Free our college

As we near the end of the school year, college is foremost in everybody’s mind. Seniors are graduating, mere months away from attending college, and juniors and sophomores are beginning to stress about their impending college applications. But even after you’ve applied and been accepted to your choice school, there’s something else to stress about: student debts.

All students are asking for is a good college education. Why should they be the generation that has to give up on its dreams?”

Paying off student loans is a shadow that often follows graduates throughout their adult lives, sometimes even 20 years after they left college. If you want to go to a good college, even sometimes an in-state one, you will most likely have to apply for a student loan. And this vicious cycle often repeats itself, passing debt from generation to generation.

Throughout its history, America has been relatively unforgiving and critical of student debt. Students, voicing their grievances, have been met with responses varying from “Maybe you should’ve gone to a cheaper college,” to “Just get a job,” or even the occasional, “Stop complaining.” But the students already have jobs, and all they’re asking for is a good college education. Why should they be the generation that has to give up on its dreams?

Infograph by Sarah Slaten.

On April 22, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a 2020 presidential candidate, premiered a plan for reducing student debt. Though this plan has been met with vehement criticism and praise, it is one of the most liberal and progressive plans proposed in recent years, and it solves a major issue that has been hitherto unaddressed. Warren’s plan, though controversial, would drastically reduce student debts and make all higher education free for all citizens.

Warren’s plan would cancel $50,000 of student debt per family involved in higher education, and, even more controversially, would make all higher public education free for all. According to Business Insider, this plan would eliminate at least some debt for at least 95 percent of the 45 million Americans affected by debt. This plan has been praised by progressives, who agree with the idea of education for all, but it has also been met with opposition from conservatives, including some Democrats, who believe that this solution is too expensive, and ultimately won’t be effective enough.

For hundreds of years, America has emphasized college and university as the ultimate opportunity to succeed. But, realistically, this ideal is getting harder and harder to achieve.”

Warren’s proposal is based on her belief that education (even through college) is necessary and key to a successful life in the modern world. She believes that because it is essential, public education shouldn’t be a cost students have to pay, that it should be the responsibility of the federal government to pay for students’ public education, even at the college level. But conservatives believe that this plan would cost too much money, and especially oppose it because it would be paid for by a wealth tax on America’s 75,000 most wealthy families, totalling a reported $1.25 trillion, according to Business Insider.

Though some critics claim that this plan could lead to poor taxpayers funding wealthy kids college education, this plan would instead drastically decrease college costs, so taxpayers wouldn’t be paying near as much money as they pay now. This would also work to level the playing field, as children from economically disadvantaged families would have more of an equal opportunity to attend and pay for college, which could end the cycle of debt and level the playing field.

Even if less advantaged families had to pay more, it would be with the knowledge that their children would be getting part of their money, and that their children would be getting the same opportunity as more affluent students. Maybe it would hurt at first, but it would ultimately help in the long run. And it could turn America into the country of opportunity that it has always aspired to be.

Everyone I know has always been stressed about paying off college debts. My senior friends have been scrambling around, trying to get as many scholarships and as much money as they can, trying to afford their dream schools. Even my parents have made a point of not retiring until I leave college because they know how expensive it is going to be. I feel bad about it, and sometimes I wonder if I should just go to a less expensive college, but I don’t think that’s fair. Why should the cost of schools limit my education opportunity?


A majority of the major European countries offer reduced tuition at a fragment of the cost of traditional U.S. tuition.”

Though not all countries offer free college, CNN reports that a majority of the major European countries offer reduced tuition at a fragment of the cost of traditional U.S. tuition. A girl I know, who was planning on attending Columbia, is going to go to London for college, which is just as or less expensive than Columbia would’ve been. An international school is cheaper to go to than an American school.

Education isn’t a normality in many countries, but it is in America. For hundreds of years, America has emphasized college and university as the ultimate opportunity to succeed. But, realistically, this ideal is getting harder and harder to achieve. As college prices go up, students continue to attend, but these students, who are just trying to get an education, are plunged into debt.

If college wasn’t as normalized and accepted all throughout America, student debt wouldn’t be as much of a problem. But it is. For most students, college is the expectation, the final hoop they have to jump through before they begin their college lives. But now, this expectation is following them around, in the form of student debt. It trails students around for years and has the potential for ruining their lives.

