0-Gap Masks: 2020 Scholarship Winner

This is part of a series of interviews with our scholarship recipients for our 2020 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our 2021 program, click here”. 

Sarah Lee and Angela Rhee are our first international students to apply to our scholarship. They come from South Korea and have made a huge impression on the team at Honors Graduation. During this unprecedented time in our world, Sarah and Angela wanted to help their community the best they could. When schools in South Korea were reopened after being shut down due to COVID-19, masks were strictly required to be worn for all students. Unfortunately, not all students had access to a mask and therefore, couldn’t attend school.

Together, they set out to develop the 0-gap mask initiative. A program to deliver masks that maximize facial fit to healthcare workers, low-income families, and people in high risk groups for COVID-19. The 0-gap masks are antiviral and conform precisely to the users’ face. They also developed a beard version which utilizes an additional layer that seals all gaps. Both serve to maximize facial fit to prevent pollutant/bacterial leakage. As many high quality masks remain unaffordable to low-income families, their main goal is to distribute free masks to underprivileged families and senior citizens. 

After donating masks to the Da-ll charity organization and receiving positive feedback earlier this year, Sarah and Angela realized that regardless of the number of individuals, their initiative helped low-income families and individuals in their local community. The impact they feel they have made feels much bigger than they realized, especially at a time when masks are in such high need. They also feel that their initiative helped people to understand the importance of facial fit and not just the filtering abilities of the masks they choose to wear. 

Longterm, Sarah and Angela hope to obtain a provisional patent and connect with the UN Development Programme to distribute 0-gap masks to underprivileged students, outdoor workers, and individuals with facial hair and facial disfigurements. Targeting countries like Bangladesh, India and China they hope to expand efforts to the most severely populated regions around the world. Using the funds they currently have, they plan to purchase mask filters, breathable fabric and a programmable sewing machine to continue producing masks. 

They have plans to bring their respective universities since that would allow them to reach a wider pool of resources and connections. Sarah will be attending The University of Chicago, while Angela will be attending Northwestern University. Both universities have an opportunity for them to further their initiative. At Northwestern, there is a center for research innovation which would help them in further developing the 0-gap mask prototype. The University of Chicago hosts a competition called The College New Venture Challenge, which would help them obtain more funds. 

Enneagram In Education: Type Four

This is part of a series using enneagram in education. For more information on why enneagram in education, refer to this post.

Enneagram type 4, the romantic, or the individualist. 

A few words to describe this type: 

Creative. 

Intuitive.

Daydreamers.

Withdrawn.

Sensitive.

Artistic. 

Let’s pull this into a classroom setting. If you’re an enneagram type four, you’re the daydreamer in the back of the classroom doodling in a notebook. Your key motivator as a type four is to be unique and different, always having the most artistic work. As a true artist, you’re very focused on what’s missing. Whether that’s within yourself, or in your work. You can also be sensitive to criticism, feelings can be hurt when something negative comes up.

How to get the most out of your education as a type four. 

  • Don’t just focus on the negative of feedback, remember to focus on the positive as well.
  • Embrace the artistic side of you and find a way to make your work creative. 
  • Get involved in deep conversations with peers about topics that are interesting to you. 
  • Create aestically pleasing notes and workspace for school work to motivate you. 

Highly personal, individualistic, “true to self.” Self-revealing, emotionally honest, humane. Ironic view of self and life: can be serious and funny, vulnerable and emotionally strong.

– The Enneagram Institute 

Type 4’s go to type 1 in growth and type 2 in stress. 

Are you a type 4? What is important for you to have a successful learning environment? 

Cover photo: Enneagram Worldwide 

Dear Teacher: Thank You For Your Service

Dear Teacher, 

How are you? No, really. Take a minute to close your eyes and really think. How are you doing? 

This school year is unlike any other. Instead of walking into your classroom, putting up creative borders and posters around your classroom, and setting up for students, you sat at your computer waiting for emails, calls, or anything that would indicate how you would be teaching this year. 

