Betsy DeVos is our education secretary. Here's what to do next.

On Feb. 7, 2017, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as America's next education secretary.

Resistance to her nomination was of historic proportions. Last week, two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — broke ranks and announced they would oppose DeVos, leaving the GOP-controlled Senate at a 50-50 stalemate (all 48 Democrats opposed her nomination). Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.


If you attended or have kids in public schools, DeVos' nomination may be a tough pill to swallow. DeVos, a Michigan billionaire born into wealth, has never attended or worked in a public school — although her family has given the Republican Party about $200 million over the years. She's also been a big proponent of school choice — a controversial free-market education method that allows public funds to be siphoned off to private, parochial, and even for-profit schools. It's a strategy many education advocates have criticized, claiming it uses already scarce public school funds to benefit mostly upper-middle class and wealthy families, leaving the most vulnerable students and schools in even worse shape.

Admittedly, it was not a good day for many public school advocates. But now more than ever, American kids and schools need our help.

Here are 20 ways you can turn your anxiety over the future of public education into real action:

1. First and foremost, don't feel hopeless.

Let your frustrations fuel your advocacy. Among President Trump's controversial cabinet appointments, DeVos' agenda may be the least popular among Americans. The resistance to her plans is alive and well.

2. Help fund a project that will make a difference on Donors Choose.

The platform gives teachers a place to crowd-fund classroom projects, allowing individuals (that's you!) to help students, whether it be giving art supplies to students in California or providing iPads to kids in Brooklyn to boost their linguistic and social skills.

Photo via iStock.

3. If you can, get involved in the National Education Association.

The focus of NEA — the largest professional employee organization in the country — is to make public education high-quality and accessible to every student. There are many ways for prospective, current, and former public education professionals to join the cause.

4. Come midterm elections, don't forget which senators voted for DeVos — many of whom received campaign donations from her family:

Steve Daines (Montana), John Thune (South Dakota), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Richard Burr (North Carolina), Jeff Sessions (Alabama), Roger Wicker (Mississippi), Roy Blunt (Missouri), Bob Corker (Tennessee), Michael Enzi (Wyoming), John Barrasso (Wyoming), Dean Heller (Nevada), Rob Portman (Ohio), Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), John McCain (Arizona), Richard Shelby (Alabama), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Cory Gardner (Colorado), Rand Paul (Kentucky), Deb Fischer (Nebraska), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), James Inhofe (Oklahoma), Jim Risch (Idaho), James Lankford (Oklahoma), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Tom Cotton (Arkansas), Michael Rounds (South Dakota), Thad Cochran (Mississippi), Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), Michael Crapo (Idaho), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Pat Roberts (Kansas), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Kennedy (Louisiana), Thom Tillis (North Carolina), Todd Young (Indiana), Jeff Flake (Arizona), Tim Scott (South Carolina), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Marco Rubio (Florida), David Perdue (Georgia), Johnny Isakson (Georgia), Charles Grassley (Iowa), John Cornyn (Texas), John Boozman (Arkansas), and Lamar Alexander (Tennessee).

5. Think local.

You know your own community best. What local or regional organizations do the crucial work unique to the problems facing the public schools in your city? Reach out and ask them how you can get involved.

6. Donate to No Kid Hungry.

The nonprofit helps feed American schoolchildren so they can stay full and focused in the classroom. One $10 gift can provide up to 100 meals to a kid who could use it.

7. Support after-school arts programs.

There's probably at least one group in your area helping teach art to kids outside the classroom — an opportunity that could help them in many ways for years to come. In Pittsburgh, for instance, free after-school art classes at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Youth & Arts teach any kids in the Pittsburgh public school system skills in ceramics, design, photography, and more.

8. Share this video of Sen. Al Franken questioning DeVos' support of anti-LGBTQ causes — and hold her accountable to do better.

Let the record show: Dollars from the DeVos family have gone toward horribly anti-LGBTQ initiatives, including gay (to straight) conversion therapy — a practice that's  been deemed harmful by experts and is essentially a form of child abuse.

