Lily Sarah Grace Fund

Making Art the Heart of Learning

By Linda T. Kennedy
Editor’s note: this is the second story in a 3-part On Our Watch special series

It’s not uncommon to find organizations in which the impetus for their birth and purpose is to memorialize the accomplishments of lives well lived. But when an organization takes on a life of its own and has the potential to change entire social systems that impact the very development of humanity, that’s an evolution to behold.

That’s what’s happening with the Lily Sarah Grace (LSG) Fund; a New York, N.Y.-based organization founded in 2012 to honor Lily, Sarah and Grace Badger who were lost Christmas morning, 2011, in a Connecticut house fire. Today, LSG Founder Matthew Badger, and LSG Co-Founder and Creative Director Abby Ballin continue awarding art supply grants to educators in impoverished U.S. public schools.

But now, with its own Arts-Infused, Inquiry–Based education (AIIBL – pronounced “able”) initiative, LSG also pulsates in the laughter and expression of children learning academic subjects through the arts. The AIIBL learning model incorporates the philosophy of arts-based learning projects with the philosophy that children also learn through collaborating in groups.

“The arts are the wheels that move the vehicle of innovative thinking and learning forward,” explains Emily Lopez, principal founder of AIIBL. “In this case, the vehicle is inquiry — research, asking questions and collaborating with others that facilitates learning. Inquiry can be engaging to any person, but when you add in the arts, it creates a learning connection for every type of learner, and learning and innovation go hand in hand.”

Initially, Badger and Ballin had no idea their LSG Fund vehicle would rapidly accelerate beyond providing teachers with paint and paper. But by the end of their first-year school bus tour, Badger and Ballin’s immersion in classroom environments resulted in a swelling passion to do more with infusing children’s learning environment with art.

“We filmed in all these different classrooms, we made all these different films, we interviewed all these different teachers, and through visiting with those that we gave supplies to, we were able to form a group to collaborate on the future of LSG,” explains Badger. “Through that process, this idea of inquiry-based learning emerged.”

From their school visits, Badger and Ballin identified a group of teachers representing each region in the U.S. who would serve as the LSG Ed Council. Emily Lopez, principal at Magnet Public Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn., would lead the group in taking the organization into its next phase of growth and development.

Matthew Badger filming in Anna Glodowski’s class, Albemarle Road Elementary School, Charlotte, NC

Arts-Infused, Inquiry–Based Learning

The new 10-member LSG Ed Council met in New York for the first time during summer 2013. They created the LSG’s future grant criteria, and AIIBL, a teaching methodology that takes arts-based learning into another realm. They also defined the criteria for an AIIBL grant, which would be awarded to teachers incorporating the model into their classrooms in the future.

“AIIBL is an inquiry-based learning model that utilizes the arts, but the arts are integrated as a method by which they gain an understanding in some area, as well a way to show what they’ve learned and the thoughts they’ve created on their own,” says Lopez, explaining that other arts-infused education models integrate art into traditional curriculum, but in this model, inquiry allows kids to drive the direction of study. “They are asking the questions and that’s what’s driving the project forward. Project-based learning has the potential to be more teacher-driven, whereas inquiry-based learning is more student driven.”

The Ed Council built AIIBL’s tenets upon Howard Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences. Gardener, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed the theory that all human beings possess several intelligences: visual, verbal, mathematical, bodily/kinesthetic, music/rhythmic, intrapersonal, interpersonal, naturalist existentialist and spatial intellects, and they also have the capacity to develop all of them.

But one of the chief educational implications of the theory is that since each human being has their own unique configuration of intelligences, educators should teach individuals in ways that they can learn. Then, the theory asserts, that teachers should assess students in a way that allows them to show what they understand and to apply their knowledge and skills in unfamiliar contexts.

