Sonja Dommen is a cross country superstar

Sonja Dommen takes her place at the start line, weaving through a densely packed assemblage of 214 of the best high school cross-country runners in California. She is nervous, but confident. Wrapped around her wrist is a bracelet inscribed with the phrase “I can and I will.” On someone else’s wrist, the words on the bracelet would be vapid and cliche. On Dommen’s, they are a blunt statement of truth, perfectly encapsulating who she is as a runner and as a person.

Only a junior, Dommen is already one of the most prolific cross-country runners in Burlingame history. She has run in two CCS championships, medaling in one of them, and she finished 48th in a state championship meet this year. But the journey she took to where she is today was a winding one—one that tested, but ultimately strengthened her.

Ironically, Dommen entered the high school cross-country scene as someone who had never competitively run before.

“It started as another way for me to just be outside and kind of enjoy myself,” Dommen said. “I was probably one of the slowest people. I never pictured myself as being fast, and I never pictured myself running in the future.”

While Dommen’s claim that she started out as one of the slowest people may or may not be true (she is just as humble as she is fast), by the end of her sophomore cross-country season there was no denying that she was Burlingame’s best runner. After an eye-opening performance at the 2017 Peninsula Athletic League (PAL) championships, Dommen was primed for a state championship appearance. That’s when, in the days leading up to the Central Coast Section (CCS) championship, she was hit with a sinus infection. She ended up missing the qualification for states by a few seconds.

Almost in tears, Dommen’s coach told her “If Lebron James didn’t make states he would be in the gym right now training.” The words stuck with her. That spring, she established herself as one of Burlingame’s best track athletes. Again, she was set to make a deep postseason run; again, an obstacle prevented her from doing so. Dommen strained a tendon in her calf right before finals.

“That crushed me,” Dommen said. “But it definitely lit a fire.”

Dommen trained diligently that summer, careful not to overdo it while still maintaining her fitness. She headed into her junior cross-country season more optimistic than ever before. But in early October, a pivotal time for cross-country training, Dommen’s ankle started throbbing after a long run.

“I couldn’t even run one lap,” she said. I went to the doctor and they said ‘just stay off of it until it doesn’t hurt.’”

The injury (an ankle sprain) was by far the biggest setback Dommen had experienced, as it resulted in her missing nearly all of October. She easily could have folded and accepted that the season just wasn’t meant to be, as most other runners in her position probably would have done. But she did exactly the opposite.

She replaced five-mile runs with acupuncture, and track workouts with swimming. She went to spin classes and worked on her upper body strength in the weight room. When she got the okay to run again, she eased into it, starting with slow, one-mile treadmill runs. It wasn’t easy, but she maintained her mental composure throughout the process.

“There were definitely some days I was in the gym parking lot by the pool. I was cold, I didn’t have anyone else to swim with. And then I always thought ‘just think of how you felt last year when you didn’t make it to states. If you could do this one workout and make it to states, would you?’”

The answer was always yes, and sure enough, a little over a month later, Dommen was at states. This time, there was no calf strain or sinus infection to hold her back, and she finished 48th out of the 214 runners in the race—an incredible result considering that only a month earlier she was starting her training from scratch while everyone else was months into theirs.

“Having these injuries has taught me that you just have to be grateful for the moment that you’re in and be grateful that you’re able to run, and just cherish the experience,” Dommen said.

Dommen will be cherishing every remaining second of her running career—one that could last well into the future. She currently wants to get through track season healthy, go back to states and run in college.

Above all, however, Dommen is focused on “just carrying that fire.” Anyone who knows her knows that she can, and, more likely than not, she will.


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Posted on December 17, 2018 .

Straight talk - Being LGBTQ on campus

Let’s talk about the F word. No, I’m not referring to the one you might be thinking of. I’m talking about the derogatory word for gay men that seems to be thrown around by our generation freely and without thinking of the deep significance its use means.  The first time the F word was used to describe a homosexual man was in 1914, in the United States. Now, it is a staple of homophobic accusation.

Posted on December 2, 2018 .

Exploring the controversy of Burlingame’s eucalyptus trees

In 1870, John McLaren embarked on a mission to bring more trees to the barren landscape of the San Francisco Peninsula. He chose to plant the blue gum eucalyptus tree, favorable because it could be used as a windbreak, to shelter the city from the wind, absorb excess groundwater and to define property lines between estates. McLaren planted eucalyptus and elm trees along El Camino Real, near the railroad tracks and at Coyote Point. Many of the eucalypti in Burlingame were originally planted by McLaren, as a healthy blue gum tree can live for 250 years. Although eucalyptus is not native to California, Jennifer Pfaff, member of the Burlingame Historical Society says the trees do not harm native plants.

“The way we have [eucalypti] in Burlingame is quite limited. They’re linear and they’re street trees; there’s nothing else to invade,” Pfaff said. “I don’t know what would be there if they weren’t.”

Many Burlingame residents feel that the trees are a signature part of the city.

“I really think it contributes a lot to Burlingame and adds character,” senior Clara Barber said. “It’s a huge part of the town.”

Eucalyptus trees in 1890 on Burlingame Avenue, near where the Rec Center stands today.

Eucalyptus trees in 1890 on Burlingame Avenue, near where the Rec Center stands today.