Virtual? 

Hybrid? 

In-person? 

Masks? No masks? How much plexiglass would be installed in your classroom? 

It’s natural and okay to feel overwhelmed by the state of this school year. So many of you were told one thing, only to be changed last minute. Those expecting to be all online had to curate a socially distant classroom experience in a matter of hours because districts and higher-ups changed the protocol in the 11th hour. Some who spent all summer working on their socially distant classrooms were changed to all online and had to revamp their whole curriculum overnight. 

You’re expected to teach our “lost generation”, those who won’t have the opportunity at the same education as others have. It can put a certain level of guilt on you as their main source of education! 

But you’re a good teacher. 

You’re trying your best. 

The students are the center of your work. 

How do I know? Because it takes a special heart to be an educator, especially in today’s political world. And I know you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t care about your students as much as you do. 

Think back to one year ago, did you know the term “socially distant”? Would you have ever imagined teaching with a mask on all day? Did you ever see yourself on Zoom teaching concepts that really need to be taught in a personal setting? Like…. How to write….? 

No. No one saw this coming, no one could have prepared us for today. 

Your students are the same way, they were blindsided one day in March when nearly every school shut down with very little notice for an undisclosed amount of time. 

Doctors and nurses on the front lines treating COVID are heroes and need recognition. But maybe our teachers are being somewhat forgotten about. Here you are, putting in as much time and effort as these doctors. You’re working long shifts and giving your whole heart and soul to bring the education back to your communities, putting your life and your family’s lives at risk while you do it. 

Instead of nursing COVID patients back to health, you’re nursing our lost generation back to education. You’re providing our society as a whole a brighter future through your efforts. 

You are seen. You are of immeasurable value. You are the heroes we need right now. 

Thank you for your service. 

Feature Friday: Monte Syrie

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Monte Syrie, a high school English Language Arts teacher in Cheney, Washington. Monte has started a personal project called Project 180 and explains more of what it is at the end of this post. Read through to see the cool, innovative way he decided to start teaching!

What is your favorite part of teaching in a high school setting? 

“I love high school because kids are standing at the important threshold of self-discovery as they transition between the worlds of adolescence and adulthood. And I am lucky enough to play a small part in supporting their journey. It’s incredibly inspiring and richly rewarding.”

What drove you to choose a career in education? And more specifically, teaching ELA? 

“I had a less-than-ideal childhood, and as such, school became a space of comfort and support. I never wanted to leave, so I became a teacher, and I am committed to making sure that school is that same space for kids who need what I needed.”

“Why LA? In 8th grade, I had an LA teacher who supported and inspired us by treating us like humans with needs rather than children with faults. I wanted to do the same, so I decided then and there to follow in his footsteps. And here I am.”

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why? 

Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Seuss. I read this to my sophomores each year to add some simple novelty to our journey into their discovering and using their own unique voices. Of all that I do with them, supporting them in this is perhaps the most important thing I do. It really is a fun read. The kids love it, and it resonates with them.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“Though I try to make student voice a central consideration in all of our shared experiences, the one thing that I do that is perhaps the most voice-centered is an activity I call Smiles and Frowns. It is how we begin our day, every day—no matter what. Basically, we go around the room and each has an opportunity to share a smile and/or frown with our classroom community. Importantly, kids may pass. I don’t believe in forcing voice. Kids have the right to decide. We have to honor that voice, too.”

“Using Smiles and Frowns is the single best choice I have made in my 25 years of teaching. It invites the human voice into our space. I believe each person is a story and part of that belief in the classroom is giving them an opportunity to share their story, which is the key idea expressed in our intro song that we sing together each time we do Smiles and Frowns.”

“It’s a beautiful day for smiles and frowns.
Won’t you share your ups and downs?
Won’t you share?
We all care.
Won’t you share your story?”

