At The Intersection of Culture and Mental Health

man beside flat screen television with photos background

Culture and mental health intersect. That thought speaks volumes to professionals and practitioners everywhere-all across the globe. If it doesn’t, it ought to! Have we considered how many times that life-altering mental health diagnoses have been wrong?

In a recent article, a PhD. psychology student, saw a male client who presented with symptoms of feeling insects crawling under his skin. Yes, insects The doctoral student consulted with her supervising psychology professor, as she was leaning towards a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

The professor asked a key question of his student. “Was this person Nigerian?” That question may sound irrelevant. However, when making determinations of life- impacting proportions, this is a most wise question. A wrong diagnosis can determine the degree of one’s life quality, quite literally.

The intern answered affirmatively.  But why was that a critical consideration before diagnosis? Nigerian culture recognizes a phenomenon called Ode Ori. In Yoruba, this form of acute distress is manifested by a crawling sensation in the head and under the skin, heart palpitations and noises in the ear. These symptoms are expressions of and accompany anxiety.

Anxiety calls for different treatment protocol than schizophrenia, a psychotic disorder. Fortunate for everyone, especially the client, the distinction was made before being subjected to inappropriate, erroneous and ultimately ineffective harmful treatment. In the West, those symptoms are most closely associated with schizophrenia, and absent a broadened view of culture and mental health, a relatively normal neurosis may be diagnosed more severely.

Culture shapes who we are, so it follows that it would also shape our manifestations of stress, mental disorder, and emotion. Yet, that also implies a kind of messiness that modern psychology and psychiatry, particularly the American kind, have been struggling to ‘clean up’. 

Delivering the best care for individuals requires a more adaptable model-one which transcends culture, while not ignoring cultural influences, traditions and expressions of wellness. One culture’s expression of distress might look different from another’s. We must cease making these expressions of emotional distress so exotic.

Clinicians, educators, practitioners and everyday people are now called to be more fluent in the varying manifestations of emotional distress, in whatever language they present in translation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Ed.[DSM-5], the bible of psychological disorders and conditions, has rightfully moved from a simple list of ‘culture-bound disorders’ to what’s now called ‘cultural concepts of distress’.

In Western cultures, we are socialized to regularly ask ourselves how we feel and to name our emotional states from very early ages. This thinking can’t dominate our perceptions or diagnoses of individuals or culturally diverse groups of individuals.

Phenomenological awareness is subjective reality. What is cold to you may not be cold to me. People who hear voices in their heads would typically characterize a major symptom of schizophrenia. However, folks from Ghana and India tend to report having positive spiritual relationships with their voices. Thus, a psychotic disorder can not apply across the board here.

Since their founding, psychology and psychiatry have striven to standardize the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, indeed a difficult task. Culture and social environment can predict, and shape common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. It is still uncertain whether the fundamental mechanisms of mental health are the same across humanity and it’s the expression of disorder that vary across cultures…or whether they are distinct culturally-mediated disorders.

three women sitting on grass

With that in mind, it behooves professionals in all social psychological and education fields to use caution when assessing degree of wellness or intelligence. Capacity and the assessment and perception of adaptive behaviors also fall into this area of well-advised caution. Because there are culturally diverse individuals in American society, we must constantly be mindful of the ways culture and mental health intersect.



How To Identify Students in Crisis in the Digital Age

Today’s alarming statistics look like this:

  • 10 million U.S. teens ages 13-18 suffer from depression, anxiety, ADHD, or bipolar disorder
  • Each day, more than 3,000 high school students try to end their own lives
  • Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for 10-19 year-old youth
  • One in five teens has or will have a serious mental illness
  • 70% of students with a mental health disorder do not receive treatment.

During the 2018-2019 school year, experts found 52,000 references to suicide or self-harm in students’ online activity. 6,000 were serious enough to merit immediate attention by the school district. There were also 34,000 references to violence toward others-more than 1,600 of these incidents warranted an immediate call to prevent a more serious incident.covering face

Teachers and administrators may not see the warning signs of anxiety and mental illness in their day-to-day interactions with students. The majority of these students do not show outward signs of their own thoughts or intentions. It should also be noted that the students most in need of help, are the best at hiding it.

Students reveal these behaviors with peers online- in messages, the documents they create and the images they share. Unless closely monitoring what students post online, in the school’s own digital ecosystem, teachers and administrators are unable to see exactly how vulnerable many of their students really are.

To help schools effectively maintain a comprehensive awareness of the levels of stress and anxiety students are experiencing and expressing, there needs to be a system to monitor online activity. This is not to be confused with invading students’ privacy rights. Once online, student data is almost completely  in the public domain.

man near chalk board with text

Let’s call this a student safety management system. Carefully combining machine learning algorithms and safety experts’ specific knowledge indicators, this system can serve to help prevention efforts as it monitors online activity.

Machine learning technology watches out for students’ use of words or phrases that could potentially indicate potential harm. If keywords match, trained professionals can evaluate the content to determine whether it poses an actual credible threat. If so, it can be determined how serious or immediate a threat is to school and student safety.

This system can serve as a means to triage student anxiety. Particularly important to note is that since classroom sizes average 25 students per classroom, this type of system helps teachers identify students’ ‘calls for help’. Teachers with limited to no training in psychology and child development, are provided a means to proactively address mental health concerns.

