Online: GBHS reacts to Roseburg, Oregon shooting

Published: Granite Bay Today, Oct.2, 2015.

Category: Web

Reason for publication: When the Roseburg, Oregon shooting occurred, I felt that not only was it necessary for the Gazette to write a piece, but it was necessary to write a good piece quickly. I interviewed sources and wrote the piece a day in two days. It was uploaded a day after the shooting, on my birthday. It can be seen online here.


 

   In 2015 alone, there have been 17 school shootings on college campuses, 45 shootings on school grounds and 294 mass shootings. The events that occurred on Thursday, Oct. 1 on the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Oregon that injured twenty and killed thirteen are undoubtedly horrific, but certainly not an event which is unusual or isolated.

  According to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, there are approximately 88.8 firearms per 100 people in the United States. Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December of 2014 in which 28 people – including 20 students, 6 staff members, the shooter and his mother – died, there have been 95 school shootings.

  President Barack Obama spoke on behalf of the mass shooting in Oregon in his fifteenth statement made concerning a mass shooting, saying an event such as this “has become routine” and that “we’ve become numb to this.”

 Some students were deeply shaken by the event. Senior Erica Lucia watched Obama’s speech regarding the Oregon shooting.

  “President Obama had to speak again about this and when I watched what he said, it was definitely different,” Lucia said. “He always carries the same themes that this shouldn’t be happening, but … he just seemed like he couldn’t even bear to be standing there, having to deliver this type of message. He even said (he) had to deliver this message way too many times because this has happened way too many times.”

 Numbness and desensitization following a school shooting has seemingly increased among the general American public. Since President Obama’s reelection in 2012, there have been nearly 1000 mass shootings, so it’s unsurprising to note that crimes of this kind are becoming less and less shocking.

  “I know, myself, (that) I’m getting desensitized to it and that scares me,” Advanced Placement Government teacher Jarrod Westberg said. “I talk about this stuff for a living, and it gets to a point where (you think) ‘Oh, here’s another one,’ and that scares me. When it happens often I think it makes it difficult, if people aren’t shocked by it, to make it a top tier important issue (or) discussion.”

  One interesting aspect of the Oregon shooting is the fact that in 2013 a letter was written to Vice President Biden from Sheriff John Hanlin of Roseburg, Oregon saying “gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings” and that he will not enforce any actions or federal regulations that infringe upon the rights guaranteed in the Second Amendment.

 The gun violence problem in America is so extreme that according to The Guardian, if the Sandy Hook massacre had been the sole shooting of the day on its occurrence (December 12, 2014) the death toll on that day would have been lower than the average number of gun-related deaths for the days of that year. It is difficult to generalize why mass shootings occur, because each reasoning is specific from case to case.

     To look at the reasonings or answers that explain why mass shootings are so prevalent in American society, it is important to look at culture.

 “I feel like we need to start taking  a really close look at what is happening culturally (and) how the factors are coming together socially that (creates)  this perfect storm, where we are beginning to see this (type of event) crop up over and over,” said AP Psychology and Peer Counseling teacher Natalie Elkin, who is also a licensed marriage and family therapist. “I feel like we really need to take a closer look at examining ourselves, examining our schools and what’s happening and be self-reflective instead of pointing the finger outward.”

  Elkin also said that one recognized mental disorder in the Philippines and Malaysia which is not recognized in America includes some of the same trends and behavior commonly seen in American male shooters. The disorder, called “Running Amok” or simply “Amok,” describes a particular instance of mass violence or aggression against people or objects.

  “To run amok in our everyday vernacular just means to sort of go wild and out of control,” Elkin said. “(But in those countries) it is a legitimate disorder. There are some theories about why that is, and they’re all culturally relevant, so all of a sudden it hit me. What is going on culturally that in the last decade … we are beginning to create in young men – because we haven’t seen a female (commit a mass shooting) yet – this particular violent outburst directed at educational institutions? We don’t yet have a name for it, but all of a sudden it sort of occurred to me (that) it’s sort of like this running amok.”

  Because, as Elkin pointed out, mass shootings are occurring more and more on or around school grounds, educators and faculty members who work in schools have begun to take progressive steps in order to decrease the likelihood of a shooting.

  Lucia said she doesn’t doubt the chance of a school shooting happening here. There are similar trends in aspects such as the socio-economic status of Columbine, Colorado and Granite Bay and it would be ignorant to believe it could never occur at or around GBHS, Lucia said.  

