On the Upswing

Page 1

May 2022

On the

Up swing

Navigating the highs and lows of our post-COVID world

CHSToday

The student publication of Conifer High School


CHS

Today

May / 2022 Editors: Maya Dawson, Graciela Fischer Photographer: Corey Neumeier Reporters: Max Bogdanoff, Erich Bohn, Ellie Chase, Amelia Hobgood, Skye Justice, Alyson Meyers, Leo Nickerson, Ariana Pensy, Mia Vaughn, Zoe Watts Radio Team: Nate Allem, Zoe Watts, Haylee Williams Adviser: Leslie Thompson, CJE Mission Statement: CHS Today is a student-run newspaper written, edited, and designed by the newspaper class of Conifer High School. We are an open forum that seeks to provide fair, truthful, and thorough coverage of our school and community. The staff takes full responsibility to thoroughly investigate and report all sides of our content with an unbiased and objective viewpoint. The material, ideas, and opinions expressed in CHS Today do not necessarily reflect those of the adviser, administration, or individual staff members. They are the sole product of the magazine’s staff. Please direct letters to the editor, story errors, or points needing further clarification to our staff at: chsstudentmedia@gmail.com

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From the Editors High school is hard. It’s harder when you’re navigating a global pandemic. And now, as we try to find normalcy in a world where one-and-a-half of the most significant years in our lives are a blur of virtual learning and isolation, we are supposed to be on the upswing. But, the truth is, there are highs and lows in this post-COVID world, and navigating them isn’t always easy. For our staff, these lows included losing our funding through the school when COVID stretched the budget too thin. They included our small number of reporters and new editor team. They included our five returning reporters training nine new reporters in everything from writing to graphic design. These new reporters, most of whom are freshmen, entered our staff with no journalism experience, but their passion for storytelling and willingness to cover the most daunting issues in our school and community has redefined what it is to be a student journalist at Conifer High School. Our journalists sold ads to afford to print this magazine, and we taught ourselves how to design it, even though we had no experience doing so previously. This process has been hectic and pushed our limits as a publication… and we’re stronger because of it. Our reporters have tackled everything, from wars overseas to haunted school hallways, to bring you this publication. These are the stories that scare us, and make us excited, and give us hope. We are living in a world that is constantly changing. There will be highs and lows… but, on

the playground that is life,

we’re coming out

. g n i g swin


In This Issue You can find more stories on our

website chstoday.net or

dowload our app,

Student News Source

and be notified when we publish new content

04 School Budget 07 Mental Health 09 Social Emotional Screenings 12 Student Burnout 13 Student Radio 14 Bathroom Graffiti 16 Tardy Policy 18 Letter from Ukraine 20 Substitute Shortage 22 Ghosts in the School 25 Microplastic Pollution 27 Student Action on Climate Change 28 Neighbors with a Killer 30 Reviews

Photos by Corey Neumeier (Left) Senior Anastasia Satchell celebrates after the 2021-2022 Powderpuff game between the junior and senior girls during Homecoming Week (Right) Juniors Maddox Rife and Wyatt Canaday play a blindfolded game at a school pep assembly recognising spring sports

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CHS sees funding decli ne as enrollment drops 7% in two years a school twice Conifer’s size would need to hire the same administrative team, but those employees would be supported by the funding of almost two thousand students instead of Conifer’s 813.

continue decreasing in the coming years.

This year’s graduating senior class includes 201 students, but the current 8th grade class at West Jefferson Middle School, the only feeder school for CHS, is 177 students. The school will need to recruit another 24 students to meet current enrollment numbers.

By Maya Dawson

Almost 7% of Conifer High School students left the school during the past two academic years, which has cut into the schools’ funding and left the administration with less money to pay teachers. Teachers are working multiple positions or have had their hours reduced, while administrators are not filling vacant positions as employees retire – and the situation is only expected to get worse in the coming years as enrollment decreases.

“If I don’t have 24 students… that’s one teacher reduction,” CHS Principal Wesley Paxton said. Paxton explained that these cuts in funding are hitting Conifer particularly hard because it is one of the smallest schools in the district, which makes it more expensive to operate. For instance,

Conifer also does not receive Title I funds, which are based on the number of students receiving free or reduced lunch, or Title IV funds, which are determined by the number of second language learners at a school. “We need to have a larger per-pupil funding to support the programs we have here and the increasing need for additional supports, like mental health specialists, additional counseling services, and administrative services,” Paxton said. Paxton will be meeting with the district superintendent to discuss the need for greater per-pupil funding in small schools, but in the meantime is reaching out to the community in an effort to recruit more students.

“It’s put a lot of strain on other teachers to pick up the slack of the part-time teachers when we aren’t available,” said Brian Bunnell, an AP Chemistry teacher who reduced his hours this year. CHS had 873 students during the 20182019 school year, before the pandemic, and has lost 60 students since then. This may seem like a small change, but the money the school receives from the district is based on how many students are enrolled at CHS. This year the school received $5,130 for each student at the school, meaning that in the past two years the school has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. Enrollment is expected to

Photo by Corey Neumeier AP Chemistry teacher Brian Bunnell holds a part-time teaching position this year due to the school’s decreased funding, along with half of the school’s science department, making it difficult for students to get help outside of class.

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Decreased enrollment has forced seven of Conifer’s teachers to teach classes parttime this year, two of which have taken up positions in the library or as technology support in addition to teaching classes so they can still be employed full time by the school. Four of these teachers are in the science department, including AP Chemistry teacher Brian Bunnell. AP Chemistry is one of the most challenging AP classes, and because Bunnell is only at the school on “silver” days of Conifer’s block schedule, students are struggling to get help outside of class. Senior AP Chemistry student Haylee Williams talked about how the only time students can get help from Bunnell is when he is teaching other classes because he has no free period and is not at the school for “green” block days when students have Seminar. This is also difficult for Bunnell, who must plan for his classes on his own time. “On the late start [green day] Wednesdays I’ll be here anyway for our meetings, and then I’ll just stay for several hours and work on planning, prepping labs, and grading papers,” Bunnell said.

The diagram above shows the number of students enrolled in each grade for the 20212022 school year for Conifer High School (CHS) and West Jefferson Middle School (WJMS), the only feeder school for CHS. School administration fears declining enrollment in future years if they cannot find enough students to open-enroll at the high school

Bunnell volunteered for this part-time position when the school needed to decrease their spending, but his ability to return to a full-time position next year depends on both total school enrollment and how many students signed up for science classes during registration last week. However, even with unknown enrollment numbers for next year, Bunnell is not afraid of being laid off.

