V. BUILDING THE FUTURE
Rockets p. 26 — Robotics p. 29 — Research p. 34 VERDE MAGAZINE • VOLUME 16, ISSUE 4 • APRIL 2015
April 2015 Volume 16 Issue 4 48
8 The Launch 12 News
Culture 17 18 19 20 22 24
Meditation Asian Food Bucket List The A Review Hole in the Wall Restaurants New Libraries
Cover 26 Rockets 29 Paly Robotics Team 34 Redefining the Science Classroom
Features 37 40 44 45 58
Homework Policy Women’s Shelter Student Commuters Cheating Ring Anti-Vaxxers
48 52 54 55 62
Benedek Tallai Teachers Who Commute Sylvestri Social Studies Teachers Throwing Team
Perspectives 64 66 67 68 70
English Reading Curriculum Idolizing Celebrities Asian Discrimination Off the Grid Multi-Racial Identity
On the cover Senior Dhruv Lal and junior Claire Kokontis work on adding a wheel accumulator to Freyja, the Palo Alto High School robotics team robot. The robotics team has been working on creating the robot for months, and writer Kelly Shi chronicles this journey in her story “A Well Oiled Machine” on page 29. The robotics students are developing important hands on skills like leadership and collaboration through project-based learning which they will be able to apply outside of the classroom. Photo illustration by Ana Sofia Amieva-Wang
From the Editors
E LIVE IN A TIME AND PLACE where everyone’s focus is on the future. Our home of Silicon Valley is the center of the technology revolution, and all around us are world-changing adults. But what about our fellow peers? In the cover package of this issue, we look at several students and students groups who are actively working to improve the world through research and technological innovation. In “Smoke Trails,” you’ll read about students who are launching into the future with their work building rockets (p. 26). In “A Well-Oiled Machine,” Palo Alto High School students are the driving force behind high-tech robotic innovation (p. 29). Lastly, in “The New Classroom,” student scientists work with professionals through Paly’s Science Research Project class to conduct research that has the potential to improve medicine and healthcare (p. 34). Learning about these bright students and their various initiatives inspires us and makes us excited for what the future holds. However, with all this technology comes a price. When our culture places such emphasis on moving forward at light speed toward the future, we risk forgetting to stop and smell the roses. In “Five Minutes a Day,” read about Paly teachers who have implemented mindfulness and meditation into their classrooms to promote living in the present (p. 17). In “Off the Grid,” read about one staff member’s negative experiences with technological addiction, followed by his several month hiatus from social media (p. 68). Another theme of this issue is distortion of perception and truth. In “Ring of Dishonor,” learn about Paly’s group cheating culture and how it has remained hidden right under the eyes of teachers and administration for several years (p. 45). Overall, we hope that you learn to strike a balance between aiming for the future but still living mindfully in the present. As we look to the future of this magazine, we are both melancholy that this is our last issue as editors and excited to see what the future Verde leaders and staff will bring. It has been an absolute pleasure sharing our stories with you this past year, and we are constantly honored and humbled by the talent and strong character of our staff. Now it is time to pass the torch. Thank you Verde community, and good luck. — Bryan, Jack, Jasper and Tira
Editors-in-Chief Jack Brook Jasper McEvoy Tira Oskoui Bryan Wong Managing Editors Lucy Fox Brigid Godfrey Design Editor Claire Priestley Features Editor Eliza Ackroyd Perspectives Editor Kelly Shi Culture Editor Anand Srinivasan Launch Editor Esmé Ablaza News Editors Anna Lu Siddharth Srinivasan Business Managers Zofia Ahmad Alexandra Hsieh Art Director Anthony Liu Artist Karina Chan Photo Director Ana Sofia Amieva-Wang Staff Writers Emma Goldsmith Kai Gallagher Emilie Ma Natalie Maemura Joe Meyer Madison Mignola Christian Miley Anna Nakai Ansley Queen Elana Rebitzer Ryan Reed Gabriela Rossner Rachel Van Gelder James Wang Bethany Wong Caroline Young Roy Zawadzki Adviser Paul Kandell
@VERDEMAGAZINE Information Publication Policy Verde, a feature magazine published by the students in Palo Alto High School’s Magazine Journalism class, is a designated open forum for student expression and the discussion of issues of concern to its readership. Verde is distributed to its readers and the student body at no cost. Letters to the Editors The staff welcomes letters to the editors but reserves the right to edit all submissions for length, grammar, potential libel, invasion of privacy and obscenity. Send all letters to veics-1415@ googlegroups.com or to 50 Embarcadero Road Palo Alto, CA 94301. All Verde stories are posted online and available for commenting at http://verdemagazine.com Advertising The staff publishes advertisements with signed contracts providing they are not deemed by the staff inappropriate for the magazine’s audience. For more information about advertising with Verde, please contact the Verde business manager Zofia Ahmad and Alexandra Hsieh at 650-796-2358 for more information. Printing & Distribution Verde is printed five times a year in October, November, February, April and May, by Fricke-Parks Press in Fremont, Calif. The Paly PTSA mails Verde to every student’s home. All Verde work is available at http://verdemagazine.com
EDITORIAL UCS SHOULD PRIORITIZE IN-STATE APPLICANTS, SCALE TUITION
Art by Anthony Liu
INCE THEIR FOUNDING, THE UNIVERSITIES of California have been committed to providing a quality and affordable education to the residents of California. Their success is validated annually by the thousands of applications the universities receive from students around the world. Yet this influx in applicants has contributed to extreme selectivity, making the UCs less and less available to California residents every year. On March 20, UCLA released the statistics of its 2015 admissions and reported 92,000 applications for 5,700 spots in their freshman class. These statistics, while shocking, are on par with the trend of selectivity and privatization which has continued to characterize the UC admissions. While the increasing selectivity is the result of many factors including grade inflation, recruitment and the growing importance of standardized testing, Verde chose to focus on a factor that affects the Silicon Valley population of applicants in particular: the increasing acceptance of affluent outof-state students. According to Palyâ€™s college planning website, Naviance, in 2013, 118 Paly seniors applied to the University of California at Berkeley campus and 65 students, or 55 percent, were accepted. In
2014, however, 172 seniors applied and only 27 students, or 15.7 percent, were accepted. This shocking drop in the acceptance rate for Paly students is not limited to Berkeley, but extends to a drop from 47.5 to 16.7 percent at the Los Angeles campus and from 54.0 to 38.7 percent at the San Diego campus. While the admissions for the generally affluent students of Palo Alto are dropping, the out-of-state acceptance rates for UCLA, Berkeley and UCSD were all higher in 2014 than their respective in-state acceptance rates. Since the 2007-2008 school year, statewide education budget cuts have led to a $460 million cut in state funding for UCs, according to the California Department of Finance. While Verde recognizes the economic difficulties the state faces, it is frightening to think that the quality of our higher education has lost importance over the past years, at least in terms of funding, even as we continue to work hard and compete for what the state has set out to achieve through the UC system. While the general lack of funding stands as a major problem, the UCs are left to make do with what they have. The clear solution has been to admit out-of-state students. While admitting out-ofstate students limits the availability of UC schools to California residents, it provides an increase in funding for the UCs through the extra tuition charged to non-California residents. The UC Office of Admissions has projected that, excluding living costs, 20152016 tuition will cost $14,000 for in-state students, while out-ofstate students will pay $38,024. Napolitano has already voiced that she will place a limit on in-state acceptances if state funding does not increase. We feel that as residents of California, it is only fair that our achievements be considered alongside those of our fellow residents toward a place in our own public universities. While we acknowledge the effort of UC President Janet Napolitano, Gov. Jerry Brown and the UC regents to maintain the quality education available through the UCs, we believe they are making a mistake in overlooking the demographic they now seek out-of-state. Verde proposes a solution to scale tuition according to income. Increasing tuition for more affluent residents would give them an equal opportunity to attend their public universities from which they are currently being turned away, at a cost still significantly lower than attending a private university, while also creating a source of funding. If taken into practice, the scaling process would call for a revision of the application process including justifying a need-blind review of applications to ensure fair decisions. While an increase in statewide funding for the UCs is also necessary, by scaling tuition for higher income students, the universities could afford to admit in-state students and fulfill their tradition of providing excellent public education. 5
EDITORIAL CORPORATIONS SHOULD HELP CREATE AFFORDABLE HOUSING What if we just take down five acres of residential land for a tech headquarter?
Affordable housing: the elephant in the room
N PALO ALTO AND THE GREATER BAY AREA, there is a scarcity of affordable housing. Verde proposes that the city call for the aid of corporations based in Palo Alto. These corporations have the ability to influence the demographics of the region they base themselves in, and as a result, should be held partially responsible by the City of Palo Alto in some form for compensating for the lack of socioeconomic diversity and high rents that their presence has created. Santa Clara County has, in a limited sense, successfully used this policy in the past. For instance, in order for Stanford University to acquire more land in, the county required it to establish an affordable housing fund. A portion of this fund, $8 million, was allocated in January to support the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, a crucial source of affordable housing in Palo Alto. Another $8 million has been set aside for the Buena Vista residents by the Palo Alto city manager, using public funds. However, raising a multi-million dollar fund for an affordable housing project requires substantial effort and it is not sustainable to assume that the city and its citizens can continually pump large amounts of money into similar projects in years to come. Instead, there should be a pre-existing policy in place which will be able to create affordable housing without relying heavily on public funds. This policy should 6
Art by Anthony Liu
hold corporations that buy large quantities of land in Palo Alto partly responsible for maintaining a quota of affordable housing. The employees of these companies buy local homes and are a direct cause of the rising home prices. Having companies allocate a portion of their budget to helping maintain the dynamic of the community they are based in by funding affordable housing will play a pivotal role in ensuring socioeconomic diversity. At a glance, a lack of socioeconomic diversity might appear to be a direct product of a capitalistic society. For example, Palo Altoâ€™s median home price is currently about $2 million, and rising at a rate of 16 percent per year. In this scenario, even the low end of the buyerâ€™s market is extraordinarily high when compared to the national median home price of $188,900 at the turn of this year, according to Truila.com. However, while Palo Alto will never be able to offer affordable housing at a price even close to the national average, Verde expects the corporations that drive up the housing market to contribute to finding a solution to the affordable housing shortage. With these rising house prices, even residents who have rented here decades ago are at risk of being priced out. Palo Alto is in danger of losing part of its identity and thus it is essential that the city takes action to prevent corporations and their employees from pricing out the city and its long-time residents.
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Compiled by ESMÉ ABLAZA
what should students expect at prom 2k15? “We will have an awesome addition of caricature artists this year, like the ones you see at theme parks or popular recreational areas. And we will have an ‘International Tasting Menu’ this year, heavy hors d’oeuvres style. Lastly, DJ Hightop is at it again as he received very positive results last year.”
— asb secretary joseph kao Photography and Reporting by ALEXANDRA HSIEH
TIPS FOR THE PROMCRASTINATOR As a Prom Aficionado, I have a longstanding duty to help the Paly population with all of their promblems. This advice goes out to the brave souls who dare put off their Prom shopping until the week of the dance. FORMAL ATTIRE: Whether you are seeking a dress, a tux or some peculiar in-between, it’s important to set boundaries for your attire. Your time crunch may pressure you into buying clothing you would never otherwise wear. I suggest writing absolute limits on your hand. Constantly seeing “NO POLKA DOTS” on your upturned palm will gently remind you that certain things simply cannot be.
BOTANIC ACCESSORIES: You may be quivering at the thought of obtaining corsages and boutonnieres at such late notice, but I offer you an alternative: DIY. With the local garden at your fingertips, your botanic creation will not only be inexpensive; it will have an au naturel look that no store-bought product can claim. FINISHING TOUCHES: The rule for heels and dress shoes: the shinier, the better. However, remember that most heels will be covered by dresses and that nobody really looks at the shoes of a tux-wearer. Your attention and limited time would be best focused on jewelry, ties and hair gel. Text by KELLY SHI; Art by PORTIA BARRIENTOS
VERBATIM: Should vaccines be required? Photography and Reporting by CLAIRE PRIESTLEY
Yeah, I thinks so because it is safer for everyone. There are no real harms to vaccinations, so why not?” — freshman Ashley Zhang
Well, if there were a bunch of vaccinations, they could help the school prevent diseases and viruses.” — sophomore Arthur Halsted
PALY TEACHER PROM #TBT
Choir teacher Michael Najar with his date at Loyola High School’s tropicalthemed prom in 1992. Photo courtesy of Michael Najar.
Principal Kim Diorio in her ‘80s-style prom outfit, complete with gloves and a banana clip. Photo courtesy of Kim Diorio.
Reporting by BETHANY WONG
Science teacher Michelle Steingart with her date at Saint Francis High School’s Senior Ball in 1997. Photo courtesy of Michelle Steingart.
Text by MADISON MIGNOLA; Photo Illustration by ESMÉ ABLAZA
WHILE YOU’RE GETTING READY FOR PROM 1. Single Ladies - BeyoncE 2. Anything Could Happen - Ellie Goulding 3. Dancing With Myself - The Knocks 4. Primadonna Girl - Marina and the Diamonds 5. Dancing Queen - ABBA
I think you have to because anti-vaccinators are stupid. I am sorry they are. You are killing your child. Geez.” — junior Laura Maystead
6. Just The Way You Are - Bruno Mars 7. Gold - Chet Faker 8. Ask Her to Dance - Coconut Records 9. Shake It Out - Florence and the Machine 10. INSANE - FLUME
Beyond what the basic vaccinations are, I believe no. It should be based off of how contagious the disease is.” — senior Daryl Dillahunty
NEW CLUB CHECK-IN ANIMAL RIGHTS CLUB “Our club is about raising awareness about the negative effects of factory farming and eating meat in general. Meat consumption is one of the top causes of global warming. Eating a plant-based diet can help mitigate global warming and is also extremely good for one’s health.”
— PRESIDENT OF animal rights club, Chelsea mcintosh Photography and Reporting by ANSLEY QUEEN
VERDE’S SUMMER STYLE Text by ESME ABLAZA and ANAND SRINIVASAN Photography by ANA SOFIA AMIEVA-WANG
BIG DENIM JACKET For a comfy look, opt for an oversized denim jacket. Find one at a thrift store or your local Goodwill.
T-SHIRT DRESS Again, comfort is key. Throwing on a T-shirt dress is an effortless way to stay stylish this summer.
PATTERNED SOCKS Patterned socks add an element of quirkiness to any outfit. Purchase a bunch to ensure that the sock fun never ends.
OLD SNEAKERS There’s no need to purchase a new pair of shoes every season. That beat-up pair of Converse or Vans has been with you through thick and thin, and will serve you well on all of your summer adventures.
TEACHERS TAKE SOCIAL MEDIA Reporting by SIDDHARTH SRINIVASAN
PLAID SHIRT For maximum comfort the soft texture of a flannel is a good alternative to wearing a sweatshirt on cooler mornings.
KHAKIS As the weather becomes warmer, wearing khaki pants or shorts is an easy way to stay stylish while combatting the changing seasons.
WRISTWATCH Whether it’s smart or oldschool, having a suave wristwatch is always a good choice if you want to look sophisticated and intellectual.
LEATHER PHONE CASE In line with wearing a wristwatch, a leather phone case adds more swag to your overall image.
SUMMER NAIL ART Text by GABI ROSSNER Photography by ANA SOFIA AMIEVA-WANG
Looking for the perfect nail art to brighten up your hands for summer? Verde enlisted the help of nail maestro junior Jamie Sitrin to show us her favorite new design. Learn how to master this flowery look in seven easy steps.
Supplies: Base and top coat, white nail polish, pink nail polish, purple nail polish, mechanical pencil or dotting tool, color of your choice. Step 1: Do all your pre manicure prep — clip, file into your favorite shape, and apply a smooth base coat.
Step 2: Pick your favorite spring color and apply at least two solid coats to each of your nails. Step 3: Place a dab of white nail polish on a piece of paper and dip either a dotting tool or a mechanical pencil into the white. Dab clusters of white dots onto your nails to make the flowers. One flower is six dots, but you can mix it up and make half flowers too. Step 4: Put a dab of magenta nail polish on the paper. Use your dotting tool or mechanical pencil to put small dots of magenta in the middle of each flower.
Step 5: Use your dotting tool to put dots of green nail polish around the magenta dots. Step 6: Use either a white nail art pen or a tool dipped in white nail polish to line the outsides of the flowers with white dots. Step 7: You’re done! Apply a top coat, let your nails dry and then show them off to the world!
SUMMER READING LIST Rookie Yearbook Three edited by Tavi Gevinson this boy’s life by Tobias Wolff The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
Text by ESME ABLAZA
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc Wild by Cheryl Strayed Nine Stories by JD Salinger
By the numbers Infographic by ANNA LU using Piktochart
Admin to cover Franco mural The Palo Alto High School administration plans to paint over one of the murals painted on campus last fall by ’96 alumnus filmmaker and actor James Franco. Principal Kim Diorio said that she is “very grateful” for Franco’s generosity and contributions, but that the mural completed the week of Oct. 13 on a Student Center wall, along with the other mural showcasing Paly football, was always planned as a temporary piece at Paly. “It’s going to change,” Diorio said. “It was never meant to be permanent — we told him [Franco] when he wanted to do his murals that he was welcome to do it and that we would be painting over them someday, so it’s been up for a while, and I think most people are ready for something new.” However, the administration does not know the exact date of the repainting. According to Wojcicki, Franco spent four days working on the two murals on the Student Center and significant time on the 18 paintings displayed elsewhere on campus. The murals costed around $15,000 each, Franco told Wojcicki. Franco has also long been a supporter of Paly programs, including $7,000 raised in ticket sales for the Media Arts Boosters grand opening, where he premiered a video art project and greeted guests for hours. Diorio admires Franco’s work and appreciates the time he has taken to support Paly. “I think they [Franco’s artwork] add a lot of color,” Diorio said. “Having them here for the grand opening was very special … It was a lot of time and energy on his part to get them hung, and they’re great.” Wojcicki supports Franco’s paintings and has a small version of his mural in her room. However, she also understands why some may want a change. “I think he [Franco] will be disappointed, but I think I understand the reason that people want it down because it looks … not very cheery,” Wojcicki said. “Somehow it [the mural] just got to looking much more sort of dark on the outside mural … I think it looks a little depressing, too, but I like the one in my room.”
