A day for remembrance, instead filled with fear

On this day, I should be remembering the brave survivors of the tragic events that took place in Parkland, Fla., at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; instead, I will spend today worrying for my friends and teachers who decided to attend school despite the social media accounts of a second terrorist threat directed at the school.

Social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram have provided a platform for students to share new information quickly, exponentially even.”

On Wednesday morning (Feb. 13, the day before the anniversary of the Parkland shooting), multiple written and verbal terroristic threats were directed at McCallum High School. The student who allegedly sent the threats was found and arrested. News of the threats and the identify of the student who made them was posted online by multiple local news outlets. Just when it seemed like the incident had run its course, students began receiving and sharing news of additional threats that were allegedly been made by a friend of the student who was arrested. Social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram have provided a platform for students to share new information quickly, exponentially even. Unfortunately, because anyone can say just about anything on social media, I have trouble believing these posts. The fear radiating from these students posting these warnings, however, is reason enough for me to not attend school today, the one-year anniversary of the heartbreaking Parkland shooting that resulted in the death of 17 individuals, many of them high school students just like myself, looking forward to a future of college, careers and family.

Issued by principal Mike Garrison to all McCallum parents and faculty

On Wednesday night, principal Mike Garrison issued a letter about the threats, which struck me as underwhelming. The message was emailed to all McCallum parents and faculty, guaranteeing safety at McCallum for the following day.

“At this time, there is no danger to our campus, staff, or students.” Garrison wrote. “Out of an abundance of caution, however, we will have additional AISD police officers on campus tomorrow morning.”

I wish that the letter explained better how the authorities and the administration determined that the threats were not credible. After personally speaking with an Austin Police Department officer that evening, I was thoroughly confused about the credibility of the threats. Garrison’s letter gave the impression that the threats weren’t at all credible, and that they were only providing extra AISD police officers at McCallum on Feb. 14 out of an “abundance of caution.” However, when I spoke with the APD officer he said that police officers were still following all potential leads that they had for the case.

Today, I did not attend school and encouraged others to not as well. I define an educational environment as a safe place where I can comfortably learn.  My school has promised extra police security on campus there to protect me and my peers from multiple active shooter threats. While extra police enforcement may logically make me safer, emotionally, that still a very stressful environment to be in, especially with the student community feeling very left-in-the-dark about the status of the case. I would have felt a lot safe if I knew more about why the district had concluded that the threats weren’t enough to cancel school.

How are we to ever to know for sure if a student is making a dishonest threat online as a hoax or making a genuine threat to our safety? I honestly don’t know the answer.”

I understand that AISD does not want to put fear in students by publicly saying anything alarming about the threats which could make the students avoid coming to school out of fear. I understand that AISD cannot afford to cancel school every time a threat like this is made on social media, but I wonder, if it would have been worth the cost of one school’s attendance for one day worth the risk of any student or teacher’s life, regardless of the credibility?

I decided that for me it was not. I decided to receive an unexcused absence because I refuse to attend a school day where I fear my own life because I can’t learn under those circumstances, making the risk to high to pay.

This event has ramifications, however, beyond today. Today makes me wonder how we should determine whether or not to take a threat seriously enough to stay home from school in the future. How are we to ever to know for sure if a student is making a dishonest threat online as a hoax or making a genuine threat to our safety? I honestly don’t know the answer.

On this anniversary I think back to the 14 students and three teachers who died at the hands of an armed student. I think back to the brave students who banded together, unafraid to confront those in power who seemed determined to keep them silent victims. I particularly think back to the demonstrations we, the students of McCallum, held in solidarity and protest, marching to the state Capitol to demand that an event like that never happen again. And yet, it has. Shortly after Parkland, there was Santa Fe High School, hours away from us. And today, one year later, it seems like nothing has changed.

Education is such an important factor when dealing with empty online threats. Students must be educated about how even a threat with no backing can be so harmful to their communities. If we are faced with empty threats every day, then how are we to ever identify devastating events before they happen. We have not made it any harder for those same teenagers to gain access to devastating weaponry.

“Never again,” was the rallying cry of the movement. But the fact that we all are now contemplating how our reality would change in the event of a school shooting, it’s an all-too-depressing reminder that yes, it absolutely could happen again.

Campus life incomplete without #StudentPressFreedom

As student journalists who are committed to reporting important truths that matter to our readers, it is of utmost importance that our school and district administration allow us to publish stories without prior review or censorship. This is why today as student publications all across the nation are participating in #StudentPressFreedomDay, we assert the essential importance of our freedom of speech and express how grateful we are to be at a school and in a district where we are able to report and write about what is going on around our school freely and without fear of our voices being silenced.

There have been recent events elsewhere in Texas where that has not been the case. In 2015, Prosper High School principal John Burdett put into place a policy that student journalists there could not publish any story that put the school in a bad light or that was deemed controversial unless he approved it first. This edict caused an uproar in the journalism community, as the policy violated the basic foundation upon which journalism is practiced at any level. When the year started and the policy was still in place, it went so far as to the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy group to step in and send a letter to the Prosper Independent School District threatening to take action if the policy wasn’t overturned. Fortunately, the policy was eventually rescinded, but not until the program had to change advisers, losing a distinguished adviser who had taught for decades with distinction, and the school administration faced a degree and scope of criticism that was much more intense than anything the original policy sought to prevent. 

