Archive | April, 2013

Test Taking Gets Even Worse

16 Apr

GST BOCES idea to “ensure the integrity” of Regents Exams

By Caitlin Connelly

Disappointment, frustration, and confusion filled the room of the two advanced English classes as their January Regents scores were revealed to them earlier this year. These students normally receive high 90s, yet several of the exams exhibited scores much lower.

Out of the 29 students that took the Comprehensive English Exam, 12 of the advanced students received below an 85, making them ineligible, according to the school’s policy, to take an advanced English class the following year.

“That can’t be my grade,” thought AP English student Emily Doppel as she viewed her grade for the first time. She knew several students from past classes who had easily scored near a 97, and couldn’t understand why she had not excelled just as they had.

These students must retake the exam in June, hoping for a different and much better outcome than before.

The Regents Examination is entirely skilled based, said AP English teacher Mrs. Lasko. It does not reflect knowledge of course content, nor reflect how well students perform in school. Lasko finds the exams to be more of an obstacle to the students’ learning, making them live up to the state’s goals, rather than ones the teachers would like to reach.

Although the Regents have been an obstacle to the students, their scores were not completely due to their own
performances. Regional scoring, the new method of grading the exams, has been called into question, too.

“At the September 2011 Board of Regents Meeting, a committee was formed and charged with developing a system to ensure the integrity of the State’s exams,” said Jackie Spencer, Executive Director of Instructional Support Services for GST BOCES.

This committee recommended several proposals regarding proctoring, scanning, and scoring the exams. Among those
proposals, teachers could no longer grade their own students’ exams. All districts this applied to had to find an alternative method of scoring, so 13 of the 21 districts in the GST BOCES region transitioned to “regional scoring” for their January 2013 Regents Examinations.

In regional scoring, the teachers that grade the exams are chosen by each district to meet and work with other districts at a specified location to score the exams together. Any English teacher or teacher familiar with the English curriculum (including special education) can grade the exams. However, teachers in special education may lack the familiarity with some books students chose to write about in their essays.

The English Department at Watkins Glen made the conclusion that major flaws existed with regional scoring in light of such unexpected grades from advanced students.

The Phase 4 English teacher, Ms. Muir, had misgivings about the grading system far before they viewed the scores. The grading setting was too loud with too many representatives of different districts together at once. Although there was a man advising the graders, he knew no more than the scorers, and was only there because the state requested a supervisor to be there and nobody else had offered. Overall, the system was unprofessional and poorly run, said Ms. Muir.

The English teachers reviewed the exams after they had been graded and found that even essays that displayed advanced writing skills got an average score (4 out of a possible 6). Even when all aspects of the tasks for the essay were covered, a student had received a 2. It was clear that the exams needed to be checked again.

An excerpt from one of WGHS's essays that was scored as a 2 out of 6.
An excerpt from a WGHS student essay that was scored as a 2 out of 6 this January.
The example provided in the Comprehensive English Rating Guide for a level 2 essay.
An excerpt from the example provided in the Comprehensive English Rating Guide for a level 2 essay.

The exams were sent to Linda Perry, the Supervisor of Instructional Support Services for GST BOCES. Perry had taught English for 12 years before becoming a regional trainer, leading scoring training for Grades 3-8 State Exams and Regents Exams.

Perry began with scoring a practice set of essays provided by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and after she graded them accurately, began to score the Watkins Glen students’ exams. She left the original scores in a sealed envelope as she graded them.

“Once I was done, I got the sealed scores from Jackie Spencer and we compared my ratings to those given at the regional scoring site. We were pleased with the consistency,” said Perry.
Because of the “consistent” scores found with Perry’s informal review, the Regents exams were not sent to be formally re-graded. Many of the juniors will be taking the exam again in June to qualify to take AP or ACE English their senior year.

The reliability of regional scoring is still questionable for future Regents Exams, but no major changes are being made that will affect the accuracy of this grading system. Unfortunately for future Regents test-takers, there’s no way to predict the trustworthiness of this system. However, BOCES seems to believe the system is flawless.