A threat assessment rubric can rate the severity of incidents wherein a flag has been raised in concern for student safety threat levels. Rubrics can rate concerns or threats as Violations, Questionable Content or a Possible Student Situation.

  • Violations can indicate the least severe types of incidents. Students receive warnings that they are in violation of school/district Acceptable Use Policy. When these occur, school administrator also receive notices when these occur.
  • Questionable Content can indicate incidents that are cause for concern, but do not reveal any imminent threat.
  • Possible Student Situations can result in direct, immediate personal notifications by telephone to the school/district’s specified point of contact 24/7.


Having systems of this type, helps schools in their safety planning, and saves time by embedding specific mental health and safety criteria into its web-based infrastructure. on pc school

Children and students, digital natives, spend a large portion of their lives online. This includes communication with peers and global sharing. Schools cannot afford to ignore the many potential indicators of student and school safety threats, explicitly or implicitly implied online. Additionally, in this shift to online virtual learning environments, online activity has increased and it is imperative that we empower educators and parents. Communication on accessible resources pertaining to stress and trauma indicators needs to be ongoing and timely.

Parents are thus empowered and are made aware of these threats, in order that they may act in concert with their children’s school. It is unfortunate that in most of the suicides, bullying and mass shootings at school, no one seemed to recognize any signs of distress beforehand.

In a ” State of Student Safety” report, Gaggle, a student safety management program, revealed that during the 2018-2019 school year and the 4.8 million students served, nearly 120,000 instances were classified as Questionable Content. Of these, approximately 14,000 incidents warranted immediate action to keep students safe.

There needs to be a more comprehensive program to help schools identify students in crisis and distress, also woven into the framework of virtual learning. Just as smoke detectors can save many lives, health and safety, it can serve as an alarm that when certain ‘sounds’ are identified, it rings out loudly as a ‘call to action’ by schools. Programs like Gaggle, inform and alert schools on the need for additional services, like counseling or social services. By scanning students’ digital documents, we offer a more effective way that schools promote safety and comprehensive well-being.

Schools save students’ lives by promoting health and wellness, in addition to optimal academic performance. When schools are deliberate and intentional in their stated mission, and their responsibility for the millions of children who pass through its doors, a whole child approach is the best framework of practices.

Social and emotional learning[SEL], bullying awareness, positive behavior intervention and supports, adequate counseling staff, and curriculum programs all focus on fostering student well-being. In this, parents and caregivers are not to be excluded. They too, are experts with  knowledge and insights and do significantly   influence comprehensive wellness and safety of children at school and home.

If we saved just one student from causing harm to him/herself and/or others, we have finally begun to move in the right direction.

***** www.SchoolSafety.gov has been newly launched to help educators, administrators, parents and law enforcement prepare for and address threats to safety at school.



How to Meet The Preferences of Digital Learners in Education 4.0

Today, we call learners ‘digital natives’, and they are beyond prepared to navigate the 4th Industrial Revolution in the 21st Century. Educators will have to revisit their training and endeavor to align their strategies to meet students where they are to help them get where they want to go.

We have experienced the 1st Industrial Revolution[IR]- when steam and water were used to mechanize production. We have been through the 2nd IR when electric power created mass production. The 3rd IR brought us electronics and information technology, used to automate production.

The 4th Industrial Revolution continues to expand advances in the areas of Robotics, autonomous vehicles, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual and Augmented Reality, 3-D printing, energy storage, bio and nanotechnology, etc…. The 4th IR brings the advancement of new technologies which interconnect the physical, digital and biological worlds.

Quickly evolving without an historical reference, this is disruptive technology. It affects business, government and each one of us and the way we navigate the world and how the world works. Education is logically impacted, affecting what we learn, the way we learn and therefore the ways we teach.

Humans and technology are now aligned. and within this framework, we will need to identify the preferences of learners in this 21st Century. And, identify the skills 21st Century educators must acquire and master to meet and actively engage learners. The operative term is actively engage.

Peers are a significant part of the learning process and teachers now will need to act as learning facilitators. Moreover, teachers will need to meet needs and preferences of these digital learners by infusing the new technologies into their teaching strategies.

Accordingly, nine trends have been identified as important considerations in Education 4.0. They are:

First: learning takes place at anytime and anyplace, not just the classroom. E-learning tools in a flipped classroom approach present opportunities for interactive learning in class, and theoretical parts will be learned outside of class.

Second: learning is personalized to each student. Harder tasks are introduced only after mastery is established at a certain level. Positive reinforcement promotes positive learning experience and boosts student confidence in their abilities.

Third: students get to choose how they wish to learn. BYOD[ Bring Your Own Device], blended learning and the flipped classroom are approaches that are available to educators in facilitating student learning.

Fourth: more project-based learning is presented for students to apply their knowledge and skills in short-term projects. Digital natives are collaborative, practicing organizational and time management skills-all useful in their futures.

Fifth: students are exposed to hands-on learning through field experiences. Educators will arrange internships mentoring and collaborative projects.

Sixth: data interpretation is required to apply the theoretical knowledge to numbers , use reasoning skills while making inferences based on logic and data they are given[also making traditional U.S. and World History irrational and incomplete]-all during the 21st Century learning process.

