16 Beacon Students on Family Politics, Values, Social Media Activism, and the College Admissions Scandal: A Beacon Beat Roundtable

The Beacon Beat has formally decided to begin hosting “roundtable discussions” between members of both the newspaper staff and the public on specific topical issues. Below is a transcription of a conversation that occurred on March 13th. The transcription has been edited for clarity and grammar. Initially, the topic of discussion was “Family Politics vs. Family Values.”

Participants: Daniel Arturi, Camilla Bauman, Mollie Butler, Linus Coersmeier, Cynthia Enofe, Adrian Flynn, Anne Isman, Phoebe Kamber, Esme Laster, Tali Lebowitsch, Maya Levine, Jude Messler, Ariella Moses, Tali Rosen, Maxine Slater, Sophie Steinberg, Henry Wheeler-Klainberg

Sophie Steinberg (Senior): Today we are having a discussion within The Beacon Beat about family values, politics, and ethics and how they influence your own thinking, decision-making and political views. To begin, my name is Sophie. I’m a senior, and as the moderator of this discussion I will read out questions to get us started. So the first question is: What is the difference between family values and family politics? This could be different opinions or practices your family has.

Jude Messler (Senior): At least in my family, we have a moral code that’s all about honesty and less about policy. So my parents are both independents and neither of them voted for Trump in the last election. So in that sense of “who they vote for,” I don’t really know. I just know what they teach me about how to act, and how to treat people of all different backgrounds. So I think that the way they have taught me to life is basically comes from their own values.

Adrian Flynn (Junior): In the same way, my parents don’t tell me which party or person to support, but through their own values, there is a sense of what kind of morals I should support, stand for, and what I want to see represented in politics. It does lean toward certain parties, but nothing specifically.

Daniel Arturi (Freshman): I think it’s hard to separate family values and family politics because if one of your family traditions, which is apart of family values, is that you go hunting– it’s hard to separate that from family politics.

Maya Levine (Freshman): But I think that your family’s values and how they align with your politics is kind of a “practice what you preach” type of thing. If you support a certain group, and if they live in New York, they’re probably Democrats. They might just be doing that because it’s “the norm” and that’s what you’re expected to do. How your family values align with that shows how much you care about it. So if you support a candidate who is very environmentally-conscious, and then in your own home you compost or have solar panels, it goes to show that how your family aligns with their vote shows how invested they are in that policy.

Linus Coersmeier (Freshman): Both my parents are German and I feel like there’s a stigma around socialism in America in that it has “something to do with Communism” or is unamerican. I wouldn’t say that they’re straying away from the norm, but they have a different viewpoint, which is something I have had access too.

Sophie: In America we have a linear, universal idea of where our political spectrum is. But I think it changes depending on where you are. New York versus the Midwest, but especially in America versus Europe. I think that the translation and blurring of the political lines is good. While my family doesn’t explicitly say that “there are more ways to think about things,” there political differences within a certain umbrella of liberalism is hopefully impressed upon me so that I know that politics are not as polarizing.

Daniel: Diving into the second question (Do you share the same political views as your parents, and do you guys belong to the political group?), my mother is Brazilian and her parents were revolutionaries against the Brazilian military dictatorship and they were full on Communists. Obviously, Brazil is not a communist country but they fought for this ideal society and eventually they got, not a dictatorship, and I would argue that anything that’s not a dictatorship is better, and they got a capitalist society. They grudgingly accepted that, so they raised my mother with their ideals. And she is socialist, which I interpret as the next rung down, and now she’s living here in the United States, which is capitalist, and she’s not campaigning for Communism or Socialism. So I think that as live in a different environment you’re forced to adapt, and it’s easier to adapt than to fight against, you lean towards the political alignment of your surroundings.

Sophie: I even see that at Beacon. Coming into my freshman year, I didn’t know a lot about Feminism. And when I think about my views on sexism and feminism today, that is due in part to my environment, things I was taught, and the people around me. There is such a political awareness in almost every classroom.

Maya: Especially in America, where the parties are so black and white, you are very much dedicated to that. In other countries, in you are raised in a “liberal” household there is more room for differing opinions. In America, you have to be one or the other. I think that it breeds two results: either you hold heartedly believe and agree, passionately with you parents and community (which happens often in New York), or, alternatively, you stray completely from your parent’s/environment’s views because it is so impressed upon you.

Sophie: For those that don’t know, the second question was, do you share the same political views as your parents, and do you guys belong to the political group? I know that I always presume that everyone belongs to the same political group as your parents. Because I live in new York and go to a liberal school, I assume that people’s views are a product of the environment they grew up in. However, I have read stories on the news about people who live in very polarizing environments, or they’re the lone liberal in a very red community, and I think that’s something that we don’t acknowledge who are straying away. I agree with Maya that there is little to no “inbetween.” You either agree or you don’t.

Anne Isman (Senior): Well I disagree with that. Based on what Maya just said, it’s an American ideal to be either one way or the other, so by saying that there is not room for error, it’s only reinforcing that idea of a black and white political atmosphere.

Esme Laster (Junior): Going off of what Sophie said, I think so many people identify with their parents’ politics and that makes sense to me because I feel that people’s political associations often correlates to their socioeconomic status. I think that it makes sense that they align with their parents.

Tali Lebowitsch (Sophomore): To build off, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there’s also a privilege that comes with being able to choose what political party you side with because not everyone has that freedom. You might have the privilege to chose that because you have benefitted from other values in the past.

Sophie: I also think it’s really hard to disagree with your parents sometimes because you may face extreme backlash or physical consequences.

