My one word

During fourth bell this year, I have the pleasure of being a student aide in a freshman Honors English class. One thing I love about English classes, especially in the younger grades, is that part of the curriculum is sharing stories and listening to others. The teacher in this class read to the class a Mary Schmich column called “The power of one word to guide your 2015.” Essentially, the column challenged readers to summarize all of their resolutions and goals for the new year into one word. It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds.

As a writing exercise, the students took time to think about their one word. I started to think about mine, and I did, one word kept popping into my head: balance.

Yes, for me, 2019 is the year of balance.

In many ways, I do feel unbalanced, physically and mentally. Physically, balancing encompasses the need to sleep. Whether its academic work or time spent at the dance studio, my body spends significantly more time exerting itself than it does recovering, resulting too often in fatigue and injuries. This year, I’m going to change that.

Mentally, balance means prioritizing. School is important, and I am so happy to have grown up with such a strong value for academics. However, I have learned recently that nothing is worth my health and happiness–not even my GPA. I am blessed to have a strong work ethic and academic drive, but it’s time I start paying more attention to my other blessings in life: family, friends, and yes, books.


Initiative Helps to Generate Conversations Surrounding Mental Health

Originally published in the October 19, 2018 edition of The Chronicle.

The Hope Squad is here to help.

On Wednesday, October 3, the Hope Squad had their official introduction during homeroom. Mary Ellen Theisen is one of seven advisors along with Lori Roth, Megan Cameron, Randall Hubbard, Maggie Long, Michelle Bruewer, and Angie Johnston who guide the members.

Mason is one of about 20 schools in the Cincinnati area to initiate Hope Squad, and Theisen said they were inspired by the Hope Squad formed at a Utah high school whose curriculum provides the foundation for the branch at Mason. Theisen said that Hope Squad puts most of their focus on developing healthier brains and their role is to act as a supplement to the professional help available, not as therapists or in place of anything else.

“Hope Squad is an initiative to improve not only the mental health of our students but also the culture within our building,” Theisen said. “We found it to be a perfect time when our students are working through stressful issues to have a peer-based program that they could respect and move to those individuals in need.”

Seniors Annabella Collins is co-president of the Hope Squad. Inspired to join by her past experience in losing a loved one, Collins said that Hope Squad strives to keep MHS students happier, safer, and aware that there are people to talk to if they need help. 

“Our purpose is to spread awareness about suicide prevention,” Collins said. “To help other peers look for warning signs, how to get help, who to talk to to get help. We want to let them know that they’re not alone in this huge school and that there are so many people here who are willing to help and want to help and they are loved.”

Senior Sujaya Sunkara is the committee chair for the Community Outreach and Education committee. Sunkara said the purpose of her committee is to educate parents and students about mental health. 

“As a whole we just want to educate the community,” Sunkara said. “There’s stigmas around mental health and we want all students and parents to know that it’s okay. It’s really important that not only parents but students know how to handle these things, that it’s not taboo and that a lot of kids go through it.”

Theisen said that a goal of Hope Squad is to spark change in Mason by making mental health acceptable to talk about and openly struggle with, for kids and adults alike.

“So many kids and adults deal with mental health issues, and we want to make mental health an okay thing to talk about, and help kids find the resources inside and outside the building to help them be better people, as far as having healthier brains,” Theisen said. “We want to bring hope and joy to others, help people realize that the challenging time that they’re going through possibly is not a long term challenge and that there are solutions for it.”

In the future, Theisen said that she and other advisors would like to see Hope Squad initiated in other buildings within the district.

“The district, at some point, would like to move Hope Squad to the middle school,” Theisen said. “Other districts in our area have already done a middle school and high school component, but we really wanted to get our feet wet with high school first. Not to overshadow the needs that are at the younger level, but I think we wanted to focus on this first and do it well, and not to spread ourselves too thin.”

In order to create a safe and relaxing environment for students to converse, Theisen said the Hope Squad has decorated a bubble room and they eventually hope to have a similar room in every pod.

“It’s going to be a safe haven,” Theisen said. “If Hope Squad members are talking to a students that has a situation that they need help with, they can go there to talk. No one really wants to have a serious conversation with someone in the middle of the hallway, so this room would be private and comforting.”

