No Place for Hate Flashmob

Throughout the cafeteria, LBJ students weave through bustling lunch lines and crowded tables holding signs with statistics about bullying and teen suicide. With nervous and somber energy in the air, the club members continued to parade their protests until suddenly and in synchronicity, everybody fell to the floor.

On Jan. 16, LBJ’s chapter of No Place for Hate club, a national anti-defamation league, held a suicide and bullying awareness flash mob to spread concern for hate speech and hate crimes throughout the community. The flashmob aimed to give the student body hard facts about the reality of bullying, which they displayed on posters, and to demonstrate the emotional damage hate speech can cause people by having the participants drop to the floor as if they fell dead. With the increased use of social media amongst teens and publicized social issues, the LBJ community has noted that bullying has become a greater issue that sometimes leads to dangerous and severe actions such as suicide and violent crimes. LBJ junior and No Place for Hate Club member Hannah Gromwald helped run and organize the event. Gromwald said she has recently realized the severity of bullying for teenagers across the nation and she hopes to educate her classmates to minimize bullying in the LBJ student body.

“I have seen bullying before, you know, on commercials and in real life,” Gromwald said. “This event just seems like something that sounds kind of fun, and it’s something we haven’t done before. We should try and expand our knowledge and learning new things to raise awareness to people because [bullying] is a very big problem.”

LBJ sophomore Regan Smith made posters with statistics and messages about bullying to be displayed at the flashmob and helped plan the logistics of the event. Smith said that this is a very serious issue and that it is important for the student body to work together to spread awareness.

“I haven’t been bullied here, but there was a little thing that happened in middle school so I understand about bullying and the importance of awareness,” Smith said. “It’s not fun. I hope people will think about [the event] and understand and think about if it happened to them and how they would feel.”

Smith said bullying perplexes her. She plans to do everything she can to educate the community and she said she hopes her actions affect her classmates.

“The flashmob may or may not have an impact, but I really just hope people will stop and think about it for a minute,” Smith said. “They need to remember the bullying that happens in schools all the time.”

No Place for Hate club members said they were glad to hear students discussing the significance of the event. LBJ junior Yasmine Ardomon witnessed the flash mob and said she was surprised by the statistics that were presented on the posters.

“I speak for everyone when I say our reaction was ‘what’s going on?’” Ardomon said. “We were flabbergasted. Maybe the LBJ community will benefit from the awareness. I’ve never heard of anybody being suicidal but you never really know what anyone is thinking.”

No Place for Hate Club members said they are proud of the message they fight to spread and are satisfied with the results of their hard-work because the flashmob was well-received by the students in the cafeteria.

“I am hoping to voice my opinion because there are so many people who witness this but they won’t say anything or really try to bring awareness to that,” Gromwald said. “Just one person can make a huge impact in someone else’s life and that’s what we are trying to get across. They should know that [bullying] happens and they should want to get involved to help this growing problem.”

story by Willow Higgins

A Salute to Second Semester Seniors

I’ve waited all my life to be a senior. Graduating from elementary school, banners painted with “2015” gleamed from doorways. Pictures of classmates flashing one finger on one hand and five on the other have dominated my newsfeed since the seventh grade. The hottest topic at freshman year slumber parties was to fantasize about where we may be going come graduation. The anticipation was astronomical. But as I walked through the doors of my beloved high school on my first day as a second semester senior, I was surprised to find myself fighting back tears, (partly caused by bad allergies but also by an overwhelming sense of sadness). I have finally come face to face with 2015. After years of crossing off the days on my calendars, the moments I’ve been waiting for are now staring me dead in the eye.

As I look around me, I realize that I am enclosed in a thick and warm comfort zone. My teachers and administrators have become my mentors. Strangers and acquaintances have become my best friends. The school that I found so very daunting four exhausting years ago has become my home. So as I walk the halls, embodying a sense of poise that tells freshman to stay out of my way, I realize that the anticipation and excitement that have been embedded in my psyche for 10 years have entirely transformed into fear of an uncertain future. Friends, family and colleagues, the class of 2015 is about to leave the nest.

My classmates are going to do tremendous things with their lives; there is no doubt about that. It’s only January and I already have friends admitted to Harvard, MIT, Stanford, the list goes on and on. I am graduating with 235 intelligent young adults, all of whom will, someday, change the world in one way or another. But it’s these intelligent young adults who have helped me become the person I am today. Together, we have grown. We have learned how to learn, how to study, how to retain and apply our knowledge to the real world. The past four years have been a journey of self discovery. I have transformed into the almost-adult I am today, and I owe my success, in part, to the company that has surrounded me. Although we all have worked hard to become who we are now, we have made our accomplishments hand-in-hand with our classmates and teachers. It is their love and support that has encouraged me to persevere in stressful and challenging times, and until now, in my dwindling moments, I overlooked that.

My second semester as a senior will be exactly what it should be. I expect a constant battle with severe senioritis, hour-long bathroom breaks, late night adventures with friends, lunch with teachers, movies with family and nonstop interaction with loved ones. I will prove my gratitude to the classmates I have left unthanked and advertise my faith in my friend’s futures. I intend to squeeze every last moment I can out of my LASA family because this school is my home and has taught me everything I need to know to be a smashing success in real life. Walking out of LASA as a college student will be even scarier than it was to walk in as a squalid freshman, but, with time, I will gather the strength to access my inner jaguar, hold my head high and walk out those purple doors with a sense of pride.

story by Willow Higgins

LASA Students Man Up and Conquer TEAMS with ManaTEAMS

A team of LASA students is making it possible to bypass AISD’s much complained about, multi-step sign in process when checking their grades. Last year, LASA junior Neil Patil and four Westwood students created QuickHAC, an app for checking grades without signing in. When Austin ISD switched from using Gradespeed to using TEAMS, QuickHAC no longer met the needs of LASA students. To resolve this issue, LASA juniors Neil Patil and Ehsan Asdar and seniors Sam Grayson and Ryan Rice began work on the new, TEAMS integrated app, known as manaTEAMS, in September. ManaTEAMS is now available as an Android app, with a Google Chrome extension and iOS app nearing release.

“At the beginning of the school year, AISD changed their gradebook from GradeSpeed to TEAMS, which broke QuickHAC,” Patil said. “I planned to start development of [manaTEAMS] as a separate app a few months after school started. However, Ehsan began working on the grade grabber part early. He got it to work reasonably well, so we decided it was time to begin creating the apps.”

Last year, in conjunction with developers at Westwood in Round Rock ISD (RRISD), Patil and Asdar created QuickHAC, an Android and Apple app and a Google Chrome Extension that allowed students to see their grades without having to log in to GradeSpeed, as well as view their GPAs and make projections about future grades. However, AISD’s move away from GradeSpeed caused problems in the app, prompting the Westwood and LASA developers to go their separate ways.

“The other QuickHAC developers, who go to Westwood, decided that it wasn’t worth supporting AISD due to the cancerous nature of TEAMS, so we mutually agreed to split,” Patil said. “TEAMS is a pain. A huge pain. It has odd quirks that range from having to log in with the exact same credentials twice to things like randomly deciding not to return grades for certain courses. Getting around many of TEAMS’s quirks and bugs was the greatest challenge.”

In addition to the features previously offered by QuickHAC, manaTEAMS users will see a new visual design and even more grade related aspects, such as grade tracking graphs.

“[ManaTEAMS] will still have grade change notifications, offline grade access and a GPA calculator,” Patil said. “We’re trying out new features, though – one thing we’re experimenting with is graphs of your grades and GPA over time, allowing the user to track their progress in a course.”

A different TEAMS integrated grade checking app, GradeBuzz, came out earlier in the school year in the Google Play and Apple App stores, created by Bowie senior Jack Guy. GradeBuzz’s purpose, much like manaTEAMS’s, was to make grade checking faster and easier for students. According to Patil, however, manaTEAMS has four major advantages over Gradebuzz.

“[ManaTEAMS] offers four things that I feel make it better,” Patil said. “One,  [manaTeams] will be free, unlike GradeBuzz which is $0.99. We’ll never charge or show ads. Two, the code is all open source, meaning it is publicly available. Anyone can view it or modify it for themselves, and can verify what exactly we’re doing with grades and how we’re doing it. You can see it here. Three, all scraping (meaning getting grade data from TEAMS) is done locally. This essentially means that we never send your username and password to a server, so it’s impossible for us to look at your grades, even if we wanted to. Lastly, the app will also be available as a Chrome Extension as well as Android and iOS app, letting you check your grades at your computer.”

ManaTEAMS is now available for Android devices in the Google Play store. The Chrome Extension and the IOS version of the app will be coming out in the next few weeks.

story by Sam Zern


Black Friday, a Truly Dark Day

Thanksgiving, by definition, is a day to “give thanks” for all the things we are grateful for. And, living in America, there is a lot to be thankful for, as most people are equipped with the resources needed to live happily and comfortably. But America is also the goddess of gluttony and consumerism, and simply being thankful for what we have is not in our nature. We always must buy more, eat more, consume more.

Black Friday is the embodiment of America’s excessive obsession with consumption. Just a few hours after gathering around the table with our loved ones to eat a delicious meal and truly reflect on what it is we are grateful for, half the nation rushes to Walmart. In the freezing cold, they stand in line for hours in the middle of the night with a thousand other obese consumers, to get half off on a new flat screen TV. The lengths we go for a discounted price are truly remarkable.

Don’t get me wrong, when I see a 40% off sign gleaming in a window, my eyes light up like a twelve year old girl who’s about to meet Taylor Swift. In fact, I really only buy things that are on sale because I think it is silly to pay full price for something when it will be half off in a month. But when Black Friday rolls around, my love for sales is put to shame. Some people will literally trample their peers to grab the last roll of discounted toilet paper or pull an all nighter to be first in line at JCPenney at 6 A.M. the next day. “Please pass the peas” has quickly been replaced with “b**ch I saw it first, back off.” Sometimes I wonder if people even want the items they buy on Black Friday, or if they buy them simply because the media equates getting good deals to a sense of power and success.

Black Friday is named appropriately, as it truly is a dark day that brings out the worst in all of us. It diverges the atmosphere of gratitude and love into greed and gluttony. The Friday after Thanksgiving should be used to spend time with our family and friends, whip out the Christmas jams and digest the unhealthy amount of food consumed the night before.

story by Willow Higgins

Community Pays Tribute to Deceased Student

The LBJ and LASA community unite in the parking lot of the gymnasium, bowing their heads in grief. Students and teachers shed tears and share hugs as they mourn the loss of their dear friend, LBJ senior and football player Jermaine Dillard. As the sun sets, students light candles and hold them in the air, in attempt to make light of a very dark time. The LBJ football team, who organized the vigil, looks over the practice field as they remember the hours they spent with their friend on the field.

Dillard was struck and killed by a vehicle as he attempted to cross 183 Saturday night. The LBJ student body and faculty have come together this week to support each other and the Dillard family as they begin to cope with their loss. The community is doing everything they can to honor Dillard, including a candlelight service, fundraisers for his family, and a memorial service in the gym. LBJ football coach Andrew Jackson organized the candlelight service as a way to honor his player.

“It’s going to be real simple, and my booster club president is helping to put it on,” Jackson said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure he is remembered. That’s all we can do.”

Dillard’s friends and teammates are raising money to offset funeral costs. LBJ senior Dyquan Howard has been making purple ribbons with Dillard’s jersey number on it to give to people if they donate any amount of money. The ribbons are attached to a safety pin in which donors can attach to their clothing in order to memorialize Dillard.

“My mom started this fundraiser and then I took it over,” Howard said. “At first we were making these [ribbons] just for the football players, but then she said we should just give them to everybody if they give donations to help with the funeral cost because we found out that they didn’t have enough money to bury him.”

The ribbon fundraiser has become very successful, as the LBJ community seems eager to contribute in anyway they can. The Dillard family has also established an online fundraiser to help with the expenses of the funeral and memorials.

“We made $3000 from donations with the ribbon fundraiser and online they’ve made $7000, when their goal was $5000,” Howard said. “Tonight at the memorial service we are going to personally give his mom all the money we’ve raised.”

This week has been very difficult for the LBJ student body and football team, Howard said, but everyone is doing their best to keep their chins up. They know that Dillard would want them to keep him in their memories, but not to lose touch of their involvements.

“Going hard in practice is complicated but it gets accomplished,” Howard said. “We gotta think about how he used to be at practice and now he’s not there anymore. So there’s that spot we need to fill. We turn all that’s negative into a positive because we know that at the end of the day how he would feel if he was here trying to do it with us.”

story by Willow Higgins

Aspiring Scientist Studies in a Foreign [Place]nta

Standing in a laboratory at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, LASA junior Jasmine Stone holds her gloved hands over the human placenta lying on the table in front of her. There, with two lab partners and an advisor, she spends her mornings peeling apart a human placenta. After peeling the placenta apart, Stone and her partners would hold the placenta with tweezers to allow the fluid to run off and drip cells off.

“It was really cool to work with human placenta,” Stone said. “I thought it was really cool to peel apart the placenta. I don’t know how to explain it but it’s very elastic-y and you just kind of peel it apart and then once it is peeled off you can grip it by one point with tweezers and it just kind of hangs and then all the fluid runs off and the cells start to drip off.”

Stone spent three weeks over the summer in Israel, participating in a science and technology program at the Technion. The program was international, with participants from all over the world. There were around 45 people in the program, each placed into lab groups of around three participants and an advisor. Stone’s research team consisted of two other girls and a lab advisor.