Camilla Bauman (Sophomore): Going back to the first question about values, I feel like if your family has very ingrained values that you have been around starting from when you were born, it is very hard to disagree with them.

Adrian: However, the ability to critically think is also influenced by your household. Do your parents or guardians endow you with the ability to challenge what is being said? So, even though there is the idea that you can be surrounded by like-minded people, are you the kind of person who has been raised to fall in line with that or to challenge those ideas?

Esme: I don’t really think that’s how critical thinking works. I feel that parents can impress certain values or ways of thinking about things, but I learned to think critically in school and based on the people I surround myself with, like my friends.

Adrian: But critical thinking doesn’t mean to just disagree, it means to not take everything at “face value.”

Esme: Yeah that’s what I was saying.

Cynthia Enofe (Senior): I think that actually goes against what Tali said about privilege and having the simple option to “choose” what you think, whereas some minority groups or families don’t grow up with the idea of “option.” They’re taught, “this is how things work,” and you just have to work within the system. You have to be taken out of your comfort zone and placed in this privileged environment where you have to realize, “Ok, I have a voice regardless of my status or who I am,” so I don’t think that Critical Thinking is the correct term.

Adrian: But realizing that you have a voice stems from how your parents raise you.

Sophie: But I think that Cynthia brings up a good point, some people, even if they’re raised in a “critical thinking household,” are taught to have opinions but that they might not be heard or fully come across to society. I feel like the suppression of vocalizing opinions probably does affect family politics. Maybe your family will discuss it less or value politics less because they don’t get to share their opinions.

Maya: I interpreted what Adrian said as the ability to be raised within a politically-aligned household and still be able to recognize the flaws within that party and the “good” and “bad” that comes with every political group. Like I can still be raised in a Democratic household but still be able to see the flaws within the Democratic system because my parents raised me to think critically about everyone with the lens of “What are they doing right?” and “What are they doing wrong?” I think that it’s an important aspect of our society.

Jude: I don’t think that Cynthia was criticizing Adrian’s point, I think she was saying that we have to recognize that there is a large population that doesn’t have the privilege of “thinking outside the box.” I know from my own experience that if you say something that goes against this mass mentality, the common understanding of a certain issue, you’re wrong. That’s where I’ve felt that some parents do raise you to think critically, but not critically of them.

Cynthia: Shifting back to the first question, I would say that my family and I are inherently grouped into the same political affiliation but I think that the real difference comes with age. My parents are immigrants and they have this mentality that, yes, the American Dream is still possible, whereas I know that that mentality is flawed. They always say that “if you work hard you can do this, “ but I don’t know if you guys heard about the whole college scandal, but people are essentially paying to go to college. And my parents come to me and say, “If you get good grades, you can make it, “ but I’m just like, “Dad, it’s not going to work out.”

Sophie: Quickly before we move on, by a show of hands, how many of you were NOT surprised by the college admissions scandal? I was like, I already knew that.

Anne: It’s a lot of money to pay to a school. They’re paying to get in, they’re paying the tuition it’s ridiculous.

Camilla: With Lori Loughlin and her daughter, Olivia Jade, I assumed that there was some sort of discrepancy going on there, but I didn’t realize that she had paid the proctor to change the daughter’s SAT scores.

Jude: For me, the whole idea of people bribing a someone to get into college was not surprising. For me, what was most surprising, was the video of Olivia Jade talking about how she didn’t even want to go to college. That’s what I found most disgusting because she couldn’t appreciate the level of privilege that she had where she could buy her way into one of the top schools in the country.

Esme: Going off of what Cynthia said about the American Dream, this is not that similar, but I think that your family’s conception of “American Democracy” also affects how you identify politically. I know that some families think about democracy as “playing the system” as opposed to voting for your own beliefs or what’s best for American society, so I think that really influences who we believe in and how we make decisions.

Daniel: Beyond the rejection of people thinking critically or plain disagreeing with people around them, in a community, if I see someone with a “Make America Great Again” hat, I am not going to say, “This is just another member of our community.” I am going to say something. I was once in a Dunkin’ Donuts and my friends and I saw someone in a MAGA hat, and one of my friends was like, “I don’t like your hat,” and this full-grown man starts fully yelling in our face. He even called the cops on us for just saying that we didn’t like his hat and arguing with him. This is not a person that I view as “another member of the country.” And I know that this is a flaw in myself and I have this prejudice against this person, but I have it because I wish to reject him from my community.

Adrian: To get back to your point, Cynthia, that’s a great example of how you were raised with the ability to make your own judgments which is essentially what I’m saying, that you don’t always see things for as they are.

Phoebe Kamber (Junior): I just wanted to say that there are extremes at either end. Living in NYC, most people are very liberal but you can still have conversations where there are disagreements, but I think in certain areas, that’s not the case. I think this goes back to why people have the same political affiliations as their parents because whether or not they live in households where it’s ok to question what’s happening, when you get older, you have the opportunity to form your own opinions, especially in college. My grandparents are Republican and my Mom grew up with similar understandings of politics, but when she grew up and left for college she started getting more exposure to other, new ideas.

Tali L: In response to Daniel’s example, and how we respond to opposite views, I would just like to say that while of course we should be respectful, I think that if someone is a Trump supporter, there are certain assumptions you can make about them, and you should be allowed to judge them based on that. I think that’s okay because if you support what he stands for, there are certain judgements you can make.

