The pandemic threw the Needles Unified School District a curveball. They weren’t prepared. No one was. But when businesses shuttered and life slowed down, educators, parents and caregivers found another level. And they found a renewed sense of community, a focus on academics, and a new playbook for schooling post-pandemic.
Download and personalize our digital postcard to express your thanks to the educator who’s inspired your love of learning. Taking the time to write a note about how they’ve helped you grow or see things differently can go a long way in making them feel appreciated.
Step 1: Click to download the postcard
Step 2: Upon opening the file, type your message in the editable fields on the back of the card
Step 3: Export as a PDF under the name of your choice
Step 4: Open the newly saved file to ensure your text has been embedded into the document
Step 5: Attach to an email and share with your teacher
Gemma Weir launched a non-profit when she was just nine years old.
Yes, you read that correctly: nine years old.“Community service has always been a big part of my life,” Gemma says. “I was taught to put others first.”
She started Fluffy Love, an organization that collects and donates new stuffed animals to children who could use a cuddly companion.
Most of the toys are donated to a children’s hospital in Fort Worth, Texas.
Gemma also donates stuffed buddies to tornado victims and local shelters.
To date, Gemma has collected and donated more than 3,000 stuffed animals.
A small start
Fluffy Love began a long way from those 3,000 stuffed animals.
“At first, we got the word out through church groups,” says Gemma.
Soon the stuffed animals came pouring in – and not just from her community in Grand Prairie, Texas.
A Facebook page helped spread the word.
“That got an incredible response,” says Gemma’s mom, Heather. “We also received hundreds of toys from friends and family in Scotland!”
A big impact
Gemma says it’s been amazing to watch Fluffy Love spread joy in her community.
Recently, a little boy came up to Gemma at church. He was holding a stuffed animal in his arms.
“He told me that he had broken his arm and wound up in the hospital,” Gemma says.
“A nurse gave him the stuffed animal. He said it brought him so much comfort as he went through something scary,” she says.
The toy had been donated by Fluffy Love.
Learning along the way
Gemma is now enrolled at Texas Connections Academy, a virtual public school that gives her the flexibility she needs to pursue her work with Fluffy Love.
“I can get ahead on schoolwork a few days a week, then focus on Fluffy Love,” she says. “I’ve really learned the importance of time management!”Fluffy Love’s success has also helped Gemma learn valuable skills like public speaking.
Two schools recently invited Gemma to speak to students about her project.
“I was nervous, but it was amazing experience,” Gemma says. “The students at both schools were super receptive.”
One school was so inspired by Gemma’s story that students decided to have a toy drive for Fluffy Love.
Encouraging kids to dream big
Watching Gemma find her passion has been one of Heather Weir’s greatest joys as a parent.
“Gemma was very shy and quiet growing up,” Heather says. “It’s been incredible to watch her grow with Fluffy Love.”
When it comes to supporting their kids, Heather has one simple but powerful piece of advice for parents: encourage ideas.
“Parents should always get behind their kids,” Heather says. “It can help them find what they love and flourish.”
Gemma is now in ninth grade – and Fluffy Love has grown alongside her.
Last year, the organization officially became a 501(C)(3)-certified non-profit.
As she looks toward the future, Gemma sees plenty more opportunities for Fluffy Love to inspire positive action.
The mayor of Grand Prairie, Texas proclaimed December 12th as Gemma Weir Day in recognition of her service to the community.
“I hope it’s a day that inspires everyone to follow their passions and think about how to make a positive difference in other people’s lives,” Gemma says.
Inspiration from experience
Debbie Goldammer remembers spending a lot of time in the hallway as a fourth-grade student.
“Every day, my teacher would tell us to copy our spelling or math from the board at the front of the room and every day I asked where it was and got sent to sit in the hall,” she recalls.
Debbie couldn’t see the board well enough to read the writing.
“For me, as a young kid, being sent to the hall made me feel like I was bad. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong.”
Eventually, Debbie’s father noticed her poor eyesight and she got her first pair of glasses. After that, her trips to the hallway stopped.
“My teacher never took the time to see that I couldn’t see,” Debbie says.
That experience as a young child inspired Debbie to become a teacher herself.
“I became a teacher because I wanted to watch for those things,” she says. “If kids couldn’t see or couldn’t hear, I wanted to watch for that and help them.”
Debbie spent the last 40 years doing just that; she recently retired from a career teaching.
Despite getting glasses and making the decision to become a teacher, Debbie didn’t always excel at school.
“I never really tried and focused in school,” Debbie says. “It was mainly my mom going ‘get your homework done, get your homework done.’”
It wasn’t until Debbie’s seventh-grade math teacher held her to a higher standard that she realized she could do more. When she moved into eighth grade without being placed in the advanced class, the teacher demanded a reason.
“She said, ‘you were my top student last year, you…belong in the top class,’” Debbie says.
Debbie moved to the advanced math class and experienced her second learning epiphany.
“That’s when education became important to me,” she says. “I saw it could get me someplace if I worked.”
The right emphasis
Debbie always planned to teach fourth grade—the same grade she spent so much time in the hallway—and chose elementary education for her college major.
One trip to her academic advisor’s office changed those plans—she was only a few credits from earning a minor in math.
She spent her early years teaching math to sixth-eighth graders before moving back to her hometown to teach eighth-grade math in the same classroom for the next 32 years.
“I really liked junior high kids,” she says. “They’re their own little beast—they still respect you but want to try you…there’s a lot of change happening in a short time.”
Spending the majority of her career teaching in the community where she grew up was special, Debbie says, particularly when it came to teaching the children of former students.
“I have 100 percent of the support [of my former students],” she says. “Former students who are now parents know what I will do for my students.”
