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Student Voices Blog

What is it like to be a student at Shady Side Academy? What do students enjoy, what are their challenges, what do they do for fun? We invite visitors to take some time and read through these students' perspectives of the SSA experience. Our bloggers are juniors and seniors - a few are lifers, and some joined for the Middle or Senior School. Their experiences are as varied as they are. Have a question? Use the box at the right to ask and we will get back to you shortly.

Meet our 2013-2014 student bloggers.

Student Voices Bloggers

The Ultimate Opportunity - by Harper

As the snow melts and the clock springs forward, I can’t help but be excited for Spring sports! Everyone is outside and enjoying the fresh air. Normally, I’d be headed to Track practice, but not this year! I’ve always enjoyed Frisbee as a recreational sport with friends and never really considered playing competitively until I came to Shady Side. Last year several friends played Ultimate Frisbee as their spring sport. They all loved it and encouraged me to try it this year.

I just finished my first week of practice and I’m hooked. We have practiced the basics and are learning the rules of the game. There are kids like myself who haven’t played as well as some experienced players. I immediately felt comfortable. The boys' team is coached by Mr. Weiss. He is an awesome leader with great energy. He loves the sport and his excitement is contagious. Practice is a lot of fun. Whether your strength is in throwing, catching, or running, there is a place for everyone on the team. For the next couple weeks we will work on playing as a team, learning skills, and getting in shape. I can’t wait for the games to begin. I hear that Ultimate can be a very muddy sport depending on Mother Nature. Hopefully we won’t be playing in the snow!

Shady Side gives the students such awesome opportunities. You don’t have to be a star athlete here. The school gives us variety and lots of great choices to fulfill our athletic requirements. Those choices range from varsity teams that compete at high levels to club sports like Ultimate Frisbee. There really is something for everyone. They encourage us to try new things without fear of failure. I am super excited to be learning a new sport! I feel so fortunate for the chance to explore my interests and have fun while doing it.


Posted by studentvoices in Athletics on Wednesday March 12 at 09:38AM
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Leadership at SSA - by Chloe

Sports team captain, class officer, student council representative…These are the leadership positions high schools typically offer. Shady Side offers these, and more. We recently had our Leadership Fair, which is a chance for students to explore all of the leadership opportunities unique to Shady Side. Some of the groups represented at the leadership fair are:

Community Builders - Community Builders is a group comprised of sophomores, juniors, and seniors who create activities and mentor the freshman class. The goal is to be a support system, friendly ear, and to talk about high school life and answer any questions the freshmen might have.

Untucked - This group plans and executes a benefit concert each May. It is almost entirely student run. Students pick the musical act and the beneficiary, and deal with all the practicalities of event planning and fundraising.

Academic Programs Committee - One junior and two seniors,along with the Head of School, Dean of Academic Affairs and the Department Chairs make up the APC. I am currently the junior class representative. We meet every month to discuss and vote on ways to improve the academic side of the school. Student opinions are welcomed and encouraged.

Discipline Committee - When a student violates one of our five guiding principles, they appear before the Discipline Committee, which is a panel made up of student and faculty representatives. The DC hears the case and decides the appropriate consequence.

C.U.P. Captain - The school is divided into four C.U.P. teams (Morewood, Aiken, Bayard, and Ellsworth) and several seniors are chosen to lead as C.U.P. captains. The teams participate in challenges throughout the year to earn points for their team, and at the end of the year, the team with the most points gets the housecup!  C.U.P. stands for Community, Unity and Pride.

These SSA specific groups are an integral part of our community. If you have any questions about these and other leadership opportunities on campus, check out this link and don’t hesitate to contact us!

