Bard High School Early College is known for “squeezing” four years of high school into two years. BHSEC’s notoriously demanding college curriculum, necessitated by an accelerated curriculum, has an obvious affect on the students: stress. Stress, the body’s response to physical and mental hardship, can be caused by lack of sleep, rigorous coursework, social problems, and instructor pressure. Since only serious students are admitted into the school, they are expected to deal with the rigorous demands, even when stress takes its physical toll on students.
The pressure BHSEC students feel is compounded with the typical stress teenagers must face such as peer pressure, social issues, and family concerns. BHSEC students must cope with all of these expectations while maintaining their “serious” student status. Inevitably, students must choose the thing they value more: social concerns or academic excellence. Those who value a rich social life more than academic performance risk losing their “serious” student status, while those who view academic excellence with high regards do not maintain a strong social life.
Usually this difficult decision provides little sanctuary. Whatever choice the student makes, he or she will inevitably be faced with stress. This pressure can be nasty, with physical symptoms including sleep disturbance, fatigue, and back pain and emotional issues ranging from depression to anxiety to memory problems.
Is stress worth it? From the perspective of high achieving students the answer is a definite “yes!” They would argue that they need the best grades to get into the best schools. These students also say that time management skills alleviate some of the stress they deal with, thus making it easier to excel. Others may say that their health is much more important than a one letter difference in their grade.
Regardless of their grade, they may still be determined to get into exceptional colleges. It is important to remember the phrase “grades aren’t everything,” because in fact, in the college application process, they are not everything. Other factors play significant roles in the admissions process.
The students who are able to balance school and social lives are commendable. These BHSEC students prove the possibility of an “in-between” student. However, such students are very rare at BHSEC, not because of lack of student capability, but rather because of the demanding curriculum and the challenges it poses. It is possible for BHSEC to maintain its status as a demanding school while also allowing its students to enjoy themselves from time to time.
Improvements such as increased coordination between teachers when determining due dates or even initiatives to slim down the size of backpacks might make a difference. Most importantly, this must be a dual effort with cooperation between students and faculty. Stress will always be a part of school, but it does not need to define it.
PARTY IN THE KITCHEN
As a contemporary author once wrote of a party,
“Every body declares it to be entirely insufferable. But if it is all misery for the guests, then what of the wretchedness of those who have not been invited? Our sufferings are nothing to theirs! And we may tell each other tomorrow that it was a delightful party” (Susanna Clarke, “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell”).
How pleasant it would be to alleviate these discomforts at the actual time of the party; to have nothing to complain about at the time or even the next day. It is a question solvable by the bliss of providing your guests with more substantial foodstuffs than pizzas and chips.
Pizzas are awfully easy to phone in and have delivered, and are desirable for their comparative neatness and neatly divided and easily shared slices. However, with a bit of planning in advance, the delights of pizza can be simulated at home with quesadillas. These are almost ridiculously easy to make. Buy some tortillas and several bags of shredded cheese. Put some oil in a sauce pan, and plop a tortilla into it. When you start smelling tortilla (or peek underneath and see that it has some coloring) flip it over and cook the other side. THIS IS CRUCIAL. Whichever side looks uglier you can make the inside of the quesadilla. Repeat this procedure for another tortilla, and, ugly side up, sprinkle a large amount of cheese evenly around it. Then put your other tortilla on top as if you were making a fried sandwich, and wait for the cheese to melt, and then flip. When it’s golden on both sides, scoop the whole affair up with a spatula, cut it into triangles, and put it on a plate.
Sauces are even easier.
Sauce 1: Open a container of sour cream, and shake some out into a small bowl.
Sauce 2: Open an avocado, mush up the contents, and add some lemon juice and salt. To open an avocado, cut around it vertically with your knife touching the pit at all times. Then twist it apart, and act as if you want to slice the pit in half. You can’t, obviously, but then wiggle your pit-embedded knife around and the pit will leave the avocado alone.
Sauce 3: Buy salsa, and put it in a bowl. Fresh salsa is obviously better, but fresh guacamole is imperative. In each of these bowls be sure to put spoons. This may seem excessive, but, having worked with caterers at parties, I am fully aware of the amount of double dipping – this is an easy alternative. I would recommend avoiding shrimp rings entirely.
Having just returned from Spain, I am incredibly appreciative of tapas. Tapas can be just about anything, which makes them so wonderful. At one place I noticed an array of baby sandwiches which seemed very simple to make. Buy a baguette (or any long, skinny roll of bread) and cut it into slices horizontally, about 1/4 inches thick each (please don’t measure). What you do from here is purely the result of creativity. Some suggestions would be ham with a tiny bit of mustard on the bread – you can add cheese, but if you’re doing the quesadillas, you don’t want to cheese your guests out; smoked fish; sautéed mushrooms (this is super easy – put some oil in a saucepan over medium flame, add mushrooms); and tomato and basil, just to name a few. Nuts are also good, although they aren’t tapas. I’d avoid olives, because the pits end up in places you might discover a week later.
For a sweeter option, I think fondue is the classiest way to go. If you don’t have the necessary fondue accoutrement, you can dip fruits into chocolate before anybody shows up. Melt some chocolate (whatever type you prefer), add some cream (heavy or light), and stir around until it is an evenly mixed, liquid consistency, and warm. Dip fruits in, spin them a bit so the excess chocolate drips off, and lay them to rest on a tray covered in wax paper or parchment. Pop these in the fridge until the chocolate hardens, and they’ll peel off easily, keeping the chocolate with them. I’ve had Godiva chocolate covered strawberries and the ones made this way, and these are much better and cheaper.
As you can see, there are many alternatives to pizza and chips. If you have any suggestions or extra chocolate-covered strawberries, please send them to the editors. My next installment will be Dining In and Alone – the healthy and efficient way. Happy and tasty partying to you all!
TAKING BACK SUNDAY “LOUDER NOW”
Taking Back Sunday, the former Victory Records “emo” band is back with a third album, “Louder Now,” their first major-label debut. Sure, the album is louder, but it isn’t much different from their previous albums “Where You Want to Be” and “Tell All Your Friends.”
The first song “What it Feels Like to Be a Ghost?” starts off heavy, and goes soft midway through. It doesn’t exactly sound like TBS, which I thought could have been a good sign about this album. You know, a “maybe-they’re-developing-their-music” feeling. I was completely wrong.
This album is similar to the two previous releases in that the lyrics are sung, screamed, and whispered. However, what makes me dislike the album is the fact that it is so similar to “Where You Want to Be.” It seems all too likely that TBS has simply cut and pasted themselves onto a major label in an effort to promote themselves without changing their sound one bit.
Like “Tell All Your Friends,” “Louder Now!” groups things together. In “Liar (It Takes One to Know One),” lead singer Adam Lazzara calls someone “interesting and arrogant;” in “Tell All Your Friends” he calls girls’ dreams “literate and stylish.” In addition, the lyricist feels the need to repeat lyrics more than thrice in each song. As he did in previous albums, Adam Lazzara speaks to a vague “you,” convincing many a teenage girl fan that he’s talking to them only and thoughtfully adds a personal feel to the songs, so teenage boys can sing them to their ex-girlfriends.
Although they are missing the slow songs necessary for a true emo album there is “Divine Intervention,” an acoustic song at a moderate tempo. A “My Favorite Things” quasi-cover, Lazzara starts off with adjectives, which very effectively make the listener long for substance of any kind. The ending chorus lyrics are, “Now if you’re calling me out, then count me out” but are sung in a way that makes the plagiarism conscious BHSEC student wonder if they just stole this line from “Brand New.” The line in question is “Call me a safe bet, I’m betting I’m not,” and is sung in exactly the same melody. (If it is so then I give them a zero.)
Between retaining their old sound and perhaps ‘borrowing’ a few elements here and there, the album is pretty unoriginal. If I had wanted a replay of “Where You Want to Be” I would have just bought the album again. I was expecting something different from TBS but “Louder Now” was a let down.
PROPOSED IMMIGRATION BILL SPARKS PROTESTS NATIONWIDE
The recent protests against proposed reforms in the United States’ immigration policies, such as the May 1 march from Union Square to Foley Square, have grown in frequency as well as size, and they show no signs of letting up.
The protests were sparked by a bill known as The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437), which was passed by the House of Representatives on December 16, 2005, ten days after its introduction. It is currently under consideration in the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), includes a great number of changes to current immigration and homeland security programs. Some of the proposed actions include building hundreds of miles of fencing along the United States-Mexico border (and possibly the U.S.-Canada border as well), eliminating the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, which currently makes about 50,000 permanent visas availabe to immigrants who come to the United States from countries with relatively low immigration rates, and decreasing the grace period permitted for illegal aliens to leave the country voluntarily to 60 days. Another controversial aspect of H.R. 4437 is the proposal that would make aiding an illegal immigrant — whether one is aware of the immigrant’s status or not — a felony. Because “aiding” includes assistance provided to illegal aliens by charities, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and job training programs all over the country, these organizations will be shut down if this bill becomes law.
