School News
I pledge allegiance to make my own choice
Last October, after nearly 13 years, the Pledge of Allegiance was reinstated at Boston Latin Academy. The recitation of the pledge will now occur daily over the intercom during homeroom. For many BLA students graduating high school in 2020, this patriotic act has not been a daily practice in school for several years. 
At one point in time, it was a tradition that seemed second nature, a subconscious following of a practice. Students would stand in class, place their hands over their hearts and recite the pledge whilst facing the flag in the room. Some students would even go to the main office as a volunteer to recite the pledge, which felt like a big deal, and they were proud to hear their voice over the loudspeakers.
The push to have the pledge reinstated at BLA was initiated by a band of parents who took their concern to the superintendent. Per Massachusetts law, BLA was breaking the law by not having students recite the pledge. Massachusetts General Law Title XII Chapter 71 Section 69 states that every school should have a flag in every classroom and “each teacher at the commencement of the first class of each day in all grades in all public schools shall lead the class in a group recitation of the ‘Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.’” The law also outlines how the pledge is to be recited and consequences for if it is not carried out each day in public schools. 
In 2010, an atheist family sued the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District arguing that “...schools conduct a patriotic exercise that ‘exalts and validates’ one religious view — a belief in God — while marginalizing their ‘religious views’ on atheism and humanism,’” reported Education Week. In the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision, former Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote that no Massachusetts student is required by law to recite the pledge. The court also rejected claims that the inclusion of “under God” in the pledge violates “the state equal-protection rights of atheist and humanist students.” This was ruled in a 7-0 vote. 
Jenny Tran, a 17-year-old senior at BLA, chooses not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. “My family is also Buddhist, so I can’t really relate to the ‘under God’ part,” she said. 
Jeffrey Isen, a teacher of 13 years at BLA, says that he hates the Pledge of Allegiance. Isen is an immigrant from Canada and as a child, he would sing the American national anthem. “I remember, as a child from a minority religious group, feeling uncomfortable because the national anthem made a reference to God. And I knew that it wasn’t my God. It wasn’t the God of the religious group that I was a part of at the time,” he said.
This discussion of the pledge and even that of the national anthem have been a topic amongst teenagers and young adults for a long time, even more so with Colin Kapernick’s “take a knee” movement. However, this conversation has not been properly addressed in our schools. Boston teenagers need to know their rights: they can say the pledge — or not say it — and they have the right to express how they feel about it. 
Read more…
City News
Farmers markets make fresh produce accessible
Yasmin Mohamed
The process of getting food onto a dinner table is no small feat. Turning a small seed into fresh produce in the grocery store requires a lot more than we think.  From “seed to fork” is what The Food Project — a nonprofit organization that hires youth to work on farms — calls this process. 
However, not everyone has easy access to healthy food. What if you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t have fresh produce at the nearby grocery store, but instead offers unhealthy alternatives at a low price? These neighborhoods are called food deserts and are usually found in low-income communities that do not have access to affordable grocery stores, so they resort to unhealthy substitutes like fast food and corner stores. This, in turn, leads to higher rates of heart disease and obesity. In an effort to help these residents incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets, a number of farmer’s markets around Boston now accept WIC coupons, senior coupons and EBT payment methods.
Farmer’s markets who accept these government programs also have a “matching” system. For example, if you have $36 on your EBT card you can purchase up to $36 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables and get the price “matched,” which is basically an immediate refund back to your card for that same amount. This encourages families and individuals that use food assistance to go to their local farmer’s markets and enjoy fresh produce. 
The Food Project runs multiple farmer’s markets within the season, including one in Dudley in which more than half of its customers use food assistance. The Dudley market runs from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays, from June to the end of October and offers a wide array of vegetables like summer squash, dinosaur kale and more. 
Coming from a low-income family meant that my parents did not shop at the nearest Whole Foods Market. Instead, they drove to Cambridge to shop at an affordable supermarket and it was usually a day-long event. Working for The Food Project allowed me to take home as many vegetables as I could, so I took home the vegetables that looked the most interesting to me. I learned what foods I liked and didn’t like (I hate the texture of squash) and spent my Thursday evenings cooking with my mom and incorporating these new foods into my diet. The impact that fresh produce had on my family as a whole was tremendous and farmer’s markets are making sure those in food deserts can reap the same benefits. 
Read more…
Cultural Criticism
Secondhand smoke is my last choice
Meagan, a teacher at Boston Arts Academy, quit smoking cigarettes, but she’s still around it a lot. Her dad smoked when she was young, as did her grandfather. Before she started, Meagan was always the person to tell people to “stop wanting to fit in with college peers.” But, by the end of her freshman year of college, her perspective changed. People would move away and give her weird looks when she was smoking at the bus stop — when they would start coughing she would get annoyed. Smoking is “not gonna be the things that kills you,” she said.
