You and your bad SAT scores are not alone

Why do your SAT scores matter? A common question during senior fall, and yet one that is not easily answered. Though many are going into the college admissions process thinking that their SAT scores will somehow matter less now than in years past, this is unfortunately not the case. Because more and more kids are applying to more and more colleges, more and more admissions offices will frequently use your SAT scores to determine your admissions decision. Alas, it is easy to choose between two seemingly identical candidates when one has a higher SAT score. And because there have been few additions made to the admissions staff at colleges, SATs are now used as tools to make quick and easy cuts to the application pool. Colleges of course, will not admit to this because they love choosing from a large application pool; it makes them look more selective and raises their ranking. One could even argue that test optional schools are only test optional because only students with stellar scores will report them, which in turn raises that college’s rank even higher.

I personally have only experienced utter failure on the SAT. I took it for the first time last May after having studied for months taking practice tests and using the famed Khan Academy. I was sure of my success. After receiving my scores back, hiding in dismay in my room for three hours and questioning whether or not my entire education had been a lie, I decided to be proactive. My mom, dad and I decided to split the cost of hiring two tutors (one for math and one for English) over the summer in between my work hours. I would meet five times for an hour and a half with each tutor and then take two practice tests. Surely, I thought, this would get me the score I deserved.

Of course, life isn’t that simple and after all that work my math score went up 20 points and my English score went down 20 points. My score had stayed the exact same.

Instead of being upset, I have taken some advice from a friend and detached all my emotions. I have decided to stop looking at applying to college as this wonderful adventure that will surely lead me to wonderland. I am going to look at it the way it is: as a business. If my SAT score is what prevails over all my extracurriculars and academics, so be it. If a college wants me, they want me, and if they don’t, they don’t. I realize now that I had done all I could do. It was now up to them to decide, I wasn’t going to waste time agonizing over it, and neither should you. You are more than a number.

Community shows “Screenagers”

Recently, the community has come together to address a prominent problem in our society: technology with regards to our youth. As iPhones, iPads, iMacs and video games grow in their popularity, their usage becoming more and more prevalent, middle schoolers and teenagers are increasingly drawn into their devices and away from their education, friends and family. In order to raise awareness about this problem, the Friends of Nantucket Public Schools (FONPS) collaborated with local organizations like The Chicken Box and the Ozone Surf Competition to fund a showing of the documentary Screenagers by physician and film maker Delaney Ruston.

The movie takes on a personal perspective (Ruston’s own family life is shown in the movie) of the negative impacts technology can have on the minds of adolescents and on families as a whole. The film follows instances of gaming addiction, cyber bullying and the use of technology in schools to raise concern about the massive control technology has on young, premature minds. The film also offers insight as to how adults can “empower kids to navigate the digital world,” as Ruton puts it on her website. The film featured a number of experts on adolescent health as well, including Sherry Turkle, professor of social psychology at MIT; Simon Sinek, a prominent TED talk leader and author; Peggy Orenstein, an expert on female adolescent health and author of numerous articles featured in The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine and Vogue; and many more.

“Screenagers provoked a great conversation after the film amongst parents about living in the digital age. What we grew up with and how things are now in terms of technology and information is drastically different, not necessarily in a bad way,” said FONPS President Hadley Dutra. “What I got out of it personally was that kids want and need limits when it comes to using cell phones and video games and the like.”

The film had three showings on Nantucket. The first was to students in the middle school, then a community screening with a discussion afterwards in the Mary P. Walker Auditorium and lastly a screening during advisory at the high school.

Senior Maggie Visco commented on the screening, saying, “I saw a lot of similarity to myself in the movie. Kids are so addicted to their phones that they forget to be present and actually talk with their friends. It was interesting.”

Other students and teachers agreed.

“It’s very relevant,” said sophomore Jacqui Jordan. “I think kids are getting more and more distracted by their phones these days. Doing homework has become a challenge because my phone keeps going off.”

The community also responded positively, and the Dreamland was almost completely full with parents and community members interested in learning more about the topic. The overall impact of the film was positive, and people took away a lot from learning that they are not alone in their struggle to find balance with the use of technology.

“The film made people think,” said Dutra. “I am checking myself in terms of how often I look at my cell phone, especially when my kids are around.”

Vaping Trend hits high school

As we enter into a new school year, one cannot help but notice a new trend that has appeared among young adults that has forced Nantucket High School to modify it’s rules and guidelines. This new trend is “juuling.”

