TIME society

Iowa Woman Was Taking a Shower When She Suddenly Gave Birth

"I was like, there's a baby here"

An Iowa woman recently gave birth to a baby while taking a shower, the Des Moines Register reports.

Brittany Young, 24, of Des Moines said she decided to take a shower because she was having stomach pains. But they didn’t go away, and before she knew it, she pushed out a 6-pound, 8-ounce baby aptly named Miracle. A friend called an ambulance. Paramedics arrived, cut the umbilical cord and took the baby to Mercy Medical Center.

Young told the Des Moines Register that the baby opened its eyes and did not cry: “I was like, there’s a baby here.”

The more “surprise birth” stories are reported—whether it happens on a PATH train or in a Baltimore airport bathroom—the more it shows how unpredictable labor can be. “Some women don’t feel the pain of labor contractions,” as Time.com previously reported, based on a conversation with an obstetrician. “In other unusual situations, women who don’t realize they’re pregnant in the first place don’t identify contractions for what they are. As obesity rates rise, that scenario is likely to become more prevalent.”

Read next: Japan Eyes Matchmaking, Paternity Leave to Lift Birth Rate

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME society

It Is Just Dawning on Me That My Life Will Never Look Chic, Effortless, or Minimal

Harri Tahvanainen—Getty Images/Nordic Photos

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

But my head at least can be clearer

It is just dawning on me that my life will never look “chic,” “effortless,” or “minimal.” Though I like to think that Future Claire will have a wardrobe of expertly-tailored basics in muted tones — shirts and sweaters in shades like “pebble” and “bone” — I will always be the girl who impulsively buys doughnut sweaters at Target and dinosaur necklaces from Tatty Divine.

So I’ve given up on having a pared-down “capsule” wardrobe, but I still think it would be nice to have a minimalist head space. I’m easily distracted, always on my phone — “I write on the internet! I need to know what it’s saying about me!” — and I feel like my ability to hold a conversation like a human is declining.

I stumbled on Into Mind, a lifestyle blog focused on “all things minimalism and living a slower, simpler life with less stuff.” The blog is run by Anuschka, a very chic and happy looking woman who looks like she has it all figured out.

I wish to learn her ways, and I poke around the site until I find her 30-Day Minimalism Challenge, which seems to be exactly what I need.

Come along with me on this journey. Maybe it will involve buying chic, flowy shirts.

Day 1: Stay offline for one day.

Oh dear. I kind of assumed we would work our way up to something like this, but I guess not.

Being someone who writes and exists on the internet, I couldn’t exactly start this during the week. I waited until Saturday, so I wouldn’t be freaking out about the important emails I was missing from editors or angry Internet people.

I turned off all of my social media notifications and went on a hike with my husband, where I focused on enjoying the hike instead of Instagraming it. I did take a couple of pictures—it was just so pretty—but they were of nature and not my face, which I feel like counts for something.

By not documenting the hike online, I was able to focus on looking at all the trees and streams and not tripping on rocks. Once we were back home, I started to get a little more antsy. Images of hostile Twitter eggs and mocking commenters filled my mind; what if someone was being mean to me on the internet right now and I wasn’t there to defend myself/obsess over it?

The next morning, I checked all of my accounts and found that nothing of consequence had happened, which made me feel very silly.

Day 2: Meditate for 15 minutes

I have meditated exactly twice. Once in a yoga class (I didn’t know we were meditating) and once using a guided meditation app. I thought about downloading another app for this, but instead I Googled “How do I meditate?” and read about it on WikiHow. I really wanted to try staring into a crystal, but I don’t have any, so I settled on just sitting there and concentrating on my breath.

It was raining, so that provided a nice soundtrack, but it was pretty hard. I kept getting songs stuck in my head (mostly this one) but hit my stride halfway through. Sounds that usually drive me insane, like the dog gnawing on her paw, didn’t really bother me, and I started to feel kind of sleepy.

I didn’t notice a huge difference, but perhaps felt a little calmer. The main takeaway was that despite how “busy” I think I am, there is always time to take 15 minutes for yourself; nothing will blow up. (Probably.)

Day 3: Declutter your digital life

I used this opportunity to unsubscribe from a bunch of email lists, including Groupon and Living Social. Then I attempted to zero out my inbox. I say “attempt” because — while I carefully combed through pages and pages of unread emails — there are still two unread messages somewhere in the ether that I cannot find.