Collins said that the responsibilities of the Hope Squad members are not exclusive, and that anyone can help.

“Even if you’re not a member in Hope Squad, everyone can help,” Collins said. “A common question is ‘Where can I find a Hope Squad member?” (but) it doesn’t have to be a Hope Squad member. Everyone in the community is able to help anyone. Just show kindness, show that you care, look out for people. It’s not about being part of Hope Squad, it’s Hope Squad being a part of the whole school. It’s everyone’s role to look out for one another.”

Opinion: New Ohio Plan for Education Spells Progress

Originally published in the September 21, 2018 edition of The Chronicle.

“Each child, Our future.”

This is the name of Ohio’s new five year strategic plan for education. The goal with this new plan is to encourage students to learn social skills and to emphasize the importance of developing the “whole child”, an individual who excels beyond academics. This plan is unique in that it was developed by a variety of contributors, including parents, business leaders, higher education representatives and even students.   

Unlike others that were developed in the past, this plan has some promise. People from almost every perspective had a hand in it, so it wouldn’t lean towards a hidden agenda; the goal has nothing to do with test scores, but with developing the individual. And, best of all, they start small.

Starting small makes a huge impact on students because they start forming good habits to build upon at the prime habit-forming age. Psychology today reports a study that habits in children take root at about age nine.

Honestly, that was part of the issue with other plans. While, in theory, they sounded good, the benefits of the plan culminate with the theory. Standards, processes, perpetual testing might lead to a higher national average, but they compromise teaching skills of innovation and critical thinking because everything is so boxed-in and closed-off to meet a standard.

Common Core is a nationwide set of standards developed by state leaders and governors across the nation. These people are all board certified and have valuable knowledge about education, but when the perspective is only reduced to people in higher powers, the plan loses sight of the alternative purposes of school, not to teach kids to pass tests. 

Common Core was a plan full of standards. Each subject had a list of points and each point had a number that described an objective that students should be able to do. 

While arguments can be made for this method — it ensures that underperforming states stay on par with better performing states and it helps to unify curricula across the country — these strong points of Common Core are not important enough to compromise what is needed to build unique and well-rounded individuals.

Children spend more time in school than they do at home. This means that, especially at a young age, schools have a responsibility to do more than teach a kid how to pass a test. 

When people who care more about the holistic needs of children are left out of plans — parents, for example, and students themselves — the result is a plan that is great in making sure students can retain information at a certain level, but are lacking in everything else.

That is why this plan is different. A wide variety of people were involved in its creation, and they intend to implement it in students as early in their schooling as possible. They focus what Common Core lacked: innovation, lifting aspirations, and making them competitive in an ever-changing job market for whatever it is they want to do. 

As a student who experienced Common Core and all the other plans after it, I know about the negative effects that a limited perspective on education has, and the unified focus was one of them, because students were forced to conform to the norm and not develop themselves as individuals.

Plans in the past haven’t been promising. They were too cookie-cutter and robotic when put into place, potentially even putting students at a disservice. They tend to be so precise to a point where they seem impossible. And although this plan may not be perfect, the ideas are simple: develop kids who are academically intelligent, but also intelligent about the world around them. 

If we open our minds, maybe the plan “made by Ohioans, for Ohioans” can actually make a difference.

My problem with Haters Back Off

Haters Back Off! is an original Netflix series created by Colleen Ballinger, along with her brother, Chris Ballinger. The show follows the life of Miranda Sings, a character originally created by Colleen on YouTube to mock bullies she went to school with. This opportunity allows Ballinger to give her audience backstory on her character and create a life for her, but I just wish it delivered more on its promise: a comedy.

I’ve seen every episode of the series and I am familiar with the Miranda Sings character on YouTube. I will say that some of the aspects of the show are very interesting: the fact that Miranda’s sister is a phenomenal painter and runs the family, although she is the youngest. I think that the dynamic of the extremely calm teen against a crazy family contrasts well makes the show more funny.