“We all know that we’re going to have a job, it’s just that we don’t exactly know what that’s going to look like,” Bunnell said. Across the district decreasing enrollment is threatening schools. In the past five years 7,600 students have left Jeffco, resulting in funding cuts up to $60 million. For reference, the Jeffco district has a budget of $1.42 billion this year and Conifer has a budget of about $4.9 million. This year alone Jeffco received a decrease in state funding of $34 million, or $662 per student, according to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). “I depend on my work with [school staff] to brainstorm solutions on how we can reduce budgets but hold onto people who our students thrive under,” Paxton said. The CDE expects that enrollment will increase in the next few years as students who transferred to online schools during COVID-19 return to in-person schooling, but we have yet to see if this increase will affect Conifer. “Whatever happens with COVID is a nuance we’ve never had before, so it’s really impacted my projections,” Paxton said.

Photo by Corey Neumeier

Senior AP Chemistry student Ryan Roccanova mixes compounds during a lab. “I depend on my work with [school staff] to brainstorm solutions on how we can reduce budgets but hold onto people who our students thrive under,” Paxton said.

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I N F O L I T H O @ G M A I L . C O M • L I T H O S A R VA D A . C O M •

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L I T H O S A R VA D A


Struggling? It’s OK to Get Help

Mental Illness is on the Rise in Teens By Max Bogdanoff

Recently, Conifer High School has been addressing mental health concerns among students. Because of the pandemic, depression and anxiety have been on the rise, especially among young people. According to the Colorado Health Access Survey, more than a third of Coloradans over 16 reported symptoms of mental illness due to the pandemic. The school has realized this is an issue, and has put up posters and advertised the peer counseling program. Mental health is a complicated topic, and one that carries a lot of stigma in our society. It is also tough for people struggling with depression or anxiety to open up. The high school environment can be negative and have a poor impact on mental health. One resource students have in the school right now is the peer counseling program. Anyone can go to their website to schedule a session talking with a CHS student trained through the school’s Peer Counseling program. Though these peer counselors aren’t licensed psychologists, they are happy to listen if you have any concerns and help to the best of their abilities. “You can talk to us. It’s a safe place. You can come in, feel better about yourself, and you might get some help,” junior Peer Counselor Blake Wickham said. Though the school is limited in what it can do to help, there are resources outside of the school, provided by the government, that students and other teens can access. Recently the state launched the ‘I Matter’ program, which entitles Colorado residents 18 or younger to six free therapy sessions. Anyone that is eligible can go to the website and get the help they need (see QR code). However, the campaign might not be spreading awareness effectively.

Erin Gacnik and Ella Hubbard from the Peer Counseling program design mental health awareness posters. Corey Neumeier, CHSToday

“I don’t think the people that need to be reading the posters advertising the I Matter program are reading them,” sophomore Asher Phillips said. Despite this, getting help isn’t as difficult as people might think, and it’s more important than ever. You don’t even need to sign up for a therapy session, you can just reach out and talk. The school’s staff is here to help,

not just with academics, but with other problems you might be having in your life. “If you need to talk to me, you can tell me, I’d respect it and just tell you my opinion and what I think… If I see [anyone struggling with mental health], I’m definitely going to try to engage with that person, and try to help,” Security Guard Ernest Martinez said.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255 “I Matter:” Free Therapy Program

Contact a Peer Counselor

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English Teachers Conducting Social Emotional Screenings By Alyson Meyers 9th and 10th grade English teachers districtwide have been tasked with evaluating their students’ social and emotional health

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Across the district, 9th and 10th grade English teachers have been tasked with screening their students’ social and emotional health. Juniors and seniors have been excluded because the program is in its beginning stages. “They are taking a snapshot of students’ strengths and seeing where students are doing great as far as social emotional learning,” Conifer High School (CHS) Prevention Specialist Melanie Lewis said. English teachers have been provided with a program called SSIS SEL,

a product developed by Pearson Assessments. SSIS SEL grades students on a number scale that assesses different aspects of their socialemotional wellbeing. The program has one assessment occurring in the fall, one in the winter, and the last in the spring.

“One of the problems with the test is that a lot of those items overlap. It’s hard to tell the difference between self-regulation and self-awareness,” English teacher Joshua Nielson said. Nielson and other teachers in the English department have raised

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concerns as to their ability to properly assess students’ mental health. They do not meet the same qualifications as trained counselors and mental health professionals. “I haven’t been trained. I can see a kid in my class is struggling, but where do I go from there?” English teacher Grace Koenigbauer said. The English department is the only academic department conducting these SEL screenings, which has led to skepticism around the accuracy of the data that the screenings collect. “If there’s a student who is not into English or perhaps isn’t compatible with my own personality, I might have a horribly skewed view of their mental health that has nothing to do with their actual mental health,” Nielson said. English teachers were chosen for the task because they are believed to have deeper relationships with their students and more contact with the skills for which the district is testing. “It has to be an adult that has a relationship and is able to see these skills, behaviors, and actions,” the Coordinator of Social Emotional Learning Specialists at Jeffco Schools, Erin Sullivan, said. The screenings test for selfmanagement, self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision making, and problem-

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“I don’t think that the process was set up for high school teachers to do it correctly,” Koeningbauer said. Photo C. Neumeier

solving. English teachers reflect on the behaviors that they observe and rate their students on a scale of one to five. “Every day in school we assess kids in math, we assess kids in science, social studies, reading, writing, so what we’re also looking at is well-roundedness,” Lewis said.

It’s an institutional solution to a humanistic problem,” Nielson said.

The district mandated these screenings so they can implement programs to support students and provide them with life skills. Such programs would

teach students about competencies that they showed an underdeveloped understanding in, through assemblies, in class lessons, or small group learning. These skills are defined by Pearson Assessments in materials provided for their product. “We call them social emotional skills, social competencies,” Sullivan said. “We’re doing our best as a system to teach and work with students to grow that.” The data collected from these social emotional screenings will come from a sample of 53,000 students. That data can be accessed by teachers and administrators who complete the proper training. Prevention specialists such as Melanie Lewis are responsible for training teachers on the SSIS SEL screenings. “Our first real goal and guidance


that we’ve put out on this data is for our schools to reflect on how we are supporting our students, and if we are teaching these skills,” Sullivan said. SSIS SEL so far has not included parent or student input and participation. Only teachers are supplying information for the screenings, and self screenings and parent screenings have not been provided. “The purpose of universal screening is intended to be a quick and easy gauge of students at that moment in time. Thus, getting more data in this form from families and students would not meet the standards of universal screening,” Sullivan said. While the evaluations do not include student or parent input, this is not in an effort to keep the details of the evaluation from them. “It’s not sensitive information really,” Sullivan said. “These are life skills and it’s not intended to be a secret.” The process of screening as of now does not include students being part of the assessment, even though Pearson

provides a student self-assessment tool. This means that students are not conducting self-evaluations or discussing the screenings with teachers. “We’re at the very beginning of doing this system,” Sullivan said. “This should be one component. It’s not the be-all and end-all, it’s the starting point.” Pearson Assessments designed the

SSIS SEL product to be a three-pronged look into a student’s social and emotional health. The product was intended to have parents and students conduct assessments in addition to teachers. “[SSIS SEL] integrates the different components with an aligned, multitiered intervention,” the Pearson Assessments website states. This triangle of information was intended to provide a more comprehensive look into the data the screenings collect. However, CHS is not giving out the other two screenings at this time. “I think that it’s an institutional solution to a humanistic problem,” Nielson said.