In short, the whole ordeal was a hard road to travel, and one that highlights what can happen when people try to silence the voice of the media.

Student journalism is vitally important to the functioning of a school because it informs everyone what is going on and when necessary calls into question what could be better. Well-informed populations are the backbone of what makes a good school good; the argument that American needs journalists has been made well and often in our recently troubled media times. What is essential for America as a whole is also essential for American schools. Students reporting issues freely and accurately is not only important but essential.

Is Blend a help or a hassle?

Walking back to your computer, expecting to see your essay neatly typed greeting you, you are instead met with the pure defeat of a blank slate. It’s a slap that has probably stung you at least once before, thanks to Blend.

I interviewed several students about their usage, opinions and gripes about Blend. The results were mixed.”

Whether it be finishing homework, submitting an assignment, voting for this year’s homecoming queen and king or, most recently, demonstrating that we paid attention to the schoolwide lesson vaping, we’ve all used Blend and have gotten accustomed to all its faults and advantages. Austin Independent School District began using Blend during 2017. Previously, AISD had been using Google Classroom for all its online needs.

At first, there was definitely some confusion as to what exactly Blend would do and how it would improve education. When the plans to switch to Blend were announced, AISD promised parents, and students that Blend would improve the teachers’ ability to understand students, enable the growth of the student by improving on their strengths and weaknesses, and provide opportunities for students to learn about digital citizenship.

Now that a year and a half has run its course, many students have had the chance to form their opinions on this online tool. Is Blend helpful or a hassle?

“I am not a huge fan of Blend. It seems to be complex and often times hard to navigate from a student’s perspective as it isn’t very user friendly.”

— Carter Rothenflue

In order to find out, I interviewed several students about their usage, opinions and gripes about Blend. The results were mixed: some students thought it was an OK resource that improved the online component of school. One student who espoused this view was Trew Hoffman.

“It’s better than Google Classroom,” Trew Hoffman said. “I don’t mind it.”

Others, however, felt alienated by what they thought was a clunky, and non-intuitive interface.

“I am not a huge fan of Blend,” Carter Rothenflue said. “It seems to be complex and often times hard to navigate from a student’s perspective as it isn’t very user friendly.”

More students that I talked to agreed that the online tool helped them greatly in and out of school.

One student said, “It’s made homework a whole lot easier.” Another said, “I would definitely say that Blend has had a positive effect on my education.”

Seeing as students had a very strong opinion on Blend, I decided to see if they had any suggestions to improve the online tool.

The most common response? The user interface is too complicated.

It’s made homework a whole lot easier.”

— a commonly expressed student opinion

“I would make it more user friendly,” Reid Grotevant said, “by removing some of the options like modules, which seem redundant along with assignments.”

Rothenflue agreed saying, “fewer tabs, (modules, pages, etc.) and only have the links that we need.”

Overall, the opinions of students mean a lot when it comes to introducing new online programs. If the students don’t enjoy using it, it won’t work as intended. When it comes to Blend, there are a few issues, those mainly being the over-complication of navigating.

But at the same time, it makes doing assignments and projects online a breeze. After searching for an answer to the central question, does it improve the lives of students and teachers alike?

In the case of Blend, it seems like the answer is definitely yes.

A new health crisis

As class begins, no one’s really concerned about the 14-year-olds trying out their new mango pods in the science hall bathroom, but everyone knows about it. Whether you’ve walked into the familiar fruity scent, or seen the pack of freshman stumble out of the bathroom coughing, it’s no secret Juuling has found its way into our school.

It’s no secret Juuling has found its way into our school.”

Vapes get used everywhere from bathrooms, to classrooms and even on buses. The reason why people choose to use them in these settings is because the vapes are so small that adults often don’t notice them. Vapes may not be visible to everyone, but everyone can certainly smell them. Even though vape fluid evaporates quite quickly the scent doesn’t usually go with it, unfortunately, both for everyone else in the room (or in some cases bus) and for the kids who gets caught by its characteristic smell.

In addition, some schools, including Austin ISD schools, are beginning to crack down on vaping on campus.

“The district leaves it up to the campus to adopt a policy as far as how to enforce it,” McCallum High School assistant principal Andrew Baxa said. “The district basically says you’re not allowed to do it.”

Along with the growing problem of vaping in schools, the punishments for doing it are growing as well.

We want to drive home a message that [vaping is] not acceptable on our campus at any time. It got to be a huge problem last year, and that’s why we upped the penalty this year from ISS to a three-day home suspension.”

— assistant principal Andrew Baxa

“We want to drive home a message that it’s not acceptable on our campus at any time,” Baxa said.  “It got to be a huge problem last year and that’s why we upped the penalty this year from ISS to a three-day home suspension.”

The San Francisco based company, Juul, was started by two Stanford alumni seeking smoking alternatives for adults. Originally created to wean adults from their smoking habits, it’s had the reverse effect on teens. With 59 mg/mL of nicotine in each pod, the brand has over 70 percent of the e-cigarette market.

