Dear Students… I promise

Dear Students,
Here it is, my promise to you, my promise to every student that will walk through my doors. It’s a promise I never thought I would have to make when I decided to become a teacher but now it seems like the most important thing I can do. It has nothing to do with teaching you algebra or making sure you know how to use your schema well. It has to do with your well being and safety. When you walk into my classroom I want you to feel safe, I want you to feel loved and be able to talk to me. I want you to know that when you are here, I am 100% here for you! I am here to listen, to talk, to walk you through life. I want to promise you that no matter what I will protect these things. I will open my arms to hug you even though I am told to limit touch. I will bring you snacks and let you nap in the back of my classroom if life just got in the way last night and you couldn’t sleep or eat. I promise to listen to you with an open mind and never think the worst of you. Even if you have shown me 100 times that the worst may be what I get. But I hope that through all of this I can show you how much I care, and how much I want you to be happy and loved.
If you are struggling I want the first place you turn to be me, and not for a gun. I never want you to think that is the only or best option and I want to help show you a different way. And if I don’t know how I want to be able to point you in the right direction. I want you to feel safe inside of our school and I will always fight for your safety to learn above all else. You should never worry about if you are going to walk out of school at the end of the day, you should only worry about if you will forget your homework. I have worked with students where school is the only place they feel safe when home is filled with yelling and “daddy pushed mommy down the stairs” or where home is no place at all, but a new hotel room each night. For you dear students school deserves to continue to be a safe place, where for 8 hours a day all you need to worry about is algebra, and maybe if you are gonna see your crush in the hallway there is no excuse for you to worry about your safety above all of that.
And for my students who have a hard time expressing themselves, or who are unable to regulate your emotions in the same way that other students do, school still deserves to be a place where you can learn that where we can teach you how to cope with the stress that comes with being 16 or 17 or 18 or 25 because life is full of stress, and bullies and anxiety. Life is going to continue to show you ways it can be difficult but we can get through it together, but we have to be given a chance. I will always give you that chance.
I promise to fight and keep you safe, and I will promise to fight to ensure that you don’t think turning to a gun is the first or best option, I will fight to give you somewhere else to turn, someone else to talk to. I promise to guard your life like it was my own, praying that I will never have to guard your life, with my own.

Rae

 

 

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All the things I didn’t know teaching was. . .

 

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When you decide, hey I am going to become a teacher, you think of the little smiling faces, the children, you think of reading lessons, you think of addition and subtraction, you think of hugs and bubbles in the hallway, and watching little people grow up into bigger people

In my case I even thought of the terrible behavior, the hitting, spitting, cussing, and crying. I thought of the ways I would have to teach them things that most students learn inherently, they ways to speak to each other. The ways to treat people with kindness and communicate your wants and needs. All the ways I would help the world see my students for the wonderful people they are. I thought of all the things that I would teach my children and the things they would teach me. I did a residency year so I had been in the district for over a year already so I think I was more prepared than other new teachers but I still walked into that first year as a teacher only to be blown away by the things I did not expect. . .

