A Dolphin’s Legacy: The Story of Dean and JoJo

When Dean told me he was lowering the price of his ebook because Discovery’s Animal Planet had plans to air Dolphins I couldn’t help but spend some time reflecting.51TsZtDmxVL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

A few years back I had the honor or working with naturalist and dolphin advocate, Dean Bernal, on his biopic. I spent months interviewing him, taking notes, and learning about his relationship with one amazing bottlenose dolphin named JoJo. I even traveled to Turks and Caicos to swim in JoJo’s crystal blue waters, seeing for myself the impact Dean had had on this beautiful creature. I am so proud to have been one small part of a story that moved me beyond words.

And am so glad that more people can now share in this inspirational story. Available on Amazon.com

Book Trailer Success

Do you have a novel you’re trying to promote? Are you looking for new ways to capture your audience’s  attention? Why not try making a book trailer? With Animoto, it’s easy to create a professional looking commercial.

Here’s one I made for my new novel, Forest Secrets.

Animoto makes it easy.  With over 50 templates, 1000 soundtracks in their music library, and cool typography all you have to add is a script and some photos. Check it out at:

https://animoto.com/about

They’ll even let you make a sample for free.

10 Ways to Use Art to Promote Peace

I believe children have the power to create profound change in our world. If there is ever to be true peace, it must transcend the generations. But first they must dream of the changes they want creatively. Here are ten ideas to begin the change.

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1. Make Peace Cards.

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2. Make an anti-bully poster.

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3. Draw cartoons dealing a bully.

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4. Paint a peace sign on a paper plate.

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5. Create a Love the Earth card.

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6. Make a dream board.

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7. Photograph someone doing a kind act.

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8. Create a dance high-fiving and smiling with your buds.

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9. Film a video of yourself singing a peace song.

10. Paint a self-portrait.

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Any more ideas? Share  and we’ll turn 10 to 10,000!

Avoiding Bullies in One Quick Lesson

downloadHOW TO AVOID BULLIES

If children do not understand  how to recognize bullying behavior, how can they stop it? Here is a quick lesson you can use to help your students avoid bullies.

Materials: Graphic of web worksheet for each child. Chart paper, white board or electronic whiteboard.

Procedure:

  1. Create a web on chart paper, white board or electronic whiteboard with “HOW TO AVOID BULLIES” in the center and  the outer circles empty.download
  1. Ask the students to come up with ways characters in film or literature were able to defeat/avoid bullies peacefully. Write ideas in two bubbles.
  2. Instruct students to share more ideas with partners or in small groups. They should agree that all ideas are peaceful, win-win, solutions.
  3. Once partners or groups agree that solutions are non-violent they fill in the rest of the bubbles.
  4. After a few minutes share the responses. Groups present their webs to the class while the teacher leads the class in a discussion of which ones  were the most appropriate. For example, if one group wrote, “Tell the bully she’s ugly,” the class could then debate about whether that would be a good choice.
  5. As an extension, students could sketch a cartoon, poster, or painting of positive ways to avoid bullies.

Stop Child Abuse

stophandWhen I saw this letter, I was sick. How could a boy who  lived just minutes from my home die so horribly?  He could have been one of my students, or yours. Support and report!

DEAR LAURIE,

We read the tragic news about Jack Garcia, a 9 year old Goleta boy who was beaten and tortured to death by his mother and her boyfriend. Jack attended Brandon school until February, when his family moved to Maryland. We don’t know if CWS received any reports about this family, but Jack’s story is an important reminder to not be silent. Anyone who suspects child abuse can make a report to CWS by calling the Child Welfare Service hotline at (800) 367-0166. CWS often refers families to CALM for support and family strengthening. When CALM receives referrals from CWS through our Front Porch program, we reach out to the family to see how we can help. Last year, CALM received 508 referrals to our Front Porch program and provided service to 435 families. We have found that when we make contact with families, we are able to prevent re-referrals to CWS 95% of the time. I wish we had been able to help Jack. Here http://calm4kids.org/resources/  is information on how you can make a report and how to recognize abuse. We know there are other children like Jack in our community who need our help. CALM is expanding our Child Abuse Treatment work to serve more children countywide. To honor Jack’s memory and support CALM’s work preventing and treating child abuse, please consider a donation today.

CALM will not be silent for as long as it takes.

Cecilia Rodriguez, MFT
Executive Director Child Abuse Listening Mediation/CALM

Now That I Can Dance

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“You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance. You didn’t even want me around.”

Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance) by The Contours blasted from the loudspeakers as my fifth graders waited to break out and boogie. On one side of the stage the boys bowed on one knee and sang along. On the side the girls the girls crossed their arms no.  But with the next line of, “And now I’m back to let you know, I can really shake ’em down,” they all leapt into the air and shook their hands.

