RACE FOR VALEDICTORIAN COMES TO HALT IN SCHOOL DISTRICTS NATIONWIDE

Feature, News

Originally published: March 17, 2017

Valedictorians be gone.

Starting in 2018, the Wake County School Board of North Carolina will stop naming Valedictorians and Salutatorians. The 25 high schools, varying in class size from 100 to 600, will switch to the Magna Cum Laude and the Summa Cum Laude honors. To receive cum laude, students would need a 3.75 to 4.0 GPA, for magna cum laude a 4.0 to 4.249 GPA, and for summa cum laude a 4.25 GPA or higher.

Other schools across the nation have forgone naming Valedictorians, such as a cluster of schools in Arizona – Deer Valley Unified School District, Glendale Union High School District, Mesa Public Schools and more –  along with the Parkland School District in Pennsylvania.

Wake County School Board member and policy chair Jim Martin said the reasoning behind the decision to stop naming Valedictorians was because of many reasons, including students cheating the system, varying class sizes, and students not fulfilling the true purpose of learning.

“We see from many places that there are a lot of people who play the system,” Martin said. “It’s not based just on your GPA; it’s based on your weighted GPA. People try to gain the system by taking the greatest amount of AP classes they can to get the highest weighting. What an educator cares about is learning, not gaining.”

Martin has been a chemistry professor at North Carolina State University for 23 years, and he urges his students to take a wide range of classes that will prepare them for the future, not just classes to stack up a GPA.

“From an educational standpoint, I want you to take AP classes, but if you can (take) a home economics class, a cooking class, a shop class, you’re going to learn about design and how to use tools,” Martin said. “Which frankly I’m going to need (these skills) if you’re going to work in my lab. That’s part of it being a well-rounded, educated person.”

Martin said his ultimate goal in the decision to stop naming Valedictorians was to help create a better education for the Wake County school district.

“What we’ve got is a system that rewards certain classes with higher weighted GPAs, and so you get people taking four, five, six AP classes in a year mainly to weight and not because they’re really trying to learn the material,” Martin said. “It becomes a game to pass the test, and a game to weight your GPA. By taking away the weighted GPA gaining incentive, the goal is hopefully more people will take a breath of courses, which will actually end up in stronger and better education.”

Mason Class of 2015 co-Valedictorian Allison Yan is a sophomore at Harvard University studying Human Evolutionary Biology. Yan said that when she was in high school, pressure from her peers to take rigorous classes was evident.

“My friend group really cared about (being at the top), and that’s why I cared,” Yan said. “But in retrospect, I honestly feel like you should take classes that you want to spend time in, and do well in those, rather than trying to stack your GPA in the best way.”

Class of 2016 Valedictorian Alvin Zhang is currently attending The Ohio State University studying mathematics and computer science. Zhang said in his speech at graduation that he wishes he had taken more time to enjoy high school, and less to stress about academics.

“If I had the opportunity to go through high school again – I wouldn’t take it,” Zhang said. “But if I were absolutely forced to do it over, I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to become valedictorian. I regret spending the countless hours locked up in my room doing homework, enduring tireless nights of reading an entire chapter from APUSH and possibly, this speech. I truly wish I could replace all that time with meeting more people and making new friends, doing more community service, discovering passions, and basically doing anything that would make me happier than studying just for a better grade.”

Yan said that the competitive minds of Mason students prepared her for Harvard, and she believes success in a large school is crucial despite the rigourous culture.

“The culture at Mason is ‘Do what your friends are doing’,” Yan said. “The herd mentality and the collective culture of ‘We have to suffer together’ is what is most dangerous to Mason right now. If the culture were still the same, I would have done it again, but if they took away this ranking system, I would have taken electives and enjoyed my life a little more.”

Assistant Principal Shanna Bumiller said Mason names a valedictorian because of the tradition it holds. She said the administration recognizes the pressure placed on students to do well and succeed.

