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How one teacher's aquarium dream made science at this Texas school 10 times cooler.

He found a beautiful way to make his school a better place to learn.

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State Farm

What do you do if you're an awesome science teacher and you want your kids to learn about water animals but don't have water nearby?

That's what James Jubran was up against as an aquatic science teacher at Alief Elsik High School in Houston, Texas.

"We don’t have the ability to go to lakes, rivers, oceans or streams," Jubran explains. The nearest large body of water is Trinity Bay, which is an hour away. Big field trips like that cost money, and the school doesn't have the funding to make them feasible.


Elsik is far from being the only school with this problem. Schools nationwide are dealing with massive budget cuts to their STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). That's a big obstacle for students looking to have careers in any of these fields.

Thankfully aquatic science enthusiasts at Elsik have Jubran — grant writer extraordinaire.

Jubran with some of his students. All photos via Elsik High School, used with permission.

Jubran grew up in Florida surrounded by the ocean, and he was always fascinated by underwater ecosystems. He often went out on boats with his family, and he never missed an opportunity to go snorkeling or scuba diving.

He became a science teacher in Florida 10 years ago, but due to statewide school budget cuts, he lost his job and decided to move inland to Houston, Texas, in 2006. He's been at Elsik for five years but has always felt somewhat limited by the lack of access to water.

So in 2016, he wrote a grant proposal for State Farm's Neighborhood Assist Program asking for help in building a gigantic aquarium for Elsik students as well as students at other nearby schools.

State Farm accepted the first 2,000 applicants for the grant, and narrowed that number down to 200. Those proposals were then made public so that people could vote on their favorites. Elsik students made it their mission to vote as much as possible.

The top 40 proposals received $25,000. The grant Jubran wrote came in at #8.

State Farm grant dispatchers and members of the school board.

Jubran immediately began pulling resources to build his dream aquarium, and within a couple months, it was finished.

The aquariumis 12 feet long, 9 feet tall, and 3 feet wide and can hold 1,100 gallons of water.

He decided to create a tropical ecosystem in the tank, home to all kinds of tropical fish. The aquatic residents were added slowly to the tank in order to build up good bacteria, which allows the tank to better handle fish waste. The slow process also helps make sure the fish all get along.

Today, there are 14 different species of fish living in the tank. They include threadfin geophagus, known for their digging skills, Silver arowana, which can grow to two feet long, carnivorous tiger oscars, shovelnose catfish, which look like their name sounds, and Redhooks — the vegetarian version of piranhas.

A few redhooks in Elsik's new aquarium.

The tank is located in the school cafeteria so that all of the students can enjoy it and, well, because it was too big to put upstairs near Jubran's classroom.

The aquarium's been in place for two months now, and everyone seems to love it and all its colorful inhabitants.

Threadfin geophaguses hanging out together.

Students are often seen pressed up against the glass watching the fish swim around and interact with one another.

Jubran doesn't love the thousands of fingerprints on the glass, but he appreciates the enthusiasm. He even has kids he's never met before coming up to him saying things like, “oh, are you the guy who built the aquarium? It’s so cool."

I don't know about that guy in the middle. He looks pretty fishy to me. HEYO!

And Jubran's students, especially the ones interested in aquatic science careers, can't get enough. Even though it's the end of the school year, he's begun assigning special teaching projects on species in the aquarium.

"Next year, students will learn everything they need to know about the fish, then develop and present a curriculum focused on the aquarium," Jubran says. That way, when students from other schools come by to check out the aquarium, Elsik students can actually teach them about what's going on inside it.

And Jubran is not finished with his plans to bring water to Elsik — he's got even loftier plans up his sleeve.

Jubran teaching his students about the aquarium.

"I'm going for a $100,000 grant next year to build an even larger salt water aquarium for the other side of the school," Jubran says.

It might be four times as much as the previous grant, but considering his success at getting that, there's a very good chance he'll be filling a larger aquarium with more exotic fish soon enough.

Jubran's initiative just goes to show there's enormous power behind one person's desire to make a difference.

You don't have to have a ton of money or a fancy upbringing to make huge waves in your community. All you need to have is an idea and the tenacity to see it through.

One teacher can make a school a better, cooler place to learn and grow. As long as Jubran's at Elsik, he'll be working on exciting ways to do just that.

If you want to find out more about Neighborhood Assist, and how it's helping improve communities across the country, check out the program here.    

This post was updated 7/11/2017.

Image from Pixabay.

Under the sea...

True
The Wilderness Society


You're probably familiar with the literary classic "Moby-Dick."

But in case you're not, here's the gist: Moby Dick is the name of a huge albino sperm whale.

(Get your mind outta the gutter.)