This bugs me greatly, but a little red “2” is less worrisome than a little red “1,723,” which was the number of unread emails I had in my Gmail.

Day 4: No complaint day

I’m not sure how I did on this. I’m unclear on what constitutes a “definite complaint” and what is merely “an observation of something that is non-optimum.” I decide to err on the side of saying mostly positive things, only making negative observations when the situation truly warranted it, say, if my foot was on fire or something.

Things were going fine until a friend messaged me to tell me that someone else was talking shit about me on the Internet. I told my husband what was going on, but then I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to be complaining. After giving Sean the bullet points with as little emotional commentary as possible, I decided that nothing could be done and quit talking about it.

I don’t know that it made me feel better about the situation, but it did prevent me rehashing it with Sean a million times, which I’m sure he was very appreciative of.

Day 5: Identify your 3-6 main priorities

This one was a little difficult. I wasn’t sure if they meant daily, monthly, yearly, lifelong, or ongoing priorities, so I made lists of three different categories: immediate (now-three years from now), near-ish future (three to 10 years), and life goals. From those I identified the five main things I want to be working toward or maintaining at all times. Those are:

  • My book
  • My fitness (specifically, training to run a half-marathon next year)
  • My finances
  • My marriage (continuing to be good partners to each other, etc.)
  • Family (making time to talk to my parents, siblings, etc. Eventually having or adopting a child)

Day 6: Follow a morning ritual

When I first started working from home, I had grand visions of getting up early and doing yoga every morning, followed by a sensible breakfast. If any of you read What Claire Ate, you know that I rarely eat breakfast, much less do yoga beforehand.

Anuschka recommends starting the day with “relaxing and energizing morning ritual, instead of immediately checking your email or social media feeds.” (How did she know?)

Morning exercise is really not my thing, and writing before I start my writing job every day sounds kind of stressful, so I decide to make my morning ritual very simple, and allow myself to cuddle and talk to my dogs every morning before I get up.

It may not seem like much of a “ritual” but it does relax me and put me in a markedly better mood.

Day 7: Streamline Your Reading List

At first I assumed that Anuschka means for me to streamline my books, which makes no sense, but she means my “internet” reading list and wants me to “unsubscribe and remove bookmarks.”

Given that I am subscribed to only two blogs (both of which I enjoy and bring me no pain) I decide to focus more on my bookmarks, which have gotten very cluttered with research. I make an “old” bookmarks folder, a “current” folder and a “random projects” folder.

I sort everything accordingly and revel in how neat and clean it looks.

Day 8: Learn to Enjoy Solitude

Done. I love solitude.

Day 9: Downsize Your Beauty Collection

Anuschka’s instructions for today are horrifying, and at first I am unwilling to comply:

Write a list of everything you use on a regular basis from the top of your head (without checking your beauty cabinets). Throw out or give away everything else.

But then I find a loophole, and make a list of slightly vague products such as “lipstick” and “Birchbox samples.” Once that is out of the way, I do manage to find some things I don’t use ever, including some lipsticks that have begun to smell weird and a “chemical peel” that did nothing but change colors on my face.

Day 10: No email or social media until lunch

I kind of cheated on this by checking my email first thing, just in case I had an important email from Emily or Lesley. But I stayed off of social media. It helped that my notifications were still disabled from Day 1.

I got a lot done that morning, and I’m beginning to suspect that social media is a real distraction, just like my father told me.

Day 11: Evaluate Your Commitments

Without being too specific, I let go of a gig that just wasn’t what I needed it to be. I wasn’t being compensated for my time, and though I initially felt good about the “favor” I was doing, the lack of compensation was beginning to affect my work. When there are so many paying things I could be working on, focusing on the non-paying task becomes difficult.

Day 12: Define Your Goals For This Year

That’s easy. This year, I would like to get paid for a print piece (Something is in the works!), finish my book proposal, and learn how to butcher birds and pigs.

Day 13: Clean out your closet

Similar to the cosmetics situation, I had already done this semi-recently in preparation for our cross-country move, but that didn’t negate the fact that my closet was a mess.

I do feel much better.

Day 14: Take a step towards learning a new skill

As elucidated on Day 12, I really want to learn how to butcher. Sean had bought me a book on the subject for Christmas, so my “step” was finally cracking it open.