“AIIBL allows as many different access points to content and thinking as possible within a unit of study so that learners of all different types have multiple exposures,” explains Lopez. “They can apply their strengths to expand their thinking and understanding, as well as use their strengths to support and strengthen areas that may be challenging for them. You can take a child who is very creative and has an opportunity to express themselves and what they know about the solar system by means of something other than a written report, or just reading about it.”

AIIBL to Change Education

Several education models are represented in today’s arts-based versus traditional curricula debates, brought forward with the question: “What will students need to evolve into tomorrow’s workforce?” In a Feb. 2013 article “Can STEM really succeed?” David A. Sousa and Tom Pilecki examine the benefit of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) funding in the schools at the cost of art education programs. They acknowledge creative problem solving as a critical skill in STEM and that brain research shows that creativity can be taught – evidence to support the integration of arts-related topics and skills into STEM area courses.

The article says that because there are only so many hours in the school day, one consequence of increasing instruction in the STEM areas has been to decrease instructional time in stand-alone arts classes. Tight budgets and high-stakes testing in reading and mathematics have furthered the trend, it says. But the article also says that the thorough study and application of the scientific, technical, and mathematical principles embodied in the STEM subjects require skills that can be significantly enhanced by training in arts-related areas.

Sousa and Pilecki’s observances chime with Lopez’ thoughts about 21st century skill sets and tomorrow’s workforce. “When you look at what needs to be done professionally nowadays, you need to be able to discuss, justify your opinion, work in a team and problem solve – that involves inquiry. And to compete on the global level, we have to be innovative,” Lopez says. “But our current education model was not set up for our current day and age of innovation; it was created to meet the needs of industrialization – it was set up to teach people how to be factory workers. And that’s got to shift.”

Shifting Focus to Innovation

Badger knew education needed a shift too; his daughters were examples of Sousa and Pilecki’s observations. Badger visited his daughter’s classrooms frequently and could relate to their challenges as dyslexics. “I did badly in school. And my psyche was damaged by that failure,” he recalls. “Experiencing daily failure as an elementary child has lasting ramifications. I dreaded subjects like math, but the arts and sports kept me going at school.”

So, when Badger witnessed Lily experience school as a place of failure it caused him pain. Yet Grace’s love for school made him wonder what her teacher did differently. “It was Grace’s teacher Amy Schindel’s dedication to creative learning that allowed Grace to shine, “ he says. “Her classroom was filled with activities, projects, joy and education through the arts. She was very happy and she did very well.”

The Ed Council’s goals now have expanded to include seeing AIIBL adopted as the common place method of education in classrooms throughout the country. “I want this model to really help us redefine education in the future.” says Lopez. “I look at my job on a day-to-day basis that I am growing the future members of society. I want it to be one where we know how to live amongst each other and work together and have novel ideas that are powerful and purposeful – and that’s where I see AIIBL. I whole-heartedly believe Lily Sarah Grace has the potential to have big impact and create this for more children.”

Lopez’s wish is rapidly materializing. LSG Fund is now playing a role in classrooms in every state in the country, says Badger, through providing supplies and fueling the drive towards learning solutions in America’s classrooms with AIIBL. The Ed Council is now spearheading teacher training programs in Charlotte, N.C. and Los Angeles. Also, starting with this current fall semester, LSG is conducting a freshman course in AIIBL at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte and AIIBL professional development is being conducted at Albemarle Road Elementary School, in Charlotte, N.C..

“If schools don’t utilize aesthetic learning; which is learning by using your hands and doing things, then 40 percent in the classroom will not learn; that’s insane,” observes Badger. “That’s close to how many kids drop out of school. And it’s just awful when you think about how many kids are going to school hating it; that’s very sad.”

With almost every reference to LSG, Badger stresses it has evolved from one big collaboration from the beginning, a core skill promoted in the AIIBL model itself. “First it started with Abby and my dear friends, then it became a union of many, including teachers, parents, and artists. We now have volunteers across America,” he says. Essentially, LSG expanded to include all of the most revered people and associations in Badger and Ballin’s network, except for one: their dog Pippi Badger. But that would change soon, too.

