South’s class of 1985 boasts the highest decile cut-off points since 1971, when the school began keeping annual records. These usually high grade point averages have become a source of concern to many seniors. However, Dr. Margaret Addis, head of the Guidance Department, feels that the higher decile cutoffs are actually assets to the students.
Addis believes that any interpretation of statistical data is entirely up to the admissions officers. She hopes that most admissions officers will see that the class ranks represent not a poor performance but a superior effort in the face of fierce competition. The situation “is beneficial to all the students, not just those in the top decile, because it indicates the quality of the general surroundings has been improved.”
“The most important thing in the transcript right now,” says Addis, is a highlighted box titled “Two special items re: class of 1985.” The first indicates that the number of national Merit semi-finalists for 1985 is up 200 percent form the class of 1984. The second item states that “The academic level, as measured by rank-in-class computation, is the highest since we have been keeping annual records, 1971.” Addis feels that this information will adequately explain a seemingly low class rank.
Still, students whose rank in class has been lowered due to the highly competitive atmosphere are worried that colleges might misinterpret their proportionately lower class ranks. Senior Ta Herrera feels that “the grade point average is more important than the class rank. I don’t think that the class rank is actually that important.” Herrera is the top cutoff for the second decile; in any other year he would have been in the first decile.
Herrera believes that “class rank reflects how well you do in relation to the difficulty of your courses and also in relation to the rest of your class. I think the class rank won’t matter so much.”
One of his major complaints is that a B in an honors course is weighted lower than an A in a curriculum 1 course. “This discourages kids from taking honors courses because they’re worried about class rank.”
This sentiment is echoed by other seniors.
One was disturbed that some students were able to reach the second decile by “breezing through” primarily curriculum 2 courses, while other students in the same decile were struggling through honors classes. Many felt this situation to be unfair and attributed it to the overly competitive nature of the environment.
Seniors should be reassured that several local colleges surveyed do not feel that class rank is an overriding consideration for admission.
“Admission depends on our estimation of any particular candidate as a whole; grade point average is a very small factor in our final decision. We rely more on very subjective kinds of input: interviews and teacher or counselor recommendations. We look for a student’s potential, creativity, motivation, and depth of interest more than class rank,” said one admissions official at Harvard University.
One Tufts admissions counselor stated that “we don’t evaluate by decile, but by the strength of curriculum and of the academic record. All of the academic parameters are viewed in an application, plus extracurricular activities… There’s a lot of variability beyond the raw numbers.”
At the University of Massachusetts, too, admission is based more on a “total profile” of the student than on any single factor. However, “a lower class rank could possibly affect admission if other factors were down such as SATs or a poor transcript.”
Another member of the admission staff at Tufts felt that “any anxiety over class rank is generated by the students and not by colleges, because rank shouldn’t have that much impact on admissions.”
From those surveyed, it appears that class rank is only a minor aspect of a student’s record. While one’s rank might seem relatively low, the grade point average remains the same. Rank is not very significant unless it is the only redeeming feature of a transcript.
Dr. Addis underscored this fact by pointing out that although decile cutoffs are up, SAT mean scores are down slightly from last year. “Class rank is only one indication of performance, and not the most important one,” emphasized Addis.
Pressure. The word certainly does not justify the long hours juniors and seniors spend nationwide applying to colleges in a process that never seems to end.
Regardless of the overwhelming odds, the director of South’s college and career counseling resource center, Barbara Brown, explains that, “for the most part, kids get into their first choice of school.”
“We have very motivated students here,” Brown said, “and we have an excellent faculty. Our reputation is international and we are well respected.”
In fact, according to Jenni King, the director of South’s guidance department, many students from the current senior class will be going to top schools, with at least four going to Harvard, eight going to Brown, and two going to Yale, “which is really good,” King said.
When college admissions officers look at students, they take into account a number of factors. The first and most important, according to Brown, is the transcript. Colleges look at the rigor of classes, seen in the weighted and unweighted Grade Point Averages (GPA).
