Tag Archives: Education

Grow, Eat, Share and Sell – Local Families Get New Resource for Heritage Seedlings

Valley Verde to sell culturally-meaningful and hard-to-find seedlings for families to ensure food security and comfort during pandemic and economic uncertainty 

Today, Valley Verde launched a new offering of seedlings for culturally-preferred produce at a price point that communities can afford (even offering a discount to low-income shoppers). With unemployment and the cost of living high and a crisis like COVID-19 hitting our community, a backyard or porch garden can provide economic security and a nutritional safety net for families in need.

“Families want to grow healthy, fresh, organic, and affordable culturally-meaningful organic produce like Thai basil, bitter melon, chayote, and chili peppers in their own gardens. We are here to help them every way we can,” said Raul Lozano, Founder of Valley Verde. “People can grow their own food and eat it, share it, or even sell it to other families in the community.”

Diverse South Bay communities can have difficulty finding seedlings for the healthy, culturally-meaningful, and organic produce they would like to grow and eat. When families must rely on big stores and corporations for food access it can be easy to feel disconnected from their cultural food roots. With this new effort, Valley Verde is making it easier to grow the vegetables that our communities want. 

Valley Verde has provided participants in gardening courses with homeland seedlings for four years, and  is now expanding this opportunity to meet community demand. This includes opening an in-person nursery at 59 S Autumn St. on Saturday, March 27th where families can buy seedlings and have access to resources for new gardeners. 

Lozano added, “Food unites our communities and nourishes our souls. Planting seedlings in a home garden or community garden is a critical first step to food security. Harvesting foods from our heritage is also a way of investing in the future and creating the community we want to see.” 

To tell this story, we can offer media:

  • Interviews with Valley Verde representatives (Languages: English, Spanish, Punjabi, Hindi)
  • Interviews with local growers/gardeners (Languages: TBD) 
  • Site visits to the nursery, including on the day of its grand opening – Saturday, March 27th, 9am
  • Photos and b-roll of gardens and people working in their gardens

Seedlings will be available for sale at:

Homeland seedlings for sale (at prices ranging from $5.00 – $10.00) include:

  • Amaranth 
  • Thai Basil 
  • Chinese bitter melon 
  • Alok – bottle gourd 
  • Chayote 
  • Chinese eggplant
  • Satsuma long eggplant
  • Squashes and zucchinis
  • Cilantro
  • Fenugreek 
  • Daikon radish 
  • Epazote
  • Huacatay
  • Hoja Santa
  • Thai hot chili and other peppers
  • Okra 
  • Lemongrass
  • Habanero, jalapenos, and serranos 

About Valley Verde

Valley Verde is a San Jose-based nonprofit focused on increasing self-sufficiency, health, and resilience through a culturally informed community based food system. We own greenhouses and help local residents plant gardens to promote food security. We offer monthly workshops and one-on-one mentorship in a variety of languages (including Spanish) to help home gardeners have a successful harvest. We want to support our community as they build resilience through food sovereignty by providing culturally preferred vegetable seedlings, environmental education, and supporting the development of edible gardens.

 

Can Schools Reopen Safely?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday, February 13th, 2021, issued new guidelines for the reopening of K-12 schools. Many teachers and parents have raised concerns about the early reopening of schools.

Returning to schools before teachers can be fully vaccinated has raised fears in the community.  The guidelines state that although teachers should be vaccinated as quickly as possible, (preferably after health care workers and long-term-care facility residents ) they do not need to be vaccinated before schools can reopen. 

In order to make it easier on the schools to open, the CDC has also given a pass to the schools on physical distancing. Schools are encouraged to put in effect physical distancing to the greatest extent possible requiring it only when community transmission of the virus is high.

The expense and logistics of widespread screening, which would be a heavy burden for school districts, has also been lightened to the extent possible.

Central to the debate over school reopening is whether children are efficient COVID-19 transmitters and likely to increase community spread when programs reopen.

Though evidence suggests that children under 10 are less likely to get the virus, students can carry infection back home to the community,” says Christina Martini, a kindergarten teacher who has a Masters in Education from Purdue University.  

“There is concern if they live with their grandparents who are seventy or eighty years old”, said Akil Vohra, Asian American Lead (AALead) at an Ethnic Media Services‘s briefing titled “When Can We Reopen Schools?  Search For Common Ground on Divisive Issue”.

In addition to Vohra, the panel included experts Louis Freedberg, Executive Director of EdSource, Tyrone Howard, Professor of Education, UCLA, and Director of Black Male Institute, and Bernita Bradley from the National Parents Union. They offered a range of perspectives on the struggle to get children back to the classroom.  