English teacher Joshua Nielson talks with his class.“We call them social emotional skills, and we’re doing our best as a system to teach them,” Sullivan said. Photo C. Neumeier

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Our Journey With Lobo Life Radio, Episode 2

Radio

Lobo Life Radio, Episode 3

Haylee Williams, Nate Allem, and Zoe Watts. “I really got to bond with the most amazing people I’ve ever met while working on radio,” senior Haylee Williams said.

Seniors Nate Allem and Zoe Watts listen to Mark Spiroff, Consulting Principal of Conifer Radio, as he pitches a collaboration between Conifer Radio and the students at Conifer High School. The initial project involved students creating 15-minute podcasts about life around Conifer High. The podcasts aired on Wednesdays at 5 pm and again on Saturday mornings. photo by Maya Dawson, CHS Today

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Holes In Bathroom Walls

Art students Emma Hoelsken, Yzzy Bellotti, and Sadie Bean-Osburn received approval from administrators to create a new school mural in the middle floor girls bathroom. By Alyson Meyers

Juniors Ysabella Bellotti,

was when we started talking

Sadie Bean-Osburn, and

about ideas for it,” Bellotti

Sophomore Emma Hoelsken

said.

have started to create a portfolio for a new mural

The mural has been designed

coming to Conifer High

to look like there are holes in

School. The three AP and

the wall that look into an-

Advanced art students are

other universe. There will be

undertaking the project after

“holes” in each of the stalls

a bathroom graffiti incident

and there will also be cracks

involving Bean-Osburn.

around the hand driers, sinks, and mirrors. This idea was

“What happened was one

inspired by a project Bellotti

day I got really bored. So I

has been working on in her

took a Sharpie and started

bedroom.

drawing right? Turns out very much,” Bean-Osburn said,

Vandalism in the girls’ bathroom using a Sharpie marker. The graffiti has since been covered by the custodial staff. photo by Sadie Bean-Osburn

and then making it look like it’s

“They were like, why don’t you

more students to help her build

a portal to another dimension,”

channel this into something more

a portfolio to present to Conifer

positive?”

Principal Wesley Paxton for

the school didn’t like that

approval.

“I’ve been painting a picture

Bellotti said. The artists will each take one stall and individualize their portal based

Bean-Osburn decided to channel

on what they envision.

her art into a new mural for the

“This mural project is kind of

school. The mural will be placed in

insane, but Emma heard through

the middle floor girls’ bathroom.

the grapevine that [Bean-Osburn]

“When you walk into each stall

Bean-Osburn then recruited two

was going to be starting it. So that

there will be a hole in the wall effect

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and within each stall there will be a different scene or different type of vision or drawing inside of this hole,” Hoelsken said. Hoelsken is planning on making her universe a serene tropical landscape. Bellotti plans on painting a skeleton astronaut in another dimension

“I didn’t like it when they would just cover things. I don’t like it when art is just silenced,” Bean-Osburn said.

featuring bright colors and floating mechanical whales. She also plans on adding floating stingrays to her piece. “[The stingrays] have a little bit more of a meaning because my brother’s name is Ray and my little sister used to call them stingray rays,” Bellotti said. Bean-Osburn is going to depict fantasy creatures and ghostly apparitions as she did in her first “mural” in the girls’ bathroom. With this project, she hopes

like it when you would just

to supply the bathroom with

cover things. I don’t like it

beautiful art that can’t be covered

when art is just silenced.”

or painted over. Bean-Osburn is making a school-approved space for bathroom art that will facilitate a fun, colorful environment for students. “I always love graffiti art, like just walking into the bathroom and just seeing what different people wrote,”

Junior Ysabella Bellotti came up with the original idea for the project by painting these tears on her own bedroom walls. photos courtesy of Ysabella Belloti

Bean-Osburn said, “but it would always get painted over and I didn’t

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CHS Tardy Policy

A 2016 attendance policy is being enforced once again By Erich Bohn

T he number of students in

Jefferson County Schools who qualify as “chronically absent” –meaning those who have missed more than 17.5 school days each year–has increased from 24% to over 30% over the past year. Nearly 25,000 students out of the 87,000 students enrolled in the district are now considered chronically absent. In response to this trend, Conifer High School reinstated an old attendance policy on January 24, 2022, that is designed to address chronic tardiness, a related issue that is seen as contributing to chronic absences.

District has seen a 2% increase in tardies over the past year, with the average attendance rate dropping from 90.9% in 2020-2021 to 88.9% so far this year, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The increases in tardies have been disrupting class time and throwing off lesson plans for several teachers. Many teachers agree that

“And because the nature of band is more group-oriented it is definitely frustrating,” Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, tardiness among students at Conifer has increased significantly. Even as the unpredictability caused by the pandemic has begun to subside, many students are now simply accustomed to arriving at school

It’s become an increasing problem and we didn’t have this issue last year because we were mostly hybrid so we didn’t have tardies,” Principal Wesley Paxton said. The policy, originally implemented in 2016, punishes students who have more than two unexcused tardies a month. The decision to revive the policy was made by Paxton after discovering that numerous students, primarily upperclassmen, had been regularly arriving at school late in recent months. “What we’re doing is we are trying to enforce good habits of showing up on time, which you need to do for any job. The consequences are if they have more than two tardies then they have lunch detention in the cafeteria,” Paxton said. The Jefferson County School

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Conifer Students walking the halls. Corey Neumeier, CHSToday

the policy is helpful in making lessons more time-efficient. “Having kids show up late means that we start a little bit later,” Band director Sean Cartner said.

late. Some students who struggle with chronic tardiness are in a pattern of arriving to class a few minutes late, while others are arriving halfway through class. The reasons for tardiness can vary


widely, but not all students think the reinstated policy is effective at helping them arrive to class on time, in part because a few believe the punishments are too light.

Logan Tschakert said. “I think it is a good policy but it needs to be adjusted a little bit.”

a month. Whether the policy will have the same effect this year is still un clear. In the four weeks since Conifer began enforcing the policy again not much appears to have changed, but the administration remains confident that it will prove to be an effective deterrent.

