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Free Online Philosophy Courses for Spanish Speaking Youth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/10/2020 - 12:02am in

Philosophy for Children Without Borders (Filosofía Infantil Sin Fronteras), formerly known as Philosophy for Children in the Borderlands (previously), has launched a free, virtual philosophy course for Spanish-speaking youth.

The new course consists of ten interactive, Spanish-language lessons on “philosophical questions such as the nature of time, whether and why we ought to be good, the nature of a philosophical argument, what makes something ‘real,’ and more,” according to a press release.

The course was created by Amy Reed-Sandoval, director of Filosofía Infantil Sin Fronteras and assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). It emerged from the earlier Philosophy for Children in the Borderlands project, shifting from in-person programs along the U.S.- Mexico borderlands (El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico) because of the COVID-19 pandemic, to one “offering online content for families who are practicing social distancing—reaching a much broader audience of Spanish-speaking communities in the process, including new community partners in Colombia.”

The course uses the education software platform Canvas, and includes discussions, assignments, video logs, quizzes, and other activities. It also uses video dialogue tools Flipgrid and Panopto to stream and record lectures. It is funded by the Whiting Foundation through their Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship.

The course website is here.

The post Free Online Philosophy Courses for Spanish Speaking Youth appeared first on Daily Nous.

Dialexicon: A New Student-Led Philosophy Initiative

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 6:00pm in

There’s a new “platform for high school students to learn, discuss, and contribute to philosophical thought and writing.” 

Created by students in Canada, the project is a journal and website, Dialexicon, which seeks to publish “exceptional philosophical essays written by high school students.”

According to its website, Dialexicon came into existence after its creators “noticed a lack of accessible philosophy resources for high school students.” It aims “to share the voices and philosophical opinions of youth with a global audience, to provide a forum for youth to discuss philosophy with other engaged youth.“

The project is sponsored by the University of Toronto Mississauga Philosophy Department and the Philosophy Foundation UK, among others.

The journal is now accepting submissions from high school students around the world. According to one of Dialexicon‘s board members:

High school students are invited to submit a 900 to 1200 word philosophy paper on one of the four prompts listed on the website, all of which tackle pressing current events. Submitted papers will undergo a multiple-round review process, with papers being reviewed by a team of 15+ university philosophy faculty, graduate students, and international debate coaches. The deadline for submissions is November 1, 2020. The top submission will receive a $500 cash prize, and the winning submissions will be published in the Dialexicon Journal, with the profiles of the winners featured on the University of Toronto Mississauga Philosophy Department’s website. This is an excellent opportunity for high school students to hone their philosophical essay-writing skills, to potentially receive publication in a professionally adjudicated journal, and to receive a prize.

If you are a philosophy educator, we would greatly appreciate it if you could share this opportunity with any high school students who may be interested in submitting. As well, if you are interested in becoming an adjudicator or are affiliated with an organization or department that is interested in becoming a sponsor of the journal, do not hesitate to send us an email. For all questions or comments, please contact We respond to all inquiries within 48 business hours, and look forward to hearing from you!

There’s more information at the Dialexicon site.

The post Dialexicon: A New Student-Led Philosophy Initiative appeared first on Daily Nous.

‘Our House is Burning’: Student Climate Protesters Urge Their Universities to Go Carbon Neutral

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 5:15am in

Although student activists often direct their ire toward school administrations, their greatest antagonist may simply be a ticking clock. Undergraduates generally only get a four-year window on campus to make a difference, and they’ve lost precious time because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has in some ways pulled focus from climate issues. Continue reading

The post ‘Our House is Burning’: Student Climate Protesters Urge Their Universities to Go Carbon Neutral appeared first on

Humans Have Bodies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 2:36am in



These painstakingly evolved, real-world physical and chemical processes are what enable and reinforce our social connection and coherence, and form the foundations for the societies that we eventually built.

Douglas Rushkoff, Team Human

An open letter to my children.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


The semester was rolling along just as others frequently do. In my house we were focused on identifying exactly when my spring break was on the calendar, and whether it would align with the calendars of my two children. For the most part, the daily cadence of life settled into the rut that we all feel as the holiday season ends, and we all patiently wait for the weather to improve. We regrettably did not pay attention to the incoming global pandemic that would impact all of our lives.