  1. The politics, the teachers union, the disagreements with the district, the school board, the superintendent and the instructional superintendent’s.. . all the politics Teacher-meme-05-political-view-on-teaching.jpg
  2. Speaking of politics, why was my worth, my salary, always up for political debate. I was not prepared to be so frustrated with people who have never taught or in some cases even been a student in a public school continually telling me that my job was worth less than I was already receiving. Essentially telling my students that they are worth less
  3. The nights up thinking about my children, wondering if they got dinner, whose house were they sleeping at tonight. Did student Z get to speech therapy on time? Did student J make it home on the bus okay? The amount of time outside of the classroom that I spend just worrying about them.
  4. Also that fact that I started calling my students, “my children” I have no biological children but every year I gain a few more of “my kids” and I will do everything in my power to know I love them just that much.
  5. The amount of work I would do outside of the classroom, that wasn’t “teaching” I was prepared for the weekly staff meetings that for a special education teacher, rarely, were applicable to my teaching life. But I was not prepared for the hours spent at home researching the new teaching styles, ways I could reach a difficult student, ways I can improve my teaching practice. The hours that I was not worrying about my students, I was  planning for my students.
  6. Being a boss. . . so this may be a little unique to the special education world but I walked out of grad school and into supervising 12 students and 3 paraprofessionals full time. Now I knew I would be supervising these three paraprofessionals and I walked in with their beautiful schedules in hand ready to kill it at being a boss. But then relationships happened. . . and I realized that I was managing one woman who had been a para almost as long as I had been alive, one girl who got the job because her aunt worked at the school and had never worked in special education before, and one girl, my age, who wanted to be an art teacher. How could I offer advice to the woman who could have been my teacher? And I quickly learned that the other two would be more drama than the students. . . It took me a few months. okay, maybe a year to figure out the balance of being a friend, a boss, and a teacher. . . okay maybe I am still working on the balance but we are figuring it out.imgres.jpg 7.How much I would live for the good days! I wrote a blog post about this earlier explaining in detail how much a good day can mean in the special education world. The smallest things can make a huge difference because, without the little things, there would be so many reasons to stop being a teacher. But with the little things, by becoming excited when Suzy read 5 words correctly today when last week she only read 3. Sharing the joy with a student when they didn’t hit anyone for an entire day, and then an entire week. Cheering as a student begins to speak more clearly, or communicate their needs in any way.                                                                                                                                                                                                          Now, these little things may look different in a general education classroom but they are still there, all of the little things those students bring to your life, the reason that we think about them at night. The reasons we care about them, the reasons we continue to do what we do. When the politicians tell us it is not worth it when the salary means you cannot buy a house in your own city when you watch little people have to deal with things no one should ever deal with. Remember the little things, remember why you started teaching think back to hugs and bubbles in the hallway, think about the smiling faces and when a student accidentally calls you Mom. Because no matter what things come up that we didn’t expect these are the reasons I am a teacher!

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This is an Instagram post from that first year teaching when we were celebrating one of those little things!

Out of their Hole.

I went home to my home town last week. A place I spent 18 years of my life, I lived in the same house, on the same street all those years; and my mom still lives in that house on that street. At the end of my road and across the street sits a little white church with a sign out front that reads “God Save America Again.” Now that sign may seem annoying, ignorant even but nothing too out of the ordinary in Small Town America until you know one little thing about the people that enter that church every week. . . those people are known White Supremacists. They had their hey day in the 70’s and have been rather quite since but they are still there at the end of my street in my little hometown.

Now this has become a fun fact I share with people when they ask about my childhood. .. “Oh I lived in a small town, the only really note able thing about it is the white supremacist church.”  People will gasp and ask me how I handled that growing up… you know being a black woman and all.

But the funny thing is that I didn’t handle it, I didn’t have to handle it. They stayed down there on their end of the street and I felt as safe as any child could running around the town until all hours of the night. They never bothered me, there were no confrontations they simply stayed in their little church, probably hating my existence.But you know from inside their space I couldn’t have cared less about what went on inside their heads. Because as long as they stayed inside, some part of me knew that they understood the inappropriateness of what they were feeling. They knew they would be met with such resistance in this time in in America that they idea of coming “out” as what they truly were wouldn’t even cross their minds.

Flash Forward to today— 2017—- Small Town America—-

You would think we would have made progress right? Maybe that little white church has been closed up for the last year, maybe the people all scattered around the country, or with any luck made a friend of a different race and realized it was all just a lie.

Think again my friend, here we are in 2017 and for the first time in my life I felt unsafe in my hometown. The people in the little white church still ignored my presence, but someone else some stranger who has never met me and wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a line up felt they had the right to scream

WHITE POWER

At me out of the window of their car as I walked into Hobby Lobby. 

Wait, let me back up just a minute, yes you read that right. 2017, a northern state, a girl and her friends are walking into Hobby lobby to buy wedding supplies and out of no where a grown-ass man yells

WHITE POWER 

out of his window.

It was like my whole perception of my home town came crashing down like the ideals of democracy around me, this place that had always been safe and protective was now foreign and angry. Angry at me because what? I was born with black skin, because the sun doesn’t turn me an angry shade of red, because my hair reaches for the stars while yours falls flat, or angry because a black man in power did something the white men before or after him could not. .. turned so many aspects of the country around.

