Entrance Exams for Boston Exam Schools Should Be Reconsidered: Here’s Why

by Sally Jamrog

Opinion

May 31, 2021

As most BUA students residing in Boston probably know, Boston has three public schools that require an entrance exam: the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, Boston Latin Academy, and Boston Latin School. These schools educate students in grades seven to twelve and accept new students in grades seven and nine. For the past twenty-five years, the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) has been used to admit students to these schools. A student’s result on the ISEE and a student’s grade point average (GPA) have each counted as 50% of their application.1 Last year, however, because of the COVID-19 epidemic, ISEE testing had to be suspended and has been canceled for the 2021-2022 academic year as well. The temporarily altered application process is now based on how well students do on at least one of the following criteria: meeting or exceeding expectations on both the English language arts and math sections of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and earning an average GPA of B or higher in studies of math and the humanities.1

Before 1963, Boston’s exam schools never required an exam, admitting students solely based on grades and a recommendation from an elementary school principal.2 As the number of applicants for the schools increased, an entrance exam, a less subjective way to evaluate applicants, was implemented to streamline the admissions process. For minority students, there was little difference in acceptance rates even after the first entrance exams were established. In 1971, only 1.9% of the student body at the Boston Latin School identified as black, even though 32% of the district’s student population was black.2 The racial demographics in the Boston exam schools still do not reflect those of the Boston student population. For instance, today black and Hispanic students make up almost 75% of Boston’s student-age population but only make up about 40% of the students enrolled in the Boston exam schools and only 20% at Boston Latin School, the most selective.3

Studies in the past twenty-five years have shown that the ISEE is a large contributing factor to these demographics. In a report by WGBH news, the ISEE was found to inaccurately predict the academic performance of most test takers. An investigation done by the Harvard Rappaport Institute in 2016 confirmed that much of the material on the ISEE is not taught by the start of sixth grade in Boston Public Schools (BPS), making it necessary to get external help in preparation for the exam.2 The test then tends to favor students who have had the privilege of attending private and perhaps more academically rigorous elementary schools, where students learn material before others at different schools. On this inequity, BPS superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius says that the ISEE tests academic “standards that aren’t taught on a typical day in a Boston classroom.”4 

It seems impossible to make the ISEE and, indeed, any other form of standardized testing completely equitable because it will always provide some students with more advantages than others and ultimately relegates test takers to the value of their test results. As Amelia Boudreau ‘23 says, “I specifically think that these exams can serve as an inequitable barrier to getting into schools due to issues of individual families’ financial mobility, as well as a fundamentally flawed attempt at quantifying intelligence.” However, while eliminating standardized testing might address these issues, with an annual applicant pool of nearly five thousand students, the Boston exam schools would still need some form of objective streamlining mechanism for admissions. This is in contrast to the admissions processes employed by many private schools, which have the privilege of interacting with applicants via interviews and organized events. As Sebastian Depaz Mesa ‘23 says, “There is a lot more to a student than a number can reflect, but having interviews for so many applicants is not practical.” Schools would “need a way to test mass amounts of students, all from different backgrounds, in a way that is fair and properly represents their academic ability,” says Vincent Brunn ‘23.

As an alternative, another study done by the Harvard Rappaport Institute showed that changing the admissions criteria for Boston’s exam schools to include MCAS test performance instead of an ISEE score would augment black and Hispanic enrollment in the exam schools by up to 50%.5 This admissions approach was suggested by Dr. Cassellius as well. She also noted that MCAS, which costs $45 per student on average and is paid for by the student’s school, would be a cheaper option than the ISEE, which costs $225-$255 per individual testing session and is generally paid for by the student. While these new ideas for admissions processes still rely on standardized testing, the MCAS test, unlike the ISEE, is given annually in the majority of Massachusetts education programs, so a more diverse range of students would have access to adequate preparation resources.

Additionally, the new exam school admissions process, as it has been altered in 2021-2022, offers 20% of seats to students with the highest GPA in the applicant pool. The other 80% are filled using zip codes, giving the seats to the applicants with the highest GPAs in each district.1 Although many people in favor of reviving the entrance exam after the pandemic took issue with including zip codes in the selection process, fearing that it would introduce an element of randomness and potentially “degrade [the schools’] academic standards,” BPS has asserted that it is a misconception to think that considering students’ zip codes would somehow devalue the process of admission.6 Since students would still be ranked by GPA, this process should not diminish the schools’ rigor and academic performance.

So on the one hand, entirely abolishing the testing program and establishing a different system would probably be the best way to ensure more equal opportunities for students overall. As Eli Scott-Joseph ‘24 says, “I don’t really know how [we] would make a better test.” However, given the large number of students who apply to the exam schools each year, there would still need to be a process in place that enables many students to be evaluated, just in a much more equitable manner. One option would be to weigh the exam far less heavily in the admissions process and consider using the more familiar MCAS test, for which many schools already provide resources and support. If not the MCAS, schools could also consider using the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) instead of the ISEE. The SSAT is not only less expensive than the ISEE, though still more expensive than MCAS — $150 per individual testing session compared to the $225-$255 individual ISEE testing sessions — but also perhaps more in line with school curricula. Regardless, finding a way to evaluate Boston exam school applicants in an efficient but equitable manner should be a priority when thinking about how to most effectively diversify the Boston exam schools. And, although a somewhat radical idea, we should definitely consider abolishing or putting much less emphasis on standardized testing.


1 BPS, “English – EXAM SCHOOL FINAL SLIDES,”
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1rGTwkRwrc98PDDTd5xoJkCjdLBZQ2KOf/view.

2 Carrie Jung, “Not Always An Exam School: The History Of Admissions At Boston’s Elite High Schools,” WBUR, March 5, 2020,
https://www.wbur.org/edify/2020/03/05/boston-exam-school-admissions-history.

3 Joshua Goodman and Melanie Rucinski, “Increasing Diversity in Boston’s Exam Schools,” Harvard Kennedy School, October 2018,
https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/joshuagoodman/files/rappaport_brief.pdf.

