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student voices blog

What do students have to say about Shady Side Academy? What is important to us? What do we value and what is special? We encourage you to take time to enjoy our reflections. We are a group of 11 juniors and seniors who have something to share. Please also ask us questions using the box to the right.  We are eager to help you get to know Shady Side Academy!

Meet our 2014-2015 bloggers.

Student Voices Bloggers

Physics Contest at SSA - by Roy

When I received an email from Mr. Skinner about three weeks ago with the subject “YOU MADE THE CUT!” I almost jumped out of my chair with excitement. I had qualified to take the USAPhO physics contest.

Let’s start at the beginning, when Mr. Skinner sent out an email to the student body announcing a unique opportunity: students could compete in the F=MA physics contest for free. The F=MA exam, named after Newton’s second law of motion (force equals mass times acceleration), is a high school physics competition run by the American Association of Physics Teachers and American Institute of Physics. The test is designed to select the team to represent USA at the International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) held this year in Mumbai, India.

Five SSA students, including myself, signed up to take the 25-question, 75-minute F=MA exam, which covers advanced physics topics such as mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, fluid motion, relativity, nuclear physics, waves, and optics. The five of us took the test in the morning before school, two weeks before Spring Break. Mr. Skinner reported results about a week after the test. Shady Side had achieved its highest average score in its history of participating in the contest, 12 problems out of 25. All SSA contestants correctly answered at least 10 problems. I met the cutoff score of 18 problems and qualified for the next round, the USAPhO. It was the first time—ever—that an SSA student had qualified.

The United States Physics Olympiad is a 3-hour, six-question proof-based exam. Only 250 students take it nationwide. Once this exam is complete, the top 20 scorers attend an intense training camp in Maryland to prepare for the International Physics Olympiad. I just took the USAPhO this morning, and it was mind-bendingly difficult. I think I correctly answered parts of two problems. I wish good luck to the top 20 scorers (I’m pretty sure I didn’t make that cut) as they prepare to compete internationally!

Posted by studentvoices in Academics, Honors/Achievements on Friday March 27 at 04:49PM
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My Senior Night - by Mara

I have finally finished my illustrious career in high school swimming and it has been a blast. I can remember the feeling of entering my first high school swim season as a freshman and feeling as if the day when all the crazy scheduling and work would never come to a grinding halt. However, that day came and it came fast on February 12th Senior Night where we swam against Springdale. I have never been more excited and enjoyed a sporting evening as much as I did that night.

First I would like to give a shout out to all the people who made our senior posters. They were the best I have ever seen. Each one was perfectly tailored for each senior. There were six of us: Ben Skinner, Brendan Leech, Robert Davies, Elizabeth Ejzak, Emily Jaffe and myself.

I also want to give shout outs to those who qualified for wpials which were at the Pitt pool starting around 10:00am on February 20-21st. Kudos and congrats to William Liu who qualified for 3 events: 100 breast, 200 IM, and a relay. Christian Taylor who qualified in 100 back, Olivia Lyda and Emily Jaffe in 100 fly, and Ben Skinner who qualified in 200 free. Due to timing of this blog see News section for final results.

The magic was there that night as it always seems to be. Senior night is when the crowd is behind every swimmer in way that it seems like the crowd will jump into the lane and swim the race for that person. There are a lot of things I will miss and one of them is the encouragement and support of my teammates. I will miss the people who I could talk, laugh, and dance with on the side of pool. I will miss seeing my friends dropping one, two, three, four, even five seconds off their 50’s or 100’s. I will miss congratulating swimmers for their hard work and dedication, but I will miss the team itself the most.

So, I want to end this note by thanking my teammates and my coaches. My coaches in particular have made my swimming experience the best that it could possibly be.

Posted by studentvoices in Reflections, Athletics on Wednesday March 4 at 03:28PM
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Chamber Choir - by Lauren

One of my favorite classes here at SSA is Chamber Choir.  There are two choirs, Chamber and Concert, and Chamber is the audition group.  I remember I auditioned when I was in 8th grade, and even though it was pretty intimidating to sing in a quartet in front of high school Chamber Choir members, it's one of the best decisions I've ever made.  I've been a member of this choir since freshman year, and I've made so many friends because of it.  

We have around 4 concerts each year, and we sing a great variety of music, ranging from the Beach Boys to Debussy.  I have learned so much from this class, such as how to sight sing and how to improve the sound of my vowels, and it has allowed me to become more comfortable on stage.  Dr. Brill is such a good teacher, and he has helped me become the performer I am today.  Anytime I need help with my music during my free periods, he is a available and willingly helps.

I strongly encourage any student who is interested in music to audition this spring because it such a great experience.  


Posted by studentvoices in Academics, Faculty on Thursday February 26 at 12:02PM
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Why Speech and Debate - by Arya

For the past three years, I have been part of the speech and debate team at Shady Side. It's been fun, but also very intense. I participate in public forum, which is a type of debate format where relevant topics are discussed like worldwide poverty or privacy encroachment. One of my favorite topics was when we debated this topic: "Resolved: The Supreme Court rightly decided that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act violated the Constitution." The topic changes month to month, so if you're not a fan of one topic, you won't have to argue for it for very long. I've tried some other events too during my time with this club. I tried Parliamentary debate, which is much less evidence based than public forum (a good thing in my opinion). I've also tried a speech event, Prose, where you theatrically and expressively read a piece from a story, a novel, etc. Although I didn't have much success  in that event, I did have a lot of fun seeing other people who clearly practiced a lot read their pieces.