Fundamentally, I suppose, the show could still be classified as a comedy. The scrips contain jokes using the rule of three (one of the most common forms), characters say funny lines, no major tragedies occur (death of the main/ an important character) and some of the situations when thought about logically are funny. However, I found that in the second season, while the show was technically comedic, some of the dramatic elements overshadowed the comedy and left me wanting more funny.

I am not saying that comedy cannot be serious. In fact, some of my favorite episodes of comedies are the ones where the writers weave spectacular jokes and one-liners with more serious and heartfelt plot lines. That balance to me is epitome of comedic mastery. This show just airs too much on the drama side.

But the thing that made me the most uncomfortable was the scene in the finale with Miranda and her Dad. I understand their intent: To solidify the true nature of Miranda’s father, who was only interested in her for her potential net worth. But they did it in a way that I thought was too dramatic and too heartbreaking for a comedy, especially as one of the final scenes. He screamed at her and called her worthless, useless, and other names a parent should never call their child. If this were real life, Miranda could have developed depression, anxiety, or something very serious from that encounter with her father that I felt the writers overlooked.

I think that another intent of this scene was to show the reunion of the rest of Miranda’s family and tie those loose ends. The very next scene is Miranda’s mother, uncle, and sister, stepping in to save Miranda from the words of her father, which is meant to symbolize their support and care for her. While I think the idea was good, it should have been shown through a scene less traumatizing, especially in a sit-com.

The last point I want to make about this scene in the audience. Ballinger has millions of followers on YouTube, and it is no secret that the majority of them are teens and possible younger. It is natural to assume that these teens would be the primary audience for her show. Dramatic scenes in comedies stick out and typically carry the most weight with the audience, and with that in mind, I do not think that a scene with a father verbally abusing his daughter was the best thing to stick with a teenager. It is not the point of the show, but it very easily become that with a teenage audience. If I’m being honest, I think the show would have been better off without that character. They could have stirred the pot in a much less heartbreaking way.

Asher speaks openly about “13 Reasons Why” controversy at Main Library

Originally published on thecspn.comP1030584

On September 8, “13 Reasons Why” author Jay Asher came to the Main Library, a Cincinnati and Hamilton county public library, to speak about his book’s evolution and controversy.

Asher said his inspiration came from his relative, who attempted suicide when she was a junior in high school. He said when she was in that state of mind, she had nothing to relate to and nothing to depict how she was feeling, which gave him the idea to write.

“Having spoken to her over the years about how she got to that place where she thought that was the only solution to her pain, in her case at least part of it was that she didn’t feel comfortable opening up because she didn’t see anybody addressing these issues in a very honest way,” Asher said. “They would make fun of people dealing with things she was dealing with, not knowing that she was dealing with it. So when the idea came to me, I knew that it was going to be a bit controversial, but that’s why you need to write about this stuff sometimes, so that it is out there.”

Asher said the events that happened to main character, Hannah Baker, were inspired by what he knows to be true about bullying from friends and family rather than by events that happened to the relative who inspired him.

“Very little of it was actually inspired by things she went through. Most of it was the emotions: feeling alone, feeling like she didn’t know where to go for help,” Asher said. “So (those emotions) heavily influenced that side of it, as far as each individual situation. Some of it was just made up for things that I knew Hannah had to go through, other things were inspired by either things I had been through or my friends had been through. I also sat down with my wife and two female friends to talk about their high school years — things that affected them years later that they thought they would have gotten over by now. Then, I would just fictionalize it, but it gave me a sense of what were sometimes the smaller things that still had a big impact on people.”

Despite the heavy subject material, Asher said the book was intended for teens to try and eliminate problems that his relative experienced. Even for his first time writing for a teenage audience, Asher said it was necessary to convey the raw horrification of suicide and to provide something for them to resonate with them.

“Because my understanding of the issue was inspired by my relative, I think that while I knew it would be more controversial to write it for teens, the only alternative was to not, to make it an adult (novel),” Asher said. “But that still feeds into the problem in our society of because we are so uncomfortable talking about this stuff, specifically about teens, people are always looking for excuses not to. Any teen then, who isn’t ready to read an adult book, would again not see anything out there representing what they’re experiencing, so (writing for an older audience) would just contribute to the problem. With my relative, there should have been people around her talking about this stuff. But when there isn’t they need to have something available for that person, and that’s what I’ve heard so often: readers saying my book is the first time they felt understood, which is so cool to hear but also so sad to hear.”

