,” the 2001 movie about a lapsed ballet dancer (Julia Stiles) who moves to the South Side of Chicago after her mother dies …

“Mr. Ajala said he was captivated by the movement he saw onscreen and, perhaps even more, by the discipline and sacrifice that was evidently required to master it. Ballet appealed to him for another reason, too: It wasn’t widely taught or practiced in Nigeria. ‘I wanted to be different,’ he said. …

“Mr. Ajala’s role in the lives of his students goes beyond dance; he is invested in their whole development. One day a week class is dedicated solely to academics; the students come to the academy with their homework, with Mr. Ajala providing one-on-one tutoring as needed. They practice speaking, reading and writing in English together. And between lessons, which run from mid afternoon to early evening, he cooks them a meal. …

“Recently, too, the students have begun learning conversational Spanish, Italian and Chinese from their ballet teachers abroad, like [Thalema Williams, in St. Croix, and Mary Hubbs, in Brooklyn, Mich., who gave him lessons online to improve his technique]. ‘I want the kids to be able to relate to people internationally,’ Mr. Ajala said.”

At the Times, here, you can read how he manages to keep the ballet classes free. Very inspiring story.

Photo: Stephen Tayo for the New York Times
Anthony Mmesoma Madu, left, with fellow students from the Leap of Dance Academy, in Ajangbadi, Ojo, Nigeria.

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Photo: Library of Congress.
A New York City school around the time of the flu pandemic. History shows it’s possible to hold classes outdoors when the safety of breathing indoors is uncertain.

Photos taken in the 1918 flu pandemic show some schools holding classes with all the windows open or even outdoors. Could we do that today? Reporter Nate Berg at Fast Company looked into the question.

“Sharon Danks has been working for more than 20 years to get schoolkids outdoors,” he writes. “As a trained landscape architect and urban planner, she says too many schools across the country ignore the educational and health benefits offered by the outdoor spaces of their campuses. This is something she’s been trying to change through her nonprofit Green Schoolyards America, based in Berkeley, California. …

“In April, Danks began having conversations about reopening local schools with three other organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. … In early June, the organizations cohosted a webinar on responding to COVID-19 by using outdoor spaces for education. More than 1,000 people from 40 states and eight countries registered.

“[The organizations then] created the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, an effort to create guidelines schools can follow to use their outdoor spaces more effectively in order to bring back face-to-face learning. Volunteers from across the country are now participating in 10 working groups focused on different aspects of moving classes outdoors, from funding to safety to the physical infrastructure needed to seat and teach students outside.

‘The central problem that we were looking at is that none of our schools were built to be able to accommodate kids 6 feet apart inside the building,’ Danks says.

“But what most schools are equipped with is outdoor space and playgrounds — spaces that can be adapted for outdoor learning. Through the use of physical objects such as shade structures and weatherproof seating and adjusted lesson plans that reduce teachers’ reliance on computer screens and overhead projectors, outdoor classrooms can allow classes to continue with the space and fresh air that epidemiologists believe prevents transmission of the virus.

“Outdoor learning can move all students outdoors, or at least shift enough of the student population outside to make indoor classrooms safe with smaller class sizes. Distance learning, with its inherent difficulties, inequities, and access challenges, may become just a rainy day backup plan. …

“In 2017, the San Mateo County Office of Education started an Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative that focuses on increasing knowledge about environmental issues. It does so partly by integrating natural and outdoor spaces into school curricula. Andra Yeghoian, the initiative’s coordinator, says the program has been working to ensure that students at every grade level in its roughly 270 schools have daily access to outdoor learning and play spaces. … ‘Now COVID-19 has really flipped that to be that every kid at every grade level in every subject area can do the majority of their learning outside.’ …

“Danks estimates that only about 15% to 20% of schools in the U.S. have these kinds of facilities. ‘The other 80%, 85% of schools have probably never taken a class outside to do hands-on learning on their own site,’ she says.

