Sal Kahn Inspires Perserverance in Education

This year, several LBJ Liberator editors had the privilege of reporting on the events at SXSW Education, a conference that features up and coming leaders and entrepreneurs in the field of education. Below is a blogpost written for Compass Learning about a student journalist’s experience at SXSW Education. 

I have always thought, as many teenagers do, that math is not my subject. During many late nights before algebra tests, in a sleep-deprived fury, I convince myself that my brain is just not built to understand logarithms or the quadratic formula. But Sal Kahn has taught me otherwise. All any person needs to know is that you can learn anything you want if you put your mind to it.

Today at SXSWedu, I had the privilege of meeting Sal Kahn. He spoke of how he decided to found the Kahn Academy because of an experience he had with his cousin. She, just like me, was falling behind in math because she had convinced herself that her brain was simply not capable of understanding the material. She was not getting the help she needed from her teachers, and thus was moved down to a remedial level math class. But after a few tutoring sessions with Kahn, she was able to get a good grasp on the subjects she was confused on, and was moved up to an advanced level class. After seeing that just a little bit of effort made an enormous impact on a child’s academic trajectory, he decided to develop an online, free of cost, tutoring program that aimed to give students across the globe the extra explanations they may need in order to succeed in school

If there is anything that SXSWedu has taught me, it’s that the world is full of people like me and Kahn’s cousin. Different brains work in different ways, but we can’t let that discourage our efforts. Learning is about resilience, perseverance, and confidence. We should nurture different learning styles, and be patient with different learning curves. Because as Kahn said, everybody is capable of learning anything they want if they believe in themselves.

story by Willow Higgins


Barrier Breakdown: Educating All Types of Learners

This year, several LBJ Liberator editors had the privilege of reporting on the events at SXSW Education, a conference that features up and coming leaders and entrepreneurs in the field of education. Below is a blogpost written for Compass Learning about a student journalist’s experience at SXSW Education. 

Today SXSWedu was all about breaking down the barriers of education to reach all types of learners. Thanks to Compass Learning, my fellow high school students and I had the opportunity to delve into what we understand as the educational platform, and who can benefit from expanded educational opportunities. Visiting multiple sessions on different core conversations about education gave me this newly formed sphere of knowledge.


“Let’s Talk About Race and Equity in Education”

In this session, Michelle Molitor, founder of The Fellowship for Race & Equity in Education (FREE), gave me and other listeners the chance to break out of our comfort zones and talk about social identifiers in education, like gender and race, that give us opportunities for discussion, and also those that limit us because of their taboo connotations. While the discussion of race and equality in education is sometimes an uncomfortable subject, in this session I learned that it is these uncomfortable and inconvenient topics that are the most important to emphasize in order to make a real change. The absence of representation of culturally and socially diverse experiences is what keeps us from moving forward in education and reaching the peak where we can maximize education without bias. Molitor pointed out that while the introduction of “revolutionary” new ideas seems to present itself year after year, in actuality we are not moving forward because we avoid such uncomfortable topics such as privilege and inequality, a reality which I found not only frighteningly true, but also optimistic in the opportunity to improve in such ways. I left this session motivated to open the topic of educational equality, and excited to see what chances I could find to discuss the issues further with my peers, whether it be in school or not.


“Robot Teaches Real Life Social Skills”

One in 68 children in America has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a group of developmental disabilities which classifies a range of symptoms and patterns of behavior and learning deficits that range from being nearly unrecognizable to incredibly severe. With this staggering statistic comes the task of educating those children whose learning styles can require to be more involved. The staffing and manpower deficit that exists for children with ASD could be solved thanks to Milo, a robot produced by RoboKind, a social robotics company, with curriculum developed by Dr. Pamela Rollins, a professor of early social communication and autism at The University of Texas, Dallas. At this awe-inspiring presentation, I had the unique opportunity to hear about Milo from the robot himself and view his interactions with children with ASD. The progression videos of children from session to session showed the transformative ability of technology on children with ASD and the unique ability of that technology to teach the children how to interact with their peers. Instead of how I typically assumed the process of teaching social cues to those who inherently don’t understand them went, with instruction from therapists and specialized teachers, I realized while watching the videos that to truly help these children, it is necessary to connect education with student interest. In this case, the topic of interest was most typically technology. Dr. Rollins’ research and Milo, I hope, will soon become the norm for autism education, allowing us to more fully understand how to establish a connection with those who think differently.

