To My Alma Mater: A Senior Message
By Margaret Zheng
Time is surreal in the moments of letting go. In just a few days, I shall be in cap and gown formally drawing my years as a student of Council Rock to an end. In just a few days, my life as a child will in a momentous way come to a close – though I will still only be 17. In just a few days – a blink of eternity.
I am far overripe for a change of place, for new soils to nurture my unwieldy talents and creative spirit. So why does my heart ache for the same – institution – that I so often critiqued in this publication, fiercely, bitingly? Why, despite my history of a total lack of homesickness when traveling away from family – a pattern which began with little me exclaiming to my intensely worrying mother after the first day of kindergarten that “No, I didn’t miss you!” – do I already feel pain and nostalgia in letting go?
I think it is because though my biological parents have lovingly raised me and have nourished my body and warmed my heart, I feel that my schools, or rather the kind and thoughtful people who have been my teachers and counselors and administrators in them, have really been the parents of my intellectual, spiritual self. Council Rock is truly my alma mater – my mother of spirit.
Increasingly, as I prepare for flight from the mother’s nest, questions about “my future” have excited me, haunted me, or left me in utter confusion about what am I to aim for or to become. I seem capable of devoting myself to neither reason nor passion alone. The plea of “Pursue your passions!” only brings me unease, as does the dictate of doing what is economical for society.
More and more I see myself as a patchwork of selves, a synthesis of many different and often conflicting ideas and worldviews, yet also as one who resists the fragmentation of self, striving instead for some not-quite-fathomable whole. How I shall assemble and reassemble the diverse elements of “who I am” in the years to come is uncertain – and even when I believe I have answers, those answers are apt to change.
Council Rock has trained me to pose questions and seek answers yet never to be satisfied with the answers I am merely given. If my alma mater has nourished like a mother my introspections and psychological growth, it has not been with honey-cream, but a pungent-spiced spiritual milk.
Teachers, educators, did you stoke our minds and stimulate our spirits just so that we would tread an Earth throbbing like yours, leave unsolved the problems your generations did not – would not – fix, live blissfully complacent in the world as it was and has been – as if we were not already in danger, as if a diploma or two or three were all that is needed to guarantee a safe and fulfilling future for us?
No, you wanted more for us. You taught us to think, carefully, critically, interdisciplinarily in the spirit of a liberal education. What you did wasn’t perfect, in part because the systems in which we function are flawed, but at least in my view, you have done something good.
By nature, I am a philosopher, partial to a life of the mind. Throughout my eleven years in Council Rock, various teachers, counselors, club advisors, and even cherished classmates (philosofun!) have encouraged my instinctive intellectual and artistic pursuits of truth and beauty. I thank you greatly for this and for supporting me emotionally when intense thinking and feeling produced not answers but a scary existential storm. Yet no human lives merely upon thought, upon pure philosophy and art.
To be human is inherently to create and enact for oneself a code of ethics, beginning with a crucial and powerful self-imperative: I shall live.
To be human and live among other humans is to be political, even in inaction, for lives intersect with lives, decisions shape other decisions, meanings and morals circulate endlessly in our communities and greater societies even without us willing.
Yet to be human and consciously human is to will: I shall live as I believe I must.
I believe I must fight for a better, brighter, more beautiful world.
This is what Council Rock has taught me: to be political, but not politicized. To think deeply, to empathize, to engage in dialogue, and then to act, mindfully, powerfully. It has led me to first activate my civic powers through tackling issues of education, starting with my own school community and then connecting with nationwide and even global activism by and for the youth.
Sometimes I have been hesitant to act, frightened by the potential consequences and the weighty meanings of action, doubtful that I could really have the right and power to make change or that the change I imagine is even the proper change to pursue. But teachers, administrators, and school board members have encouraged me on and have listened to my voice calling to awaken the voices of others.
Some of you students might dispute me, as you have in conversation, and claim that adults are not yet supportive enough, particularly towards the most vulnerable of us youth. I say that your perspectives, true to your personal experiences, imply not apathy or a “giving up” with school.
Rather, I say they compel you to share your experiences, confront our community with your truth, and insist on change. Knowing Council Rock, a complicated mixture of conservative and liberal impulses as many are, I advise you that change shall be difficult – but if it is right, and if people believe in it, then eventually, it will start to happen. Just ask the GSA.
Dear Alma Mater, I am not done with you yet. For one thing, I still have a younger brother for your schools to shape. But more importantly, you are not done yet. There is still more room for you to grow.
There is much more room for all of us – the Class of 2019 as well as the rest – to strive for our stars, to listen to and care for one another, to create for ourselves and our posterity a happy, healthy, harmonious Earth.