Despite being a key feature in Burlingame, controversy surrounds the giant trees lining the streets. In winter months, high winds cause the trees to fall down, often into the streets, taking down power lines with them and strips of their bark shed into the streets. This eucalyptus variety grows to be larger in circumference than what fits in most median strips where many are planted, resulting in broken sidewalks and streets.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has respected the historic importance of the trees in the McLaren Grove along El Camino since the 1970s. However, in 2012, Caltrans began to push to have them removed, saying they went against road regulations and the standards in place for all California highways. Pfaff and her colleagues fought against their efforts and succeeded in adding the McLaren Grove to the National Register of Historic Places which protects them. The National Register of Historic Places is a government organization which recognizes various places of historic importance such as buildings or in this case, a grove of trees. The city also lists the eucalyptus as a protected tree due to its historical importance.

In the future, the city wants to remove the larger eucalyptus trees around Burlingame that are causing issues and plant a different variety in its place, one that is smaller and therefore less problematic.

“I think people need to realize how much value [the trees] bring to the city and how good they are for the environment. They clean the air, they make shade, they help with our energy costs. All these things that are easy to take for granted. Because we always have the trees, nobody thinks about it,” Pfaff said.

Posted on November 22, 2018 .

California Teachers Association faces uncertain future following Janus decision

As public sector workers, teachers bargain with elected representatives who receive campaign donations from these same unions. This may be seen by some as an unacceptable influence of money on politics.

As public sector workers, teachers bargain with elected representatives who receive campaign donations from these same unions. This may be seen by some as an unacceptable influence of money on politics.

The First Amendment and free public schooling are two privileges Americans enjoy, and the Supreme Court recently made a landmark ruling affecting both of them. In a June 27 decision on Janus v. American Federation of State and Municipal Employees, the Court affirmed the right of non-union members to not have to pay agency fees (union dues that non-members must pay in return for receiving collective bargaining benefits). Unions around the country, including the California Teachers Association (CTA), voiced displeasure with the decision, citing how agency fees are necessary to sufficiently finance unions. Janus has the potential to drastically alter the nature of public unions, thereby affecting public school teachers nationwide.

The issue gained national notoriety in 2016, when a nonprofit legal organization, the Center for Individual Rights, representing 10 teachers and a Christian education group, sued the CTA for forcing its clients to pay agency fees, or union dues that non-members must pay in return for receiving collective bargaining benefits. The plaintiffs argued that forcing someone to give money to an inherently political organization was an infringement on First Amendment rights. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sided with the CTA, but an appeal sent the case to the Supreme Court, where it stalemated 4-4 due to the sudden death of Antonin Scalia. The Supreme Court subsequently left the Ninth Circuit’s decision in place, which was a major victory for teachers’ unions nationwide. In the meantime, a similar case was brewing in Illinois, where three state employees sued the state for forcing them to pay agency fees. Janus v. AFSCME eventually made its way to the Supreme Court this summer and the Court’s conservative majority sided with the plaintiffs: “Because the compelled subsidization of private speech seriously impinges on First Amendment rights, it cannot be casually allowed.”  The ruling broke with precedent by undoing the 40-year-old Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruling, which said that agency fees were constitutional.

“I think that nonmember teachers shouldn't pay agency fees because if they are not part of the union they shouldn't be forced to pay, ” sophomore Marc Magdadaro said.  “I see it like paying for a membership to an organization you don't want to be a part of.”

BHS history teacher Annie Miller contrasted Magdadaro’s argument. “The issue is when people don’t pay for the benefits they get. I see agency fees as ‘you pay for what you get.’ If you want the protection of the union and you want the benefits of the union, you have to pay for it, just like anything else in life,” Miller said.

Miller also praised the union’s positive aspects.

“At all points, teachers benefit from the union because we have union representatives who do things that we don’t all have the time to do. I benefit everyday from the union, and just based on human nature, it’s such a benefit that I don’t always see the rewards until I need them,” Miller said.

The conversation about the role of teachers’ unions and the constitutionality of agency fees will remain a prominent and likely unresolved issue for years to come and an issue that will directly affect Burlingame and its faculty.

Posted on November 22, 2018 .

McLaughlin, funky fixture of community, describes life of education

Linda Lee Vickery McLaughlin has lived in Burlingame her entire life. McLaughlin attended Burlingame, graduating in 1967. She then attended the University of California, Berkeley, and returned to teach journalism and English at Burlingame for 27 years. Now, she is the historian for the Burlingame High School Alumni Association.

Students on campus know McLaughlin as the zany volunteer filling in for Alexis Navarro, who is on maternity leave.

“The older I got, the less I took myself seriously. All my students thought I was a nut,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin’s self-described “nutty” personality can be accredited to her eclectic beliefs in shapeshifting and spirit animals. An avid Native American artifact collector, McLaughlin is a quirky fixture in the Burlingame community.

McLaughlin did not always know that she wanted to become a teacher. She attended Burlingame for four years and discovered a love for reading and writing. McLaughlin left Burlingame for University of California, Berkeley in 1976. At the time, UC Berkeley students held many riots and protests on campus.

“I was disturbed, so I dropped out between my sophomore and junior year. Life was not certain anymore. So I left college, and my husband and I promptly had three children,” she said.

Feeling uncertain about her career and direction in life, McLaughlin returned to Burlingame.

“Coming back to Burlingame was stable for me. Raising a family was stable,” McLaughlin said. “But I soon realized I was bored to death.”

She opened a clothing store on the corner of Primrose Road and Chapin Avenue called “The Black Sheep,” because, in her own words, she “wanted a part of the American Dream.”  