“It certainly creates a lot of pressure, and at Mason High School, we want kids to be about learning,” Bumiller said. “We don’t want to kids to be about a grade. We want you to pursue learning opportunities not because it is weighted or unweighted.”

Bumiller said being a Valedictorian or Salutatorian is a way to recognize and honor students who have done tremendous work academically, and regarding future conversations, the administration would like to listen to everyone.

“We see it first hand,” Bumiller said. “We see what you’re going through. We want to help you achieve all what you want to achieve in high school. It is a large decision, and it’s out there. We’re making small strides.”

VOLUNTEERS CRUCIAL TO TEAMS’ SUCCESS

Feature

Published: September 23, 2016

Team moms have got it going on.

Sports teams rely heavily on parent volunteers. Dawn Berryman, the sophomore team mom for girls’ junior varsity soccer, has many responsibilities–spirit wear, team dinners, coordinating snacks for away games, and working with boosters all sit on her to-do list. However, she said she enjoys being involved because she has a passion for soccer.

“It can be busy, but it is very rewarding,” Dawn said. “I’m very happy and fortunate for the all the help.”     

Dawn said her everyday job with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society helps her understand the impact of volunteers.

“We rely heavily on volunteers and we would not be as successful an organization if we did not have the support of volunteers,” Dawn said. “I know how important volunteers are, and what a difference they can make, and I like to share and give back outside of my work hours.”

Mackenzie Berryman said her mom volunteers because she enjoys committing to community activities.

“When she volunteers for something, she always goes above and beyond,” Mackenzie said. “She loves soccer and played soccer, so she’s really passionate about it.”

Sophomore junior varsity volleyball player Meghan Elko said her mother Elaine Elko volunteers with volleyball, basketball and lacrosse programs.

“I play lacrosse,” Meghan said. “She’s not on the board for lacrosse, and even though she’s president of the volleyball board, she goes to lacrosse meetings.”

Meghan said outside of her mom’s full-time job, Elaine spends hours working on projects to benefit and promote the volleyball team.

“She has a huge binder she keeps on her desk, and she’s always working on (volleyball volunteering),” Meghan said. “She does it because she played sports in high school and misses it, so she wants to be involved.”

Elaine Elko, parent volunteer and president of volleyball boosters, said she volunteers because it provides entertainment and satisfaction.

“I volunteer for the boys basketball board, I’m in charge of concessions for girls lacrosse and,  honestly, I’d be bored if I didn’t get involved,” Elaine said. “I like to be involved with what my kids are doing.”

Football parent volunteer and Touchdown Club secretary Edie Stewart said she used volunteering when she moved to Mason to meet other community members.

“(I) wanted to be involved in what my children were doing, and get to know the teachers and the other kids,” Stewart said.

According to Stewart, volunteering allows her to build relationships.

“I think you definitely get to know the players and the parents of the players, and that’s probably one of the most rewarding things,” Stewart said. “You also get to know the coaches, and it’s a great way to meet people.”

Cheerleading mom Jennifer Linne said she’s been planning for large events, like a homecoming dinner for the cheerleading team, since August, even though the event only lasts an hour.

“There is a certain theme,” Linne said. “We have to determine the menu. We go and find what the decorations need to be. It’s a lot of planning.”

Linne believes she is not a ‘helicopter mom.’

“You catch them when they fall and let them know you are there when they need you,” Linne said. “But (you) also let them experience things and go out for themselves because that is the only way they are going to learn.”

Head football coach Brian Castner said parent volunteers contribute to a team’s success.

“You have unselfish adults that give their time to a Mason Football Family, and they respect what we do,” Castner said. “I’ll be indebted to all the moms.”

Indiana University High School Journalism Workshop: Married students offer a glimpse into their lives

Feature

Published: July 15, 2016

Eating in the dining hall. Going out to football games with friends. Studying late at night for an exam. Tatiana and Will DeWitt live like college students, but with a twist — they are married.