4 Eliza Dewey, “Cassellius Wants New State Funding For Boston To ‘Go To Kids,’” WGBH, November 22, 2019,
https://www.wgbh.org/news/education/2019/11/22/cassellius-wants-new-state-funding-for-boston-to-go-to-kids.

5 Molly Boigon, “Boston Schools Ignored Anti-Bias Bid Specs in Awarding Testing Contracts,” WGBH. November 2, 2018,
https://www.wgbh.org/news/education/2018/11/02/boston-schools-ignored-bid-specs-in-awarding-testing-contracts.

6 Melissa Bailey, “A Golden Ticket: Efforts to Diversify Boston’s Elite High Schools Spur Hope and Outrage,” NBC News, March 17, 2021,
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/education/golden-ticket-efforts-diversify-boston-s-elite-high-schools-spur-n1261199.

Coronavirus Vaccinations Should Be Mandatory

by Anna Augart-Welwood

Opinion

May 31, 2021

After a year of social distancing, mask wearing, and quarantining, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine brings a new hope for the end of the pandemic. As of now, 284 million doses have been administered, and 45% of people in the United States have been fully vaccinated. This number will continue to increase, but it will never reach 100% unless vaccinations are made mandatory.

It is imperative that people get vaccinated as soon as possible. In Massachusetts, businesses and restaurants opened to full capacity on May 29, which could cause a spike in cases. And new coronavirus variants are beginning to spread, which are more fatal, contagious, and possibly vaccine-resistant because the mutations strengthen the virus’ so-called “spike protein.” If this spike protein continues to evolve, people who have been vaccinated or who have previously contracted the virus may be re-infected. Antibodies don’t bind to certain spike proteins as easily and take longer to fight off the virus. Similarly, the virus could become more contagious because the spike proteins of certain mutations fit better into cell receptors, proteins on the surface of a cell, allowing the virus to enter the cell more easily. For example, the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant was first discovered in the United Kingdom and is thought to be up to 70% more contagious than the original strain. The five notable variants in the United States are B.1.1.7, B.1.351, P.1, B.1.427, and B.1.429. The B.1.1.7 mutation was detected in the United States in December 2020, the B.1.351 and P.1 mutations in January 2021, and the B.1.427 and B.1.429 mutations in February 2021. According to the CDC, these five variants spread more quickly and easily than others. This could put a strain on healthcare resources and lead to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. Scientists believe that these mutations could cause more severe symptoms and could even be deadlier than the strain that has dominated in the US.

However, we could prevent the virus from mutating further and becoming more dangerous by mandating the vaccine. Workplaces and schools could require that all staff members and students get the COVID-19 vaccine, medical conditions permitting. But according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about one quarter of Americans do not want the vaccine. From that quarter, if the vaccine were required for school or work, 9% would get vaccinated, 12% said they would still probably not take the vaccine, and 15% were completely opposed to vaccination, even knowing it is completely safe. To put this into perspective, 70-90% of a population need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. Assuming we reach herd immunity, we must maintain it, possibly through additional booster vaccines, because immunity can be lost over time. But even if the coronavirus vaccine were mandatory, it would be difficult to enforce, especially considering the 15% who are against it. Some possible solutions include requiring vaccination for people who cross state borders as well as mandatory vaccination in schools and workplaces. Educational campaigns and efforts to depoliticize the vaccine may help, but there will still be extremists who disregard scientific evidence. However, when education and mandates are combined, far more people will likely get vaccinated. For example, during the polio epidemic in the 1950s, campaigns and marketing strategies were used to portray the disease as a common enemy, not as a matter of politics, causing more people to get vaccinated against it. Additionally, the measles vaccine was required by schools in the 1970s, and after the mandate, over 90% of children got the vaccine. While these situations only required one solution, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is so much stigma and misinformation about the vaccine that not only education but also a mandate are necessary to achieve herd immunity.

It is unfortunate that we live in a society where, because so many people are skeptical of vaccines, we have to consider a mandate. But education and mandates could counter this skepticism. One of the core values of the United States is liberty and justice for all. While some may argue that a vaccine mandate infringes on their freedom, in fact, getting a vaccine is a matter of public health and safety. We must work together and make a community effort to beat a common enemy instead of politicizing it. If anything, getting vaccinated gives people more freedom to travel and live their lives again.


“About Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 20, 2021.
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/variant.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Ftransmission%2Fvariant.html.

Brink, Susan. “Can’t Help Falling In Love With A Vaccine: How Polio Campaign Beat Vaccine Hesitancy.” NPR, May 3, 2021.
https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/03/988756973/cant-help-falling-in-love-with-a-vaccine-how-polio-campaign-beat-vaccine-hesitan.

Drillinger, Meagan. “We Eradicated Polio from the U.S. with Vaccines. Can We Do the Same with COVID-19?” Healthline, May 3, 2021.
https://www.healthline.com/health-news/we-eradicated-polio-from-the-u-s-with-vaccines-can-we-do-the-same-with-covid-19#What-can-we-learn-from-past-vaccination-campaigns.

“More than 1.64 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker.” Bloomberg, May 23, 2021.
https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/.

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. “A new survey finds that about a quarter of Americans don’t want to get vaccinated.” The New York Times, December 15, 2020.
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/15/us/a-new-survey-finds-that-about-a-quarter-of-americans-dont-want-to-get-vaccinated.html.

Interviews With the Class of 2021

by Ibukun Owolabi

News

May 31, 2021

One of the saddest parts of the school year is watching the seniors depart for college. Older brothers and sisters to many, the seniors are role models to all students in grades below them. Below are two interviews with seniors Benista Owusu-Amo and Rohan Prabhu in which they reflect on their time at BUA.

Benista was the treasurer of Student Council during her senior year, a member of the basketball team, a peer tutor, and a musician in Swamp Cats. Benista will be attending Harvard University in the fall. Rohan was a member of the basketball team, the soccer team, Futsal Club, and Math Team. Rohan will be attending Northeastern University in the fall. 

What stands out to you about your time at BUA?

