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His class attendance went from 40% to 93%. Because of a garden?

Stephen Ritz suffered great personal loss. So he refocused on everyone else's kids — and turned a class with a 40% attendance rate to a 93% attendance rate. How?

Steve Ritz was just like any other parent, doing his best to get by. Then tragedy struck.

From that pain, he decided to refocus his energy on helping other kids.


He went to teach in one of the most troubled schools in the South Bronx.

It had a 17% graduation rate, lots of violence, lots of poverty, and lots of really hungry kids. In fact, 99% of Steve's students qualified for free or reduced lunch.

The South Bronx is what those who work in nutrition call a "food desert." A food desert is what happens when a neighborhood or city doesn't have easily accessible and affordable healthy food. All they have are corner stores and fast food, while real grocery stores are in limited supply.

During his work, he discovered that most of the kids who are considered learning disabled wouldn't have been if they'd had proper prenatal nutrition.

Many of the people who live in the South Bronx also suffer from something called "food insecurity." Food insecurity means you don't know where your next meal will come from. For people who live in food deserts, this is a fairly common feeling.

The students that Stephen teaches struggle with all kinds of problems. Most of his kids are homeless. Many are in foster care.

70% of his students were considered "learning disabled" but didn't have to be.

During his work, Stephen discovered that most of the kids who are considered learning disabled wouldn't have been if they'd had proper prenatal nutrition.

Then fate set him and his students on a new path.

One day, someone sent him a donation of daffodil bulbs.

Finding that the bulbs had turned into flowers behind the radiator inspired them to dream big.

So he and the kids created the Green Bronx Machine.

The Green Bronx Machine is a nonprofit devoted to growing healthy food curriculums and economies locally. It teaches kids how to be healthy and provides them with healthy food options, which in turn helps them focus and perform better in and out of school.

Together, they've created a school curriculum around healthy eating and gardening.

The students grow food (30,000 pounds of it to date), and they create sustainable gardens on roofs and in classrooms all over New York (creating jobs for some of the teens in the program). The kids have significantly increased their academic achievement.

And even better? The students get to eat the things they grow and bring food home, too, while learning how to farm and manage food production at the same time.

The bottom line: Teaching kids how to grow things helps them grow.

The kids in Steve's class went from a 40% attendance rate to a 93% attendance rate, and they're getting 100% passing rates on New York State Examinations.

All the data point toward future health and success for the students and the program.

Take it away, Mr. Ritz:


Watch the video and hear their story:

Want to help them make their program even better?

PS 55 donated an old library room with lots of sunlight to create a brand-new learning center for his students. They call it The National Health and Wellness Center at PS 55.

What will it do? According to the site:

Indoor Teaching Farm – we will teach students hands-on about food from seed to harvest, and will connect lessons to classroom curriculum.
Teaching Kitchen we will teach students how to prepare and cook the vegetables they have just grown to create delicious, healthy meals.
Media and Resource Center – students will have access to computers for data recording and analysis, and internet for research and inter-classroom lessons with other schools across the country and internationally.
Indoor Community Farm – we will grow enough food to send 100 students per week home with bags of fresh vegetables, 52 weeks per year.


If you'd like to help make it a reality, you can donate here.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Co-sleeping isn't for everyone.

The marital bed is a symbol of the intimacy shared between people who’ve decided to be together 'til death they do part. When couples sleep together it’s an expression of their closeness and how they care for one another when they are most vulnerable.

However, for some couples, the marital bed can be a warzone. Throughout the night couples can endure snoring, sleep apnea, the ongoing battle for sheets or circadian rhythms that never seem to sync. If one person likes to fall asleep with the TV on while the other reads a book, it can be impossible to come to an agreement on a good-night routine.

Last week on TODAY, host Carson Daly reminded viewers that he and his wife Siri, a TODAY Food contributor, had a sleep divorce while she was pregnant with their fourth child.

“I was served my sleep-divorce papers a few years ago,” he explained on TODAY. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to us. We both, admittedly, slept better apart.”

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