On Valentine’s Day 2014, 18-year-old Tatiana Adams DeWitt and 21-year-old Will DeWitt tied the knot at a Chicago courthouse, declaring their love eternal.

“We met when I was a senior in high school and she was a freshman,” Will said. “We were in our high school newspaper class, and pretty much the first day I was highly attracted to her. I came up to her and said, ‘If you ever need anything, give me a call.’ And I gave her my number.”

After completing high school, Will went to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis for a year. Will said having a relationship with Tatiana was hard, but they worked to continue their relationship.

“That year was probably the hardest year because (our relationship) was over the phone and was strenuous,” Will said. “I moved in with her after that year and we lived together for a few years, got engaged, and pretty much if you’re living with someone, and there’s no issues, there’s no point of second guessing yourself. If you know, you know. So at that point we got married.”

Once Will and Tatiana became engaged, they had plans of getting married, but not right away. Will transferred to Indiana University to be with Tatiana, and they both decided to continue living together.

“I was 18, about to turn 19,”  Tatiana said. “He had already lived with my grandma and I before I came to college. I was getting ready to come (to IU) my freshman year, and we still wanted to live together. If we weren’t married, I would have had to live in the dorms. That’s not the reason we got married, but after living together for three years, me living in the dorms and him living in an apartment somewhere would have been taking steps backwards.”

According to Tatiana, her life as a college student is different from unwed students, but has not changed how she views her experience. Although she does not have as many social interactions, she makes sure to stay involved in extracurricular activities by being involved with Camp Kesem, IU Dance Marathon, being a lab assistant for education programs, and working for the IU yearbook and the Indiana Daily Student newspaper.

“I didn’t live in the dorms freshman year, so I didn’t get as much social interaction my freshman year,” Tatiana said. “For a lot of people, the people in their dorms is who they hang out with. Not necessarily people in their major until they start having a lot of classes with them. I didn’t really get that. It’s also a lot less going out. At IU, a lot of people like to have fun. People always call us the ‘old married couple.’ We like to stay in and watch Netflix and that’s perfectly fine with me. We have friends, but most of our free time we are hanging out with each other, not just other people.”

Although missing out on social interactions is a con of Will’s lifestyle, Will said he thinks having Tatiana in his life is a pro because he has a best friend and a support system.

“It’s nice to have someone to be a support system — to make sure I do my homework, and stay on top of things because it’s hard in college to not just let yourself slide,” Will said. “If you have someone behind you who has your back, and someone you care so much about that you want to make them proud, it’s nice to have that. Academically, it’s a big plus.”

Tatiana also said she believes having Will in her life is an advantage because she is not alone and has someone to share her life with.

“College is so stressful,” Tatiana said. “Nobody wants to be alone freshman year. You’re away from home. No matter what there is one person who you’re always going to have there; at the end of the day you go home and have a long day but you’re going to have someone to talk to, somebody who is going to be there for you, somebody who is going to make you dinner. That is definitely the best part: knowing that no matter what the day is I have somebody to go to.”

According to Will, he and Tatiana both have their minds focused on their educations, and are excited for their future.

“I know I’m here and my job is to get a good degree, so I can get a good job and support my future family,” Will said. “I keep my head straight.“

23-year-old Will is approaching his senior year, and 21-year-old Tatiana her junior year, Will said once he graduates he hopes to work online in Bloomington to stay with Tatiana until she graduates.

“I’m confident no matter what we do, we will figure it out,” Will said. “I’m currently working online, and I think I can probably stick with that until she’s out. Then after we can move wherever we want. Right now we’re debating between somewhere south and/or west.”

Tatiana said she may be married young, but she believes her relationship is mature, and she and Will have a team effort on their college experience.