“This is where the initiative’s working groups come in. Each is developing a set of two-page recommendations that will provide simple instructions for dealing with common outdoor complications like cold and hot weather, spatially distanced seating arrangements, dust, and insects. Eventually, the recommendations will be published as a free online guidebook. …

“Claire Latané is an assistant professor in Cal Poly Pomona’s landscape architecture department and is leading a group of volunteer landscape architects who are working directly with school officials to identify optimal spaces and sizes of outdoor classrooms. She says about 100 designers have signed up to help, and the first teams are using aerial imagery of campuses to find places with adequate shade, either under trees or carports, and ensuring any changes to school grounds comply with local fire and accessibility codes. They’re also advising on how the locations of outdoor classrooms can address weather concerns. …

“Three case studies have been published on Green Schoolyards America’s website, and offer suggestions for schools in different climates. … At a low cost of just a few thousand dollars, schools use only their existing outdoor shade and tree-covered areas, augmented with affordable seating such as hay bales and additional clothing for unexpected cold or wet weather. …

“The whole process of transitioning to outdoor education doesn’t have to be tortuous, Danks says.

‘In the last pandemic in 1918 to 1920, with tuberculosis and the Spanish flu, schools around the world went outside … even just moved their desks right outside their buildings,’ Danks says. ‘They didn’t overthink it, they just moved their space to where the air was fresher.’ ”

More at Fast Company, here.  Hat tip: ArtsJournal.

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Photo: Wing. 
A Virginia school district has been using Wing, a drone service owned by the parent company of Google, to deliver books to students during the pandemic.

I love stories about the determination of librarians to get books to people no matter what the odds. You may have read my bicycle-library post, camel-library post, library-on-horseback post, or the 2020 post about a book bus in Kabul, here. You can’t keep a good librarian down.

The story today is about book delivery by drone. Marie Fazio writes at the New York Times, “Last week, Deanna Robertson and her two sons stood on their front lawn in western Virginia scanning the sky for a drone they could hear humming from almost a mile away.

“When it finally arrived, hovering above their heads, the boys rushed forward to take what it offered: a copy of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ required summer reading and possibly the first library book delivered by drone in history.

“With students unable to make it to the library because of the coronavirus, the Montgomery County Public School district has partnered with Wing, the drone-delivery unit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, to deliver books to their homes. One week into the project, there have been more than 35 successful deliveries, said Kelly Passek, a middle-school librarian and the mastermind of the project. …

“Students living in Wing’s four-mile delivery zone in Christiansburg can use a Google form to request a specific book or ask Ms. Passek to choose one she thinks they would like. Around 600 Montgomery County students live within the delivery footprint.

After pulling a book from the library shelf and making sure it weighs less than three pounds, Ms. Passek packages the book and brings it to Wing’s office in Christiansburg. The drone takes over from there.

“It flies to a delivery site, lowers the book on a cable and releases the grip as it hits the ground.

“The students can borrow multiple books and do not have to return them until they go back to school in the fall. …

“Keith Heyde, the head of Virginia operations for Wing, said the company had completed thousands of deliveries for requests like Walgreens over-the-counter medications and cold brew from local coffee shops. The drones, which have a wingspan of 3.3 feet and weigh 10.6 lbs., can carry packages around three pounds up to speeds approaching 70 miles per hour, according to the company. They can fly 12 miles round trip.

“Ms. Passek was one of the first Christiansburg residents to receive a drone delivery when Wing began the program. Her first order, a Walgreens cough and cold care package, made her think of other uses for drones in the community, namely library books. She raised the idea with Mr. Heyde last fall, and revisited it with him when the coronavirus hit the United States.

“Book requests have been a mix of required summer reading and books of a student’s choice, Ms. Passek said. While Ms. Robertson’s 14-year-old son, Brendan, was assigned ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ [Camden], 11, ordered John Grisham’s ‘Theodore Boon: Kid Lawyer’ to read for fun. …

“Since the coronavirus pandemic began, drones have been used in novel ways all over the world. In Britain, the police used drones to enforce social distancing. In Fairfield, Conn., they were used to monitor beach and parkgoers. An eager drone user in Queens broadcast a coronavirus safety message on his drone’s speakers as it flew over the streets of New York City. …

“Cold-brew coffees from a local coffee shop are particularly popular, Mr. Heyde said. Since the coronavirus, there has been a substantial increase per month in sign-ups for drone delivery, he said, but he believes the virus accelerated a pre-existing trend. … To the best of his knowledge, this is the first library book program by drone in history.

“ ‘If we can provide even one or two students with a resource they wouldn’t have access to otherwise because they wouldn’t be able to go to the library, that’s a win,’ he said.”

More here.

 

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Photos: Mahmud Hossain Opu for NPR
The nonprofit group Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha has a fleet of 23 school boats in Bangladesh. The boats pick up kids along the river, then pull over into the marshy riverbank to hold class.

