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Heroes

One woman's quest to show displaced, stateless kids their lives are worth celebrating

One woman's quest to show displaced, stateless kids their lives are worth celebrating
Pauline Tee/Annie Reneau

As we board the rental van in front of our hotel in Mae Sot, Thailand, the leader of our group, Pauline, notices a dog wandering in the street. It's not an unusual sight—stray dogs roam everywhere here—but this mutt looks particularly mangey. "Oh, that poor dog!" Pauline says. "When we get back, I'll see if I can bring him something to eat."


This is Pauline Tee in a nutshell: compulsively compassionate and immediately thoughtful. The friend we share in common had described her as "a sweetheart," but that was an understatement. Pauline is someone who puts her energy, time, and money where her heart is, with a pure generosity that makes you believe humanity has a decent chance after all.

Pauline tee has spent nine years serving displaced and stateless Burmese kids in Mae Sot, ThailandPhoto courtesy of Pauline Tee

As we set off for one of the three Burmese schools we'll be visiting this week, Pauline goes over what we'll be doing and who we'll be seeing. Mae Sot sits along the Thai side of the border between Thailand and Burma (also known as Myanmar) and is home to tens of thousands of Burmese people of varying statuses. Many are refugees who fled their homeland during several decades of civil war and unrest. Some belong to ethnic groups who are persecuted in Myanmar. Some are migrant workers who legally or illegally make their living on this side of the border, contributing to cheap labor in Thailand.

And thousands are displaced children—some orphaned, some stateless—whose well-being depends on adults willing to help them and whose future depends on getting an education.

Burmese school in Mae Sot, ThailandAnnie Reneau

"Stateless" is a strange status to have as a human being. In the simplest terms, it means having no official nationality, no identifying documents to prove what country you belong to. Without such documentation, it's often difficult or impossible to access resources, qualify for aid programs, or receive support from official sources. Statelessness can occur under various circumstances, but the end result is a sort of humanitarian limbo where people have few options, and children in particular are vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation, and abuse.

The Burmese migrant schools in Mae Sot give displaced and stateless kids a safe place to learn. But they are also challenged by the poverty and instability that mark the lives of children they serve. Pauline, who is originally from Malaysia and now works for an international bank in Singapore, got connected with some of these schools nearly ten years ago on a volunteer trip with colleagues. Since then, she has returned to Mae Sot at least twice a year, and single-handedly created several programs for children here.

One morning, we go to the Thai/Burmese border, where a large, colorful marketplace sells clothes and trinkets, and a line of duty free shops sells mostly cigarettes. Pauline points out an area just beyond the shops, a strip of land between the countries known as "No man's land." Both countries claim jurisdiction over this area, but neither country effectively polices it. Hundreds of stateless Burmese people, including children, live here in makeshift huts made of plastic tarps draped over rudimentary wood structures. Though Thai soldiers loosely monitor it during the day, lawlessness, drug deals, and child exploitation go largely unchecked.

RELATED: She can't study or start a family all because of what happened at 15.

"I just can't walk away from the children after learning their living condition is as such," Pauline says. "The only way I can describe it is just like if you saw an injured person on the road, you just can't walk away from the person without helping them. And that kept me going back to Mae Sot again and again and again."

A glimpse of "No man's land" between Thailand and MyanmarPhoto by Annie Reneau

With the help of her partner, Fun (pronounced just like the English word), Pauline has spent the past decade pouring time and resources into serving these kids. She's set up a Lunch Every Day program at several schools, to ensure that kids get a nutritious lunch at least each weekday. She sponsors Burmese kids to go to Thai school, assisting with fees and transportation, to give them greater educational opportunities. And she organizes big birthday bashes—complete with cake, presents, games, and music—to celebrate the lives of these kids, some of whom have no idea what day they were born.

Twice a year, Pauline invites friends and acquaintances to meet in Mae Sot to help put on these events. Our small band of birthday volunteers includes people from Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and the U.S. We are also joined by a 19-year-old Burmese college student named Jo Jo, who grew up in one of these schools and now returns to help Pauline with the birthday parties. Our job is to take care of logistics, help with organized games and activities, light candles on hundreds of cupcakes, hand out goody bags and t-shirts, and generally provide a day of celebration for the kids.