Seventh: students are assessed differently with conventional platforms irrelevant as well as insufficient. Factual knowledge is assessed during the learning process in class and practical application is assessed in the field-the real world, their world.

Eighth: students will voice their opinions in designing and updating the curriculum. This will keep and ensure the curriculum up-to-date, useful and relevant, also.

Ninth: students are more independent in their own learning, thus forcing teachers to act as needed facilitators to guide them through the learning process.

These nine trends of Education 4.0 call for teachers to shift learning responsibility onto the learners. The role of teacher is supporter of the transition rather than being intimidated or feeling undermined in their role.

This 21st Century learner welcomes challenges and group discussions. They require highly interactive learning environments. No longer can or will learners be satisfied or engaged in learning from their seats, sitting quietly in neat rows. They need movement and greater stimulation than generations before them. They want collaboration with their peers and learning taking place outside of the classroom. Like Doctors without Borders, 21st Century students want learning without boundaries.

Within this 4th IR and Education 4.0, educators must be prepared for ‘noisy’ classrooms. The noise will be a sweet sound out of which learning takes place. No more lectures and note-taking for the purpose of factual memorization. Students want the facts presented to be evidence of logic, comprehension and real-world relevance.

They have the advantage of disruptive technologies to gather information and knowledge today. Teachers will need to design lessons that will enable students to demonstrate useful skills from that acquired knowledge. The top 10 skills for learners in 2020 are identified below.

Educators will be tasked with creating environments conducive to supporting and building social-emotional learning[SEL]. Below are 14 strategies to help students develop their collaborative, communicative and problem-solving skills.

Having incorporated the strategies, students are hoped to have social and cultural awareness, leadership skills, persistence and initiative AND be more adaptive. Besides character qualities, students are also hoped to acquire com­petencies related to problem-solving/critical thinking skills, creativity, communication, and collaboration.

It is about time for instructors to consider inte­grating more current technologies into their teaching method­ologies. The students that they have now have different pref­erences than students that they had 10 years ago. Integrating more current technologies will make the instructors more creative in designing their lessons, thus making the learn­ing more interesting. Learning can also be more effective as the way it is delivered MUST match students’ prefer­ences.

This is Education 4.0! Children can no longer be told to enter the classrooms quietly and take an assigned seat and then take out their notebooks. Notebooks aren’t all made of paper anymore. Neither are tablets. Students will want to discuss relevance and demonstrate how they have transferred knowledge into useful 21st Century skills-individually and collectively. This is Education 4.0!


Why ALL Students Are “AT-RISK”

The label: “at risk” student…. What does this concept look like? Who does it look like, and  do we know when, where or how to make this determination?

we are the world kids

The term at-risk is often used to describe students or groups of students who are considered to have a higher probability of failing academically or dropping out of school. The term may be applied to students who face circumstances that could jeopardize their ability to complete school, such as homelessness, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, serious health issues, domestic violence, transiency (as in migrant-worker families), or other conditions. It may refer to learning disabilities, low test scores, disciplinary problems, grade retentions, or other learning-related factors that could adversely affect the educational performance of some students.

While educators often use the term at-risk to refer to general populations or categories of students, they may also apply the term to individual students who have raised concerns—based on specific behaviors observed over time—that indicate they are more likely to fail or drop out.

When the term is used in educational contexts without qualification, specific examples, or additional explanation, it may be difficult to determine precisely what “at-risk” is referring to. In fact, “at-risk” can encompass so many possible characteristics and conditions that the term, if left undefined, could be rendered effectively meaningless.

Yet in certain technical, academic, and policy contexts—such as when federal or state agencies delineate “at-risk categories” to determine which students will receive specialized educational services, the term is usually used in a precise and clearly defined manner. States,  school districts, or research studies may create definitions that can encompass a broad range of  characteristic ‘risk factors’, such as the following:

  • Physical disabilities and learning disabilities
  • Prolonged or persistent health issues
  • Habitual truancy, incarceration history, or adjudicated delinquency
  • Family welfare or marital status
  • Parental educational, income levels, employment  or immigration status
  • Homes in which the primary language spoken is not English

In most cases, “risk factors” are situational rather than innate. With the exception of certain characteristics such as learning disabilities, a student’s perceived risk status is rarely related to his or her ability to learn or succeed academically, and largely or entirely related to a student’s life circumstances.  Attending a low-performing school could be considered a risk factor. If a school is under-resourced, under-funded and cannot provide essential services, or its teacher performance record is poor, the school could contribute to higher rates of student absenteeism, failures, and attrition.

If these factors are largely circumstantial, the best thing that we can do for these students, in order to meet their needs, is to address these circumstances.  Generally speaking, the behaviors and characteristics associated with being an “at-risk student” are, in most cases, based on research and observable patterns in student demographics and school performance. Numerous studies have demonstrated correlations between certain risk factors and a student’s likelihood of succeeding academically, graduating from high school, or pursuing postsecondary education.

Quite imprecise, I dislike the term at-risk because it may stigmatize students AND may perpetuate the very kinds of societal perceptions, and stereotypes that contribute to students being at greater risk of failure. If students from lower-income households are consistently labeled “at-risk,” schools and educators may respond by treating them in ways that could inadvertently perpetuate their at-risk status. And believe me, it happens!

