Students’ Anxiety: The Grades or the Stigma

by Avery Livezey, staff writer

OCTOBER 2021 – The emphasis today’s society puts on grades has a psychological impact on students. In the last few decades, the expectation for students changed from the expectation of earning passing grades to earning excellent grades, followed by securing a college education. Receiving a C on the grading scale is supposed to be average, but students are told that an A should be their standard. Bio-Med Science Academy’s goal is to eliminate grades in the future.

Tenth-grader, Lucy Molnar, sat in the commons, stressed over her latest homework assignment. Photo by Avery Livezey, staff writer

“Society, as a whole, seems to focus on perfection,” said Mr. William Ullinger, the ninth-grade social studies teacher. “Striving for perfection can be detrimental to [students’] mental health because it’s an impossible goal.”

Ullinger said, “Anxiety will fade from school if you are able to talk about what’s wrong and effectively find how to do better.” 

Some students often think about asking for help as confrontation and would rather fail than get the help they need, and prolonging the issue just makes students more anxious. Twenty percent of high school students have mental health poor enough to impair their daily activities, according to the National Center for Mental Health Checkups.

Dr. Lisa Testa, the President of Bio-Med’s Governing Board and associate professor in Kent State University’s Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum Studies department, believes that students could benefit from ungraded feedback, allowing them to improve without as much pressure. She also believes an ungraded environment would help free students from some of their paralysis. “Students tend not to take risks because they’re afraid of failing. Learning is feeling like you can take risks, and without failures we don’t learn as much,” said Testa.

Bio-Med uses a mastery grading system, which does not follow a traditional grading scale. Mrs. Emily Lee, the school counselor for grades seven through nine, believes the mastery scale provides students with the ability to put a focus on their learning rather than worry about pass/fail grades. With mastery, students work towards mastering a skill and can often be given multiple chances to do so. Students are given expectations for assignments and based on how many of those expectations the students meet, they score either a “no evidence of mastery,” “not yet mastered,” “developing mastery,” “mastery,” or “exceeds mastery.”

Teachers at Bio-Med have encouraged students to shift their focus from grades to mastering the skill.

Mrs. Whitney Mihalik, the 11th grade social studies teacher, found it interesting that at Bio-Med, a place that works to not prioritize grades, students seem to focus more on them. She continued, saying that the anxiety from grades at Bio-Med is a “student-created issue that teachers struggle to stop.” 

Mihalik recommended students learn how to “partner up with their anxiety.” She elaborated on this by stating that “They need to manage [their anxiety]. They’ll always have it. Learning how to manage things like anxiety over grades can be the make or break for some students. The prioritization of grades shouldn’t be an issue as long as mental health is also a prioritization.”

Some students come to Bio-Med to challenge themselves further academically. Students transitioning from traditional education often try to fit their mastery grades into traditional letter grades in an attempt to understand them.

While the mastery scale continues evolving away from the traditional grading system, some students find the rapid changes to be overwhelming. Gabby Giovinazzo, a seventh grader, explained,“I was a little freaked out by the new grading scale and getting used to it over the years because the grades themselves kept changing names.” 

Giovinazzo has also struggled with handling the anxiety attached to grades. “When adults try to talk about anxiety, they talk about it in a way that’s easier said than done,” she said. “They say not to be anxious because it’s normal, but they don’t help fix the issue.”

Giovinazzo also shared that a good amount of the anxiety resulted from embarrassment, or fear of it.

“There’s even more pressure when your grades are made public if you aren’t doing well,” she said. “For example, if there is a group assignment and people won’t work with you because they know you’re struggling or during a group assignment and other people in your group won’t let you do any of the work. They won’t even let you try, and it’s embarrassing.”

She explained that teachers’ attempt to help students by giving them time to work one on one with them while others do activities. However, sometimes the conferences with teachers can make students feel anxious, due to their peers seeing them being pulled out. She believes that teachers’ attempts to help add to the embarrassment and pressure students feel.