Kids complain about school when school is a given, but what about when it is hard to access? I have been reading about a fire-ravaged county in California that has no schools right now (story here). California is sure to get it together before long, but what about poor countries with drastic education challenges?

Jason Beaubien reports about Bangladesh at National Public Radio (NPR). “On the Atrai River in the northwest of Bangladesh, a small beige boat is tied up in tall grass that lines the riverbank. The interior of the boat is packed with narrow benches which in turn are jammed with children.

“There are 29 students in this third-grade class and it would be hard to fit any more into the narrow vessel. The kids sit shoulder-to-shoulder facing a blackboard at the back of the boat.

“When the teacher asks for a volunteer to recite a multiplication table, 8-year-old Nila Khatun’s hand shoots straight toward the unpainted ceiling.

“She leads the class in a chant that begins with ‘6 times 1 equals 6’ in Bengali. They end with ‘6 times 9 equals 54.’

“Educators in Bangladesh have a problem. Not only do they face many of the same challenges as teachers in other resource-poor countries — funding constraints, outdated textbooks, overcrowded classrooms — they also have to worry about monsoon rains. Flooding is so common in Bangladesh that students often can’t get to the classroom.

“So one local charity has decided to take the classrooms to the students in the form of schools on boats.

“This boat is one of 23 floating year-round schools in this part of Bangladesh run by Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a local nonprofit group. …

“Mohammed Rezwan, the founder of Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, grew up in this part of Bangladesh.

” ‘If you visit these areas you’ll find that during the monsoon season they get isolated,’ he says. ‘It becomes very difficult to have the normal life.’ …

” ‘In the rural areas. the parents are mostly concerned with the safety of the girls,’ he says. ‘If they [girls] have to travel a long way to go to school, then the parents would not let them go to school.’ …

“That’s true for the family of third-grader Nila. Her mother Musa Khatun says that if it wasn’t for the floating school, Nila probably wouldn’t be in school at all. …

“Khatun says that during the monsoons the village is only accessible by boat. Their family primarily survives by raising jute in the nearby plains. The long, fibrous plant is used to make burlap bags. Nila’s mother, however, sees a different future for Nila. She says Nila is the smart one of the family. No one in their family has ever gone to college, yet Khatun insists her daughter is going to be a doctor.

“And Nila nods her head enthusiastically.”

More here, including eleven wonderful pictures.

When class is done for the day, the boat putters along the river to drop off its students. 

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Photo: MFA Boston
The results of a study on school field trips surprised the Brookings Institution researchers.

One of the messages I take from this Brookings report on student field trips is the importance of conducting research with both an open mind and a willingness to follow up on unexpected results. Another takeaway: researchers prefer to study things for which there are a lot of data available; worthwhile questions that don’t have a lot of data to work with often don’t get studied.

Jay P. Greene writes, “Most education research focuses on math and reading outcomes or educational attainment because those are the measures that the state collects and are readily available to us. Less is known about how students are doing in other subjects and whether their progress in those areas has important benefits for them and society. …

“A new experiment … examines long-term effects of students receiving multiple field trips to the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. The Woodruff Arts Center houses the High Art Museum, Alliance Theater, and Atlanta Symphony, all on one campus.

“We randomly assigned 4th and 5th grade school groups to get three field trips per year – one to each of Woodruff’s arts organizations – or to a control condition in which students received a single field trip. …

“The surprising result is that students who received multiple field trips experienced significantly greater gains on their standardized test scores after the first year than did the control students. …

“The reason these results are so surprising is that previous research had suggested that arts instruction tended not to ‘transfer’ into gains in other subjects. …

“When we conducted the analysis on the effects of treatment on test scores, we expected to find no statistically significant effects, just like almost all previous rigorous research. …

“We still do not believe that arts instruction and experiences have a direct effect on math or ELA ability. We think this because the bulk of prior research tells us so, and because it is simply implausible that two extra field trips to an arts organization conveyed a significant amount of math and ELA knowledge.

“Our best guess is that test scores may have risen because the extra arts activities increased student interest and engagement in school. … Maybe arts-focused field trips do not teach math or reading, but they do make students more interested in their school that does teach math and reading. But this is just a guess. …

“The odd thing about trying to write a paper with these results to present at conferences and submit to a journal is that there is strong pressure for us to pretend like we expected our findings all along. Discussants and reviewers generally don’t want to hear that you found something you didn’t expect and don’t really know why. They want to hear a clean story about how your results make sense and follow from your theory and literature review. In short, social science favors the false appearance of confidence.”