Day 15: Examine your daily habits

Um. My daily habits are sleeping past 9 and not drinking enough water while hunched over a computer. Now that I have examined them, I doubt they will change much, but I make an effort to sit up straighter and buy more La Croix.

Another, positive, not-so-daily habit I’ve recently picked up is running. I finally broke past 5K and though I hate to admit it, I am really enjoying it.

Please encourage me in this habit.

Day 16: Don’t buy anything for 24 hours

This is almost impossible (mainly because I am continuously buying ingredients for articles) and I was not able to do it until Day 19. It didn’t particularly make me feel good or bad, it just made me feel nothing.

Day 17: Practice single tasking

I’m usually the type of person who has 10 tabs open at any given moment. I constantly check social media when I’m writing, and am always keeping an eye on my inbox. I practiced single tasking by closing all tabs while writing and I’ll be darned if those words didn’t come faster once I was no longer distracted.

It was hard though, and I felt physically uncomfortable not knowing what was happening in my inbox.

Day 18: Unfollow and unfriend

I unfollowed about a hundred people on Twitter. It felt really good.

Day 19: Go for a walk and practice mindfulness.

I didn’t technically go on a walk. I had a long (for me) training run scheduled and I didn’t want to also walk so I decided to practice mindfulness on the run.

It turns out that mindfulness is actually a great help while running. I had set out to do four miles (which would have made it my longest by 0.7) but ended up doing five. Being mindful — paying attention to my body and surroundings — allowed me to check in with myself on a second-by-second basis and make changes to my posture, pace, and muscle engagement as needed and I honestly think this is what allowed me to add the extra mileage.

Day 20: No TV all day, read instead

This was kind of tricky, as I wasn’t about to tell my roommate that he couldn’t watch TV because I was doing a “minimalist challenge.” As a result, I heard and (peripherally) saw a bit of the news while cooking, but after dinner I took my book (“Gulp” by Mary Roach) and read in the tub. (I learned some interesting things about spit!)

Day 21: Journal for 20 minutes

This was kind of depressing because I just kept writing all the little worries that popped into my head, making this the least successful day by far. This is why I do not journal. I always end up writing negative things, and once they’re out there on paper, they feel so much more real. If I write something even slightly mean about someone, I feel terrible about it until I rip up the pages and flush them down the toilet.

Maybe I’m journaling wrong.

Day 22: Create a relaxing bedtime routine

Currently, my routine is watching Netflix until I can barely keep my eyes open, then doing a half-ass job at both dental care and face washing. It’s not super relaxing.

I decided to change that by making pampering a priority. I wash my hands a lot, and they’re not used to this new, dryer climate. I have a million little bottles of hand cream that I never use, so I lay one out next to my face wash, lip balm, and face cream so that it is incorporated into my routine.

The timing of it all is important as well. Instead of rushing through evening hygiene after a couple of hours of Doctor Who reruns, I make a point to do it all before I sit down to watch TV. This not only resulted in flossing, but eliminated mindless snacking.

Day 23: Go bare-faced

No one screamed or ran away in fear, so that was good. It was also nice not to have to remove my make up before running. (There may have been a smudge of eye liner from the night before. Is that cheating?)

Day 24: Practice gratitude

I made a long list of things I am grateful for. There are big items that I always take for granted like “an able body” and “a supportive and loving partner,” but I take stock of the little things too, like “Lush bath bombs” and “all the daffodils.”

Day 25: Leave a whole day unplanned

This is kind of awkward, as I made a to-do list the night before. I decide to not exactly “ignore” it, but to be open to changes and see where the day takes me. I end up working on something completely different than what I had planned, but nothing note-worthy happened as a result of the day’s “open-ness.”

Day 26: Identify Your Stress Triggers

Just off the top of my head, the following are the things that stress me out:

  • Unanswered emails (either by me or the person I sent them to)
  • A messy house
  • The fact that my living situation is not ideal at the moment
  • Reading my old writing (WHAT IF I FIND A TYPO?)
  • The sporadic finances that go along with being a freelance writer
  • A disorganized fridge full of questionable items that no one is eating

Some of these are easy to avoid (like answering my emails and cleaning the fridge) but “finances” and “living situation” are going to take a little more doing. Perhaps keeping the smaller things under control will help with my overall stress levels.

Day 27: Clean out your junk drawer

I don’t currently have a junk drawer, but the refrigerator and cabinet have been giving me mild feelings of panic whenever I open them, so I cleaned those out instead. Honestly, nothing soothes me like a fridge straightened. (See above.)

