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. 

Never Ever Give Up

Someone shared this YouTube video with me of a group of 9 to 13 year olds singing a cover of this song to essential workers. They are thanking doctors, teachers, grocery store workers, and more, in the most tender-hearted way.

To all of you teachers out there on the front lines, sanitizing desks, iPads, and markers just to make it through the school day. The teachers navigating Zoom to teach students. To those early childhood educators working out creative ways to still make toys and play a part of the classroom. To the college professors doing everything they can to follow school protocol, and encouraging your students to do the same. The professors pre-recording lectures for students to watch online.

To those risking their lives.

To those who are starting their first year of teaching all over again (p.s. that’s all teacher’s this year).

To the overwhelmed and the underpaid.

Please listen to this song.

“No matter what you’re facing, you are my inspiration. You’re the fire that doesn’t know how to back down.”

Never. Ever. Give. Up.

These kids need you now more than ever. You’ve got this.


Please share with a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a delivery driver, a grocery store worker, or anyone else on the front lines who may need to hear this.

COVID-19 Time Capsule For Kids

A mom somewhere out there with kids at home during this global pandemic recognized an opportunity for keeping a record of the history that is being made right now as we speak. She created a FREE printable of a time capsule for kids to fill out. It’s all information that someday they can look back on and serve as a memory for this time in our lives.

Here’s what the time capsule looks like, and how I’m doing it with my 2.5 year old daughter.

This is only four of the 11 included pages full of great information for your child to fill out. And it’s doable with tiny kids that can’t write too! Our time capsule looks a lot of scribbling and random marks with me filling in information that my daughter reiterates to me. I ask her all of the questions and try to fill in exactly what she says.

I pulled out the crayons for her to add some color, but having a pen to use was much more exciting to her, so we went with it! I love that this time capsule is so her right now and that years down the road we can look back and remember her obsession with pens and Doc McStuffins. It’s also easy to do one page, then come back when you’re ready to continue with the rest of the pages. No rush in getting it done fast- the pandemic seems to be taking its sweet time!

The mom who made this has taken over the internet quickly with how popular it became, if you Google “kids COVID time capsule” you can see news article after news article about her and how generous she was in sharing this with the world!

Go ahead and share this fun activity with your kids, your friends, neighbors, and students! They are going to love it just as much as we are. You can find the link to download the time capsule printable here.

Look For The Rainbows: The Positives Of COVID-19

We are roughly two weeks into COVID-19 shutdowns, how is everyone doing? Have we settled in and found our new “normal” yet? Here in Utah, schools are closed until May and we aren’t even into April yet! It’s heartbreaking to see teachers and students everywhere long to be back in their classrooms. 

Watching the news is crazy and full of negatives. During this time, let’s focus on the positives. Here are a few I’ve witnessed here in my community. 

Teachers parading the streets their students to honk, wave, and say hi to them from a distance. 

Students standing out in the rain and snow just to watch their teacher’s drive by. 

Rainbows posted in windows throughout the neighborhood to remind us that after every storm, there will always be a rainbow and that it will be okay. 

#chalkthewalk around my neighborhood

Copious amounts of incredible people on social media doing various things to keep our kids occupied and learning during this uncertain time. Storytimes, zoo tours, drawing lessons, free resources, and more. 

#chalkthewalk around my neighborhood

Sidewalks chalked with uplifting, happy messages. 

Teachers posting about how sad they are that they cannot be with their students right now, even though it may be spring break for some. 

Virtual scavenger hunts. 

More reading, more loving, and more time to slow down. 

Right now, things are uncertain and difficult. It’s hard not to be with friends, it’s hard to be walking through the uncertainty each day brings, and it’s hard to navigate our own emotions while keeping up with our kids’ emotions as well. But we can do this. Look for the helpers, focus on the good, keep a positive attitude, and remember that rainbows always come after the storm. 

We can do this. 

An Open Letter: To School Choice, From a Teacher

Dear School Choice,

How did our relationship get so complex? Back in college, things were so black and white: you were a shady character I was supposed to avoid (what with those rumors about causing the demise of public education and whatnot).

But then I graduated during the recession and the only gig I could find was at…a charter school. Actually 2 charter schools–the first, where I worked as a TA, was rife with many the problems my professors described. But the second was unique in that it provided the International Baccalaureate program, introducing me to inquiry, student-driven action, and global citizenship.

(see “I’m Finally Using the PYP Key Concepts!“)

Over the years, I witnessed some of your problems I’d been warned about like high teacher turn-over. But mostly, I was grateful to have learned so much about how to help students take ownership for their learning, and to have been given lots of leeway to try new things as a teacher.

(see “When DIY PD Goes Terribly Wrong–Or Does It?“)

So when it came time to enroll our oldest, you and I were in a much more flexible place than when we first met. But I still opted to go with our neighborhood school, which is part of the district, committed to the idea of “lifting where we stand” (and just plain wanting our child to be able to walk or bike to school). In that commitment, I thought I could go back to brushing you off.

But I met too many people that seemed to have compelling reasons to depend on you:

  • traveling with the family so often that homeschooling (worldschooling) made sense
  • transferring to a different school within the district that offered a language program
  • having a child with such severe anxiety that online homeschooling became an important alternative
  • searching out a school with a focus on autism to meet a child’s needs
  • encountering concerns at the local school in which the child’s and/or parents’ voices are regularly dismissed (and choosing another school where the opposite is the case)–especially when severe bullying has been involved

I guess what I’m saying is, I’ve learned you’re complicated. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and tell parents to shun you. But it’s a lot harder when you hear exactly how their children are struggling, and tell them to ignore available alternatives that might, in fact, be a better fit. For those parents, not taking you up on your offer almost feels like bad parenting.

All that said, I still do maintain some reservations that keep me from inviting you to our next dinner party:

  • There is no perfect school: just because an alternative is available does not guarantee that that will solve all problems.
  • Parents who have the most socioeconomic advantages tend to be the ones most involved in school choice, which means it can contribute to socioeconomic divides & even modern segregation.
  • There is power in a community uniting to find out how they can improve their local school (rather than simply abandoning it).

I hope you don’t take my concerns personally. I do know that sometimes, you’re more focused on bringing something new to the table (like a special program for autism or International Baccalaureate), and not just assuming you’re going to do the same thing as districts but better. And seeing the good you’ve been able to accomplish for families that need alternatives has helped me judge you less.

So, though I expect our relationship will continue to be uncertain, I’m glad we seem to understand each other a bit more. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given me, and I hope to see more conversations moving forward on how to best serve children and communities.

What Matters Most to YOU About your Child’s School Experience? #TeacherMom

Much of what I write here comes down to this question. But when it came down answering it directly for an interview for my cousin’s class, I was surprised at how difficult it was to decide.

What matters most to me? Really, no less than a preservation of my child’s humanity. Her empathy. Her creativity. Her curiosity. Because only when she finds meaning for herself will the learning follow.

Cultivating humanity exists in the small details. Non-examples include choices such as:

  • assigning worksheets that are excessive or developmentally inappropriate and then faulting children for being inattentive
  • focusing more on the data and products than on the child
  • consistently depending on extrinsic incentives instead of choosing to have the harder, ongoing conversations about broader, more intrinsic values

Examples include:

  • honoring students’ agency by inviting them to the planning table for their own learning
  • proactively working to communicate with families, not because we want behavior conversations to be less awkward, but because we want families to know we truly care about their children
  • trusting students to monitor their own bathroom use

These are the kinds of approaches that send a clear message to students: you are valued. Your voice matters. You bring something unique to our group that cannot be replicated.

These messages matter not only for the sake of individual wellness (which is a worthy goal in itself), but for the sake of our collective future in an increasingly automated world. Realizing that “human beings are our most valuable resource” (as referenced in the recent article, “Educator: In Finland, I realized how ‘mean-spirited’ the U.S. education system really is”) should be of utmost importance in meeting the needs of the individual and the whole.  (see also the great video Adam Hill shared in his post, “What are Soft Skills & Why do Students Need them More than Ever?“)

Going back to that interview, other questions posed included:

  • What matters most to your child when they go to school?
  • What is the most important quality for a classroom teacher to possess?
  • What makes you the most nervous about sending your child to school?
  • If your child misbehaves, how would you hope the teacher handles it?
  • What rules are the most important for teachers to have?
  • How should teachers best communicate with parents in regards to their child’s behavior?

What might happen if we use these kinds of questions as conversation-starters between teachers and families? How might collaborating to figure out what we hope school will accomplish impact our communities? And most importantly, how might seeking for understanding and connection help us cultivate humanity on the scale of the both the individual and the whole?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

When School Is a To-Do List…

…do kids see anything but the list?

…do they put themselves into the learning?

“Seeing a student completely zone out in front of a screen and letting the computer lead the learning is not where I hope education is moving…Let’s just remember that in “personalization” is the word “person.”” ~George Couros

…are they bringing their own energy and passion into those tasks?

…how is their ability for a self-driven life impacted? Are they more or less equipped?

“I start with the assumption that kids have a brain in their head and they want their lives to work. They want to do well. That’s why we want to change the energy, so the energy is coming from the kid seeking help from us rather than us trying to boss the kid, sending the message, “You can’t do this on your own.”” ~William Stixrud

…do they get the chance to discover the power of their own voices?

…is there any room left for curiosity, when so much energy is spent on compliance?

“How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them?” ~Edna Sackson

…is there time for reflection and metacognition?

…do students feel they are making personal discoveries worth discussing?

“I want the students to sit on their own shoulders – watch themselves, notice their responses and listen to their self-talk.  I want them to slow down, press the pause button and review their actions. I want them to ask: “what am I noticing about myself in this?”  “What did I just do/say?” “What is this telling me about myself?” “What could I do differently?” I want them to bring an inquiry stance to learning about themselves as people  and I want them to carry that disposition into the rest of their lives.” ~Kath Murdoch

What small changes can we make to better help students learn to own and drive their learning?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto