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Preparing Students for a Complex and Changing World With Center for Inspired Teaching

By Rebecca Bauer, Project Manager, Inspired Teaching
BlogPhoto1Only weeks after beginning my job at Inspired Teaching, I had the opportunity to participate in the Summer Intensive component of the organization’s signature program, the Inspired Teaching Institute. At the Institute, educators participate in hands-on, improvisation-based activities to align themselves around best-practices for engagement-based instruction.

When I arrived on Day 1, I didn’t know exactly what that meant or what I should expect, but I’d been told the Institute is something I had to experience to truly understand. Less than two weeks later, I’d bonded with a cohort of amazing teachers, danced and sang, lesson planned and discussed ways to address students’ needs.

I’d used yo-yos to learn about inquiry-based education. I’d honed my ability to think creatively by overcoming obstacles while climbing imaginary mountains. Now, I was beginning to truly understand: when colleagues had told me that Inspired Teaching leads transformative teacher trainings, they really meant transformative.

A particularly impactful activity challenged teachers to examine their understanding of discipline and what that word means and looks like. Gathered around two sheets of chart paper, the facilitator sternly said, “This school needs more discipline,” and asked the group to share what words come to mind when they think of “discipline.” Teachers began shouting out words. Punishment. Consequences. Control. They had no trouble brainstorming a vast list. Suspension. No Recess. Phone call home. After the sheet of chart paper was covered in words that gave many flashbacks to their own days of being sent to the principal’s office, the facilitator told us to close our eyes. “Imagine you are a skilled artist,” she said. We sat focusing on this idea for a moment, envisioning our crafts, the skills that we’d honed. “Now open your eyes. Tell me what words come to mind when I say discipline.” An entirely new list began to form. Dedication. Focus. Self-control. Sacrifice. Passion. We examined the two lists, noting the stark differences, pointing out that the lists had very few words in common. The activity left participants thinking about how schools need to shift from enforcing a rigid set of rules to preparing students to be good citizens of our complex and rapidly changing world.

FILE2369Through thought provoking activities like this one, as well as many others that required more flexibility (physically, emotionally, and mentally), the Institute demonstrated that – for both teachers and students – creativity and rigor are not mutually exclusive, but rather go hand in hand.

In addition to being a fun, joyful and refreshing program, it was inspiring to witness the teachers engage in serious reflection on their practices, learning about themselves and discovering new ways to reach their students. One teacher commented, “Institute has helped me look at the types of ways I can elevate my teaching practices emotionally, psychologically, and physically.” Another shared, “Institute has fine-tuned my metacognition and skills of perception.” Most importantly, while teachers celebrated the growth that took place at the intensive, they also acknowledged that there is always more work to be done – which is why the Institute includes seminars and ongoing support throughout the year.

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The Inspired Teaching Institute, comprised of the summer Intensive and seminars throughout the school year, is only one of Inspired Teaching’s many programs that serve teachers and students in the DC area. From the Residency program that prepares pre-service teachers for successful, sustainable careers to Real World History, a hands-on course that provides students an internship experience where they cultivate the skills of an historian, all of our programs authentically engage participants to become changemakers in their schools, districts, and communities.

Given that students report feeling bored during 70% of their time in school and stressed for 80% of it, we need changemakers now more than ever. If you’re questioning whether Inspired Teaching’s professional development can really impact these bleak statistics, if you’re skeptical that we can create meaningful changes to our education system, one teacher at a time, I hear you. Two weeks ago, I was skeptical, too, but I’ll tell you what my colleagues told me: You have to experience it to truly understand.

Knowing that seeing is believing, we host visits to our programs each month. If you’d like to see Inspired Teaching in action, sign up for our newsletter for the latest updates!

Developing New Solutions With Food Recovery Network

by Regina Northouse, Executive Director, Food Recovery Network

File_000 (1)Food Recovery Network (FRN) is the largest student movement against food waste and hunger in America. FRN unites and empowers college students to recover surplus food from their campus dining halls and surrounding food businesses and donate that food to hunger-fighting nonprofits who feed those most in need. With 230 university chapters across the country and growing, FRN’s goal is to support higher education in being the first sector where food recovery is the norm and not the exception. Through the power of highly motivated student leaders, FRN has recovered and donated more than 2.1 million pounds of food since 2011.

FRN positively impacts our communities. Our student leaders support over 350 hunger-fighting partners including homeless shelters, food banks and food pantries, providing them with wholesome, nutritious meals to give to their clients.

The U.S. food system is marked by an alarming paradox: nearly 40% of food produced in the US goes to waste, while 48.1 million Americans experience food insecurity each year, one out of seven of whom are children (NRDC 2016; USDA 2015).

Food Recovery Network was formed in 2011 by college students at the University of Maryland who wanted to address these issues of food waste and food insecurity, and their social and environmental impacts. These impacts include wasting 23% of potable water and 18% of valuable cropland, as well as emitting methane into the atmosphere, contributing to the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change.