But there I was furious and hyperventilating in the hobby lobby parking lot, and as much as my friends wanted to help to tell me “anger and fear is what they want.”  or “Don’t let them get to you.”

They truly had no idea how that moment felt; eating away at my insides as I contemplated the true meaning of that statement; White Power . 

And over and over again  I came back to the same thing: 

These people have always existed, there hasn’t been a magical time in the last 40 years when there were no white supremacists in America, they have been stewing and hiding for 40 years waiting for their opportunity to come out of the shadows. Waiting for someone to validate their feelings again, that look all these dark skinned humans whom we have oppressed for hundreds of years have someone done us wrong feeling.

However over the last 40 years they saw the world do the exact opposite they saw a black man become president and the world embrace him they saw his wife become beloved and they had to continue to hide in their holes, angrily sipping on Bud Light and ranting about “if the confederacy had won” But something has shifted; they began to climb their way out of their holes, see the sun and once again think that they deserve so much more than I do simply because of the color of my skin. They were given the chance to once again be validated enough in their feelings that those nasty words; White Power aren’t just uttered in their Klandestine (yes the K is intentional) meeting but rather they have seen the power and they are welcomed back into the fold. 

And this is what truly made me the most sick about that sad, angry man who yelled at me that day. Not that he felt that way, because I am obviously not going to be the person to change his mind. But that he felt strong enough, that enough people would support him and that I was little enough so far below him that he could once again yell it in the streets.Because when these people are strong enough to climb out of their holes, when there are enough people in power that support them that tell them they will fix all their problems by “building a wall” that assure them the wrong doings they perceived against the White Man are legitimate then the real question is

Did the last 40 years even happen, or should I start looking for the colored drinking fountain.

When you force me to choose- I fall decidedly into “Person of Color’

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I came across this article this morning on my way to 6 am yoga, ok no not like while I was driving but when I was in the parking lot trying to get up the courage to go inside, this is a daily occurrence at yoga.

I found this article and was immediate sucked in, it was like my soul mate the other half of my thoughts was living in Washington D.C teaching middle instead of Elementary school and had the wire right into my brain. I read every word and then took the brave move and shared it on facebook, now this is something that I normally reserve for cute videos of animals and occasionally  selfie of my new hair do, but never politically posts. . . I mean never. I am an avid facebook debate watcher. . but never a participator. But this spoke to me in a way that I cannot express.

Today is another day that you force me to choose which race I am and every time you make me choose I fall decidedly in Person of Color, I am a privileged person by any standard, not from the upper class but solidly privileged, I never had to worry about food at night, I was always feed, and had any opportunity that I wanted I played club volleyball at 2,000 dollars a year for 5 years. I graduated undergrad with zero school loan debt, and when I wanted to apply for a 30,000 dollar grad program my mom said, “Ok we will make it work.” I fully understand my privilege.

But I am also half black and this is the part of me that people see, this is my first impression, the black girl, I will still be greeted with the “You are such a white black girl” and ” you are really well spoken, where are you from.”

I will still be looked at differently when I walk down the street in a predominantly black neighborhood, or a white one, whether I am alone or with my very very white bearded fiance.

So I am privileged and I am black, that is the race I am forced to choose, I am forced to check a box over and over to choose my race. And this decision has been made more and more important in light of recent events, I can feel the pain of my students, when they run to me, and only me, the only black teacher at their school to tell me that Johnny called them a Nigger and that is why he punched him and got suspended.

I cry at night for the boys that I know that are already understanding the systematic movement from a general education classroom, because as a black male, the are more scary to their teachers when they get mad,

Because no matter how easy I had it growing up. People still view me as  a Black citizen, I am a statistic, my Black father walked out on us and left me with a single mother, I grew up in a town full of KKK members,I attended a good university and have move easily through life.

Some people want to attribute my failures to the color of my skin, but they also want to give my skin color my successes, I also got into that school because of affirmative action,  I only got that job because they needed to meet some arbitrary quota.

So if being black gets my successes and my failures, what do I get? I get to support the feelings of the rest of Black America,.