WORK IN PROGRESS James Franco relaxes after talking to Paly students while working on one of his two unfinished murals on Oct. 13. The mural is inspired by pictures from the 1993 yearbook, and was painted with the help of AP Studio Art students and Franco’s own designers. Franco currently has art galleries on display in New York, London and Berlin. Photo by Caroline Young While there have been a few complaints about the mural, according to Diorio, the positive comments outweigh the negative ones. However, Diorio and many students are open to the possibility of Paly students painting over the mural. “We [the administration] thought we’d extend the offer if he [Franco] wanted to paint something else, or we might just paint it brown,” Diorio said. “We were hoping other people in the community would be interested … If students wanted to do a student mural, I’d love to do a student mural.” Some students are disappointed that the mural will be taken down. “I don’t like the murals themselves,
but I like being able to brag about having them at our school,” junior Mischa Nee said. “I appreciate the effort that James Franco put in so I would hate to see them taken down.” Other students expressed similar opinions. “I wish they would display more artwork of other people,” junior Charlotte Hall said. “I really like the ones on the Student Center, but we could use some of the space devoted to his many pieces to other people’s artwork that also deserves a chance to be recognized and appreciated.” BY CAROLINE YOUNG 13
DISCUSSION Students engage in small group discussions during a youth forum hosted by the City of Palo Alto. This event was one of mutliple forums held over the past month for the mental health of Palo Alto teens. Photo by Brigid Godfrey
Diorio, students praise forum effort Principal Kim Diorio hopes regular mental health forums are implemented in the Palo Alto High School community for years to come after seeing the impact of the mental health forums sponsored by the City of Palo Alto and the respective high schools in the past month. “I think that the forums are a great way for our community to come together and process what is going on,” Diorio said. Having attended multiple forums,
Diorio said that the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the students participating the forums had alligned academic areas for improvement, including heavy homework loads, course allignment, and lack of sleep. The most recent forum took place at the Mitchell Park Library on March 27 and included both small group conversations as well as large group discussions led by student-selected adult facilitators. Attendee Bryn Carlson plans to par-
ticipate future forums as she sees them as a positive way to link students and parents in the community. “I think the main thing is getting greater attendance,” Carlson said. “At the forum [“In this together”] there were about 50 people, and it would be more impactful if a greater portion of the student body could attend future forums.” BY SIDDHARTH SRINIVASAN
Students receive awards in “be green” contest Three Palo Alto students are recipients of awards recognizing their artwork in a contest hosted by Project Enybody. The contest promoted good habits in the local community’s effort to be more green and ecofriendly. In the #PAGotGreen contest, Palo Alto High School freshman Vivian Young received the first place award, Jordan Middle School eighth grader Renle Chu received the second place award, and Paly freshman Annie Zhou received the third 14
place award. The reception for winners was held at Mitchell Park Community Center March 26th and welcomed not only the contestants but experts in the green field and community members as well. The contest, which accepted entries from middle school and high school students, allowed for individual interpretation of the topic. “Our criteria was based on how well the entries displayed how Palo Alto is being green or can be more green and why
the environment is important to the contestant,” said president and founder Paly junior William Zhou. “We also looked at the visual and emotional impact the entry and the writing component had.” The contest received 20 drawings, photography pieces and video entries. The entries were judged by the Project Enybody team as well as Palo Alto teen specialist Jose Perez, according to William Zhou. BY RACHEL VAN GELDER
NEWS Minority Committee effort lauded Supt. Max McGee has lauded the efforts of the Minority Achievement and Talent Development Committee ahead of the reporting of its findings in early May. “The subcommittee structure and the hundreds of hours of work they put into their task outside our meeting times was not only productive but inspirational,” McGee said. “It is an amazing group.” Even though the final report is yet to be published, the committee has already taken steps to start reducing the statistical achievement gap. According to McGee, following a board purchase of a new bus to transport Voluntary Transfer Program students. “I am very appreciative of our board of education for approving the purchase of a bus to transport our VTP students directly from Ravenswood to Paly in the morning,” McGee said. “[They also will] provide after-school transportation in two different run times.” McGee indicated that this measure will allow VTP students to be a part of extracurricular programs and after-school programs. BY ELANA REBITZER
REHEARSAL Chris Crews-Holloway, Michelle Tang, and the rest of the Paly choir practice together. The Choir is led by Michael Najar. Photo by Ana Sofía Amieva-Wang
Choir to release album The Palo Alto High School Choirs are fundraising to produce an album. The choirs are using Kickstarter to raise money in order for their album titled titled “A Day in the Life.” ” The campaign is titled “A Day in The Life: Paly High Choirs Third Studio Album” has 31 backers and has raised $2957 so far; it will end on April 24. Senior Jaime Garcia, co-president of the Paly Choir groups said the album will feature the concert choir, the madrigal singers and some of the a cappella groups. “We hope to raise money” Garcia said. “The music sounds amazing and we worked extremely hard for this and I am so
excited for it to be released. Although the production is a bit pricey, once the album is released we hope it will be a source of fundraising as well.” About four years ago the two choirs groups also released an album and this year felt it was time for another one. “We also thought it would be a fantastic experience for all the choir members to get to record in a professional recording studio and see how everything works,” Garcia said. Garcia said the album will be released for purchase on iTunes later this year. BY BRIGID GODFREY
Revamped Not in our Schools Week to start April 20 Not In Our Schools Week will take place at Palo Alto High School the week of April 20 and will feature a new health and wellness day. According to ASB president senior Claire Liu, health and wellness day will be about the balance of mind, body and soul. “We’d like to get a lunchtime yoga session going on that Friday,” Liu said.
Events and activities designed to promote identity safety and increase the Paly community’s acceptance of diversity will occur throught the week. “I think NIOS has the potential to be that first step our student body can collectively take toward improving school culture,” Liu said. The daily theme for NOIS are as fol-
lows: “erase-isms”, ability awareness, sexual identity safety, compassion and action and health and wellness. Students can participate in NIOS activities at lunch on the quad starting on Monday, April 20 and ending on Friday, April 24. BY JOE MEYER 15
Nadine Priestley Photography 650.868.0977 email@example.com nadinepriestley.com
Text by RYAN REED and JOE MEYER Photography by RYAN REED
CULTURE | APRIL 2015
REDUCING STRESS Students meditate in Alexander Davis’ 6th period history class.
FIVE minutes a day
MEDITATION’S NEW ROLE IN THE CLASSROOM
NCE UNHEARD OF IN WESTERN culture and confined to the far East, meditation is now praised by the scientific community and taught in classrooms as both a stress-coping technique and a means to a more peaceful and spiritual state of being. Recently, several Palo Alto High School teachers have begun leading short meditation sessions in their classrooms for the benefit of students. In the wake of recent tragedies within the Palo Alto Unified School District, many teachers see meditation as a productive method of easing students’ stress loads. Stress is commonly cited by students, parents and local news publications as a leading cause of teen depression in Palo Alto. “We started doing meditation the Monday following this semester’s suicide,” social studies teacher Alexander Davis says. “I was frustrated because I didn’t feel comfortable continuing with the curriculum and business as usual, but I wasn’t sure how to address the suicide or how to talk about it in a meaningful way.” Davis is not alone. Psychology teacher Christopher Farina says that he has also incorporated a mindfulness meditation practice into his curriculum in response to the suicides. “I decided to begin using mindfulness after the most recent suicide at Gunn,” Farina says. “I originally thought that it would be a nice opportunity for students to slow down their thoughts ... and to think about something they were grateful for.” For students, meditation offers a multitude of benefits, including a welcome break from the nose-numbing monotony of the school day. “It [meditation] helps me relax,” says senior Alex Ruff, who enters a three-to-five minute meditation three times a week in Me-
linda Mattes’s Advanced Placement Psychology class. “It’s fun to try to concentrate on just breathing and to see how well I can control my mind.” Paly astrophysics teacher and Science Dept. Instructional Supervisor Josh Bloom, who has integrated meditation into his class curriculum, agrees that meditation is beneficial. “It helps prepare me to face the challenges of the day with a calm and clear mind and helps cleanse me of the day’s stresses before I come home to my family,” Bloom says. “When I practice meditation regularly, I manage my stress, keep my mind healthy and keep myself healthy. When I don’t, I feel more stressed and less healthy.” Bloom’s personal experience is supported by scientific evidence. The Mayo Clinic reports that meditation does indeed calm the meditator and strengthens both their emotional well-being and overall health. Bloom says that he only recently discovered meditation as a means to improving his well-being. “I was introduced to mindfulness and meditation a few years ago when I was working through some very difficult and stressful circumstances in my life,” Bloom says. “The practice was simple and powerful. It immediately improved the quality of my life and my ability to face challenges.” Teachers say that feedback regarding in-class meditation and mindfulness has been overwhelmingly positive, both from students and their parents. “Almost all of my classes have opted to continue with this practice,” Farina says. “It’s beneficial for mental and physical health, it helps students begin the class with a renewed sense of focus, and it only costs five minutes of our time.” v 17
CULTURE | APRIL 2015
adventure time: asian food AN EXPLORATION OF EXOTIC ASIAN CUISINES
Text by KARINA CHAN and EMILIE MA Photography by KARINA CHAN
MARKET OR RESTAURANT NOT ONLY SUSTAINS A COMMUNITY, BUT IS ALSO A REFLECTION of its people and culture. Despite there being a substantial Asian population in Palo Alto, many are still unaware of the rich traditions surrounding food in Asian cultures. While it costs at least $700 to fly to Asia, it costs considerably less to drive around the Bay Area and experience what Asian cuisine has to offer. That’s what Verde did and this is what we found. v Pork Chashu Bao Price: $3 for medium sized dishes Restaurant: Cooking Papa Address: 1962 W El Camino Real, Mountain View Pork buns, shrimp dumplings, siu mai and steamed turnip cake are served a la carte. After recieving your food, the servers will stamp your receipt according to your individual order. To create the tab, the cashier will count the number of stamps correlating with different dish sizes: small, medium or large. Cooking Papa is the closest authentic dim sum restaurant and is located in Mountain View on El Camino. While the restaurant lacks the traditional catering carts, the food is still the type you would find in a traditional dim sum restaurant. Vanilla Snow with Lychee Jelly, Strawberries and Condensed Milk Price: $5.50 Restaurant: Sno-Zen Address: 2101 Showers Dr., Mountain View Sno-Zen offers shaved snow and shaved ice, both equally delicious, although slightly different in texture, a variety of toppings, and an array of sauces to go on top. Pictured on the left is vanilla shaved snow with lychee jelly, strawberries and condensed milk. Shaved snow has the consistency of powdery ice cream that melts in your mouth immediately. Lychee is a popular flavor that is applied to many Taiwanese foods and unfamiliar to the Western palette, while the condensed milk is drizzled on top to provide extra sweetness. Soft Tofu Price: $10.62 Restaurant: So Gong Do Tofu House Address: 4127 El Camino Real, Palo Alto There aren’t many Korean restaurants in Palo Alto. Because of this, So Gong Do Tofu House attracts many customers everyday. Their most popular dish is the soft tofu. Tofu House’s soft tofu, or Soon Doo Boo, is the ultimate Asian comfort food. Hot, spicy and filling, this dish is served in a stone pot to preserve its heat and keep your tofu stew warm for over an hour. All soft tofus consist of cubes of tofu immersed in a stock soup which is served still bubbling. Cracking a raw egg into the dish and mixing the egg and the broth together allows for the egg to cook and adds additional flavor.
CULTURE | APRIL 2015
Senior Bucket list: Text by ZOFIA AHMAD and CHRISTIAN MILEY Art by ANTHONY LIU
OR THE QUARTER OF PALY STUDENTS who identify as #SSS, the final weeks of the Palo Alto High School school year is the time to live life to the fullest. Take this opportunity to try the things you’ve dreamed of but didn’t think you had the guts to actually do. To encourage you to let down the burden of academics, a special prize awaits the first five people (of any grade) to complete 10 out of 15 items and send photographic proof to firstname.lastname@example.org! v
Flashmob Play paintball on Paly campus Wear a crazy outfit to school (make-up included) Tell that one person you’ve liked since freshman year how you feel Explore the trails of Foothill park for a day Visit El Palo Alto and be like ‘Wow, that’s a tall tree, man,’ then leave Burn old hws/tests/quizzes (possibly while dancing around them in loinclothes in an animalistic liturgy to the deep, powerful beat of a drum) Talk to five people you don’t know well and realize how awesome everybody is Sleep through an entire day of school and only show up for the second half of seventh period Take a panini press into class and make sandwiches in the back (but only for yourself) Apologize to someone you hurt Read all the plaques around Palo Alto nobody ever reads and learn about our town’s illustrious history Take your dog/cat/platypus to school Unite the warring houses, both alike in dignity, of you and your star-crossed lover from Gunn Tell your favorite teacher how much they mean to you 19
CULTURE | APRIL 2015
The “A” Review
Drake — If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late Text by ANAND SRINIVASAN Art by KARINA CHAN and JACKSON WYLDER KIENITZ
ISTORICALLY, DRAKE is known to be one of the most polarizing contemporary artists — people either love him or hate him — yet it is impossible to deny that he is one of the most dominating artists in the modern-day rap game. Labeled as over-sensitive and emotional, Drake was initially shunned by the hip-hop community but loved by the general mainstream. After releasing “Nothing Was The Same” in 2013, however, the Canadian rapper started to garner respect from hip-hop heads for his experimental take on rap as well as his more confident rap persona, though inversely started to decline slightly in radioplay as compared to previous years. Now, in 2015, Drake has released his fourth studio album titled “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” and the debate of whether Drake is “aight” or not still rages. Will this be the album to put an end to all this controversy? Or will the name “Drake” forever leave fans in constant debate over the musical validity of its owner. I’ll give you both sides and you be the judge. Too Late (0/10) As much as I would like to hope “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is (by extension of the title) a death note for Aubrey Drake Graham’s career as a rapper, unfortunately it appears this is only the beginning for the 28-year-old Toronto superstar. In reality, the title of this newest tape can most easily be derived from the recent heated tension between the Young Money artists (Drake, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj) and Cash Money Records’ co-founder, Bryan “Baby” Williams. By releasing what should have been a free mixtape as a retail album, Drake finally freed himself from his contractual agreement with Cash Money and therefore no longer has to deal with Baby. But politics aside, let’s get into the mu-
sic — or at least what’s left of it on “If You’re Reading This.” One of Drake’s greatest offenses on this record is his uncanny ability to contradict himself on nearly everything. Right off the bat on the song “Legend,” Drake sings, “I’m too good with these words” but ironically nearly the entirety of the album is littered with wholly uninteresting verses and storytelling, sparse wordplay and (as is paradoxically shown in this very line) undeserving brags. With his drawn out, headache-inducing, autotuned rap-singing throughout “Legend” and the rest of the album, Drake makes the vapid nature of his lyrics more discernable. From the start it becomes clear that he has almost nothing of importance to offer to his audience. If Drake wants to be considered one of the greats, he at least has to be better, lyrically, than his contemporaries, first and foremost Kendrick Lamar who Drake even beefed with after Lamar’s iconic “Control” verse. Drake contradicts himself again on the track “You and the 6,” when he says in a monologue to his mother, “They cloning me, mama / Them n****s wannabes, mama / It’s
like — I’m the one they wanna be, mama,” yet on a number of tracks he copies Young Thug’s lyrical delivery. Also, let’s not forget to point out the absolutely terrible attempt at word play here when Drake practically repeats himself (and I’m not talking about “mama”). Another problem present in “If You’re Reading This” is that Drake really doesn’t have much to say most of the time. He tries to make up for this apparent deficit by attempting to create pop-culture trends, a very Drake-like thing to do. The most obvious of these attempts is Drake’s obsession with renaming Toronto “The
CULTURE | APRIL 2015 6,” and calling himself the “6 God” (“The 6” is derived from the Toronto area codes 416 and 647). On a number of the song titles Drake inserts his precious “6” (ex: “6 God,” “Star67,” “6 man,” “You & The 6,” and “6PM in New York), and on a majority of the tracks he incessantly references it, as though saying it is going to make it true. Not only is this incredibly annoying, but it seems to dominate the whole concept of his album. On the bright side, at least he has a concept, right? Well, to my combined horror and amazement, “If You’re Reading this” has become one of Drake’s most popular albums to date, and only seems to increase Drake’s longevity in the rap game. As Drake mentioned on his song “Star67,” he and his crew are “blowing up” as in they’re gaining massive popularity. I just wish he was blowing up in the way celestial stars do — indicating their imminent downfall and destruction.
