AHS English teachers piled into the classroom of Matthew Cincotta (a fellow AHS English teacher) after school one unseasonably warm October afternoon for one of their regular meetings to discuss classes and curricula. Chocolate-covered almonds circulated around the table as everybody got settled, talking and laughing, before Deborah Perry, the district English director, began the meeting.
As a goal, the Arlington Public Schools district strives to achieve cultural competency. According to the National Education Association, cultural competence is “the ability to successfully teach students who come from a culture or cultures different than our own” (NEA). Perry says that a goal of the English department at AHS is to “put an increased emphasis on voice and perspective” as well as to “help kids find their own voices, and see other people’s voices.”
At AHS, there is an emphasis on a “living curriculum” that is “always changing and morphing to the times,” in the words of Cincotta. Justin Bourassa feels that “it can always be better,” but the department is “getting much better representation in terms of protagonists [and] much better representation in terms of the authors and their identities, across all spectrums and all factors of identities.” But teachers also want students to feel included and seen even if the books do not feature characters who exactly match their own identities: Megan Miller says focusing on students’ voices provides “an opportunity for students to take their own unique perspective” and think about “what their voice can contribute, just like the character or the authors contributing a voice.”
The English Department is working hard to emphasize perspective. Bourassa clarifies that the department is not embracing different perspectives “simply to check boxes,” but rather they are choosing “good, powerful pieces of literature” that also stem from different origins. One course that particularly emphasizes these choices is the Missing Voices 12th grade course. In the curriculum for that course, teachers have been “broadening” the texts they use and have and “knocked walls down,” according to Bourassa. Perry notes how “in the last four years or so [the department has] consciously changed the senior Missing Voices course” to introduce new and different voices and texts.
Accessibility is also key to diversity in an English curriculum. Perry says that “even adding a graphic novel is another way to add diversity” and telling a story through visuals “is a whole other way of seeing.” And approach plays a key role, as well. “Even if it is an older piece of literature, the lens might be different dependent on the times,” explains Lauren Geiger. She adds that “your parents didn’t read Fahrenheit 451 the same way we are reading it now,” which is why older texts still hold value and have merit even today.
Though the English department is making great strides in adding different types of diversity, it is certainly a group effort that takes time and thought. Erin Bradley, emphasizes that she and other English teachers “all need to and … want to put in that effort to keep [the] curriculum fresh and keep it reflecting the society we see around us.” Bourassa brings up “the idea of ‘updating,’” and notes that “there are a lot of very contemporary texts that are also very good, teachable, powerful, meaningful texts.”
The AHS English curriculum is constantly evolving, and the department has not stopped examining their curriculum and making changes as everyone sees fit. This aligns with the National Education Association’s assertion that “educators become culturally competent over time” and not “as a result of a single day of training, or reading a book, or taking a course.” And the teachers at AHS are certainly putting in that time and effort. The district as a whole is very supportive of this initiative as well; Geiger feels that “the great thing about Arlington is that we’re, as professionals, really afforded the creative space and time to focus on what we teach and how we approach it.” And none of these changes are made arbitrarily or artificially; as Bourassa says, the department is not “doing anything for the sake of doing it.”
Dr. Stanley Vieira recently became the athletic director at Arlington High School. I sat down with him to ask a few questions and welcome him into our community. Here is what he had to say:
Q: What made you interested in applying to work at Arlington High?
A: The biggest reason why this position interested me is because of my love with working with athletes at the high school level. My first job was working at a high school as a track coach, and I just felt like I made a real big impact at that point in my life, and I miss working with high school students. I saw the job opening and I thought, I would love to apply and see if this works out. And it did!
Q: Where did you last work prior to AHS?
A: I was working at Providence College. I was an athletic director for different colleges over the years, but I was working with off campus students at Providence College, and I really missed athletics. I missed working with student athletes, and coaches, and teams, and scheduling. I missed all of that stuff.
Q: What are some of your favorite aspects of the AHS community so far?