If this i the case I must choose being a Person of Color. And I must try and force all of the people around me to see the feelings the VALID feelings of this entire race of people. They cannot be swept under the rug, and turned into only a reason for violence. They cannot be labeled as Thugs and criminals for trying to express themselves in the only way that they know how, because they have been systematically taught that no one will hear them when they speak. They have not been taught the proper way to communicate, to debate, to speak on a politcal framework, because there is no one there to teach them, there are people there to shuttle them through 12 years to get them to the street or prison. To create a culture of Thugs.

So as an educated, privileged, BLACK women, I believe I have to, I have to say I choose you! And because someone taught me how to have these conversations because I was allotted these things from happen chance of birth, that I was born to a white single mom in a state where my color was subtly scoffed, and not openly punished. I have to take the time to stand up and say I hear you, at the very least I hear you!

Please Please Take the time to read the original article. she just wants you to listen. . . that is the very least you can do.

http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/dear_white_facebook_friends_i_need_you_to_respect_what_black_america_is_feeling_right_now/

❤ Kelsi Rae

An Open Letter to the Bad Kids. . .

This goes out to the student who sat down today and with a straight face told me, ” I am a bad kid.” When I asked why he thought that he told me that is what the assistant principle said. This comes after the assumption that this student took his Ipad home, because there was a picture of his mother on it, when in fact he was just smart enough to figure out how to Google his mothers name. Something the administration couldn’t figure out, when this fact was pointed out to them they refused to apologize to him, 10 year olds don’t deserve apologizes do they?

This goes out to you. . . because someone has to tell you

I want you to know that you are smart, and funny, and most likely way to witty and creative for people to handle. That you are an outlier not because you are bad but because they can’t hold you down, you do not assimilate to the classroom culture and you shouldn’t let that discourage you. Keep it up.

I want you to know that you can do the work in your classroom, that sometimes you just want to demonstrate the little power that you have in anyway that you can, While this may seem like a show of strength to you, by not doing your work you are only hurting yourself. Demonstrate your strength with your knowledge.

You need to know that compared to most of your suburban, educated, mostly white teachers you are a foreign entity. The stories you tell about the life you have to live outside of school probably astounds them. No matter how many classes you take on being culturally responsive, when you watch a 10 year old take care of his little brother and sister day after day, walk them to class, make sure that they get picked up. When you hear the stories about the 6 extra people living in your apartment it is hard to handle, and some people handle it better than others. Some people see your potential your grit, and resiliency that you show just for showing up at school each day and producing some work. Some people see how these skills will make you more marketable in the work force, some people will hone these skills with you and teach you how to regulate all of the many emotions coursing through your brain at anytime.

But some people will see a problem to be fixed, they will see a situation that must be diminished and overcome. They will see you as a deficit already, at 10 years old they will wash away all of your potential. And because of that they will write you off, they will call you a bad kid and keep a running record of your grievances in their mind. They will let your get away with not doing the work, not because they care about your situation, but because they think that is all you can do.

Accept this challenge! Rise to this occasion, to prove them wrong!

When those few teachers yell at you and sit you down one on one and make you do the work. When those teachers allow you to sit in their rooms for hours on end when you have been removed from another classroom. When you think that teacher couldn’t be any harder on you, just know it is out of love.

These are the teachers that know what you can do, they yell at you because it isn’t acceptable for you to not do the work they won’t accept anything less than the best from you, because to allow the circumstances outside of school to affect would be doing all of your amazing qualities a disservice. They are yelling and not taking your shit because they love you.

They know just when to give a little to not push to hard, but to still get the most work done.

My worst fear is that you will adopt that label of a “bad kid” as the truth. As I have already seen you doing as an amazing 10 year old. There is absolutely nothing inherently bad about you, sometimes you make bad choices, but someone has to teach you why they are bad, the choices you make are not you!

I want you to know that SI SE PUEDE! No matter what anyone, even yourself tells you. You can do this. You can overcome a system that was never designed to benefit you. but at its core, at the root of it was designed to keep you out of it. This system is yours, you are the future.

And the only thing Bad about you is how Bad Ass, you are going to make this world when you show everyone what you are made of.

