Two heroic teachers refuse to let a pandemic stop them from reaching underserved youth in their communities
Photo courtesy of Lily Read
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Now more than ever, teachers are America's unsung heroes. They are taking on the overwhelming task of not only educating our children but finding creative and effective ways to do it in an unpredictable virtual learning environment.

Lily Read and Justin Bernard, two Massachusetts educators from one of the most diverse public high schools in the U.S. (over 25 different languages are spoken in the student body!), feel ready to meet the challenges of this unprecedented school year. Their goal: find ways to make virtual education "as joyful as possible" to help support teenagers during quarantine.

"Our school is very economically, racially, and linguistically diverse," said Read, "which means meeting the needs for all those students is incredibly complex." That wide range of diversity means that they spend a lot of time in professional development, preparing to meet students where they are. This summer, educators in their district spent weeks learning everything from how to provide emotional and social support via virtual platforms, to meeting 504 plans and Individual Educational Plans for disabled students virtually, to mastering the various online programs necessary for instruction.

Bernard, now in his fifth year of teaching, also coaches the high school football team. Prior to the pandemic, there were clear expectations for student athletes, with clear goals and incentives to keep their grades up. Now, Bernard is concerned that student athletes will begin to fall through the cracks without the structure of physically going to school each day, and he is on a mission to do everything he can to keep that from happening.


Photo courtesy of Justin Bernard

"We have students from all different backgrounds and sports are important to them, not just because they have fun, but also because it also involves study hall, team building stuff, accountability for staying on top of their grades, and making sure they are going to class." When Covid-19 hit, all of that disappeared and students felt the impact immediately. Bernard stepped in to open spaces for socially distant workouts to provide a sense of normalcy. And in the months since the onset of the pandemic, he began running study halls for his football players, checking in and keeping communication open to support the kids as much as possible beyond the field and the classroom.

Photo courtesy of Lily Read

"Aside from a child's home, no other setting has more influence on a child's health and well-being than their school," according to the Center for Disease Control. Schools not only provide educational instruction, but also social and emotional guidance, predictability, meals, and safety. When schools unexpectedly shut down in March 2020 due to Covid-19, over 56 million students lost access to that safety net.

Lack of structure and supervision aren't the only challenges students face as they transition into a virtual learning environment. With virtual learning, their home lives are now on display. Read recognized this immediately when students expressed their concerns. "One of the things that we know is an issue for a lot of our students is the fact that they may live in situations that are maybe not conducive to showing their classmates on Zoom or Google Meets...it just causes them additional stress."

Because of this, one of the things she did to prepare for this school year involved buying every trifold poster board she could find—really brightly colored ones—and offer them to her students to decorate and put behind themselves when they are in "class." Read plans to personally deliver the boards to students and/or meet them at a local park so they can pick up art supplies and poster boards and hopes to make the project fun. "We are hoping this will get kids to have more face time because we know that having students on camera is actually going to benefit them if we do so in a way that will avoid actually increasing their anxiety."

The transition from in-person instruction to virtual classrooms isn't easy, but kids need structure—especially those who live in high-risk environments. And educators are thinking creatively to solve the challenges that students are facing, again reminding us how valuable teachers are to the future of our society.

"We are committed to doing everything we can to help our students feel safe, loved, supported, and keep them learning. No matter what happens in the next few months, we are all experiencing these challenges together—and we will overcome them, together," said Read.

Photo courtesy of Lily Read

Another hurdle is figuring out how to virtually teach the incoming preschoolers and kindergarteners who are not yet able to read or type and getting crucial internet access to those families. Teaching a room full of wiggly 4-year-olds is challenging in a regular classroom setting—finding ways to keep them engaged through a screen is a whole new level of difficulty.

These concerns are part of the reason why getting kids back in school (safely!) and with equitable access to technology has been the top priority of educators and parents. Procter & Gamble and United Way are working together to bridge the digital divide. No matter what age, in times when kids can't be in the classroom, families need to have affordable internet so they can stay on track with their education; otherwise, students will fall further behind.

If you would like to help teachers and families during this incredibly challenging time, P&G Good Everyday make it easy by turning your everyday actions into extraordinary acts of good.

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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!

This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

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One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

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He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.