Continue reading this series:
One For the Money

Lily’s Dog Raises Funds for LSG

One for the Money

Pippi Badger

Pippi Badger

Lily’s Dog Raises Funds for LSG

By Linda T. Kennedy
Editor’s note: this is the third story in a 3-part On Our Watch special series

Nearly three years since Badger and Ballin started the LSG Fund to memorialize Lily, Sarah and Grace, they are finally in a place where they can look back and see where they’ve been and where they’re going with the project. As of now, LSG has helped 160,000 public school students, granting more than a million dollars in supplies to teachers throughout the country.

LSG touches classrooms not only with resources, but with AIIBL, a new learning model and professional development program. But it can’t be said that all of this exceeds Badger’s and Ballin’s initial expectations; when they started LSG, there were none beyond actively channeling the love for their girls to other children.

“To be honest, we didn’t have any expectations, you can’t, I mean when you’re living in a nightmare it’s hard to dream,” says Ballin. “So it was basically saddle up and take the leap! We had to stay in the now because looking back or forward was far too painful.”

Staying in the “now” also meant relentless drive for Badger. “The first year I threw myself into it on an obsessive level — it was a full-time commitment,” recalls Badger. “My abundance of love for the girls was poured into LSG and it gave me great purpose again.” And when Badger and Ballin arrived at the first school on the Bus Tour, Dawes Elementary School in Chicago, Ill. they saw, for the first time, what their love for Lily, Sarah and Grace looked like in the form of being transferred to others.

“That was really the pivotal moment of this journey for both Matt and myself,” recalls Ballin. We saw the joy on those kid’s faces and the empowerment we gave to that teacher and we knew we were doing something special and the presence of the girls was so very overwhelming. When we continued on and met more and more remarkable teachers and their precious students, it connected us to them, to each other, to this world. It was powerful.”

Emily Lopez, LSG Ed Council leader, says the connections came naturally because Badger has a knack for identifying talent. So it’s no wonder that eventually, Badger and Ballin identified another key figure to represent and drive LSG forward in its 4th year: Pippi Badger, Lily’s 6-pound maltipoo puppy who joined the family August 2011, for Lily’s 9th birthday.

6 Pounds of Mega-Purpose

Pippi made her first appearance as a spokesperson for LSG Sept. 24, 2014 in a Kickstarter video You Can’t Memorize This,” LSG’s first large fund-raising campaign.

The video illustrates, from Pippi’s perspective, the role Lily, Sarah and Grace played her life. Pippi also explains how she is helping further the LSG education mission with the book “You Can’t Memorize This.” Several music, film, television and stage artists answered LSG’s call to help with the book by contributing a drawing of their own. And supporter’s endorsed the idea by pledging over $20,000 (LSG’s funding goal) to the Kickstarter project. LSG plans to publish the book with the Kickstarter funds.

“The compilation of drawings is based on the concept that all great thinkers think outside the box,” says Ballin, creative director of the campaign. “LilySarahGrace has enlisted some of the best, brightest and most unique thinkers of our generation to raise awareness for arts infused education in underfunded public elementary schools. We handed artists from a number of different disciplines a sketchpad and a marker and asked them to create a simple line drawing.”

Artists Bruno Mars, David Copperfield, Jennifer Aniston, Julianne Moore, Justin Theroux, Laura Dern, Lionel Richie, Naomi Watts, Tina Fey, Tom Arnold, Whoopi Goldberg, Will Ferrell; fashion designer, Diane Von Furstenberg; sculptor, Carole Feuerman; photographers, Laurie Simmons and Mark Seliger; chef, Mario Batali; painter and illustrator Sage Vaughn and many more personalities representing the visual and performing arts returned the sketchpad to LSG with their personal drawings.