Students need to take their anxiety and struggles, into their own hands. If students are struggling with anxiety they should reach out to their teachers or one of the school counselors, Mrs. Lee and Miss Hammond. You can reach the school counselors via their school emails: elee@bmsastem.org and shammond@bmsastem.org 

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Gender Neutral Bathrooms

by Cadence Gutman, staff writer

OCTOBER 2021 – Bio-Med Science Academy installed gender neutral bathrooms following the construction and building of the school’s newest addition. In April 2015, President Barack Obama installed a gender neutral bathroom in the White House. This response was in light of 20 state level bills intended to target transgender people, being passed and enforced across the right-leaning states of the United States of America.

Gender neutral bathrooms have been a subject of debate and discussion that is part of the Transgender Rights Movement. Photo by Cadence Gutman, staff writer.

Despite this, the use of gender neutral restrooms was not widely adopted until 2016, when more than 150 universities across the country made the decision to install them. This was and still is part of the larger Transgender Rights Movement. The movement includes anyone on the transgender spectrum, which also includes gender non-conforming or nonbinary people.

Charmayne Polen, chief operating officer of grades seven through nine, was asked about the decision to install the gender neutral bathrooms in Bio-Med.

“We wanted to honor and make sure that all students were comfortable going to the bathroom,” Polen stated. According to Polen, Bio-Med was built to present itself as an innovative and welcoming school that not only embraces technology but also does its best to make every student feel supported during their educational journey.

When asked if she and those involved in the decision were afraid of the backlash, she stated, “We weren’t afraid, but we anticipated it. We knew that there would be people who were not happy about it.”

There are still gendered bathrooms in the older half of Bio-Med, which primarily houses the middle school students.

“However, we do have the [gendered] bathrooms in the original commons, so we always say if there’s someone who wants to use those bathrooms, they can go over and use those if they’re more comfortable,” Polen said.

When asked about the backlash they received from parents and students after the new addition, Polen answered that, “They didn’t quite understand the ‘why’ behind it. I think some of the people who were not for it had never seen them .… Some of them thought the walls didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling so people could peek over …. I’ve actually taken pictures of them and sent them to people so that they understood, and that seemed to help.”

Although they had an impact on the general public, they were built for the comfort of people on the transgender spectrum, since gendered restrooms can create a hostile and uncomfortable environment for them.

The bathrooms could also present a solution to the debate surrounding trans people’s right to use the bathroom of the gender they present as. The idea of the bathrooms not having a specified gender takes away the idea that anyone is using the wrong restroom.

“I really like them. I feel less awkward when walking into the gender neutral bathrooms. I really like there’s no label put on me when I’m trying to piss,” said Freshman Finch Watters.

Watters was also asked if they would go to the other side of the school to avoid the gendered restrooms.

“Yeah probably. I don’t like them at all,” they continued. “I don’t feel comfortable going into the girls bathroom because I don’t feel like a girl. But I don’t feel comfortable going into the dudes bathroom because I don’t have dude parts.”

Around one fourth of the population suffers from gender dysphoria, which is the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity to be at variance with one’s birth sex. Watters stated on the topic of whether gender neutral bathrooms help with this. “Yeah, I like the thought of people not knowing whether I’m a girl or a guy. It makes me feel more comfortable.”

“It kinda feels like a safe place from my parents who are openly homophobic. I feel like I can be myself,” Watters said, commenting on what they think about the open environment regarding sexuality and gender. “I came from Streetsboro and they’re super homophobic. I like how accepting the teachers are this year. Like in sixth grade [at Streetsboro], one of the teachers found out I like other women and they kind of shunned me.”

Cisgender students also support the addition of gender-neutral restrooms.

Junior Aidan Veney said, “I love gender neutral bathrooms. They are designed with everybody in mind and don’t carry any prejudice, like how most men’s bathrooms don’t have changing tables, and take away the unnecessary burden of any potential issues that may arise if your gender identity doesn’t match your sex assigned at birth,” he said.

“I love that Bio-Med is one of the few communities, especially in northeast Ohio, where you can feel free to be who you are. I know both from experience and from stories my friends have told that bullying is a huge problem in local schools,” Veney continued, “and it’s nice that we can call ourselves a place where everyone is welcome.”