Since 2016, Conifer has periodically paused enforcement “I’m late every of the day, and always policy “It’s become an increasing problem and for by a couple of we didn’t have this issue last year.” minutes. The different problem is that reasons, I’m lazy and most “This year we have not seen enjoy sleeping,” junior Corey a significant reduction in recently because of the uncertainty Neumeier said. “The incentive not tardies,”Assistant Principal to be tardy is lunch detention, and created by the pandemic. The high Greg Manier said. “But when school also does not enforce the who cares about that?” kids realize that we are actually policy if there is any new snow on enforcing it and that there will be the ground. In the fall of 2019, Students who often arrive on time lunch detention it will come down after the policy was re-enforced believe that the rules should be quickly.” after a pause, less strict in case of events that the number the student arriving late could not of students control, like traffic, car problems, “One month is a very long time for reported as and other unpredictabilities. just two tardies.” tardy dropped from 101 to 35 “One month is a very long time in a little over for just two tardies,” freshman

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Letter from Ukraine by Maya Dawson

When Olesya Tretyak came to Conifer High School in the 2014-2015 school year she ran on the cross country team. She went skiing with her exchange family. Now, back home in Ukraine, she is in the middle of a war. Tretyak, now 21, lives in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine near Poland. Though it is far from the warfront the city has not been spared from conflict. On March 26 the city was hit by two rockets that destroyed a depot providing fuel to Ukranian soldiers, only a day after Russia claimed that they were shifting their attention to eastern Ukraine’s disputed territories. Conifer resident Lori Vaclavik hosted Tretyak during her exchange year in Colorado. The previous year she

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hosted a student from Russia, which makes it difficult for her to see the innocent people caught on both sides of the war. “Other than the countries from which they came the two girls had much in common, and they both desired a future in a peaceful country,” Vaclavik said. For Tretyak, though, that peace is still distant. She wrote about her experience in a letter to our student media program. Our staff believes that it is best to hear about her experience in her

Olesya Tretyak, 2014

own voice, and have not altered the letter.

As I am writing this it is the 9th of

March 2022, the 14th day of the war in Ukraine. The 14th day of Russia bombarding my country, targeting civilians, schools, hospitals, and kids! Let’s go back in time, to the 23rd of February, a day before the war. Me and my boyfriend were looking at flats, planning to move in together. We just visited a potential apartment and were so excited to start this new chapter of our lives, towards which both of us have worked very hard. I went home feeling very happy and in anticipation. My mom woke me up around 7:30 in the morning, crying and saying that I should pack a bag and flee the country because the war has started. That our capital - Kyiv- as well as other cities are being bombarded. I couldn’t quite register what was going on. How can one understand that there is a real WAR happening in the 21st century? With tanks, bombs, terror. You read about it in the the history books, but it is impossible to comprehend that it can be happening in reality. To this day, I sometimes think that I will wake up and it all will be a terrible, terrible nightmare. It just feels so surreal. A good 10 minutes passed before I snapped out of my frozen state. I made a decision that I want to stay home and don’t want to run. It’s hard to say what the right decision should be in this situation. If I had kids I would probably cross the border. But since my dad and my boyfriend expressed that they will not run and will fight if needed, me and my mother wanted to stay as well, to help with anything we can. I have a younger sister, but luckily


I am choosing to be strong. Yes, I am frightened and exhausted, but I choose to stay strong for my loved ones and my country. I am supporting the army financially as much as I can, I volunteer with supplying medicine to the eastern part of the country. I am trying to keep working, to support the economy, to pay taxes, so that we can win now and rebuild the ruins that Russia created after.

Photos courtesy of Lori Vaclavik

Tretyak (center left) stands with Lori Vaclavik (left) and family, who hosted Tretyak during her foreign exchange year in the U.S. during 2014 she is currently in the US, doing an exchange year. She was the one who called my parents at 5:30 a. m. telling that the war has started (due to time difference she was the first to know) That morning, the 24th of February, was the scariest moment of my entire 21-year life. The next days were like a blur air alarm would go off a couple of times a day and night, and everyone will have to go hide in

bomb shelters. I was scared to go to sleep, because for the first three days every time I closed my eyes the sirens would go off. I was unable to calmly take a shower, because than I would have to run to shelter with wet hair. (And winter is quite cold in Ukraine) Me and my friends would check if everyone heard the sirens, we would wake each other in the middle of the nights to hide.

I live in the western part of Ukraine, near the border with Poland. East and center of my country are affected by Russian war the most. I might be frightened, but I am at home, I can have “I am choosing to be strong. a hot meal. I cannot Yes, I am frightened and exhausted, but I choose to stay strong for my loved even start to imagine what terrors people ones and my country.” go through, that are -Olesya Tretyak in the epicenter of bombarding, who have lost their homes.

Reading the news is scary. You know, how in Harry Potter, in the 7th book Ron was always listening to news. Was he hoping to hear anything positive? No, he was hoping not to hear anything negative. I am the same way right now, falling asleep and waking up with news. Civilian houses, cars, children, hospitals!!! All of them are being shot, bombarded, destroyed. Almost 100 kids died from 2 weeks of war. Countless are injured. Women are giving birth in bomb shelters! Why, why should anyone endure it? Why did Russia start this meaningless war, how can someone be so cruel? Every day I make a single wish - I want the war to stop. It will be hard afterwards, I know. I wouldn’t be able to fulfill many of my plans. Some of them even sound silly now - moving out, traveling, getting a dog. I also sometimes feel the “survivor syndrome,” blaming myself that I am at home, with my family, when some other Ukrainians are dying from dehydration, because Russians are not letting them leave through the “green corridors” and shooting them. But I try to chase those thoughts away and stay strong and useful in the ways I can.

This letter was sent in early March. Further attempts to contact Olesya have been unsucessful.

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Substitutes Slipping Away

Declining numbers of substitute teachers nationwide affect Conifer High School Classrooms

By Mia Vaughn

Schools all over the United

emergency, we can put a request in

substitutes,” McFadden-Barr

States, including Conifer High

our automated sub system and subs

said.

School, have been struggling to

from around Jefferson county can

find substitutes when teachers

pick up the sub job. Frequently,

pandemic, issues only got worse.

are unable to work. Although

it’s these last-minute sub-jobs that

Many people did not want to

Conifer has not been hit as

aren’t ever picked up by a sub,

have lengthy interactions with

hard as other schools within

leaving us without coverage for a

others, and this included subs.

the district, substitutes are still

teacher.”

The risk of being exposed to

hard to come by, especially with

The shortage is not

During the COVID-19

COVID-19 in a classroom is high

COVID still looming over the

something completely new.

because many people are in a

public.

Substitute teachers have always

room with limited ventilation.

Ariana Pensy is a senior at

Getting sick often isn’t worth the

Conifer who recently moved to

risk of being in class for sub-

Colorado from Arizona.

stitute teachers, not to mention that many of these substitutes are

“It seems like here they are handling it better because you

older, which makes them particu-

actually have subs,” Pensy said,

larly susceptible to the virus. Cindy Klinker has been

“There were times at my school

a substitute teacher for 11 years.

