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10 Remarkable Teachers for National Teacher Day

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May 7 marks National Teacher Day, part of a weeklong celebration for educators who work tirelessly to make certain we can still function in the event the Internet happens to break. (Let’s face it: knowledge is way more impressive when you can display it without glancing at your smartphone.)

While virtually all teachers are worthy of your applause, there are a few who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Here are ten lessons from some of the most remarkable classroom leaders working today.

1. A Teacher Gone Postal

Dan Stroup, an eighth-grade Bible Studies teacher at Heritage Christian in Indianapolis, isn’t content to see his students vanish into high school and beyond without some parting words—a lot of parting words. For 30 years, Stroup has written a personalized letter to every single one of his current and former students on their respective birthdays. That’s 2800 letters per year, and it grows with each new class. Stroup spends three hours per day composing; remarkably, his correspondents say he’s able to recall specific details about their families. “I just want them to know that I knew them and that I cared,” he told CBS. Message(s) received.

2. Blind Leadership

Though hereditary glaucoma took his sight at the tender age of 3, Jim Hughes didn’t perceive that as a deterrent to his dream of teaching history in high school. Unfortunately, administrators did: After sending out more than 100 job applications, only Farmingdale High School in Farmingdale, New York responded.

It was a shot in the dark, but it worked. Because Hughes can’t rely on flashy PowerPoint presentations or generic handouts, both he and his students engage one another verbally, prompting more direct interaction than in a typical classroom. And though Hughes would find it difficult to catch anyone taking a shortcut, he needn’t worry: According to a student, his classes are far too respectful of him to ever contemplate cheating.

3. Getting a Bad Rap

A frustrated math teacher in a poorly-performing San Diego school, Alex Kajitani began imparting lessons utilizing rap and hip-hop lyrics that he would perform in front of classes. While his students were understandably horrified by the image of a middle-aged man spitting rhymes about geometry, the unorthodox approach worked: Test scores began outpacing those of other, well-financed schools in the district, and Kajitani was named California’s 2009 Teacher of the Year. He now circulates a series of “Rappin’ Mathematician” lesson plans for fellow educators.

4. and 5. Age is Just a Number

If some students respond a little better to teachers with some mileage on them, then it’s likely Agnes Zhelesnik’s class hangs on her every word: At age 99, she is considered the country’s oldest educator, imparting lessons on home economics in North Plainfield, New Jersey’s Sundance School—a career she picked up at the tender age of 81.

At the other end of the spectrum, 15 year old prodigy Adora Svitak has been guest-lecturing on writing for more than 300 schools since age 7, including a TED talk and a side gig as a blogger for The Huffington Post. She’s also written three books and can command up to $10,000 for corporate speaking gigs. Feel free to be inspired. (Or shamed.)

6. Getting Graphic

What to do with a restless group of students who would rather be playing video games than reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? Dyane Smokorowski’s answer: give in to them. Smokorowski, a language arts teacher at Andover Middle School in Kansas, tasked her pupils with taking the narrative and characters of Mark Twain’s novel and adapting scenes into a series of playable games on a class website. In addition to delving deep into Twain’s work, students have to be resourceful in math, computer science, and teamwork. Smokorowski, who was named the state’s 2012 Teacher of the Year, hopes the completed site will be able to teach other children about the components of literature. If she’s right, Call of Duty: Huck Finn might not be far behind.

7. The Sound of Music

At South Carolina’s privatized Kindermusik classes, toddlers and preschoolers enrolled in the music curriculum are often attended to by Bryann Burgess, a 23 year old non-degree graduate at the University of South Carolina who was born with Down syndrome. A former assistant at the facility, Burgess worked with the school’s owner, Ally Trotter, to gain her license as a full-fledged Kindermusik instructor. In addition to teaching children, Burgess has also acted in local plays and hopes to makes music education her lifetime pursuit.

8. The Teacher Who Needs to be Walked

Baltimore’s Yorkwood Elementary has added one curious addition to their lesson plan: regular sessions with Bella, a hefty Golden Retriever/Poodle mix brought in by owner Natalie Keegan. In feeding Bella, responding to her behaviors, and seeing how she reacts, children in a special-needs class are getting valuable lessons on compassion and humanity that bleed into their social interactions.

The program, Kids 4 K9s, is being funded by billionaire George Soros in the hopes that students who might otherwise exhibit distracting or antisocial behavior will be soothed by Bella’s companionship. While the statistics for Yorkwood aren’t in just yet, research has proven it’s incredibly difficult to act tough with a giant ball of fur nestled in your lap.

