Cultural Criticism
MBTA rides the inequity line
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ranks among the best public transportation agencies in the United States, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology. This might be surprising to many Bostonians and those living in the surrounding suburbs, considering the mass-disapproval (pun intended) of our state’s public transportation, ranking a mere two-and-a-half out of five, according to MassLive. However, beyond the constant repairs, the frequent delays and the occasional fire is another fault. The MBTA’s map is a curious image that reveals the sad truth about Boston: rampant segregation. 
During WriteBoston’s Summer Journalism Institute, I took the Orange Line to work, from Forest Hills to Chinatown. As a Hyde Park resident, this is the most effective means of travel. The Orange Line is full of people of different ages, races, genders, religions and socioeconomic standings. While it can have some rambunctious riders, it is still highly diversified. During the school year, I take the Commuter Rail’s Needham Line from my high school in West Roxbury to our newsroom near Downtown Crossing. The differences between these two commutes are so very clear. While the Orange Line can have a homeless African-American woman sitting next to a wealthy white man, the Needham Line Commuter Rail trains are mostly filled with the latter. 
Social segregation in Boston is not a secret but it is very much glossed over. While the MBTA is not inherently classist, the mapping of the MBTA paints a clear picture of the disparities among Greater Boston communities, and chief among them is transportation. There are a number of factors as to why Bostonian segregation manifests itself in the MBTA, and why it has quickly become a grave problem in need of immediate review. 
I sat down with Stuart Spina, who, at the age of 17, confronted the MBTA’s board of directors about bus reliability issues. Spina’s passion is the MBTA, and he delivered much-needed expertise into the specifics of the transportation authority’s problems.
Spina and I talked about gentrification, which is a process by which the demographics of a certain area are shifted. In Boston, signs of gentrification have appeared as new development agencies continue to build new and expensive homes and complexes in areas once considered low-income communities like Roxbury, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain and Roslindale.
Spina said due to the worsening image of the MBTA, the T is actively looking for ways to upgrade its appeal. The brand new Orange and Red Line cars and upgrades to tracks are among these publicity stunts. Spina further addressed the sad reality of this situation. With gentrification pushing out lower-income residents from areas like Roxbury all the way out to Worcester and Lawrence, the traditional residents will not be able to enjoy the new cars that will run on the lines where they used to live. What’s more, they will not be able to use the MBTA to get to their jobs, family and lives that are still in Boston.
The MBTA’s incompatibility with lower-income populations is further linked to its scheduling. The biggest issue here is the T’s reduced service on weekends, especially Sundays. Spina explained that many people with hourly jobs have to do the less convenient tasks that require a very early rise or a very late dismissal. These obligations can include an employee who needs to get up early to open a morning café or a janitor who is out late after cleaning an office building. Spina asserted that the MBTA operates under a belief that most people work Monday to Friday, nine-to-five, and are home on the weekend. In reality, the MBTA does not cooperate with the many people who have to work early, even on a Sunday.
As I mentioned, the MBTA is not promoting segregation, however, they are not actively seeking social justice either. In the 1980s, there were plans to extend the Orange Line both ways. Instead of ending at Forest Hills, the Orange Line was set to go through Roslindale, Hyde Park and West Roxbury, and then end in Needham, a suburb of Boston. The northern extension was planned to extend from Oak Grove to reach Reading and Route 128. This endeavor for the MBTA would have made quite an impact on its wallet. After some deliberation, the MBTA showed signs of wavering, and resistance from locals pushed them over the edge. The T saved money in the end, so there was no need to oppose the exclusion of the more suburban neighborhoods.
Spina’s last point made an interesting distinction between neighborhoods that are majority homeowners versus majority tenants. The MBTA’s lines show this, specifically along Commuter Rail lines. The Commuter Rail services towns like Needham, while the subway services towns and neighborhoods like Roxbury. These two example towns have a home value difference of $500,000. Roxbury, showing lower home values, tends to house a rent-paying majority in its community. Given this layout, the Commuter Rail starts from major suburbs and single-family housing neighborhoods and runs into the city, stopping at major centers for white-collared work. For example, the Needham Line picks up homeowners from Needham and stops in the practically suburban West Roxbury. The train then stops at Forest Hills, Ruggles, Back Bay and South Station, major urban stops for transfers and centers for places of work that provide upper-incomes.
It is worth emphasizing that the MBTA’s recent efforts to self-improve are indeed coinciding with the rising gentrification in Boston. With lower-income residents being pushed out of the city, often to areas where the T is inaccessible, action should be taken to soften this inevitable blow to these affected communities. T accessibility has been, is, and will continue to be a necessity. Gentrification is moving faster than what the MBTA can react to. Many jobs will be lost and families will be devastated if action is not taken and these populations are not considered as changes are set in motion.
