A frequent topic for both students and educators is the significance and purpose of one's time in school and the impact education will have later on in life. Teachers often remind us of the benefits of a well-rounded education and how no learning opportunity should be wasted. While the benefits of learning subjects that may or may not be used in one's future career varies from student to student, the impacts of subverting the learning process for the sake of ease have significant consequences. Unfortunately, students might find themselves tempted to cheat as a result of not seeing the value in their education, and the rate at which students cheat on average around the country can be disheartening.
Academic dishonesty can occur when students fail to see inherent value in their educational process and when students have a less sophisticated or developed moral compass. The good news is that schools can foster this moral development and encourage intrinsic motivation every single day, and this happens here at Episcopal.
Scholars Christopher Qualls, Lafe Figgars and Danette Gibbs found that as many as eight in ten college students self-report cheating, according to their paper in The College Student Journal. Liora Schmelkin, a professor at Hofstra University, has conducted research indicating that around seventy percent of high school students cheat. Most shocking of all these statistics comes from a professor of medicine at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. Taradi found through numerous surveys that a whopping ninety-seven percent of those medical students surveyed have cheated during medical school. Students who will go on to hold people's lives in their hands and even those educated at the most selective universities can shortchange their education. Further, the negative impacts of people in important careers who cut corners don't start and stop with those in the medical field.
Similarly, business schools are sometimes plagued by a lack of academic integrity. Assistant professor of business at William Woods University, Stephen Forsha, has not only found that business schools have high rates of academically dishonest students but also a set of students who tolerate academic dishonesty more than others at different institutions. In recent years, insider trading scandals have shaken the business world and have been the catalyst for large amounts of public discourse on corruption from major companies. These scandals have also cost innocent people millions and resulted in huge numbers of lost jobs. Many corrupt corporate executives behind these scandals attended prestigious undergraduate and graduate schools with a focus in business. Many have another thing in common that makes academic dishonesty a very important issue.
The biggest reason students are academically dishonest is that they lack fully-developed moral development. Moral development is a psychological theory founded by late psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, which quantifies the levels of moral reasoning that guide a person’s actions. The lower levels of moral reasoning relate to self-interest and are (supposed to be) mostly exhibited by younger children. The intermediate level has to do with social conformity, and most teens function at this level (ideally). Fully functioning, well-developed adults are supposed to function at the highest level, which has to do with principles and ethics that do not sway in the face of societal pressure. Kohlberg’s theory was made with the assumption that most people function at a level of moral development that is appropriate for their age, but in real life this isn’t always true. This is where the problem with academic dishonesty becomes obvious. It has been found by the previously mentioned Stephen Forsha that business students display levels of moral development commonly displayed by young children and make arguments relating to ethics that are directly related to their own self-interest. Putting people with the same amount of moral development as children in positions of massive power and wealth is bound to lead to all sorts of problems, and of course it has with all of the previously mentioned examples of business scandals.
But, this does not have to be reality. Lynn Aaron and Catherine Roche, two academics published in the Journal of Educational Technology Systems, have found that academic dishonesty rates have risen tremendously from 1988 to 2008. This coincides with schools becoming more focused on performance and less focused on ensuring students are good citizens and human beings. Around 1988, schools stopped making character education mandatory, and academic dishonesty rates rose as a result. If the world wants to make sure students value being a good person and approach their lives with the same ethical attitudes across all of their endeavors, then schools need to return to focus on having conversations about ethics.
When all my research was said and done, I reflected on my time at Episcopal and realized several things. The first was about how lucky I was to be a member of the Episcopal community, and how much our school truly cared about its community. This included the honor code and our school’s mission to make students become good people who go on to lead purposeful lives. It made me feel lucky to be so involved in a true preparatory school: one that is not only concerned with producing good students and workers but good people as well. Episcopal has achieved this goal in every avenue I’ve witnessed. This truly hit me when members of the honor council at Washington and Lee University came to discuss our school’s honor system with us, and our entire discussion group revolved around trying to make our school’s system of integrity better. It became clear that we have succeeded in our mission and that Episcopal helps encourage students who are willing to speak about things they thought were wrong and try to make what they were passionate about better.
Ben Levine is a senior at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, and has attended the school since the 4th grade. He was inspired to join Thesis for the opportunity to hone his writing and speaking skills, and also to share something that excites him with other people. Outside of school, he has been an active member of a year round swim team and was runner up at the state meet his junior year of high school.
