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student voices blog

Our amazing group of Senior School student bloggers will share their personal experiences at Shady Side Academy throughout the year.

Meet our 2015-2016 bloggers.

Student Voices Bloggers

From the ‘Burgh to Madrid - by Annika

Some of the best opportunities that Shady Side offers, in my opinion, are the international exchange programs for foreign languages. This year, SSA hosted Spanish exchange students in the fall, and held a trip to Spain and a trip to China over spring break. A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be part of the Spanish Exchange trip to a school called Liceo Europeo in Madrid!



Our group--thirteen kids and two chaperones--excitedly boarded our flight one Saturday morning in March. After a stop at JFK and many hours of travel and time change, we finally reached the beautiful coastal city of Barcelona. There, we spent three days as tourists in the lively city, and saw world famous sights such as the Salvador Dalí museum, Parc Güell, and the impressive church La Sagrada Familia. We also got a feel of the Spanish culture by eating traditional Tapas style dinners and watching a Flamenco Dance. It was obvious that no one wanted to leave, but finally it was time to move on to the actual ‘exchange’ part of the trip.

We said adiós to Barcelona and after a four-hour train ride, reached Spain’s capital: Madrid. There we went directly to the school that SSA has partnered with for the exchange, and at long last reunited with our exchange students. I was so excited to see Andrés, my exchange partner, again after so many months since he stayed with my family in September. I met his family and settled into my room in their house. The next 10 days living with them were truly unforgettable; it was such a cool experience living with a family in a foreign country. Not only was it super fun to live with a very caring family who immediately made me feel at home, but I also got great Spanish practice. The father did not speak English, but I found that it was much easier to converse with him in Spanish than I expected. I definitely found a much better understanding of colloquial Spanish while living with Andrés, his parents, and his two brothers (and not to mention his dog Luna, who only understood commands in Spanish!).

Though we were living with our host families in Madrid and attended some classes with our Spanish exchange partners, we also spent most days going on day-trip excursions with the rest of the SSA group. We visited amazing sights in and around the huge city, got to do some shopping, and never failed to stop for some “café con leche” and “churros con chocolate” (coffee with milk and churros with chocolate).

By the end of the trip everyone had fallen absolutely in love with Spain and I personally had fallen into a routine living there. I have to say one of my favorite parts of the whole trip was watching the soccer matches with my family and being a part of their extremely spirited rooting for Real Madrid. For me it was incredibly sad having to say goodbye to such a wonderful family, who I really do miss right now. ¡Hasta luego España; until next time Spain!

Posted by studentvoices in Academics, Extracurriculars/Activities on Thursday May 5 at 04:25PM
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The moving classroom - by Arman

It does not matter where you learn. Here, at Shady Side, my third-term English class Shakespeare's Characters has truly embodied that statement. This past week we have had the gracious gift of beautiful weather; allowing Mrs. Garvey to relocate our class outside.

This is truly an amazing learning experience — especially since we can perform our Shakespeare lines in the rejuvenating sunlight rather than the fluorescent lights of the classroom. This literal ‘out of the classroom’ learning experience also adds an element of freedom: we are not confined. Having the ability to have a flexible class that can be taught anywhere is truly a wonderful option here at SSA. On our 130 acre campus, we have a number of outdoor spaces classes can use.

Maybe it is just the recent shift in temperature? Maybe it is all the stress of having the US Rough Draft, Bio Test & Lab report, and BC Calc test in the same week? But having 50 minutes to lay in the sunlight and read historic Shakespeare plays is truly a welcome withdrawal from the monsters of stress.

Posted by studentvoices in Academics, School Life on Wednesday April 27 at 10:57AM
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Run Like You Stole Something! - by Quinn

Track season officially began in March but our first meet was just last week on the 12th of April. We really started our season off with a bang, competing against three different schools in one meet. The girls’ team beat two of the teams at our first meet, which was a great way to start of the season and keep us all motivated.

The team dynamic during track is different from any other sports team I have been on. There are many more of us and we spend a lot of time with the boys’ team, but that is what makes it so fun, especially at the meets. Every single person cheers every body on, no matter if they’re a boy or a girl, or if they even know them or not. The support that comes with the track team is incredible. It doesn’t matter whether you come in last place because no one holds it against you, and they all cheer you on like your life depends on that race.