Student Letters Lead to Albany Trip

16 Apr

Everyone who has had Mr. Durfee as a humanities teacher knows about his infamous debate unit. Debating on topics ranging from the death penalty to abortion, the students complete their research and approach the podium with their opening statements. One part of the students’ research is to find a person who is particularly involved with their topic and write them a letter. Nate Swarthout, one of Mr. Durfee’s lucky freshmen debaters, wrote a stimulating letter to Andrea Miller and was shocked at the response.

Shortly after the debate letters were sent out Nate received a letter at his home. The letter was labeled with a few simple words that sparked some mixed feelings with his father, Abortion Clinic. After explaining to his dad about his debate unit in school, Swarthout eagerly tore into the letter. He had not expected a letter that answered his.

After Swarthout carefully explained the letter to his concerned dad, his father could then share his excitement about his son’s great news and be proud of the steps his son has taken. New doors have been opened for the students of Watkins Glen High School.

Casey wrote him back addressing his debate topic—a woman’s choice to abortion. When Casey first receive Swarthout letter he was just as surprised as Swarthout was to receive one back.

“I have the greatest admiration for all of you for encouraging debate, on this and any other issue,” said Casey. “And this is why I am willing to do everything I can to support his and others efforts.”

In effort to further encourage the young man’s debate efforts he informed the students of an exciting opportunity. Casey invited Swarthout and a few of his class mates to get on a bus in Binghamton and join Casey in Albany. A lobby day will take place Albany on May 21ST. The day will begin after a brief breakfast. The workshop that takes place after breakfast will inform the folks how to citizen lobby, then each person will go to their arranged meeting with their senator.

Casey feels very strongly about the issue that he lobbies for. Much like Swarthout, Casey’s interest in politics sparked when he was young. Based on his parents’ strong involvement in civil rights moments in the south, Casey believes that teenagers should find ways to have their young voices be heard in politics.

“I strongly, strongly, strongly believe that young people must grapple with the great issues that confront our country in open, honest, and civil debate among themselves and in their communities,” Casey declares.

The debate students of Mr. Durfee’s class could not be more excited about the opportunity that was presented to them. Katherine Meehan, who debated against Swarthout, said she could not wait to head to Albany to watch their debate issue in action. Even though Meehan’s team lost, by one devastating point, she and her partner are eagerly awaiting their chance to go to the lobby day with Casey. Being totally against abortion, Meehan waits her time to fire questions at Casey and his prochoice team.
“I’m actually really excited because I did a lot of work on my debate,” Meehan says, “and I want to know why the people at Albany think Abortion is good.”

By: Darby Cady

WGHS Host International Night

16 Apr

By Kalea J. and Alexis G.

On March 13, 2013, the Model UN students at Watkins Glen High School put on International Night. To hear some sound clips and interviews about what went on, click on this link.

Nickel’s Pit BBQ: There’s a New Guy in Town

16 Apr

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         Famous for its natural beauty, thriving wineries, and racing background that spans from the 1940’s to present day, Watkins Glen bustles with tourists from spring to early fall. The popularity we receive is almost like a welcome-mat for small businesses.

                In 1990, Doug Thayer erected their company called “Rooster Fish Brewing.”  It began with a pub known as the Wildflower Café right downtown on Franklin St. Because Watkins is such a tourist town, he saw a flow of satisfied customers and began seeing huge success in numbers. Soon added to his company was the Crooked Rooster Brewpub. This restaurant provided exceptional dining and showcased his home-brewed ales with totally organic ingredients and water straight from Seneca Lake.

                Nicholas Thayer, Doug’s son, recently returned to the area and to his father’s business with a new proposition—BBQ. In a matter of a few months, Nickel’s Pit BBQ was created and the two began to prepare for opening for the 2013 tourist season.

                Currently, Nickel’s is only open on Saturdays starting from noon and then closing when they sell out (usually around 9 o’clock). The following statement is found on their website: “We serve up the area’s best BBQ along with award-winning craft ales, friendly and fast service, live music, and other various all-around awesomeness.”

                I wanted to see if Nickel’s lives up to the expectations they set.  

    

It’s a sunny Saturday when arriving to the restaurant. At around 2:00 pm, the typical lunch rush has passed and it’s becoming a bit quiet. Upon entering, I was greeted by a friendly hostess. She asked me if I had ever been here before and I informed her that I had not. She then handed me a laminated printout of their menu and explained that I should decide what I would like to order first, pay, and then choose a seat. I realized the only flaw with this is that there was no seating for that decision-making time period. You just had to simply stand there. It wasn’t such a problem for me, a one person party, but for large groups it might get crowded.

