The New Age of Teaching
by Alexander Rodriguez
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I frantically watched my phone waiting to hear if I would be returning to campus after spring break. I finally received the call and was informed that we would not be returning to our classrooms. I was shocked, relieved, nervous and confused (and in all honesty, a bit excited to have one more day to sleep in). Many phone calls, team meetings and coffee runs later, I realized that we did not have a system in place to support four and five year olds with virtual learning. No one did.
As a result of social distancing, families were now spending more time together, but my classroom parents expressed they did not know what to do. They knew how to play and care for their children, but they did not know how to teach letters, numbers or science. Guardians quickly became overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of parenthood, teaching and other stressors related to the global pandemic. This additional stress disproportionately affected families who already struggled socioeconomically.
Throughout our country's history, there have been severe disparities and challenges within our education system. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these inequities. Students, particularly those of low socioeconomic status, faced additional challenges with food scarcity, lack of access to books, loss of reliable transportation, housing and job insecurity. As an educator, I witness first hand many of the families that I work with facing these and similar problems.
In order to respond to these inequities, I decided to plug in and create my own website. After securing funding from Peace First, I created At Home Play. At Home Play, aims to contribute to addressing these inequities through an online database that parents could access at any time for free, provided they have internet access. I worked tirelessly to transcribe all the tips and tricks I used in the classroom onto the website. I included the most fun and accessible lessons for families to complete at home and provided quality read-alouds that focused on text features and critical thinking. The most important component was the social emotional lessons that were included to help students calm themselves and express how they were feeling during a time that could be distressing.
Parent-teacher collaboration has carried into my virtual teaching practice. This academic year I focused on constructing a schedule that allows me to meet regularly with my students online, but I still speak with the parents of my students daily. I take time to answer parents’ questions and explain my teaching practices so they can replicate them when I am not around. I send home activities for parents to complete with their children and through personal observations and parent accounts, we track their progress.
Virtual teaching has brought me closer to my students and their families in unexpected ways that has not only ensured positive learning outcomes for this year, but has guaranteed continued success for students. The training I conducted with parents will provide them with lasting skills that will have an impact beyond this academic year. Although I still believe that in-person instruction cannot be replaced for pre-kinder children, I think there have been several unexpected benefits gained through virtual learning that I am grateful to bring into my teaching practice.
While schools are focused on implementing new programs and procedures to return this fall, they must also consider diverse teaching practices that represent all families. Education is about constant growth and thinking about ways that you can innovate and improve daily practices. In order to build back better, we, as a nation, must hold both ourselves and society accountable.
Alexander Rodriguez is an early childhood educator located in San Antonio, Texas. He has dedicated his career to ensuring that all children have access to early childhood education through his career at Prek4SA, The DoSeum, and serving as the previous vice president of The Love Your Natural Self Foundation. He is the founder of a digital platform called “At Home Play,” providing families and students with early childhood resources.
Design for Equitable Systems
by Grace Wickerson
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Audre Lord’s 1984 essay speaks truth to the core issue with today’s social policy: the way we continue to uphold unjust systems by continuing to operate within them in the way we design programs and policy. Systems of injustice, like racism, climate destruction, poverty, are not broken, they are by design. They were built intentionally by those in power to produce our current outcomes and are held in place by not just by policies, resources and practices, but also by us, in the way we relate with one another and in our own individual mindsets. I believe if we fail to see these designs, we are only going to continue to repeat the same inequities, even with the best of intentions. That is why I am dedicated to educating my peers on systems thinking – to build a community of leaders ready to re-design our systems and bring about a more just society.
I started Design for Equitable Systems in summer 2020 as a response to many conversations I was involved in online about the dual injustices of COVID-19 and police brutality, where people were struggling to comprehend how so many structures that should be helping us were failing us. I reflected on the year I had just had as Student Body President, where I consistently faced resistance while advocating for students. I remember one university leader telling me that we could not solve all the injustices students faced before coming here, even when what I proposed was an intentional and equitable investment to try and make a level playing field for low-income, first-gen students. I was made well aware that many of our current institutions are not built for those without privilege and power, the majority of people in the US. So, I made a conscious action to educate my peers, launching a digital curriculum available to anyone with internet access to get started on their systems-thinking journey. I am now working on expanding this curriculum to young people all over the country.
