Current Events
Barred from the Workplace: Criminal Records Complicate the Job Search
photo courtesy of More Than Words
Many Americans who carry the burden of a criminal record often struggle. In addition to facing judgement from society, they are often also unable to get hired for a job. Having a criminal record that employers can see isn’t fair to those who have changed due to their prison experience and are determined not to commit crimes and live a better, more productive life.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 1 in 5 American adults has a criminal record, and a Los Angeles survey found that 60 percent of employers would “probably not” or “definitely not” be willing to hire someone with a criminal record.
These statistics have affected many teens in America, including Terron Cherry, a student at Match Middle School. Cherry’s father had trouble finding a job when he was released from prison two years ago. 
“They’d decline him sometimes because of his criminal record,” Cherry said. “When you’re a criminal, and you get out, you deserve a second chance.”
Xavon Bentley, another student from Match Middle School, has a father who has been out of prison for 10 years after committing a felony. 
“He works night shifts at Stop & Shop now,” Bentley said. “He gets paid pretty well, but I would like to think that he can do better.” 
To try to help people with criminal records get jobs, Massachusetts went as far as to make a “ban the box” law in 2010, which removed the box asking whether the job applicant had a criminal record or not. Although this seemed like a beneficial law, the employment rate for those with criminal records dropped 2.6 percent within the two years after it was enacted, according to the Boston Globe, proving the law to be ineffective.
More recently, the Massachusetts state government decided to alter the CORI, or Criminal Offender Record Information, laws a little bit. CORI is the system in Massachusetts which provides employers and others with the criminal records of job applicants. Previously, misdemeanors were sealed in five years and felonies in 10 years. This means that after that period, employers will no longer have access to the criminal records of their applicants. In other words, this past crime will no longer affect people’s future employment opportunities. Last October, however, it was decided that misdemeanors are now sealed in three years and felonies in seven years. This is a huge improvement, but more actions toward criminal discrimination are needed.
One local organization trying to help is More Than Words. More Than Words is a non-profit organization that strives to help teenagers and young adults get back on track with their lives. The organization runs a bookstore that sells used books. They hire “system-involved” youth with difficult pasts, pay them, and give them guidance to succeed in life. “System-involved” is the term More Than Words likes to use to describe the youth who have been involved with the court system. More Than Words directly works with Massachusetts courts to help clean teens’ records and set them on track to success. 
Ryan McCarthy, the Associate Director for Career Services at More Than Words, thinks that criminal records need to be treated differently. “Right now the system is black and white, and I think that if someone had a charge as a juvenile, that should be looked at differently,” he said. 
The system is very unforgiving when it comes to criminal records. Different jobs require different candidates but at the end of the day, we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and we deserve to get more opportunities if we’re willing to change.

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In December 2018, my dad, my sister and I were driving on the highway to go back home. I saw one of those electronic highway signs that read something like: “PLASTIC BAG BAN TAKES PLACE THIS WEEK. PLEASE BRING YOUR OWN BAG OR YOU WILL BE CHARGED.” Confused, I asked my dad what was it about, and he only told me, “Oh, they aren’t selling plastic bags in all stores anymore.” 
A few days after, I asked my dad to take me Secret Santa shopping, as the holidays were getting close. When we came to the register, the cashier asked, “Would you like a paper bag with that?” When my dad agreed, the cashier said, “Okay, 10 cents please.” I wondered where all the plastic bags went and why my dad had to pay for a bag. When I got back home, I went to do some research on my tablet about what happened to the plastic bags in Boston.
On Dec. 14, 2018, the plastic bag ban took place in Boston. A majority of stores in Boston have replaced their plastic bags with paper bags, and you have to pay at least 10 cents to use one, or, you can bring a reusable bag. The purpose of this was to reduce plastic waste in the environment, as plastic takes years to decompose. But how will this ban affect Boston? 
“Business hasn’t really been affected by the ban,” states 19-year-old Grace Mikounya, who works at the convenience store 7-Eleven. Mikounya finds that the paper bags as an eco-friendly alternative, but weak, as she once witnessed a customer’s groceries break from a paper bag. She finds fabric bags more usable.
Sarah, another convenience store worker, states that she finds the plastic bag ban unhelpful, as she finds it annoying to ask customers for 10 cents. Sarah has also witnessed some reactions from customers who were surprised and confused about paying 10 cents. She advises customers to bring their own bags or just say no the the bag. 
This ban isn’t exclusive to Boston. Other states and cities in the U.S., such as Washington D.C, San Francisco and Seattle, have implemented similar laws. San Francisco was the first city in the U.S. to completely ban plastic bags back in 2007, and since 2010, this policy has led to a 72 percent reduction in plastic bag litter in the city. 
There have been some arguments against the ban, however. According to an article from Plastic Today, plastic manufacturers think banning plastic bags would have a negative economic impact and have them lose their jobs. Some people have also expressed online that being charged for a reusable bag takes a toll on one’s budget, or that the environmental damage of plastic is over exaggerated.