After three years, her business was not doing as well as she had hoped. McLaughlin realized that she wanted to procure a degree in business to build upon the knowledge she had acquired from owning her boutique.

But then, she found an opening for a tutoring job. She took the job and realized that teaching was her true passion through her interactions with children.

“I then realized that instead of helping people with fashion, I wanted to help open minds and talk about books because I loved reading. I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” McLaughlin said.

She received her teaching degree and Masters in English from the University of Notre Dame, and took a teaching position at Burlingame.

During her early years at Burlingame, instead of decorating her door with ornaments like most teachers did during the holiday season, she decorated her door with condoms to promote safe sex.

“The principal was not too thrilled with me,” McLaughlin said.

She taught any classes available, and thus, she became the journalism advisor.

“At first I was completely lost. Someone from the staff would even take a red pen and mark all the mistakes in the newspaper,” McLaughlin said.

Eventually, she learned the rules of journalism and developed a passion for publishing the newspaper.

“I was here with the journalism kids for hours. We felt that we had a deeper connection with the school. One of the girls even said she wanted to spend the night at school … That’s what we felt: we felt this was our home,” McLaughlin said.

In 2014, McLaughlin became a part of the Burlingame High School Alumni Association, which helps fundraise for the school, also providing children of alumni opportunities for scholarships.

“I learned that everyone has a story, and I believe that we each have the responsibility to listen to each other’s story to grow our own story,” McLaughlin said.

Posted on November 22, 2018 .

When A-PUSH comes to shove

This May, more students will take the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) exam nationally than any other of the 38 AP exams offered. But the content on the exam and the lens through which students learn the material have been sources of conservative criticism for at least four years.

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Conservatives have criticized the curriculum framework (with its most potent backlash beginning after the 2014 revision) for focusing solely on the low points in American history and failing to cultivate a sense of patriotism among students. In fact, the Republican National Committee issued a formal statement denouncing the 2014 framework and encouraging its delayed release. It even requested that Congress withhold funding from the College Board if the curriculum were implemented. The firestorm (including calls in Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma to ban the curriculum altogether) resulted in College Board revising the APUSH curriculum and issuing a far more tepid framework in 2015 that left more room for interpretation.

One specific complaint was how the 2014 framework dealt with white supremacy in the early 19th century. For example, it characterized Manifest Destiny (the belief that whites “deserved” a country stretching to the Pacific Ocean) as “built on a belief in white racial superiority.” The 2015 framework did not use such strong language, portraying the ideology as being “bolstered by economic and security interests.” In fact, the words “racism” and “xenophobia” did not appear once in the revision.

A key buzzword in the discussion that perhaps captures the entire debate is the idea of “American exceptionalism.” Many right-wing figures criticized the fact that there were no explicit mentions of America's superiority in the 2014 framework, and although it was listed under the “national identity and unity” theme in 2015, it was only mentioned once in the over 100-page document.

“While we acknowledge the problems our country has had in the past, we have to be fair in analyzing what is a product of the time and what is uniquely American,” said senior Charlie Chapman, who took APUSH last school year. Chapman pointed to how several recent wars (including Vietnam and Afghanistan) were portrayed in a way that neglected the sacrifice of American soldiers.

“They just teach us this skewed narrative,” Chapman said.

Annie Miller, who teaches both AP and CP US History, denounced the attacks on the curriculum and what she sees as an attempt to whitewash American history.

“The idea of trying to present history to create patriots is incredibly problematic,” Miller said. “True love [of your country] means seeing it with its blemishes and with its flaws and doing everything you can to make it better.”

Oddly enough, Miller and Chapman ultimately share the same vision for how history should be taught, even if they have different perspectives on how it is taught currently. Miller discussed the value of using primary sources when delving into nuanced (and controversial) parts of history, which she said allows students to develop their own opinions.

“We should be learning the facts, and then people can draw their own conclusions from that,” Chapman said.

Conservative criticism is not only limited to the APUSH curriculum, but has also extended to other courses, including AP US Government and Politics. Some believe the solution is a competitor to the College Board itself.

Posted on November 22, 2018 .

A problem in plane sight

The low rumble of airplanes is a sound all too familiar to the residents of the San Francisco Bay Area. Home to three of the busiest airports in the United States—San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK) and San Jose International Airport (SJC)—the Bay Area collectively served 76 million passengers in 2017 and shows no signs of decreasing.

The radar paths of planes landing on runway 28L and 28R, the most common approach to SFO, in 2014.

The radar paths of planes landing on runway 28L and 28R, the most common approach to SFO, in 2014.

Residents recently began complaining about the relentless bombardment of overhead airplanes. In order to provide information to the Bay Area communities, Rep. Jackie Speier hosted a public town hall hearing on Oct. 23 at the Skyline College Theater, along with retired United Airlines captain Kathleen Wentworth, SFO airport director Ivar C. Satero and Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell law firm agent Peter J. Kirsch.

Although there has been a 30 percent increase in passenger growth over the past five years at SFO, there has only been a 9 percent increase in operations.

“Throughout our history [at SFO, we’ve advocated for] taking full advantage of industry abilities to fly more people with less operations,” Satero said.

At the town hall, it was revealed that the main culprit for the increased airplane noise was the implementation of the new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-led Next Generation Air Transportation System, which aims to switch the old radar navigation system for a safer, more efficient and predictable GPS navigation system. Although it is very successful in these respects, the new GPS system causes airplanes to fly more accurately, concentrating the noise pollution in specific areas.