While these averages only include grades from tenth through twelfth grades, Brown clarifies that this is “where there are lots of misconceptions. Colleges do look at ninth grade grades, [even though] we don’t compute them.”
Moreover, when it comes to the difference between weighted and unweighted GPAs, “what’s most important to them is the level of the challenge,” Brown said.
Still, King adds that “maximizing high grades is the best thing to do.”
Colleges also look at extracurricular activities. According to King, colleges like to see a strong level of commitment in this area. “Doing a smorgasbord of extracurriculars is not really helpful, it’s too stressful,” she said.
Brown also adds that top colleges are looking for “a lot of things and a lot done well [in order] to build a well-rounded class.”
The SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Assessment Test, is another important, yet controversial feature of the college admissions process.
Grades are not standardized throughout the country. “SATs act as a leveling agent,” she said.
Brown, however is not a fan of the SATs themselves. “They’ve gotten too long and there is too much stress [associated] with them. Kids hate them but they do them. It’s part of the culture,” she said.
Brown is also upset at the recently inaccurately scored SATs. “They screwed up,” Brown said. “What I don’t know is why they sat on them. Scholarships may have been affected.” Luckily, Brown has not heard of any South students affected.
Newton South’s reputation is also a helpful factor in the admissions process. When colleges receive applications from schools, they receive an information sheet about South that helps them compare it to other schools throughout the nation. “Our information is stellar,” Brown said, “They understand us pretty well.”
A final factor in the college process, and one that worries both Brown and King is the issue of stress management and pressure.
Brown cites the high level of competition at South as a major contributing factor to this stress, she said. “The competition here is quite fierce. You all apply to the same schools.”
King agrees. “Kids should apply to no more than six to ten colleges.”
Still, compared with last year’s statistics, more students are applying to the same schools. Last year, 63 students applied to Boston University, whereas this year 103 students applied. The same holds for school such as Brandeis, where 38 applied last year and 73 this year, as well as Northeastern, where 42 students applied last year compared to 98 this year. “That is the problem – that’s what makes it really really crazy,” King said.
In addition to this setback, King blames parents for the stress associated with the college process. “In communities such as Newton, parents put a premium on where kids go to college. For a lot of parents, it is really just about the bumper sticker,” she said.
Still, Brown affirms that regardless of the process, “our kids do very well here. When I see the final list of where everyone goes, I say ‘my god – our kids do very well.’”
82.3 percent of Newton South’s graduating class of 1978 continued their education. Wellesley and Brookline tied at 80 percent Newton North came in with 68 percent.
Apparently there are many adults with no college education at all. If this is true, then why do so many of South’s students react with surprise when a classmate of theirs decides not to follow in everyone else’s footsteps even if only for a detour of a few years?
Dr. Margaret Addis, head of the guidance department at Newton South, says that most of the school’s students have never even considered the alternatives to college. She feels that part of her job is to make the students aware of the many choices the world has to offer them. Even if the student takes no more than a moment’s time to consider the alternatives, Addis feels that the student will have a keener insight into his chosen career. She feels that the student who decides upon a different road than the one his companions are taking is “very brave.”
A number of South graduates take a year off after their senior year at South. There are many reasons for their doing so.
Chris Freeman, a senior at South, decided to spend next year in a nonacademic atmosphere. Chris explained, “I’ve spent 12 years of my life in a programmed academic setting… I want a change.”
Many of his peers were surprised by Chris’ decision to take a year off. It was expected that Chris, an academically talented student, would automatically enter a college after high school. “ I don’t like the fact hat everyone accepts college as inevitable.” Chris continued, “Many people end up with a diploma and no practical experience.”
Chris’ plans for next year include: studying music with a private tutor and working in a harpsichord factory. He wants a nine to five job for money and experience.
Myles Gordon’s reasons for taking the next year off are similar to Chris’. Myles feels that he has been “tied up in academic life” for 12 years and needs time to decide if “the route which all his peers are taking” is the right one for him. Suzy Whittlesey is taking next year off in order to study dance and to work. “Studying dance at a college wouldn’t allow me to commit myself fully to my art,” she states. “ I would have other work to do.”