“You’re a Facebook famous puppy,” my family friend said in an excited, smiling tone as she reached out to pet my dog. This was the first reaction when Bailey walked in to a meeting I was attending.
My dad’s Facebook profile overflows with pictures of a short, long haired and tan dog with white spots and the fluffiest white tail you can imagine. Bailey, our flood-rescue dog, has the face of a chihuahua and the body of a papillon. If you examined my dad’s profile page even a little, it would be hard to believe Bailey wasn’t the only member of the Solomon family. There is no way to really know our family without knowing Bailey. Along with pictures of her sitting on his office chair or posing with pumpkins for fall, you can find pictures of her visiting with her fans: people who love to be visited by this happy pup and request her presence.
Aside from her modeling “career,” Bailey and my dad, Jim Solomon, are a registered therapy dog team through Tiger HATS LSU. In the midst of the Louisiana floods of 2016, this lost dog followed my dad through the streets near a home he was helping to fix. After searching for her home and not having any success, he soon adopted her, and began to realize how even-tempered she was. Having just moved from Newtown, CT, Jim had experienced therapy dogs himself after the Sandy Hook tragedy, and Bailey reminded him of the positive impact they had on him. He wanted to find a way to share her sweetness with others.
In “The Effect of Therapy Dogs on Children in a Learning Environment,” Kimberly Ann Scheckler defines a therapy dog as “a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, people with learning difficulties, and stressful situations, such as disaster areas.” These dogs are trained and evaluated through many organizations such as Love on a Leash, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, and The Delta Society Pet Partners. Screening and examining of the owner/handler is also performed through these individual groups.
Therapy dogs are used for animal assisted therapy, which means they comfort anyone through petting or just viewing, and they have been found to have many positive benefits. Just a few of these benefits are outlined by Christine Cochran of Roxy Therapy Dogs. In just “15 minutes of petting a dog: blood pressure drops 10%; serotonin rises (relaxation); cortisol decreases (bad mood); dopamine increases (depression fighting); and anxiety is reduced.” There are many physical benefits to visiting with a therapy dog in a short amount of time. Adolescents, and those who parent or work with them, are no strangers to the challenges that can pop up during this critical time in our development. Stress and pressure is inevitable. But, sometimes, more serious obstacles like depression and anxiety can affect an adolescents’ schooling experience.
Helping with obstacles such as these, dogs can also provide a sense of belonging, as Mary Louise O’Brien states in her article “Pets as Counselors.” She notices that dogs will “love you (unconditionally) just the way you are.” There is no need to impress a dog or to feel judged because they have no way to process it. It also becomes easy to trust them, as they are incapable of repeating your information.
To utilize the positive effects of therapy dogs, Tiger HATS facilitates a program in the Baton Rouge community. The organization holds classes to allow dog owners and their pets to learn more about becoming a team through the organization Pet Partners International. The duo must then pass a series of exams to become certified and gain an insurance coverage policy. After this, the teams will be sent out to locations around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to visit locations and bring joy to difficult situations. One of Bailey’s most visited places is the Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, where she gets to cheer up patients who are recovering or families of loved ones in a state of emergency.
After seeing the impact the two made on others, I decided to become a registered therapy dog team with Bailey. I now get to take her to the Parker House, a “Therapeutic Group Home in Louisiana for children ages 3-13 who… have been diagnosed with a severe behavioral disorder or a mental illness,” according to Volunteers of America. I get to introduce her to kids who seek comfort and share funny stories about her to gift them with a moment of peace in the midst of their chaos. In just the two visits I’ve had at the house, I’ve seen the difference therapy dogs make in these children’s lives. Their eyes light up, and they become ecstatic when they get to walk or hug her. Bailey becomes their own piece of joy in the moment, and they become disappointed when she has to leave, but they hold on to the hope that they’ll see her, along with the other dogs who visit, again the next month.
Audrey Hendler, the founder of a therapy dog program in New York City, A Fair Shake for Youth, visits students alongside dogs to teach them about empathy. She found that the middle schoolers she reached out to gained empathy and confidence as they realized the dogs were relating and listening to them. She also noticed that “Having an adult tell them they’ll be back next week and then showing up is a big deal to these kids… [because] adults aren’t always a consistent part of their life.” Not only does this example show the joy dogs can bring, but it can relate to the sense of trust the kids at the Parker House begin to experience.