A: Number one is student athletes. I love how close everyone is and how they support each other. Number two: parents. They are super supportive, and they are really good communicators. Just the other day we were trying to get the scoreboard going for one of our JV football games and one of the parents just said, “I’ll do it!”. And I think that’s common. All of the parents are so willing to help out. And then beyond athletes and their parents is the external community. Local businesses, how supportive they are, and the relationship we have with ACMI is phenomenal. So it’s hard to pick just one thing but those are a few that really stick out.
Q: Did you play sports growing up? If so, which ones?
A: I played hockey, basketball, lots of things. But in high school and college I ran track. So that was kind of my number one, but I truly love all sports. I can’t say I love one more than the other. I think they’re all great. But for me personally I ran track and I just loved it. I started it to stay in shape, and then I kind of fell in love with it. I really did.
Q: Are there any specific changes you hope to make to the athletics department here?
A: One of the things that sticks out to me is the lack of branding that the program has. I want to put more banners out, I want to get the “A” out more. The other thing is that I’ve got to figure out what our logo really is. It seems like we’ve had a lot of different A’s over the years, it seems like that is an important part of our history, and the question is how do we brand that? Because it’s in certain places, but it’s not everywhere. Like when you go out to your field, other than the older scoreboard and midfield, there’s no A’s anywhere. It’s kind of disappointing to me. So branding is big, to make sure that we are getting our name out there so that people have a lot of spirit. And then the last piece is making sure that our students are really getting out there in the community as far as community service. I mean, you all have 40 hours to do, but I think we could do so much more with the community. And then giving students the opportunity to grow as leaders, doing development. For me it’s about developing from the moment you get here as a ninth grader to the moment you leave as a senior.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced in your role here so far?
A: I think the biggest challenge was probably coming here so late. When I got here it was already preseason, so I had to figure things out quick. So that was probably the biggest challenge, just being thrown in very quick and trying to get everything figured out. And I still have so much, as you can see my desk is a little messy, I’m trying to figure out paperwork and everything else, but I’m slowly pecking away at it. Step by step, everyday I learn a little bit more and I figure it out.
Q: Do you have any tips for students who are trying to balance sports and schoolwork?
A: I would say the biggest skill you can learn as a student athlete is time management. When I was in high school, my coach made me get a planner to plan out when I was practicing, studying, even eating. If you don’t manage your time well as a student, it gets away from you quick. It’s like putting off your homework and saying oh, I’ll do it tomorrow. And then all of the sudden it’s the day before the big test and you’re like oh no, I’ve got to study! At varsity or sub-varsity levels you’re travelling a lot. When other students are at the library or at home eating, our students are on a bus, travelling back and forth. So it’s just managing your time and making sure that you understand, I have certain things I have to do. If you don’t understand that, it gets away from you quick. That’s probably the best advice I can give.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: The only thing I would like to say is that I am super excited about this opportunity. I love being here, I love the student athletes, the administration, the parents, everyone has been so welcoming, so great. So I’m really excited. I would finish with that.
On March 14th, students around the nation walked out of their schools for 17 minutes to honor the victims of school shootings, specifically the recent shooting where 17 young lives were tragically lost at Parkland High School in Florida, and to call for gun control reform. Due to the snowstorm, however, many New England schools closed on the 14th, so those schools walked out at 10am the following day.
Arlington High School students and faculty members each made an individual decision about whether or not to walk out. Some chose to remain inside while others organized the events, and still others participated in the walkout by leaving their classes and listening to their peers give speeches in front of the high school.
As the number of school shootings around the nation increases each day, students and teachers alike think about the best solution to a problem currently plaguing America. There are varying arguments regarding gun control and the justification of the second amendment. This article represents a sampling of student and teacher opinions regarding the effectiveness of the walkouts, as well as gun laws in America. This article is meant to expose the many layers of arguments which discuss the best ways to keep people safe.
Ponder Page: What was your role in organizing the walkout?
Isa Dray: “I organized the AHS #NeverAgain walkout in collaboration with Laura Kirchner, Sophie Plotkin, and Gayatri Sundar Rajan.”
PP: What change do you hope to see in gun control laws?
