Kariel Young: Fighting Spirit
Published: Oct. 2014, Verde Vol 16.1
About: I guided the writers of a profile on Kariel, a girl with a spinal cord disability, in shaping the overall concept of the story — to focus not on her disability but on how she has overcome it. Two days before the story came out I didn’t think the writers had the necessary opening to match this concept and so I directed them to wake up early and follow Kariel through a morning routine before school to really truly show where she is now. Then, I worked with them for several hours after school to construct this hook. After the story came out, we invited Kariel to speak in front of the Verde staff and share her thoughts and how the story had affected her.
Excerpt from the opening of the story:
Kariel Young does not know the next time her legs will move. It could be a week or a few days until her muscles contract again. When they do, it feels to her like they are working, even though she has no control of her lower body — and never will. Sometimes, these contractions send shocks down her back and number her right arm. Or they go from her feet all the way up to her shoulders and maker her back straighten up completely. Then, her legs turn back into spaghetti noodles.
This morning begins as most do, with Young wrestling herself out of her patterned pastel sheets reaching for her toes, and flexing them toward the ceiling. If she doesn’t stretch out her legs, her knees will remain drawn up and her ankles will tighten to the point where she won’t even be able to wear shoes. To her, the muscle stimulation of stretching simulates walking.
Young then struggles to put on the smokey blue sweater and leggings she picked out the previous night, before scooting herself to the edge of the bed and shifting her body onto the black cushion of her pink and black wheelchair.
The clock reads 7:30 am as she wheels out the back door of her grandparents’ house down two wooden ramps, passing through the side yard gate to her grandmother’s Honda Accord. The mile-long car ride ends as the Palo Alto High School tower building comes into view. She pushes her chair up the cement slope, through the main Quad to her locker, eventually rolling into her United States History classroom well before the bell rings.
It wasn’t always this way.
Seven years earlier in her home state of Alaska, Young and her step-brother were home alone in their five-wheeled camper van. As Young watched a movie, her step-brother fiddled with a gun behind her. Though she repeatedly asked him to put it away, he told her the gun was not loaded. She continued watching the movie until the final credits began rolling down the screen, when she heard the sound of the gun’s metallic explosion.
The bullet severed her spinal cord at the T-2 vertebrae, paralyzing her from the chest down. While the incident may have been the darkest moment of her life, but it also launched a life of vitality and activism.
Buena Vista Residents Deserve Fair Compensation
Published: Feb. 19, 2015. Verde, Vol. 16.3
[Note: this editorial has not been published as of the contest deadline but will be on the aforementioned date]
About: The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park represents one of the few sources of affordable housing left in Palo Alto yet the residents are being forced out. After talking with various residents as well as lawyers and reading through the compensation plan, I realized that there is a grave injustice being committed by the city of Palo Alto. I rallied Verde’s staff in an editorial discussion to take a stance on the issue and then proceeded to write this editorial.
In April, the Palo Alto City Council will be reviewing an appeal of the closure of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. The city council approved the request for an appeal in January, the final step in a three- year process. As it stands now, the owner of the park has been required by state and local law to create a Relocation Impact Report to detail the compensation he will pro- vide for residents. The compensation and relocation plan has been approved by the city and a hearing officer, and the upcoming appeal represents the final chance for the RIR to be revised before it goes into effect.
Verde believes that the RIR does not fairly compensate the residents of Buena Vista for the loss of their homes and community. The current relocation plan does not adequately provide for “comparable housing” within 35 miles of the park, a serious problem for the 400 residents living in Buena Vista who are primarily a population of low to very low income, mostly Latino people. Without the park, which is hundreds of dollars cheaper than any other living space in the city, many of these families could end up homeless.
Currently, the residents are receiving compensation based on the current value of their homes. Many of the trailers, originally containing one bedroom, have been altered to increase living space. However, as most of these alterations have not been formally approved by the owner and are thus considered illegal, they are not factored into the rent subsidy (though they are included in the appraisal). Since most Buena Vista families will be dependent on the owner’s subsidy, they will not be able to afford any housing other than a studio apartment. According to the residents and their lawyers, the owner has turned a blind eye on these alterations in the past and is now attempting to use this to his advantage. The residents should receive compensation based not on the number of original, manufactured bedrooms in their mobile homes but based on family size. Verde acknowledges that while the City of Palo Alto has put in place important procedures to attempt to ensure fairness for both the residents and the owner, these measures have not yielded the necessary results.
In many ways, Palo Alto is doing something quite cruel to the residents, much more cruel than if they’d never been allowed to live here in the first place. It has given the residents access to wonderful opportunities like the education system. Now, after decades of allowing these residents to become integrated into the community, Palo Alto is forcing them out without even offering a real, viable solution for their relocation. Undoubtedly, the owner has a right to shut down his private property, but if he cannot be depended upon to provide fair compensation, then the city council, as the appeal’s arbitrator, must take it upon themselves to do everything within their power to ensure the residents are able to stay nearby permanently.
Verde implores the city of Palo Alto to seek out any possible solution which would allow the residents to remain in the park while also providing the owner with fair compensation.
Zuckerberg Deserves Commendation
About: There is a socioeconomic divide between East Palo Alto and Palo Alto in terms of access to health care. I represented Verde’s staff opinion as to why Mark Zuckerberg’s multi-million dollar donation to an East Palo Alto health center was so important in benefiting that community.
Though only a freeway separates Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, there’s a stark socioeconomic divide, especially when it comes to healthcare. While affluent Palo Alto has multiple major medical centers — including the world class Stanford Hospital — as well as an assortment of other specialized care centers, East Palo Alto has historically been limited in its healthcare offerings.
Since 2001, citizens of East Palo Alto have relied on Ravenswood Family Health Center, based out of portable buildings, for much of their mental, medical, and dental coverage. It’s good news to hear now that philanthropists and businesses are pledging donations to help fund a $29 million expansion project for the Ravenswood facilities. Twenty one million, six hundred thousand dollars have been raised so far, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $5 million donation.
The Verde staff commends the new Ravenswood center and the donors who have helped fund the expansion because the health center, with its up-to-date facilities, will bring benefits to East Palo Alto; as citizens of an independent city, East Palo Altans should have access to the resources necessary for future healthcare growth.
In 2009, Mi Pueblo, a full-service grocery store franchise, came to East Palo Alto, generating over 100 jobs and providing citizens with affordable and local food. Similarly, the expansion of Ravenswood will allow the citizens to reap the advantages of employment growth and access to convenient neighborhood health care. The old medical center was already one of East Palo Alto’s largest employers for residents in the city, and the expansion will create even more jobs.
There is a direct correlation between accessible and affordable health care and lowered school dropout rates according to the American Public Health Association. East Palo Alto students confront a 70-percent high school dropout rate, and improved health care will help to alleviate this. More students staying in schools means better educated citizens, better jobs, and overall improvement in the prosperity of East Palo Alto.
Students from East Palo Alto are part of the PAUSD school system and therefore improving the Ravenswood Health Center will tangibly improve their ability to learn which will carry over into the rest of the community.
Condemning Dress Codes
About: In response to a controversial new dress code at a local middle school, my co-editors and I felt that it was important for Palo Alto High School to take a stand against overly strict dress codes and explain to the community the problems with the new rules. We researched the issue and led several class discussions in order to form the opinion expressed below.
This year at Jordan Middle School, a new addition to the dress code informs students that “pants must fit appropriately meaning that there should be no panty lines, they should not stretch across the skin where the fabric is taut and pulled. Unless they wear a top that completely covers the buttocks.” This policy joins others that are all too familiar, like the two finger rule for shirts and the finger-tip rule for shorts and skirts.
Verde believes that dress codes, which primarily target girls, are inherently sexist and unjustified. The rules contribute to the larger issue of victim-blaming and rape culture.
Furthermore, the idea that girls must take preemptive measures because boys simply can’t control themselves in the presence of certain outfits insults boys. Holding girls responsible for the actions of boys implies that boys have no self-control and can’t take care of themselves.
The handbook of all Palo Alto Unified School District middle schools states that the intention of the code is to create a safe learning environment for the entire staff and students. If dress codes are indeed enforced to protect the rights of all students, why does it appear that the rights of boys to focus in the classroom (as implied by the intention of the policy) are being fiercely protected while the rights of girls to freely present own bodies are being violated?
To illustrate our point, take a man walking down a street wearing an expensive watch who is mugged. Of course, he is not to blame for this incident. In contrast, when a 12-year-old girl walks down the school hallway wearing a tank top and yoga pants, a teacher scolds her and makes her change outfits, showing the girl that society has deemed her body a sexual object that must be covered up. She should not be condemned for wearing what she wants, regardless of the reaction it causes in others. In the same way that no one asks to be mugged, no 12-year-old girl asks to be sexualized and ogled at.
Dress codes are the most common and evident form of victim-blaming, the idea that a victim of a crime is held partially or fully responsible for the crime. The policy sends the message that girls are responsible for taking preemptive measures to cover their bodies in order to prevent boys from being distracted. By blaming girls for the fact that boys supposedly can’t focus in class, the school perpetuates rape culture by implying that a girl’s body is an inherently sexual object.
The victim blame has reached a point in which all PAUSD students can be punished for breaking the dress code with referrals and detentions. The administration is equating wearing short shorts to such offenses as violence or disrespecting other students.
This is an issue for all genders, because a dress code is diminutive to all genders. Dress codes reduce girls to their bodies and boys to their sexual urges.
Verde believes that while a school may have the right to enforce a dress code, never will it ever have to the right to enforce rape culture. We call for a change of the dress code in all PAUSD middle schools and for the stop of ingrained slut-shaming and victim blame.
Tenure Evaluation Needs Reform
Published: Oct., 2014. Verde, Vol 16.2
About: There has been much reform in the California education system and, in light of a major ruling on teacher tenure laws, I brought to Verde’s attention that we should seek to support this reform because it affected which teachers would be able to be retained by schools. I expressed my opinion in detail to the Verde staff and helped construct a public stance for the magazine.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled in June that teacher tenure laws deprive students of their education rights and violate their civil rights, sparking discussion of the effectiveness of current tenure policies. Palo Alto Unified School District’s current policies state that new teachers either gain tenure or are fired after a period of two years, during which they undergo evaluations and reviews by the instructional supervisor of their department. Additionally, teachers are laid off in order of seniority; the most recent teacher hired will be the first laid off, regardless of teaching quality.
Verde believes that although teachers should be able to count on a certain amount of job security, a teacher who detrimentally affects the education of his or her students or fails to teach effectively should not be able to depend on the system for support simply due to seniority. Not only is two years an insufficient amount of time to accurately and fairly judge a teacher’s abilities, but there is a clear lack of student representation when it comes to making these long-term decisions.
Student input should be a critical part of the evaluation process. While current evaluators may add a professional perspective, student input is necessary to provide a holistic review of the teacher since students are most directly affected by a teacher’s methods and quality.
Currently, teachers are notified before an observational evaluation so that they can provide the supervisor with context for the lesson plan. We believe that teachers should not be notified prior to the evaluation and should be expected to provide context after the observed lesson. These candid observations should accompany student evaluations in being major considerations when laying teachers off and awarding tenure, not just seniority.
Still, it must be noted that the overall standard of teaching and education in PAUSD is far above the average in California. This year, Newsweek ranked Palo Alto High School as 56th in the nation based on achievement scores and college readiness. In contrast, in early 2014, Education Week ranked California as 40th nationally in public school system quality.
Clearly, there is a huge disparity between education quality in our district and the rest of the state, much to the credit of our many amazing teachers. There are many factors other than a few bad teachers remaining employed that must be considered to help close this gap, but we believe that one way to start is to ensure that teaching is rewarded on a more quality-based level. While Verde acknowledges and greatly appreciates the hard work and dedication of the teachers within PAUSD, tenure policy should include more careful observational evaluations and student input to give students across California the high quality education that all students deserve.