Karla Franco, a Los Angeles parent, talked about how the stakes are highest for students of color in major urban districts, whose studies show they are losing ground the longer they are out of the classroom and who have the least confidence in the safety of their schools and the responsiveness of their school officials. 

Education experts are concerned about the consequences of students being out of school for such a prolonged period. There is growing evidence that some students who are learning remotely are falling significantly behind academically.

Freedberg highlighted the unusually high numbers of children and adolescents who are depressed, anxious or experiencing other mental health issues. “When you look at the research it looks like kids need to be back in school”, he said. “On the social emotional level reports show higher rates of depression, PTSD due to social isolation and not being in contact with other kids, but also kids are in a home where the parents are struggling with new economic stresses due to job losses and there is the uncertainty around school.” 

“The schools are under pressure to reopen and they do have to at some point. The new CDC guidelines guide schools on how to openly safely with effective mitigation measures,” said Martini.


Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The Mask: Art Therapy Can Ease Anxiety About COVID

In a perspective published in the journal Science, a group of scientists reiterates that masks are not only helpful but necessary to combat the spread of the virus from people without symptoms.

The top reasons why Masks will continue to play a critical role are:

  1. No vaccine is 100% effective.
  2. Vaccines do not provide immediate protection.
  3. Covid vaccines may not prevent one from spreading the virus.
  4. Kids are last in the line to get a vaccine as the clinical trials are still in process.

Because a vaccine is out, that does not mean that people should stop social distancing or wearing a mask. It is still very important to wear a mask and social distance. While doing this, you not only protect yourself but also the people around you, including those with compromised immune systems, senior citizens, friends, family.

Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala.

“Art therapy is being prescribed a lot more to support the mental health of young kids, especially those with social and emotional deficiencies,” Phaire

It induces the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind. In these difficult times, this is a small initiative to help people around the world cope with COVID-19. 

  • Creating an hour of activity.
  • Spreading and educating the importance of Masks to younger kids.
  • Teaching the basics of Masks.

I have authored the coloring book  “The mask” to educate young children about the importance of a mask, especially during this time. It gives children something to do other than watch tv. During this time, there are not a lot of things that people can do and it is much harder for the younger children. My hope with this is to give them an activity or something fun to do while educating them. You can download the book here. It is also available on amazon 

With the intention to educate the younger generation, I  have reached out to a dozen non-profit organizations, and with their help, I am in the process of distributing 500 “The Mask” coloring books to kids in shelters in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle. The primary intention being:

  •  To raise awareness about masks and the importance of wearing it
  •  More importantly to support the mental health of young kids using art. 

Thanks to the No Birthday Left Behind and Lavanya Reddy, Washington Helping Hands for helping in this great cause.

As per NY times, for a teenager living in California, the stats for getting the vaccine are:

  • Based on your risk profile, we believe the teenager is in line behind 185.6 million people across the United States.
  • When it comes to California, teenagers are behind 20.7 million others who are at higher risk in your state.

Masks are our saviors, so the quest to educate kids on masks and their importance is critical, as they are last in line to get the vaccine once one become available. Please continue to wear the masks and educate about the importance of Masks. 

Stay Safe! 


Pranav Medida is a freshman at BISV in San Jose. His love of reading, which started at a young age, soon grew into a love of writing. He loves educating kids by authoring books and distributing them to the needy. ‘The Mask’ is his third book to raise awareness. 

Educational Challenge For Kids – Win Cash Prizes!

Towards the end of the year 2016, I started searching for things that looked like the symbol in nature and in manmade structures. As you may already know,, which is pronounced “Om”, is a very sacred symbol for Hindus.

Initially, I did not find anything natural or manmade that looked like , but my search trained my eyes to recognize other patterns that looked like art. As I walked on paved surfaces, I started noticing art-like patterns in areas that looked a bit dirty, the kind of areas that people normally walk around or unintentionally step on and keep walking. Using the camera in my smartphone, I started taking pictures of these art-like patterns and started showing the images to people I knew.

The collection of photos that I called “Art That People Step On”, because people tend to step on these art-like patterns while walking, started to grow and I was able to exhibit some of the photos in four solo exhibitions. My photos have also been displayed in some juried group exhibitions so far. 

 In the month of February, on a particular day, many people in the United States give and receive greeting cards to express their affection to others who are close to them, such as good friends, relatives, and their teachers.

Do you know what that day is called? Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to show appreciation to those you love. 

In case you are interested, I found the featured image in the photograph on a walkway. To me, it looks like the wear and tear of the paved surface created the image. Does the image look like a heart?

