Editorial: Are you worthy of a seat on the stage?

The second half of senior year is supposed to be a reward to all the hard-working students of high school. Having finally gotten into college, seniors tend to be able to coast by; the burden of maintaining college-worthy grades is just a flicker of a memory now. Even after being accepted into college, though, some people are still people working their hardest at school. When asked why, 99 percent of the time it’s: “I need to get a 95 GPA to sit on the stage.” THE stage is an esteemed privilege for students with highest honors and a way to gain bragging rights on graduation day. The stage is almost like a notorious fairy-tale told to students as early as freshman year. Work hard, maintain a 95 GPA throughout your four years of high school, be able to sit on the stage at graduation. The end. But that’s not the black and white end. What is left out is the pressure that the stage places on students. Students who worked hard want their achievements to be commended. They want to be able to sit above their peers in a position of respect and esteem, even if attaining that goal means years of unhealthy stress on themselves. The elevated seating of the stage places those with highest honors literally and metaphorically above the rest of the student population. Is it any wonder that students yearn to be able to grab a seat on stage?

Making the 95 GPA an unwavering and unforgiving toll bridge to the stage, however, isn’t a perfect way of determining who is worthy. Students who take on huge burdens in AP classes because they choose to challenge themselves and who receive a 94 GPA are barred from the stage, whereas if they had chosen less challenging courses they may have gotten that seat on the stage. Students who choose to donate their spare time to hundreds of hours of community service and fall half a point short don’t get the recognition of the stage. Students that help others in school, aid their community, and have good character may be sitting below others, the floor undermining their accomplishments and virtues. After years of being told by teachers and adults within our lives and school that grades don’t define you and that numbers don’t reflect all forms of intelligence, our final moment of high school is shadowed by a bolded, definite number that separates students based on school performance. The stage doesn’t care if someone has good character or is an amazing musician or can paint like the masters; all it requires for seating is a number.

Grades do matter–that is a universally accepted thought reinforced by higher education and college admissions–but they aren’t the measure of whether or not someone is more worthy of prestige than others. Some of the most intelligent people in this world have been master criminals or just awful human beings: Just because of their intelligence, though, should the general public hold these people in a higher regard than others? Similarly this applies to graduation seating. If someone who has infractions on their record or has had their academic integrity questioned is allowed on the stage due to their GPA, why then are the students seated on the stage regarded as superior? The students who worked hard to challenge themselves and push themselves to that 95 threshold do deserve some type of accolades but so do other students who have different strengths. It’s hard for schools to find a balance between wanting to reward hard-working students while also wanting to take into account differences in abilities across the spectrum–that is acknowledged. However, they should find a different way to reward students at graduation not only for academic strength but other strengths too. Why not ask teachers to recommend students who have demonstrated exceptional character in the classroom as well as received good grades. Or ask coaches and music and art teachers to nominate students that go far and beyond in their classrooms. There’s no reason to move completely away from needing a certain GPA but that shouldn’t be the only way people get the designation of stage seating.

In a time when students are taught to embrace their individual strengths, it seems hypocritical of the education system to place academically higher ranking students above the rest. There should be other areas or checkmarks met to determine whether or not someone would be a good addition to the stage. Character, academic integrity, and talent in another field should all be taken into account because these things are what define us, not a number we receive on a report card.

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Focus on STEAM, not STEM

Chant it with me! S! T! E! M! What does that spell? STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics.

Well, at least it feels as though everyone is cheering for STEM these days, and booing for the liberal arts.

And who can blame them? The one place the United States has not been able to dominate is in education, specifically math and science. In order to maintain our power status, the country must improve in its ability to produce intellectuals on par with those of our competitors.

But are we constantly pushing STEM too often? By pressuring kids into STEM careers are we neglecting those students who would thrive in a liberal arts environment?

Science and Math department head Mr. Piscitelli would argue no. Although he thinks there are winds blowing in our country pushing our sails towards STEM for competitive reasons, the main reason why there is a push for stem is the “swell of the industries in the area and probably the opportunities that they’re seeing.” World renowned programs and institutions like SUNY Polytechnic in Albany and GlobalFoundaries in Malta are only steps away, which, according to Piscitelli, “makes more opportunities available in STEM careers to the graduating classes and that’s why it seems like we are pushing for STEM more these days.”