Jo Jo, a former Burmese migrant school student, returns each year to help translate and organize birthday activities Photo by Annie Reneau

The first day we visit the largest school—230 kids—and Jo Jo brings a dozen or so Burmese teenagers with him to translate and help organize games. After spending just a few hours with Jo Jo, it's clear that he's an extraordinary young man—a natural and likable leader. Pauline first met him when he was 10, and she was impressed by his innate confidence even then. (He was one of the first students to call her "Pauline" instead of the standard "Teacher.") He got a scholarship from an Australian NGO to go to university in Myanmar, where he's currently studying International Relations.

Jo Jo says he loves coming back to help Pauline put on the birthday events. "The annual birthday party is such a great party for refugee kids," he tells me in English, "because the kids can know how important they are." He has started organizing a similar program himself at an orphanage in Myanmar.

Birthday fun at Burmese school in Mae Sot, ThailandPhoto by Annie Reneau

Knowing the vulnerable status of these kids, Pauline decided from the beginning that if she was going to do these birthday events, she would return to the same schools each year without fail. She will only add a new school to the program if she's 100% sure she'll be able to keep it up, and that long-term commitment has paid off. Kids at the five schools she supports—close to 600 children—look forward to Pauline's birthday parties the same way kids everywhere look forward to their birthday.

Birthday celebration at Burmese school in Mae Sot, ThailandPhoto by Scott Smiley

"A lot of people call us 'The Happy Group,' says Pauline. "I used to call ourselves the 'Independent Volunteers' [because] we don't belong to any NGO. We're just a group of volunteers who want to bring happiness or joy, no matter how little, to these kids so we can make their lives just a little bit better."

However, she points out that the birthday parties aren't just about providing a day of fun. "Celebrating a birthday is a celebration of our existence in the world. So for these kids, when we do the birthday program, it actually has a larger meaning than just celebration and fun and joy and goody bags and snacks. It's actually a celebration of their existence." It lets them know they are not only seen, but valued as human beings.

For three days, we throw birthday celebrations for about 430 kids, ranging in age from preschool to high school. I note that most of the kids wear some sort of school uniform, but some have put on their best dress-up clothes for the occasion. Most also wear a traditional skincare product called thanakha—a paste made of ground tree bark that's used as a sunscreen and skin softener—on their faces. Burmese people of all ages wear thanakha daily, a distinguishing feature that makes them stand out in Thailand.

As a trained teacher, I've been around a lot of children. No matter where you go, kids are always kids. Within an hour, I could spot which kids in each age group were the teacher's pets, which ones were the class clowns, which ones were shy at first but would warm up as they got more comfortable. I saw the silliness, teasing, and expressions of friendship you'd see in any large group of children. I watched teenage boys be teenage boys, challenging one another to arm wrestling competitions, alternating between being goofy and shy.

Preschool classroom at Burmese school in Mae Sot, ThailandPhoto by Annie Reneau

What I couldn't see, of course, was which kids hadn't eaten, which kids had been orphaned, and which kids were being exploited or abused before or after school. We know that's reality for some of these children, and as much as we wish we could, we can't change their individual circumstances. That's why Pauline does what she does—to show them that they have not been forgotten by the world.

"The very first time being exposed to the true meaning of being stateless and displaced in a foreign country, I saw how vulnerable they are," says Pauline. "The other thing is they are children. They're not strong enough to protect themselves. They are purely at the mercy of the world, the adults in the situation they are in, and that keeps me going."

Pauline knows, of course, that Burmese kids in Mae Sot are not the only children in need. But she chooses to focus on this one place and these specific kids so she can make an impact. She says:

"I know that there are so many children who are vulnerable. There are lots everywhere...I just happened to have met them first. If I had gone to Indonesia or Cambodia and met a group there, maybe I would do the same. But I went there. I met the kids. I learned about the children and decided to help. Instead of doing a little bit here and there, I wanted to focus my energy on one place. Already in this one place, the needs are just enormous and I can't cover everyone. I might as well focus on this one door so that it's more sustainable rather than going all over the place. That's why I keep going back to them."

Fun helps Pauline to keep her programs running. As a stress management coach by profession, he's also added a social/emotional component to their work with the children. "We need to give a lot more psychological support to these kids, because they don't get any," says Pauline. Fun brought in a self-mastery program and hired a local teacher to help implement it. He Skypes in with students on a monthly basis, and they've gotten positive feedback on the program from kids and teens who say they've gain strength, self-awareness, and emotional tools to help them cope with their challenges.