Talk of the Coronavirus began near the end of February as we started to see more reports from the news, and the pandemic started to sweep across Europe. Colleagues of mine shared how fearful they were as they saw the virus close down Italy. It was at that point I started to suggest to my Wife that we needed to load up the house with supplies in case things closed down. We’ve prepared for, and survived hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, and other natural disasters. We believed that preparing for this would be just like preparing for one of those events. We didn’t understand that in those events, you have the opportunity to leave and shelter with others. In this, you’re mostly on your own. 

Our last taste of real social connection came on Saturday, March 14th. We had a house party to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and my Wife’s birthday. There was the usual amount of gallows humor as we would joke about COVID-19, or whether it was appropriate to eat food that others brought. We didn’t realize that in that moment, we were spending some of the last moments many of us would have together before things changed drastically. Developing the last memories we’d have of life before social distancing.

For my children, this was a tricky transition. My Wife and I tried to explain why they wouldn’t go back to school for a week. At first they celebrated a week off, but then the reality of schooling at home took hold. Teachers in early childhood tried to hold small group centers using Zoom calls. Elementary teachers cobbled together Google Slides with YouTube clips and Chromebooks to connect with students. The first week led to the second week when the news came out that students would remain in distance learning for the foreseeable future. My son cried when he was told that he most likely would not go back to school to see friends or his teacher. My daughter thought that she was the only one being asked to stay away from school. It can be a challenge to consider how to explain the Coronavirus to the very young. I also acknowledge the privilege that we have to socially distance. Many others do not.

My children were much like other kids in that they were having to adjust to new schedules and the trauma they were feeling. This was intensified by the anxiety that was radiated on them from the adults in their lives. Whether it was teachers, parents, or family members…we were all trying to figure out what would come next.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


As the academic year wrapped up, we were trying to figure out how to make social distancing work. This was in the context of other family and friends that were not social distancing, and not wearing masks in public. We would regularly get phone calls from family or friends that would want to stop by and “let the kids play.” As a family, we would need to have discussions about whether it was safe or smart to attend the birthday party of a neighbor. We tried to figure out what was the best way to thankfully, tactfully say… “No, it’s not you, it’s us. We’re socially distancing.”

As the news reports, and leaders on the national and local stage tried to indicate that there was nothing wrong, and that this would go away like a miracle, we would look at the numbers. We would listen to friends from overseas. We listened to our friends and family in healthcare. Very early on, we decided that we would hold our children out of schools. This was before things started to shut down.

As we increasingly held our children out of school and play dates with friends, the anxiety in the house continuously ramped up. My daughter would frequently break down in the middle of the day crying that she “missed her friends” and “wanted to see her teachers.” There is no response to this.

In the summer months, we try to spend as much time at the pool or the beach. My daughter was getting very good at swimming, and we wanted to have multiple opportunities to get her out there and be physical. This also proved to be a challenge as pools and the beaches were (justifiably) closed. We bought a kiddie pool for the backyard to have some semblance of a break in the day. As the beaches and pools opened up, we checked in again with our friends in healthcare. As long as we stayed physically distant, and outdoors, we should be fine. This meant regulations about now chairs, coolers, or tents at the beach. At this pool this meant glaring at other kids who would get too close to my kids at the pool…and then going home when it got too busy.

Deep in the doldrums of the summer we needed to make hard decisions about what to do with the fall. I was scheduled to hold my classes mostly online, but have face-to-face meetings one hour per week, per class. I filed an appeal with my institution to be able to move these meetings online as students began emailing me with requests to solely meet online.

With our children, this was also an important upcoming year. Our son is entering fifth grade and we needed him to have a power year as he prepared for middle school. We wanted him to do well, but we were also concerned about bullying and students that might choose to not wear masks or social distance.

My daughter was entering kindergarten and (as a middle grades & high school teacher I can say) this is one of the most important years she’ll have. We invested a lot of time and money in early childhood education. Now that she was moving on the K, we we wanted to make sure this was a success. Most of all, we wanted her to be able to play, explore, and learn with others.

My Wife lost her job as things starting closing up and the economy went south. She filed for unemployment but was rejected multiple times as the systems are not set up for a COVID outbreak. This added extra strain on the family, but gave us the blessing of her being around to help teach classes and keep the family balanced. She also served as the main point of contact for all activities outside of the house. For months she was the only one to head out and get groceries or medicine. Everything else…everyone else stayed home and only connected virtually.

As we moved from spring to summer, there was word that all summer classes would be held online. If you listened closely enough, you could hear the low murmur of questions about whether or not the Fall semester would also be impacted. Little did I know that my life, and most of our lives would soon solely exist in Zoom.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


As we moved to the fall, uncertainty grew about whether or not we would return to any sense of normalcy. The local debate focused more on whether or not people should be able to go to bars and gyms and less on how to prepare to allow students to return to K-12 and higher ed. The common refrain from leaders seemed to be that children were somehow safe from this global pandemic.