What sets FRN apart, is our innovative model which empowers and educates young leaders and breaks down barriers between college campuses by helping students develop new solutions to problems in their communities, to connect with nonprofits in their area and help and build relationships with their neighbors who also happen to be in need. Through our model, our civic-minded student leaders gain confidence in their own abilities to challenge the status quo and fight for what is right.

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Food Recovery Network is a national nonprofit that applies local solutions to specific communities to ensure surplus food gets to those who need it most. I know I speak for my amazing team at FRN headquarters in College Park, Maryland, when I say we are continually inspired by our hard-working student leaders all over the country.

Many of FRN’s students often do more than volunteer with their FRN chapter. Our students pursue other opportunities in the food recovery movement, such as gleaning from local farms, recovering nonperishable food items during the days when students on their college campus move out for the semester, and participate in summer recoveries. The student leaders also volunteer with the nonprofit where they donate their surplus food by tutoring, preparing and serving meals and helping with cleanup initiatives.

We talk to our leaders all the time and there are so many inspiring stories. Actually, when asked about her relationship with her chapter’s partner nonprofit, one student from Michigan said, “Every time I brought food to our partner agency, I would meet one of the residents and they would be so kind and grateful! I loved being a part of this amazing organization and movement! It has made me realize that I want to incorporate more awareness and advocacy in my future career.”

Recently, we were told by an FRN alum that one of her limiting criteria for searching for which grad schools she wanted to apply to was whether that the school had an FRN chapter so she could remain engaged as a graduate student.

At the heart of what drives FRN to pursue the work we do is two things. First, being able to provide a source of nutritious food to those who would otherwise not have access. We’re here to be part of our communities. Second, we want to change behavior to reduce food waste at the source post production. This is one of the highest instances of food waste (versus food wasting on the vine for example). We don’t want to overproduce food in order to donate it, we want to ensure good food isn’t wasted to begin with, and when there happens to be surplus, which, let’s be honest, much of the time there will be, that food should feed our fellow neighbors in need.

In addition to recovering food from their campuses, students have the opportunity to volunteer their time with the hunger-fighting partners and the individuals they serve, highlighted by Lighthouse Outreach Ministries, “Everyone likes to see the college kids ride up! The homeless have families that they are separated from and it makes everyone smile to know they are not invisible.”

FRN is dedicated to continuing our work in the food recovery space and to expand the movement, as we continue to provide support and resources for driven, civic-minded students seeking opportunities to engage with their communities and build their leadership skills. I look forward to collaborating and partnering with individuals and other organizations to move the needle on the issue of food waste and food loss. I hope those reading this post know they can be part of the conversation with us!

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FRN hopes to see our network expand to 350 chapters across the country, and our ability to recover 1 million pounds of perfectly good food year-over-year. We’re working to expand our Food Recovery Verified (FRV) program that recognizes and rewards food businesses of any type that are working to fight waste and feed people through food recovery. FRV serves as a third party that verifies that food businesses are donating surplus food to hunger fighting non-profits. We list those businesses on our website, we have a communications strategy to give voice to those businesses, and each business receives a window sticker to display on their doors or on marketing materials to tell patrons their business does the right thing with their surplus food. To date, FRN has over 90 food businesses that have been verified including Adidas, Zulily, and Twitter Inc.

Success is when each point within our food system has decreased food waste by implementing better practices to avoid overproduction of food–meaning at the farm level, the producer and purchasing level, at the retail level and individual consumer level. I know that as this conversation takes hold in the consciousness of more people, FRN is part of that behavior change.

Success is having the proper logistics in place for when there is surplus food to properly and effectively distribute that food to those who need it most across the country. We also want our student leaders to be part of the full process. Our students are the future entering into literally every sector in our country as business owners, chefs, teachers, engineers, technicians and farmers who all share the FRN experience. That experience has shaped their thinking about their ability to positively impact the lives of their community members, as well as how to reduce food waste. That’s the FRN lens. We want that FRN voice to continue to speak even once our students have graduated from college.

A great day at FRN features our small but mighty team at the national office working to support and expand the national network. That includes connecting with existing chapters on the phone, social media, emails and getting them what they need to go out and recover, or move closer to achieving their newest goals for the semester.

FRN works closely with our hunger-fighting partners collecting vital information, analyzing it, and then passing along new resources to our chapter leaders. At FRN, we’re constantly refining our work–what can we do better, what have we learned from our previous projects, what didn’t we do well, and where did we knock it out of the park?

As we grow, how we scale has to change, and how are we addressing those needs? Hearing the hum of our feedback loop in the office–during our project planning meetings is important, too. Additionally, our staff works with non-university food businesses that recover food to recognize them for their efforts and inspire other businesses to begin recovering through our Food Recovery Verified program.