story by Chloe Edmiston


An Education Revolution: Student Desires Progress After Hearing Ideas at SXSWedu

This year, several LBJ Liberator editors had the privilege of reporting on the events at SXSW Education, a conference that features up and coming leaders and entrepreneurs in the field of education. Below is a blogpost written for Compass Learning about a student journalist’s experience at SXSW Education. 

Despite rush hour traffic and struggling to find parking, my morning at SXSWedu got off to a great start with sessions about the biggest issues in education that opened up a dialogue between speakers and attendees.

The first talk I made it to was by Betsy DeVos and focused on the achievement gap in education and how we should go about solving it. DeVos’s main focus was on school choice and its efficacy in rectifying what many consider to be a broken system. In her own words, “It is not defensible that today we can predict educational outcomes by the zip code in which someone lives.” DeVos’s no-holds-barred approach to her talk resonated well with the audience and attendees, from teachers to policy advocates, who quickly took to the microphone to pose their own questions. I myself (nervously) asked about what I find to be one of the biggest barriers that low income schools often deal with, i.e. teacher retention. DeVos’s reply and her talk as a whole was incredibly inspiring to me and, based on the constant clicking of keyboards throughout the session, everyone else in the room.

After a quick break, I headed over to the Hilton to hear a panel discussion on post-graduation career readiness. What I learned was disconcerting as I, someone who is beginning the college search process, was told that many employers were struggling to find college graduates that were actually competent enough to work. The panel, consisting of Barnaby Dorfman, Kristin Hamilton, Tony Wagner and Zach First, talked about how the knowledge and facts students learn to pass their standardized tests and get into colleges aren’t useful in the workplace. Rather, skills like critical thinking and cooperation are often overlooked in the college curriculum even though they are really what makes a good employee. In Wagner’s words, “the world doesn’t care what you know, the world cares what you can do with what you know.”

As I walked out of that second talk, I stumbled on a sort of connection between DeVos’s talk that morning and the one I had just attended: there needs to be an education revolution. There needs to be more connection with entrepreneurs and schools so that schools can prepare their students for the world outside of academia. There should be more fluidity in the schooling options students have so they don’t remain trapped in failing schools. And, as was said in both sessions, schools need to graduate into the digital age and truly use technology for work, for learning and as a means to give access to all students to the best possible education experience.

This is what makes an event like SXSWedu so important. At a convention like this, innovators from all over the world can converge and spread ideas and share experiences that will be implemented into the today’s classrooms to make for an even better future. Thank you so much to Compass Learning for giving me the amazing opportunity to attend SXSWedu. Now I’m off to see even more of what the convention has to offer. Happy learning!

story by Sam Zern

Reinstating Creativity Via LEGOS: Achievement Gaps and Educational Equality

This year, several LBJ Liberator editors had the privilege of reporting on the events at SXSW Education, a conference that features up and coming leaders and entrepreneurs in the field of education. Below is a blogpost written for Compass Learning about a student journalist’s experience at SXSW Education. 

When I was in elementary school, my brother and I would spend hours playing with LEGOs. I would design houses and buildings while my brother would have mini-battles with LEGO men that lost their heads defending their castles. The colored blocks were strewed across our portion of the living room, ready to be picked up on a whim. But as we got older and my brother and I became more focused on school and studying, the LEGOs stayed in boxes, hidden from view.