Schools began to open and offered parents a challenging decision to make. Parents were given the option to have their children attend class virtually. In our family this looks like my Kindergartner signing in three times a day for 20 minute Zoom calls for reading, math, and physical education. On the other side of the dining room table, my son is sitting in day long Zoom meetings on a variety of subjects…including physical education.

This distancing of physical connections with people outside of our immediate family unit has given us time to connect and bond with each other. They spend a lot of time playing Legos, Barbies, and video games together. They also have their fights every 1.45 days and go to their rooms to be away from each other. As a parent, and an educator, it is exciting to see my daughter learn to read. It is exciting to talk to my son about writing, and identify new books and areas he’d like to investigate. I also try to spend time cooking, playing, and making with my children to expand their interests.

As I watch my children regularly tune in to virtually connect with others, I wonder what they are missing. I wonder about this lost year of their lives when they’ll have missed connections as they can choose to tune in or out as they see fit. Already I can see my children’s eyes glaze over when they are connected into the video conference and need to pay attention.

I wonder about the connections that are normally made in the classroom outside of the content that my children will miss. How the teacher noticed that one day when our daughter stood up to the class bully. Or when my son decided to risk it all and tried out for the lead in the holiday musical. Those times that are show us (the parents) that we’re hopefully doing the right things necessary to raise a good human being.

But that is no longer what my children have become. They’ve become a stat. They are two of the 65% of students attending school virtually this fall. They are a link and a secret invite code to a Google Meet call. They are a white board full of intersecting and conflicting schedules. They are a series of pending assignments waiting on a Chromebook.

I wonder what happens when humans no longer have bodies. What happens when they can turn on and off connections with others. What happens when they can choose to turn on or off their video camera. What happens when it is expected that they show up on time, look like they’re taking school seriously. What happens when they’re expected to mute their mics, and skillfully…only when needed….un-mute to respond at the appropriate moments.

Ultimately we’re in the middle of the story. We’ll need to wait until the coda to see the full impact of these times. As parents, we continue to press on and hopefully make the best decisions for our children, and not let them forget who they are…or could be.

This post is Day 5 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

The post Humans Have Bodies first appeared on W. Ian O'Byrne.

Empty US College Campuses are Making it Harder for Students to Vote

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/09/2020 - 2:15am in

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many universities to shut their campuses down, and students are experiencing growing voter suppression efforts. Continue reading

The post Empty US College Campuses are Making it Harder for Students to Vote appeared first on

The Perks of Roommates With a 50-Year Age Difference

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/07/2020 - 12:40am in

From their first conversation, Nellie Goodwin knew that she and Sarah would make great roommates. For Nellie, 77 and recently widowed, Sarah’s sunny personality was a balm, and her weekend trips back to her parents’ house in the suburbs meant Nellie could still sometimes have the house to herself. For Sarah, who didn’t make a whole lot of money as a 25-year-old technical writer, the $600 Nellie charged for rent put pricey Cambridge, Massachusetts within reach.

The half-century between their ages didn’t faze either of them. “We were very connected,” says Goodwin, who found Sarah through a service called Nesterly that matches older and younger people as roommates. The idea is that each age group benefits from the arrangement in a particular way. For Goodwin, having Sarah around “made me feel less lonely after losing my husband.” And for Sarah, says Goodwin, “It gave her a place to live — housing prices in the Boston area are exorbitant.” 

But services like Nesterly face a unique challenge during the pandemic. At the very moment when many older people who are acutely susceptible to Covid-19 could use extra assistance, it has become risky for them to be in proximity to others, making intergenerational cohabitation a fraught prospect. A while back, Sarah moved to Alabama, where her fiance is getting his doctorate. Goodwin, who suffers from chronic health issues, is now on her own again. “I feel very isolated in a lot of ways, but I just can’t take the risk,” she says, “I’ve been getting requests [through Nesterly] from kids who are coming back to school in the Boston area and are looking for a place to live, but I’ve had to say I’m sorry, I can’t.”