Devil’s Advocate (10/10) “If I die, all I know is I’m a muthaf***ing legend” says Drake within the first thirty seconds of his 69-minute, fourth retail release, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.” Judging from Drake’s current domination of the present-day rap game, this statement isn’t that far from the truth, if not a total understatement. Given absolutely zero promotional assistance through interviews, social media or advertising, “If You’re Reading This” hit the iTunes store on Friday, Feb 13, and within the first 10 days sold 624,000 copies in the US alone. Two weeks after its release, all 17 tracks off the album placed in the top 50 R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart (add that on to the four other songs Drake’s featured in, and that’s about 42 percent of the chart’s total). Then, on March 7, Drake officially matched the Beatles’ previously unbroken record set 51 years ago, charting 14 songs simultaneously on the “Billboard” Hot 100. And, according to the rapper himself, this was only supposed to be a free mixtape. So it’s been established that Drake has the popularity to be considered as a living legend. But the more important question to ask at this point is if the music itself lives up to expectations. The simple answer is, yes. One of the quintessential vibes on “If You’re Reading This” is the nonchalant attitude Drake takes while dishing out hit after hit — I mean, the guy released the album on a whim. In other words, Drake exudes absolute confidence and charisma, both of which were absent from his previous works and helped lead to their combined letdowns. From his rapping to his singing to his production — the whole project seems so effortlessly seamless. With the opener, “Legend,” the smooth, echoing beat tentatively draws you in as Drake begins to sing, and when the
tension builds to a climax, the deep, punchy drums lumber in and the static-like, tasersounding high hats resuscitate life back into the track much like a defibrillator. By extension of the whole album, it’s almost like Drake is shocking the life back into the rap game. On the second song, “Energy,” Drake raps in great detail about all the people and “enemies” in his life draining him of his “energy.” Callously, Drake lyrically destroys each, one by one, with the finesse of a seasoned duck hunter blasting away clay pigeons. Drake’s enthusiasm for the carnage is so great he even jumps back in at the end with a final verse claiming he “ain’t finished yet,” like a WWE fighter throwing a knock-out punch after the ref has blown the whistle. Battle trumpets loop feverishly on the track “6 God,” accompanied with the thudding bass drum, lending a sturdy platform to Drake when he rips through bar after bar, targeted at everybody and nobody at the same time. Drake shows off some clever wordplay as well with the line, “Rolling swishers, hittin’ swishes / Got me feelin’ like a ball hog / I don’t pass ‘em when I get it.” Drake’s message has never been clearer: in this game, it’s everybody versus him, and he’s winning. Drake’s emotional side also makes an appearance in the album on the track, “You and the 6,” when he has a “conversation” with his mom. Here, Drake indeed opens up and shows a softer side of himself, but he also displays some of his newfound confidence. Drake raps, “I pull the knife out my back and cut they throat with it, mama,” conjuring a powerful image of Drake fending for himself in a world where everyone else is out to get him. It really does seem like Drake will forever remain the most hated and most loved — but I guess greatness naturally spawns jealousy. In recent times, Kanye West has come to refer to himself as “Yeezus.” Eminem has claimed the title of “Rap God.” Kendrick Lamar has stolen the East Coast crown and proclaimed himself “The King of New York.” And now, Drake has declared himself the “6 God.” So who should be most feared out of these modern-day rap monoliths? Well, as Drake puts it, in reference to the lyrics found on his album, “hearing the scripture with that many sixes / you should be afraid” — and rightfully so. v 21
Uncovering Hole In the walls AN ODYSSEY TO FIND THE BEST FOOD IN THE MOST UNSUSPECTING PLACES
Text by ANAND SRINIVASAN and EMILIE MA Photography by ANAND SRINIVASAN and EMILIE MA Photo Illustration by ESME ABLAZA and KARINA CHAN
OLE IN THE WALL (NOUN): A USUALLY SMALL, UNPRETENTIOUS AND RAGGEDY RESTAURANT between two other more welcoming store fronts. Common indicators of an HITW upon entering include low quality equipment, furniture and decor, as well as non-flushing toilets, sticky tables and dirty walls. So why do people even go to said hole in the wall? Two words: the food. v
Taqueria El Grullense M &G
3636 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306
ENCHILADAS W/ BEANS, RICE & SALAD
3 CHIMICHANGA 4
JERK CHICKEN W/ FRIED BANANAS, RICE & SALAD
Taqueria El Grullense M & G barely fits the definition of a hole in the wall, considering the multiple flat screen TVs blasting WWE, the rather spacious eating area and the huge, illustrative sign detailing the contents of the menu with photos and descriptions of the food (perfect for someone who doesn’t know Spanish). Still, however, the spilled food on the ground, the dirty tables and the overall unkempt feel of the interior definitely gives it some credence as a HITW. Luckily, the food doesn’t stray from the norm as far as hole in the walls go — as always, it’s mouthwateringly delicious. Prior to stepping in an amorphous pile of what appeared to be beans, and wiping my table down with paper napkins (a crucial aspect of the dining experience), I ordered a plate of nachos, enchiladas with beans and rice, and, in a leap of adventurous faith, a chimichanga (deep fried burrito). I was glad I got that chimichanga. The crispy exterior matched with the doughy interior was absolutely mind-bending and the tender meat, melted cheese and beans came in the perfect proportions. Every bite I greedily crammed into my furiously chewing mouth had me falling deeper and deeper under its spell. Next up, I devoured the nachos with a passion comparative to that of a savage lion — the savory juices dribbling down my jaws, my fingers scooping up the fallen car-
nitas and guacamole and a half-crazed look in my eyes to indicate as much. I found the soggy chips immersed in sour cream, guacamole, carnitas and salsa to be my prey of choice, due to their guaranteed juiciness and sustenance. Last, I faced the enchiladas, rice and beans. Surprisingly, I did not find this meal to be as pleasing as my previous choices, but nonetheless it still had its highlights. For one, the rice and beans were the perfect combo, and scooping them up with the red sauce from the enchiladas was rather delectable. The enchiladas themselves were well-proportioned, and the melted cheese complemented the red sauce considerably well. The quality took a dip when it came to the asada cooked in the enchiladas; it was uncharacteristically dry and tasteless, unfortunate for such an otherwise enticing meal. Yet at the end of the day a constantly recurring thought about my experience at Taqueria El Grullense was how truly diverse and distinguishable each course was from the next. I find this extremely rare when it comes to Mexican cuisine since often times similar ingredients are predominantly used, but in the case of Taqueria El Grullense, all sides of my palette were piqued by each of the individual orders. Truly delicious food in an unexpected place. — Anand Srinivasan
Homma’s Brown Rice Sushi 2363 Birch St, Palo Alto, CA 94306
Hidden behind Bistro Elan and a large tree, it’s easy to miss Homma’s Brown Rice Sushi. Walking up to the restaurant, the first things you notice are the plastic chairs and tables that are scattered outside in a makeshift seating area, and the seemingly out of place bright neon “OPEN” sign. Upon entering the cozy living room size restaurant, I was greeted by a chef and the host-cashier-waiter. I looked around and noticed the faded green walls, along with the Japanese art and photography that adorned them. I could almost immediately smell a mixture of sushi rice and disinfectant. After deciding on the Party Platter, the Combo #2 and the fotomaki, I went up to the cashier and placed my order. After being told my meal would be a 25-minute wait due to only having one chef, I was given the option of receiving my food on many separate plates to shorten the wait. I happily accepted and sat down at one of the five tables and absent-mindedly listened to the classic pop playing in the background while mess-
ing around on my phone. The first plate that came out had six pieces of cucumber sushi, six pieces of tuna sushi and six pieces of a California roll. The fish was surprisingly pleasant: creamy, fresh and smooth. The rice, however, was a little too sour and fell apart with each bite. The next two plates contained a good amount of Nigiri sushi, which is a type of sushi that consists of a slice of fish that is laid on top of rice and served in bite-sized pieces. While the pieces of sushi were easy to eat, the amount of wasabi was overpowering. This, however, was redeemed by a perfect ratio of rice to fish. The final plate that was served contained eight pieces of fotomaki. Although the fotomaki was okay, the sushi did not meet the level of quality of the other dishes I had ordered and left me feeling unsatisfied. Overall, the sushi and service were better than expected. The fish was colorful and full of flavor, while the tangy rice contrasted the fish nicely. — Emilie Ma
1189 Willow Rd, Menlo Park, CA 94025
It’s 15 minutes to close time, all of the clustered tables within the 15x15 ft. eating area are full of seated customers, there’s a line at the counter to order, and even more parties continue to flow in behind. The irresistible aromas of jerk chicken, pork and salmon waft and envelope me, triggering a low grumble from my stomach. As I sit down after ordering my food, I slowly begin to take in my surroundings: Almost immediately I note the bright, highlighter-green walls that glisten under the lights. Painted onto the walls are multiple 5-foot-tall portraits of palm trees, beach shops and houses on a Jamaican hill side. The speakers playing reggae music softly murmur, drowned out by the lively conversation of customers either scarfing down huge chunks of jerk or waiting in anticipation, mouths watering at the smells and sights of food coming and going. When my food is finally brought to me I grab for it, ripping off mouthfuls of the crispy, fluffy and steaming deep-fried Jamaican corn bread fritters before realizing I still
need to document my adventure with photographic evidence. After pocketing my phone, I turn back to the meal at hand and desperately start inhaling the jerk pork, fried bananas, and rice and beans. My body takes control and I can’t stop gorging on the sublime flavors — the devilishly spicy jerk pork contrasts the ambrosia-sweet fried bananas, and the rice and beans along with the fried corn bread fritters act as much needed respite in the never ending battle. Within minutes my meal starts to diminish before my eyes and I experience a sense of panic as I realize that my brief ascent to Cloud Nine will eventually come to an end. I slow down, but it’s too late. I have already consumed my meal in half the time it took to make it. With a full and content stomach I walk out through the mangled, metal screen door, but as I turn around to get one last look at the tiny storefront, thoughts of returning flood my mind and I am left wanting more. — Anand Srinivasan
Text and Photography by CAROLINE YOUNG and ROY ZAWADZKI
NEW STUDY SPOTS
REVIEWING PALO ALTO’S RENOVATED LIBRARIES
ITH A GRAND TOTAL OF $76 MILlion spent on the construction of the new Mitchell Park Library and the renovation of the newly-named Rinconada Library, the time has come to ask whether these two new libraries are worth all the time waited and money spent. v
At a glance, Palo Alto’s Rinconada Library seems to be much like the old Main Library, but, while the general structure is mostly the same, the facilities have been glossed over with a modern touch of technology and style. With electric outlets hidden like secret treasure troves and comfy chairs, a definite step up from the old furniture, the Rinconada Library stands as a prime, quiet study or hang-out spot. Although students must currently bring their own textbooks to study, the library may begin to provide studying resources if there is enough interest. “[Rinconada Library] is an amazing resource of free things that you can do,” says Rinconada Library Youth Services Librarian Christine Pennington. “It’s a place where you can study, but it’s also a place where you can relax or learn about things that you’re interested in, hobbies [and] all sorts of things.”
RINCONADA TEEN ZONE Although smaller than the teen center at the Mitchell Park Library in terms of both the amount books and square feet, Rinconada’s teen center houses a homey collection of young adult novels, computers and comfortable chairs perfect for plopping into and cracking open a book.
2 1 The front of the Rinconada library at 1213 Newell Rd. A cherry blossom tree adds a pop of color to the exterior, and a pond lies to its side. Metal sculptures with words in different languages light up in a variety of colors at night. 24
Through www.liquidspace.com, students can request to use one of the many private, sound-proof rooms in the Rinconada or Mitchell Park libraries for up to two hours. The Rinconada conference rooms come fully equipped with two electrical outlet plugs on a desk and about four chairs with 360-degree spin and roll capacity. A giant flatscreen TV adorns the wall along with a clock useful for keeping track of time during strenuous work. 2 Palo Alto High School senior Alice Wang studies from her AP Psychology textbook in a chair in the quiet and cozy Rinconada Teen Zone. The Teen Zone contains six chairs shaped like mini beds, three computers and a variety of DVDs and books.
MITCHELL PARK LIBRARY The Mitchell Park Library at 3700 Middlefield Rd. leaves a lasting impression with its grand floor-to-ceiling windows and glass walls. Shiny chrome owls guard the entrance that leads to the endless amount of knowledge tucked inside — curb pillars that simultaneously act as smooth seats for the astounded onlooker or tired passerby. Inside, the library acts as both a study space and a place to unwind. “If you walk around the library, especially any time after school, you’ll see a lot of people checking out materials,” says Mitchell Park Library services manager RuthAnn Garcia. “But you [also] really do see people just using the space. They just really need a place to be, to hang out, to study, to play on the computer [or] whatever it is they’re doing.”
MITCHELL PARK TEEN ZONE The Teen Zone serves as a quiet place away from the main part of the library where students can relax, study or collaborate with their peers. A book rack in the Teen Zone offers various textbooks — mostly math and science — for teen use on homework or studying. “We’ve got some individual seating [in the teen zone], but most of it’s group seating because we really wanted teens to have a place to congregate together and work together,” Garcia says.
Seven out of ten Paly students plan to go to one of the Palo Alto libraries at least once in the future. The student poll results collected for this issue are from a survey administered in Palo Alto High School English classes over the course of several days in March 2015. Eight English classes were randomly selected, and 167 responses were collected. The surveys were completed online, and responses were anonymous. With 95 percent confidence, the results for the questions related to this story are accurate within a margin of error of 2.17 percent to 6.36 percent.
5 3 The sleek exterior of the library gleams in the afternoon sun. 4 Find a cozy spot in the first floor’s Kid’s Place’s cozy chairs. 5 Catch up on homework with the Teen Zone’s complimetary textbooks. 25
Text and Photography by KAI GALLAGHER and JAMES WANG
Smoke Trails LUNAR INSPIRES PASSION IN SCIENCE THROUGH MODEL ROCKETRY
ILENCE SPREADS OVER the crowds in the NASA Ames Research Center. Once bustling conversation lulls to excited whispers as heads crane upwards to get a glimpse of a falling black dot in the morning sky. As the silhouette accelerates downwards, its outline begins to form: A rocket, the product of hours upon hours of hard work, is barrelling towards the ground at blistering speed. Exhilarated apprehension spreads through the crowd, until a puff of smoke from the tip of the rocket signals that its parachute has been deployed. Seconds later, the rocket drifts to a graceful stop on the tarmac. However, the calm is short lived. Before the smoke even clears from the previous launch, the next rocket blasts off the launch pad — the thrill continues. This is one of the Livermore Unit National Association of Rocketry’s, or LUNAR’s, Moffett Field events, a gathering of people comprising many ages and motivations, bound together by their shared love of model rockets (and sometimes, explosions). Surveying the crowd, it’s hard to pick out the “average” rocketeer — visible are fathers and sons, boy scouts, veteran rocketeers and small teams of high school engineers competing in a student amateur rocket competition. The diversity of the crowd is a testament to the success of LUNAR. Aiming to break the divide between 26
amateur, intermediate and professional engineers, LUNAR has created a selfsustaining environment of peer-to-peer mentorship teeming with creative vigor. The Origins of LUNAR LUNAR was founded in 1992 by a group of Livermore rocketeers frustrated with the harsh limitations on rocket activity in California. These restrictions make it extremely difficult for any budding rocketeer to have a practical experience with the craft — California requires the consent of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Fire Marshall, as well as a multitude of permits for amateur rocket launches. Recognizing the potential for rocketry as an educational tool, the founders of LUNAR established the Bay Area’s first formal amateur rocket launching sites. LUNAR President David Raimondi sees rocketry as the perfect blend of math and physics — a trial by fire for the typical high school student. Cub Scout Excursions Younger rocketeers also frequent the Moffett Field launches. Cub scouts ranging from first to fifth graders find an educational mix of work and play in rocketry. Each scout dedicates himself to a rocket build and then, at its completion, makes an epic pilgrimage to a Moffett Field launch event. Here, each young rocket engineer can be seen carefully holding his creation
with both hands as he anxiously awaits his turn at the launchpad, all the while watching the skies intently for other rockets. One of the cub scout’s pack leaders, Chris Chin, values the build process for reinforcing his scouts’ creative efficacy. “The boys are pretty young,” he says. “But they’re learning about measurements, precision, construction and working with their hands. That in itself is inspiring.” Competition Rocketry Competitive student engineers are also scattered around the tarmac at the Moffett Field Launch. Competing in the annual Team America Rocketry Challenge, a competition comprised of over 60,000 students nationwide, small teams of high schoolers huddle around folding tables, making adjustments to the inner components of their various rockets. The challenge this year is to fly an egg 800 feet in the air and have it return safely to the ground in between 46 and 48 seconds. At Moffett Field, teams conduct trials supervised by a LUNAR official, hoping to qualify for this year’s national competition. Kevin Zeng, a senior at Mission San Jose High School, believes that rocketry allows students to learn about the precision required in the applied sciences. “You have to be very disciplined and very regimented when you are building a rocket,” Zeng says. “We once missed one small step when we were building
a rocket, and when it went up, it came down like a lawn dart. … Everything exploded and we lost all of our hard work.” Despite the strenuous design process required by rocketry, Zeng, like many rocket enthusiasts, finds solace in the welcoming community at Moffett Field, as well as the simple joy of watching rockets blast off into the sky. High-Powered Rocketry Despite the altitude cap of 2,000 feet at the Moffett Field launches, high-powered rocket experts abound. Dressed in bright LUNAR vests and floppy outdoor hats, they can be seen supervising launchpads and providing hobbyists with veteran rocketry advice, backed by their collective experience as NASA engineers, physicists and professional makers. The rockets produced by these engineers are amazing feats of engineering, sometimes larger than a pickup truck and augmented with high-tech flight computers, huge fuel reservoirs and precision machined carbon nozzles. Using their creations, these veteran rocketeers participate in competitions in the professional sphere,
with the ultimate aim to bring the aerospace industry to the individual’s domain. The Allure of Rocketry It’s hard to put into words why rocketry creates such a deep satisfaction for the people here. After all, there’s no single reason for finding beauty in a flower or the Mona Lisa. For some, it’s the simple, explosive joy of the liftoff. For the engineers scattered among the crowd, a rocket’s beauty is in its reliability; to launch and descend safely within certain weight and height restraints is no easy feat. But in a broader sense, witnessing a rocket launch is exhilerating to everyone on a visceral level. Even without knowledge of what went into each craft, it’s clear at a glance that each project is a labor of love. Some are personalized with stickers or decals, or even given loving names to signify the hours of planning and construction that have led to each rocket’s maiden journey-. Every rocket’s flight, then, is another call to Murphy’s Law, daring something, anything, to go wrong after so much work has been invested. v
NASA (left page) Low and medium-powered LUNAR launches are held on an expansive concrete tarmac in Moffet Field, next to the iconic Hangar One. MAIDEN FLIGHT (top left) A cub scout gingerly places his rocket on a low-powered launch pad. TESTING (top center) Student engineers prep a mid-powered launch pad, ensuring that conditions are optimal for a successful and replicable launch. BLASTING OFF (top right) Midpowered rockets leave dense smoke trails in the morning sky.
For the locations and times of LUNAR launches, visit www.lunar.org. To view a comprehensive tutorial on how to make a low powered rocket, visit paly.io/rockets, or scan the QR code on the right. 27
to our sponsors: the mas the godfreys the wangs the foxes the ablazas the nakais the brooks the zawadzkis 28
Text by KELLY SHI Design by CLAIRE PRIESTLEY Photography by ANA SOFIA AMIEVA-WANG
SUPPORT Senior Sandy Crammond holds the upper frame of the robot, named Freyja after the Norse goddess of fertility. Each year, robotics programmers name the robot after a Norse god, in honor of the Paly viking mascot.
a Well-OILED machine
MEET THE ROBOTICS TEAM OF PALO ALTO HIGH SCHOOL
T T-MINUS 58 MINUTES, the robot still doesn’t have arms — among many other things. It looks like a metal doorframe, albeit one that’s only five feet tall, attached to a rectangular base with wheels and tubing curling up into the air. T-minus 49 minutes: Two students zip tie a metal canister full of compressed air to the base, while another three attach the robot’s arm plate to its upper frame. T-minus 31 minutes: Everyone steps back from the robot, named Freyja (pronounced Fray-yuh) by the programmers. The arms are attached, along with the pneumatic air system that will give them movement.
“Enabling!” a programmer yells from their workstation. “The Final Countdown” blasts over the sound system of room 707, and students sing along with the trumpets as they watch the arm panel, hissing with pressurized air, slowly inch up the door frame. On its way down, the panel pauses. “Something’s wrong.” The phrase is said once, then twice, until it fills the space around the frozen robot. “Disable! Disable!” calls senior Dhruv Lal from on his knees, waiting for the highpitched humming to die before he reaches for the tubing. T-minus 27 minutes: Freyja has limbs and air. Both are tentatively working. As the robot rolls toward the plastic tote box on
the carpeted mock field, the team watches with breathless anticipation. One team member has her hands clasped in prayer. If the arms aren’t able to lift the tote, the team has less than half an hour to fix whatever’s wrong. The robot jerks forward to hug the tote with its arms. The tote slides out of its grasp. Undeterred, the bot turns to follow, arms closing in on its prey, and up, up, up, hands fly up into the air, the tote is lifted, and around the room, the entire team is yelling. The robot has four wheels, two arms and one can of pressurized air, along with a host of hidden parts. Freyja is alive and lifting. 29
FIRST: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology The Palo Alto High School robotics program, in its recent years, has not placed very highly in the competitions it goes to. Yet the robotics team relies less on adult mentors than other programs, and instead emphasizes student leadership. With five captains leading different teams, two specialized managers and a treasurer, Team 8 is a well-oiled, student-run machine. Paly’s Team 8 is one of thousands that participate in a high school robotics competition hosted by FIRST, a non profit organization. Each year, on the first Saturday of January, FIRST releases a kickoff video announcing the task that this year’s robots will have to perform in the competitions. From that day on, competing teams have exactly six weeks, known as build season, to design and construct a robot that meets the competition’s requirements. This year, robots must lift and stack plastic crates, or totes, on top of one another. After winning one of more than 100 regional 30
competitions spread across the country, teams can advance to the world championships. I set out to follow the trials and tribulations of Team 8, and began my investigation by speaking with the man behind it all. That is, the guy who literally works behind the robotics lab. Meet Chris Kuszmaul Head Coach Christopher Kuszmaul regards me from the depths of his cushy armchair, one khaki-clad leg hiked up so that his calf is resting against the armrest. We are in his office, located adjacent to the team’s workspace, and I can’t stop staring at the bright, leprechaun green plaid pattern of his shirt. Three feet away from his head sits a bookshelf holding up three cans of Campbell’s finest and a white plastic bag with a change of clothes. If legend can be believed, his predecessor lived in this office, Kuszmaul explains as he shows me the neglected laundry machine and hangers hidden in a glorified,
oversized closet attached to the room. Kuszmaul, on the other hand, stocks his office for late nights and late nights only. If he is not enjoying his canned chunky beef with vegetables in his office, I know that I will find him hovering over the shoulders of his students, observing, commenting, supporting their actions, but almost never touching the robot or tools himself. “If I were ‘hands-on’ year after year, then I would become a very talented robot maker,” he explains, reclining on his enormous armchair. “But that’s not my goal. My goal is to make it so my students become the best possible members of their community with an orientation towards engineering and science. And that means that any given year, I’m probably gonna be hands-off in order to give them the best opportunity to learn.” Meet Team 8 Walk out the door of Kuszmaul’s office and you’ll find yourself in the Java Shop, a computer lab filled with bulky PCs.