Debate is fun, but it is also very intense. In order to do well, especially at national tournaments, one has to prepare a lot. This can be hard, balancing debate with schoolwork, and for me, it can be very stressful. Even though its a lot of hard work, when you do well, you feel really good about yourself as you do with anything when you prepare a lot.  Although actual debating is very intense and stressful, it has helped me a lot in ways I wouldn't have thought it would. Debate has helped me a lot in the classroom. I am a lot more confident in historical class debates, and public speaking isn't really a problem for me. Participating in public forum, I've learned a lot about controversial current events, and since public forum is research intensive, I've also become better at finding pieces of evidence for essays or papers that we have to write. It has especially been helpful this year, junior year, with all the papers that I have to write and the greater amount of class presentations I have to deliver. Overall, debate was certainly worth it, because it made me a lot more confident in my public speaking abilities and my debating abilities, which I think will help me not just in high school, but for my whole life. 

Posted by studentvoices in Academics, Extracurriculars/Activities on Tuesday February 24 at 08:01AM
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The College Counseling Office - by Harper

In my years here at SSA, I always heard how the seniors were allowed to use the College Counseling office as a sort of study room/ hangout area and wondered to myself, what’s the big deal? Starting this year I finally figured out why getting to hangout in an office with students, teachers, and counselors alike is such a fun experience. I’ve learned here that being at Shady Side isn’t just about socializing with friends, going to class, and then going home and studying, but a place where the teachers and staff enjoy talking to the students both inside and outside of class. This office has given me the opportunity to talk to SSA staff members that I never would’ve had the chance to meet if it were not for this creative workspace. I love the relaxed learning environment that it promotes, giving students a place to both talk with friends and work on projects.

What I find interesting about it is that the workspace doesn’t feel forced at all, in that it comes upon the students to decide whether everyone in the room would like to talk and socialize because it’s the end of the day, or keep it quiet because it’s early in the morning. To top it off, this is just one of a few workspaces that SSA provides for its students. From the completely quiet library study rooms, to the talkative student center, SSA has a variety of places for the students to be in-between class periods and during free periods. In this case, I have found the College Counseling office to work perfectly for me and my group of friends. Overall, I feel that this study room is just a small piece of SSA that exemplifies its solid connection between faculty and students both in and out of the classroom.

Posted by studentvoices in Academics, Faculty, College on Tuesday February 17 at 01:23PM
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From an Usher's View - by Mara

Our school is well known for its performing arts as well as academics and athletics. This past weekend, February 6th to February 8th, our school put on a great 3 hour theatre-musical production, Into the Woods. Over fifty kids put in amazing amounts of work, effort, and dedication in order for viewers to enjoy every aspect of the play. That ranges from building real-life sized book scenes, towers for Rapunzel and her hair, spontaneous moments of comedy including songs where princes debate on who suffers more from unreachable maidens, costumes for fairytale characters, well-executed songs and dance numbers, playing in the pit orchestra, and the play itself has enough twists and turns that keep watchers interested.

As someone who is participating in a philosophy class, the main ideas in the play reminded me of the discussions going on in this class. The premise of the story was that the baker had to change in order to attain what he wanted: have a baby. It made me think about how far people will go in order to get what they want. It also emphasized that people often take for granted what they have and only know that once it is too late.

Lastly, congratulations to all who participated in the musical! Even with our snow delays, you guys pulled off a great show and I am proud to say that I was able to usher for your performance.

Posted by studentvoices in Reflections, Arts on Tuesday February 10 at 05:06PM
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What It Means to Learn About Dead People etc. - by Elena

Does history makes you think of boring lectures about dead people, hard-to-remember dates, and middle-of-nowheres? Thankfully, the history program at Shady Side is far from being a bore. First off, teachers don’t just delve into the straight hard facts such as when Lincoln’s first cabinet member left during his first term of office (you don’t actually need to know that…). Teachers probe students’ minds further by asking the how and the why. Why did the South cling to the Lost Cause? How did commemoration of America’s past heroes or events shape or influence the country’s history? Through heated (quite competitive) debates and projects such as creating online newspapers, WWI journals and posters, and resumes of historical figures during the Scientific Revolution and presenting on Renaissance artists, students get a more visceral feel for the past.

In fact, to satisfy students’ appetite for more personal experiences with the past, SSA organizes these “pilgrimages” to various countries with significant historical roots. Classrooms Without Borders has these spectacular trips to educate and expand students’ minds. This year, students, for about 12 days, can travel to Greece—“the Birthplace of Ancient Achievements”—to explore its culture, well-known for politics (hello democracy), philosophy, and even its Jewish culture. Sightseeing and exploring cities’ remains transport students back into the past without having to go through a time machine. Past trips included ones to Israel and Poland, where students walk through the concentration camps, travel with a Holocaust survivor, visit Jewish quarters, and enjoy a music festival in Cracow. This year, students got to hear Robert Kaplan, a “top global thinker,” according to Foreign Policy Magazine, lecture on why the South China Sea has become globally important (and the implications of it) as China rises as a world power. Guest speakers always bring out a piece of history left unexamined in the classroom or at dinners such as: yes, people actually go to college studying or majoring in history, yes, they actually love this subject, and yes, they actually make some money out of it, more or less.

