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A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
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elementary school

Arnold Ford shares a birthday—and birthday joy—with one of his students.

When Arnold Ford went to work on his birthday in February of 2024, he knew he was in for a treat. One of his students, a girl named Cali, has the same birthday as he does, and Ford was ready.

As soon as he saw Cali come bounding down the hallway with her arms spread wide, the assistant principal tossed his backpack aside, swooped the girl up and spun her around in joyful celebration. Then the two raced down the hallway, arm in arm, so Cali could give him a balloon and a cupcake she had saved for him.

All of this was captured on the security cameras at west Philadelphia's Mastery Charter School, Mann Elementary, and the footage has people cheering for amazing educators.


"I’m so grateful to God for allowing me to see another year," Ford wrote when he shared the video on his Instagram page. "I’m even more grateful that LOVE continues to be the centerpiece of my entire life."

"And… as you can see… I’m also grateful that I get to share a birthday with one of my favorite students," he continued. "And yes… she brought me a balloon and a cupcake, and in exchange, I told her she could dress down today. Fair trade if you ask me!

Watch:

People are gushing over the exchange in the comments.

"Do y'all teach 25th grade!? I need an elementary school experience do-over!" wrote one person.

"Bro my own parents never been that happy to see me 😭," wrote another.

"Can you imagine marinating in that love on a daily basis? What a gift this man is!" shared another.

Several people pointed out that no one else in the video so much as blinked, which is a testament to the fact that this wasn't out of the ordinary. Clearly, Mr. Ford brings this energy to work every day.

"I think it’s important for us to celebrate WITH our students and families," Ford tells Upworthy. "[Cali's] birthday is a big deal to her, and so is mine. We talk about it ALL year. So when that day came, what you saw was just a natural, genuine reaction that we both had. She was excited to be celebrating me, and I was excited to be celebrating her."

Educators like Ford can make such an enormous difference in children's lives, transforming a school into a place filled with positive interactions where kids know people genuinely care about and enjoy being around them. That's what Ford loves about his job as well.

"It really is the reciprocal nature of the work," he tells Upworthy. "We get so much more than we ever put out. Love. Joy. Laughter. The more we sow those things, we see them return exponentially in this work. That’s why when I often say 'Love is the curriculum,' it’s because I recognize how blessed I am to be able to put positivity and joy at the center of my experience with them. It’s humbling."

"In other words, I love that I don’t have to wait until Fridays to get paid." he adds.

Here's to Mr. Ford and all of the dedicated, incredible educators out there who pour their love into helping children learn and grow and thrive. They really do deserve all the balloons and cupcakes—and all the pay raises as well.

You can follow Arnold Ford on Instagram.

It began with just one student in Jackson, Mississippi.

After having learned about a prominent Confederate leader and discussing his lasting legacy on the world, the student raised a good (if not painfully obvious) question to her mom at home: Why in the world would her school be named after a guy like that?


Yes, Jefferson Davis International Baccalaureate Elementary School is named after that Jefferson Davis — a president of the Confederacy in the mid-19th century.

Jefferson Davis. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

After the girl's mother brought the issue to the school's PTA, the conversation surrounding a name change began making waves among community members. More and more people — including the students at Davis Elementary — agreed: The school's name needed to go.

PTA president Janelle Jefferson told NBC News the young students were well aware of who the school — which has a student body that's 96% black — was honoring through its name and what it meant for kids like them: "They know who [Davis] was and what he stood for."

“Jefferson Davis, although infamous in his own right, would probably not be too happy about a diverse school promoting the education of the very individuals he fought to keep enslaved being named after him,” Jefferson expressed to the school board earlier this fall.

In September, the district's school board voted in favor of giving the PTA the authority to change the school's name.

So, as Jefferson explained to Mississippi Today, the PTA gave students, teachers, and community members two weeks to submit ideas on who the school should be named after before a public in-person vote on Oct. 5.

Before ballots were cast, kids from each classroom gave a presentation on who they believed should have the honor.

Barack Obama — notably, the students' favorite — won.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Starting next school year, Jefferson Davis International Baccalaureate Elementary will be Barack Obama International Baccalaureate Elementary.

“We really wanted to know what they thought,” Jefferson said of making sure to include the students' input. “They could relate to Barack Obama because of his achievements, because he looks like them.”

The school's name change comes amid a heated national debate over the place of Confederate monuments in public spaces.