The book also includes a drawing by jeweler Helen Ficalora, who designed the LilySarahGrace Eye Charm from one of Sarah’s own drawings. Ficalora is donating 25 percent of sales from the charms to LSG. Hers, and all the other drawings will be displayed at LSG Fund’s First Annual Gala, Oct. 25, 2014, Jack Studios 601 West 26th Street, New York City. Rufus Wainwright is slated to perform during the gala.

PippiBags (1)

Pippi Oct. 24, 2014 as the Gala swag bags were packed.

Becoming “Triumphant Survivors”

Despite the enormous talent the LSG team has recruited to further its mission and the tall accomplishments in such a short period, grief has been a constant undercurrent in Badger and Ballin’s journey. And they candidly acknowledge that grief will always accompany their efforts.

As a matter of fact, Badger says he really didn’t take time to grieve after losing his girls; he immediately immersed himself in LSG and now, still faces that personal work. “So, it is [the grief] still going on for me, it’s very painful and I am still very raw from it,” says Badger. But when you have this much grief, you can do something with it or fall into the grief and be shattered by it,” he says. “I decided to do something with it.”

That is what a “triumphant survivor” looks like, says Alan Pederson, executive director, national office, The Compassionate Friends (TCF) – the largest organization for bereaved families in the world. Founded in England in 1969, TCF was established in the United States in 1972, with not-for-profit incorporation in 1978, under which provision the organization’s more than 650 local Chapters also operate. TCF also operates as separate entities in 30 countries around the world.

“There are a small portion of people out there who eventually come through their grief as what we call “triumphant survivors,” explains Pederson. “They literally take a tragedy so horrible, such as this one, and they take the skills God gave them or what they feel their child would have loved and they will accomplish incredible things. And this is what’s happening here. Triumphant survivors are rare, and he [Badger] is rare and then to do it at the level that their doing this is just amazing.”

One might easily see all the things that the LSG Fund is accomplishing as silver linings in their tragic story, but Badger and Ballin’s grief is still so acute and raw, it’s difficult for them to describe it that way. And Abby refers to the good in their journey as something stemming from an ongoing process; “silvering.”

LilySarahGrace = Love

“I would say the silvering is seeing Lily, Sarah and Grace bringing joy back into classrooms and giving other children that gift of digging deeper into their creative minds,” says Ballin, who with Badger, primarily attributes LSG’s success to the outpouring of love of friends, family, the community and between each other.

“The power of love is, well, powerful,” says Ballin. “I don’t know how I’ve gotten here, how I am even able to get out of bed most mornings; there is a lot of denial, but mostly there is a love and commitment and the overall underlining mantra of what would the girls want me to do? And if I ask that question whenever I am lost it usually leads me to the right place. LilySarahGrace for me is all about love, my love for the girls, my love for Matt, and that love spreads to all these teachers and children that need to feel supported in school.”

Badger says his greatest silvering “yet to come” may be that someday, he could become another parent’s silver lining in their own tragedies. “LilySarahGrace is a silver lining of the tragedy, however, I personally think this has changed my perspective in life and I will continue to look for other ways that I can help and create meaning from this tragedy. But right now, it’s LilySarahGrace.”

Pederson, who eventually found his work at TCF following the loss of his own daughter in a car accident, August 2011, says there are many silver linings ahead for Badger and Ballin; they just can’t see them yet. “Our kid’s left us the silver linings — the gift of their love placed them ahead of us but it’s our job to find them,” he says. “But he’ll look back and realize that that work they’ve done was one of the main contributors to the healing that will eventually come. There will be little measures of healing that will come and come and then one day, he’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, am I glad I did this.’”

AIIBL to Move Forward

Healing, Pederson says, begins with helping and talking and sharing our losses, expressing the love – all things Badger and Ballin did since those first days after their loss. “Life does get better from that lowest point and it can get better and better for some people and I believe that’s where these folks are going.”

