Students view heart surgery

Senior Cort Hollis was cranky about having to be at school by 6:45 a.m. but he still had excitement running through his veins. Along with the rest of the Human Anatomy class students taught by Marcia Bellamy, he was a short bus ride away from seeing a cardiovascular surgery at Inova Heart and Vascular Institute.

This is thanks to the Dome Experience program in the Center for Learning and Innovation. Students can see direct views of procedures with the “Dome,” a special viewing platform above the operating room.

“I was expecting the kind of viewing room in Grey’s Anatomy,” senior Jennifer Chavez said. “In reality, the room we were in had rolling chairs and windows that showed the operating room.”
Students were at the edge of their seats during the procedure.

“We saw every detail of a four-hour surgery with every second being entertaining,” Hollis said.

In particular, the class watched a coronary artery bypass surgery, sometimes called CABG (pronounced “cabbage”). The process reroutes blood around clogged arteries to improve blood flow. In order to do this, the surgeon harvests veins from the patient’s leg.

“The patient essentially provides their own spare parts,” Bellamy said.

Viewers learned things that they couldn’t have in a traditional classroom.

“The heart is way smaller in real life than the models we saw in class,” Chavez said.

Hollis benefited in a different way.

“I had already learned most of what was involved in the surgery, but it all made sense and was solidified in my brain after the surgery as a visual learner,” Hollis said.

Seeing what it takes to complete surgery and how many people are involved gave students a fresh perspective.

“It was so interesting because I got to see the different types of people that are in the operation room like the lead surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurse practitioner,” Chavez said.

Hollis was able to make connections between medical television shows and his personal surgical experience.

“There are fewer mishaps, but the humor is 100% there,” Hollis said. “The lead surgeon was wearing cowboy boots during his operations and he also likes to listen to lithium music.”

Hollis said he encourages anybody else to jump at this amazing opportunity of a field trip, but that’s not the only reason he took the Human Anatomy course.

“Although the surgery is for sure a highlight, I am mostly interested in the complexity of how humans work,” Hollis said.

With multiple days reserved for the visits and a maximum of 25 students each day, Bellamy was able to see the same procedure two days in a row as a chaperone.

“I was fascinated by the similarities as well as differences in the work of different doctors,” Bellamy said. Surgeons sometimes have the option to use their preferred techniques instead of sticking to a script.

The Dome Experience, although free, is always in extremely high demand.

“This was a fascinating experience, but it was very difficult to secure a date,” Bellamy said. Luckily, she has already secured a reservation for March 2020 so that next year’s Human Anatomy classes can experience the very same surgical brilliance.

Senior Career Fair to take place

Throughout their high school careers, students often do not have the opportunity to thoroughly plan for the future and evaluate potential career paths. Usually caught up with studying, homework and projects, it is rare for students to be able to take these things into consideration.

However, the English department is attempting to change that narrative in order to better prepare students for what lies ahead of them. The first step they have taken in doing this is by planning and organizing the first ever Career Fair at AHS.

The fair which will be attended by English 12 students will be held during Pride Time on Jan. 29 in the cafeteria.

Approximately 60 community members with various career backgrounds will be volunteering at the fair and will be meeting with small groups of students consisting of between three and five students per group.

“We are hoping that students will be able to make connections with the volunteers,” English teacher Kathleen Mathis said. “We’ve tried our best to match students up with people in their field of interest as much as possible.”

Volunteers at the Career Fair come from a wide range of career jobs and positions including franchise owners and small business owners as well as individuals that work in accounting, IT, management, education and more.

“We’ve got a wide range of experience from our volunteers,” Mathis said.

Students have been working hard to prepare their resumes, cover letters and e-portfolios as well as work samples that they completed throughout their high school career so that they can present to the volunteers what they have created and get receive feedback both career wise and portfolio wise.

“I’m excited about the career fair because I feel like it will give us students confidence for the future,” senior Sam Abourakty said. “I’m looking forward to receiving feedback because I really want to do well in my future and the volunteers at the fair can take me to the next level.”