Most recently, the FDA has released a statement banning JUUL’s flavored pods as it appeals to teens, pushing them further towards addiction. The flavors stores have in stock now are all that’s left. The company is sticking to its mission of helping adult smokers, however, and is keeping mint, tobacco and menthol flavors in retail stores.

We’ve all read about JUUL and the negative health effects it can have on its user in the articles written by the adults who didn’t have vaping around in their teen years. We’ve all heard about it from parents’ perspective.

When asked about the FDA’s decision to restrict JUUL, a McCallum student who requested anonymity said, “It’s not like it did much,” a McCallum student said. “They kept the better flavors and there’s always a way to get the others.”

The company is also stopping all social media promotions to slow the epidemic of teen vaping. With an Instagram account of more than 76,000 followers, the company made a final post stating, “#JUUL Instagram account will no longer be active as of November 13, 2018.”

One time I gave myself nicotine poisoning, and I just felt terrible all day. … I had to take a break.”

— anonymous Mac freshman

While still on the mission to cure adult smokers, the website is still up and students are still using it as a resource.

Though teens may not see it, peer pressure plays a bigger part than they realize. Vaping is everywhere, no matter the event. Whether it be a high school party or the bathrooms at school.
“Just being around people who do it gets the thought in your head to at least consider it,” one McCallum parent said.

Though some students are immediately hooked, many begin as skeptics to the fad but become open to it through increased exposure. Watching others students use their JUULs and not seeing an immediate effect makes it easier for students to partake without looking at the cost.

“Well, I honestly thought it was stupid. … I thought I’d never get into it myself but then I thought, what’s the harm?” a McCallum student said. Though vapes are 95 percent safer than cigarettes, it turns 30.7 percent of e-cig users into smokers.

Some students have said they vape for stress relief or they just do it recreationally. Though these students claim not to be hooked on nicotine, on average those interviewed will go through four pods a week. A McCallum student even admitted, ”One time I gave myself nicotine poisoning, and I just felt terrible all day. … I had to take a break.”

[This] account will no longer be active as of November 13, 2018.”

— final post of JUUL Instagram account

Juuls are regularly sold in smoke shops and gas stations everywhere. While the legal age of use is eighteen, students are said to get by with fake IDs,having their older friends buy for them, or even just hope that they don’t get carded. Students will go as far as ordering vape products from online stores as some sites don’t ID their buyers, then signing off on packages as their parents.

Older students have even taken it upon themselves to sell to underclassmen.

“I got my first Juul from my 18-year-old senior friend, but I’ve definitely heard of people upcharging underaged kids,” said one student who requested anonymity.

Beginning with the initial charge of $40, the cost piles up. Some students vape up to a pack of four pods a day, averaging to a cost of $75 a week. While not everyone vaping does it this frequently,  there’s no way around the dent the habit leave in your pocket.

Many schools have tried to help students with an intervention like nicotine patches and gums and coping techniques for when they feel like they need to vape. These can help, but teens should be monitored because depression and other mental health disorders can develop when adolescents use nicotine.

In essence, there’s a literal and personal cost to the lifestyle. Usually started as a joke, vaping is a legitimate concern that a large group of students have played some part in. Though it is a fairly recent fad, vaping’s effects will be felt for many years to come.

Diamante Diaz
The prevalence of vaping on campus has raised concerns that students are forming a habit without full awareness of the health risks and criminal liability that are incurring by vaping.


Better safe than scorched

The state of Texas recommends that a school hold fire drills in many different periods.”

If you missed it, the MAC caught on fire recently. Only the curtain ignited and ultimately, no one was injured. But this event did bring increased attention to fire safety procedures at McCallum. Though McCallum follows the laws for preparing for disasters of all kinds, that doesn’t mean the procedures have students ready to face an actual disaster. Not only do we not have enough tornado, hurricane and lockdown drills, but the drills we do have almost exclusively been held during first period. This year, we have had only one drill outside of first period (and it was during fifth period at essential the same time of day). This is dangerous and unsafe because it only prepares students for one class period and one part of the building, which could lead to chaos if we needed to evacuate during any other class. The monotony also leads to both students and teachers not taking these drills seriously.

It’s not just a McCallum problem. Texas doesn’t have strict requirements for safety drills. The state only requires five drills: evacuation, lockout, lockdown, shelter and hold. Texas only specifies having fire drills once every month (with at least 10 days of school) and the other drills once per semester. Though Texas is rather lax with its safety procedures, it does have some guidelines for drills. One of these guidelines recommends that a school hold fire drills in many different periods.

Courtesy of AFD
The MAC theater after the curtain caught fire reignited a second time on Tuesday, Oct. 23 and the fire department was called. Photo Courtesy of the Austin Fire Department.

McCallum only holds drills (fire, tornado and lockdown, etc.) in first and occasionally fifth period. Though this is logical because those periods are 20 minutes longer due to student sharing, it has the unintended consequence of preparing students to evacuate from only two out of eight classrooms. We should occasionally hold drills at other times, which would help students familiarize themselves with different exit routes for evacuation and different areas of the school.