LEFT Sophomore James Ngo and junior Claire Kokontis examine the robot in room 707. The walls are streaked with cables, and a ceiling with missing panels reveals the shiny, aluminum-foil-esque piping running above students’ heads. During the school day, Kuszmaul uses this room to teach computer science. But every Thursday after advisory, the Java Shop becomes the crowded gathering place of the robotics team. On one such afternoon, a single clap cuts through idle chatter, echoing with resounding authority. Its source is sophomore Joey Kellison-Linn, who marches down the length of the Java Shop, repeatedly smashing his hands together. The rest of the team slowly joins in, some eagerly, some with resigned amusement. Kellison-Linn, a Team 8 programmer, inherited his position as “clapper” from his older brother, who graduated last year. He begins each meeting by clapping and waiting for everyone else to join in. “I’m not very good [at it],” KellisonLinn admits ruefully. “I have small hands.” Team Captain Christopher Hinstorff meanders down the center aisle under the attentive gaze of 30-something people, his pale, freckled skin glowing in the fluorescent lighting. “What’s happening today?” he asks the room contemplatively. After a brief pause, he pivots towards junior Claire Kokontis and says, with the feigned pensive look of somebody who already knows the answer to their question, “What’s happening in build today?” Kokontis, captain of the build team, accepts the proffered microphone with a huge smile on her face, holding it about six inches away from her chin while she talks. After updating the team on the build goals for the day, she hands the microphone back to Hinstorff, who says with no small amount of cheer, “Thank you Claire!” and claps once. Everyone else, in a stunning display of teamwork, claps in perfect sync with him. After every captain and manager gives an update, I learn, it is customary to thank them with a “superclap.” As the meeting concludes, Hinstorff lingers in the center aisle, arms crossed as he watches everyone disperse. Hinstorff ’s role in the program is more administrative
than one might think. As captain of the robotics team, Hinstorff is basically the captain of the other student captains, as well as of everyone else on the team. “[My job is] to lead the team and additionally to lead the leadership, to help them be able to be more effective than they otherwise would be,” Hinstorff says. Like Kuszmaul, he tries to maintain a “hands off ” approach when it comes to building the robot. “I don’t want to be doing our build captain’s job,” he explains. “She’s definitely capable of leading that effort without too much butting in from above her.” The Build Captain in Action Hinstorff is speaking about Claire Kokontis, of course, whose influence over the robot seems so great that I decide to visit her at the lab in room 903 one afternoon. That day marks the end of Week One of build season. We are in the hub of build activity, and team members scurry around the room, testing various prototypes. When she isn’t giving advice to inquiring students, Kokontis is immersed in a forum on the FIRST website, reading about other teams’ progress in their quest to move totes. In the far corner, menacingly fenced off, an area called the Cage takes up a good third of the lab. Inside is the heavy machinery used to make robot parts: the bandsaw, the mill, the welding station and other hulking appliances that, to the untrained eye, look like nothing more than futuristic washing machines with deadly extensions. To enter the Cage, I’m told, my hair must be tied back, and I need to wear eye protection. I look around, and notice that almost every student in the lab has a pair of safety glasses on their person — whether it’s sitting on top of their head like a pair of sunglasses, or dangling from a shirt collar — to the point where it seems like Team 8 is making a silent, yet effective, fashion statement. Kokontis herself has “like, seven” pairs of safety glasses. She finds them lying around the lab and adds them to her own collection. I have never seen Kokontis in the labwithout a pair of safety glasses on her face. Nor, I reflect, have I ever seen her without a smile on her face, except for one night in particular.
HOW TO BUILD A ROBOT (TEAM 8 STYLE) 1
Start with 75 students — a little more or less is okay.
Divide them into four sub teams. The build team will build the robot. The programmers will use code to tell it what to do. The art team will produce animated videos, posters and t-shirts for the team, and public relations will be searching for sponsors and applying for FIRST awards. Spend first semester hosting mini classes to teach new students what they need to know for build season.
As soon as the kickoff video releases this year’s competition challenge in January, have your build and programming teams start prototyping and testing their ideas immediately. You should have designs based on your prototypes by Week One, drafts of your robot by Week Two and should start building by Week Three.
Put the base of your robot together, the metal frame and its wheels, and add the pneumatics system, the motors and the battery. Place a clear box in the middle of the frame, full of wires and electronics — the brain of your robot. Add an elevator tower on top, a metal rectangular frame that will support a backplate. Attach your backplate, with its aluminum arms jutting forward, and connect it to the pneumatics system. Finish the robot by Week Four.
Spend Weeks Five and Six testing the robot. Have your student driver practice moving the robot remotely with two joysticks, and have your build and programming teams on standby to fix anything that doesn’t work.
You have your robot now, but that’s only half the battle. We’ll save the competition for another day. 31
That One Night In Particular We are four weeks into build season when Team 8 is suddenly confronted by their first major deadline: a leadership decision to complete the robot two weeks early, so that the remaining time can be spent testing and fine-tuning the programming. If the build and programming teams don’t finish Freyja by midnight, they risk falling behind schedule. At 10:53 p.m., the robot’s entire upper structure — the elevator tower and its arms — is conspicuously absent. The beginnings of a pneumatics system gleam gold and silver within the cradle of the drive train; bright blue tubing snakes around the intricate engineering, searching for a connection that isn’t there. With around an hour left before their self-imposed deadline, little more than 10 students, including Hinstorff and Kokontis, remain to make the final push. At least five are clustered around the half-finished robot, belting along to the fast part of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which blares from the lab speakers. Kokontis delivers tools and parts to the team members, bouncing with nervous energy as she dashes back and forth between the Cage and the robot. “Everything always seems so much more simple when you’re just like, ‘Okay we have this to do, this to do, this to do,’” Kokontis reflects, counting on her fingers. Earlier, around 10 p.m., Kokontis and lab manager junior Kenny Cheung realized that the parts of the backplate with the robot’s arms did not fit together, and could not be attached to the robot. Without the arms, the robot wouldn’t be able to stack totes — the only way to earn points during this year’s FIRST competitions. In an attempt to get the parts to fit, Cheung began drilling holes into the backplate by hand, an act that is inexact and prone to human error. Usually, holes are drilled by machines following a ComputerAided Design (CAD), a blueprint for the robot that is created by students. In the case of the mismatched backplate, the CAD had contained an unseen flaw. LEFT Sophomore Nihar Mitra pushes Freyja, the Team 8 robot, into place for testing. RIGHT Senior Dhruv Lal organizes pneumatics parts in the robotics lab. 32
Now, at 11:16 p.m., “Living on a Prayer” pumps through the lab, with three Team 8 members leading the vocals. “WE’VE GOTTA HOLD ON,” they scream, “TO WHAT WE’VE GOT. IT DOESN’T MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF WE MAKE IT OR NOT.” “WE’VE GOT EACH OTHER, AND THAT’S ENOUGH FOR LOVE.” As the night progresses, the cluster gets increasingly tighter around the robot. In addition to the faulty backplate, the encoders, which collect data from the motor, were installed facing the wrong direction, and four students are working on flipping the tiny, delicate chips around. “It was hard,” Kokontis tells me. “This deadline was set weeks in advance, and it was a thing like, ‘We are going to get this done ... It’s gonna happen.’” But it doesn’t happen. When midnight finally comes, junior Osamu Yasui is holding the elevator tower upright as the rest of the students frantically try to tighten the wires so the frame can stand on its own. A cheery song from “Singin’ in the Rain” fills the room. “Good morning!” Gene Kelly sings. As we clean up the lab, the elevator tower rests flat on the floor, five feet away from the incomplete robot. Kokontis’ shoulders are slumped, and her safety glasses — for the first time all night — have been pushed to rest on top of her head. The deadline has come and gone, and now the team is behind schedule. There will be less time to test and practice with the robot. “You just — you push through,” she says to me, weeks after the end of build season. “That’s something I’ve definitely experienced time and time again. You just keep going no matter how difficult it gets.” She smiles a little, and adds, “So that made two weeks later even better.” Two weeks later Standing in the doorway of an abandoned math classroom, Kokontis clasps her hands to her chest in prayer to the gods of robotics. After two weeks of modifying and rebuilding parts of the robot, the team is facing their last deadline. It is Feb. 17, the last day of Week Six, and by midnight, Freyja — in whatever state it’s in — must be bagged and tagged with Team 8’s identification number. The time is 11:33 p.m., and Freyja’s
backplate, completely remade from a redesigned CAD, has just been attached to the robot, giving it arms. The pneumatics system has been fixed and connected to the arms through the backplate, and both are tentatively working. Freyja hums as it begins to turn in circles — driver Dhruv Lal is warming up on the joysticks. Five feet away, a single grey tote box sits on the floor, waiting to be picked up. Freyja makes a beeline towards it, and encloses the tote within its arms, but as they close in, the tote slides and turns away. Freyja continues moving forward and without any hesitation, traps the tote as it spins. The entire room, filled with exhausted students and mentors, cheers. Kokontis jumps up and down on her toes and screams. She looks like she might cry of excitement. “Upsy daisy!” Lal bellows from behind the joysticks as he commands the backplate to rise along the elevator tower, bringing the arms and its prize up so that Freyja can trundle past Hinstorff and Cheung towards a platform. As Freyja drops the tote onto the platform, the room erupts in another round of applause. Freyja will go on to stack totes atop each other, just as it will in the regional competition at Madera. Team 8 will end up placing 38th out of the 49 teams that
show up, but their business plan, submitted by PR team captain Lauren Nolen, will win them the Entrepreneurship Award, an accomplishment that according to the FIRST website, “celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit by recognizing a team that has developed the framework … to scope, manage, and achieve team objectives.” “We will make decisions from time to time, that will make it so that we will not be the world’s best, or even in the top elite group of teams,” Kuszmaul says, about the level of student leadership and mentor involvement on the team. “But before Madera, I don’t think the team fully realized that in any area that we choose as a community, this team can be the best in the world.” For now, it looks like Team 8 has chosen to focus on student leadership and independence. The Paly robotics team hasn’t done very well in its recent competitions. But that depends on your definition of success. “So I guess the question is, what is it that we’re talking about in terms of achievement and progress?” Kuszmaul asks me. “In terms of what you see on the [competition] field, that’s one measure. In terms of what you see, the real product, walking across the graduation stage, we kick butt. And that’s the product I’m interested in.” v 33
FEATURES | APRIL 2015 Text by LUCY FOX and JAMES WANG Photography by JAMES WANG Art by JACKSON KIENITZ
THE NEW CLASSROOM
SCIENCE RESEARCH PROJECT USHERS IN A NEW AGE OF HANDS-ON ACADEMIC INDEPENDENCE
EVERAL PhD STUDENTS squeeze together in a dark room. The faces of the scientists, illuminated only by the soft glow of a confocal microscope, watch intently as the colored representations of dyed cells jump to life on a monitor. As the cells come into focus, the microscope technician and the observing graduate students launch into an exchange of complex biological jargon, drawing attention to the subtle discolorations and shapes revealed by this round of imaging. These scientists, advanced scholars coming from countries abroad to study at Stanford University, are leading cutting edge research. However, the cells they are analyzing are a product of lo34
cal efforts: specifically those of Alex Lu, a senior at Palo Alto High School, who has helped to prepare the cell sample. Advanced research, typically seen as something out of reach for the average high school student, is a common endeavour in the Science Research Project program, a science elective offered at Paly. By facilitating real academic research experiences for passionate students, SRP aims to remedy the archaic education techniques of the past decade. Modern education has been mired in the swamps of industrial instruction: students are taught sitting neatly in rows while a teacher rambles on in front of the class. SRP provides a welcome digression from this outdated model, grant-
ing students the opportunity to develop a passion for applied academics. Through this method of self-led inquiry, SRP has helped students participate in everything from engineering moon dust concrete and neural interfacing prosthetic limbs to devising cancer drugs and enzymes for editing the human genome. SRP originated as a pilot program for alternative education. Founded by former Paly teacher Andria Erzberger, SRP leveraged her extensive connections with the scientific community to provide research mentors for interested students. Today, under the new SRP adviser Keith Geller, students enrolled in the class independently seek out and participate in
PIPETTING Palmon uses a micro-pipette to wash a cell sample with a precise amount of ethanol before testing for RNA. an ongoing research project for two seThis mode of self-guided education mesters of Paly science elective credit. In has been transformative for many of the the first quarter of SRP, and sometimes students enrolled in SRP. Through autonoeven beginning in the preceding summer, mously seeking and applying knowledge in students request a lab setting, stuinternships at local dents see a vast imscientific institu- “In the lab, I’ve learned so provement in their tions such as Stan- much. I can’t really pinpoint creative and acaford and NASA. demic agency. one thing.” For the remainder Paly junior Ivy — JUnior Itai Palmon Li, currently internof the year, participants in SRP refine ing at Stanford, is their hands-on repart of the global search skills as they work side-by-side with effort to explore the capabilities of CRIStheir mentors. In this phase, mentors del- PR, or the clustered regularly interspaced egate lab work to student interns, reducing short palindromic repeats genome editing the workload on the leading researchers system, a cutting edge technology hailed as and improving the lab skills of the stu- “the biggest biotech discovery of the cendent. At the conclusion of the SRP class, tury” by the MIT Technology Review. To each student independently compiles the Li, not only does the research encouraged recent findings of their lab and produces by SRP have a profound impact on the a scientific paper and a 20-minute public world, but it encourages essential skills not presentation. The most comprehensive often emphasized in the classroom. student produced research papers often get “Learning in a lab environment is a lot accepted by scientific journals for official different than learning biology in isolation publication. since you have to apply knowledge to solve
problems,” Li says. Lu, who is working on synthesizing cancer diagnosis and treatment compounds, feels that scientific research has made him a more resilient learner through trial and error. “A lot of the information that I gather comes from reading journal articles and empirical validation rather than traditional textbook learning,” Lu says. Although the students who successfully find a research mentor often have amazing experiences, a major flaw of SRP is that many students struggle to find mentors in the beginning of the year. Despite the connections that SRP has with the research community, students who are seeking a mentor must make a significant effort to seek out research opportunities themselves. Mentors are mostly disengaged with the procedures of their interns, and since it is a liability for researchers to have unqualified personnel working independently in their labs, prospective interns often must prove aptitude for self-direction through interviews and lab procedures classes. As a 35
FEATURES | APRIL 2015 result, according to Geller, about one-third of SRP signups drop the class before the end of the first quarter. “Not everybody is guaranteed a mentor,” Geller says. “To a large degree, it has to be the responsibility of the students. We’re going to try to put more tools in their hands; I’ve been told that the superintendent is trying to make contacts more available.” For the students who do manage to find mentors, Geller believes that the SRP class is extremely rewarding. “They get a tremendous experience just being in a lab and seeing how scientists function day-to-day,” Geller says. “I’m hoping that they will come out of it with an appreciation for how much goes into doing
research successfully.” Many students taking SRP have long been curious about conducting research. SRP provides these students with an outlet to fulfill these ambitions. “I’ve always been really interested in the scientific field,” Paly senior Kendall Schonenberg says. “So when I heard that there was a class where I could get credit for doing research, that sounded really exciting to me, [and] I jumped on the opportunity.” Since enrolling in SRP, Schonenberg has worked on mapping the human brain for neural interfacing prosthetic limbs, a field essential for utilizing the freedom of movement allowed by modern mechanical technology.
Junior Itai Palmon, who is working on a project aiming to determine what causes aortic aneurysms — enlargement of a major artery in the heart — in Marfan syndrome patients, feels that he has learned an uncountable amount of skills from the research in SRP. “In the lab, I’ve learned so much,” Palmon says. “I can’t really pinpoint one thing.” Although faced with the daunting task of finding a mentor and independently applying lab skills and theory to practical studies, SRP students find satisfaction in the profound importance of their work. “This is sort of cheesy, but research changes lives,” Li says. “I think that’s what it all boils down to, whatever research you’re talking about.” v
EXPLORING A FEW OF THIS YEAR’S STUDENT PROJECTS
IVY LI Junior Ivy Li is working on CRISPR, a new genome editing technology, in a lab at Stanford University. CRISPR has the potential to inexpensively and accurately cut and even splice new information into cell genomes, opening up limitless biotechnology possibilities.
ITAI PALMON Junior Itai Palmon is researching a cure for aortic aneurisms in Marfan syndrome patients. Marfan syndrome causes a connective tissue disorder that affects the entire body, vastly increasing the chances of heart failure.
KENDALL SCHONENBERG Senior Kendall Schonenberg is mapping the neural activity of the the human brain with the hopes of improving the neural interfacing in prosthetic limbs. This development is the next step in restoring total mobility in amputees. 36
FEATURES | APRIL 2015
THE NEW DEAL FOR STUDENTS REFINING THE HOMEWORK POLICY Text by ANNA NAKAI Art by KARINA CHAN and ANNA NAKAI
ERPLEXING AND IN effective might be the first words to come to mind when one thinks of the Palo Alto High School homework policy. In fact, one would not be too far from the truth if one thought the homework policy was intended to confuse everyone. When 78 percent of Paly students reported in a recent Verde survey that they are unaware of their homework obligations under the homework policy, there is a problem, and it isn’t with the students. This is the view of many Paly students and teachers who feel that the homework policy is far too vague. According to Paly English teacher Sarah Bartlett, there is no way that teachers, however well-intentioned, could know if they are complying with the policy. As of now, the homework policy recommends seven to 10 hours of work per week for students not taking accelerated, honors or Advanced Placement classes. In late February, Supt. Max McGee sent out a document to students and teachers in which he specified the homework expectations should not exceed 15 hours per week for any student. While Paly must abide by the district policy, the administration hopes to clarify how the homework policy should influence teachers’ decisions to assign homework. Parents, students and teachers have made several suggestions aimed at reducing student stress in light of recent events which have brought mental health and stress to the forefront of the community discussion. These proposals include reducing the number of AP courses students may take, expanding the course catalog to adequately reflect class difficulty, implementing a school-wide testing calendar, and minimizing student stress on seven period long Cdays.