What is one of your favorite units you have taught to your students? 

“My most recent favorite unit is a writing unit we did last yeast called “The Wisdom Writers Diary.” Kids captured a life experience from which they gained wisdom about themselves and/or the human experience. We compiled and published a classroom diary for each period. The kids wrote and shared wonderfully wise words. It was a beautiful moment in our year. Beautiful.”

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year teaching?

“I wish someone had told me my charge was to teach kids with English, not to teach English to kids. I—we—teach kids. Our subject matter simply provides a context. Of course, I gradually came to learn this, but I wish someone had imparted this wisdom to me earlier. Consequently, it is something I share with young teachers whenever I get the chance. We teach kids. Once we accept that, the dynamic in the classroom changes for the better—for all.”

How have you seen education change in the years you’ve taught?

“I started at the outset of the current “standardized age,” so I have seen the evolution of what I believe has become a mad obsession with the standardization of education, in particular our absurd reliance on standardized testing data as “the” measure. It’s not. But we have come to accept it so faithfully as the gold standard I fear we will never steer clear of it. And that’s unfortunate, for the more we standardize the less we humanize, and now, perhaps more than ever, we need to humanize education.”

What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom?

“Not a huge tech guy. Oh, I use it, but I only use it as a tool. I have never bought into the notion that tech is “the” answer. It can be a great help, but in the end, it is only a tool. That said, in light of the distance-learning reality we face, I have enjoyed playing around with Screencastify. I have found it a useful tool for delivering instruction and providing help to my kiddos.”

What is Project 180 and how did it start?

“I started Project 180 in the fall of 2016. It was my first big step into my self-assigned journey to “change education” as the name of my website, Let’s Change Education, suggests. So, to that end, I took a big, bold step by tackling what I believed to be the biggest obstacle in bringing about significant change: grading. I decided to give all my kids an “A” for the year.”

“On day one, as they entered the room, I handed each a wooden “A” that I had made that summer. And then as class began, I explained to them that I was taking grading off the table by giving them an “A” for the year, so we could focus on learning. I then blogged about our experience each day. It was an amazing year—maybe the most authentic year I have ever spent with students as we turned our focus to learning for the sake of learning, not for the sake of producing a grade.”

“I learned a lot that first year of “turning education upside down,” giving rise to my trademark, Project 180 mantra, “Do. Reflect. Do Better.” And now as I set to begin my fifth year of Project 180, I am still rotating 180 degrees at a time, turning things upside down, seeking better.”

“I have moved on from giving all kids A’s, but the focus on learning remains as I now provide a “feedback-only” experience for my kids. Lots of doing, reflecting, and doing better to capture as we journey into this next school year.”


You can connect with Monte on twitter at @MonteSyrie

Thanks for all of your insight Monte! You are a great teacher doing great work for students everywhere! 

Enneagram In Education: Type Three

This is part of a series using enneagram in education. For more information on why enneagram in education, refer to this post.

Enneagram type 3, the performer, or the achiever. 

A few words to describe this type: 

Motivated. 

Social. 

Encouraging. 

Confident. 

Hard Working. 

Goal-Setter. 

Competitive. 

Let’s pull this into a classroom setting. If you’re an enneagram type three, you’re the charmer of the class. Obtaining the highest achievement is your ultimate goal, and merely speaking of plans and “what-ifs” can drive you crazy, jumping into action is what you would rather be doing. As you speak with your peers it can be fast-paced and exciting if it’s an assignment you are particularly steered towards. You work well in groups, yet you are constantly driven by fear that you’ll fail, whether it’s in your peer’s eyes, or if your classmates will be the reason you fail an assignment. 

How to get the most out of your education as a type three. 

  • Find ways for praise- be open with your teachers about your need for feedback. 
  • Choose a career path you are passionate about. 
  • Hands-on school work is ideal. 
  • Find how certain topics of study can be applied to your real life. 
  • Be patient with peers that may not be as energetic and driven as you may be. 