Benista: The atmosphere of academia is something that is special at BUA. Students are genuinely interested in learning, and the faculty match that energy. And while there is this academic atmosphere, students are interested in so many other things, like music, drawing, and sports. BUA students have made my experience special because of the loving environment and how passionate students are. 

Rohan: What stands out to me the most about BUA is the experience I gained from being able to take BU classes in high school. I feel way more comfortable going into college [having done this] than if I had not done this.

What is one piece of advice you would give to a student at BUA?

Benista: Explore everything that you can. BUA, BU, and Boston have so much to offer in terms of classes, labs, events, and experiences, and I would encourage any student at BUA to make the most out of the time they have there. 

Rohan: One piece of advice I would give to a student is that you should always hold yourself to the highest standard. No one can keep you accountable more than yourself, and once you start putting in the work, the results will show.

Who is your favorite BUA teacher?

Benista: It’s really hard for me to pick a teacher that I like more than others because I’ve had so many great experiences with teachers that are unique to each of them. I will say that Dr. Proll is one of my favorites because I know her the best, and she has also been my advisor for two years. 

Rohan: My favorite BUA teacher would definitely have to be Dr. Formichelli. I have learned so much about writing and the world under her, most notably in her senior seminars Politics and Language and BLM Autobiographies.

What is your favorite BUA class?

Benista: Chemistry with Ms. Perrone was one of my favorites. I love chemistry in general and I thought that the structure of the class was fun. Tenth grade English with Dr. Proll was also great, and I discovered one of my favorite books of all time in that class! (It’s Frankenstein, by the way.)

How have your junior and senior years been affected by the pandemic?

Benista: The switch to remote learning and remote events was a large change, but I think that it was also an opportunity for me to reflect on and refocus myself. I picked up some new hobbies and also spent more time with my friends. Remote learning initially made it hard to get to see the seniors, but now with more in-person events, it has gotten much better.

Rohan: The pandemic has led to me becoming increasingly interested in medicine and epidemiology in particular. I have also started doing a lot more programming, since there are many internships open to high schoolers looking to become data scientists.

What are you looking forward to in college?

Benista: I’m looking forward to meeting professors and students from around the world who are interested in a variety of topics. I am also excited to explore interesting classes and eventually pinpoint what I not only enjoy, but could also use to best contribute to society.

Rohan: I’m looking forward to meeting new people and creating lifelong memories, just like in high school.

How do you imagine yourself using what you’ve learned at BUA in the future?

Benista: BUA taught me how to be a productive student and how to prioritize and manage my time. BUA also helped me with problem-solving and collaborative skills. All of these skills can definitely be applied to my college life and beyond.

Rohan: I imagine using what I’ve learned at BUA to get good grades in college.


Say your goodbyes to the seniors while you can. They may be leaving BUA, but they will never leave our BUA family. Good luck to the Class of 2021!

Fast Fashion Is Harming the Environment

by Claire Hsu

Opinion

May 31, 2021

The fashion industry plays a part in all of our lives. It is constantly evolving, and the more it grows, the more it ravages our environment, making the industry the second largest polluter in the world.1 Even though the industry is producing millions of tons of waste and polluting our air, water, and earth, so-called “fast fashion” companies continue their wasteful but successful methods, and consumers, pressured by social standards and these companies, can’t change their habits of buying and throwing out an abundance of clothes. 

Fast fashion is one of the most disastrous problems of the fashion industry. Fast fashion is the mass and rapid production of inexpensive clothing, replicating various trends based on runways and high-end designs. Trends today change very quickly because of the growing culture and media we are exposed to, so the fast fashion industry is releasing more and more clothing in a shorter span of time, each brand averaging fifty-two micro-seasons a year; previously, two seasons were the usual.1 The rapid release of these multitudes of collections makes consumers feel like their clothing is out of date, and they continue purchasing from fast fashion companies to keep up. Because of this cycle, the fashion industry produces a whopping eighty billion garments a year, around 400% more clothes than twenty years ago. Quickly changing trends are only part of the problem — the quality of these garments has declined so much that an average of thirty-five kilograms of textiles per person are thrown out every year in the United States.1 This colossal amount of textile waste is very damaging to our environment, especially since 72% of our clothing is made of synthetic fibers, such as polyester, rayon, and nylon.2

Synthetic fibers are a common man-made clothing material, and although they are cheap to make, they are very hard to dispose of. These fabrics produce poisonous chemicals when burnt, can leach these chemicals into the environment, and are non-biodegradable. Instead of biodegrading, the fabrics break down into small microplastics, known as microfibers. One load of laundry can release 700,000 microfibers.2 These fibers then travel everywhere; they sink to the bottom of the seafloor and can travel through soil and air to all parts of our Earth, composing up to 35% of primary microplastics, microplastics that are less than five millimeters in size upon entering the environment, in the marine environment.2 They are very harmful to the environment because they can harm fish and other marine organisms that accidentally consume them and can even injure humans and animals that consume these marine organisms, in turn.

Even though only fast fashion companies have the power to truly solve this problem, there are still some things that we, as consumers, can do to help our environment. Perhaps the best thing we could do for our environment is to buy less clothing, since buying any piece of clothing, no matter how green it claims to be, will create a negative environmental impact. Buying second-hand clothes or donating old clothes are other good alternatives. We can also reduce our environmental impact by buying better quality clothing, which will likely last longer, reducing the amount of waste created. And if we all refrain from buying poor quality fast fashion clothing, it will push fast fashion brands to produce better quality clothing.


1 M. Charpail, “What’s wrong with the fashion industry?” Sustain Your Style, 2017,
https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry#anchor-fast-fashion.

2 Catie Tobin, “How Plastic Pollution Is Being Woven into Fast Fashion Culture,” New Security Beat, July 30, 2020,
http://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2020/07/plastic-pollution-woven-fast-fashion-culture-2/.