Science Fair: ready for blast off

Throughout the past few months, students have spent time trading in their binders and homework for lab coats and safety goggles. However, this process has been taking place in a timely fashion for some but in a last-minute manner for others.

Sophomore Eva Gomez stayed ahead of the herd with her Science Fair partner when working on her project.

“We tried to get everything done early and worked together very well,” Gomez said.

Senior Maisha Maliha, who had to complete two Science Fair projects due to her double enrollment in science classes, is in a more complicated situation.

“I used my time wisely for physics, but for my biology project, I’ve been running into a lot of problems,” Maliha said.

It took a lot of work to get to the point of project completion. Gomez started working on her project months ago, but ran into some obstacles.

“We messed up the first time, so she had to redo the rest of the experiment by herself, which I made up for by doing the abstract and other paperwork by myself,” Gomez said.

In addition to having problems with her biology project, Maliha also needs to complete extra assignments that go along with the project portion due to being an IB diploma candidate.

“The science fair projects are also internal assessments, so I have to write a paper too,” Maliha said.

The Science Fair process has changed over the years. Two years ago, there used to be a school fair in the cafeteria where all of the projects were presented.

“That gets to be problematic, especially when you build in snow days and the huge crowds of people, so now what we do is we have team fairs,” Chemistry teacher Nancy Kaegi said.

Although Maliha has not yet found out if she’s been selected for the Science Fair, Gomez and her partner found out on Jan. 7 that they were selected for the schoolwide science fair via a Google Classroom announcement.

“There were some really good projects, so I wasn’t really expecting getting selected,” Gomez said.

Some students are thrown in a loop in juggling their need for practice and other obligations.

“We aren’t really preparing because we’re both really busy right now. When there is time, we do talk about what we are going to do to make out project better and stand out,” Gomez said.

Students who place first, second or third in the biology, chemistry or physics in the school Science Fair will then have the opportunity to move on to the Regional Science Fair, which will be taking place at Robinson Secondary School.

Check out these MYP projects

How do you bake the perfect delicacy? Call the right football play? Travel to the moon? Build a functional plane? Every year, sophomores complete a MYP Personal Research Project, otherwise known as a Passion Project. 10th grade English teachers first introduce the concept to students with a sole question: “If you could come to school and learn about anything you wanted, what would you choose?”The project contains three components: the journal, the product and the report. While the journals are an opportunity to keep track of progress, and the report is a detailed summary of research and reflections, the product is where students’ creativity can truly thrive. It can take any form a student wants (like a video, book, song, experiment or game) in order to best communicate the findings.

After in-class presentations, teachers select a few projects to participate in the MYP fair. It took place on Jan. 17, during W4. Although the fair was previously located in Clausen Hall, it was in the library this year. Although crowded, the fair hosted brilliant projects about topics ranging from video games to historical landmarks. “My students learned from one another and enjoyed seeing the projects their peers created,” English 10 and 10 Honors teacher Justina Butera said.

Although one MYP fair is over, another is to come, this time comprising of English 10 Honors students. These students are still in the research phase of their projects but hopefully, their hard work will come to fruition later this year in their own presentations.

How to Play the Ronroco, by Ana Triana

Triana chose to do her project on the ronroco because she has always wanted to learn how to play an uncommon instrument. On top of that, her father has a background in ronroco music and has served as a teacher in the past few months.

She pushed herself to practice the instrument everyday and to keep track of what she needed to improve upon. Fortunately, the hard work paid off in time for the MYP fair.

“I was nervous because it’s not easy for me to present in front of many people, especially in a language that I am still learning,” Triana said. Yet, she was excited to show her classmates the final results of her project for the rewarding culmination of time and effort that it was.

“Maybe my final presentation would have been better if I learned a better song for my product,” Triana said in retrospect. Her advice to others doing the MYP project in the future is that they should find something they are passionate about, so that it will be fun instead of like a chore.

Welcome to League of Legends, by Patrick Miro

Miro did his project on League of Legends to prove that it’s fun and still popular to a lot of people. When presenting, he was nervous that people wouldn’t care about the game. However, as he kept talking, Miro found that people became intrigued and asked a lot of questions.