For the most part, these issues are outside the jurisdiction of SFO authorities, since access to international airports is federally controlled. Furthermore, the FAA considers investments outside of a 65-decibel level area to be a diversion of federal funds. This area is almost exclusively limited to areas of South San Francisco, San Bruno and Daly City.

Posted on November 20, 2018 .

Uganda United Club

Uganda United, one of Burlingame’s humanitarian clubs, is unique in one of its main functions: writing letters to students in Uganda.While forming new friendships, club members also develop a valuable perspective about life in Uganda.

“Writing these letters helps to just to have a sense of that deeper connection and let them know that there are faces and voices behind what we’re providing... We want to know about their world and lessen the divide that a lot of people perceive to be there,” Co-president Courtney Rosales said.

Each club member regularly writes to his or her pen pal.

Co-presidents of Uganda United, Neha Patkar and Courtney Rosales lead a club meeting.

Co-presidents of Uganda United, Neha Patkar and Courtney Rosales lead a club meeting.

“A lot of it is just that I feel like I’ve already been able to form a friendship with my penpal. It’s really fun to not only hear about their lives and what’s happening with them in Uganda but also share things about myself and really be able to form a bond with them,” Co-president Neha Patkar said.

Every two months, club members receive letters back from their pen pals.

Most of Burlingame’s numerous humanitarian clubs tend to focus on broad issues, such as combating poverty or advocating for animal rights. On the other hand, while Uganda United does revolve around helping underprivileged students, the club focuses its efforts, interacting with an individual school.

“We’re specialized, and I think that because we are so specialized we get more done, and I enjoy that aspect,” senior Lilli Hirth said.

The Burlingame branch of Uganda United arose when Patkar attended a USC summer program, where the professor, one of the founders of Uganda United, gave students an opportunity to expand out into smaller organizations at individual schools.

“It was about partnering with a primary school in Uganda and then again part of the expressed intentions was to help support children afflicted with HIV or AIDS… So we thought that was something important to shine light on,” Rosales said.

Currently, the club partners with local restaurants, and in directing customers to the businesses, the club receives a portion of revenue. Last year, the club held a Pizza My Heart fundraiser.

“Sending off the money was a really satisfying experience in that hearing that they’d received it and were planning on buying books and supplies … made me really happy,” Hirth said.

During club meetings, Patkar and Rosales direct brainstorming discussions to plan for new fundraisers. Some ideas that are in the works include holiday caroling and various walks. Patkar and Rosales place emphasis on being aware of current issues in Uganda. For example, at their last club meeting, the co-presidents presented an article that highlighted the significant impact of donating bike parts to Ugandan kids, as bikes are hard to come by, but provide a huge advantage in getting around. Patkar and Rosales implement a habit of discussing a current-event article at every club meeting.

“We want to be well-versed in the current events in Uganda to deepen that connection and make us more vested in it,” Rosales said.

Posted on November 20, 2018 .

“I feel like every other Jew in the world—terrified and scared”

Jewish students speak on Pittsburgh shooting

On Oct. 27, a shooter wielding an AR-15-style assault rifle and three handguns entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He killed 11 members of the congregation. The shooting was the deadliest instance of anti-Semitic violence in U.S. history.

The Star of David is recognized as a symbol of Jewish identity. The  design of this necklace, belonging to freshman Zoe Steinberger, has a  story. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews wore Star of David necklaces  which could unfold as butterflies in order to conceal their true  religious meaning. Steinberger's necklace is a modern replication of  this design.

The Star of David is recognized as a symbol of Jewish identity. The design of this necklace, belonging to freshman Zoe Steinberger, has a story. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews wore Star of David necklaces which could unfold as butterflies in order to conceal their true religious meaning. Steinberger's necklace is a modern replication of this design.

“There were Holocaust survivors who died in the shooting—it’s so heartbreaking,” senior Audrey Liebhaber said. The shooting was particularly harrowing for Liebhaber, as her uncle, aunt and cousin are congregants at the Pittsburgh synagogue.

“I feel like every other Jew in the world—terrified and scared,” Burlingame alumna Ellie Feder said. (Feder’s father, Dan Feder, is a rabbi at Peninsula Temple Sholom, a widely-attended synagogue in Burlingame.)

Feder, who graduated last year and is now a freshman at University of California, Davis, described how anti-Semitic posters were found on her campus in early October. The posters read, “Every time some anti-white, anti-American, anti-freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it’s Jews behind it.” Printed upon the posters were images of Dianne Feinstein, George Soros and Christine Blasey Ford with the Star of David emblazoned on their foreheads.

“That was already unsettling, and now this,” Feder said. Still, she stressed that many students at UC Davis are kind and welcoming toward individuals who belong to religious minorities.

“The week [the shooting] happened, there was a service held at the Davis synagogue. It was packed,” Feder said. She noted that the majority of the individuals attending the service were UC Davis students.

Liebhaber and Feder both emphasized the inclusiveness of the Burlingame community in welcoming different religious denominations. To Liebhaber, however, the Pittsburgh shooting has demonstrated the degree to which anti-Semitic violence can occur in unpredictable circumstances.

“It’s always been there, underneath,” Liebhaber said. “Now is the time [anti-Semites] choose to show their hatred.”