Despite her record, DeVos said during her Senate hearing that she never believed in gay conversion therapy and that she "fully embraces equality" for all students. Let's hold her accountable to that.

Earlier this evening, I questioned Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, and was deeply troubled by the fact that she seemed unfamiliar with some of the most basic issues in education today. Ms. DeVos repeatedly refused to answer questions, let alone offer specifics. That was not what the American people needed to hear. They deserved to see her demonstrate that she understands and can successfully address the profoundly difficult challenges ordinary families face every day when it comes to education: things like making sure their kids are prepared for the 21st century economy, addressing student loan debt, and ensuring kids feel safe in school.

Posted by U.S. Senator Al Franken on Tuesday, January 17, 2017

9. Support your local libraries.

Libraries are great resources for our kids to learn outside the classroom (and they have so much more to offer than books). Get your library card, visit frequently, volunteer, and spread the word.

Speaking of libraries...

10. Create a Little Free Library in your own neighborhood.

Build a little library in your yard, stock it with some books, and let your neighbors enjoy. Ideally, it'll turn into a take-a-book, give-a-book situation.

Learn more about how to pull it off.

11. Fight for more affordable and free higher education at the ballot box.

Despite what you may think of DeVos' appointment, Americans increasingly support using public funds to ensure college is free or affordable to more students. Stanford University, for example, was cheered for guaranteeing students whose parents have a combined income of less than $125,000 would have free tuition. And San Francisco has also made waves for making City College free for residents.

Many state and local governments are also trying to make higher ed more accessible to more students. New York state may make its public colleges and universities free to attend for the vast majority of students. Stay plugged in to similar state and local initiatives in your own area.

12. Support the "nonpublic" schools in your area.

Nonpublic schools are, in fact, public schools for kids with moderate to severe disabilities that prevent them from attending a more traditional public school. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ensures schools like them exist for any family that needs it.

Considering DeVos' nomination has disability advocates worried, the nonpublic schools in your community could probably use your support. Many host regular fundraisers and even need classroom volunteers.

13. Support the Kids in Need Foundation.

The nonprofit provides thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies to students in need every year, giving them the tools they need to succeed in class. (There are lots of groups doing similar work, by the way — if you do some digging, you may find a more local option.)

Photo via iStock.

14. Don't forget that Open eBooks is a thing, and it's spectacular.

Former President Obama's ConnectED initiative helped get more than $250 million worth of fantastic children's e-books online, available to any young person who wants to dive into a good read.

Because not every kid gets that chance.

15. Donate to First Book.

This nonprofit provides new books and other learning materials to kids and families in need. Since it was founded in 1992, the group has given away 160 million books and education resources.

16. Help tackle crime, nutrition, and education ... with veggies.

The nonprofit Gardopia Gardens operates community gardens at schools in Texas, helping make nutritional foods more accessible to kids. It not only teaches them about nutrition and gardening, it lowers crime rates in the neighborhoods where it operates. Similar programs are offered at schools around the country — if your local school doesn't already have one, why not look into what it would take to start one yourself?

17. Help make lunchtime a little more stress-free.

18. Support Publicolor.

Kids in New York City who work in the after-school program Publicolor paint beautiful works of art in schools in order to bring a splash of color to the spaces they share, build relationships, and learn valuable skills like commercial painting and positive work habits.

19. Stand up for immigrant students by supporting United We Dream.

The group had already been rallying educators to stand up to Trump's agenda. Now, with DeVos' nomination, its Educators Toolkit may be even more necessary.

20. Take matters into your own hands and run for a position on your local school board.

All politics are local, right? Run for school board in your community and make a difference.

Let's not sugarcoat it: DeVos' nomination is a major setback for our public schools. But we can't get complacent.

In ways big and small, our resistance to her agenda can make a better tomorrow for kids everywhere.

Photo via iStock.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."