Day 28: Let go of a goal

Many years ago, when I realized I didn’t want to be a veterinarian, I replaced that goal with “being a PhD of some kind.” That obviously hasn’t happened yet, though I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to school for many advanced degrees, their subjects ranging from food science to communications.

I feel like I can let this go. I am never going to do this. I don’t want to go back to school. At all.

Day 29: Turn off notifications

I did that on Day 1! It has been one of the most freeing things I’ve done in a while; I’ve spent way less time looking at my phone, now that I’m not being interrupted by Instagram likes and Tweets.

Day 30: Evaluate your last five purchases

The last five “non-essential” items purchased and my resulting satisfaction were as follows:

  1. “Run River” by Joan Didion ($9.99)—I am enjoying this book immensely and never feel bad about purchasing books.
  2. A bottle of sparkling wine, shared with a friend while watching a documentary about champagne ($20.00)—It was a very funky bottle, with hints of blue cheese. It sounds kind of gross, but I really liked it.
  3. Dinner at Aviary for Portland Dining Month ($30.00)—Quite disappointing actually. I don’t know if their normal menu is better, but this did not encourage me to try it.
  4. This bathing suit from Mod Cloth ($85.00)—A complete disaster. I’m returning it though, so at least I get my money back.
  5. A new desk ($93)—Very satisfied. I was sick of working at the dining room table.

Based on the above, it seems that I should quit eating out so much and just stay home and read while drinking wine. This is not a terrible plan, and would indeed make my life a little more simple.

I’m done!

Not every day of the challenge was life changing, but I did learn a few things about myself. Major takeaways:

  1. My face actually looks fine without foundation, especially for day-to-day operations.
  2. Keeping the fridge clean does wonders for my mental well-being.
  3. Running by myself is more therapeutic for me than meditating, and is often the only time when I pay attention to how my body really feels.
  4. 90% of the time, I do not need to be looking at the internet. There is almost nothing on there that can’t wait.

Overall, I feel a little more focused on the things I need to be focusing on, and hope that the habits I’ve picked up stick. I’d say the challenge was a success overall, though it did not cure me of my tendency to dress like Claudia Kishi.

Have you ever done a challenge like this? Do you wish you could live more simply? Do you long to own flowy shirts in “pebble” and “bone”?

Claire Lower wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Watch Michelle Obama Get Down to ‘Uptown Funk’ With Ellen DeGeneres

Her mic falls off due to her dancing

A preview clip released Thursday for an upcoming episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show shows Michelle Obama and the comedian dancing to “Uptown Funk,” the Mark Ronson song featuring Bruno Mars that has become a very popular tune to spoof on the Internet. The dance party starts at the 3:13 mark in the clip above.

In fact, the First Lady was so excited to start dancing that her mic fell off. “Is it going to stay? Because there is some hip-thrusting, so. There’s a lot of it, so…”

The dance-off was prompted by Obama’s “#GimmeFive” challenge, which celebrates the fifth anniversary of the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to raise awareness about active, healthy living and combat obesity in the United States.

The full episode premieres March 16. So far, it does not look like the First Lady’s appearance ends in a push-up contest like that one time.

Read next: Watch Michelle Obama Slow Dance With Big Bird

TIME society

Middle School Basketball Players Walk Off Court to Defend Bullied Classmate

She's a cheerleader with Down syndrome and was being harassed by people in the stands

Desiree Andrews is a cheerleader at Lincoln Middle School in Kenosha, Wisc., and during a recent basketball game, a few players noticed people in the stands were harassing her. They stood up, walked off the court and told the people in the crowd to stop bullying Andrews, who has Down syndrome, NBC affiliate TMJ4 reports.

“It’s not fair when other people get treated wrong because we’re all the same,” one of the players, Scooter Terrien, told TMJ4. “We’re all created the same. God made us the same way.”

The players have now started referring to their gym as “D’s House” in her honor. Andrews said the whole thing was “sweet, kind, awesome, amazing.”

TIME society

The Reason This Man Gave a $36 Tip for Hot Dogs Is Surprisingly Touching

This story has been viewed over a million times on Reddit and Imgur

A Tennessee waitress is overwhelmed with gratitude after a customer left her an especially generous tip.

