Dear HUMANS of America….?!?!

Dear Humans of America,

This past year and even down to the last few months or so have ultimately made me numb. The senseless and unexplainable acts of violence and shoddy behavior have become all too commonplace. This is not a norm that I am willing to embrace and it is certainly not one that I am inclined to make “normal” for my family.

 

It baffles me that  as a country we maintain to stand united but then we cast stones at athletes that refuse to “stand” with hand over heart in allegiance to our bad behavior.

Do not misconstrue my remarks and take away from the idea that I applaud and am grateful for those that have made great sacrifices on battlefields and battlegrounds protecting the freedom of all.  Families across this nation, including my own, can rest easy on most days from outside attacks (though internal ones may arise and prove a great threat as well). On the other hand, I do not forget those that also stood in sacrifice but somehow never had their names recorded or etched into a wall that we could forever remember.

It baffles me that you want me to play along in this parody of greatness.

It baffles me that our quilt of many colors has faded—not to black—but instead to the absence of color.

It baffles me that we have gained so much ground over time and are now backsliding into ways and behavior that once were considered to bring shame. That is troublesome!
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As an educator, what message of hope do I offer my students? Who am I supposed to pretend to be? What lesson do I teach that includes their many voices and that of their ancestors?

I am remiss because you have found the foolish, naive, guileless and innocent parts of me!  I  thought that the educated side of me with a decent career and earnest and honest way of living would give me a seat at the table. Ahhh–Pardon me! I do hear and see very clearly now that you aren’t even hiding your hand or muting your lips on how you really feel about your “fellow man”!

SHAME ON ME!

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When one of our fellow humans is affected, we should not shun them but instead stand with them. Let me not be the chronometer of your moral compass but instead do allow me the right to simply speak from my perspective and experiences. A few years back, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke of the Danger of a Single Story in her Ted Talk  and it resonated with me because I am mindful of the feelings of my students, colleagues and those I engage with daily. My only mission is that WE all can honestly and openly acknowledge that WE have all contributed to helping this nation RISE! If that makes you uncomfortable or you find it to be untrue then please do a fact check on the many people that made America great. In this podcast episode of This American Life, the talks of fear, lies, and accusations are explored even more. It is amazing how when individuals become fearful they begin to create lies and sell it to the point where it resonates as true. The sad part is the throng of people that blindly follow without any substantial proof or evidence.

Nonetheless, I do not want to get into finger pointing and blaming because there is not a sum of a single group of people that are altogether good nor altogether bad. I cannot find a justifiable reason to cast any person aside because of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual preference.  I know what it feels like to be cast aside because of someone else’s insecurities. In a previous workplace, I was demoted from a lead position not because I couldn’t get the job done but because someone else was able to craft a set of lies and sell them to a group of “followers.” Well, like the old saying goes “one monkey don’t stop no show.” I’ll save the details of that story for another post!

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Overall, individuals or groups of people can move their agenda forwards based on lies. I love how HONY weaves a common thread and highlights an important fact —We are Humans! If we do not see the value in connecting the dots and uniting our stories from state to state, country to country,and beyond then I shake my head in disappointment but raise my voice because my silence would not otherwise change or call out the behavior.

I try not to get involved in politics, it is just not my passion or area of strength but this  election has taught me that I truly care about my country and the progression of mankind. It is not solely about the money but of course it is important for us to stabilize our economy. More importantly,  I value the idea of people feeling dignified, appreciated and part of a global community. I cannot ignore the feelings of division that seem to be growing greater. I think I have pinpointed the root of the problem as The FEAR! But why?

This theme plays out in works like Tell-Tale Heart, Monkey’s Paw, and Twilight Zone’s Monster’s on Maple Street. It is also evident in many historical events that magnify some of the darkest moments in our nation.

Most recently, Sara Bareilles and Leslie Odom collaborated on this piece. I had my students annotate the meaning of this song.  They will get the opportunity to answer questions with some educators in my professional learning network (PLN) through Voxer and then ask some questions of their own while blogging from their personal sites.