Do the math: there is only a 12 percent chance (one eighth not considering lunch) that McCallum will catch fire in first period. In theory, yes; we are high schoolers, and we could probably figure out how to walk out of a building. But if the school actually did catch fire, we would not be calm or relaxed. The failure to practice different exit routes jeopardizes our safety. An actual evacuation of the school from an unpracticed route would not go smoothly. No one would know which exit to go through, as McCallum has many, many doors. Everyone would be running around, which could lead to dangerous outcomes.

These drills have become so predictable and routine that nobody takes them seriously anymore.”

Another product of having fire drills exclusively during StIR time (almost always first) is that students and teachers don’t take the drills seriously. These drills have become so predictable and routine that nobody takes them seriously anymore. Though this feeling of calm is good during a fire drill and helps to get rid of nerves around danger, we are not actually being sufficiently prepared for a disaster. In a real fire, no one is going to be calm. These evacuations don’t even feel like a drill anymore, just something required and routine. Yes, routine is good, but again, the routine is only for first period. We need to take these drills seriously, as our lives potentially depend on them. If we changed when the fire drills happen instead of keeping them predictable, we could get used to being less complacent about emergency preparedness than we are now.

The Texas Fire Marshal requires students to know how to get out of a building in the event of a disaster. Though all of us could probably figure out how to get out of the school, it wouldn’t be pretty. I cannot confidently say which exits I would take to get out of the math building, for example. So, technically, we are not in accordance with the Fire Marshal.

All in all, we would probably be fine in a disaster. Keyword being probably. There is a potential threat, one that should be addressed. We are supposed to be safe in school, and if disaster struck, we would not be sufficiently prepared. McCallum’s safety procedures need to be improved if it truly wants to be a safe campus.

Need a New Year’s resolution? Put your phone down.

It’s the first thing you do in the morning – reach for your phone. Cell phones have become a vital part of our daily routine, and it’s easy to see how a simple invention has changed our lives. Students at McCallum are starting to see problematic overuse, in themselves and in their friends.

Cell phone addiction can be defined as obsessive or compulsive use, comparable to substance abuse. Some common symptoms of smartphone addiction include losing track of time while on your cell phone, using your cellphone to hide from other problems, and feeling anxious without it.

The problem is getting worse, too. According to data from Flurry Mobile, the average U.S. consumer spends 5 hours a day on their phones, 20% more than 2015.

Teenagers are at a high risk to developing cell phone addiction, and according to a Common Sense Media poll, 50% of teens admit to cell phone addiction.

I think the people who are always on their phone will probably regret it later, and what? You’re just gonna spend your day on Instagram instead of with your friends?”

— sophomore Scarlett Houser

“It’s a horrible cycle,” said sophomore Griffin Butler, “It’s not healthy.” Griffin described his a cycle of procrastination, where he uses his smartphone to cope, then feels guilty about wasting time and not being productive.

Another McCallum sophomore, Isobel Buffum-Robbins, shared her concern. “I was trying to study last night, and I couldn’t go five minutes without my phone. It’s really worrying, honestly.”

This sentiment seems to be popular, and most students feel guilty for wasting time and decreased productivity, but find it hard to control themselves.

“I think the people who are always on their phone will probably regret it later, and what? You’re just gonna spend your day on Instagram instead of with your friends?” said sophomore Scarlett Houser as she expressed her distaste for smartphone misuse.

5 Tips To Avoid Spending Too Much Time On Your Cell phone

Our smartphones give us instant gratification, and can get us stuck in troubling loops.

Apps like Instagram tend manipulate the user, and employ sneaky tactics like waiting to show “likes” until you rack up enough for a sufficient dopamine boost. Cell phones create an addictive response, so being without your usual fix can leave you feeling stressed, irritable, and panicked.

Take the time to evaluate your smartphone use. Examine your behavior and look for compulsiveness or dependency. Buffum-Robbins and Houser advise to be self-aware, and to simply power your cell phone off. Other helpful tips include creating a “schedule” and removing notifications. While your smartphone may seem irresistible, be wary of the consequences.

The UNDIGITIZE.ME was founded with three aims: (1) Raising awareness about the shortcomings of excessive smartphone use. (2) Encouraging app developers to design apps that are less addictive. (3) Developing ways to cure smartphone addiction. The Phone Face Down project is a part of that initiative. Graphic from Undigitize.Me website.






We have all been Hood-winked

As most of us know all too well by now, the Austin Independent School District faces a budget crisis that prompted a district task force to discuss eliminating or retrenching expensive special programs such as our beloved Fine Arts Academy. While the Academy has been declared safe from cuts, there is still fear of other proposed cost-saving measures: teachers losing one of their planning periods, increasing class sizes, redrawing district boundaries or even consolidating or closing campuses altogether.

AISD estimates that in 2019 it will ante up $669.6 million to the state to be distributed to other districts. By 2020, there is an anticipated increase of another $115 million due to a reassessment of taxable property.”

Instead of blaming AISD money management or public school funding in general, we must focus on the real reason for this budget deficit.

Usually high property values are a good thing for school districts because most school funding comes from property taxes. The reverse, however, is true in Texas. In an attempt to balance out school funding between richer and poorer school districts, the state legislature created the “recapture” program, commonly called the “Robin Hood Plan.” In theory, the system fairly distributes wealth more evenly across the state. In practice, however, the system has over-corrected the issue, siphoning off a disproportionate amount of money from so-called “wealthy” districts to less property-wealthy school districts.