“We really made good friends with everyone there,” Stone said. “We were all housed in the same area and we did stuff together all the time. We would be in labs from like 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., but then after that we would go on trips and hang out around town. We went to the beach, went hiking a couple times, around Haifa to the high gardens, to the mall, to a lot of the main straight.”

Stone and her lab group worked with human placentas to collect cells they would then differentiate into germ cells. Differentiation is the specialization of cells. Collecting stem cells from placentas is a simpler method of collecting stem cells than using embryonic stem cells.

“Most stem cell research takes stem cells from embryos, which kills the embryo,” Stone said. “So we were taking them from the placenta instead, which normally comes out as after birth, so it didn’t harm anything. Right now, the standard is embryonic stem cells so you have to go through stages and show that [placenta stem cells] can act exactly like embryonic stem cells.”

Danouni is a PhD student at the Technion. Her research focuses on using placenta cells to replace embryonic stem cells.

“We went [to the hospital] three times, on Mondays, to obtain fresh, human placenta,” Stone said. “A few minutes after a baby was born, [our advisor] would get the placenta and get the mother to sign off on us using stem cells from the placenta. And then we would isolate the stem cells, which took about a day or two. The epithelial layer was where we were getting our stem cells from [and] you had to peel off the different layers of the placenta. Then we had to strain it off and clean off all the blood and stuff, and let it drip off.”

Danouni started the process before the group arrived by preparing cells two weeks prior to the start of the program. This enabled Stone and her lab mates to compare five-week-old cells, which were at the end of their differentiation, with the cells Stone and her lab mates harvested, which were at the beginning of differentiation. At the end of the program, Stone and her group created a poster and gave a presentation of their research to the rest of the program participants and won first for “presentation”.

“It was really cool because we could look at posters when they were presenting,” Stone said. “Then, we could walk around and look at all the other ones and ask questions to see what they’d been doing because we didn’t necessarily have time to explain all of our research to everyone.”

story by Hannah Marks

Nov. 4 Election Results: Local and National Game Changer

On the evening of Tuesday Nov. 4, people across the nation buzz with excitement and high hopes for the upcoming political term. The names of the elected nominees for the Senate, House of Representatives and state governor radiate from televisions and radios across America as people wait at the edge of their seats for the news they have been waiting for. After weeks of casting votes and months of campaigning, the anticipation for Election Day was high for all political parties alike.

Election Day was important for AISD school board officials, as many of the districts seats became open for election. Incumbent Robert Schneider was reelected as the trustee for District 7, and Julie Cowan was elected as the trustee for District 4. On Dec. 16th, candidates for District One (Edmund Gordon and David Thompson), District Six (Paul Saldaña and Kate Mason-Murphy) and At-Large Position Nine (Kendall Pace and Hillary Procknow) will participate in a runoff election, because the results on Nov. 4 were inconclusive. The elected trustees for AISD will be in charge of hiring the superintendent, approving the budget, establishing policies and monitoring all expenditures that the district is responsible for.

City of Austin mayoral candidates will reappear on the ballots on Dec. 16  in a runoff election as neither Mike Martinez or Steve Adler received the majority of votes. Incumbent Mayor Lee Leffingwell has already served two terms in office, and thus in ineligible to run again for reelection. In the gubernatorial race, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott defeated Texas Senator Wendy Davis in the election for governor by earning 58% of the votes. Texas Governor Rick Perry, and 14-year incumbent, chose not to run for reelection as he plans to run for president in 2016.

On the national level, Election Day was a success for more Republican candidates than it was for Democrats. The Senate gained seven Republican seats, giving them the majority. The House remained majority Republican, as they turned over 12 seats. The United States now has 31 Republican Governors and 17 Democratic Governors.

story by Willow Higgins

Cross Country Prodigy Pursues Passion

On a frigid fall morning,  LASA Cross Country runners prepare for meets with lunges, springs and cardio. LASA freshman Dylan Cox said he fit right in. With skilled cardio and great team spirit, Cox is the only freshman to earn a spot on the boys Varsity team.

With experience on Cross Country club team, South Austin Steel, Cox has made quite a name for himself among his teammates said LASA senior Ben Girardeau and Cross Country co-captain.

“We’re really proud of how fast Dylan’s been running, even since the beginning,” Girardeau said. “We’re very impressed that he’s third in the district.”

LASA senior and Cross Country co-captain Ben Rieden said he admires Cox’s work ethic. He said that it is rare for freshmen to come onto the team with as much talent as Cox.

“[Cox] is going to help us significantly in district meets this year,” Rieden said. “He is a great addition to the team, and we are very lucky to have someone as determined as him. [Cox] has a lot on his plate, but he is able to juggle it all and still come out on top.”

Cox said he started out with a relaxed regimen. He began running recreationally at a young age, with his mother as his main influence.

“When I was younger, maybe ten, I decided I liked running with my mom when she headed down to the trail at Town Lake,” Cox said. “I then started training with Gilbert’s Gazelles, and I really liked it, so I stuck with it. It just felt natural. I train with South Austin Steel now, and the feeling is the same.”

Cox said the South Austin Steel team and LBJ’s team practices follow similar guidelines. However, he said the club’s practices are notably more intense because they run harder drills at a higher frequency.

“My club team is mostly the same [as LBJ Cross Country], except the practices are harder and more focused and a stricter regiment is enforced,” Cox said. “[With South Austin Steel, I] do maximum cardio drills on Mondays, 30-40 minute recovery runs and weights on Tuesday, long runs on Wednesday and Friday and speed work and weights on Thursday.”

Cox has the third fastest times in the district, and he said it feels fantastic to see his work paying off. Cox said he has found a way to keep his freshman year coursework, a track career and a social life balanced, giving him high hopes for this year.

“Practices are exhausting and difficult, but it feels really great to know you’re improving and getting better,” Cox said. “Having good friends around to share the pain makes it even more worth it.”

According to Girardeau, someone so skilled in a high school sport is likely to play at the collegiate level. With athletic scholarships and recruiting, he said, the possibilities are vast. Cox said he plans to center his career on his running skills.

“I’m considering coaching high school or college track,” Cox said. “Then, during grad school, I will continue with Cross Country, but I want to study to become a biomedical engineer.”

Cox said running will always be his passion. He grew up with it, and he said he cannot see himself parting with it any time soon.

“I love the feeling when I hit my stride, and the feeling that your body is in perfect balance,” Cox said. “You’re pushing your body to its limits, and when you’re done, the feeling of accomplishment is great. It’s a great outlet for all the energy I store up during the day.”

story by Ana Lopez

Purple Spirit Against Blue Strength

McCallum Rivalry Leaves LBJ Jaguars in Fun-Filled Defeat

Purple clothing unites the schools as LBJ and LASA students enter the gym for the pep rally, cheering in support of the football team on the day of the McCallum game. Students line the stands as the cheerleading and dance teams perform to “Black on Black.” Outside the gym, designated seniors stand guard in the student parking lot, protecting their vehicles from McCallum Knights who were rumored to have planned pranks. The school and the community pep rally buzz with excitement and Jaguar pride.

