A poetry-sharing exercise helped this teacher support a student struggling with suicidal thoughts
Courtesy of April McNary
True

April McNary, a teacher at Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix, Arizona, has always believed in the transformative power of reading and writing. The honest conversations that are sparked by this creative work, she says, are some of the most valuable to her.

"Allowing students to wrestle with their thoughts and convictions is something that happens on a regular basis, and it's one of the parts I love most about my career choice," says McNary.

While learning from great written works like Shakespeare is always on the agenda, McNary also makes a point of giving her students space to write and reflect on pressing issues that affect them directly — like gun violence. After the Parkland shooting happened, she gave her students time to do just that, then discuss what they wrote in small groups. Allowing the students space to express their feelings helped everyone feel better and get on with the day.

One area of creative expression McNary felt like she needed to boost in her classroom was poetry.

"Knowing that reading one's own poetry is terrifying for some (and something I still won't assign), I figured something less daunting was to read a poem someone else had written/published," she explains.

But she implemented a twist — students had to choose a poem with which they had some sort of personal connection. Little did she know what incredible moments were about to transpire as a result.

Courtesy of April McNary


One girl came out in front of the class. A boy, who was known as a jock, wept while telling everyone his mother was dying of cancer. Another girl spoke about how her parents had been deported and she had to take up a job to help support herself and her siblings. And another girl couldn't even finish her poem about being bullied, it affected her so much.

The common thread through all of these incredibly emotional admissions was empathy; the class rallied around each person going through it, applauding, hugging, and weeping right along with them. The act of expressing oneself through another's words seemed to be the permission they needed to open the floodgates and truly support one another.

One reading in particular, however, hit McNary at her core. A student in her class named Chris* brought in a poem from the novel, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," that clearly denotes suicidal ideation. But it wasn't just the context of the poem that concerned her, "it was the way he read it. It's hard to explain to anyone who wasn't in the room, but it was as if he was reading like the original writer of such dark thoughts."

She'd also noticed how he seemed more and more distant in class and in his weekly journal writing. He wouldn't make eye contact with anyone. So, after the class where he presented the poem, McNary reached out to Chris' mom and expressed her concerns. Sadly, she was immediately receptive because she'd noticed her son's behavior, too. They made a plan to keep a close eye on him, and check in with the school social worker.

Chris came in the next day and told McNary his mom had spoken to him about their concerns. "I asked him if he was mad at me, and he said no (with tears in his eyes). I think, although he didn't say it, he was relieved," she says. He started coming in to talk with her before school about books and other things. One day, later in the year, he told her he'd joined a band. After that he started talking to her and his mom about his dreams and goals. "I think Chris needed to be seen and heard," says McNary.

Soon enough, he headed off to college, but he didn't forget about McNary. Eventually, he wrote her an email telling her he was doing well and hoped she was too. "I remember just crying as I read the email a few times. I was beyond relieved and grateful that he had found a place in college, and was positive about his future," she says.

She was so moved by his message that she decided to write a poem herself about him. She often writes to process emotions, just as she instructs her students.

Courtesy of April McNary

Since the poetry-reading assignment had done so much good in her own classroom, McNary decided to submit the idea to the nonprofit, First Book, for inclusion in a toolkit they were developing to help educators promote respect and empathy in the classroom.

First Book helps qualifying teachers like McNary get affordable books and supplies for their students, as well as free professional development tools. She heard about the call for submissions for their Respect and Empathy toolkit via an email they'd sent her. She never expected her exercise would be chosen, and was shocked and humbled when she found out.

McNary hopes the exercise will inspire many more students to really see and hear each other and "accept who their peers are at their core." The point is for students to learn that being vulnerable is a strength, not a weakness, and should be respected as such.

And she has hopes for the teachers who utilize her exercise, too. "I hope they see the value in turning the floor over to their students completely. My hope is for other teachers to sit in the back of the room in awe of their students like I do every year. I also hope that teachers know the power they have to connect kids to one another through experience and poetry."

*The name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual.

This article is sponsored by C&S Wholesale Grocers.

True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Keep Reading Show less

The current COVID-19 "strategy" from the White House appears to be to push for theoretical "herd immunity" by letting the virus spread among the young and healthy population while protecting the elderly and immunocompromised until a certain (genuinely unknown) threshold is reached. Despite many infectious disease experts and some of the world's largest medical institutions decrying the idea as "a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence," and "practically impossible and highly unethical," the radiologist Trump added to his pandemic team is trying to convince people it's a grand plan.

Aside from the fact that we don't know enough about the natural immunity of this virus and the fact that "herd immunity" is a term used in vaccine science—not as a strategy of purposefully infecting people in order to get through an infectious disease outbreak —the idea of "infect the young, protect the vulnerable" is simply a unworkable strategy.

Look no further than the outbreak among the college student population in Pullman, Washington to see why.


Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Pete Buttigieg is having a moment. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana keeps trending on social media for his incredibly eloquent explanations of issues—so much so that L.A. Times columnist Mary McNamara has dubbed him "Slayer Pete," who excels in "the five-minute, remote-feed evisceration." From his old-but-newly-viral explanation of late-term abortion to his calm calling out of Mike Pence's hypocrisy, Buttigieg is making a name for himself as Biden's "secret weapon" and "rhetorical assassin."

And now he's done it again, this time taking on the 'originalist' view of the Constitution.

Constitutional originalists contend that the original meaning of the words the drafters of the Constitution used and their intention at the time they wrote it are what should guide interpretation of the law. On the flip side are people who see the Constitution as a living document, meant to adapt to the times. These are certainly not the only two interpretive options and there is much debate to be had as to the merits of various approaches, but since SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett is an originalist, that view is currently part of the public discourse.

Buttigieg explained the problem with originalism in a segment on MSNBC, speaking from what McNamara jokingly called his "irritatingly immaculate kitchen." And in his usual fashion, he totally nails it. After explaining that he sees "a pathway to judicial activism cloaked in judicial humility" in Coney Barrett's descriptions of herself, he followed up with:

Keep Reading Show less

Eight months into the pandemic, you'd think people would have the basics figured out. Sure, there was some confusion in the beginning as to whether or not masks were going to help, but that was months ago (which might as well be years in pandemic time). Plenty of studies have shown that face masks are an effective way to limit the spread of the virus and public health officials say universal masking is one of the keys to being able to safely resume some normal activities.

Normal activities include things like getting a coffee at Starbucks, but a viral video of a barista's encounter with an anti-masker shows why the U.S. will likely be living in the worst of both worlds—massive spread and economic woe—for the foreseeable future.

Alex Beckom works at a Starbucks in Santee, California and shared a video taken after a woman pulled down her "Trump 2020" mask to ask the 19-year-old barista a question, pulled it back up when the barista asked her to, then pulled it down again.

Keep Reading Show less