All of these variations operations take place in our national office, made possible by our dedicated, passionate, and collaborative staff!

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There are plenty of ways to be involved, and we need you to be involved with us!

  • FRN welcomes all interested volunteers, including non-students, to help out with their local chapters!
  • Non-student volunteers are encouraged to reach out to their local chapter leaders, as many chapters seek the help of additional volunteers as drivers or mentors, if not during the actual recoveries as well. A list of chapters by state and their respective chapter leaders, contact information can be accessed here.
  • The national office is always here to make connections, too. FRN national is setting up gleaning dates throughout the fall in and around the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. We would love for you to help us recover perfectly good food right at the farm!Contact our national office now to put your name on the list for more information.
  • Help us expand! If you’re alma mater isn’t on the FRN map and you know students who attend and would make a great leader, put them in touch with us! Students can start by filling out our very short application.
  • Support our second annual National Food Recovery Dialogue. This is our annual conference that brings together our student leaders, industry experts, and community members to put into context the bigger picture of our work, and is a space to roll up our sleeves to problem solve on-the-ground problems, share resources, and break bread with one another.
  • Have some fun and start a “Zero Waste Challenge” for FRN. That can mean reducing your waste by eliminating plastic straws from your daily use, or paper napkins like our national board member Jessica did, or it could mean trying to go completely zero waste like our other national board member, Claire did. Anyone can do it, and it’s quite the amazing experience!
  • If you have an expertise that you think can help FRN, please reach out to us. We’re growing and need dedicated support in several areas. Please contact FRN headquarters by emailing info@foodrecoverynetwork.org or phone +1 (240) 615-8813 with any questions, or to be involved.

Sorting Fact From Fiction in the Digital Age With the News Literacy Project

by Alan C. Miller, Founder/CEO, News Literacy Project

30971125946_fc15feb0f7_z The News Literacy Project is a national education nonprofit, founded in 2008 and located in Bethesda, Maryland, that works with educators and journalists to teach secondary school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age and to give those students the tools to become informed and engaged citizens in a democracy. We are teaching literacy for the 21st century.

In our first eight years, our classroom, after-school and digital programs reached more than 25,000 students in diverse middle schools and high school students in the Washington, D.C., region (including the Maryland and Virginia suburbs), New York City, Chicago, and Houston. We have formed partnerships with 33 news organizations and enrolled more over 400 journalist fellows in our online directory; our volunteer journalists have delivered more than 750 lessons, both in person and virtually.

In May 2016, we launched the checkology® virtual classroom, the culmination of all our work to date and our primary path to national and international scale. In just over one year, 7,000 educators in every state in the U.S. and in 61 other countries, with a potential reach of more than 1 million students, have registered to use this platform.

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While these numbers are gratifying, we know that there is more to do. In the United States alone, there are 26 million public school students in grades 6-12, as well as the millions in private and parochial schools and in after-school, home-school and library programs — not to mention those students in schools and other programs outside the U.S. We look forward to dramatically expanding the reach of the checkology® virtual classroom among these students.

Even as we improve and expand the current platform, we’re preparing for its next iteration, along with international and Spanish-language versions. We have plans to reach beyond the classroom with a mobile-friendly app, which will likely be a news literacy game. Finally, we are working with Facebook on a public service advertising campaign to encourage millions of the platform’s engaged users to critically evaluate the news and information they share and to share only what is credible.

A healthy democracy depends on engaged citizens who can sort through vast amounts of information, separate fact from fiction, and know what to trust. Today, misinformation, rumor and spin can overwhelm real news, and the News Literacy Project provides the tools to meet this challenge. We’re working to give facts a fighting chance and to create an appetite for quality journalism. You could say that we were the antidote to “fake news” long before the term gained its recent currency.

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We are inspired by these challenges, by the tremendous opportunity to make a meaningful difference and by an urgent sense of responsibility to move as quickly as possible to meet the growing demand for our services. Since the emergence of the field of news literacy a decade ago (a field that we helped to create), we have gone from being a voice in the wilderness to an answer to prayer for many.

We’re particularly inspired by the educators and journalists who partner with us to deliver our curriculum and by the students who find it transformative. Those students include Christian Armstrong, who said of his experience with NLP as a student at Leo Catholic High School in Chicago: “This class has definitely changed my life. We prioritize news literacy over all else. The newspaper is considered to be our Holy Grail.” And Jenari Mitchell, a recent graduate of KIPP DC College Preparatory in Washington, who wrote in an essay about her NLP experience: “Learning how to distinguish between false and factual information allows us to control the news we consume, instead of allowing the news we consume to control us.”

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The News Literacy Project aspires to see news literacy embedded in the American educational experience, inside the classroom and outside of it. We want to teach many millions of young people how to know what news and information to believe, share and act on as students, consumers and citizens. We also hope to begin to change the culture so that people will take personal responsibility to stand up for facts and for quality journalism.