I have a challenge for you:

  1. Find an image in your environment or online that reminds you of the people you love. 
  2. Using crayons or paint and brush, add to and make changes to the image and create a greeting card with your own message. 
  3. Your greeting card can be one-sided or two-sided and can be as small or as big as you want it to be.
  4. If you have the necessary software, you can also create the greeting card on your computer.
  5. Take a picture of the greeting card that you created. Take pictures of both sides if your greeting card is two-sided.
  6. Submit the picture(s) to the challenge via email to editor@indiacurrents.com
  7. The deadline for submission is Sunday, February 28, 2021.
  8. After you submit the picture of your greeting card to the challenge, give it to the person or persons that you like.   

There is no entry fee! Cash prizes will be awarded to winning entries: 

First Prize: US $50 

Second Prize: US $30 

Third Prize: US $20

India Currents Magazine will feature all prize-winning entries and a few other selected entries. Adult supervision is strongly recommended when using scissors or other sharp objects. Have fun, and be creative!


Dr. Mandayam Osuri Thirunarayanan was born in Madras, India. He became a citizen of the United States and currently lives in Miami, Florida.

Rural Tales of India With a Purpose

Award-winning independent publishing house, Karadi Tales, launched a new series of chapter books under its new chapter book imprint, Minmini Reads, that targets readers from ages 10 to 15, at the Delhi Book Fair on October 31st, 2020. This series is done in collaboration with People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI): an ambitious, acclaimed living archive of reporting about rural India, founded and led by Magsaysay Award-winner and veteran journalist P. Sainath.

The PARI series uses real stories of rural India, disenfranchised people and communities, and the unique challenges that they overcome every day. These are tales of courage, adversity, success, and hope.

They feature children who participate cheerfully in civic issues, athletes who power past their disabilities, citizens who demand their right to be heard. The series attempts to give these voices a platform, as well as address the serious dearth of children’s books that are set in non-urban locations.

All the books are based on articles written by top journalists, and originally published by PARI.  The set features five tales from different parts of rural India.

No Nonsense Nandhini by Aparna Karthikeyan is based on the life of Chandra Subramanian, a Sivagangai district farmer, retailer, and mother, who received a ‘homepreneur’ award.

No Ticket, Will Travel by Subuhi Jiwani is a series of short stories on migrant labourers who travel in search of work, determined to make a living although their lives are rife with uncertainty.

Coming Home by Priti David is about a group of children from Sittilingi Valley who, at one point, are forced to drop out of school and find work in far-flung factories and mills. Until one day, they decide to start their own school, and help create jobs in their own valley in the process.

A Big Splash by Nivedha Ganesh follows Dhivya, a young farmer and an ace swimmer who had previously only swum in the tank and lake in her village. From her cotton fields to the Paralympics, Dhivya manages to brave all odds.

House of Uncommons by Vishaka George takes a peek into the lives of the students at Snehagram, an institute for HIV positive children, and their struggles, triumphs, and achievements.

With 65% of India’s population living in rural areas, Karadi Tales brings these stories to the urban demographic who remain oblivious to the issues faced by their rural counterparts. Urban children grow up exposed to stories that mirror their own struggles and are unaware of the cultures, lifestyles, and problems of other children, who are of their own age group, living further away from them.

Sainath says, “[The series] is a very important addition, not only to the reading diet of children, which is completely bereft of knowledge about rural India , but adds to the spectrum of imagination of young children.”

These stories are based on true events and everyday people. Their struggles and success prove to be a source of inspiration for readers. They help children reconnect to their ancestral roots, to nature, and to understand the realities faced by many others in our vast country. Karadi Tales and PARI have taken up this mission to unearth the treasure trove of stories that rural India has to offer, while spreading awareness among the masses.

About the Authors

Aparna Karthikeyan is a storyteller, independent journalist, and volunteers for PARI. Her articles have been published in The Hindu, PARI, The Caravan, Wire, Scroll.in and other publications on culture, books, and livelihoods.

Subuhi Jiwani has worked as a journalist and editor in Mumbai, most recently with PARI. She has also edited Day’s End Stories: Life After Sundown in Small-Town India (Westland Books, 2014), an anthology of travel essays, and directed a short documentary on the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus titled Terminus: Stories of CST (Sahapedia, 2017).

Priti David is the Education Editor and a rural reporter at PARI. She interacts with school and college students to encourage them to explore, engage and write on rural issues. She has been a business journalist, a book editor, and a high school teacher.