There's this dude named Captain Ahab who really really hates the whale, and he goes absolutely bonkers in his quest to hunt and kill it, and then everything is awful and we all die unsatisfied with our shared sad existence and — oops, spoilers!


OK, technically, the narrator Ishmael survives. So it's actually a happy ending (kind of)!

whales, Moby Dick, poaching endangered species

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Basically, it's a famous book about revenge and obsession that was published back in 1851, and it's really, really long.

It's chock-full of beautiful passages and dense symbolism and deep thematic resonance and all those good things that earned it a top spot in the musty canon of important literature.

There's also a lot of mundane descriptions about the whaling trade as well (like, a lot). That's because it came out back when commercial whaling was still a thing we did.

conservation, ocean water conservation

A non-albino mother and baby sperm whale.

Photo by Gabriel Barathieu/Wikipedia.

In fact, humans used to hunt more than 50,000 whales each year to use for oil, meat, baleen, and oil. (Yes, I wrote oil twice.) Then, in 1946, the International Whaling Commission stepped in and said "Hey, wait a minute, guys. There's only a few handful of these majestic creatures left in the entire world, so maybe we should try to not kill them anymore?"

And even then, commercial whaling was still legal in some parts of the world until as recently as 1986.

International Whaling Commission, harpoons

Tail in the water.

Whale's tail pale ale GIF via GoPro/YouTube

And yet by some miracle, there are whales who were born before "Moby-Dick" was published that are still alive today.

What are the odds of that? Honestly it's hard to calculate since we can't exactly swim up to a bowhead and say, "Hey, how old are you?" and expect a response. (Also that's a rude question — jeez.)

Thanks to some thoughtful collaboration between researchers and traditional Inupiat whalers (who are still allowed to hunt for survival), scientists have used amino acids in the eyes of whales and harpoon fragments lodged in their carcasses to determine the age of these enormous animals — and they found at least three bowhead whales who were living prior to 1850.

Granted those are bowheads, not sperm whales like the fictional Moby Dick, (and none of them are albino, I think), but still. Pretty amazing, huh?

whale blubber, blue whales, extinction

This bowhead is presumably in adolescence, given its apparent underwater moping.

GIF via National Geographic.

This is a particularly remarkable feat considering that the entire species was dwindling near extinction.

Barring these few centenarian leviathans, most of the whales still kickin' it today are between 20 and 70 years old. That's because most whale populations were reduced to 10% or less of their numbers between the 18th and 20th centuries, thanks to a few over-eager hunters (and by a few, I mean all of them).

Today, sperm whales are considered one of the most populous species of massive marine mammals; bowheads, on the other hand, are still in trouble, despite a 20% increase in population since the mid-1980s. Makes those few elderly bowheads that much more impressive, huh?

population, Arctic, Great Australian Blight

Southern Right Whales hangin' with a paddleboarder in the Great Australian Bight.

GIF via Jaimen Hudson.

Unfortunately, just as things are looking up, these wonderful whales are in trouble once again.

We might not need to worry our real-life Captain Ahabs anymore, but our big aquatic buddies are still being threatened by industrialization — namely, from oil drilling in the Arctic and the Great Australian Bight.

In the off-chance that companies like Shell and BP manage not to spill millions of gallons of harmful crude oil into the water, the act of drilling alone is likely to maim or kill millions of animals, and the supposedly-safer sonic blasting will blow out their eardrums or worse.

This influx of industrialization also affects their migratory patterns — threatening not only the humans who depend on them, but also the entire marine ecosystem.

And I mean, c'mon — who would want to hurt this adorable face?

social responsibility, nature, extinction

BOOP.

Image from Pixabay.

Whales might be large and long-living. But they still need our help to survive.

If you want another whale to make it to his two-hundred-and-eleventy-first birthday (which you should because I hear they throw great parties), then sign this petition to protect the waters from Big Oil and other industrial threats.

I guarantee Moby Dick will appreciate it.


This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

Identity

High school girl’s response to ‘Ugly Girls’ poll inspires positive reaction

This brave high school student stood up to her school’s cyberbullies.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Lynelle Cantwell had a response on her own Facebook page.

Lynelle Cantwell is in 12th grade at Holy Trinity High School in Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador (that's Canada).

On Monday, she found out that she had been featured on another student's anonymous online poll entitled "Ugly Girls in Grade 12," along with several other classmates.


Cantwell responded via Facebook with her own message, which has already been shared more than 2,000 times and counting.

cyber bullying, bullies, kindness

The unkind poll.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Take a look:

bullying, brave response, community support

“Just because we don’t look perfect on the outside does not mean we are ugly.” - Lynelle Cantwell.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Since posting her brave response on Facebook, more people have come out to show support than people who voted in the first place.