I hadn’t played with LEGOs in years when I was handed a small package of four yellow blocks and two red blocks at the door of the SXSWEdu session Employers Need More Than Just a Test Score. Audience members were asked to use these blocks and their own creativity to build a duck. My duck had red wings and a stocky body while one of my fellow editors chose to use the red pieces to create a beak for his duck. Each small duck was unique, representing how each of our reasoning skills and way of thinking is different. Stephan Turnipseed, of LEGO Education and one of the panelists on this session, then projected a picture of the duck he designed and asked the question, “What if the only people who passed were those who made the same exact duck as me?” The message was clear–creativity is being stifled by our current system of testing in schools and we need to start teaching children how to think rather than how to take tests.

Turnipseed then went on to share that at five years old children get 100% on a test of creativity but as 25 year old adults, they only get 3% on the same scale. Creativity seems to disappear as people grow up, and move through a school system that places such a huge emphasis on testing. Over the past year I have taken the SAT, the ACT, multiple SAT subject tests, multiple AP tests and a surplus of tests in my various classes. I, like many students in grades K-12, recognize that this many tests is at some point regressive. How am I supposed to learn if my time is spent worrying about memorization and eliminating answer choices on a multiple choice test, rather than formulating my own thought and engaging others?

Linda Darling-Hammond, a panelist from the Stanford University Center for Opportunity Policy in Education said that we must develop a new framework for assessments in school. This new model must focus on taking a wider look on how information can shape students and develop creative thinking. She went on to say that “assessments should be models of good instruction and be used as exemplars of quality work and standards… they should be used for information, not punishment.”

Throughout the presentation I found myself fiddling with the LEGO pieces; changing my version of a duck into various other shapes and designs. Creativity is within each of us and sometimes it simply takes sitting down and designing something with LEGOs to nurture it. I agree with Darling-Hammond and Turnipseed that the magnitude to which we test students is wrong and we should instead focus on teaching students to be adaptable and able to learn. Maybe the best way to prepare kids for the so-called real world is to give them a handful of LEGOs, let them take the reigns, and watch what they can create.

story by Zia Lyle

Reading, Writing and Retweeting: Literacy Redefined

This year, several LBJ Liberator editors had the privilege of reporting on the events at SXSW Education, a conference that features up and coming leaders and entrepreneurs in the field of education. Below is a blogpost written for Compass Learning about a student journalist’s experience at SXSW Education.

In the digital age, defining literacy is a more difficult feat than it once was. Historically, literacy was defined as the ability to read words, and education was centered around reading, writing and arithmetic. But as the human race has developed and evolved, the way we learn has fundamentally changed. Liz Radzicki said that although this influx of technology and media has changed the way we think and interact, most modern educators fail to incorporate those changes into their curriculum.

Today, literacy requires us to consume, create and connect silmultaneously. Children growing up in the modern world are forced to engage all parts of their brain at once as they are constantly flooded with information from different types of media and technology. Because of this influx of information, kids between eight and 18 only spend 5% of their time viewing media with print. But in school, print is still the primary way that we teach and test students on the information they learn. By doing this, we are depriving students of the intellectual stimulus that they get outside of school, and thus teach them at a much slower pace than we could if we implemented modern education techniques.

Liz Radzicki said that in terms of the way we educate our children, we must look forward. Although a print based curriculum may be the easiest way to teach our kids, it is not the most effective nor the most efficient. She said we have to bridge this cultural gap between adults and children, and encourage everybody to become comfortable with technology. As we close that gap, we should begin to integrate different techniques into education, and start shying away from the traditional definition of literacy. Instead, we should define literacy to include consuming, creating and connecting, and encourage students to learn with their hands. If educators incorporate assignments such as photography projects, media analysis, and hands on experiments, we can turn student’s passions into a purpose by giving them the tools they need to apply their knowledge into the real world.

