AFH Photo // Vaneessa Vo
Winter. Flu season. It’s the time of year when everyone is getting sick. We are confined to this cage-like school building, packed like cows on an assembly line, waiting to be milked. This environment makes students so prone to sickness that sitting next to someone with the sniffles is an everyday event. 
When students find themselves with a runny nose and a cough, we drag our lifeless bodies to the school nurse, but often find out she’s going to send us back to class with a cup of water. Some students don’t even go to the nurse to be treated. They would rather stay sick in class and deal with it, leading to the further incubation and spread of illnesses that plague the school.
Maureen Starck, Senior Director of School Health Services in Boston Public Schools, said, “Nurses need to foster relationships with their students so they are comfortable coming to the nurse with questions.” According to several students at the John D. O’Bryant, this is not their current experience.  
Reylina Pimentel, a junior, said she doesn’t like going to the nurse because she feels “intimidated and scared that every time I ask a question they always give me an attitude.” Pimentel recalls an incident from her middle school when she had a fever and the nurse sent her back to class without treating her. 
Sasha Lugos, also a junior, found herself vomiting in the school bathroom one day. When she approached the nurse, the nurse told her it was too early to be sick and sent her back to class. 
School nurses are intended to “reduce the health barriers to learning,” said Starck. Yet, the students interviewed felt that nurses are not providing sufficient care. 
Ya Juan Chen, also a junior at O’Bryant, believes interactions between the nurse and student should be similar to that of a doctor and patient. “It shouldn’t feel like an interrogation room,” she said.  
Although a portion of the student population feel that they cannot rely on the school nurse, there are many factors that must also be considered. Strack said that the number of school nurses assigned to each high school depends on a formula based on numbers and needs of the students. “Most high schools have one nurse,” she said. At O’Bryant, there are two nurses on staff for the more than 1,400 students. Nurses also have to ensure that students are truly sick, not just making up an excuse to skip class or catch up on extra sleep. Yet, these facts do not justify denying a student the medical attention they may in fact need. 
According to Starck, while nurses need to balance competing interests in a challenging job, a school nurse can never deny a student medical attention. If you, or any student from your school, find yourself in this situation, Starck suggested contacting school health services immediately.
Both school nurses from the O’Bryant declined to be interviewed. 

Note: You can contact the School Health Services Boston Public Schools at (617) 635-678.

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AFH Photo // Steven St. Leger
Watch out Boston Public School AP students, your academic future may be in danger! It is no secret that being a high school student is stressful, but this seems to intensify if you take advanced placement (AP) classes. 
AP is a voluntary school program that allows students to take college-level courses while in high school. Not only do AP courses improve a student's chances of getting into college, but they also help students to be better prepared once they enter college. So why are BPS students in danger because of them?? Surprisingly, the answer lies with the weather and not the actual classes themselves.
Massachusetts has seen harsh winters with record snowfall. Because of this extreme weather, schools often close if the road conditions are too dangerous. Snow days put AP students behind schedule and takes away time for them to prepare for their AP test at the end of the year. Despite the weather, the school system should put more thought into the academic well being of the students before canceling classes. 
“Studies have shown that students who take AP courses and exams are much more likely than their peers to complete a bachelor's degree in four years,” said Marsha Inniss-Mitchell, the Postsecondary Readiness Director of Boston Public Schools (BPS). 
After taking an AP course, students must take the corresponding AP exam which, depending on their score and the college they attend, could earn them college credit and save them (and their parents) time and money. “AP students also tend to have an edge earning scholarships,” said Inniss-Mitchell.
The AP exam is given on the exact same day nationwide at the end of the year for all AP students. This means that, even though the BPS school year starts later than other districts and we miss a lot of days due to snow, students do not get to push off the exam to a later date to have equal class time to prepare. 
Elebetel Assefa is a junior at John D. O’Bryant High School currently taking three AP classes. When asked if she feels she is at a disadvantage because of numerous snow days, she replied, “We are definitely put at a disadvantage when compared to other states because we start later and miss a lot of snow days. Even our AP teachers made it clear to us in the beginning of the year that time is of the essence, and that it’s against us.”  