Once it’s possible to safely cohabitate again, however, such living arrangements may snap back quickly. Before the pandemic struck, Americans were beginning to drastically change their approach to who they live with. A 2018 survey found that nearly one in three adults were living with someone who is neither a parent nor a romantic partner. More than ever, people seem to be open to unorthodox living arrangements to solve their housing problems, whether those problems be affordability, loneliness or otherwise.

olderThe pandemic has added risks to youth homesharing with seniors, but in a time of isolation it may be more relevant than ever. Credit: Jim Makos / Flickr

For older people, sharing their home with a younger person can allow them to age in place, which has many benefits, from preserving long-standing relationships to preventing cognitive decline. Such arrangements have grown in popularity. Whereas just six years ago, only two percent of adults aged 50 and up shared or rented out a bedroom or “accessory dwelling unit” in their homes, today 16 percent do.

“What is happening is that people are now thinking differently about housing,” says Danielle Arigoni, AARP’s Director of Livable Communities. In 2014, 59 percent of U.S. residents over 50 said they would not consider home sharing. By 2018, that number had dropped to 29 percent. “We are seeing a convergence of needs that are solved by this,” says Arigoni. “They [older people] want to stay in their homes, want to connect with other people and have income issues to deal with.”

Young people are no stranger to income issues either. According to a recent Pew Charitable Trust study, over 70 percent of Americans aged 20 to 34 rent their homes, and close to 40 percent of them are burdened with high rent. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the university-heavy city of Boston, for example, currently stands at $2,500 per month, with rents near campus often higher. Brenda Atchison, a retired computer industry worker in her late sixties, rents out a bedroom in her townhouse to a public policy student at Boston University. “I’m not just renting rooms, that’s not how I feel about it,” Atchison, who lives in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, told BU Today. “When people walk into my home, they become an extension of my community.”

A housing solution with roots

Homesharing is, in a sense, a return to older ways of living. In an op-ed titled “Affordable Housing Is Your Spare Bedroom,” author Diana Lind explains in the New York Times:

Until World War II, American cities teemed with single-room-occupancy houses and hotels that served as de facto apartment rentals. In the 1930 census, 11.4 percent of urban families reported that they housed boarders. Many more families included grandparents and older relatives. These shared housing options let more people, more cheaply, enjoy a city’s amenities.

These boarding houses, once ubiquitous in cities, began disappearing as zoning codes and cultural attitudes changed, and single-family housing became the norm.

“Somewhere along the way we began… banning everything but a middle-class existence while making it harder to actually be middle class,” writes Michael Hendrix, director of state and local policy at the Manhattan Institute. 

boarding houseA boarding house in the 1920s, where multiple unrelated residents lived together under one roof.

This led to a glut of oversized housing over time. Newly built homes in America now have an average 970 square feet per person, close to double the size of homes built in the 1970s. And even as those homes have increased in square footage, the average number of people living in them has gone down. 

The result is an abundance of unused bedrooms. The real estate firm Trulia found that in the 100 largest housing markets in the U.S., there are nearly 3.6 million unoccupied rooms that could be rented out. New York has 177,000. Atlanta has 141,000. According to Trulia, the cost to rent out one of those rooms would be $24,000 less per year than renting a one-bedroom apartment.

“Rooming with strangers is not a new concept; it simply went out of fashion — except, that is, for the Millennial urbanite, whose roommates were merely an extension of the campus to the city,” writes Hendrix.

Given the convergence of supply and demand, intergenerational homeshare initiatives are bringing the boardinghouse model back at a moment when aging populations are presenting new challenges to cities.

There are about 60 senior/youth homeshare programs in the U.S. Some are decades old, others less than a year. There are independent free-market connectors, and government-sponsored programs to serve senior citizens. A few have become international platforms in the style of Airbnb, like Homeshare UK, which started in the late 1980s in London and has now expanded to 16 other countries. For young people who have grown up immersed in the “sharing economy,” services like Nesterly solve a housing problem the same way Uber solves a transportation problem or WeWork solves an office space problem.

“It is easy to see initiatives like Homeshare as peripheral, but there’s no reason why they can’t be mainstream, especially when the need has never been greater,” Homeshare UK CEO Alex Fox wrote in the Guardian this year. “The global Homeshare movement shows that this approach can be brought to thousands of people, and is in many other countries.” 

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Laura Martinez, program manager for Toronto Homeshare, agrees. That city’s initiative started as a pilot program in 2018 and was made a permanent municipal program last year. The expansion came after the initial 12 participating pairs reported decreases in social isolation and financial burden from rooming together. “People said this would never work, that young people and old people don’t like each other,” says Martinez, “but it is funny, because we find they like each other a lot more if they are benefiting from each other.” 