The LBJ vs. McCallum game was at Nelson this year, and the higher spectator turnout for LBJ was clear when the student councils approached each other for the gift exchange. McCallum had four representatives and LBJ had more than ten. McCallum made the first touchdown of the game, but when LBJ got their first touchdown, the air above the student section was cluttered with silly string.

McCallum won the game, but the scores were close during the first half. At halftime, the score was 10-14 McCallum. LBJ head football coach Andrew Jackson said he thought the turning point was right before halftime, when LBJ had the ball on the one yard line with two downs to get it in.

“I probably should have [gone] on my gut feeling,” Jackson said. “I had a play designed, and we probably could have scored, but I really wanted to make a statement that we were tough, we were tough guys. [So I] put three seniors in the ball game. I told them we were going right over the top, that we really want the win, we need to take it. And we didn’t make it. We didn’t take it at that moment, and we didn’t take the game.”

After halftime, McCallum’s offensive plays allowed them to gain a significant lead. LBJ football player Avery Jackson made a 21 yard touchdown pass to Terral Davidson, ending the third quarter at a close 21-17 McCallum. The Knights scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, ending the game with a score of 42-23 and victory for the Knights.

“My expectation was to win,” Jackson said. “Last year we got beat by them, revenge is some factor, but I just thought we [were] better. And I thought we [were] prepared. And we came short of my expectations.”

Jackson said the McCallum football players seemed to be physically tougher than those from LBJ, despite extra time put into the weightroom by LBJ football players during the last off season. In the future, Jackson said he plans to look at the way LBJ personnel play and make sure all the best players are on the field at the same time. Jackson said the team has come a long way but is still not where he wants it to be. He said if LASA and LBJ were equally represented in the football team, LBJ would become a powerhouse in the district.

LBJ junior and football player DeAndre Wytaske, whose ankle was hurt before the McCallum game, said the team dynamics were less positive than usual and prevented the team from performing its best. He said LBJ football has to quickly prepare for next week’s game.

“[The team] wasn’t working good, like we usually work together,” Wytaske said. “We had a few struggles in the game, we picked them up, but then we also came back down, and we had a lot of mistakes. I guess we [were not as] ready for this game as we thought we were. We already lost once already but we shouldn’t have lost that game. So we’re just gonna have to bounce back this week and win the game so we can be back on track.”

story by Frankie Marchan

Argo-es to LASA

Ambassador Joseph Stafford and his wife Kathleen, came to LASA on Oct. 6 to talk to students about their time in the U.S. Foreign Service and specifically their experience during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The Staffords were among six American embassy workers who escaped the takeover of the American Embassy by Iranian students and hid out with other diplomats.

“It’s important that students understand that history isn’t just about kings and queens, it’s the people that lived through it,” LASA social studies teacher Kim Pettigrew said.

What is now known as the Iranian Revolution began in 1977 with protests against the reigning Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was supported by the United States. The Shah was overthrown by supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini, a religious and political leader who had been in exile for 15 years after opposing the previous Shah, in 1979 and was taken in by the U.S. so he might receive adequate treatment for his cancer, which intensified the already present anti-American sentiment in Iran. The Staffords arrived in Iran in Sept. 1979 on their first post with the U.S. Foreign Service. According to Kathleen, the anti-Westernism in Iran was strong and unlike anywhere else she had been. Kathleen said that the regular demonstrations weren’t huge and she did not hear much of them from her post in the embassy.

“Iran is the only time I ever arrived at the airport, and there were some revolutionary guards and they weren’t trained soldiers, they were vigilante-type of people, but that was the first time and the only time I’ve ever been told to go back where I came from,” Kathleen said.

Both Staffords worked on the visa line, reading applications and approving immigration visas to the US. There was a large backlog of visa applicants because the US, in response to a February takeover of the embassy, had suspended all visas from Iran and only just began to re-offer them when the Staffords arrived.

“I came along really as a temporary employee because there was this huge backlog of visa applicants, and since I had taken exactly the same courses that they did, I did the same thing,” Kathleen said.  “I interviewed visa applicants and basically my word went too. Maybe in a tricky case or something I would just go talk to Joe because I thought he was very fair.”

However, the events of Nov. 4, 1979 would be very different from a regular day of protests. Just one year after a number of protesting students were killed by the Shah’s forces on the Tehran University campus, demonstrations were planned to honor the martyrs.

“This was also the day of the martyrs,” Kathleen said. “That’s why the ladies, when I went over and they were in such a bad mood. They were worried because… it was the anniversary of when a number of students, I don’t know how many, had been killed in a protest on the Tehran University grounds. So they were called martyrs. So the lady said ‘this is the day of the martyrs’, they asked me why I came to work at all that day when I went over to do the card business. And so the demonstrations had already been planned for that.”

The demonstrations soon turned violent as students breached the walls of the US Embassy compound, flooding the grounds and brandishing weapons.

“It wasn’t spontaneous, you know, they planned that, to do it the same day,” Kathleen said. “I mean they had bolt cutters and somebody had guns. They didn’t get them, you know they had guns that they did not get by taking over the embassy. They had guns themselves that they used against Al, they were going to shoot him if somebody didn’t open the doors of the embassy.”

The Staffords and their co-workers soon realized this takeover would be different than the more peaceful February occurrence and set about destroying documents and visa plates. Someone placed a call to the police, but there was no answer. When they realized no help was coming, the Staffords, along with others in their building and the Iranians in the visa line, decided they needed to leave the embassy. Their building had street access and led out to a small alley, where Kathleen said there were only two revolutionary guards who did not seem to care about the escaping embassy workers.

“I think it was mainly just a decision in our building, our boss kind of decided what to do,” Kathleen said. “So we could get out and we were the only building on the embassy compound that could get out.”

The Staffords, along with fellow escapees Cora and Mike Lijek and Bob Anders, spent the next six days moving between houses, their own and those of fellow embassy workers, who were now being held hostage inside the compound, before finally ending up with John and Zena Sheardown, members of the Canadian foreign service and friends of Anders.

“We also had Kurdish friends [who] came and offered to help us,” Kathleen said. “Our landlord offered to help us, and we had to turn everybody down because we knew they could be in trouble if they helped us. So it wasn’t just the Canadians.”

For the next three months, the Sheardowns would host four of the six escaped Americans; the Lijeks, Anders and Lee Schatz. The Staffords, however, went to stay with Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and his wife, Pat. Life in the Taylor’s home was fairly constant; The Staffords would wake up and eat breakfast at the same time every day, spend their mornings reading books and the news, have lunch and in the evenings sit with the Taylors  and listen to the latest news.

“It was pretty regimented,” Kathleen said. “We didn’t decide when we were going to have breakfast, we knew we needed to be downstairs. I mean you already feel like you’re putting these people out, so you’re trying to make as few demands as possible. In the morning we’d sit and read, [Joe would] read the paper. [Joe’s] farsi was very good by the time we left. And I would read all these books including John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, all that stuff taught me about being confident and acting like you know what you’re doing.”