The Benefits of Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

by Matthew Volfson

Opinion

April 25, 2021

If we compare the United States’ infrastructure to Switzerland’s, we see that America has difficulty even keeping their infrastructure standing, let alone improving their services. The United States has a creaky Amtrak mostly built in the 1970s. Public transportation systems in San Francisco, New York, and Boston and bus systems throughout the U.S. are more fit for the age of the fax machine and video cassette recorders than for the modern day. In contrast, Swiss transport systems and many other European systems belong in the current day and are innovative, easy to access, speedy, and on time. It is a consensus, among both Democrats and Republicans, that the United States has an infrastructure problem. Even so, for many years, we have heard only rhetoric from Washington. 

President Joe Biden has finally managed to forge legislation to deal with America’s infrastructure that has a decent chance of passing Congress. His legislation is necessary for improving our economy and the ways in which we get from place to place. It promises better public transportation and roads for neighborhoods of color, a development which would ameliorate a long-time problem caused by the income inequality between minority and white neighborhoods. Communities where people of color are predominant in Boston, such as Hyde Park, are less well-off than areas where fewer people of color live, such as Newton. People in Hyde Park tend to rely more on public transport than people in Newton because many can’t afford a car, and public transport is one of the only ways to get around without a car. 

Biden’s infrastructure plan is a complex batch of items that attempts to address America’s infrastructure and its inequalities. Biden hopes to improve roads, invest in transportation, and especially encourage the use of environmental energy. This makes sense: the Texas power grid crisis in February of this year attests to the fact that fixing the U.S. energy grid should remain a top priority for any presidential administration. The blackout in Texas and multiple blackouts in New York in 2003 and 2019 show that even the largest cities in America sorely need improvements in energy. And in New England and the Massachusetts area specifically, there was a more recent blackout in the Boston area in 2021 where it took a few days to get back to power. I, unfortunately, was a part of the blackout, and my house lacked power for days. To prevent such blackouts from happening again, Biden’s administration will invest in making infrastructure much more resilient to storms. 

Biden has acknowledged that storms and other natural disasters will become more frequent as over time, more and more of the effects of climate change are felt throughout America. He has not only added provisions in his legislation that would make current electrical grids and systems more resilient to climate change but has also pledged to invest in environmental energy. He would do so by encouraging Americans to buy electric cars and use more environmentally friendly energy, such as solar energy, hydropower, wind energy, or nuclear energy, over fossil fuels. 

Investing in energy for the future is a must for a country that seeks to lead the globe in combating climate change. Biden is going in the right direction. He wants to make sure that the United States can come up to par with manufacturing giants such as the new challenger on the block, China. He wants the U.S. to further push its weight around abroad and make sure the world holds a concrete goal of eliminating climate change. He would do that by investing more in clean energies, a point made again and again in his March 2021 White House briefing on his infrastructure plan. 

Yet inflation may be a problem for Biden’s two-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. As more money, on a magnitude of trillions, is spent, the money becomes less valuable because there is an extended surplus of the cash. Some economists believe that the plan could cause inflation because of the increased amount of money flushed out and printed out from Washington. The possibility of inflation, combined with increased interest rates on loans, another result of more money on the market, would drag down the American economy. 

Even so, BUA students have confidence in Biden’s plan. Biden’s infrastructure plan is relevant to BUA because the MBTA serves a substantial number of BUA students. Anne Jackson ‘22 believes the U.S. “needs to invest a lot more in American infrastructure, since a lot of it is aging. A lot of infrastructure spending is not going into American pockets; [therefore it] won’t drastically devalue American spending.” She acknowledges Biden’s efforts to “invest in renewable energy” and praises them as beneficial for the United States, saying it would help “reduce global warming.” To Anne’s comments, I would add that investing in renewable energy would boost America’s place on the global clean energy stage. With its global reputation tarnished by former President Trump, the U.S. most certainly needs to tackle climate change better, and Biden’s infrastructure plan seems like the best opportunity to do so. Although Biden’s proposal comes with its share of problems, it nevertheless is doing something, which is better than doing nothing.


Cook, Lauren. “A brief history of blackouts in New York City.” AMNY, July 15, 2019.
https://www.amny.com/news/blackouts-nyc-1-33881190/.

“FACT SHEET: The American Jobs Plan.” The White House, March 31, 2021.
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/31/fact-sheet-the-american-jobs-plan/.

Gavin, Christopher. “Power outages, a scaffolding collapse, and downed trees mark wild windstorm.” Boston.com, March 2, 2021.
https://www.boston.com/news/weather/2021/03/02/massachusetts-windstorm-march-1-2021-damages.

Kapur, Sahil and Tsirkin, Julie. “GOP unites against Biden’s $2 trillion jobs plan. It’s the counteroffer they can’t agree on.” NBC, April 16, 2021.
https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/republicans-struggle-craft-counteroffer-biden-s-2-trillion-jobs-plan-n1264228.

Pramuk, Jakob. “President Biden unveils his $2 trillion infrastructure plan — here are the details.” CNBC, March 31, 2021.
https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/31/biden-infrastructure-plan-includes-corporate-tax-hike-transportation-spending.html.

Classics Declamation Contest: Interviews With Declaimers and Dr. Alonge

by Ibukun Owolabi

News

April 25, 2021

While society becomes more modern every day, BUA has made classical studies a crucial part of the curriculum. All BUA students graduate with a rich knowledge of either Latin or Greek and ancient history. One of BUA’s proudest traditions is the Classics Declamation Contest, an annual contest in which contestants recite and act out a Latin or Greek passage.

The contest invites an international panel of three judges this year: classics professors Laura Gawlinski from Loyola University Chicago, Donald Lavigne from Texas Tech University, and Jack Mitchell from Dalhousie University. One of the greatest prizes BUA has to offer is the glory that comes with being the best declaimer at the school. BUA will also give the winner a book of their choice.

Before contestants declaim their passages, Dr. Alonge, a classics and history instructor and the host of the contest, will give some background information about each passage. The declaimers will recite their passages in chronological order; that is, beginning with the earliest Greek author and ending with the latest Latin author. After all have performed, the judges will pick a Latin and a Greek winner.