Clinton Nguyen, also a junior at O’Bryant who takes multiple AP classes, feels he is at a disadvantage compared to students in other states as well. “Compared to classmates in my school, no, I do not feel at a disadvantage, but yes when it comes to students in other states where they have the benefit of not having their classes canceled, which means more time to study for them.”
Even though AP students feel they might be academically put at risk because of snow days, Inniss-Mitchell said that snow days are called primarily with the safety of students in mind. However, this does not stop students from worrying about their academics. 
When asked if he had any ideas for rules that could be put in place to benefit AP students in his area, Nguyen proposed that BPS “offer an option for students to go to school if they want” on snow days. 
Assefa also agrees. “Even though most teachers nowadays can just email us assignments, it never seems as good or informative as learning face to face,” she said.  
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AFH Photo // Mariana Melara
Throughout many of America’s schools, students are burdened by a harsh and strictly enforced school rule: the infamous dress code. Whether you attend private school that requires a uniform, or a public school in which you have options for your clothing within certain limits, the dress code still exists. Many of the rules highly affects one gender over the other, and that gender happens to be (drum roll please)...girls. Young women have always borne the brunt of the school’s dress code due to it being largely based upon policing female clothing. You name it and the dress code has a problem with it.
The dress code at the John D. O’Bryant High School states: Skirts and shorts must not be more than 3 inches above the knee. Tights/leggings must be covered by a skirt, shorts, or some other top falling no more than 3 inches above the knee. Cutoff shirts (shirts that bare midriffs, back, or excessive cleavage) spaghetti strap (less than 1 inch) tank tops, bustiers, and halter tops are not allowed. 
The biggest debate around the dress code seems to be this: is the amount of skin girls show distracting the male population? Supposedly, showing a certain amount of skin is too distracting. If that is true, then why isn’t there stricter opposition to boys sagging their pants? Surely, that is just as distracting as a female wearing a shirt showing her shoulders. Imagine walking down the hallway and seeing a boy, but instead of looking at his face, you are blinded by his bright yellow Spongebob boxers! Although the O’Bryant dress code says “exposed undergarments/shorts are not permitted,” the dress code is rarely enforced among males. This is clearly a double standard. 
Briana Moody, the Girl’s Health Coordinator at the YWCA, had insightful comments on the psychological impact of the unequal dress code. “Girls are being publically humiliated. They feel shame, anxiety, and self hate. Those emotions tie to depression, eating disorders, and vicious cycles.” This suggests that dress codes are often implemented in such a way that girls begin to develop self esteem issues where they do not feel comfortable in their own bodies. Moody  also says, “girls are not and should not be responsible for boys’ behavior.” 
When asked if he finds what females wear to school distracting, Ibrahim Dahir, a junior at the O’Bryant said, “No, I don’t. If you come to school for the right purposes, such as to learn and educate yourself, I don’t think that what the people around you are wearing or doing should affect you.” 
Madolia Domendos, also a junior at O’Bryant, finds that curvier girls are often the ones who students and staff scrutinize most. “It makes me feel uncomfortable because if I wear leggings to school, I receive negative attention. People will come up to me and ask, ‘where are your clothes?’” 
The fact that the school dress code is so frequently biased is very hard to comprehend. Yes, there are certain things that are and are not appropriate to wear to school. But, if it is ninety degrees outside you cannot expect someone to come to school in a turtleneck and sweatpants. All it comes down to is an appropriate level of comfort. If the people around you are not comfortable with what YOU are wearing, on YOUR BODY, then that is THEIR problem. 
Although there have been major steps taken towards gender equality and women’s rights, there is still a lot of work to be done. It is sad that girls cannot come to school without being scrutinized for their clothing. At the end of the day, we should all learn to treat each other with more respect and especially to treat females as human beings -- not objects. 