Ah, yes. When I was at the Fed, I often wondered about such things, but as a non-economist, I knew I was out of my depth.

Read about how the researchers intend to unpack the meaning of their unexpected results with future studies, here.

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Photo: Don Lyman
Threatened Blanding’s turtles have been parceled out to Massachusetts teachers and students to protect until big enough for the Grassroots Wildlife Conservation to return them to the wild.

I’m increasingly impressed with the science projects that schools are pursuing these days. My kindergarten grandchild, for example, brings home interesting science kits regularly — the latest involving batteries, wires, and electricity.

In Carlisle, Massachusetts, students are giving a leg up to tiny Blanding’s turtles, as Don Lyman, of the radio show Living on Earth (LOE), reports. The edited transcript follows.

“Lyman: On a clear but cold February day, snow from a recent storm blanketed the outdoor basketball courts at the Carlisle School. But inside the tank where two young turtles lived [Tsunami and Squirtle], it was a balmy 80 degrees or so, and the classroom itself teemed with excitement. I found myself among perhaps the only people with more questions than journalists: fifth graders. …

“Chris Denaro’s students grilled Emilie Schuler, the Director of Programs and Operations at Grassroots Wildlife Conservation, about everything from how many turtles are left in the world, to potential hazards the littlest ones face. …

“The kids were in the midst of a yearlong project to take care of two baby turtles, to give the hatchlings a head start in life, so they’d have a much better chance of surviving to adulthood and boosting the threatened species’ numbers when they’re released in the spring. … The kids were pros at feeding the turtles, giving them fresh water and weighing them, but they still had lots to learn about some amazing things the hatchlings – which they’d named Tsunami and Squirtle — could do. …

“Schuler: Can a turtle’s body – is it okay for a turtle, for its body to be 33 degrees? … That’s the really cool thing. It’s like kind of a superpower of turtles and of reptiles that they can have their body so, so cold. They can drop their body temperature like that and still be fine.

“Lyman: In order to still be okay with such a low body temperature, Blanding’s turtles have to slow down. Wa-a-ay down.

“Schuler: They’ve measured turtles that are this cold, and their heart was beating only one time every ten minutes. … Turtles have the ability to hold their breath for a really, really, really long time. Scientists have even done studies where they’ve purposely put turtles in water where they’ve bubbled out all the oxygen. Those turtles stayed under the water super-chilled for five months. …

“Your Blanding’s turtle cousins that are outside … in the winter right now … even if they were the same age as Tsunami, come April or May, when it starts getting warmer and they come out – what’s the size difference gonna be between Tsunami and their cousins?

“Lyman: The answer: around 7 or 8 times the weight! That’s the main reason why the headstart program is proving so valuable for boosting Blanding’s turtle population numbers. In just eight months, the kids make the baby turtles look like four-year olds. So they’re less attractive to predators like raccoons, herons, and bullfrogs, and much more likely to make it out in the wild.”

When I was in fifth grade, the teacher let a praying mantis egg case hatch in the classroom (and all over the school). That was certainly memorable, but I think the contemporary science projects involve more learning.

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Shelly Davidov/Miami New Times
In Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, street art transformed Jose de Diego Middle School.

It’s interesting to see how street art can be a route to gallery representation for painters, especially if they apply their tagging to public projects.

Ahmed Fakhr writes at Rolling Stone about how painting the walls in a Florida neighborhood helped some artists gain wider recognition.

“Miami is becoming a destination for global collectors looking for a multimillion-dollar Jeff Koons sculpture or one-off by Gerhard Richter. While some opt for the hallowed white-walled galleries to sip white wine, other local artists continue to gain notoriety when by taking to the streets to paint huge murals on bare walls with cans of spray paint. This graffiti explosion was the creation of the street art scene in Wynwood.

“In 2007, Wynwood was a rundown textile and manufacturing area. Then a cohort of street artists decided to bring attention to their neighborhood, but as a way to establish their own art.

“Slowly the area transformed into a haven for creative people looking for a way to express themselves. Soon enough, a developer purchased the properties and capitalized on the growing art culture in the gentrifying area now known as the Wynwood Arts District. …

“Native Robert de los Rios, founder of the RAW project, has been entrenched in street art scene in Miami for years, so he used this opportunity as a way bring art to underfunded schools in the area. ‘Art budgets for schools in the Wynwood area were slashed to zero,’ Rios says.