He only had the slightest of regrets about his project. “I would put moments of highly skilled players playing against each other so that people can see how competitive it can be,” Miro said.

Miro advised that those doing the project in the future should just be themselves. “I’ve been playing League of Legends for ten years now and I’m still addicted to the game. I want people to know why I love the game and keep playing it.”

The History of Sneakers, by Ayaz Ahmed

Ahmed decided to discuss sneakers for his project because of their hidden depths. “I love the backstory behind them and how a pair of sneakers can be sold for thousands of dollars,” he said.

Although he was really organized with his project, Ahmed still had a few things left to do in overtime. Perhaps the project was worth the wait though, with its composition of a video, paper cutouts of shoe logos and sneakers, and a raffle for a pair of shoes.

“I knew my project was going to be amazing, so I personally asked my teacher if I could go first and show the class something they never really learn about in school,” Ahmed said.

He attributes his success to fellow sophomore Ryan Leach for providing information about sneakers that couldn’t just be found on the Internet, and to his English teacher Justina Butera for helping him stay organized and giving him inspiration on how to execute his research.

Ahmed proudly declared that his project was perfect in his eyes and he wouldn’t change a thing.

What It Takes to Play College Soccer in the NCAA, by Madison Cruz

Cruz learned what it takes to play soccer in the NCAA because of her own dream to be able to do so. Looking back, she said she regrets not adding more visuals and pictures to appeal to the audience. Finishing her project before the due date, Cruz was excited to present her project because she wanted to inform others about a topic that interested her.

“Coach O, as my high school soccer coach, helped me understand the foundations of playing soccer in college,” Cruz said when asked who gave her guidance during her research.

Cruz’s advice to others doing the MYP project in the years to come is to make the project easier to accomplish by choosing an important topic.

IB Diploma graduate ceremony held

IB Diploma candidates generally have the hardest course rigor and schedules of the entire student body at AHS. Along with balancing both Higher Level and Standard Level IB courses, IB Diploma candidates also have to enroll in the required Theory of Knowledge class and many are also participants in clubs and sports.

Students complete all of this course work in order to receive the coveted IB Diploma. However, candidates do not officially receive the diploma until the following school year, when they have already graduated from high school. This is because in order to receive the diploma, candidates must earn certain scores on their IB Exams in which scores are not released until the summer.

IB Diploma candidates from the Atoms Class of 2018 attended the International Baccalaureate Graduate Forum and Recognition ceremony on Jan. 7. Students officially received their diplomas at the ceremony held in the auditorium.

“It would have been nice to receive the IB Diploma at the same time as our high school diploma,” alumna Ruth Mekonnen said. “But I didn’t mind having to come back because it gave me an excuse to visit teachers and students.”

The Class of 2018 featured a total of 46 IB Diploma graduates. The ceremony began with a panel from the IB Diploma graduates in which they discussed the impact of IIB on their college experiences. IB Diploma coordinator Linda Bradshaw then recognized the Class of 2018. The faculty speaker for the event was IB Theory of Knowledge and History instructor, Timothy Kelly.

This was followed by a speech from the Graduate Speaker Marina Chen and then the awarding of certificates.

“I think that the IB program as a whole was definitely beneficial,” Mekonnen said. “Most college classes are handled the same way as IB Classes so having that foundation provides an advantage. I was able to figure out good study techniques and how to manage my time better.”

Diploma recipients reflected on the benefits of the program now being college students and dealing with even more difficult curriculum.

“The IB Diploma program taught me how to better navigate ways through educational tools such as researching and writing,” alumna Binqi Chen said. “Receiving the diploma isn’t about the paper that you receive but rather the growth and the benefits its gives you in standing out on college applications.”

Use these free apps to succeed in school


This app helps students manage seemingly never ending amounts of homework. Todoist keeps track of everything, from just homework assignments to also long term projects. Organizing assignments into a list, and being able to add due dates, subjects and descriptions, ensures users don’t forget to complete anything.

Students can also build up a streak for every day they finish their daily goal of tasks and also view their daily and weekly progress.