The contest will be held in a hybrid format this year: students and teachers are welcome to watch the declamations in person or via Zoom. In previous years, the entire BUA community attended the contest at an All-School Meeting. Dr. Alonge hopes that this year’s small in-person audience in the Black Box theater will have as much energy as an audience during a pre-coronavirus year.

The following are interviews with two declaimers and Dr. Alonge.

Madison Ho ‘24, Latin Declaimer

What passage are you reciting?

I am reciting an impromptu speech by Queen Elizabeth I in response to a disrespectful Polish ambassador.

Why did you choose the passage?

I chose to declaim this speech because I thought it was such an amazing comeback that demonstrated both the Queen’s oratorical skill and her no-nonsense policy towards the out-of-line ambassador.

Are you nervous at all? How have you been preparing for the contest?

Of course I’m nervous because I want to do the passage justice, but I also feel ready through practicing in front of my friends and teachers.

Jasper Millstein ‘24, Greek Declaimer

What passage are you reciting?

I’m doing a monologue from Antigone by Sophocles.

Why did you choose the passage?

I enjoyed reading the book in English during the fall semester, and I felt like this particular piece can be performed well and easily dramatized.

Are you nervous at all?

I don’t think I’m nervous. I’m looking forward to being able to recite it in person and hear everyone else’s passages too.

How have you been preparing for the contest?

I started by doing a full scansion of the passage in order to understand the meter, and since then I have been trying to memorize a few lines per day so that it’ll become fully ingrained in my memory.

Dr. Alonge, Host and Judge

How does it feel to have the contest virtual?

First of all, it won’t be entirely virtual. It will be like a hybrid class, essentially. The participants will perform in the Black Box Theater in front of a small in-person audience, and everyone else will be on Zoom watching via a camera. But some contestants who are remote students will be on Zoom, too. The logistics will be a little complicated, which goes with the territory of a hybrid format, but I wanted the declaimers to have the immediacy of an in-person audience — that’s something that last year’s participants said they really missed by doing their declamations by recording, especially those who had done it before when the whole school was in the GSU auditorium.

How are you helping students, whether it be with their recitals or their nerves?

I, along with Drs. Jewell and Larash, help students select their passages and provide them copies of the text and, if they choose something poetic, we help them learn the meter of their passage. I advise the students on memorization and delivery by sending helpful tips as well as advice about pacing their progress. As we get near the contest, I have every student do a run-through of their declamation for me, so I can give them any last-minute pointers (and so I know they’re ready). 

Nerves? Yeah, I always say I would never have participated in the Declamation Contest when I was in high school because of stage fright, so I can sympathize with their nerves. One of the best ways to deal with nerves is just to be really, really prepared (the same goes for tests, by the way). Another thing I stress is the importance of practicing and rehearsing in front of other people. If you’ve only practiced in your room or in front of the mirror to yourself, doing it for a crowd will have a very different feel, which can make people anxious. I also remind them that everyone in the audience is on their side and pulling for them. It’s a whole crowd of cheerleaders, and the atmosphere is always very supportive. That’s one of the things that makes it such a quintessential BUA moment. 

What will the judging of the contest be based on?

 Judging is based on accuracy, first and foremost: did you say all the words in the right order, and if poetry, in the right meter? But the judges’ decision comes down to delivery. Is there the right tone or feeling? Are important words emphasized to communicate the sense of the passage? Gestures are allowed, to reinforce the words, but no props. Again, there is one Latin winner and one Greek winner selected, but the decision is often really, really hard, because everybody does a great job. 

I will definitely be in the Black Box theater at 3:30 on Monday, April 26. Grab your popcorn and enjoy a wonderful day of Greek and Latin. Valete and χαίρετε!

The Classics Declamation Contest will be held at 3:30 on Monday, April 26. Limited in-person seating is available; if interested, please contact Dr. Alonge. A Zoom link for the contest can be found in an email from Dr. Alonge.

Now You See Me Starts the Series Well

by Allie Vasserman

Reviews

April 25, 2021

Now You See Me is a 2013 heist movie directed by Louis Leterrier. It stars Jesse Eisenburg as Danny Atlas, Woody Harrelson as mentalist Merrit McKinney, Isla Fisher as Henley Reeves, Dave Franco as Jack Wilder, Mark Ruffalo as FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, Melanie Laurent as Interpol agent Alma Dray, Michael Caine as Arthur Tressler, and Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley. If you enjoy this movie, there are more to watch: a sequel Now You See Me 2 was released in 2016, and a third installment in the franchise, Now You See Me 3, has been announced for 2022.

Now You See Me starts when a group known as the Four Horsemen is formed. The members of the Four Horsemen, illusionists Danny Atlas, Merrit McKinney, Henley Reeves, and Jack Wilder, come together after displaying their skills in small performances. Danny Atlas presents flashy tricks with cards; Merrit McKinney performs mentalism, a type of hypnosis; Henley Reeves makes use of redirection; and Jack Wilder employs distractions and his pickpocketing skills. The Four Horsemen become famous magicians after banker Arthur Tressler sponsors them. They soon rob a bank while performing a show on a Las Vegas stage and attract the attention of the FBI and Interpol. Dylan Rhodes, who is working for the FBI, teams up with Alma Dray from Interpol to catch the Four Horsemen for their crime. Ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley, who has created a new career for himself by revealing the tricks of other magicians, works with Rhodes and Dray to try to understand the Four Horsemen’s illusions and magic tricks. Throughout the movie, the Four Horsemen put on a series of magic shows and pull off heists using each of their specific skill sets in an effort to enter a mysterious society called the Eye. While doing so, they work to evade the pursuit of FBI and Interpol agents.

I really like the way in which the illusions, magic shows, heists, and conversations between the cast are all connected in some way. The phrase “the closer you look, the less you see” is telling. The Four Horsemen have great chemistry as a team and have several conversations with each other and other characters that are funny and entertaining to watch. The plot of the movie is written very well, and it is difficult to predict what is coming next. There are a few twists in the movie that I won’t reveal because they make watching this movie a more entertaining experience. I watched Now You See Me with my family, and I recommend it as a great option for a family movie night.