However, the toll plastic has taken on the environment is undeniable. The nonprofit Worldwatch Institute reports that 267 species of marine wildlife are known to have suffered or died because they ate or became entangled in plastic debris. A European Commission study on the impact of plastic on wildlife in the North Sea found that over 90 percent of the birds examined had plastic in their stomachs. Plastic debris can require more than a century to decompose, gradually breaking down into smaller pieces over time—that’s why the Pacific Ocean is now home to a 3-million-ton floating heap of plastic debris estimated to be twice the size of France.
Just imagine yourself as a plastic bag. After being created by manufacturers, you are delivered to a store. A cashier takes you and puts things inside of you and gives you away to someone else. That someone takes you with the things inside of you and puts you aside. You are then used a trash bag, having people put trash inside of you. After being full of trash, you are taken out when garbage men take you once again into a truck. After, you are dumped into a wasteland by garbage men. You stay there, invading the homes of wildlife for about…a century, breaking away very slowly.
The ban can stop this from happening. The removal of practice bags in stores could help animals and leave our environment cleaner, so it can be sustainable for people in the future. Since there won’t be any free bags in stores, always take your own bag when shopping if you do not want to be charged. I recommend bringing fabric bags, as they can hold more groceries than a paper or plastic bags. And if you have any leftover plastic bags at home, don’t trash them, DIY with them, or use them to decorate your home.

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On March 7th, Congress defeated Ayanna Pressley’s proposal to lower the voting age to 16. Although it failed on the congressional floor, it didn’t fail to spark nationwide conversation. Appropriately enough, on the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage, we are once again debating who should be granted the vote.  
Critics point out that rights and responsibilities, such as military service, marriage, and jury duty, all start at 18. Moreover, politicians across the country, including several supporting lowering the voting age, have supported bills increasing the age of smoking, firearm ownership and criminal responsibility. How, then, can we reconcile these movements that seem to want to simultaneously lower and raise the age of responsibility?
If we look through the lens of effect, rather than cause (age), the reasons for these discrepancies become clear. Raising the age of criminal responsibility is meant to protect children from sinking into a life of crime and poverty. Serving in the military and smoking can cause lifelong physical and mental damage, especially on a developing brain. The brain keeps developing until about 25, so brain development isn’t necessarily the best benchmark for the voting age anyway—while it’s true that teens tend to rely more on the amygdala (and, therefore, our emotions) for decision-making than adults, this is more pronounced in short-term decisions with an instant punishment or reward rather than thoughtful decisions like voting.
The most import difference, though, is that voting is a right with the desired effect of giving citizens an opportunity to choose policies that will affect their lives and ensure politicians’ accountability to their constituents. Even those teens who would abstain from the vote would benefit from having themselves represented in the constituency. With teens in the voting booth, politicians would have to start consistently considering our interests and the issues that affect our lives. Some critics have suggested that teens don’t have “enough skin in the game,” often pointing to the fact that we generally don’t financially support ourselves. While it may be true that most teens are dependents, not only do many of us work and get taxed, but the very premise of this argument verges dangerously into the territory of property-based democracy—employment and dependent status should never be benchmarks of qualifications to participate in democracy.
Regardless of employment, teens’ “skin in the game” shouldn’t be up for debate. Not only will we be living with the effects of long-term national policies on climate change, healthcare, immigration, and more, local policies are affecting us right now. Massachusetts ballot question 3, for example, which would remove gender as a protected class, was a critical issue for many teens, which is the age group most likely to be openly transgender, as reported by the Williams Institute. Moreover, those who supported the question often pointed to the potential dangers of allowing people into the “wrong” bathrooms because it would present danger to children. Shouldn’t those children have a say in that, then? 
The City of Boston recently initiated BuildBPS, a 10-year plan led by Mayor Marty Walsh to invest over $1 billion into Boston Public Schools. However, nobody currently enrolled in BPS had the chance to vote for our mayor, nor for any elected official who might have an impact on our education.
Perhaps the biggest argument about why teens aren’t qualified to vote is that we aren’t educated enough on civic issues. On one hand, I’m inclined to disagree. Teens, many of them ineligible to vote, were behind the March for Our Lives and the Standing Rock protests. Our own city boasts a rich tradition of youth civic engagement. The Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) has worked on initiatives including encouraging “action civics” and one resulting in the passage of a statewide law. The Mayor’s Youth Council, a group of 96 teenagers acting as drivers of city-improvement projects (one of which is lowering the voting age in Massachusetts to 16) conducts annual “youth lead the change” votes, in which 12- to 25-year-old Boston students, workers and residents vote on three capital projects to spend $1 million on. Past winning projects have included a homeless resource board, fans in schools, and a media center. Teens in Print, Boston’s only citywide student newspaper, regularly covers political issues, including BuildBPS, youth activism, and Ayanna Pressley.
That being said, however, I’d have to agree that public school civics education is lacking nationwide. Only nine states and DC require a full year of civics. But if the federal voting age was lowered, perhaps that would incentivize increased earlier civics education. In fact, that might be a good way to start the process: implement civics classes, then, after a predetermined number of years, lower the voting age to welcome a newly-educated population of engaged citizens.