I used to be so nervous before running my short distance sprints at a meet, but I have come to realize that each sprint is only fifteen or thirty seconds of my life, which is barely anything at all. Although there are a lot of people on the track team, in the end everyone on the team is in the competition together. Everyone gets nervous, but we all channel our nervous energy into motivating each other. Personally, a fun part of track this year for me is the pool workouts every Friday because they give your legs a break, and I really enjoy swimming. Track may be a shorter season, but the effort we all put in and the friendships that we create make the short season worthwhile.

Posted by studentvoices in Athletics on Wednesday April 20 at 04:01PM
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Chiapas Part II: Our Adventure - by Mario

Driving up the sinuous highway of Chiapas, I look out the Taxi window and to see a gentle smog coating the valley of Tuxtla. Mountains hugging the city tower over the small clusters of homes, making them look like little specks of vibrant colors painted on a ginormous canvas. Gorgé, Doctora’s husband, is mumbling Spanish to the driver in the front seat. I can barely hear, but pick upservicio and Chiapas.I fill in the rest in my head, and assume they're talking about what our group is doing in Chiapas. At this moment, I ask myself the same question,What are we doing here?


The morning after our ascent into the mountains, we settled into our hotel in San Cristobal, and then set off to the indigenous community of Chenalho. The trek took about an hour, an extra twenty minutes were added to take scenic pictures of the breathtaking views. Once we reached the mountain summit and began to descend to the other side, the landscape changed. Lush, green fields stretched as far as my eyes could see with modest homes speckled across the landscape. We finally reached our destination, Margarita’s home. There, we met her two daughters and their children. Doctora greeted them all with hugs, and introduced us. In the indigenous communities of Chiapas they speak Tzotzil and little Spanish, so most of our communication was through smiles and head nods. After chasing Margharita’s grandchildren up their backyard hill 50 times, we returned to San Cristobal and awaited our next day’s adventure.



On Sunday morning, we again ventured through the mountains to the community of Chenalho. However, instead of going to Margharita’s home, we went to her mother’s. Her mother’s aqua-green home was atop of a steep farm field and the only way up was to trek through the muddy corn field. Once we reached the top, we were welcomed by the families of the children our club supports. They motioned us to enter the vibrant home and immediately pulled tiny woodensillas out for our group to sit on. Once adjusted, Antonio, the man who helps distribute the money we raise for the children, ushered them to stand in a line in front of us. In Spanish, Antonio introduced the seven children we support. Their ages ranged from eight to fourteen. He explained how important our work is and the difference we make in the children’s’ lives.

The money our club raises (see Gannon's recent Blog) makes education accessible to the children because it provides them with the necessities needed to stay in school. At this moment, our efforts to raise money became something tangible. We are changing the lives of several children by providing them with means to achieve an education. With an education the doors to their futures are opened, allowing them to branch from their indigenous community and have lives of their own. With this idea in mind, my question I had at the beginning of the trip was finally answered.

Posted by studentvoices in Reflections, Extracurriculars/Activities on Monday March 14 at 12:28PM
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The making of a banner - by Rain


SSA will be hosting World Individual Speech and Public Speaking Contest (WIDPSC) during spring break! I am not a speech and debate team member nor will I be in Pittsburgh during spring break but I still wanted to contribute to this event, so I was thrilled to hear that I could help by making a banner for the event. I volunteered immediately.

Here’re the requirements. The banner will be 38” by 90”, and the theme will be WIDPSC. I want it to symbolize, if not realistically depict like a photograph, a scene of the event. I will create this banner digitally in Photoshop, and then order a print online and have it sent to me.

It didn’t take me very long to come up with a rough design of the banner. I imagine that a young and talented speaker stands confidently under the spotlight here at SSA in Pittsburgh. She looks at her audience and delivers her speech. The student is going to stand at a podium that represents Pittsburgh and against a dark background that can highlight her by contrast. The first few hours of painting the banner progressed smoothly. I laid out the basic colors (blue and gold! SSA colors!) and sketched out the student, but soon I was stuck when I tried to sketch the podium. How can a podium represent Pittsburgh? I searched through my memory trying to find notable moments I had in this city. I remember I had my first meal here in Primanti Brothers and had a sandwich with fries in it, so I sketched that down… No. It’s not a great time to eat when delivering a speech. That doesn’t make sense. Then I changed the podium to a sketch of downtown Pittsburgh. Nonono, the speaker is not a hero who saved this city. I also tried chimneys and smoke, but then abandoned that, too, reminding myself that Pittsburgh is no longer the polluted city full of steel mills. I became a little frustrated and tried some other designs, even including a relatively realistic podium, but I still didn’t like them. I was only relieved when the next day I came up with a simplistic, almost graphic, “flat" way of representing Pittsburgh on a podium, as shown in the image on the right. The banner is not finished yet, but from now on the progress will be smooth again.