Todoist is not only used for school, but for home, too. For instance, it can have reminders about chores, books to read and shows to catch up on. Using this app gives anyone the chance to build long lasting habits and academic and personal goals. The theme can also be changed to a Night Theme.

“This app really helps me, it’s like an online agenda,” Junior Ashley Reyes Rosales said. “When I first downloaded the app I was really confused on how to use it but the app has a lot of instructions and it gives you a couple of tips to get you started on developing organizational skills.”


Instead of spending hours writing flashcards just to lose them the day of a test, StudyBlue can be used to access study materials seamlessly at home, school or on the go. Not only flashcards but also study guides and notes can be created, enhanced with audio and images and shared with friends. Students can track their progress using study reminders and self quizzes. If another person’s flashcards are similar to the topic needed, then it can be duplicated to a new set with the option of adding more terms. StudyBlue also has the potential to be useful to teachers. Teachers can use this app to make quizzes for students, or flashcards and extra notes to help students prepare for tests.

“I always use StudyBlue for studying for quizzes and tests,” sophomore Ayaz Ahmed said. “The app lets you join classes that have multiple flashcards and study tools. I think this app is really good for me, because I’m not the best at making flashcards and I could just go on this app and use and study someone else’s premade, neatly organized flashcards.”


The days of flipping through textbooks to get notes and homework answers are over. This app helps students get homework help in all of their classes in a quick easy way. Socratic helps get information on all subjects like Math, Science, English, and more.

For this app, all students have to do is take a picture of any type of question or manually type it and then the app instantly gives step by step explanations, definitions, graphics, and videos.

The app uses strong text recognition technology which is a type of technology that recognizes text inside an image.

The app is well designed and the results are presented in the form of vertical cards.

“Once I started using Socratic I stopped searching things on Google,” sophomore Heather Garcia said. “This app is a super fast way for finding useful information and I don’t even have to look that hard. It’s like having a virtual tutor in your pocket.”

DMV Genie

Get ready for the car, motorcycle, or CDL learner’s permit and driver’s license test the right way. DMV Genie helps prepare students for the test with questions that are based on their state’s official driver’s manual.

This app gives detailed explanations and helps students understand when they get a question wrong. There are many difficulty levels that they can choose. Students can skip as many questions as they like and the app test stops as soon as they reach a passing or failing score.

By downloading this app and taking the practice test students are sure not to have any surprises when they take the actual test.

“DMV Genie was a great app to use when I was getting ready to prepare for my learner’s permit test,” senior Onik Anwar said. “The app had a lot of cool stuff to help me study like the personalized challenge which is a test that was made up of my missed questions from all my practice tests.”


From the makers of Duolingo comes a fun new way to prepare for a test and memorize vocabulary. Tinycards has over 10,000 flashcards on languages, history, sciences, and more.

In addition to offering thousands of already made flashcards with adorable pictures to make sure learning is appealing, it lets students create their own flashcards and share them with others.

Tinycards adapts to students learning with a technique called spaced repetition. Sometimes people might forget what they learned over time, so the app resurfaces the flashcards they’ve mastered. The app also notices which cards students struggle with and keeps reshuffling those throughout the flashcards until they consistently get them right.

“I used Tinycards a lot when I was in Spanish 1,” freshman Stephanie Manco said. “It is mostly for spanish beginners, but I still use it even though I’m in Spanish 3, just for a quick refresher to make sure I don’t forget the Spanish 1 material.”


Whether you’re struggling or simply want to improve in math this app might be your new best friend. Photomath can read and solve math problems ranging from arithmetic to calculus. All students have to do is scan the problem or question with their phone camera and the app instantly gives answers to the solution and different ways to solve it.

There is a calculator in the app where it allows students to fix a problem if it gets scanned wrong or they can just type it straight into the calculator with the same results. There is also a notebook feature which is a log of all the problems the student ever did, but it can be cleared.

“Photomath got me through both my Algebra classes,” senior Chadwick James Gore said. “I used the app to get detailed instructions on things I didn’t understand and to check my homework for any mistakes.”