Bio-Med has established changes to make LGBTQIA+ individuals more comfortable. Erica Stewarts, a freshman who is new to Bio-Med this year, offers her opinions on this. “I’m pleased with it,” Stewards said, referring to the new bathrooms. “I think it’s as much as you can do without going overboard and keeping everybody happy.”

Coming from different backgrounds, schools and districts, can drastically change students’ opinions on different topics. Coming to Bio-Med, which is a school that tends to be open about gender and sexuality, this can be especially true.

Polen was pleased with how Bio-Med handles being open with sexuality and gender. “I’m really proud of the fact that we are a school that supports that,” she said, “because I know that some kids have experiences in other places where that support is not there. So I am very proud of that. That our school, our environment, [and] our culture. Our staff are all very open and welcoming and supportive of that.”

The installation of gender neutral bathrooms was a small step in a larger movement that not only affects the students personally but also affects their learning. Making students feel comfortable in a learning environment allows them to focus on their studies. The idea that everyone can be equal has had an impact on students of all gender identities.

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Generation Z Spearheading Social Change

By Benjamin Morgan and Skylar Cole

Generation Z is preparing to enter the adult world en masse, and the recent wave of student activism shows that many members of this group aren’t willing to sit back and wait for change. Across the world, teenagers have gone on strike in opposition to the injustice they see in the world around them. The activism of this group differs greatly from that of past generations due in large part to the tools that many teens and other young adults have grown up with and have ingrained into their collective culture. Handheld computers, instant access to social media users around the world, and the greatest database of human knowledge ever accessible have all contributed to the strength and scope of Gen Z taking a stand.

One of the first and most covered American events in the new era of student protests was the response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Following the deaths of 17 people in this school shooting, thousands of students walked out across the nation to protest gun violence and support gun control. After the national walkout in March of 2018, the New York Times reported that “the emergence of people not even old enough to drive as a political force has been particularly arresting, unsettling a … debate that had seemed impervious to other factors.” 

Many Bio-Med students participated in this act, constituting the first real concerted effort of student activism in our school. 

“[The shooting and walkout] made me want to do more, but I didn’t know what else to do… Not all of us can be Greta.” said Eryka Lund, a participant in the walkout. 

At the time of the writing of this article, students in Hong Kong are continuing school strikes that have lasted almost two months in the face of continuing police brutality and violence against the people. 

The student-led components are a part of that city’s opposition to increased rule by mainland China, most notably a now-retracted extradition treaty. These students are standing against increased aggression by the Chinese military and local police and defying the recent mask ban, a measure instituted by Hong Kong’s government to ban the wearing of face masks that obscure identity during demonstrations, protecting their right to protest with anonymity. Protesters have managed to send hundreds of videos, photographs, and messages to the outside world, piercing the web of censorship that China has attempted to cast over them to stifle their voices. As the violence has intensified, students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong built barricades on the University grounds and fought the police as government forces attempted to regain the campus. Though they face arrest, government-sanctioned beatings, and even death, the students are willing to accept any fate if it means a future of freedom and democracy for their city.

Perhaps the most striking recent example of global student solidarity came in late September of 2019 with the Global Climate Strike. While working people around the world participated in the strike, the event was inspired and organized by a group of Swedish teenagers, most notably Greta Thunberg. 

August 20, 2018, was the first day that fifteen-year-old Thunberg sat outside the Swedish Riksdag, the national legislature and decision-making body, with her now-famous sign reading, “Skolstrejk för klimatet,” which in English reads “school strike for the climate.” From that day until the Swedish general election on September 9, Thunberg sat outside the Riksdag during school hours every weekday in protest. Her demands came after Sweden experienced the hottest summer in 262 years, in which the country was overtaken by wildfires and heatwaves.

Between September 20-27, 2019, she helped to orchestrate the Global Climate Strike. Independent sources estimated that over six million students voided going to school on the final day in solidarity with Thunberg.

Thunberg’s action caught international attention, in part due to her blunt language about the climate crisis. She continues to call out world leaders and the public to take action and address climate change. For her actions, Thunberg has received and been nominated for many awards including being named one of the 100 most influential people of 2019 by Time magazine and being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. 