Though Warren’s plan is admittedly very liberal and has the potential to harm poorer tax payers, ultimately, it has its roots in good intentions. This is a major problem for the American youth, and free college would make an extreme difference in their lives.

Realistically, this plan probably won’t make it very far, even if Warren gets elected. There are too many flaws, too many issues for both Democrats and Republicans. But we should continue trying to do something about it, to save both the future of America and our bank accounts.

Thank you, Mr. Garrison, for everything

On April 11, when Mr. Garrison announced his plan to retire after this semester, it took the school by surprise. The Macjournalism post that broke the news to students received 861 likes and 101 comments (both all-time records for our account), and the story of his retirement quickly made its way to into the top of The Shield Online trending list. The announcement reached students, parents and alums alike, all of whom were eager to express their surprise, sadness and admiration. Logically, we all knew that our beloved principal would retire one day, but many of us never considered that we would be there when it happened.

Though the news is still sad for current seniors, they will still be able to walk across the stage at graduation, receive their diplomas, and shake Mr. Garrison’s hand on their way out. As for the freshmen, many of them did not have enough time to really get to know the McCallum principal before his departure. For everyone stuck in the middle, however, it is hard to imagine a McCallum without him. It is difficult to realize that when next year’s students pull into the parking lot on Aug. 20 and make their way through the front doors, it will not be Mr. Garrison’s smile greeting them or his voice asking about their summer adventures.

Throughout his 16 years at McCallum, he has worked hard to ensure that we have been able to learn in a safe, open community without restricting our freedoms and opinions.”

Even though he is moving into retirement, the impact Mr. Garrison has had on the McCallum community will not fade any time soon. Throughout his 16 years at McCallum, he has worked hard to ensure that we have been able to learn in a safe, open community without restricting our freedoms and opinions, and he has done a very good job of making McCallum a second home for the students and the teachers he supports. His legacy continues with us, in the positive school experiences that he has helped provide for us and for our teachers.

The phrase “the principal’s office” oftentimes has negative connotations, but Mr. Garrison’s doors have always been open not just for those who got in trouble, but for those seeking help, advice or even just casual conversation.

Even though he always makes time to help any student who asks for it, his job has certainly not been easy. The job description includes (but is certainly not limited to) overseeing all day-to-day procedures, regulating the budget, hiring faculty, monitoring student accomplishments, helping direct safety procedures in the case of crisis and dealing with parent questions and concerns.
While these tasks are significant, Mr. Garrison made as much if not more of impact outside the school day. He has attended thousands of school functions from McCallum football games, to concerts, to shows. Over the past 16 years, Garrison has shown up to support his students.

A Garrison Gallery

some of our favorite Garrison moments from the past 16 years

Even though his last official days at McCallum are drawing nearer, he confirmed that he will still be with the McCallum community: “From afar, I’ll still be in.”

Garrison has done a very good job of making McCallum a second home for the students and the teachers he supports.”

While we do not know exactly what this will mean, we can certainly hope we have not seen the last of Mr. Garrison. Will he still be at the Battle of the Bell game against Travis to push the bell onto the field? Will he make another appearance at a Pink Week pep rally for pie time? Can he be a guest of honor at next year’s graduation? The year after?

Even for those of us who are not seniors, the last week of school this year will be sentimental. It will be the last week of school at the same McCallum we have known for the past one, two, three or four years.

We challenge everyone next week to share their appreciation for Mr. Garrison. The next time you stop by the office or see him in the hallways during passing periods, tell him what he has done to make your time at McCallum better. Share one of your favorite stories, talk about his impact on the McCallum community or share why you will miss him. Even though we are sorry he is leaving, let’s make his last few days at McCallum the best they can be.

He’s done it for us for a long time. Now it’s our turn.


Don’t lose sleep over admissions

“I’m only joining to make my college application look good.”

“This will be a great resume builder”.

“Colleges love when people are involved in groups like this.”

You may have heard these statements at some point at school, when people are telling their friends about the latest club, volunteer organization or other extracurricular activity that they’ve joined.
But this kind of thinking is a bad idea on multiple levels. Take it from me, someone who began the college admissions process not understanding at all how it works, but then read countless articles, questioned admissions officers and finished all of the applications, financial aid and scholarships while balancing classes, extracurriculars, family, social life and mental health.

