AFH Photo//Mary Nguyen
Let’s talk girl code. I’m not talking about the rules which stipulate you can’t date your best friends ex-boyfriend. I’m talking about the myriad of rules women have to follow to navigate a world where sexual violence is omnipresent. The pandemic of sexual harassment is not a matter of political affiliation, race or ZIP code. This is a problem women are susceptible to no matter who or where they are. 
According to an ABC News-Washington Post news poll released in October, 54 percent of women experience “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances at some point in their lives.” This phenomenon was finally brought to light at the end of last year with the #MeToo social media campaign, which surfaced after prominent Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually abusing over 50 women. Women took to Facebook and Twitter to demonstrate solidarity with Weinstein’s victims and to accuse their own abusers.  
One thing that #MeToo demonstrated was that it’s not just powerful, famous women who face abuse—women of all walks of life have sustained unwanted sexual advances. Helleitte, a 16-year-old student at Roxbury Prep High School [whose first and last name have been withheld for privacy], has experienced this firsthand. She recalls an incident where she was playing at a park with her friends when two boys kept touching her inappropriately. She told them to stop as it made her uncomfortable. However, the boys persisted, and one boy went as far (as Donald Trump described in the famous Access Hollywood tape) as “grabbing her by the [explicit].”  
When incidents like this happen to more than half of all American women, the problem becomes too big to ignore. Women are actively avoiding sexual harassment by changing the way they dress or taking different walking routes to work. It’s their way of doing something about it when no one else will. 
“Well, it’s a good weekend to stay inside since it’s 20 degrees out and everyone you’ve ever heard of is a sex monster,” said comedian Colin Jost in an SNL sketch addressing the string of sexual harassment allegations against prominent male celebrities. While the humorous tone makes the pill a little bit easier to swallow, it confirms what women have known all along: men are creeps.  
However, those creeps have the ability to determine whether women will keep their jobs or be promoted. The ABC News-Washington Post poll also revealed that of the 54 percent of women who experience unwanted sexual advances, 23 percent suffered sexual harassment at the hands of men who had influence over their work situation.  
If we want to mitigate the scope of this problem, we have to stop normalizing sexual assault. According the poll, of those women who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, 95 percent said male harassers usually go unpunished. Just because it happens more often than people would like to talk about, it doesn’t mean we should accept it as a normal. 
Today’s society is unequipped to handle accusations of sexual assault because men aren’t going to face consequences from a system that benefits them. If we ever want to solve this problem, we need to hold all men accountable for their actions. We can’t selectively pick and choose which men to punish according to their prominence. There is no in-between when it comes to sexual harassment. The reason why the #MeToo campaign has been powerful isn’t because women are finally telling their stories—it’s because men are finally starting to listen.  
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AFH Photo//Vanessa Vo
The disturbing symphony of voices fills your ears, making you flinch. As you look around, the source of the obnoxious sound becomes clear: the other students at your table in the school cafeteria. However, even the annoying voices and your uncomfortable seat cannot ruin this moment.  
In front of you is food you’ve been craving. Your mouth starts to water just looking at it. The food stares at you, pleading you to take a bite. You cannot take the suspense so you start to DIG RIGHT IN. You open your mouth dentist-wide. As you start to take the first bite of your scrumptious food, someone comments, “Ewww why are you eating that? That’s gross.”  
Immediately your craving is gone. Your favorite food turns into cardboard.  
Welcome to Food Court, where other people judge you based on what you eat. Some students, like John D. O’Bryant senior Wanjing Li, have been to Food Court. “One night, my mom made me tù ròu hé báifàn, or rabbit meat and rice,” Li said. “So the next day I brought it to school. This girl saw it and asked me what it was. She was like, ’Eww, rabbit? Gross.’ It kind of hurt when she said it was gross, since in China it is normal.”  
