“Are they speaking about me? What if they don’t like me? What if I don’t pass my test and I won’t be able to pass to the next grade?” “How do you feel today?” “… Good…” 
These are the thoughts that go through my head on a daily basis. Because I was born with the developmental disorder autism, I find it extremely hard to speak about my emotions and feelings, even to the people closest to me. Autism affects one out of 63 American children, making it a common disorder. So why do I feel so alone with it?
I noticed that I was different when I was in public and the sounds of trains made me go insane and cover my ears and cry. I’ve noticed that the simple gesture of making eye contact when speaking to someone is like climbing Mount Everest for me. When I was four I did not speak. I was put into several varieties of therapy such as speech, music and regular therapy where they would ask me about my emotions, which to this day I still have a problem speaking about. 
I was six when I met Julie. I was hesitant and didn’t speak to her for about two weeks, but as I opened my book of life I realized that she understood me, and till this day is the only person I am comfortable sharing my emotions with. Julie would stay silent with me when I chose not to speak and would help me decipher problems when I couldn’t control my emotions. When I was nine Julie declared I was prepared enough to control my emotions. I was overjoyed and happy to feel like a free being. When I was nine my parents and I were at the Esplanade for the annual fireworks show (a tolerable noise), and as we left it started to pour. I wanted to run to the station but my body just stood there trembling and I felt the tears coming. My father had to pick me up and cover me with his jacket while people stared as I cried in the rain. They did not know me and my story and my many small but mighty accomplishments before this incident.
By my own choice, I decided to transfer to a school closer to home during fourth grade and it was small, which made making friends easier. The school I was in before was too large and my autism made navigating the school feel like I was walking for hours. When I arrived it was thrilling, until a boy came up from behind me and humped me with a pencil between his legs during lunch one day. This was confusing, but I knew that it wasn’t okay. This and several other bullying incidents caused me to be paranoid and scared about the other kids around me. I would wake up crying and pleading with my mom not to send me to school. This traumatizing experience forced me back into therapy at the age of 11, with a guy named Cooper. He also changed my life by helping me let go of the suspicion that everyone was out to get me. 
We talked a lot, and this time around therapy felt a lot more mature. Because of Julie, I was able to express my emotions to a therapist much easier. After a bit, Cooper thought that I was ready to trust the world. So after a combined seven years of therapy, I´ve learned to truly appreciate the small feats. When I made my first friend in school I thought that was a call for celebration. So I write this essay to inform you, reader, that you are trustworthy, but to warn you that you do not know everyone's story. You have just walked in on one chapter of their book, and you have no right to judge without asking about their accomplishments and past.


Read more…
ME
I ask myself sometimes what is right and what is wrong.
Yo soy de sangre Mexicana,
and will forever be. Pero I wonder,
does being born here make me mudblood, 
like Hermione Granger in Harry Potter? 
But then I sit, look at my skin, look at my hair and I see the eyes of a fighter— 
I see that I do so much for my family, who will always have their hearts open. 
And my wonder, am I half or am I full Mexican, comes to an end.
I will always be loyal to the country where my roots come from, 
to the place my grandfather died, and the body of my godfather was sent to. 

MEXICO
Si, I was born here in the U.S., 
my home almost 3.3 miles from here.
My heart will never beat to American colors pero 
de Mexico na mas.
I may not have been born el la tierra santa, 
but I grew up in a Mexican household.
Though my accent might not seem Mexican, 
eso es porque, crecí en un area Dominicana all my life.
Though I never felt in the right place here in America,
or Roxbury,
I've only ever felt close to home while in East Boston, Revere, Chelsea—  
they are latinos close to mi tierra, not like those in Roxbury.
So my question is to where I belong, 
where my heart takes me, which has lead me to open up today.


Who?
You think you know me,
You think you’re my friend, but you have it wrong.
You have no idea what my WHOLE story is.
You ask me, 
“Why are you sad, what’s wrong?”
Nothing's wrong, I peep and fall back. 
It took me a few good blows to realize people’s true colors 
But here I am standing strong, overcoming things I thought I’d never do.
So no, you’re not my friend,
God is my friend, though I'm not always nice to him.
He’s seen my ups and downs, 
he knows my WHOLE story, and didn't stop loving me.
And those who know part leave ASAP
So the question is who am I?
A fighter
A soldier
A big sister
A daughter 
More importantly, I am a Mexican. 
With all the dirt the President hands on us, I only become prouder,
because he does not know each and every one of our stories.
So do you know who I am?
Pues eso si, que es un no. 


Read more…
TiP Journalists Tiffany Cespedes, Jacob Downey, and Mariella Murillo
On May 9, around 175 people showed their support for student literacy by coming out to Pros&Conversation, WriteBoston's only annual fundraiser. Mariella Murillo, student journalist and sophomore at Boston Arts Academy, delivered a passionate speech about finding her voice in writing. She received a standing ovation—the only one of the evening. We think it's safe to say that her speech was an inspiration.