Liebhaber’s comment alludes to other recent instances of anti-Semitic violence. In 2016, white nationalists attending the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”

    Liebhaber described a time in freshman year when her faith came up in conversation and several of her peers began asking her questions such as “Why don’t you believe in Jesus?” and “Is it weird not to celebrate Christmas?” The questions made her feel uncomfortable.

“In the back of my mind, I’m always worried that I might say the wrong thing. You never know who is anti-Semitic,” Liebhaber said.

Liebhaber and Feder also cited the resilience of the Jewish community, both locally and globally.

“When something bad happens,” Feder said, “we still keep ticking, we still keep praying, we still keep gathering.”

Posted on November 20, 2018 .

Behind the scenes of BTV

Though students only see the five minute BHS newscast in our fourth period, behind the scenes of BTV are camera people, directors, and anchors hastily working to put out daily news. Mr. Erle and a collection of students run BTV. The BTV staff is separated into three different groups that rotate different positions every few days, which is why we see different faces on BTV very often.

First, the script is written and uploaded to a teleprompter in the filming room. The director then tells the tech people when and where to place the graphics we see next to the anchors. Anchors come into the filming room and run through their script as camera people shift cameras. Often times, anchors film two or three times until they film a perfect video.

Ernest Law films Connie Nong and Giulia Pugliese for the next episode of BTV

Ernest Law films Connie Nong and Giulia Pugliese for the next episode of BTV

“Sometimes when you mess up you have to redo it until it is perfect, which takes a lot of time,” sophomore Sydney Roncal said. Behind the camera, the staff manage the transitions between the anchors, features, and segments. For example, the staff may add music during the transitions. They also control the lights and sound to make sure that the anchors are seen and heard by the viewers. There is a room behind the filming room where the staff controls the lights and sound.

BTV includes important information about teachers, school events, and current events happening in our community.


“BTV is a great way to find out information and it definitely shouldn’t be ignored,” senior Connie Nong said. Not only does BTV include information, it also features teachers and includes skits. “We have to take time outside of class to film features,” sophomore Francesca Ty said. Ty explains that they try to include features so the student body can relate more to the videos, as watching the anchors report is uneventful. BTV may also include skits occasionally, as counselors will give them ideas on topics such as suicide awareness or breast cancer awareness.

Although the staff and Mr. Erle put their effort into making BTV a great production, the students at BHS are still unaware of the information being shared on BTV. This is due to the fact that teachers are unwilling to show BTV during class.

“It doesn’t feel like there’s a central communications hub. Not having the information out to kids, the teachers have to go to the bulletin and share the information. Kids just don’t know what’s going on.” Mr. Erle said. BTV staffers also agree with this claim.


“It’s only five extra minutes from the teachers to play BTV. And instead of playing it, teachers rely on the PA to get announcements out,” senior Guilia Pugliese said.  BTV is not only watched by the students though, it is also watched by parents.


“My mom watches the episodes!” senior Ernest Law said. This shows the importance of BTV, as it spreads to more audiences. This also highlights why BTV should be shown in class.

“The main goal for BTV is to inform all the students and teachers and staff and we would love it if everyone could listen to it because it involves them,” Law said.

Posted on November 19, 2018 .

Franklin Templeton job shadow

Franklin Templeton Investments invited BHS students to attend a job shadow on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The company specializes in mutual funds and is one of the world’s largest asset management groups with its headquarters in San Mateo.

Posted on November 14, 2018 .

A day in the life of the principal

Principal Paul Belzer begins his day by waking up in the early hours of the morning. Currently, his house is being remodeled because the house was last remodeled in the 1990s and needed an update. The only appliances still “living” in his kitchen, as he phrased it, are the stove and coffee maker. In the morning, Belzer drinks his coffee in his Green Bay Packer mug while watching his dogs, Dori, a Spaniel mix, and Jessie, a labrador retriever, in the backyard to make sure that Dori does not jump the fence. Then, he lets the dogs into his bedroom during the day due to the ongoing construction. His wife, a 4th grade elementary school teacher in the Ravenswood district, must leave early and Belzer and his daughter, a junior at Aragon High School, make sure to lock the house before they leave. Belzer then drives his new blue Infiniti G35 coupe to school.

“I like to start my day, if I can, being at the front of the school or someplace because I really enjoy seeing the students and I like to be there when they are coming in,”  Belzer said. 

Principal Paul Belzer speaks at a student council meeting.

Principal Paul Belzer speaks at a student council meeting.

His mornings consist of meetings with teachers and other staff members, checking emails and returning phone calls. On October 15, Principal Belzer, Assistant Principal Arbizu, the wellness counselors, and head counselor, Mrs. Renzi met with the district office to review the multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) to ensure that the student support program is aligned with the needs to the students. There are three different tiers in the system: tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3. Tier 1 includes support for all students such as office hours and provides students with help if needed. Tier 2 is for students who need more help in order to succeed such as guided studies, wellness counseling and 504 plans which ensures the academic success of students through accommodations. The highest tier, tier 3, provides students with an IEP, Individualized Education Plan, which is developed for students in need of special education. 

“Students who are struggling are not necessarily all struggling with the same thing and there are a variety of different reasons. So, we are looking at how to support students both academically and socially,” Belzer said. 

During lunch, Belzer helps supervise the students and either eats his lunch, cafeteria food, sandwiches, or leftovers, in his office or in the faculty lounge.