Although I am nostalgic for the days where every kid on the block thought that reading was the coolest form of entertainment, the truth is that today print functions in conjunction with other forms of media to create a comprehensive book of information. We need to embrace this new form of media and the technological resources we have and use it to our advantage. This is a step forward in the age of information and should be used to give children a top notch education.

story by Willow Higgins

Employers Need More Than Just a Test Score: Achievement Gaps and Educational Equality

This year, several LBJ Liberator editors had the privilege of reporting on the events at SXSW Education, a conference that features up and coming leaders and entrepreneurs in the field of education. Below is a blogpost written for Compass Learning about a student journalist’s experience at SXSW Education. 

Test anxiety is not a foreign circumstance for me. During my journey through AISD education, I have often found myself clammy and shaky in my desk, racking my brain to correctly decipher a multiple choice question. With each singular question, there are five possible answers, each loaded with keywords from the unit, and as a result all five answers look slightly correct, but not quite perfect. Beneath the prompt, in italics, lies the words “Choose the best answer”. But as I read and reread the question, none of my options really seem like the “best answer”. I yearn for a place on the scantron where I can articulate the answer in my own words, using my own thought process, but I have no such luck. So instead I fidget nervously, thinking about the high stakes of my test results, and bubble in the answer that looks the least wrong. Unsatisfied with my answers, I cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Lego education researcher Stephan Turnipseed and professor of Opportunity Policy in Education at Stanford University Linda Darling-Hammond understand that this is not the way that we should be educating our future generation. During their session at SXSWedu, they discussed the importance of creativity in today’s economy, and the true value of innovation and forward thinking in the job market. Turnipseed and Darling-Hammond articulated the notion that modern education and multiple choice assessment is beating the creativity out of the young mind. A study even showed that 100% of five year olds tested as creative geniuses, but at age 25, post-education, only 3% of people tested as creative geniuses on the same scale. By assessing the skills of our children with a multiple choice test, we are teaching the idea that only one answer is correct; there is only one way to think about things; learning is a one-sided process. Turnipseed and Darling-Hammond said that not only is this discouraging students to think outside of the box, but it also is an inaccurate determinant of their grades and college education.

Instead of quizzes, final exams, and even the SAT and ACT, Turnipseed and Darling-Hammond recommend that students should graduate from high school with a comprehensive portfolio that contains every project, extra-curricular, and educational conquest that the student has achieved over the years. This portfolio will allow college admission counselors and employers to view the student as an entire package rather than a number that is supposedly representative of their intelligence. The portfolio evaluation will encourage students to educate themselves beyond the material that will appear on their history AP or english final exam. It will allow students to study subjects that they are actually interested in and to track their progress and display the achievement of their goals in a comprehensive way. It will give students credit for extra-curricular activities and volunteer work, but most importantly, it will prevent students from being hindered by a faulty test score.

As a student who has always struggled with multiple choice testing, the words of Turnipseed and Darling-Hammond rang true to me. The current education system has fought to rob my creative mind, forcing me to think in black and white. But I refuse to let my creativity be confiscated. As a student, an education activist, and a creative person, I will stand behind Turnipseed and Darling-Hammond as we fight an accurate assessment method. At 25, I will not be part of the 97% that is no longer a creative genius. I will advance the message of Turnipseed and Darling-Hammond and fight to achieve the education system that America’s future generation deserves.

story by Willow Higgins

Just Monday Math at JMM

LASA Math Club students cheered on a teammate and listened to various mathematical talks at the Joint Mathematics Meeting (JMM), the largest professional mathematics conference in the nation, which was held in San Antonio this year. At the conference, according to LASA junior Jonathan Sadun, who attended with his mathematician father, mathematicians present their results to each other and talk about their interests, what they have been doing and get inspired by other peoples’ work.

“A lot of great results can come from looking at someone else’s seemingly unrelated work and seeing a connection, and realizing that you can mix fields and use results from their field in your field, and basically that seems to me to be a lot of how you get important mathematical results; you can’t just do all of math on your own,” Sadun said. “JMM allows mathematicians to mingle in that way and learn a bunch of things.”