Nivedha Ganesh graduated with a degree in English literature and has been dreaming up stories since she was nine. She likes writing about monsters, magic, and characters with hearts of gold.

Vishaka George is a journalist who reports on agrarian distress and labour exploitation for PARI. She is PARI’s social media editor, working with a team of journalists who make stories from rural India more accessible to audiences across the world. She is a part of a two-member team that teaches media ethics and rural journalism to school and college students.


 

The Road to College Admissions

Lost for where to start your journey to attending a top U.S. college? Wondering if you’re behind your peers? Confused about what step comes next?

We have a map to help you find your way. There are steps you can take all four years of high school to improve your candidacy for a top university acceptance. With hard work and the right guidance, you can make it to the finish line! 

This guide walks you through each high school semester, but don’t forget to take advantage of those summers, too! Even if your teachers or peers aren’t thinking ahead, summer break is the perfect opportunity to set yourself apart.

Here are some suggestions for your superstar summers:

  • Rising Freshman Summer: Reach out to friends and look at the list of clubs you can join. You can also brush up on fundamental subjects.
  • Rising Sophomore Summer: Practice target skills, take a class at a local community college or online, build good writing and study habits, and explore extracurricular and academic interests.
  • Rising Junior Summer: Take more advanced courses in subject areas that most interest you. Start participating in camps or competitions. Start narrowing down your list of schools and majors. Prepare for standardized tests.
  • Rising Senior Summer: Apply for competitive summer programs, internships, and hands-on opportunities to set yourself apart. Begin the actual college applications.
  • Final Summer before college: Some schools offer bridge classes to help you adjust to college workloads. Otherwise – spend time with your family, check off any bucket list activities in your hometown, and get excited about your new home for the next few years!

Navigating the college application process can be challenging – that’s why we recommend speaking to a college counselor. Empowerly connects you with a team of college admission experts, handpicked based on your interests & goals. Whether you’re looking to develop your extracurricular profile or need support with summer programs or college applications, our counselors can boost your admissions chances to your dream college. 

Learn more about Empowerly here or call +1(800)491-6920.

 

Image of Duck Poop

Dr. Thiru’s ‘Art That People Step On’ Challenge For Kids

Anyone that participates in this challenge will be entered in a raffle for Art Supplies!

Dr. Thiru’s image of duck poop.

 Guess what I saw in the parking lot one day when I returned to the apartment complex where I live?

Yes, you are correct if you guessed “The image in the photo.”

There are a few ducks in the apartment complex near me and to me, it looks like the image in the photo was formed by duck droppings.

Look at the image with your children or grandchildren, and discuss what the image looks like. There are no right or wrong answers, only your answers.

Here is the challenge for this month:

Walk around in a safe area with your children or grandchildren, and find images that are formed by bird droppings, or smudges or leaks or spills of some kind. Surfaces that people walk on are good places to start looking for patterns that look like art. Anyone is welcome to submit but we encourage those under 18 to attempt the challenge!

Directions

  1. Using the camera in your smartphone, take a picture of the art-like image you find. Try to find something on the ground that isn’t an obvious object.
  2. Provide a title for the image in your photo and explain what you think it looks like.
  3. You can also submit your explanation of what the image in my photo looks like. I will tell you what I think the image looks like after I hear from you.
  4. Send the image, title, and possible explanation to: editor@indiacurrents.com by Dec. 31st!
  5. Use the email header: Art That People Step On – Submission

India Currents will feature selected photos in a future issue and all who send submissions will be entered in a raffle for Art Supplies!

Have fun, and be safe. Adult supervision is strongly recommended. 

To learn more about ‘Art People Step On‘, check out the article here!


Dr. Mandayam Osuri Thirunarayanan was born in Madras, India. He became a citizen of the United States and currently lives in Miami, Florida.

Math teacher writing on the board.

My Big Dreams Involve Math

It is the first day of school and I am rushing to school with my bag and laptop. I arrive at 7:30 am, ready for students to start arriving at 8:00 am. I will be teaching 7th & 8th-grade Algebra and have planned out my first day: getting to know kids, letting them get to know each other, and some fun Math activities to get an idea of their academic Math level.

My goal is to foster a love for Math.

I am interrupted by the pressure cooker whistling and am rudely reminded that this is all a dream. I am close to turning 40, just standing in my kitchen, imagining what could have been. 

Some people have dreams to change the world, reduce carbon emissions, find a cure for cancer, but I just want to teach middle school Math. It is a culmination of many things over many years that has led me to my purpose.