Making this banner was much more time consuming than I originally thought, but it was good for me to take this challenge, as it simulates the process of an artist working for a client. It was a great practice of both painting skills and brainstorming designs. I can’t wait to see the printed banner being hung on campus. I hope people'll like it :)

Posted by studentvoices in Extracurriculars/Activities, Happenings on Friday March 11 at 08:46AM
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Chiapas Part I: Coming together for children - by Gannon

One of my favorite aspects of Shady Side is that students are allowed to form their own clubs based on any of their passions. This leads to a myriad of different clubs focusing on different activities like: sports, the arts, and community service. A couple examples are: Ski Club, which organizes school wide ski trips, French Club, which meets to talk about French culture, and the Personal Finance Club, which actually buys and trades stocks on the stock Market. However, my favorite club here at Shady Side is the Chiapas Club.

The Chiapas club is a student-run club that raises money each year to help provide children that live in the Chiapas region of Mexico enough money for an education. The Chiapas club normally raises money by having the students organize bake sales throughout the year as well as some other fundraising ideas. This club is great not just because of the things that it does, but also because of the way that the students further it each year. Chiapas Club is a long standing tradition at Shady Side, and the success that the club has is thanks to the drive of the students who run it. Every few years, the leaders of Chiapas go down to Chiapas, Mexico, and deliver the money to the children and families we support. (Come back in a few days to read Mario's blog about this year's trip).

At Shady Side, no matter what grade you are in, you are allowed to form a club for whatever passion you want. This gives every student the opportunity to pursue something that interests him or her as well as providing students experience leading things. This is a great system because it brings together students from all grades that may normally never meet each other because they all have a shared interest.

Posted by studentvoices in Extracurriculars/Activities on Wednesday March 9 at 09:20AM
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Top 5 Highlights of my Musical Experience - by Abbie

5) Teacher reactions. Because all members of the Shady Side faculty are required to help out with a sport or after-school activity, they each understand the demands of extracurriculars here. Many of them came to support the musical, and it was a lot of fun to hear how they liked the show. A few commented on my performance – how the role I played was so opposite my personality! On top of that, all my teachers were lenient during tech week, when my homework time was severely limited, and that really lightened the load for those of us in the cast and crew.


4) Tech week dinners. Tech week is the week of six hour rehearsals right before opening that keep us at school until 9:30 pm. It sounds crazy – which it is – but it’s also my favorite week of the year. Parents provide dinner at 5:30 and we all eat together in the Hillman lobby before jumping right back into rehearsal. By the end of the evening, we’re all exhausted, but most of us are still pretty upbeat, laughing and being ridiculous as a team.

3) Thataway! “Thataway” is the name of the trickiest, most high-energy dance number in the show, an 8-minute song that required a lot of rehearsal time. The twelve of us featured in it got really close throughout the experience – we even developed our own pump-up routine involving a huddle and a lot of excited yelling in the spirit of the western saloon number. Every one of us LOVED that dance, and I know I’m really going to miss that group.

2) Meeting the freshman thespians. I have very fond memories of my freshman year in the musical, when the class of 2012 took my friends and me under their wing. Now that I’m a senior, I’m on the other side of that, and it feels great to be returning the favor. The freshmen this year make that easy to enjoy – they’re an amazing group of people and I’ve had so much fun making new friends through this show!


1) Senior speeches. It is a tradition that the seniors each give a brief speech to the cast about their time in the musical program just before the final show. More so than any other year that I can remember, this pre-show ceremony was a tear fest. That’s just a testament to how committed we all are to the experience, and how much we’ve loved our time in the musical. I know I can speak for my fellow seniors when I say we are all so thankful for the wonderful experience.

Posted by studentvoices in Reflections, Arts on Tuesday March 1 at 08:04AM
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SAT Prep left me like…by Sameer

This past month has been perhaps the busiest of my school life so far. I was, at the beginning of the year, hoping to be done with the SAT once and for all after January 23, but fate buried my hope under six inches of wet snow. The test got postponed to February 20, a date one week after the musical, Curtains (which was a ton of fun, but a lot of work!), and the date of a big Science Olympiad tournament. I am left exhausted by the former and unable to attend the latter. To understand my anger, imagine this: a person has just bought his or her dream car, a car that has been the light at the end of the tunnel for a decade. On its inaugural run, a drive to Giant Eagle then home, it is t-boned at an intersection by a rusty, uninsured pickup from the 1980s, operated by a distracted driver. That anger that this person feels at the distracted driver and his or her anger at the situation is how I feel about this test right now. I am fine with preparation and various items under that umbrella, but I was feeling two or three times as confident about my SAT in the week leading up to January 23rd. Similarly, the Musical kept me at school until 9:30 for over a week, meaning that make-up work piled up like my test prep books, and made me very tired.