Schools may enroll ELL students in specialized programs that separate them from their English-speaking peers. While the intention is to provide the specialized language instruction that the students need, the program may also give rise to feelings of cultural isolation, or it may lower academic expectations so that they can fall behind academically even more. Consequently, these students may drop out because they don’t feel connected to the larger school culture or see the value of education, or they may lose hope that they will ever catch up or graduate. Ever heard of “Pygmalion in the Classroom”?

Different individuals within the same demographic or risk categories may have very different innate abilities, familial resources, support systems, or other personal or situational characteristics that can lead them to be more resilient or successful than others; consequently, these students would be less “at-risk” than many of their peers. In this view, at-risk is an overly broad label that inevitably fails to take into account the true complexity of any particular student’s situation.

If we act on general assumptions, rather than diagnosing the specific learning needs of individual students and using that information to provide targeted academic support or more personalized learning experiences, we will certainly continue to be ineffective educators. Otherwise, we will continue to fail our children To help ensure that at risk students succeed, schools will need a clear understanding that collaborative, comprehensive, and community-based services, providers and resources must supplement, reinforce and co-exist along with the curriculum. The range of services offered to students and families must extend to areas beyond academics and more than a nurse in the building.

Establishing collaborative partnerships across systems is a great start.  With access to service providers and community-based resources at or near the school, student performance may result in more engaged, active learners. In turn, ‘AT RISK’ students graduate high school better prepared for college, career and life success.  By the way, aren’t all students “at risk” for academic failure?







blk fam

Harvard Family Research Project[HFRP], has discovered that there are programs out there that are taking family engagement to the next level. In fact, HFRP has an upcoming release of  Quilting Stories of Innovation in Family Engagement in which they have collected an array of success stories in family engagement practices and programs from around the country.

A common thread tying the stories together in this innovations quilt is the idea that supporting family engagement is a shared responsibility of families, schools, and communities. These stories highlight a coordination of efforts and the establishment of partnerships. Through these partnerships, diverse sectors and stakeholders work together and optimize their resources to support children’s learning and development anywhere, anytime.



Parentopia creates a blended learning environment for families of young children. With an ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) site in St. Paul, Minnesota, they have developed the first blended learning environment for parents and families of young children through the creation of Parentopia. ECFE offers families once-a-week parent education, early education, and parent‒child interaction with licensed early childhood teachers and parent educators. The program begins at birth and continues through age five. It is open to all families (universal access), and engages with families who live in the neighborhood.

Through the use of Parentopia, teachers have a virtual space for engagement with all families in classes and across the program through integrating communication, collaboration, and content-sharing tools for learning. Parents are able to continue learning about parenting through discussions with teachers and with the parents who are part of their trusted learning communities.


The ability to include family members who can’t attend the face-to-face classes allows information for learning and engagement to be extended and shared and for all family members to feel involved. The virtual platform then offers opportunities for individual enhanced learning and engagement with the program and with teachers―for social engagement, support, and the building of social capital with a community of peers―and for a wider community of families and staff to be built through blended offline and online interactions. HFRP is currently implementing that platform that was designed through a program‒university partnership and observing the contextual factors required for full, organic use of hybrid learning in a community-based non-formal education program (e.g., staff technology comfort and competency, support for content and platform updates, value of instructor presence in parent use, and administrative support).

What makes this practice innovative?
This is the first attempt to offer a blended engagement and learning experience to families in an early childhood parenting experience. We should seriously consider adopting this kind of engagement. We can examine and measure its impacts on parenting and parent well-being and indirectly on children’s outcomes. Because of the continuous, universal access, community-based, and school district‒sponsored nature of the ECFE program, it should become a national standard and a new best practice.

Unlike other programs that may be short term, ECFE builds relationships with families that continue actively for up to five years, and for many families for their whole lives. And because ECFE is a product of the schools (and many families stay within the school district for primary and secondary school choices), and since much of engagement is based on trust and familiarity, the blended learning and engagement experience has the potential to strengthen early relationships between parents and school staff and the school district that can be a “head start” to the family‒school engagement efforts down the road.

Now, that is innovation at work in the best interest of  children and families! This is exactly the type of initiative that I have been asking for, and the exemplary practices needed for meaningful partnerships with families! What do you think?


How Differently We Have to Explain ‘Insurrection’ to Children and Ourselves

So, the recent events that unfolded in our nation’s Capital brought Americans directly in front of their mirrors-PAST meeting PRESENT, to reflect on who this country is, and what we stand for. Are we the democracy that we are so proud to tell ourselves and everyone else? What do we tell our children is America?

trump nation
COVID-19, for months now, has forced everyone to stay at home. As a result also, this pandemic has presented many learning opportunities-“teachable moments” –for children and adults alike. We were rendered captive audiences, forced to watch television, for entertainment and for news. The nightly news, where ratings had continued to decrease, all of a sudden caught everyone’s attention. George Floyd, BLM, and then came- the ‘Insurrection’. Adults watched. Children watched. Families watched together. America in action. Those who didn’t watch right away, heard talk of the events at the Capitol Building, and were compelled to see for themselves. What a revelation!

What was thought to be impossible, exaggerations and complete lies about the actions alleged to have been taken by our police men and women and our elected and appointed officials, was played out in front of our eyes. There was no denying its truth. What was equally as shocking to watch was the heinous acts committed by our citizens themselves-and they were also white Americans.