The registration price for high school students was only $11, while it cost a few hundred dollars for professional mathematicians. LASA senior Sam Grayson said the affordability as well as the one-time opportunity nature of having the largest math conference in the nation held in Texas encouraged him to attend JMM.

“I got an idea for what it would be like to go into math,” Grayson said. “I realized that it’s a lot more broad than I thought. I thought of math as this specific topic, but really math is a diverse field.”

Other parts of JMM programming included semifinals of the “Who Wants To Be a Mathematician” (WWTBAM) contest, activities for younger students and presentations by undergraduate and graduate students, who can present to and get feedback from professional mathematicians. The LASA Math Club competed in a preliminary round of WWTBAM. After a couple more rounds, LASA junior DiCarlo advanced to semi-finals along with 10 other students nationally.

“In the preliminary level, you do the math problems, and then everyone just talks about the events: which ones are hard, and the strategies, all that kind of stuff; it’s fun to talk about the problems,” DiCarlo said. “It’s that element of explaining how you do every problem, all over.”

DiCarlo competed in a five-person round of semi-finals on stage at JMM in San Antonio on Monday, January 10. He won second place in semi-finals, earning $1,000 for himself and $1,000 for the school, but not performing well enough to advance to finals. After each multiple choice question, the contestants’ responses were projected, and host Mike Breen chose one participant who answered correctly to explain how they arrived at their answer.

“The problems got progressively harder as the semifinal went on,” DiCarlo said. “On stage, I had to stand at the podium to do the problems, and I stood next to the person who won the semifinal, Shyam. I tried to stay relaxed and not panic, and it worked pretty well. When Shyam explained in a joking manner how he got the Sperner’s Lemma problem, we all laughed and the tension eased. On the Riverwalk problem, casual talking helped ease the tension and helped me focus without the pressure. Those two events helped make it less stressful and more fun to be up there.”

A few members of the LASA Math Club attended JMM and took a break from attending talks to cheer DiCarlo on during the semifinals. Though at first discouraged by concepts she did not understand, LASA senior Ceci Gould said JMM made her more curious about math.

“I realized there’s a lot more about math I did not know,” Gould said. “You always think there’s this limited amount of math you can learn in the world, and then when you go to something like this math conference, where everyone is a grad student or beyond, you realize there’s so much stuff I don’t know at all. [JMM] opened my eyes to the field of math, and it made me more interested in taking math in the future because now I want to understand all this stuff that I saw.”

Anyone can register for JMM, but high school student attendees are unusual. Sadun said he thinks this is because of the inconvenience of traveling to a national conference for just the experience, since the math discussed is high level and not as accessible to high school students. He also said high school students might expect that not understanding the material means the experience would not be beneficial. Sadun said he disagrees with this belief and encourages other high school students to attend similar events if the opportunity arises.

“A lot of people can understand more math than they realize, especially by sticking to trying to go to more talks by undergraduate and graduate students, or the plenaries, which are supposed to be accessible to all mathematicians, so make sure to cover any definitions and such that are used in there, so they can understand some of the mathematics that’s going on there,” Sadun said. “[JMM] also gives people a sense for what mathematics is really about, that I think is missing from many of even the best math classes.”

story by Frankie Marchan

A Concern for Safety: Jews in Europe

After the shooting at Charlie Hebdo, there is a discussion to be had about the freedom of press and the right to be offended, but, if you’ll recall, there was a second crisis in France during those three days. Jews were held hostage in a Kosher deli in Paris and four of them were murdered by their hostage-taker for their Judaism. I have nothing new to say about freedom of press, but the murder of Jews because of their religion in Europe sets off alarm bells in my head.