First of all, if you’re simply doing something because you’re concerned about college admissions, here’s the thing: colleges don’t care if you were a member of a million extracurriculars. All this tells them is that you were overly concerned about the appearance of success, and that’s not an attractive candidate.

Ultimately, what admissions officers are really looking for are passionate, hard-working students who take the time and make the effort to get involved, and this is best conveyed with meaningful participation in a few choice activities, not entry-level membership in twenty unrelated clubs”

Much like as in dating, the harder someone works to impress someone, the less likely they are to be interested.

What admission officers want to see is that you were deeply involved in a few activities that you truly care about and continued to learn and develop that interest into something meaningful for you.

Do you care deeply about climate change? Then by all means go ahead and join Environmental Knights and fully participate as much as you can. Worried that you don’t have enough volunteer hours on your resume? Instead of jumping into something you don’t really care about, and as a result won’t make the most of, consider what interests you and plan accordingly.

Ultimately, what admissions officers are really looking for are passionate, hard-working students who take the time and make the effort to get involved, and this is best conveyed with meaningful participation in a few choice activities, not entry-level membership in twenty unrelated clubs.

Plus, when it comes to college admission, your biggest priority should be finding the best place for you. If you’re presenting a false version of yourself– someone who deeply cares about x sport, y club and z volunteer project, when in fact you only did those things just to say you did them– then they’re not admitting you for you as a fit for their school. And why would you want to go to school who doesn’t want you as you are?

There’s another thing to consider– if you don’t like it, why are you doing it? We only have four years in high school. There’s enough tedium between class, homework and standardized tests; why would you want to force yourself to devote precious hours of your free time to something you really don’t care about? It doesn’t make sense to overextend yourself for the sake of activities that don’t bring meaning or value to your life.

I quit several extracurricular activities over the course of my time in high school, due to illness, schedule conflicts and being overcommitted, and this often raised concern among the people who cared about me. They would often ask if I was worried about how this would look on college applications, but for me the truth was simple.

At the end of the day, resume-padding just isn’t worth it”

I figured that as long as I was still involved with many of the things that truly mattered to and interested me, admissions officers would see it for what it was: I had to prioritize and I chose those things that made me the most fulfilled so that I could fully invest myself in them.

I firmly believe that quitting can be a beautiful and necessary thing; no one should push themselves past their limit for something that is not deeply important to them. I was not accepted at every school I applied to, but for the ones I was, I felt excited and confident that I was a good fit for them, and vice-versa, as I had presented a truthful version of myself for them to judge.

By choosing carefully and only joining organizations whose missions and values you connect with, you will 1) be happier 2) work harder for that organization 3) make a real difference and 4) find real meaning in how you’re spending your time. And that is what will make an impression on an admission’s officer. More importantly, it will keep you happy and sane throughout the trials and tribulations you will inevitably encounter over the course of your high school career.

At the end of the day, resume-padding just isn’t worth it. You’ll make yourself miserable if you stretch yourself thin across extracurricular activities you aren’t actually invested in. Make yourself a better college candidate, and a happier high school student, and do what you want to do, not what you think you should do.

Let’s stop glorifying materialism

If you were to wake up tomorrow morning with your world in apocalyptic chaos—and you were posed with one question: what will you take when you escape? What are your “bare necessities?” Imagine those items, and imagine all that you would be leaving behind. So much of what we imagine as our everyday needs are really just nonsensical luxury camouflaged as something we cannot live without.

We all have materialistic dreams, no matter how hard we might try to suppress them in exchange for a grateful, minimalist lifestyle. You might believe that your life would be just that much better if you had the new iPhone, or how you would feel so much prettier with that expensive eyeshadow palette. But in reality, it does not matter how much money you have or the material things you have been showered in: you will always want more.

From the beginning of time, humans have had the tendency to require validation from others in exchange for their own happiness. The theory is, if you have other people looking up to you, than you will have achieved the ultimate appearance and “cool factor.” In reality, however, there will always be someone who appears more successful, richer or cooler than you, no matter what you have.

Graphic by Sophie Ryland.

Modern American teens are notorious for having an obscure view of their “needs.” Technology, clothing brands, cosmetic products and many other luxuries have transformed from delicacies to necessities. Society has continued to reform its standards to require a level of materialism in the lives of citizens, forcing people to be left out without the newest phone, or “cringy” if their appearance fails to match the current style. This consumerism obstructs the views of young people still trying to navigate and learn about the constantly changing world around them.