Check out some of the responses:

appreciation, confidence, self esteem, love and support

Some responses to her post.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

The School District of Newfoundland and Labrador has announced that it will be looking into the incident further. For Cantwell, the positive outpouring of love and support vastly outweighs the initial cyberbullying and is raising her confidence in new ways.


This article originally appeared on 08.20.17

@geaux75/TikTok

Molly was found tied to a tree by the new owners of the house.

Molly, an adorable, affectionate 10-year-old pit bull, found herself tied to a tree after her owners had abandoned her.

According to The Dodo, Molly had “always been a loyal dog, but, unfortunately, her first family couldn’t reciprocate that same love back,” and so when the house was sold, neither Molly nor the family’s cat was chosen to move with them. While the cat was allowed to free roam outside, all Molly could do was sit and wait. Alone.

Luckily, the young couple that bought the house agreed to take the animals in as part of their closing agreement, and as soon as the papers were signed, they rushed over to check in.

In a TikTok video, April Parker, the new homeowner, walks up to Molly, who is visibly crestfallen with teary eyes. But as soon as Parker begins cooing, “Baby girl…you’re gonna get a new home,” the pitty instantly perks up—all smiles and tail wagging.

“We are going to make her life so good,” Parker wrote in the video’s caption. “She will never be left all alone tied to a tree.”

@geaux75 The people that sold our house to us left behind their 10yr old dog they had since it was a puppy. I was so stressed we wouldnt get the house and something bad would happeb to her. We are going to maje her life so good. She will never be left all alone tied to a tree. 😭😢@roodytoots ♬ Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) [2018 Remaster] - Kate Bush

The video has been seen upwards of 4 million times. Countless people commented on how enraging it was to see a dog treated so carelessly.

“I’ve had my dog since she was 7 weeks old. She just turned 10 a few days ago. I literally cannot imagine doing this,” one person wrote.”

Another added: “The tears in her eyes…she doesn’t understand why they could just leave her, it breaks my heart. People like that shouldn’t be allowed to be pet owners.”

Subsequent videos show Parker freeing Molly from her leash and introducing the sweet pup to her husband, with whom she was instantly smitten. It’s clear that this doggo was both relieved and elated to be taken in by her new family.

Since being rescued, Molly has accompanied her new mom and dad everywhere.

@geaux75 Replying to @ohitscourtney ♬ Lucky Girl - Carlina


“She’s sticking to our side,” Parker wrote. “She won’t stop following us around. It’s so sweet.”

Parker has created an entire TikTok channel documenting her newfound pet’s journey, aptly named “Molly’s New Life,” showing Molly enjoying warm baths, plenty of treats, cuddles…all the finer things in life.

But what Molly seems to enjoy most of all is car rides:

@geaux75 Taking Molly to get a treat! Stay tuned!! #mollysnewlife #goodgollymissmolly ♬ original sound - Mollysnewlife 🐾🐕💗

And in case you’re wondering, the kitty is doing well, too, though it still prefers to stay outdoors.

Molly also has two indoor cat siblings who instantly welcomed her into the family. The video below shows one of them, Joofus, comforting a trembling Molly with kisses during a thunderstorm.

@geaux75 We had a big storm this morning and Molly was having a hard time. Joofus got on the bed and started comforting her. It was the sweetest thing. They got snuggled up and Molly went to sleep. Animals are amazing. #mollysnewlife #petsarefamily ♬ I Won't Let Go - Rascal Flatts

It seems that Molly has gotten the safe, loving home she’s deserved all along.

We know that animal abandonment is fairly common. According to The Zebra, almost 4 million dogs are either given up to shelters or abandoned each year. And still, it’s really hard to fathom how humans can treat such innocent creatures with such blatant disregard when they provide so much pure joy.

Thankfully, there are folks out there like the Parkers who know that taking care of animals like Molly is one of life’s most precious offerings.

Stay up-to-date with the rest of Molly’s journey by following her on TikTok.


This article originally appeared on 5.31.23

Health

Artists got fed up with these 'anti-homeless spikes.' So they made them a bit more ... comfy.

"Our moral compass is skewed if we think things like this are acceptable."

Photo courtesy of CC BY-ND, Immo Klink and Marco Godoy

Spikes line the concrete to prevent sleeping.


These are called "anti-homeless spikes." They're about as friendly as they sound.

As you may have guessed, they're intended to deter people who are homeless from sitting or sleeping on that concrete step. And yeah, they're pretty awful.

The spikes are a prime example of how cities design spaces to keep homeless people away.


Not all concrete steps have spikes on them, but outdoor seating in cities like Montreal and Tokyo have been sneakily designed to prevent people from resting too comfortably for too long.