ID: “Nationwide I think it is really important that we have stricter background checks, raise the legal age for gun purchase to 21 and repeal the Dickey Amendment, which prevents federal funds awarded to the Center for Disease Control from being used to advocate or promote gun control via studies of any sorts. This is a huge deal because it means that no comprehensive studies can be performed to assess the United States’ gun violence and gun culture. In Massachusetts, we need to continue to lead the way in gun reform by passing the Extreme Risk Protective Order, which would allow a judge to order a temporary removal of guns from someone ruled to be a danger to themselves or others. With many shootings that take place, family members or friends had prior knowledge or had seen signs of intent. Passing this bill is essential to making us safer and ensuring that guns only stay in the hands of those fit to carry them.”
PP: How do you feel about how the walkout went, reflecting from a week later?
ID: “I was really happy with how the walkout went! Seeing it all come together after two and a half weeks of hard work was very fulfilling. The event also went really smoothly thanks to the large support system we had and our comprehensive planning. I loved hearing the speakers; they all had really powerful messages and it was great to hear a variety of students speak. Having elected officials Sean Garballey, Dave Rogers, and Joe Curro, their listening to us and supporting us along with our community meant so much to me. It was really awesome to see AHS students come together for the second week in a row to show that this matters to us and to confront the reality that this could happen to us too, which is why we need to take action!”
PP: Further thoughts? Main takeaway?
ID: “I think it’s super important that people stay engaged. The national walkout to call for gun reform is not a one and done thing. We need to continue the momentum, keep this conversation in the headlines and continuously work towards comprehensive gun laws. Change doesn’t happen overnight and I encourage everyone to not let the walkout be the only thing you do. The biggest danger to this movement is the potential for it to die out if people do not stay engaged. Attend the March for Our Lives Saturday March 24th in Boston, attend the Young Dems workshops that are focused around contacting reps and making change, continue meaningful conversation with those around you, and pay attention for more walkouts scheduled for the coming weeks. Students are pushing for the Extreme Risk Protective order to be passed in Massachusetts by mid-April and we need to really work towards this by contacting our reps and demonstrating our frustration and commitment.”
“I just feel like the walkout isn’t really going to accomplish anything. The walkout is a complete waste of time, and I agree that some things need to change, but having a bunch of kids walk out of the school is not going to bring this change. Most of the kids that I talked to said that they were just walking out just to miss class and a lot of others don’t know what they are protesting against. For why I didn’t walkout, that’s because I don’t believe in what this movement is about. I was inside and I had my 17 minutes of silence to pay respects to the 17 people that had died, but I don’t think that the banning of semi-automatic rifles and other firearms is going to help. I know that this is not what the main goal is behind the walkout, but that’s what it is becoming. People that I have talked to, that support the walkout, have said that this is what they are trying to accomplish. I believe that if all guns in general disappeared we would be in a good place, but that is unrealistic. With the ban of assault rifles, the only thing that would happen is that law abiding citizens would turn in their guns, and criminals would not, and then there would be a large group of armed criminals that have an advantage over unarmed law abiding citizens that use their guns for good. But onto the third question: I definitely did feel supported by the teachers in the school. In both classes, the teachers engaged in conversations with me and there was no judging except by a few other students but that doesn’t matter.”
PP: Why did you decide to become involved with the walkout?
LK: “The National Walkout started being planned, and we noticed a lot of posts for other schools that were participating, but we noticed that there were no posts for Arlington High School, so we figured it would be better to have an organized event where we were all walking out with a purpose and we had a plan for what we would do with those 17 minutes rather than people aimlessly walking out, because it’s more powerful if we actually know what we’re doing and what we’re walking out for.”
PP: Were there any challenges you faced as an organizer?
LK: “We did have some trouble communicating with the administration, especially with the snow day, because instead of walking out with schools across the country we walked out with schools across New England. We all knew that we wanted to make it as soon as possible after the snow day, and we essentially said to the administration, ‘we will be walking out at 10 o’clock’ and we just had to organize with them; they of course wanted students to be safe during the walkout so we just had to figure stuff out with the police to make sure there was some separation between the community and the students, but then again we didn’t want the community to be excluded because it’s affecting the community as well every time there’s an event like this.”