Dr. Horn and Ms. Brewster Reflect on Their Time at BUA

by Aparna Deokar

News

March 29, 2021

At the end of this school year, Dr. Horn, BUA’s American History teacher, and Dr. Harvey, BUA’s American Literature teacher, are retiring, and Ms. Brewster, Director of Operations and Finance, is leaving BUA for a startup. In the following interviews, Dr. Horn and Ms. Brewster reflect on their time at BUA.

What do you enjoy most about BUA?

Dr. Horn: I think what I enjoy most about BUA is that if you could really throw an intellectual red meat in front of the students, they would go at it. What I found over my long teaching career is that there’s a huge difference at every level between the people who really do the work and come prepared, and the people who don’t, and that first group is rarer than you might think. It’s probably, even in a place like Princeton, ten to twenty percent of the students in a given course. Generally, people take a course because of requirements, or because they want an easy course, and when you come to have a discussion with the class, only about three or four people really have much to say because they’re the only ones who’ve done the work. But at BUA, that has never been the case. Though not everybody does all the work all the time, most of the students do the work most of the time, and that’s the only place I’ve ever been where that’s the case, including places like Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, the College of New Jersey, the Brooks School, the Rivers School, and Phillips Academy. This is where that happens, and they do it with so much passion, enthusiasm, and joy, without the expected stress.

Ms. Brewster: I love getting a chance to work with students, especially being able to support students who have ideas. I also love the families I get to work with, who trust myself and all my coworkers with their students because the families are so kind, and the kids are so kind too. It’s also really exciting that we get to be part of Boston University too. We’re not really just a special small school, but a special small school that’s part of something really huge. And there’s amazing resources at BU that I’m going to really miss.

What do you enjoy about teaching? 

Dr. Horn: History is the field I’ve always loved because it’s so flexible and interesting. It really is an approach, rather than a subject, in looking at things organically rather than how they grew and changed. I particularly have always thought of history as the introduction to the liberal arts and to other fields. You can do the history of science or intellectual history, which, as the history of ideas and thinkers, is my favorite branch. I found it tremendous in college because I ran into so many thinkers and ideas I never would have in any other field. So for me, encountering the pragmatist philosophers William James, Charles Peirce, and John Dewey was a life-altering experience because I studied them for many years. I haven’t done much with that particular field at BUA because [tenth-grade history] is just a survey. But even in the “just a survey,” we read a whole day of debates from the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We get involved in discussions of Americans’ dedication to war and how it upsets democracy by reading the essays of Randolph Bourne. We get into ideas and thinking, and some of those ideas get into people’s heads and change their whole lives.

What do you enjoy about being the Director of Operations and Finance?

Ms. Brewster: I love that I get to learn about what the university is doing and the resources that it has and finding how BUA students can benefit from them. I use those opportunities and leverage those resources, so those are some of the things I love about my job because I get to be strategic and creative about the types of programs we might be able to offer. Though a lot of what I do is logistical and could be boring, it’s not because it’s in a school setting and I put the students and families at the center of what I do, and it’s all about trying to make their experience better.

What does being a teacher mean to you?

Dr. Horn: I never thought I was going to be a teacher. I never intended to be a teacher. I always hated school, at least until high school, and then I began to like it because we got into it and started reading interesting stuff. But now, I’ve had colleagues who say that they love interacting with students. I always tell my students, “I don’t love you at all” because first, it’s creepy, and second, I think it’s a little narcissistic to say that you love working with students and their attention, since it focuses on you rather than the subject matter. Instead, I come to love teaching when I and a student are talking about a third thing of intellectual interest and intensity, and that third thing is the subject. 

What was a memorable teaching moment of yours?

Dr. Horn: There are a lot, but there’s one I sometimes cite. Years ago, I had a freshman history class, and at that time we were reading some Socratic dialogues. I had assigned a paper that I first wanted us to talk about in class to get people’s juices running, and the topic was, “Would you or would you not like to have Socrates as a dinner guest?” I figured some people would say, “That would be great, with those wonderful conversations,” and others would say, “He’s a pain, and he’s always talking people into impossible situations.” Then suddenly I realized that there seemed to be a serious shouting match going on between these two girls. One was from India, and the other was a classic Irish Catholic Bostonian, but they weren’t arguing because of an East vs. West argument or anything like that. One thought Socrates was great, and the other thought he was just a pain in the neck. But anyway, the argument ended in a hilarious moment where one girl said, “Don’t say that of him, he’s so hottie!” and the other girl [became] dumbfounded. The room erupted in laughter, and that’s why it was so great, because you couldn’t have planned that. Two people were having this terrific argument, really getting into it, but going up against a worthy opponent. It didn’t matter who won because they had a grand time.

Has BUA changed you?

Dr. Horn: I think it has, but it’s hard for me to say. Sometimes it gets me really angry because some of us tried so hard for so long to make changes we thought would help, and so many different people came through into the place with more power than we had and said no or had their own ideas. But that is the complaint of old people anywhere. I also think I became a better listener and became better at working people around different plans. I’m a loose cannon, always have been, so I say things that provoke others, and I have a foul mouth. I grew up on the working class side of Cambridge, and I use all of that when I teach. People get offended, and recently I have found the emphasis on trigger words and microaggressions to be really tiresome, though I’ve become better at this. 

Ms. Brewster: BUA has changed, and it’s changed me with it. The types of students that come to BUA [now] are very similar to the kids that came to BUA fifteen years ago, when I started, in terms of qualities like their curiosity. But I think we’re able to do more and expand to more parts of the university in terms of partnerships [now]. And we’ve grown a little bit, though BUA is still a really small school. This has enabled us to have more robust clubs and activities, and I think in that way the school has really matured, just thinking about how clubs like Student Council are so involved in the student experience. Even with Zoom now, we’ve been able to try and expand more opportunities for students and families who live really far away, and I hope that’ll continue.

What do you leave behind at BUA?