9. Twitter Teachings

Hollenbeck Middle School’s Enrique Legaspi has surprised students by asking them to leave their cell phones on and available in class—the Los Angeles history teacher reads Tweets out loud during lessons, allowing shy students a voice and integrating technology that they’re likely to try and use surreptitiously anyway. Legaspi claims interaction is up, students feel less insecure about answering incorrectly, and the class is more engaged. #Guyisontosomething

10. A Teacher—and Organ Donor

Attendees recently sat through what appeared to be an otherwise unremarkable parent-teacher conference at a Mansfield, Ohio elementary school. Then Wendy Killian dropped a bombshell: the teacher was willing to see if she was an organ donor match for 8-year-old Nicole Miller, one of her students who had fallen gravely ill due to a genetic disorder that affects her lone remaining kidney. Nicole’s parents had exhausted all other avenues, and 18 other volunteers were deemed incompatible. But Killian was a match, and weeks later, both were in the operating room.

Killian’s generosity is admirable, but not entirely unexpected: A blood platelet transfusion saved the life of her own son when he was just an infant.

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10 Things You Didn't Know About the Fourth of July
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With 242 years of tradition behind it, the Fourth of July is one of America’s most cherished holidays. It's when we celebrate our nation's mythology with a day off, a backyard barbecue, and plenty of fireworks. But with all that history, you'd be forgiven if you didn't know quite everything about July 4. So from the true story behind the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to some staggering hot dog statistics, here are 10 things you might not know about the Fourth of July.

1. THE DECLARATION WASN'T SIGNED ON JULY 4 (OR IN JULY AT ALL).

John Trumball's 1819 painting "Declaration of Independence."
John Trumball's 1819 painting "Declaration of Independence."
John Trumbull [Public domain] // Wikimedia Commons

It might make for an iconic painting, but that famous image of all the Founding Fathers and Continental Congress huddled together, presenting the first draft of the Declaration of Independence for July 4, 1776 signing, isn't quite how things really went down. As famed historian David McCullough wrote, "No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia."

It's now generally accepted that the Declaration of Independence wasn't signed on the Fourth of July—that's just the day the document was formally dated, finalized, and adopted by the Continental Congress, which had officially voted for independence on July 2 (the day John Adams thought we should celebrate). Early printed copies of the Declaration were signed by John Hancock and secretary Charles Thomson to be given to military officers and various political committees, but the bulk of the other 54 men signed an official engrossed (finalized and in larger print) copy on August 2, with others to follow at a later date. Hancock (boldly) signed his name again on the updated version.

So if you want to sound like a history buff at your family's barbecue this year, point out that we're celebrating the adoption of the Declaration, not the signing of it.

2. THE FIRST CELEBRATIONS WEREN'T MUCH DIFFERENT THAN TODAY'S.

After years of pent-up frustration, the colonies let loose upon hearing the words of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Military personnel and civilians in the Bowling Green section of Manhattan tore down a statue of King George III and later melted it into bullets; the King’s coat of arms was used as kindling for a bonfire in Philadelphia; and in Savannah, Georgia, the citizens burnt the King in effigy and held a mock funeral for their royal foe.

Independence Day celebrations began to look a bit more familiar the following year, as the July 18, 1777 issue of the Virginia Gazette describes the July 4 celebration in Philadelphia:

"The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Every thing was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal."

There were even ships decked out in patriotic colors lining harbors and streamers littering city streets. Once you get past the mock funerals and rioting of 1776, modern Independence Day celebrations have stuck pretty close to the traditions started in 1777.

3. EATING SALMON ON THE FOURTH IS A TRADITION IN NEW ENGLAND.

The tradition of eating salmon on the Fourth of July began in New England as kind of a coincidence. It just so happened that during the middle of the summer, salmon was in abundance in rivers throughout the region, so it was a common sight on tables at the time. It eventually got lumped in to the Fourth and has stayed that way ever since, even with the decline of Atlantic salmon.

To serve salmon the traditional New England way, you'll have to pair it with some green peas. And if you're really striving for 18th-century authenticity, enjoy the whole meal with some turtle soup, like John and Abigail Adams supposedly did on the first Fourth of July. (You can still be a patriot without the soup, though.)