Mr. Fant (history dept)
Last Wednesday, March 7th during A block I addressed my AP Governments students concerning the walkout. I told them that I was not personally offended if they chose to participate in the walkout and that I support them exercising their right to free speech;however, if they chose to walk out of the graded moot court assessment scheduled for that period, it would affect their participation grade for that assignment. I also told the class that I was doing so because I didn’t want to cheapen an act of civil disobedience by making it completely free from consequence.
Here is my reasoning.
When Henry David Thoreau wrote about his decision to not pay his taxes as a way to protest the war with Mexico in the 1840s he knew he would be arrested for breaking the law. In fact, when he was bailed out of jail by a relative within 24 hours, he was angry that he could not stay in jail longer because he believed that suffering a consequence for his act of civil disobedience gave it more strength and meaning. This is why Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi engaged in direct action and civil disobedience and suffered the consequences of fines and jail time for their causes.
Additionally, students have a constitutional right to disruptive protest in schools as seen in the Supreme Court Case Tinker v. Des Moines. When Mary Beth Tinker and her friends wore black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam, they intended to disrupt the regular educational activities of the school day. That’s the point of protest, not just to signal virtues, but to cause conversation hopefully change through disruption.
Rescheduling assessments (such as the moot court) or excusing absences to accommodate the walkout creates two problems. The first is that doing so would undermine the protest itself by separating civil disobedience from consequence, however small it is in this case. The protest would be less disruptive of the regular school day and therefore less effective.
I support the aims of this walkout and this student-led movement to make our schools safer by demanding more gun control. I am inspired by Arlington High School students and their willingness to demand action and take part in protest movements like this one. Furthermore, I am looking forward to participating in the scheduled rally on Inclusion Day and I imagine I will see a lot of AHS students at the March For Our Lives rally on March 24th when I exercise my own First Amendment right concerning the issue of gun violence.
My support for this walkout brings me to the second problem inherent in accommodating it in my class. Doing so in this case, because I support the movement, would set a precedent that all future walkouts will be sanctioned as well, regardless of what those walkouts are protesting. Public school teachers should be hesitant to punish or sanction speech no matter how popular or unpopular. Therefore, I plan on applying the same policy to future walkouts and protests which cause students to miss all or part of a scheduled assessment.
Mr. Matson (history dept)
PP: Do you believe in penalizing students for participating in the walkouts? (such as a lower participation grade)
Scott Matson: “As far as the penalties are concerned, I didn’t do any penalties, but I think it’s up to the individual teacher.”
PP: How effective do you think the walk outs are going to be in the near future, or long term?
SM: “I do not think they are going to be very effective. In my opinion, a majority of the students around the country don’t even realize what they are doing… they are just following what the social media is telling them to do.”
PP: Why do you think students are targeting the ‘wrong people’?
SM: “They are targeting people who are NRA members, who I know a lot of, and they have nothing to do with [gun laws in America].” Additionally, Matson thinks,“there are other issues that should be more focused on, like the whole social media issue” rather than the issue of gun control.
Milo chose to participate in both AHS walkouts.
PP: What do you think about having a penalty on the walkout?
Milo Kiely-Song:“Here’s my thinking: it’s a walkout, if you are going to participate, you shouldn’t expect the full support of the administration … it’s not a school sanctioned event.”
PP: Why did you decide to walk out?
MK-S: “I decided to walk out because I absolutely believe that stricter gun regulations are necessary to make our country and our schools safer.”
PP: In what way do you think the walkouts will move things forward?
MK-S: “I think the walkouts will serve a twofold purpose: first of all to simply demonstrate the discontent in our country at the moment, especially among our generation … the generation moving into the position of being able to vote. Secondly … it’s a launching point, it spreads the word, it gets people involved and interested in the process of making change.”
PP: In what way do you find your own views to be different from other students at AHS?