“Threes are often successful and well liked because, of all the types, they most believe in themselves and in developing their talents and capacities.”

– The Enneagram Institute 

Type 3’s go to type 6 in growth and type 9 in stress. 

Are you a type 3? What is important for you to have a successful learning environment? 

Cover photo: The Enneagram Institute 

Let’s Get Behind This #ClearTheList Movement

If you’re an educator out there, please tell me you’ve heard of the #clearthelist campaign. If you haven’t please look into it! If you have, please make a wishlist!! Some background to the #clearthelist idea: one teacher in Texas named Courtney Jones used her social media as a powerful, powerful tool to share her Amazon wishlist with friends and family of different items she would need in her classroom. Which then spread to her sharing the idea as far and wide as she could. 

Teachers spend so much money out of pocket on supplies that are so beneficial to their students. And on top of that, there are so many generous donors out there willing to help how they can. Courtney’s goal was to connect the two, and she has very, very successfully! 

This campaign has gone so viral, even celebrities are posting about it. 

Sometimes, big companies choose one #clearthelist to actually…. Clear the list! Like how T-Mobile decided to help this teacher out. What warms my heart the most is that she turned around and tried to pay it forward to as many teachers as she could. 

What an amazing project started by this teacher! We love innovative thinkers who can use social media for good (for example, have you seen our yearly scholarship?)

Look how excited teachers get over these donations! 

For the past two school years, I have dedicated a small amount of money to donate to other’s #clearthelist Amazon wishlists. I typically donate to friends and family first, and then I choose a stranger from social media to donate to. 

Finding Amazon wishlists to donate to can be so easy for you as well! 

-Ask your friends and family that are educators if they have an Amazon wishlist they can share with you. 

– Do a quick social media search (on basically any social media site) with the hashtag #clearthelist. Read through other teacher’s stories and why they need the materials they do. Then choose one to donate to! 

There are Amazon lists with $3 items, and some with $500+ items. Even just sparing $3 for an educator can make the biggest difference in their classroom! 

Do you have any success stories with #clearthelist you want to share? Leave it in the comments! We would love to hear! 

Graphic by Kelsie Housley

Feature Friday: Kami Meacham

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Kami Mecham. Kami has been teaching for twelve years, eight of those years were teaching 3rd grade, three years teaching 4th grade, and now she is in her second year of 2nd grade! 

Kami also has a job as an instructional coach. She loves that she not only teaches full time, but is able to interact with other teachers as a mentor and coach. Another exciting thing about Kami is that she did her student teaching in Washington D.C. After her student teaching, she came back to Utah to start her career as a teacher and instructional coach. 

 What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject?

“Although it sounds cheesy, my favorite thing about teaching elementary school is the kids: the girl who wears her new dress on picture day and twirls as she walks in the classroom; the boy who has a “lucky hat” that he says helps him do his best reading; the students who cheer each other on when the math problems are hard.  The students make me excited to get up each morning and I feel lucky to play a small role in helping them reach their potential!”

What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom? 

“Technology is a great engagement tool in the classroom.  My favorite way to use technology is to provide experiences that will engage students in the curriculum and encourage an excitement for the learning.  I believe that even young students can learn to use technology productively and can benefit from its use.  Some specific ways I engage students with technology include QR codes, apps to record the students reading, guided research experiences, and games that provide real-time data.” 

 If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why? 

“Choosing just one children’s book to recommend is definitely a challenge but I absolutely love The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.  The character of Edward Tulane has been a favorite with my students as he discovers his ability to love.  Using this book to spark conversations of love, friendship, acceptance, and understanding in my classroom has provided some of the most authentic discussions I have had with my students and has served as a foundation of building unity within the classroom.”

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year teaching? 