Asher said he wanted to teach teens to be perceptive of other people, because they never know what someone else is going through. He said he witnesses bullying all too often that would not have happened had the bullies known the victim’s situation.

“Since the book came out, I’ve been of course more aware of suicides, especially highly sensationalized ones,” Asher said. “I remember there was this one in Massachusetts shortly after the book came out where it was the first time people were charged with a crime for bullying this person. It was this big (question of) when somebody takes their own life, can somebody else be held responsible for it? A lot of the bullies said ‘If we had known she had dealt with this, if we had known she had suffered from depression, if we had known she had attempted suicide in the past, if we had known that her parents were getting divorced, we wouldn’t have done stuff.’ That hit the nail on the head of what I was trying to say that you don’t know what someone’s going through. It shouldn’t matter; you shouldn’t be like ‘I’ll do this,’ and hope that everything else in their life was fine. You don’t know.”

Sophomore English teacher and yearbook adviser Kurt Dinan is the Main Library’s Writer-in-Residence, meaning he interviews authors who come to speak at the library. Dinan said listening to Asher speak proved to him that he wrote the book for the right reasons.

“I love talking to other authors because I learn about who they are and what their personality is,” Dinan said. “Jay Asher is a well-known figure because of this book and because of the television show, and I think people make judgements based on the topic and how it is handled in the show and in the book. After talking with him, and listening to him speak, I know he’s a genuinely compassionate person. He’s not trying to make a buck off of this; he truly cares about mental health issues and about teenagers who are having suicidal thoughts and he wants that not to be taboo in society, for people to speak about it, and for things to be done.”

Back in March, Netflix created a TV show titled “13 Reasons Why” that is based off of the book. Asher is not heavily involved in the production of the show aside from reading scripts and answering questions for writers and producers.

Dinan said while he understands the concerns parents would have by allowing teens to read this book and watch a show, he thinks they will benefit teens by showing them they are not alone, and showing other teens that their actions have repercussions.

“I understand parents who are reluctant to have their child read this book or watch the TV show, I understand their concerns,” Dinan said. “But more importantly, I think it’s vital that teens know they aren’t alone and there are people they can go to for help, but also that their actions have ramifications. I think the book makes that clear, and the TV show makes that clear.”

When Netflix produced the show, the production team made a few changes from the book, such as the way Baker dies. Asher said that he understands the reason behind every change because the medium of television depicts actions visually. With the combination of visual depiction and an increased time frame, the TV show made necessary changes that strengthened the message and contributed to reality, Asher said.

“They decided to not use pills because they didn’t want it to seem like an easy thing. They wanted to show it as emotionally horrifying as it is,” Asher said. “To show the parents finding her and how devastating that is. I’ve been hearing from viewers who say a lot of time when they are thinking about suicide they know it’s going to hurt people but at the same time, they feel that their life is such a burden to other people that even if they hurt them to some degree, they will be better off. And then seeing what it would be like to find them takes it and makes it this very realistic thing as opposed to however they romanticized the benefits to other people in their mind. So that’s been kind of frustrating when I hear controversy around it, when I’m the one hearing from others saying why it affected them in such a positive way. ”

Asher said that some of the scenes in the show, such as the showing of sexual assault, while graphic, are necessary for the majority of people to understand the seriousness and severity of the situation.

“We’re fine knowing that person got raped, but we don’t want to be made uncomfortable with it,” Asher said. “And sadly, there are people in this world who don’t have the imagination to understand how horrible something is until it’s put in front of them. We hear about that all the time — the way we like to talk about rape, especially with boys is ‘No means no. When a girl says no that’s it’ and that’s where the conversation ends. It doesn’t hit them the way making them uncomfortable by it would. When I wrote those scenes for the book, I wanted it to be read my males and females, but I wrote those scenes with males in mind. I wanted them to feel how uncomfortable that is, and if they’re not uncomfortable, they’re not getting it.”