MK-S: “I am a Libertarian. And Libertarianism is the belief in one’s own freedoms … property rights, land rights, etc. And in terms of gun laws for me, that means I do not believe in banning the distribution of guns in this market. I don’t think the government should have that much control over business and what they chose to sell. However, since guns are very dangerous, especially semi-automatic weapons, I believe that it us necessary for us to impose stricter regulations on the purchase of such guns. A lot of people talk about putting a ban on semi-automatic weapons being sold, and, personally, I do not think that is necessarily the best idea for us. Everyone wants to preserve their liberties, [and] nobody’s against that. And in this time of social and political turmoil, I think it is important to retain those liberties. And if we do implement stricter background checks and more comprehensive systems towards buying a gun, I don’t think we need to actually ban semi-automatic weapons to get the same result.”
PP: Why were you uncertain that your opinion would be valued or “fit” in my article?
MK-S: “I think I can have a lot of great conversations [here at AHS] with people who respect my opinions, but this is Massachusetts… which tends to mean that there are less people with more conservative outlooks and similar opinions to mine.”
Junior Cole Fanning of “Over Easy” [Courtesy of Grace Walters]
Justin Bourassa of “Educated Guests” [Courtesy of Devin Wright]
Members of “Error 404” [Courtesy of Devin Wright]
(Left) Juniors Roger Buckley and (right) Colle Fanning of “Over Easy” [Courtesy of Grace Walters]
On Saturday, Jan. 27, Arlington High School’s S.T.A.N.D club hosted the 12th annual Battle of The Bands at the Regent Theatre in Arlington.
Stereolith, Over Easy, Error 404 and Loudstreet battled it out for a title and cash prize. Each group rocked the house with hit songs like “24k Magic“ by Bruno Mars, played by Error 404, and “Today” by The Smashing Pumpkins, played by Over Easy.
The event lasted for roughly two hours, ending with a performance by a group of Arlington High School teachers, Social Studies teacher Glen Fant, English teacher Lianna Bessette, English teacher Justin Bourassa, English teacher Paul McKnight and English teacher Tim Martin, known as The Educated Guests.
Thanks to ACMi, every performance was video-recorded from various angles and by numerous camerapeople.
Getting to the battle
S.T.A.N.D club advisor Mr. McKnight held a meeting in early November of last year in which students inquired about the audition and selection process for bands who wished to compete in the event. Each band was required to send a demo tape featuring three songs no later than Nov. 18.
The band Over Easy described a demanding process for preparing for the show. Practice hours conflicted with the band members’ school schedules and the availability of a practice location was not always guaranteed.
“It’s tough, but it’s worth it,” says Over Easy’s guitarist and lead vocalist, Junior Cole Fanning.
“We’re not trying to win, we’re just trying to have fun,” Fanning added.
Fundraising for a cause
Juniors Devin Wright and Neil Tracey emceed the event. They introduced each band, adding a mixture of humor and witty banter between acts. Proceeds from the event were donated to Save the Children, a foundation whose goal is to aid children across the globe in areas such as education, hunger and the accessibility of resources.
Additionally, raffle tickets offered up prizes from restaurants and local businesses such as Menotomy Grill & Tavern and a variety of assorted baskets with themes like “Date Night” and “Treat Yourself.”
A title and cash prize were awarded to two groups: the Judges’ Choice, who received $50, and the Audience Choice, who received $100.
The judging panel consisted of the five members of The Educated Guests who deliberated while the remaining attendees were able to cast digital votes.
And the winner is…
Each band played a maximum of eight songs, most of which were covers. However, band Error 404 surprised the audience with an original song entitled “Don’t Mess Around.”
As the show progressed, an increasing number of audience members gathered at the edge of the stage where they chanted, danced, waved cellphone lights in the air, and sang along.
The crowd was especially fervent when the band of teachers, The Educated Guests, performed “All Star” by Smash Mouth and “Shut Up And Dance” by Walk The Moon.
Junior Ben Clossey, the band’s drummer, said the atmosphere of the show was “very inclusive; it’s more about the music and less about who wins.”