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Our website is www.thenewsliteracyproject.org. Anyone who wants more information or has questions can email us at info@thenewsliteracyproject.org. We welcome volunteers, including journalist fellows who can play various roles with us. People can engage with us through social media, as educators and journalist fellows, and as financial supporters. Please let us know your interest and we will respond. Finally, educators can register for the virtual classroom at www.checkology.org.

Youth-Led Social Innovation at Home and Abroad

by Emma Strother, Development Manager, LearnServe International.

LearnServe is creating a culture of youth-led social innovation in the Washington, DC area. We believe in the power of young people to affect social change, and in the power of social change work to shape young leaders. We provide in-school, extracurricular, and abroad trip-based social entrepreneurship training to middle and high school students from public, charter, and independent schools in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
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[I] recently had a debate about whether or not Washington, DC had the same genuineness as Paraguay. Andrenae -rising Junior at Ballou High School-having just returned from a LearnServe Abroad trip to Paraguay.

In a blog post, she urges her readers to let new experiences put their lives in perspective. Here’s my opinion, if you haven’t opened up your thoughts, your heart, and your mind to new people and new things, you will never fully experience the opportunities given to you.
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Andrenae is one of 54 students and teachers who returned on Wednesday from LearnServe Abroad trips to Jamaica, Paraguay, Zambia, and (for the first time!) South Africa. Her insights remind us why LearnServe International takes young social entrepreneurs abroad. Our students build the courage to travel far outside their comfort zones, and the strength to grow as leaders through these experiences.

This year for the first time, LearnServe is proud to partner with Eastern High School, the DC Public Schools, Empowering Males of Color initiative, and the organization Empowering Men of Excellence to send 14 students and 1 teacher on a LearnServe trip to South Africa. The group explored the vibrant social enterprise scene in Johannesburg and Cape Town, conducted a human-centered design workshop with their South African peers, and volunteered with local organizations.

Across the trips, our students worked with dynamic community leaders and entrepreneurs to deepen their understanding of local solutions to global issues. On the LearnServe Blog, they reflected on the implications of their experiences for their communities back home and their personal growth.
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As Jayme-rising Junior at Eastern High School-put it, “I want you to think about how your presence can affect the lives of others who may not have the same opportunities as you. Think about how whenever you meet and spend time with new people, you are creating memories.”

You can access an in-depth look at our students – and teachers – experiences in Jamaica, Paraguay, Zambia, and South Africa on the LearnServe Blog (learn-serve.org/blog) and in our online photo albums (flickr.com/people/cie-wis).

Skills for the Future with Washington Youth Garden

by Crystal Williams, Communications and Events Manager, Washington Youth Garden
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Washington Youth Garden (WYG) is a program of Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) on the grounds of the US National Arboretum and uses the garden cycle to enrich science learning, inspire environmental stewardship and cultivate healthy food choices in youth and families. WYG has three subprograms within the organization; SPROUT (Science Program Reaching Out) – field trip program, Green Ambassador Program- high school internship program, and Garden Science – school garden development program.

In 2016, 3,140 students visited the garden on nearly 100 SPROUT trips while 90% of SPROUT participants tasted something new from the garden.

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This year from April through June, we’ve already served 2,500 students through our SPROUT program and 15 new high school Green Ambassadors joined us for the busy summer ahead!

Gardening and carpentry skills are not the only thing our students gain in the garden, as illustrated by the following quote:

“The Green Ambassador Program] gave me a lot of skills for future jobs and helped me grow as a person as well. A lot of my peers come from very different backgrounds, so it gave me a lot of new perspectives.”
-DeWayne Walker, Green Ambassador Program 2016

This year we celebrate our new education pavilion. The new pavilion at Washington Youth Garden’s demonstration garden is the result of a partnership between the Weissberg Foundation, local businesses, and nonprofit organizations working together to benefit school groups and families from underserved D.C. neighborhoods and other communities in the region. The pavilion is dedicated to the late Judith Morris, who was passionate about sharing nature and the Arboretum with surrounding communities and underserved youth. The pavilion provides a much-needed outdoor classroom space for young people coming to our demonstration plot to learn about environmental science and nutrition.
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We encourage the community to be a part of Washington Youth Garden by either attending an event such as Family Garden Day on August 12th or volunteering with us. Volunteer as an individual or bring a group. Individuals should sign-up for an orientation here. Volunteering as a group with Washington Youth Garden is a fun and active outdoor experience that is sure to build staff cohesion outside the office. For more information visit our website at www.washingtonyouthgarden.org

Docs In Progress: Small but Mighty!

by Erica Ginsberg, Executive Director, Docs In Progress
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Everyone has a story, and almost everyone has the potential to tell those stories through a tool you probably have in your back pocket or purse. Documentary video production has expanded enormously in the past decade with reduced costs of technology and the ease of sharing video. Yet simply having access to tools to make and share videos does not automatically make one a great storyteller. That is where Docs In Progress comes in. Our mission is to give individuals the tools to tell stories through documentary film to educate, inspire, and transform the way people view their world.