[in Arizona] where we would be in class and there would just be no teacher.” Full-time teachers have been hard-hit by the shortage. When something comes up where

“ Wh e n t h e p a n d e m i c h app e n e d , m a ny of ou r s u b s t it ut e s , w h o a re re t i re d t e a c h e r s t h e m s e l v e s , d e c i d e d t h e r i s k of t e a c h i n g on t h e c l a s s ro om w a s t o o g re at ,” Mc - Fa d d e n s a i d . ( C or y Ne u me i e r, C H STo d ay )

one to cover their class. “Typically, if we know we are missing a day in advance, we can call our favorite substitutes to see if they have the availability to cover our absence.” Jessie McFadden-Barr, a science teacher at CHS, said. “If it’s an

20

through the Jeffco school system and she has connections with many teachers, making it easier to find jobs. “It’s been way busier

they are not able to be at school, they need to scramble find some-

Her kids have come and gone

been difficult to come by due to controversy over pay. Teaching can be a strenuous job, especially if the students don’t behave. “If subs aren’t compensated at a rate that makes the job worth their time and energy, many subs are going to decide not to continue as

than ever,” she said. “I have been receiving calls ever since the beginning of school. This year I have been asked months in advance to sub. I have had so many phone calls and texts, and have even been stopped in the hall.” Teachers need to be proactive about filling absences,


If subs aren’t compensated at a rate that makes the job worth their time and energy, many subs are going to decide not to continue.

because there just aren’t enough substitutes to go around.

teacher in class, the office has

paid more than teachers because

to scramble to find someone to

they are often put into an

make up for the absent teacher.

environment where they aren’t

“You got to do what you got to

always respected or have little

do to help out,” Ben Anderson,

knowledge on how to teach the

a long-time social studies

class.

teacher said. “Classes have to be covered, you know?”

“You can’t just pay them a little bit, you have to make

If a teacher is on their

it reasonable for them to come

planning period when they get

in,” Anderson said. “Pay them

called in to sub for another

accordingly to what they do. It’s

teacher they get paid for the

tough to be a sub and be thrown

extra hours, but if they fill in

into a situation like that.”

when they would otherwise be in

Teachers can’t afford to

the learning center they are not

miss days because it’s uncertain

additionally compensated.

if their class will have someone

Fewer substitutes as a result of inadequate pay has

watching over them. “You can’t take a day off

only been amplified by COVID.

to drink lemonade on a porch

a school,” Klinker said, “and I

Some believe that substitute

somewhere,” Anderson said.

work every day.”

teachers should even be getting

“I can just get stuck at

Substitute teachers have been so in demand that they have even been asked to fill in for other teachers during their planning period. “That only usually happens a lot in the summer, but this happens all the time now. There is definitely a shortage,” Klinker said. In worst-case scenarios, other teachers at the school have been subbing for those who couldn’t make it during one of their planning periods or when they are in the Learning Center.

If substitute teachers can’t be found, the office has to scramble to

Because students always need a

find someone so that no class is left unattended. Mia Vaughn, CHSToday

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G H O S T S By Ellie Chase

The main staircase on the basement floor, where the ghost first made its appearance in front of security cameras. The mysterious silhouette took 3 steps up the staircase then came back down and disappeared into a work room to the left of the image. Photo by: Ellie Chase

Conifer is a small town, but being small doesn’t mean it lacks fascinating and unexplainable things… like ghosts. A Travel Chanel article ranks Colorado as the 15th most haunted state, and CHS could be contributing to the paranormal sightings and potential hauntings in Colorado. Facility Manager Gene Smith was the first to notice paranormal activity at Conifer High School. In

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2012, Smith noticed that the security cameras had triggered in the middle of the night. When looking back on the footage Smith saw something unexplainable. “It was just like a silhouette, and in the camera it was white,” Smith said. The clip was 12-15 seconds long and Smith watched as the figure came out of the women’s restroom on the basement floor, moved to the men’s restroom, and then took three steps up

the main staircase. After moving back down the staircase, the figure went into a workroom and disappeared. “It was something that was unidentifiable and unexplainable,” Smith said. Upon finding the clip, Smith showed it to Deputy McDonald who at the time agreed with him that it was unexplainable. Though the footage was lost over the years, the memory and unsettling feelings are still present for Smith.


And this wasn’t the last incompreoccurred, spirits can get stuck there.” died within a month of each other of hensible event. A few years later, new Spry believes that schools that diphtheria in 1879. The children were fire alarms were put in the school and have experienced a school shooting or 10, 8, and 3 years of age, with Willard the electrical company ran into some a student suicide are very likely to be Jr only being 16 days old. The parents unexpected problems. Modulars were spiritually active. Conifer High School were named Christie and Willard. placed through the building to signal has experienced neither, “[Willard] almost lost IT WAS LIKE A for the fire alarm system, and the pro- but Spry emphasizes his mind with grief,” cess didn’t go as usual. that ghosts are not as Margaret Bentley wrote “They said that they have nev- uncommon as they may in Upper Side of the AND ON THE CAMERA er had so many of these modulars mal- seem. Pie Crust, her book on function,” Smith said. “I mean, they “The greatest IT WAS WHITE Southwestern Jefferson would just burn out for no reason.” thing people don’t County history. An electrician that was a part understand about ghosts is that it Though Willard is buried at of this operation named Ish shared his makes more sense to know spirits do the Fairmont Cemetery in Denver, his experience with Smith. Ish was work- exist rather than to think they don’t,” children’s memorial exists about three ing on the wiring of the school around Spry said. “Most don’t realize spirits minutes by car from Conifer High 9:00 pm when he saw weird things as are simply energy, so when our vessel School. well. He was working on a wire in the is not healthy enough to hold that According to Spry, hauntings same hallway that the ghost had been energy anymore, our energy releases often occur when someone dies in a seen in when he felt someone close from the body into the air after the last depressed state. Maybe Willard Head to him. He watched as a figure that breath, sometimes a bit sooner. Based came back to haunt a high school to looked like a person came through the on the theory of science, energy can’t see kids grow up because he never got door about 30 feet away to see his own kids grow up. from him. Because he Death in depression and YOU FEEL LIKE was in the middle of an is what causes a SOMEONE OR SOMETHING IS violence electrical job, he turned haunting. Willard Head died away for a moment to in the midst of depression, finish, and when he BUT THERE’S NO ONE THERE. but violence comes into play looked back the figure with the story of the Lubin was gone. He hadn’t heard a door shut be destroyed. So if that energy-matter family. or open. (soul) doesn’t move on to heaven or On September 21st of 1881, “I came off the ladder, left hell, it’s still around us. Most people it was reported that John Lubin’s wife my tools where they were at and went don’t know that there are spirits had died under mysterious circumhome for the day. Because I couldn’t around us all the time…everywhere.” stances. John Lubin claimed that she explain it,” Ish told Smith. Because you can rule out a had gone to bed with a severe cold, and Though the sightings and more recent trauma that might lead died 36 hours later. However, when feelings of Smith and electrician Ish to a spirit, looking into the past of she was being prepared for burial they are hard to small-town Conifer found evidence to suggest that it wasn’t ignore, world- IT WAS reveals heartbreaking a cold that killed her. renowned and mysterious deaths. “Some of the neighbors Psychic and Conifer Historical prepared Mrs. Lubin for burial, and Paranormal Society Volunteer bruises were found all over her body,” AND Investigator Susan Switzer is very Author Lee Heideman wrote in HomeKate Spry knowledgeable about steaders, Moonshiners, and Frontier believes that the town of Conifer’s Law. “This led to the belief that she had hauntings are not common in schools, past, and one of the most depressing died from ‘violent treatment’ from her but not impossible. deaths in the area is the tragedy of the husband.” “There are many factors that Head family’s children. A neighbor confirmed that come into play here,” Spry said. “It “Each died within days of each she often heard fighting between the can often be the land that the school other, and are now at the Beaver Ranch couple and that Mrs. Lubin often came was built on that has a lot of spiritual cemetery,” Switzer said. to her home to seek refuge. The couple activity. Or, if there was a death on the The Head children, Celia, had four children, three sons and one property where depression or violence Charles, Orrilla, and Willard Jr all daughter. One of the sons also stated