At the end of the show, Wright and Tracey announced that the band Error 404—consisting of Juniors Sam Goldstein, Julian Carpenter, Quinn Connell, Joey Dalton, and Olivia Carpenter—won both titles.
Arlington High School’s Justin Bourassa auditioned and was accepted to participate in the hit reality TV show Jeopardy!. In addition to being a trivia genius, Bourassa is also an English teacher, and Track and Cross-Country coach. He traveled to Los Angeles during the first few days of school, September 5th and 6th, to film his episode of Jeopardy!. After many months of diligent studying and auditions, the air date for hisepisode is almost here. The students of Arlington High have waited several months to witness their beloved English teacher take the stage in the classic hit show.
On December 20th, 2017, at 7:30 pm, the Young Democrats Club will be hosting an official screening of Bourassa’s debut on Jeopardy!. Students, teachers and alumni can gather in Old Hall to celebrate the talents of Mr. Bourassa. Pizza will also be sold. At this same event, the Arlington Food Pantry will be collecting canned, non-perishable goods for the holiday season. The night is a combination of charity and trivia to make for one spectacular evening.
Although a significant publicity campaign for the event has embarked, all Arlington students and alumni are encouraged to attend and invite their friends. Due to Bourassa’s impressive reputation at Arlington High, as he is beloved by students, a large attendance is expected from current students as well as Arlington High alums, who will already be on their winter breaks from college. Do not forget to come support Mr. Bourassa as he participates in the competitive, nationwide broadcast of Jeopardy! on December 20th in Old Hall!
Since childhood, Arlington High School english teacher Justin Bourassa has cherished the lively game show, Jeopardy. Viewing the game show was a ritual in his adolescent home, and he continued the tradition in his own household, where his wife shares his love for the series.
Bourassa was encouraged by his wife to attempt an online audition, in which he performed extremely well, but thought nothing of it. However, his skillful results prompted a callback and a chance to display his trivia abilities at a regional competition in New York City. Along with twenty other candidates, he participated in a stimulation of the real show and endured yet another test, determining his future on the show. Eight months later, Bourassa arrived home to a message on his answering machine informing him that he was invited to participate in the real show.
A month after his invitation to film in Los Angeles, and after hundreds of hours studying intently with his wife, Bourassa flew across the country to tape an entire season in two days, September 5th and 6th. The filming days also happened to land on the first two days of school at Arlington High School, inciting a chaotic situation.
Prior to taping, Bourassa prepared as though he were taking the SATs. With the assistance of his wife, and a database (J Archive) containing all past seasons game boards, Bourassa gained a plethora of knowledge. During the plane ride to California, Bourassa continued to expand his knowledge, scouring atlases and books about composers in order to sufficiently prep for his big moment.
Directly after two incredibly intense and grueling days of filming, he flew back to Massachusetts, prepared to embark on a fresh school year with new students. Despite his absence on the first few days of school, Bourassa eased into another school year at AHS. Be sure to catch Mr. Bourassa on Jeopardy on December 20th!
The teacher bandat Arlington High School, The Educated Guests, known for playing at Battle of the Bands, is composed of Mr. Fant, Mr. Bourassa, Mr. McKnight, Ms. Bessette, and Mr. Marten.
Formed officially around 2014, The Educated Guests recruited musically inclined teachers willing to commit extra time to play in the band. They have performed at Battle of the Bands, the AHS Talent Show, the Unitarian Universalist Church, and the Knights of Columbus.
With Mr. Fant, Mr. Bourassa and Mr. McKnight on guitar, Mr. Marten playing drums, and Ms. Bessette singing, the band works diligently to apply their musical talents in addition to focusing on teaching. Mr. Marten, member of the band, describes The Educated Guests as “an equal opportunity group of noisemakers” who are open to the possibility of adding new members to their group.
The Educated Guests play a wide variety of musical genres and favorites among the band members have been Taylor Swift songs and pieces from the musical Hamilton.
Sophomore Isabella Scopeski admires the band because of their ability to “inspire students to go after what they want” and “the bond that has formed” between these Arlington colleagues. These talented five teachers are an example for prospective musically talented students.