This guy sawing through a bench was part of a 2006 protest in Toulouse, France, where public seating intentionally included armrests to prevent people from lying down.

Of course, these designs do nothing to fight the cause or problem of homelessness. They're just a way of saying to homeless people, "Go somewhere else. We don't want to look at you,"basically.

One particular set of spikes was outside a former night club in London. And a local group got sick of staring at them.

Leah Borromeo is part of the art collective "Space, Not Spikes" — a group that's fed up with what she describes as "hostile architecture."

"Spikes do nothing more than shoo the realities of poverty and inequality away from your backyard — so you don't have to see it or confront what you can do to make things more equal," Borromeo told Upworthy. "And that is really selfish."

"Our moral compass is skewed if we think things like this are acceptable."

charity, social consciousness, artist

A bed covers up spikes on the concrete.

assets.rebelmouse.io

The move by Space, Not Spikes has caused quite a stir in London and around the world. The simple but impactful idea even garnered support from music artist Ellie Goulding.

"That was amazing, wasn't it?" Borromeo said of Goulding's shout-out on Instagram.

books, philanthropy, capitalism

Artist's puppy books and home comforts.

assets.rebelmouse.io

"[The project has] definitely touched a nerve and I think it is because, as a whole, humans will still look out for each other," Borromeo told Upworthy. "Capitalism and greed conditions us to look out for ourselves and negate the welfare of others, but ultimately, I think we're actually really kind."

"We need to call out injustice and hypocrisy when we see it."
anti-homeless laws, legislation, panhandling

A message to offer support in contrast with current anti-homeless laws.

assets.rebelmouse.io

These spikes may be in London, but the U.S. definitely has its fair share of anti-homeless sentiment, too.

Spikes are pretty obvious — they're a visual reminder of a problem many cities are trying to ignore. But what we can't see on the street is the rise of anti-homeless laws that have cropped up from sea to shining sea.

Legislation that targets homeless people — like bans on panhandling and prohibiting people from sleeping in cars — has increased significantly in recent years.

For instance, a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty that analyzed 187 American cities found that there's been a 43% hike in citywide bans on sitting or lying down in certain spaces since 2011.

Thankfully, groups like "Space, Not Spikes" are out there changing hearts and minds. But they need our help.

The group created a video to complement its work and Borromeo's hoping its positive underlying message will motivate people to do better.

"[The world] won't always be happy-clappy because positive social change needs constructive conflict and debate," she explained. "But we need to call out injustice and hypocrisy when we see it."

Check out their video below:

This article originally appeared on 07.24.15

Image by Delia D Blackburn, used with permission.

Brittany Peck's wedding.


"Just because you didn't do marriage well doesn't mean you can't do divorce fabulously."

That's something my mother-in-law said to me when her son and I were ending our young, impetuous, and ultimately-not-right-for-us marriage. It stuck with me through the years.

These sweet images from Brittany Peck's wedding have struck a chord with families across the Internet, and they seem to be getting that very same lesson about "doing divorce well" through to millions.


The photographer got a clue something unusual was about to happen.

Delia Blackburn, an Ohio photographer, was snapping pictures at the nuptials, as you do. She described to WKYC3 what happened when the father of the bride, Todd Bachman, approached her.

"He said, 'I'm going to do something special, just be ready.'"

Before Bachman finished walking his daughter down the aisle, he turned around in the direction of his daughter's stepdad, who was also in attendance.

Then Brittany's stepdad details what happened next.

“And he came up to me and reached out and grabbed my hand and he said, 'Hey, you've worked for this as hard as I have.' He said, 'You deserve this as much as I do. You're gonna help us walk OUR daughter down the aisle.' At that point, I had no clue what was going on."
— Todd Cendrosky, stepfather of Brittany Peck

Image by Delia D Blackburn, used with permission.

Todd B. looks like a dad on a mission — to be the coolest guy ever.

“I got weak in the knees and everything — I couldn't have had anything better in my life. That was THE most important thing in my life."
— Brittany's stepdad

Image by Delia D Blackburn, used with permission.

Todd C. is like, "What is even happening right now?"

Todd Bachmann explains his last-minute decision like this:

“It hasn't always been peaches and cream, by any stretch of the imagination. ... There's no better way to thank somebody than to assist me walking my — walking OUR daughter — down the aisle."

Image by Delia D Blackburn, used with permission.

And that's how you do it, folks.

And Brittany herself was pleased with the outcome.

The bride sent a video message from her honeymoon to WKYC, saying, "We've seen it all, been through it all, but at the end of the day we're all happy."

Image by Delia D Blackburn, used with permission.

Divided families know that love isn't a finite thing — there's enough to go around.


This article originally appeared on 9.29.15