The data bear this out. According to the AARP’s research, older people’s reasons for sharing their home with a stranger tended to be practical: 58 percent wanted the renter to help with everyday activities, 50 percent did not want to live alone any longer and 49 percent wanted the extra income. Perhaps more important, about 75 percent wanted to stay in their current residence as long as possible.

Living together under lockdown

Even before the pandemic began, homesharing services faced challenges. Some cities were tightening the screws on short-term rentals — in some cases, for instance, limiting the number of unrelated people who can live under one roof. Services like Nesterly have avoided these restrictions by sticking to 30-day minimum stays, and essentially operating as matchmaking services, with both homeowners and prospective tenants posting their own online profiles. Before any agreement is struck, both parties preemptively come to terms on issues regarding rent, roommate etiquette and sharing of housework and other maintenance.

But the Covid-19 crisis presents a unique threat. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that older people limit their interactions with others as much as possible, and that those living with them do the same. Younger people, however, are less likely to adhere to social distancing rules, which could put their older roommate at risk.

Just before the pandemic struck, Nellie Goodwin had another young roommate who moved in after Sarah moved out. This one, named Skye, had moved to Boston from Iowa. Even after it became apparent that the virus was circulating through the city, Goodwin says Skye continued to take the subway, and at one point asked if her brother, who was visiting from Iowa, could stay with them. “I said absolutely not,” said Goodwin, who asked Skye to leave shortly thereafter. “She was too young. She just didn’t get it.”

To adapt, some homesharing programs are shifting their focus to support rather than cohabitation. Nesterly developed a new program called “Good Neighbors” in collaboration with the City of Boston. Older Bostonians can make requests via phone or online for things like “door-step deliveries” or even just friendly check-ins. Volunteers, who are provided masks and gloves by the city, make sure older residents get what they need. “This new volunteer platform will help organize and activate volunteers looking to help seniors who need things like groceries, medication, or just a good old-fashioned phone call check-in,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in a statement.

These check-ins can feel like lifesavers themselves. “The isolation issue is particularly relevant during the pandemic,” says Raza Mirza, a senior research associate at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Life Course and Aging. “Many people now have a new awareness of the negative effects of being alone for prolonged periods, and it might inspire them to plan ahead so that they won’t face this situation in the future. I believe our post-pandemic solutions will have to be intergenerational. We need to re-imagine how we live, how we care for each other and how we manage the financial fall-out.” 

Some are already doing that. One University of Toronto student, Lee Chang, had been living with her senior roommate, Catherine Tordoff, whom she met through Toronto’s homeshare program, when the pandemic struck. After discussing what they should do, Chang and Tordoff decided to continue living together, as safely as possible, to make sure Tordoff didn’t become isolated during lockdown. So far, it’s worked out. Chang picks up Tordoff’s prescriptions at the pharmacy, and both appreciate the company at a time when socializing is tough.

“I’m a very social person and quite active in my church, so I’m finding this hard,” Tordoff told the University of Toronto’s Factor-Intenwash Faculty of Social Work. “I’ve also been missing my daughter, who lives outside Toronto. Without Lee here, it would’ve been even more difficult.”

The post The Perks of Roommates With a 50-Year Age Difference appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Youth Who Turned a Prison Into a Farm

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 3:56am in

On a crisp, windy day in March, 17-year-old Norman Garcia-Lopez tries to coax a donkey and a herd of 14 sheep from a fenced yard out to open pasture. “Come on, Miss Easter,” he says, holding a shallow bowl of food under the donkey’s nose. She steps through the door in the chain-link fence, and her fleecy charges follow soon after, bleating.

Garcia-Lopez isn’t on a typical farm. Surrounded by tall fences and razor wire, he and the group of high-school-aged young men affiliated with the nonprofit Growing Change are farming in an abandoned prison in rural Wagram, North Carolina. Since 2011, this group has been working to flip the Scotland Correctional Center — a facility decommissioned in 2001 and subsequently left to decay — into a sustainable farm and education center. They’re leasing the property at no cost from the state’s Department of Public Safety.

During its first several years in existence, Growing Change engaged young men who were on intensive juvenile probation and had been kicked out of their schools and homes. But after 2016, the young people involved decided to change the eligibility requirements for future participants. Now, they welcome their peers facing chaos at home, failure at school, trouble with mental health or substance abuse, and involvement with the criminal justice system. Many are also minorities or possess multiple ethnic identities in a country where racism and xenophobia are rampant.

prison farmMiss Easter leads the sheep from the enclosed prison yard out into the pasture to begin grazing.