By Sophia Kim
For most people, ninth grade is a difficult, yet memorable year that can be looked back on for a lifetime. Despite these difficulties or perhaps because of them, however, in the process, students make new memories and learn lessons that make them stronger human beings.
The following are some of my own reflections of this year as a freshman student at Council Rock North, as well as some insights from a few of my classmates.
Expectations vs Reality
As an upcoming ninth grader, I had some fears for high school, as most people do. I was mostly concerned about the change in workload, sleep schedule, and teachers. I feared that homework would take up most of my free time after school, isolating me from friends and classmates. Although I did struggle in managing time, I found that my classmates and I naturally communicated and worked together more than in we did in middle school. After school, we asked each other questions or reminded each other of due dates.
Waking up earlier than I had been for the past two years also concerned me. In the beginning of the year, the new wake-up time proved to be difficult to adjust to. Nevertheless, as the year progressed, my sleep schedule became more natural and I got used to sleeping less.
Before I started to settle in, I expected classes to be fast-paced and for teachers to be stricter than those in middle school. In contrast, I saw that teachers at North were extremely helpful and encouraging. They always offered times for students to get extra help and encouraged them to ask questions before moving on to new topics.
As a freshman, I faced a variety of problems that I did not experience as a middle schooler. For example, in past years, my habit of procrastinating did not affect me much. It was possible to put off homework and assignments and still complete them in a reasonable manner. In contrast, this year, my poor time management resulted in a great deal of stress and frustration. Due to the constant workload of all classes, procrastinating led to many late nights doing homework and ineffectively studying for tests, an unsustainable lifestyle.
Michael Moldavchuk, a 9th grader at North, stated that the most difficult aspect of this year for him was “adapting to the much higher workload of high school and managing my time to complete it.”
Julianna Trahey and Kate Logan faced a different predicament relating to time management: maintaining a balance between school work and home life.
Trahey commented that a challenging aspect of freshman year was “balancing a social life with academics.” Logan further explained that “every second could have been filled with homework and studying, but my family and friends are just as and even more important than getting straight A’s.”
When school work is so demanding, the normal routine inevitably must change. Adjusting to a more school-oriented schedule is tough for students who never experienced such a high level of stress before.
As freshman Alex Liu described, “The most difficult part [of this year] was adapting to the new workload and different lifestyle of high school.”
Nonetheless, through these challenges, students of the class of 2022 discovered a great number of meaningful lessons that will be useful for the future.
One of the most important values I learned this year was acceptance. In 7th and 8th grade, I developed a habit of thinking that I needed to put my absolute best work forward at all times. Although this mindset can help students reach their full potential and encourage them to be more productive, this way of thinking can also be detrimental.
The fast-moving environment of high school changed my attitude toward my grades. It is not humanly possible to always put your full effort into everything. It is more important to prioritize certain assignments over others and to work yourself only to a certain point.
As Julia LaPlante reflected, “I learned to not stress myself out over everything.” I learned to accept a lower grade once in a while. Additionally, I recognized that allowing a bad grade to motivate me is much more productive than letting it bring me down.
Logan seemed to have a similar realization. She said, “I learned that in order to be happy, you have to go through rough patches, because if you don’t, you will take happiness for granted. I also learned that sometimes you have to let go and be okay with a bad grade because nobody is perfect.”
I walked into freshman year ready to tackle whatever was thrown at me. Oftentimes I prioritized work over sleep and saw negative results. I was tired and irritable the next day and found it hard to stay awake in my afternoon classes. When I began to go to bed earlier and got a reasonable amount of sleep, my attitude drastically improved and I could be mentally present throughout the entire school day.
I realized that even if I hadn’t accomplished everything I wanted to get done in one day, I could at least be refreshed and ready for the next. Through difficult experiences, I learned the importance of sleep and taking care of my brain in that way.
A final lesson that I took away from freshman year was the power of staying connected with my peers and teachers. Throughout our first year of high school, my classmates and I went through hardships that we never tackled before. However, with assistance from friends and teachers, we could deal with problems more efficiently and with less stress than if we dealt with them alone.
Jamie Perera stated that she learned the importance of “seeking help when [she] needed it” while Liu learned a lot about “collaboration with peers.” Freshman year taught me about working as a team with my classmates and helping each other when possible. The high school experience is much more memorable that way.
If I could go back and fix certain aspects of my freshman year, I would be more organized and disciplined with my homework. I brought unneeded stress on myself by not planning and spreading out work throughout the course of a week. If I had been more diligent in working on certain assignments every day, some even little by little, I would have been much more productive and prepared for school every day.