This was my ninth year choreographing a dance for my class and as usual the introduction was met with groans and complaints. “It’ll be embarrassing,” Jackie said. “No way,” Devon protested. “I’m going to be absent that day,” muttered Juan.

When they’d finished their little diatribe I said what I always do. “Everyone participates. With respect. And you will all be glad you did.”

Over the next few weeks I wondered what the heck I’d been thinking. Trying to get 35 fifth graders with no dance training to sashay and shake in unison at the end of the year no less was driving me nutters. The boys kept shoving each other when they were supposed to be pivoting and the girls giggled and covered their mouths when they should have been shimmying.

“Get in line munchkins! And 5-6-7-8.”  Every day we practiced. And when they didn’t get it, I just said, “Again,” in a deep voice like Morpheus in The Matrix. (Love that movie.)

Finally it was Talent Show Day. Kids arrived at the theater in groups of two or three. Boys in white t-shirts, slicked back hair, and rolled up jeans. Girls in poodle skirts and pony tails. Their excitement could have powered my computer. And keeping them quiet back stage was about as easy as shushing a tornado. (Hint: Have hyper kids run few laps. It’ll give them somewhere to put that nervous energy.)

“Now we have Ms. Woodward’s class dancing to…” the sixth grade emcees announced.

They all lined up, executing each move to, well not perfection, but to my friggin’ satisfaction. Every face shone with a new found pride. And as the Contours sang, “Do you love me?” I couldn’t help but think, “Yes I do.”

But don’t tell my fifth graders.  

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Compassion Circle

circleHave you ever had a day that rocks you to the core? A day that makes you believe in humanity? Have you ever witnessed such powerful love you can’t help but cry? I have and it was in my fifth grade classroom. During a class meeting my students opened up and supported each other in ways that would soften the most hardened heart.

Now I work in a community with gangs, poverty, and drug abuse. And like many teachers I don’t want to know every sad story. Some are so heartbreaking it makes it hard to teach. But this one year I had students facing extreme challenges that were affecting everyone. One little girl had gone from Student of the Month to a taunting bully. Another kept stirring up girl drama while ignoring her schoolwork. Soon she was two years behind.

I wondered why?

The school counselor and their parents soon told me. The bully had recently walked in and found a cousin hanging from a rope, the victim of suicide. That, compounded with a single parent household and relatives in gangs, made her so angry she lashed out at whoever was nearby.

The second girl had a father who’d been arrested for gang activity in a loud raid on her home. His arrest was in the papers and she was so ashamed that she could barely focus in school. She often started to cry in the middle of class and asked to be excused. I tried my best to comfort her or distract her with a joke or interesting work. But when a child is missing her Daddy there is little a teacher can do.

Neither of these girls shared their pain with their classmates. Both were too ashamed.

One day the tension felt so high I called a class meeting. I cautioned the kids about the rules saying that this was private, not something to gossip about. We could share with our parents but not on the playground. Then like I often do, I started it off with acknowledging how proud I was to be their teacher, how honored I was to be part of their lives, and how much they meant to me.

I smiled at the girl whose father had been arrested and passed her the talking stick. She whispered in my ear, “I want to share about my dad. What do you think?” I told her it was her choice.

She turned the talking stick over in her hands as she spoke. “I know I’ve been fighting with some of you guys. I’m sorry. But it’s because I’ve had hard stuff to deal with. My dad got arrested. And I don’t know when he’s coming home.”

As she started to cry in the arms of the child next to her, we all chanted, “Thank you for sharing.”

I acknowledged her for being so brave and once again cautioned the students about the rules.

Next was the bully’s turn. She looked at her sobbing friend with wide eyes and shared. “I haven’t been acting great either. But it’s because I had a loss. Of my cousin.”

The kids stared at her with wide eyes. And compassion.

What happened next gave me chills. Along with the usual please-be-quieter-so-I-can- work, a couple of kids tearfully shared their parents’ divorce and how lonely it made them feel. Then two more children said they had a parent in jail and how that loss haunted them.  But between each difficult sharing was such empathy! Time and again I heard both boys and girls say, “I’m sorry for your loss and I’m here for you.”

We passed the talking stick around the circle multiple times that day and each time we did a new child revealed loss or pain. Yet every heartrending story was tempered with classmates speaking up with loving affirmations.

And when we were finally done I held the talking stick and said, “We’ve discovered something very special today. That we all have sad things to deal with. Things that are out of our control. But we also have this amazing community of support to help us. I am so proud of how brave and kind all of you were. When you’re sad, remember this and it will comfort you. We are so lucky to have each other.”

36 children. A talking stick. And a room vibrating in love.

I couldn’t help but cry.