Designed to help teens avoid the criminal justice system, which disproportionately imprisons people of color, the program provides the young men with mental health treatment and the chance to develop workplace skills and a sense of self-efficacy, or the idea they can get from one point to another if they have a plan.

“These are the young men on which we build our adult prisons,” says Growing Change Founder and Executive Director Noran Sanford. Being locked up as a kid is one of the most damaging, opportunity-stripping experiences a person can have, he says. “As a clinician, as a social worker, as a mental health therapist, [I can tell you] it is one of the greatest risk factors in nearly every problem we’re dealing with today in our adult population.”

In his prison-flip work, Sanford has his sights set on a number of problems at once: the high number of young people entering the criminal justice system; the absence of job opportunities for veterans; the decline in small, independent farmers in the area; residents’ lack of access to local, sustainable food; and the health disparities between urban and rural areas.

prison farmNorman Garcia-Lopez and Terrence Smith collect eggs from the chicken coop.

Scotland County Commissioner Carol McCall, a Growing Change board member and retired social worker, appreciates the intersectionality of the project. “The vision to take something discarded, unsightly, and unproductive and turn it into a working organization that serves a variety of purposes is unprecedented,” she says. “I’m really proud it’s happening right here in my own county.”

A wakeup call at a funeral

Growing Change serves three counties near the southern border of North Carolina in the eastern part of the state. The area is extremely diverse, home to equal parts Native American (primarily members of the Lumbee Tribe), Black, and white residents.

It is also extremely poor: More than a third of the people in the city of Lumberton, located in Robeson County, live below the poverty line; the county’s median household income is $33,700; and approximately 36 percent of the population is on Medicaid, compared with 18 percent nationally. Additionally, 21 percent of the people in Robeson County and 25 percent of the people in Scotland County experience food insecurity.

Compounding matters, these two counties had the worst health rankings in the state in 2019, making residents especially vulnerable to Covid-19. While Scotland County has not been too heavily hit by the virus yet, as of press time Robeson ranks among the top 10 counties in the state for infections, with case numbers on the rise. Because several of the Growing Change youth have underlying respiratory conditions, the group is careful to observe safety protocols — like working in small groups and pausing operations if someone close to them is tested for the virus (which has happened four times so far).

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A tall, thin white man in his early fifties with a long, graying ponytail, Sanford grew up in the area and was working as a social worker and mental health therapist for youth and families in the juvenile justice system when he received an unexpected wakeup call in 2009. A middle-schooler he’d been working with — who was smart, good with people and one of the best running backs Sanford had ever seen — was killed in a gang-related incident.

“I had to be honest with myself that the system had not done everything it could do, that I had not done everything I could do,” says Sanford. As a person of faith, he began to pray and spend structured time thinking about what he and the system could do differently.

At the same time, the old Scotland Correctional Center in Wagram, which he’d driven by dozens of times without considering, began to rise in his awareness. He learned that, up until the 1970s, North Carolina had made heavy use of inmates sentenced to chain gangs, including those housed at the Wagram prison, to build the state’s highways. Most of these prisoners were Black, and many had only been convicted of minor crimes. In 1979, North Carolina had more prisons and the highest incarceration rate of any state in the country.

prison farmNoran Sanford founded Growing Change in 2011 to help the youth he was working with as a mental-health therapist and social worker avoid the criminal justice system.

When Sanford presented his idea of reclaiming the abandoned property, many of the young people he worked with thought he was “kind of kooky,” remembers Terrence Smith, who was part of the first cohort of 12 and is now the other salaried employee of Growing Change.

But once Sanford walked the young men through the property, handed them the keys and asked them, “What do we do with this?” they grew excited about the possibilities, Smith says.

Instilling hope in people and place

In addition to providing off-site therapy, Growing Change puts youth in charge of creating and carrying out a collective vision for the former prison, situated on a 67-acre parcel a couple miles outside Wagram’s tiny downtown.

Although the master plan will take years to achieve, a number of elements are already in place: The current nine participants are keeping bees, rotationally grazing a herd of sheep they will use for wool and meat, caring for a flock of laying hens, composting food waste, tending a garden with organic methods, and managing vermiculture and soldier fly operations.

prison farmThe Scotland Correctional Facility, abandoned since 2001, sits on 67 acres outside of Wagram, North Carolina.

Down the road, they hope to create aquaponic tanks and cultivate mushrooms (in former prison cells) and introduce a certified community kitchen (in the galley), a prison history museum (in the barracks), a climbing wall (up a guard tower), a recording studio (in the freestanding hot box building), and staff quarters and office space.