❤ Kelsi Rae

The insights of my children.

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I have no children, or I have anywhere from 32-100 on any given day, just depending on your definition of “your child” If your definition falls in the you conceived this child and gave birth to them, or even adopted them into your family and you feed and cloth them on a daily basis, then I have a whopping 0 children. But if you define your children based on the number of children you nurture, care for, find yourself staying up all night thinking and praying for, hoping more for their future than for the grade they get on some standardize test, if your children are defined by the amount of love you hold for them and how much potential influence you have over their life, than I have upwards of 35 children or more. I happen to define my children based on the latter.

I see these children for 8 hours a day 5 days a week, caring for their social and academic well being, I find myself thinking of them on my nights and weekends, to the point I was at the zoo taking pictures of the snakes, which I hate, because I knew they would motivate one of my children. I see an opportunity to teach them in every moment of my day, even when they are not with me I am thinking of ways to incorporate things into our lessons. I wish that I had more than 8 hours with each of them so that I could learn the intricacies of their personality all of the things that get pushed aside during the academically driven day. And while I am not say that reading, writing, math, science and social studies are not important, they are but I want to truly know all of my children as well. And if that does not qualify my to feel just like 1/4 of a mother to all of my students, than I guess I am in the wrong profession, but I don’t think that is true.

But than something happens everyday my students teach me something, they teach me how to operate some form of technology, they teach me about the ways that social relationships in fourth grade have not changed that much in 15 years and who the stars of the new Five Nights at Freddy’s game is, ( For more on that see this post https://myhairenvy.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/what-can-you-teach-ms-magisano/)  But every once in a while, a student says something that makes me truly stop and think, how are you in fourth grade and why does our world make you so acutely aware of these things at such a young age.

Today was one of those days. One of my few Black boy students was getting into a disagreement with another student who happened to be Mexican, both boys told each other to Shut up and I stepped in to tell them that was not respectful language and we do not treat our classmates that way. The Black student looked me dead in the eye and said, ” I am just getting pay back for what he said to me.” So with this student in is often better to just give it to him straight, without the teacher mumbo jumbo surrounding it.

So I stated, ” Who is going to get in trouble if you get payback, you or him.”

Him: ” We both should get in trouble, but I will get sent to prison and he will go to school.”

** This is where the conversation took a serious turn I was stunned jaw hanging open when this occurred**

He continued to state that he would go to jail, but when he got out he would find the other student and wack him ( I do believe he meant I will hit him, he is not in the 1960’s Italian mob telling me he is going to kill him)

We had an entire conversation around this, how he thought it was more likely he would get sent to prison while the other guy would get away with it. This comes after two separate instances with this student where a student has used racist language with him, he retaliated and he was sent to the principles office while the other student suffered no consequences. At one point the teachers on duty did not even know who the other student was, these racist statements were not seen in any way as a problem that merited a talking to with that child.

So yes this student is probably right, this comes from a student who is growing up in a world where Black Americans make up 30% of the population but they make up 60% of the incarcerated population. According to this article http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/18/chart-of-the-week-the-black-white-gap-in-incarceration-rates/

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my student as well as other Black men are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated in their lifetime than white males. Given these statistics are comparing White males and Black Males and no statistics in this particular study comparing Hispanic Americans’ from other work I have done the numbers would fall somewhere in the middle of the two.

But for me the sentiment is the same, why is my 4th grade student aware of these problems with our society, does he even realize he is voicing the concerns of many others much older than he is? probably not.

He probably feels like these things are isolated to this elementary school setting,

He probably has not even started to think outside of these walls that are supposed to be a safe and nurturing space for him, a space where all of his teachers claim him as a child, where they all feel like they are 1/4th of his Mother, and if that was the case these things would bother them as much as they do me, they would all be calling for a change in the system, a change from a system that systematically creates the school to prison pipeline for these students, that funnels them through till they are 18 and they can become a ward to the state, they would be outcrying to the district that has a 60% disproportionality rate of Black males in the emotional disability centers.

But that is not happening, instead I am having a much to mature conversation with my fourth grader, with one of my children who has way to much insight for his own good, trying to get him to see that this is not the way it has to be.