This isn’t only happening here though. Nationwide, the careers in STEM fields are growing in number while, and Piscitelli points out, other fields like journalism may have more people going into a field with a smaller number of opportunities available. Although there’s a lot of rhetoric out there about STEM recently, he isn’t wrong – there are more opportunities for these fields. New York State even just introduced a large scholarship for those pursuing STEM careers in NYS SUNY schools.

But as high schools students we are presented with a brightly packaged dilemma. Do we follow the trail of opportunity? Or do we construct a path for a career we love? And if those two paths happen to meet, great, but for those of us who would like to pursue a more liberal career path words and phrases like job security, income, and “liberal arts won’t get you a job,” start to poke at us. We’re pressured by our parents, teachers, the media and other sources to go the more secure route: going for the higher paying STEM  job. It’s the battle between of happiness and success (however one defines it.) No one wants to be a failure, but no one wants to be unhappy.

Picking a major, and then a career is the hardest choice we have to make as young adults. And as Alicia Chen, a GHS Senior, points out, it will be difficult sometimes to always do what we love. “Way back when the people who made money off of art were friends with the king, like Mozart and Beethoven. Van Gogh never made any money.” It has always been hard to make a living off of more artsy activities because it’s so hard to place a price on books and paintings.

Science and engineering, on the other hand, are number-based fields. It’s easier to put a price on chemicals or machines. Chen elaborates that “money, and consumerism, are all based on numbers, so if you’re working with numbers that’s more easily translatable to money in the long run.”

But just because it’s harder doesn’t mean we should give up on our dreams. Chen thinks that as long as you’re not trying to “take the easy way out,” by avoiding the “more difficult” science majors then students should follow their hearts. “If you really like English or history, or whatever obscure thing, like philosophy or slavic languages, then you should go for it,” she says.  Nick VonDollen, a Senior at GHS, agrees. In the end, he says, happiness will always beat a fatter paycheck. “A salary is something that we use to live off of, but the things we do in our lives that give them true value are the things that we know we love to do deep down. I wouldn’t bother working a ‘better job’ for a better salary if I were waking up dreading work for the next 65 years.”

Possibly there’s an even simpler solution, a compromise. If one loves both art and science, or one loves art and is concerned about scary things like job security, then why not do both? In fact, a new and improved term has begun to circulate in the education community: STEAM. With the inclusions of the arts in this new term, artistic pursuits and STEM paths are combined. Art Teacher Ms.Best agrees is the best possible solution, because you have to be creative even in a STEM career.  “I don’t think you can have good science or math without creativity,” Best explains. “Art is like science sometimes because you have to experiment and try new things, or else you’re not going to survive, you’re not going to float. Science is like art because you have to be rigid in some ways, but if you’re not creative you’re not going to progress, you’re just going to do the same experiment you’ve always done.”

Mr.Bender, a science teacher, agrees that STEAM is the better way to go. “ I don’t think you can’t do art if you’re doing STEM – you should do art and STEM. Some very creative people who are in engineering need a way to spatially relate what they’re building, and that’s art. That’s good. Music,too, is another language. They’re all good.” He believes the focus on STEM in recent years is because of the need for people in those careers, especially women and minorities, but he doesn’t think we should as he says, “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” as there are good parts to a liberal education. For example, he says, “Reading Cicero tells you the same problems we have today that they had back then.”

If our country wants to become the true leader in education, we need to stop focusing on STEM and focus more on STEAM. We need to stop discounting the liberal arts and start appreciating that there is value in all types of education. In fact, it seems best if we act studiously in both fields if we wish to truly succeed in life. Guidance Counselor Mrs.Sheehan makes the important notice about how often different subject areas can be combined in careers, “There are a lot of ways to combine art, and math and science and tech, which I don’t think a lot of kids know they can combine.”

The bottom line is that our future is in our hands. We need to decide what will make us happy, whether it be STEM, STEAM, or liberal arts, and not what will make us a lot of money, or what society is pressuring us to do. Sheehan puts it best when she says “I think you have to follow what your heart is saying. Do what you’re passionate about.”

Don’t blame the teachers

“My teacher sucks.” Some students spew out this complaint on a daily basis, but we seem to use it as a simple scapegoat for our problems. We blame our “bad” teachers for heavy homework loads, tight project deadlines, poor test grades, and boring classes. We complain about these teachers so often that the complaints have become simple passive utterances and have lost all meaning. We hardly ever stop to think about why there might be teachers out there who are ill-fitted to do their job. We just whine about it, and we sometimes blame the education system as a whole, which we have been told all our school-age lives is going to the dogs. And if adults and people of authority, especially, tell us this, then it must be true. Right?

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