I decided to order a brisket burger with a side of macaroni salad and a soda. It totaled out to around $13. After I paid, I received my drink and a number to set on my table so that the waitresses could find me. I sat at a table in the center of the restaurant – behind me was the bar, in front of me I could see the brewery through an array of glass windows, and to my side was the man preparing my food. I was surprised by the open grill/kitchen. If I had desired to do so, I could have watched my food being cooked. I, personally, thought this was a neat attribute.

While waiting for my food, I took note of the chill atmosphere this restaurant provided. It felt as if I were hanging out in someone’s garage. The walls were brick, the ceiling black, and the floors stone. On the walls were rusty license plates and road signs. Two worn, vintage motorcycles were displayed up high and some alternative rock was playing at a gentle volume in the background. There was outdoor seating in front of what seemed to be a glass garage door. I was soon informed that once the weather warms up, the door will open. The thought of an open restaurant would be perfect for summer.

It took a short 5 minutes for my food to be served. The waitress was very friendly, but never mentioned her name. I found this slightly odd because in most restaurants it’s common courtesy for waiters to tell you their name.  I looked at what was presented to me and for a lack of words, it was huge. The burger was loaded with meat, lettuce, onions, and a special barbeque sauce. The macaroni salad was overflowing in the bowl it was given to me in. It was different in that rotini noodles were used in its making. I thought this was a neat touch. After taking a few bites of my burger, I soon realized that it was really messy. The paper towel rolls on the table came in handy. It was delicious, in simplest terms. Everything about the burger was perfect. The macaroni salad tasted a little dull, but with some additional salt and pepper tasted much better.

While eating, the waitress returned a few times to ask how I liked the food and to refill my soda. She was spot on and even took my plate when I was done. I sat a few more minutes after finishing and reflected on my experience. It was awesome; a perfect combination of a great atmosphere and finger-lickin’ good food. I’m looking forward to when they extend their hours of operation – I know I’m definitely coming back.

Dying to be Happy

15 Apr

By Abigail Rundle

In the past few months, you might have heard of a Sources of Strength group meeting over the loud speaker or from a friend. Sources of Strength is a student driven club that wants to spread awareness about anti-bullying and suicide by peer leadership. The peer leaders are there for students to go to instead of an adult. Often students don’t realize that teachers are open to talk when you are feeling sad or depressed. This group of peers aims to show students and/or anyone who struggles with depression or sadness that there are people in the community who will listen.

Mrs. Swinnerton, health teacher at WGHS, says that the group uses the idea of peer leaders to help kids open up.

“Students think it is uncool to focus on your well-being when it is most important,” said Swinnerton.

The group wants to show others how important it is to talk about thoughts of suicide.

“I feel motivated to help when suicide is brought up by an individual.”

Recent studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 4,600 lives are lost each year due to suicide: 45% from firearm, 40% from suffocation, and 8% from poison. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24. A shocking 157,000 youth receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries each year across the U.S.

There is also an increased risk of suicide in people who self-harm to the extent that self-harm is found in 40%-60% of suicides. However, generalizing self-harmers to be suicidal, emo, or attention-seeking is, in the majority of cases, inaccurate. People who self-harm are not usually seeking to end their own life; it has been suggested instead that they are using self-harm as a coping mechanism to relieve emotional pain or discomfort or as an attempt to communicate distress.

Self-harm and/or suicide can also be caused by relationships with friends or family, depression, social and emotional changes, body issues, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual abuse, or having trouble “fitting in.”

Sam Gill, junior and member of Sources of Strength, said she wants to help people that think that there’s no better way out or another way to deal with their problem.

“I joined SOS because I felt like if I needed to help someone or spread the word that there are people in the school that can help you, that I would do it,” said Gill.

The risk of suicide is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. Research over the last several decades has uncovered a wealth of information on the causes of suicide and on prevention strategies. Additionally, CDC is working to monitor the problem and develop programs to prevent youth suicide.

Suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem. It can be prevented by talking with others and getting the help you need. Suicide is not something commonly discussed, but the more people do talk about it, the more lives that can be saved. It’s your turn to save a life.

The following signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

If you or someone you know has portrayed any of these signs, please talk to a member of the Sources of Strength club, a teacher, or call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Whats All The Racket About?

15 Apr

ImageThe Varsity Tennis team has been cut for the spring 2013 season. Only five students signed up to play tennis this year, which was not enough to make up a full team. The tennis team has had four different coaches in the past four years. Seniors Katrina Swarthout and Braeden Fitch both agreed that having so many different coaches scared prospective players from signing up because they were scared of having a bad coach.

 Swarthout started playing her freshman year and this would have been her fourth year. She played a different position every year but never singles. She signed up for this sport because she wanted to have something to do after school but did not want to run in track.

 Fitch was in the same predicament. For Fitch this would have been his fourth year on a team but he also took lessons outside of school because he is so dedicated to the sport. He has previously played first and second singles. He was devastated to learn that there would be no team this year because he really wanted to play in his senior year.

 Mr. Gregory, athletic director, and Mr. Phillips, superintendent, agreed that it is unfortunate that the kids who did sign up would be unable to play however the elimination of the team had some benefits. Mr. Gregory could not justify spending money on transportation and other expenses for such a small amount of players. Mr. Phillips says that it relieved a lot of stress from having to make a budget for a team.

 If the tennis team had not been cut then it would have been the modified track team. However, with the money that the school was able to save Watkins was able to fund the modified track team. Mr. Phillips said that “the decision was based on student interest”. This is also not the first time that a team has had to be bumped it happened with the 2011 Varsity Football team.

 The football team had to forfeit the last few games because too many players had gotten injured and there were not enough people to make up a team.

It is unclear at this point if there will be a team next year or not. “The budget is the biggest factor when making this decision” says Phillips.

Armed Guards: A Practical Solution or Massive Mistake

15 Apr

Since the terrible events that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a fairly new debate has caught fire; armed guards in schools. Millions of people have joined the debate on both sides, and no conclusion has been yet reached. Many people believe that armed guards will make schools become to hostile and cold. Armed guards will only lead to trouble and they will interfere with the children’s ability to learn. Students will not be allowed to have the childhood that parents have had because of the presence of military style weapons.
“Guns have no place in public schools. The recent incident at Highland High School where the resource officer’s gun accidentally went off could have been tragic. It was terrifying for the school community,” said Ms. Fitz.
Others think that armed guards in schools will only lead to safer schools and a reduction in mass shootings in schools. They believe that putting a trained professional in a school to help maintain security and provide support to staff and students alike can only benefit the school atmosphere.
About one week after the shooting in Sandy Hook, the NRA released its first statement, and in that statement was a plan for armed guards in schools across America. Many people and organizations immediately released statements that these measures were crazy, and that armed guards were in no way the answer to anyone’s problems, but is the idea really that farfetched?
In Watkins Glen Central School, along with almost one third of the schools in America, guards, often in the form of local police officers, who come into the school and provide support and security to the school. These men and women in no way interfere with the actions of the students and teachers, unless of course a threat is posed.
Another proposal that has seen large support is allowing the teachers and staff overall to carry concealed weapons, only with the correct certification and paperwork of course. In some states legislation has already been passed allowing teachers to concealed carry in school, and teachers are taking full advantage. Thousands of teachers have been purchasing firearms and attending training for said weapons.
Although this sounds like a reasonable and sometimes even perfect proposal to many people, there is a large amount of opposition to the idea as well. People are saying that arming teachers will only lead to more violence, and armed teachers cannot be the answer because they aren’t real police officers and they don’t know what it’s like to be in a firefight. They also say that having armed teachers proposes a direct security threat to the students and other staff members.
The argument on both sides provide very good points and no easy decision will be made as time passes on. Most likely, the decision will be left up to the local governments, and no federal or state level legislation will be passed.
When push comes to shove, the question the people of the United States must look around and ask each other is whether or not the safety of their children is worth a very minimal raise in taxes to fund the pay for the officer. Armed guards or police officers in school may not be able to prevent all violence in schools, but in no way can the presence of a trained professional hurt.