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Interview: Miss Hisey Awarded OLSEN STEM Teaching Award

By Colleen Bungard

Last June, Miss Candace Hisey, Bio-Med’s sophomore ELA teacher, earned the Excellence in STEM Teaching Award for her innovative integration of STEM in her classroom. The award is given yearly to a teacher in the state of Ohio who teaches STEM principles in unique and effective ways. It is funded by the Ohio STEM Learning Network (OSLN) and Battelle, a STEM solutions company that helps finance a lot of the current STEM education initiatives in Ohio. We had a chat with Miss Hisey to get the inside scoop on how she feels about receiving this award and how she comes up with her award winning teaching ideas.

Colleen Bungard: What has been the biggest perk or experience that has come out of receiving this award?

Candace Hisey: I think the coolest thing that happened was that my alma mater, Baldwin Wallace — I’m very proud of it being my alma mater, it’s just a great school — did a write-up on their alumni of note page, and I didn’t even know about it until a friend sent it to me and said, “Oh, Baldwin Wallace did an article about you!” It was kind of weird that they didn’t contact me to ask if it was ok; I don’t know how they even found out about it, but that was probably the coolest thing that came out of it, because I really love my college.

CB: How do you come up with your innovative ideas for classroom integration?

CH: There is no one particular way, but I read a lot of books. I set a 75 book-a-year goal every year. I’m a little behind right now, but I think that in that way I’m exposed to a lot of information and a solid half of the books I read have to be nonfiction. So I’ll read about different science topics, and I’ll see how they’re integrated with language concepts and so reading is a lot of it, listening to a lot of podcasts. [I] subscribe to several science and engineering newsletters that I get in my email but the biggest thing is definitely just within sophomore team; we have a constant group chat going at all times about whatever interesting things we encounter and we’ll just get into a really random conversation and almost always a project idea will come out of it … I think those conversations more than anything lead to these huge ideas that we then generally have to scale back because they become a little too big.

CB: That’s really cool, this idea that collaboration is such a great source of ideas for you guys.

CH: Absolutely! Yes, and I think that kids see our team doing it, and so they know that it’s a real skill that you actually have to use because we’re doing it visibly, every day, which helps with the buy-in.

CB: Yeah, think it’s so easy to think that stuff like this comes from a vacuum, that you have to come up with totally original ideas on your own, but that’s really not the case is it?

CH: No, it is not, and any creative people that tell you that it does are lying, because — think about it — if you were alone in a room all day and didn’t talk to anyone you would have only your thoughts, your own ideas to work from, but everybody’s ideas build off of everything else even if it’s not in your immediate surroundings. Maybe you’re an artist and you pull your ideas from one of the classical masters of a particular medium. It’s not coming out of nowhere, and I think it would help kids to be a little less stressed out when they’re not feeling very creative if they realized that it’s not this mystical thing that some people can tap into and other people can’t tap into, that it is something that anybody can access if you surround yourself with the right things and the right people. 

CB: Who nominated you for the award?

CH: Miss Mino, Miss Lang, and a group of students all had to work together to fill out this very big application. They should win the award for filling out the application, I didn’t have to do anything. … I think Miss Lang kind of led the charge, and then Miss Mino went around and got some recommendations from the kids. 

CB: We already kind of covered this in elaborating on one of my previous questions, but as a humanities teacher, how do you find ways to involve STEM in your classroom? Obviously, those are two pretty different subjects.

CH: I think that’s such a misconception. You look back at theses periods of really robust human exploration, not just in the humanities but in STEM fields too, look at the Renaissance. When you talk about receiving a classical education, what you mean is an integrated education. You are combining all of those subjects into one big, cohesive understanding of the world around you, and language is at the heart of all of that. You can’t do anything without language; you can’t communicate. There was a massive shift in scientific research once we developed a structure for how to published scientific research, right? Because all of a sudden we had this structure like: I’m going to write my abstract up here, and my methods under that, and my results down here. As soon as we started doing that — I don’t remember specifically when, it’s in the book we just read — but as soon as we started doing that information circulated and people could say, “Oh, in that lab over there, they did this cool thing; we’re going to do a follow-up experiment and share it with them. The sharing of information is what allows for growth, and you can’t do that without language. I honestly don’t feel like they’re that different, and I feel like the humanities, language specifically, are the foundations of STEM and that without it, those others things can’t exist. 