Despite the criticism, Asher said he would not change anything about the book or the show because of the lives they have saved.

“The book has been banned a lot. And there has been a lot of controversy about the TV show,” Asher said. “Every specific thing people point out in the show or in the book that they think is inappropriate or done wrong, I’ve had so many people contact me and say ‘That was the scene that made me feel respected.’ There’s this temptation as a caring person who gets hurt to say that I would take out the parts that people criticize. But then, what would I be doing? I would be taking away the parts that really meant something to some people.”

A Quitter’s Game

When I was four years old, I started taking piano lessons. I remember going to class every Tuesday and immediately placing my fingers on top of the piano ready to play. My technique was terrible–my fingers were flat and I blatantly ignored fingering requirements –but I didn’t care. I just loved making music and playing the piano. But, a few years later, something changed. My upright piano slowly collected more dust, and the music throughout the house was music I was dancing to and not creating. I stopped practicing and started blaming homework so often that one day when I went to my lesson, my teacher asked, “Were you able to get any practicing in, or were you swamped again?” It was clear that my heart was not in it, and my passion was gone. So, I quit.
The decision to quit was not an easy one. I knew that I was miserable, and I wanted so badly to not practice again, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I guess that part of the reason was the fact that I did not want to feel like the past ten years of lessons had gone to waste, but the majority of the reason had to do with my perception of quitting and letting something go.
I have grown up with the idea that quitting was wrong, bad, and never the answer. If you decide to let something go in our society, you are automatically labeled as a quitter. While this is a technically accurate label, it comes with such skewed connotations such as ones that imply weakness, failure, or laziness. In our society, when you quit something, people assume that you didn’t try hard enough. They assume that you gave up and took the easy way out. But this time, letting piano go was tremendously harder than staying and pretending to love it would have been.
This is nothing against piano. I’m so grateful that I have formal training because I still like to play it from time to time. It wasn’t one of those situations where I knew that everything positive I was expressing about piano was a show. I still liked it–just not enough to continue formally committing to it. And that right there was one of those most difficult things to recognize.
It would have been so easy to sit back and go through the motions of practicing and showing up to lessons to convince myself that this wasnt over. It would have been so easy to try to balance an increasing homework load with dance and piano and pretend that I could handle it. But it was incredibly difficult to recognize the fact that something you have invested time and practice into for 10 years is not something you want to do anymore. It was painful to tell my teacher that this would be my last piano class.
We as a society need to amend our definition of quitting. In my case, quitting did not make me weak or incapable, it made me more honest with myself and involved in activities I truly loved doing. Letting something go is not always the easiest option because it forces you to recognize that you are different than the image you had in your head. Quitting can be a symbol of growth and maturity and not always of incompetence. Rather than desperately clinging to the past, it is more effective sometimes to just let it go.

Disney nailed it with Moana

Moana is Disney’s most recent hit. The story is about a girl who turns her head to all opposition to run to what she felt was calling her in order to save her homeland.  She later realizes that the call she was feeling was coming from within herself.

I think that everyone should watch this movie. It was inspiring to me, even as a high schooler. Maybe this is the English nerd in me talking but the symbolism in the movie was so perfectly planned to resonate with older people, and the story was expressive enough for the message to resonate with children, even if they just understood the literal meaning. The message itself was a powerful one: When you listen to your heart, you can open yourself to your unknown potential.

As teenagers I think we get so wrapped up in things like school, extra-curriculars, relationships, friendships and college, that we forget what it’s like to chase something we’re passionate about. We smirk when we think about going with your gut or listening to your heart because doing something just to try it and see where it takes us just seems too pointless. But I think that if we took some time to think about this story, we could be surprised at how much we can learn:

The movie was about a girl who wanted to  venture far out into the ocean for no reason, other than the fact that she felt like it was calling her to save her island. She was perfectly fine where she was but she wasn’t satisfied until she went as far out as she wanted to go. Once that happened, she faced obstacles and opposition from her family but ended up doing something great by fighting the obstacles and opposition. Nothing told her to go out to sea except her heart. And when she listened to it, she was able to save a whole island. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t think with your head, but remember to listen to your heart as well. What you accomplish might surprise you.