While the Staffords stayed hidden with the Taylors, the US government was working to find a way to get the six out of the country before the embassy occupiers noticed the escapees were not among those hostages still in captivity. In late January, CIA disguise and exfiltration expert, Tony Mendez, arrived in Iran, bringing with him Canadian passports and an intricate plan to get the six Americans safely back to U.S. soil. The plan, chronicled by the 2012 award-winning film Argo, involved the six posing as a Canadian film crew on a location-scouting trip. Kathleen posed as the crew’s artist while Joe played the part of producer.

“I was going to be the graphic artist,” Kathleen said. “I had some different drawing tablets and stuff like that. We just had the Canadian clothes. There wasn’t really a whole lot to it. It was just learning our names and our birthdays and a little bit about of Canada, just where something is. We had one day. There was this young Canadian junior officer, has lots of war equipment, he had like Nazi helmets and stuff like that so he put that stuff on and he pretended to interrogate us.”

On the morning of Jan. 27, the six left the Sheardown residence and headed for the Tehran airport, one of the first times they had been out in public since going into hiding. According to Kathleen, they were nervous because they had spent their time in the embassy working on the visa line, where they had seen thousands of hopeful immigrants and now feared being recognized.

“I did remember from my acting days that if you focus on something then other people will focus on it,” Kathleen said. “So I thought to keep myself calm I [watched] a couple, an Iranian couple that had been put to the side and they were giving them a hard time about leaving and so I looked to them. I just watched them. I just watched them and told myself to be calm because that would put attention on them and not on me.”

The six made it safely home to the US after 79 days in hiding, where they laid low and avoided the press to help ensure the safety of the hostages still trapped in Tehran. The escape plot remained secret for the next 18 years and the six escapees all returned to work in the foreign service, with the exception of Kathleen, who instead focused on her art.

“It’s difficult to be a spouse, a trailing spouse, so I’m lucky that I paint… and, as an artist, I can take my profession wherever I go,” Kathleen said. “Probably because of what happened in Iran, I realized life is short and I really loved to paint and so what I wanted to do was my artwork so I just stuck with that.”

For Joe, continuing on in the foreign service was an easy decision. His next post would be in Cairo, and he would continue to serve in calmer nations until being posted in Algiers in 1996.

“This is a one-of-a-kind assignment, circumstances, so you don’t expect this is going to happen again and so go on to more normal assignments,” Joe said. “Still, it’s my view that this is an interesting career, interesting line of work, still there, didn’t change that.”

According to Kathleen, no one really cared much about their story after the information was declassified, that is until Ben Affleck’s film Argo came out, triggering a slew of new interest.

“What’s going to happen is everybody’s going to remember Argo as history,” Kathleen said. “That’s the odd part.”

The critically-acclaimed film dramatizes such events as the rush to the airport, which in reality was calm and relatively uneventful, makes up events like the trip to the bazaar, which in the movie adds even more suspense but did not actually happen and leaves out things entirely, like the role of the Sheardowns in the escape.

“I just wish they’d put a footnote there at the end; it would’ve been easy to do that for the Sheardowns,” Kathleen said. “I understand that you can’t tell all these details and have an interesting story, you have to edit, to keep the focus, so I understand that.”

The film has been criticized for downplaying the role of the Canadians, as well as the other embassies and private individuals who risked their safety to help the escapees. After Argo came out, the Canadians produced their own documentary, titled Our Man in Tehran, which featured Ken Taylor and Zena Sheardown and emphasized the Canadian role in the caper.

“It had been hard on [Zena] all along because [John] never did get much credit,” Kathleen said. “And you know he hid four of the people and it was thanks to him we found them in the first place.”

The Staffords retired in Austin this year. After moving in next to LASA sophomore Eliza Fisher, they agreed to come to LASA to speak about their experience in Iran and the foreign service.

“I think, still think [foreign service is] a very good career, but people who do join should recognize that there may be challenging assignments,” Joe said. “Not as challenging as that one, one hopes, where they have to surreptitiously flee the country where they’re posted or endure the seizure of their embassy. But they will find they have a challenging situation, but it can be interesting work, it can be demanding work but it’s important work so I would encourage anyone with an interest in international relations to consider it.”


story by Sam Zern

Sword Savvy

LASA junior Jacob Laves begins in the default stance with his right foot in front of him, his left foot behind him and his sword extended forward. He advances to his next move, stepping his left foot forward while simultaneously swinging the sword towards his opponent.

“There are a few people who, when I tell them I sword fight, look at me weirdly,” Laves said. “Other people think it’s really cool. And then you have people that think it’s some sort of ultraviolence, and that I’m a serial killer with a sword.”

Laves started sword fighting in the eighth grade at the Austin Warrior Arts studio after practicing fencing for the three years prior. Laves said most sword fighters were fencers before hand. But even if the sword fighters have fencing experience, they first must learn the sword fighting theory before they start practicing.

“A lot of what we do isn’t actually sparring,” Laves said. “You have to get each motion down, and you have to practice the different drills so that you learn the feel of it all first. Then you can move into a bit of sparring.”

Sparring in sword fighting is going through the motions of a sword swing, but instead of striking the opponent, only the tip of the sword is to make contact with them. The practice of sparring serves to keep sword fighting safe, because despite its common connotation, modern sword fighting is not a dangerous activity.

“It’s not really all that violent,” Laves said. “It’s sword fighting, so its roots are violent, but I would describe this style of sword fighting as more of an art. It’s very graceful.”

Before Laves began sword fighting, he said he imagined it would be more violent than it actually is. Although his expectations were completely different from the real thing, he said he actually enjoys what he practices now more than what he had imagined he’d be practicing.

“It is a very cathartic activity,” Laves said. “You do get a lot of frustration out from the day, even if you aren’t sparring aggressively. You can just channel whatever anger you have from the day into your practice.”

Laves said anyone interested in sword fighting can join. The practice gym is filled with with all sorts of different people from around the city who are interested in trying out the sport.

“There’s not really one demographic that you can fit to the group,” Laves said. “Guys, girls, all ages. There are high schoolers in there, and there are people in their fifties. It’s a huge range.”

Laves’ classmate, LASA junior Emily Pencis, is also part of Austin Warrior Arts. Pencis said she has not been practicing sword fighting as long as Laves, but she loves it just the same. She started sword fighting in the middle of her sophomore year after being exposed to it in a camp she has worked at for the past six years.

“I spend my summers working out at Camp Half-Blood, a camp run by BookPeople,” Pencis said. “I started working as a counselor and training out there, and the sword instructor that teaches there also teaches the classes that I now attend. He and [Laves] kept bugging me to go to the classes after school started, and I eventually gave up arguing and ended up going.”