  At Granite Bay High School, these precautions include two distinct factors of safety and emotional well-being. Staff members are beginning to look more closely at safety plans and increased focus on psychological health of the student body.

  “Safety of the campus (is) analyzing access and fence points that are secure,” assistant principal Jessup McGregor said. “We’re trying to make sure people aren’t on and off campus who shouldn’t be here. There’s a lot of conversations going on regarding where we position adults on campus during certain times of the day (and) whether doors should be unlocked or locked in classrooms. The second piece is the health side. We have a really great team of counselors, and we recently brought on board Holly Minor, who is our learning support specialist, and Melanie Anvari, who is our intervention counselor. A portion of it is academic, but a large part of it is emotional. We’re looking at identifying students who are going through external or internal problems and providing support for them to be able to help them manage those emotions because I think if we can be proactive in seeking them out and giving them the support they need, then we can help avoid the potential for them to make a poor decision.”

  In addition, students and staff at GBHS recently experienced a shelter in place, lockdown and fire drill, which Westberg said were smart steps which establish a clear and organized plan of action. In the 17 years he’s been here, Westberg said he’s only experienced a lockdown drill four or five times, and continuous instruction makes him feel more comfortable to handle a potential situation.

  A second part in helping protect GBHS from a  possible school shooting are programs such as Ripple Effect, which is organized by the Student Government Program and works at positively influencing school culture.

  “Programs like Ripple Effect can make an impact in students’ lives,” said senior Aubrey Holt, who organized the Ripple Effect event this year as part of her duties as Associative Student Body leader. “Realistically, I believe a student who has gotten to the point, psychologically, of making … horrific decisions would be closed off to all outside influences. I think Ripple Effect and all other culture activities help students be more compassionate and understand that everyone goes through trials. I hope that these programs can reach out to those individuals in need.”

  It is important early action are taken to prevent the possibility of the unthinkable, but it is also important to note that students must be willing to take steps themselves and work together to address any issues.

  “I feel like there’s something on the other side that always needs to be happening to balance this equation,” Lucia said. “There needs to be people on the other side that care enough about this message that people are delivering and I think that starts with administration to put that on the students to make them actually care about these programs. I think that these programs are meaningful, but for them to achieve true success and leave a lasting impression, we need people on the other end who are ready to accept them and I think we need to place importance on that.”

   While is it near impossible for schools to eliminate the chance of a school shooting ever taking place, students and faculty believe that GBHS is working to implement efficient programs and resources, and maximize security.

  “We’re talking about a whole perspective shift,” Elkin said. “I know that that takes a lot of time, (but) I do feel very hopeful that particularly at Granite Bay … there is awareness (and) there is consciousness of making a genuine change to (achieve) that  kind of perspective. You hear about this horrible thing, and you bring it home to yourself and how (you) can make your life and the lives of those around you better.”

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Online: Former GBHS students killed in crash

Published: Granite Bay Today, Jan. 14, 2015.

Category: Web

Reason for publication: When three former GBHS students were killed in a drunk driving accident, I volunteered to work three other members of the staff to post the story in two days. We collected interviews from friends and classmates and received a generally positive review after the story posted. The story can be viewed here.


 

The Granite Bay High School community has been grieving the deaths this week of three GBHS graduates who were killed early Saturday morning when the car they were traveling in on Highway 80 near Madison Avenue was struck by a wrong-way driver.

The three former GBHS students who died included Matt Azar, 19, who graduated in 2013 and was the driver, and 2014 graduates Kendra Langham, 18, and Mathew Beard-Witt, 18.

“They were some of the first people to make me feel welcome when I came to Granite Bay,” said Anastasia Chiles, a current GBHS senior who was a good friend of Beard-Witt’s. “I would say I haven’t been as affected (by their deaths) as people closer to them or their families, but it did come down on me pretty hard. … It still doesn’t feel real.”

Chiles described Langham, Beard-Witt and Azar as all being big believers of expressing who you are and were good at making anyone feel welcome.

“I know anyone who knows them knows each of them lived by the rules of Peace Love Unity and Respect, or PLUR. They were really great people that were taken way too soon, but I know they would have wanted us to celebrate their lives, not mourn their deaths,” Chiles said.

The GBHS administration responded quickly when they learned of the accident. Assistant principal Brian McNulty said the administration got word from the police department on Sunday, and administrators immediately called a meeting about how they should treat the situation and how to offer support for students on campus.