I was an average Math student in elementary and middle school. In fact, my parents feared I would do very badly in high school and hired a tutor. I think having my two dear friends with me in Math tuitions was a transformative experience. All of a sudden, my attitude towards Math changed. I put in hard work and reaped the results of getting a good grade in 12th. It was around that time that I also figured I enjoyed studying Computer Science and eventually, I started working as a Programmer.

I got married and moved to the USA during the dot-com boom. I was in a new country, in a new marriage, and with a new job in tech. Math was on my mind.

After the birth of my son, I stayed home and did not get much of a chance to practice Math or Programming – I had to trade it for storytime and park dates.

My son’s elementary school was a parent-participative school which meant parents could be in the classroom helping teachers. In 2005, I signed up when my son started Kindergarten and although at first, it was my way of learning the American School system, I soon found that it brought me fulfillment. I looked forward to the day where I would attend school with my son and would prepare for it. I knew that if I ever went back to work, it would be in a school setting teaching Math.

Once the goal was set, it was about continuously doing things to reach my target. With my husband traveling for work, I could not afford the time to go to college to get a degree or a credential in teaching. So, I continued to volunteer every single year and honed my teaching, communication, and lesson planning skills by observing and helping the teachers.

As I was helping my two kids, I came to a very big realization – that as fortunate as my kids are to have me teach them at home, not all kids have this luxury.

I shifted my focus to teaching kids who are falling behind or those that just need that extra help. I offered my services to teachers to help such students. It made me become patient and be a non-judgmental parent to my own kids. I definitely learned a lot from the kids I taught and I suspect, sometimes, more than what I taught them.

With my son in his senior year of high school and my daughter just a few years behind, I could not put the burden of another college degree on my family. Life is strange in that when you have time, money might be an issue and when you have money, the time might not be right. 

I decided to start at the very beginning and when an opportunity came up last year to be a middle school Math Intervention Aide, I jumped at it.

This is my second year working and I love every bit of it. My goal is to take the Single Subject Math exam which consists of three parts. Passing this exam and getting a Master’s degree in teaching will give me the certification needed to be a full-time classroom teacher. I am keeping this one in the pocket for the year 2021, a year of new possibilities. 

Now, I am in my Zoom classrooms in the morning and the pressure cooker is exchanged for an Instant Pot. Cooking and teaching can happen at the same time.

I have a long way to go to have a Math classroom of my own and but for now, I am happy. Math makes me happy. 


Vasudha Ramanrasiah is an Instructional Aide in a public school and a mother of two. She enjoys all things food, hiking, and volunteering and is passionate about helping students understand math.

We Called Them Blessings

Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience.

The word ‘privilege’ that has become popular in debates and discussions worldwide, reminded me of an old quote. 

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.

This quote by Eric Hoffer appears in my autograph book, a relic from my school days in Mumbai. Amidst pages filled with colorful drawings, and silly messages from classmates, these words, neatly copied out by a soft-spoken nun who taught math, looked incongruous, but apt. 

I grew up in a small apartment in a suburb of Mumbai. Our multifunctional living room, filled with conversations and laughter during the day, would transform into a bedroom at night. The space where my brothers and I watched TV, played and argued, was always noisy. Whenever I whined about the lack of quiet, my father would tell me about how he and his eight siblings studied under a street light. Even as a young girl I could sense that a room with adequate lighting, if not ambience, was a definite step up.

When I was ten years old, a new girl joined our class. Petite and soft-spoken, Bina was the second of five siblings in a family with a difficult financial situation. The charitable arm of the community to which she belonged paid for their tuition and books. In return, she was required to earn good grades to ensure funding for the subsequent academic year. Bina’s diligence and good cheer made me less inclined to grumble about the hand-me-down textbooks that I received from my older brother.     

In my teens, our apartment was upgraded by enclosing the fairly large balcony that bordered the living room. With the addition of an antique desk, installation of a wall-mounted fan and a table lamp, the rectangular room became a study. And the quality of my student life improved manyfold.

The living room was no longer flooded with morning sunshine but the new sliding glass doors of the balcony helped keep out the dust from the adjacent plot. A narrow abandoned stretch of land overflowing with litter, weeds and stray dogs, was being developed into a new apartment building. 

Among the workers who toiled day and night was a young girl about my age, who carried freshly-mixed cement in a shallow metal tray held atop her head. A coil of cloth protected her scalp from the heavy load. When our eyes met, I responded to her open smile with a wave. I felt compelled to connect with her, despite warnings to stay away from the bustle of a construction site.