Our programs started in 2004 when we started organizing “docs-in-progress” screenings so local documentary filmmakers could get feedback on their films when they were at the “rough cut” stage. It was a way to help filmmakers step back from projects they’ve been living with for so long — often years — in production and editing, and see their films with new eyes by hearing what audiences thought was working really well and where the storytelling lagged or was confusing. While we presumed these screenings would attract other filmmakers, we were pleasantly surprised to see other folks coming as well, including people who were interested in the topics of the films and those who were experts on those topics.DocsInProgress_CommunityStoriesFestival

We became a nonprofit in 2008, and increased our programming to include programs for filmmakers to share and discuss works which might be at an even earlier stage, as well as training classes and professional development workshops in all aspects of documentary filmmaking for both adults and youth. Since then, we have expanded to offer an array of filmmaker services (fiscal sponsorship, fellowship programs, and a residency) and an annual Community Stories Film Festival which showcases short documentaries produced by our students and others about local stories from across the Washington DC Metro area. We have also worked to foster professional development for nonprofit organizations in the areas of video communications through seminars and workshops.

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Audio-visual storytelling used to be the domain of filmmakers who went to film school or spent years apprenticing to develop their craft mastering expensive and complicated cameras, sound recording devices, and editing systems. Now all of these tools are much more accessible through low-priced cameras, high quality imaging on our phones, and editing systems on our computers. However, technology is just a means to an end. Good storytelling is still at the core. While we have embraced the reality that many people have stories to tell without the time or money to dedicate to film school or apprenticeship, we still want to arm them with the skills and community to be able to develop those stories to their fullest potential.

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Success is all relative. I quit a comfortable job in the federal government to devote myself full-time to Docs In Progress back in 2009. Many people thought I was bonkers to go into the great unknown of a start-up arts organization in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression. And I probably was. The early years of Docs In Progress were very hard, but it made us scrappy and determined to ensure that we had a good mix of income streams – grants, individuals, and earned revenue from our programs.

After a few years, we began to receive grants from local, regional, and national sources, including the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Being accepted into the Catalogue for Philanthropy convinced me that we could continue through the long haul.

I would still consider Docs In Progress a “small but mighty” nonprofit. Last year, more than 1000 people participated in our programs. People are often surprised to learn that our staff consists of only me and two part-time staff. A cadre of talented teaching artists and an enthusiastic board of has helped us continue to grow. Seeing the impact we were making on the field and being a part of fostering what has become the third largest non-fiction filmmaking region in the country (after New York and Los Angeles) has been what has kept us going, even as we want to keep building our capacity.

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I am inspired every day by the folks in our community. Yes there are the films which have seen traditional markers of success. Let The Fire Burn, The Lost Dream, Fate of a Salesman, The Legend of Cool “Disco” Dan, and City of Trees all screened on public television. Indivisible has been playing at film festivals and community screenings across the country, building dialogue about immigration policy. There are some incredible films coming down the pike which deal with just about every social issue you can imagine — labor issues, autism, water pollution, human rights, and the state of our divisive politics. There are also some humorous films which go against the grain that documentaries are all doom and gloom, asking us to reflect even as we laugh.

Even as I feel proud of these successes, I also see success in the confident smile of a shy 13-year-old at the Community Stories Festival after answering questions from an audience of strangers about a film he helped create in our summer camp. I have witnessed the “a-ha moment” a first-time filmmaker experiences when she moves from being creatively stuck to figuring out a solution to the structure of their film. I feel it when I learn that two filmmakers met at one of our roundtables and decided to collaborate on a new project together. I notice it when someone who didn’t think he was all that important becomes a rock star to the audience watching his life unfold on the big screen. In a world where we are asked so many times to provide measurable outcomes, sometimes it is these small observations which remind me why Docs In Progress exists.

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There are lots of ways to engage with Docs In Progress. We hold free or pay-what-you-can screenings just about every month. Some of these are works-in-progress where you can provide the filmmaker constructive feedback on what is working and what can be working better in their films (even non-filmmakers can be helpful because we all consciously or sub-consciously can sense where story development is strong and where it might be slow or confusing).

Like many other nonprofits, we are always on the lookout for great board members. Being a filmmaker or part of the film industry is not a pre-requisite. Being passionate about our mission and having some skills (fundraising, accounting, public relations, etc.) are.