Badger and Ballin are now looking forward to seeing AIIBL professional development expand and continue to create partnerships with educators, foundations, and other funds to “super-size the movement.”  In the meantime, just as parents let go of their maturing children, Badger is now shifting from his original LSG role from working on the grassroots level to focusing on funding as chairman.

But the idea that children, like Badger’s own Lily, are now overcoming learning challenges in her memory and her sisters’—that thousands more will have a promising future—is sustaining Badger in his loss and grieving process. And just like proud parents talking about their grown children, Badger talks about AIIBL with energy and hope for it’s future. He makes it clear his heart is still deeply invested in what is happening in the classrooms.

“I am super happy about it and I love all the people that are involved with it,” says Badger. “All the teachers we work with are so like-minded – wonderful, dedicated, lovely people. They really work very hard every day. The love for children may explain why people give their time, energy and resources to LSG. I adore kids, and why would anyone want anything but the best for them?”

 “What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.” –Alfred Merceir


From Three to Thousands

Father Answers Cruel Blow with Educational Mission  

By Linda T. Kennedy 

Editor’s note:

The Stamford Connecticut house fire that took the lives of Matthew Badger’s children Lily, age 9, and twin sisters Sarah and Grace, age 7, happened Christmas morning 2011. The Silver Lining News online relaunch was still just a dinner-table concept then.  With the rest of the world, we watched that Christmas Day news with shock, disbelief and profound sadness. And then we said, “Watch: something amazing is going to result from this. And we should try to make it our first story.”

Dear Readers, we watched.
Now, here is that “something amazing.”

In a three-part series posted each day following our launch, read about how profound loss and the memory and love of three little girls is changing the face of education in schools countrywide.

As Matthew Badger puts words to losing his three young daughters in a house fire nearly three years ago, one can hear the unmistakable hollow echo attached to them – even as he pauses, you can hear it. It sends one’s mind into a mental scramble for any words to offer that can fill the empty space, but every word falls like a coin hitting the bottom of a deep well and only amplifies the emptiness there. And the desolation in Badger’s voice tells you that he is keenly aware of it.

“With my loss I was left with very little purpose. Being a father to the girls was the center foundation of my life and gave me joy, unconditional love and tremendous focus. With the sudden removal I lost all meaning to my life,” Badger reflects. “You hear people say nothing is worse than losing your children, but it’s more than that, it’s really quite isolating.”

Standing on this island of horrific loss with Badger and the girl’s families is Abby Ballin, Badger’s girlfriend. Lily, Sarah and Grace had recently bonded with Abby as part of their family, says Badger, and things couldn’t have been better for them. Ballin, he says, developed a deep love for the girls and in her own grief, pined for answers.

Breaking the Sound of Silence

In the first hours and days following that unthinkable event, it was the conversations with family and friends that held them up, recalls Badger. “We talked a lot after it happened,” he says. “It was all of the love and talk about our girls that helped us survive. We talked about Lily, Sarah and Grace and our love for them, their love for us; we talked about their talents and challenges.”

Ballin’s grief worked as creative energy when talk turned into collaboration. “I knew we had to do something [to honor them],” says Ballin. “I didn’t know what that something was, and neither did Matt. I would throw out suggestions, a park, a scholarship, a statue, a foundation, etc. I guess it was survival mode kicking in, not knowing what to do, but knowing we couldn’t just do nothing at all.”

Certainly, for all the energy and love Badger channeled towards his daughters “nothing” was definitely not an option. He knew just three things: he wanted to help other children, he wanted it to be in the classroom and he wanted his energies to benefit impoverished children who are less fortunate than his daughters were.

When he reflected on the girls and their education, he realized how important the arts were to them – Lily, a dancer and poet; Sarah, an expressive, social force; and Grace, a painter. And he recalled one teacher in particular, Amie Schindel, who taught Grace in Kindergarten, and decided that the “something” would include bringing “Amie” to every child in the country.