I began to realize that if registered therapy dogs are this beneficial, why don’t we see them utilized more often and in different environments? I think they should become a new norm. I’d like to see them more often roaming hallways in schools or even in other environments that may cause stress, such as an airport or a mall. When looking at schools, it’s important that these places of education are open to trying out new things, and Episcopal has proven this is possible. Bailey has made appearances here at Episcopal for educational purposes and has been welcomed happily by the counseling staff and administration. With clear benefits and insurance fighting against potential drawbacks, there is little to no room left to argue against the implementation of therapy dogs. Just a moment of petting these sweet creatures can bring a great amount of relief, and I’d love to share that with others, as I know the feeling myself.
This idea of therapy dogs being used in schools were first introduced to me after the Sandy Hook tragedy when they helped me and my classmates in the search for comfort. To learn more about this experience that lead to my research, click here.
Ashley Solomon has been a student at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge since her sophomore year and is an Honors Diploma candidate. In addition to her involvement in the Thesis program, she participates in cross country, Mock Trial, and is the community service coordinator for the National Honors Society. Her thesis explores the importance of mental health in adolescents and the effects of implementing therapy dogs in a school setting.
Abby is six and dressed head to toe in pink with light-up glitter Sketchers, still fresh with shoe store fragrance, on her feet for her first day of first grade. Finally, she is allowed to walk herself to the bathroom and eat lunch with the big kids in the cafeteria. In class, Abby’s teacher hands each student two primary colored folders: either blue, yellow, or red. The primary colors are completely separate and unique; they cannot be blended with anything to make the others. This idea of separation also carries into the materials inside the two folders. The first folder is for math, learning how to handle the combination of numbers, and the second is for English, the first steps towards understanding words, then sentences, and then whole stories and chapter books.
This separation of disciplines from a very young age is not only common but relatively standard in schools across the country. Clearly this system works: children go in, learn one subject, learn another, go home, read, do a few math problems, and repeat the next day. However, this system leaves little room for the messiness of learning, for the neon pinks and lime greens, for the experiences that cannot be neatly cataloged but shape the course of children’s development.
Luckily, our Lower School program at Episcopal celebrates this “messiness of learning.” You need not look too far to see Pre-K tending to their gardens while learning about butterfly migration to Mexico, all while dancing in rain puddles and creating imaginary worlds and vivid stories with their friends. This sort of holistic approach to learning comes naturally to the smallest of learners and should be embraced as they continue to grow and develop.
At home, this messiness manifests when Abby is baking apple pie with her grandmother, throwing a ball with her little sister, practicing the piano, coloring on the walls of her room, or digging for dinosaur bones in her backyard. Abby is learning and her brain is following suit.
These sorts of experiences, at home or at school, show the world functioning in interdisciplinary ways. When you bake you have to keep sight of a long term goal while following sometimes tedious instructions and understanding the chemistry of mixed ingredients. When you throw a ball you have to think about the angle of your arm so it does not fly straight into the ground, and when you play the piano you have to be able to read the music and hit the right notes simultaneously. Just as they are in life, subjects in school are innately connected and these connections between different academic disciplines in everyday life make the idea of interdisciplinary learning in the classroom seem less daunting or radical.
Here at Episcopal, students like Abby practice this interdisciplinary style of thought everyday. Through project based learning, students are exposed to real world situations and are asked to engage with their environments. On the Coach Dupe trail, in the art room, and while programming robots: Episcopal encourages students to explore new ideas that wind like rabbit holes into lands of imagination.
Specifically, music and math are two subjects that, when purposefully connected, fit this philosophy quite nicely. As shown in an experiment by Johannes Sarnthein, listening to music for ten minutes can greatly increase brain activation in the prefrontal cortex, which is located at the very front of the brain. The cortex houses what are called executive functioning skills, which include spatial temporal reasoning, planning, decision making, motivation, and goal setting. Students who excel in math are typically adept in processes like pattern recognition, which not only relies on executive functioning skills, but is also present in music comprehension.
This innate connection is an example of the reinforcement of skills in education. The way the brain works on a basic level is that when we learn something and have it reinforced in some way, it will be processed to form neural pathways within the brain. All of these pathways add up to create a network of constantly growing and changing knowledge.
As stated in "The Optimum Context for Learning; Drawing on Neuroscience to Inform Best Practice in the Classroom" by Bettina Hohnen and Tara Murphy, “an immature brain is not necessarily one with fewer neurons; rather, it is one with fewer connections between neurons.” Even though our brains stop growing after the age of five, according to Daniel Pink, as we grow the number of connections in our brains dwarfs the number of neurons one million times over. Just as everyone eventually stops getting taller without having experienced everything or knowing everything there is to know, our brains stop getting bigger without ceasing to learn and further develop.