Although Pencis was exposed to some sword fighting technique at Camp Half-Blood, she said the classes at Austin Warrior Arts are different than any prior training she experienced at camp.

“The after school classes are attended by people of all ages and they’re accumulative, whereas the Camp Half-Blood classes were just for the age of the kids who attend Camp Half-Blood, which is mostly young people,” Pencis said. “So, at camp, he teaches the same stuff over and over again.”

After joining the after school classes at Austin Warrior Arts, Pencis said she felt overwhelmed at first. Pencis said sword fighting is an intense practice, so the classes are very physically strenuous.

“Some days it’s a strain on my mind and body, and it’s really tiring to do, and other days when we actually get into the rhythm of things, I forget that I’m the least experienced person in the room,” Pencis said. “I’m really able to get into the movements.”

Pencis and Laves’ sword fighting instructor at Austin Warrior Arts, Da’mon Stith, said he aims to maintain a comfortable aura in the studio.

“We try to cultivate a close family feeling in the class,” Stith said. “I’m real informal with everyone, and we try to keep that environment.”

Stith said part of the warrior culture that Austin Warrior Arts is trying to share with everyone is the theory of control in the martial arts.

“As a warrior you have a responsibility to preserve and protect life, and if you do have to draw your sword, you do that for a purpose, not just to serve your own end,” Stith said. “[It’s about] being refined and being poised and being ready when the time is right to act, but not going out and seeking to create imbalance in the world. I think that’s the reason why it [shouldn’t be] seen as a violent activity.”

Although in actuality students of sword fighting are meant to master restraint and control of violence, Stith said people have misconceptions about the classes prior to attending. Just the name, ‘sword fighting,’ might fascinate a person looking to release anger and violence.

“You attract certain people to what you’re doing,” Stith said. “It definitely provides a release for aggressive tendencies. It allows you to hit something and go through the emotions of those kinds of things and also to kind of channel it. We need a release like that.”

Sword fighting as an energy release is characterized differently for each student, Stith said. The students are taught the fundamental moves in sword fighting but then each student expresses the movements a little differently.

“Each person is learning techniques but they’re also developing their own signature way of moving,” Stith said. “I may do a technique a little differently just because [that] is what I feel. [That] is how I like to express myself.”

For Laves, developing his own style of movement with the sword has been a gratifying part of his experience, he said. Although he had participated in baseball and soccer in the past, Laves said he didn’t enjoy playing them because the rules are very strict and there is less individuality put forth.

“I think sword fighting is a lot better of an outlet for you to get your own energy out there, because it’s not so confined to ‘this is how you swing best’ or ‘kick this ball over there the best way,’” Laves said. “There’s not much structure or many rules. You just express yourself.”

story by Victoria Mycue

Halt of the Hierarchy

Senior year is supposed to be gloriously care free. I realize that LASA is not your typical American high school, but when my graduating year rolled around I did expect some sort of seniority to come with it.

As I was rising through the ranks of high school, all of my peers were constantly looking forward to becoming an upperclassmen, but I never empathized. I liked being the youngest in the school; having older kids to look up to and a seemingly endless amount of people to befriend was always what made school interesting. I looked forward to graduation and being done with high school but I never looked forward to the year itself. Now that senior year is finally upon me, I realize I was right to not look forward to it. All the respect and awe I had for seniors my freshman year is simply nonexistent in the mentalities of the current underclassmen. In the hallways, kids bump into me so forcefully I almost fall over, in complete disregard to the hierarchical structure of high school.

Some of the most coveted senior traditions have lost their intrigue. Leaving campus is no longer a novelty. Especially when you run into half the school, undoubtedly including the underclassmen you are trying to escape, while frequenting Chipotle. The course load is way more involved than expected. I am not taking any easy classes, nor do I have an off-period. I have mountains of homework every night not to mention twelve college essays with looming deadlines. I have not had the time to go to a football game because of my hectic schedule, so I have not even been able to enjoy the VIP area of the student section yet, assuming it still exists and the underclassmen haven’t ignored that tradition as well.

My experience on the volleyball team perfectly exemplifies my struggles as a power-hungry senior. When I was a freshman playing volleyball it was understood by me and my fellow underlings that it was our job to set up the net, fill up the water and complete all other team related chores. I knew all the varsity players and genuinely looked up to them, staying until the end of every single one of their games every Tuesday and Friday for the entire season. Now that I’m a senior, this has all changed. Most practices I find myself doing the freshman’s work for them, only to be halfway thanked and simultaneously called the wrong name. I do not know when the power shift happened, but I would like it to be restored to the seniors so that we can rule the school like we are supposed to.

I am mostly joking when I say I want to be feared by the underclassmen. My views are not actually this extreme. I would just like the be shown some respect from time to time. After three grueling years of LASA, I think that I, along with my fellow seniors, have earned some seniority.

story by Mary Louise Gilburg

In Between Life

Being Conservative at Church and Liberal at School

“Blessed be your name” flowed from my muffled iPhone speaker and immediately I felt the heat in my cheeks. I quickly hit the skip forward arrow and relaxed as Katy Perry transformed everyone’s uncomfortable faces to smiles and giggles. Having returned from camp only a week prior, I was experiencing what Church of Christ Christians call a “camp high.” Essentially, after being surrounded by similarly bred-and-branded-at-birth Christians for a week straight, I felt incredibly close to God and wanted to hide in a bubble of everything Christian. My summer consisted of Christian music, Bible verse selfie captions and phone backgrounds and eight new crosses to add to a growing collection.

Then I walked into my first week at LASA. Now, don’t get me wrong, LASA is an incredibly open place. I’ve never felt like I couldn’t be myself or that I had to give in to things I didn’t want to do in order to fit in. But, all the same, LASA hit me like a brick wall that first year and has continued to do so each year since. LASA kids are not especially judgmental of or opposed to Christian ideals, but hearing a “church song” play from their pro gay rights, feminist friend is confusing to them. They, like so many others, hear “Christian” and think three things: Republican, homophobic, and close-minded.

I understand where these presumptions come from because when I discuss these issues at my church, these stereotypes are generally proven to be true. Often, we’ll be talking about gay rights and a high schooler in my youth group will say something like “it’s not necessarily a sin, but it’s definitely wrong.” Or I’ll hear “Obama painted over the American flag on Air Force 1, can you believe that’s how he’s spending his term?” as if all he’s truly done thus far is get out there and paint his own plane. But on the other hand, I think it’s rather close-minded in it’s own way for someone to accept and encourage these stereotypes. By doing so, you’re actually just closing your mind to the fact that there are indeed Christians who don’t embody said stereotypes.

My family fits almost none of the Christian stereotypes mentioned. I grew up in the church and my first memories are of playing in my church’s sanctuary, praying with my grandparents, and taking communion. However, despite what most people think about such an upbringing, my family is quite liberal. I remember being confused as to why President Bush’s face was on a roll of our toilet paper at our election party in ‘08 and I grew up watching Zoolander and Seinfeld with my parents. As a child I was always confused about why my Sunday morning friends thought being gay was a sin, but when I walked into high school on the first day of Freshman year I saw QSA posters everywhere.