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An Advocate for Literature in the Classroom and Beyond
AFH Photo // Tristin Heap
Myles McNamara teaches advanced placement literature at New Mission High School in Hyde Park. After eight years of teaching transformative wilderness education with Outward Bound, he began working in the classroom for the Boston Public School system. McNamara likes to surf on his free time, but when he is not hitting the waves, he likes to read and write.
McNamara is passionate about the value of literature. His reflections on literature, career-paths, and education are below. Content has been edited for length.

Q. What made you fall in love with literature?
A. What made me fall in love with literature is that I could explore something in an entirely personal way. I discovered books when I was really young. The reason why books were so powerful to me was because when I came into a book, it was entirely on my terms, and it was an unspoken kind of relationship between me and ghosts - and by ghosts I mean - the author was not present, other than what they left behind. When I picked up a book, it felt like I was being visited by ghosts and it was not a dialogue. I was exploring something that had been invented for me to discover. The visualization has not been done for you, all the clues are laid out, but unlike television and film, we have to create a picture in our minds. One of the great things about literature and books is that the reader has to add what’s not there to complete it, so the reader becomes an active participant. I bring some of my world to the world of the book. I go on a personal journey that begins anytime I open that book and closes anytime I choose to close the book, until I’m ready again. To me, there is something intensely personal about that and very beautiful.
Q. Do you have a favorite book?
A. There was a series as a kid called Dragonlance and it was developed for Dungeons and Dragons. It was a fantasy trilogy. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman were a strong team of authors and I don’t think I could ever write something with other people. I always do it alone. There was something about the characters and their plausibility that was really powerful. It was like 1987-88 when these books were being written. I fell in love with those books. At that time I was ready to be swept up by characters like those, so that was my first huge love for books. 
Q. Who was an author that deeply influenced who are you now?
A. The author that influenced me most when I was younger was Ernest Hemingway. I loved him and his writing when I was young. The more I learned about him, the more I learned that there were things I liked about his writing and things I profoundly disliked about his character. I think he was a broken man. Toni Morrison is someone whose books I’ve read multiple times. I’ve read everything she has written in terms of nonfiction and expository writing. She is incredibly powerful, incredibly passionate, incredibly humble. Not only worthy as a writer, but as a person.
Q. Have you always wanted to become a teacher?
A. When I was 17 or 18, I took the SAT exam. There was a form handed out before the exam and you had to bubble in what you wanted to do as your career and I had no idea what I wanted to do. The only thing that made sense to me was a business person because that’s what my dad did. I was not satisfied with that response. I think - with respect and love for teachers - I only had a couple of teachers who were profound in being a mentor and a great teacher to me. I didn’t have in mind to be a teacher until I began working with Outward Bound. I loved being out in the wilderness and never thought of the possibility of becoming a teacher. I spent eight years working with Outward Bound; working with young people, going crazy places, doing crazy team challenges and working together. I fell in love with what happens in groups with the fierce optimism of young people that fades as we age and I’d rather be around young people than old, and that was what drew me into teaching. 
Q. Why do you think BPS students should pay more attention to literature?
A. I think embodied with the word ‘fiction’ is the bias that fiction means false, fake, or made up. We think of fairytales and folktales as being unnecessary and unessential. I think we’re a profit driven society and we’re pressured to pursue profit in the interest of taking care of ourselves and our families. Nevertheless, we all love stories. We love them because they tease us and make us question the power of debate. We talk about these characters and we almost live through their mistakes, their tragedies and their victories, so we test life through them. To me, being able to test life’s possibilities at no risk to self through imagination is so powerful.
Q. Why do you think people underestimate the power of literature?
A. Literature is underestimated because I don’t think there is a consensus to its value and its impact. Literature’s benefits are not quantifiable at all. What it does for us is entirely qualitative not quantitative. There’s a highly individual experience, you can have entirely different experiences at different age spans. If you want a big money maker, you go for something that’s guaranteed or a sure bet. And there’s nothing guaranteed or a sure bet about literature. There’s a risk involved in asking people to consider a piece of literature at any given time in their experience and it can be a hit or a miss. Part of the reason why it’s underestimated is because there’s no guarantee that there will be a wanted result. What comes is invited, not guaranteed.