SILHOUETTE

“ WATCHING YOU,

UNIDENTIFIABLE

UNEXPLAINABLE”

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that his mother wouldn’t have died if not for the cruel treatment of his father. John was arrested and sent to prison in Golden. But Mrs. Lubin’s mysterious demise was not the end of the Lubin’s family violence. John was discharged from jail just a week later. Not long after, one of his sons found him dead in bed with a bullet wound to his head. It is unclear to this day whether he was murdered or if he committed suicide,

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but regardless, the Lubin parents both died a violent death. The Head father and the Lubin couple both make good candidates for the ghost at Conifer High School, but until another sighting occurs it will remain unclear if any of these people are truly the pale figure that wanders the basement floor. Though the mysterious human-like figure hasn’t been sighted since Ish’s night at work, Smith often

gets an unsettling feeling that he can not shake. Because of snow removal and various other commitments, Smith occasionally finds himself in the school at 3:00 am and earlier. When he walks around the building in the darkness of the morning he sometimes feels a presence. “You feel like someone or something is watching you, but there’s no one there,” Smith said.

The Head children’s memorial sits peacefully in the Beaver Ranch Pioneer Cemetery. The cemetery contains nine memorials, and overlooks highway 285. Photo Credit: Ellie Chase


Tiny, Harmful, And Absolutely Everywhere By Amelia Hobgood

People are surrounded by

tiny bits of plastic hidden within their everyday lives. These plastic bits may be small, but they pose a large threat to health and the environment. They are called microplastics. “Microplastics are basically residue of other plastic trash,” Environmental Science teacher Jeff Colborn said. These tiny bits of plastic come in two categories: primary and secondary. Primary microplastics are plastics that were already small to begin with. Things such as microfibers from clothing or plastic pellets called nurdles, that are melted to make other forms of plastic. The secondary microplastics are the result of larger plastics getting broken down, such as water bottles or wrappers. “Plastic is literally everywhere,” Colborn said. “It’s a pretty serious pollution problem.” Plastic surrounds everyone and it has become a massive part of peoples’ lives…. bottles, straws, lids, bags, and wrappers are just a few examples. Plastic is manufactured for almost everything humans use. The problem is that plastic is made to last for more than one lifetime, but it is

marketed to be thrown away after one use. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade because it was made to last so long, so over time, it breaks down into small pieces instead. “The problem is people don’t know what [microplastics] are,” Biology Teacher, Christine Stricker, said, “and they don’t know about the different kinds of products we use that have microplastics in them.” Microplastics are all over the oceans and the environment, but they are also in many different products created by humans. Eventually, these plastic bits make their way into the food chain, contaminating more than just humans’ digestive systems. “There are reasons to believe that we are all going to end up with measurable amounts of plastic pollution in our systems,” Colborn said, “because all our ecosystems are contaminated.” The oceans are filled with these tiny microplastics, which leads to fish ingesting the plastic. When they do, they aren’t able to digest it. So instead, the plastics are stored within their body. If another animal eats the fish, the plastic will stay undigested within the predator’s body. This undigested plastic eventually makes its way to humans. Throughout

are reasons to believe “There that we are all going to end up with measurable amounts of plastic pollution in our systems because all our ecosystems are

contaminated.

the world, it is estimated that humans consume 23 million tons of fish per year. When people consume the fish, they also consume the plastic that has been stored within the fish’s body. “Everything comes full circle and we use a lot of the environmental services for ourselves,” Keep Conifer Green member, junior Allie Westfall, said. But it’s not just the living animals that carry microplastics. Almost every kind of food comes in some form of plastic packaging, so microplastics could be consumed with anything. They could be ingested in foods like fruit, vegetables, or snacks. Microplastics can even be in the air and could be inhaled with every breath. Of course, they can be in drinks too. Keurigs are pots used to quickly boil water to make coffee or other hot beverages, but studies have shown that, when heated, the small plastic capsules used in Keurigs can have harmful effects. The plastic chemicals can act like estrogen and negatively affect hormones within the human body. At CHS, there are about 17 Keurigs distributed throughout various rooms, and these are just small examples of the harmful plastic items in the school. Everywhere you go, there will always be microplastics. It could be at a restaurant, at school... or even in your bloodstream. For the first time ever, scientists are detecting microplastics within human bloodstreams. These tiny particles were found in almost 80% of the people tested, according to The Guardian. A peer-reviewed study from the University of Rovira i Virgili discovered that microplastics may

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All of the plastics shown within this photo will one day break down to become microplastics polluting the environment, oceans, or even your body. Photo taken by: Amelia Hobgood

latch onto the outer membranes of red blood cells, which can deform the membranes and affect the function of the blood cells. “My biggest concern about microplastics is the effect it could have on human health,” Water Treatment Engineer, Mike Schmitt, said. The health issues caused by Keurigs and the plastics they generate aren’t the only problems. It has been shown that exposure to some microplastics can cause toxicity throughout the human body. Sometimes there can also be metabolic disturbances, neurotoxicity, and increased cancer risk in humans. Microplastics can even release other substances into someone’s blood or organs. The impacts of these tiny plastics are tremendous, and humans still don’t know everything that microplastics could do to human health. Of course, humans aren’t the only things affected by microplastics. The

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environment takes a hard hit as well. Microplastics pollute oceans and waterways and can affect many food chains. Both aquatic and land animals are affected by the small plastics polluting their homes. Their digestive tracts can be blocked, which reduces their urge to eat, and alters feeding behavior. This can cause many to starve and die. “I think the first step towards fixing this problem is to stop dumping microplastic waste into the waterways and ocean,” Schmitt said. Of course, while it’s important to work on cleaning up the microplastics that are already in the environment, cutting down on the amount of plastic being used will stop the problem from continuing. By keeping the oceans and waterways clean, aquatic life won’t die and the seafood humans consume won’t be contaminated with microplastics. there are also solutions

besides keeping plastic out of the water. “I think we need to focus more on our recycling,” Westfall said. Many plastics don’t actually get recycled and end up littering the land or oceans, but if done right, recycling could make a difference in the amount of microplastic that ends up in the environment. Fixing this problem will be difficult, especially due to the lack of awareness among all age levels. But if people work on using less plastic, recycling more, and helping others become aware of the issue, the problem will be much easier to fix. Anyone looking to help with this problem can find more information and environmental facts on the Keep Conifer Green Club’s Instagram. “What we need to do is change our attitude toward this stuff as a society,” Colborn said, “and then things can start to change.”