A central focus of their efforts is giving back to their community. During the first few years, participants tended a garden and distributed free boxes of produce and flowers to their food-insecure neighbors. And when the pandemic hit in March, the youth partnered with various agencies including Carolina Farm Stewardship to distribute boxes of food to people in need, including restaurant workers and furloughed hospital staff. They also planted a new garden on the former prison softball field that they will harvest in late summer and donate.

This direct service allows outsiders to begin seeing the young men differently, Sanford explains. He also arranges opportunities for them to present the prison-flip model they’re developing to university and government leaders across North Carolina, as well as at places like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“What traditional therapy often doesn’t touch is … the community,” Sanford says. “There has to be some kind of social efficacy developed, that [community members] can have confidence that these young people can change. They have to make a place for them at the table.”

prison farmRobin Patel exits the former guard tower the youth plan to flip into a community climbing wall.

Admittedly, Growing Change is ambitious. But it all fits in to how Sanford — who has won multiple awards and fellowships over the years, including the Soros Justice Fellowship in 2015 and the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016 — sets out to solve problems. “This is a systems approach,” he says. “I’m a systems practitioner, really.”

Davon Goodwin, an Army-veteran-turned-farmer who became involved with Growing Change after getting injured in Afghanistan in 2010, sees agriculture as a perfect fit for the youth, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) like he does. Farming can provide a refuge and sense of purpose for people who are struggling with trauma, he says.

“I don’t know what it is about soil, but it changes you — it humbles you, and it brings a sense of calm that the youth need,” says Goodwin, who sits on the Growing Change board, runs the Sandhills AGInnovation Center and credits farming for setting him on a good path during a dark time. “When you’re growing food, there’s fellowship that happens that doesn’t happen anywhere else.”

In addition to rehabilitating the youth and transforming the dark, oppressive space in Scotland County into something beneficial, Sanford hopes to provide a model for other places looking to do the same. Across the U.S., more than 300 prisons have been decommissioned, including 62 in North Carolina alone. Most are in poor, rural areas and have closed because of the declining number of inmates in the U.S., the consolidation of many smaller prisons into fewer larger ones, and, at least in North Carolina, Sanford says, a number of reforms affecting when people are sent to prison.

prison farmThe youth run the vermiculture and composting operations out of the former prison barracks, which contain rows of cells.

“At the core level, we are instilling hope,” Sanford continues. “When hope is gone, it creates a pretty vicious void that a lot of other grimmer things can get pulled into. And as low-wealth rural America is left further behind, then that vacuum is stronger. We’re breaking that stream.”

At work on the farm

After the released sheep settle into grazing, Garcia-Lopez heads back into the prison yard to start on another project, tying the chain-link gate shut behind him with a thick rope. A rooster crows.

“I’ve been here almost a year, and I’ve seen so much progress,” says the 17-year-old, wearing a black fleece jacket and blue jeans. “It’s neat seeing stuff coming together, even the small things.”

The teens, who are paid hourly, spend one dedicated day a week, plus additional work periods, on the farm. On this Saturday morning, multiple projects unfold across the flat yard and inside the brick barracks building full of steel-barred cells.

Over the past few weeks, the youth have built a minivan-sized chicken tractor out of wire and PVC pipe they salvaged from the prison drain field. Today, a few of them are reinforcing the joints with metal brackets so they can contain the chickens as they start grazing them behind the sheep. In a different corner of the yard, another group patches gaps in the chain-link fence so the roosters, who’ve been antagonizing the hens, can be put in their own “bachelor pad.” And inside the barracks, a third group modifies the aeration system they’ve built for the compost pile housed in a cell formerly used for solitary confinement.

The local cooperative extension and experts at the state’s two land-grant universities, N.C. State University (NCSU) and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, have provided guidance and support through the entire project. Students at the NCSU School of Design helped craft the property’s master plan, and experts in topics like rotational grazing, mycology and vermiculture also guide the youth.

Inside the barracks, Terrence Smith leans over the deep freezer that has been repurposed as a worm bin for a vermicomposting project. Smith uses a hand rake to stir the dark soil, exposing a number of wriggling worms. “I put five pounds of bananas in here a few days ago, and they’ve eaten the crap out of them — there’s only the skins left!” he says, impressed.

prison farmTerrence Smith checks on the worms in the vermiculture operation he’s helping get off the ground with the guidance of an expert at NC State University.