For current parents, a dramatic shift in the education system during your child’s time in school is unlikely, but there are ways to nurture the messiness of learning at home to augment the more traditional practices of the classroom. The next time you’re baking a cake together or rearranging the furniture in the living room, help your child see the many different academic disciplines that are intersecting. Encouraging kids to try new activities and experience new things, particularly ones that might be scary or uncomfortable at first, can help impart in kids a drive and love of learning that is applicable all through school and will help them learn and develop necessary skills throughout their lives.
Hallie Sternberg has attended Episcopal since Kindergarten. She will graduate with Honors in May, 2019. In addition to her involvement with the Thesis program, Hallie is an avid participant in the Episcopal theatre and choir programs, a member of National Honors Society, Co-Editor in Chief of Troubadour (Episcopal’s Literary Magazine), a Writing Fellow, Math Tutor, and President of the French Club. Hallie was invited to present on a panel at the Popular Culture Association Conference this spring. After graduation, Hallie hopes to go on to major in Cognitive Science.
thesis focuses on the troubling trends of social isolation and loneliness, teaches us that though we’re more connected than ever through digital means, many of us will suffer as we lose meaningful personal interactions and dynamics in an ever-evolving 21st century.
So, in Thesis, students lean in towards experiences and activities that bind them to one another so that in their bravery and vulnerability, they feel emboldened to take risks, project their voices and open the door for significant and authentic discovery. And our students believe that their discoveries should be shared so that their learning doesn’t merely exist within the walls of our classroom.
More concretely speaking, the Thesis Program is made up of curious and motivated students, 22 juniors and 20 seniors, who wish to pursue independent projects over the span of two years. The junior year Seminar is dedicated to discussion-based classroom experiences that build toward project-based outcomes. The students unpack significant issues relevant to today’s world and are encouraged to “complicate” these issues further and notice the intersections between perspectives. They practice critical thinking by never settling for the simplest, most black and white explanations. These learning experiences eventually lead to the selection of a research topic, which marries their passions with their curiosities. Many months of investigation, drafting, organizing, and discussing ushers in the senior year Thesis course in which students prepare to share their discoveries with their community.
So, to that end, this week three students will share pieces relating to their Thesis projects as a way to initiate conversation.
Finally, save the date for LAUNCH 2019 where you will hear from all the Thesis seniors and others who are interested in sharing their perspectives and projects. February 22 will be a day to celebrate learning and discovery by projecting student voices across campus. For now, I invite you to read these student writers and honor the intention behind their work, which is to prompt discussion, connection, and engagement with one another.
Our Featured Presenters
Student headshots taken by Mason LeFerney
Katie Sutcliffe joined Episcopal in 2011 and currently directs the Thesis Program and teaches Senior English. She is also the co-creator of LAUNCH, Episcopal’s annual TEDx-style student-planned and executed showcase of ideas and projects. Katie holds a Bachelor of Arts in English (Writing) from DePauw University, an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from the University of Pittsburgh and was a 2005 Teach For America corps member. She has taught English and writing courses for middle and high school students, gifted students and even adults through Osher Lifelong Learning at Pitt. She’s passionate about character education and project-based learning, as well as research and writing that have practical implications for understanding and addressing real world challenges.
It is 11:00 pm in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I am surrounded by around fifty girls I have never met in my life who are from all around the state. We sit in the hot, humid Louisiana air listening to our counselors tell us what tasks await us for day two of the program. Surrounded by unfamiliarity and fear of what this next week holds for me, I finally see a familiar face. We meet our “Parish Counselor” who just so happens to be Episcopal Alumni Mary Beth Barksdale (2016 graduate and all around rock star). I think to myself, “Thank goodness! Someone to tell me what the chaos of the week has in store for me.” Alas, the first words I hear out of her mouth are, “Okay everyone, tomorrow you will be running for one of the offices in your booklet. Write a speech tonight, and be prepared to give it in front of your Parish girls tomorrow.”