RELATED: Millions of refugees live in limbo. Here's one initiative offering hope and purpose.

I ask Pauline if she's considered consolidating her efforts into an official NGO. She says she's thought about it, but the stateless status of the children and some of the adults she works with means she would hit funding road blocks. Companies want to avoid situations where they can't determine exactly where funding is going, and with some of the services Pauline helps with, that's a problem. For example, at some schools, a driver picks up kids at the border and drives them to school each day. Sometimes the driver might be a stateless person themselves, who may or may not have a legal driver's license. They may have to bribe the police every month to get the kids to school—that's just the way things are done here—but no organization would be able to support that officially.

Some kids are picked up at the border and dropped off at schoolPhoto by Annie Reneau

Pauline is also worried that running an official organization would take energy away from what she does best, which is to serve the children directly. So she keeps her fundraising efforts personal, pays for the majority of their projects from her own pocket, and oversees her programs herself. "I know there are certain activities that will drain me," she says, so she sticks with what works and what she can keep up with in her free time. Though her successful banking career is an accomplishment in its own right, she now sees it as a means to one end—funding programs that help the stateless, displaced kids that live in Mae Sot lead healthier, happier lives.

"I say it's a calling," she says. "I found my passion with children. I know what to do now. My job is just a job to finance my work with children."

I look at Pauline and think of the many unsung heroes out there—people working at the grassroots level, helping specific groups of people in specific areas, without fanfare or recognition. Seeing her in generosity in action is humbling, and I don't know whether I feel more ashamed or inspired by her selflessness. All I know is that the world could use a whole lot more people just like her.

If you'd like to support Pauline's efforts, a GoFundMe has been organized to help fund the birthday and lunch programs for the schools she serves in Mae Sot. A few dollars here goes a long way there.

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3 organic recipes that feed a family of 4 for under $7 a serving

O Organics is the rare brand that provides high-quality food at affordable prices.

A woman cooking up a nice pot of pasta.

Over the past few years, rising supermarket prices have forced many families to make compromises on ingredient quality when shopping for meals. A recent study published by Supermarket News found that 41% of families with children were more likely to switch to lower-quality groceries to deal with inflation.

By comparison, 29% of people without children have switched to lower-quality groceries to cope with rising prices.

Despite the current rising costs of groceries, O Organics has enabled families to consistently enjoy high-quality, organic meals at affordable prices for nearly two decades. With a focus on great taste and health, O Organics offers an extensive range of options for budget-conscious consumers.

O Organics launched in 2005 with 150 USDA Certified Organic products but now offers over 1,500 items, from organic fresh fruits and vegetables to organic dairy and meats, organic cage-free certified eggs, organic snacks, organic baby food and more. This gives families the ability to make a broader range of recipes featuring organic ingredients than ever before.


“We believe every customer should have access to affordable, organic options that support healthy lifestyles and diverse shopping preferences,” shared Jennifer Saenz, EVP and Chief Merchandising Officer at Albertsons, one of many stores where you can find O Organics products. “Over the years, we have made organic foods more accessible by expanding O Organics to every aisle across our stores, making it possible for health and budget-conscious families to incorporate organic food into every meal.”

With some help from our friends at O Organics, Upworthy looked at the vast array of products available at our local store and created some tasty, affordable and healthy meals.

Here are 3 meals for a family of 4 that cost $7 and under, per serving. (Note: prices may vary by location and are calculated before sales tax.)

O Organic’s Tacos and Refried Beans ($6.41 Per Serving)

Few dishes can make a family rush to the dinner table quite like tacos. Here’s a healthy and affordable way to spice up your family’s Taco Tuesdays.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 22 minutes

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 packet O Organics Taco Seasoning ($2.29)

O Organics Mexican-Style Cheese Blend Cheese ($4.79)

O Organics Chunky Salsa ($3.99)

O Organics Taco Shells ($4.29)

1 can of O Organics Refried Beans ($2.29)

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Add 1 packet of taco seasoning to beef along with water [and cook as directed].

