Monday, March 28, 2011

Hooking UP

by Maya Katalan '11, Germantown Friends School
Oh, to be young and in love. Each smile and glance is accompanied with a violent butterfly riot in the couple’s stomachs. Long, late telephone conversations make the night last forever, and the only fight they’ve ever had is about who should hang up first. Secretly scrawled love notes from him live in the far crevice of her sock drawer, and he gets teased by his buddies from the football team for falling so hard for a girl. Does this sort of love, the tender but heart wrenching kind, exist at GFS? Maybe if the telephone calls are replaced by video chats, the love notes are sent via text message (exceeding the 160 character limit at least twofold), and by the football team you mean Advanced Physics.
            While the stereotypical trappings of teenage romance are not entirely extinct, there is no doubt that an alternate, less ingenuously earnest culture has dominated our generation’s social scene: that of the hookup. This ubiquitous term describes much and at the same time nothing: “hooking up” can mean a myriad of things and calls forth an equally varied number of connotations. Usually, though, the hookup is associated with a more casual, less emotional scenario than the aforementioned. Yet within the hookup culture there is a distinct and recognized subcategory reserved for the pairing of an older boy and a younger girl—at GFS it is the senior/freshman dalliance that always raises eyebrows but never really surprises anybody.
            Let us revisit the young and in love, this time a senior boy and a freshman girl at GFS. Inconspicuous glances are exchanged across Hargroves. A welcome collision occurs in a doorway, becomes a moment’s flirtation of jokes (him) and giggles (her), and ends as he heads off-campus and she heads off to musical rehearsal. It is probably well known that the two are linked, and the situation is looked upon with mixed impressions ranging from indifference to amusement to disgust. What is widely agreed upon is the fact that this is a phenomenon so familiar that it is almost commonplace.
            At the heart of the situation is the question of why. Why is it that we have come to recognize the pattern of pairings between senior boys and freshmen girls, students that would otherwise seem to inhabit alternate universes. One common explanation involves maturity level. In many cases girls mature more quickly than boys their age, making them more compatible with the boys in older grades. But the speculative reasoning is deeper than just that. As one senior girl I spoke to explained, there is a perceived thrill that accompanies attention from an older boy, specifically a senior. This idea of a particular sort of allure attributed to seniority is one that was echoed by many of the students I talked to about the causes of these cross-grade pairings. Upperclassmen students told me that, regardless of if they were involved in any type of relationship with senior, as freshmen they were to some degree intimidated by the oldest boys in the school. The senior/freshman hookup acts on this psychology. A freshman girl who feels like she has outgrown the boys in her grade looks up to these older boys and responds to the attraction they hold as a result of their age and, more importantly, their status as seniors. This girl isn’t social climbing or conniving: she is just subject to the puzzling but prevalent attitudes about “seniority” that pervade our social culture. 
            Why, then, does a senior boy, the proverbial “big man on campus,” find himself attracted to the younger girl? One senior boy suggested that the underlying cause of the cycle is the cycle itself. When girls hookup with older boys in freshman or sophomore year, the freshman or sophomore boys are neglected by girls in that regard. Then, once they get up in the grades, they go for the younger girls because of this pattern that they’ve witnessed— after feeling somewhat second rate compared to the older boys in freshman year, senior year is the time to capitalize on their “senior allure.” Hooking up with freshman seems to have become high school lore: a taboo to some, an accomplishment to others. Based on the experience of being overlooked by the girls in their grade, senior boys may see freshmen girls as more available, less demanding, and more likely to find them attractive.
            These possible reasons behind the senior/freshman hookup lead us to one of the most commonly heard objections to the situation: can this ever really be a fair, functional, and balanced relationship? If the girl is acting on her possibly subconscious respect for seniority and the boy is acting on his conceptions of the younger girl’s availability, are the two even actually into each other, or is each of them just attracted to his or her preconceived notions about who the other one is?
            As far as equality in goes in these relationships, most do not hesitate to admit that it is certainly possible for the standard of respect in a relationship to be muddled by the age difference. The most obvious assumption is that the boy is taking advantage of the younger girl’s naïveté, and the girl is unable to stand up for herself because she is intimidated by the boy. This is not always the case—the one thing that most everyone agrees on when talking about senior/freshmen relationships is that their success depends on the unique circumstance. Some boys are more conscious of a girl’s feelings, some girls share their feelings more freely. There is no guarantee that the relationship will be a respectful one or a disrespectful one. One senior boy told me that, while he is happy for his friends when they get attention from girls, he does not hesitate to tell them when they may be out of line as far as their treatment of girls, especially younger ones. And girls resoundingly alluded to some sort of power that a freshman girl gets from this relationship: while it may seem like an exploitation on the surface, some girls may feel empowered by getting the attention and, hopefully, the respect of a boy who is her elder.
Just as problematic as any potential breaches of respect, however, are the inequalities in the relationship that can’t be avoided. Freshmen are clean slates entering high school. They have not yet experienced many of the established GFS customs and experiences, let alone many of the experiences that accompany high school. In contrast, seniors have one foot out of the open doors of GFS. The college process serves as a figurative disconnect between seniors and the school as it forces them to imagine a life beyond GFS, and off-campus privileges and, often, an overabundance of free periods is the literal disconnect that gives seniors the potential for a life outside of GFS whenever they don’t have a class. This awkward opposition provides a potentially irreconcilable difference: if the freshman and the senior are in vastly different points in their lives, the relationship won’t be standing on solid ground.
The most puzzling aspect about the buzz surrounding senior/freshmen hookups may be that it has nothing to do with age and everything to do with grade. Ask someone about a senior and a sophomore hooking up and they will readily share a list of couples and, remarkably, these couples will often be somewhat respected relationships of the “boyfriend/girlfriend” type—a distinction that is used tentatively and sparingly for the senior and the freshman. Somehow, the juiciest gossip is reserved for the pairings that come from opposing poles of the high school; once the grade gap is broken, the stories lose their sparkle and their controversy quota. This could be a hint to some truth of high school on a larger scale: perhaps our conceptions about the status and associations that come with class are more entrenched than we think. If a freshmen is the quintessential ingénue and the senior is the archetypal alpha-male, even if we don’t seriously believe these outdated, politically incorrect notions, we look about the situation as dramatic, exciting, and scandalous. A sophomore girl has experienced the senior before he was a senior: she has seen him when he was just a mere junior, admittedly an upperclassman, but certainly not at the top of the school. We probably aren’t convinced by the stereotypical, slightly embarrassing movie portrayal of seniors as jocks and cheerleaders who rule the school, but to some extent we consider the notion of seniority when looking at these inter-class relationships. Even at GFS, where ideas surrounding coolness and status are not always typical, we are not entirely immune to the thrill of a forbidden romance.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Real DARling