Posted by studentvoices in Extracurriculars/Activities, School Life on Friday March 7 at 08:11AM
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A "Day in the Life" - by Olivia

Every day, I think about how lucky I am to be able to call Shady Side Academy my school.   One thing that people say SSA teaches them is time management skills because the days are jam-packed. For this blog post, I thought it would be fun to take you through a day in the life of a Shady Side student: me

7:35 a.m. – Depart for school! I’m in charge of taking all of my brothers and sisters to school: Hugh, who will be attending the SSA Middle School next year, Will, a current 7th grader at the Middle School, and my two sisters, Faith and Eliza, who are a junior and a freshman at the Senior School with me.

7:55 a.m. – Drop Faith and Eliza off at the Flag Pole and continue to the student parking lot.

8:15 a.m. to 9:05 a.m. – First period! Today I had Economics first; we took a quiz on monopolies, competition, and marginal cost and revenue.

9:10 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – Second period. This term, I am in Glass. It’s my third art class at SSA and I highly recommend it to everyone! Today, one of my pieces came out of the kiln: a 10 in X 8 in image of my house.

10:05 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – This is our assembly period and most days we have different activities. On Mondays and Fridays, we have all-school assemblies, Wednesdays are reserved for designated rooms with your advisor, and Thursday is a free period for club meetings or a class meeting once a month.  On most Tuesdays, classes begin at 8:50 a.m. so this period is skipped.

10:35 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. – Third period, our 70-minute class. Today I had Advanced Biology in which we took a quiz on transformation and a lab we did last week. Afterwards, we talked about the biological aspect of being lactose intolerant.

11:50 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. – 4a/b. Fourth period is a sliding period, meaning that some people have class 4a/b and others have it 4b/c. This is to ensure that everyone has a lunch period. Today I had my AP Spanish class during the first part of fourth period. We went over the homework and then worked on descriptive essays we are writing. Mine is about fashion in Spain.

12:40 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.– Lunchtime! Today I had a salad with carrots, peppers, dried cranberries, broccoli, and balsamic vinaigrette, and pita and hummus.

1:20 p.m. to 2:10 p.m. – Fifth period. Today I had my English class, Literature and Psychology of Teens. We had a reading quiz on our current book, Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen, before discussing other parts of the novel.

2:15 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. – Sixth period and the last period of the day. This was my free period. Usually I will do homework during my frees, but today, since I’d had straight classes, I just chatted with my friends in Scott Commons, the room where many seniors hang out.

3:05 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. – Activities period. This is another time for clubs to meet. Today I had an Untucked (which is a benefit concert) meeting with my Event Design committee. We are in charge of the layout of Untucked. Save the date for Untucked! Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

3:50 p.m. to 5:35 p.m. – Athletics/Drama period. This is when teams’ practice or have games. I was in the musical during term II; rehearsals also occur during this time.  Sadly the muscial has ended.  It was a great show.

At the end of the day, I’ll either go home or to somewhere in the Waterworks – like Coffee Tree or Panera – to do homework. Usually, I’ll have a few hours of homework a night, sometimes more, sometimes less. I hope this gave you a glimpse into the crazy, varied, and fun life of a SSA student.

Posted by studentvoices in Reflections, Academics, Extracurriculars/Activities, School Life on Wednesday March 5 at 11:49AM
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My Top 3 SSA Swimming Memories - by Emily

As I near the end of my third year as a member of the Shady Side varsity swimming team, I have come to realize its importance in developing me as a swimmer, a team mate, and a leader. Although I still have another year, the time that I have had in the past three years on the swim team have been some of the best times of my life. Over these years, I think it is safe to say that, to me, the swim team is like family. Furthermore, as a way to express the various ways in which the swim team has shaped me, I recall my top three favorite swimming memories of the past three years.

  1. Training trip freshman year- I joined the team freshman year only knowing one person. Being the shy person that I am, at first I had a hard time communicating and bonding with the older members of the swim team. At the beginning of the swimming season, I was able to break the ice with my new teammates as we traveled to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for a training trip. Contrary to what I had initially thought, the main point of the training trip was not just to get away from the harsh Pittsburgh winter or to be able to swim twice a day outside. The training trip was supposed to be a team bonding experience, and it was. I can truly say that I have never experienced such powerful camaraderie than during the harsh workouts in Florida. I came to realize, that without the support of my team mates, the workouts would have been grueling and unbearable. However, because we were there together as a team the workouts were empowering and motivating.

