A surprise sweet 16 took place on the subway. It showed humanity at its best.

'Can strangers in a subway car come together and have a party?'

Addie Weyrich wanted to do something spectacular for her friend Jenny Gorelick's sweet 16.

So she decided to throw Gorelick a surprise party — on a New York City subway train.

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.


Sporting a bright red dress and a whole lot of anxious enthusiasm, Weyrich informed passengers of New York City's Q train about what was about to happen.

"Jenny loves the subway," she announces to curious and confused riders in the video below. "She loves it so much that we thought we would throw her a surprise birthday party — right here, on this subway car."

She then asked riders if they'd help her pull it off.

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

"She does not know this is happening," Weyrich explained to the passengers. "She thinks she's going to a completely different birthday party. She's going to come on at 57th Street — our friend, Sam, is there; she's going to make sure she's getting on this car exactly."

Fortunately — and maybe surprisingly if you think the cold New Yorker stereotype is true — most of the subway riders were more than happy to help pull it off.

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

When it was time for Gorelick to step on board, the surprise went perfectly.

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

The subway strangers seemed just as elated as Gorelick to celebrate her big 1-6.

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

Here's the real surprise, though: Gorelick's birthday party ... wasn't a real birthday party.

Addie Weyrich is an actor. So is Gorelick.

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

Weyrich and Gorelick are part of the team at Improv Everywhere — a comedy group that produces spur-of-the-moment performances to get public reactions.

You can watch the video of the whole event here:

If you think that knowing it was staged might take away some of the magic of the sweet 16 party, you'd be wrong.

Though the birthday component of the performance was fake, the excitement, enthusiasm, and camaraderie of the subway riders — who were not in on the joke — certainly wasn't. And that was the point.

"The real intent behind this stunt was to see if we could get an assortment of random commuters to play along," Charlie Todd, who created and directed the event, wrote about the experiment. "Can strangers in a subway car come together and have a party?"

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

The answer, clearly, is yes.

Improv Everywhere orchestrated a number of the parties throughout the day. According to Todd, while not everyone on board was up for the surprise, about 80% of the riders helped out in some way when given the opportunity.

"The best part of the experience was the smiles, laughs, and hugs from complete strangers," Todd wrote. "I’ll never get tired of seeing people from all different walks of life come together to do something fun on a subway car."

Photo by Ari Scott for improveverywhere.com.

The performance by Improv Everywhere feels like a breath of fresh air in today's tumultuous times. Lately it can feel like everyone is helplessly divided; like the ties to our communities and neighbors are nonexistent, and we're all growing more detached.

That's simply not the case, and the helpful, smiley strangers that pulled off Jenny's 16th birthday are proof of it.

"Even if the set up was staged, the party was real," Todd wrote. "And it was a blast!"

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

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Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

WE Teachers
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