“Five Feet Apart” leaves readers touched

“Human touch. Our first form of communication. We need that touch from the one we love, almost as much as we need air to breathe. I never understood the importance of touch, his touch… until I couldn’t have it.”

Seventeen-year-old Stella Grant has cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system. Despite her out of control lungs, she likes to be in control of every other aspect of her life. That explains why it’s full of routines and boundaries. She has been in and out of hospitals most of her life, and the one thing she has made sure to do her whole life is to keep herself away from anyone who can ruin her chances for a lung transplant.

That becomes a problem after she meets Will Newman, a rebellious and charming teen with the same illness as her. Will couldn’t care less about the treatments for his Burkholderia Cepacia, a more severe form of cystic fibrosis that took him off the lung transplant list. All he wants to be in control of is getting out of his clinical drug trials and the hospital.

They must stay six feet apart at all times, no exceptions. The only way for them to stay alive is to stay apart, but they have an instant connection. As their feelings intensify, so does their desire to break the rules and embrace their feelings for each other. Suddenly being six feet apart doesn’t feel like protection. It feels like punishment.

This book immediately grabbed my attention with its intricate cover and the fact that it is a young adult fiction, which is one of my favorite genres. Rachael Lippincott wrote a well plotted and well written book. The storyline was captivating and kept me from putting the book down.

I knew that Will and Stella were doomed from the start because they are not able to touch each other and this makes the book bittersweet. The last few chapters are heartbreaking, as I was expecting.

The story is told in alternating perspective between Stella and Will and I enjoyed both perspectives. These perspectives taught me multiple things about cystic fibrosis.

At the beginning of the book Stella seemed like a headstrong girl who always wanted to get through her illness and live but later it gets revealed that she was ready to die all along until her older sister Abby died. We find out that Stella has survivor’s guilt and that the only reason she is trying so hard to live is that she feels her divorced parents will fall apart if their only remaining child dies. Will believes that there is no hope for him and instead of being in a hospital, he should be out exploring the world. After he meets Stella, he realizes that he wants to live. He starts doing his treatments and enjoying life at the hospital.

I really liked the character development in this book. At first, Will seemed like a sarcastic rebel, but as I got to know him, he became more of a complex character with a soft interior. Stella learns to live a little and not always be consumed by her treatments. Both these characters learn from each other and become better people after their experiences with one another.

Five Feet Apart is soon to be a major motion picture starring Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson, and directed by Justin Baldoni. I can’t wait to see the movie when it comes out March 2019.

Golden Hour opens door to student creativity

The Filament Literary Magazine and the Atoms Writing Center hosted the monthly Golden Hour creative writing event on Nov. 27. The Writing Center was open from 3-4 p.m. after school as students had the opportunity to express themselves through writing.

As students entered the Writing Center, they picked up writing prompts that provided them with an idea to write about during Golden Hour. The prompts included were imaginative such as “Arctic: Look to the snow-covered north and find some inspiration in it” and “Drinks on Me: Write a poem or short story that takes place at a bar.”

“I like the idea of picking up a prompt as I walk into the writing center because it’s sometimes hard to come up with something to write about,” senior Izzudeen Yahia said. “The prompts are written in a way that allows me to use my imagination to come up with something really creative and different.”

Students participating in Golden Hour do not have to write about their selected prompt. Rather, they can write about anything they wish that can be anything from a poem, story, play, or free write.

After about 45 minutes of writing, students are called on to share their work that they’ve written out loud with the group.

“I really like when students are confident enough to share their work with the group,” English teacher Justina Butera said. “I like to hear what students come up with because I’m a writer myself and I sometimes get ideas from students.”

Throughout the school day, students generally do not have the opportunities to express themselves through writing in class. Since its launch last school year, the Golden Hour event has aimed to give students this opening.

“They [students] have the freedom to express themselves creatively which they don’t always get the chance to do in English class,” Butera said. “I also think it’s nice to have an environment where you’re surrounded by other writers and students who share that passion for creativity.”

In addition, multiple English teachers provide extra credit to students who attend the Golden Hour event.