❤ Kelsi Rae

The Joy of Spring Break, teacher style

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Remember that feeling the last day of school before a break, whether it was Christmas break, spring break, Summer break, or even just a long weekend.. . the anticipation of not learning for an entire week, for some students it means a week of relaxation and video games at home, maybe you are at a day care for the week, and yet for other students it means a week of being home a lone and maybe not eating consistently because normally you eat two meals at school 5 days a week.

This has been the biggest shift that as a teacher instead of a student, my students are stressed out by spring break, several have begged to stay here with me at school, ( because clearly I stay at school all week, you know teachers do live in their classrooms), they have asked to come home with me for the week, and one student asked my teammate if he could crawl in her suitcase and head to Chicago with her.

Now the spring break I remember meant either being at my friends house most of the day or remaining quite as a mouse while I often played games by myself, I grew up with a single mother and she worked nights so day times were quite in our house while she slept. but I was always excited about breaks, I always knew I would have more than enough food to snack on endlessly I knew that my mom would always be happy to see me when I woke up, I cannot imagine the stress that my students feel around spring break. To be so young and have to worry about such large things breaks my heart, If I could load you up with a suitcase full of food for the week I would!!

Now back to that anticipation and excitement you used to feel around a break from school, now imagine that now, imagine you were getting a week long break from work built into your year, no vacation days used no consequences  for not showing up, just a week where the entire company took a break, that feeling is infinetly better than the feeling as a child.

This year with grad school and teaching I was not sure I was going to make it to Spring Break, this week has been a major trial to get through, the students are in rare form, either because they are stressed about the break or excited, or a mixture of the two.

But here i am just counting down the hours until I don’t have to teach another thing for 9 days, no more instruction of the LEAP indicators, no more grading papers, I get to relax and then it is the last big push till summer which is full of testing, testing and more testing, so really your final push for instruction is over and now we have to get to Summer, just get to summer!

Neutral is not Neutral.

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Neutral, that is a good place to be right? When I am neutral I cannot be held accountable, I am not saying anything one way or another. I firmly believe in nothing.

I can claim neutral for anything right? I am neutral about that girls jeans, I mean they don’t affect my life one way or another, I am neutral about the weather today, I can put on a lite jacket, I am neutral about the presidential debate, I mean my little voice isn’t going to make a difference anyway. I am neutral about the racial gaps in education, I mean I am making the difference in my scope of influence but I cannot change the entire world. . .I am neutral. .  no one can fault me for that right?

WRONG! 

Someone told me recently . . .

Neutral is not Neutral; prior to this explicit statement I had been proud of my many neutral stances.

I had often shied away from an uncomfortable conversation or political stance in order to remain in the neutral group. This group could not be held accountable for the actions of the extremes right? This statement and discussion following truly made me see that a neutral stance does not separate me from the issue. Many times since this began I have found myself leaning into the uncomfortable conversations

I have found myself being the one to bring up the,” That could have sounded racist conversations,’ with friends. I have found myself, blogging about the challenges that are faced in urban schools; digging into how uncomfortable it is, becoming strongly not neutral.

The farther I find myself from neutral the more I find myself wanting to engage people in these discussions, find a way to make other educators other people see that none of us our neutral and that we cannot remain neutral if we want all of our students and children to succeed.

Part of this pull has made me realize that if you are neutral you are truly promoting the majority. Your neutrality does not affect the majority but the minority will see if as a strike of offense. If you do not stand up for something then you automatically say that you agree with the status quo.

This hit me with the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. If you sit back and say nothing, the majority does not care that you essentially don’t care about Black lives, because hell. . neither do they.

But those people standing up, fighting for equality for people of all races, they see your neutrality as equally offensive as the active participants against them, If you stand by and watch these people be abused and oppressed you are oppressing them, by not taking a stance. Nothing is neutral, you are not Switzerland, you cannot stay out of the uncomfortable places without making a statement.

If you simply stand by, you are not showing people that you are neutral, you are showing them that you are either not strong enough to take a stand or that you agree with the majority.

So find something that you believe in. . anything really and take a stand!

Push into the discomfort, it will make the world a better place!

❤ Kelsi Rae