3. Add taco meat to the shell, top with cheese and salsa as desired.

4. Heat refried beans in a saucepan until cooked through, serve alongside tacos, top with cheese.

tacos, o organics, family recipesO Organics Mexican-style blend cheese.via O Organics

O Organics Hamburger Stew ($4.53 Per Serving)

Busy parents will love this recipe that allows them to prep in the morning and then serve a delicious, slow-cooked stew after work.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 7 hours

Total time: 7 hours 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 ½ lbs O Organics Gold Potatoes ($4.49)

3 O Organics Carrots ($2.89)

1 tsp onion powder

I can O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 cups water

1 yellow onion diced ($1.00)

1 clove garlic ($.50)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2 tsp Italian seasoning or oregano

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Transfer the cooked beef to a slow cooker with the potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic.

3. Mix the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, onion powder and Italian seasoning in a separate bowl.

4. Drizzle the mixed sauce over the ingredients in the slow cooker and mix thoroughly.

5. Cover the slow cooker with its lid and set it on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the potatoes are soft. Dish out into bowls and enjoy!

potatoes, o organics, hamburger stewO Organics baby gold potatoes.via O Organics


O Organics Ground Beef and Pasta Skillet ($4.32 Per Serving)

This one-pan dish is for all Italian lovers who are looking for a saucy, cheesy, and full-flavored comfort dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 27 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp garlic powder

1 can O Organics Diced Tomatoes ($2.00)

1 can O Organics Tomato Sauce ($2.29)

1 tbsp O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 1/4 cups water

2 cups O Organics Rotini Pasta ($3.29)

1 cup O Organics Mozzarella cheese ($4.79)

Instructions:

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.

2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder

3. Add tomato paste, sauce and diced tomatoes to the skillet. Stir in water and bring to a light boil.

4. Add pasta to the skillet, ensuring it is well coated. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Remove the lid, sprinkle with cheese and allow it to cool.

o organics, tomato basil pasta sauce, olive oilO Organics tomato basil pasta sauce and extra virgin olive oil.via O Organics

Pop Culture

Watch Lucille Ball repeatedly tell a host to take his hands off female audience members

People laughed every time she told him 'hands off,' but she was stone cold serious.

Lucille Ball was a powerhouse both on screen and off.

According to her daughter, Lucille Ball never considered herself a feminist, but there's no question she blazed many a trail for women. A working mother in real life, she depicted issues facing housewives with her brilliant television comedy and became the first female studio head in Hollywood. She broke glass ceilings but wasn't particularly outspoken about women's rights. In fact, in a 1980 interview with "People," she said, “They can use my name for equal rights, but I don’t get out there and raise hell because I’ve been so liberated, I have nothing to squawk about.”

Ball empowered women by example—and by speaking her mind. Carol Burnett shared a story on PBS about how Ball was unhappy with a script for her new show, but women at that time didn't raise concerns about such things. Men could express criticism and demand changes, but women simply didn't. Ball did—and firmly—despite being non-confrontational by nature. Later she told Burnett, "Kid, that's when they put the 's' at the end of my name."

A video has been circulating on social media showing Ball's no-nonsense way of speaking up when she felt the need to, and people are gushing over it.

In 1978, Ball participated in a Q & A session with UCLA theater arts students on the television program "America Alive!" The viral clip shows Ball repeatedly telling one of the hosts, David Sheehan, to take his hands off of female audience members when they were asking a question.

Watch:

@femalequotient

We love Lucy ❤️

People laughed every time, but Ball didn't so much as crack a smile during her clear, simple, repeated "hands off" admonitions. For 1978 especially, her advocacy for the women in the audience was extraordinary. Sheehan wasn't touching these women in a lewd or sexual manner, but he was touching them in a way that he wouldn't have touched a man who was asking a question. Most people wouldn't have thought much of it at the time, but Lucille Ball immediately noted it and didn't let it stand.

"I love that she didn't even laugh when the room was," shared one commenter. "She was not joking."

"'Take your hands off her, David,' should be a sound AND a t-shirt," wrote another.

"He kept trying. She kept telling him. Love her," shared another.

"Lucille Ball always reminds me of my grandma," offered another. "She hated to be seen as delicate, and she hated men that would touch her even more. She would say, stone-faced, 'Get your paws off.'"