“So he decided to approach the area school district and street artists from around the world to paint murals on the indoor and outdoor walls of the school. By doing so, Rios hoped this would jumpstart the issue of funding art in schools again and to inspire kids’ creativity. ‘They felt like they were coming to a prison before,’ he says. ‘But now they come to school excited and happy.’ …

“While Rios prides himself in being able to bring an international graffiti scene together to transform the aesthetic of the school, he also collaborated with multiple Miami artists – Ahol Sniffs Glue, Typoe, Santiago Rubino and FL.Mingo – to bring challenging concepts to the school’s campus.

“Typoe, one third of an art collective known as Primary Flight, along with Cristina Gonzalez and Books Bischof, started in Wynwood when Art Basel launched in 2007. Having no luck at the fair, the trio decided street art was more lucrative. … Now they have a gallery space in the Design District.”

Read about more of the artists at Rolling Stone, here, including the one who prefers to stick to illegal tagging of trains and remain anonymous.

I’d be very curious to know how all this has affected the students at the middle school. Perhaps some are aiming to become artists now or are just feeling more special.

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Photo: Charleston County School/Facebook
South Carolina teacher Katie Blomquist said she wanted her students to grow up with happy biking memories like hers.

I woke up one morning and checked the headlines and saw four stories on horrible things and felt the weight of the world descending. But I also keep finding stories reminding me that, whatever happens, the human spirit of kindness survives.

Here is a recent example from South Carolina, where a teacher was so moved by the poverty of her students that she took an unusual action.

Eun Kyung Kim reported the story at TODAY.com.

“Students jumped with joy, hugged one another and squealed with delight as teachers at their South Carolina elementary school revealed hundreds of custom-made bicycles beneath parachutes normally used for P.E. class.

“The new set of wheels [came] courtesy of first-grade teacher Katie Blomquist.

“ ‘I made a really conscious effort to watch their faces and let it soak in and imprint in my brain when those tarps went up,’ she told TODAY. ‘It was that moment I’ve been waiting for seven months.’

“But the idea originated more than a year ago. Blomquist, 34, teaches at North Charleston’s Pepperhill Elementary School, where many of the students live in poverty. Last year, one of her students mentioned how much he wanted a bike for his birthday. His parents couldn’t afford to buy him one, and neither could she.

“ ‘I started thinking about all the other kids who might not have bikes. We take a lot for granted and we forget that there’s a large category of kids out there who don’t have bikes,’ she said. ‘That was such a large piece of my childhood memories, and I immediately thought, “oh, they’re not getting that!”‘ …

“In September, Blomquist started a ‘Every Kid Deserves a Bike!’ GoFundMe page and set a $65,000 goal, enough to buy bikes and helmets for the 650 students at Pepperhill. Within three months, she had raised more than $82,000. …

“ ‘This was an entire second job for me, when I got home from work until midnight every night,’ she said.

“Radio Flyer donated 100 big-wheel tricycles and training bikes for the pre-school students, while a local business, Affordabike, worked with Blomquist to customize the remaining 550 bicycles …

“Beyond the children’s reactions — and the hugs from parents as they picked up the bikes —Blomquist said she’s enjoyed the sense of community created by strangers around the nation who donated to the campaign. It was support she hadn’t anticipated. …

“ ‘But maybe one day when they’re adults, they’ll know that this gift, it wasn’t from me. It was from our community and our country,’ she said.”

More here.

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I’m so glad Cousin Claire shared this New York Times story on Facebook. It’s about a school custodian with an artistic bent whose talent is raising everyone’s spirits.

Corey Kilgannon writes writes that Israel Reyes, “senior handyman and longtime boiler operator at Public School 69X Journey Prep in the Soundview section of the Bronx,” finds the lonely summer months to be a good time “to concentrate on the colorful wall murals he has become known for painting inside the 93-year-old building. …

“For years, the 15-foot walls were faded and drab, Mr. Reyes said.

“ ‘There were no colors — it was like walking into a prison,’ recalled Mr. Reyes, who said that 12 years ago he grew tired of watching students entering the building each morning with their heads down.

“ ‘A lot of these kids come from broken homes, just like I did, and I’d see them walking in, all stressed out and looking down, because the school looked even worse than their homes,’ he said. ‘I wanted to do something to make them look up.’