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School News
Kindergarten teacher Nesti is always in tune with her students
The students rushed toward her, hugged her and excitedly chirped about the new “Frozen” movie and what they had for dinner. Having been a teacher for two decades, Carol A. Nesti has grown immune to the irresistible chatter of small children and quickly made sure everyone was sitting around the perimeter of the rug, not putting up with any of her pupils’ attempts at going off on tangents. 
“I went to nursing school. I wasn't going to be a teacher. I never ever, ever really wanted to be a teacher,” Nesti recalled, as we sat in her colorful kindergarten classroom. However, an opportunity arose at the now-closed St. Mark Elementary where she worked as a school nurse. She substituted for a teacher who ran the junior high youth group while she was on maternity leave. “The next thing I knew, I was back in school, leaving nursing and going into teaching.”
Having transferred from St. Mark’s 11 years ago when it closed, she now resides in the Lower Mills Campus of Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy (SJPII), where she teaches the delightfully chaotic grade of K-1, the first year of kindergarten. 
Lower Mills is one of three campuses at Saint John Paul II, which prides itself on being “the largest accredited Catholic elementary school in New England.” One fallen member of the SJPII group is St. Mark’s, which was closed in 2010 due to economic issues and low enrollment. St. Mark’s carries significance to both Nesti and myself, especially since 13 years ago, she taught me as a kindergartener in the now foreclosed building. With the campus closed after she taught there for a decade, it’s easy to imagine how difficult the transition was to the Lower Mills Campus.
“We were devastated,” she said. “It was a little bit tough transitioning, but I have to say now that I'm here, [I’ve been] here 10 years now. It's like, it's where I'm supposed to be. If I couldn't be at St. Mark’s, this is where I'm supposed to be.”
Nesti feels that it’s gotten hard for kids to be kids in the last 20 years. But it’s not just children that have changed as the years went by. Parents also play a role. “A lot of the kids we have here are from single families, where mum's making $14 an hour and in order to be successful, she has to work double shifts four nights a week.”
It is often the kids that suffer from it. “There are 3-year-olds in here from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Nesti explained. “And that's really unfair. So when that mom gets that child home, she's not gonna want to discipline, she just wants to be with her child. I can't blame her. But that comes with a cost.”
Nesti is very in tune with the situations of the families that become a part of the Lower Mills community, which helps elevate her skills as a teacher. By taking the time to not only get to know her students but their families as well, she is better able to understand her students. Rather than seeing a student as difficult and unmanageable, she sees them as a kid with a rough family life with different customs. 
It is this mindset that creates the most ideal teacher-student relationship that leads to success. A troubled student “is going to make it [in] my class and we're going to adapt to him,” she said.
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School News
Black history is deeper than just the Civil Rights Movement
Makayla Robinson
Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement: The surface of American black history. This is the black history knowledge required for educators to teach elementary and middle school students according to the “Common Core” made by an elite group of people in the United States. But it is not enough. To really learn about black history in one’s own life, someone would either have to learn it in college or remain curious throughout their entire lives. Learning Africana Studies is an opportunity that anyone should take advantage of when it is available. 
The class I am taking at the Academy of Pacific Rim, called Birthright Birmingham, is an opportunity to dig deeper into black history and become more educated on my own culture. This class is also taught on an AP level so we can learn more through the rigor of the work. The class is taught in three units for the semester: the first was exploring and brainstorming a definition of blackness in America. The second is learning about black U.S. history from slavery to today. The final unit is on Afro-futurism, a philosophy of science and history that explores the future of technology and the African diaspora culture. We also teach five eighth-graders what we’ve learned. In the spring, there will be a trip to Alabama and Atlanta where we will visit many famous black history sites and visit a historically black college or university. 
Many privileged people are ignorant to the oppression of minorities because of the small number who end up successful and wealthy. Someone in my class asked the head of the humanities department, who has a degree in Africana Studies, what it could be used for. Once she said that “it could be used for literally anything,” something in me made me think this could be more important than my curiosity. Society teaches people that a white, cisgender male is the ideal person to succeed in America, but this class reprograms our brains to have us believe that Black Americans can achieve and be successful too.  
Another benefit of this class is the fundraising we do for the trip to Georgia and Alabama. Our class fundraising has taught us multiple ways of communicating professionally when asking for money. One thing that shocked me was when someone from a radio station came to our class and interviewed us. It surprised me so much. I asked him if it was for an article and when I found out it was for a radio station I felt like I almost jumped out of my seat while I briefly covered my mouth. The interview was important to me because I am usually very shy and learning to communicate and advertise professionally can help me talk to people more. The younger people are when they learn professional skills as well as Africana Studies, the better equipped they will be to become successful citizens of the world.  