  2. My first high school meet- Prior to the start of the high school swim meet season, I had always thought of swimming as an individual sport. I had never been on a real team before, and never had to motivate anyone except for myself. I will admit that I had this self- centered view that swimming was all about me and my success. I will also say that, walking into my first high school meet, I continued to hold this view. Much to my dismay, I swam poorly, and proceeded with a sour attitude for the rest of the meet. Consequently, the girls’ team had lost to Fox Chapel for the first time in 3 years. Looking back, my attitude had affected everyone around me. My negativity spread throughout the entire girls’ team causing our spirits to be low resulting in our loss. Walking out of that meet, I realized how I, one person, could affect the entire team, and then realized that SSA’s success depended on the attitudes and spirits of every team member. My success and failure was not the main focus.

  3. Christmas break practices- Every year, on every swim team, swimmers dread winter break practices. In the world of swimming, these two weeks are universally associated with the most brutal practices of the year.  The practices held at SSA are the most challenging of the year, more so than any practices that I had experienced in my swimming career. Through these two weeks though, I found that I was able to push myself to the limit in new ways, mentally and physically. I learned how to push past physical and mental exhaustion to achieve my goals.

These experiences are a few of many great times and character shaping experiences that I have had as a member of the Shady Side team. These moments have helped me grow as a person, and I can truly say that being a part of the SSA swim team family has changed me, as a person, for the better.

Posted by studentvoices in Reflections, Athletics on Thursday February 20 at 08:10AM
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A Story To Describe Our Community - by Rebkah

As a senior, I have found myself trying to appreciate the little things done for me by people every day. I know that leaving Pittsburgh and going to some unknown land next year means I might not meet such wonderfully caring people. Last Friday, I was stuck in a messy situation. Luckily, six extremely kind teachers went out of their way to help me out of it.

Boarders park their cars in the faculty parking lot.  Last week, there was an ice storm that made the snow even more of a hassle to clean. When I was getting ready to go out with friends, I was annoyed that the ice was so hard to clean off my car, even though that wasn’t even the worst part. When I finally tried to back my car out of its space, I hit a huge mound of icy snow and found myself stuck in this small area. The area under my car was all ice, so my car was sliding every time I tried to drive forward, and I was afraid to hit the cars next to me. I was struggling to maneuver my car for about 20 minutes until I slipped and fell on my back.

A few minutes later, I see Mr. Colt, my college counselor, coming down the hill to get his car and go home. He dropped everything he had, no questions asked, and tried to push my car out. He didn’t even have gloves or a jacket but decided he wasn’t going to leave until I was safely out of that spot. We saw Ms. Williams next who kindly offered all of the sand she had in her car to help give my car traction. Ms. Conner, the learning specialist who lives in the library, came down, and said she had a similar problem the day before. She offered her shovel, but the ice was too thick to remove any snow blocking my car. I was trying to call AAA at this point, but the line was busy.

Mrs. Zheng, my dorm parent, was driving past us and immediately tried to help. She had her two children in the car and was wearing heels but this didn’t stop her from pushing as well! Even with four people pushing the car, I couldn’t get it over the icy mound. Everything honestly seemed hopeless at this point. Dr. Roble, a new teacher this year, saw the problem and also joined the pushing team. I don’t think we’ve ever talked before that day, but she had no problem helping my struggle. Finally, Mr. Rossi, a science teacher, came down the hill looking to help. Dr. Roble drove my car while the other five teachers pushed, and it finally drove over the mini ice hill! My small Honda Accord has never received so much attention.