“Nobody wants to hear in this day and age, ‘I’m getting married at 18.’ Most people aren’t mature enough,” Tatiana said. “We both knew it was something really special. I don’t think there’s a perfect time or age for anyone to get married. A lot of people think it’s crazy if you get married young, but it’s been the best two and a half years.”

View the complete story here: http://mediaschool.indiana.edu/hsji/married-students-offer-a-glimpse-into-their-lives/

AREA DISTRICTS HOPE STUDENTS BENEFIT FROM LATER WAKE-UP CALL

Feature, News

Published: April 15, 2016

Sleep? There’s a nap for that.

As sleep is commonly called “food for the brain”, sleepfoundation.com reports that a lack of sleep limits a student’s ability to learn, listen, concentrate, and solve problems. Lack of sleep also makes teenagers and adults more prone to pimples and other skin problems.

According to nationwidechildrens.org, sleep deprivation impacts a student’s mood, behaviour, cognitive ability, academic performance, and driving ability. Sleep allows a person’s brain to relax and take a break.

Health studies from the sleepfoundation.com show that a student needs eight to ten hours of sleep a night.

Yet according to the Chronicle’s Twitter poll, 59 percent of Mason High School students average four to six hours of sleep a night.

Junior Katie Kenniston averages two to three hours of sleep a night, and she said that her schoolwork and career aspirations are the main reasons for her loss of sleep.

“I think it’s just because I’m trying to build up the endurance of becoming an actor, and you don’t get a lot of sleep when you do that,” Kenniston said. “That’s why I don’t get a lot of sleep, but it’s also because of the work load from (my classes).”

Sophomore Christine Martin said that going to bed late leaves an impact on her learning and concentration throughout the school day.

“I’m really tired in all of my classes, and in my first bell I’m always trying not to fall asleep,” Martin said. “When lunch rolls around, I’m even more tired because I just ate.”

Martin is not the only student that feels tired throughout the day. Despite going to sleep at 9 p.m., sophomore Alise Cheeseman said she feels tired throughout the day, even if all of her homework is done.

“If I don’t get enough sleep, I can’t function very well at the beginning of the day,” Cheeseman said. “You need to be able to pay attention in class and get things done so you don’t have to worry about it later on.”

On March 8, the Indian Hill Exempted Village School District School Board voted to change the district’s start time from 7:35 a.m. to 8 a.m. for the 2016-2017 school year.

Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles said the main reason to move the start time was because the school district would like to give students the opportunity to have more sleep.

“Research would demonstrate there are significant benefits for adolescents attending middle school and high school to have later start times, that they are more engaged after 8:30 in the morning,” Miles said. “The research we examined identified academic outcomes, health outcomes, and behavioural outcomes.”

The brain is not fully awake until 8:30 a.m., and the closer students start class to 8:30 a.m., the more engaged students will be, Miles said. Indian Hill, however, will not yet push back the start time to 8:30 a.m. because the shift would disrupt the students.

“We didn’t quite get to the 8:30 a.m. recommended time, but it is a start,” Miles said. “We thought that the significant shift to 8:30 a.m. would be a disruption to our students, our athletics, and our extracurricular activity schedule.”

With work and other activities taking up time, superintendent Dr. Gail Kist-Kline said teens most likely take away their sleep time because they have other priorities.

“Sleep does not always get the respect it deserves,” Kist-Kline said. “Good health means getting a good night’s sleep–and this is probably even more important when the brain is still developing.”

Both pros and cons must be evaluated before Mason can think about moving the school start time of the district to later, Kist-Kline said, but it may be a possibility in the future.

“As a community we might consider this option, but I’d also want to have a lot of community conversation about all the items that would take to make that happen and about how we prioritize sleep,” Kist-Kline said. “If we move back the start times, but teens just go to bed later, we haven’t really captured the hour. I know that many teens (and adults) may not love the idea of a set bedtime, but consistently enforcing a 10 p.m. bedtime is probably the very best way to change sleep habits so that we all feel ready to tackle the day.”