“A lot of people judge me when I put ketchup in my rice or on my chicken,” said  Mangeney Omar, a senior at John D. O’Bryant. “There is one particular person that always talks to me about how gross and weird it is. I feel like she only associates me with my food choice.”  
“When I go to McDonald’s, I buy a burger then ask the cashier for all their chicken nugget sauces and put all of it on the McDouble,” said John D. O’Bryant senior Sonia Baez. Baez went on to talk about how people usually judge her for this. However, she does not mind. “I am the one eating it, so why should I care?” Baez said.  
Baez makes an important point. You are eating it, not the person judging you. To those who are being judged based on food preference, know that you are NOT what you eat. What you enjoy consuming has nothing to do with who you are as a person. Hence, that pizza with ranch dressing you had for lunch yesterday does not represent YOU, just your taste in food. So next time someone says that what you’re eating is “gross,” just tell them,“Don’t knock it till you try it.” 
If you see someone eat something that you think is weird, answer these questions before you comment: Have you tried it before? Do you think the person will be offended by what you are about to say? Are YOU eating it? If you answered “no” or “I’m not sure” to any of those questions then you may not want to say it. Refer to the following from writer Rachel Wolchin: “Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you may stick with someone else for a lifetime.”  
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AFH Photo//Aijanah Sanford
While in line for lunch at Boston Community Leaders Academy (BCLA), students are constantly cutting in line and shoving. The smell in the cafeteria is unbearable. Lunch smells like leprechaun underarm. The Boston Public School system should improve the overall quality of their school lunches so that more students will enjoy their meal. 
Here’s just a few examples of some of the atrocious lunches. Do not get me started on the pizza. Soggy as Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal left in the bowl. The chocolate milk is not flavorful. One time, I got a salad and there was a hair in it. Back in 2015, a lunch lady undercooked my hamburger.  
Here are some suggestions for the Boston Public School system to improve their lunches. 
  1. They never serve dessert at BCLA. I would like to see scrumptious desserts such as chocolate mousse cake that will melt in your mouth.  

  2. Another idea to solve the lunch problem at BCLA is to install vending machines packed with Rice Krispies Treats, Snickers and chips. This way, it will meet students desire for alternative snacks instead of getting the school lunch. 

  3. Here is another idea: a salad bar. I would like to see all kinds of salads, some with fruits, some with vegetables. Again, if BCLA students do not want the lunch or anything from the vending machine, then they have the salad bar as an option.  

 When I walk into the cafeteria I want to inhale the aroma of mozzarella cheese topped with perfectly round pepperoni hot and fresh out of the oven. I want to see hot dogs added to the menu, not the hot dogs that we get now which taste awful. Instead, I want hot dogs full of flavor, one that tastes like a backyard BBQ on a summer night.  
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AFH Photo//Dominique Cave
Almost every student wants to go to a “good” college. It's what defines success in America. However, the notion that without a prestigious college degree you won’t be successful in life seems to loom large in the minds of young students—especially in Massachusetts. With the college applications coming to a close, how many seniors in Boston have applied to Bunker Hill or Roxbury Community College? 
 According to the School and District Profiles, Only 33 percent of Boston kids enrolled in community colleges in the 2014-2015 school year. Why not more?  In Massachusetts, community college are sometimes treated as the ugly duckling of higher education. Students are often reluctant to apply to them, but they turn out to be the best option for some students.  
By attending a community college first, it is easier to transfer to a private college later on instead of applying directly to a private college. If you go to a community college and get good grades, colleges know you are capable of handling demanding and rigorous classes. You become more desirable to them because you have more experience.  
Another pro of attending a community college is that there is less pressure if you are unsure of your major or career plans. If you are undecided, you’re not spending more money at a private college trying to figure yourself out. Additionally, if you only complete two years at a community college you may still earn an associates degree. While at a private college, if you drop out after two years, all you’re left with is earned credits, a lot of debt and no degree.  
Community college also allows students to work at their own pace. They generally have flexible hours, meaning that if a student has to work to provide for their  family, they can still take the classes they need at times that are convenient to them.  