There are more reasons for taking a year off. Some students feel a need to mature psychologically before taking on the rigors of college life. Some need a year to earn the money to pay the exorbitant cost of higher education. Finally, some students, unsure of what they want in life, need time to contemplate their future.
Guidance counselor Earl Pearlman feels that the environment in which South’s students are growing up, is “academically oriented.” He feels that Newton North has a more even distributed population, and is more representative of a “typical” high school.
Pearlman’s idea of college is a place to learn and to “experiment” with future careers. He feels that many students don’t know what they want to do when they first go off to college. One such student is senior Jennifer Sawin. She says that, for her, college will be a learning experience and a place to “explore.” She states that if her future job would not require higher education, she would not seek one.
But many students, even those aware of the alternatives, feel they have no choice but to continue their education.
They claim they have been “programmed for college.” Some feel that higher education means a higher salary, other feel that college means a job. But does it?
Bill Yunker, career resource counselor, emphasizes that in the real world, “college does not necessarily ensure you a job.”
Many college graduates end up over-qualified and out of work. Often times not going to college is the wisest thing to do after high school.
The time has come once again when seniors visit colleges, have interviews with prospective schools, and sit down with their word processors to hack out their many dreaded college essays. At this point in the year, the pressure put on seniors is incredible. Senior Mike Taylor attests, “We [the seniors] are overly pressured by our parents and Newton South to get into the best college possible.” Many of the other seniors at South share these pressures.
One source of this pressure is the five-page, pick-seven-of-the-above-twenty-different-topics-for-your-essay application. Each essay in itself is difficult. Three essays apiece for six or seven different colleges add up to a very time consuming process. “I feel that there should be one standard application for all colleges because there are so many different types that it becomes a real pain in the nose,” said senior John Fisch suggests.
Many students agree that the most troublesome part of the application is the essay. “I’m scared of the essay-writing,” senior class president Odessa Franks candidly admits. But there are others who feel that the tight deadlines are the most distressing. “With extra curricular activities and homework, it’s tough to make deadlines,” senior Ron D’Innocenzo claims. “You have to make time – time that you don’t have.”
Another form of pressure originates in the senior’s own house: the parents. “Parents out more pressure on us than we really need,” senior Dave Greenberg said.
“My parents are pretty laid back about the whole thing [college],” senior Matt Mazzotta said. “Many parents pressure their kids but I don’t think that they should.”
Some fortunate individuals are blessed with parents who let them make their own decisions and manage their won time. “There’s no pressure from my parents,” senior Josh Lakin exclaims. “They let me do whatever I want.”
With all of the pressures heaped upon shoulders of seniors, it is comforting to know that some are receiving help from South. “My guidance counselor is helping me find the type of college that’s best for me,” senior Joy Quinn said.
On the other hand, not every senior is pleased with the school’s efforts. “Newton South doesn’t get us aware enough about colleges. We are still kids. We don’t know the way,” one anonymous senior claims.
Despite the onslaught of pressures and responsibilities, some seniors have a more relaxed attitude towards college hunting. “There is a college out there for everybody and as long as you get into one that you like, you’ll be happy,” Fisch explains.
“No matter what college you get into, you should remember that your collegiate life is an experience that you will never forget,” Franks adds. “Remember that there is a balance of worrying and enjoyment. Enjoy your last year at South.”
The disappointing thing is that I’m not bitter anymore. I used to thrive on bitterness, it was what got me through the day. I would wake up in the morning and think about how much I didn’t want to go to school. Then I would go to school and think about how much I didn’t want to live in Newton. Then I would go home and think about how much I didn’t want to live at home anymore.
I would go to parties and think about how much I didn’t want to be at them. I would see girls wearing those goddamned things on their wrists and think about how much I wanted to kill them. I would listen to locker room braggings and think about how much I didn’t want to hear it.