“Overall, it’s just a cool thing to do to sit down and write about prompts in unique ways,” Yahia said. “The extra credit opportunity is just another positive to an already considerable activity.”

Golden Hour will continue taking place throughout the school year on the last Tuesday of every month. The AWC and Filament will advertise the event prior to its taking place.

“I think that it’s really helpful for students to have a place to write where there are no requirements and nobody is telling them what they need to write about,” Butera said.

Atoms Writing Center holds interest meeting

The Atoms Writing Center will be holding an interest meeting for students interested in becoming a tutor on Nov. 28 in room 274. Pizza and refreshments will be served to all those who attend.

The Atoms Writing Center has provided students with help and assistance on all types of recent written assignments in recent years. The writing center is typically open during R5 and  W4/Pride Time for any students to be tutored and aided with their written assignments.

The interesting meeting will cover the requirements for tutors and the typical workings and functions of the Atoms Writing Center.

“We decided to hold a meeting for all the potential Writing Center tutors that met the requirements, a teacher’s recommendation and is in a good standing academically,” Atoms Writing Center tutor Neyda Villatoro said.

The writing center will also be making new changes this school year with tutoring on assignments outside of the english subject.

“We also talked about the changes we are making like how we are moving beyond just working on English assignments. We are also available to help with science research paper, math papers and history papers  and basically anything that requires writing you need help with we can provide.”

Should FCPS make holiday breaks longer?

Going to school for consecutive months can get overwhelming. This might cause students many health issues if they don’t begin to take care of themselves and value their health over their academics.

A solution to this issue is that students need to have a longer break during the holiday season in order to allow students to rest up and maintain good mental health. Currently students in FCPS for Thanksgiving break get from November 21 to November 23 off, for Winter break get from December 24 to January 4 off, and for Spring break get from April 15 to April 19 off. At the end of quarters student get a day or so off, as well. For example, some schools in Creede District Colorado, only go to school four days a week.

“I don’t really have time to think about my health and mental health, because I’m so focused on getting good grades,” sophomore Kristina Regmi said.

Many students spend a lot of time stressing over achieving good grades and not paying attention to  how academics are affecting their mental health. Students become concerned about the amount of homework that is due and the tests that they have each week. This leads to students staying up late at night and finishing assignments.

Sleep deprivation can put students at risk of heart issues such as heart disease, heart attacks, heart failure and irregular heartbeat. With the presence of sleep deprivation, individuals will also potentially be at risk of high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. These are only a few things that can occur to someone if they don’t get enough sleep and conditions that students need to be aware of.

Stress can have many effects on your body, such as, headaches, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, stomach pain, and sleep problems. Stress can also have effects on your mood, such as, anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, feeling overwhelmed, irritability or anger and sadness or depression. Additionally, stress can also affect someone’s behavior, such as, overeating or under-eating, angry outbursts, drug or alcohol abuse, tobacco use, social withdrawal, and exercising less often.

All of these potentially long-term health issues may have serious effects on students. Individuals  can be suffering from any of these things or have the symptoms and not think that it is anything serious or they might not know.

Having longer holiday breaks would give students time to not stress and enjoy themselves. It would also allow students to rest their minds and lessen focus on school. Having breaks would benefits students greatly and reduce the risk rate of having any issues.

“If we had longer breaks I would finally have some time to myself and not be stressing myself out every day,” freshman Ibrahim Osman said. Fairfax County Public Schools should take all those things into consideration and make at least one of the holiday breaks longer. Thanksgiving break, Winter break, Spring Break, or Summer break can all be made a little bit longer to reduce the stress and pressure that students feel.

Fairfax County SAT scores improve

Every school year, high school students spend endless hours stressing over one three-letter test that can define their collegiate futures: the SAT.

Originally introduced in 1926, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) has been a major factor in determining student acceptance to universities and colleges after high school. Prior to the last few years of college applications, nearly all schools required students to submit SAT test scores as part of their application.

Fairfax County Public Schools has shown improvements as it relates to the average SAT scores of seniors in the class of 2018. Testing results from last school year demonstrate that seniors in FCPS continue to exceed the state and national averages for the SAT.

