Guest Post: Peace Corps and Service

By Barbara A. Lewis, author of The Teen Guide to Global Action

Barbara Lewis, FSP AuthorStudents at the University of Michigan in 1960 must have caught their breath when John F. Kennedy challenged them to contribute two years of their lives in volunteer work. What? Two years? Within weeks of his inauguration, President Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961. Any U.S. citizen over the age of 18 was invited to participate. His early summons motivated 14,500 courageous, young adults to volunteer in developing countries around the world. Since then over 215,000 Americans have contributed worldwide, and there are impressive stories of their service.

The Philippines is located on the Ring of Fire, an area that experiences catastrophic weather, earthquakes, and floods. Peace Corps volunteer Karen Grace Lee has worked in the Philippines as a Web developer to help the disaster reporting system get information out more quickly and broadly.

Peace corp volunteer Marti in ZambiaIn Zambia, Patrick C. Marti works with over 6,000 small-scale farmers as a Peace Corps volunteer. He helped provide training in food preservation, among other services.

The Peace Corps is approaching its 54th birthday on March 1. Today, volunteers serve in sixty-four countries in projects involving education, health, environment, community, economic development, and agriculture. Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with the local people.

Sadly, the number of volunteers dwindled after 1979. But the Peace Corps recently announced good news. In 2014, a large group of service-minded people increased the numbers to 17,336.

In addition to the great humanitarian effort of Peace Corps volunteers, they should also receive some credit for sparking enthusiasm for service throughout the United States and the world. Today, countless organizations provide opportunities for people to serve, and many people volunteer individually with their own projects.

There are many, varied stories of those involved in service. Youth Service America (YSA) engages millions of young people of all ages in service to their communities in the United States and more than 100 other countries. It sponsors the Global Youth Service Day—coming up April 17 to 19—and is the largest celebration of youth service in the world. However, anyone can participate by going to their website. Many schools get involved in such projects.

Greening_Forward_Headshot_Hasib MuhammadHasib Muhammad had great ideas for service at an early age: “I started my leadership adventure . . . as the line leader of my first-grade class. But when I wanted to lead a book drive in the community, I was rejected, and my line-leader credentials were overlooked.” But he kept at it, helping at a food bank and making other contributions. Now at the ripe old age of 18, he is VP of engagement at Greening Forward in Georgia, a youth-led environmental organization.

After watching the movie Annie, six-year-old Tara V. of Missouri wanted to help children who didn’t have permanent homes. She enlisted the help of her kindergarten class to create a service group called “Kids Helping Kids.” They filled backpacks with things they thought the needy children would want, such as toothpaste, pajamas, and of course—stuffed animals.

BBOY for life  Nadus Films GuatemalaFour young leaders from Guatemala started a creative breakdance group to educate the community about conservation. When they perform their athletic moves across the floor, the crowds gather. Their motivating and entertaining message catches attention: “Dance as if your life depends on it.”

Volunteering is a part of good citizenship. It shows that people accept responsibility—not just for themselves—but also for the community around them. Volunteers come in all sizes, shapes, and colors and are only measured by their commitment to help. But the bonus prize is that when they reach out to help others, they develop leadership and self-confidence within themselves.

It has been said before that volunteers built Noah’s Ark, but professionals built the Titanic! Hats off to the Peace Corps and to volunteers across the globe.

Barbara A. Lewis is an author and educator who teaches kids how to think and solve real problems. Her elementary school students initiated the cleanup of hazardous waste, improved sidewalks, planted thousands of trees, and even instigated and pushed through several state laws and an amendment to a national law. She has been featured in/on many national newspapers, magazines, and news programs, and her books have won Parenting’s Reading Magic Award and been named “Best of the Best for Children” by the American Library Association, among other honors. She has written several books, including The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects and The Teen Guide to Global Action. Learn more at

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

These resources are full of hundreds of ideas for kids and teens:

KidsGuideToServiceProjects Teen_Guide_2_Global_Action

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Read Across America Day: 10 Facts, Links, and Activities

Read Across America Day linkMarch 2, 2015, is Read Across America (RAA) day. Schools, libraries, and individuals are spreading the word and trying to get everyone to pick up a book and read. Read to themselves. To a child. To a grandparent. To a cat. And cats seem like appropriate audiences, since the National Education Association (NEA) has chosen Dr. Seuss’s beloved Cat in the Hat as the 2015 ambassador of reading. Their website is full of “seussational” resources for RAA day.