Sophie: I also feel that the MAGA hat, in general, is a very polarizing thing. I think that the person who wears that hat knows that they will illicit some sort of reaction, polite or not. I think they know “something’s coming,” and I’m not trying to say that that individual was asking for an argument, but there are certain preconditions that come will political apparel. People can see their views and immediately disagree.

Jude: I also want to address what Daniel said. For me, it’s harder because I come from two very different families. My dad’s family is a very liberal, East Coast, Jewish family and my mom comes from an extended family of Hispanic immigrants from Nicaragua who are heavily Catholic and heavily conservative and so it’s hard for me to make the distinction. I know there are people out there who support policies that are racist and sexist, but at the same time, are helping my grandmother have a home and a place to live. So I have trouble with those conflicting personal and political views when it comes to how to feel about someone. That has influenced me to believe that with Trump supporters, I don’t like their policies and I probably don’t like them either but I’m just not going to attack them.

Tali Rosen (Sophomore): But we do see the hat, and we can infer the policies that they believe in and at Beacon, from my own experience, I know that if I ask a question that doesn’t necessarily fall in line with the all liberal, all-left views all the time, and you just ask the question, then people assume your political beliefs and put you in a certain category. It makes it hard to figure out your political identity and your own political views when you have to chose your words so carefully so that you don’t seem like you’re doing anything wrong.

Maya: Just going back to Jude’s comment about religious experiences shaping politics, I feel that it’s really difficult because you can’t deny someone their personal experiences, but you can disagree with their politics. For example, my grandmother, her mother and her family were in the Holocaust and she had family that died. So whenever she travels, she will go to the Jewish memorial or museum there. And because of that, she harbors some very anti-Palestinian and therefore, anti-Muslim sentiments because she feels so strongly that it’s the Jewish people’s right to have a state. I can’t deny her personal experience or everything that went wrong in the Holocaust, which are awful things, but at the same time she will make racist comments when we are in public regarding the Muslim people around us, and I can’t handle that. You can’t deny people their experiences but at the same time, you’re allowed to disagree.

Cynthia: Going off of that and the experiences people are sharing about coming into contact with the opposing party, I feel that we should also take into account the large and increasing population of individuals who chose to not participate in politics at all. They just don’t vote anymore because they’re too afraid to associate with one political party and to be “this or that” because they don’t want that identity.

Henry Wheeler-Klainbe (Freshman): I wanted to go back to question 2 and the story of Daniel’s grandparents in Brazil and their adapting views, because I think it’s interesting how views pass down through generations. On the Jewish side of the family, my grandmother was a counselor at the sleepaway I currently go to, and my mom went to my camp, and the camp is very socialist. We learn about socialism and obviously the camp has impacted my life and my political views and it’s generational.

Linus: Because my parents are German, and all my family is pretty much German, I feel like I have this privilege and ignorance of not knowing what it’s really like to be living in a government or society that’s awful and is doing awful things and is broken, and you can argue that it’s like that here in America, but obviously not like the extent of the Holocaust in Germany. For that reason, when I’m having a discussion with my parents or a debate, a lot of the times I reach the conclusion that I don’t want to argue for the sake of arguing. At the same time, having parents whose relatives were in a society that did such horrible things, it does matter that you have your own voice and are involved in politics, even if I feel that I can’t change anything, or that nothing bad is going to happen, but it does and it has happened and it can happen again.

Sophie: About the arguing for the sake of arguing, whenever I call out my mom about certain micro-aggressive things, because she may be ignorant to certain things due to her age or where she grew up, she will listen to a certain extent and maybe say, “Ok, I get it, whatever,” but I know she doesn’t fully understand what I’m saying or where I’m coming from. It’s something I have to work on when it comes to following up with “No, you don’t understand” or “You should care about this” but it’s hard because they’re your parents and you don’t want to piss them off. At the same time, I think your parents often assume that you’re all on the same page and get annoyed about any discrepancies.

Cynthia: This makes me wonder about when we’re older and when we have kids like, how would you react or would you be open to the fact that your kid has different political views? What if your kid came out saying, “I’m a Trump supporter” or “I’m a Hillary supporter,” how would you react? I feel like we would all have a burning rage towards that.

Henry: Adding onto Sophie, sometimes, if I don’t agree with something my mom says, she will be dismissive because I’m a child, and she thinks that I don’t understand as much as she does and I might not, but obviously I understand some things that she doesn’t.

Maxine Slater (Senior): Adding on, I think that there’s also a huge generational distinction in the sense that the trauma that my parents have witnessed, not their own trauma, but the trauma of others has affected their political thinking. I have older parents and they grew up going to segregated schools, and so racism was a much more blatant thing than it is today, so they can’t understand concepts like micro-aggressions or more covert forms of oppression. So I think that trying to connect those traumas, and relate those experiences to them, is something that I’ve had to do and tried to do in most conversations about politics.

Anne: In terms of the political conversations I have with my parents, I respect my parents and I know that both of them are smarter than I am because they’re more well-read about these things. When I was younger and had opinions, I always had to back it up with evidence, it was never an empty statement and in a way, it’s nice to have someone challenge you even if they agree with you. The practice of supporting an argument with something meaningful and true has helped me know when to speak up about my views or when to refrain and wait for others to speak before talking.

Jude: In my relationship with my parents, there’s more of a generational divide. They still have some respect or faith in the system or the American institution and if things are wrong, they believe it will be fixed.

Tali R: My dad, especially after I started going to Beacon, has been coming to me with the other side, even if he disagrees with it, because he feels that it’s important. Even the fact that we have to read the New York Times every night, says something. He also used to work in journalism so he encourages me to pay attention to how it’s covered and knowing when to ask questions has been helpful.