This whole predicament took around 40 minutes of these teachers’ time, but they had no problem helping me. I’m sure they had so many things to do, but they stayed in the cold to get my car safely out of its spot. I am so thankful I have caring teachers like these on campus. I am positive that every other teacher at this school would have done the same thing. It’s amazing how lucky we are to have them at Shady Side. Thank you again to all the teachers who helped me!

Posted by studentvoices in Reflections, Faculty, 5-Day Boarding on Monday February 10 at 08:01AM
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What do the boarders do on a snow day? - by Rebkah

Today, we have a two-hour delay and this made me think about our winter at Shady Side, particularly for the boarders.  Many people wonder about what the boarding community does when we have days off due to the weather conditions outside. Mrs. Skinner, the Dean of Students, plans several kinds of activities to make sure there is always something fun to do! Whether it’s supporting different teams, grabbing milkshakes at Eat N’ Park, or challenging friends in a Ping-Pong match, the campus has many activities to entertain the boarders. Every day off brings a new agenda. We may also have the option of going home, which is nice to see our parents an extra day during the week.  Here is what we did a couple of weeks ago (this morning we are sleeping in and class begins in an hour).

Snow (Cold) Day Plan
January 27-28, 2014

5:00 pm                        Swim Meet
5:30-7:00 pm                Dinner in Dining Hall
6:30 pm                        Girls’ basketball game
9:00 pm                        Bus departs dorms for Eat & Park

During the day            Help Mr. Davidheiser build the “Grease” set, Hillman
10:00 am -1:00 pm      Brunch served/make a bag lunch--Dining Hall
12:00-1:00 pm             Make a Chinese lantern with Mrs. Zentgraf, Morewood
1:00-4:00 pm               Bus to Carnegie Science Center with Mr. Proulx
4:00-5:50 pm               Iron Chef with the Chottiners
4:00-5:30                     Ping Pong tournament at the Sterns
4:30-5:30 pm               Open Skate— Mr. Johnson
6:00-7:00 pm                Pizza party/dinner in the dorm
9:30 pm                        Snacks at the Cangianos/Vavpetics

The adults on campus try their best to make sure we are safe and having fun. I always think it is so kind of the families to invite us into their homes for activities because it’s their day off, too. The dining hall staff also comes in to make sure we have a balanced breakfast and a solid lunch for the rest of the day.

Although we’ve had more days off for the cold than snow this year, we still make use of what is left from the snowfall a few days ago. Sometimes we have spontaneous snowball fights or borrow trays from the dining hall to sled down the large hills! It’s always a great time to relax, catch up on homework, and hang out with friends.

Posted by studentvoices in School Life, Faculty, 5-Day Boarding on Wednesday February 5 at 09:24AM
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Philo Shmilo - by Sean J.

Dr. Sutula walks with a student around the Quad.At Shady Side Academy, the philosophy classes have developed an undeserved reputation of being very strenuous and challenging. To be honest when I was given the choice of which history elective I wanted to take none of the philosophy courses were at the top of my list, and this was the reason why. However, through a series of fortunate events, I landed in the philosophy class The Ascent of Man for the second term and have loved every second of it. To debunk the myth that philo classes are a lot of work, I can say from personal experience this is untrue. The Ascent of Man is largely discussion based which means we might have a total of two to three hours of homework each week in order to prepare for the topics in class. This homework mainly consists of two mediums: reading from our textbook and answering a set of questions on the subject we are studying, or simply reading a selection of articles our teacher picked out for us. At some point, however, you stop doing these exercises because they are homework, and start doing them because the material is so interesting and thought provoking that you want to learn and discover more. The topics we have covered so far ranged from the first migrations of man 30,000 and 10,000 years ago over the Bering Straits, to Galileo and Paracelsus during the Intellectual Revolution, and to Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace, and the theory of evolution. Through all of these different topics I have learned why we as humans have developed in the way we have and what separates us from the apes we originated from. For this understanding I can thank my philosophy teacher and one of the best teachers at Shady Side, Dr. Sutula.