Here are ten interesting facts, links, or activities you can check out as you celebrate Read Across America:

  1. The first Read Across America day was held seventeen years ago. Imagine that! It was 1998 and new books on the market included Holes by Louis Sachar, Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.
  2. There are nearly 9,000 public libraries in the United States. According to the American Library Association, 90 percent of public schools have libraries, but many have limited support staff.
  3. The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) 2015 Notable Children’s Books list is already available, and it has sections for younger readers up through all ages. So many books, better start planning!
  4. cattus petasatus

    Read it in Latin, or several other languages.

    Mental Floss has a great video full of trivia and facts called “47 Charming Facts About Children’s Books,” and it includes some great info about Seuss’s works as well. Learn why Chris Van Allsburg, author of The Polar Express, includes a picture of Winston the terrier in every book he puts out, and forty-six other things.

  5. Want to read poems about reading to your kids? Check out this archived list of Poems About Reading. Also, the NEA has a link to a Read Across America poem, and even a song.
  6. Tie your RAA reading time to another topic in class. Read about science, or perhaps celebrate a different culture. The website Jump Into a Book celebrated their second Multicultural Children’s Book Day last month and has some great links and ideas for all ages.
  7. If your class is busy on the official RAA day, create your own time. Involve the kids in planning, making posters, picking books, and going into other classes to read to younger kids.
  8. RAAlogoA study done by the University of Buffalo shows that reading fiction increases the ability to empathize with others. Find more tidbits like that in the article “10 Scientific Facts About Reading Books” from UNB Facts.
  9. Follow Read Across America on Twitter. Post what you are reading with your kids to #readacrossamerica. Watch that feed for more inspiration.
  10. Check out some fun reading and craft ideas for RAA day on Pinterest.

Read to a kid today and tomorrow and every day. Take time to read to yourself as well!

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Share the Wealth: Spotlight on Community

By Laurel Lisovskis, BSW

Laurel LisovskisIt is no secret that we continue to feel the pinch in the realm of public school budgets. Across the country, year after year we have seen a disturbing reduction of sustainable financial support to our children’s educational experience. In Oregon, where I live, the struggle is palpable. We rank 49th out of 50 for class size ratio. Yikes. And yet, in Bethel School District where I am doing my internship, we have some of the highest graduation rates in the state. How is this possible?

Well, where the rubber hits the road, it is always about the fantastic, resourceful, passionate people. Embedded in the district’s school-based health center, I have had the unique opportunity to participate in some amazing programs and work with amazing staff and students to provide mental health services.

This series of blogs, “Share the Wealth,” aims to spotlight the creative and innovative ways that folks are engaging students to make their schools a better place to learn, even in the lean years. Share the WealthWith many school counselors splitting one full-time employment position between two school sites, the realities of class size ratio, and a host of other challenges, one could easily become discouraged. We could all practice our most dramatic posturing in the mirror and chat over endless cups of coffee about the woes of the state of things. But instead, the tone in the lunchrooms and staff lounges—from the health center to the middle schools—is one of resiliency.

Let’s begin by looking at community context. One way to bridge the counselor gap is to reach out for resources. That’s exactly what the Shasta Middle School counselor did one morning before she had to dash off to her afternoon post at a nearby elementary school. She called Ophelia’s Place—a local nonprofit agency committed, through prevention, support, and education, to helping girls make healthy life choices. Among the wide variety of services they offer—including after-school drop-in, workshops, classes—is a school support component. They provide classroom presentations for both genders, staff training, healing empowerment and recovery therapy groups, and girls’ empowerment groups.

For a nominal fee, an MSW intern from Ophelia’s Place and I brought into the school a full ten-week curriculum for a closed group of eight seventh graders. We met over the first part of the school year for an hour and a half each Tuesday. In exchange for sacrificing lunch and an elective, these girls explored topics like bullying and relational aggression, media and body image, depression and anxiety, self-injury, and skills for being better allies to one another.

stickersPre- and post-surveys revealed that girls felt an increased ability to make good decisions, felt that they had more tools for coping with stressful situations, and felt more proud to be girls. During our last session they were asked to share how they felt about one another. We did a labeling exercise, where each girl wrote one sincere compliment on a sticker for each member of the group. Then, one at a time, a girl stood in the middle of the circle, turning slowly to be “labeled” with these compliments. What a moment! Words like “amazing” and “true friend” lined the arms of their sweaters, and, more importantly, stuck to their hearts.