I suppose I signed up for all of this and should tell myself to chill, but the schedule of my life, the only way for me to juggle my many interests, has been tampered with very maliciously. I hold no anger against the College Board for trying to keep me from driving on the deadly roads that morning, and I don’t feel angst about the test itself, but after singing my head off, making up all of my work, and going through the SAT preparation (which I loathe), it is safe to say I am a little bit frazzled. But I know I’m not alone, which is wonderful. Fellow friends have described their situations as “annoying,” “infernal,” and “stressing me to the point where I will have no hair.” We are all holding together in solidarity through this telling time, and hopefully we will come out on top in the end. Junior year at SSA is a game of weeks—some are good, some are bad. This is a very bad one. I am glad to be writing this, the last of my tasks for the night. But I just realized that I should probably go and do a Critical Reading section right now…

Posted by studentvoices in Academics, Arts, College on Friday February 19 at 11:19AM
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Cracking the SSA - by Elena

Q: What do you do when you are bored (a.k.a. when you have a free period) at SSA?

A: Aside from sleeping, I would take a lovely stroll around the campus (weather permitting), hang out with my friends, eat snacks, crack open a book, bother some teachers, do some homework if I feel motivated enough, or surf the Internet.

Q: What are you looking forward to in third term?

A: I am excited to watch and perform Spanish Club’s salsa dancing for GlobalFusion, which showcases students’ cultural performances. FYI, GlobalFusion is part of a fun weeklong celebration of cultural diversity at SSA.

Q: Are there interesting electives you are taking now?

A: Yes! I’m taking Creative Essay right now, an English elective for upper forms, and it is such a relaxing yet informative class! We write personal, deeply reflective essays about travel experiences, living at Pittsburgh or current events, and memorable childhood places. I love that the class is discussion-based, relating juicy “narratives” and other topics such as the meaning of life. Another elective I am taking right now is Modern Social Justice Movements, Part 2, which deals with women’s history in America. Usually in history textbooks, there are brief mentions of the accomplishments and background information about women and their struggles for equality on an economic, social, and political basis. In this class, we explore women’s past and present through detailed textbook readings, fun projects/presentations, and great videos.

Q: In one word, describe your experience here at SSA.

A: One word!! EXTRAordinary.

Posted by studentvoices in Academics, Extracurriculars/Activities on Thursday February 18 at 01:17PM
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A Few Wise Words for Students from SSA Teachers - by Quinn

Sometimes high school can get pretty stressful, especially when you’re an upperclassman. I decided to ask some of my past teachers what advice they would give high school students on how to most enjoy their high school years.

My sophomore year English teacher, Mr. Hendershot, said, “Develop confidence and integrity; do not compare yourself to others. Recognize your own strengths.”

My freshman and junior year art teacher, Mrs. Batchelar, said, “Live in the moment. Put the screen down and look at the world around you.”

My Latin teacher, Ms. Belles, said, “I enjoyed my high school years as much as I did because I wasn’t all work all the time. I didn’t try to be perfect or the best in class, just the best for who I was (which honestly could change from day to day). So I worked hard enough, but also prioritized friends, family, and fun. I think the students who most enjoy HS, who are most HAPPY and therefore healthy, are those who aim for a balance.”

My sophomore year chemistry teacher and advisor, Mrs. Powers, said, “Try new things to discover new interests. Try not to be exclusive with friends. Branch out and spend time with a variety of students. Take advantage of teachers for extra help in and out of class as well as student tutors.”

My junior year English teacher, Dr. Barndollar, said, “High-schoolers should seek out the things (courses, activities, sports, clubs, etc.) they find most fulfilling and pursue those things to the fullest extent that their limitations of time and energy permit. They should not worry about trying to do what other people think they ought be doing – especially college admissions officers – since what impresses people the most is encountering others who have genuine passion, skill, and experience in any field of endeavor. Whatever students do, they should strive to expand their horizons of interest beyond merely themselves. They should recognize that one of the best ways to help oneself is to serve others. Last: students should make sure to take care of themselves. Ideally, keeping the right perspective about activities and being true to oneself will fit naturally with essential self-care.”

Posted by studentvoices in Reflections, Faculty on Monday February 8 at 09:13AM
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