I am very blessed to have worked with many amazing teachers, and Dr. Sutula is no different (also read my November 26 blog on the band teacher, Mr. Nevola). Dr. Sutula is a little more soft spoken than a lot of the teachers at Shady Side, and because he makes his home in Croft also teaching math some students don’t have the pleasure of making his acquaintance. I am so glad I get to call him one of my teachers because he is someone you need to have at least once before you graduate. Of the teachers I have had at Shady Side, I can confidently say that he is one of the top two or three. You can ask him any question either about the topic at hand or one completely irrelevant and he will gladly and patiently answer it in length until the student has completely understood the answer. He is also one of the few teachers I have met who can lecture and completely retain the full attention of the class. This is an impressive skill in itself when you’re dealing with a bunch of seventeen and eighteen year olds, especially if it is before a lunch period.

I wrote this blog to draw attention to one of the best courses Shady Side has to offer and one of the best teachers it has to offer. If you choose to take a philosophy class, I promise you won’t be disappointed.


Posted by studentvoices in Academics, Faculty on Wednesday February 5 at 09:03AM
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College Counseling Superheros - by Sean B.

For any student or parent the college process can seem quite daunting and stressful. There’s masses of new information to be familiar with and scary new terms such as “rolling and early action admissions”, “FAFSA” and “deferred enrollment.” However, there is a very special group of people here at Shady Side that make the college application experience exponentially less stressful and bearable.

This unit is the amazing college counseling team that works tirelessly to dissipate your anxiety and aid you along your journey. From personal experience, whether it was the 11 p.m. college essay that needed revising or the panic that sets in after a college contacts you declaring it is missing documents you’ve already sent, my college counselor, Mr. Colt, was always there for the rescue. Now to be sure, they’re not going to baby you along and fill the application out for you. But when you need to pop out of the cloud of stress that seems to dog your every step, these counselors will happily give you the pep talk and support you need. And when the time comes, give you the most outstanding recommendation you’ve ever received. I remember a day where there seemed to be an impossible number of supplements to finish writing and sleep felt like an unnecessary luxury when Mr. Colt, a well seasoned veteran and consoler of senior troubles, recognized the haggard look upon my face that only stress and sleep deprivation can bring about, and immediately pulled me into his office. We went on to walk through the supplements I had left, he made me promise to focus on getting a good nights sleep and pulled me out of my lethargic fog.

Mr. Colt, Ms. Hertz, Ms. Elkins and Ms. Blubaugh are only a handful of the humble superheroes that reside at this great school but know that they’ll work their tails off for you to help you achieve your dreams and eventual success. Not only do you gain a mentor to learn from but also a friend to laugh and trade stories with. We are very lucky to have such an amazing resource at our disposal, so don’t be shy, and you’ll find some of the kindest people waiting for you with open arms.

Posted by studentvoices in Faculty, College on Sunday February 2 at 02:45PM
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Fides: Everyone's Favorite Assembly - by Rebkah

The direct translation from Latin to English of “Fides” can mean belief, trust, or faith. At Shady Side, it is known as the assembly everyone looks forward to (see my fellow bloggers Dec 9 post). On this special day, the last before winter break, seniors recognize each other for their good deeds. Those nominated are seen as “unsung heroes,” or people who commit acts of kindness everyday that usually go unnoticed. The nominator goes up to the podium and shares personal stories of another’s deeds they have witnessed, and finally reveals the recipient at the end of the speech. Sometimes you can guess who the person is by the stories or who their friends are, but it’s always the best when it’s someone you don’t expect.

This year was especially exciting for me to attend this assembly because it was my turn to finally nominate an underrated friend of mine, Pia Campbell. While Pia and I have been best friends since freshman year, she deserved the award for her friendly personality and optimistic attitude for others around her. A fellow senior, Lily Epstein, also wanted to recognize Pia in the same way. For weeks, we collaborated on our speech.