As the modern market enthralls its buyers, enticing them to keep up to speed with modern trends, it also sets up an unhealthy standard that says that people “need” these products, when in reality, once you attain that product, you will not be satisfied. You will once again be pulled into the miserable cycle of not having enough, and relying on having that next product or material good.

At McCallum in particular, students are less focused on popular mainstream influencers such as the Kardashians or Jenners. On an Macjournalism Instagram poll, 79 percent answered “no” when asked if celebrity endorsements influence their purchasing choices. When I see my peers, however, I cannot help but notice similar expensive brands endorsed by celebrities. Those celebrities may not be as prominent as the Kardashians; however alternative, influencers such as rap artist and designer Tyler the Creator inspire many teens to purchase those mainstream brands.

But in reality, it does not matter how much money you have or the material things you have been showered in: you will always want more”

But is it such a bad thing that teenagers are indulging in similar brands? Surely there will always be brands that dominate fashion and material culture, although I believe it is important to notice when those trends shift into becoming harmful.

“Supreme” is a very popular clothing company among teenagers. With its signature red logo on its products, it has quickly become an important symbol of wealth, and teens “flex” (or show off) their clothes, etc., to one another.

Aside from clothing, the company also produces expensive designs for items as simple as a shovel, or even a crowbar for as much as $400. It is believed that this company’s success is due to its product exclusivity and price, making many of their items not only expensive but scarce. These designs are worn by many artists and model influencers, thus becoming increasingly more appealing to teenagers and young adults alike.

A social influencer can be defined as a person with a significant amount of followers on a social media platform. These people can use their social media account to make revenue from ads, attracting followers, and, in some cases, even be paid by the platform to post consistently.

This idea that we must participate in the buying of items—including those of us who cannot afford to buy multi-hundred dollar clothing items—in order to belong with our peers is a perfect example of why materialism can be fatal to the unity of our community.

Materialism consequentially often ends in a feeling of isolation from your peers and the furthering division of social circles. If you root your identity in the materials you possess, soon you’ll find yourself without an identity and without a strong connection to those you hold close.

What’s in a name? In this case, a lot.

Recently, the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to change the names of several AISD schools such as Reagan Early College High School (now Northeast Early College High School), Fulmore Middle School (now Sarah Lively Middle School), and Lanier High School (now Navarro High School), in an effort to cut ties from the Confederate leaders after which they were originally named.

If McCallum were to be renamed to something else, we would resist the change, but eventually, we would accept the new name especially if it honored someone who was deserving.”

Confederates soldiers like Zachary Taylor Fulmore and Sidney Lanier, all the way to the generals Albert S. Johnston and Robert E. Lee and the Postmaster-General John H. Reagan, have long had their names plastered across AISD campuses. These schools needed to be renamed, and the fact that action is finally being taken in 2019 is a promising step for the future.

These figures should be taught in history classes so students can fully understand the story of the Civil War and how the country was as fragmented and racially divided, but these figures should not be honored or immortalized with their name looming over the front entrance of AISD schools. The proposed and passed name changes look to honor innovators and educators that have shaped their communities and have left a positive mark on them.

Newly named Lively Middle School, named after teacher Sarah Lively, who taught at the school for 47 years, is one of the five schools that will be getting a name change for a combined cost of $70,000. This price tag is significant but worth it because the names are remnants of a bitter conflict in the nation’s history that should not be honored anymore—removing the connection between these remnants and our schools’ identities is worth a small bite out of the budget.

Minority students deserve positive role models, not ones who would have opposed their very presence at the schools they attend. ”

The schools also need to be renamed because they are generally outdated. They are all named after people who lived and died in the 1800s to early 1900s. Choosing more modern figures to serve as namesakes can better represent the diverse and contemporary populace that AISD serves.
Ultimately, to honor members of an army, and for a time, an independent country that supported slavery and was traitorous to the United States by naming a school after them, especially at schools that serve a significant minority population, is insensitive and unjust.

Supporters of keeping the names argue that the names represent the school’s history are a source of school pride. While this is no doubt true, it is also true that in time the new names will take on the same significance especially because they are honoring a more positive legacy. If McCallum were to be renamed to something else, we would resist the change, but eventually, we would accept the new name especially if it honored someone who was deserving.