Among the breezeways at Shasta Middle School, I am sure to hear the occasional negative remark, and I am aware that there is still unkind banter and hurtful words exchanged among social groups. I am also aware that some students won’t stand for those remarks, and I have seen girls who I worked with in this group act on behalf of those students who didn’t speak up for themselves. In fact, if I had a high-five for every instance that someone felt protected because of this ally-building cushion of support from Ophelia’s Place, I would have some very sore hands. Well done, counselor extraordinaire! Well done, administration, for listening to and supporting the ideas of the staff! Well done, community agency who made materials and skills training available! It is truly inspiring to be a part of this effort, and to enjoy the smiles of students who have learned how to look out for themselves and one another.

Watch for the next Share the Wealth post: Integrated healthcare in a school-based health center setting.

Laurel Lisovskis, BSW, is in her second year of graduate school working toward clinical licensure in social work at Portland State University. Her field placement is at the school-based Bethel Health Center, one of the innovative programs conceived through an alliance between state healthcare initiatives and public schools to bring services directly to students and families at school sites. Her intern experience includes doing individual and group therapy, as well as traditional social work roles such as resource utilization, collaboration with internal and external supports, and case management. Laurel is also working within the clinical setting to streamline integrated care services. With over ten years of expertise in counseling in both healthcare and public school domains, she lends a unique perspective of the connectivity between mental health and the well-being of middle school student populations.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Cash in on Learning: Ignite Student Creativity!

Richard Cash EdD, FSP AuthorIn honor of African-American History month and some inspirational firsts, I am dedicating this blog post to igniting creativity in all students.

There have been innumerable contributions by African-American men and women in science, literature, the arts, sports, and economics, to name just a few of the fields of influence. For example:

  • Jan Ernst Matzeliger, inventor of a shoemaking machine that increased shoe production by 900 percent
  • Madam C.J. Walker, inventor of a hair growing products and other cosmetics
  • Dr. Patricia E. Bath, inventor of a method of eye surgery that helps the blind to see
  • Lonnie G. Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker
  • Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut
  • Artists such as Terry Adkins, Mequitta Ahuja, Jules T. Allen, Luther Jones all have contributed to the culture and productivities of the United States

The list of African-American creative accomplishments could go on and on, but this is where I’m going to share ways to stimulate the creative nature of your students. Use all these great Americans and more as examples of what can be accomplished if you are willing to work hard enough to make a difference.

Creative thinking is a divergent thought process. Thinking is essentially the act of making meaning out of learned information. Divergent thinking is basically thinking down the path less taken or coming up with many ideas for ways to solve problems. To be creative, students must cultivate several characteristics, such as:

  • Flexibility in ways of doing and acting
  • Ability to change and adapt quickly
  • Ability to link ideas together in ways not often considered
  • Willingness to ask questions
  • Playfulness
  • Ability to come up with numerous workable solutions
  • Ability to accept errors
  • Willingness to value the process over the product
  • Tolerance for disorder, discord, ambiguity, complexity, risk, and cognitive dissonance
  • Willingness to put forward effort to come up with original ideas

AdvancingDifferentiationIn my book Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century, I highlight strategies to help you develop the creative aptitude in your students. These ideas and strategies can be used to connect to the content or outside the content to increase the level of enjoyment in your classroom.

One of the best ways to structure creative thinking in your classroom is to use the four strategies of creativity: fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. Below are ideas that can be used as “sponge activities” (to be used when you have a few minutes left in a lesson, before lunch or recess, or at the end of the day), warm-ups to more strenuous thinking activities, or as “brain breaks” (when you know your students need a little mental downtime).

Fluency: The ability to come up with a lot of ideas

Fluency Activity—Give students two minutes to come up with as many items as they can that are:

comes in pairs

  • Colorful
  • Compound words
  • Three-syllable words
  • Words without an “e”
  • Parts of the makeup of a cell
  • Typically found in pairs
  • Problem-solving strategies
  • Characters Shakespeare created
  • Influential mathematicians
  • And so on

Flexibility: The act of looking at things differently

Flexibility Activity—List one or more of the following flexibility questions or statements and ask students to respond:

  • Create a metaphor that describes our classroom (or your school, city, state).
  • What items could be bought at a discount store that could be used to stop a flood?
  • What items could be bought at a hardware store that could be used to make a dress?
  • How many different ways can you use a pencil (besides as a writing implement)?
  • What items might you find in a garage that could be used to tame a lion?
  • What’s another way of using the power cord to your computer (other than providing power to your computer)?