CB: That makes a lot of sense. Did you ever consider going into a STEM field? It seems like you have quite the passion for science.

CH: Honestly, it’s one of those things where I enjoy reading about it and learning about it as an adult learner and continuing to dig into it so much I think in part because I don’t do it as my job, and it allows me a certain level of freedom to go at my own pace and read what I want to and research what I want to, so I don’t think I would make a particularly good research scientist. In part because I don’t want to be in a lab all day. In terms of my profession, I like to be around people, not that you can’t do that as a scientist, but if I were to be a researcher, you do spend a lot of time alone just doing your research. I love reading about it and I love interacting with it in those ways but I don’t think I would want to do it as a career.

CB: That’s really cool. I think a lot of kids my age are approaching that point of having to ask yourself “I like this thing; do I like it enough to make a career out of it or does it have to stay a hobby for me to continue enjoying it” in a similar way.

CH: Absolutely, and I definitely can see that. I was a very musical kid; I took lessons and all that, and for a while I definitely considered — and I think my parents were kind of pushing for, I know my voice teacher was pushing for me — to go to school for music, and I had that moment of like, “If I do this, will I still enjoy this in the same way, or is it going to become my source of stress instead of my source of joy because it will be my job.” 

Wise words from someone who so clearly enjoys her job. Finding a way to integrate your interests with a career can seem near impossible, but Miss Hisey is accomplishing that quite successfully. She’s doing what she loves and doing it well, and I for one can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Interview has been edited for length

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New Biomedical Engineering Teacher Shares Her Background

By Aliscia Phillips

Mrs. Cassandra Bonvissuto, a recent addition to the Bio-Med Science Academy staff, currently teaches biomedical engineering to the juniors. Her passion for science started before she can remember and has stuck with her throughout her life. She explained how she likes the subject because of how broad it is and enjoys the freedom of being able to take it in whatever direction she pleases. She graduated from Ohio State University with a biology major but had previously attempted to major in mathematics. However, she found it hard to understand her professors so she switched to biology, thus beginning a career in a field she loves. 

Before teaching, Mrs. Bonvissuto held jobs in research where she participated in several labs, ranging from studying multiple sclerosis to practicing flow cytometry (a technique used to characterize cells) to researching chemotherapeutic drugs. She held the position of a research associate which essentially made her the lab manager. She oversaw the lab, ensuring that good safety practice and the correct protocols were being carried out. She also had the opportunity to train people who participated in them. 

The very last job she had before going into teaching was at Case Western Reserve University where she was testing potential chemotherapeutic drugs and various cancer cell lines. At the time, she was the only one working in the lab, which required her to be there every six hours and she had recently become a parent. Because of the time restraint it put on her, she decided that she needed to find a new job.

Mrs. Bonvissuto both enjoyed and was familiar with being in somewhat of  an education role as a research associate, so it made sense that her next career would be in teaching. This allowed her to stick with a subject that she loved while also having enough time to take care of her child. She started at Poland Seminary High School where she taught various science-related classes. Eventually, she made the decision to leave because of disagreements she had, primarily with their lack of disciplinary action. She noticed that this wasn’t necessarily specific to just Poland Seminary, but to most typical public schools, which is ultimately what led her to decide to work at Bio-Med. 

Bio-Med in particular provides a more collaborative, hands-on approach. Mrs. Bonvissuto gives the example of a student getting suspended. At Bio-Med an intervention of sorts is held in which the student has the opportunity to grow from the experience whereas, at another school, the student might get suspended for a few days and then return to class with no discussion of improvement. She says that her favorite part about Bio-Med so far is the community. Students at other schools don’t have the same opportunity to take part in cross-curricular activities that allow them to better build connections between subjects. 

Outside of school, Mrs. Bonvissuto loves to spend time with her family. She has an eleven-year-old stepdaughter named Bella and a ten-year-old daughter named Hannah. She has been married to her husband, Greg, since leap year day of 2012. They have two pets: a rescue dog named Cassie and a cat named Samantha. Mrs. Bonvissuto also loves anything outdoors including snowboarding and rock climbing. She even enjoys playing Scrabble despite being an admittedly bad speller.