Including adding a new class to her teaching schedule.
Not long before her retirement, Debbie took over teaching a dual-credit college algebra class, allowing students to earn college math credit while in high school.
“My principal asked me three times to teach the class and I said no three times,” Debbie recalls, saying she didn’t feel qualified even though she was certified.
“The fourth time, he said, ‘You’re the only one certified to do this, this is for the kids,’ and I couldn’t say no to that.”
Debbie says she can’t count the hours she spent preparing and studying so she would be ready to teach the class. She even turned to YouTube for refreshers.
“I wanted to make sure I could teach the kids as best as possible,” she says.
Debbie spent the first few weeks of her retirement cleaning out her classroom, getting it ready for its next occupant. But not everything had to change: a Goldammer will still be teaching eighth-grade math at Butler High School. Her daughter, Heather, will be moving down the hall to take over her mother’s classroom and schedule.
“I spent the first few years of my career determined not to be just like my mom,” Heather says. “But along the way, I’ve found my own path and now I feel like I’m stepping into her shoes without mimicking her.”
For her mother, Heather’s choice to follow a similar path is a point of pride.
“Heather could have gone into anything she chose,” she says, “but she chose education.”
You may have seen it splashed across your newsfeed – an X-ray of a human skull with tiny bones poking out above the neck. Bones that never used to be there.
The image came from a study published in Scientific Reports, which linked the bone deformities to excessive time spent hunched over looking at screens. Within a few days, headlines spread across the globe like missives from a dystopian future: ‘Teenagers Grow Horns From Smartphone Usage.’
Technology has changed the way we live, learn, work and communicate. It’s no surprise that a research paper suggesting it’s also reshaping our bodies went viral.
It’s equally unsurprising that the sensational headlines were quickly debunked.
The ubiquity of smartphones has fueled the ongoing debate about the effects of screen time. Even major tech companies like Google and Apple – the very professionals who build and evangelize this technology – are rolling out new products aimed at helping people track and reduce their screen time.
A Pew Research Center study found that 95 percent of American teenagers have a smartphone or access to one, and about half are online on a near constant basis. That translates to about 6.5 hours a day consuming screen media, not including time spent using media for school or homework, according to a separate survey.
So, what do we know for sure? Though the next generation isn’t at risk of developing horns, here are a few things science has confirmed about the effects of screen time.
Screen time affects sleep quality
Smartphones are such an intimate part of our lives that we’re bringing them into bed with us. A new report from Common Sense Media found that 29 percent of teens sleep with their mobile devices in bed with them and an additional 39 percent sleep with their device within arm’s reach. Though it may seem harmless, notifications are hard to resist – nearly 40 percent of teens said they wake up to check their phones at least once during the night. Studies have shown that the light emitted from devices impacts the body’s circadian timing, making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep.
Screen time should be very limited for young children
Children are increasingly learning how to use technology before they can talk, walk or read. But research suggests that exposing young children to too much screen time during formative early years can impede their development. A recent study found that, on average, children ages two to five spend two to three hours a day in front of a screen—and that increased screen time is linked to behavioral, social and language delays. For reference, The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends one hour per day of high-quality programming alongside a parent for that age group.
Uninterrupted screen time affects vision
Ophthalmologists agree that digital eyestrain is a real problem. Kids spending too much time on screens can experience dry eye, headaches and blurry vision. These symptoms are usually temporary – and a result of not blinking enough while looking at a device. The solution? Take a break. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends taking a 20-second break for every 20 minutes of screen time.
Screen time keeps us more connected
Experts agree that one of the great benefits of our digital lives is the ability to connect with people anywhere in the world at any time. A 2018 survey of teens’ social media use found that “connecting with friends and family” was, by a long shot, the primary reason teens believe social media has had a positive effect on people their age. Teens who responded directly to the survey also emphasized how social media enables connections with new, likeminded people. As one 15-year-old girl wrote, “It has given many kids my age an outlet to express their opinions and emotions and connect with people who feel the same way.”
All screen time is not equal
It’s easy to think of screen time as all-encompassing, but the reality is much more nuanced. A University of Michigan study of children ages four to 11 found that “how children use the devices, not how much time they spend on them, is the strongest predictor of emotional or social problems connected with screen addiction.” In other words: it’s all about the content. Aimlessly scrolling through social media and watching TV are common examples of passive screen time that don’t benefit cognitive development. But active screen time that uses technology for creative, educational and engaging purposes can significantly benefit children, and should be encouraged as technology continues to play a prominent role in their lives.
Pearson study reveals Generation Z and millennials’ learning preferences
Young people are the first to admit they can easily spend hours a day on the internet—whether it’s via a desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone. While they may be tech-savvy by nature, this innate connectivity poses the question of technology’s place as it relates to how Generation Z and millennials learn.
In a recent survey of 2,558 14-40 year olds in the US, Pearson explored attitudes, preferences, and behaviors around technology in education, identifying some key similarities and differences between Gen Z and millennials.
While 39% of Gen Z prefer learning with a teacher leading the instruction, YouTube is also their #1 preferred learning method. And 47% of them spend three hours or more a day on the video platform. On the other hand, millennials need more flexibility—they are more likely to prefer self-directed learning supported by online courses with video lectures. And while they are known for being the “plugged in” generation, it’s apparent that plenty of millennials still prefer a good old-fashioned book to learn.
Regardless of their differences, the vast majority of both Gen Z and millennials are positive about the future of technology in education. 59% of Gen Z and 66% of millennials believe technology can transform the way college students learn in the future.
See below for the infographic, “Meeting the Expectations of Gen Z in Higher Ed” for additional insights on Generation Z and millennials’ learning preferences.