One week in and what we have learned

We are feeling fortunate that for now our jobs are possible when working from home. Though that won’t last forever, in the short term, it helps.


Most of the time we are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the results that experts and scientists have been promising for weeks and which are sadly, finally, coming to fruition.


Where we live in Middlesex county, things are still slow and quiet. Only six reported cases and no deaths. But in nearby New Haven there are forty-one cases. In Hartford sixty-one, and in Fairfield county a whopping 270 cases after a super-spreader event. Wedged between New York and Boston as we are, we know it is only a matter of time until the cases in the region increase exponentially. In New York, of course, things are already getting much worse.


A huge medical catastrophe like this brings out into the open all the problems that we normally ignore. It doesn’t help that I am teaching American Public Policy this semester, and therefore leading discussions on policy areas like social policy, health, education, and environment.


I worry about the people in our community who cannot work from home. Their bills will be looming soon, still coming though their incomes have been drastically cut. There are many people who are still working, at risk to their own health and the health of their friends and families. At the risk of all of us. I have students who work in service jobs at places like Dunkin’ Donuts that are somehow still considered “essential” businesses. In the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, many millions of people live just at the poverty line or below it. They don’t have the ability to sit back, stock up on food, stay home, and wait it out.


Many people in the United States don’t have access to healthcare. So, while many tens of thousands (it all depends on whether people take staying at home seriously and flatten the curve) may die, many hundreds of thousands of people may survive only to find themselves in deep medical debt. That is if they are able to access medical care.


In education, COVID-19 heightens the disparities that already exist in American society. In the US, we tie education budgets to local property taxes, meaning that in wealthy communities, education is excellent and in poor communities, children are punished for their parents’ lack of income. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps the rich rich and the poor poor. In a time of COVID-19, wealthy school districts have already gone online. Students are provided technology to take home and are already engaging with their teachers in classes. In poorer communities, kids have been given worksheets and told to keep up as they wait for their teachers and districts to complete a plan. We are fortunate that we have an amazing group of local educators and administrators who are working to make sure all of the kids are given the tools they need to succeed, despite the local property values. For James’ school in Hartford, I am really not sure what we will be getting. We have gotten little information and no updates on school work for him. Add to all of this the expectation that we are now in charge of ensuring our children do the work they are assigned. As two parents with full-time commitments, there is not enough time in the day for us to manage their schooling, do our jobs, and you know– important things like maintain sanity, prepare all the meals we are eating at home, and keep our house clean.


When thinking about the environment, it is a mixed bag. Will the world recognize that we are happier when we slow down and have less? Or will this be used as an excuse to throw more environmental regulations to the side? It is quite normal in politics to use whatever event is happening to push through one’s agenda. This is likely to be no different. The Trump administration has been systematically rolling back environmental regulations since day one. That this assault would change now is laughable.

That said, I am thinking about the studies that are sure to come from this event that will show the environmental benefits of a sharp decrease in global carbon. As for plastic pollution—this event will yield an exponential increase in plastic waste—in many places medical waste is not disposed of properly (I say that with the understanding that here it is either burned or buried, which are dead ends as well). But still, there is already evidence of a sharp increase in medical masks on global beaches. I am already wondering about what that will mean for me and my students in the future. Will going to a beach cleanup in 2021 mean risking exposure to hazardous medical waste?


So, it is worrisome and depressing. but it is also many other things.


I love not having to commute.


I love not being on a frantic schedule.


I love that we are having daily walks, hikes, working on puzzles, art, and sudoku.


Willy is reading books and facetiming with friends, James is practicing ballet and texting with friends, and Alice is learning to read.


If not for this event we would never experience the magic that is the security officer of the American Cowboy Museum, Tim, run their twitter account.




Though an overwhelming sense of dread waits on the doorstep and wakes me at night, I keep thinking:


What if this became the moment we decided healthcare is a human right.


What if we acknowledged that teachers provide a valuable service to our communities that cannot be easily replicated and should be compensated accordingly.


What if we used this moment to hold politicians accountable for their greed and lack of compassion.


What if we recognized that education is a social good that should not vary according to wealth.


What if we determined that every American deserves to have basic security from poverty.


What if we admitted that as the climate changes, this will be the beginning of decades -even centuries– of long emergencies, and that it is worth it to make changes now to prevent it.


What if we had more meals together with our families.


What if we told the people we love how much they mean to us.


What if we had more walks in the woods.


What if our kids were getting plenty of sleep.


What if our communities were filled with people helping one another.


That time I travelled around the world with my family…

Some shots from us in Thiruvananthapuram, India and in Laos, 2019

Thanks to a Fulbright Nehru grant in 2019, I was able to bring my family to India for six months as I researched and taught on the topic of marine litter. You can read our family travel blog here



PAYCE: Palestinian American Youth Civic Engagement

Really thrilled that a youtube video on our PAYCE project has just dropped.

I just re-listened to all forty of the podcasts that students produced as a part of this project and was truly in awe of their hard work and effort.

You can access all of the student podcasts here. I recently created curriculum guides for using these pieces in the classroom– I’ll post a link to those when they’re online.

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Here are some shots from the research trip to the West Bank in summer 2018. 


National Geographic Explorer

So excited to learn that I’ve been awarded a National Geographic Explorer Grant under their Reducing Ocean Plastic Pollution program!  The project Experiential Learning with Indian Educators: Collecting Local Data to Share with Politicians and Scientists is a collaboration with faculty member Dr. Jaya D.S. at the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, India. I’m collaborating with colleagues at the University of Kerala throughout the spring 2019 semester. The grant will bring 100 teachers from across India to Kerala for a training workshop on engaging students in marine debris collection.

Dr O and Dr Jaya_Thangassery Harbor

Here I am with Dr. Jaya at Thangassery harbor, Kerala. Photo by Alwyn Biju.

Woot woot! Can’t wait!



PAYCE podcasts and story on UHart Web

Check out this story on the Uhart website about the PAYCE program, focusing on Genesis who went to train in Jordan this summer to learn podcasting skills.

The podcast series that is a result of the project was created by young adults about making a difference in the United States, Palestine, and Jordan. Hear short, inspiring profiles of young adults using different forms of civic and political engagement. Season one was made by Palestinians and Americans using compelling stories from Des Moines Iowa. Season two from Palestine and around the States brings a new set of inspirational stories about social action and change. Season three will be stories from Jordan and Palestine will drop throughout the month of November. Season 4 is under production in the West Bank and throughout the U.S. The series is funded through generous support by the Stevens Initiative, Drake University, and Al-Quds Bard College.


The program is available on buzzsprout and iTunes




PAYCE in the West Bank

As a part of the PAYCE (Palestinian American Youth Civic Engagement) program, we spent a week in June 2018 meeting stakeholders and groups of youth engaged in politics in Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. It was an incredible experience. Learn more about PAYCE here.

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Talking Marine Debris on Fox61

How much fun to get the chance to speak with Ben Goldman of Fox61 about my marine debris project!


Exciting news!

So thrilled that my family and I will be heading to India in 2019 for six magnificent months as I’ve been named a Fulbright grantee. I’ll be taking my marine debris project on the road! Learn more from the Uhart website, the Middletown Press, or the Hartford Courant (it’s basically the same press release, but still). Read more about the problem of marine debris in India in the Hindustan Times here.



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So proud to be a part of this group of scholars and students working internationally to promote civic education for students in the US and the Palestinian territories.

Check out the PAYCE (Palestinian American Youth Civic Engagement) project here.


Interview on environmental art

Check out this interview by the talented Ariel Garber where we discuss my work in environmental art