According to the 2000 Census, the United States is home to approximately 18.5 million noncitizens. It was recently estimated that 11 to 12 million of these noncitizens are here illegally. Protesters argue that, if the bill were to be passed, a significant part of the american culture — not to mention labor force — would be lost.
The protests began about two months after the bill was passed by the House in December. In February, a protest was held in Philedelphia. The next month, several more protests were held prior to and after the bill’s introduction to the Senate on March 16 by Bill Frist (R-TN). The most notable protest that month was “The Grand March,” which took place in Los Angeles on March 25. While the actual number of protestors is questionable (organizers place the number close to one million, while the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) places the number at about 500,000), it was clear that there was unrest amongst the populace.
In April, the number of protests grew substantially. Between April 9 and 10, there were demonstrations in over 100 cities in the U.S., with millions of people protesting H.R. 4437. In some cases, the demonstrations grew large enough to substantially affect traffic. One such protest took place in San Jose, where access to Route 101 was shut down. On April 28, “Nuestra Himno,” a Spanish version of the national anthem, debuted simultaneously on over 500 Spanish radio stations.
The first of May, called “The Day Without Immigrants,” by some, and “The Great American Boycott” by others, brought on another slew of protests, as well as boycotts of work and school across the country. In Los Angeles, a crowd of over 400,000, according to the LAPD, marched through the city. Large demonstrations also took place in Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, and New York.
Locally, a large demostration and march were held in Union Square. A reported one million protestors packed Union Square Park before marching down Broadway, causing street closures and train delays between Union and Foley Squares. Several human chains were also created across the city throughout the day, starting at 12:16 PM, in remembrance of H.R. 4437 having been passed by the House on 12/16.
Although earlier protests caused many problems, such as school lockdowns in California, the employers and school systems have recently become more tolerant of the protests. On April 27, for instance, the California State Senate agreed to endorse a statewide economic and educational boycott on May 1, although education officials disagreed with the educational boycott, encouraging students to attend protests after school instead.
The protests involved in this movement have been quite peaceful for protests of their size, especially considering the heated issues that surround them. This movement has been compared to several notable examples of civil disobedience in American history, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Farmworkers’ Movement headed by Cesar Chavez.
The impact that these massive protests and riots have had on the immigration reform issues is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain: the people have spoken and will not be silenced.
BHSEC HIGH SCHOOL, EARLY COLLEGE, OR NEITHER?
It is generally agreed upon that college is a formative experience which provides students with the opportunity to be independent and responsible for their education and their lives, often for the first time. Many adults nostalgically recall their college days, and chances are you have often heard the phrase, “college was the best time of my life!” But what is it that makes college such an important and memorable experience?
When asked this question, one NYU student commented, “There’s a very electric environment that happens when you throw a bunch of kids together who are living without their parents for the first time. There’s no parental force lurking in the background making us get up for class. We’re all there to learn, but there are also endless opportunities to party which you didn’t have in high school because your parents were always home.”
BHSEC differs from other high schools because of its early college program, which offers college level classes in a simulated college environment to high school kids. As we all know, the basic idea is that some kids don’t need four years of high school and are ready for a college education at sixteen. There is little question as to whether most BHSEC students are ready for college-level work after sophomore year. Most students who survive the “high school” years are very intelligent and resourceful individuals with a great capacity for knowledge and avidity for learning.
The question then is not whether BHSEC students are ready for college, but whether BHSEC students are really better off in this faux-college environment. “I don’t feel like I’m in college. I’m in the same building I was in last year, I’m with the same students, and I even have some of the same teachers. It’s not ‘early college,’ it’s just hyper-intensive high school,” said a Year 1 student. Many students share these sentiments, feeling that despite its best efforts, BHSEC is at best a poor imitation of a college environment.
This deficiency of atmosphere may in itself not be a problem. In fact, for ambitious young people who thrive on academic challenge, BHSEC’s approach to education may provide a refreshing alternative to traditional NYC public schools. But BHSEC’s unique approach to education leaves its students in limbo: while we are expected to take on the responsibilities of university students, due to our age we are not granted the freedom — at school, home, in society — that students eighteen and over normally receive. Moreover, while we are unable to enjoy the many liberating aspects of adulthood, we are excluded from the forms of youthful freedom that high school students enjoy.
During the first week of its college years at BHSEC, my class — the class of 2007 — gathered in the auditorium to listen to Mr. Peterson tell us about how wonderful BHSEC could be and warn us about the dangers of not taking our education seriously. We were told that we were privileged. As BHSEC students, we would be treated as if we were in college, and experience high school in a uniquely intellectual way. However, when the floor was handed over to students for questions, we were repeatedly disappointed. We were told there would be no spirit weeks, no field days, etc. because these are the activities of a traditional high school, not a superior institution like BHSEC.