Now I wake up and I’m happy to go to class, I’m learning what I want to learn. I get into class and see people who four months ago I never met but now are some of the most important people in my life. I come back to my room and enjoy the fact that my clothes can be littered everywhere and my stereo can be turned up to eleven and no one is going to tell me to change a single thing.
I go to parties (go to them, not wander around wishing I could find them off Parker Street) and meet more people. The cops never come in and kick anyone out, the neighbors don’t complain. The neighbors are more college students throwing another party. The girls—ah, the girls. I mean, yeah, I’m still a pig, but I’ve learned something that I had great difficulty grasping in high school: you can be attracted to a girl and respect her mind, too.
I’m still a wacky, nutso sort of a guy, but nobody looks at you funny if you want to talk about how you liked that Plato reading.
Basically, if college and high school were in WWF, college would be Hulk Hogan and high school would be one of those guys named John Martin or something who always start to win and then get demolished. Take heart, Southies: it gets better and better as soon as you get out.
I’m not claiming that college solves all your problems. Nothing solves all your problems. There will still be some classes you hate, though the nice thing is that you’re not going to have to sit in detention hall if every once in a while you miss that class. You’ll still find people you really don’t like, but unless you go to a really small college, you’re dealing with a much larger population. The whole clique thing is dead and gone when you get to college.
And that’s the worst thing about Newton South. I hate bringing it up because when you talk about the evils of cliques you sound like a cheeseball from hell, or at least somebody who watched “Can’t Buy Me Love” one too many times. The thing about college is, you can hang out with whomever you want to hang out with, and nobody is going to call you a loser because of it.
Terms like loser don’t really apply. In fact, people who in high school were losers stand as good a chance as anyone at making it socially in college. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think college is all about redefining yourself. You are who you are, and who you are was more or less formed by the time you were six years old. You redefine yourself to a certain extent. I traded in my Red Sox hat and round glasses for a ski cap and sleek frames, but I’m still the same person.
You learn who that person is. In Newton you stand a good chance of taking the same girl to the prom that you walked to kindergarten with. In college when someone meets you they don’t know your history.
One of the most interesting things you learn in college is who other people think you are. Their views aren’t clouded by knowing that you dressed like a loser for a Brown Bash, or that you were unwelcome in Goodwin. Instead, they see you as you are, no strings attached, and so you get to see yourself.
I do miss Newton, not much and not often, but I miss it. The diners I eat at now don’t know the first thing about making an egger. New York City only has six Dunkin’ Donuts, and the closest one is three blocks from my house.
There are some Saturday afternoons where I would thoroughly enjoy heading over to a football game and jamming on my xylophone with the Newton South Marching Band. There are teachers I learned from in high school who mean more to me than any college professor probably ever will. And there is a certain unmatchable camaraderie to driving around aimlessly on Saturday nights, looking for the party. But don’t be afraid of missing that.
College, at least based upon my experience, is the best thing that can happen to you. It introduces you to new people, it opens you up to new ideas, it teaches you things you really want to learn, it lets you choose how to spend your time and most importantly, it’s fun, fun, fun. So what if I’m not a bitter young man anymore? At least I don’t live in Newton.
Pla-gia-rism (plá jə-ris m) n. The act of stealing and using the ideas or writings of another as ones own (derived from the Latin word ‘plajiarius,’ meaning ‘kidnapper’). As Dorethea Gaudet, librarian at Newton South High School states, “Plagiarism is the greatest crime in the academic world.”
Although everyone may not feel so strongly about the issue of plagiarism, the fact is that it does exist, and for many it is a problem. To what extent does plagiarism affect the academic performance at Newton South, and what is being done about it? What can be done about it in the future?
Some teachers feel very strongly about the dangers of plagiarism, and make it a point to discuss all aspects of plagiarism and cheating in class. At the same time, there are those who do not address the subject at all, leaving the situation up in the air.
Many students believe that unless a teacher formally states his views about plagiarism and cheating prior to assigning the first research project, the student may reserve the right to plead innocent out of ignorance. Even though in most instances it is obvious that the student is aware of the crime that he has committed, there exists the cases in which the student has simply never been formally educated about the more vague aspects of plagiarism and proper documentation. As one angry student who was falsely accused of plagiarism states, “We were never taught what constituted plagiarism and how to document.”