ABC’s Good Morning America reports that an unidentified customer at Mac’s Grub Shak in Spring Hill left a $36 tip for waitress Claire Hudson, 25, even thought the bill only came out to about $30. She told the network that he left a note on the receipt saying his brother would have turned 36 that day, and “Every year I go eat his favorite meal (hot dogs) and tip the waitress his age. Happy B-day Wes.”

This guy sat in my section tonight & left a note on the back of his receipt

Hudson posted the story on the social networks Reddit and Imgur before bed, and when she woke up, it had been viewed more than a million times.

The restaurant wants to find the mystery patron so they can find out what toppings Wes liked on his hot dog and name one after him.

TIME society

Minimalist Living: When a Lot Less Is More

A lifestyle of owning just the essentials has a small but passionate following among millennials

The first thing you need to know about Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus is that they like to hug.

“Bring it in, man!” Nicodemus says as he pulls me in the first time I meet him. “We’re both huggers,” he says, pointing to Millburn.

These two early-30s, overly sunny dudes are The Minimalists, two of the better-known apologists for a lifestyle of less. Millburn and Nicodemus, both 33, have written two books chronicling how they grew up poor in Dayton, Ohio, achieved six-figure salaries by their late 20s, fell into existential ruts, realized they weren’t happy and eventually shed most everything they’d accumulated for a life in a Montana cabin as if they were modern-day Thoreaus.

MORE America’s Clutter Problem

Millburn, Nicodemus and a growing number of similarly minded purgers around the U.S. have forgone non-necessities in exchange for a much simpler existence in the last few years. Minimalists like to say that they’re living more meaningfully, more deliberately, that getting rid of most material possessions in their lives allows them to focus on what’s important: friends, hobbies, travel, experiences.

It’s impossible to know how many people live this way, but the ones who have gone public have gained a following. Millburn and Nicodemus launched their website in December 2010 with just 52 visitors the first month. Last year, more than 2 million visited the site, and since then they’ve attracted almost 30,000 people on Twitter and 80,000 fans on Facebook.

Their road to minimalism began in October 2009 when Millburn’s mother unexpectedly died the same month his marriage ended. At the time, Millburn managed 150 wireless and telecom stores throughout south-central Ohio. He had a three-bedroom house. He owned 70 Brooks Brothers shirts. As a 28-year-old, he couldn’t ask for much more financially. But a month of tectonic life changes shifted his thinking about what mattered.

“I had everything I ever wanted,” Millburn says. “But it took getting everything I ever wanted to realize that I wasn’t happy.”

Millburn soon discovered Colin Wright, who was traveling around the world with a mere 51 things. (Most of us have thousands of things in our home, if not tens of thousands.) Soon, Millburn began connecting with others who described themselves as minimalists, and he eventually decided to give it a shot.

He started small, getting rid of one item a day for a month. He chucked his Brooks Brothers shirts. He got rid of his DVDs. He ditched his TV. He sold most of his shoes. Later, he sloughed off kitchenware, tools, electronics, artwork. Eventually, he moved into a smaller home and soon persuaded Nicodemus, his buddy since fifth grade, to do the same.

The two moved to Montana and began writing about their experiences, branding themselves The Minimalists and publishing a book about their collective purge.

They befriended guys like Joshua Becker, a father of two in Peoria, Ariz., who began minimizing in 2008 after realizing he was spending more time cleaning out his garage than playing with his son.

“Everything I owned wasn’t making me happy, and worse, it was distracting me from the very thing that did bring me happiness,” he says.

After discussing with his wife, he was soon filling his van with DVDs, CDs, clothes, Tupperware, spatulas, toys, old towels, sheets. The first couple of vanloads to Goodwill were easy, but by the third and fourth trips, he began an inward journey about why he’d accumulated so much. “Was I really that susceptible to advertising?” he asked himself. “Was I just trying to keep up with what the neighbors were buying? Was I trying to impress people? Was I trying to compensate for a lack of confidence?”

MORE Ground Zero in the Clutter Wars: My House

It turned out, the answer was yes to all those questions.

Similarly, Graham Hill, the founder of eco-friendly design site Treehugger.com, got rid of most of his non-necessities after years of living in a four-story, 3,600-square-foot Seattle home. Today, he lives in a 420-square-foot studio, owns just six dress shirts and has 10% of the books he once owned. His New York Times op-ed, “Living With Less, A Lot Less,” was one of the Times’ most read and e-mailed articles in 2013.