Tough enough for black parents regarding necessary conversations to have with their children,  was to warn and prepare them for the potential, and highly probable interactions with law enforcement- the protocol, rules of engagement and the consequences. These discussions had become a ‘regular’ aspect of parenting. It was an unfortunate routine out of daily concern for their children’s safety; not about any criminal acts that their child may or may not have committed. It was about the assumptions of guilt held by police and the narratives that law enforcement held as justification for disregarding their rights. Seen as threats, not cautioning children against committing criminal acts, parents had to teach them how to act, what to do and what not to do in their presence.
You see, there has always been a double standard, two separate sets of rules and race-based experiences in American society. What was permissible behaviors and attitudes  for whites, was impermissible for blacks. Everyone understood that, and children grew up learning that as a fact of life as a black person in this country. Whites could exercise freedom of speech, and expect the presumption of innocence first. Whites could engage in conversations with authority figures without seeming ‘uppity’ or ‘sass-mouthing’. That was tolerated and accommodated.

Ask questions? If a black person dare question whites or law enforcement specifically, it was seen as defiance, an act of violence of sorts against them. After all of these years, there was still a ‘place’ for black folk. Worse than that, children were taught to understand that they had to stay in their place around whites, or anything belonging to or associated with white people.

Protests? With the knowledge that there was always a separate set of rules to abide by, their collective and unified voices of dissatisfaction are almost always peaceful, non-violent and definitely not destructive. Black people, when in protest mode, fight for total equality, equity and access- as no different from all others. The fight is never to destroy the democratic process or property, but rather to insist that we uphold its tenets in practice.Thus, discussions about the Capital and the ‘insurrection’ impacts black families much differently than it affects whites.

When we explain to ourselves or our children that which played out on television, it is not as life-shattering an issue for black parents. It rests upon the non families of color, to do the explaining and make sense of what they and their children saw on TV. Their messages are different and less confusing, mainly because by the time they become parents, they already understand America better than America understands itself.
In other words, blacks look at those images and tell themselves that it is confirmation that there is a double standard. They tell their children that these are acts that they could never imagine themselves doing and getting away with it or imagine  surviving.  For black people, it was evidence of that contradictory American standard practices.
They can say to themselves and their children, with certainty that this would never be allowed to happen at all had they been black. The National Guard, Local police and even the Marines would have been at the gates, steps with full riot gear. Rubber and real bullets would fly and people would lose their lives, be beaten and/or arrested, long before they made their way to the top step.

They tell themselves ‘see, that’s white people!” That is not their concern, because theirs is deeper and more basic than that. Many black families are certainly saying to one another, “Thank goodness they weren’t black people involved here.”  That is the extent to which they must explain the way people terrorized the very foundational pillars of government.

So, the many articles that are written and conversations that center around ways to explain that scene to children, it is a white conversation. What happened at that federal building, proved confusing and difficult to speak about, because what was shown was not black people in action. They were people who looked like themselves and their children. Whites teach and tell themselves to expect raw mob violence from black people. It is what the media reinforces. This latest scene dictated that it is this group who must explain to their children.
These people weren’t the Klan, wearing white robes, and they weren’t seeing Middle Eastern or indigenous folks either. They saw themselves and it was shocking. Certainly none of them thought that they would ever live to see such acts committed by the people for whom this country was structured and intended to benefit. 

Explanations? I can’t lie and tell you that I know what you should say to your children. What I do know with certainty is that it is time to reflect on your values, your core issues and concerns about this democracy. As flawed as we may be, this is certainly among the best governments designed for white people. Its documents suggest all people, but somehow white people, still reaping the benefits of this government, are apparently feeling threatened, fearful and incredibly angry and destructive.

capital mess
What has to be explained to children is why there is so much anger, fear and why things like this can happen when they are the actors- perpetrating such violence. Explanations must center around how fear can become anger and rage and then violence; pure lawlessness.

Why was the law rendered helpless? That is never seen in real life, on TV and truly not what we lead children to believe ever happens. The ‘good guys’ did nothing. They allowed themselves to be overrun, overpowered and made to look either inept or complacent, and otherwise nonexistent in that situation.

Try to explain, first to yourselves, to make sure that it makes sense and that you can answer these questions honestly. Ask those very basic questions and try to come up with answers that are the real true answers. Children can no longer stomach lies that we have been telling ourselves and them for generations now. This generation has their own sources of information, and they can compare notes, easily.

Be honest. If you don’t have any answers, begin by reading the various accounts of what happened. Look for information that contradicts your belief, and explore them all. Your jobs are made more complex if you believe that children aren’t going to go online and look for their own answers. They will hear from other people.
As the saying goes-“keep it real”. This may be one of the most important discussions to hold with your children. What you tell them needs to be well thought out. As much as we know about children’s brain development, we should know that they know, fundamentally, when we aren’t being forthcoming. They may just ignore you. You will have to tell your children about white privilege, and identify its roots as being white supremacy. What you have to tell them is that both of these are fallacies, myths, and reasons to be lazy and get automatic rewards and allows one to be rewarded absent merit, hard work, but by melanin content alone.