‘Shobha’ although a few years older, had never been to school. During our summer holidays, two friends and I taught her to write Hindi alphabets using a small black slate and a piece of chalk. We brought her snacks, a notebook, and pencils. She enjoyed spending time with us, probably more as an escape from her hard life, than from a desire for education. When the building came up, she left with the crew, having learnt how to write her name. 

Urban poverty was real. Inequality was an inescapable consequence. It was impossible to not acknowledge the benefits conferred on me by the accident of my birth. For every pretty shoe or school bag I coveted, I could always find someone who was happy to receive my outgrown clothes and dog-eared books. 

Years later, as a graduate student in the US, I was surprised to find that some of my peers were the first in their family to go to college. My eyes had been trained on the wide range of opportunities available in America. Inequality, although not as visible as in India, was an unacknowledged reality. 

Time changes many things, including vocabulary. 

In today’s parlance, would my childhood, which I considered modest, be classified as ‘privileged’? The dictionary defines privilege as ‘a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available to a particular person or group’. 

Every child has the right to be educated. Yet, not every child receives education. I learnt this lesson early on. 

With no accumulated wealth or ancestral property, my parents decided to invest in quality education for their children. By opening the gate to learning, they put the key to a better life in my hands. 

My ‘privilege’ was not the schooling but the recognition that the opportunity itself was a gift, one that I should not take for granted or frivolously forfeit. By diligently applying myself in school, I participated in building the foundation for my future.

Was I blessed? Fortunate? Lucky? Entitled? 

The words being tossed around in the debate over privilege are powerful, pedantic, and sometimes, petty. But they are just words. Semantics can only go so far. 

The words written by my teacher lodged in my consciousness decades ago. I tried to master the arithmetic of counting my blessings at every major crossroad in my life. And each time, it stirred in me the long-buried desire to help others, just I had done with Shobha that long-ago summer.  

Actions speak a different, more powerful language.

Whether I offered to read books for the blind in Baltimore or volunteered at the adult literacy center in California, I tried to do my small bit, knowing that it might be just a drop in the ocean. 

There will always be much more to do than what a mere individual can accomplish. 

For me, the first step towards building a more equitable world begins with gratitude, not just for my blessings but for the people who taught me to focus on the right things. 


Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, a former resident of USA, and now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir. Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

Raising A Rennu: What Parents Should Know

Genius Kids founder Rennu Dhillon says our greatest fear after death is public speaking — unless we make some incremental changes in our education system while we’re alive. 

“Confidence is critical,” Dhillon says. “You have to learn how to take control of your life. Compassion, communication, eye contact — these are the kinds of soft skills that we as parents and teachers need to instill in our kids today.” 

Her personal odyssey — long before she became a Bay Area education mogul, Radio Zindagi talk show host, and community activist — is its own story of confidence and coming into one’s own. Dhillon grew up in a tightly-knit Kenyan suburb, much like our Bay Area cities littered with extracurricular activities and educational pursuits. 

“My mother, being the typical Indian mother that she was, enrolled me into practically everything from music, art, piano, and sports,” Dhillon says and laughs. “But my father, a medical practitioner and the local Deputy Mayor was very deep into politics. So one of the big things that he really wanted us, kids, to focus on was communication. They enrolled me into a drama school called the Little Theater Club at the age of three.” 

Dhillon’s childhood in Kenya marked the intersection of so many rapid changes, from an early wave of the feminist movement to political unrest in India following the death of Indira Gandhi. The young actress put pen to paper, drafting impassioned poems and letters for the local newspaper.  

“I was a very, very controversial figure in my town,” Dhillon says. “I mean, I was always expressing my views, especially when it came to women’s issues. And my dad didn’t even know half the time when I was writing to newspapers. It would only be when we would get anonymous phone calls at home threatening me about something that my dad would look at me and say, ‘did you write that?’ And I’ll be like, ‘yep.’ God, I caused so much drama at home.” 

Twenty years later, the outspoken Kenyan pre-teen, after completing her Pharmacy Degree in the United Kingdom, and Doctorate of Science,  launched into two very successful businesses of her own – a matrimonial dating agency and recruiting firm in the United States. She then ventured in Recruiting CEO’s for start up’s and went from hooking people and people to people and jobs. As a single mother navigating the labyrinthian American Dream, helping young men and women find love offered startling insight into the role of ‘soft skills’ within the South Asian American community.  

For Dhillon, the devil was in the details. From critiquing her client’s fashion choices to providing advice on eye contact and tone, she realized how the simplest features of personal interaction paved the way to success. Her experience as a dating coach and recruiter molded her vision when she opened up a Fremont-based daycare and accelerated learning center named Genius Kids. 