A Juul is a small, black vaping device that emits a nicotine-infused vapor that comes from a pod inserted into the front. What makes Juuls different from other vapes is that they are inexpensive, small, light, and look like a USB flash drive (meaning they are easily overlooked by parents/teachers). Measuring only a few inches in length, they are easily hidden because they fit into the pockets of the user and the exhaled smoke is almost invisible, meaning you can use it basically anywhere. The Juul pods come in varying flavors, including mango, mint, fruit medley, creme brulee and tobacco. It’s use of nicotine salts rather than free base nicotine also distinguishes it as different among other brands. Though Juul will say they cater only to adults over 21, they have become increasingly popular amongst young adults because they are not hard to buy. All you need is a signature when the device is delivered, so many ask older siblings or friends to sign for them. Juul pods are also bought and sold between teens for those who can’t buy them on their own.

What makes a Juul bad for you is that a single pod (which measures about half an inch in length) carries the nicotine equivalent to an entire pack of cigarettes, or 200 puffs. More specifically the 0.7 mL pod is five percent nicotine, and a user might go through two pods in one night. A Juul also has a long battery life, and can be recharged in just one hour. Aside from its nicotine content and battery life, the device is simply easy and comfortable to hold, making it easy to continue to use it throughout a night without really noticing you are. The overall effect of a Juul is different depending on the person. Some will say it makes them feel light headed and others will say it makes them dizzy and relaxed, all symptoms similar to smoking a cigarette minus the smoke smell and taste (juulvapor.com).

Because of its smallness and invisible smoke, Juuls have become a problem in schools. Students find no problem in bringing them into the building in their pockets and juuling in the bathroom without setting off alarms. The smell of the vapor can easily be mistaken for a scented hand sanitizer or perfume. However, after some students were caught in the bathrooms during the beginning of the year, the school was prompted to emphasize its concern. Signs were placed on the doors of the bathrooms saying “no vaping” and Athletic Director Chris Maury went around to sports teams to emphasize the dangers of smoking and the use of vaping devices such as Juuls. Many students felt that because the student handbook does not directly ban the use of vapes, they should be allowed on school property. Maury and NHS Principal Dr. John Buckey maintained that vapes fall under the category of nicotine, and are therefore not allowed on school grounds.

The school handbook itself, under its Substance Abuse policy section, restricts the usage of “tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs,” and maintains the right to prohibit students in violation of their policy from participating in athletics or extracurriculars. By the student handbook, after the first violation students will face “loss of 4 weeks of club activities + up to 5 day school suspension + up to 5 week social probation,” which includes Senior Ball/Junior Prom, dances, graduation, and social assemblies. By the third violation, the consequences increase to loss of further club activities for the remainder of the school year, up to a 15 day suspension and up to a 20 week social probation.

“I am deeply concerned and disappointed at the breadth of this problem,” said Buckey. “I would like to see more self-regulation happening in terms of students expressing their opinions about the dangers of vaping, and I am saddened at the fact that we have to monitor it as much as we do… at a recent assembly, the lights had to be turned on because a student was vaping.”

It seems that technology has reached the world of cigarettes and nicotine, and the results are small vaping devices like the Juul that cater to teenagers. It is clear the existing rules should be amended in order to prepare for this transition.

 

This most recent year, the results for the exams were varied, and there were both minor and drastic changes to the average scores on the exams. A large portion of what accounts for the perhaps underpreparedness felt by students during the exam is the extensive course material.  Many other schools take advantage of their early starting dates to get an early start on the immense amount of curriculum to be covered in early or mid August. However, Nantucket High Schools’ relatively late start in September serves as a setback, as other schools can be a month ahead in terms of AP curriculum. Even with a late or early start in the school year, AP level-material is difficult to fully cover.  

“You can never get through it all.  You never do,”  AP Spanish teacher Kate Hickson said.  “You just have to cherry pick and hit the high spots. In AP Spanish, there are six global themes, but they overlap each other. You don’t finish one theme and start the next, each topic has to do with another. You have to hit the high spots and cover what you can,” she reiterated.  

This is a problem faced by both teachers and students, having such a condensed period of time to cover immense curriculum. On another note, students coming into AP classes may feel nervous or anxious, not knowing what to expect from a college-level course.

“I think, in the past few years,” AP English Language and Composition teacher Stacey Edzwald said, “We as a school have made a push to encourage people to try an AP, possibly when they didn’t necessarily think of that, so I think more people are taking APs that had not taken honors or had not been as prepared, so I think that does contribute to the scores.  However, I think those people are better prepared for college, and I think they did as well as they could in previous years.”  

