+
A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
We are a small, independent media company on a mission to share the best of humanity with the world.
If you think the work we do matters, pre-ordering a copy of our first book would make a huge difference in helping us succeed.
GOOD PEOPLE Book
upworthy

Schools

Image by Stacey Kennedy from Pixabay

Graduation is a big milestone that can come with grief for some communities.

It's been nearly 12 years since a young man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, with an AR-15. rifle and two handguns and opened fire, killing 20 first graders and six faculty members before turning the gun on himself.

Survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting—kids who watched their friends and teachers being murdered in their classrooms—are now graduating from high school, and they have complicated feelings about the milestone and the 20 classmates who aren't joining them.

A private graduation ceremony was held at Newtown High School on June 12, 2024, with 335 graduates including around 60 Sandy Hook survivors. Some of them shared their thoughts with journalists in the days leading up to graduation.


“I think we’re all super excited for the day,” Lilly Wasilnak, 17, shared with the AP. "But I think we can’t forget ... that there is a whole chunk of our class missing. And so going into graduation, we all have very mixed emotions — trying to be excited for ourselves and this accomplishment that we’ve worked so hard for, but also those who aren’t able to share it with us, who should have been able to.”

"The shooter actually came into my classroom," Emma Ehrens, 17, told CBS News. "So I had to, like, watch all my friends and teachers get killed, and I had to run for my life at six years old."

According to the AP, Ehrens was one of 11 kids who survived from Classroom 10. She was able to escape with a group of students when the shooter paused to reload his gun. Five students and both teachers in the room were killed.

“I am definitely going be feeling a lot of mixed emotions,” Ehrens said. “I’m super excited to be, like, done with high school and moving on to the next chapter of my life. But I’m also so ... mournful, I guess, to have to be walking across that stage alone. … I like to think that they’ll be there with us and walking across that stage with us.”

The survivors who are graduating this year are dealing with both the exciting what ifs of their futures and the tragic what ifs of their past as they remember their slain classmates.

"Just growing up with having the fear, and the what ifs of what could have happened if I stayed? Because I was, like, I was going to be next," Ehrens told CBS News.

"So even going to prom, you think, well, what if they were my prom date? Or, you know, what if they were my significant other? What if they were able to walk the stage with me," survivor Ella Seaver added.

“As much as we’ve tried to have that normal, like, childhood and normal high school experience, it wasn’t totally normal,” Grace Fischer, 18, told CBS. “But even though we are missing ... such a big chunk of our class, like Lilly said, we are still graduating. ... We want to be those regular teenagers who walk across the stage that day and feel that, like, celebratory feeling in ourselves, knowing that we’ve come this far.”

That desire for normalcy conflicting with their not normal childhood is part of what makes graduation such a bittersweet experience for these young people. They had so much taken from them at such a young age, and that trauma doesn't just disappear. Some of the students expressed that they are looking forward to moving away from Newtown and building a life in which the school shooting doesn't define them.

Sandy Hook was unique in that the victims were so young and there were so many of them, but the survivors aren't alone in their experience. In the years since the Sandy Hook massacre, the U.S. has seen dozens more school shootings, and there are thousands of school shooting survivors dealing with related traumas. Many of those survivors have become outspoken anti-gun-violence advocates, pressuring officials to enact stronger laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

But for now, the Sandy Hook graduates are celebrating a big life milestone, just as they—and their 20 missing classmates—should be.

Watch six of the Sandy Hook survivors share their stories on Good Morning America:


Education

A dad's hilarious letter to school asks them to explain why they're living in 1968

"I look forward to this being rectified and my daughter and other girls at the school being returned to this millennium."

Earlier in the week, Stephen Callaghan's daughter Ruby came home from school. When he asked her how her day was, her answer made him raise an eyebrow.

Ruby, who's in the sixth grade at her school in Australia, told her dad that the boys would soon be taken on a field trip to Bunnings (a hardware chain in the area) to learn about construction.

The girls, on the other hand? While the boys were out learning, they would be sent to the library to have their hair and makeup done.


Ruby's reply made Callaghan do a double take. What year was it, again?

Callaghan decided to write a letter to the school sharing his disappointment — but his wasn't your typical "outraged parent" letter.


"Dear Principal," he began. "I must draw your attention to a serious incident which occurred yesterday at your school where my daughter is a Year 6 student."

"When Ruby left for school yesterday it was 2017," Callaghan continued. "But when she returned home in the afternoon she was from 1968."

The letter goes on to suggest that perhaps the school is harboring secret time-travel technology or perhaps has fallen victim to a rift in the "space-time continuum," keeping his daughter in an era where women were relegated to domestic life by default.