For our fellow nonprofits, we also have two ways your work could be spotlighted. When we are teaching first-time filmmakers how to make a short documentary, we have them work on doing a profile of local people, small businesses, or nonprofits. While these are primarily learning exercises for our students and not professional works-for-hire, some of them turn out very nicely and have actually been used by the profiled nonprofits for their own outreach. One thing we realized, as we have interacted with other nonprofits through professional associations and having our students document their activities, is how much impactful stories can be conveyed through visuals. If a still image is worth 1000 words, then a moving image might be worth a million. Not just metaphorically either. Some funders, including our local arts council, recommend applicants provide a video with their proposals. Find out more about the parameters for being spotlighted by our students at http://www.docsinprogress.org/doc_production_stories

Since 2015, we have also offered a video production workshop specifically for nonprofit staff to expand their visual communications skills. This workshop is offered two mornings a week over the course of a month at a much lower fee than our regular production classes. The 2017 workshop will take place July 11-August 1. The deadline to apply is June 19. Find out more at https://eventgrid.com/Events/33604/hands-on-video-production-for-nonprofits-ie1-1113/Dates/45168

“It’s Pay It Forward Time . . . “

Aerospace Engineer Charles Cisneros Gives Back as a RESET Volunteer
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Charles helps students set up the “wheel and axle” experiment, using his granddaughter’s tricycle.

By Charles Cisneros

A couple of years ago, I began volunteering with RESET, an education nonprofit that introduces children to real scientists and provides hands-on science-technology-engineering-math (STEM) learning opportunities to children between the ages of 4 and 12. RESET is an ideal match for my background and my desire to “pay it forward” in a meaningful way.

I am a former aerospace engineer. I worked for 33 years as an Air Force officer and 13 years for SAIC as a system test planner for the National Missile defense program. I retired in 2009. I had done other kinds of volunteer work over the years, but when I ran across a RESET recruitment ad in The Washington Post, I was instantly intrigued. After chatting with Executive Director John Meagher, I liked what I heard about the program. I felt RESET’s investment was well focused and that it did a great job of fostering an exchange of ideas and in providing resources and STEM curriculum support for schools in the DC area.

RESET’s work is so critical for our country’s future. We will always need highly trained scientists and engineers to solve complex technical, health, and engineering problems. When I first started with RESET, I volunteered at Moorefield Station Elementary School. At the time, I had also been doing a lot of local charity golf tournaments. One of the charities we supported was Sugarland Elementary School, a low-income school, located in Loudoun County.

I went home and did a little research on schools in the area. I checked out some government sources on scholastic performance and discovered that Sugarland, a Title 1 school, was one of the lowest performing schools in the county. Sugarland is not an affluent school, so it can be challenging for them to compete in a high-income county like Loudoun. Having come from a low-income background myself, I felt a strong pull towards bringing RESET programs to these students. I contacted John and offered to expand my volunteer work to Sugarland. John very quickly set up a meeting with school officials. They accepted our help and we will soon complete our first school year there, leading RESET programs for a diverse student body that includes many Hispanic students. Now, I volunteer at both schools, working mostly with third-graders.

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Charles’ class at Sugarland Elementary during a session on renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Following a scavenger hunt where the class was divided into “coal miners” and “wind millers,” Charles surprised his students with lab coats, to their obvious delight. One of RESET’s primary goals is to get children to think and behave like real scientists.

I was fortunate to have had several adults in my life who believed in me and encouraged me. That’s why I was so eager to work with students from less advantaged backgrounds. I thought, “Now it’s time to give something back.” From personal experience I know it just takes one spark to ignite an interest and a passion for science, one that can grow into a future career and life path. My own inspiration came from two sources: As a child in the 1950s, I used to watch Walt Disney TV programs about the challenges of breaking into outer space. This, along with the national alarm after the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, motivated me towards a science or engineering career.

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Students at Moorefield Station Elementary School confer on an experiment on a block and tackle pulley.

My experiences with my students have been wonderful. The one thing I am always delighted and amazed to discover is how bright and precocious they are. Young minds are naturally curious and open, no matter where they come from or how much they have. They are limited only by resources and opportunity.

And some classroom experiences are definitely more memorable than others. For example, during one session with my third graders, I intended to demonstrate the pull of the moon’s gravity on the oceans using a balloon filled with water. Typically, the normally spherical balloon would be pulled out of shape by the force of gravity, thus illustrating my point. I’ve performed this demo many times, but this time I allowed a student to hold the water-filled balloon by the top end. Unexpectedly, he bounced the balloon up and down. Not surprisingly, it burst, dousing him, me, and the floor with water (and there may have been some additional collateral damage). We all had a good laugh and achieved a much better appreciation of the force of gravity than if the experiment had gone off without a hitch.

Gail Brady, Principal at Sugarland, and STEAM lab teacher Darielle Robinson recently shared with me what RESET has meant to Sugarland students this year:

“Working with RESET has been such a valuable experience for our students. Through RESET our students often have had the chance to be exposed to individuals that share their ethnic background and have had careers in the field of science. Charles has given our students the chance to see an individual that has overcome certain circumstances and used education has a means of living a full life. It’s been especially helpful having Charles bring to life the concepts that our students learn in class. He has been pivotal in providing our students with learning experiences that they may not otherwise experience outside of school.”