Even if Sheehan was casually touching those women out of habit and not ill intent, it's laudable that Ball made a point of making him aware of it. Unfortunately, women are still having to deal with men touching them without being invited to, but seeing Lucille Ball's serious face while calling it out is a good reminder that women have been fighting this battle for a long time. Good for her for using her microphone and the respect afforded her to speak up for the young women in her audience.

Images provided by P&G

Three winners will be selected to receive $1000 donated to the charity of their choice.

True

Doing good is its own reward, but sometimes recognizing these acts of kindness helps bring even more good into the world. That’s why we’re excited to partner with P&G again on the #ActsOfGood Awards.

The #ActsOfGood Awards recognize individuals who actively support their communities. It could be a rockstar volunteer, an amazing community leader, or someone who shows up for others in special ways.

Do you know someone in your community doing #ActsOfGood? Nominate them between April 24th-June 3rdhere.Three winners will receive $1,000 dedicated to the charity of their choice, plus their story will be highlighted on Upworthy’s social channels. And yes, it’s totally fine to nominate yourself!

We want to see the good work you’re doing and most of all, we want to help you make a difference.

While every good deed is meaningful, winners will be selected based on how well they reflect Upworthy and P&G’s commitment to do #ActsOfGood to help communities grow.

That means be on the lookout for individuals who:

Strengthen their community

Make a tangible and unique impact

Go above and beyond day-to-day work

The #ActsOfGood Awards are just one part of P&G’s larger mission to help communities around the world to grow. For generations, P&G has been a force for growth—making everyday products that people love and trust—while also being a force for good by giving back to the communities where we live, work, and serve consumers. This includes serving over 90,000 people affected by emergencies and disasters through the Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry program and helping some of the millions of girls who miss school due to a lack of access to period products through the Always #EndPeriodPoverty initiative.

Visit upworthy.com/actsofgood and fill out the nomination form for a chance for you or someone you know to win. It takes less than ten minutes to help someone make an even bigger impact.

via YouTube

History is full of great stories about bitter battles between loyal opposition. In basketball, there was Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. In the '80s, harsh political battles were fought between Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill. But all of these rivals respected their opposition as competitors in their respective fields. Now, a year-long battle between a cleaning crew and a street artist can be added to history's legendary battles between loyal opposition.


Mobstr is a London-based street artist famous for the sarcastic typographic-based graffiti he's written across London's walls and billboards. His cat-and-mouse relationship with an unidentified city worker began on July 17, 2014, and would continue for an entire year.

"I cycled past this wall on the way to work for years," Mobstr wrote on his website. " I noticed that graffiti painted within the red area was 'buffed' with red paint. However, graffiti outside of the red area would be removed via pressure washing. This prompted the start of an experiment. Unlike other works, I was very uncertain as to what results it would yield.”

Watch the video below and see what happens:

This article originally appeared on 09.23.17.

@jennielongdon/TikTok, Photo credit: Canva

It might not be hip, but it makes sense!

Online shopping is an integral part of adult life no matter what age group you fall into. But apparently there’s one digital spending habit that didn’t make it to Gen Z.

UK-based radio host Jennie Longdon recently went viral for sharing how—despite being able to do virtually everything from our phones—folks over the age of 30 can’t seem to part with using their laptops for “big purchases.”

“Takeaway , clothes, shoes within reason, yeah,” she says in a clip posted to her TikTok. “But…a plane ticket? That’s a laptop job!”

Longdon continues to feign disgust as she imagines big purchases being made from the phone, as these items obviously require the larger screen. It’s just something that a millennial brain cannot get behind. “We cannot make a big or significant purchase on the phone. You can't browse properly."

“Bigger screens for the big things please,” her video caption reads.

@jennielongdon Bigger screen for the big things please. #millennial #millennialsoftiktok #millenialmum #fyp #foryou ♬ original sound - Jennie Longdon

But there may be some sound reasoning behind this seemingly outdated logic. According to Fluid Commerce, the average desktop provides “over 3 times as much information” as a smartphone screen, allowing for more research. Laptops might not offer quite as much information as a desktop, but they certainly offer more than a phone, and it’s just good common sense to want as much information as possible before making an investment.

Either way, most millennials seem willing to die on this hill.

“Big purchases on the computer because I don’t trust mobile apps to show me everything I need to know,” one wrote in the comments.