Elaboration: The ability to provide extensive or extended details to push beyond established boundaries

Elaboration Activities—Choose one or more of the following challenges:

stool wine glass toenail ckipper

  • Make changes, additions, or adaptations to a board game to make it more challenging.
  • Write a prequel to The Three Little Pigs, Romeo and Juliet, or Call of the Wild.
  • Write a technical manual to build the world’s best peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  • Using numbers only, give someone directions from your school to Times Square in New York City.
  • A thief has stolen the Mona Lisa painting from the Louvre Museum in Paris. The thief used three items to help her steal the painting: a three-foot stepstool, a wine glass, and toenail clippers. How did she do it?
  • Which month is the heaviest (or lightest, fairest, meanest, fluffiest, softest, and so on)? Why?
  • Which day of the week is the sweetest (or most sour, tiniest, most obnoxious, and so on)? Why?

Originality: The act of being original; Originality is most often considered the most difficult of the four creative thought strategies, but it is probably the most critical because being original is what will help our students stand out in the 21st century

Originality Activities—Choose one or more of the following challenges:

  • Create a new use for your laptop (or smartphone, pen, desk, and so forth).
  • Create a new ending to a well-known fairy tale or story.
  • Come up with the most unusual occasion for writing a love letter to someone.
  • Design a device to clean a messy room.
  • Develop a plan to redesign your classroom (or playground, city, park, and so on).

These ideas can help you develop an environment in your classroom that stimulates and ignites student creativity. Many more ideas are available in Chapter 10 (Creative Thinking: Stepping Outside the Box) in Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century.

Finally, keep in mind that a creative classroom should:

  • Stimulate curiosity and questions
  • Allow for multiple ways of solving problems
  • Encourage invention
  • Suspend judgment and criticism
  • Practice patience, perseverance, and persistence

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally. His most recent book is Differentiation for Gifted Learners, coauthored with Diane Heacox, Ed.D. He is also author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Author Spotlight: Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D., April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed., and Andrew T. Davis, Ed.D.

The staff at Free Spirit is privileged to work with many amazing authors. We will be sharing more author spotlights with you, and hope you enjoy learning about these writers who are dedicated to helping kids succeed. The following interview was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News.

PrincipalsSurvivalGuideThis month’s spotlight interview is with Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D., April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed., and Andrew T. Davis, Ed.D., three principals from Nashville, Tennessee, and coauthors of Free Spirit’s forthcoming title, The Principal’s Survival Guide. Read on to learn about how the trio met, why they decided to write a book together, and how they find time to have personal lives in addition to running their schools.

Q: How did the three of you meet? And what prompted you to team up to write The Principal’s Survival Guide?

Susan: We teamed up to write The Principal’s Survival Guide because we felt that our shared experiences and lessons learned along the way would be helpful to others. We were hoping that our experiences could save others some heartbreak.

April: We all met working at the same high school together where Susan was an assistant principal and Andrew and I were teachers in leadership roles. When Susan became the principal of her current school, she hired Andrew to become one of her assistant principals. After graduating a group of seniors I had worked with for four years, I joined them a year later in an academic coaching position, later becoming an assistant principal. We began speaking at conferences about our work turning around a failing school and about how to survive the job of principal. These presentations resonated with conference goers, especially our session entitled “When Do I Sleep?,” which is all about being a principal, and we were often told how helpful this session was to aspiring, new, and current principals. We thought that putting this into a book would help even more people taking on one of the toughest but most rewarding jobs anyone can have.

Q: What was the best/most rewarding part of developing this book?

Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D.

Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D.

Susan: The best part of writing this book was the reflection component. The ideas described in the book are from our experiences, our successes, and our failures, and when you are a practitioner, and you actually have an opportunity to gather your story, it is rewarding to see that the journey has been rich and memorable. We are mid-career administrators and have much to continue to learn as we navigate our journey.

April: The process of putting all of the different aspects together and seeing how it could be useful to a principal. To me, the fact that the book is practical and real world, which is so different from what you usually learn in education classes, is the most rewarding part. How often in an education class do they talk about ways to deal with an angry parent, what to do when a teacher doesn’t like students, or how to talk to the media? But those are real-world experiences principals will have and need help negotiating.