“So he persuaded the principal to let him use leftover paint from other jobs in the building to start creating an educational wonderland. He worked for years, during his down time, his lunch hour and on his personal time, even late into the night.

“ ‘The kids come in now in the morning and they smile,’ Mr. Reyes said. ‘They come in and ask me, “What’s next?” and I show them what I worked on overnight.’ ” …

“Mr. Reyes, whom everyone calls Carlos, said he and his five brothers were raised by his father in the Bronx and on a farm in Puerto Rico.

“ ‘We had to make our own toys from garbage, from whatever we found,’ said Mr. Reyes, who as an adult has made sculptures out of trash-picked objects, especially the wooden legs off discarded furniture, to entertain his four children and 14 grandchildren.

“He calls it ‘table leg art,’ and has made a panorama representation of Manhattan that is on display in the school library, a cityscape with wooden legs as skyscrapers. …

“Until recently, said Mr. Reyes, a widower, his apartment was decorated in an over-the-top theme — a botanical garden with a pond, a lamppost and a park bench — recalling his Puerto Rican upbringing.

“ ‘When my son moved back home, I had to sleep on the bench,’ he said. ‘I’d tell people, “I’m not homeless, but I sleep on a park bench.” ‘ ” More.

I’ve read that no matter what kind of job you have, there should be some aspect that is yours alone, where you can express your creativity. I couldn’t agree more.

Photo: Santiago Mejia/The New York Times  
Israel Reyes, at Public School 69X in the Bronx, wanted to brighten the building for students. 

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Among all the sad aspects of the refugee crisis, children in refugee camps going without any education — sometimes for years — has to be one of the saddest.

10 million under the age of 8 are displaced

Fortunately, there are occasional rays of light, such as adult refugees deciding to start their own school. And here is a story from Mashable about a partnership between the International Rescue Committee and the makers of Sesame Street.

Matt Petronzio writes, “A new partnership between Sesame Workshop, the brand’s educational nonprofit, and global humanitarian aid organization International Rescue Committee (IRC) will allow the two groups to develop, distribute, and test educational resources and programs designed with young refugees in mind. …

“The first phase is to develop educational multimedia content that can reach children living in displaced or resettled communities through mobile devices, radio, TV and printed materials in engaging, enjoyable ways.

” ‘We really set out to find a partner that complements our offerings, and I think the IRC is ideal,’ said Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. …

“Sesame Workshop and the IRC will adapt existing Sesame products and content for regions where the two organizations already have a presence working with young children and their families. …

“The partnership is aimed at the children who make up half of the record 60 million people currently displaced around the world, specifically the one-third of that population under the age of eight. In addition to a lack of education, these children also often deal with toxic stress and trauma.

” ‘We’ve seen time and time again, in the context of conflict and crisis, that those very young children don’t have a safety net to support them,’ Sarah Smith, senior director for education at the IRC, told Mashable. …

“Most recently [Sesame] launched Zari, the first local Muppet in Afghanistan, a country where many young children lack access to education, especially girls.

“Zari’s gender was a deliberate choice to promote girls’ empowerment — an example of tailoring curricular goals to the needs of a particular country. (According to Westin, recent research showed that fathers in Afghanistan changed their minds about sending their daughters to school after watching Baghch-e-Simsim, the local language version of Sesame Street.)”

More at Mashable.

Image: Vicky Leta/Mashable

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The article by Astrid Zweynert and Ros Russell begins, “Boys campaigning for girls’ education is not common in most parts of the world, but in India’s Rajasthan state, they are at the heart of a drive to get more girls into schools.

Educate Girls trains young people to go into villages to find girls who are not in the classroom in a country where more than 3 million girls are out of school.

“Some 60 percent of Educate Girls’ 4,500 volunteers are boys, founder and executive director Safeena Husain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

” ‘Having these boys as champions for the girls is absolutely at the core of what we’re trying to achieve,’ Husain said in an interview as she was awarded the $1.25 million Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, the largest prize of its kind. …

“In Rajasthan, 40 percent of girls leave school before reaching fifth grade, often because their parents do not see education as necessary for their daughter because she is going to get married or stay at home to do housework, Husain said. …

“Educate Girls’ approach to is to define hotspots where many girls are out of school, often in remote rural or tribal areas, and then deploy its volunteers to bring them back into the classroom, said Husain.”