“We have emergency protocols for these kinds of things,” McNulty said. “In the event of a tragic loss, counselors are called into play. We start planning on how we are supposed to play apart in whatever situation it is.”

This particular situation was different because the victims were all GBHS graduates.

“In this case (the students) are alumni … they are adults,” said McNulty, who noted that law enforcement and the school’s administrators work together closely. “So the police are the ones who have to take the lead in notifying the families. … Once we get clearance the families are notified, then we offer our services – counseling, bereavement, even county chaplains.”

McNulty said the deaths of recent grads is hard on administrators, too.

“First of all it hits you as person,” McNulty said. “As an adult, as a parent, as a leader at the school, it reminds you of how fragile life is.”

Sophomore Danielle Yabut knew all three, but she was was closest to Beard-Witt. Yabut said she accompanied them to raves.

“All three of them … deserve to be remembered as the most beautiful radiating souls anyone has ever met,” Yabut said. “They lived their life to the fullest (and) weren’t afraid to show anyone what they were made of. They didn’t care to be different, because that’s what made them more of themselves, which is way more than enough.”

Yabut said the loss of all three is a devastating experience not just for her, but for everyone in the community.

“It was definitely an eye opener for everyone in the community who took their loved ones (and) friends for granted,” Yabut said. “After the incident I, personally, decided to carry myself the way they did, which was to spread love every chance you get.”

Cameron Oates, a friend of all three victims, has created a gofundme.org account to assist the families with the funeral service. His fundraiser, titled “Kendra, Matt, and Mathew Funeral,” has raised more than $6,500 as of Wednesday afternoon, with a goal of $15,000.

Oates remembered Kendra not just as a friend, but as family.

“When she started going to Granite Bay High School, she made sure I was not bullied by anyone around town,” Oates said.

Oates not only knew Kendra, but also her dad and twin sister, Cobie. He became friends with Azar and Beard-Witt through rave parties and mutual friends.

“I took over the funding because they are all family to me, not just my friends,” Oates said. “They are the generation to my heart.”
Rj Marshall, a 2013 GBHS graduate and friend of both Azar and Beard-Witt, describes both as “angels.” Marshall was planning to share a house with both Azar and Beard-Witt as well as a fellow friend, George Duval.

“Mat, Matt, George Duval (and myself) were all going to move into a house together up … in Reno,” Marshall said. “I was really excited because then I could get to know Mat Beard-Witt more, and I felt like we would be really good friends.”

While Marshall knew both Azar and Beard-Witt, he described Azar as one of his best friends.

“Matt Azar was truly one of my best friends,” Marshall said. “(He) has made me a happier person, more spiritual and more confident in the fact that the world always rewards those with good hearts. Matt was … part of my family. And it’s hard now that he’s gone … but I’m sure he’s in a better place.”

Azar, Beard-Witt and Langham were all part of the rave community, and Marshall said they upheld the ideas of PLUR.

Langham was known on the Granite Bay High School campus for reaching out to others and being a friend to someone who needed one.

“What I will remember most about Ken was the way she opened up her heart to anyone,” said 2014 graduate Destiny Butcher. “She was such a beautiful human being. I would have to say her best quality was she loved everyone for who they were (and) … was so accepting.”

Butcher said Langham was one of her first friends she made at school after she transferred to GBHS her sophomore year, and they’ve been friends ever since.

“Kendra was an amazing person,” Butcher said. “And an even better friend. She loved you no matter what.”

Azar will also be remembered as a good person and friend by his good friend, and former girlfriend, Sierra Alejandrez, a 2014 GBHS graduate.

“(Matt) was the happiest person I knew,” Alejandrez said. “It was a rare sight to see him not smiling. He could light up the room with his passion for people and positive vibes about life.”

Alejandrez said Azar always strived to do the right thing and had a special skill in using just the right words when people were upset to help them feel better.

“He was a light in everyone’s life,” Alejandrez said. “He told me a few weeks ago, ‘If there ever comes a day we can’t be together, keep me in your heart – I’ll stay there forever.’ ”

Alejandrez also said there are lessons to be learned from the actions of the wrong-way driver, who was identified in early media reports as Aaron Jordon Caudillo, 24, of Roseville; according to a KCRA Ch. 3 website report, law enforcement officials believe either drugs or alcohol were involved in the accident, and a bottle of rum was found in Caudillo’s vehicle after the crash.