Students often have trouble transitioning from an honors or CP level course into one of these challenging courses, and will certainly find the AP exam much different from what they have experienced in the past.  In particular, sophomores or juniors trying AP classes for the first time can have a tough transition, with a substantial change in workload, pace, and the style of the class.  

“The tests, for me, are hard because it is more application based,” said first-time AP Biology student Nischal Khatri. “Honors Biology was a lot of memorization and switching to application-based questions is difficult, but I feel that overtime, by quarter two or three, you will adapt to it.”  

Of course, the process of getting used to the difficulty of an AP course proves to be tough for students, but will eventually benefit them, as they will be more prepared for classes in institutions of higher education.  “There is no one simple answer as to what will impact an average score on an AP exam, because we are a small and diverse population,”  said AP Calculus teacher Dr. Jedediyah Williams, “and no large-scale generalization can be made.”  

For example,  the average for the AP Calculus exam underwent a major change, going from 1.88 (2016) to 3.00 (2017), but no one factor defines this change.  Each class has different students who all have different backgrounds, so they are not suitable for comparison.  Every AP class’ students are dedicated workers who are uniquely brilliant, and predicting how each class will perform on the exam is virtually impossible.  This philosophy can be applied to any change in scores:  AP History’s average score went from a 3.75 (2016) to a 2.64 (2017), decreasing by a margin of 1.11, while contrastly, AP Environmental Sciences’s  average score increased from 2.64 (2016) to 4.65 (2017).  It is a slippery slope to judge the student body on scores for specific tests, then.  

Similar to the SAT, a student’s performance on a 3-4 hour test does not exhibit how well they received the curriculum.   It comes down to how comfortable students are with the test format, and what happens on the test day, not necessarily how much information they absorbed over the course of the year.  The AP exams are designed to assess knowledge gained from the course, but they measure much more than that.  

“It’s a dangerous pressure to apply stats before students.” Dr. Williams said. “How a student’s performance will affect the average score should not be a factor in a teacher recommending whether or not a student should take an AP course.  If you offer criticism on a single number every year, you’re encouraging that their potential impact on the average score on the exam should be a factor in their enrollment in the course.”  

Students should focus on the test because it will ultimately help them with future tests with similar style, but should not exclusively stress that this exam will indicate mastery of the course and will define part of themselves as students.  

 This year, like any other, there are an abundance of new students enrolled in AP courses, and NHS hopes to see quality scores that demonstrate the AP students’ dedication to the curriculum, but to encourage eagerness to succeed in these types of courses regardless of a final number as well.

Let the Las Vegas shooting be the last one

Walking into school on Monday, October 2nd I wasn’t aware that the night before more than 58 people had been shot and killed in cold blood. In fact, I didn’t learn and process this until third block when I happened to glance over at my neighbor’s computer screen and see him reading a New York Times article about it. I then watched in horror as various videos played through, videos of people running and screaming or crouched on the ground praying as gunshots rang out around them. It wasn’t until another student in the class said, “wow, another mass shooting” as casually as they would if they were commenting on the nice weather outside, did I start to feel sick. Sick because the term “mass shooting” had suddenly been made arbitrary. It had suddenly lost its significance, its power, its horror, and all 58 people who were killed were suddenly and permanently added to America’s long list of shooting victims and hence forgotten. I felt sick because I realized that we had, as a nation, become numb to our own gun violence.

Though we continue to empathize with those injured and with the families of victims, there is no doubt that people have stopped becoming surprised at the occurrence of a mass shooting. According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2017 alone there have been 273 mass shootings thus far. That’s nearly one a day. And down from the 383 in 2016 and the 333 in 2015 (gunviolencearchive.org). Because of this frequency, we have desensitized ourselves to it. We are no longer alarmed because mass shootings have heartbreakingly become commonplace in our society.

How many times will this have to happen before we realize the value of human life?

If the shooting on October 2nd had not been the worst in American history, I doubt we would have heard much about it. It would have been a headline for a day or two and then we would move on to the next in this vicious cycle. We would soon forget.

I implore everyone to instill change in this society, and not forget.

Let us not become numb to the fact that people are shot everyday by other American citizens with the use of firearms hardly regulated by our government. Let us not ignore the numbers.  Let us not blame minority groups. Let us not pass it off as “just another shooting.” Let us not joke about shootings or speak casually of them in conversation. Let us fight for the right to be safe and protected.

I implore everyone, let this be the last one.