Like all students, minority students deserve positive role models, not ones who would have opposed their very presence at the schools they attend. Lively was a teacher who had a profound impact on her students, while Navarro was an Army officer that was killed in 2012 in Afghanistan. These name changes seem to honor deserving figures who made a significant contribution to the campuses that now bear their name.

These schools needed to be renamed, and the fact that action is finally being taken in 2019 is a promising step for the future. ”

The only name change that does not make sense to us is the change from Reagan to Northeast High. Instead of paying tribute to someone deserving from the community, the district decided that the school should just be named after the literal location of the campus. Reagan students have a right to be upset about their school’s renaming; they should have had a say in their school’s new moniker. Besides this particular choice, the name changes are positive changes for the schools and the communities they serve.

These name changes for Fulmore and Lanier make sense and although Reagan’s name change is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction to update a name that has been long outdated.

The dirty truth about recycling

Picture yourself out for lunch at Central Market; you just finished drinking your coffee. There is a recycling bin across the outdoor patio, or there is a trash can a few feet away: which do you choose? What if you found out that both bins led to the same destructive result?

The Austin residential recycling department said that about 30 percent of plastic collected in “single stream” bins can’t be recycled. ”

Thousands of tons of materials left curbside for recycling in American towns and cities are going to landfills. Americans recycle millions of tons of trash per year, trusting that the items that we toss in the blue bin go somewhere other than the landfill. While many hope that their recycling is getting re-purposed or turned into something new, the truth is a lot of it isn’t getting recycled at all. In the past, paper, plastic and other materials were sorted and then shipped abroad to China, where they would be processed. Over a third of the recyclables around the world get shipped abroad and China is the biggest importer. About 45 percent of the world’s plastic set for recycling has been exported to China since 1992.

In 2018 China passed the National Sword policy, banning plastic waste from being imported for the protection of the environment and people’s health. China announced that it no longer wanted to import “foreign garbage.” While some waste managers who send recyclables to be processed domestically, or who ship to alternate countries continue to be successful, a majority of our country’s recycling supply is going directly to the landfill. We now have to ask the question how can we better negotiate among ourselves, among the world’s diverse peoples and cultures, so that we can resolve this issue and navigate toward a better future?

Many local officials are not telling residents about the decline due to a fear that residents will give up on recycling altogether.

While China has strictly banned 24 different materials, it also has demanded that the accepted materials (cardboard and metal) be only 0.5 percent impure. If you do not rinse the container or glass before recycling it, even a tiny amount of food or other trash can ruin a entire batch of recycling. Many waste companies say that the new contamination standards are impossible to meet, while others are attempting to clean up recycling streams by limiting accepted materials and educating people on what items can be recycled.

Long before China’s recycling wall, plenty of “recyclables” ended up in landfills due to “single stream” recycling. Single-stream recycling is where residents are able to put everything in the same bin. This method is a switch designed to encourage more recycling; however, it results in more stuff that can not be recycled because it becomes “contaminated.” The Austin residential recycling department said that about 30 percent of plastic collected in these “single stream” bins can’t be recycled. Scrap plastic, previously exported to China netted $300 million in 2015, but now is only worth about $7.6 million. Alternate countries have stepped in to accept more plastics but exports are still down by 40 percent. Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam, have picked up some of what China is leaving behind; however, they do not waste management systems as well-developed as China’s.

While China has been widely vilified as the cause of the recycling uproar, industry watchers say that the blame should not be placed solely on China. China has announced public-health concerns, environmental concerns, and an aspiration for independence, as reasons for its policy change. So, who then should be held accountable for this mess? It turns out we are all to blame.

China’s waste-import restrictions have shown the flaws and problems of the American recycling industry and how bad American consumers are at recycling. One of the major reasons that China created these restrictions is due to the United States sending too much contaminated material that is not recyclable. Many Americans are “wishful recyclers.”

Rinse containers, glasses, and cartons before recycling them. This two-minute act can save a whole neighborhood’s worth of recycling from being contaminated and sent to the trash.”