The Problems The main issue with the homework policy is that it never clarifies exactly how much homework teachers are allowed to give. The homework policy places a limit on homework for students in regular lane courses, however, there is no clear number given when a student is taking honors, AP or accelerated courses, as the policy simply states that those students “should expect loads higher than those outlined above [for regular lane classes] and should refer to class catalogs for homework expectations.” Teachers such as Bartlett argue that this lack of specificity makes the policy impossible to follow. “If you were to ask a teacher, ‘Are you in compliance with the policy?’ I don’t think I could answer that question,” Bartlett says. “How much homework am I allowed to assign? … It depends whether a student has five classes or six classes or seven, whether they’re taking AP classes or not AP classes, it depends whether they’re a freshman or a senior. I think it’s unfair to fault teachers for not following it when no one can even figure out what it’s even saying.” The lack of understanding of the homework policy extends to students, which can lead to students being swamped in homework that they weren’t expecting. “The issue would be clarity,” senior Wesley Woo says. “People bite off more than they can chew, [and] especially for people in sports, you want to be able to rigidly manage your time, so specificity is key.” Paly students experience high
to Diorio. “It’s left a lot of room for interpretation in terms of giving time guidelines or quantity guidelines for students and teachers, and that’s been a detriment to our students,” Diorio says. “I believe we need to look at … the purpose of homework and have some conversations around best practices when it comes to homework.” As the WASC process ends and Paly begins to discuss solutions for the problems that have been identified, the homework policy is drawing a lot of suggestions from students, teachers and parents alike.
levels of stress, which the administration has been seeking to reduce this year. Despite efforts to curb student stress, 16 percent of students report that they have 15 or more hours of homework a week. Meanwhile, 37 percent of students report that they get six hours or less of sleep a night. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges data reports similar numbers. “When we did our data through WASC, we heard loud and clear that [students] have on average anywhere from two to five or six hours a night of homework,” Paly Principal Kim Diorio says. “We learned … from talking to many students that they were spending a great amount of time on the weekends, Saturdays and Sundays, working on homework, not allowing themselves a break at any point during their week.” The clause exempting AP and honors classes from the homework policy restrictions merely increases that stress, according
The Course Catalog and Selection The first item that people identify as needing improvement is the Paly Course Catalog, a compilation of Paly’s courses from which students select their schedules for the upcoming year. Only a quarter of the courses in the course catalog publish expected hours of homework, which makes planning more difficult for students. According to Bartlett, putting homework estimates from the perspective of both the teachers and the students would be beneficial to the students. “Sometimes there’s a difference between the teacher’s intention and the student’s experience,” Bartlett says. “So to try to get the teacher’s intention and the student’s experience to be more similar and then to actually publish that in the course catalog would help kids so at least they know what they’re getting into.” Sophomore Candace Wang agrees that teachers should improve the course catalog. “I get an estimate of the amount of homework I will receive the upcoming year during course selection through word of mouth mostly,” Wang says. “I think the course catalog
The student poll results collected for this issue are from a survey administered in Palo Alto High School English classes over the course of several days in March 2015. Eight English classes were randomly selected, and 167 responses were collected. The surveys were completed online, and responses were anonymous. With 95 percent confidence, the results for the questions related to this story are accurate within a margin of error of 4.69 percent to 6.15 percent.
should be less generic and have each course give an accurate measure of the time spent [for each].” Diorio notes that several proposals call for revisions to the course catalog which would reduce stress around course selection. Suggestions include making the course catalog more multimedia[-based] and adding example assignments or projects to inform students about each class. Additionally, course selection has been the focus of many discussions surrounding the homework load at Paly. This year, the administration placed a nonbinding maximum recommendation of two AP classes to try to reduce student stress. “I want students on this campus to be having fun, getting sleep, taking care of themselves, and it sounds like when you have more than two APs it’s really hard to do those things,” Diorio says. “We really want students to hear loud and clear that by choosing to take more than two APs, you are setting yourself up for most likely not getting enough sleep at night.” Although some in the community feel that APs should be limited, others believe that this would limit student freedom. Woo notes that there is a discrepancy in the difficulties of different AP classes, so a limit on AP classes may not be effective. “Not every AP class is the same amount of work; not every AP is the same level of difficulty,” Woo says. “My idea was to rank APs in terms of a point scale or something and instead of limiting the number of APs ... all your classes have to add up to a certain number of points, or all your AP classes have to add up to a certain amount of points.” For example, AP U.S. History is known as a very demanding AP course, with several hours of homework per class meeting. Foreign language APs, in contrast, focus more on practicing the language in class rather than assigning out of
FEATURES | APRIL 2015 class work. Thus, the amount of homework assigned by foreign language APs is typically far less than that assigned in AP U.S. History. “The New Deal” for Students Paly’s administration has experimented with several new ideas this year and hopes to help improve the implementation of the homework policy at the high school. Although the Paly administration cannot change the text of the homework policy, it is charged with the implementation of the policy. “My job is to make sure teachers and staff members are following the policy and upholding the policy and making sure that it has been communicated to students and parents and teachers alike,” Diorio says.
Data collected from students this school year and in future years will influence the implementation of the policy. “We’re trying to … collect some data on just how many hours or how much time students do spend in a particular course or subject area on the homework,” Diorio says. “We need our students to tell us how much time they’re spending, what’s working [and] what’s not working so we can make adjustments.” Bartlett agrees that student feedback is essential for informing teachers of the necessities of reforming and adapting their policies. Right now, she argues, there is a disconnect between the teacher and the student. In order to gather more student data on homework and stress, Diorio plans to
administer two surveys in the spring: the Hanover Research Survey and the Challenge Success Survey. These surveys will continue to be administered periodically to provide feedback on what is working and what is not. Diorio hopes to continue experimenting with new policies and options at the end of the school year and into the next school years. “I think as a school system we tend to be really stuck in the status quo, and I think right now we are moving toward this idea that we should really try some new things,” Diorio says. “Let’s see what happens and then if things don’t work out as planned or if it’s a fail, we learn from our mistakes and start over. It’s just like what we want kids to do — learn from your mistakes.” v
Options for Implementing the Homework Policy and Reducing Stress
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FEATURES | APRIL 2015 Text by ELANA REBITZER and RACHEL VAN GELDER Additional Reporting by ESMÉ ABLAZA Art by KARINA CHAN and ANTHONY LIU
THEIR Heart and home CLOSURE OF SHELTER HURTS LOCAL WOMEN
EN MINUTES. THAT is all the time Christine’s landlord gave her to leave her apartment during her eviction. As she scrambled to get out, she says her 6-week-old kitten was killed and her landlord stole four truckloads of her belongings. Christine had been a stay-at-home mom of three in Cupertino until she divorced her adulterous husband and was subsequently kicked out of their house. Around the same time as her eviction, she was cut off from the child support she had been living off of because her youngest son turned 17½. Having lost everything, Christine became a statistic: one of the countless homeless people living in the Bay Area, and a living argument for the need for shelters. Christine, unable to afford housing in the expensive Bay Area community, has been forced to stay in shelters since her eviction. While she has stayed in places like the Armory in Sunnyvale and WeHope in
East Palo Alto, her favorite shelter remains the Stanford Women’s Shelter, where she lived during the winter of 2013. Christine, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, stayed in the shelter for almost three months with 18 other women. SWS, planned as a cold weather shelter, was supposed to open again for the winter of 2014, but were unable to do so due to complications with its host churches, leaving hopeful residents like Christine without housing and a muchvalued community. Although Christine was able to return to WeHope, many of those women were left out on the street, in cheaper housing outside of the Bay Area, or, like Christine, in co-ed shelters. After having stayed in a shelter that catered so well to their needs, these women are again facing the challenges which SWS had begun to help them overcome. Life After Eviction Following Christine’s eviction, the first
two shelters she stayed at were co-ed. According to Christine, the sexual abuse in mixed-gender shelters is very high; the majority of the women she talked to said they had been sexually abused. Her experiences contrast with a 2014 White House report in which 13 percent of homeless women in shelters reported sexual abuse, suggesting a higher rate, at least in the shelters Christine stayed at. In a women-only shelter, much of that sexual abuse disappears, making a more comfortable and safe environment. For Christine, who worked at a hospital before her eviction, complications with government disability funding prevented her from earning money that she desperately needed. Her disability requires multiple back surgeries, but due to the instability of living in a homeless shelter she has not yet had the opportunity to undergo them. “I’ve been working …for my social security disability insurance,” Christine says. “But because I have a pension from [the hospital], I cannot get the security disability until I spend my pension. I’ll be 60 this
ON THE STREETS For many low income families, homelessness can be just a paycheck away.
FEATURES | APRIL 2015 year, but I can not get my pension until I am 62 or have SSDI, so I am in catch-22 . . . I need to be in a place. I can not have back surgery and be thrown out [from a shelter].” Christine’s story is not unusual; once homeless, it can be difficult to find a home again. According to Adam Klein, the programs and services manager at InnVision Shelter Network, high rent prices have led to an increase in homelessness. For instance, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in San Mateo County is $2400 a month, while a single worker earning minimum wage and working full time will only earn around $2000 a month. It does not help that 13 of the 20 most expensive cities in the U.S. are located in the Bay Area. “It is very easy for [a] family to go from on the verge of extreme poverty and homelessness to homelessness, and they [both parents] could both still have jobs,” Klein says. “We are seeing an incredible increase in the number of working homeless — working poor who become homeless. People who have jobs, who have maintained employment and still cannot afford rent in this area.” The Collaborative The Stanford Women’s Shelter, also known as the Heart and Home Collaborative, began as Stanford Night Outreach, a group created by Stanford students in order to learn about homelessness in the community. After deciding to create a shelter in
2012, the HHC reached out to InnVision For the first half of the winter, the shelter Shelter Network and created a partnership was hosted at Peninsula Bible Church on for a women-only shelter. Middlefield Road, and University Luther“We heard from InnVision, our part- an Church hosted it for the remainder of ner, that they really felt this was a need,” says the winter. Since it was hosted at an active Aparna Ananthasubramanian, one church, the residents had to leave the buildof the shelter’s founders. “We felt that we ing by 7 a.m.; Volunteers would arrive early were creating a safe every day to make breakfast space for women.” I felt safe enough to and ensure that the women During the winable to pack up their have dreams. That wasn’t were ter months, there is belongings before leaving an urgent need for something I’d had in during the day. homeless people to the past three years. At 7 p.m., the shelbe housed in safe ter would reopen and the — Christine and warm places. women, coming off work While the Bay Area or however else they spent boasts a warmer climate than other loca- their day, would trickle in. Staff and voluntions, according to Palo Alto Online, at teers made dinner, and the entire commuleast five homeless individuals died from nity had a chance to talk and get to know cold weather exposure in the 2014 winter. each other. As the city of Palo Alto has no permanent “Most people just really wanted to shelters, many homeless people in the city talk” Ananthasubramanian says. “Someare forced to travel to East Palo Alto and times we would have people who came in beyond for shelter. and they brought a lot of friends, and we For Ananthasubramanian and her would have concerts.” peers, the lack of cold weather shelter Many of the women who stayed at the made the idea of creating a winter shelter HHC had faced other traumatizing events an obvious choice. at some point in their history, and suffered The students set to work on their goal residual effects from those experiences. and created the HHC, their non-profit or- According to Christine, the HHC helped ganization dedicated to helping the home- those women process their past experiencless. es in a safe environment. While the HHC was in operation, the “There are some women who are pretshelter’s day-to-day business was mostly run ty shell shocked and have post traumatic by community and student volunteers, who stress from some of the abuse,” Christine served breakfast and dinner to the clients. says. “Being in a women’s shelter helped
SHELTER In the winter of 2013, 19 women found a home at the HHC.
FEATURES | APRIL 2015 heal them because we were all able to relate with our own abuses and discuss tools in which to heal the injury and make an effort to move forward.” Christine herself experienced an unusual form of healing while she stayed at the HHC. “One time, the pastor was out early in the morning, and I had nightmares,” Christine says. “So I went out [in the lobby] in the morning just to shake them off, and he said he was sorry [that I was having nightmares]. I said, ‘No, because when you have nightmares, it means you feel safe enough to process some of the drama.’ So I felt safe enough to have dreams. That wasn’t something I had in the past three years.” Her emotional experience at the shelter was mirrored by many of the other women who stayed there. According to Christine and Ananthasubramanian, both the volunteers and the residents formed many close bonds while the shelter was open. “We really emphasize forming friendships and creating a sense of community at the shelter,” Ananthasubramanian says. “It was a lot [of us] trying to build understanding with people, and we tried to keep the relationship much more reciprocal [than at other shelters].” Permit Problems The HHC was unable to open this winter due to an ongoing permit issue. Concerns from neighbors led the City of Palo Alto to change the shelter’s permit to a conditional use permit. This meant that
they had to discuss the intended use with residents surrounding the potential shelter. “This [permit] would cost $3,500 and might potentially require a vote of the City Council for approval,” says Andy Burnham, a pastor at Peninsula Bible Church. “As this was being clarified, we essentially ran out of runway for having the shelter during the winter of 2014-15.” Unfortunately, the rest of the HHC’s potential hosts were also unable to acquire the permit in time to open last winter. This meant that women like Christine had to find other places to stay. “There were some ladies who went to other shelters,” Ananthasubramanian says. “I think there were some ladies who were not able to go to other shelters, and ended up sleeping outside or going down to Gilroy or Happy Donuts.” When open, the HHC managed to fill a gap in the lack of shelter for homeless people in the Bay Area, especially in the area of women’s only shelters. The HHC may not have been able to provide support for women this winter, but that does not mean that its days of serving the community are over. Plans for the Future Despite past setbacks, the shelter is looking forward to helping even more women in future winters. One important step for the HHC is getting a head start on the process for next year. “There are churches that are showing a lot of interest in working with us in the
coming year,” Ananthasubramanian says. “The churches have been very proactive as well about taking ownership over this process and really creating committees to figure out how to do it well.” In the meantime, the HHC is still trying to achieve its mission of helping women find shelter. “We want to create a small fund for the people who stayed at our shelter last year who are currently not stably housed,” Ananthasubramanian says. “We want to put that money towards any housing related needs that they may have, be that motel stays or rental assistance.” Because the shelter’s residents had such positive experiences, when the shelter does reopen, there will be no shortage of women who will want to stay there. “People were asking if the HHC is going to be open this year,” Christine says. “Not people who stayed there before, but they have just heard so many good things about it [that they want to stay there themselves].” After three years, Christine has finally received a voucher for subsidized housing. Though she is no longer homeless, she would like to work with the shelter again. “If it were to reopen, I would be willing to volunteer and help in any way I can,” Christine says. “I feel what has been given to me does need to be given back to the community and awareness needs to be raised. I know I was not aware of this [issue] when I had a home. I know that people I meet have no idea.” v
CLOSED When HHC did not open in the winter of 2014, many women who had eagerly awaited the winter were forced to find another place to stay.
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RING oF disHoNoR EXPOSING PALY’S CULTURE OF CHEATING Text by ZOFIA AHMAD Additional Reporting by JACK BROOK Art by ANTHONY LIU and ANNA LU Editor’s note: Many students who spoke with Verde for this story did so under the condition of anonymity, and Verde chose to honor this request as they provided crucial information about Paly’s cheating culture and a specific cheating ring. We followed the ethics guidelines set in place by the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Scholastic Press Association, which state that anonymity should only be granted if the information cannot be obtained in any other manner. In this case, the only way get to proof of the cheating ring was to talk to the cheaters themselves.
GROUP OF AT LEAST 20 PALO ALTO Child Psychologist Cari Anderson says that the knowledge high school students has been cheating since soph- that others cheat may also be a factor. omore year in courses including, but not limited “Many students perceive the academic situation as a competito, Advanced Placement U.S. History, AB Calculus, tive one, and students may feel that they need a competitive advanChemistry, Economics and Psychology, according tage,” Anderson says. “If they perceive others are cheating, they to multiple sources. Now, as seniors, they are being accepted into may feel that they need to also cheat in order to maintain their first-rate colleges. competitiveness. While the Paly community and administration are aware that For suppliers of the ring, the motivation seems more complex multiple lower-scale cheating incidents oc— why memorize answers and go through cur every year, this particular ring poses a all that work if there’s nothing in it for you? unique and far more intricate problem than “I don’t think it’s worth it to While some may profit from the ring’s work the average cheating case. The level of or- cheat but my mom sure does.” in other classes, Alex speculates that others ganization, duration and sheer scope of the might just help out without reaping a tan— student survey response gible benefit. cheating that has taken place is unlike that of any group before, according to several According to Anderson, the closeness teachers and former Paly students. of students to their friends means that many might be willing to Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson confirmed that the adminis- provide answers without receiving a direct benefit. tration has investigated rumors of an organized group of students “Most teens feel very connected their peers, and are loyal to cheating, but did not find any evidence to support these claims. An their group, and so may be willing to cheat to support their peers in-depth look into this ring unveils how they have managed to stay even with no personal benefit,” Anderson says. “Also, if teens feel at large, the psychology behind academic dishonesty, why students disconnected from teachers and other adults in their lives, they may don’t report cheaters and how these methods affect the future of see it as an ‘us-versus-them’ situation, and be willing to help their cheating at Paly. peers ‘beat the system’.” For Christopher, the reason is simple. How it Works “They’re my friends,” he says. Multiple students each memorize a couple of answers from a given test or quiz the first time it is given and then compile these Parental Support answers on a Google Document, according to ring member Alex, Multiple students report parental support of academic diswhose name, along with those of many other students mentioned honesty as another reason to cheat. Alex says that, while many parin this story, has been changed to protect his identity. This docu- ents are not aware of their children’s actions, he is aware of others ment is shared with other ring members who then memorize these who condone academic dishonesty. A student response to a Verde answers and take the tests either in the Testing Center after skip- survey reinforced his perspective. ping the class or during a later period. The students who memorize “I don’t think it’s worth it [to cheat], but my mother sure questions are dubbed ‘suppliers,’ ring member Christopher says. does,” one student wrote. Anna, a Paly student who preferred to speak anonymously Why Cheat? about the ring, echoed this sentiment. According to Alex, many ring members cheat due to laziness, “I know parents that would rather have their kid cheat and get and are capable of getting similar grades if they put the work in. good grades rather than not cheat and get bad grades,” she says. “Cheating is just a shortcut to get a good grade without putAnderson notes that this parental support also has an impact ting in [the] work,” he said in an online message. “Why study for on a student’s justification of academic dishonesty. three hours when [you] can talk with [your] friends about it for 15 “Unfortunately, I’m not surprised to hear reports of parents minutes and get the same grade?” supporting cheating,” Anderson says. “Many parents are very anx45
ious for their kids to do well and believe that high grades are es- it is never worth it to cheat. However, when there is no chance sential to their child’s future, and may justify the cheating for this of being caught only 76 students, or 48.7 percent, would say that reason. I believe this would [make] it easier for them [kids] to jus- cheating is still not worth it — a difference of 27.27 percent. Actify the cheating to themselves.” cording to Anna, most ring-members do not believe they can This aspect of parental supget caught, and so are probably port leads to another group of more likely to be willing to cheat. “DO WE want moral people who will change questions concerning how soci“The mindset of those enetal values may have directed the society in a wholesome way or people who tering the ring is that they can’t moral compass’ of today’s teens. can do a lot more by convoluted means?” get caught,” she says. “They believe their system is foolproof.” — Junior Amy Leung Morality Alex says that looking at According to Anderson, an his report card and knowing he individual’s values are developed through interactions with parents cheated to get those grades does make him feel guilty, but this is and, as one gets older, relationships with their peers and media mitigated by the knowledge that other students cheat. influence. Multiple students report feeling that the Palo Alto com“I used to think like it was only the small group of my friends,” munity emphasizes outcomes over the learning process. he says, “but a lot of people do it. ... I think a lot of people just jus“I do think that many students at Paly place more value on tify it to themselves by telling themselves that they aren’t the only grades over learning,” Anna says. ones who cheat, [but] it’s not something you can really rationalize.” Junior Sylvia Targ believes the fact that students are willing to cheat to get into college is a by-product of societal reinforcement. Not a Victimless Crime “Because capitalistic societies are inherently unfair, students No matter how students justify academic dishonesty, cheating are always taught ‘’life isn’t fair’’ and often people forget to add the is not a victimless crime, according to multiple sources. ‘’but it should be fair,’” Targ says. “Blatantly asking other people for specific questions or stealJunior Amy Leung also added that society’s emphasis on the ing questions is one of the most unethical things you can do in outcome over the process may pressure students to take challeng- high school,” Anna says. “When you cheat, you’re unfairly taking a ing courses and then cheat in them. university slot of another person who worked just as hard, if not “Obviously we do need rigorous courses to prepare people harder, than you did.” who can help contribute to society,” Leung says, “but that does Aside from collegiate consequences, the number of students raise the point: Do we want moral people who will change society cheating alters grading curves. As many teachers use evaluation in a wholesome way or people who can do a lot by more convo- scores to self-assess their teaching and how well classes have luted means?” learned material, cheating on such a large scale both hurts the grades and skews the learning experience of other students. The Consequences Anderson says that, while students may think they are benefitFor many Paly students, the potential repercussions of be- ting by cheating, they may be hurting themselves in the long run. ing caught cheating are a huge deterrent. A Verde survey1 of “Cheating can leave a student with low self esteem, 167 students found that under normal conditions, 75.97 peras they have not learned to meet cent of those who answered the question, or 117 students, believe challenges on their own and
PLAYING CAT AND MOUSE Social Studies teacher Deborah Whitson says that cheating has long been a cat-mouse match with the mouse (students) always utilizing technology and being one-step ahead. 46 Now, students may have found a way to cheat in a way traditional cheating precautions are not able to prevent.