The Robin Hood plan was never intended to be taken this far.

On May 23, 1984, Edgewood ISD, just outside of San Antonio, reported that their district was struggling while their neighbor, San Antonio ISD, enjoyed vastly more funding. The issue went to court in a case called “Edgewood v Kirby,” where the court decided that the property tax method of funding schools was unconstitutional. It gave more money to rich, urban regions throughout the state, neglecting poorer rural schools. Created in 1991, the Robin Hood plan sought to ensure equal-opportunity school districts statewide by collecting money from property-rich regions and distributing it evenly across the state. The goal was to have a relatively even amount of money spent per student in each district.

The Robin Hood plan’s impact had been evident in our longstanding facilities issues: leaky windows, broken air-conditioning systems, and pest infestations.”

The results, however, have been anything but equal. According to data collected by NPR, the western half of the state, the one with fewer property-rich cities such as Austin, has a greater budget per capita, and the disparity is rising every year. In many cases, rural west Texas districts receive more than 33 percent of the national average. In Austin and other large cities, such as Dallas, Houston, and even Amarillo, however, the percentage is significantly lower than the national average.
It can be argued that because these urban cities have such high populations, the cost of operating a school is lower per student than it would be in districts with a smaller student body. In large districts such as AISD, however, there are many schools to account for, each of them needing teachers, custodians, officers, counselors, and all of the expenses that go along with keeping a school running. In AISD alone, the same percentage of money made from property taxes is sent to the state in recapture funds as is used for teacher’s salaries (46 percent). The rest of the money (8 percent) is spent on professional services, supplies, and other operational costs.

AISD estimates that in 2019 it will ante up $669.6 million to the state to be distributed to other districts. By 2020, there is an anticipated increase of another $115 million due to a reassessment of taxable property. In total, even since the beginning of the Robin Hood plan as we know it in 1994, Austin ISD has poured more than $3 billion into the program.

Abolishing the Robin Hood plan is likely out of the question, but it can and should be reeled in.”

This is not acceptable. That money could be used to fix up our old buildings, raise money for extracurricular activities or purchase new materials for teachers. There is no way that rural districts should have resources to spare while McCallum is having to make major cuts to our funding. Even though the Fine Arts Academy is no longer a possible budged casualty, major changes are still likely to happen affecting next year’s bell schedule, available classes and teacher schedules.

Even though the effects of the Robin Hood plan have not been widely understood until the Fine Arts Academy closure scare, the plan’s impact had been evident in our longstanding facilities issues: leaky windows, broken air-conditioning systems, and pest infestations. It’s time for the way Texas regulates our budget to change.
Abolishing the Robin Hood plan is likely out of the question, but it can and should be reeled in. If the state reduced how much AISD pays to other districts by 1 percent ($5.44 million) every year for the next couple of years, it could significantly reduce the disparity between rural and urban school funding. If we can find a balance between providing for property-wealthy districts and sending extra money to property-poor areas, the real intention of the Robin Hood Plan can be fulfilled.

Goodbye, eyesore. Hello, traffic.

The former First Texas Honda dealership was an iconic part of the McCallum landscape. Throughout my time at McCallum, the abandoned car dealership off of Koenig and Woodrow has been the stuff of legends.

I recall stories of vagrants hiding out in what used to be the lobby of the nicest Honda dealership in town and of kids exploring its abandoned halls. I’ve heard whispers that entire parties were thrown there.

But now, after many years of decaying in a vacant lot, its reign as a destination location for loiterers has ended. The old Honda dealership has been torn down, all to be replaced with “multi-level apartment complexes,” meaning there will be shops and restaurants on the bottom level of the complex and apartments on top. To certain students at McCallum, this is a tragedy, but not everyone is so down in the dumps about the proposed building, to be called The Pearl.

Some members of the faculty at McCallum think that the abandoned Honda dealership’s proximity to McCallum encouraged a certain … miscreant behavior. Principal Mike Garrison is one such person who believes that the new apartments will be a positive change.

“I think that the apartments will be a little bit more well monitored than the Honda dealership,” Garrison said, “so I don’t think there will be as many issues as there would be in a vacant building.”

Bella Russo
Construction at the site of the old Honda dealership. Photo by Bella Russo.

Garrison isn’t the only one who thinks the new apartments are a good thing. Junior Molly Gardner also has high hopes for the new apartments.

I think that the apartments will be a little bit more well monitored than the Honda dealership, so I don’t think there will be as many issues as there would be in a vacant building.”

— principal Mike Garrison

“I’m glad to see that spot finally being used for something,” Gardner said. “It’s been abandoned for so many years, and I’m excited to see the new shops and restaurants it brings.”

Although it may be a nice change, there will doubtlessly be some major adjustments to our daily life. One being the traffic after school on the roads around McCallum. Such a building will bring a lot of traffic around the McCallum area. If you have tried to drive down Grover at 4:30 p.m., you know traffic is bad enough already.

Now, there will be the traffic of people going in and out of the apartment complex in addition to the existing rush-hour traffic on Koenig and the swarm of people in their cars trying to leave McCallum. Junior Sara Milliken is one student with similar concerns.