When you take recycling to the blue bin, whether it be at home or at your job or school, it is considered curbside recycling. Typically, curbside recycling is taken by a private company to a sorting plant where then the marketable goods are separated out. The goods found are then sold by companies or local governments to overseas processors. These private companies used to get paid by selling off these recyclable materials; now, it is as if they are being paid simply to have someone take it away. These stricter requirements are also an indication that recycling is more likely to be deemed “contaminated” if they contain materials that are not recyclable. This situation can be referred to as wishful recycling, where people set aside various items for recycling just because they hope they are recyclable even when they may not be.

Most plastic bags, coffee cups, dirty takeout containers, Christmas lights and garden hoses are all not recyclable, yet many Americans toss their trash into the recycling bin without a second thought.

By 2030 it is predicted that about 111 million metric tons of plastic waste will be displaced because of China’s new law. This amount is equal to nearly half of all plastic waste imported since 1988. There are expectations that this turn in the recycling industry will continue for months or years, but there is also optimism that the industry will eventually emerge better and stronger. Already, new recycling markets have emerged with the potential to perform the role that China once did. Recently, recycling has flooded into other Asian nations.

In order to resolve this quickly escalating problem, Americans should take a few extra steps before depositing items in the blue bin. Rinse containers, glasses, and cartons before recycling them. This two-minute act can save a whole neighborhood’s worth of recycling from being contaminated and sent to the trash. We must act fast, as the amount of waste we create continues to expand. Check local guidelines to find out what can and what cannot be recycled. Get the peanut butter out of the jar, rise out your smoothie cup and never put plastic bags in the recycling. A sustained way of living is what society needs, and we can built one if we embrace beneficial changes to our everyday lives.

The dangers of anger


It’s created by people’s minds and bodies when they’re in danger, or when something was not needed but done anyway unfairly. Though throughout a person’s life they may need some agitation in order to be successful, they do not need too much, as it’s definitely toxic, and causes nothing but trouble.

For example, you’re more likely to experience a stroke(s), depression, heart attack, low self-esteem, a weakened immune system, when you are angry.  Though many people experience these ailments throughout their lives, it can be much more commonplace throughout high school.

With the mental-health presentation, a person(s) making threats on the school, and with finals and STAAR exams coming up, I feel that students should be aware of how being angry can negatively affect the lives of students.

People are more likely to experience strain because of feeling underappreciated, or threatened, or just intimidated by all of the school/homework they have to do. It can be very demanding in this rapid transition to adulthood.

     When people are angry, they are known for:

  • Anger Repression(Keeping unhealthy aggravated feelings to yourself and hiding it).
  • Having frequent “explosions” or strong, extended sessions of anger.
  • Becoming violent easier and at a higher rate than those who don’t have anger issues throughout their lives.
  • Having episodes of “Red-Vision”, meaning that people had gotten so angry that they saw red when almost primal anger took control of them.
  • Making rash everyday decisions that they don’t think about beforehand.

Fortunately, adults and students alike can treat their anger issues by talking with trusted friends and family, but there is also much you can do to help not just treat it but to also improve the lives of everyone around you. Some people need more encouragement than others, but in the long run, it will help them in many situations in their lives, and may even lower the risk of developing lifelong mental health issues that can affect them, such as anxiety, depression, I.E.D. (Intermittent Explosive Disorder), ADHD, and others. Though it is perfectly normal to have periods like this that aren’t continuous; people get better as long as they seek help or care from a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist. There are things you can do in order to calm down, though sometimes it may not be easy.

     Things You Can Do:

  • Speak to someone you trust. Try writing. Share your thoughts and opinions, instead of keeping them pent up inside. This benefits many people, including you.
  • Squeeze a ball, or go do something to get out your anger in a healthy manner, like jogging or a sport. Sometimes it is better to walk away before you have consequences to deal with.
  • Use positive self-talk such as, “I can handle this. Everything will be OK.”
  • Read something you enjoy. This can help the anger recede, and you will be able to think clearly.
  • Take a deep breath, count up to or down from 10, and/or take a few minutes to imagine going to a favorite place or doing a calming activity; this helps people put themselves in a calm state of mind.
  • Listen to the person you may be angry at. If you’re upset about something or with someone else, talking to people and listening to their perspective—even if it is the person you’re angry with—may help you understand exactly what caused the problem, so you can fix it or figure out what you can do in the future to prevent the situation.

