From school to Mardi Gras, these students are keeping their city's unique spirit alive.
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New Orleans Tourism

When Rabeetah Hasnain teaches, she resists telling her students what to think.

There’s no need to just drill them on facts they memorized.

Instead, she loves to witness her special education students’ eyes light up with understanding and growing confidence in her fourth- and fifth-grade classes at ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy in New Orleans.  


Her students think for themselves and learn how to solve problems — but in a fun, free-spirited way that mirrors the celebratory, artistic culture of their city.

All images via Turnaround Arts New Orleans/ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy​, used with permission.

For Hasnain’s math classes, she choreographs the fluid movements of a mathematics dance to help her kids learn how a decimal point moves when multiplying by 10.

For English, she has them create a three-minute improv theatrical scene to review their reading comprehension of the "Matilda" chapter she assigned for homework.

Older students even learn U.S. history through rap battles inspired by the mega-hit Broadway musical "Hamilton."

That's because at this academy, art isn’t a separate subject tacked onto education — it's ingrained in the school's culture, just like it is in the city of New Orleans.

It makes sense that their education style is as unique and jubilant as their surrounding city. After all, if you take a walk through New Orleans, you'll see artists lining up their original artwork every day along the sidewalks and fences of Jackson Square. You'll see Dixieland jazz musicians roaming the streets, playing for those that pass by. From its Cajun and Creole cuisine to its multicultural artistic population to its historic architecture, this is a city where beauty and expression in all its forms are celebrated.  

The school, then, takes its cues from the spirit of New Orleans, infusing art, music, and performance into many aspects of the learning experience.

They do this with the help of Turnaround Arts, a national program that aims to transform low-performing schools by using arts education as a strategic tool to boost confidence, creativity, and academic achievement.

"Arts integration doesn’t have to be this extra crazy thing that teachers do," Hasnain says. "It’s just good teaching." Especially when you can connect students with a city's vibrant arts community.

Take Preservation Hall, for example. Situated deep in the heart of the iconic French Quarter, this music venue is known for its unforgettable jazz concerts, which further a living tradition of New Orleans jazz music and culture citywide. It’s also known for its music groups, like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and it is those very band members who are orchestrating the future of this storied musical tradition through Turnaround Arts.

Twice a week, Preservation Hall sends professional jazz musicians to ReNEW Academy to work with the school band, so the students can learn jazz and marching band styles that mirror the jubilant streets and famous venues of their city.

And the kids get to take their art outside the classroom too.

Band students also perform in the city’s Mardi Gras parade, further connecting these students with the local arts scene and allowing them to be part of one of the city's most famous creative traditions. That’s a big deal for anyone enchanted with the city’s defining music.

At this New Orleans academy, their approach to the arts is creating a whole new generation of young artists that are both inspired by and shaping the culture of their city.

Just last January, the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center (just north of St. Charles Avenue) hosted "I’m Glorious," a collaborative installation featuring works from the city’s three ReNEW schools.

A month later, local artists visited homeroom classes at ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy to help them design a mural or art installation around the theme of growth. And the New Orleans Museum of Art donated banners and frames for the project.

In New Orleans, providing children with the space for thinking creatively and for free expression isn’t just to improve academic performance.

It’s about furthering this spellbinding city’s legacy.

"In New Orleans in particular, you’re not only a musician, you’re a culture-bearer," Hasnain says.

"That’s why we bring so many community partners here. ... It would be horrible to be in a city that has so much culture and the kids not be part of it."

It's a culture and a legacy recognized around the world — from the dazzling parades, to the sweet sounds of jazz music in the French Quarter — shaped every day by the youth who live and learn there.

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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."

Ndakasi and Virunga National Park ranger André Bauma.

Fourteen years ago, Ndakasi the mountain gorilla was found clinging to her dead mother in the Congo after bushmeat hunters wiped out her entire family. This week it was announced that she recently passed away in the arms of Virunga National Park ranger André Bauma, the man who rescued her.

Bauma served as Ndakasi's caretaker since he brought her to the park's Senkwekwe Center, where she was rehabilitated along with another orphaned gorilla named Ndeke. Unable to be safely returned to the wild, Ndakasi lived her life in Virunga, where mountain gorilla conservation is a priority.

The park shared a touching photo and announcement of Ndakasi's passing on Facebook. The gorilla had been suffering from a prolonged illness, and her condition had rapidly deteriorated. A photo shows Bauma sitting on a blanket leaning up against the wall with Ndakasi lying next to him, her head on his chest and her toes gripping his boot.

"Ndakasi took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, André Bauma," reads the post.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!