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Imagine that you are a seventh grader in a Boston middle school. You’ve been at this school since sixth grade, you have your group of friends, and you are getting used to the work. Then, one day, you hear an announcement that the school is shutting down. Now, all your school supplies have to go home and you will have to move to a new school and see new people. This is what could happen to BPS’s middle schoolers because of BuildBPS, a educational plan by Mayor Marty Walsh.
According to the Boston Public Schools website, BuildBPS is a 10 year plan supported by $1 billion that is supposed to strengthen our city’s education. One component of BuildBPS is to eliminate middle schools in Boston so that students experience fewer transitions. From 2012 to 2018, there was a enrollment decline at middle schools by 1,800 students. In response to this, BPS is closing down middle schools to merge them with high schools, creating 7-12th grade schools. 
When I was in sixth grade at the BTU, I found myself wishing I was in a middle school. Now, as a seventh grader at O’Bryant, I still sometimes think about how different things could be if I were in a middle school. I think O’Bryant is a good school, but my experience might have been different if it were a 9-12 instead of a 7-12. I remember when I first came to O’Bryant, I thought it was so crowded. That made me nervous. I started to get really distracted in class because there were so many people in the hallways. There was also a lot more homework in every subject. It would take me over an hour to finish it all. I also had to carry more binders and notebooks. My shoulders started to hurt.   
For middle school aged students, it’s important to be around other middle schoolers. I don’t want to be around little kids. I think they are annoying—they cry and scream, and teachers are always yelling at them. However, I didn’t want to be around older kids either, because they’re also distracting. They’re loud and scary. Middle schoolers who are only with kids their age can focus better, do their work, and maybe get better grades. 
Middle schools are also smaller. This makes it more comfortable for all the students everywhere. You get a chance to know everyone around you, so it’s easier to make friends. You can also get help from teachers or other students more easily in a middle school because there are fewer students. One time, I wanted to go in to talk to an English teacher at O’Bryant, but I didn’t, because I feel like my teacher doesn’t care about me. In a middle school, my teacher would know me and my work better, and then I’d feel more comfortable talking to him or her. 
When I first transferred to O’Bryant, I felt unprepared in some ways. Math especially was really hard. I got the worst grade I had ever gotten, a C. I feel like I’m adjusted to O’Bryant now, but it definitely took a couple of months for me to catch up. I think I needed more time to adjust to the responsibilities and the work that O’Bryant required. Middle school would have been a good transitional time where I could have learned to be responsible without getting bad grades. 
While BuildBPS argues that enrollment in middle schools is down and that transitions from school to school should decline, I believe that middle schools are worth it, based on my personal experience. Middle schools offer comfort, adjustment time, and increased focus for their students. That’s what kids my age really need. 
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When I solved my first Rubik’s Cube, it was shocking for me and my parents. As I kept watching tutorials and solving cubes, I eventually remembered the whole algorithm. The fun thing about Rubik’s Cubes it that when you finally know how to solve a normal cube, you can’t take your hands off it. You want to keep mixing it up and keep solving it. And, once you solve a cube for the first time, you get the feeling that you want to solve a cube a little bigger than the original one.
In 1974, the first cube, known as the 3x3, was invented in Hungary by Erno Rubik. The cube was released worldwide in 1980. In the same year, it won the Toy of the Year award. Within a year, the toy hit millions of sales. Now, there are many different variations on the 3x3 cube, including a 2x2 and a 7x7. 
Speedcubing, or the practice of solving a cube fast, was born shortly after the cube itself. Ever since people learned how to solve the cube, they have wanted to solve it faster, and more efficiently. Some have devoted their lives to finding the most efficient way of solving every type of cube’s scramble. Others have tried to discover the maximum number of moves required to solve each cube, known as “God’s number.” Others focused on the speed aspect. The first speedcubing champion solved the 3x3 cube in 22.95 seconds, but now the 3x3 record is 4.22 seconds, set by famous speedcuber Feliks Zemdegs.
It takes me 45 seconds to solve a 3x3 cube, but I still see the benefits of speedcubing in my life. After I started solving Rubik’s Cubes, I saw benefits in my math skills. According to a New York Times article, learning to solve a Rubik’s Cube can help “with geometry, algebra, direction-following, memorization and perseverance.” That’s why a dozen schools in New York City introduced Rubik’s Cubes in their math classes. I think I’m getting good grades in math because I can solve a Rubik’s Cube.
Memorizing the patterns of Rubik’s Cubes also helped me with my memory. For example, I was able to remember 300 digits of pi because Rubik’s Cubes taught me to memorize. 
Most importantly, the Rubik’s Cube taught me that it takes time to be really good at something. If I keep trying to solve the cube, I will eventually achieve my goal, and if I want to solve a problem in my life, I know I’ll get it with time. When I started playing basketball, for example, it was hard at first because of my aim. But when I kept practicing for 3 months, it got easier. I didn’t want to give up when I practiced, just like how I don’t give up trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube.
My goals for Rubik’s Cubes is to solve the 3x3 in under 20 seconds and the 6x6 in 1 minute and 30 seconds. I also want to try out the 10x10. I hope someday I will be in a speed cube competition from 2x2 to 7x7. If I keep practicing,  I know I can accomplish my goals.

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