As the accounts from Jews in Paris come rolling in, I read again and again that the Paris Jewish community, while horrified by the attack, was not surprised by it. And why should they be? In 2012, a French-Algerian murdered three Jewish children and a Rabbi. Another French national shot four Jewish people dead at a Jewish History Museum last May. A popular French comedian invented and spread what’s been described as an “inverted Nazi salute” and advocates for the death of Jews in gas chambers once again. His jokes were so inflammatory and hateful that the French government banned his comedy tour. Right after the Charlie attack, accusations started rolling in that Jews and Israel were secretly behind the attack. Leaders in American anti-Zionist organizations were blaming the Israeli intelligence agencies for committing the attack. In an MSNBC interview, a woman said her conversations with young French-Algerian Muslims in the suburbs of Paris taught her that some of them believe the attacks were carried out by magical shape-shifting Jews to undermine the relations between Muslim and non-Muslim French people.

The idea of magical Jews sounds crazy, and it should, but it also reminds me of the old Soviet-era and Nazi-era propaganda. More and more, Jews in France no longer feel safe being openly Jewish, or wearing Stars of David or Kippahs. Aggression toward openly practicing Jews is common; to be glared at, harassed or beat-up for wearing a Kippah is commonplace. The scars of the Nazi occupation, French xenophobia, and an economic downturn have created a toxic situation for France’s 500,000 Jewish citizens. Jews are leaving France for Israel and the United States by the thousands. Last year, 7,000 French Jews fled to Israel double the previous year’s figure. It’s been estimated that after these attacks, this years could see as many as 15,000 fleeing for Israel. France, the European nation with the highest number of Jewish inhabitants, is losing them at an insane rate.

When it comes to a rising tide of xenophobia and hatred of Jews, however, France is not alone. Xenophobia never entirely left German society. For the past decades, those Germans who never reconciled their hatred of Jews were made to conceal their anti semitism because of their country’s shame. The shame of Germany is what created its strong relationship with Israel and its intake of immigrants, the largest in Europe. That, however, can’t hold forever. Last October, during the Jewish High Holy days, Synagogues rebuilt after their destruction during Kristallnacht, the beginning of the Holocaust, came under armed guard after nearly weekly attacks. Jewish institutions are seeing an influx of anti-Semitic mail evoking old stereotypes, chants of “Jew! Jew! Cowardly pig!” and “Burn the Jews!” are being heard once again in Germany’s streets during protests against Israel. German and European citizens have been using Gaza and support of the Palestinians as a pretext to let old hatreds out for a stroll. Let me be clear, you can be critical of the State of Israel without being an anti-semite. No nation should be above criticism, especially one that is so important to so many people. That being said, when you go from being critical to questioning Israel’s right to exist, or if your protests turn to those hateful cries, your original reason for protesting against Israel becomes a lot more apparent.

For Jews in France and Germany, and the rest of the EU for that matter, this is absolutely terrifying. For Jews around the world, this evokes images of emaciated bodies in death camps, of pogroms, and of store-fronts with broken windows and a Star of David painted on the door. It is disturbing. It comes as no surprise then, the exodus from Europe. Unlike the 1930’s, there is a now place to run: Israel. This is the purpose and situation that Israel was created for; what Zionism fights for; a place to run to and be safe as a Jew. No nation can be trusted, it seems, to learn from its history. European anti-Semitism, which always bubbles beneath the surface, is being fed by an economic downturn and an influx of immigrants from one of the most anti-semitic regions in the world. This is not safe.

In a three thousand year history of persecution and death, the Jewish people have learned to never take their safety for granted and that the goodwill of their neighbors can be easily turned. French Prime minister, Manuel Valls, said in an interview before the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher deli attacks that “If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.” I would like to expand on that. If the Jews are made to flee Europe once again, Western civilization should be judged a failure. Je suis Charlie. Je suis Juif.

story by Alex Friedman

LASA Sees “Selma”

LASA students from AP U.S. History (APUSH) and Facing History and Ourselves classes went to see “Selma,” a movie about events in Selma, Alabama during the civil rights movement. After the movie, director of the LBJ Presidential Library Mark Updegrove spoke to the students about Lyndon B. Johnson’s (LBJ) portrayal in the film and LBJ’s involvement in the civil rights movement.