RESET serves Pre-Kindergarten through 8th-grade. We offer in-school, after-school, and summer and weekend programs. There are many options for volunteering, including working as a team through your workplace. Volunteers are working and professional scientists, engineers, and technologists, ranging in age from 18 through 90. Our volunteers have a professional background or educational interest in STEM professions, and we represent a wide range of fields, from forensic anthropology to computer science, but you need not have teaching experience to volunteer with us. RESET does an excellent job of providing training, resources, and feedback so you go into the classroom confident and prepared.

To volunteer for RESET, please contact John Meagher at 703-250-0236. Have a fundraising idea? Contact Development Director Lyndi Schrecengost at 202-365-5963.

A great way to engage with RESET is to “like” and share our posts on social media:

https://www.facebook.com/RESETDC/
https://twitter.com/ReSETonline
https://www.youtube.com/user/resetonlinevideo
https://www.linkedin.com/company/reset-organization
http://resetonline.org/blog/

A Local Recipe for Healthy Kids

by Emma Boel, City Blossoms
IMG_6151 City Blossoms is a nonprofit dedicated to fostering healthy, diverse communities by developing creative, kid-driven green spaces and innovative resources.

Working out of Washington DC as its home base, City Blossoms innovates new resources and techniques in urban, educational gardening and youth empowerment. City Blossoms facilitates local empowerment within predominantly black and Latino populations by partnering with schools and organizations, maintaining Community Green Spaces, and offering tools and trainings to educators and community leaders. Their holistic approach incorporates art, gardens, science, cooking, healthy living, and community building into one joyful and educational experience for people of all ages.
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The nonprofit reached a total of 3,500 students at its gardens in 2016, and boasted 300 hours of free programming at its two community green spaces in the same year. Washingtonians rave about the results. One garden parent, a city native, insists, “Programs like City Blossoms are absolutely vital to the youth of DC.”

This impactful work has recently resulted in an exciting new outcome: City Blossoms just printed a cookbook.
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Garden Gastronomy, Gastronomia del Jardin is a vibrant collection of bilingual recipes designed to help children become enthusiastic and healthy chefs. Perfect for the educator, parent, or veggie enthusiast interested in sharing the joy of cooking with kids, this artfully constructed book is full of colorful photographer and cheerful illustration to make it an appealing treat for readers of all ages. The book includes 32 bilingual garden recipes, guidance on cooking seasonally with local produce, and tips for preparing food with kids.

The recipes include snacks and dishes like Sunflower Seed Pesto, Strawberry Mint Salad, and Garden Ramen. It’s a valuable product in-and-of-itself, however, the book’s most important feature may be its local roots.

Every recipe has been made time and time again by thousands of little hands. Every dish comes with the approval of young DC gardeners, who have built this book in the same way they have built their gardens: themselves. City Blossoms wrote and published the book after testing and tasting each recipe in the gardens with young chefs. They hope it will reach educators, gardeners, parents, and food justice activists. They hope it will find readership around the country. However, they know that these dishes have already made their way into the homes of the children who provided the energy for its creation, and that feels like a great start.
FullSizeRender 8The best days at City Blossoms are those full of community. We love to have volunteers at our garden work days, participants in our Open Time programming, and visitors at our public Community Green Spaces. To buy a copy of the cookbook, to connect with us, or to become a member of our essential team of donors and partners, visit our website at cityblossoms.org.

LearnServe Helps Young People Find Their Voice

By Scott Rechler, Learn Serve International

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LearnServe believes in the power of young people to affect social change, and in the power of social change work to shape young leaders.

Youth have the energy, creativity, and passion to identify injustice and drive innovative change,yet often feel powerless to act on that potential. LearnServe helps them find their voice. We envision a new generation of young leaders standing up for the issues that matter to them most.
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A basketball tournament designed to bridge DC teens and police officers. English classes for immigrant and refugee students in northern Virginia. Support for girls building self-confidence and a healthy body image. A fleet of electric school buses. Meet the high school students behind these dynamic new ideas and more at the 8th Annual LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair on Thursday, April 27 from 5:00 – 8:00 pm at Washington Latin Public Charter School (5200 2nd St NW, Washington, DC 20011).
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Students teams will present their ideas in short pitches to panels of business and community leaders, and in a science-fair style exhibition with the opportunity to win up to $200 in seed funding for their projects. RSVP online at http://learn-serve.org/programs/fellows/2017-panels-venture-fair.

LearnServe International is a non-profit organization that equips students from diverse backgrounds with the entrepreneurial vision, tenacity, confidence, and leadership skills needed to tackle social challenges at home and abroad.