As the youth put the various elements of the massive project in place, Growing Change engages in a constant give-and-take with those around them. They receive around 600 pounds of discarded produce from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP) each week; they redistribute the edible portions of that food to food banks, feed other scraps to the chickens and give the spoiled pieces to either the compost pile or the soldier flies, whose larvae they’re raising to help feed the animals.

In all they do, Sanford looks for ways to create revenue streams to help compensate the youth and pay for the program. The farm sells eggs and salad greens to a nearby university, and it plans to sell meat and wool from the sheep as well. Though the garden they’re tending this spring will supply free food to the community, they eventually plan to grow the ingredients for chowchow — a recipe that honors the various backgrounds of program participants: collards for the Black youth, tomatoes for the Native Americans, cabbage for the Scotch-Irish, and jalapeños for the Latinos — and offer the product for sale.

“Our county has many challenges,” Dr. Debby Hanmer, Growing Change board chair and founder of the sustainable agriculture program at the nearby UNCP. “I want us to be an example of what sustainable can look like, not just in agriculture, but in all things.”

‘They bring out a better side of me’

While large commodity farms dominate much of the landscape in this part of North Carolina, Garcia-Lopez, like most of the other teens involved, didn’t know much about farming when he became involved a year ago. “My first day, they were like, ‘What do you know about bees?’ and I was like, ‘Absolutely nothing!’” he says. He now helps oversee the beekeeping operation.

Michael “Fluffy” Adyson Strickland became involved two years ago and has also learned many new skills, but his primary charge is to tame the guard donkey, Miss Easter, who was unhandled and extremely skittish when she arrived in 2018.

“I saw her, and I clicked with her — I was one of the only people who could touch her at one point in time,” says the 16-year-old, who wears a hoody and rubber boots and has his thick hair tied up in a knot. “Once I started rubbing her back, Noran was like, ‘Do you want to start taming her?’” Eventually, the program hopes to be able to allow children in the community to pet the donkey.

“When I got here, it opened my eyes,” says Strickland. He might like to pursue environmental science, with the aim of being able to help other people care for the environment, he says.

prison farmMichael Adyson Strickland, Logan Stern, and Robin Patel (left to right) transfer roosters to a different part of the prison yard at the end of a work day.

The most powerful aspect of the program for Ryan Morin, a 15-year-old with side-swept hair and a tie-dye T-shirt, has been the relationships he’s developed with the other participants. “We were all in a compromised position [when we arrived], which left us vulnerable,” he says. “The first people we encountered, we found a special bond with them. They bring out a better side of me; they have shown me who I really am and what I can become.”

So far, the program has proven effective at its central goal of keeping young men out of prison—for the 24 youth involved over the five-year period from 2011 to 2016, an internal study found it was 92 percent effective at preventing recidivism and adult incarceration.

Some say that the ultimate impact can’t be determined until years from now, once the “troubled” youth have grown up more and charted their own paths. But Sanford says he has seen noteworthy changes. “You see youth who are learning how to work successfully; they are being able to get control of substance abuse patterns; they are working through and stabilizing some of their interpersonal relationships … And you see some healing within some family systems.” Additionally, Sanford says, participants have gone on to attend college, join the military and secure steady employment.

A decade after getting involved at the age of 14, Smith is a shining example. He grew up in an abusive household and, after being put on probation in seventh grade, was ordered to work with Sanford as a therapist.

The program “helped me stay grounded enough to complete high school — and look forward to something afterward,” Smith says. It also taught him to carry himself in a way that people respect and respond to.

Creating a model to share

In hopes of helping others replicate the model, Sanford is in the process of creating an open-source prison-flipping model with step-by-step instructions and online resources. He is planning to distribute it to each of the 300 communities with a closed prison later this year via the national cooperative extension system.

Sanford hopes to help others in rural America convert spaces meant to confine and punish into spaces that nourish and rehabilitate. “If you look at a lot of these issues, especially around incarceration, it’s [been] a 90 percent urban conversation,” says Sanford. He wants to see that change.

At end of the day, the young people wrap up their projects and gather in the area being secured for the roosters. Strickland and two other young men retrieve the orange birds from their pens and set them down; two immediately begin to fight, fluffing their feathers and jumping toward each other. The young men hover, tempted to intervene. “Let ’em go,” Sanford says. “They’ve got to work this out.”

This story originally appeared in Civil Eats. It is part of the SoJo Exchange of COVID-19 stories from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

The post The Youth Who Turned a Prison Into a Farm appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

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