Dr. Horn: That’s a tough question, because we all think we leave behind more than we do, and in a place like BUA, memory is only about four years old. As soon as there are enough students in BUA who have never encountered me, nobody will know who the hell I am! Some of the faculty will, and I have some very good friends in faculty here at BUA, so I’ll be leaving it up to them. But if there’s anything I have left in this school, it’s the fact that BUA is here at all. There were some very rocky times, early on, when some of us took some big risks. I also think I contributed to the atmosphere of the school, and though you can change and destroy it, it’s hard to, and it was even harder to build up over time that this is a serious place where everybody is having fun. There’s no difference in our minds between working and having fun with joyful inquiry.

Ms. Brewster: I leave behind a lot of great partnerships that I manage at BU and a lot of folks who really see themselves as partners at BUA who, before my role was created, operated very separately (although we do need to operate separately in some cases because we have different-aged students). I leave behind a lot of relationships that I hope will be sustained, with the families and students who receive financial aid, in addition to some of the more logistical pieces of my job, and I’ll be sad to leave those. I also love getting emails from people asking for help, and I get to help them, and that’s a fun part of my job. But I know that there’s lots of other people at BUA who like helping people, and it feels good to know I’m leaving behind a team who’s just as committed as I am to making sure that students and families have a good experience.

What are you looking forward to in your next chapter?

Dr. Horn: It’s a little scary. I want to be able to read as much as I want because teaching is exhausting, and you spend many hours grading papers and also preparing for what comes next. So I definitely want to read, but I’m worried I won’t know what to do with it, and I want to be able to write some stuff. I also have some speeches I gave to the Academy over the years, and I want to see if I can dig them up and turn them into a little pamphlet, since it’s just nice to have something you worked on show up in print somewhere. I also have never traveled all over the United States by car, and one of the first things I want to do when I’m “out” is to get into the car with some camping gear and travel places, having vacation during September and October when the weather is great and the leaves are turning colors and there’s nobody on the road. It just seems great to me. I’m older than I’d like and heavier than I’d like, so I have to do a lot of walking and biking to get myself in shape. Besides that, I’ve been playing [timpani] in the orchestra for many, many years, and I’d like to continue, if I can still move all the drums around. It’s all wide open to me, and though it’s kind of scary, it’s time to do it. I could have taught a few more years, I suppose, but I was getting mentally and physically tired.

Ms. Brewster: I’m looking forward to the creativity of my new role and to challenging myself and to working with a new team to build software for schools. I’m also excited to have a little more time to be with my family because there’s more flexibility in my new job than at BUA. I know I’m going to really miss BUA!

A Wealth Tax Would Benefit America

by Anna Augart-Welwood

Opinion

March 29, 2021

Since human brains have not evolved to understand large numbers, it is easy to underestimate how large one billion actually is, and, therefore, it is difficult to comprehend the size of the wealth gap in America. One million seconds is eleven days, while one billion seconds is thirty-two years. One billion dollars is such an incomprehensible amount of money that it would be difficult to actually spend, and there is no reason why anyone should hoard more wealth than they could spend in their lifetime while other people are homeless, starving, and dying of curable diseases. For this reason, Congress should impose a wealth tax on the rich.

The wealth distribution in the United States is drastically unequal, and many politicians are in favor of a wealth tax to help fix this inequality. According to the Federal Reserve, the top one percent of Americans collectively own approximately one third of the U.S. household wealth. The bottom fifty percent of people in America make up only 1.9% of the country’s wealth. Racial wealth gaps are particularly astounding. As of 2016, the median white family owned almost five times the wealth of the median Hispanic family and over six times the wealth of the median black family. Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with other Democrats, recently proposed the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act. It would place a two percent annual tax on households and trusts between fifty million and one billion dollars, in addition to a one percent annual surtax on households and trusts over one billion. The bill would help to narrow the racial wealth gap and wealth gap in general.

A poll from the New York Times in July of 2019 found that two thirds of all Americans, including 55% of Republicans, are in favor of a two percent wealth tax on everyone worth over fifty million dollars. The opinions among the people who would be paying the tax are more split. But imposing a wealth tax is not as simple as it sounds. It is difficult to determine exactly how much wealth there is in the country. Additionally, calculating revenue involves guessing how much the rich will evade the tax. Another difficult task for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is calculating how much people’s assets are worth. As John Koskinen, a former commissioner of the IRS, said, “The thing to remember is that really wealthy people don’t hold all their assets in easy-to-value areas like stocks and bonds. A lot of them have artwork that’s worth a lot of money. A lot of them have investments in privately held corporations or in investment vehicles that do not give regular valuations.” Enforcing a wealth tax would require the U.S. government to employ substantially more people in the IRS and determine how to calculate these valuations, seeing as bank account balances and the values of stocks and artwork fluctuate regularly.

Despite the fact that a wealth tax would be difficult to implement, it is necessary to close the wealth gap in America. The world’s top twenty-six billionaires own as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people. Moreover, while millions of people were left without a steady source of income during the pandemic, billionaires got 565 billion dollars richer, making forty-two million a week on average. Some people argue that billionaires have worked hard for their money and should be allowed to keep it. However, the Billionaire Census found that 30.9% of billionaires inherited some of their wealth and that 13.3% inherited all of their wealth. Additionally, wealth inequality is self-reinforcing in the sense that people make money off their own wealth, such as through investments, giving them more wealth. And even though 55.8% of billionaires are self-made, they have more money than they could ever possibly spend. It is unfair that billionaires are hoarding money when others cannot pay for basic necessities such as food, healthcare, housing, and education. No one should be allowed to accumulate that much wealth in the first place, which is why a wealth tax would be beneficial to America. Aster Gamarnik ‘23 is in favor of a wealth tax; they say, “People shouldn’t die from something that could have been prevented if they had more money… The difference between the top and the bottom classes is so vast that poor people just can’t move up. It’s a deadly cycle of poor education, housing, and nutrition.” They believe that many aspects of our society are unfair, but since the wealth gap can certainly be narrowed, it definitely should.