The following is an excerpt from Mariella’s keynote speech: 

Ever since I was young, I have loved to read, write and tell stories. My mother loves to brag about how from a young age when she would read to me, I knew exactly when to turn the page. I remember the first chapter book I read (Magic Tree House #8, Midnight on the Moon), and knowing even then that I wanted to make stories just like that one. Over the years, I have made up hundreds of characters my brother and cousins would pick when we would play games and go on adventures.
As I grew older and dress-up became less appealing, I knew I had to find another way to get these stories out. So, I would write versions of my life as it was happening in a diary, or would even take characters that exist in the real world, my own friends and family, and put them into new worlds that I had created—essentially just fanfiction of the people in my life.
However, you can’t really go up to your teacher or friends with your journal and ask “Hey, is this any good?” I was never able to figure out how to take the bits and pieces of my writing and make it into something an audience can enjoy, or even understand. So, my characters stayed as characters, never entering a story. I had scenes planned out in my head, but trouble finding how to make them fit in a bigger picture. It was like having the pieces of a bridge, but not the tools I needed to put it together. I had the ideas and I had the skill, but I wished I had fresh eyes to help push me and mold what was in my brain into something well done. That’s why, in fall 2017, I joined Teens in Print. 
I still remember my first meeting—I was greeted with the coolest conference room I had ever been in. But, to be honest, I had never been in a conference room before. I will never forget that I was instantly treated as an individual. The Teens in Print staff welcomed me despite knowing nothing about me, or what I could bring to the table; they were ready and willing to help me become the best writer I can be. With the Teens in Print staff supporting me, I finally had the help I needed to finish a piece of writing that made sense, told a story, and could be read and understood by an audience. Writing articles for Teens in Print allows me to be creative while still giving me the roots I need to for writing in school and college.
Without Teens in Print, I would have continued through high school and college believing that I had to wait before I could truly share my writing with others in a realistic way. The day when I would be able to fulfill the dreams of a little girl lost in her fantasy novels. And now that day is every day for me, as I stand before you as a published journalist, with people coming up to me and expressing how much they enjoy my writing. Being exposed to journalism is the first stepping stone of reaching the future I want as a writer. Impacting people with my writing is something I have wanted to do ever since Mary Pope Osborne impacted me with her stories of a brother, sister and their magic tree house.  


Read more…
In the wake of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, lead in tap water has become a major concern across the nation. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority rated Boston’s tap water as “excellent” in 2017. Yet, in the same year, water test results at some public schools rivaled the amount of lead and copper found in Flint, Michigan at the peak of the water crisis, according to the Boston Globe.
Boston has seen a marked improvement in water quality in public schools. This is a good thing, but 94 of the 125 Boston Public Schools still report their water fountains to be offline, according to the BPS website. While factors like old buildings and water fountains that don’t work influence the results, this still demonstrates that water quality is a big problem.
The city spent $411,000 on bottled water and cups for public schools during the 2013-14 school year, the Globe reported in 2015. The city tried to fix water fountains the following year as part of a $300,000 project, yet most of them are still offline.
To enforce water safety policies in schools, BPS regularly tests the water. During 2019, the school system will test 859 drinking water units, 473 of which are fountains, said Katherine Walsh, BPS’ Sustainability and Environmental Resources Manager. Walsh is one of the people working to ensure the safety of students’ drinking water. While 93 units, or 12 percent, failed initially, by June 2018, only four samples had lead levels above the safe level, Walsh said. “In other words, 99.4 percent of the online drinking water units did not have lead safety issues.” 
Despite BPS’ efforts, students at Match Middle School remain unimpressed. A poll of 46 of my eighth-grade friends found that 39 percent of them drink the tap water at the school.
Leonard Rivers, one of the respondents, thinks that it’s unfair that the water fountains aren’t online at all schools. “It’s weird to know how much money and how much schools care about the drinking water but then after all this money has been spent, it’s still a bad result,” Rivers said, referring to the 76 percent of fountains that are offline.
Clearly, the drinking water situation in schools is a major problem. With BPS spending the amount of time and money that they have to fix this issue, it begs the question as to whether all these efforts are enough.


Read more…
A&E
Your Guide to the Singing and Silliness of Starkid
Imagine a vast dark stage, empty except for actor Darren Criss, wearing a circular pair of glasses and staring solemnly into the audience. As it cuts to a close-up of our leading man, he begins to sing passionately...about going back to Hogwarts. The audience, Criss’ college classmates at the University of Michigan, burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. This is how the 2009 sensation “A Very Potter Musical” begins.
“StarKid” is a name that usually rings a bell in the ears of passionate theater nerds. It’s a musical theater production group, best known for “A Very Potter Musical,” that has been churning out shows for the past ten years. Their musicals usually consist of over-the-line hilarity and irreverence, a remarkable cast to fall in love with and an entrancing storyline. While not as fancy as Broadway, StarKid is nothing to turn your nose up at—they know how to put on a good show every time they hit the stage. Described as the “future of musical theater” by The Chicago Tribune, “a viral sensation” by Vanity Fair, and “brilliant” by Entertainment Weekly, StarKid actually radiates more and more charm with every new project.
The best part about StarKid? They generously upload professionally-filmed performances of their shows to their YouTube channel only a few months after the show closes. Unlike Broadway fans, who have to rely on a pixelated bootleg to get a glimpse at their favorite musical being performed on the stage only to have YouTube delete it three days later, StarKid fans have all their productions right at their fingertips, making it easy to binge. So what are you waiting for? Here are a few must-see StarKid musicals in no particular order.
***

A Very Potter Musical
Lead actors: Darren Criss, Joey Richter, Lauren Lopez
Song you won’t be able to get out of your head: “Granger Danger”
Best Line: “I'm the boy who lived. Not died. God.”