Where “The Silvering” Begins

“After weeks of indescribable sorrow, the dark cloud of grief cleared for a brief moment, enough time for Matt to land on what he knew we needed to do for the girls – for us.” The couple would start the LilySarahGrace (LSG) Fund, a non-profit organization based in New York, NY, to grant art supplies to teachers throughout the country working in impoverished public schools.

LSG would not only celebrate Lily, Sarah and Grace’s lives, but help maintain the kind of learning in schools that they thrived on. It would be a vehicle to supplement educator’s budgets and nurturing other children like his own. “Witnessing him in that moment was like something from another world, maybe it is my poor memory or my vivid imagination, but it was like a light was shining on him as he stood in our kitchen and in that moment, with all my heart, I believed that he had found the answer,” recalls Ballin. “Coming from a background in the arts myself this too was very important to me.”

At the start of 2012, substantial federal budget cuts were looming to affect programs and teacher’s jobs in arts and special education, so the timing was right for an organization like LSG. Knowing many schools lacked art funding before additional budget cuts, Badger saw it as a pending tragedy for children, especially since he believes his daughters enjoyed school primarily because of arts-based education opportunities.

“Art in the schools is usually funded by parent/teacher associations, and in some schools, families do not have the income to contribute towards it,” Badger explains. “So when you go to a school in areas that have wealth, and it’s filled with art, that’s because the parents are paying for it. But in the outlining areas of New York City, for instance, it’s a different situation. There’s no funding coming in for supplying the arts – and [consequently] all the [art] teachers have been let go.”

And educational budget cuts in general, have always been a sore spot with parents and educators, including during the Great Recession. So you could essentially say that in this instance, Badger and Ballin set out to be two parent figures representing many throughout the country with LSG.

No Holds Barred

Badger and Ballin left their day jobs (as television director and film stylist, respectively) and within the first few months of the project, dedicated all of their time and resources towards the developing the organization. After defining LSG’s mission, they launched a media campaign to raise awareness of the project. Badger visited Good Morning America, The View and The Katie Couric Show and even though his grief was still very fresh, unbearable, he shared how he would channel his loss into helping other children.

“Ultimately, Matthew Badger’s healing will be when he walks into a classroom that has been funded by this monument that we’ve created for my children,” he told Good Morning America. “And if we are able to do that then Lily, Sarah and Grace have done it – it’s beautiful, it’s absolutely beautiful.”

Badger saw that start to materialize quickly. Within just weeks after the television appearances, he and Ballin pulled their creative connections together and lite up Broadway to raise the first funds for the organization. LSG hosted Whoopi Goldberg, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Juliane Moore, Eric Bogosian, Sir Ken Robinson, and 60 local children who performed dance and music. Every teacher that taught Lily, Sarah and Grace were on stage in the 42nd St., sold-out theater to greet 500 guests and launch LSG’s mission in an evening of celebration.

The first school supplies were delivered to classrooms within a few months following the kick-off fundraiser, and Badger and Ballin left for a coast-to-coast bus tour to see LSG in action in the classrooms. “Abby and I traveled the country visiting Chicago, Louisville, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Arizona and California,” recalls Badger. “In each classroom, we filmed the projects LSG funded.”

Badger transferred his experience from directing television commercials to interviewing the teachers. He produced “The Language of Art” and launched it with the LSG website, where donors could also learn about Lily, Sarah and Grace.

“That First year, Abby and I moved on by completely throwing ourselves into this fund,” Badger says. “I worked on it on an obsessive level and it got us through those first months.” The bus tour, and the year, ended with the memory of three – Lily, Sarah and Grace – working in the interest of thousands.

And LSG’s light in the coming year would grow even brighter, beyond Badger’s and Ballin’s initial goals for it. It would take on an entirely new life of its own infused with the expertise and leadership of a group of teachers who would redefine LSG as an innovator for tomorrow’s education models.

Read this continuing series tomorrow:
Lily Sarah Grace Fund
Making Art the Heart of Learning


One For the Money
Lily’s Dog Raises Funds for LSG

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