On Wednesday, Jan. 21, the field trip attendees viewed the movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. LASA junior Zoë Feder said that before the movie, she didn’t have much knowledge of the events in Selma.

“I am a little embarrassed to admit that, but all I had really retained over the years about MLK was just a more general picture and then the March on Washington,” Feder said. “It just serves as a reminder how incredibly cruel and inhumane anything other than equal rights is.”

LASA APUSH teacher Jason Flowers designed the field trip to see “Selma” after reading articles about the historical accuracy of the movie. Flowers decided to arrange for Updegrove to come speak to the students about LBJ’s portrayal in the movie after reading an article written by Updegrove. Flowers said having Updegrove come to speak after the students saw the movie made the experience more memorable.

“I was really proud of the questions the students asked,” Flowers said. “They were insightful and drove the discussion in a very productive direction and, of course, Mr. Updegrove told great stories about LBJ and the civil rights leaders depicted in the film. I hope [the students] were able to get a greater appreciation for the struggle undertaken by these civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King, John Lewis and all the others depicted in the film, in order to end segregation and regain the franchise, and also to more fully understand the part that Lyndon Johnson played in that struggle.”

LASA Facing History and Ourselves teacher Neil Loewenstern said Updegrove’s presentation clarified the history between LBJ and MLK. The movie showed an antagonistic relationship between the two when history, presented by Updegrove, showed they were actually working together. Loewenstern’s Facing History and Ourselves classes are doing a unit on discrimination in America.

“I hope students take away a better sense of the levels of discrimination minorities faced and struggled to overcome in this country,” Loewenstern said. “I hope students come to realize they have a place in that struggle, and that it is the actions of ordinary citizens like themselves that can create change. In terms of the presentation, I want them to understand there is a difference between a Hollywood movie representation of history and what that actual history is.”

Updegrove is the author of several books about LBJ’s presidency. Since the movie was released, Updegrove has been interviewed for several articles about his disagreement with the portrayal of LBJ in the film. During his presentation to the students after the movie, he discussed this fact with them. Though not happy with LBJ’s portrayal, Updegrove said he feels that “Selma” is a powerful movie that helps show the events of the civil rights movement.

“I’m glad that it illustrates, for young people in particular, how different this nation was just a half a century ago and how different it might still be if not for the leadership and sacrifices of so many who put themselves in harm’s way to create a better America,” Updegrove said. “I regret only that it doesn’t accurately capture President Johnson’s passion for civil rights and social justice and his productive partnership with Martin Luther King.”

The 2014-2015 school year is also the 50th anniversary of the passing of the the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The events leading to the passing of the Voting Rights Act were what made up “Selma.”

“I thought it was important to observe that in some significant way,” Flowers said. “On a more practical level, College Board often observes these anniversaries in the form of essay questions on the AP exam, so I thought this type of activity would cement this period in the students’ minds better than a normal class.”

Feder said the movie changed the way she views the civil rights movement and that it added to her knowledge of the events during this time. She said that the movie helped her personally connect more to the events.

“I think movies really help us feel more personally connected to stories and characters,” Feder said. “So [‘Selma’] helped me see just how much the issues spread. To gain the civil rights they deserved, the people who fought through it had to consider so many different angles such as publicity, politics and just any person they encountered.”

Updegrove said that he hopes his presentation was able to help students learn more about the history behind the civil rights movement and LBJ’s involvement.

“I hope students know that we had a president 50 years ago, Lyndon Johnson, who partnered with Martin Luther King in the cause of civil rights for all Americans,” Updegrove said. “They may have disagreed at times on timing and tactics, but they shared a common goal to make good on the words that are written in our Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson exemplify what we can do, despite our differences, if we work together.”

story by Hannah Marks

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