may lose confidence in their own abilities,” Anderson says. of students doing the same thing. According to Paly parent Joanne Garcia, the consequences of Though understandable, this culture of not reporting acacheating are worse than the benefits. demic dishonesty hurts other students as well as the learning at“Cheating may get you the grade,” Garcia says, “but you’ll mosphere of the entire school. never be successful in the real world.” The Future of Cheating? “They were my friends and i didn’t want Both Whitson and AnderWhile the ring seems unique, son said that cheating in high to have their eternal hate, but I had other multiple student sources say that school does not end there. at least one other ring exists in friends who were really struggling to do “Unfortunately it doesn’t the senior class. Alex confirmed stop with high school cheat- their best .... I couldn’t allow others to dethat there isn’t just one group of ing,” Whitson says. “You hear value their hard work, so i made the decision students cheating. Instead, friend these big cases in corporations groups will work together in any to [report them].” ... If you track that kid back, I of the courses they share. — Robert bet they didn’t just start cheat“It [the cheating ring] would ing there.” be more [like] multiple groups, probably linked by like mutual Why Don’t Students Report Cheaters? friends,” he says. Survey results showed that 135 students, or 80.8 percent, reAt the end of the day, both Whitson and Olah agree that there ported feeling that there is an unspoken agreement between stu- isn’t that much that teachers can do to prevent the type of orgadents not to tell on each other for cheating. Science teacher Erik nized cheating that the ring does. Olah says that this culture must be fixed. “The best we can do is try to make it fair for everybody,” “I would hope that as a school we could come up with a way Olah says. “[Cheating is] an unfair advantage, right? The kids who to make that . . . easier ... for a student to feel like they could come are trying their hardest and not cheating, you know it’s not fair to and tell us,” Olah says. “Especially if you’re a student that’s not them to try to gauge them on the same sort of scale [as those who cheating ... it’s not fair for you at all because you’re ... working your cheat].” butt off and . . . other people [are] taking shortcuts and getting Disconcertingly, both Whitson and Olah say that the ring’s grades that are just as good or better than yours.” technique — remembering questions and answers instead of writPaly student Robert, who reported a group of his friends for ing them down or taking pictures — might also make them impercheating, says that the amount of cheating that goes on compared vious to persecution unless someone from within comes forward to the number of students actually caught and reprimanded can with proof or confesses to being a part of it. This means that persuade peers not to tell on cheaters. students may now have access to a way to cheat without facing the “The two key components of justice is action and consisten- consequences that normally go along with academic dishonesty. cy,” Robert says. “A majority of students get away with cheating Cheating has long been a sort of cat-mouse match, with stubecause no one reports them, so there’s always the issue that a few dents always utilizing new technology and methods, allowing them are punished while the rest are left alone for most of their high to stay one step ahead, Whitson says. school career. So, although many are inclined to act, the lack of “They [erase] our calculators,” Christopher, the ring member, consistency in punishing cheaters causes them to rethink whether says. “Too bad they can’t erase our memory.” v they should report or not, usually using the excuse of ‘Everybody cheats, so it’s no big deal.’” 1 The student poll results collected for this issue are from a survey Robert also says that it can be hard for students to keep ano- administered in Palo Alto High School English classes over the course nymity when reporting cheating. of several days in March 2015. Eight English classes were randomly “Sometimes it’s hard to keep anonymity when you’re the only selected, and 167 responses were collected. The surveys were person, and the cheater knows that you know, who saw the act of completed online, and responses were anonymous. With 95 percent confidence, the results for the questions related to cheating,” Robert says. this story are accurate within a margin of error of 5.01 Robert says choosing to report a group of his friends for percent to 6.36 percent. cheating was an extremely hard decision for him even though he knew it was the right thing to do. “They were my friends and I didn’t want to have their eternal hate,” Robert says. “But I had other friends who were really struggling to do their best ... and putting their best foot forward. I couldn’t allow others to devalue their hard work, so I made the decision [to report them].” The Verde survey shows that students like Robert are narrowly a minority. Of the students surveyed, 55.4 percent said that they would not report a student who consistently cheated on tests and quizzes, and 50.6 percent said they would not report a group 47
PROFILES | APRIL 2015
BENEDek’S TRAVELS FROM COMMUNIST HUNGARY TO SUBSTITUTE TEACHING Text by SIDDHARTH SRINIVASAN Photography by ANA SOFIA AMIEVA-WANG Photo Illustration by SIDDHARTH SRINIVASAN
LEGEND Ben Tallai takes a break from teaching to pose for the camera. Tallai has been riding his bike, equipt with an iPhone and headlight, to class. 48
ENEDEK TALLAI may teach in a different classroom each day, but he starts every class the same way. As he runs through a standardized Powerpoint presentation containing his expectations for students, his thick unrecognizable accent triumphs over his straightforward consequence system: a set of yellow and red cards. Despite the fact that students often see substitute teachers as the perfect opportunity to horse around, Tallai has only issued two red cards in his entire teaching career, a testament to his ability to engage a class with his stories. Sophomore Samarth Venkatasubramaniam characterizes him as old-fashioned, but with the ability to spice up lectures with anecdotes from his past experiences, and that is very much Tallai in his essence; his highwaisted linen pants, euro-stripe shirt and spotted tie hint at his eccentricyet-old-school nature. Tallai doesn’t consider his job as a substitute teacher monotonous. Instead, he sees each day as an opportunity to share his stories and to refresh his knowledge. Living Under a Communist Regime Tallai remembers the day he came home from school to find that his father had disappeared. His family was based in Hungary at a time where revolution had boiled over the communist nation, only for the Soviet Red Army to regain control. In the winter of 1956, Tallai and his family were living on a busy street in the suburbs of Budapest, an area that became infested with Soviet snipers keen on snapping up revolutionaries. This street served as the passage between the central area of Budapest and a bridge that remained in Soviet possession. Tallai had walked his dog on these very streets just a few months earlier, but after living with the threat of being accidentally mistaken for a revolutionary and sniped, Tallai’s family vacated to another side of town, sharing a small
PROFILES | APRIL 2015 apartment with another family. “Imagine living in a two-bedroom apartment with nine people,” Tallai says. “My father was sure the Russians would blow our house up.” Tallai’s father was a revolutionary, working as a delivery man to get produce provided by the American government and other nations to the local markets. A neighbor who particularly despised him alerted the Soviet Secret Service (KGB), who at the time were arresting anybody who they deemed suspicious. Tallai recalls the day the KGB arrived in search of his father. “I was 10 years old and a man paid us a visit and kicked the soccer ball with me in my garden, waiting for my father, and for some reason my father hadn’t come home from work,” Tallai says, reflecting on how benign the man seemed.
“I couldn’t even get into a high school. My partner next to me had lower grades and everything.” — Benedek Tallai SUBSTITUTE TEACHER His father did not return home from work that day, vanishing on his own birthday without the slightest warning. An only child, Tallai felt the effects as his mother began working double shifts, trying to fill the hole his father had left. Tallai and his mother visited the parliament multiple times asking for an explanation of his father’s absence, but each time they returned empty-handed. Tallai’s father reappeared on Christmas Eve, over nine months later, without any apology or confirmation of his innocence from his captors. However, the impact of his father’s capture would live on in more than memory, for it was inscribed in Tallai’s student transcript. As a result, when it came time to apply to high school, Tallai’s application was not accepted. “It was on my record,” Tallai says. “I couldn’t even get into a high school. My
partner next to me had lower grades and everything. But he got in and I didn’t.” His father later complained to the school district office, and Tallai was eventually admitted. The problem continued when applying for university, as he was denied his first choice university. Luckily for Tallai, a new university more suited to careers in the business world formed, and he enrolled in it. A Career in Computers. Shortly after graduating from a business focused university in 1972, Tallai joined a technical university, which had one of the nation’s first computing departments. Taught by the very first teachers of the subject in Hungary, who themselves were educated in Frankfurt, Germany only the year before, Tallai discovered a path for a lifelong career in computer technology. “My first binomial equation took 3.5 seconds to run after I punched it on the three channel tape,” Tallai says, before remarking that the modern generation probably has no idea what he is talking about. “Nowadays, if a video doesn’t load immediately, I am angry.” Tallai worked a variety of jobs at many different companies before becoming a substitute teacher. His exposure to an abundance of companies in Hungary, Germany and England prompted him to put together a team of his own in the form of a British-Hungarian joint venture in computers and printers. The company began to work for the leading research institute in the country, developing imaging technology. Tallai founded and built a successful business, but craved the market share that was available in the U.S., and accepted an invitation to cross the Pacific and build the company’s international presence. The position was initially considered a temporary one, however when it was time to return to Hungary, Tallai’s children had grown accustomed to the American life through growing up in the Bay Area and attending Monta Vista High School in Cupertino. “My children were just like you; they had lived here most of their life and didn’t want to go back,” Tallai says. 49
MAKING CONVERSATION Tallai attempts to refine his Spanish skills while talking to a student during a class break. After a lengthy spell in the industry, Tallai decided on changing his career, and a near-death car accident caused him to air on the side of caution and become a teacher. Becoming a Teacher Ben Tallai has perhaps seen it all: from walking his dog as a 10-year-old in a neighborhood infested with Russian snipers and revolutionaries, to taking the first computer class in Hungary. He has been a substitute teacher for over nine years and claims that after a long journey and a rich set of experiences, he “might possibly just have some knowledge to share.” And he seemingly always does, living by a mantra which he uses to close each email: “Knowledge shared multiplies. Knowledge withheld stupefies.” 50
Tallai sees teaching as an opportunity to share his life story, through his classroom presentations on the Communist Regime or Hungarian Revolution. Tallai originally planned to acquire the credentials necessary to become a full-time teacher, but decided against it. “Substitute teaching gives you flexibility that full-time teaching doesn’t have,” Tallai explains. Substitute teaching allows him to refresh his knowledge, since according to him, everything you learn becomes obsolete in 10 years. Although Tallai enjoys substitute teaching, he is aware of the drawbacks. “The one thing I really do regret is not being able to see the children grow up and mature,” Tallai says. However, after teaching a summer school class in the Mountain View Los
Altos School District in 2012, Tallai’s students inadvertently granted him his wish. After teaching a biology unit and sharing his thoughts on the environment, Tallai bumped into two of his students at the Baylands a few weeks later. “I rode my bike on a Bayland path, a beauty reserve just minutes from our overcrowded Silicon Valley,” Tallai says. “I did not see a single soul for almost half an hour with the exemption of a nature photographer. Then after a turn, I saw two of my summer school students. I felt warmth in my heart. These two students brought their friendship in this magnificent scene, while thousands whizzed by in their cars on Interstate 101 without noticing nature’s amazing treasure literally a few feet away. I would like to think that I lighted the sparkle in these two students.” v
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FEATURES | APRIL 2015
IN FOR The LONG drive
THE DIFFERENT COMMUTES OF PALY STAFFERS Text by NATALIE MAEMURA Additional Reporting by EMMA GOLDSMITH Art by ANTHONY LIU Infographic made using INFOGR.AM
san mateo, 4% REDWOOD CITY, 15%
Menlo Park, 6% PALO ALTO, 24%* Mountain View, 14.5% Sunnyvale, 9% SANTA CLARA, 2% Other Cities, 6.95% *The percent of THE 117 paly staffers SURVEYED WHO LIVE IN THAT CITY
AN YOU DRIVE ME TO SCHOOL? I DON’T feel like biking two miles today.” This is an oft-said complaint by many Palo Alto High School students who dread their commutes to school. While biking, walking or driving for a couple minutes may seem like a long time to some students, many Paly staff members face commutes over an hour long. Keeping this in mind, next time you groan at the thought of your arduous journey, think about the following Paly staff members who travel from far away to get to their jobs. v
Regina Buckner, Stockton Custodian Regina Buckner wakes up at the time some Paly students go to sleep: 2:30 a.m. By 3 a.m., she leaves her home in Stockton and drives for an hour and a half to get to school. According to Buckner, her job at Paly provides a better in52
SAN JOSE, 14%
come than the jobs in Stockton do. “There are jobs there [Stockton], but they do not pay much,” Buckner says. “I cannot afford to live [on the pay at Stockton], so I have to commute here [Palo Alto].” While Buckner takes the equivalent of a block period to travel in the morning, the commute home is a different story. “From Mondays to Thursdays, it takes me about three to three and a half hours to get home. On Fridays, sometimes five to six hours,” Buckner says. Despite the major effort Buckner sacrifices for her job at Paly, she is able to live near her family. “My mom is there [Stockton]; my sisters and some of my brothers are there,” Buckner says. Doyle Knight, South San Jose If Doyle Knight leaves five minutes late from his house in the
FEATURES | APRIL 2015 morning to go to Paly, it adds 20 minutes more to his commute. Living in south San Jose, Knight drives 25 miles to make it to his first period physical education or his second period auto class. “I have to be on the road at about 6:30 a.m.,” Knight says. “Fortunately, I am a morning person.” While having the option of driving his Toyota Camry every day, Knight sometimes likes to take the bus, which stops one mile away from his house and drops him off at Page Mill Road. Despite its conveniency, the bus does not always coincide with his busy schedule of coaching the Paly boys and girls golf and freshman basketball team. Regardless of the early morning requirement and the long drive, Knight maintains that living in San Jose allows him and his children to live near his family. “I just wanted to stay around where my family was,” Knight says. “I wanted my kids to grow up around their grandparents.” George Pascual, Manteca Six years ago, custodian George Pascual moved over 60 miles with his brother from Milpitas to Manteca. “The economy was going down and the rent for my Milpitas apartment was going up,” Pascual says. “So, my brother and I then moved to an apartment in Manteca.” Working at Paly, Pascual commutes over 70 miles with his brother and co-worker. The trio carpool for three hours every school day. Pascual says that leaving from Manteca at 12:30 p.m. and leaving Palo Alto at 2:30 a.m. provides a shorter car ride due to the less traffic. Although Pascual admits that the commute is long, he feels that time passes by quickly among the group. “We [my brother, co-worker and I] listen to music, talk and listen to news … [and] suddenly, we are in Palo Alto,” Pascual says. While he has many job offerings closer to Manteca because of his vast experience in custodial works, Pascual would rather remain working at Paly. “I love what I do [here]; I enjoy working with you guys [Paly students],” Pascual says. “The staff here at Paly are nice. ... When you are happy with what you do and your supervisor and coworkers are nice to you, you don’t want to just let go [of the job].” Bill Erlendson, Santa Cruz Every weekday, Paly science teacher Bill Erlendson wakes up at 5:15 a.m. to get ready for his 42-mile commute to school. By 6 a.m., Erlendson is set to drive on the road for 45 to 50 minutes, listening to music, sports news and audio books to pass the time. However, on the drive back home to Santa Cruz, the rush hour traffic turns this commute into an hour and a half or two hour affair. Despite this time-consuming commute, Erlendson asserts that living in Santa Cruz is worth it. “Mainly, it is just the lifestyle that I enjoy from it,” Erlendson says. “My philosophy is that I would rather commute to work than to commute to fun. “I wake up in [Santa Cruz]. It [my house] is 250 steps from the water.” While there are closer job openings that suit his qualifications, Erlendson prefers the Paly community and would rather teach at Paly than at more conveniently located schools. “I get the vibe and the attitude from Paly itself, and it is really nice,” Erlendson says. “The commute is worth being at a school that I like.” v
The data used for this story was collected from a survey sent out to all 201 Palo Alto High School staff, 117 of whom completed the survey via either the paper survey or online survey option. 53
Text by MADISON MIGNOLA Photography by ANA SOFIA AMIEVA-WANG
PASSION, PEACE AND PETS
NURTURING THE DOGS, THE FLOWERS AND THE MIND
NOWN FOR HER FIERY ITALIAN PERSONALITY, CAROLINA SYLVESTRI IS ONE OF PALO ALTO HIGH school’s most exciting science teachers. Teaching for over 40 years, she brings the real “boom” to chemistry and the “bang” to physics. I sat down with her to ask a few questions about her passions and interests outside of the chemistry lab. v Describe your typical Sunday. Carolina Sylvestri: I go to mass. Every other Sunday I volunteer in the morning at the Stanford Hospital. So in the morning it’s either early mass or it’s Stanford. If I’m at Stanford then I go to mass another time, but anyway, so that’s my early morning. What I usually do after that is exercise my dogs. So you mentioned your pets just now,— you have pets? CS: Yes, yes I do. Love ‘em, my dogs. I’ve always had Italian names, so my first dog was Giuseppe, then I had Sofia, and then Joya, and now Pace. Giuseppe is Joe in Italian, or Joseph. Sofia is Sofia. And Joya is “joy” in Italian. And Pace is “peace” in Italian. Your heritage is very important to you? CS: Absolutely. Because my mother was born in Italy, my father was born in this country, but two very old world Italian parents. My heritage, my culture, I think of my culture, even though I’m American, as very important to me. I cannot remove from that American feeling, I can never remove my interior Italian. I can’t because of my faith, what I cook, what I eat, even my opinions.
my eyes. What is your biggest pet peeve that students do? CS: It is probably asking questions that is just to verify, that they already know. But they are afraid to trust themselves. I always tell students, “Try not to give into that. Trust yourself.” What advice would you give your high school self ? CS: I say, “Carolina, you worried way too much when you were younger. Things that you thought were important really were not important. Just keep focusing on others and not you.” I truly believe with all my heart that charity is what changes the world. I think thinking about that the way I think about it now, if I would have had that in my mind in a more profound way when I was a teenager ... I think my teenage years would’ve passed with not as much drama. What is your passion outside of school? CS: I think my greatest passion outside of teaching is my faith. The most important thing in my life is my relationship with God. It is a wonderful thing for me.