There’s plenty of research showing that when girls are educated, the standard of living in a country goes up. Educated girls “are less likely to get married at an early age or to die in childbirth, they are likely to have healthier children and more likely to find work and earn more money.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Do you ever read Kevin Lewis’s Sunday Globe column, “Uncommon Knowledge”? He covers new research in the social sciences. Thanks to him, I learned about this study on helping minority boys get engaged in education.

“A disproportionate number of students struggling academically are minorities, ” he writes. “Can we do better?

“In what they claim is the first credible study of the effect of an ethnically grounded education, researchers at Stanford analyzed the effect of a ninth-grade course offered in several San Francisco public schools covering ‘themes of social justice, discrimination, stereotypes, and social movements from US history spanning the late 18th century until the 1970s’ and requiring students ‘to design and implement service-learning projects based on their study of their local community.’…

“The researchers found that taking the course ‘increased attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and credits earned by 23 credits (or roughly four courses).’ They call the results ‘surprisingly large effects,’ which were concentrated among boys.”

The paper, by Thomas S. Dee, and Emily Penner, is The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum.” It was posted at the National Bureau of Economic Research in January.

More here.

Photo: Stanford University
Teacher David Ko instructs an ethnic studies class at Washington High School in San Francisco. A Stanford study found students benefit from such courses. Here, Ko is explaining an assignment about the role of advertising in reinforcing cultural stereotypes.

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Raising a family is challenging under any circumstances, but Simon Romero of the NY Times can tell you about families that have added on a somewhat more extreme challenge: settling in Antarctica.

He writes from Villa Las Estrellas, “Children at the schoolhouse here study under a portrait of Bernardo O’Higgins, Chile’s independence leader. The bank manager welcomes deposits in Chilean pesos. The cellphone service from the Chilean phone company Entel is so robust that downloading iPhone apps works like a charm. …

“Fewer than 200 people live in this outpost founded in 1984 during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, when Chile was seeking to bolster its territorial claims in Antarctica. Since then, the tiny hamlet has been at the center of one of Antarctica’s most remarkable experiments: exposing entire families to isolation and extreme conditions in an attempt to arrive at a semblance of normal life at the bottom of the planet.

“It gets a little intense here in winter,” said José Luis Carillán, 40, who moved to Villa Las Estrellas three years ago with his wife and their two children to take a job as a teacher in the public school.

“He described challenges like trekking through punishing wind storms to arrive at a schoolhouse concealed by snow drifts, and withstanding long stretches with only a few hours of sunlight each day. …

“Most of the students at the village’s small school, who generally number less than a dozen, are the children of air force officials who operate the base; some of the parents say the isolating experience strengthens family bonds.

“That Villa Las Estrellas is so remote — its name can be translated as Hamlet of the Stars, since the lack of artificial light pollution here enhances gazing into the heavens — sits just fine with many who live here.

“ ‘People in the rest of Chile are so afraid of thieves that they build walls around their homes,’ said Paul Robledo, 40, an electrician from Iquique (pronounced E-key-kay). ‘Not here in Antarctica. This is one of the safest places in the world.’ More here.

And here you thought our cold snap was a little intense!

Photo: Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times  
Children being picked up from school in Villa Las Estrellas. Most of the students at the village’s small school, who generally number less than a dozen, are the children of air force officials who operate a nearby base. 

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At the Guardian, teacher Steve Ritz tells Matthew Jenkin about how he began growing food in a troubled South Bronx school.

“The Green Bronx Machine was an accidental success. I wound up working at a very troubled high school in New York’s South Bronx district. It had a very low graduation rate and the bulk of my kids were special educational needs, English language learners, in foster care or homeless. It was dysfunctional to say the least.

“Someone sent me a box of daffodil bulbs one day and I hid them behind a radiator – I didn’t know what they were and figured they may cause problems in class. A while later … we looked behind the radiator and there were all these flowers. The steam from the radiator forced the bulbs to grow.

“That was when I realised that collectively and collaboratively we could grow something greater. We started taking over abandoned lots and doing landscape gardening, really just to beautify our neighbourhood. … We then moved on to growing food indoors in vertical planters around the school.

“By building an ‘edible wall’ to grow fresh vegetables in our science classroom, I gave the kids a reason to come to school. …

“Remarkably the plants grew. The kids really believe that they are responsible for them and attendance has increased from 43% to 93%. Students come to school to take care of their plants – they want to see them succeed. Along the way, the kids succeed, too.” More here.

Photo: Progressive Photos  
Steve Ritz gets students involved in the natural world. Attendance has more than doubled.

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