Hill’s idea is spreading. The so-called “tiny house” movement has taken off in the last few years among people who are looking to drastically downsize. The homes, which are now subject of several reality TV shows, are no bigger than 400 square feet and can often be built for $30,000 or less.

The overarching narrative for many minimalists is this: At one point they were rich, realized things weren’t bringing them happiness, and then they purged. Some of them have received criticism for getting rid of their things when many families are barely getting by, that their behavior is only for people of a certain income level. For the most part, however, it seems that they’re merely real-life examples of what study after study indicates: Possessions don’t bring us happiness.

“As much as we like our stuff, they really aren’t a part of us,” says Thomas Gilovich, a Cornell University psychology professor. “Arguably, we are the sum total of our experiences. It’s almost like building up a resume by virtue of the things that you did.”

Gilovich, who has been studying happiness as it relates to experiences and possessions for over a decade, says there are three main reasons why doing something brings about more pleasure than owning something: experiences become part of our identity; they promote social connections with others; and they don’t trigger the kind of jealousy or envy we often get when thinking about someone’s material things.

“Materially, that thing will always be there, so it’s very easy for people to say to themselves: ‘If I have the experience, it’ll be fun but it will come and go in a flash. At least I’ll always have the thing,’” Gilovich says. “That seems compelling, even if it turns out to be psychologically wrong. But you adapt to it and eventually you don’t really notice it anymore.”

He does, however, believe that there is a sort of experiential awakening happening, in which people truly are recognizing that there is greater value from experiences even though it will always be tempting to buy material things.

“We hold onto these things because we think they’re going to be useful in some hypothetical future that doesn’t actually exist,” Millburn says. “We hold onto almost everything just in case we might need it some day. I learned that the memories aren’t in things either. That’s why I was holding onto so many things because I thought the memories were in those things, but they weren’t.”

Toward the end of our interview, before one final hug, Millburn tells me he’s about to turn 33. And he’s never been happier.

“To me, that’s the most important part,” he says.

Read next: Ground Zero in the Clutter War: My House

Take TIME’s quiz to find out if you own too much stuff.

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Education

How Would Students Spend the Principal’s Money?

Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

A Phoenix high school’s experiment shows that kids can prioritize and collaborate when their education is at stake

During the 2013-14 school year, Quintin Boyce, the principal of Bioscience, a public high school in Phoenix, took a portion of his discretionary budget and told students they could decide how it was spent. He set no rules, except that the projects should benefit the school community. He knew many things could go wrong, but trusted that the students were going to assign those resources with responsibility and fairness.

This was a historic experiment – to the best of our knowledge, it was the first time that American high school students had used a process called participatory budgeting that we, as scholars of participatory democracy, have studied. But the Bioscience budgeting was more than history – it was an answer to the broader problem of participation.

Americans are often told to participate in local democratic decision-making, but we are rarely told how. And so most of us don’t know how. Effective participation requires knowledge of local laws, regulations, and processes. Participation also demands skills like active listening, public speaking, negotiation, conflict resolution, open-mindedness, compromise, and willingness to move from self-interest to the common good. Since none of these are innate, these civil and democratic competencies must be learned somewhere. Like schools.

The idea of schools as a place to produce democratic citizens is an old one, but it has been little practiced. Schools seldom nurture the capacity to participate in local democracy, and civics curricula have eroded over the past two generations.

To counter this trend, some educational institutions have begun trying to reach democracy through democratic processes. Bioscience is an interesting case. It is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) public high school with approximately 300 students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The student population is more than 60 percent Hispanic, and roughly two-thirds of students qualify for the Free and Reduced Meals program. Bioscience teachers emphasize project-based, student-centered learning through exploration and inquiry.

This atmosphere and comfort with experiential learning made Bioscience a favorable environment for launching a school participatory budgeting project. Participatory Budgeting, or PB, is a democratic process of deliberation and decision making over budget allocations that started in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. It is currently implemented in more than 1,500 cities around the world. Participatory budgeting provides not only a more transparent and accountable way of managing public money but also a means for participants to learn more about their community.