For a long time I hated the idea of being associated with the label Christian, and to be honest, I’m still figuring out how that label fits me. Though I still don’t appreciate the connotation that accompanies it, I take pride in the fact that I can define my religion however I see fit, despite other people’s assumptions. Overall, I like my awkward in between life. It opens my mind and allows me to experience things through different lenses. Because I’ve had to talk about these issues so much, I have learned how to have respectful conversations about faith, politics and everything inbetween. Primarily, the dynamic has created two major support systems for me. I know I have a family at school and another family at church I can talk to and grow with as our opinions on all of these issues evolve.

story by Grace Fullerton

LBJ Football Team Defeats Long Term Rivals

Last Friday, the LBJ football team defeated Reagan with a score of 62-0. Reagan and LBJ have been rivals since they opened in the 1970s, and consequently an abundance of hype occurs for this game every year. Friday’s victory was a significant win for the student body and has given the football team hope for a successful season.

LBJ Athletic Director and football coach Andrew Jackson shares his players’ excitement for the Reagan defeat. Jackson said that he is content with the team’s performance and hopes that they keep playing hard in games to come.

“I was real happy about how we did offensively,” Jackson said.  “We had very few plays, but we scored pretty quick. It was good to see us being consistent and moving the ball around.”

Historically, LBJ’s football team typically defeats Reagan’s, however, the score isn’t always as drastic as it was this year. Jackson said that this score is representative of the team’s growth this year.

“I think we surprised Reagan with our team’s overall speed,” Jackson said. “We are faster than most people think we are.”

Jackson and the rest of the football team are continuing their efforts to prepare for the district games. If the team plans to win district, they have to keep practicing hard and improving their speed.

“Right now we can control our own destiny,” Jackson said. “Our first goal right now is to win districts and after that, to try to play out until Thanksgiving. We’ve got a long season ahead of us.”

Jackson said that he is looking forward to the rest of the season, because team has done tremendously well so far and is undefeated in district. Jackson is confident that we can get through districts winning nine out of 10 games.

“The future is bright. My objective when I first this job is to turn this team into a state recognized team,” Jackson said. “We have a chance.”

story by Willow Higgins


Seniors Transition into Adulthood through Voting

LASA senior Ben Taulli registers LASA senior Dyllan Scheuster to vote.

LASA senior Ben Taulli registers LASA senior Dyllan Scheuster to vote. photo by Mary Louise Gilburg

Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis and Republican State Attorney General Greg Abbott are running in Texas’ first open election gubernatorial race since 1990 this November. Incumbent Rick Perry declared that he would not run for reelection, leaving the republican slot open for Abbott. With two vastly different platforms in the running, the November election may be a significant turning point in Texas politics. This year, high school class of 2015 seniors will have a chance to vote in the gubernatorial election and make a difference in the political future of Texas.

LASA senior Ben Taulli said he believes the race for governor is important and has worked hard to contribute to the Davis campaign. By walking door-to-door and participating in phone banks, Taulli was able to provide prospective Democrats with information about Davis’ platform and field questions that potential voters have.

“I think we do have a good chance of electing Wendy Davis,” Taulli said.  “We just have to get out the word, and perpetuate the idea that a democratic vote does count in the state of Texas. There is a lot grunt work that needs to be done that is completely necessary to get her into office.”

Having dedicated his summer to the campaign, Taulli said he hopes his fellow high school seniors that are of voting age will step up to vote. He said that this election is incredibly important and people should contribute if they feel strongly about it.

“There is nothing more important in the political scope if you live in Texas than voting in Texas,” Taulli said. “Texas voter turnout is so low, and I think a lot of Texas Democrats get discouraged because it is really hard to get a democratic candidate elected, but that is only because Democrats don’t vote in this state. Only 18 percent of the Texas population voted for Rick Perry, which goes to show that if voter turnout was higher, the Democrats could have a real chance.”

LASA government teacher Ronny Risinger also supports participation in the upcoming election, and stresses the importance of voting in his government classes.  He works as an election judge in Williamson county, assisting people in the voting process.

“I tend to think that all people should be involved,” Risinger said. “While it’s easy to say that young people are stupid and don’t know what they are doing and shouldn’t be allowed to vote, democracy is supposed to represent all people including the young and the old. Every voice should be heard.”

Taulli is working to bring the campaign to LASA and inspire up-and-coming Democrats by co-creating a new club. LASA seniors Zia Lyle and Willow Higgins collaborated with Taulli in the creation of a Young Democrats of LASA club. Its purpose it to spread the word about the importance of voting and participation in politics.

“The Young Democrats club is hopefully going to be a branch to organize people into Battleground Texas,” Taulli said. “It will give people who do not know about the organizations an opportunity to volunteer. Hopefully we will get a lot of people to join and volunteer for the Wendy Davis campaign. We are also reaching out to people who will be 18 in November to make sure they are registered to vote in time.”

Voter turnout is extremely low in Texas. Texas is ranked forty-eight in the nation  and in some elections turnout reaches below 1 percent. Risinger acknowledges that many high school seniors can now vote and work to become more involved in Texas politics.

“At a minimum, I hope my students who are allowed to vote, because they are 18, will engage in the issues and study the issues instead of just listening to the paid campaign commercials,” Risinger said. “Sometimes those commercials are very misleading or deceptive.”

Taulli and Risinger both said they want  eligible seniors to participate in the election and take advantage of the fact that their vote counts as much as anyone elses. They are deeply involved in the election process and have worked hard to inspire LASA and LBJ students to as well.

“Democracy thrives based on the people’s involvement,” Risinger said. “If we don’t involve ourselves in the affairs of government we will become a slave to our own creation.”

story by Mary Louise Gilburg

Summer Service and Sights

LASA junior Zennie Wey with her campamento students in the Dominican Republic

LASA junior Zennie Wey with her campamento students in the Dominican Republic

LASA junior Hannah Read plays soccer with her campamento students in Peru

LASA junior Hannah Read plays soccer with her campamento students in Peru

LASA junior Hannah Read and her Peruvian host family

LASA junior Hannah Read and her Peruvian host family

LASA junior Hannah Read

LASA junior Hannah Read

LASA junior Zennie Wey paints a basketball court in the Dominican Republic

LASA junior Zennie Wey paints a basketball court in the Dominican Republic

LASA junior Zennie Wey in the Dominican Republic

LASA junior Zennie Wey in the Dominican Republic

In the thick of the summer heat, LASA students traveled across the globe to enrich their cultural understanding. Students dispersed themselves into Latin American nations, offering their labor and knowledge to small communities who needed an extra hand. No matter what country visited, the total immersion into a foreign land gave these students a new-found appreciation for the world of travel.