Many of my classmates can attest to this same experience. For example, Abhi Bolisetti said that he saw “how important it is to prioritize tasks because not everything can be accomplished in one day.”
In addition, Moldavchuk, Trahey, and Liu all felt that this year they were tested with learning proper time management.
When reflecting upon my freshman year at North, I also regret coming into school many days with a negative mindset. Whether I was anxious for a test or simply still tired in the morning, I made my day more stressful by focusing on the negatives rather than the positives. When I came into school letting go of certain shortcomings I felt, I performed better on tests and could pay better attention in class.
I also wish I would have joined more clubs at CRN. In the few clubs that I joined this year, I met people of different ages and interests. Meeting new people broadened my perspective on my fellow students at North and helped me better involve myself in my school community.
Most Memorable Aspects of the Year
Something I will always remember about ninth grade is how close I felt with my classmates. As we journeyed through the new school together, we all faced similar hardships. All of us experienced difficulty in adjusting to the school. Recognizing our similar experiences was in itself encouraging and helped us move forward. Additionally, it was amazing to see my classmates learn to navigate the building that would be our school for the next three years.
Caitlin Leach and Bolisetti both recalled how being with friends helped the year go more smoothly for them. Leach stated, “Even though there was a lot of work, I had fun being with my friends and going to activities.”
According to Bolisetti, “The high school experience is much better if you join clubs and activities you enjoy with friends.”
While sticking to familiar faces is comforting, we met so many new friends that we will share our high school journey with as well. Perera described that “there were people I wouldn’t have met [otherwise] who turned out to be some of the coolest friends…”
Freshman year is finally over, and it turned out to be both one of the most difficult and eye-opening experiences of my life.
By Marissa Cohen
Four days a year, freshmen and sophomores alike come to school to take the oft-dreaded Keystone exams. These days are nice for upperclassmen- they get to come in late, so they’ll sleep in or go out to breakfast. Underclassmen, however, spend the first half of the school day answering questions and writing short essays about algebra, biology, or literature.
As always with standardized tests, many stakeholders take issue with various aspects of the Keystone exams. Currently, the Keystones are a graduation requirement for students in the class of 2022, but not for anyone else at North. So why did everyone graduating in 2019, 2020, or 2021 have to take them as well?
The often-cited answer is that the exams used to be a graduation requirement for those students, too. But since the induction of the Keystones in the 2012-13 school year, Governor Tom Wolf has signed bills changing the rules multiple times.
The original law stated that the exams would be a requirement starting with the class of 2017. The 2016 change delayed the graduation requirements by two years, to the class of 2019. Then, in 2018, legislators decided to delay the graduation requirement even further to the class of 2022.
Unfortunately, the Keystones don’t seem to have any other use than to as a graduation requirement, but that changes often, as you can see. Unlike the SATs and ACTs, college admissions officers don’t care what your Keystone scores are.
The fluctuation of rules and requirements has led many people to call for the removal of these exams, and they may have a valid point. Many students and parents alike consider these tests to be a waste of time. Not only can these tests provide extra stress to students who are already struggling to get all of their work done, but the exams simply test students on material for classes they’re already taking tests and getting grades for.
Elena Crowell, a sophomore who has taken all three Keystones, said that “having to study for additional tests added more work and stress to my daily routine.”
Underclassmen at North already have homework and studying to get done for their classes, and some are taking subject SATs; yet another test, specifically a standardized one, adds even more stress and work to the students’ schedules.
There is also another, more nuanced issue with the Keystones. I spoke to both Ms. Brennan and Mr. Mann, who respectively teach biology and algebra one, both of which are Keystone-focused classes.
Both teachers generally said that they don’t believe that the Keystones take time away from teaching. Mr. Mann went into specifics, saying that “because the Keystones are a state test, my curriculum follows the testing material.” The only extra curricular item that they have to teach is how to take the tests. Thus, the exams do not seem to present much of a problem for some teachers, which is certainly positive.
However, these interviews raise the unseen question: if teachers are teaching the state curriculum, and students are passing the classes, then why do students need yet another mark showing that they know the material?
Students have no need to prove themselves in the material for a class they already have a passing grade in, which proves that these tests are more extraneous than most people think.
Perhaps when the Keystones began, there was a rhyme and reason to them. Now, because of how much the rules change, how much extra stress the tests give to students, and the redundancy of the content, that rhyme and reason is a bit more nebulous.
As time passes, and as the laws surrounding the Keystones keep changing, more and more people may begin to realize that the Keystone exams serve no real purpose for the actual test takers.