Daniel: I also think that it’s important to acknowledge that while all of these discussions our important, within our communities or our families, at least with my family, there are points where you just let it go and it’s a conversation without deep questions and moral dilemmas. If you think like that all the time it’s tiring. We can’t have round table discussions all the time.

Anne: At the end of the day, people’s political views and opinions are really no one else’s business. I mean, you can say “Oh I love Hillary” or “I think Climate Change is important” but it doesn’t really matter unless you act on it. By saying your opinion all the time, and especially at Beacon, shoving it down people’s throat, it doesn’t matter unless there’s action.

Maxine: I somewhat disagree with that. Again, the ability to be apolitical is also a privilege by virtue of gender, race, or location. Sometimes their very being is a political matter and it isn’t a choice.

Anne: I agree with that as well.

Esme: I was just going to comment on what Anne was saying, because I feel like the publicization of people’s opinions on social media or the idea that our political opinions are our own business has really changed.

Sophie: I think that posting about politics on social media is really tricky. I am someone who does post about my views, but sometimes I face criticism online as a result. One good example is that yesterday, in reference to the college admissions scandal, I posted something about how privileged people use their privilege to push mediocracy forward. One example is Jared Kushner. He went Harvard but was only admitted after his Dad made a $2.5 million dollar donation and a lot of reports claim that his high school grades were not that great or “Harvard worthy.” And so I reposted a tweet about how many poor people and POC will work extra hard, most of the time, not getting the results they want because of their financial decisions. And on Instagram I captioned this with “@ people who ED.” Then someone swiped up and said, “Yes I agree, but you can’t get mad at people for doing Early Decision. If they have that privilege, they should use it.” And my argument to that would be that the whole system is messed up and Early Decision’s very existence is classist and undermines the process by excluding the poor. However, I ended up taking it down, even if I didn’t really want to, because I questioned whether or not I should even be posting this in the first place, which is something I have to think about. If I can’t handle people disagreeing with me, should I even be posting at all? Or should I respect people’s wishes?

Ariella Moses (Sophomore): I think it’s also interesting to take into account how a singular post can only contain a  certain amount of information, and whatever that information is, can be biased or geared towards one lens, and posting it influences the notion that to share your views on social media is action enough, and that’s the downside to it.

Sophie: I agree, it’s totally not enough.

Maxine: I think social media can give a false sense of gratification. People can use a hashtag to promote a political message and then they think they’re apart of a movement.

Sophie: It’s an interesting dichotomy. You get so much information from your phone but sharing your views on social media, it’s fake. It’s not something you would say in real life. In real life, it has little to no impact most times.

Jude: I also feel like a lot of people who march in the Women’s March or Climate March, they’re great, but like what do these people do after? After it’s over, how many people go home and take action? The percentage is probably very low.

Camilla: Going back to the social media thing, I feel like a lot of people use it to give the impression that they’re woke or whatever but after that it’s like, what are you doing? Posting about it is not doing anything. I mean, it’s good that you went but what are you actually doing to enact change?

Cynthia: I agree with that. I feel like a lot of people, especially at Beacon, well it’s not your fault. But we live in a capitalist society so naturally we do things for the college resume. We want to get involved in these things like the Women’s March to look impressive on paper. But it’s like, people are making real differences, it’s about the gratification and feeling like you’re contributing to change.

Ariella: To add on, it gets even more problematic when people engage in the idea that they’re doing something for their own status as if it will make people view them in a certain way which further feeds into the values that the people who DO care are trying to counteract with action. It takes the action and the activism further back. It contributes to a negative cycle.

Maxine: That’s actually often referred to as “Slacktivism,” which is really interesting and there was recently an article about it.

Mollie Butler (Senior): I agree in the sense that we are just doing these marches and nothing is really happening after the fact and I think that we live in an extremely liberal bubble. But if we are just discussing it or going to the movement, nothing is going to happen. We have learned within in our society that change is really hard and not always possible. A lot of the times, especially with extended family, they will discourage me or my cousins from doing anything because we’re “younger and don’t know anything.” I think growing up with that kind of mentality has suppressed certain values because my family impresses the idea that I don’t know anything about the world and I haven’t been “out there.”

Daniel: Personally, I think that we are all in the same place on the “ladder of political influence,” and I would say that it’s a pretty low rung. We all have little to no influence on how laws are voted on, but what we do have influence on is social media presence (although everyone loves to say that it does nothing and is probably not super effective) and marching. And it’s not like “if 50,000 people come out to march today, then the law will be change,” but it’s all we can do and I don’t think it’s fair to say that marching and protesting in the streets is useless. It’s unfair to all the people that have marched in American history and around the world. It does make a difference and it does help and honestly, it’s all we can do. We can write articles about it or start groups but those are the limits we have as the youth and as normal citizens who don’t have any political power.

Sophie: I agree with you Daniel and while I will say that I have been at marches and movements where there is a lot of inaction, and I do believe that there is such a thing as ineffective marching, but we cannot discredit the success that it has had. The mere presence of a march or of a strike can have so much impact on a school or people who hear about. We are lucky that our school supports us when we walk out, but a lot of the time that is all we can do. Personally, I try and write about things and “practice what I preach” but it is also hard to go beyond that. I can’t take off from school to lobby and there are sometimes when marches and posting are ineffective or not the best method of activism, but they’re often the only things we can do.