“Traffic will definitely get a lot worse with everyone going in and out of the apartments and stores, which is really bad because the traffic on Grover at 4:30 is already insane,” Milliken said.

Milliken also expressed her concerns about how the new development will affect the culture and atmosphere of the neighborhood and the city as a whole.

More apartment buildings isn’t what we need. It’s already so hard to get around Austin, and this will only make it worse.”

— junior Sarah Milliken

“I think that this area is getting really crowded, really fast,” she said. “And in my opinion, more apartment buildings isn’t what we need. It’s already so hard to get around Austin, and this will only make it worse.”

Things will be strange for a bit; that is undeniable. Change is always strange. However, I don’t think it will be all bad. The truth is, the Honda dealership was an eyesore, and it has sat vacant for far too long. It wasn’t doing anyone any good the way that it was. It will be refreshing to see a new use of the space, even if it will result in the loss of what some see as a McCallum icon.

Although Milliken voiced some concerns about the future of the apartment complex, she does acknowledge that there will be some positive effects.

“I think it’ll be nice to have some new restaurants around McCallum,” she said. “It’ll be a nice change of scenery.”

There will doubtlessly be a period of adjustment, but I think in the long term, the new apartment complex will largely be a good thing. Traffic might increase, but there will also be a refreshing new use of space, and “The Pearl” will replace the unsightly heap that has been occupying the space for all these years. I believe that McCallum students will learn to love what the new apartment complex has to offer, even if it takes some time for them to warm up to it.

To read more about what’s coming to Koenig and Grover, please see, “From Honda store to Pearl next door,” in News.

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Everybody loves the holidays. After Thanksgiving is over, I love to hear Christmas music and begin to decorate here and there as Winter break inches closer. The annual Austin traditions of the Trail of Lights, Mozart’s Christmas Lights show and ice skating at Whole Foods are all events that I support and take part in alongside the rest of Austin. In recent years, however, a new tradition has formed that I will not participate in.

Fallen ornaments can be extremely disruptive to the environment and animals that inhabit the area.”

Gaining popularity in the past five years, decorating the trees on the sides of Highway 360 has become an event that hundreds take part in starting in November. Austinites take their family and friends to the highway with ribbons, ornaments and every decoration you can think of throwing on a tree in hand. As harmless as this activity may seem, there are many downsides to the holiday tradition.

The issues start before the decorating even begins. Drivers pull over onto the shoulders of busy 360 to unload their family, sometimes including small children, friends and decorations. The speed limit throughout the highway, aside from the bridge portion, is 60 mph. That speed gives drivers little to no reaction time if there was an incident where a person or object entered the road a mere 15 feet from their car. This puts decorators and drivers in danger.

Illustration by Zoe Hocker

Next up is the decorating itself. While putting up ornaments, tinsel and whatever else your heart desires may seem harmless, it isn’t entirely. Unless these items are securely fastened, they can be extremely disruptive to the environment and animals that inhabit the area. Going out to decorate in early November, leaves at least two months for wind and rain to bring down the cheerful candy canes and bows and allow them to end up in the nearby creeks, on the highway or in the habitats of animals in the area. This isn’t the last of the litter problems either. The pre-holiday period is only the beginning.

Valentine’s Day always leaves me scratching my head when I still see bows strewn across the fields and ornaments bouncing around the trees in the wind. ”

As Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s roll around, the decorations are a festive addition to an otherwise hilly green landscape. For me, this short amount of time is not worth the painful weeks that follow. Once February hit the calendar, I think it is fair to ask that decorations be taken down and cleaned up from the trees. That is not too much to ask. Valentine’s Day always leaves me scratching my head when I still see bows strewn across the fields and ornaments bouncing around the trees in the wind. The litter does nothing but increase over time. In some ways, I can’t even blame the people decorating. There is no driving force that is making them come back to clean up their trees. This is the issue.

I feel that there needs to be some sort of change. The city needs to recognize that this tradition has picked up speed and is now large enough to require some regulations. Whether that be banning the decorating or simply charging a small fee that decorators can pay to someone clean up after them. Either of these options and others would be better than the current situation. Lastly, coming from someone who drives often on 360, please be respectful of the area if you decide to decorate this season. As the Girl Scouts always say, leave a place better than you found it.

Seniors suffer a double burden

For seniors, the ever-nearing deadline to apply to college is fast-approaching. The University of Texas, one of the most popular schools to which McCallum students apply, has a close regular decision deadline at Dec. 1, and other universities follow close behind that with deadlines later in December, January and February. These deadlines would be easier to meet if there was not also the ever-increasing amount of homework given to students by teachers. The amount of homework senior year seems to be a shock for most seniors, myself included, as I was told often by seniors of the Class of 2018 that “senior year is way easier than junior year” and “you have way less homework than you do in junior year.”

Teachers should back off on assigning homework in the fall semester so that seniors can focus on their college applications.”