By Sarah Lotkowski ‘13, Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School

The worn ivory letter, tucked away softly into a familiar nook, folded into intricate squares, the seams caressed and fragile. Vein like tears cascade down the willowy corners; traces of fingertip smudges freckle its supple face, eventually worn down to subtle furrows like the feathery wisps of a river current. The words hidden inside the neatly packed parcel lay brimming with wisdom and self assurance. Those words that need not pass inspection from the brain and are directly extracted from the hollows of the heart were chosen carefully; erased into silence time and time again- until the perfect harmony was reached. These clusterings of letters empty their impact onto the eyes and hearts of dozens of students every year- the students lucky enough to have had Mr. George Hankins- master of capturing the true meaning in people- and of course- an abstract word artist as well.
George Hankins, CMS history teacher

Within the past couple of weeks, eighth grade history teacher at Colonial Middle School (CMS), George Hankins, has been named the Pennsylvania State Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Outstanding Teacher of American History Winner for 2011.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Webassign: To Do or Not To Do

by Nathaniel Rabin, Germantown Friends School '11
           They stare at you, mocking your failure, making you feel like you just caused all of the puppies in the world to be choked to death. Their mere presence provokes swearing, fist-pounding, and momentary insanity in even the most complacent of GFSers. What could possibly have such an effect on the upstanding young men and women produced by GFS? The red Xs on WebAssign, of course.
            WebAssign, created at North Carolina State University in the late 1990’s, is an online homework site used at GFS for several science classes including Advanced Physics and Advanced Chemistry. WebAssign provides the problems, teachers assign them, and the site immediately grades the answers upon submission by the student. And, as I imagine a proper Englishman smoking a pipe would say, “Therein lies the problem.”
            A correct answer warrants a green check mark. A beautiful, glorious, green check mark, like a pat on the head after a job well done. But an incorrect answer gives you the red X, so small and yet so powerful. As if the frustration and shame brought about by the X isn’t enough, WebAssign often feels the need to insult you even further. If your answer is nowhere near the correct answer (a common occurrence in 20-step physics problems) this phrase appears on the screen, in the same harsh red-colored font:
Your response differs significantly from the correct answer.”
Or sometimes,
Your response is not within 100% of the correct answer.”
When this pops up, the aforementioned moment of insanity will often lead me to curse at the little man inside the computer for being so mean to me. Teachers using WebAssign can also limit the number of the submissions for each problems, which adds another degree of intensity. James Hall ’11 says, “I knew I was on my last submission - I was sweating I was so nervous.” But, as torturous as the process is, nothing in the academic world quite compares to the feeling of spending 20 minutes on a problem, typing in the answer, and being rewarded with the green check mark. Even better is typing in the answers to the different parts of a multi-step problem and getting a neat column of check marks, like your own little audience giving you a round of applause.
            But the most important aspect of WebAssign is this: it makes people do their homework. If it’s late at night and I only have time to do homework for one class and I have to choose between physics WebAssign and something else, I’m choosing WebAssign 100% of the time. Whereas I would be fine with turning in, say, my Calculus homework having completed all but one problem, I would never do that with WebAssign. There’s something about those red X’s that seems to dare me to finish the assignment, just to get rid of them. And I’m not the only one. Alex Nalle ’11 says, “I spend way more effort on WebAssign than I do on my other homework.” Ian Longhore ’11 agrees, “I always keep working until I finish it. Those green checks are just so satisfying.” As aggravating as WebAssign is, there is no better way of getting students to prepare for class than by this electronic carrot-on-a-stick, the perfect column of green check marks.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Waiting for Superman