In order to facilitate interaction with the students, he has an open door policy in which students are able to talk with him in his office about any issues or problems. This policy also applies to staff members. Belzer wants to create a safe environment in which students and staff are able to express their concerns and thoughts. 

“A big part of my job is to set policies, expectations, and directions which can feel very top-down, so I try to have an open door policy to allow me to engage with students and staff to discuss our goals and how they see their roles in the school,” Belzer said. 

Additionally, he attends student athletic competitions and is very involved with school activities such as school dances and sports games.

“I like being engaged with students and teachers and helping facilitate their learning. I also like the fact that no two days are the same and that I am a part of something that is constantly growing and moving forward,” Belzer said.

Most of Belzer’s meetings are after school at around 3:30 pm. After, he often stays at school until 5:30 to 6 pm checking emails and connecting with teachers. Finally, when he arrives home, he walks his dogs, has dinner with his family, and either watches TV or reads his current book, The Scarlet Letter, which is also being read by his daughter at Aragon.

Posted on October 31, 2018 .

Colleges track demonstrated interest in more ways than students know

In an age when applying to some colleges is as easy as checking a box on the Common Application, schools are increasingly tracking demonstrated interest in an attempt to predict which applicants consider the college to be their first choice, and which are applying with no real intention of attending. While many students are aware that colleges track demonstrated interest, most do not know the extent to which colleges can monitor a prospective student’s behavior.

Students who opt into receiving emails from colleges when they take the PSAT may find their inbox flooded daily with dozens of new emails from colleges. Many of these schools track whether students open college emails or click the links inside.

Students who opt into receiving emails from colleges when they take the PSAT may find their inbox flooded daily with dozens of new emails from colleges. Many of these schools track whether students open college emails or click the links inside.

Students typically try to show that they are interested in a specific college by visiting the campus, scheduling an alumni interview, attending a college fair or emailing admissions representatives. The college’s goal in recording these actions is to increase its yield, or the percentage of admitted students who choose to attend the school. However, tracking demonstrated interest extends far beyond what students expect. According to Stefanie Niles, the vice president for enrollment management at Dickinson College, many schools have a database tool that checks whether or not prospective applicants are opening the emails that colleges send. The website CollegeMapper, created by Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed, also claims that colleges can detect whether or not an applicant scrolled through the email, which links in the email the applicant clicked and how long the applicant spent looking at the college’s website after clicking a link.

The National Association of College Admission Counselors reports that about half of all colleges consider demonstrated interest to be a highly or moderately important factor in the admissions process, meaning small actions, such as looking at college emails, can make a difference in the admissions process.

Some college applicants, such as senior Samantha Goldstein, want schools to make their methods of tracking demonstrated interest more transparent.

“I think tracking emails is little scary. I thought that those were emails that didn’t hold a lot of weight and they were more like sales pitches for schools and not important in terms of your admission,” Goldstein said. “Since college admissions are so competitive, hiding something that gives students a better chance of admission is unfair.”

However, alumna Priya Koliwad, currently a freshman at American University, believes that revealing exactly how colleges measure demonstrated interest would decrease the value of tracking demonstrated interest in the first place.

“Schools want to see genuine interest. If kids knew that they were tracked, they could falsify that interest,” Koliwad said. “There are ways to make the information [on how students can show interest] more accessible, but I think it would defeat the purpose of tracking.”

Most private institutions track demonstrated interest. If you are unsure whether or not a certain college pays attention to a student’s interest in the school, the admissions sections of college websites frequently have more information.

Posted on October 28, 2018 .

BHS Cafeteria faces immense problems

The school cafeteria has been in two difficult situations over the past few years. The school lunches have consistently climbed, with the most recent addition of $.50 added to the lunches this school year, leaving the lunches priced at $5. Meanwhile, the Special Nutrition program reports the average school lunch in California only costs $3. And yet, the cafeteria is still hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

The transition from Burlingame Intermediate to BHS has created an impact on freshman, most of who come from BIS, where the lunch price is a reasonable $2.75. Their lunches include a main entree, sides of vegetables and milk. BHS, on the other hand, is pricing the same lunches $2 more. However, it is split as to how the quality of the food compares to BIS’ lunch.

“The [BHS Lunch] looks like something I could buy at a store, which I like about the lunch...And [BIS’] lunches were just nasty,” freshman Dean Belhoucine, said.

However, other students have an opposing view regarding the BHS’ lunches.

“For me, BHS’ [lunch] is pretty trash... Plus it’s $2 more,” freshman Bilel Harrat said. “I just feel that BIS’ lunch was much better for its price than BHS’.”

Although some students may feel cheated by their costly lunches, the Nutrition Services have a far different stance on the situation. Vicki Ottoboni, the Nutrition Services lead at BHS claims that the high lunch price is still not high enough to support the lunch program, even with the additional $.50 added to the lunch price this school year.

“$5 for a meal is really not that expensive,” Ottoboni said. “Because if you walked Burlingame Avenue and bought a Caesar salad, for example, you would probably pay 10 or $11.”  

“We don’t raise prices every year…even though we should,” Ottoboni said, citing labor costs, food costs and benefits.

“But we are a break-even program so our goal is to break even… but we’ve never broke even. We’ve always been hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. But at this school and throughout the district, we seem to be selling more meals, more snacks or drinks,” Ottoboni said. “So hopefully it’ll be better.”

Students line up in the BHS cafeteria to receive their food.

Students line up in the BHS cafeteria to receive their food.

Posted on October 28, 2018 .