Cynthia: Personally, I’m not trying to disagree with you guys. To a certain degree, I do believe that marches are somewhat effective in achieving your goals. But I do feel that if you want real change, and you really truly want real change, it comes with sacrifice. And if you’re not willing to sacrifice your school, your education, miss a test, go out in a rain, march everyday, miss a week of day. Real change comes with sacrifice. Maybe it means sacrificing your privilege or whatever that means. It’s doing more than doing a couple of marches, walking out one day, or writing about it online to feel better about your white guilt, but actually doing and sacrificing something.

Daniel: Have you ever gone for a week in the rain marching?

Cynthia: I’m just saying that if you truly care about change in our society you will make those sacrifices. I’m not trying to discredit you.

Ariella: Similar to the point that was just made, I’m remembering last year, before the walkout, there were people in my Biology class that were frustrated that the teacher wasn’t excusing them from missing the test. But that in itself made me upset because the whole point of a walkout is that you are sacrificing something, and if you can’t realize that the only way to work against our society and its flaws, you have to go against the institution that you are told to succumb to.

Jude: I agree with what Cynthia was saying. I think that two hours on a Friday marching from Columbus Circle to Central Park South doesn’t mean anything unless you stick with it. I think you can stick with it by continuing to march, but it needs to be a continuous thing, not a one time thing. It’s not just once a year. How many people at those marches do you think participate in some form of activism every week?

Tali R: I’m not sexist but I think that the Women’s March is flawed in the way that they run things, even in the way that their website is set up. If you look at what they stand for and their goals, there are too many things. It’s trying to end all suffering ever and that is a goal, but it’s not one that is necessarily solved by one Women’s March once a year. They shouldn’t try and label themselves as the solution. There’s also anti-semitism going on inside the group and as a Jewish person, that is something I deal with, but it’s not a solution for change. It’s a statement that garners attention and people, but doesn’t do anything.

Esme: I was just going to say that marching occasionally doesn’t make much change, but the idea of organizing and having a goal for change is really empowering and should motivate more change than it does, but I think those ideas are really important.

Linus: I think that marching does something. Politicians can see what’s happening and what the people care about, and if they’re not corrupt which a lot are or too many are, then they will care because it is a democracy and they will want to help and make legislation according to the people. I don’t think that you shouldn’t make sacrifices and if you have the opportunity to march, you should. Essentially, the most power an average American has is voting, where you go to a voting station and if there’s a long line that sucks but it’s one day. It’s not like you have to cut off your arm to vote. We live in a flawed society, but we don’t live in an anarchy so I don’t think we should degrade the good things that people are doing.

Jude: Again, I know that this a democracy, but people marching doesn’t affect the decisions or the outlooks of Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell and at the end of the day, while voting is important, it doesn’t always have the power to change everything.

America to Me: A New Docuseries About Race in American Public Schools

By Mollie Butler

“America to Me” is a ten episode documentary series on the Starz network which takes places at Oak Park High School in the suburbs of Chicago that follows students from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds at each grade level within the school. The documentary exposes the social, political, and administrative aspects of the school, and education as whole, while looking at both students, faculty and community members. Oak Park was considered an “American experiment in true diversity” because it was a place in which many members of the community had fought “white flight,” and young white liberal members prided themselves on staying in the diverse community. The hour long episodes cover certain events throughout the school year following students throughout their days at school, at extracurriculars, and at home. Steve James, the film maker, selects students whose education is far from equal and works to create an “eye opening” series, by comparing the vastly different education students are receiving within the same school and thus showing why the school is often referred to as “two schools within one.”  

The show begins with the controversy of a Black Lives Matter assembly held at the school, primarily for students of color. The discussion was meant to be an outlet for black students, but was seen by many white students and parents as exclusive. While the school took pride in their diversity, the show touched on the idea of diversity not necessarily amounting to equity, but more inequity. It was made clear how change was not something the community was used to or wanted, and they used diversity in the school as a form of “tokenism” for the white teachers and parents who failed to see the underlying issues within Oak Park. They wanted diversity but when it came to the question of equality within the classroom they turned their heads. The phrase “not in my backyard” came to mind when watching the program, when faculty members tried to discuss teaching within a diverse environment, the Board of Education told them they had to do it on their own time and refused to fund their project and instead chose to divert funds to building a new pool. The documentary does a great job of showing the small mannerisms and microaggressions that occur and go unnoticed but have such large implications and reveal the inherent racist and prejudiced tendencies of the school’s community.

The documentary showed varying experiences, asking white students and their parents different questions in which some answered “I don’t have a lot of black friends”, “there are too many cultural differences”, and “the white kids try harder in school than the black kids”. The white students are on the honors and AP track and they view the other classes with more black students as “those classes,” implying that they hold lesser value. Many of the white students discussed their tutoring experiences outside of school which help them with organizational and academic skills while these same resources are not available to the black students. The show avoided relying on stereotypes, however; and painted a 3 dimensional image of each student.

The show revealed how the school held a color blind mentality and thought of themselves as a race neutral zone when clearly each aspect was dominated by race. One episode followed an African American student and the issue of residence within the Oak Park school district. As many parents worked hard to get their kids accepted into this school it became very competitive and the school took residence very seriously. One student shared his experience on how the school had hired officers to track him and follow him after school to make sure he wasn’t lying about where he lived. There were instances where they had knocked on his door to see if he was home. The teachers spoke about how this issue only ever come up for black students in which they have to prove their residency.

Each episode was shocking in itself, especially with the ties it has to our own school in the lack of diversity we have in our faculty and student body, in the distractions we use such as spending months changing our mascot instead focusing on fundamental issues within our school, and with the coded language used within communities that supposedly advocate for inclusion.