It would be criminal not to begin with the musical started it all. StarKid was founded in 2009 by  Criss, Brian Holden, Matt Lang and Nick Lang at the University of Michigan. They were a group of theater students, yes, but they were also all massive Harry Potter nerds. So, they blended their two passions and created this Harry Potter satire musical. AVPM is a re-imagining of the Harry Potter franchise, satirical and self-aware. In the StarKid version of the popular story, Lord Voldemort, with his soul attached to Professor Quirrell, tries to get revenge on Potter by killing him in the Triwizard Tournament. Criss, now a celebrated actor, singer, and Golden Globe winner, plays The Boy Who Lived, and masters Harry’s charming and occasionally obnoxious and egotistical personality. The show contains several running gags, such as Draco Malfoy’s obsession with the competing wizarding school, PigFarts, a romance between Quirrell and Voldemort, and no one caring about Hufflepuff. This is the definitive first StarKid musical to watch; it is the most recognizable and arguably the most iconic.

The Trail to Oregon!
Lead Actors: Jeff Blim, Rachael Soglin, Joey Richter, Lauren Lopez, Jaime Lyn Beatty, Corey Dorris
Song you won’t be able to get out of your head: “Your Wagon Is On Fire”
Best Line: “I’ve literally eaten everything that I’ve come across.”

You’ve got dysentery! This spoof of 1970s computer game “The Oregon Trail” is interactive, meaning audience participation is essential. The audience is given the fun responsibility of naming each character in this cast, just like one would if they were playing the computer game. This means that no two shows are the same. This musical follows a father, his uptight wife and their two kids as they venture on from Missouri to Oregon in the 1840s on a busted wagon pulled by a mutant ox. Of course, everything that could possibly go wrong on the trail does, and chaos ensues. At the end of the show, the audience gets to vote on which of the five alternate endings come to pass. All five endings have been filmed and an online viewer can click on the ending they prefer. With the ridiculous humor, audience participation and amazing soundtrack, “Trail to Oregon” is an especially fun musical that is definitely worth a watch for a giggle.

The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals
Lead actors: Jon Matteson, Robert Manion, Lauren Lopez, Jaime Lynn Beatty
Song you won’t be able to get out of your head: “Show Stopping Number”
Best Line: “SING THE BEGINNING OF ‘MOANA’!”

For all the horror fans out there, StarKid has got your back. With a perfect balance of horror and hilarity, this B-movie sci-fi parody makes for the perfect Halloween popcorn musical. This apocalypse parody starts off as a dry-humored comedy about an average grumpy guy at his day job, but it quickly turns ominous when the characters figure out that the small town of Hatchetfield is slowly transforming into a musical. I know it doesn’t sound scary—in fact, it starts out funny—but “The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals” quickly pulls the carpet from underneath you and becomes gut-wrenchingly horrifying. As ridiculous as the plot of “the world is turning into a musical, DUN DUN DUN” sounds, StarKid masterfully balances the horror and seriousness with comedy and parody. I like to refer to it “Invasion of the Body Snatchers...With Singing!”

Twisted
Lead actors: Dylan Saunders, Rachael Soglin, Jeff Blim, Meredith Stepien
Song you won’t be able to get out of your head: “Follow The Golden Rule”
Best Line: “I’m not just some silly side character here only to illustrate Princess Jasmine’s reluctance to get married!”

Edgy Disney villain apologists everywhere would be drawn into the stance “Twisted” takes. “Twisted” follows the story of Aladdin in an entirely warped way you have never seen it before. In this version, Jafar is the misunderstood benevolent hero, whose story has simply been twisted. He is tortured by Aladdin, a womanizing scum of the earth, who the bratty and spoiled Jasmine is desperately in love with. The musical is a clear nod to “Wicked,” but it’s a lot more exaggerated and insane. Viewers get to explore what Jafar’s past may have been like, and witness events that the Disney movie does not include. “Twisted” is enough to make viewers angry on Jafar’s behalf. While an obvious mockery of Disney, the musical still finds a way to capture Disney magic through its songs and lovable cheesiness.  
***

If none of these pique your interest, StarKid has nine other filmed original musicals I have not even mentioned yet, of varying topics and genres. After burning through what I felt like was hundreds of Broadway musicals, diving into StarKid saved me from my musical drought. It gave me eleven new musicals to obsess over and eleven new soundtracks to listen to. StarKid offers a Broadway feel minus the pretension. It is aware of its silliness and never takes itself too seriously. For those who are looking for a fun afternoon and want to turn off their brains and enjoy some light-hearted humor, StarKid is the perfect place to turn. Their YouTube channel is “Team StarKid”—go there, and the rest is at your fingertips.


Read more…