“Looking back on my first year of teaching, I wish someone would have told me that it is ok to have fun and enjoy the small moments.  Teaching is hard.  Teaching is exhausting.  Teaching can be overwhelming.  With all of that, I wish someone would have helped me see that I could put in the hard work to be an effective teacher while also having fun with my students.  While it is important to do the hard work and it is normal to feel overwhelmed, I have since learned I am a better teacher when I take a step back, have fun, and enjoy my job.  I would have loved for someone to tell me I didn’t have to have a “perfect” classroom year one (or any year really) in order to make a positive impact for my students.  Teaching is hard but teaching is also exciting, fun, and rewarding!”

Who influenced you most to choose a career education? 

“There wasn’t just one person or one moment that inspired me to pursue a career in education.  I always wanted to be a teacher, although my reasons have changed over the years.  I attribute this desire to the amazing examples of great teachers I had in my life.  Mrs. Stratton, my third grade teacher, who gave each student a nickname and affectionately called me “Camerilla” for many years even after I left her classroom.  Mrs. Ivie, my second grade teacher, who had the most amazing stuffed dinosaurs we got to hold while we were reading.  Mrs. Gamble, my fourth grade teacher, who brought the Oregon trail unit to life.  All of these teachers, and many more, showed me what an educator can be and made me want to be part of something bigger.  Their positive influence continues to inspire me today.”

 What are the benefits you’ve seen in collaborating with other teachers? 

“Collaboration opens doors.  When professionals come together with a common purpose, the possibilities are endless.  One of my favorite things is being part of a collaborative brainstorming session where a team meets together with a question, problem, or goal to tackle.  I love watching different team members bring their own perspective, building on each other, and creating an end result that is more effective than anyone imagined at the beginning.  Successful collaboration allows for each member of a team to add their individual strengths to a larger whole.”  

“I am lucky to get to participate in collaboration as a teacher and as an instructional coach and I have seen the process increase instructional effectiveness, improve student outcomes, and build school or classroom culture many times.  I especially love collaborating about engagement strategies, room transformations, and ways we can create an exciting and welcoming environment for our students.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“Classroom meetings are a big way I use student voice in my classroom.  We have class leaders who lead our meetings as we discuss things that are going awesome and other things that we can improve on.  This is a safe opportunity for students to voice concerns and also help come up with solutions.”

“Collecting and responding to student questions is another way I use student voice.  As students ask questions throughout our units, I use those questions to drive my instruction and guide our lessons to those things my students are interested in and ready for, while also covering the required curriculum and standards.”

 What has been one of your favorite teaching moments so far? 

“There are so many!  One moment near the top of the favorite list was when a student, who had spent the first half of the school year telling me he couldn’t read, came to school one morning with a book in hand and asked if he could read it to the class.   That moment really summed up why I do what I do: help my students realize their potential, help them build their confidence, and provide them with the skills to then leave my classroom and tackle the world.”

What is a favorite unit you teach with your students? 

“When I think of some of my favorite units that I have taught, a particular third grade math unit stands out.  This also happens to be one of my favorite examples of the power of collaboration.  As a team, we knew we had a unit coming up on two-step word problems.  This is a challenging unit and tends to be daunting to both students and teachers.  Because of this, the third grade team decided we wanted to take a fresh, engaging approach to the unit.  We brainstormed together, worked through a lot of ideas, and eventually came up with an idea even better than we had anticipated at the beginning.  We decided to teach this unit with the theme of “magic.””

“We approached the two-step word problems with the twist of taking steps in magic tricks and our students became “mathmagicians.”  Along with that we tied the magic theme into other areas with books and writing activities.  An otherwise boring, daunting unit became fun and successful.  My students thrived and their assessment scores reflected that.  Not only did I get to dress up like a magician, but I also saw my students’ confidence grow throughout the process.”


Thank you for your insight Kami! I especially loved what she said about collaboration and how it opens doors when you work together! I agree wholeheartedly, and this is why I started Feature Friday! To spread the knowledge of teachers worldwide! 

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