Not a Fan of AP? Try College Now Courses

By Mollie Butler

College Now, a free program offered by John Jay College, is a great way to learn outside the classroom. Although this might seem appealing to students coming from a 7-hour school day, the class is a great way to study things that are not offered in standard public education such as psychology, anthropology and criminal justice. All taught at a college level, these classes can earn you up to 3 college credits and provide an alternative to the strenuous 5-day-a-week AP classes.

The College Now program is set up to mimic college life for high school students, serving as a bridge between the two levels of education. The program allows students to experience a college course workload, navigate a college campus, and participate in classes taught in traditional lecture style. Students also get the perks that come along with working in a CUNY school, gaining access to the library and the database that is connected to all the city colleges while using the campus spaces for studying.

Another benefit of the program is the weight it has on a student’s resume and college application. Universities and employers look to see if students push themselves when it comes to academia. Although College Now classes can be long, they are a great way for students to show a commitment to learning outside the classroom–especially at Beacon, where limited space in AP classes prevents some students from having the opportunity to get AP credits.

Personally, I chose this program as an alternative to the minimal AP classes offered at Beacon. I thought it would be better to push myself in a College Now class I was more interested in than struggle to keep up with the workload of AP Biology. I chose Psychology, not realizing how much I would come to enjoy and be interested in the material the class covered more and more as the semester went on. We did projects such as film psychoanalysis, where our homework was to watch movies. The class became more than just a requirement or a box I was checking off for my future college application but something I wanted to engage in.

The transition between Beacon’s collaborative learning style and John Jay’s traditional college lecture style was something that was hard to get used to at first. However, the change allowed me to glimpse the different type of work I would experience in college.

“It was great to have the opportunity to practice a skill such as taking notes based off what the teacher is saying through the class, knowing I will be needing it when it comes to college. College Now gave me an outlet to sharpen these skills in a less rigorous environment,” said Zoe, a junior who took the psychology course during the fall semester.

Sabene Figueroa, a junior who took a criminal justice class and will soon be taking a sociology class, expressed how “College Now courses refer mostly to textbook readings. Definitely this type of learning is different than Beacon as most of my classes don’t require textbooks, but I also realize the work I will [have] to do in college will be very different than [that in] high school. I want to better prepare myself and adjust any way I can.”

For students who want to challenge themselves in a college environment and don’t want to fill their schedules will AP classes, College Now classes are definitely something to look into.

Beacon @Women’sMarch2018, NYC

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STUDENT REACTIONS

Beacon students, you can share your experience at the march in pictures/videos/writing here: https://goo.gl/forms/KytDcooH74foZnDs1.

 

“It’s exhilarating to be here. I’m sure the march is just as riveting in DC but it feels particularly meaningful to see and contribute to this sense of solidarity and love in my own city. The march makes you forget about finals and homework and all of the busywork we push through to be able to go out and celebrate our communities, our values, and our country (or what we believe our country can be). A lot of the chants I heard and signs I saw were centered around federal politics and, of course, a president whose behavior towards women has been abominable and even criminal. It’s reassuring to see how many people—of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and religions—will stand together not only to condemn a culture that denies women their due respect and opportunity but to advocate for a more inclusive and equitable society moving forward. These are the voices that matter. Your voice matters. I hope Beacon students and all other participants in the 2018 Women’s March have as momentous an experience as I did.” -Ilana Cohen, Editor-in-Chief

 

“Having gone to the Women’s March last year in Washington, being a part of the same movement in my own city was an amazing experience. Much has changed in the year since Donald Trump was inaugurated, but many of the same civil rights and women’s rights issues persist. It’s always funny to see inventive signs and Trump impersonators, but I only had time to spend around 2 hours in the march, and I spent much of that time in Columbus Circle, specifically near a small group of Trump supporters in the Southwest corner of Central Park. There were about 10 of them–one was just carrying a sign that read ‘Vets before Illegals,’ one had a ‘Women for Trump’ sign, and one was carrying a strongly anti-Islamic sign and was yelling about the ‘evil’ of Sharia law. Personally, I find more value in discussion with those on the other end of the political spectrum than with those whose beliefs align with my own. I was considering talking to this woman to ask why she believed in these things, but then a Muslim family walked by and she aggressively taunted them and I decided against it. I did, however, absorb the content of the arguments they had with Trump protesters, which were fierce, and by no means does the blame lie on only one side for the intensity of the taunts.

Eventually, I started a discussion with a self-described conservative centrist, named Warren, who ‘mostly’ supports Trump. He was wearing no political gear of any kind and said that he too was just there to ‘absorb’ the atmosphere, not attack it, as he said he believes in women’s rights. He defended the Republican tax bill and believed that there should be some restrictions on immigration. While we had a good number of disagreements, and he couldn’t defend all of Trump’s actions (namely his compulsive tweeting), I found that he was a decent person. He has a son who is in journalism school and he asked a lot about my own goals and wished me success. While these kinds of gatherings can seem partisan at times, it is up to each individual to reach out, because polarization will only work to deepen the divide in this country and continue to hamper progress.”

-Adrian Flynn, Website Design & Publishing Director

 

“It was an indescribable feeling of unity to be part of the march, chanting until I couldn’t hear my own voice.”

– Rowana Miller, Senior

What a Beautiful day to advocate for women’s rights…

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Photography by: Boo Elliott, Ilana Cohen, Mollie Butler

Getting to Know ‘You’: An Introduction to Beacon’s New English Teacher

By Mollie Butler

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{Ms. You doing the Tour du Mont Blanc a year ago.}

This year, Beacon welcomed Ms. You, a 11th and 12th grade English teacher from the Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Queens, into its community. She joined the Beacon faculty at a crucial time in her teaching career, having realized that she wanted to experience a new learning environment with fresh challenges.