You will have to engage in the examination of all that Confederacy means, and what it has meant in this country. Above all else, explanations to children will certainly center on and connect to racist ideologies. Explain how they connect. Explain that racism  became a prevalent perspective that influenced practices, including laws. You may even have to show evidence of where and how these laws were written. Finally, you may be called to connect the past with the present, as they are still so clearly inter-related.

Don’t let them tune you out now. There will come a time when children will need you to tell them the truth, and are counting on it from you. Disappoint them and you may just set a terrible precedence, from which you may never recover, as parents to whom your children look for guidance. The truth is always best, but you must be open to that truth first. All conversations are that much easier  when you are sure of the truths and also recognize the tendency for people to embrace their own manufactured truths.

mob scene

Children need to know why those people did what they did. Although no one can say with absolute certainty, there is a root cause and factors that influenced them as well. American parents, white parents, it is this latest incident that will force everyone to reflect. Reflect? The incident at the Capitol Building just presented another opportunity for us all to get things right. We can now begin the process of either, being strong enough to stand up for what’s right versus what’s not. Or we can pretend that we don’t know what happened or why or where the initial seedling came from. It wasn’t President Trump, although he had a big hand in these events. It is deeper rooted than he alone; he just tapped into it as it had been cleverly hidden to the masses.

Will you tell your children the same old stories? Will you tell children or each other that this was a sad look at American hatred? Did this arise out of love for this country or a hatred for the ‘other’ in this country? That hatred is an outward symptom of an inward fear. How do you feel about these issues?

How do you wish your children to feel, grow to believe about themselves? Do you wish them to feel ‘entitled’ or ‘competent’? Competent implies a sense of self-esteem, confidence in one’s own ability and worth by deeds. Entitled implies a feeling that one is owed something just because. Rather, because they put in the work, met the competition unafraid and fully prepared, certain that they are qualified, with the strength of character to accept the possibility that someone else may be more qualified and prevail. A fair fight throughout life. Is it helpful that it is skin color that determines what one can do or where one can go in life?  

Decide to take in some harsh truths about who we are as human beings, American citizens and as parents and teachers of the next generation. Do we wish this for their future, too? Remember that the future you may want to see for your children may not be the world in which they wish to live. This is an opportunity for America to take the ‘blinders’ off to face some harsh truths and show our youngest people that we are better, stronger, more informed and educated than our past.

If we recognize a problem,  we have to openly admit that there is a problem. This is a problem for America, and not a novel one. Don’t ‘whitewash’ it. Also, remember that, if anyone is even the least bit proud of their actions on that day, there would be no national efforts to identify and apprehend these folk. They would speak out and stand proud of their participation. To me, it sends a message that there is deeply felt shame for what was done. Tell the truth-shame the Devil! Your children will respect your honesty.

This latest stain on history was an event that also serves as an opportunity to commit to growth and positive change. Show who you really are, the values you hold dear and demonstrate that, above all else, you are willing to uphold every one of the values you teach and sometimes preach to your children,  with consistency. In the end, it remains a personal decision. What and how did you tell your children?



The Data on Virtual Learner Engagement During COVID-19

Due to the pandemic, classroom instruction is now virtual. Learning is to take place at home for school age children across the U.S., with few exceptions. Learners in New York City public schools have been mandated to receive their academic instruction via remote learning platforms. Requiring wifi access and devices to receive this instruction, not all students have guaranteed access to learning.

Those students who do have access to the tools they need to logon to their classrooms, aren’t all doing so. Since last Spring, when instruction first became via remote, the numbers of students who have actively engaged appears to be discouragingly low. A middle grades learner whom I have been tutoring during this time, told me that among his classmates, only 4 or 5 students have been logging in for class on a daily basis.

little girl taking online classes

Perhaps it is naive of me to assume that the transition to remote learning would have been a smooth and seamless one. A convenient transition for students,teachers and families alike. My assumptions couldn’t possibly have been mine alone. Surely, educators believed the same thing, as well. Otherwise, appropriate plans would have been made. The reality has demonstrated differently, grossly confounding these assumptions.

Planning remote instruction, for schools, was done quickly, not comprehensively conceived or strategized in alignment with needs or circumstances of their populations. We have left previously existing barriers to learning unaddressed. These barriers continue to pose problems for learners, block access to instruction and impact their levels of engagement. So many students are struggling, as are their parents. Who are these students? They are those with disabilities, in temporary housing, language learners, and those who live in low income communities. Primarily, children of color in New York City.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, about 185,000 school-age kids in New York City have no broadband internet at home, and half of those have no internet access at all. Another 75,000 have internet access but no device available to them.

The Education Department counted multiple interactions with school: a student’s submission of an assignment, participation in an online chat, or even just a response to a call or email — any form of communication from the family.

Even by this limited measure of engagement, English language learners, students in temporary housing and students with disabilities all engaged at lower rates than others during the all-remote part of the spring semester. Faring worst of all in terms of interaction were students who were either in temporary housing or doubling up with another family. Among this group, on average 20% failed to make any contact with school whatsoever. While there was no specific breakdown of students in foster care or in juvenile detention facilities, it’s probably a safe bet that these students make up a good number of that 20%.

If the findings from this new report by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York[CCC] is any indication of the nation’s total student population, then we must all act swiftly so as to not continue to fail our children. We must collectively identify, acknowledge and address the numerous factors that are severely impacting youngsters’ ability to learn and make progress through the academic offerings provided by our school systems.