Saving Our Home

By Graciela Fischer

What To Do & Where To Start For some, environmental activism

volunteer with them is that I

may seem like a broad topic. It can

didn’t want to feel so alone

be overwhelming for a person to

anymore.”

know where to start. For youth,

350 Colorado gives

there are several programs based in

youth the opportunity to

Colorado that help get youth into

volunteer and get involved in

nature and helping the planet.

other activities, but there are

350 Colorado is an organi-

also companies that help to

zation that works on raising aware-

get youth directly outside in

ness of climate change. The organi-

nature. The Big City Moun-

zation has eight different committees.

taineers organization gives

Among those campaigns is the Youth

youth from lower-income

Action Committee, run by Phoebe

homes an opportunity to

Dominguez.

connect with nature.

“The majority of our committees meet once a month to plan events and ongoing campaign efforts,” Dominguez said. “Depending on how you decide to get involved your volunteer experience can vary a lot.” Dominguez has been on the Youth Action Committee for two years. In that time she has helped to organize over fifteen events and campaigns and has spoken at twelve events. “I had been interested in climate justice for a little bit, so I didn’t know how to start and felt completely overwhelmed. I needed to do something, so I decided to do Fridays For Future at the Colorado State Capitol,” Dominguez said. “One day someone told me about 350 Colorado and that I should look into their events. I went and met a lot of amazing people who have supported me and many I am still close with. I think the main reason I decided to

“We basically identify and Artist Zoe Watts, CHSToday

break down barriers facing youth who want to get into the outdoors. We are focused on serving students coming from communities who receive less funding: low-income students,” member Megan Aranow said. “We are not explicitly an environmental conservation program, we are focused on helping students develop a relationship with the outdoors.” Big City Mountaineers only provides volunteer opportunities for adults, not youth. However, the company is focused on providing youth with a connection to the Earth. Aranow has been volunteering with the Big City Mountaineers since 2017 and joined the staff team in the fall of 2021. While there are a lot of organizations on the state level there are also opportunities at Conifer High School (CHS). The school has a Keep Conifer Green club, which gives students the opportunity to be environmentally aware in their community. “My goal was to spread awareness of climate change, littering, and pollution. I

wanted to help people live a healthier life,” club president Jenna Stricker said. “It’s important because we are the next generation to help the environment.” For more information on the club for the 2022-2023 school year, email science teacher Jeff Colborn at jcolborn@jeffcoschools.us. Climate change and saving the environment may seem like an overwhelming topic, but finding solutions doesn’t have to be. There are resources everywhere that help reconnect people and the environment. “We see the environment and our students as benefiting each other. People can take care of the environment and the environment is crucial for taking care of us. We think it’s important for people to have a good relationship with the outdoors,” Aranow said. “That is essential for our long-term wellbeing.”

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Neighbors With A KILLER By Ellie Chase

asking other law enforcement to look into area. So those are the kind of things that their own cold cases that involve murder now you look back on it you’re like, Oh… and sexual assault, as Personette may be a goodness.” The couple also caught Personette Living in a small mountain town, suspect in more of these cases. It is a shock to identify the killer looking in their window. neighbors enjoy each other’s company, of a case from 43 years ago, but just as help each other with snow removal, and trust one another. A neighbor is someone shocking for the neighbors that interacted It’s tough to live by a killer. that supports you. Except some neighbors with him. I was raised in the house up the hill from “Really, you don’t think anyone aren’t always what they seem. Personette’s, where I lived for 12 years until in your own neighborhood could be so Mark Personette was the strange recently moving. We shared a property line brutal,” Fisher said. neighbor down with him, and he intruded frequently on Fisher and her partner the street on land and activities. My parents, Sarah “Really, you don’t think lived close to Mark for our Fallen Rock and Brian Chase, can recall more about Road, Conifer. anyone in your own 10 years. Though she Personette than I can. never suspected him “He “From the first time I met Mark, neighborhood could be of murder, she noticed was just a weird he made me feel uneasy,” S. Chase said. so brutal brutal,”,” Fisher said. concerning behaviors he “He came too close to you. And he would individual. He had and tried to make would never just talk and talk and talk and not get the interactions with him look you in the message that you were trying to back away few and far between. eye or wave at you on the road. Like neighand go inside. Those social norms that “We weren’t quite sure what the bors do,” 10-year Fallen Rock resident people usually recognize were definitely reason was but we always had that uncom- absent.” Robin Fisher said. Known to be a Vietnam Veteran, fortable feeling around him because he was Though I have few memories of always a little strange,” Fisher said. “I didn’t conversations with Personette, I remember the neighborhood labeled him as a damaged, older man, but never as a murderer. even recognize him in the pictures because the rules that my parents told me to follow he was never seen without a hat or sunThat was until his arrest on Deregarding his presence. glasses, so now we probably know why.” cember 19th, 2021. According to 9News, “I did feel uneasy enough to tell Personette always had a lot of ‘No my daughter when she played in the backNew York Times, and CBS, Personette was trespassing’ signs on his property and put yard to not go past the woodpile, because arrested on murder charges for the death barbed wire and cones around his yard. He his property line was right behind it and of 15 year old Marissa Harvey, who was was extremely protective of his own land sexually assaulted and killed in March then if he approached her, she was to run but had little regard for others’ land. He 1978. Harvey was a New York resident back to the house,” S. Chase said. “And would often show visiting her sister when she went to go when our I mean if you were to ask me, of horseback riding in Golden State Park. She up when neighbors daughter and all the people I’ve come across were working on didn’t return home that night. Her body her friends in my life who would be capable was found the next day, and she had been projects outside, wanted to and have lengthy “badly beaten and strangled with a cordwalk home of something like that? I think like device after being raped,” according to conversations with from middle Mark would probably be the a report made by Coroner Boyd Stephen. them. One time, school, it first person that would come to Personette even Though an investigation was would mean showed Fisher’s mind. carried out, police were unsuccessful in they would finding Harvey’s killer, and her case grew partner, Carl walk right by Magarva, that he had a gun in his pocket. his house. And I’m sure that was a factor cold. But in October 2020, San FrancisFisher also found evidence that Personette into why I didn’t want 11 through 14-yearco’s cold case unit reopened the case and “linked DNA taken from the crime scene had visited their property unannounced. old girls walking up the road when he was “I would see footprints in the to Personette,” CBS wrote. around.” snow and wonder what he was doing With the history of arrests in Adeline Sportel lived in the Personette’s past, San Francisco Police are walking around my yard, you know, in our neighborhood as well, so she would often

28


Photo taken by Ellie Chase

View of Personette’s house from my childhood property. We could always see his house from wherever we played, whether we were gathering flowers, making a fort or playing on a slack line. Sportel remembers occasionally Personette stepping onto his porch and watching us play.