“Big purchase requires the big internet,” added another.

A third said, "I will literally look at the information on my phone, then go get my laptop to go to the same site to book it.”

A few even shared horror stories of trying things the newfangled way and it backfiring immediately.

“I lived dangerously the other day and booked a hotel room on my phone and it tools ages buffering at the confirmation screen and I was fuming and knew I should’ve done it on my laptop,” one person lamented.

Another wrote, "I booked a mini break on my phone once and I accidentally refreshed the page with my thumb midway through booking.”

Still, there are some millennials who are on board with the phones-only approach.

"I booked flights, accommodation, and extracurriculars for four people on my phone recently,” one person wrote. "I was so proud."

Another said, "I'm a millennial and I just booked my Vegas hotel and flights on the phone. It's.....fine....."

Lastly—kudos to this commenter, who truly got to the root of this issue by saying:

“We grew up in an age when mobile websites were terrible and we’ve never forgotten it.”

That really hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it? Some scars just never truly heal.


Imagine you're working at a school and one of the kids is starting to act up. What do you do?

Traditionally, the answer would be to give the unruly kid detention or suspension.

But in my memory, detention tended to involve staring at walls, bored out of my mind, trying to either surreptitiously talk to the kids around me without getting caught or trying to read a book. If it was designed to make me think about my actions, it didn't really work. It just made everything feel stupid and unfair.


But Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has been doing something different when students act out: offering meditation.

Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal's office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.

The room looks nothing like your standard windowless detention room. Instead, it's filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows. Misbehaving kids are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practices like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-center. They are also asked to talk through what happened.

Two young people meditating

Meditation can have profoundly positive effects on the mind and body

Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.


Meditation and mindfulness are pretty interesting, scientifically.

children meditation

A child meditates

Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

Mindful meditation has been around in some form or another for thousands of years. Recently, though, science has started looking at its effects on our minds and bodies, and it's finding some interesting effects.

One study, for example, suggested that mindful meditation could give practicing soldiers a kind of mental armor against disruptive emotions, and it can improve memory too. Another suggested mindful meditation could improve a person's attention span and focus.

Individual studies should be taken with a grain of salt (results don't always carry in every single situation), but overall, science is starting to build up a really interesting picture of how awesome meditation can be. Mindfulness in particular has even become part of certain fairly successful psychotherapies.

children yoga

After-school yoga.

Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

Back at the school, the Mindful Moment Room isn't the only way Robert W. Coleman Elementary has been encouraging its kids.

The meditation room was created as a partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation, a local nonprofit that runs other programs as well. For more than 10 years the foundation has been offering the after-school program Holistic Me, where kids from pre-K through the fifth grade practice mindfulness exercises and yoga.

"It's amazing," said Kirk Philips, the Holistic Me coordinator at Robert W. Coleman. "You wouldn't think that little kids would meditate in silence. And they do."

kids meditating

A child meditates at the Holistic Life Foundation

Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

There was a Christmas party, for example, where the kids knew they were going to get presents but were still expected to do meditation first."As a little kid, that's got to be hard to sit down and meditate when you know you're about to get a bag of gifts, and they did it! It was beautiful, we were all smiling at each other watching them," said Philips.

The kids may even be bringing that mindfulness back home with them. In the August 2016 issue of Oprah Magazine, Holistic Life Foundation co-founder Andres Gonzalez said: "We've had parents tell us, 'I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, "Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe.'"

The program also helps mentor and tutor the kids, as well as teach them about the environment.

volunteer work

Building a vegetable garden.

Photo from Holistic Life Foundation, used with permission.

They help clean up local parks, build gardens, and visit nearby farms. Philips said they even teach kids to be co-teachers, letting them run the yoga sessions.

This isn't just happening at one school, either. Lots of schools are trying this kind of holistic thinking, and it's producing incredible results.

In the U.K., for example, the Mindfulness in Schools Project is teaching adults how to set up programs. Mindful Schools, another nonprofit, is helping to set up similar programs in the United States.

Oh, and by the way, the schools are seeing a tangible benefit from this program, too.

Philips said that at Robert W. Coleman Elementary, there have been exactly zero suspensions last year and so far this year. Meanwhile, nearby Patterson Park High School, which also uses the mindfulness programs, said suspension rates dropped and attendance increased as well.