“Everything happens for a reason, and I hope that everyone can see the huge message this sends,” Alejandrez said “That driving while under the influence of ANY kind is NEVER worth the risk. Every time you go behind the wheel intoxicated, you are risking someone in the world a barrel of pain, grief and despair.”

Melina Sneesby, a current GBHS junior, was a teammate and friend of Langham.

“Kendra was always true to herself and never let anyone change that. She could always make you smile too,” Sneesby said. “I liked best how she went with the flow and was always there for you if you needed anything. I’ll remember how strong willed and different she was, and she always did what she wanted.”

Sneesby said a memory she will never forget is from one of their first soccer games together, and Langham and her twin, Cobie, said the same thing over and over again and no one could stop laughing.

“Her life impacted me in the way of showing me how full of life you can be if you choose to make it that way,” Sneesby said. “Her death affected not only me, but the community, tremendously. I think that everyone knew she was an amazing, beautiful girl with a kind heart, and will be greatly missed.

“The whole thing is really unfortunate and sad that such innocent lives were taken. Kendra would want everyone to live their lives to the fullest.”

Carli Cusano, former GBHS student, said she was really good friends with Beard-Witt her freshman and sophomore year, and they remained friends throughout her junior and senior years.

“Every single time I saw him, whether if I saw him a month ago or a day ago, he would hug me so happily and radiate so much happiness and be so genuine – it was amazing,” Cusano said.

Cusano said there was never just one thing she liked most about Beard-Witt. She loved that he was such a free-spirited soul, and he always made everyone around him smile.

“There were so many good qualities about Mat,” Cusano said. “There was never just one thing I liked most about him. He was just an amazing, great person inside and out. His friendship taught me so much, and he seemed to live the life he wanted to live and did what made him happy.

“I never really saw him without a smile on his face, and just being around him made me, as well as many other people, genuinely happy. He always seemed to be at peace whenever I saw him, and I admired that immensely.”

There are many memories shared with Beard-Witt, Cusano said, that she will never forget.

“I have so many memories – memories of just hanging out with our friends, going on little adventures and hanging out during school. I saw him on Halloween at a rave, and when he saw me he yelled my name, ran up to me and hugged me so tight. and since I hadn’t seen him for a while before that, we just exchanged, ‘You’re amazing!’ and ‘God I love you and miss you so much!’” Cusano said.

While Cusano and others in the community are deeply mourning the deaths of the three, there is a comfort in remembering the joy they brought and the lives they touched.

“I think his death impacted the community in a kind of wake up call that life is precious and valuable,” Cusano said. “What he taught me was to live the way I want to and be a genuine, loving person.”

***

GraniteBayToday reporters Natalie Erickson, Amanda Nist, Alex Baldonado, Hannah Xu and Hannah Holzer contributed to this report.

Online: Sybil Healy announces resignation

Published: Granite Bay Today, Nov. 21, 2015.

Category: Web

Reason for publication: My journalism teacher posted on our Facebook page about the resignation of one of Granite Bay High School’s assistant principal at around 7 a.m.. By 4:00 p.m. my fellow Co-Editor-In-Chief Savitri Asokan and I had co-written the article and posted it to Facebook. I conducted all of the interviews and we both wrote the story. The online version is here.


 

   Granite Bay High School assistant principal Sybil Healy announced her intent to leave her position and relocate to Adelante High School to the staff this morning and eventually open her own charter school.  Healy, who has worked for several years in the Roseville Joint Union High School District and is a founding member of GBHS, has been serving as an assistant principal since July 2013.  She will be leaving in the middle of the year.

  Healy’s departure will leave a hole in the school community, her colleagues said.

  “I’m sad (she’s leaving, but) I know she has other things she wants to pursue,” GBHS principal Jennifer Leighton said. “Working at Adelante allows her to not have any evening events, (unlike) the many (we have) here. She’s never made her ambitions a secret – she wants to open her own school, and if this affords her that opportunity and it gets her there faster, that’s fine.”

  Assistant principal Jessup McGregor also said her presence will be missed.  Healy adds “a lot of character” to the school, McGregor said.

  “I’m sad (she’s leaving), because she cares more about kids than the average human being,” McGregor said. “(Our relationship is) very friendly and very positive. My kids went to her without asking any questions the first time we met her, and my littlest one wanted to be held by her, which I use as a character judgment. We’ve gotten along very well and I have a lot of respect for her.”

  In addition to her positive personality traits, McGregor lauded Healy’s administrative skills.