Contrary to popular belief, plagiarism is not merely copying word for word from a book or encyclopedia. The term ‘plagiarism’ also includes such acts as paraphrasing written documents and using others’ orally stated ideas without proper documentation. Many students at Newton South have admitted to paraphrasing and copying from encyclopedias without even a hint of guilt.
The greatest difficulty in dealing with plagiarism is its ambiguity. In investigating a possible case of plagiarism, the question arises as to whether the student has plagiarized deliberately or innocently. Although it is harmful for the students who remain unaware of the many elements of plagiarism, those who plagiarize purposely harm not only themselves but others as well. In many cases, it reaches the point where the honest student receives a lower grade than that of the student who cheats. One sophomore remarks, “It makes me very angry when I study a lot for a test and get a C on it, while I watch kids use crib notes, and they get As. Furthermore, it makes the teacher think that the other students are really smart.”
Robert Goggin, English teacher, feels that plagiarism is blatant cheating, and that cheating is comparable to robbery. Goggin says, “I feel that it is my responsibility to protect the honest student.”
Since there is no policy regarding plagiarism, the decision as to how to deal with the situation is left up to the teacher. In general, if it is not resolved between the teacher and the student, then the department head, the housemaster, the guidance counselor, and the parents are consulted at a meeting during which a decision is made as to whether or not plagiarism has taken place, and what will be done about it if it has.
Many teachers feel that Monarch notes are another form of plagiarism. Although teachers have varying beliefs concerning the usage of Monarch and Cliff notes, the predominant opinion is that the notes usually prevent the student from expressing his own ideas about the literature in composition writing.
Steven Leonard, Newton South English teacher, states, “Monarch notes allow the student to get many different points of view about a novel. The important part is that the student is always thinking. However, Monarch notes should be used in addition to the assigned book, not instead of.”
Judith Malone-Neville, Cutler Housemaster, disagreed. “Monarch notes are fine for a summary of a long, hard book; but, unless they are used properly, they are dead wrong.” Half of the problem in dealing with plagiarism is convincing the student that they themselves can do the work, and do it well, according to Social Studies teacher Dr. Philip Burnham.
There is no presently enforced policy that deals with the problems of plagiarism at Newton South High School. When asked about the possibility of requiring that something be said in all classes about proper forms of documentation and what can and cannot be labeled as plagiarism, David Youngblood, Head of the English Department, answered that, “yes,” it does exist.
Cheating—all students have seen it, most can say they’ve been tempted to do it, and some may confess to having done it. Regardless of whether students agree with the principle of cheating, many will not deny that taking a peek at a peer’s test can translate into short-term academic success. Science teacher Jordan Kraus, however, sees cheating differently.
“I don’t think we’re doing students a favor by looking the other way,” Kraus said. Kraus, like many teachers, has handled several instances of cheating during her career at South.
To illustrate, Kraus gives an example. “I had a student a year ago in a class where I gave flexible tests,” Kraus said. “She asked me ‘Could I take it the following week.’ I said sure.”
Kraus delves into the story further. “Unbenounced to her, I came into some information. Turns out she orchestrated this with a boy. He gave [the prompts] to her. All of them. She went home and practiced them,” Kraus said. “She came in calm as a cucumber… When given a chance [to admit to cheating], she didn’t do so.”
The girl in question dropped out of the class, thereby removing it from her transcript. The boy chose to stay. In Kraus’s class, any student who helps a peer cheat is as guilty as whoever cheated. Hence, the boy who assisted the female culprit would have, under normal circumstances, received a punishment.
In this case, however, Kraus made an exception. “I couldn’t go through with it. The young man… clearly had a crush on her,” Kraus said. “Each case has to be looked at individually.”
Math teacher Charles Rooney has also seen cheating but has never encountered a case as severe as that of Kraus. “There is a tension between wanting students to collaborate and students just copying off each other,” Rooney said. Kraus thinks that there is no consistent definition of what cheating is. “If you talk to students they have a different idea of what cheating is.”