She hopes that from her class, students can learn and understand how to run their own investigation if they ever desire to do so and be able to apply that process to other subject areas. The ability to run an investigation assists in higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills that are applicable to all aspects of life, not just science labs. If you were to have her in a classroom for more than one period you’d quickly notice her motto: “Don’t suck at life.” Despite being fluent in sarcasm, Mrs. Bonvissuto genuinely believes that it’s healthy to be able to laugh at your own mistakes and try to improve from them. It’s impossible to be perfect, but you can always grow. 

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New Social Studies Teacher Brings Unique Experience to Bio-Med Science Academy

By Aliscia Phillips

Mr. Marteau, the new sophomore social studies instructor, hadn’t always wanted to be a teacher. In fact, he graduated from Kent State with a degree in criminal justice and previously worked as a claims investigator for an auto insurance company in Columbus. However, he later returned to school to earn his master’s degree in education after realizing he was better suited to make a difference in his community through teaching rather than law enforcement. His passion for social studies bloomed into existence as a student when the subject became a personal favorite. He said that it was the ability to have a daily positive impact on people that motivated him to take up a career in teaching.

During his return to school, he found out about Bio-Med Science Academy through the head of his master’s program, Dr Lisa Testa, because she had a daughter who attended. He liked the fact that Bio-Med was a Research and Development (RND) school, meaning it was established by the state of Ohio to research better techniques for students. With this privilege, Bio-Med is able to take risks and push for legislation to change education for the better. Essentially, Mr. Marteau saw that the school was doing the best it can for its students which led him to pursue a job there.

Currently, his favorite part about Bio-Med is the sense of community, both within the student body and staff. He said the teachers are tight-knit and the whole community feels like a family. If his students get anything out of his class, he hopes that it’s a general sense of responsibility. He wishes for them to be advocates for themselves and others, to be active citizens who are aware of their environment and who understand that they have the capacity to make changes.

Outside of his job, Mr. Marteau loves to stay active by running. He has also found a hobby in creating art, specifically sketching and painting, and has been interested in comic book style artwork since he was a student. He recently bought a house with his fiancée, Megan, and his cat named Shadow. He and Megan got engaged just this summer.

Mr. Marteau leaves off with a piece of advice, taken from a quote by Teddy Roosevelt: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” He believes that if you can find a job in something you’re passionate about, you’ll never have to work a day in your life because you’ll simply be doing what you love. He himself always looks forward to work despite the struggles because he adores his job.

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Educational Models of Civic Institutions Offer Crucial Experiences to Students

By Ben Morgan

Bio-Med offers multiple student-run organizations that provide our community with experience and education in real-world institutions. Some of the most crucial lessons students take away from school are those on civic responsibility and the structure of the real world. These lessons are taught by allowing students to participate in mockups of some of the most critical institutions in society: elected government and free journalism. 

As Americans, we are given the freedom these institutions provide, but without a well-informed and engaged public, they cease to exist. While it may not levy taxes or regulate federal law before the eyes of the world, the opportunity to vote and experience representative democracy that student government provides is critical for the preparation of well-informed voters. 

Similarly, school newspapers allow students to not only learn, but also participate in the journalistic process while simultaneously informing their fellow students about important happenings and ideas. These are formative experiences for students to have that will impact their view on the institutions of our society and their connections to them. At present, people’s faith in these columns of our culture is eroding. 

According to statistics published by the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 53% of the eligible population turned out to vote in the 2018 elections, about a 12% increase from the last midterm. Similarly, the Knight Foundation reports that 69% of Americans state that they have lost faith in the media in the past decade. Perhaps the most distressing of these results comes from the Pew Research Center, which claims that only 40% of the U.S. population is satisfied with our democracy. 

It is crucial, at this time perhaps more than ever before, to support these organizations which form the basis for hands-on education in the fields which we all rely on for the functioning of day-to-day life in a free country. If Generation Z is to have an informed and engaged electorate, we must aid and work with student democracy and news resources. 

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