  “She’s also really good at getting kids to do what they need to do without making them upset with her, which is very valuable,” McGregor said. “She’s going to do really good things wherever she goes. I’m excited for the kids at Adelante to be able to have her there.”

  For years, Healy has been looking beyond her position as assistant principal.  McKenzie Healy, Sybil Healy’s daughter, said she thinks “it’s awesome” her mother is moving forward to fulfill her aspirations.

  “She always wanted to pursue bigger things,” McKenzie Healy said. “It’s truly amazing that after all these years she’s finally making it a reality. She’s a hard worker and a great leader, so it’s sad she’s leaving a school I loved so much. But she’s doing what’s best for her and will benefit a lot of people.”

  When she arrived in the 2013-2014 school year, Healy initially faced some antagonism from students for her enforcement of the previously neglected dress code and senior conduct policy.  These sparked student protest in the form of posters distributed on campus, and a string of Gazette articles – the September 2013 edition’s cover story, titled “No ifs, ands or butts,” and the accompanying editorial “Female bodies are not inherently shameful” – which culminated in the infamous illustration of Healy as an austere judge for the story “Class of 2014: On the Stand.”

  However, this perception has largely been transformed into one of supportiveness, benevolence and appreciation. Senior Sammi Tafoya said Healy is “understanding and not harsh,” a figure who “relates to the girls more” and fills a gender gap in the administration.

  “She is one of the assistant principals who really connects with their students,” Tafoya said. “I do see her as an authority figure, but we have mutual respect. She treats me as not just a student, but a friend.”

  Senior and student government member Brigid Bell agreed with Tafoya’s feeling of camaraderie and connection.

  Noting “a certain charisma” about Healy, Bell said that she “really expresses that she cares about the kids.”

  “She’s very transparent with the student body,” Bell said. “Which is different.”

  As the only female assistant principal, Healy brings an element of diversity which the school previously lacked.  Moreover, after Healy leaves, GBHS will no longer have any certificated African-American staff members.

  “It’s definitely really nice to have a woman as an assistant principal, because she gets where girls are coming from,” Bell said. “And she brought a certain amount of diversity. Without that, the (minority) students on our campus will feel a little alienated. It was nice to have her as a figurehead for diversity because GBHS does lack diversity.”

  As Healy prepares to leave, the search for a replacement begins.  All candidates are welcome, but having an administrative woman as an assistant principal has its benefits, Leighton said, adding that the perks of having a female are especially beneficial when dealing with disciplinary issues.

  “I don’t think we’re going to find somebody who has all the wonderful qualities she has,” Leighton said. “If there is someone who walks in like that, I’ll be thrilled – but I’ll just have to look at the (applicants) and see what I can do. It’s only (a) half a year (position), so maybe we can look again next fall, if it doesn’t work out very well this year.”

  Finding a new administrative member midyear poses a challenge, but Healy’s displacement to Adelante was chiefly proposed as the solution to the conflict of interest that arose with her working at GBHS while also working on the charter school, Century High School, Healy said.

    Century High School is marketed as an “integrated global studies academy” and will be a tuition-free boarding school. Because Healy is going through RJUHSD to start Century, the district decided to move her to Adelante for the spring semester to make the situation more equitable. Ostensibly, Healy might divert the staff and parents of GBHS.

  At Century, Healy’s position will be equivalent to a CEO or superintendent.

  “It’s basically my dream (to open) an international high school,” Healy said. “It’s globally focused and project-based, and there’s a lot of support for students (and) mentorships.”

   Most prominently, the difference between GBHS and Century is in class size. At Century, 25 students is the maximum, and the total student body will consist of 500 students.

  But the critical characteristic of the school will be the emphasis on global perspective. 21st century skills, global studies, mentorships, international connections, bilingual students and inquiry-based learning as key aspects of the Century curriculum.  Additionally, Healy envisions individual learning plans, so each student is tracked for emotional, social and academic progress.

  While she is excited to work on the establishment of Century – which is expected to open in the fall of 2016 – Healy said her exit from GBHS is bittersweet – while sad about leaving, opening Century is a new experience to look forward to.

  “I’ll miss everyone a great deal,” Healy said. “It’s going to be very hard (to leave) because I opened the high school in 1996, so I’ve been in the district forever. But I’m excited to be on a different adventure. I hope students look at (my change of plans) and think, ‘I can do that too. I can change midstream and do something different, something I really believe in, and follow my passions.”