That said, while students may not see cheating like an administrator, most will agree that it presents unfair advantages. Senior Campbell Rogers offers her definition. “I think cheating is any instance when a student does something that clearly puts them at a strict advantage from the rest of the class, or that involves somehow using information from other students.”
Junior Charlie Temkin gives some examples of cheating. “Sharing a test while taking the test or if you are talking about the test to someone who has yet to take it. Also, of course stealing a test from a teacher, but I think that only happens in movies.”
Kraus worries that many students who witness cheating will choose to not report it. We have a culture that says there is something wrong with reporting other peoples ill behaviors,” Kraus said.
When asked the question “Would you turn in a student who cheated?” Rogers said, “truthfully, probably not.”
“If the teacher finds out and asks me as a witness I wouldn’t deny it, but I also wouldn’t talk to a teacher about it if I saw it,” says Rogers.
“Although I don’t support cheating, I probably wouldn’t say anything unless I saw it happening with the same person cheating on multiple occasions,” Temkin said. “It’s not fair for anyone to get by not studying and working hard when everyone else does.”
If Rooney sees a student cheat, he, like many teachers, will report the student. “If I were convinced that cheating had taken place, I would report the student to his housemaster and give the student a zero on that test or quiz,” Rooney said.
Kraus, however, sees a loophole in the current school policy. “One of the policies states that there is no punishment for the first infraction. If there is a second punishment they can be suspended. How many times do you think it takes for a student to get caught? By the time it takes for a person to get caught, it becomes a pattern of behavior,” Kraus said.
Unfortunately, with present policies in place, combined with extreme academic pressure, cheating at South will most likely endure.
This year, there is only one girl in the Advanced Placement BC Calculus course. There is only one girl in AP Physics, and one in AP Chemistry. There are no girls in advanced computer classes.
According to Warren Manhard, head of the NSHS math department, there are many reasons for the paucity of girls in high-level science and mathematics classes. He believes that one explanation is that “girls still see themselves primarily as homemakers. They have a choice- they can either pursue a career or make a home. However, boys have no choice. They are expected to continue their schooling, go to college, and become a provider.” Because of the cultural expectations placed on them, boys tend to be “more accepting,” says Manhard. “If they have to take a hard course, they take it and don’t moan.”
Vin Bronson, who teaches Advanced Placement Physics at South, says that he agrees with Manhard. “The culture has the potential of instilling some not-okay feelings toward math for girls,” he says. “The boys may be in there (advanced classes) because of the career component for them. They may or may not like it, but if it fits their vision of how to make a living, it is not a bad motivation component.” Both Manhard and Bronson emphasize that their ideas are opinions, not facts based on stud.
The degree of interest in science and math that boys and girls have may be another explanation for the small number of girls in advanced classes. “If you really want to do science, it doesn’t matter if you are the only girls in the class,” says Sharnaz Motakef, who is the only girl in AP Physics and Chemistry. However, Ashley Timmer, the only female student in the highest level AP Calculus course, has a different opinion.“Most of the guys in the class are really interested in computers and math,” she says, “and most of them are taking Physics. When they talk about computers or what they learned in Physics, I kind of ask myself ‘Why am I here with all these people?’”
Social reasons may form a cycle which keeps girls out of the advanced classes. Timmer believes that “girls are more concerned with who they are associating with in their classes.” If a class is composed mostly of boys with interests different from their own, some girls may opt not to take the course. This in turn may discourage other girls from signing up for the class.
Manhard extends Timmer’s theory one step further. He says he thinks that “some girls tend to worry about appearances and grades, and what parents and friends will think about them more than boys do.” Thus, they may be unwilling to take an honors course when they could be getting a better grade in a less challenging class.
Manhard believes that another reason why many girls drop out of science and math classes after meeting the school requirement is that they personalize failure, and drop courses in which they do not experience immediate success. “Some boys would perceive a less than satisfactory test as a result of not having worked hard enough. Some girls tend to see the same thing as ‘I’m stupid.’ They personalize failure and blame it on themselves, whereas boys tend to credit it to not working hard enough. This makes all the difference in the world.”