Morning Glory: the Ave’s oldest store

When Paulette Munroe graduated from Burlingame 46 years ago, she was not entirely sure what she wanted to do with her life. However, a plan for the future soon presented itself in the form of Morning Glory, a store where she had been selling her handmade clothing since she was 16. Munroe and her sister Maureen bought the business from a friend’s sister with financial help from their father. Munroe recalls the early days when her father, who was very frugal, would loan them money.

Morning Glory has been open since 1972 and has been in its location on 1436 Burlingame Avenue since 1995.

Morning Glory has been open since 1972 and has been in its location on 1436 Burlingame Avenue since 1995.

“[He would] only lend us exactly as much money as we had saved. So together we had saved $2,500 so he lent us $2,500,” Munroe said. “We opened it with $5,000.” They worked together making a majority of their inventory with Paulette sewing clothes and Maureen making jewelry and other accessories.

In the early 1970s, when the sisters attended BHS, Burlingame Avenue looked very different. Almost all the stores had single owners, as opposed to the large chains present today. Munroe remembers a store called Miller Drug.

“[The store had] a soda fountain in the middle [with]... a white marble counter; you could go in after school and all the kids used to hang out,” Munroe said. “It was like something out of an old movie.”

Despite many renovations and changing store fronts on Burlingame Avenue, Morning Glory still stands. Originally across from Copenhagen Bakery in an 800 square foot space, it has moved multiple times and is now located at 1436 Burlingame Ave.

“[There’s] really nothing about [running the store] I don’t like… you know the customers so well…. You know what you have, you know what they like and they sort of just count on you to guide them,” Munroe said.

After all these years, Munroe still owns Morning Glory, although it’s not just her and her sister anymore. She now has seven salespeople working for her and though she no longer makes all the clothing (almost all of it comes from wholesale manufactures), she still does all the alterations by hand and loves the community aspect of owning a small business on the Ave.

“I [love it] because you know the customers so well. And this town is really good for it, because even if people move away, everybody's parents are still here,” she said. “They all come back.”

Posted on October 28, 2018 .

Famous author with local roots

She was born in San Francisco, and she died in Vermont. She had few friends as a young girl and agoraphobia as an adult. She existed as a social pariah in her three years at Burlingame and received worldwide renown for her stories of ghosts and public stonings. To this day, the horror fiction genre stands in the shadow of powerhouse author Shirley Jackson.

Horror writer Stephen King cited Hill House as “...one of the most important horror novels of the 20th century.” On Oct. 12, Netflix released a TV series loosely based off the novella.

Horror writer Stephen King cited Hill House as “...one of the most important horror novels of the 20th century.” On Oct. 12, Netflix released a TV series loosely based off the novella.

Jackson’s writings would inspire notable horror authors such as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Born in 1916, she was raised in a shingled house on Forest View Road, now called Forest View Avenue. Jackson’s home life was fraught with conflict. Her mother, thoroughly a “Hillsborough mom” by modern-day standards, was discontented with her daughter’s reclusive temperament. Jackson wrote in her diary, “I thought I was insane and I would write about how the only sane people are the ones who are condemned as mad and how the whole world is cruel and foolish and afraid of people who are different.” The strained relationship between mother and daughter, societal expectations versus individual eccentricities, was to be a recurring theme in Jackson’s novels.

Jackson attended Burlingame for three years. She played violin in the school orchestra. In her senior year, she and her family moved to Rochester, New York. Thereafter, she attended Brighton High School, also abbreviated as BHS. In 1934, Jackson began her freshman year at University of Rochester, later transferring to Syracuse University.

Stanley Edgar Hyman, another Syracuse student, read Jackson’s first short story appearing in the literary magazine and vowed to marry the author. Two years later, his vow came to fruition. When Hyman accepted a professorial position at Bennington College, the couple settled in Vermont.

It was during this time in Bennington that Jackson was most prolific. As a housewife, most of her time during the day was spent in solitude when her husband went to work. The Lottery, published in The New Yorker on June 26, 1948, catapulted Jackson to fame. In response to the controversial communal violence portrayed in the short story, The New Yorker received hundreds of letters. To this day, it is read widely in high schools across the U.S. Even after she became a successful author, Jackson’s mother still criticized her daughter, mainly for her lack of photogenic physical traits. But Jackson couldn’t care less about the way she was portrayed in the media. In fact, a rumor emerged among several gossip columns that Jackson was a practicing witch. She did, after all, own at least six cats of the same color fur at any one time in order to fool her husband into thinking that they only owned three or four cats. Jackson, for her part, did nothing to dispel these rumors. She found a measure of amusement in them.

As her name recognition increased in the publishing industry, the shunning of Jackson’s eccentricity became celebration. In 1959, the publication of The Haunting of Hill House cemented Jackson’s status in the horror literature pantheon. Celebrated horror writer Stephen King even cited Hill House as “...one of the most important horror novels of the 20th century.”

The plot follows four main characters as they attempt to spend a summer living in a notorious haunted house. It is revealed in the beginning that one of the characters will die at Hill House. What makes the novel so terrifying is its central premise: the malicious ghosts are really the repressed “inner demons” lurking in the minds of the characters. (The main character is haunted by painful memories of her emotionally abusive mother. Sound familiar?) To that end, the horrors of Hill House are inescapable. One can hardly run away from the dark thoughts concealed in their own subconscious. Ghosts, bogeymen and the things that go bump in the night are figments of the human psyche. Jackson’s novel begets the question: what does that connote about the human psyche?