Sarah Marlow wrote in a past issue of The Horizon in an article about “senior” year (10th grade) at BHSEC, “I think high school is definitely a formative experience, and I’m beginning to worry that we’re missing out on most of it. Bard doesn’t have a pep squad, or a homecoming dance, or anything like that. We come to school. We learn. We go home and do tons of work. End of story.” Ms. Marlow expresses a general desire that many students have for some traditional activities at our nontraditional high school. It seems that BHSEC lies somewhere between high school and college, but instead of combining the best of both, it deprives its students of the positive social aspects of high school and the independence of college, leaving only rigorous academics. The result is an environment which makes learning stressful and frustrating rather than interesting and fun.
Obviously, the forces that dictate the freedoms and restrictions of our age group will not conform to the requirements of our school, but this is an issue that deserves more serious discussion than it is currently receiving. A good start would be for us to seriously consider and face criticisms, rather than ignoring or idly explaining them away.
EXETER’S OTHER LIFE: AN INTERVIEW WITH MS. EXETER
She is a beloved Bard High School Early College history teacher by day and a musician with a dark, smoky voice by night. She has become a regular performer at clubs in New York like the Living Room, Joe’s Pub, and Rockwood Music Hall. The first time she sang in NYC was at the Knitting Factory where she covered the infamous “Fever” by Peggy Lee. She is releasing her first album, to be titled “Elevator Ride”, this year. She is Bronwen Exter and she sat down to talk with me about the life you don’t yet know about.
Olivia Bernard (OB): First, tell me what you’ve been doing recently, in terms of your music career.
Bronwen Exter (BE): Career is an interesting choice of words.
OB: Well, I guess I’m not really sure how you would define it at this point.
BE: That’s a hard question. It’s a serious hobby. What I’ve been doing for the last year is recording a full-length album with a four-piece band. It is so much fun. I can’t tell you how much fun. We laid down the basic tracks over spring break last year and that entailed going up to the Catskills where my friend Kenny has a recording studio that records to two-inch tape. We used six reels. And that’s kind of the old-fashioned way of doing things. At the beginning of my record you hear something winding up, which means it was recorded onto tape, it’s actually the machine whirring up. Even with digital technology, a lot of professional musicians still record to tape. The reason I did it that way is related to what I like about photography. I used to do a lot of photography and I’m really into using film, I don’t like to have the kind of palette of Photoshop and all of those endless, limitless options. I like the limitations of film and I like the limitations of working on tape, it feels more organic.
OB: When are you going to be releasing this album?
BE: My goal was April, which is now, so my next goal is June. I’ll work on it over spring break because I’ll have time to put all the end stuff together. We’re currently working hard on graphics. There are so many details I didn’t anticipate like copyright, publishing companies and getting all the exact song times from the mastering engineer to the graphic designer for the back of the CD tray.
OB: Now that you have recorded this, where are you going with it?
BE: You ask tough questions. It’s hard because as far as I can tell the music industry is changing rapidly, to a large extent because of digital downloading. So getting signed to a label doesn’t mean the same thing it used to, though of course that could be lovely, if I could figure out how. At this point I’m just worrying about getting to the next stage, which means printing 1000 copies to sell at shows and online, get it onto iTunes. I think there’s a pretty much even split, like if I actually sell the ones I make I can pay for the process to do it again. I’m already planning the second album.
OB: Wow. So you’re thinking ahead?
BE: Well, it’s hard not to. And I’ve written a couple of songs lately I have big ideas about—tympani drums and stuff.
OB: So the album is made up of songs that you’ve written?
BE: No, there’s only one that I wrote on this one, “Float.” I only started writing songs about two years ago, but I’ve written enough now that the next record may be half my songs or more. The rest of the songs are written by Jonathan Spottiswoode, my partner in crime in all this who happens to be a prolific songwriter. He’s got a real backlog of unrecorded material, and he started teaching me some of his songs a few years ago.
OB: I know you’ve been performing in a couple of clubs in New York City, what is it like? What is the audience like, how do they respond?
BE: There are a few places downtown where I like to go and listen to music, places where the crowd seems to go to listen instead of talk. They’re also mostly free, and there’s usually a turnover of acts every hour so you can go sit somewhere and listen to lots of things, and the vibe can be really nice. So, I like performing in those places. Norah Jones came out of the Living Room community, which is one of my favorite places. You start to make friends and hear each other play; maybe you record together or just end up knowing more of those people with guitars who are all over this neighborhood.