Are you still finding yourPEACE WITH PACE Sylvestri stands near her blooming self ? What type of music do you CS: Very, very true. I am. And Lady Banks Yellow Climbing Roses with her dog Pace. listen to? each day, I discover more. CS: I love a lot of different And you know what? I am not kinds of music. I love opera. I ashamed to say that I like what I am discovering more and more. like the music of the ‘40s and ‘50s. I love motown, I love rock and So I am very grateful to God for that. I think that one needs to be roll. I always liked the current music of the day, what you listen to open every moment of your life, and be aware there is much to on the radio but when it was in the ‘90s, I knew it was not for me learn about yourself. But you know, the good news is that you are anymore. I love music of all types. I can just sit and tears come to probably going to like what you learn. 54
FRAT HOUSe THE
EXPLORING PALY’S SOCIAL STUDIES DEPARTMENT
Text by CLAIRE PRIESTLEY and ELIZA ACKROYD Photography by ANA SOFIA AMIEVA-WANG
PROFILES | APRIL 2015
EY MATTES NOBODY likes you.” Sporting a typical look of mischievousness, Palo Alto High School social studies teacher Steven Foug presses a piece of paper with these words written on it against the glass of the 800s building conference room. On the other side of the window, the subject of his insult, psychology teacher Melinda Mattes, eyes him while comfortably seated on a cushioned chair. Foug’s serious face is quickly transformed into a smile as they both break into giggles. With the laughter echoing throughout the building, fellow social studies teacher Benjamin Bolanos comes to figure out what the raucousness is about. He quickly joins in the banter, retrieving a Wonder Woman coloring book picture, with Wonder Woman labeled as “MATTES” and the car she is holding up as “FOUG.” “I would like to say this is a performance,” Mattes says. “But this is day-to-day interaction.” As a whole, the downstairs portion of Paly’s 800s building — the social studies department — is rare, due to its wide range of characters such as Bolanos, Mattes and Foug. Identified by their quirky personalities, sense of humor and overwhelming camaraderie, the members of this department foster an environment entirely different from what most would expect for a group of high school teachers. Family According to contemporary world history and economics teacher Alexander Davis, department meetings emulate a family gathering. “We are talking about serious stuff that is important to our jobs,” Davis says. “But it is a very family-like atmosphere where there is joking, so on and so forth.” This department is also unique because of the friendships that extend out
NOTES Mattes holds up a note Foug wrote for her that says “You have no idea how much you help me when” filled in with “you avoid eye contact.” 55
MEETING Davis, Yonkers, Mattes and Faina engage in discussion during a meeting between all teachers who teach seniors.
side of school. For example, Bolanos and Davis surf together, world history teacher Steve Sabbag and history and economics teacher Grant Blackburn play golf on the weekend and there have been group excursions to Giants and Warriors games. Contemporary world history and foreign policy teacher Adam Yonkers, in particular, has grown to value the friendships that have formed. “I think homies are always good to have,” Yonkers says. “People that make you smile and keep you real. I think that you expect you are going to have friends [in life], but you never expect that you are going to have people you work with that you are friends with.” Though there are only six women in a department of 21 teachers, they do not feel the effects of a male dominated department because it is a family; the personal relationships of the individuals within the department negate the large male presence. Part of the makeup of the department is controlled by Jaclyn Edwards, the current instructional supervisor, who hires teachers 56
feeling like we’re being judged,” Cronin says. Economics and history teacher Debbie Whitson values the encouraging environment fostered by the department. “We each have our independent thing going on but we definitely ... always know we can rely on each other,” Whitson says. “If you are out sick, the email goes out, ‘I have to miss this period, who can cover me,’ and you know you will get covered by somebody else, so then you are willing to go do something. So I guess it is that mutual respect and reliance on each other and kind of a comfort level, too. I mean really anyone in our department you can go out and have fun with.” For Yonkers, who came from a background in marketing, the collaboration and unity found at Paly differs from the corporate hierarchy of his previous job. “What is really nice about teaching is that it is like everybody is communist,” Yonkers says. “You are all in it together and there is not the hierarchy necessarily of creating distinctions, so you’re all basically pulling equal weight. ... Life is about into the department. being happy and fulfilled. You don’t want “I fondly call this department, and to dread going to work.” they know this, my frat house,” Edwards Respect encourages openness and says. “They make me laugh. I feel so blessed community. Davis experienced the com— and I use that word carefully — I feel munity and support when he first joined blessed to be a part of this department.” the department. “When I first came here I had no curRespect riculum,” Davis says. “I had nothing and All of the department’s relationships they just opened their files to me and gave are founded on a me all of their stuff. basis of mutual were willing “I fondly call this department, They respect. 10th and to help out when I 11th grade history and they know this, my frat didn’t understand teacher Justin Cro- house. ... I feel so blessed — certain things or nin says that havhow to teach cering a foundation of and I use that word carefully tain concepts so friendship for co- — I feel blessed to be a part of that’s huge.” workers facilitates this department.” discussions. Humor — Jaclyn Edwards “Some of the The social things we talk about studies department in terms of student stress and homework, is known for its individualism; each teacher horizontal and vertical alignment ... those has their own personality which they utitougher conversations are made easier lize when teaching and interacting with stuwhen people know each other well and we dents. Because all of the teachers connect can have a difference of opinion without on a more personal level, they are able to
PROFILES | APRIL 2015
DRAWING Farina and Bolanos display Bolanos’ coloring book drawing of Wolverine, labeled as “FARINA.”
acknowledge the positive traits of their colleagues as well as feel comfortable joking around with or pranking them. “It [individualism] is a core value of the social studies department,” special education history teacher Heather Johanson says. “You are kind of an individual. You are super authentic. You are who you are. You have an interesting take. Similarity is not valued. Not that we don’t value people collaborating with one another. We also value kind of what each individual person brings to the table.” Many teachers within the department are known for their humor. Some use it to better communicate their subject matter, but when they are hanging out, their senses of humor shine during their discussions. “Even just eating lunch we are always trying to see who is funnier, who is more sarcastic, who is the better story teller,” Bolanos says. “We do not take ourselves that seriously. We take ourselves seriously in regards to our profession, but we are also having a good time — which is what is memorable about it.”
This department has long been light hearted. Foug recalls playing “Trench Warfare,” a game that involved flipping over desks, using the furniture as protection while “throwing stuff ” at each other. It was 4 p.m., there were fake machine gun noises and no students around as Bolanos, Foug and Yonkers settled in for the afternoon in their trenches. “[Machine gun noises] ‘You are dead Bolanos — I got you,’” Foug says. “It was just me Bolanos and Yonkers fake shooting at each other and Edwards just shaking her head at us. We would throw little grenades. ‘I got you with a grenade, man. You are dead. I win. I win the war.’” Mattes recalls a prank that Foug, Bloom, Yonkers and Bolanos pulled on her and Edwards in 2007. The guys had attended a Giants game together and that evening they had texted Edwards and Mattes, saying, “We lost Yonkers.” Confused, they did not think much of it, until the following morning when Yonkers was not at school and they began to worry. The guys played along, saying they did not know what hap-
pened to him. “Ms. Edwards and I were kind of like, ‘Haha’ but then we were kind of freaking out,” Mattes says. “‘Oh my gosh, how did you lose him? What went on?’ They totally got us. They even had us ready to cover his class. We were kind of freaked out about: How do we find him? What is going on? And of course he was totally fine. I am sure he was in on the joke. I feel like it was convenient he didn’t show up until late.” The social studies department’s unique personalities fuse together to create the environment that makes the department so special. “That is what makes this department so great,” Edwards says. “It is not anything in particular or special. And I want to acknowledge my colleagues and the other departments. They too have great people who care about all of you very much. For this department I like to think that there is something special. We really like each other. A lot. And we love what we do. A lot. And we love our students. And I think maybe that is what is coming across.” v 57
SHOULD VACCINES BE MANDATED?
Text by EMMA GOLDSMITH and BETHANY WONG Art by KARINA CHAN, ANTHONY LIU and TIMOTHY LIU Infographic by LUCY FOX
T IS IN NO SMALL irony that Jen, who holds a master’s degree in biotechnology, became disillusioned with vaccines while working in a lab at a worldrenowned school of medicine. Jen alleges that she witnessed researchers manipulating data at the local university she worked for. Whether this is true or not, it underscores the public’s lack of trust in big pharmaceutical companies and the government. As someone who does not entirely support vaccines, Jen agreed to speak with Verde under the condition of anonymity due to the social stigma attached to her beliefs. Jen, a San Jose parent with an 18-month-old child, claims her wariness surrounding vaccines stems from her distrust of the companies who create them. Jen’s distrust is not necessarily misplaced. These are the same companies who in the 1960s distributed thalidomide to pregnant women to alleviate morning sickness. The unintended side effect of this drug disfigured children, causing their limbs to not fully develop. If this drug had undergone more rigorous testing, these tragedies could have been avoided. For the most part, Jen does vaccinate her children. However, Jen’s main belief is that it should be a parent’s prerogative to decide which vaccines their child needs. The root of the issue is that no one wants to see a child harmed. However, there are differing views on what is more harmful: the vaccination or the illness itself. “Part of my frustration is that it is not a black and white issue; it is very gray,” Jen says. “I think that ‘pro-choice’ encompasses the full spectrum, whereas forced vac-
cines forces everyone to be one side.” To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate Currently, pro-vaxxers are pushing for the passing of the California Senate Bill 277, which would mandate that children may only enroll in kindergarten at a California public school if they have received the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), polio, DTP (Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), Hib (haemophilus influenzae type b), Varicella (chicken pox), and Hepatitis B vaccinations. The SB 277 will eliminate the personal belief exemption, the loophole in the existing law that enables parents to exempt their children based on religious or personal beliefs. The bill permits that only children with compromised immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, may abstain from receiving vaccines. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and state senator representing Sacramento, introduced the bill in February with Ben Allen, another state senator, who represents Santa Monica. Together, they developed the bill which includes a list of 10 highly-contagious vaccine-preventable diseases for which they want to see total immunization. This bill’s goal is to ensure both personal and community health through a phenomenon called “herd immunity.” At its core, the idea that if a large amount of the community is vaccinated and more and more people become vaccinated as time progresses, the general population will eventually become immune. Ultimately, the hope is to someday eradicate diseases by applying the same principle used to eradicate smallpox. “The simplest way to think about herd immunity is that the more people that are immunized, the harder it is for a bug or a virus has to set up shop within that popu-
lation and cause person-to-person spread of disease,” says Cornelia Dekker, medical director of the Stanford-Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Vaccine Program. Leah Russin, a Palo Alto parent and a co-founder of Vaccinate California, an organization working to promote required vaccinations, believes that unvaccinated school children pose a risk to their own health and to that of the community. Russin, a strong advocate of vaccination, is pushing for SB77. Through the passing of this bill, many parents like her hope that they can feel secure that their children will have adequate protection from vaccinated diseases at school. According to Russin, who spoke at a press conference urging that the bill be pushed through to the State Senate, Assembly and the desk of the governor, the law could be enacted by August, in time for the upcoming school year. Of course, widespread public opposition continues. However, the main issue for pro-choicers is that they worry they will no longer have control of their child’s health care. A facet of the SB277 does take away some parental rights, mainly giving the state of California the right to add any vaccine for “any other disease deemed appropriate.” “I personally don’t agree with that [deeming appropriate] because I don’t know what the future holds,” Palo Alto parent Christina Hildebrand says. “Forcing people to do it [vaccinate] is just not the right way to go about handling the situation.” However, Russin trusts that her son’s pediatrician and other doctors would only give children vaccines in good confidence knowing that they were safe. “While doctors can be fallible, I believe they are generally to be trusted,” Russin says. “When my pediatrician tells me something will be good for my child, I listen. I don’t go to Dr. Google.” Are Vaccines Safe? Hildebrand identifies as pro-choice and strongly opposes SB 277. Hildebrand’s choice not to vaccinate her children stems from her desire, like many health conscious parents, to limit her children’s exposure to toxic chemicals or any harmful substanc-
es. Hildebrand puts significant effort into cooking organic foods, serving vegetables and avoiding fast food restaurants. “The people who are making the choice for a philosophical exemption are not stupid people, they are not people who have not thought about this; they’re people who have made the conscious decision not to vaccinate their children and they should be respected just as much as the person who chooses to vaccinate,” Hildebrand says. However, if Hildebrand’s children were to become ill and have their illness spread to another child, her beliefs would essentially be harming others. While Hildebrand is acting out of concern for her children, her decision has wider repercussions. Still, Hildeb-
rand remains troubled with the safety of vaccines themselves. “[The] formaldehyde, monkey kidneys, dog kidneys, chick embryos, all of these animal DNA pieces that concern me,” Hildebrand says. “Every vaccine package says that it hasn’t been tested for DNA. The vaccines could be carcinogenic, they could cause infertility and they could cause DNA mutations. The state shouldn’t be able to mandate having to put that in my body or in the body of my child.” Not all of these ingredients that Hildebrand alleges are found in vaccines. There are egg proteins in vaccines, but monkeys or dogs do not exist in vaccines. The only reason egg protein is found in vaccines is because it has a use: to create the influenza and yellow fever vaccines. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention clearly claims that anyone who can safely eat eggs can safely have the vaccine administered. The CDC has found no link to infertility or DNA mutations as adverse reactions to vaccines. Hildebrand’s view on vaccines is es-
FEATURES | APRIL 2015 sentially the same as a person who refuses to fly on planes or use their cell phone due to their belief that the radiation exposure, however minimal, could lead to cancer. Yet, some of Hildebrand’s allegations ring true. According to the CDC, vaccines do contain aluminum, formaldehyde and Thimerosal (which contains mercury). These are toxins that are shown to cause harm to the body; for example, mercury interferes with the central nervous system acting as a neurotoxin. The National Resources Defense Council reports that most common types of fish contain mercury, and, according to the American Cancer Society, products like lotions, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and some fingernail polishes contain formaldehyde. However, consuming fish with a high amount of mercury like tuna or swordfish on regular basis would contain enough mercury to make the side effects dangerous. Pregnant women, children and nursing mothers are cautioned against eating any fish due to adverse side effects, but a woman can get some vaccines during pregnancy according to the CDC. Because vaccines contain such toxic chemicals, Hildebrand doesn’t feel safe administering them to her children, regardless of whether or not the toxin levels are actually harmful. Other pro-choicers follow a different train of thought they are not only worried about what is in vaccines, but also by the perceived link between these vaccines and autism. “It’s not just that I believe that vaccines cause autism, I’ve seen kids who have become autistic after a vaccine,” Berkeley Parent Sara Russell says. Russell remains concerned with the judicial and medical system’s inability to reveal the truth to the public. Despite her heart being in the right place, Russell’s belief in the connection between autism and vaccine is contingent upon what the scientific community now believes to be discredited pseudo-science. The supposed link between autism and vaccines started with British researcher Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 study, which claimed that the MMR vaccine caused autism. Subsequent studies discredited Wakefield’s findings, and Wakefield medical license was revoked and a recent 2013 study by the CDC revealed once and for all that there is no connection between vaccines and autism. 60
A salient point to consider is that under SB 277, if Russell or Hildebrand wish not to vaccinate their children, they can. However, this means that they cannot enroll their children in the California public school system. Ultimately Hildebrand believes that, “It’s a choice that every individual should make, and if you choose to put all of those things I just mentioned into your body, then that’s your choice. But let me choose whether I’m going to put that into my body or not.” Should We Be Worried? Ninety-eight percent of Paly students from 2002 were fully covered with two doses of the MMR booster, according to health technician Jennifer Kleckner. Out of those who were not in this percent-
age, 10 chose to exempt themselves due to religious, medical or personal beliefs. Additionally, 30 students received notices in February because they only received the MMR vaccine once when they were under one year old and require another dose in order to become up-to-date. “I expect with updates [that] we will see a much lower number of under vaccinated students,” Kleckner wrote in an email to Verde. For the most part, Palo Alto students continue to receive their required vaccinations. At the same time, the small minority who do make up the “pro-choice” constituency continue to act according to their beliefs. The topic of vaccines still creates tensions between friends, family and coworkers as some question which is more harmful, the vaccine or the illness. v
percentage of students who are not vaccinated
These percentages are derived from PAUSD’s data collection of vaccination recordes from the State of California.
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SHOOTING FOR THE MOON
THE TALENT INSIDE PALY’S TRACK AND FIELD TEAM
TROLLING ALONG THE RED CURVE OF the track, a lively group of teenagers pushes a possibly stolen Trader Joe’s shopping cart filled with weights, shots and discs. Between their banter, the group digs their feet into the rough, red turf inch by inch to make their way to a secluded part of Palo Alto High School: the throwing arena. One tip in the wrong direction and the whole contraption could topple. When thinking of track and field, images of running, jumping and Usain Bolt come to mind. Few people ever consider the throwing events — in fact, many do not even know they exist. Because of its lack of popularity and general disinterest in its events, the Paly throwing team is often overshadowed by the classic running events. For the 2015 spring season, the shot put and discus team has a meager 17 competitors for its two events, in comparison to the 100 competitors in running and jumping events. Unlike typical events, shot put and discus consists of throwing a weight or disc as far as possible, an action that requires a unique kind of athletic ability. “In terms of the workouts, it is a little harder to practice throwing because you have to work on form and you have to learn something brand new,” says head coach Haris Sultani, a Paly throwing alumnus. Aside from working on form, the throwing team focuses on running and core workouts, which help create short-term muscle used to spin oneself during the throwing process. According to the team members, their main workout day is on Monday, but they continue to practice throughout the week. The workout consists of jogging laps, sprinting repeated 100 meters and doing planks and push-ups. Despite not having a solid fan base, the throwing members bond with each other through non-conventional methods. When the team is not practicing, they can be seen eating Trader Joe’s lemon popsicles, loudly fighting each other with the athletic trainer’s water and ice and laughing over “Yo Mama” jokes. “It is really easy to make friends on the team, and our coach is great at keeping the environment fun and entertaining,” says junior Ryan Jamison, a varsity shot put thrower. v
SKY HIGH (1) Sophomore Michel-Ange Siaba jumps high as he throws a shot put to score against Milpitas High School. SPINNING (2) Junior Takeru Nishi completes a few warm-up spins before throwing the discus. COACH (3) Sultani debriefs sophomore Dakota Jenkins after her first throwing attempt. PRACTICE (4) Sophomore Troy Henderson practices his form for shot put during a track and field practice. LAUGHS (5) Jake Doughman (far left), Santiago Ruiz (left) and Steven Marinkovich (right) hugs coach Haris Sultani (center) after competing. FORM (6) Junior Ryan Jamison focuses intensely on his form before completing his throw. 63
PERSPECTIVES | APRIL 2015 Text by ANNA NAKAI and ELANA REBITZER Art by ANTHONY LIU
Love of Reading
ENGLISH READING LISTS NEED MORE DIVERSITY
OMEO AND JULIET.” “MACBETH.” “THE Great Gatsby.” “Lord of the Flies.” “Of Mice and Men.” “The Crucible.” “Hamlet.” What do all these books have in common? They are “classics” — often from the 1800s or some other bygone era — written by white men, mostly in the genre of realistic fiction. And, unfortunately, they make up the majority of our high school English reading curriculum. At Palo Alto High School, the English curriculum is generally chosen solely by the teachers and educational board, allowing little freedom for students to determine what they read. Additionally, the selections are normally made up of white male authors, depriving students of other, equally important world views such as those possessed by women or authors of different ethnicities. Although the current curriculum seems one-sided, in the past, there have been attempts at Paly to diversify the curriculum by adding elective courses, such as Women Writers and Writers of Color, that focus on diverse authors. However, because so few people signed up for Women Writers or Writers of Color, they no longer appear in the course catalog, and teachers must find a different way to incorporate diversity into their classes. Other electives do succeed in offering students the opportunity to read different genres. Many teachers have already succeeded in diversifying the authors and content of their curriculum to be more representative, as well as giving their students more choice in their reading, but not every English teacher has adopted these practices. Examining and analyzing different voices, genres and view-
points is essential to our growth and development as citizens in our pluralistic society. Though the current English curriculum does not allow for this, English teachers can help solve the problem by allowing students some freedom in choosing their novels and by making the English reading curriculum more diverse. Author Diversity Because the current English curriculum is primarily comprised of male authors who are Western European or American, other voices tend to be overlooked. While some classes do read books like “Bless Me, Ultima” by Latino author Rudolfo Anaya and “Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston, a woman of color, the overwhelming majority of school books are not written by these underrepresented groups. Of all the required reading books in the Palo Alto Unified School District, only “To Kill a Mockingbird,” written by Harper Lee, a white woman, is not written by a white man. If students are only exposed to one type of book in school, they may assume the required reading is representative of all literary works. In effect, if the typical realistic fiction novel written by a white male author sometime in the 20th century does not inspire a love of reading in a student, after reading several similar books, that student may develop a general dislike of reading. However, exposure to a wider range of stories could perhaps persuade a reluctant reader to enjoy reading. Even if students are able to read more diverse books outside of school, there is a difference between reading for fun and the type of reading students do for classroom assignments. Read-
The A.P. Recommended Reading List Time Periods
W Diversity We hite ste Am rn E eri Afr Af uropcan ica rica ean nA n m SouEast erica the Asi n a Ea ast As n ste ian rn Eu rop Sou ean th A s i a Lat n in A me rica Na tive n Am eric Mi an ddl eE ast er n
Co Befo mm re on Era 0-1 499 150 0-1 599 160 0-1 699 170 0-1 799 180 0-1 899 190 0-1 949 195 0-1 999 200 0-2 015
1.9% % 4.0
ctio n Sci Fanta enc sy eF ic Poe tion tr y No nfic tion Me mo ir
The statistics used in this infographic are taken from a list published by the CollegeBoard of all books that have appeared on all A.P. Literature exams from 1973-2014. In total, there were 354 books on the list. Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
8% 74. 1% 25.