Not only was this a bit of a shock to hear on my first night at Louisiana Girls State, but the task in and of itself seemed daunting. I have never been the person with the biggest voice in the room; in fact, I’ve never been the one with the biggest stature either. At a mere five feet, I don’t exactly command a room on first glance. I often find myself in a state of observation, sometimes unable to share my thoughts and opinions during debate or discussion due to my fear of being shut down by others. Knowing this, my first night at Girls State was challenging. I found myself sitting in my dorm room with my roommate trying to come up with a speech that would entice my other Parish girls to vote for me. Nevertheless, I suppressed my fears and pushed on writing my speech. The next day, I mustered up the courage to give my speech, and to my surprise, my peers seemed to like it. I ended up getting enough votes to win the office I ran for. As Girls State continued, more tasks and more opportunities presented themselves, including more public speeches. It was tempting to worry about the possibility of failure, but Mary Beth continuously challenged me to see these as chances to take a risk, as our theatre director Paige Gagliano also teaches us during musical rehearsals at Episcopal. At Girls State I didn’t ultimately get elected to the State position as treasurer, but I wasn’t discouraged. I had the support of my sisters, and I felt empowered by all the women that surrounded me during that week. After this experience, I was truly inspired to make change in my school community by reaching out, taking risks, and by seeking mentors to help me along in the process.
Because Louisiana Girls State fostered confidence within me, I have started taking even more healthy risks in my daily life and looking for these same kinds of confident women here at Episcopal to carry on this legacy of inspiration. I now look to people like Christine Chrest, my thesis advisor, dance teacher, and overall confidant here at Episcopal. She, as the powerful and creative genius that she is, challenges me to experiment with new varieties of dance, take on new styles of choreography, and pushes me to make my writing and work the best it possibly can be. She has not only pushed me as an academic and dancer, but as a person in general. I strive to affect others in the way she has inspired me by helping choreograph Episcopal’s Lower and Middle School musical productions. Although this job has put me in a position to be a role model for younger students, I am not intimidated by the task as I once would have been. In teaching these students, I hope to have even a fraction of the impact on the cast as my mentors have had on me.
If I have learned anything from these experiences, it is that leadership can take place in the littlest of events. Leadership and empowerment are not always expressed as an enlightening speech on a stage or a call to action made by a public figure on the television. It can come from events that you didn’t even expect would make an impact on you. Therefore, it is because of these experiences and connections with people like Mary Beth Barskdale, Paige Gagliano, Christine Chrest, and various other strong women that I have become a more confident and empowered woman who aspires to make change in my community. I have suppressed my fear of speaking out and being shut down, and have allowed myself to be the strong voice in a room.
Madeleine Cope is a creative Episcopal senior. She is a passionate dancer and a member of the Episcopal Dance Ensemble. She is combining her love of dance with her writing talents as an Honors Thesis student examining the benefits of implementing dance programs at schools. Madeleine is also actively involved in Episcopal theater productions and acts as a co-choreographer for Episcopal’s Lower and Middle School musical productions.
Episcopal junior John Honeycutt was selected as a candidate to represent Louisiana at the 2018 Hugh O’Brian Youth World Leadership Congress in Chicago. The Louisiana Senate commended Honeycutt for his selection with Senate Resolution No.18 during the 2018 Third Extraordinary Session. As a sophomore, Honeycutt and fellow Episcopal student Dariah Deskins, were among 140 students selected to participate in the Louisiana Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Program. Read below to learn more about what Honeycutt has learned through these experiences.
A Path to Leadership.
My experience at HOBY Louisiana was extraordinary. The people I met, the lessons I learned, and the fun I had made the experience a memorable one. For around 140 students to come together from across the state and all get along and strive for a common goal is breathtaking. All of us wanted everyone to have the best time they could, but most specifically everyone wanted to become a better leader, that is what the experience was meant to do.
The lessons of varied speakers ranged far and wide from how to treat others, how to treat yourself, or simply how to make everyday life easier. For example, in one presentation we learned how to set goals. Not just any goals but achievable, measurable, and smart goals.
In another presentation, we learned how there are three parts to every social reaction.
Along with all of the lessons I learned, I met some amazing people. Many people that I met there I still talk to regularly. In fact, my Faculty Advisor is going to come to watch me run at one of my cross country meets soon. Everyone at HOBY wanted to have a good time; you could feel it in the atmosphere. It was one of the most welcoming things I have ever taken part in. For example, throughout the course of the weekend, we would do these songs where everyone would get up and dance and participate. The first few times may have lacked some participation, but at the end, we all warmed up to the idea and were screaming our hearts out.
Finally, I want to touch on the fun I had. Just meeting all of the other high school students there was amazing. Hanging out with fellow high school sophomores and discussing extremely pressing problems, deep topics, or just general everyday stuff was a blessing. Also, at the end of the last day of HOBY, we had a dance. This was no ordinary dance; most everybody danced and had a fantastic time. No one made it awkward to be yourself. It was a freeing experience.