The opening line of Seriously begins with “Let’s start with hope..” and honestly, that is where I want to keep my focus. That hope and dream isn’t dead to me because I see evidence of the goodness of my fellow Americans when I watch shows like UnderCover Boss. I weep like a baby at the end of each episode. When I see many videos that go viral with the goodness and longing in the hearts of Americans for something greater and better–then I am left to hold onto HOPE! We cannot allow lies and fear to control us as a nation. We cannot tear ourselves or each other down  and be stripped down to the bare bones. We cannot resurrect the spirit of McCarthyism from the 1950s which influenced Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. This cannot become the Salem Witch Trials all over again. Let us not do this again to each other while other countries sit back and watch us tear ourselves apart!

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This country represents the hope that may dream of and we cannot wear this shame and regret for eternity. There is time to fix it and that time is NOW! Follow your heart and take all that is at stake but most importantly be selfless and think of one another my dear fellow Humans!

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Just Do It: EdObstacles Launched

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Over a year ago, an idea had been brewing and stirring in the hearts and minds of a few educators across the nation. The excitement of working together was shared amongst all of them but most importantly, a plan was set in place to launch this concept. This would ultimately transform teaching and learning. The team split into subteams to work on differentiated and leveled activities for grades K-6 but had to ensure they were married to national content standards. The creativity and excitement that came from these sessions were so exhilarating. As the magnitude of this project set in and we became engrossed in the process, summer also came to a close. The reality of getting back to the start of the year brought us to the agreement that we needed more time–perhaps another year would be sufficient for us to reveal our plan.

Where Preparedness Meets Opportunity

As fate would have it,  the idea of pushing EdObstacles to the side for another year was short-lived! Tanya Hyman, founder of MakEDU and president of Atlanta Maker Faire emailed an invitation for me to bring EdObstacles to Atlanta Maker Faire as they sought out something more exciting for children and families. My heart began to panic because we were less than 8 weeks away from this mega event. I had no team members in Atlanta nor materials or funding to make this happen. It would have been easy to say “well I am not ready and maybe next time” but Tanya said “start small and do a  mini-version but just start somewhere.” Her words assured me that it was okay to take a risk and give it a try. Wasn’t this the same message I told my students often? I knew  it was time to put a plan in place and execute but I truly wanted students at the core of this project!

Immediately, I spoke to my administrators , Dr.Gene Taylor and Dr. Stephen Black, and they agreed that whatever was necessary to support our students– we could rest assure they would support. I reached out to Tommy Nguyen, lead Math Teacher and of STEM Academy and he knew his 9th graders could use this as a Project Based Learning (PBL) task. From there, Mrs. Nicole Meade-Franklin wanted her Engineering students to be part of it as well.  Once I pitched the concept to students, they were onboard and almost immediately formed teams to create activities and design a course to  bring EdObstacles to life.

Students worked collaboratively with each other but also sought counsel from community advisory members to beat the clock towards our October 1-2, 2016. There were great ideas pitched and those that needed lots more work. There were edits, revisions, materials checklists, budget spreadsheets, rules for each activity, and project design plans.

Ian Bryan played a large part in helping us get logistics in place. He is like that voice of reason that helps you think through things you had no idea you needed to think through. He was a checks and balance guy but also a jack of many trades, including creator of our website www.EdObstacles.com.

Two of my good friends at School Supply Giant sponsored our EdObstacles logo and Fiducia Financial donated monetarily to help towards the cost of materials but our administration took the bulk of the expenses to ensure we executed! The process wasn’t easy but the learning that happened along the way–was priceless.

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The morning of Oct.1st, we arrived at Discovery excited yet quiet because we were about to face 30,000-40,000 people to test our concept. We were uncertain about the results we would get or just how we would be received but I am proud to say WE ROCKED IT  (produced by our student Audio/Visual Department)!

The opportunity fell in our lap and we rose up to the challenge and delivered. This lesson was meaningful and authentic for us all. The raving testimonials received from young participants, their parents, fellow educators, administrators, other Maker organizers, and makers themselves taught us that we had something magical and had a green light to move forward with EdObstacles 2.0 in Spring 2017 for grades 7th-12th.

All gratitude goes to my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and advisory board on Voxer, administrators, the students, community advisory council members and teachers involved that came together and seized this opportunity. I sign off by saying “ The Discovery Titans came, saw and conquered! We Did It!”


 

val-bio-picValerie Lewis is a GA educator of 11th and 12th grade Language Arts. Her passion is to empower students but recognizes that One Size Fits One and that students learn best in authentic ways. Her mission is  to transform teaching and learning for the modern student and disrupt the norms that somehow have seemed to disengage students. Find her on Twitter and on Instagram as @iamvlewis