Another reason that girls are not involved with math and science may be that there are not many women role models for them. However, Manhard notes that in the math department, there are as many women teachers as there are men: “It is not an accident. They are excellent women role models.” He adds that the Enrichment Program is helpful, because it brings women who have careers in the fields of science and mathematics in to talk to students about their experiences.
Junior Luna Shyr says that having a mother who has a career in science (her mother is a chemist) has definitely influenced here. Shyr, who is taking physics and honors math adds, “It’s wonderful- she inspires me to have a career on my own. My mom gives me a lot of input and ideas on what to expect when I grow up.”
Bronson agrees that parents influence their children’s decisions about careers, and adds that in some cases this influence can be negative. He says that parents often “encourage women to be nice, nurturing people and not to make males feel uncomfortable with their own inadequacies” in traditionally male-dominated fields like math.
Sophomore Debbie Frieze, one of eight girls in her honors math class, says, “I get the feeling that boys are wary of having girls in the class, because they think math is a boy’s subject. Because of this, some girls are intimidated.” In a subtle and perhaps unconscious way, boys may be reinforcing the point that girls don’t belong in honors math.
Some girls who elect to stay in honors math and science courses are eager o demonstrate that girls can succeed in these fields. “I’m just staying in the class to prove a point,” says one junior in honors math. Timmer agrees, saying, “I really thought I couldn’t leave the class without any girls.”
In comparison to his days teaching science in the 70s, science department head Charles Hurwitz has noticed a significant shift in the number of girls taking AP science courses at South. Today, girls make up 53 percent of AP Biology classes, 37 percent of AP Physics classes, and 27percent of AP Chemistry classes, up from about one to three girls enrolled in each of these classes 40 years ago.
Jordan Kraus, AP Biology and honors neurobiology teacher, has also seen a dramatic shift from the days when the female captain of the science team had to be persuaded to enroll in AP Physics where she would likely be the only girl in. Hema Roychowdhury, AP Physics teacher of three years, has noticed a significant trend even in her short time here. Her first year only three of her 29 students were girls.
“We certainly have a lot of [female] role models in science teaching here and that’s certainly changed,” Hurwitz said regarding what may have sparked the shift. While Hurwitz believes he has always hired the most qualified candidates for jobs in the science department, he has “made a concerted effort to hire women teachers.”
He does, however, admit that the shifts in societal views over the years may have just as much to do with why more girls are enrolled in higher level science courses.
“High school students now have many women scientists that they can look up to, and in addition to changes in society, more female teachers make a big difference,” he said.
Kraus believes that in addition to society’s different expectations of girls, the particular way in which certain subjects used to be taught often affected what disciplines appealed to certain genders.
“There is a tremendous amount of research that demonstrates that men and women learn subjects differently with different strengths,” she said. Therefore, material should be presented in multiple ways so it appeals to each gender’s different strengths.
“When we talk about individuals there are exceptions, but on population levels there are significant differences [in the strengths each gender possesses],” Kraus said. “Schools have been slow to catch on and adapt to the differences.”
As an example, Kraus remembers her daughter’s first grade teacher, who taught reading and writing through fantasy stories, an approach that generally appealed more to girls than boys, which meant many boys did not fare well in this critical stage of learning. Today, though, Kraus believes there are still many ways in which the American education system in math and science favors one gender over another.
“It’s most awful in high stakes testing, like the MCAS and SAT, two tests which reflect male bias,” she said. While these tests often aim to evaluate mathematical reasoning, many of the questions are posed as word problems. Since females have been shown to be much stronger at computational problems, Kraus believes such tests put women at a disadvantage. Roychowdhury has not personally made any concerted efforts to accommodate girls, but she does her best to “encourage all students” to achieve.
Senior Charlotte Sall, who is currently enrolled in Roychowdhury’s AP Physics class, was wary of signing up for the class, but for her, having a female teacher has been a tremendous asset.