OB: And how have you gotten your gigs in these clubs? Do you know someone on the inside, have you submitted tapes?
With Rockwood I submitted a demo just like everyone has to, but with the Living Room Jonathan helps. He’s played there for years.
OB: How and when did you first become interested in being a musician?
BE: I started playing violin when I was four and I studied violin seriously into my sophomore year of college but I was also into singing, children’s choir, which really started around seven. It’s funny though, because even playing violin I never picked up any of the guitars at home—everyone else in my family plays guitar. Not until about seven years ago. But with violin I got really “advanced” and I hated practicing. I went on a tour to Japan with my ensemble and was just at that level where you have to work so hard and it wasn’t coming from a real desire in me to play. Unless it was Mendelssohn, but scales?! I hated scales. So I had this big emotional sophomore year break-up with violin in college and I joined an a cappella group. It’s hard when you graduate from college, where you have all of these opportunities with music. I was doing orchestra and a cappella, played duets and sang some madrigals, and then there’s nothing. So then it was like, “Well, I guess I could go do some karaoke” and that was OK for about a year. Wanting to play guitar came on really strong. I never felt the way I did with violin because playing guitar came from a desire to express something, rather than being forced to practice.
OB: You were forced to play violin? By your parents?
BE: Well, I don’t know how much free will you have at age four. My brother was starting cello. I don’t remember why I started. My parents weren’t forcing me. I was probably just like, “I want to play that one!” and so they let me. My grandmother was paying for lessons, so I really had to practice. But now, I go home and if I have any free time I want to play guitar. I rarely felt that with violin. Course, I’m not exactly playing scales on the guitar. I’m not an accomplished guitarist; it’s more like a tool, or a toy.
OB: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
BE: I think I shouldn’t underestimate the classical music influence, because I think it helps me a lot with melody, I mean writing melody lines. I listened to a lot of different music when I was young. My dad is really into jazz and Mexican love songs. And my mom had all the Beatles records—she even met them once backstage. But influences? Of course I love Ani DiFranco, she’s my hero, but she influenced how I think about the world as much as anything. I go through phases of listening to her. I just found an old Violent Femmes tape I totally love. Most of the bands that I like are people I’m friends with who are performing, like Spottiswoode and His Enemies and Johnny Society and the Sad Little Stars. So I get influenced a lot by musicians I know, now. I haven’t been listening to a lot of music, though, just because I only have a certain amount of time for music a day. I don’t know. I really love Martha Wainwright, but I try to sing like Peggy Lee.
OB: Under what genre would you classify your music?
BE: I am so excited to say that I can classify it as lounge. I used to have a secret aspiration to be a lounge singer. Under MySpace it’s classified as lounge/ pop/ rock. The record we made has a real rock n’ roll feeling to it because I was playing with rock n’ roll musicians. Really loud drums and a reverberating fender. There’s a kind of retro garage band feel to it.
OB: What is lounge rock exactly, what does it sound like?
BE: I left the “sounds like” category on MySpace blank. I just said, “Peggy Lee stumbles into a garage.”
OB: Tell me a little about the process of writing “Float”. What inspired you? What came first, the melody or the lyrics?
BE: It was around this time last year, maybe March, when my linked Americas class was reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I love that one. I never intended to write a song about it, but I had some chords I liked and a melody, and some words I didn’t love. The first verse has pretty much stayed the same, even after the song became about something else. It still sort of fit. I was actually on the Chinatown bus back to New York from a weekend with friends in Boston, real literary types. I don’t know, the melody was in my head, the book was in my head, and they bumped into each other. I like that song. It means something to me, because the book means something to me. I think it’s important to remember that Edna is a character, not a person, so I think of the end of that book as a statement rather than a tragedy, which is sort of what the song is about.
OB: What has been the most rewarding aspect of creating your new album?
BE: Um… ask me in June.
“Elevator Ride” is a collection of appealing, often ethereal songs, each of which grows on you more with every listen. Some of the highlights among the fifteen tracks are “I Change Every Minute”, “That Day Will Never Come”, and “She’s Not in Love, She’s in Pain” which is quite catchy; it enters and refuses to leave its listener’s head. “Float” is also memorable for it gives the feeling of being an end to a dream sequence instead of an end to an album.
On Exter’s MySpace (an internet site used for blogging as well as being an outlet for independent musicians to promote their sound) she declares her music is better than a sharp stick in the eye. Who wouldn’t want to have a listen with a guarantee like that?