See, I didn’t bore you to death when I talked for so long on history… (or at least I hope not). In fact, students are so intrigued by this subject that many go on to do independent studies of it or take (very interesting) history electives such as The Break-up of Yugoslavia, The Origins of American Foreign Policy, Philosophy of Religion, and Introduction to Ethics. Go open a history book, now.

Posted by studentvoices in Academics, Extracurriculars/Activities on Monday February 9 at 12:13PM
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Talent at our Coffee House - by Aine Marie

One of the many things about Shady Side Academy students that never cease to amaze me is the students’ many talents. This was made apparent to me at a recent Coffee House this fall sponsored by our Service Learning club. People from all grades putting on performances of all sorts in order to benefit a charity organization which targeted the children left behind when their parents go to war. Since I live on campus, I was easily able to attend this event. My friends and I eagerly sat in the Blackbox Theater awaiting the performances to start. And with performance after performance each act amazed me. From new acts I had never seen, like freshman Julia Zorrato’s amazing vocal performance, to acts I had seen before like the amazing duo Kerry Broker and Peter Foster. Yet the biggest surprise of the night for myself however came from someone I knew very well, sophomore Felicia Rueter. I had run cross-country with Felcica and had gotten to know and love her. She was an amazing girl of who I had no idea even was interested in the preforming arts. I was surprised when I saw her at the Coffee House, but I was even more surprised when I heard her sing. She had the most beautiful, raspy, amazing voice I had ever heard. It amazed me how I didn't know Felcia had this amazing talent. Someone I knew so well, and had become so close with was so talented and I had not even known it. The musical, artistic, digital and academic talent at Shady Side Academy is greater than visible by the eye. This is what makes Shady Side Academy a truly unique place.


Posted by studentvoices in Arts, Happenings on Wednesday January 21 at 10:36AM
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Scribe Class - by Lauren

One of my favorite things about SSA is that there are so many different English classes to choose between.  However, there is one class that chooses you: Theory and Process of Composition, otherwise known as the "Scribe Class". 

A Scribe is a student who spends free periods in the Writing Center helping other students with their papers.  This process is very helpful because it allows students to improve their writing and to receive great advice from fellow writers.

The Scribe Class helps to train future Scribes and is special because sophomore English teachers choose which students they believe would make good Scribes.  Each English teacher chooses around two students from each of their sophomore classes, and in total, this creates a full classroom of Scribes.  By full, I truly mean full.  The Scribe Class this year has around 18 students in it, and at SSA, that is a large class. 

When I found out that I was going to become a scribe, I was excited, but at the same time, I was extremely nervous.  Not only would I be in a class full of high expectations, but I would also be in a class of gifted writers.  It turned out that I was nervous for nothing because the class is so fun!  We partake in enjoyable, funny, and crazy activities/projects, and we explore writing in ways that I have never done before.  I would tell you what kind of major assignments we have in this class, but Mrs. Garvey made us promise to keep them as secrets in order to allow future scribes to enter the classroom with zero knowledge of what is in store for them. 

I am so glad I am in this class, and I hope many incoming students have this opportunity. 

Posted by studentvoices in Academics, Honors/Achievements on Thursday January 15 at 01:40PM
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The Fun of PE Fitness - by Harper

Walking into PE Fitness the first day I didn’t really know what to expect. Being a rather skinny senior who isn’t into lifting weights every day, I thought it was going to be an awkward experience. The whole idea that I needed to get 30 fitness hours in by the end of the term seemed a little daunting to me at the time but by the end of the first week my whole outlook had changed. I soon found out that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to go out and be active instead of just going down to the gym. Within a week’s time I found myself with a group of friends coming up with creative ways to play games and run around while staying in shape. It’s pretty amazing the variety of things that we can do given SSA’s massive campus, from playing pick-up football on the turf if the weather is warm, to playing soccer in the wrestling room. We are always looking for new sports to play. By now I don’t even worry about how many hours I’m logging because at this point I’m going almost every day to hang out with my friends and have fun. As cheesy as it sounds I am actually looking forward to PE Fitness throughout the day now. Because of Fitness I’ve gotten the opportunity to try different sports and activities such as Yoga. I never would’ve thought that I’d actually want to go to Yoga class before but after just one day of it I was hooked. With such a welcoming environment and relaxing class, it’s unbeatable. If it wasn’t for the flexibility of PE Fitness then there’s no way I would have ever gotten a chance to try some of these things without joining another sport. It’s the freedom that SSA gives to their students to make their own choices that really means a lot to me. In this case it turned something that I was intimidated by, into something that I love.

Posted by studentvoices in Athletics on Thursday January 8 at 08:45AM
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