The good news is that you can answer that question for yourself. On Oct. 12, Netflix released a TV series called The Haunting of Hill House, loosely based off the original text.  

For her part, Jackson believed that the only way to vanquish her “inner demons” was to transform them into fiction. The self-conscious girl from Burlingame derived success from accepting her strangeness, and now the literary world is forever changed.

“As long as you write it away regularly,” Jackson wrote, “nothing can really hurt you.”

Posted on October 28, 2018 .

The driver's license dilemma

Teens use Companies such as Uber and Lyft as substitutes to getting a license

Teens use Companies such as Uber and Lyft as substitutes to getting a license

Fewer teens are getting their driver's licenses than ever before. Instead of getting a driver’s license to drive themselves home, many teenagers are waiting until 18 years old to get a license. Many are saving money using either ride-hailing apps or public transportation such as buses and trains. Apps such as Uber and Lyft give anyone the capability to be picked up and dropped off whenever and wherever they want. Also, the driving restriction laws put in place for drivers under the age of 18 make getting a license before the age of 18 quite a hassle. These are a few of the reasons why many teens are not acquiring their license.

A common misconception is that owning a car is cheaper than using a ride-hailing app. The idea of paying everyday for a ride home by an Uber or Lyft driver at first glance can seem to be expensive, but in reality, ride-hailing is often cheaper after the total cost. Factors such as maintenance, gas, insurance, registration, or smog and tickets can add up to a large amount of money per month. The only cost of ride-hailing apps is the charge for the ride. Car owners are beginning to feel that the cost of owning a car outweighs the cost of an app.

For the first year of owning a license, an underage driver must have a licensed driver over the age of 25 in the car with them if they are driving after 11 p.m., or if there are other passengers in the car under the age of 20. These restrictions limit teenagers’ ability to legally drive friends alone in the first year of having a license and late at night. Because of these regulations, teenage car accidents have been on a decline. However, the multitude of regulations also frustrate underage drivers, leading them to work toward their drivers’ licenses only after they have reached age 20.   

Posted on October 28, 2018 .

Music for Kids Club provides local organization with music lessons

The Music for Kids Club at Burlingame High School devotes its Thursday lunches to planning voluntary Monday music lessons at the local Boys and Girls Club of North San Mateo County. The Boys and Girls Club of North San Mateo County’s mission is to inspire and enable young people to realize their full potential and contribute to their communities. Thus, the two programs’ objectives align nicely.

“Our club is all about inspiring kids to love music by making the experience a fun after school activity that kids look forward to,” said sophomore Grace Shin, president of the club.

The planning process of the entire after school program was not an easy task. Shin recalls that the idea of the program was brilliant, but daunting.

“At first, we just wanted to make an impact on the community in some way, shape, or form,” Shin said. “We got right to work planning the logistics of the program when the opportunity opened up at the Boys and Girls Club.”

The Music for Kids Club ensured that the music program would be something new that the community had never seen before. Although music lessons after school are very common, free music lessons held weekly by volunteers are rare.

“This is a voluntary program run by students who only meet once a week to plan a whole after school program from scratch every week,” said Sophomore Minami Mori, vice president of the Music for Kids Club.

Every Thursday at lunch, members of the club work vigorously to plan out game ideas and music lessons to create the perfect afterschool experience for the children.

“We have held four after school programs so far, all of which have been quite a success as we have seen improvement and interest from the kids,” Mori said.

Although the program has been successful, its road to success was not smooth sailing. The club had a hard time deciding on which songs to have the kids play, as they are all varied in skill level. The club also had to determine whether or not the children had sufficient musical knowledge to actually play an instrument.

“There were many factors we had to consider. We figured most of the kids probably didn’t know how to play an instrument yet so we had introductory music lessons first where we taught them the original octet, how to read notes, and how to count beats,” Shin said.

Nevertheless, the club was able to persevere through the complications and achieve its goal.

“After teaching them the basics for the first few weeks, they already knew the octet like back of their hand,” said Mori.

Once the children were beginning to able to play a simple tune, the program was starting to become a reality.

“We plan to start introducing more complex songs soon. It’s just a matter of how interested and focused the kids are during the couple hours we have, and they’re pretty focused already,” Mori said.

For the members of the Music for Kids Club, the afterschool music program not only means service hours and a fun time with kids, but also a reflection of how far their club has come since its establishment in 2018.

“This program isn’t just impacting the community, it’s impacting us. It has shown us how much our club can do if we put our minds to it,” Shin said.


Posted on October 27, 2018 .

You Matter week

The event held on Sept. 26 provided various fun activities to lighten the heavy subject matter at hand.

The event held on Sept. 26 provided various fun activities to lighten the heavy subject matter at hand.

Representatives from local mental health services were available to talk to students and provide them with resources.

Representatives from local mental health services were available to talk to students and provide them with resources.

Junior Louis Tang asks a representative from StarVista about her activity.

Junior Louis Tang asks a representative from StarVista about her activity.

Counselor Tammy Esrailian asks a student a true-or-false question about suicide in exchange for candy.

Counselor Tammy Esrailian asks a student a true-or-false question about suicide in exchange for candy.

The event, spearheaded by counselor Karen Latham, aimed to destigmatize discussions about suicide.

The event, spearheaded by counselor Karen Latham, aimed to destigmatize discussions about suicide.

Posted on October 15, 2018 .