LEA[local education authority] and SEAs[state education authorities] need to advocate for its students. Beginning at the community school level, going to the state and then federal levels of government,  it is time to lobby for equity. In fact, demands need to be made, appealing to internet and cable service providers, as well as businesses that manufacture computers and other devices now required of learners. Children need fully operational devices at home and families need internet access. Both are to be deemed essential services.

man in yellow polo shirt sitting on chair


It is clear that education outcomes are directly impacted by social realities. These realities inform us that the inequities that exist in the greater society have great influence on what happens in school and public education, specifically. The framework of public education is that any child, from anywhere will benefit from the knowledge and tools acquired in school. 

Separate has never been equal in education.  Even though they are still highly segregated, for PreK-12 children enrolled in public schools, learning opportunities are supposed to be equal and equitable. There has to be one standard prerequisite condition, for all. Now that learning is to take place in the home, every child, in every family, no matter their economic status or race, is to be equally minimally equipped to learn. The tools needed today are different from yesterday. Not just paper and pencil or books; children need access to devices and technology, right where they are-in those spaces they call home.

Among the other things that affect healthy growth and learning, these are the ‘new’  21st Century basics that haven’t received sufficient attention until now. Hopefully, as our eyes are more open, we rise to the occasion, seize the moment, and  begin to understand that learning does not happen in a vacuum. Without the tools needed for learning and academic achievement, neither students nor their families will actively engage with schools or the educators who are the facilitators of learning, to achieve the best potential outcomes through frameworks built on the principles of equity.



Flying Classroom Launches An After-School STEM Initiative for Student Learners in Virginia

 Opportunities for Hands-On And Virtual Learning Experiences Through Culturally Relevant Role Models

How can ALL kids become STEM-enthusiasts? After all, science, technology,  engineering and math[STEM]  Present opportunities for them to create, design, imagine and experience learning by placing ‘mirrors’ before them to demonstrate reality-based relatability. It’s a downright inspired teaching strategy for captivating the most vulnerable learners who often  sit ‘outside’ of the mainstream and attend lower income and under-performing schools.  

In Virginia’s Richmond and Henrico County,  hundreds of school students recently participated in virtual expeditions and other after-school STEM adventures and projects thanks to a wonderfully inspired partnership between Virginia Department of Education[VDOE] and Flying Classroom.

Flying Classroom is a supplemental STEM+ curriculum based on the global expeditions of pioneering African American aviator Barrington Irving. In 2007, Irving achieved two world records by becoming the youngest pilot and first African American to complete a solo flight around the world. Irving, who turned down football scholarships to pursue his dream of becoming an aviator, founded Flying Classroom in 2014 to introduce students to STEM career possibilities.

Visit the official Flying Classroom website to enlighten and inspire!

Through Flying Classroom, students accompany Irving on his expeditions and explore real-life applications of academic content in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the humanities.

On Monday, November 16, 2020, Irving delivered 350 Flying Classroom STEM kits for participating students during a fly-in event at the Richmond Jet Center.

The partners of this event included Captain Barrington Irving, Flying Classroom; Jason Kamras, Superintendent, Richmond Public Schools; Beth Teigen, Deputy Superintendent, Henrico County Public Schools; Mike Taylor, CEO, Henrico Education Foundation; Jeanine Turner, Program Director, NextUp RVA; David Eshelman, Director of Career and Technical Education, VDOE; and Randall Johnson, Title II/IV Specialist, VDOE

The fly-in was conducted in compliance with CDC and Virginia Department of Health guidelines for physical distancing and COVID-19 prevention.

“I want to thank Captain Irving and Flying Classroom for partnering with VDOE to provide these exciting learning opportunities for students in 21st Century Community Learning Centers,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said. “Flying Classroom will open windows to the world and introduce students to the unlimited possibilities that await in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And I know students will be inspired by Captain Irving’s many accomplishments and his amazing life story.”

The STEM kits allow students at eight 21st Century Community Learning Centers at schools in Richmond and Henrico County to participate in virtual expeditions, adventures and challenges based on Irving’s career and accomplishments, including catching snakes in the Amazon, exploring glaciers and HALO (high-altitude, low-opening) parachute jumping. The kits also include at-home activities for students aligned with Virginia’s academic standards.

In the spring, students at after-school learning centers  in Richmond, and  Henrico County will be challenged to construct a Dodge Daytona STEM vehicle designed by Factory Five Racing Inc. The goal of the Flying Classroom Automotive Car Build program is to improve student attendance and engagement, and introduce students to careers in the automotive industry.

At the conclusion of the car-build project, Flying Classroom’s 18-wheel Mobile Auto Lab will visit all of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers in the commonwealth.

VDOE is supporting the initiative with $250,000 in funding from the commonwealth’s 21st Century Learning Centers federal grant. Other partners include Virginia Commonwealth University, the Wendell Scott Foundation, Richmond Raceway, Henrico County Public Schools, the Henrico Education Foundation, NextUp RVA and Richmond Public Schools.


The federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers program supports the creation of opportunities for academic enrichment during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and mathematics; offers students enrichment activities that complement regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.