The mean score for 2018 was 1213, 28 points higher than the 2017 mean score of 1185. The overall mean score of 1213 is also 103 points above the Virginia average and 164 points above the U.S. average.

For FCPS, the evidence-based reading and writing section average had a mean score of 604 and mathematics had a mean score of 608, 41 and 61 points above the Virginia average, respectively.

The scores for AHS also improved alongside the improvement of county scores. In 2017, the mean average SAT score was 1082. In 2018, that number went up to 1104, a 22-point improvement from the previous school year.

For the complete breakdown of all test score averages of all schools in Fairfax County, click here.

Not only are student scores used as part of the decision to accept an applicant to a college, but they are also used in awarding merit-based scholarships.

With this being the case, a countless amount of students spend time studying and preparing for the exam, particularly during their junior and senior years of high school.

Student study methods typically include using online practice tests released or made available by the College Board (the organization that administers the SAT), using practice books and study guides, or even preparing for the exam with a tutor.

“To prepare for the SAT, I took multiple practices tests that I found online,” senior Izzudeen Yahia said. “I also used the official College Board study guide book that I purchased.”

Some students find themselves using guided practice questions online and also learning tips on taking the SAT from these same sources.

“For me, I mostly prepared for the SAT by going online to Khan Academy,” senior Mariamawit Woldeab said. “I find it helpful because they provide explanations for the questions and tips and tricks that help with test-taking in general.”

Until recently, the SAT was scored out of a total of 2400 possible points. However, the College Board redesigned aspects of the exam in 2016, changing the total amount of possible points to 1600 and also removing the scoring policy that penalized test-takers for answering questions incorrectly.

The test is comprised of four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, a non-calculator math section and a second math section where test-takers are permitted to use their calculators. In addition, students can complete the optional essay if they wish.

The exam is timed as each section has a time limit totaling to three hours overall.

“The way the SAT is set up, I don’t think it’s useful for measuring knowledge because it combines two subject areas that don’t have much correlation with each other,” Yahia said. “Due to the time constraints, a lot of students are not able to do their best because they have to rush.”

Despite the rise in SAT scores across the county, many students are skeptical about the practicality of the exam.

“I think the SAT is a good for measuring how well students are at taking and preparing for that particular test,” Woldeab said. “However, it is definitely not a good indicator of intelligence in my opinion.”

With this being the grievance of many test-takers, thousands of colleges and universities have revised their policies regarding the consideration of standardized testing on their applications.

As of September, there have been more than 1,000 accredited, bachelor-degree granting institutions that have become test-optional. If a school is test-optional, that means that the decision to send SAT scores to the school for consideration with a college application is left completely up to the applicant.

There are a number of highly-ranked test optional schools including: the University of Chicago, George Washington University, the University of Iowa, Wake Forest University, etc.

“I think more schools need to become test-optional because the SAT does not need to be considered for college acceptance,” Woldeab said. “At the very least it shouldn’t be as big of a factor that’s considered with applications that it is right now.”

In addition, Score Choice, program implemented by the College Board, allows students who have taken the SAT multiple times to select and submit their only best scores to colleges. With score choice, students can select their best score from the evidence-based reading and writing section and their best score from the mathematics section.

Despite these gradual changes, the vast majority of schools still require and strongly consider SAT scores. Additionally, more prestigious universities do not permit the use of score choice and require the submission of all SAT test scores.

“I think the SAT as a requirement does not help in evaluating a student,” Yahia said. “A different form of standardized testing such as subject tests where students study for and take the subject test that they are most likely to major in would be a good replacement.”

As years pass, it is expected that more and more institutions will become test-optional, but it appears that the SAT will remain a widely considered exam by schools for the foreseeable future.

Beyond Stressed

As senior Jasmine Phan roams the halls every school day going from class to class, she can’t help but think about her loaded agenda of tasks to complete. An IB Diploma candidate, Phan has adapted to having a schedule comprised of some of the most difficult classes available.

The typical school day yields Phan about four to five hours worth of assignments from homework to projects to studying for tests and quizzes. However, being such an involved student, there is hardly enough time in one day for her to fulfill all of her academic responsibilities.