Lastly, I want to state the main lesson I learned from HOBY. That lesson is to Be Who You Are Where You Are. This quote teaches an important lesson and has lots of meaning in a few words. First, it tells the commonly heard lesson for people to be who they are, but more specifically it states “where you are.” This where tells us two things. First, it tells us to be yourself wherever you are, and secondly, it tells us that it is okay to have a dynamic identity. People act differently around different people. Not everyone has one way that they act. This lesson is one that will stay with me for a long time.
John Honeycutt is an Episcopal junior. John was recognized by the Louisiana State Senate for being selected as a candidate to represent Louisiana at the Hugh O'Brian World Leadership Congress. As a sophomore, John attended the Louisiana Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Program.
Episcopal senior Douglas Robins knows what it is like to make the transition to a new school. Now, after six successful years on campus he has advice for new students to help them become a part of the Episcopal community with ease. Read more from Douglas below.
Dear new friends--
Congratulations on getting your first week under your belt at the E. You’ve met all your teachers, met some new people, and after signing the Honor Code, you are officially a Knight. By this point, you should start to get a better feel for what it is going to be like on campus from here on out. Now I know that just because you have had one week down, you are by no means an expert and I also know that transitioning in can take some time. As someone who had his last first day of high school last week (I know, it still hasn’t set in) after six years at this school, I have some tips to help you navigate that will take you beyond the first week.
#2 Don’t be afraid to try new things
Part of what makes Episcopal so special is all of the diverse extracurricular options that are available. As you walk around campus, you will see this universal enthusiasm that seems to have touched all of the students and everything that they do. In the spirit of transitioning into the community, allow yourself to get swept away by the excitement of trying out some extracurriculars that you may not have had the chance to do elsewhere. Maybe that means joining the Cross Country team, or auditioning for the play, dabbling in slam poetry or crafting with the Pinterest Club. Don’t limit yourself to just one activity, take advantage of being able to try them all and see what sticks. You may not end up loving everything that you try, but don’t sweat it because no one makes you do something you aren’t into. But I promise, that something will stick and it may be the most unlikely thing. Before I came to Episcopal, I never would have dreamed of being on a stage in a play and I didn’t even know what the Student Vestry was, but by trying new things, I felt that passion and made some of my best friends.
Douglas Robins is a senior in his sixth year at Episcopal. He is an engaged member of the Episcopal community as a Writing Fellow, Student Vestry member, President of the National Honors Society and a part of the Honors Thesis program. Douglas also is an active member of the performing arts community and enjoys the flexibility of being able to explore his academic interests and his diverse extracurricular interests all in one school day.
Our brains, our minds, our thoughts: are we really in control of them? According to psychologists, the answer is both yes and no. While we are aware of the conscious decisions we make everyday, whether it’s the food we eat, the people we talk to, or the clothes we wear, there are thousands of thoughts that our brain does not explicitly process. Sure, these thoughts may be harmless, such as the color of the bird that flies by or the sound of a faint voice in the distance. However, these implicit, hidden thoughts may also be the root of many of the social divisions we experience in our societies. When a stranger walks into a room, what is the first thing we notice? Their hair, their clothes, their skin color, their gender, right? The exterior appearance and the identities that this person carries creates a distinct first impression that settles into our minds.
Implicit bias is defined as the human tendency to group people subconsciously, in accordance with their appearance or how they identify. These biases are essentially inevitable and we are all subject to them, as they are developed through our childhood, our experiences, and our culture. While implicit biases certainly pertain to all aspects of society, one environment in particular has been the focus of my thesis work: the classroom. Students are affected by implicit biases in several ways, in turn, impacting their experiences throughout their time in school and continuing into their adult lives.
A 2003 study conducted by Cornell University in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that students tend to perform in a manner consistent with opinions other people have about their particular race or gender, a phenomenon named stereotype threat. For example, girls who are told that they are bad at math tend to perform worse on a math test than girls who are told the opposite. Imagine a female student in a calculus class. She may feel pressure to perform well due to the stereotype placed on her. This pressure can be as simple as the teacher showing surprise when she answers a difficult question correctly, causing her to fear that any mistake she makes will confirm that stereotype. A 2014 study found that this fear takes up mental energy, making it harder to think on the spot, and emotionally heightens her reaction to mistakes, making her remember the wrong answer as strongly as she would the right answer.