The academic rigor of senior year may prepare students well for college, but it does not do them any favors when they are applying to college. I have found that I stay up until the wee hours of the morning trying to get homework done after school, and I have no time during the week to work on finishing my applications, which often include a second round for applications for things like honors colleges or housing even after you’ve been admitted. I don’t think I would have been able to finish my general college applications the way I wanted if I had not done most of the work over the summer. The ever-increasing workload as midterm finals approach has stopped me personally from being able to spend time on applications to honors programs and working on applying for scholarships. There are many steps to the process of getting ready to go to a university for higher education. Students have to not only worry about applying, but once they get admitted they have to try to get scholarship money, apply for FAFSA aid, apply for housing and to any special programs available at the university of their choice.

The academic rigor of senior year may prepare students well for college, but it does not do them any favors when they are applying to college.”

But there’s more to applying to college than just the applications. Another major part of understanding university life is touring the schools to which you apply. Currently, seniors are given only two days excused absence for touring colleges. This limit on excused days discourages students from applying to schools that are out of state because of the days of school that will be missed. I have applied to five out-of-state schools, and I have felt the pressure of missing school when I have to fly out of state to tour the colleges I am interested in. I have now used up both of my days sanctioned off for touring colleges. Luckily I have been able to tour all the schools I am considering, but for many students, trying to get to see all the colleges they want is too much of a stretch. The school should give seniors more excused absences so they can truly get to experience the universities they wish to see.

I think I speak for most seniors when I say that teachers should back off on assigning homework in the fall semester so that seniors can focus on their college applications. The college-application process is demanding, and teachers should adjust their fall semester plans accordingly. Students should not have to work on their college applications during class, as I have seen in several of my classes, but instead should be given time to work on their application after school instead of hours of homework.

It’s the finals countdown …

It’s the most studious time of the year!

Isn’t that how the song goes?

As the semester is coming to its end, the school work is beginning to drastically increase. With finals right around the corner, students are beginning to prepare themselves for that dreadful week. However, many underclassmen aren’t sure how to prepare, yet.

For freshmen, finals can be very stressful. It’s their first time having a final in every class and some are not sure what to expect.

For some, it’s a source of significant anxiety.

Selena De Jesus
DEEP IN THOUGHT: Sophomore Abby Soto studies alone for her geometry final that is right around the corner. She takes the time in class that her teacher gave her. Photo by Selena de Jesus.

“Finals are very stressful!” freshman Anna Bausman said. “I hate tests and quizzes because you don’t know for sure what’s on them.”

But luckily for Bausman, we have some finals experts all around us … seniors … experts who can offer advice for any novice high schoolers who are worried.

Senior Lael Weatherby shared some of her techniques and strategies of how she prepares.

In English I like to study with friends so I can get other’s perspectives on a book we read, while in math I like to study alone, so I know I can do it myself.”

— senior Lael Weatherby

“I will look over my old tests and quizzes to get a good idea of what the questions will be about. Also if the teacher gives me a review, I will do it ”

There are different opinions on whether or not it’s more beneficial to study in a group or as an individual.

Sophomore Tyler McHorse prefers to study with his friends because it keeps him engaged and is less boring than studying alone. Bausman prefers studying alone because she cannot focus.

But senior Lael Weatherby, our finals expert, said it best.

“In English I like to study with friends so I can get other’s perspectives on a book we read, while in math I like to study alone, so I know I can do it myself.”

One thing the underclassman tend to worry about is if their teachers will help them or not.

“I feel like the teachers at McCallum really want you to do well on your final, so they would definitely help you,” Weatherby said,

Teachers don’t want you to fail the final, they want you to do your best. If you are confused on a question, go talk to your teacher. There is no shame in asking for help.

I try to take it one test at a time, to only focus on one. If I try to do too much I’ll start stressing myself out.”

— sophomore Tyler McHorse

Most of all, don’t stress. Overcoming anxiety is one of your biggest obstacles when taking a final. High stress levels while testing could affect your performance on the final. But there are ways to avoid getting too stressed while preparing and taking the test.

“I try to take it one test at a time, to only focus on one,” McHorse said. “If I try to do too much I’ll start stressing myself out.”

Freshman Anna Bausman agreed.

“To avoid getting too stressed I will take breaks while studying. If I don’t I’ll zone out.”

So give it your all. It’s definitely worth it to put to go the extra mile. After all, there’s only a few more tough days and then a wonderful break.

Do you have any advice about how to study best for finals? If so we’d love to hear it. Post it as a reply to this story. Maybe you’ll help someone get that A they are working hard to earn.

American identity depends upon Freedom of Speech

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Those words in the First Amendment, arguably the most important part of the U.S. Constitution, spell out the most basic premise of the promise of America. And this past summer I had the opportunity to learn more about and explore what these promises really mean. As the sole representative from Texas for the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, a program in Washington D.C. for rising high school seniors interested in pursuing journalism, I arrived at the conference expecting practical lessons on writing and reporting. After an action-packed week, I left with a reaffirmed belief in the importance of the press and the power of the First Amendment. As an added bonus, I gained 50 new friends, each who taught me something different about what it is to be an American.