After spending thirteen years in her previous job, she is now overcoming a brief period of “postmortem” reflection on her time at BSGE to better understand the institution she had joined and her role within it. Adjusting to Beacon, a setting Ms. You described as the polar opposite of her old school, has been the most difficult part of her first two months here (especially the commute, which she was most surprised about). Regarding her experience coming into Beacon, she told The Beacon Beat, “How much of what one experiences is oneself and how much of it is the situation, is a difficult concept to understand.” With the support of her new colleagues, whom she calls “amazing,” Ms. You feels she is beginning to find her place here at Beacon. Ms. You is grateful for the opportunity for self-realization and growth this new position will provide.

Before Ms. You started teaching, the path she had envisioned for her life was far from her career as an English teacher. When this did not pan out, she took a more a passive approach to finding her career path and ultimately, found the work she now loves, along with a new passion for literature: “Any text helps us realize how complicated we are as human beings. Sometimes it is hard to be proud of being human, but literature can make you proud, literature is always there to return to.”

Although Ms. You’s admiration for literature and passion for teaching is deep, she tells The Beacon Beat that it may not always shine through when she stands in front of a classroom of thirty students. She says the best way to get to know her as a teacher and a person is through meeting one-on-one, when she is comfortable expressing herself and students can get a chance to “figure her out,” — then, she might even show you pictures of her two dogs!

Nevertheless, Ms. You’s love for the written word is clearly applied in her philosophies as a teacher and in the goals she expressed to The Beacon Beat. In her classes, Ms. You hopes to create a strong foundation in English for her students as they progress in their education, and to help students gain their own appreciation for the written word: “One of my favorite poems is The Emperor of Ice Cream by Wallace Stevens. Whenever I read that, I am always in awe that an insurance executive from Connecticut can write such an exquisite poem. It important to always have this to return to.”

Ms. You channels a depth of literary knowledge and an eagerness to engage students into her teaching. These qualities make the Beacon English department a unique and impactful part of the school’s curriculum.

Caffeine Kick: The Mass Consumption of Coffee by Beacon Students

By Mollie Butler

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It has become increasingly apparent at Beacon how much coffee students drink, especially around  PBA week. The Beacon Beat interviewed a few students who commented on how they have become reliant on their morning cup of joe to stay awake and focused during these especially stressful times.

Lenwich, which is only two blocks from Beacon, charges $1.80 for a small, regular cup of coffee. There are around 180 days of school each year, so for a student to purchase a Lenwich coffee every day of the school year, it would cost around $324.

The Beacon Beat asked student Ronna Margalit if she minds spending so much money on coffee. “I used to only drink decaf because I never wanted to become reliant on the coffee, but I started ordering regular coffee due to my lack of sleep…I sometimes make coffee at home, but I feel that due to my lack of sleep, coffee is a necessary part of my day. The money I spend [on coffee] is definitely worth it.”

Faced with the workload of high school and extracurriculars, many students find they need an extra source of energy and have begun to turn to coffee. “I didn’t start drinking coffee until last year at the beginning of PBA week, after seeing all my fellow classmates come in with cups of coffee and telling me how coffee is the only thing that gets them through PBA week,” reported student Olivia Uxestskey.  She continued, “I really love the taste of coffee, but with that comes me getting addicted to the caffeine.”

Caffeine addiction can cause symptoms of withdrawal if a regular coffee drinker stops consuming coffee.  Other symptoms can include dizziness, grogginess, and stress.  For students who skip their coffee because they’re running late to school, these symptoms can make for an unpleasant school day.

“There was one day where I was running late and had no time to get coffee.  I began to get headaches during the day and felt no focus in my school classes. All I could think was how much I needed a cup of coffee,” said Everett, who usually consumes two cups a day.

Along with the possibility of withdrawal comes the crash when students’ coffee buzz wears off during the day: “I never truly experienced an abrupt crash. I just slowly fade as the day wears on and I have started drinking coffee at the end of the day as fuel to get through my homework,” said Ronna Margalit. Hayley Bernstein recalls that when she stopped drinking coffee over winter break, she “felt dreary and tired, and began getting mild headaches from not consuming it. I started drinking it when school started again.”

The Beacon Beat asked a few students if they started drinking coffee for the caffeine fix or because they saw so many other Beacon students doing the same thing.  Is there an element of peer pressure?  “I guess I only started drinking coffee because of the students around me and I feel that when I talk to other students about it, it’s like I am being part of some large student movement and fitting into a high school ritual,” said Everett.

Adjusting Under-the-Radar: Transfer Students’ Experiences at Beacon

By Mollie Butler

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Each year, Beacon accepts a number of transfer students, some of whom enroll midyear. The Beacon Beat interviewed a few such sophomore transfers to shed light on their transition process. They explained the factors that drew them to our school: a great advisory program, a welcoming student population, and teachers that have helped them adapt to the Beacon environment.

As the students adjust, they also face new challenges–a sudden increase in workload and having to learn to navigate the PBA system on the fly. They also reported social challenges; in fact, two students who were interviewed chose to remain anonymous, reporting that they are not confident that all “native” Beacon students would overlook the common stereotype of the outcast transfer.

“Personally, I loved the comforting and friendly environment of my old school Frank McCourt. I found it easier to find and connect with different people,” says Luli Portnoy, a sophomore new to Beacon. She spoke of the pros and cons of both schools, and of how important a school’s social atmosphere is to a high school student’s overall experience.