PERSPECTIVES | APRIL 2015 While electives like Comedy Literature and its science fiction ing for class requires students to search for symbols, motifs and themes and analyze them effectively. By reserving this analytical counterpart Escape Literature are beneficial for Paly students, treatment for books written by the same type of authors, the edu- they are only available to upperclassmen, meaning that freshmen and sophomores tend to get stuck reading only one genre cational system is prioritizing those voices over that of others. While the Western literary tradition is full of many master- of literature. In addition, the scheduling system does not allow pieces, so are the books of many other cultures, which include for students to take all the different English electives, so even upworks such as “Persepolis” by Iranian author Marjane Satrapi, perclassmen cannot analyze every genre of books in class. Since it whose work details life surrounding the 1979 Iranian Revolution, is impossible to access all of the different genres through elective and “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Latino author Gabriel classes, they should also be incorporated into general mandatory García Marquez. To leave those stories out of our curriculum ef- English classes. Another genre rarely represented in any English class is fectively sends the message that the literary traditions of nonyoung adult literature. This literature, geared specifically toward Western people are not important or relevant to us today. Although Paly does not incorporate many diverse authors teenagers, contains many of the same literary elements as other genres more represented in the curinto the curriculums of some English riculum, and has the additional benclasses, the recommended reading list “We are still reading the books i efit of having high school students from the California Department of as protagonists, making the book Education is full of titles by authors read when I was in high school. There more relatable and thus attractive such as African-American author is so much out there . . . The stories to students. Although YA literature Maya Angelou and Chinese-American has a bad reputation because of ocauthor Malinda Lo, both of whose of the american dream . . . from the casional books with frivolous congender and heritage are prominent in 90s are incredible” the majority of the genre is just the stories they write. By reading their — Kindel Launer, English Teacher tent, as profound and more relevant to books, as well as those by authors like teenagers than many of the classics. Toni Morrison, an African-American author whose work addresses slavery and other life experiences Books by authors like John Green, famous for “The Fault in Our from an African-American perspective, students will be able to Stars,” and Sarah Dessen, who has written many prominent young grasp narratives other than those already dominant in the English adult books, are rarely analyzed in English classes. “I think it might be interesting to read ‘The Fault in our Stars,’” curriculum given to us to consume. Launer says. “Those are big ticket universal ideas he [Green] is talking about. How come we are not reading that? I think that that Diversity in Time Periods and Genres The lack of variation between genres and time periods also is something to think about as we move forward, thinking about contributes to the absence of diversity in the English reading cur- engagement and thinking about how students learn.” riculum. Most of the books read for English class are in the genre of realistic fiction, and because many of these books are older, Student Choice The English Department could also improve its curriculum they are not necessarily as relevant or realistic as they once were. Many recently released books in the genre of realistic fiction deal by giving students a larger choice over which books they read with current affairs, such as “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi in class. Recently, Launer has implemented this approach in her Adichie, published in 2013, which covers cultural isolation. It is a freshman English class by allowing her students to pick books shame to continually rely on the same old realistic fiction books, from a bookcase full of board-approved books to study, with sucwhen new novels deal with the same issues, with the added advan- cessful results. “To the extent that they [students] have choice over what tage of being more relatable. “We are still reading the books I read when I was in high book they’re reading, they are more likely to prepare before class,” school,” Paly English teacher Kindel Launer says. “There is so Launer says. “Freshmen are still highly social [and] very motivated much out there — post-colonial, the new American stories the by the need to connect. That’s a developmental piece for them, stories of the American Dream . . . from the 90s — are incred- and so having the same book allows me to take advantage of the developmental phase they’re in.” ible.” There are many potential variations to this idea of student In addition, realistic fiction is certainly not the only genre of literature available to students for critical analysis. At Paly, some choice, including the creation of literature circles where students genres like comedy literature and science fiction are so rarely divide into smaller groups and read books within those groups. found in the standard English curriculum that teachers felt the Allowing students the freedom to choose their own experience need to create separate elective classes in order to give students while reading will likely make more students interested in learning. All of these different areas of improvement would only require the opportunity to read books in those genres. “I felt like the reading material and some of the texts we were small changes in the current curriculum of the English departlooking closely at only represented the darker side of literature,” ment. While there are many strong points in the way the Engsays Lucy Filppu, who created the Comedy Literature elective. “I lish classes currently work, by increasing diversity of authors and felt like there was a whole canon of literature we weren’t address- genres and allowing more student choice, more students could learn to love and enjoy reading and expand their horizons. v ing, and I felt like it would bring a different side to literature.” 65
Text by ANNA LU Art by ANTHONY LIU
HEY GIRL, RYAN GOSLING WILL NEVER BE YOUR BF
AM A SWIFTY, DIRECTIONER and Mirfanda. I unashamedly succumb to my weekly dose of the Celebrity Apprentice, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, TMZ and occasionally, while sitting in an orthodontist waiting room preparing to enter two hours of torture, Seventeen Magazine. My iPhone is my best weapon — with it, I am able to follow my favorite celebrities’ every move through tabloids, Instagram and Twitter. Like many other teenagers my age, I have been afflicted with Celebrity Worship Syndrome — yes, this is a scientific term, and although there isn’t an official diagnosis, CWS pertains to individuals who become obsessed with celebrities due to an overexposure to popular media. While my various pop culture addictions seem fun in the moment, the overwhelming research indicates that CWS causes anxiety, depression and higher levels of stress. As fandoms grow to become almost as prestigious as country clubs, we adolescents are eager to slap a label onto our fanaticism — we don’t just like Justin Bieber, no, that would be too simple and straightforward, so as Beliebers, we believe in him —
and will go on for hours arguing about who is the most devoted fan or who “discovered” him first. And although this devotion can lead to our classification as a living, breathing encyclopedia for all things Taylor Swift, it can also cause many negative effects. A report by the USA Weekend revealed that 60 percent of teens wanted to get a tattoo or piercing in the same place a celebrity has. More than half of them agreed that their peers smoke or drink because they see their idols doing the same thing. What’s more, research consistently shows that an overexposure to media can cause a distorted body image. The pictures that measure what perfection ought to look like are often unachievable unless rounds of Photoshop are used. Even their personalities are just as manipulated, controlled by dozens of public relations professionals. At its root, excessive idolization of celebrities stems
from the period of time when adolescents grow up, when they distance themselves from their parents, and need an accessible role model — it’s an inherent element of youth culture, but we ought to become aware of its adverse effects and thoroughly enjoy our own lives instead of fixating on our smart phones waiting for the latest update on our “idol” of choice. In case you didn’t know, celebrities are people, not property, and none of us will truly own One Direction no matter how hard we try. Yes, Taylor Swift’s house can be easily located on Zillow or through your own GPS triangulation. But that doesn’t mean you should follow the footsteps of the man who swam two miles in cold water to get to her beachfront home in Rhode Island. Rather than idolizing strangers, be grateful for and look up to your parents, teachers and everyone else who has helped you throughout your life. Worshipping celebrities without realizing that they don’t deserve your singleminded admiration is just as misguided as naming all of your children based on alliteration of the letter K — don’t let celebrities become the Daisy to your Gatsby. v
Text by CAROLINE YOUNG Art by TIMOTHY LIU
D I S C R I M I N AT I O N N AT I O N
RACISM TOWARD ASIANS CAN’T GO UNNOTICED
AKING THE DIRT PATH, I LEAVE PALO Alto High School and meander my way toward the bridge to Town and Country Village. As I reach the start of the path, I notice a man on a bicycle pedaling toward me. I panic for a split second about which side of the pavement I’m supposed to walk on, and then decide to play it safe and stay to the side until he passes to avoid being flattened by his bike. But instead, it’s his words that hit me. “Wrong country,” the man says to me as he rides past. I stand there for a second in disbelief while he zooms away. I turn to look at another student, who stands frozen in shock as the sole witness, as my mouth almost forms the words: “Did he really just say that?” But honestly, that almost-formed question is a rhetorical one, even in the sunny streets of liberal Palo Alto. Whether it was or was not an intentional insult of my Asian heritage, the man’s comment on the quiet outskirts of Paly has further led me to the realization that, although it’s not at the forefront of our minds, discrimination against Asians is not uncommon. I do not mean to discount the immense amount of racism faced by other minorities, but while we seem to be more aware of discriminatory actions against, say, African-Americans and Latinos, American society rarely acknowledges or even realizes that racism against Asians still exists. The sad truth is that we do not have the same type of knee-jerk reaction for condemning insults and stereotypes against Asians as we do for those against other races. Take the common stereotype of Asians excelling at math. It is not uncommon to hear in the classroom, “He’s Asian — he’s probably good at math.” This comment is almost never met with any sign of visible or audible protest from either the person targeted or the surrounding classmates. Although excelling at math can be perceived as a “positive stereotype,” it is a stereotype nonetheless. For those who do happen to be good at math, the attribution of their success and hard work to their race discredits their own unique character. On the flip side, I personally would rather crawl into a hole instead of trying to complete a mysterious math problem that I’m expected to ace. Furthermore, the damage of this academic stereotype continues beyond high school; a study by Princeton sociologist Thomas J. Espenshade showed that, on average, Asian-Americans need approximately 140 points more on the SAT to stand on the same level as their Caucasian peers in the race to gain admission to elite colleges. Though seldom mentioned, Asian discrimination in our society is not a new phenomenon. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 clearly conveyed to the Chinese community the message, “We don’t want you in this country because of who you are,” while the Japanese-American Internment during World War II completely isolated and alienated the Japanese community. Yet, we barely learn about the prejudice against Asians
from our history books or talk about it in general society; it is almost as if the racism doesn’t exist. Anthony Lising Antonio, professor of education and program director of Asian-American studies at Stanford, says that the discrimination faced by Asian-Americans can be overlooked due to the “model minority” stereotype. “Predominantly what we have seen in popular culture is the success story … and that’s an image and that’s a conception of all Asian-Americans, despite how they came to this country or what social conditions they’re living in,” Antonio says. “When we don’t see [the] struggles, I think it’s easy to assume that there is not discrimination or racism occurring.” But discrimination and racism are occurring, even in Palo Alto. A group of boys have told me, “Welcome to this country.” I have heard the dreaded “ching chong” of fellow students, despite the fact that I can count the number of words I know in Chinese on one hand. Sitting in the audience, I’ve witnessed Paly theater perform a scene where a character sings, “What is it about the Asians, that fascinates Caucasians,” citing their “wontons” and “eggrolls.” And I can’t even remember how many times I’ve heard people say that they can’t tell me apart from my Asian friends and that we all look the same; each time, I feel stripped of my individuality and self-esteem. A life of these damaging comments and stereotypes, a life in which others don’t seem to notice either the comments or the consequences, leads me to feel unwanted and judged simply by my race, not by my individual self. No one of any race should feel this way, and so I urge our community to recognize all forms of racism and discrimination. Only then can we have a future where there is no unsafe side of the road, where citizens of all races can live confidently and safely in this country. v
PERSPECTIVES | APRIL 2015
OFF THE GRID A MUCH NEEDED BREAKUP WITH SOCIAL MEDIA Text by JASPER MCEVOY Art by PORTIA BARRIENTOS
VERY YEAR, MY family hosts dinner on Christmas Eve, a bustling day full of activities such as cooking, cleaning the house, greeting guests, listening to relatives drone on about when I was this tall and best of all, retreating to the kitchen to stuff my face with cheese puffs and apple cider. This past Christmas Eve had all the classic aforementioned ingredients for a perfect night. That is, save for one: Me. As the partygoers happily suffocated my brother and cousin with a wave of queries about their progress through the college application process, I found myself reticent and aloof, eyes locked on the screen of my phone. Behind the walls of my social aversion I hid, fingers scrolling out of habit through every app I could find so as to eliminate all possibility of conversation. Finally, once the last threatening guest had made their way out the door, I breathed a sigh of relief: I was once again free to do … well, what, exactly? The more I thought about it, the more strongly I felt that this was, without a doubt, the worst Christmas Eve I had ever experienced. So busy had I been on my phone that I skirted my duties working in the kitchen, helping around the house and welcoming relatives, that I only picked at the cheese puffs, sipped the apple cider and altogether avoided the usual conversations with guests. And so, on the morning of Dec. 27, I took a leap of faith — one I had been meaning to take for a long time. With a few presses and swipes of my thumb, I said goodbye to my 179 followers on Instagram, to smiling faces I barely knew and — when I really considered it — hardly cared about. I 68
dismissed a growing pile of unopened Snapchats, Twitter messages and Facebook notifications. No more reshared Vines, final grade calculators, Worldstar street fights or Elite University Class of 20whatever. Goodbye to Kim Kardashian’s butt. For two months, I went into a state of social media blackout, deleting all social media apps — Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter — from my new iPhone 6, which had weaseled its way into my hands during every waking hour. I now use Snapchat in moderation, but have yet to re-download any other apps. What I sought to remedy with this cleanse was the self-perpetuating nature of these apps. With each downward swipe to refresh my newsfeed, I had become increasingly worried over why I had no new notifications and so, of course, I would check again. And again. And again. And when nothing
new popped up, I would skim pathetically through other apps, ones that didn’t even have notifications themselves such as the calculator or the address book. The disease spread. Soon, like a rare-earth magnet being forcibly pried from a refrigerator, I felt troubled when not physically near my phone. I couldn’t go to bed without it. One day, I found myself, out of sheer boredom, checking what time it was in different countries across the world. Though seemingly innocuous, social media places far too much emphasis on things we shouldn’t
PERSPECTIVES | APRIL 2015 care about. Do we really need to know where all our friends are eating lunch on a given day? About who’s been to the City over the weekend? About everyone’s opinion on the local weather? Is it healthy to be repeatedly hit over the head with smiling, gorgeous faces — heavily edited, of course — and to see how many more favorites their posts get in comparison to mine? Should any of this even matter? But the combination of teenage insecurities, a desire to know as much information as possible and phones that deliver information instantaneously to our fingertips creates this ridiculous freak storm, a culture where trivial and artificial material consumes a surprising amount of our thoughts. Now, I’m not calling for any drastic measures. By no means should anyone climb a mountain and throw their smartphone to the winds, cursing the gods who brought this addictive de-
vice upon our civilization, and pledging to live the rest of their years in a forest with only a family of wolves for company. I, for one, still use my smartphone for all sorts of tasks — coordinating with friends, playing games, checking email and listening to music, to name a few — for which I find it to be an invaluable asset. But people, especially teenagers, need to take a step back from social media. There is no value in something that amplifies our own insecurities and makes us dependent on our phones. Life away from social media has taught me a little something about what I need to prioritize in my life. Now that I no longer sit anxiously waiting for notifications to appear on my phone, I have become noticeably happier, exercised regularly and rekindled my hobbies of reading and playing the
guitar. I sleep more, am less stressed and most impressively, am often days ahead in homework despite being a second semester senior. So if I learned anything from this venture, it’s that I prefer to live in the moment, not worrying about my post from yesterday or what my friends plan on doing tomorrow. I’m sick of being a magnet stuck on a fridge, and I honestly don’t care what time it is in Australia. Maybe these concerns sound like a personal problem, but believe me, they apply to anyone who uses social media, which it seems, is almost everyone. And forgive me if I seem to be alienating my friends, or stubbornly sticking my head in the sand as the waves of the technological future wash over me. Yes, it will probably get a little lonely, missing out on so much information, but I see my friends enough in person as it is. Everyone deserves some alone time, and for me, that manifests itself in knocking back apple cider and cheese puffs with my family on Christmas Eve, with my phone powered off and out of sight. V
PERSPECTIVES | APRIL 2015
Text by ESMÉ ABLAZA
FRIDA KAHLO VS. SLEEPING BEAUTY
GROWING UP MULTIRACIAL: A PERSONAL HISTORY
WAS ON WINTER VACATION IN THE PHILIPPINES dense them all into one word feels oversimplified. when I heard the word for the first time, uttered almost Filipinos are typically known as the under-privileged Asians. reverently by a vendor in a Manila marketplace. Second-generation Filipino-Americans go to college at a lower rate “Mestiza.” than their parents who immigrated, while other Asian-Americans Mixed race. More specifically, half Filipina. have a trend of upward mobility after immigrating. My mom is half Mexican, half Eastern-European and my dad Being part of two races that are historically “under-privileged” is Filipino. That leaves me half Filipina, a quarter Latina and a confuses me even more because I am not under-privileged, so it quarter Caucasian. In other words, I’m not just biracial; I’m trira- feels wrong to set myself apart from everyone else with an “I-amcial: Asian, Mexican and white. an-under-privileged-minority-hear-me-roar” attitude. My understanding of my identity as it relates to my interracial In elementary school, I felt like an alien. The majority of my background has evolved dramatically over the years. I frequently classmates were one race. Everywhere I looked — the blond hair get asked, “So what ARE you?” Answering that question in a literal and blue/green eyes of my two best friends, the actors and actresssense by rattling off “one-half-Filipino-a-quarter-Mexican-and-a- es on Disney Channel — I saw people who could at least point to quarter-white” all in one breath isn’t the hard part (I assure you, another person and say, “Yeah, I’m the same ethnicity as [insert I’m well-rehearsed by now). The hard part is figuring out which name].” Even my dog was purebred. I didn’t look like anyone else group I actually belong to, and deciding which race, ethnicity and who I knew, except for my sister. And that scared me. culture I actually fit in with. This feeling of not belonging to any single race didn’t abate When I was little, my mom tried to get me hooked on non- in middle school. If anything, it was the time period when I, along white Barbie dolls like Pocahontas, but it was to no avail. I had an with the rest of my peers, became more conscious of how one’s infatuation with Sleeping Beauty, because she possessed blond hair race shapes the way they are treated by the rest of the world. Racial and blue eyes — the features I lacked and desperately wanted. stereotypes formed with the stratification of honors classes within Despite my strange obsession with miniature representations the academic laning system. of the Aryan race, my mom was determined to get my sister and Finally, I got to high school. I hopped on the Lululemon me to appreciate our Mexican heritage. I can’t remember a time bandwagon. I discovered the joy that comes with frappuccinos when we didn’t have Mexican art adorning the walls of our house, from Starbucks, freddos from Peets and iced mint mojitos from or when we didn’t eat tamales with our family on Christmas. Philz. In short, I became a “white girl.” Or so my friends told me. My sister and I grew up learning about César Chávez’s battle Even though I have almost completely submerged myself in on behalf of the rights of Mexican-American field workers and white culture, it’s hard for me to label myself as such. Besides, about Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s career. In fact, an enormous when I sit in my honors English and physics classes and look framed print of her heavily-browed face has watched over me around, I realize that I’m the only person of either from the wall of our dining room for as long as I can remember. Filipino or Mexican descent in the room. I can’t It’s always been easy for me to idenignore my mixed background. The fact that tify as Mexican. What has been hard is I attend an affluent school doesn’t mean I holding on to this identity; many peocan discount the perspective my mixed ple say I do not look Mexican, and as background provides me with — a a result they believe my Mexican heriwindow into a parallel universe tage “doesn’t count” because I’m not where people who are the same race actually under-privileged. as myself, yet less privileged, are When my mom went to the disdisadvantaged. Unlike the binary trict office to register me for kindergarworld of standardized testing, ten, she wasn’t allowed to check more my racial identity cannot than one box in the “ethnicity” section be contained within a of the registration forms. She chose single checkbox. “Latino,” which is what I have also I’ve come to recome to check over the years. It’s alize that I can drink rare that I ever come across the frappucinos and still option of “Filipino,” but when I enjoy my grandma’s tado, I check that box instead. Bemales without feeling like I ing categorized as “Asian” just am selling out one race for the feels way too general to me beother. cause it encompasses so many Something tells me Frida PRINCESS I get acquainted with my then-hero, Sleeping different cultures — to conwould approve. v Beauty, at Disneyland in 2002. Photo by Ron Ablaza.
Palo Alto Unified School District Palo Alto High School 50 Embarcadero Road Palo Alto, CA 94301
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