4. MASSACHUSETTS WAS THE FIRST STATE TO RECOGNIZE THE HOLIDAY.

Massachusetts recognized the Fourth of July as an official holiday on July 3, 1781, making it the first state to do so. It wasn't until June 28, 1870 that Congress decided to start designating federal holidays [PDF], with the first four being New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. This decreed that those days were holidays for federal employees.

However, there was a distinction. The Fourth was a holiday "within the District of Columbia" only. It would take years of new legislation to expand the holiday to all federal employees.

5. THE OLDEST ANNUAL FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION IS HELD IN BRISTOL, RHODE ISLAND.

Eighty-five years before the Fourth of July was even recognized as a federal holiday, one tradition began that continues to this day. Billed as "America's Oldest Fourth of July Celebration," the town of Bristol, Rhode Island, has been doing Independence Day right since 1785.

The festivities began just two years after the Revolutionary War ended, and 2017 will be its 232nd entry. Over the years the whole thing has expanded well beyond July 4; the town of 23,000 residents now begins to celebrate the United States on Flag Day, June 14, all the way through to the 2.5-mile July 4 parade. What began as a "patriotic exercise"—meaning church services—has morphed into a cavalcade of parades, live music, food, and other activities.

6. AND THE SHORTEST PARADE IS IN APTOS, CALIFORNIA.

From the oldest to the shortest, the Fourth of July parade in Aptos, California, is just a hair over half a mile long. Taking up two city blocks, and measuring just .6 miles, this brief bit of patriotism features antique cars, decorated trucks, and plenty of walkers. Afterward, there's a Party in the Park, where folks can enjoy live music, food, and games.

7. THERE ARE AROUND 15,000 INDEPENDENCE DAY FIREWORKS CELEBRATIONS EVERY YEAR.

Fireworks burst over New York City.
JEWEL SAMAD / AFP / Getty Images

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, around 15,000 fireworks displays will take place for the Fourth of July holiday (even if some aren't exactly on July 4). Though pricing varies, most small towns spend anywhere from $8000-$15,000 for a fireworks display, with larger cities going into the millions, like the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular at around $2.5 million.

8. WE'LL EAT AN OBSCENE AMOUNT OF HOT DOGS.

Around 150 million, to be more specific—that's how many hot dogs will be consumed by Americans on the Fourth of July. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, that amount of dogs can stretch from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles more than five times.

In 2016, 70 of those dogs were scarfed down by Joey Chestnut, who won the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition for the ninth time.

9. AND WE'LL SPEND BILLIONS ON FOOD.

Americans will spend big on food and drinks this Fourth. Big to the tune of around $7.1 billion when all is said and done, according to the National Retail Federation. This includes food and other cookout expenses, averaging out to about $73 per person participating in a barbecue, outdoor cookout or picnic.

Then comes the booze. The Beer Institute estimates that Americans will spend around $1 billion on beer for their Fourth celebrations, and more than $450 million on wine.

10. THREE PRESIDENTS HAVE DIED, AND ONE WAS BORN, ON THE FOURTH.

You probably know that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826—50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was adopted. They're not the only presidents to have died on the Fourth, though; James Monroe—the nation’s fifth president—died just a few years later on July 4, 1831.

Though the holiday might seem like it has it out for former presidents, there was one future leader born on Independence Day. The country's 30th Commander-in-Chief, Calvin Coolidge, was born on July 4, 1872.

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These Digital Fireworks Displays Can Help You Celebrate July 4 Wherever You Live
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Every Fourth of July needs to be capped off with a dazzling fireworks display, but depending on where you live, getting to one isn’t always easy. Many states have strict laws around which fireworks you can and can’t use on your own, and if there’s no public show in your town, you may be totally out of luck.

If you’re still craving a show, though, AtmosFX’s digital fireworks displays may be your best bet. These digital, animated fireworks shows can be downloaded from the company’s site where you can then either display them on your TV or project them onto surfaces around your home or backyard. The video options available allow for some customization, so you can either stick with a generic fireworks display or choose some patriotic colors along with a "Happy Fourth of July" message.

The company’s various digital fireworks videos come in at a 1080p HD resolution with sound effects that can be adjusted and customized—which is the perfect alternative to those decibel-busting fireworks displays designed to frighten your beloved pets. Some videos are meant to be displayed on TVs and monitors, while others are for wall projections and window displays. You can buy these à la carte for $6.99 each, or together in a package for $20.

Whether you live in an apartment, a state that prohibits fireworks, or are expecting some wet weather for your Independence Day party, look into a digital alternative by heading to the AtmosFX website.

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