I advocate every person who reads this to just take a step back, relax, count up-to or down from 10, and to ask themselves, “What am I mad about? How can this be helped?” Anger could be a major motivating factor in people’s lives, whereas to others, it is unneeded and could be removed. It can be hard to ask these questions in-the-moment, so I urge you to sit down with a close friend or counselor, and to take a good, long evaluation of your life, and to figure out what needs to be done to make life less of an angry mess to those who need it. Simply think about it, and use the tools and techniques of this article and others, in order to help keep the calm as you determine what the next best course of action may be.

Resources for those who need them:

Mental Health Crisis Information from AISD

It was the best of years; it was the worst of years

Need for gun control never nearer

A couple of weeks ago, on Wednesday, Feb. 13, a manhunt ensued for the 18 year old McCallum student, who allegedly made terroristic threats to harm McCallum students and faculty. He was arrested by the Austin Police Department before school started that same morning, and many students went about their day completely unaware of what had transpired until news spread and an official email was sent out to parents parents that afternoon.

Most of the drama seemed resolved, almost like it never really started, as the majority of the student body was only aware of the threat until after his arrest. Resolved, however, only until chaos spread Wednesday evening, while everyone was safe at home. Rumors regarding more threats spread through the means of shared screenshots, texts, and misinformation.

The social media posts spread the story that one of the arrested student’s friends was going to shoot up the school that Thursday, on the anniversary of the Parkland shooting, and urged other kids not to go to school tomorrow. Many did just that, saying that they preferred not to take any chances, and Thursday’s attendance dropped sharply compared to the day before. In fact, many of us on the Shield staff chose not to come to school, to be safe, and not risk it.

This particular incident was resolved, thankfully, without any actual violence, but the fear felt by the McCallum community has prompted a new empathy for the issue of gun control, as everyone has asked themselves, how would my life changed if something did actually happen?

Our government has not made any significant, major restrictions or even adaptations to gun access laws. We have not seen widespread change. Though it is worth noting that many stricter gun laws have been passed at state level, there have still been no major advances. Nothing since Sandy Hook, since Las Vegas, since Parkland, or Santa Fe. And these shootings keep happening. Last week it seemed like it might happen again , and this time at McCallum. Our government needs to make it harder for citizens to obtain assault rifles, such as the AR-15 Wicks allegedly possessed.

McCallum’s main hall was much emptier than normal on Feb. 14 after rumors were spread that a friend of the arrested student was going to shoot up the school. Photo by David Winter.

There is only so much we as students can do to encourage the major changes we want to see, regardless of what those changes might be. We want stricter gun control laws. We’ve gone to protests, started conversations with the other side, checked to make sure our parents are voting. But we can’t say, for certain, that the changes we hope for will ever happen. That doesn’t mean that we should stop fighting or that we should lose hope. But it does mean that we might start to have to make adjustments to our reality as it currently is. Mass shootings have happened and continue to happen. Students don’t feel safe at school.

Last week, most of us realized that we don’t know how to act when faced with a threat like that. It is awfully difficult to determine what threats are credible and what is not, especially on your own. We think many students would have felt more comfortable going to school if the McCallum administration had had more open communication and was honest with what we were facing the next day instead of a brief email that left readers with more questions than we began with. We recognize that the administration probably had their hands tied and were unable to disclose much of what was known, but having more specific information available to the public could have prevented much of the confusion and exaggerated messages that many saw on their social media.

We also believe that community members should brush up on their news literacy; as we have seen, rumors can affect student’s mindset to the point where they will gladly take an unexcused absence over coming to school. If we become more comfortable with identifying credible, trustworthy information, it will be more difficult for opportunists to take advantage of a precarious situation.

It would be impossible to fault everyone–or really, anyone– for the frenzy that filled many MAC families’ evenings that Wednesday. Would it have been better if social media had not gone wild with rumors and fears? The next day, maybe, but likely, at some point, we would have been faced with a similar situation, and these same questions and panic would have risen then. As a school, we should move forward and use what occurred to teach and motivate us to see how we can improve plans, emergency-preparedness and administration-to-family communication.

Remembering Carson Smith

Until my coach sent out a picture of Carson Smith, I didn’t know who he was. I had been trying to put a face to the name for a day, and this was the first time I actually realized who he was.