By Emma Schmidt '11, Germantown Friends School
If Germantown Friends School’s graduation rate dipped anywhere below 100% administrators would not be happy. Imagine if that rate were only 3%.
Waiting for Superman a documentary directed by David Guggenheim, highlights one high school where only three in a hundred students graduates. The documentary follows five children in Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington D.C. as they struggle through the public school system and try to find alternative modes of schooling.
Daisy, a fifth grader from East Los Angeles, is one of these five children. With her tight ponytail and gap-toothed smile, her life story tugs at the heartstrings of the audience. Daisy’s public middle school is one of the poorest performing schools in the district, but her parents have found another option: KIPP LA Prep, a charter school. KIPP is much bigger and more beautiful than the rundown buildings of her current school.
Much of the film, which won awards at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, documents the inequalities between public and charter schools. Though still funded by public money, charter schools tend to have nicer facilities, longer school days, and most importantly, better teachers. Francisco, a second grader from the Bronx, attends a public school where his teacher will not respond to his mother’s many phone calls and emails. On the other hand, the charter school teachers shown in the film are more energetic, and often younger than their public school counterparts. It is evident throughout the film that charter schools offer a glimmer of hope among the darkness that encloses many public schools.
Waiting for Superman is a well-researched and powerful documentary. The facts support the stories of these five children, and inform the audience that this story is happening in every city in America. The stories are touching and the factual evidence is shocking; the powerful effect of the film bodes well for the change it may bring to America’s school system. Guggenheim didn’t want to highlight his own opinion on charter schools, he just wanted to raise the question, why can’t we have enough great schools?
One problem: there aren’t enough great schools out there; charter schools are just so good that everyone wants to attend them. Daisy from LA enters a lottery to get into KIPP, but there are only ten spots for 135 kids. As pointed out in the film, the probability of getting a spot is about as good as a senior’s chance of getting into Harvard. To Daisy, though, KIPP LA Prep is like Harvard: an opportunity for higher learning that exemplifies everything she doesn’t have at her local public school.
As Daisy waits to hear whether she has gotten a spot at KIPP LA Prep, she crosses each finger over the next, a trick she learned from her father for good luck, and the audience holds their breath that her name is one of the ten called.
It is not.
Daisy bites her lip as her chin quivers and she holds back tears. She will have to stay in a school with unmotivated teachers and wait another year to try again at her dream school. 
“Waiting for Superman” is a moving story that should call to action those who can make a difference in our education system in the United States. KIPP LA Prep shouldn’t be on the level of Harvard in terms of acceptance. Every child has as much right as the next to have a chance to receive a good education.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Making the Grade

by Maya Katalan '11, Germantown Friends School

Ideologically, a GFS education is not governed by grade point average, test scores, and academic rankings. Instead, the GFS brand of learning is more holistic: “we regard education not as training for a particular way of life, but as part of a lifelong process” reads the statement of philosophy on the school’s website. And it is true that a GFS education is not limited to the confines of the class room; from community service days, to your junior project, and even in the weekly silence of the meeting house, personal and intellectual growth is encouraged in a variety of settings.