As school has begun and summer comes to a close, LASA senior Sadie Barron, LASA junior Hannah Read and LASA junior Zennie Wey are benefitting from the experiences they have gained on their trips. Their time abroad has changed their perspective on American culture and education and has transformed their understanding of foreign lifestyles.

Wey traveled to the Dominican Republic this summer for a service project within the Neyba community. Going into the trip, Wey said she was very nervous. Wey said that Dominicans live a very different lifestyle than what she has grown up with, so she was worried that she may not be prepared for what was in store.

“I was really hesitant about being able to spend seven weeks in a country that didn’t speak English,” Wey said. “I also wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable with their very simplistic lifestyle. We had no running water, bucket baths, some pee buckets, and really sketchy electricity. But I ended up enjoying everything a lot.”

Read’s trip to Peru and Barron’s trip to Nicaragua were fueled by an interest in the Spanish language. They both participated in the Amigos program, which combines language immersion with service work in third-world countries. Barron, Read and Wey all said that their service trip tremendously improved their Spanish skills. Because they were completely immersed into a Spanish-speaking culture, Barron said they had no other option but to speak the native language.

“If you don’t like something, you’re going to have to eat it, or you’re going to have to tell them ‘I don’t like it,’ which forces you to speak Spanish,” Barron said. “Either you speak Spanish, or you’re going to die.”

Barron visited the community of Monte Grande in municipal San Ramon, Matagalpa, Nicaragua where she stayed with a host family which nine children.

“I liked living with a host family, because it’s like you’re actually in the culture, like you aren’t American anymore,” Barron said. “Rather than being the outsider looking in, you’re actually the person.”

Read said that she became comfortable with her community and the language that they spoke by teaching children at summer camp. Spending time with the same kids every day allowed her bond with the community as a whole.

“We would walk 40 minutes up a mountain about five days a week for ‘campamentos,’ or extracurricular camps, with the kids at the primary school,” Read said. “At the school I would teach the kids about nutrition, health, sanitation, children’s rights and leadership. I would also play lots and lots of soccer and Duck, Duck, Goose.”

Read engaged with the Peruvian community, even outside of the school system. She worked closely with her host family and assisted them with their daily chores as well as working on a community improvement project.

“The second part of the program was the Community-Based Initiative Process,” Read said. “My partner and I worked with our host family and other members of the community to find and create a sustainable and beneficial project for the community. We decided to build soccer goals out of plastic tubes at the school and at the main soccer field where the adult men played twice a week. I also helped [my host family] with daily activities such as bringing the cows to water, harvesting crops, preparing food and just getting to know my family and other members of the community.”

Wey’s service project had goals very similar to Read’s. Like Read, Wey taught at the ‘campamentos’ within her community, and focusing on healthy lifestyles and leadership skills. She also worked on a community improvement project that she said was very successful.

“For our project, we repainted their basketball court,” Wey said. “We also put in lights so the community members could not only play basketball after dark but also host more basketball games more frequently.”

Getting to know the children within the community was Read’s favorite part about her trip. She said that the more she played and worked with the kids, the more she saw the group as her family.

“One time, the school of San Ignacio was playing in a soccer tournament in another community and my partner and I went with our kids and watched all the games,” Read said. “Our team lost, but I had so much fun spending time with the kids. They loved using my camera to take pictures and I taught them how to do cartwheels. After that day, I felt really accepted and welcomed as a member of the community.”

Wey most enjoyed spending time with her community because it gave her a new understanding of cultural differences and standards. She said that everyone she met was so welcoming, and their positivity was astounding.

“The area [I was in] was very rural and a lot of the houses either had adobe, straw or tin roofs,” Wey said. “So coming from America, I considered the people to be poor. But one day when one of the children was talking to my partner during Campamentos,  and he told him that they weren’t poor.  He told them that they were middle class because they had enough resources to feed their families.  Going to the Dominican Republic redefined my idea of not only social class, but [it] also changed my perspective on the lifestyle that people in America, myself included, lead.”

Each student has said that their experience has been extremely beneficial and has enlightened their cultural understanding.  Read said that she learned so much that she returned to the United States with a new perspective on the world and with many newly acquired skills.

“I experienced so many things that were wildly different from my life here in the United States,” Read said.  “I faced many challenges at first, but was able to grow from those. My Spanish skills improved incredibly, and I learned how to be flexible. I tried new things like eating guinea pig and harvesting a vegetable called oka with my bare hands. I am now much more grateful for all the wonderful things and commodities I have in my life, but I know I can be happy and successful without things like the internet and a shower.”

story by Willow Higgins


Cutting the Ribbon with Music

photo courtesy of Ciara McDaniel

Section leaders of the LBJ band perform at the Grand Opening Ceremony of the ACC Highland Campus. LASA senior and LBJ band head drum major Sydney Robinson conducts the group. “It was a lot of fun and we felt very honored to be performing at the event,” Robinson said. photo courtesy of Ciara McDaniel

As rapid drum beats come to a close, LBJ band members play energetic stand jams under a large tent with about 300 people present. When the ribbon is cut for the grand opening of a new Austin Community College (ACC) campus, the LBJ fight song rings through the air.

LBJ band section leaders and the Reagan High School drumline performed at the Grand Opening Ceremony of the ACC Highland Campus. Many Austin dignitaries, AISD school officials and others were in attendance. These groups were chosen to perform because of their close relationship with ACC through the Early College High School program present at both high schools.

LBJ head band director Don Haynes said the grand opening ceremony was a great opportunity for LBJ and for the band. He also said the campus was beautiful.

“I felt great about the event and how we performed for the opening ceremony of the Highland Mall campus,” Haynes said. “After we performed three selections, our students were given a marvelous walking tour of the facility.The inside is very impressive and artistic in style.”

LASA senior Sydney Robinson, the head drum major for the LBJ band, attended the event. Section leaders of the LBJ band performed after the Reagan drum line. Robinson said the section leaders got a tour of the ACC building after performing.

“[The LBJ band] played stand band regulars, like ‘Do What You Wanna,’ [‘Knocking Pictures’] and the [LBJ] Fight Song,” Robinson said. “I thought it was a lot of fun and felt very honored to be performing at the event.”

Haynes said he chose these songs because they fit the upbeat occasion. He said the band members present represented LBJ/LASA very well, as did the Reagan drumline.

“[The LBJ band] played football music, which was most appropriate [for] a spirited and uplifting mood for the grand opening,” Haynes said. “There was a ribbon cutting part where we got to play our Fight Song.”

According to Haynes, this event was a great performance experience for the LBJ band. He also said it was a good way for members of the Austin community who would not typically attend football games or band competitions to see the LBJ band play.

“This event is a good example of how we show up in the central Texas area,” Haynes said. “most of the folks there such as the mayor, our state representatives, and our US Congressman don’t get to see our Band in action at games or parades. I feel we added a great deal to the success of the ceremony.”

story by Frankie Marchan