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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AFH Photo // Aijanah Sanford
The vibrant month of September is packed with many marathons including the 2017 Boston 5K Summer Series on September 21st, the Freedom Trail Run on September 22nd-24th, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA Island Run on September 23rd. This offers a great opportunity for Boston teens to put their interest in running toward a good cause.
There are many different types of runners. Some run competitively, while others run for fun, exercise, or a way to de-stress. Running has no boundaries. Despite the differences, all runners share one thing in common: their passion and enthusiasm. 
You don’t have to be fast or have a reason to run competitively or casually because through practice, you’ll get better. Ebony Smith, a sophomore at Excel Academy Charter High School, reflected on her decision to become a runner. “I became a runner because when I was younger, I always wanted to race my sisters and cousins.”
Julie Biegner, an avid runner, says she has loved running for as long as she could remember. “It probably started when I was around six and it just became a part of my life.”
There are many different ways to start running competitively. You can join your school’s track team, join a fitness or athletic center at any gym, or go to a track field at a park.
Biegner switched to running as a form of training instead when she got older. “When I was around 16, I joined my high school track team. That changed the way I ran with more of a purpose, to build speed and endurance as opposed to just running for fun and for exercise.”
Smith started running competitively in the 7th grade when she decided she wanted to improve. “Running is special to me because it is one of the only few sports in which a ball, stick, hoop, or net is not required. It is purely up to my stamina.”
People run for their own purpose and satisfaction. Biegner says “Running is something that I can call my own, that I do just for me. Anytime I’ve faced a big decision or had uncertainties in my life, running has been a way for me to put it aside for a bit.”
Running casually and competitively differs because running a marathon, for example, requires greater stamina and endurance. Beigner says preparing for a marathon builds discipline and consistency. Smith would love to run in a marathon in the future. “After a marathon, I would want to feel like I improved the world or worked for a good cause.”
As someone who has run the Los Angeles Marathon in 2006 and the Boston Marathon in 2012, Biegner recommends that teens who want to run start by running around their neighborhood. “As a beginner, don’t worry so much about speed or distance, just get a taste for how your body feels when you’re running, and how you feel after.” Depending on your area, it could be challenging to find places to run, but Biegner recommends to run are along the Charles, a reservoir, or along a beach. “A good running location is anywhere you don’t have to worry about cars or traffic lights.”
Checking out some training programs and plans online allows for teens to develop ways to be successful for a marathon; including healthy diets, sleeping, and strength building. “The cool thing about running is that you can do it anywhere, anytime,” said Biegner. “You don’t need any special equipment. Just some shoes and maybe a good music playlist.”
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Over the years, the price of street wear has skyrocketed due to retailers meeting the growing demand of consumers. See how local businesses respond to the commercialization of what was once an inexpensive style. 

Produced by Christian Otero, Anthony Castillo and Jacob Downey at WriteBoston's Teens in Print Summer Journalism Institute.
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