Cigarettes are addictive and can cause cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and other health problems. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there are over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke and tobacco-related products. More than 70 are known to cause and/or initiate cancer and are called carcinogens. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes contain dried tobacco leaves along with chemicals and additives. Some, like tar and arsenic acetone, are very dangerous. Even “natural” products, such as herbal cigarettes, give off smoke and tar that contains many of the same chemicals.
Even non-smokers can get sick by inhaling secondary smoke states the Centers for Disease Control. With this in mind, people shouldn’t smoke right next to someone else, especially a minor. I’ve encountered people on the train who sat next to me smelling like cigarettes, even if they aren’t smoking at that very moment. In fact, cigarette smoke can rub off on anyone. Smokers should be mindful and wary about this. 
“Smokers need to be respectful,” Meagan said. She didn't feel that way before, but now she feels bad.
I’ve had an experience with secondary smoke before. One lovely afternoon, my friend and I were sitting at an outside table doing homework as I waited for my work shift to start. Everything was going well until a stench forced its way into my nostrils, causing my survival instincts to emerge from within! Immediately me and my friend covered our noses with our hands, but realized it wasn’t working so we used our sweaters. 
My friend couldn’t stop talking about how bothered he was by it. I had to shush him multiple times because he was speaking loudly and I didn’t want things to get out of hand. We could have moved to another table, but they were all occupied and I wanted to stay near the area where I work. Hoping to still get some homework done, I found that every now and then I would get distracted by the smell. Eventually, I gave up on doing homework and told my pal that I couldn’t stand it anymore so we left.
When I spoke with ninth graders at Boston Arts Academy they felt similarly.
“I don’t really like when people smoke around me because it makes my head hurt,” said Arlynn Varela. “I just don’t like the smell of smoke, so I wouldn’t be happy; I would tell em to put that crap away.” 
No one is stopping you from smoking, but keep in mind the people around you and how you could affect them; whether that be physically or emotionally.
Smoking is an addiction. Meagan smoked for 10 years before stopping at age 28. She had gotten diagnosed with a chronic illness. It was probably not caused by her tobacco used, but the doctor still asked her to stop smoking. She did, but she told me she would probably keep going if it wasn't for her health issue. She tried to quit even before the illness. She was switching back and forth on an “on and off, four-year period.” People started asking if she smoked two or three years ago because they could smell it on her, so she eventually got paranoid and kept perfume and body spray on her at all times. 
People should be allowed to smoke in their backyard, or in public spaces that are specifically designated for smoking, because then non-smokers can enter at their own risk. As Meagan said, it’s “a choice you’re making not the people around you.
Read more…
City News
Is vaping fated to burn out?
Vaping, the act of inhaling and exhaling vapor produced from an electronic cigarette or similar device has been around since 2003. As the industry thrived, specialized vape shops opened to satisfy the growing product demand. Now, almost 17 years after their introduction, lawmakers all over the country are taking action against the potential health risks of vaping.
"Today I'm officially declaring a public health emergency in the commonwealth, due to severe lung disease associated with the use of e-cigarettes and marijuana-infused vaping products," said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to the press on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at the State House. “This order prohibits the sale of all devices, all non-flavored and flavored vaping products including mint and menthol, and all THC or marijuana vaping products in the Commonwealth.''
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,291 hospitalized E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury cases as of Dec.3, and 48 deaths have been confirmed. The intake of nicotine in both vaping and smoking regular cigarettes can cause lung diseases, however, diseases associated with vaping are mysterious and not very well understood. At the ban’s announcement back in September, Monica Bharel, state public health commissioner, said to the press  "We do not know what is causing these illnesses, but the only thing in common in each one of these cases is the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products. So, we want to act now to protect our children."
The popularity of nicotine vaping among children is part of what led to Gov. Baker’s decision to ban vaping products. Schools and parents have become increasingly concerned with kids’ embrace of vaping and possible long-term health risks. As people around the country begin to become ill and even die from the effects of vaping, the health risks and call for legislative action grew more urgent. 
Although e-cigarettes and vapes have only been on the market in the United States since 2007, vapes have had a history much longer than 13 years. According to Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, the first patent for a smokeless cigarette was granted to Joseph Robinson in 1930. It would be over thirty years before Herman Gilbert pioneered a prototype resembling the modern e-cigarette in 1963, and another couple decades after that before Phil Ray and Norman Robinson attempted commercial cigarette devices in the 1980s. This particular ‘vape’ was not electronic but instead relied on nicotine evaporation. Fast-forward to 2003, Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, created the world’s first commercially successful electronic cigarette. By 2006, they were being sold in Europe, and in 2007 arrived in the US.
Originally introduced as a “safer” alternative to smoking, e-cigarettes took off. Their success was immediate and their popularity only grew. As the industry began to expand even further, companies began to add flavors into cartridge-based e-cigarette pods. Once the e-cigarette vaporizes water and nicotine from a pod, the user inhales the vapor, thus the name “vaping.” Adding flavors to the pods increased their appeal, but these flavors weren’t just any flavors. Stores started selling mango, strawberry, candy, vanilla, and many more pod flavors, which attracted new users. This new line of products profoundly affected the vaping industry since its commercialization in 2003 because now there was a different and larger group of consumers: teens. 