Upon arriving, they asked each of us to deliver a speech on which aspect of the First Amendment was most important to us, and why. Here is the full text of my response:

“The most important right defined in the First Amendment is the freedom of speech. Yes, it may be the most popular and obvious answer, but it is deservedly so. Our Founding Fathers recognized that without citizens who freely criticize the government, truth would not be able to hold the powerful accountable. Speech also enables us to advocate through the other First Amendment rights; we can discuss our differing religions, talk openly in the press, assemble to make our voices heard and guarantee that those listening hear us clearly through our petitions. Thus, with freedom of speech, America truly became a democracy. It is the cornerstone of our identity, underscoring our intellectual, social and cultural life as a nation. Our motto, E Pluribus Unum, defines America as the sum of her individual parts. And when those individuals have the power to speak freely about who they are and in what they believe, we grow as people and as a country.”

Over the following week, this belief was reinforced time and time again. We heard it when we attended a live taping of Meet the Press and had the chance to talk with the host, Chuck Todd, after he interviewed Kellyanne Conway, discussing the policy of separating children and parents at the border. We heard it when talking with Charles Haynes, the founding director of the Freedom Forum Institute, as he offered advice on advocating for freedom through journalism. Mr. Haynes underscored the importance of advocating for and covering civil rights in the media.

“Our world cannot wait,” he said. “We need your voice, your action, your courage.” We heard it when listening Washington Post reporter (and native Texan) David Fahrenthold, who recently has been reporting on the Trump Foundation investigations. He discussed the difficulty of covering presidential investigations, but stressed the importance and impact of doing so, and urged us to be stubborn in both our values as reporters and our tenacity in sticking with a difficult story.

Our world cannot wait. We need your voice, your action, your courage.”

— Charles Haynes

While participating in a Q&A session with Mike McCurry, the former press secretary for President Clinton, who notably endured the Lewinsky scandal, he stressed the importance of responsible reporting.

“Speed kills” he said, later adding,” “Who cares if someone else gets the scoop? … Concentrate on writing brilliantly on factual things.”

This sentiment was later underscored while on our private tour of the Press Galleries in the Capitol. Winding through the special chambers reserved for the press, we were front row witnesses to professional journalists, who politely ignored us as they diligently and quickly typed away at their laptops, having earlier observed the Senate meeting over the child separation policy.

The fast-paced, fascinating series of lessons were non-stop. Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth stressed the importance and rights of journalism when it comes to the First Amendment. Sara Ganim of CNN, who broke the Jerry Sandusky scandal as a junior reporter in Pennsylvania, shared her wisdom. And Doug Mills, one of the top photographers at The New York Times, closed out our sessions by sharing his experience covering every U.S. President since President Reagan.

Every guest shared something different and exciting about what it’s like to be a journalist covering difficult topics in this day and age.

The lessons were underscored by the uniquely appropriate venue. Gathered in front of the Newseum’s Journalists Memorial, which pays tribute to those who have died in service of journalism, Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, shared that even though it is a dangerous job, reporting with a fair and informed lens is one of the most important services for a socially and civically aware society. It was a sobering, but inspiring moment, as we honored those who had died in pursuit of such a society.

“What you do is not for today, but for the generations after you. So get busy, and stay busy.”

— Dr. Ernest Patton

Perhaps the biggest highlight was the moving presentation on the Freedom Rides, where two of the original Riders, Joan Mulholland and Dr. Ernest Patton, spoke to us on their fight for civil rights, recalling what the media did well and also what they wished they had done better. Their talk engendered a respect for those who have fought for a better world throughout history and a resolve to be a part of those who will fight in the future.

“What you do is not for today, but for the generations after you,” Dr. Patton shared, “so get busy, and stay busy.”

By week’s end, our cohort had become life-long friends, bonded by what we had shared and learned. We were recognized by Al Neuharth’s family and the administration of the Freedom Forum at our commencement ceremony, where Jan Neuharth, Al Neuharth’s daughter, quoted her father as she told us: “The First Amendment guarantees the right to a free press. We in the media must make sure it is a fair press.”

Reflecting upon this experience now, months later, I have three main takeaways. First, any high school junior who has even the slightest interest in media, journalism or public policy should apply immediately. Not only is it an incredible learning and career opportunity, you’ll make lifelong friends (and in doing so, learn the many different ways people in America pronounce things). Applications are available on the Freedom Forum Institute’s website here (and it is important to note that this an all expenses paid opportunity for those selected, and graduates of the program receive a college scholarship).

Second, having met those aforementioned lifelong friends, I feel so much more confidence in our generation’s future. Every time I read some think piece about how we’re the laziest, most entitled generation yet, all I have to do is think of the bright, ambitious and kind people I met through this program and I am able to simply laugh at the mischaracterization and underestimation of our generation.

Finally, and most important of all, I can confirm that journalism is more important and stronger than ever. Meeting with journalists who had uncovered such vital stories and who had made such a difference in their communities reminded me that even though journalists are plagued with accusations of “fake news,” threatened and impeded in attempts to stifle their reporting, or even worried for their personal safety, modern journalists are fighting hard to deliver information to the public, with tools and information available to them that they’ve never had before.

The importance of protecting and upholding the First Amendment remains our biggest priority as a nation, and the Fourth Estate of the news media is facing that responsibility with the dignity and importance it deserves. And the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference is playing a vital role in preparing the journalists of tomorrow to take up the mantle and continue to shine a light on democracy to ensure it exists for future generations.