ACADEMIC TEAM HELPS ADD TO ALL SPORTS TOTAL, WIN GMC TITLE

Feature

Published: March 11, 2016

The Academic Quiz team won the Greater Miami Conference for the second time and scored 11 points towards Mason receiving the 2015 All-Sports trophy for the eighth year since Mason joined the GMC in 2007.

According to third year captain and senior George Valcarcel, the Academic Team plays each team in the GMC twice through conference play. They have reached a point of annual success by the combined record over the last two years being 35-1, and undefeated this season. In 2012, the Academic Team went 11-7, and in 2013 their record was 12-6. With the record in 2014 being 17-1 and this year 18-0, the Academic Team has shown major improvement.

With Princeton winning 31-30 to Mason last year and being the only team that Academic Team lost to in 2013, Valcarcel said that the team made sure they had a comeback this season.

“The final was Princeton and it was important for us because we went in with the mindset that we can’t take them for granted,” Valcarcel said. “We know that last year they were the one team that was able to beat us. We went in fully knowing that we were going to play our best game and minimize our mistakes. Sure enough, we crushed them.”

Valcarcel said that in addition to Princeton, Lakota West gave them some trouble over the years but they stuck it out to contribute to their flawless record.

“Lakota West has always been a strong rival in the GMC, and when our undefeated season was on the line, we were going down to the last couple questions,” Valcarcel said. “It really put the pressure on us and maybe in past seasons we would have cracked under the pressure. But by this season, due to our experience and maturity with the competition, we were able to hold our composure and calmly win the match.”

According to Ohio Academic Challenge Head Greg Bossick, the Comets should look to winning more rigorous competitions, and hope for a national title on the future.

“It’s definitely an accomplishment to win your league twice,” Bossick said. “But it should be just a starting point. It should be just a launching pad to your final destination.”

By winning the GMC, the Academic Team is advancing to regionals on April 16, said Valcarcel.

“We are at a point where we want to continue the tradition of success that we have started the last couple years,” Valcarcel said. “We would like a GMC trophy here in Mason from every year going on because the GMC is where everything starts.”

SNACK SATISFACTION

Feature

Published: March 20, 2015

Happiness is just four Oreos, a bowl of mac-n-cheese and a cheeseburger away.

Many people find different ways to enjoy what they eat, either by having an emotional connection to it, or by the feelings they get from it, psychologist Jeffrey Schlaeger said.

“I think what you eat does have a psychological connection, to be food you remember from a happier time, or an event from your life or sometimes just to try to get yourself in a better place,” Schlaeger said.

According to Josh Clark from science.howstuffworks.com, males and females tend to have different comfort food preferences based on their gender. From a 2005 survey of 277 men and women, Cornell University found that females tend to seek comfort in sweet and sugary foods like ice cream, while males prefer savory comfort foods like steak and soup. The study also found that men tend to use comfort foods as a reward, while women often feel guilty after indulging.

Schlaeger said that there could be a tie between what the different sexes classify as comfort food, and why these results show up.

“There could be a connection of when girls are younger, (because) they get treats,” Schlaeger said. “Maybe guys did it in a different way; maybe it was a burger or that kind of thing. Guys are hungry, and want to be rewarded. We are meat and potatoes guys.”

Schlaeger feels like boredom also plays a part in eating habits.

“Unfortunately it’s a cycle; we eat, partly because we just need something to do, but partly just to feel better,” Schlaeger said.  “When you do that, like when you start eating salty foods, all they do is make you want to eat more. Lay’s used to have the slogan of ‘No one can eat just one’. That’s all salty foods; not just Lay’s.”

According to Schlaeger, the changing seasons also affects eating habits that people have, which result in comfort eating.

“The Seasonal Effective Disorder is real,” Schlaeger said. “Lack of lighting, shorter days, less activity. I think sports are great, because no matter what you’re still forced to keep that consistent routine, which helps, but if you’re not committed to a routine where someone’s telling you what to do, it’s easy to let the days slip away.”