Q. Can you tell me the advantages of literature?
A. The greatest advantage of literature that I’ve thought about lately is the ability of a reader to consider possibilities on a rich level and consider characters and see things that he or she did not see before, without risk to self. I can put myself in situations and places where I can indulge and not get burned or hurt. Most of us have dealt with pain and suffering, it’s an inevitable part of our life. The more guarded we become, the more we close ourselves off. There’s no such thing as a book that can take advantage of us unless we let it, so there is an incredible opportunity for us to learn in a beautiful and profound, sometimes chaotic - but ultimately safe - life affirming way through literature. The steps you take into literature are so individual and a book never asks something of you, all it does is offer. There’s no provisional trade off or sacrifice. Life is all about sacrifice, but it allows us this extraordinary luxury and is generally so cheap and available and if we want to find our way to it we will. 
Q. What is the one thing about literature that stands out to you
A. The aspect of time in literature becomes very strange and elastic. What happens with time, is that I could be reading a book and I wouldn’t know how long I’ve been reading. I go somewhere else. I somehow step out of the constraint of time. It makes me feel very appreciative as we consider our short lives. 
Q. If there is one piece of advice on literature you would give students, what would it be? 
A. Find your passion. Find the books that call you. There are books we may study at school, there are books that we may have to read. Continue to test, audit, try and look around, until you find stories. You want to go out and open yourself to stories that almost magnetically want to attract to you.

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Close up on a Boston filmmaker: Shamir Williams Q&A
Day and Evening Academy Student // Shamir Williams
Shamir Williams, 18, from Dorchester is a rising filmmaker. With his unique, energetic personality, Williams is hard to miss. The junior at Day and Evening Academy participates in Fast Forward, a program of the Institute of Contemporary Art. Fast Forward is an accelerated program where students conceive, produce and edit original work in various film genres. Apart from this program, he’s also involved with a local clothing line called PSYCHO. Williams is not your ordinary teen. His deep roots in creativity distinguish him from other teens and will take him far. 

Q. What inspired you to start making films?
A. I saw people around me making films. I remember helping out my brother with one of his films, and a little while after that, I thought maybe I could do something productive to take my mind off of a lot of the things I was going through. I was always good at creating stories so I thought maybe I can make these awesome stories that I had into films. Also, with a lot of the major films I was seeing on television, I felt like I could do it better or change them up a bit.
Q. What specific genres do you typically write about?
A. As far as genres for my films, it really depends on how I feel. My films are just reactions to my feelings. With my film Groovie Blu, I was going through a lot during the time the movie was coming out. I was frustrated and trying to get the film out for the screening at Fast Forward. I put together this short film that was a reflection of myself and how I was feeling at the time. That is how a majority of my films are conducted.
Q. What are some Hollywood films you feel like you can remake ?
A. Dear White People. Back to the Future. And, She’s Gotta Have It.  
Q. What struggles do you face as a filmmaker? 
A. A lot of the struggles I face all correlate to having patience. You have to realize this stuff doesn't come overnight and a lot of times your films won’t turn out exactly how you envisioned them and that’s okay. You also have to be your biggest critic, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to receive criticism from other people.
Q. How does Fast Forward help you with what you are doing? 
A.They allow me to borrow the equipment for my films and if it wasn't for them I would probably just be making videos on my phone. They’re also a great support team. Whenever I’m willing to talk about my scripts, the teachers are always honest and provide me with suggestions that will help make my films better. Before I arrived to the program I wasn't really familiar with a lot of the aspects that came with filmmaking, like vocabulary words and certain techniques, but they were very understanding to the fact that I was a beginner and were still willing to help me. Another big help is being in that environment where the people around you have the same passion as you and that’s a very big help because you’re able to exchange ideas with other filmmakers.
Q. Where do you see yourself/ your films in the next five years?
A. In five years years I want to branch out and try different things with my films. I would reach out to other upcoming filmmakers and help them get up to the level of confidence they want to reach. As for myself, I’ll probably get into music production which is something I do now for my films, but maybe I’ll start producing music for others.
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