When the day finally came, we were incredibly nervous to go to the podium. I’ll be honest: Since freshman year, even when I didn’t know any of the seniors, I have cried at every Fides assembly. It’s so beautiful to see classmates get recognized and receive a standing ovation from the entire school. Even if you don’t know the Fides recipients on a personal level, it still fills you with joy that someone’s good deeds are finally noticed. Pia’s smile warmed my heart as she came up to the stage.

After Lily and I nominated Pia, we sat down and listened to the other speeches with the few tissues we had left. And then, it happened. Claudia Mihm started her speech with, “I met my Fides in Concert Choir freshman year when she walked in with a big smile and a colorful outfit.” Immediately, those next to me smiled because they knew she was talking about me. I couldn’t believe it!  When she finally revealed I was her Fides, I ran up to hug her in the warmest embrace I have ever felt. It was so unexpected. I never would have thought someone would nominate me.

We concluded the assembly with “The Alma Mater,” Shady Side's anthem. Standing next to the most caring people I have ever met and singing the song of my school that I love so much, I wouldn’t have wanted that assembly to end any other way. It was so uplifting to see the school react to the assembly the rest of the day. It put everyone in the mood to do nice things for each other because of those simple stories shared. Out of the nine recipients, there were five of us who gave an award to another person. I think it says something about our school that we have a full assembly dedicated to recognizing our peers. I love this school.

Posted by studentvoices in School Life, Honors/Achievements on Wednesday January 29 at 08:51AM
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An Alternative Course Load - by Sahil

There I sat in my junior year math class as my teacher passed out the final exam for the course that year. Mere weeks after our BC Calculus AP, our class was subjected to one final assignment before heading off for the summer. Our teacher handed each of us our own unique problem set pertaining to some abstract application of calculus. With summer just around the corner, I did not feel like this problem set was worth very much, especially since the AP was behind me. However my problem set, titled Hypervolumes and fourth-dimensional calculus, opened up an entirely new and intriguing world of mathematics for me. As I continued to calculate volumes of spheres, cubes, and other shapes stretched over the three understandable dimensions, as well as the time vector, I increasingly became more interested in the work I was doing. It was one thing to intuitively understand the practical applications of elementary calculus in our fathomable, three-dimensional world, but to understand the same theories in a more abstract and different context was, to me, mind-blowing.

After I completed the final, I still could not shake my curiosity to know more about this specific field in mathematics. I did not feel completely satisfied with simply that one packet. However, unfortunately, the field was much too specific and much too small of a niche in mathematics for it to have its own course at the Academy. Fortunately, the school’s innovative Independent Study option for students allowed for the perfect opportunity for me to explore this new academic passion of mine. After a meeting with my chosen independent study mentor and after having my independent study proposal accepted, I am currently continuing my quest for knowledge in this mathematic field this second term of my senior year.

What is most significant about this independent study opportunity is that it is able to offer students a unique channel not offered otherwise in order for them to pursue their true academic interests. The proposed course can be in any approved subject and can be graded in any manner, letter grade or pass or fail. Addressing students’ unique academic interests through this independent study program ultimately stimulates students on a more profound level in a way that cannot be addressed by the traditional, pre-requisite classes.

Furthermore, these independent study courses can also have a practical purpose. When signing up for courses my sophomore year for my junior year, I asked for two science courses: a Physics II course and the Advanced Biology course. Due to scheduling conflicts, I was only given the Physics II course. However, through the Independent Study program, I was able to have an AP Biology preparatory course approved for the second and third term on the notion that I would not only be addressing my interests in biology, but would also be able to simultaneously study for the AP exam. This ultimately led to a more fulfilling purpose of the independent study.

The independent study opportunity is unique and very valuable. Allowing students to explore academic areas of interest to them or ones that they are simply curious about truly adds a new dimension to Shady Side’s program. After all, it is the student and his or her interest that should drive the learning in any academic environment.

Posted by studentvoices in Reflections, Academics on Monday January 27 at 08:00AM
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