While it would not be easy, implementing the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act would be greatly beneficial to the United States. Especially during the pandemic, many people, businesses, and organizations are struggling from a lack of money. On the other hand, billionaires have profited greatly during the past year. Imagine having so much money that you could buy everything you ever wanted and still have plenty to spare. Why would you keep it to yourself when you could use it to help millions of people?


Clifford, Catherine. “The majority of billionaires in the world are self-made.” CNBC, May 10, 2019.
https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/10/wealthx-billionaire-census-majority-of-worlds-billionaires-self-made.html.

Ewall-Wice, Sarah. “Elizabeth Warren unveils proposal for wealth tax on “ultra-millionaires” as richest Americans see gains during pandemic.” CBS News, March 2, 2021.
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sen-elizabeth-warren-introduces-ultra-millionaire-tax-act/.

Kurtzleben, Danielle. “How would a wealth tax work?” NPR, December 5, 2019.
https://www.npr.org/2019/12/05/782135614/how-would-a-wealth-tax-work.

To the End of the Jetty: Letting Go of Perfectionism

by Sally Jamrog

Commentary

March 29, 2021

On a day in late August several years ago, my family and I decided to take a walk on the Hampton Beach jetty, a thin strip of rocks jutting out into the ocean to protect the peopled shoreline from rough waves. The sun beat down on my shoulders, threatening to burn despite the layers of sunscreen forming a second skin over my body. Large rocks warmed the soles of my feet as we walked farther from the shore, their surfaces out in the summer sun no longer slick with the sea. As the terrain grew rougher, we maneuvered more carefully among the crags on all fours, reverting to our primal instincts. The rocks were more crowded than they had been that morning when my mother and I had made the journey together, just the two of us. Then, it had seemed the jetty belonged to only ourselves and the various ships that swerved around it with each journey past the beach. 

Now, I was climbing quickly, enjoying the thrill of the trail, unconsciously leaving the figures of my mother and younger brother far behind me as I twisted and turned among the rocks. I had been taking rock-climbing lessons at the time, and my little ten-year-old fingers itched to try themselves on real rock, different and more enticing than the plastic holds at the rock-climbing center. Pretending to be a master climber, I whirled and bounded over boulders with ease. 

I reached the end of the jetty, where the stone tapered out in a steady slope to the choppy seas below. Though the tides were out, the surrounding water was still sufficiently deep for boats to sail in, the currents greedy enough to sweep someone under and carry them away. That day, many children were at the edge of the rocks, dipping their fingers in standing tidepools that had formed from receding waves and bounding playfully, to their parents’ horror, over large fissures leading into the rocky depths. 

I stood by the flag marking the end of the jetty and pondered my intentions. Should I go farther? I remembered my mother’s warning not to explore this area without her supervision, but my feet wanted to move, my fingers to climb and grope their way into cracks and crevices. I yearned to join children my age ahead of me who had found starfish. So, spurred by curiosity, I passed the flag. I trusted that I was not so far ahead of my mother and brother, though all I could see behind me was a jostling sea of people. They would be here soon, I consoled myself, and besides, I was not going to slip!

New arrivals to the jetty flag watched me nervously as I steadied myself with hands on the rock behind me, probing the sloping edge of the jetty with my toes and slowly starting the descent. I would prove their worries wrong, for I was a trained rock-climber after all! In front of me, the vibrant hues of a kid’s colorful pails and shovels egged me on. I wondered if the starfish they had collected were as vibrant as some I had seen in the nature magazines that came to our house every month. 

When I had relied on crab-walking to carry myself halfway to the edge of the water, I then trusted it would be safe to shift my weight back onto two feet. The barnacles coating the stone under my hands had lacerated my skin painfully. I tried to wash off the bit of blood blooming on my palm in one of the pools of seawater basined in the crater of a boulder. I turned to face the rest of the distance to be covered and balked when I noticed more white barnacles clustered together, the surface of my upcoming footholds shiny in the sun, slick with sea-slime. A father and his daughter played in a tidepool not far ahead of me. How did they escape the barnacles? I got down on my hands and feet again, probing for any zones free of crustaceans and slime.

Before I realized I had fallen, I smelled the salty tang of seaweed. The crowns of those vicious barnacles bit angrily into my skin, more peering down at me mockingly from the cave mouth above. How did I slip? Water ebbed into the cavern where I found myself, its undulations ricocheting cacophonously in the darkness. Someone’s arms reached down into the fissure, creating shadows on the cave walls, calling for my hands. I could feel myself becoming the center of attention, thinking of the anxious faces I had striven to prove wrong. The face of the father I had seen earlier with his daughter appeared above the hole, asking if I was alright. My embarrassment held me down, shame shackling my hands to the rocks around me. Part of me wished to stay hidden in the shadows rather than face my foolishness, but I thrust myself upward anyway, grabbing onto the hands lent to me. It took a few tries and wrong footholds, the barnacles ever merciless, but soon the sunlight enveloped me again and someone led me to my mother by the jetty flag, who was concerned and horrified at the bloodied sight I had become. 

I would say the hardest part of that day was walking back to the rest of our family on the beach, the sand stinging in my cuts, blood etched down my sides. No vital parts of me damaged, just signs of my overconfidence calling out my carelessness to the general public. I tried to shut out the gasps, fearful eyes, and choruses of “Are you okay?” as I held my mother’s hand, my steps no longer as sure and confident as they had been. Some rock climber I was. 

Although rattled by this experience, I did resume rock climbing the next month, remounting my bike after a fall, as the hackneyed phrase goes. However, the real challenge for me suddenly became trusting in my abilities. “Do I know how to do this well enough?” “Is my work good enough for people to see?” Self-doubt developed into perfectionism. This is still a challenge I grapple with today and face especially with creative pursuits. How do I muster the courage to bring something out into the world when I know I still have so much to learn? Though perfection can provide a standard to work towards, it should not be fixated upon to the point that it inhibits production. Just because I am still learning does not mean that I cannot share what I have learned so far. Thus, I strive to keep my “master-climber” swagger, but with a mind more open and receptive to guidance from others and to the mistakes I am bound to make along the way.