In the U.S., the first participatory budgeting process took place in Chicago in 2009; PB has since been used in New York, Greensboro, N.C., San Francisco, Long Beach, Boston, and post-bankruptcy Vallejo, Calif. Although each process is different, participatory budgeting tends to follow a similar structure. In the first phase, residents identify local needs, brainstorm potential ideas to address to these needs, and elect delegates to represent individual communities in deliberations. In the second phase, delegates discuss their communities’ priorities and formulate project proposals. Then, delegates bring these proposals to the community for a vote. The most popular projects are funded and implemented, and the process begins in the next year or budget cycle.

Although participatory budgeting is normally implemented at the municipal level, there have been participatory budgeting experiments in other settings (like public housing) and with specific age groups. For instance, Boston is in the second year of a participatory budgeting project that allows teens and young adults to decide together how to allocate $1 million of the city’s budget.

At Bioscience in Phoenix, which broke ground as the first school to implement participatory budgeting with students, the democratic work began with the design of the process itself. First, each grade level elected four student representatives to a steering committee. This committee of 16 students created the rules for the PB process and invited all students to submit proposals. In the first year, a total of 45 students collaborated on preparing 30 proposals.

In the next phase, the steering committee refined the final pool of projects to 18 by eliminating incomplete proposals and designed promotional materials to inform all students about the competing projects. Students hung posters in the school cafeteria that described the 18 projects and their total costs, everything from $157 for volleyball equipment to $1,000 to fund a music club, and from $217 for a school garden to $740 for shade umbrellas in the school courtyard.

More detailed project descriptions were shared in class at each grade level, and a slide show presentation of the projects was posted on the school’s internal social media site. At forums divided by grade level, steering committee members led discussions about each project so that students could ask questions and debate the merits of each option. Finally, the steering committee distributed ballots in each class to their peers. All students were given the option to vote on their three favorite projects. The steering committee tallied the votes and submitted the results to their principal. Throughout the process, nearly the entire student body participated in some form.

The three projects that received the most votes were educational in nature. The first was a sustainability education display for the school’s courtyard, the second was color ink for a student-built 3-D printer, and the third funded camera adapters for laboratory microscopes. The three most popular projects exceeded the PB budget by a few hundred dollars, but Principal Boyce was so enthusiastic about the way the process unfolded that he agreed to fund all three options. Reflecting on the experience, he told us he felt honored to provide an opportunity for students to participate in the improvement of the school community, and he hopes this experience will inspire students to engage in — and change— their communities.

At the end of that school year, Dr. Boyce was transferred to another school, and there was some concern that the incoming principal would cancel the experiment. But incoming principal DeeDee Falls decided to continue the process. The second cycle of participatory budgeting is currently underway. At this early stage, students are brainstorming ideas like soccer goals, a bike share program, and an aquaponic system and an algae reactor to produce biofuel. Principal Falls told us that this process makes sense for a school like Bioscience that tries to involve students in many aspects of their educational process, For her, participatory budgeting is valuable because it encourages students to collaborate with their peers and make meaningful decisions,together.

What better way to learn democracy than by doing it?

Matt Cohen is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Daniel Schugurensky is a Professor in the School of Public Affairs and the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Meet the 10-Year-Old Girl Who Is Already Acing College

She's a math prodigy

Esther Okade is only 10 years old, but she’s already the top freshman in her college class, CNN reports.

The British-Nigerian math prodigy is enrolled at Open University, a distance learning college and hails from the industrial town Walsall in England’s Midlands. She told CNN, “I actually wanted to start when I was seven. But my mum was like, “you’re too young, calm down.”

Okade told the Birmingham Mail that she hopes to get a PhD and run her own business someday:

When she isn’t studying for exams, CNN reports that she writes math workbooks for children called “Yummy Yummy Algebra,” while her family works to open “Shakespeare Academy,” a nursery school and primary school in Nigeria’s Delta region.


TIME society

Watch a Group of Street Performers Successfully Drown Out an Anti-Gay Preacher

"The crowd cheered and sang along and soon enough he was gone"

When performing on the streets of Sydney, busker Axel Winter noticed a man yelling hateful words about gay people. He was apparently shouting things like, “Today is the day that God hates you the most if you’re homosexual.” So Winter decided to fight back with music.

He and his bandmates moved a few yards away from the preacher and attempted to drown out his words with a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” (They switched the lyrics from “girls” to “boys.”) Their plan worked because the crowd soon began clapping and cheering and singing along. Eventually the man gave up and left, Winter said in a Facebook post.

“Thank you Sydney for taking a stand for equality,” he added.

(h/t Daily Dot)


Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com