Every  school district- just ought to ramp up their offerings for learners and their families and provide real-life relevant instruction, hands-on learning experiences, and deliver inspiration, increased life and career options and ‘mirrors’ to communities who see life and themselves through too many windows.

We, as parents and educators, spend more than enough  time placing windows in front of children, amidst an underlying assumption that children will which is particularly impactful to children of color. Impacting their self-image, self-esteem, and limiting the natural inclination to dream without boundaries, the absence of the introduction of brilliant achievers who look like them works to perpetuate the ‘status quo’. ALL children need exposure to black and brown excellence…as a naturally-occurring example of equity, possibilities, and less rigid views on race and ethnicity.

Event such as these are not, no, should not be, rare opportunities to turn the world, as taught, upside down. It is actually right side up. When deliberate, intentional, carefully planned, and collaborative, lower income community schools and educators can teach to a fully engaged audience. I am deeply moved and encouraged by the state of Virginia’s walking the talk  in the desire for excellence through equity.

This year, reaching a few hundred learners, can be next year’s few thousand, and so forth. Promoting STEM and careers tied to these areas of learning, and in such ways as offered by Flying Classroom, sparks new interests, hones skills and broadens worldviews. We now stand in the doorway of real change in the learning landscape and since education is closely tied to income and earning potential, we must expand our adult creative capacity.

From the protests of late, screams for social justice in all forms, children must no longer be pigeon-holed into narrowly defined boxes. If we don’t dream big for our children, all of them, we are wrong to expect that they will sit in a classroom and dream big for themselves-not without exposure, involvement and relevant figures to show, not just tell them.  So proud am I that the South is rising towards righting generations of wrongs, and is demonstrating  in education that representation is key. This is STEM at its best!

Can REM Sleep Halt the Negative Effects of Trauma?

Did you know that there is new evidence that suggests the existence of a time-sensitive window when—if you intervene to improve sleep—you could potentially stave off the negative effects of trauma? According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, increasing the amount of time spent asleep immediately after a traumatic experience, may ease any negative consequences.

Published in Scientific Reports, the study helps build a case for the use of sleep therapeutics following trauma exposure. It was found that if you can increase sleep, you can improve function.

close up photography of woman sleeping

The findings hold particular promise for populations that are routinely exposed to trauma, such as military personnel and first responders, and may also benefit victims of accidents, natural disaster, violence, and abuse.

In a series of experiments in rats, researchers  examined the links between poor sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—a psychiatric condition that affects an estimated 8 million Americans each year.

People with PTSD often experience nightmares and other types of sleep disturbances, such as frequent awakenings and insomnia. An initial thought was that those sleep disturbances may cause further cognitive impairment and worsen the effects of PTSD or the initial trauma. The researchers thus set out to see whether repairing the sleep disturbances associated with trauma exposure could help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD.

Their study used methods reviewed and approved by Washington State University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which oversees all university animal research procedures to ensure animals’ humane treatment throughout their lifecycle. This included a commonly used PTSD rodent model in combination with optogenetics, a technique that uses light-sensitive proteins to control the activity of brain cells.

After going through the PTSD protocol, rats were assigned to two groups. In one group, the researchers used optogenetic stimulation to activate melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH)—a sleep-promoting brain cell type—over a period of seven days. Animals in the second group served as controls.

Comparing the two groups, the researchers found that optogenetic stimulation increased the duration of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep—the sleep phase thought to be important for learning and memory—across the rats’ rest and active phases.

The researchers then assessed the rats’ behavior on a three-day classical conditioning experiment involving a memory task. On day one, rats learned to associate an audible tone with the mildly unpleasant experience of receiving a small foot shock immediately after hearing the tone. After several occurrences, rats would freeze after hearing the tone, anticipating the foot shock. On day two, they heard the tone 30 times without receiving the shock, allowing them to gradually extinguish that memory. On the third day, the researchers played the tone 10 times to test to what extent the previous day’s memory extinction had stuck. They found that rats that had received optogenetic stimulation to increase their sleep time had more successfully extinguished the memory, freezing less than control rats.

toddler lying on pink fleece pad

It seems likely that if you are kept awake after a trauma, this could potentially be harmful to your cognitive function, though it wasn’t directly tested in this study. As an example, victims of traffic accidents,  may not get much opportunity to sleep as they are poked, prodded, examined, and treated after being hospitalized for injuries. Though prioritizing sleep may not be feasible in victims with potentially life-threatening injuries, increasing sleep in other trauma-exposed populations could practically be done. Military personnel coming back from  tour of duty could be encouraged to sleep and potentially be given sleep-promoting drugs to help them stave off any trauma they may have experienced.

Although these experiments suggest that manipulating sleep immediately after a trauma may be beneficial, such an intervention may or may not be effective for traumatic experiences that occurred in the more distant past. These researchers, consequently, now wish to pinpoint those molecules that are important for regulating sleep or learning and memory, to help them identify targets for the development of better drugs to help trauma-exposed populations.

Based on their findings, it is also suggested that the use of antidepressants known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in people with PTSD may need to be re-examined, as SSRIs are known to suppress REM sleep. Ultimately, we may be doing trauma  victims a disservice by prescribing drugs that actually eliminate a potential therapeutic avenue  by removing  REM sleep when these findings suggest that they should be increasing REM sleep.