“I definitely feel like a minority. Sometimes I feel like a lot of the material comes innately to other students, many of which are male, that I have to work harder to learn.
But Dr. Roychowdhury is an incredible teacher and that is ultimately what has convinced me to stick with such a tough subject,” she said. Math department head Steven Rattendi, on the other hand, has not seen the large gender gap during his time at South that many members of the science department faculty have.
“Today at least, the discrepancy is not the case,” he said. According to him, the large shift in enrollment levels of girls in higher level math classes is not due to any concerted efforts or programs at the high school level.
“It is more about shifts in societies and overall thoughts,” he said. He does add, however, that there has been more attention paid to learning at the elementary school level “in making sure girls are doing well.”
Kraus agrees that making efforts towards gender equality in schools at an early age is very important. “By high school we are unraveling half a lifetime of stuff that’s come from parents and teachers,” she said.
While the math and science departments at South have made extraordinary gains towards making sure girls are not at a disadvantage, a gender gap still exists, especially in the more quantitative science subjects. Sall does not, however, attribute it to any gender bias within the department. Hurwitz believes that although the gender divide is not gone, South is on a very positive
“In certain fields we are not there yet. But we are getting better,” Hurwitz said. “I want every girl not to feel there are road blocks but to feel she has an even chance.”
I love sharing things that I love with people whom I genuinely enjoy spending time with. It’s a win-win situation for me, and sometimes I feel like the luckiest guy on earth. I mean, in my Senior Film Studies class, we get to spend five weeks discussing, debating, deconstructing, and dissecting Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which is one of the most profound and mystifying films ever made. We get to watch and discuss Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. We get to read Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
These are texts that I would be spending tons of time with anyway–as a teacher, I get to really dive in. And I feel so privileged to accompany my students as they encounter these brilliant, mysterious, gorgeous, problematic texts for the first time (even if they don’t always love–or get–them the first time around!).
What have you learned as you’ve progressed as a teacher? Have you changed your styles?
I’ve learned so much, especially from mentors and colleagues, and, of course, from students too. I think the most important thing that has changed in my teaching is that I try to create student leaders in my classes rather than have students follow my lead–at least that’s the hope. Part of this relates to the way I structure class (lots of group work, collaboration, group thinking) and part of it relates to what kind of questions I encourage them to think about.
I’m paraphrasing this from Margaret Metzger (a great English teacher at Brookline High, where I went to school), but my ideal class would help students to realize how smart they are rather than prove to them how smart I am.
My style has thus changed accordingly–though I like the sound of my own voice, hearing it doesn’t necessarily make my students better readers, writers, or thinkers!
How has South changed over the years you been here? How long have you been at South?
South is the same, but there are more cellphones in the hallways. (Turn off your cellphones, people!) I have been here six years.
Is there a favorite teacher you had when you were a student that you aspire to be like? What was he/she like?
My favorite teacher was an English teacher named Mr. Viglirolo, who was a wild Italian-American poet/intellectual who would hurl epithets at the gods and chalk at his students, who loudly hailed Dante and Dostoyevsky, Homer and Harper Lee, and who showed me how rich and vast the world of the mind could be.
I think, in retrospect, his pedagogy was not what we’d today call “advanced”–lots of “teacher-centered” activities. But, man, was he inspiring. Taught me to think, you know? (and taught me why thinking was important).
What are some of your passions outside the world of teaching and education?
I try to be a good family man, as in, spending time with my wife and my dog (cockapoo; name: Ricky Nelson). But I have hobbies, too. I just learned how to play the pedal steel guitar (a flat-panelled, high action electric slide guitar that is most commonly associated with Hawaiian music and Country/Western music–you’ll know it if you hear it).
I like eating meat, especially slow cooked barbeque and spit-roasted things. Bowling, I try to knock all the pins down. And I do my best to stay current on important films and music (of all types, though my friends Sean Turley and Jamie Rinaldi have a much more esoteric set of aesthetic expectations than I do).