Is that wholly from the mindfulness practices? It's impossible to say, but those are pretty remarkable numbers, all the same.


This article originally appeared on 09.22.16

Education

A boy told his teacher she can't understand him because she's white. Her response is on point.

'Be the teacher America's children of color deserve, because we, the teachers, are responsible for instilling empathy and understanding in the hearts of all kids. We are responsible for the future of this country.'

Photo by John Pike. Used with permission.

Emily E. Smith is no ordinary teacher.



Fifth-grade teacher Emily E. Smith is not your ordinary teacher.

She founded The Hive Society — a classroom that's all about inspiring children to learn more about their world ... and themselves — by interacting with literature and current events. Students watch TED talks, read Rolling Stone, and analyze infographics. She even has a long-distance running club to encourage students to take care of their minds and bodies.

Smith is such an awesome teacher, in fact, that she recently received the 2015 Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing.


It had always been her dream to work with children in urban areas, so when Smith started teaching, she hit the ground running. She had her students making podcasts, and they had in-depth discussions about their readings on a cozy carpet.

But in her acceptance speech for her award, she made it clear that it took a turning point in her career before she really got it:

"Things changed for me the day when, during a classroom discussion, one of my kids bluntly told me I "couldn't understand because I was a white lady." I had to agree with him. I sat there and tried to speak openly about how I could never fully understand and went home and cried, because my children knew about white privilege before I did. The closest I could ever come was empathy."

Smith knew that just acknowledging her white privilege wasn't enough.

She wanted to move beyond just empathy and find a way to take some real action that would make a difference for her students.

She kept the same innovative and engaging teaching methods, but she totally revamped her curriculum to include works by people who looked like her students. She also carved out more time to discuss issues that her students were facing, such as xenophobia and racism.

And that effort? Absolutely worth it.

As she said in her acceptance speech:

"We studied the works of Sandra Cisneros, Pam Munoz Ryan, and Gary Soto, with the intertwined Spanish language and Latino culture — so fluent and deep in the memories of my kids that I saw light in their eyes I had never seen before."

The changes Smith made in her classroom make a whole lot of sense. And they're easy enough for teachers everywhere to make:

— They studied the work of historical Latino figures, with some of the original Spanish language included. Many children of color are growing up in bilingual households. In 2007, 55.4 million Americans 5 years of age and older spoke a language other than English at home.

— They analyzed the vision of America that great writers of color sought to create. And her students realized that our country still isn't quite living up to its ideals. Despite progress toward racial equality with the end of laws that enforced slavery or segregation, we still have a long way to go. Black people still fare worse than white people when it comes to things like wealth, unfair arrests, and health.

— They read excerpts from contemporary writers of color, like Ta-Nehisi Coates who writes about race. Her students are reading and learning from a diverse group of writers. No small thing when they live in a society that overwhelmingly gives more attention to white male writers (and where the number of employees of color in the newspaper industry stagnates at a paltry 12%).

— They read about the Syrian crisis, and many students wrote about journeys across the border in their family history for class. The opportunity particularly struck one student; the assignment touched him so much that he cried. He never had a teacher honor the journey his family made. And he was proud of his heritage for the first time ever. "One child cried," Smith shared, "and told me he never had a teacher who honored the journey his family took to the United States. He told me he was not ashamed anymore, but instead proud of the sacrifice his parents made for him."

Opportunities like this will only increase as the number of children from immigrant families is steadily increasing. As of 2013, almost 17.4 million children under 18 have at least one immigrant parent.

Smith now identifies not just as an English teacher, but as a social justice teacher.

ethnicity, responsibility, empathy

Teaching in a racially and ethnically diverse world.

Photo by John Pike. Used with permission.

Smith's successful shift in her teaching is an example for teachers everywhere, especially as our schools become increasingly ethnically and racially diverse. About 80% of American teachers are white. But as of last year, the majority of K-12 students in public schools are now children of color.

As America's demographics change, we need to work on creating work that reflects the experiences that our students relate to. And a more diverse curriculum isn't just important for students of color. It's vital for everyone.

As Smith put it, "We, the teachers, are responsible for instilling empathy and understanding in the hearts of all kids. We are responsible for the future of this country."


This article originally appeared on 12.07.15