World History teacher Kenneth Whitney said that ice cream is his comfort food to help cure the winter blues.

“It’s cold and dark out (in the winter),” Whitney said. “Everytime it gets cold or we start having snow or a cold rainy night, I want to make a big pot of chili. Skyline Chili, and I’ll eat like five plates of it, then your stomach is full and you lay there. It makes you feel good.”

Schlaeger feels like people also tend to feel regret once they eat too much of a certain food.

“You feel good when you’re eating it,” Schlaeger said. “Then when you’re done, there’s some regret and guilt afterwards.”

SPOKEN WORD POETRY CLUB SLAMS INTO SPOTLIGHT

Feature, News

Published: January 30, 2015

The Spoken Word Poetry club has been making a slam at Mason High School.

The New Voices Spoken Word Poetry Club is a club at MHS that focuses on the art of poetry. Each month, New Voices challenges students with a new topic to craft their poetry about. Senior Priya Pandey, co-founder of the club, said that the topic for January is truth.

“What we are asking the Mason community to do is to search for what they believe is true,” Pandey said. “(We ask) to convey it in a poem and take that poem and perform it to a community of writers. Once this communication is actually held, you’re sharing intellectual ideas and you all are learning about ideas you’ve never considered because each individual is different. That’s how you grow more as a writer.”

To sophomore Jessica Wang, truth is what someone knows, but will not accept in reality. Wang focused her poem for January on this aspect of truth. By digging deeper into her heritage, she discovered more about herself and her family.

“There’s a poem by Phil K. online, it’s called ‘Teeth’, where he talks about his family’s history because he’s Jewish-Japanese,” Wang said. “It’s written in date format; it changes from present to past, which is really cool. I did something like that about my family, and the truth behind where we came from, and what people were like, even though I didn’t know most of the people.”

According to senior co-founder Alice Zhang, New Voices doesn’t only talk about family, but also themes that are prone to rising up in other poems, like religion, philosophy, and current events that are going on.

“It’s mainly a discussion group, but we also hold poetry slam events together,” Zhang said. “It’s kind of like a mish-mash of things that have to do with poetry.”

With a poetry slam being held each month, students can gather to unleash their true characters. According to Pandey, students give out compliments or constructive criticisms of the poet during the slam, which are viewed after the poetry slams.

“Usually we give people a paper, (and) we tell them to write down what they feel about the performance that is going on,” Pandey said. “This happens for every performer that goes on.   You take the note, then you put it in an envelope for that performer, and at the end of the slam, the performer receives an envelope with comments. It’s very encouraging; it makes you feel good, and like someone’s listening.”

Zhang also feels like New Voices is a very strong support network for its members. Because the club is currently so small, she says that it feels like a family.

“Our members don’t necessarily know each other, but when we gather together into a group, it’s like we’ve known each other for a long time,” Zhang said. “I really love how everybody in the club is thoughtful, open minded, and very creative. I just love listening to other people reading their work, sharing my own, and exchanging thoughts.”

According to Zhang, poetry might not be a trending topic, but New Voices creates an environment where students share their work and not worry about judgement.

“(Poetry) is not something people just randomly talk about in their daily lives,” Zhang said. “It’s a safe place where we can share our work and talk about it. It is very relaxing, and knowing it’s a safe place to talk about family issues going on, or things in your personal life. It’s an important thing for many of our members.”

Pandey feels like writing poetry is not enough sometimes, which is why she created the club. She feels that the poetry isn’t real until it is communicated through words to others.

“There’s a different feeling about Spoken Word Poetry that’s different in writing,” Pandey said. “It makes you feel like the words you are writing are just coming alive, and it makes you feel powerful. There’s something beautiful about a room of people that give you that feeling. That’s what our club is all about.”