“ A part of my old school that I really enjoyed was how connected each grade was. I feel that being in classes and working with students from all grades gave me a greater sense of community and perspective on certain subjects. That’s a part of my academic life that I miss,” says one transfer student who required anonymity.

All the transfer students experienced challenges on their first day: “I felt a nervous excitement. I already knew many people and felt comfortable with my social life; the sense of nervousness came from the stereotypes often placed on students who transfer schools,” says Luli Portnoy. She felt that the first day was a defining moment for her social experience at Beacon.

For a transfer student, the social change that accompanies changing schools can often be very drastic or abrupt, yet the larger challenge seems to be the change in academic life. Welcoming teachers can alleviate this pressure. When asked about the teachers’ assistance to the new students Luli, reported that “overall, they were all very accommodating and kind to me. They really didn’t treat me differently, except for explaining some basic Beacon philosophies to get me started.”

Luli also received help from her advisory, which was “very welcoming,” as students offered to explain Beacon’s ways and invited her to eat with them: “I feel that is a great outlet to just talk about my week and my struggles.” Another transfer student commented on how she had found a teacher to trust through her advisory.

The Beacon Beat also asked interviewees how they are adjusting to Beacon academics. “ I still do not know what to expect for PBAs, but I am working on time management with the help of my teachers. I honestly am still transitioning to the workload and the various clubs Beacon offers. It is definitely an abrupt change from the workload of my old school,” notes Luli Portnoy.

“I find it so interesting how involved Beacon is with current events and the taking of the New York Times quizzes–because of Beacon I feel more in tuned with the world,” says one transfer student who chose to remain anonymous. “I feel the experience will truly benefit me as a student and transform my learning to work on actual problems in the world and not just filling in a bubble.”

All in all, Luli feels positive about her decision to join our Beacon ranks: “My transfer to Beacon was probably one of the greatest academic choices I have made. I truly feel that Beacon has pushed me to become a more active part of society with all the protests and discussions of politics and current events. I hope and feel that Beacon will give me the knowledge and voice to be an active part of the world.” From the point of view of several transfer students, it appears that Beacon’s progressive and welcoming environment has already begun to set in, helping shape their views.

Despite the mostly positive comments, some transfer students still fear being judged for their late entrance to Beacon: “Although I feel fully welcomed into Beacon, I still feel as though I might be given more advantages with kids feeling pressured to welcome me or for teachers to cut me more slack then they are supposed to. I wouldn’t want to put this pressure on others,” one transfer student reports.

The fear of judgment and stereotypes held by transfer students is not exclusive to Beacon, of course, but it can make the transition a rocky one for our new peers. It’s up to us to support them and help to make sure their Beacon experience is as rich and positive as it is for those of us who have spent their entire high school careers here.

 

The Beacon Interview Process: What Attracts Students to The Beacon School

By Mollie Butler

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On Saturday, November 5th, and Sunday, November 6th, Beacon held interviews for prospective students. Being behind the desk during that interview process provided me with a deeper understanding of what attracts a variety of students to Beacon. In each of the 12-minute interview sessions, I was able to ask the students several important questions: Why would Beacon be a good school for you? What attracts you to Beacon? Compared to other schools, why is Beacon your top choice ? The answers I got back were very similar, and seemed to show that most kids were attracted to Beacon’s collaborative environment.

When asked whether they would work better in a group or as an individual, most interview subjects answered that they thrive in group work and learn from peers’ ideas. They elaborated on the notion that Beacon academics were based on collaborative work and were excited that even the PBAs could involve group work. One eighth grade interviewee who choose to remain anonymous, reported that “Beacon is just one of those schools that allows for group work and personally, I love being a leader in a group guiding and helping others. This helps me as a student.”

Another popular response to why prospective students were attracted to Beacon was because of its lively and welcoming environment. One student mentioned that “the colorful walls and art just makes me smile. This is just another reason why Beacon seems like a fun school.” Many eighth graders added how bright and cheerful the atmosphere of Beacon is and how that gave the school a positive vibe. They also talked about how comforting and friendly Beacon students are and how during tours and open houses, Beacon students are very helpful in answering questions.

The balance Beacon provides between academics and the arts was another theme in the Beacon interviews. Many prospective students showed a passion for the arts and thought that Beacon would be a place for them to expand their knowledge, as well as to have the opportunity to experience different types of art electives and clubs.

Interviewees were impressively well versed on Beacon’s curriculum. “ I believe with all theses great opportunities, I will be allowed to explore and be part of new experiences not only socially, but also academically. I think Beacon will allow me to be part of many different artistic clubs that are not offered at any other school,” said one interviewee. Most believed Beacon offered a well rounded-education and felt Beacon would build a strong foundation for them in all subjects, in comparison to other schools that have much more definitive focuses.

A few students spoke highly of Beacon’s diversity as a reason to choose it over other schools. When I asked the question of what extracurricular activities each of them wanted to participate in at Beacon, most expressed a desire to join clubs like Model UN or BMeds that would help them greatly in their academic lives. Many talked about how Beacon’s intellectual clubs and sports opportunities promote teamwork and collaboration, this being just another reason why Beacon is such a special school.

Two years ago I went through this same process on the other side of the desk as an eighth grade student interviewing to attend Beacon. I was asked many of the same questions, and was exposed to many of the ideas that comprise Beacon. Throughout the interviews, it has been clear how highly students think of our school and its unique, creative environment.