Unlike mainstream education programs, Genius Kids instills public speaking and collaborative skills in students from a young age. Founded in 2001, the organization quickly caught on among Bay Area parental circles. Dhillon’s effortless relationship with kids, paired with her knack of combining learning strategies with the latest technology, brought in more families than ever. 

“I think kids learn with smart and interactive technology,” Dhillon says. “We were actually one of the first preschools to ever introduce smart boards into the classrooms. Even the toddlers will come up on our stage, look at a screen, and point to the answer with their little fingers. These are our ways of teaching children. To stimulate students’ curiosity, I don’t want anyone memorizing stories in my classes. I want discussions. I want kids to tell me the story back in their own words — add their own flavor to The Three Little Pigs and use their own imagination. This is how we access a child’s voice and build on their confidence.” 

For the second time in her life, Dhillon embarked on a writing journey, this time penning a parenting book titled, Raise Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders. The book has different sections dedicated to Dhillon’s ‘Cs’ — compassion, conflict resolution, charisma, control — the different elements that shaped her experience in both teaching and parenting.

“There’s a need to simplify parenting into its basic ingredients,” Dhillon says. “It’s not something that always comes naturally — especially now that we have all these distractions. The world was very different for my great grandparents, grandparents, and my parents. Now, we’re living in a crazy world — completely insane. And if you don’t prepare your child to be able to face a world of the unknown, your child won’t have any control over their life. So I’m a huge one for books. I’m always on the search for new material and information because learning never stops.” 

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there may be no better time for Dhillon to release Raise Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders. As lockdown restrictions force schools to adapt to a virtual learning environment, every parent must challenge their preconceived notions about testing, college admissions, and academic life. And perhaps there may be no better writer to release this book than Dhillon herself. As a woman who ventured across borders, within new industries, and into the lives of hundreds of children, Dhillon seeks to embody the very experience she chronicles in her book — a journey into the precarious unknown, where learning and adapting is always essential. 

“Don’t underestimate your children,” Dhillon says. “Let them pursue and find their path. And most of all, listen to what they have to say.” 

Stay tuned for Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders, which releases on October 6th on Amazon! Click here for further details.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor for India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as the Executive Director of Media Outreach at Break the Outbreak. Connect with Kanchan on Instagram: @kanchan_naik_

Gurukool Waits to Open Its Doors to Students

Madhavi Prabha, a teacher with a vision, quit her regular teaching job after 10 years to start an After School Education Center for cultural enrichment, GuruKool, in 2018. An immigrant to this country and unfamiliar with the government system, her entrepreneurial spirit was met with red-tape. Frequently redirected from city to county to state regulations and guidelines, she was unsure if her idea would ever come to fruition.

After many queries, online searches, legal procedures, and authorizations, Madhavi began to recruit students for her classes. Her first class began with just one student, Anvika, who imbibed the education with glee. She learned Indian mythology, shlokas, Hindi, singing, dancing, and art. It proved the need for education derived from one’s culture. Slowly but steadily, GuruKool began to pick up traction and by 2019, Madhavi had a waiting list for her After School Education Center. Things were looking up and the business began to recoup the losses of its first year.

Then the pandemic hit…

Education Week reported that 6 out of 10 After School programs across the U.S. may have to permanently close their doors. After School programs, a valuable service, are finding it hard to adapt. GuruKool has had to stop its program and attempt digital, online learning.

Madhavi says, “Teaching the kids online is hard. I struggle with technology at times and the kids get bored. In person, I don’t just teach them visually but through sounds and physical actions which don’t come across on a screen. Its harder to keep them engaged and I worry they will forget what they’ve already learned. This is the time they need to remain engaged.”

Madhavi Prabha is less concerned about her business and more about her students – a teacher through and through. She asks her students how they feel during the pandemic – unable to go to school and interact with their friends. Children will grow up with the pandemic in their historical narrative and how they interact with it will determine parts of their future. What is the younger generation thinking and feeling? Madhavi guides her students through a series of questions to explore their emotions and understanding of the world around them.

Here are some of the student’s reactions:

Anvika Bhatnagar, 3rd Grade

Anvika’s Thoughts

On COVID…

I feel sad that people are dying and COVID-19 is spreading so fast. It is also not fun to stay home and get bored because there is not much to do.

Being at home…

I really like being home with my family because my family and I do a lot of fun things like playing games and doing crafts. I also enjoy playing with my brother and not having to do so much school work.

Being online…

When I do something online, I feel safe and happy I am talking to my friends and that no one is catching a virus at that time.

When the pandemic ends…

I would want to for a long trip and see cool animals and have a long playdate or sleepover with my friends.