I am committed to this work because our current public education system is a relic of the industrial revolution and is not up to par for preparing our young people to be able to address the many challenges of our times, from climate change to racial injustice to political polarization. Multitudes of students feel that their education system doesn't reflect their desires to learn and feels disconnected from their lived experiences, which fuels disengagement, even when we need everyone to tackle the big challenges of our time. I know the empowering education I’m leading through Design for Equitable Systems gives young people the tools they need to act on the systemic injustices in their communities. I’m excited to build a movement of systems thinkers working to make the future we want a reality.
Part of rebuilding means acknowledging why the structure failed. To build back better, we have to design differently, with a lens of equity, sustainability and liberation.
Grace is an engineer, organizer, and educator working to help young people critically evaluate structural injustices and design interventions to re-imagine our current systems. They are a recent graduate of Rice University, where they received their B.S. in Materials Science and Nanoengineering and were a Point Foundation Scholar, Buick Achievers Scholar, and Trustee Distinguished Scholar. While at Rice, they served as Student Body President, and sought to rethink the way the university administration, faculty and the student body approached diversity equity and inclusion, financial inclusion, sustainability and engagement with the larger Houston community. For their work, they were recognized as one of the Outstanding Seniors of the Class of 2020, an honor only awarded to ten students in a +1000 person class. They also initiated the only class on design and social good at Rice University, working with 30+ students over three years. Now, as a PhD student in Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University, Grace is utilizing their engineering knowledge to design biodegradable, biocompatible therapeutic medical devices for chronic diseases and working to increase access to innovative, cutting edge healthcare interventions. They are continuing their work in design education, founding Design for Equitable Systems to research educational methodologies that show young people how to understand the way a system is constructed to then understand how they can redesign them for a more equitable future. Their future goals are to create a think-tank for collaboration across fields of expertise on addressing systemic challenges in healthcare, education, the environment, etc.
Biden-Harris: 2020 and Beyond -- A 'Possible' New Age of Canada-US Relations
by Afreen Delvi
The past year has been filled with distinct, unwelcomed and unexpected challenges for societies worldwide. Not only has the COVID-19 virus heightened the anxiety and disdain felt by citizens, but the crisis has simultaneously exacerbated and made visible existing social problems and inequalities. Americans, and Canadians alike have felt the effect of austerity policies, as our health services continue to struggle with coping with the pandemic. From your friendly neighbours up North (yes, #WeTheNorth), the best news we have received from the far less exquisite side of the Niagara Falls this past year has been Joe Biden winning the 2020 American Presidential election, news, which undoubtedly reinforced my belief in the existence of a symbolic “light at the end of the tunnel”. Afterall, America was finally climbing out of the political rut she had previously found herself in, a hyperbole, no doubt, but in reality, the sentiment is shared by many of my fellow Canadians, to some extent.
As America enters a new chapter of political leadership, Canadians, have also been preparing for our neighbour’s transition into a Democratic administration, after four tense years of trying and failing to forge a mutually beneficial and productive relationship with former President Donald Trump. I know I was not the only Canadian closely following the election from my living room or discussing potential outcomes at the dining table. Although Biden’s ties to Canada may run deep, (Canadians, do you remember the Obama cookie sold in Ottawa – maybe Moulin De Provence can be incentivized to create one in celebration of the new President?), it is expected that the transition of power will have wide-ranging implications for both American and Canadian politics and policy. Notwithstanding, the Biden presidency does come with its own set of challenges as the two nations continue to work collaboratively to build on our alliance.
Even though Biden may not be Canada’s beloved Justin Trudeau, Canadians still have high aspirations for the President-elect and Vice President Kamala Harris. Since the start of her political career, Harris, has been breaking barriers, acting as a role model for women wanting to elevate to positions of power and propel change within the government. But she is also representative of America and Canada’s shared diverse demographic (Do not worry VP Harris, nous nous souvenons (we remember - French), your Canadian roots in Montreal). For me, an immigrant, and woman of colour, there is much to be learned and appreciated about both Harris’s and Biden’s triumphs which solidify us moving into a new age of acceptance, equity, representation and justice.
Regardless, only time will tell if America’s new government shifts the focus back onto multilateralism which undoubtedly, Canadians would be very supportive of, and if President Biden will follow through with his pledge of working collaboratively with Trudeau to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and rebuild the interdependent American and Canadian economies. In the meantime, the clock will continue ticking as both the Canadian and American masses continue to mobilize and call for collective change and bolder action in support of social movements which transcend borders including the #BlackLivesMatter movement and combating climate change, all while working towards creating new spaces to effectively channel and organize our grief, and desire for impact. If we are able to work together for social justice, surely, we can rely on our respective governments to cooperate and prioritize our common values to achieve our shared political and economic agendas, and guide efforts in the coming years.
Afreen is completing her Master’s in International Affairs and holds an interest in championing holistic solutions to address today’s most pressing issues, focusing on artificial intelligence, terrorism, accessibility, diversity and inclusion. She works as a Communications Strategist for the Government of Canada, and as a Youth Accessibility Leader, she hopes to demonstrate leadership and commitment to building a more accessible Canada, and world, void of barriers to the full and equitable participation and success of all individuals, including persons with disabilities. Afreen lives in Ottawa, Canada where she volunteers with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and Innocence Canada on criminal justice reform and restorative justice. She enjoys learning languages and trying out new things on the daily!
Break Up Big Tech
by Priya Chatwani
Our reliance on technology has grown exponentially during the pandemic. Our classes are taught on Zoom. Our social interactions are confined to FaceTime calls and Instagram posts. Our Covid tests are scheduled through a web portal or mobile app. These technological developments feel essential; they allow us to learn, work, and participate in global protests and movements.
At the same time, these same technologies threaten our livelihood and expand the racial income gap. In just the past year, we saw Google fire Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, co-leads of the Ethical AI team, in retribution for their research. We saw Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart spend over $200 million to pass Prop 22, thus denying all gig economy workers basic labor protections such as unemployment insurance, sick leave, and the right to unionize. We saw Amazon Ring grant surveillance footage to over 2,000 police and fire departments in the US, including the Los Angeles Police Department, which specifically requested footage from Black Lives Matter protests.
The increasingly unchecked power of tech companies terrifies me. I do not want to live in a world in which technology exclusively benefits the privileged few while irreparably harming the vulnerable masses.
In spite of these hurdles, we must act now and make sure our voices are heard. We need young people, like the founders of Encode Justice, fighting against the government use of facial recognition, a technology that misidentifies Black and Asian faces at a rate ten to 100 times higher than white faces and has falsely arrested three people - all Black men. We need young people, like the 1,000 students who pledged not to work at Palantir, advocating for #NoTechForICE, especially as ICE hurries to deport dozens of people before the moratorium on deportations goes back into effect. We need young people, like the founders of Edlyft, fostering greater diversity in the tech industry by supporting college STEM students from underrepresented backgrounds. We need young people at every step of the way, at every stage of this fight.
So no, it’s not too late for you to tell your story. What do you want the Biden administration to do in its first 100 days? What tech policies and antitrust regulations do you want to see? What kind of protections do you want on your face, DNA, and personal data? Sign up now to preserve, restore, and rebuild your community! Join the #Rebuild100 Challenge. Join the movement.
Priya Chatwani (she/her) is a Peace First ambassador currently based in San Francisco. She and her sister received a Peace First grant last year to create a mutual aid organization in Los Angeles. Priya is passionate about civic technology, wealth redistribution and international styles of dance. Currently, she is working as a software engineer at Remix, where she builds and designs software for public transit planners.
A Culture of Health
by Lauren Prox
Health is on most people’s minds these days, especially considering we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. But what does health mean? Until recently, I thought that health was just about not being sick. It turns out, health is also about equity, policy and community. These factors, and many more, encompass what is referred to as a Culture of Health. As our nation rethinks who we are and who we want to be, I believe it is critical that we reimagine our nation as one that emphasizes a Culture of Health.
Think about your own communities. Can you think of some aspects of health that may be lacking?
Are people experiencing high levels of stress, depression and anxiety? Does socioeconomic status determine one’s access to adequate health care or influence the likelihood of them surviving childbirth? Has legislation led to more polluted air or less residential parks in your community? I could come up with several more questions, but I think these do a great job of highlighting just how broad and complex a Culture of Health truly is. In order to improve our nation’s Culture of Health, we must harness the power of people like you.
Seriously, we can’t do this without you.
Yes you! We need someone who knows that things are not as great as they could be and wants to do something about it. We need a person who wishes to use creative thinking and compassion, to better our communities and nation as a whole. We need you!
I’ve got another list of questions for you, but this time the questions are about potential actions steps that could be taken to grow our Culture of Health and rebuild our communities. Could hosting a virtual 5K reconnect community members who have been isolated and inactive for months? Would holding webinars with community members and policymakers lead to more equitable legislation? Or, could virtual cooking classes teach community members how to cook healthier and more affordable meals? Can you think of some action or initiatives that you could implement in your community?