"I look forward to this being rectified and my daughter and other girls at the school being returned to this millennium where school activities are not sharply divided along gender lines," he concluded.



Dear Principal
I must draw your attention to a serious incident which occurred yesterday at your school where my daughter Ruby is a Year 6 student.
When Ruby left for school yesterday it was 2017 but when she returned home in the afternoon she was from 1968.
I know this to be the case as Ruby informed me that the "girls" in Year 6 would be attending the school library to get their hair and make-up done on Monday afternoon while the "boys" are going to Bunnings.
Are you able to search the school buildings for a rip in the space-time continuum? Perhaps there is a faulty Flux Capacitor hidden away in the girls toilet block.
I look forward to this being rectified and my daughter and other girls at the school being returned to this millennium where school activities are not sharply divided along gender lines.
Yours respectfully
Stephen Callaghan

When Callaghan posted the letter to Twitter, it quickly went viral and inspired hundreds of supportive responses.

Though most people who saw his response to the school's egregiously outdated activities applauded him, not everyone was on board.

One commenter wrote, "Sometimes it is just ok for girls to do girl things."

But Callaghan was ready for that. "Never said it wasn't," he replied. "But you've missed the point. Why 'girl things' or 'boy things'... Why not just 'things anyone can do?'"

He later commented that he didn't think the school's plan was malicious, but noted the incident was a powerful example of "everyday sexism" at work.

Callaghan says the school hasn't responded to his letter. (Yes, he really sent it.) At least, not directly to him.

Some media outlets have reported that the school claims students are free to opt in and out of the different activities. But, as Callaghan says, gendering activities like this in the first place sends the completely wrong message.

In response to the outpouring of support, Callaghan again took to Twitter.

"At 12 years of age my daughter is starting to notice there are plenty of people prepared to tell her what she can and can't do based solely on the fact she is female," he wrote.

"She would like this to change. So would I."


This article originally appeared on 12.08.17.

Education

Over-the-top school dress-up weeks have parents feeling grinchy

The holidays are busy enough without throwing "dress as your favorite Christmas song" into the mix.

Time to rein in the school dress-up days, folks.

Hey, kids! Happy December! We know that school can feel like drudgery, and it's been a few months since school started, and we want you to not hate coming here, so we decided to do something fun and festive that we think will create a sense of school pride and spirit! It's school dress-up week!

What this means is that during the busiest time of the year, when your parents are already up to their ears in holiday prep, shopping for and wrapping gifts, planning and attending work parties and end-of-year recitals and concerts, trying to navigate the emotional complexities of holiday family drama, trying to make your Christmas magical by moving that frickin' Elf on the Shelf every night, etc., we're going to add to the to-do list by pressuring them to help you come up with specific outfits to wear to school for an entire week. Doesn't that sound neat?

Dress-up weeks are fun on paper, and they can be fun when they're kept super simple. "Wear red or green!" is easy enough. "Dress as your favorite Christmas character!" though? Not so much.


Parents are crying uncle on over-the-top dressup weeks, saying it's just too much. A mom who goes by Mariah on X shared her frustration with how "ridiculous" the whole thing has become.

"I have 2 kids and 9 different dress up days next week," she wrote, before laying out some of the significant problems with said days:

"1. It expects families to be able to go out at the drop of a hat and get multiple Christmas character shirts and ugly sweaters at the most expensive time of year. It’s just another way to alienate kids whose families can’t afford a bunch of extra stuff or the mental load of the extra work.

2. It also assumes EVERYONE in the school celebrates Christmas and creates a whole week out of dressing up for it. Most people do celebrate Christmas where I live but then it’s even more alienating for people that don’t."

Then she offered a simple solution: "Have a PJ Day on the last day before break and call it good… please."

Mariah is certainly not the only parent to feel strongly about dress-up weeks—or months. Some parents shared that their young elementary school kids—second and third graders—had dress-up days the entire month of December leading up to the holiday break.

It's one thing when it's high schoolers who might have the ability to take themselves to a thrift store or whip together some kind of outfit themselves, but for elementary school kids, it's 100% on the parents.

Some teachers are even weighing in with why they dislike dress-up days as well, both for the annoyance and the lack of inclusivity.

Some people offered solutions that allow those who enjoy dress-up days to have their fun while taking the pressure off of everyone else. For instance, one teacher shared that her school dress-up days are always a specific way of dressing up OR wearing school colors. She said many of the students opt for school colors so no one feels like the odd one out for not wearing their PJs or holiday socks or whatever.

She said it's helpful for her as a teacher as well, since dress-up days are a lot of pressure and can mean spending extra money that a lot of teachers don't have to spend.

What if schools moved the dress-up days to January, when the holiday hustle and bustle has passed and the long winter could use an extra dose of fun? What if they kept them super simple, sticking to colors or general things that are easy for everyone, like "Wear your favorite comfy pants" or "Silly hairstyle day" or something like that.

The bottom line is to not let school dress-up days turn into the road to hell paved with good intentions. Rein it in, folks, for the parents' sake.

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Gen Z is navigating a career landscape unlike any other.

True

Every adult generation has its version of a “kids these days” lament, labeling the up-and-coming generation as less resilient or hardworking compared to their own youth. But Gen Z—currently middle school age through young adulthood—is challenging that notion with their career readiness.

Take Abigail Sanders, an 18-year-old college graduate. Thanks to a dual enrollment program with her online school, she actually earned her bachelor’s degree before her high school diploma. Now she’s in medical school at Bastyr University in Washington state, on track to become a doctor by age 22.

a family of 6 at a graduation with two graduatesAll four of the Sanders kids have utilized Connections Academy to prepare for their futures.

Abigail’s twin sister, Chloe, also did dual enrollment in high school to earn her associate’s in business and is on an early college graduation path to become a vet tech.

Maeson Frymire dreams of becoming a paramedic. He got his EMT certification in high school and fought fires in New Mexico after graduation. Now he’s working towards becoming an advanced certified EMT and has carved his career path towards flight paramedicine.

Sidny Szybnski spends her summers helping run her family’s log cabin resort on Priest Lake in Idaho. She's taken business and finance courses in high school and hopes to be the third generation to run the resort after attending college.

log cabin resort on edge of forestAfter college, Sidny Szybnski hopes to run her family's resort in Priest Lake, Idaho.

Each of these learners has attended Connections Academy, tuition-free online public schools available in 29 states across the U.S., to not only get ready for college but to dive straight into college coursework and get a head start on career training as well. These students are prime examples of how Gen Zers are navigating the career prep landscape, finding their passions, figuring out their paths and making sure they’re prepared for an ever-changing job market.

Lorna Bryant, the Head of Career Education for Connections Academy’s online school program, says that Gen Z has access to a vast array of career-prep tools that previous generations didn’t have, largely thanks to the internet.

“Twenty to 30 years ago, young people largely relied on what adults told them about careers and how to get there,” Bryant tells Upworthy. “Today, teens have a lot more agency. With technology and social media, they have access to so much information about jobs, employers and training. With a tap on their phones, they can hear directly from people who are in the jobs they may be interested in. Corporate websites and social media accounts outline an organization’s mission, vision and values—which are especially important for Gen Z.”

Research shows over 75% of high schoolers want to focus on skills that will prepare them for in-demand jobs. However, not all teens know what the options are or where to find them. Having your future wide open can be overwhelming, and young people might be afraid of making a wrong choice that will impact their whole lives.

Bryant emphasizes that optimism and enthusiasm from parents can help a lot, in addition to communicating that nothing's carved in stone—kids can change paths if they find themselves on one that isn’t a good fit.

Dr. Bryant and student video meeting Dr. Bryant meeting with a student

“I think the most important thing to communicate to teens is that they have more options than ever to pursue a career,” she says. “A two- or four-year college continues to be an incredibly valuable and popular route, but the pathways to a rewarding career have changed so much in the past decade. Today, career planning conversations include options like taking college credit while still in high school or earning a career credential or certificate before high school graduation. There are other options like the ‘ships’—internships, mentorships, apprenticeships—that can connect teens to college, careers, and employers who may offer on-the-job training or even pay for employees to go to college.”

Parents can also help kids develop “durable skills”—sometimes called “soft” or “human” skills—such as communication, leadership, collaboration, empathy and grit. Bryant says durable skills are incredibly valuable because they are attractive to employers and colleges and transfer across industries and jobs. A worldwide Pearson survey found that those skills are some of the most sought after by employers.

“The good news is that teens are likely to be already developing these skills,” says Bryant. Volunteering, having a part-time job, joining or captaining a team sport can build durable skills in a way that can also be highlighted on college and job applications.

Young people are navigating a fast-changing world, and the qualities, skills and tools they need to succeed may not always be familiar to their parents and grandparents. But Gen Z is showing that when they have a good grasp of the options and opportunities, they’re ready to embark on their career paths, wherever they may lead.

Learn more about Connections Academy here and Connections’ new college and career prep initiative here.