“The most stressful part of school is trying to stay on top of my school work and to do well in my classes while also trying to maintain my other responsibilities,” Phan said. “The process this year of being an IB Diploma candidate and applying to colleges at the same time hasn’t helped in reducing stress either.”

Being an IB Diploma candidate means that students take the most challenging courses available from junior to senior year. In recent years, AHS has seen its highest number of IB Diploma candidates with 47 students graduating last year and 49 seniors and 50 juniors being candidates this year.

“I think that each IB class students take gets them more prepared for college,” IB Diploma Coordinator Linda Bradshaw said. “I try to support any student no matter how many IB courses they are taking.”

Students view being a diploma candidate as coming with its shares of positives and negatives.

“The best part of being an IB Diploma candidate is being surrounded by other students that are as academically motivated as me,” Phan said. “However, the worst part is definitely the anxiety and pressure that builds up with IAs, IB Exams and essays.”

Not only do diploma candidates have the most rigorous coursework, but many are involved in extracurricular activities such as sports, clubs and honor societies that play a role in adding to students’ agenda of things to do.

Phan is no exception to this as she is in the Philharmonic Orchestra, a varsity tennis player, the Co-President of the Just World interact club, the secretary of the National English Honor Society and a member of a plethora of other clubs and honor societies as well as being a volunteer at local hospitals.

With this being said, it begs the question that with many responsibilities on their plate, how has stress increased for these kinds of busy students?

An NYU study revealed major insight to the daily occurrences of students across the nation and how their stress levels and coping mechanisms may be driving them towards a direction of long term chronic stress and mental health issues.

The study shows that many subgroups of youth experience high levels of chronic stress to the extent that it impedes their ability to succeed academically. Not only this, but the chronic stress continues into the college years of these adolescents contributing to issues regarding mental health functioning and academic disengagement.

The study mentions school work, college applications, extracurricular activities and parental expectations as all contributing to teenagers’ stress. The pressure for students to want to be accepted to top tier colleges and institutions is also noted by the study as a stressor for students.

“Having pressure from those around me to be accepted to a top school or university has only added to the pressure and strain on me this school year,” senior IB Diploma candidate Zuhair Rahman said. “There is just so much going on and I always feel like there is not enough time in the day to complete my work.”

The study continues by noting that a significant percentage of students surveyed have turned to substance use when under increased pressure. 38% of respondents mention alcohol use as a means of stress relief and 34% noted use of illegal substances such as marijuana in order to relieve their stress levels.

These unhealthy means of stress reduction can rather easily harm students in both the short and long term as the body can easily become reliant on these substances and access to them on a daily basis.

Often times as a school day progresses, students can be seen as sluggish and tired. This lack of sleep or sleep deprivation of high school students is largely due to academic and school work keeping students up very late into the night.

“I usually end up not getting home until pretty late in the day throughout a regular school week,” Rahman said. “I either end up staying awake until 1 or 2 a.m. working on my assignments or I decide to go to bed at 12 a.m. and just wake up earlier the next morning to complete my work.”

Being drowsy and fatigued throughout a school day is by no means a positive plan for student success. Moreover, students have attempted to counteract this in an unhealthy manner.

“When I don’t get enough sleep or I know that I’m going to be staying up late, I make sure to have something with caffeine in it like a coke,” Rahman said. “In the morning I’m usually really sleepy so I either drink coffee or have an energy drink like Red Bull or Monster to wake myself up a bit.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys revealed that 73% of high school students across 30 states are not receiving enough sleep.

The CDC noted as part of their report that adolescents who did not get the recommended amount of sleep for their age group would be at increased risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and poor mental health.

With this data being extremely problematic and concerning for high school students across the country, there are a number of things from organization to planning that can help in stress reduction.

“I try to prioritize what I believe are the most important things for me to do first by making lists because it makes me feel more organized,” Phan said.

Despite different things students can do to be more organized, the greater issue is yet to be resolved. All signs point to students being overworked by the very way in which the school system has been set up.