Yet at the end of senior year lies the real world, a place that can seem stratified and standardized after years at GFS. And as a result, students are self-aware and often competitive, and despite their appreciation for the well-rounded education afforded to them at GFS, sometimes it really does come down to the grade on the end-of-year report card. In such an academically charged environment, complaints of unfair grading and inconsistent curricula are unfortunate, but real. Though the students and the faculty at GFS are generally in sync, the presence of numerous teaching styles and grading methods among teachers often leaves students wondering if their experience in a class is the same as that of their peers.

The resounding answer to this question is no. It is impossible and, further more, absurd to ensure an identical academic experience to each student when most classes are split into sections taught by two or three different teachers. While the students can often be mystified and frustrated by the fact that they got the “hard teacher” and it’s so unfair because so-and-so “never gives A’s,” teachers are quick to object to this sort of attitude.

“The school has a tradition of hiring teachers they trust,” says Jeremy Ross, head of the history department, and while department heads meet regularly to keep the curriculum coherent and reasonably consistent, this trust in the teacher’s capabilities means that there is no need for a strictly mapped curriculum. Ross says that while “ninety to ninety-five percent of the curriculum is the same, teachers have their specialties.” If a teacher is particularly knowledgeable in one facet of the already determined curriculum, for them not to teach students to the extent of their ability would be wrong—“I would be depriving you,” says Ross.

Some departments have a more rigid curriculum defined for their teachers. Gen Nelson, former head of the science department, says that there is a conscious “focus on delivering a comparable curriculum” in the sciences. Ways in which this goal is met include weekly meetings to plan curricula and assignments and swap tests, and the use of the same PowerPoints, labs, and final exams.

Even so, Nelson says, “three different people can make chocolate chip cookies using the same exact recipe and the same exact ingredients, and no matter what they do, at the end of the day, the three batches of cookies won’t taste the same.” This analogy is apparent in the different academic departments school-wide, regardless of the level of accord among the curricula of different teachers; in the words of Nelson, “personality differences can’t be solved.”

As far as grading goes, all teachers are committed to maintaining a fair and transparent system to ensure that students know where their grades are coming from. In the English and history departments, students are given the official rubric that teachers use when grading papers.

Anne Gerbner, head of the English department, says that English teachers of the same course practice grading the same paper and revealed that they are never “more than half a letter grade off.” Teachers are determined to make grading as clear and cohesive a system as possible. It’s accepted, almost inevitable, however, that students will not always agree or be satisfied with their grade and in dealing with this issue, teachers of different departments suggest that students self-advocate. “[GFS students] are consumers of educational services,” Jeremy Ross says, “and as a result [they] should articulate any complaints; managing people in authority is a life-long skill, so speak up.”

As much as teachers try to streamline grades and course curricula, it is widely acknowledged that monotony is not conducive to the intellectually stimulating community GFS hopes to be. Dave Mraz, long-time upper school math teacher, says he embraces the diversity of experiences a GFS student will have as yet another catalyst for personal growth provided by the school.

“By the time you graduate GFS you will have experienced different teaching styles,” Mraz says, “and ultimately, it’s not all about what you learn, but what you learn about yourself through adapting to different situations and a variety of experiences, just like you will in the real world.”

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Recycling; Encouraging Bad Behavior?

By Harry Gutman, '14   -    We all tend to think that if we toss glass, plastic, or paper into a recycling bin that we are doing are part for the environment. That couldn’t be more wrong! Recycling is really just making the best of a bad situation. Don’t assume that when one recycles a plastic bottle it turns into another bottle, because it doesn’t. Only half of that original plastic is reused! The reused plastic is sent to China where the vast majority of the recycling process takes place and is turned into cloth items like fleece and blankets and then it is shipped back to the US to be sold. When the public buys “their own trash” they

Friday, December 3, 2010

How to Survive Winter Break

By Kate Sellers, '14
(from Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School's The Town Crier, December 2010 )

If you're stuck for a week at home while your friends are off in Italy, Washington D.C., Peru, Florida, or have family over, try to stay busy.  There are some great things to do during winter break, even if you're not off to a fabulous vacation getaway.

     1)  Turn off the TV - Yes, it seems silly, but wouldn't you rather spend your time doing something besides staring at a screen for six hours a day? In addition, most of us eat while we watch TV.  It's basically part of our routine.  Mindlessly adding on to the holiday pounds is something that no one really wants to do.

     2)  Find a Friend - Surely, somewhere, you have a friend.  Maybe he sits next to you in I-Block.  Maybe it's a friend who moved or [who] you haven't talked to in a while.  Either way, there must be someone who is stuck at home like you.  It's better to be hanging out with someone than be alone.

     3)  Explore Philadelphia - We are so lucky.  We live next to one of the most cultural, historical, and interesting cities in the U.S.  Go downtown.  Eat a