Each year LearnServe brings together 100+ students from public, charter, and independent schools in the Washington, DC area. We strengthen their academic and professional success through three complementary programs. The LearnServe Fellows program guides students as they design and launch entrepreneurial ventures with social goals. LearnServe Abroad introduces social innovation through a global lens, as students volunteer with entrepreneurs overseas. Seeding Social Innovation offers curriculum materials to bring social entrepreneurship into the classroom.

We invite you to join the community of individuals, businesses, and schools committed to sparking a new generation of social entrepreneurs across the DC region. Get involved and learn more about our programs at www.learn-serve.org.

Saving the Amazon Rainforest with Science

By Ana Folhadella, Development and Communications Associate, Amazon Conservation Association

The Amazon rainforest is under attack. While the region still maintains vast tracts of intact, megadiverse, and carbon-rich forests, it faces escalating threats from illegal gold mining, illegal logging, illegal drug plantations, unsustainable agriculture, cattle pastures, and road construction. At current rates, more than half of the Amazon rainforest may be destroyed or severely damaged by 2030.

Keeping the Amazon standing is crucial for our survival as a species. The Amazon has long been recognized as one of the most biologically rich regions on Earth. It is home to millions of species of animals, plants and insects, essential not only to the indigenous communities living in the region, but also to the overall health of our planet. The rainforest is not just some far-away land that gets showcased at National Geographic specials from time to time, and deforestation happening there affects us right here in the U.S.A. This forest stores 80 to 120 billion tons of carbon, which helps stabilize the Earth’s climate. Destroying such a large storage of carbon will have devastating effects on all of our lives.
ACA5 The Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) was established for the sole purpose of protecting the Amazon rainforest and all those who call it home. Since 1999, we have been pioneers in conservation, focusing our efforts on a key area where the Amazon rainforest meets the Andes mountains in Peru and Bolivia.

Our founding program provided financial and technical support for Brazil nut harvesters in Peru, as an incentive for helping protect the Amazon rainforest. We now work with more than 100 communities in the Andes-Amazon to help them make a living in ways that also sustain biodiversity in the forest and have widely expanded our conservation efforts into other areas. Moreover, now we:

  • Protect over 3.8 million acres of Amazonian rainforest through the creation of legally recognized protected areas and other conservation strategies;
  • Plant tens of thousands of trees every year to help restore damaged habitats;
  • Use innovative satellite imagery to monitor deforestation in near-real time and alert key stakeholders of potential illegal activities;
  • Host hundreds of researchers annually, who advance our understanding about biodiversity, conservation methods, and the impacts of climate change;
  • Partner with indigenous communities to develop forest-friendly livelihoods;
  • And much more!

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A vital part of our conservation approach is the use of cutting-edge science to inform projects on the ground, promote rational discourse on tough policy questions, and educate and inspire the next generation of conservationists. To this end, we manage some of the best biological research stations in the tropics where each year we host hundreds of scientists and students from all over the world, conduct biological monitoring, and provide workshops and educational opportunities for local communities.

To this date over 200 research projects have been conducted at our stations, including studies on the effects of climate change on amphibians, the impact of overgrazing on threatened high altitude wetlands, the dynamics of mixed-flocks of birds, the diet of Andean bears, and the diversity of orchids in the region.

Dr. Miles Silman, Professor and Director at the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability at Wake Forest University stated that ACA’s field stations are our laboratories and windows into the future of Earth’s highest biodiversity area. They are important not only to understand biodiversity now, but how it will survive in the future.

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Our scientific approach can also be seen in our Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), where we use high-resolution satellite imagery from sources like NASA to track deforestation in the Amazon and analyze its causes. Not only do we use science to track this deforestation in near real-time, we also have formed closed alliances with local authorities who now use this data as a key piece of information to stop deforestation before it gets to a point of no return. The information we publicly post on MAAP is strictly scientific and unbiased, which helps authorities and lawmakers utilize it to further conservation efforts.

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Not only do we use science-based conservation in all of our protection efforts, we also strive to train the next generation of conservationists who will be at the forefront of environmental conservation years from now. We believe that supporting new conservationists early in their careers will be key in ensuring the Amazon is protected by trained experts for generations to come.

ACA’s very own General Science Coordinator, Sandra Almeyda, started off as a scholarship recipient and is now a full-on biologist contributing to the protection of the Amazon. “I started my scientific career thanks to a scholarship granted by ACA to develop my undergraduate thesis,” she says, “now as the General Science Coordinator, one of my main motivations is to inspire young scientist and provide them with opportunities to follow their passion, to experience science first hand, and to fall in love with their profession, like I did.”

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We hope you will join our conservation journey to keep the Amazon rainforest safe and our climate in check. You can make a difference by:

Learn more about how your support is helping protect the Amazon and how you can become a conservation hero at http://www.amazonconservation.org/.

PS: All the beautiful images in this post were taken at our biological stations in Peru and have NOT been photoshopped! Come experience this magical place in person!