Mary Anne Meeks, a Georgia Southern University researcher conducted a study in 2010 tracking microaggressions experienced by 342 students in a large, diverse high school over the course of four years. The results included students reporting they had experienced a majority of 21 types of microaggressions at least once during their high school careers.
Although my underlying message declares that we, as individuals, are subject to harboring these implicit biases, I want to motivate my peers, teachers, and members of the Episcopal community to keep this in mind going forward and work to counteract the effects. Personally, I’ve found that acknowledging the fact that implicit biases exist within us is already a step in the right direction, in terms of social success and equality. The Implicit Association Test, created by Project Implicit, an organization founded by researchers across the country’s top universities in 1998, provides an opportunity for people to uncover their implicit biases.
In my own experience with the IAT, I was extremely shocked by my results. However, that initial shock and guilt motivated me to reflect upon the way I approach my world. This reflection, I believe, has allowed me to be a more conscientious and understanding human being. I hope I can instill similar individual reflection by passing along this awareness to those in our close-knit Episcopal community.
Once we can acknowledge these biases, we can do everything in our power to limit its effects in our society, allowing all of us, regardless of gender, race, or appearance, to approach our world with an open-minded and accepting perspective.
Heeya Munir has attended Episcopal since the sixth grade. She will graduate with Honors on May 19, 2018. In addition to her involvement in the Thesis program, she participates in cross country, is the Co-Editor of the 2017-2018 Accolade Yearbook, Co-President of the Mock Trial team, and Founder of the Calligraphy Club. She will attend Tulane University in the fall of 2018, majoring in psychology on a pre-medicine track.
Community service is such a huge part of my life, and no words could ever truly describe the way it makes me feel or the ways in which it has impacted me over the years. Recently, I was very lucky to receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award from the White House in recognition of my community service. Honestly, I’m at a loss for the right words. It is truly my passion and it has been ever since I began to volunteer with Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) when I was only 12 years old. It was the summer before seventh grade, and I was the youngest volunteer with YVC; 12 was the absolute minimum age, and I was only allowed to do one project that summer. It completely changed my outlook on life, which at twelve isn’t saying too much, but still, I had found something that I loved, and still do.
There are currently over thirty YVC affiliates spreading across the United States and Canada, including two in Louisiana. Working with YVC entails signing up for different projects that range from counseling kids at camps where they learn about things like safety and history, spending the day with elderly dementia patients, planting community gardens, painting murals, and so much more. In groups of about ten youth volunteers, we go out into the community and focus on making a difference and reflecting on our impact.
with the people who actually make decisions concerning YVC, help them with new ideas and planning, and make my dreams for YVC become a reality. It has been really great also because I’ve held various leadership positions within the Board which has helped me to not only get more of a say, but to really work on my leadership skills and hone those talents that I will possibly need next year in college. Being on YAB has mostly prepared me for this year, though, when I was very fortunate and honored to get chosen to be a member of the International Youth Advisory Board (IYAB) which you apply for in the early spring. Usually only one, possibly two, members from each regional affiliate gets to be a member. This year’s IYAB only has about twenty-eight members, so I was very lucky, and now I get to help make decisions concerning YVC on an international scale, not just in Baton Rouge.
YVC has not only allowed me to do something I love and am passionate about, but it has helped my grow as a person, develop skills that will be useful in college and in my adult life, and has given me so many friendships that I know will last long after the youth of Youth Volunteer Corps has run out. Also thanks to the confidence I have gained from both YAB and IYAB I took more risks and steps at school with my service; I was a Thrive tutor for my freshmen year, and I did organize a small event then, too, but every year since, I have been taking a bigger and bigger step to bring my passion to Episcopal. It’s hard, sometimes, to look around and see all that we are blessed with and believe that we don’t all give back. We are all so privileged and have so much. We are all able-bodied and minded, and there are so many people in the world, in our city, who have so little. It really is our duty to help them in any and every way we can. I truly believe that. Every day, I strive to help as many people as I can, in any way I can. That’s why I’ve loved bringing my passion for service to Episcopal. To see my teachers, friends, and peers getting involved and giving back is so amazing. It makes my love for it grow tenfold.
Overall, I have tried my hardest to do everything I absolutely can as an eighteen year old. I hope that as I get older, I can find a way to dedicate my life even more to service. It truly is my passion. I love it, and it brings me so much joy and happiness. I never feel more fulfilled than when I am helping other people. This award truly was a great surprise and honor to receive, but it has never and will never be about the recognition or awards. The feeling of knowing that I am doing everything I can to help others is the best award I could ever be given.
Kaci Wilson will graduate from Episcopal this May. During her time at the school, she has committed herself to serving others. Recently, she received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for her continued volunteer efforts. This fall, Kaci will attend LSU to pursue a degree in psychology. In addition, she plans to serve a term in the Peace Corps.
Unlike most students in my Spanish class, I started my language journey later than normal; transferring from a large public school that did not have any language programs to Episcopal in the sixth grade, I had no prior experience with the language. Presently, I am an AP Spanish Language and Culture student, who is embracing content equivalent to that of a collegiate level, a level which I plan to pursue further with my aspirations to major in Spanish in college. Though, the Spanish that I know as of now reflects elements of photography; I began, years ago, looking at the language through only one lens - restricting my view on Spanish to being solely a form of communication. Therefore, I saw it as immensely one-sided: the picture I saw through my one lens was blurry - without the proper tools and appreciation for Spanish that I would develop later on, I couldn’t focus in on what would make Spanish more than just a language for me.
Throughout middle school at Episcopal I fulfilled my language requirements, refining my “focusing” skills with each class. I won’t sugarcoat my experiences and say that I discovered a newfound love for the language in these years, but it opened my eyes - slightly; while I went through the motions learning the language, widening my view on Spanish, truly, I was not subject to my own “aha” moment with the language until my junior year. Meanwhile, towards the end of my sophomore year it was at this time that I had to decide whether or not I was going to continue down the language-track. It was no longer required, so I could decide whether I wanted to continue with Spanish or take another class in a different discipline. Ultimately, my decision to continue Spanish was heavily influenced by my friends who advised me that taking Spanish all four years of high school showed commitment and academic rigor on my college applications.
Though their arguments resonated with my own aspirations of strengthening my resumé, I can confidently say that my commitment is no longer about the college credit, transcript, or GPA boost. The prolonged “aha” moment, in my case, that I experienced junior year wasn’t because I suddenly decided to join a Spanish club outside of school or sign up for an exchange program; it came from examining the growth that I was a witness to in my junior year of Spanish; I can now deliver a fifteen minute presentation completely in Spanish about the social constructs in the Dominican Republic; I can write an essay in Spanish contrasting the way Americans consume media versus the restricted way citizens in other Hispanic Countries do; I can fully comprehend Spanish podcasts that express the sentiments about changes in the Puerto Rican regime; I can do more than solely examine what is the visible culture of Spanish countries.
Frequently, and even now, I take time to reflect on how my understanding of Spanish has expanded dramatically: even a couple of months ago, I still was out of touch with the language. I had all of the proper pieces - grammar, vocabulary, structure, and so on - but I did not realize that the pieces would eventually fit together to comprise a clearer and more complete snapshot of Spanish beyond the blurry image.
Alongside the support of my peers in class, I have been able to see the Spanish world not only with more clarity, but through several different lenses: permitting me to put the pieces together. AP Spanish Language and Culture stands for more than just a class to teach its students how to speak fluent Spanish. Spanish is not memorizing conjugations; Spanish is not learning different verbs; Spanish is not just writing nor is it speaking. Spanish is an all-access pass that brings its members to not solely the aspects of Spanish cultures that can be seen, but what exists behind those features. Looking at the Spanish world through this new perspective, cultural attributes act as vehicles to something more; food in México is no longer just what people eat but a form of communication where words cannot suffice; music like merengue in the Dominican Republic is no longer just musical notes strung together but a way to connect with the Dominican people and the culture’s roots; Spanish is no longer just a language but a passage to a whole new world.
To those who are just beginning their language journey and to those who are far down their own paths, I remind you to take time to appreciate what foreign languages can offer. Learning Spanish is often times frustrating and forces you to be vulnerable: you will mess up the preterite tense and you will misinterpret a “fact” you find on a Wiki page about a Latin country you were confident about in front of your entire class. These mistakes are a part of your own language journey; it is through these mistakes that you learn how to refine your own focusing skills, and where your vulnerable mind is able to grasp onto a snapshot of all that Spanish can be.
Mason LaFerney is a junior in his sixth year at Episcopal. He actively partakes in Episcopal's community as President of the National Honors Spanish Society, a lead editor on the yearbook staff and also a Fellow in the Writing Center program. Alongside these activities, outside of school Mason also runs his own photography business, Mason LaFerney Photography (masonlaferneyphotography.com).