Flash Features: news and student achievements

Students volunteer in AP language classes as assistant teachers

Many PHS students taking French and Spanish finish all courses offered for their language by senior year, and although some may decide to take a course at Princeton University while others stop studying the language altogether, Katie Vasquez ’16 decided to go with a third option—an independent study.

Vasquez studied Spanish at PHS during her freshman, sophomore, and junior years. “Last year, I was finishing my classes at PHS, and I didn’t have time in my schedule to go to the university, so I decided to create an independent study,” she said. “I went to ask [Spanish teacher Luis] Lavado to be my advisor and he asked me to teach with him [as an assistant] instead.”

Katie Vasquez '16 is a student teacher in Luis Lavado's AP Spanish class. photo: Annie Sullivan-Crowley

Katie Vasquez ’16 is a student teacher in Luis Lavado’s AP Spanish class. photo: Annie Sullivan-Crowley

Instead of going along with their original plan to read and analyze books in Spanish, Vasquez and another Spanish student, Sarah Galvis ’16, have chosen to work with Lavado and assist him in his two periods of AP Spanish. “We take attendance, if he has to leave, we take over the lesson for a little bit, and we teach 30-minute classes [occasionally],” Galvis said. “The [assistant] teacher position is really interesting. You get to help the kids in a way a teacher couldn’t.”

Student teachers can also offer a unique perspective that teachers can’t. “We know what worked for us and what didn’t work for us. When students today [complain about] work, we can tell them that it seems like busy work but it really [helped] us get fives,” Galvis said.

According to Vasquez, AP students can especially benefit from the instruction of a student teacher because they have fresh experience with the AP course load and test. “It works particularly well at the AP level because the students have a strong grasp on grammar and vocabulary, and we are just teaching them how to succeed [on] the AP,” she said.

Galvis and Vasquez are only the second and third students to take advantage of the student teacher program, as one French student, Auriane Benabou ’16, participated last year. However, language teachers are looking for more students to take part in this program. “Lavado and the language supervisor are really excited with this idea. They want to see if there are more kids interested in it because there are so many kids that excel in languages,” Galvis said.

Students who have an interest in becoming an assistant teacher next year must request an independent study form from the guidance office, and also have proficient knowledge in the language they would like to help teach. “The most important part is finding a faculty advisor. You have to find someone who wants you to be their TA. If you have some sort of relationship or bond with them, that will help a lot. You have to show that you are capable of whatever it is you are teaching,” Vasquez said.


Businessman and foundation create scholarship fund to send students to college debt-free

Scott Sipprelle, a Princeton-based venture capitalist, has joined forces with Bob Carr of the Give Something Back Foundation to help send ten Princeton High School students from the classes of 2019 and 2020 to college. Together, Sipprelle and Carr have raised $200,000 to send the students through college free of any debt.graphic: Aileen Wugraphic: Aileen Wu

About 12 percent of the 3,500 students in the Princeton Public Schools System come from low-income families and qualify for free or reduced lunches. GSBF will work with school teachers, administrators, counselors, and community leaders to identify candidates for the scholarship from ninth grade who fall into this socio-economic category, specifically those who qualify for Federal Pell Grants. Students selected to participate in this program have to maintain a GPA of 3.0, take accelerated classes, and demonstrate good responsibility skills. Additionally, they have to work closely with GSBF mentors who will provide the strong framework needed to ensure college success.


“One of the problems with philanthropy today is that donors are often too disconnected from the impact of their giving,” Sipprelle said. “But with the GSBF you have an opportunity to make a real connection with the recipients of your donation, making that gift more tangible.”

Unlike many philanthropic endeavors, this project will involve close connections among donors, scholarship recipients, and their mentors. Donors will be kept up to date on students’ progress and success. This program will pay all tuition, fees, as well as room and board costs for all participants that are not covered by other financial aid.

Carr started GSBF in 2003 to provide college scholarships to high school students in Illinois, later extending the program to Delaware and New Jersey. In addition to Princeton High School, GSBF is working with Rowan University, The College of New Jersey, and Montclair State University.


Student Liaisons work with Board of Education to initiate no-homework breaks

At its September 29 meeting, the Board of Education passed a resolution to ban homework assignments over certain breaks and holidays throughout the school year. To allow for truly homework-free breaks, major tests and projects will not be due in the days following the students’ return. Thanksgiving, winter, and spring break will all be homework-free in the 2015-2016 school year. In addition, the Board designated one weekend per semester as homework-free, with specific dates to be decided throughout the year.

The Board decided to pass this resolution after PHS Student Liaisons Madi Norman ’16 and Nick Pibl ’16 presented them with an issue many high schoolers face: high workload, lack of sleep, and as a result, compromised physical and emotional wellness. “Nick and I are concerned by the unforgiving intensity of student life, and we know that intellectual rigor doesn’t need to feel like this,” Norman said at the September meeting.

Norman and Pibl also presented the board with student testimonies. “Surveys we conducted [and results] were shared with the Board of Education and used to show the consensus among students that the amount of homework given leads to unhealthy lifestyles,” Pibl said.

Graphic: Xavier SimonelliGraphic: Xavier Simonelli

Students expressed frustration that their workload forced them to compromise other aspects of their lives. “From last year to this year, I have had to stop exercising and cut down on sleep to accommodate for all the work I am receiving,” wrote one student. “I don’t sleep, I don’t eat. It’s impossible to focus on my music,” wrote another.

According to Superintendent Steve Cochrane, a secondary purpose of the resolution is to allow students to spend more time on their non-academic pursuits. “[No-homework breaks] will also be to offer [students] opportunities to read for pleasure, explore topics about which they might be passionate, spend time with family, [and] enjoy activities outside,” he wrote in a letter to the PPS community.

Leslie Liu ’18 plans to use her no-homework breaks to unwind and participate in activities she wouldn’t have had time for otherwise. “I will just relax and … probably also go out and get some books that I have been wanting to read,” she said.

Others will use the extra time to sleep and catch up on schoolwork. “I am really going to need these homework-less [breaks] in order to recover, sleep-wise, from the unending barrage of homework that follows tiring school days,” Thomas Martin ’17 said.

Cochrane hopes that the establishment of no-homework weekends will lead to other PPS initiatives designed to enhance student’s lives. “I believe that the homework-free schedule is a great step in advancing the well-being of students, teachers, and families,” he wrote. “I think it is important to take some action now that draws attention to the topic and that signals to all of us that meaningful changes are coming.”

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