I hope my words and questions resonate with you. Maybe you now have an exciting idea for a #Rebuild100 project and even thoughts about ways you may achieve your goals. Perhaps my words also made you think of someone who should lead a #Rebuild100 project in their community. If so, send them a link or two about Peace First and its work with young people like you and me.
So whether you want to improve your community, but are not sure where to start, have an idea and need help getting started, or already have an initiative set up and need extra support, I welcome you to join Peace First’s #Rebuild100 challenge by clicking on this link. When you sign up for the #Rebuild100 challenge, you will be invited into a virtual community of young leaders like you. You can brainstorm and collaborate on ways to rebuild and strengthen our communities and great nation. You will also be given access to a variety of resources to help you reach your goals (funding opportunities, mentoring, and more).
We look forward to working with you!
Lauren is a Peace First Ambassador and attends university in North Carolina. For the last ten years, Lauren has facilitated and participated in numerous community service projects as well as initiatives addressing injustices. In addition to advocating for Peace First, she currently volunteers with the Department of State’s Greening Diplomacy Initiative.Lauren acknowledges that her efforts have been successful due to support from family, friends, mentors and organizations such as Peace First. She hopes to be a supportive resource for others seeking to enact positive, impactful change in their communities. In her spare time, Lauren enjoys reading poetry and recently started painting.
It’s Time to Rebuild
by Brennan Lewis
If I’ve learned anything from living through 2020, it’s that young people can’t afford to wait for adults in power to fix our world. Last May marked my first full year out of college. When I think back to what it felt like to be a college senior, I’m struck by how hopeful I was for what would come next. The future felt limitless, and I was ready to leave my home state of North Carolina for somewhere new and exciting. To call 2020 difficult would be an understatement — from the slow federal response to the pandemic, eviction crisis, families going hungry, disruption to millions of children and young people’s education, to the current tumultuous vaccine rollout. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. But for me and many other young people, the past year has heightened my sense of purpose and urgency.
I know that America can be better than this. As a country, the challenges we’re facing are daunting. The stark disparities in wealth, privilege and power amongst our communities - especially for Black and brown people in the US, the seemingly virulent spread of white supremacist ideology and widespread disinformation and mistrust in media are a serious threat to the stability of American democracy. Still, I’m able to be hopeful.
When I imagine the world I want to live in and the country that I will call home, I think about the young people I work with every day as the Fellow-in-Residence for the US and Canada at Peace First. Historically, young people have always been at the forefront of movements for change, and this year is no different. I’ve seen firsthand how the youngest generations in America are caring for all of us. From launching neighborhood mutual aid networks to feed folks in need, tutoring younger siblings and students in the community, marching for justice for Black lives to monitoring water safety and teaching families about lead poisoning, young people are making a vital stand for healing, for rebuilding and for our shared future. And we’re using our unique talents in the new digital-first landscape shaped by COVID-19 to create art, communities and campaigns online.
Taking action alongside young organizers, activists, instigators, artists and creators grounds me. It’s also what inspired #Rebuild100, a Peace First campaign challenging young people to share their ideas to rebuild their communities in the first 100 days of the Biden administration. Through April 30th, we’re calling young people across America to start projects to address injustice, and to join a digital community of like-minded peers to create together. Peace First will provide the training, resources, coaching and mini-grant funding -- we’re committed to investing up to $10,000 directly in young people in the US.
Through the #Rebuild100 blog series, we’ll share stories of young people who are reimagining what America can look like. On a weekly basis, you’ll hear from teenagers and young adults across the country about what issues matter to us, and what we’re doing on the ground to fix them. And we’ll challenge you to join us in rebuilding our democracy.
What will you do to rebuild your community?
In 2015, Brennan joined the Peace First community as a Fellow and recipient of the Peace First Prize for their statewide work with LGBTQ youth across North Carolina. Based out of Durham, NC, they currently work as Peace First Fellow-in-Residence for the U.S. & Canada. Through past experience with Equality North Carolina, the Human Rights Campaign, the Campaign for Southern Equality, the Trevor Project, and as founder of QueerNC, Brennan has honed their skills as a strong LGBTQ advocate and community organizer, dedicated to mobilizing young people to lead change globally. Brennan also conducted research on LGBTQ Pride celebrations in small communities across the South (SomewhereQueer.com) and was named one of The Advocate magazine’s 104 Champions of Pride for 2019. Brennan is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BA in Public Policy and Women’s and Gender Studies.