Yvonne, a senior at John D. O’Bryant (whose last name has been withheld for privacy), stated that “Because [kids in Massachusetts] have grown up around high ranked schools...they would feel less successful going to a public college rather than attending a private one. Society has told us that we are not valuable or we won’t get a job if we don’t attend college, or that people who go to community college didn’t try hard enough in school and that's why they went to a community college.”  
What you do with your degree can matter more than the college you attend. Mikhail Darlington, the college and career advisor at SquashBusters, advised,  “Everyone has their own path and their own journey, what you do and how you utilize your time is more important.” Massachusetts students needs to change the way they view community colleges. Your success is not defined by how many steps it took for you to get there. 
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AFH Photo//by Haiden Hodgson
Public education has 13 years to turn a kindergartener into a functioning adult. From a comprehensive, well-rounded academic base to a fundamental understanding of social skills and norms, the curriculum must cover all aspects of basic functionality.  
The current model focuses on social skills in elementary school, introducing academic intensity only in high school. However, this neglects young kids’ huge capacity for information retention, as well as the fact that practical skills, which become necessary closer to graduation, often don’t fit into the high school curriculum.  
Increasing academic rigor in elementary school would deliver information to students when they are most receptive to it; without the pressure of grades, education at this levelcan be intensive without being stressful. This would leave space in later years to apply the early-acquired knowledge base to real-world situations, develop independence and learn crucial real-world skills.  
Conversely, because the current model restricts academic intensity to high school, these years have become notoriously stressful. Students are pressured to meet both personal and societal standards, which can be disastrous during the formative teen years. One in five U.S. teens will struggle with a mental health disorder. “School has sometimes felt unpleasant, bureaucratic and almost like punishment,” said Lydia McCarthy, a junior at Boston Latin School. “Sometimes it's easy to forget that you're there to gain knowledge and improve yourself as a young person.” 
Ms. Marcela Ahlberg, my fifth-grade teacher, listened as I brought up facts about younger students’ potential (the average 8-year-oldcan learn an astounding12 words a day) and the doubt of older ones (over half of high schoolers feel unprepared for the future). “I agree with almost everything you said,” she admitted, “but I don’t think the switch is a good idea.”  
Ahlberg’s hesitancy is consistent with uncertainties in recent research. For every study about children’s academic potential, there’s another that claims that neglecting social skills sets them up for failure.  
However, it’s clear that as students travel through the academic system toward high school graduation, they become increasingly anxious about their ability to function in the real world—concerning, considering 18-year-olds make decisions that affect their lives for decades. 
“I always thought that school would teach you everything you need to know to become a functioning adult, but at this point it feels like all I’m ever gonna learn is how to use the  quadratic formula to graph things...School hasn’t prepared me for the outside world in the sense that, once you graduate, you realize the world is nothing like you thought it was,” says Saff Coker, a Noble and Greenough School sophomore.  
It’s clear that something must change. Laying off life skills in younger years might be difficult; kids don’t always make the right decision. But more flexibility in high school would ensure that high school students would feel more comfortable making and fixing their own mistakes. Instead of teacher-driven activities, students could spend time on real-world projects, which would allow them to reinforce their knowledge, learn practical skills, explore topics they’re interested in and learn in an interdisciplinary way. Teachers could give more individualized attention; in underfunded schools, a high student-to-teacher ratio often means kids don’t get the help they need.  
Restructuring education in this way would require reexamining the student-teacher dynamic, as well as what is necessary to teach; but it might do significantly better than our current system in preparing students for the real world. 
Ahlberg sums it up: “Kids need to know that somebody sees them. They want to be seen.”  
A system that allows for flexibility in the classroom will let kids be seen. A system that doesn’t teach social skills as blocks of information for memorization will let kids be seen. And a system that lets kids use their knowledge to change the world around them will let kids see. 
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