Given power…

What I would do is I would fly up the sky and sprinkle some potion that will kill Coronavirus and I will go to the spot where scientist try and figure out how to deal with the pandemic. I will give them a potion that will make dead people alive and again and if you give it to sick patients they will get to normal in a second.

Aarav Saraswat, 4th Grade

Aarav’s Thoughts

On COVID…

I feel that this pandemic is not fun for a lot of people. You can’t meet other people in person, you can’t really play with a lot of people and you can’t really get out of the house. And it is not easy for parents either. They have to do their work, and now they have to cook for the whole family and they have to get a lot of groceries and they have to take care of everyone the whole day. But this lockdown is also very important because no one wants to get COVID-19, so I’m actually feeling good that we are in a lockdown from the health perspective.

Being at home…

Sometimes it is fun to be at home with my family but sometimes it can be a problem. For example, if I was playing outside then it would be fun because I can play with my brother and parents. But if that same day I am doing my work, but my brother is doing something noisy and I’m trying to concentrate, then it can be kind of hard having everyone home.

Being online…

Online schooling and zoom contact is good for me because that is one of the only ways to contact people, and that is something we all want to do; see people besides your family like friends! but sometimes you can get a little bored of that.

When the pandemic ends…

The first thing I would like to do when this pandemic is over is to go and meet all of my friends. I want to meet every single one because I have been isolated for 10 weeks now, which is 2 ½ months. S0 after I meet all of my friends I would play with water balloons and water guns because it is so hot. 

Given power…

If I had the power to change this situation, one idea which I would like is that we have a staggered schedule meaning that we go to school for example two hours and the rest of the schooling we do at our homes. And as things get better, we can slowly extend the amount of people coming to the school.


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

EdTech Trends Post COVID

COVID-19 has posed a major learning issue to students, parents, and educators. In the face of a sudden paradigm shift, online learning now finds itself at the forefront of mainstream learning. For the first time, students everywhere are completely dependent on digital methods to fulfill their daily learning needs. 

“The pandemic has become an inflection point for education, and you can see this in how different stakeholders have responded to the crisis. A majority of educational institutes are conducting their classes online, parents are encouraging their children to learn from a screen, and students themselves are experimenting with new methods of learning from home. While I don’t expect things to remain 100% online or even 100% offline on the other side of the pandemic, I believe certain aspects of the ‘new normal’ will make their way into the ‘Classrooms of Tomorrow,” says Divya Gokulnath, co-founder and teacher of BYJU’S.

Few trends we will see post the pandemic:

  1. Blended learning will be the new normal: In the post-corona era, we will witness the rise of a blended form of education, with seamless integration of the best of both online and offline learning. The proliferation of smart devices coupled with the democratization of the internet will fasten this process. With teachers now understanding the advantages of online learning tools, we will see tech-enabled learning gain importance even in a classroom setting. The ‘Classrooms of Tomorrow’ will have technology at its core, empowering students to cross over from passive to active learning. The future will see us take a leap from the traditional one-to-many approach to blended one-on-one learning experiences, providing students the best of both physical and digital worlds.
  2. Interactivity will take center stage: Given the prolonged exposure to online learning tools during this period, engagement and interactivity will emerge as a priority for students, parents and teachers. Newer dimensions to quizzes, interactive games, story-based Q&As, engaging lessons that strengthen concepts, will see greater inclusion and adoption. 
  3. Personalization will be the need of the hour: Students are looking for learning solutions customized to their own style and pace and a majority of innovation will be geared towards making personalization as effective as possible. Data and analytics will play a major role in making this a reality. Virtual mentoring for personal guidance and tutoring will also emerge as a key service.
  4. Early learning will become more innovative: As the importance of formative learning and early conceptual understanding gains more acceptance, we will see a lot more innovation in products, tools, and ideas to help young children get learning right from the beginning. From storified concepts to their favorite cartoon characters playing teachers, kids will experience a highly engaging form of learning from their early years
  5. Vernacular learning will gain importance: As internet penetration and smart device adoption continue to increase across India, learning will become more customized. To cater to the huge student population outside metros, learning programs will be effectively created and delivered in all key vernacular languages. 
  6. Digital learning tools will see greater adoption from teachers: The on-going pandemic has caused teachers to become digitally empowered. Even teachers who were hesitant to adopt digital tools are now using them in different capacities. This has enabled them to see the advantages of digital learning. Because of better awareness, the coming year will see teachers/educators increasingly adopt tech-enabled learning tools to support their students’ learning needs. This could be in a classroom or in an after-school learning setup.

Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi.