July 19, 2018

My First Job (Freelance Journalism)

After having an article written about me and writing two articles all for RVA Magazine, I figured I might as well ask for a job. I did, and I got an article-a-month gig with 2 sandwiches per article (I measure my finances in sandwiches from my favorite sandwich place). A lot happened over those three months, so I figured the articles would sum it up pretty nicely.


Wednesday morning I woke up angry. Yes, angry that I had to wake up at 6:30 am, that I had to edit my Model UN position paper, do my Spanish homework, and prepare for my algebra test. But mostly I was angry because I had to do a walkout. Any form of protest is wonderful, especially a school walkout, but the fact that this one is necessary is infuriating.

I was angry that no legislature in America had passed serious gun reform laws, even in Florida, where the Parkland shooting survivors started walkouts and the nationwide march for our lives movement. The NRA, which started out as a perfectly fine organization for hunters and gun owners, has become an organization that corrupts the government and promotes fear in our country. If I have not made it clear already, I walked out of class in the #NEVERAGAIN movement.

We are doing this not to take your guns, but to promote common sense.

The rights to self-defense shall not be infringed, but gun regulation alone doesn’t come close to infringing. Regulation is not taking your guns, it is making sure guns stay away from the people who shouldn’t have them. Regardless of party, most Americans agree that some people shouldn’t own guns, such as undocumented immigrants, people suffering from serious mental health problems, domestic abusers or people with felony convictions, and anyone with the means, motive, and opportunity for a mass shooting, or any shooting for that matter.

For the past few weeks, in both Student Council and IB Summit, Tuckahoe Middle School Principal Ann Greene led student discussions around the walkout and gun discussion while making it clear that the administration could neither endorse nor oppose a protest. Her goal was to maintain a safe environment. The end result was a school-authorized, but student-led walkout. My parents signed the online form a week or so before giving me permission to participate.

It was a poor decision of the school board to issue passes for this protest, as it was meant to be student-led and against school rules. This would have shown the legislature that middle school children were willing to suffer the consequences for standing up for gun reform–something that grown men in Congress have proven unwilling to do.

Today though, in Spanish class, we had a substitute who didn’t understand exactly what was happening with the walkout, so after some confusion, I figured out that I would get a wristband in block six when we were to leave class.

When the clock struck 10, I walked out with a handful of students from my class. We were among the first. Staff directed us to the football field as others came out in clumps, wearing the same wristbands, all headed the same way, until the section of the field we were in was full.

I snatched a few pictures and a video before an administrator announced over a megaphone that pictures and phones were forbidden. I took some more anyway. I asked some students for their thoughts on the event and gun regulation, and they wrote them down in my little notebook. Some students didn’t want to use their name, and I’ve redacted the last names of the rest in the interest of privacy as all are minors.

“I’m glad I took place in my first protest and I was glad to see how many people joined us,” an anonymous student wrote.

“It is nice to see Democrats and Republicans unite out here,” Charlie C. wrote, referring to a few conservative classmates who joined us.

“Sure, use [guns] for self-defense, but don’t let mentally disturbed people have them,” another anonymous student shared.

“I don’t think everyone knew what a silent march meant,” Emmett B. said about our chatty classmates.

“Instead of banning guns, [we should] prevent certain people from gaining them because if you have a mentally unstable person and give them a rifle, they will shoot 20 people. How is giving them a pistol going to change that?” Joseph M. said.

“I think people should have been more respectful because I heard a lot of people talking while we were commemorating people who were killed,” Gus D. wrote, echoing Emmett’s sentiments.

“I think it was disrespectful to the people who were trotting around aimlessly, but okay for the people talking about how gun regulation could have prevented this tragedy,” said another anonymous student, trying to draw a distinction between classmates who were passionate about the issue and others who were just having normal banter.

“I think that most people left because they wanted to miss class. This was a serious tragedy and I don’t that it’s fair to ditch so that you can miss class,” said another anonymous student.

“We should have walked out the whole day,” said a final anonymous student.

After that, I went up to Officer Medina, the resource officer assigned to our school. He wore either a taser or a pistol by his side but seemed nice. Medina, taking a positive view, said the protest, “shows that regardless of the tragedy we experience in life, we will always remain united.”

In the end, I’m still angry, but now, I’m angry with a purpose. We can change this. If we sulk around all day because of congressional disregard of the tens of thousands of people dying yearly, what will change? Now, we are walking out, marching, protesting, using our voice, and fighting tooth and bone for action. The current student-led resistance is more than my classmates and I could have ever hoped for, and more than an inactive Congress could have ever feared.

Henry's Note: I wish I had taken more initiative in the Tuckahoe walkout



A few weeks ago, I joined my fellow representatives of the Tuckahoe Middle School Student Council at the Virginia Student Council Association convention in Virginia Beach and it completely changed my thinking about the world around me.

The convention was based around the theme “lighting the fire of leadership”, and at it, four to five hundred middle and high school students assembled to learn how to be leaders in their schools and communities. We had energetic activities such as pep rallies, elections, and parties, along with more serious things such as speeches, charity work, and resolution debates. The pep rallies practically shattered my eardrums, and I was somehow in charge of cleanup at the parties, but to quote an anonymous participant, “It was lit.” On the serious side of the convention, things managed to be just as fun.

We all learned a lot about Student Council, and more specifically, we learned a lot about leadership. And even in the personal and governmental hell of the Trump era, I made many realizations that have changed my ways of being a leader, both in and out of school.

My favorite activity was the presenting of resolutions, which was a time for me to give a speech. Basically, three voting members from each school were required to participate and vote, and everyone else had optional participation with no ability to vote. I was not one of the voting members, yet I still came so I could convince people to vote one way or another on one resolution. The resolutions came from the House of Delegates, and if the voting delegates passed it, a statement would be added at the bottom that is something along the lines of “The Virginia State Student Council Association approves this resolution to be passed.” I gave my speech in hopes to prevent unfair discrimination in schools, and to my surprise, I received an extended applause.

Not only did my speech help the resolution pass through VSCA, it also gave me confidence, which I have found can sometimes outweigh skill. This confidence, just like the confidence I got after winning election as student treasurer, helped me in the future.

Convention helped me learn to prioritize my own mental health over schoolwork and everything else. I had so much fun and learned so much in that low-stress situation, I realized that could be the same with everything I do. I think I have found the perfect balance of caring too much about everything and caring too little. I also learned to care about the present and future more than the past.

Anyone can lead others, but I think it’s something special to be able to lead yourself.

Students in SCA had a variety of perspectives on Convention and leadership. Council executive Nate N described it as a great time, “SCA is a load of fun. There is never a dull day and the trip to VA beach is exciting and interesting.”

Another student leader, Monze, described it as intellectually beneficial in addition to fun, saying, “SCA is a really great way for people to express their thoughts, as well as we have lots of fun thinking of ideas for a better school.” Emmett used his comment to highlight the social value he finds at SCA. “It’s amazing that there’s a place I can go to discuss and talk to like-minded individuals. Everyone in SCA brings something new to the table, making every day more interesting than the last.”

Tuckahoe SCA President Maddie Cassidy spoke to the importance of student council in her remarks, saying, “Student council is a great way to help our school and see our impact as we go around handing out treats, planning events and doing any tasks needed. The SCA is such a positive environment where I feel welcome to share my ideas and have a pick me up whenever I go to the class. This positive environment is even more strongly represented at the state student council convention where we can collaborate with other schools and come back with better ideas and ways to help our school. SCA is one of my favorite times of the day and I am so glad to be a part of it.”

But SCA doesn’t define leadership. Anyone outside of SCA needs to know that lighting the fire of leadership for them and others still matters, and failing to do so is okay, but not trying in the first place is outright stupid. It’s never too early, and it’s never too late to be the change you want to see in the world, even in our current time of Hell.

People may say that my generation is that of snowflakes and wimps, but I’d argue the opposite. Our generation has fought tooth and bone against the oppression and populism that is once again rising in our nation and around the world. Our generation is still battling a failing economy, a corrupt government, climate change, outdated laws, racial injustice, and the nazism and hatred that prevails in our community to this day. I’d say that the fear mongers and bigots are attempting to take back our nation, while we are the ones redefining it. This truly is leadership in Hell.

Image By: Vivienne Lee

Henry's Note: that convention was really fun

OPINION: STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE ABSOLUTE RUBBISH A Student Perspective on our Education System


Taken right before model UN with a "Get a Warrant" computer sticker

Over the past two weeks, the Virginia Board of Education has been in the process of forcing students and teachers to suffer through the yearly unbearable task of standardized testing. Standards of Learning, or SOLs, decide whether or not a student is smart enough or intellectually worthy. To be completely honest, it would take some time for me to think of something that could have any worse of an effect on students, the education system, and the community as a whole.

I understand the concept of an across-the-board system of measuring intelligence, but only on paper, figuratively. The current mandated system generates no creativity, insight, forethought, or real life skills. This system forces schools to favor certain types of inane education over what’s important. On the contrary, the International Baccalaureate Program attempts to create a real learning environment that will help students become better learners and people, but even here, the teachers and school must spend weeks to cram in content that, to put it simply, is absolute crap.

If schools taught how to learn more than what to learn, society would greatly benefit. I remember when an inspirational speaker at an SCA convention told me the jobs that people in my age group will have don’t exist yet. This has merit, and pretending memorization leads to actual learning is lunacy.

I have witnessed everything firsthand, and know how much of a crutch these tests are for students, teachers, administrators, and the general betterment of societal functions. The pressure and stress of administrators are passed down to the teachers, and from there to the students. So much intensity and pressure to pass these tests can break students, and if a subject is not your strong suit, you are done for.

Teachers and staff practically turn into mindless robots weeks before, days before, moments before, and during the testing. They aren’t even allowed to give out mints to the students because it benefits brain functionality. We are treated as lab rats required to meet an arbitrary standard of intellectuality.

Schuyler VanValkenburg, a teacher and Virginia Delegate, wrote, “Over the last decade, we’ve had tests that assess facts rather than skills and that analyze a school on an arbitrary cut-off score rather than on student growth.”

Personally, I love learning, and I am one of the few who knows it. I say this because, at heart, every single individual has a yearning for learning, but school, rather than engaging it, depletes it. This would not be the case if there weren’t any standardized tests. When schools have freedom, actual learning and a heart for it goes to the students. How can we learn if the government is actively tying us and our schools down? Without irrational limitations, schools could teach and cater for every intelligence method, type, and level. To quote Delegate Debra Rodman, “SOLs have long been a part of school curriculum, but standardized tests are not always a clear indicator of student and school performance.” Not only are the tests obsolete, they are also inaccurate towards measuring actual learning ability.

Why don’t we have an art SOL? Or a drama and musical one? Does philosophy or critical thinking even come into play? The government seems to get to decide what matters for us.

To raise another question, who benefits from these? Obviously not students, not teachers, not parents, not staff, not the workforce, and not the community. The remainder is at the top, consisting of big business and high-level government. Rather than asking how to strengthen the community, they ask if they are raising a factory workforce better than those before them?

If standardized tests are the basis of our education system, our education system is based upon the demolishment of individuality and true knowledge. True knowledge and individuality cannot be separated without disaster, especially in the present day, and more and more people are beginning to realize it.

If anyone can still look me in the eye and tell me that schools must continue to make students memorize the same thing that they have for decades, and what to learn is far more important than how to learn, I will commend them for their steadfast and courageous ignorance and blindness towards reality.


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