Andrew: The time we spent talking about the concepts and the stories that went with them was a BLAST. Many times, we would be laughing recollecting or creating stories that had us in tears, but the rewarding part was seeing that the concepts we write about, especially the nonnegotiables, are actually a part of our individual practice.

Q: What is your favorite part of being a principal?

Susan: I love the concept of leadership. As a student of leadership, I keenly observe how others in our profession and in others handle leadership challenges. When I face a difficult decision and feel fear, I remind myself that leaders are rare and that helps compel me to do what is right and not what is easy. As a principal, I have many opportunities to be challenged about my leadership decisions.

April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed.

April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed.

April: Helping others succeed. My job is to support, to push, to problem solve. It is to be the bad guy when needed and at other times the hero saving the day. It is always to help every student graduate prepared for life beyond high school and every teacher to find success.

Andrew: Working with students was always the highlight of being a teacher and assistant principal, but now as principal, getting to support teachers and help them grow in their craft, while knowing how many more children that impacts, is the most rewarding part of being principal.

Q: How about the hardest part of your position?

Susan: When things go wrong, and they sometimes do, for all principals, you have to be strong, insightful, and decisive, and you don’t have the luxury of time to write a list of pros and cons. That’s difficult, but those situations, always make for the best stories!

April: Always feeling like I can’t seem to do enough or give enough. There is always more to be done and more students and teachers to help, and it is very easy to feel overwhelmed and lose sight of what is being accomplished.

Andrew T. Davis, Ed.D.

Andrew T. Davis, Ed.D.

Andrew: When you have supported and tried to help a teacher grow in their craft, but either due to inability or refusal to change they don’t grow. As a result, children aren’t learning, and you have to move that teacher from the school or the profession.

Q: What do you do to encourage a culture of tolerance and respect in your schools and communities?

Susan: We work hard to model respect for others within our school community. Our teachers treat our students with great respect, and we promote the idea of groups of students gathering under the umbrella of educating others and promoting respect.

April: Modeling what tolerance and respect looks like to my teachers and students, and then holding everyone accountable to create that same environment. High school can be a mean and scary place for kids, and that should never be because of a deficiency on the part of the adults in the building. Work must be done every day to ensure a nurturing environment for students where they can grow to productive members of society.

Andrew: The word tolerance is in our school’s mission. We read it every day. To put those concepts into practice, we have character lessons, stress the International Baccalaureate Learner Profile (we are an IB World School), and most importantly, I try to model those concepts every single day through my words and actions. We are a public school, every stakeholder in the community has a right to be there and have a say in their community school. The challenge for the principal is managing those different inputs that sometimes compete against each other.

Q: Principals are some of the busiest people we know. How do you like to spend your free time outside of school? Do you even have any?

Susan: I am a wife and mother of three children so I spend my free time at the extracurricular and school events of my own children.

April: As the mother of two boys ages 7 and 7 months, time outside of school is spent with my husband helping them grow into strong young men and “examples of what good students should be,” a phrase my oldest has heard more times than either one of us can count. In what little free time that leaves us, my husband and I enjoy watching movies, especially anything of the British/PBS variety, and with our son, anything superhero related. I also knit, crochet, and sew, mostly gifts for others.

Andrew: First comes family. I have three elementary-age daughters and a wonderful wife that often don’t get to see me as much as I would like due to the demands of the job. So when I do have free time, I try to make it family time. I also love to read, work out, hike, golf, and watch football, but those things don’t happen as much now that I am principal. That is a true challenge!

Q: And finally, our favorite question for authors: What makes you a “Free Spirit”?

Susan: I don’t like being told what to do. As a free spirit I challenge ideas and assertions and love to do things “my way.” I don’t want to break rules, but I like to see what rules are more brittle than others.

April: In my view, there is always a better way to get things done. I am the problem solver and the fixer of things. I am not afraid to make a decision, try something a different way, and deal with the consequences if it does or does not work. I am about cutting through the red tape and just getting things done, which in the world of education can be rare indeed.

Andrew: I think of myself as a very laid-back and humorous person, but I know that education is truly the light of knowledge that opens so many doors for people. Thinking about that and trying to convey that to children often gets me really energized, and I feel like a circus ring master to get them excited about learning, whether it be Shakespeare to an early morning class of high school seniors, or the parts of a sentence to a class of second graders.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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