So, I didn’t know Carson Smith, and I won’t claim to. He rowed at Texas Rowing Center with me, but, apart from sharing the same club, I didn’t know him. We had never interacted, I hadn’t ever even talked to him. Like most of Austin, I only knew about Carson after his passing on Jan. 27.

Carson Smith was stabbed by two Murchison students (13 and 15 years old) on the night of Friday Jan. 25, and was rushed to the hospital soon after. He was kept on life support for two days, to ensure that his organs could be donated. On the night of Jan. 27, after friends and family had the opportunity to say goodbye, he was taken off life support.

This time, it wasn’t some random name or face on the news, it was someone who I actually recognized.”

So, I won’t claim to know Carson and I won’t claim that my grief over his death was horrible. I was upset and horrified and stunned, but, again, I didn’t know him. A lot of my friends knew him personally, and they were suffering much more than I was. I cried, sure, and I was understandably upset, but compared to one of my friends who spent the entire weekend in his hospital room with his family, I was faring pretty well.

However, I was still affected by it. Though I didn’t actually know him, we were in the same circles and knew the same people and shared the same space. This happened to someone close to me, someone who I did know about. This time, it wasn’t some random name or face on the news, it was someone who I actually recognized.

Carson was only 18, one year older than me. He was in his senior year, and had been busy playing all kinds of sports and preparing to go to college the next year. He had been applying for college. He had written his college essays reflecting about the meaningful lessons he learned on his grandfather’s ranch. He had been planning for the future, expecting that he would have one going forward. He was legally an adult, one who could vote and join the military, but not one who could drink. He still spent summers with his huge extended family, playing hide and seek with his little cousins, or just picking them up and spinning them around the room.

At the funeral, one of his little cousins started crying at the beginning, when they were showing pictures of him. I tried not to watch, trying to block out both the crying and the pictures, focusing on watching people entering the chapel, knowing that I would, no doubt, start crying if I looked at the pictures of a happy and hopeful teen, one who thought that he had his whole life ahead of him.

He was a happy, loving high-schooler, who cared about his family and sports, and was in the process of applying for college. He believed he was going to have a future, and it was brutally taken from him.”

His birth mother and her husband have two children. Carson was very close with the eldest one, a little girl he loved unconditionally, but the youngest one won’t remember his older brother. All he will have of Carson, of his brother, of someone who should’ve played a very important part in his life, are stories from his family.

Carson had a huge family, and he loved it. He was adopted by a loving couple, Robin and Doug Smith, who weren’t able to have children themselves. His mother, who was going into medical school and didn’t have the resources to take care of a child, was very open to adoption, and was thankful that her child was going to a good family. It was an open adoption, and Carson was loved unconditionally by both families. He was very close with both of them, and loved spending time with all of his family. They remembered him as a funny and loving child, that family meant everything to. Both families thought of Carson as a gift, and will think of him fondly, even with the circumstances surrounding his passing.

His parents didn’t speak at the funeral. His uncle did, along with the friend that put the Smith’s in contact with Carson’s birth mother. A representative for an organ donor association spoke as well, thanking Carson and his family for their generosity and kindness. Five of Carson’s organs (heart, lungs, liver and both kidneys) are now helping other people live their lives to the fullest.

On the Monday after his death, our whole team, every junior who rowed at Texas Rowing Center, wore royal blue to commemorate his passing, and to show our support for his family in their time of grief. The blue, the brighter of our team’s colors, represented Carson’s sunny and upbeat personality. It was meaningful and emotional to come to practice that day and just see a sea of blue, to see the overwhelming support and respect that our team had. 

I was crying at the funeral. I was crying because his parents were outliving him. I was crying because his little brother wouldn’t remember him. I was crying because he was someone like me. It was the first time that it really hit me that Carson was a kid just like me. That it could’ve been me, that it could’ve been one of my friends, and that it really had been someone I knew this time.

It seems like some people at McCallum, though troubled by a teens death, majorly dismissed his death, especially with the rumors surrounding his death. Somebody died, someone who easily could’ve been any of us. He was a happy, loving high-schooler, who cared about his family and sports, and was in the process of applying for college. He believed he was going to have a future, and it was brutally taken from him.

I am not saying that anyone should do anything special. I’m just saying that we should try to think about what actually happened. A teenager was killed. Someone who was like us. And we should just think about that.

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.