In August, white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in protest of the college town's decision to remove a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee. The march unraveled into chaos, as one white supremacist reportedly ran over peaceful counter-protester Heather Heyer with his vehicle, killing her.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack, a number of communities — including Baltimore and Tampa Bay, Florida — made moves to rid prominent Confederate monuments from public places. Although there's ample resistance from many people — including the president — that falsely argue removing these statues "erases history," advocates for change are finding where there's a will, there's a way.

It's a lesson students at Jefferson Davis (soon to be Barack Obama) International Baccalaureate Elementary School have learned well.

“The history you have to come to terms with is not the easiest thing to think about or talk about, especially with kids," Jefferson said. "But the positive came for me that our kids can see that there’s a process to it. They saw something wrong, and now they know they can change it.”

More

When older siblings read to younger ones, great things happen.

How sibling reading time can make a huge difference in their education.

Often, our brothers and sisters become our first peer group sort of by default.

For some of us, sibling relationships are the longest relationships we'll ever experience. And by interacting with our siblings early on, we learn social skills, like how to manage conflicts (anyone else fight over who gets to sleep next to mom?), how to play, how to share, how to navigate the world, and even how to read.

Photo taken at the Salinas Valley Grows Readers event. Image by Read to Me Project, used with permission.


In fact, our siblings could make the biggest difference when it comes to reading.

That's the whole idea behind the Read to Me Project, which encourages elementary school children to read to their younger siblings — even siblings who are as young as eight months old.

As part of the program, books are donated to schools that choose to participate, and kids can take those books home. They're encouraged to read to their younger siblings, which helps kids boost both their knowledge of vocabulary and language and kickstarts their reading comprehension skills, too.

Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images.

When it comes to the older siblings, Sonia Aramburo explains the program helps them feel a sense of responsibility by taking on a whole new role as a teacher to their younger brothers or sisters. She's the principal at El Camino Real Science and Technology Academy in Greenfield, California, one of the schools participating in the Read to Me Project.

This program is much needed, especially in areas with low literacy rates.

A study by the University of California Berkeley and UCLA found that Latino kids between 2 and 3 years old were about eight months behind their white peers when it came to language and cognitive skills. And according to the study, the gap continued through ages 4 and 5, with Latino students entering into kindergarten already behind their peers.

The same is true for African-American kids: One study from the National Center for Education Statistics showed that 50% of African-American fourth graders tested below the most basic literary level.

"We are attacking the root cause of low literacy among Hispanic and indigenous families," Mary De Groat said. She's the associate executive director of the Read to Me Project.

And by all accounts, Read to Me is making big strides to fix this problem.

"It helps our students build their fluency," explained Aramburo. "It's engaging them ... one of our students last year was not reading very well. Now he's reading to his sibling, he's taken on a whole new role, even as a student. You just see this sense of responsibility."

Another teacher noted, "This program should have been available [a] long time ago. Our community will benefit in the long run. Many of our students' parents cannot even read their own language, so our students can be the first step for the next generation to be outstanding readers when they begin their journey in school."

Read to Me launched in 2011 in Monterey County, serving four classrooms with 50 students participating, De Groat said. This year, the program is serving 96 classrooms, with nearly 800 students reading to more than 1,000 of their younger siblings.

And now that they've gotten the ball rolling, it's full steam ahead. De Groat says there are already plans to expand the program.

The kids give the program rave reviews, too.

Adorable "thank you" notes from kids to the Read to Me Project prove that sibling reading time can be fun for all brothers and sisters.

One student explains he likes reading with his kid brother because he's helping him learn English, and he says the program is even inspiring him to try to read by himself.

Another student says his little brother comes running when he sees books:

A note from one of the kids. Image by Read to Me Project, used with permission.

And another says their little sister is learning to pronounce some words because of the shared reading time:

Another student writes a note about her younger sister. Image by Read to Me Project, used with permission.

How cool would it be if more schools across the country implemented the Read to Me Project?

Kids might start school better prepared to learn and more excited about it. Siblings might enjoy educational quality time together.

Jennifer reading to her little brother, Xavier. Image by the Read to Me Project, used with permission.

Plus, books are incredibly rewarding. They allow kids to escape into fantasy worlds by putting their imagination into overdrive.Reading is proven to help children with their speech and communication skills, and it's simply a great foundation for kicking butt in school.

This program makes an excellent argument for putting your older kids in charge of getting your younger kids excited about reading.

Because if your older brother or sister is doing it — it must be cool, right?