ride her bike past Personette’s house to play in our yard. “I knew we weren’t supposed to go on his property,” Sportel said, “and I think we’d been told not to talk to him.” She also recalls the frequent screaming matches that Personette would have with his significant other that could be heard by all neighbors. The arguments would contain frequent profanity and last for long periods of time. “I wasn’t fun to hear. It was weird when we were just playing a game outside, and we had to go inside a couple of times because of it,” Sportel said. In hindsight, the surrounding neighbors wonder if any of these arguments resulted in abuse. “You don’t have those kinds of arguments all the time without some kind of verbal or physical abuse,” Fisher said. But all this is speculation. As a child, I was told that this was a man that

had mental health issues, and was simply just a little odd, or potentially unhinged. I went inside when he invited himself over to talk to my parents about outdoor projects. I never passed the woodpile that marked the line between our house and his. I blocked out his yelling to keep

“I knew something wasn’t right with Mark,” playing with my friends. He was the weird neighbor. But it is truly shocking that a harmless, damaged old man could turn so quickly into an alleged murderer and rapist. I grew up next to an alleged killer. Personnette has been arraigned in a San Francisco court.

“We will work to ensure that Mr. Personnette is held accountable for the brutal and heinous acts that took Marissa’s life and to bring closure to her family, which has never stopped advocating for justice,” San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said in a statement. Though Personette’s arrest and court proceedings are already well in progress, neighbors and myself are still processing that we all lived next to an alleged murderer. But, looking back, they didn’t trust him like other neighbors. “I knew something wasn’t right with Mark. I did. Did I think he was a rapist and a murderer and the things he’s accused of? No, but I would never let him near my daughter on her own,” S Chase said.

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A Game About Exploration

By Leo Nickerson

Among Trees was a game undiscovered by the exploration community due to its classification as an Indie game. 3-5 people designed and edited the game at FJRD Interactive, located in the Swedish wilderness. This game, when launched on the Epic Games store on June 13 2020 was thrown in with all the other Indie survival games despite having key differences.

It had no story to follow and no real direction or plot. It is only you and your cabin in the middle of the woods. Among Trees was always intended to be a game that incorporated zen elements; the only dangers are the bears and wolves, and they do not actively pursue you or taunt you like in other Indie survival games like

The Long Dark and The Forest. They merely exist to create a sense of danger when entering those areas. The mechanics are basic and easy to understand. There are no production lines or fabricators and there are no lithium nitrate combinations, it’s just very basic crafting recipes that need small amounts of supplies to make sure you don’t get stuck trying to make one item that progresses the story. All of the mechanics are slowly introduced, with specific rooms designated for specific purposes so you unlock their function as you build the house. The game’s main goal (if you could call it that) is building the house itself. As you create more and more rooms the recipes become just a little bit more complicated, inviting you to explore. Exploration is the key mechanic in the game, and the fluid graphics show that it is an exploration game based on the art style alone. The mechanics just feel right for the game, you don’t come into a town and have to talk to one specific person or go and kill 30 goblins, you merely go further and further into the forest, admiring the landscape and finding broken power lines and buildings along the way. With the world being so big the structures are far and few between. Coming across one feels like a small achievement in its own right. You can find these structures in every environment, from the dense forests to the wet swamps.

top left: The cabin that you stumble across in the woods. This is where your story in Among Trees begins and ends. bottom left: One of the lakes you come across in-game. It bustles with life and is close to your cabin.

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photos courtesy of the Among Trees media page

All of these things are amazing in every way, letting the player go at their own pace, but some issues do occur when trying to play the game. You need to have a powerful pc for the game to show better graphics, and even on the lowest settings you still need a good pc to make it run above 20 FPS. There is also the problem of saving game progress. Among Trees has no autosave feature and that makes playing the game hard for people just getting into gaming or the exploration genre. There are no apparent bugs other than the occasional ai malfunction, such as trying to run smashing the character’s heads into a wall, or clipping through trees, but those are minor and don’t impact the game very much. Overall this game is simple and sweet. It’s the best way to join gaming or join the exploration genre of games. Everything is simple and easy to understand, making it easy to grasp hold of. Even with some of the issues it is most definitely worth the 15 USD price tag that comes with it.


From Scratch: Review

By Zoe Watts

John Mulaney, a popular comedian among young adults and teenagers, recently performed at Red Rocks Amphitheater. He had two shows back to back on April 17th, both of which entirely sold out.

I went to his second show of the night. There were two openers, Seaton Smith and Dan Levy. Both did fantastic jobs of warming up the crowd and setting a tone for the rest of the night.

is what I came to love him for. However, he did an excellent job of recognizing his mistakes and turning them into something he could use to re-establish who he is as a comedian.

The show was a phone-free event which meant that every attendee was required to put their phone in a locked case which they could keep with them. They had this precaution because they don’t want the comedian’s skit to get out before the tour is over. It was odd to see a crowd that huge without anyone checking their devices, but it wasn’t bad in any way.

It’s important to note that this is Mulaney’s first tour after he went through various scandals. The biggest one was his time in rehab for several drug addictions, but, despite having hurt his reputation, a large part of his show was about that very experience.

Even though I was freezing with a minor cold, it was a great night. Mulaney pulls the audience in with ease and keeps them laughing the whole time. He is truly one of the best comedians of our generation.

Cover art by Robert Ball

I was worried that the show would be vastly different from his other work, which

Renegades: Review ‘Renegades’ by Marissa Meyer is an amazing science fiction novel that demonstrates truly impeccable worldbuilding. The trilogy takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that’s just starting to build itself back up again. In the world, superheroes are the leaders and idols of civilization. However, just because they’re superheroes, not all of them are good.

The ‘From Scratch’ tour was an incredible experience. I sincerely hope I get to see Mulaney perform again.

By Zoe Watts Not only does ‘Renegades’ keep the audience on the edge of their seats, but it also forces them to question their own sense of right and wrong. This isn’t seen very often in literature aimed at young adults and is usually reserved for a more mature demographic. It adds a whole new layer to the story’s complexity.

The premise of the books is all about the fine line between good and evil. Meyer tackles complicated issues such as when the ends justify the means. Every issue that she includes is written with an elegance that keeps the reader engaged.

Meyer is known for writing the ‘Cinder’ series and the ‘Lunar Chronicles’. Her abilities as a writer are well-known throughout the book world. She generally writes fairytale retellings, but the ‘Renegade’ trilogy is not fairytale-based at all, which is just further proof that Meyer is an incredible storyteller.

With multiple POVs, the novel is able to tell the same story through varying perspectives. Meyer lets the characters show the readers who they are by how they react to the same events. No character is ever truly correct or incorrect in their perception, which only adds to the book’s depth.

Readers who love enemies to lovers, superheroes, corruption, and secrets will love these books. Meyer is one of the most prominent YA authors and the literature world should be keeping an eye on her work as it will be nothing short of fantastic.

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