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Cultural Criticism
Redefining success starts with you
In the last few centuries, the definition of success has changed because of people and their different perspectives. Have you ever thought about what success actually means? The only one who can answer this question is you. A key step to achieving in life is to know what success means to you. Your interpretation can go far beyond the common definition of success which is usually having degrees and money.
True success can't be measured with the above-named factors, but instead with the number of people that are able to live a better and more advanced life because of what they did with their time on earth. This is my definition of success — not the trophies and accolades people collect throughout their lives.  
Media and society often lead us to conclude that living a successful life means you are exorbitantly wealthy and have a lot of tangibles. Oprah Winfrey is an American media executive, actress, talk show host and television producer with a net worth of $2.9 billion. In 2008 at Stanford University's commencement ceremony she said, “Having a lot of money does not automatically make you a successful person,” and that “What you want is money and meaning. You want your work to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings real richness to your life.”
Defining success is important, but taking a clear-eyed look at the impact of your “success” matters even more. For example, if you wake up every day at 4 o’clock and pursue a rich and varied personal life and you are still unhappy, you haven't embraced the fact that what you choose to do will not make you happy. 
Alysa Williams works at Boston International High, and her definition of success has changed as she grew up. “When I was younger, I had the idea that success was like one instance,” she said. “When I was in high school, it was like, ‘I will be successful when I graduate’ ... but now [I’m] realizing it's kind of an ongoing journey and there are multiple success stories in your life and you have to keep finding them.” 
Hamilton Deivega is a senior at BINcA from Cape Verde whose perspective has also changed. “When I was in my country, I thought success means to have a lot of money and to have a big family,” he said. “Now I realized success is to be happy enjoying life and enjoying your family because success has [no] limit. It's around us.” 
I remember being in a competition and feeling an overwhelming sense of happiness when my teammates and I won. I remember how excited we were to pick up our trophy. We couldn’t wait to take a picture of us smiling and shouting with the trophy. After celebrating, everything became normal again. Then I realized that success is not something temporary. Success is permanent through helping others and lifting each other up. Success is not the key to happiness — happiness is the key to success.
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Cultural Criticism
Fear tactics or raising awareness? Sandy Hook promise commercial takes controversial approach
September was back-to-school season, which meant that people were shopping for school essentials like folders and notebooks. At the same time, a video by the non-profit advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise debuted and appeared to be a normal commercial advertising school supplies, but the kids demonstrate the need for pencils, notebooks and other supplies as they flee, fight, help injured classmates, and hide out in a bathroom stall to avoid a shooter. The video’s use of scare tactics to spread awareness about the danger of school shootings is part of a larger problem: American students are being taught to fear school rather than prepare for the reality of school shootings. 
The co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise, Nicole Hockley, is the mother of a 6-year-old who was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. She has another son whom she wants to teach all the preventive measures and ensure that he will be prepared if something tragic should happen again. Hockley insists that the harshness of the matter should not be sugar-coated when teaching students about school shootings. 
A teacher at MATCH Charter Public Middle School, Desiree Mitchell, said that “scare tactics aren't even needed because frankly, people are already scared...I don't know that we need more knowledge that there's school shootings, everyone already knows that.” 
“This is what our kids are experiencing and yet there are no actions we can take to prevent it,” Hockley said in an interview with CNN. Her main message is that parents need to better equip their children to take action and be ready when something happens. 
Currently, in places like Michigan, schools are being built with bulletproof windows and curved hallways. That $40 million invested in the building could send 800 students to college. Is the sheltering and preparing normalizing shootings? Is this the way that people should spread awareness? 
The Sandy Hook video is promoting fear and teaching kids that causing chaos to get attention is an option when you’re struggling with mental health issues. What we should be teaching students is that gun violence is never an option when struggling with life. 
Instead, we need to do more research to better understand mental health issues. In recent years, suicide rates have significantly increased. Netflix shows like “13 Reasons Why,” can come across as romanticizing suicide. Within a month after the show was released, suicides rates jumped reported The Guardian. Also, kids often joke about shooting up a school when they feel frustrated or think the curriculum is unjust. Among students, news of a school shooter is tossed around and not taken seriously. 
In some cases, fear can be effective at getting across the significant danger and reality of school shootings, but it should always be a last resort. Even though the founder of this video views fear as the most impactful way to get the importance through students’ minds, it teaches irrational fear. 
Although Hockley said we’re not in “this rosy time,” preventative measures can be taught in different ways that can be just as effective but with less fear. Kids are now used to hearing about their peers getting killed, but should this be the norm for them?
What does it mean for their future lives, expecting their friends to be killed for no reason, attending school thinking you could die? The way our society chooses to go about this is not just affecting the kids of today, but also what these kids than teach to their kids for generations to come. 
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