Suddenly, high schools around the country were plagued with vaping in bathrooms every day. Students who vaped either took their parent’s vape or simply bought their own online. The accessibility for vaping only made it easier for e-cigarettes to get into the hands of children who would get “hooked” on vaping, increasing the bottom line. According to the Pew Research Center, 31% of teens choose to vape just because of the availability of attractive flavors.
At first glance, the vaping ban seems reasonable. As a state, we will stop selling vapes and vaping products to prevent and research new and related lung diseases. We will also protect our children from vaping’s harmful effects. But one should also take into account who is being negatively affected by this ban. With a phenomenal demand from consumers, businesses exclusively catered to the sale of vape products. Locations such as the Vape Shop in Allston, Boston Smoke Shop on Newbury Street, or Beyond Vape in Sommerville all primarily sold vape and e-cigarette products. As a result of the ban, they will likely suffer heavily or close due to the fact that all of the money they invested to stock their shelves has been spent for nothing now that buying or selling the products is illegal.  Furthermore, the ban affects many traditional cigarette smokers, who are frustrated and worried that they will now revert back to smoking traditional cigarettes.  
Public health policy and consumer freedom are considerations that hang in the balance; that is the nature of such policy-making. Recently, a Massachusetts judge ruled that the ban will remain in place. Gov. Baker planned to lift the ban four months after it was instituted, but with such court ruling, the ban’s extension is expected. 
Is vaping fated to burn out, or will we continue to light up?
Read more…
School
Walkout at Boston Collegiate Charter shines a light on racial tensions
On Nov. 1, students at Boston Collegiate Charter School sat at their usual lunch tables, the room buzzing with chatter and gossip. Underneath the typical background noise was a layer of anticipation bubbling to the surface as the hands on the clock made its way closer to the fifth-period bell. It was evident even to those out of the loop what was to come, as demands were posted on every floor and dozens of students and some teachers were defying the school uniform by dressing in black. Everyone in the lunchroom knew that with the fifth-period bell would come an explosion never seen before at BCCS. 
In recent weeks, there have been multiple racially motivated incidents at the school, including the n-word being written on multiple bathroom walls, and a hijab being pulled off a student’s head. In response, several students decided to organize a walkout to point out racial tensions and draw attention to a list of student demands on how the school could create a better environment. Anyone who wanted to participate was to wear black and rally into the school parking lot after the lunch bell.
During lunch, a handful of students dressed in black passed out slips of paper to each table with “POCatBCCS DEMANDS” in bold, numbered one through ten. The same sheet was rotating around social media the days following. Student demands included a public show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement on social media, allowing cultural head wraps to be worn on school grounds, hiring more teachers of color, anti-bias training for all teachers and more.
By the end of the lunch block, Ariana Constant-Patton, junior and one of the student organizers, had taken to the stage, wielding a microphone and flanked by other walkout participants, some holding posters. The representatives stated that the walkout was necessary to respond to the racial problems taking place at the school. 
Critics whispered that the walkout would flop and participants wouldn’t exceed five, while others excitedly posted about the event on social media. While expectations varied, dozens of students ended up walking out of the building, some of whom had always planned to, and some of whom were convinced by the speeches in the cafeteria. 
Afternoon classes were relatively empty, ranging from two to ten kids present. Most teachers, those who weren’t protesting alongside their students, gave up on their lesson plans and allowed their students to watch the protest from below.
The crowd of people in black stood in the parking lot, holding hands and chanting “No justice, no peace.” Individuals took the microphones and gave speeches, being cheered on by their peers. Some were full of anger and passion, leading call-and-response chants and yelling up at underclassmen who were laughing down at them from indoors. Others were full of praise for everyone that participated and sending love to those that stayed in the building to gawk out the window. Journalists from the Boston Globe observed from the back. After the speeches and chants came music and dancing. 
“The people who participated in the walkout don't hate anyone,” Constant-Patton assured. “It’s just about finding the mutual respect line for all of us and just trying our best to like come together as a community rather than be against each other … I think that as long as we're respecting each other and respecting the way that we go about things that will be a lot better.”
The following Monday, morning classes were replaced with an assembly addressing the walkout, where faculty came forward and discussed the events that took place and where to go from there. 
“It felt like we were seen as the aggressor,” Constant-Patton said regarding the assembly. “The students who were laughing in the windows during the walkout weren’t called out. I feel like the the assembly didn't really like fully attest to what happened.”
Following the assembly was an optional space for discussion. Some felt the walkout was empowering and necessary, while others stated it created a divide in the student body. Sarah Purvis, senior, countered the latter, saying, “The school has been divided since I can remember. The walkout just highlighted the divide that’s been here for years.” 
Read more…