A look behind Brookfest

Brookfest is one of the most anticipated events of Stony Brook’s year. The annual concert held in the spring features two to three musical acts performing for the stressed out students needing a break from finals and summer planning. Every year, the artists are announced months beforehand to garner attention on social media. When the concert comes around, students pack the chosen concert venue and sing along to the rock or rap act chosen by Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government. Something equally traditional about Brookfest is the backlash from students. The selection of artists for Brookfest has vocal approval, but also a vocal minority of those disapproving of the artists selected. Some claim it’s because of a lack of a certain genre (mostly rock), others say it’s because of a lack of relevant artists. Regardless, these unhappy students can be heard around campus and on social media.

For this year’s Brookfest, which featured the likes of rapper B.o.B., alternative rockers twenty one pilots, and emo-rock stalwarts Panic! At The Disco, the student voice was given the chance to be a bit more present in the decision. Months before the artists were announced, the Stony Brook Undergraduate Student Government sent out a Google Form containing a list of possible artists for the show.

“We wanted to get a general sense of what the Stony Brook community wanted to see in their concerts, because we knew that in the past we’ve always gotten reports that students…didn’t get their voice heard,” says Danny Chung, the Vice President of Communications and Public Relations for Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government. Chung claims the Google Form was used to create a poll that would be “a good reference to give [USG] a sense of what [the students] might want.”

According to Chung, this year featured a more diverse line-up of performers but leaned on the presence of rock than rap. Previous concerts have featured rappers like Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West in the headlining spot. While that may please the large number of rap fans on Stony Brook’s campus, it leaves others feel left out and their voices unheard.

According to Kenneth Myers, USG’s Vice President of Student Life, polls were posted on social media in the past that focused on genres and “usually, EDM [electronic dance music] and rap is usually the thing that comes out on top…but because that’s usually the most voted thing the people who want rock music never really get that option. Not until this year.”

Myers explained that the USG is normally time constricted when it comes to selecting the artist. Myers claims that the booking process started in January, noting that it is difficult to plan Brookfest at Lavalle Stadium, where the past two concerts have taken place, due to scheduling and high costs. Myers also mentioned how USG bylaws used to prevent any early planning of fall and spring events. This year, Myers rewrote the bylaws so all fall and spring events can be planned in the summer, allowing more time for potential artists to be fished out.

For those who missed out on the Google Form sent out this year, Chung points out that there has been a way for students to voice their picks for Brookfest artists; attending meetings held by the Student Activities Board. The SAB work with the USG to find the most popular artists in popular music genres on campus, and they take student opinion into account when it comes time to vote for artists to choose from. If students were unhappy with the choices for Brookfest, Chung recommends making their presence known more next time.

When the amount of votes from the Google Form were tallied, Chung said that “about, I believe, 1500 students that filled it out, and that’s only, what, 10% or the undergraduate students” submitted votes for artists that they wanted at Brookfest. Even with the Google Form as a step forward, Chuns believes that the work is never done when it comes to informing students.

“We just try to give [the students] more information to be transparent about what the procedure was and, maybe in the future if they’re going to be here for another year, how they can really participate and make sure that they can influence the decision that’s going to be made.”

Rest easy, Stony Brook students because the USG is listening. Next time, just try to be a little louder.

Long Island Opt-Out: why parents are refusing the high-stakes tests

Photo from http://herricksta.ny.aft.org

By Abby Del Vecchio and Kayla Shults

Teachers have always used assessments to drive instruction.  Tests help teachers determine comprehension of the material, monitor strengths and weaknesses and identify whether or not topics need to be retaught, modified or enriched.  Testing is a way to monitor their teaching, as well as their students’ knowledge.

During the 2012-2013 school year, in response to the Common Core Learning Standards, a new type of high stakes testing was implemented across the country, to all third through eighth grade students.  A high-stakes test is any particular exam that is a single, defined assessment, has a clear line drawn between passing and failing, and has something at stake, with direct consequences for passing or failing.

In reality, these tests are more likely to affect teachers than students.

The test is graded on a basis that is almost too simple and leaves more questions than answers. Math and English Language Arts are the only two subjects these students are tested on, and they are graded on a scale of one to four, with the passing score of three or four, being determined after all exams have been scored.

There are 180 topics to be taught each year, which means a new topic to learn each school day. Joseph Rella, PhD, superintendent of the Comsewogue School District in Port Jefferson Station, NY, said this leaves little to no time for learning about any other subjects, such as social studies and science, and does not allot time for snow days and assemblies.

Jeanette Deutermann, founder of the Long Island Opt-Out Movement and mother of two from Bellmore, NY, said her son experienced stomach aches while in the fourth grade because of the pressure he felt to do well on these high stakes tests.

“I had the doctor check him out, and I asked if we should be running tests. They ran a blood test to try to find out what was going on, if there was something physically wrong,” she said. “And what they concluded was that it was stress, anxiety. This was a couple months before the test. The stomach aches stopped the day I told my son he wouldn’t be taking these tests.”

Elementary and middle school students are being taught for a test, leaving them stressed and confused. In some cases, students were so set on doing well on these exams that it caused actual physical illnesses.

In response to these high stakes tests that were stressing out children, both in and outside of the classroom, making them hate going to school, Deutermann discovered there was a way to prevent students from having to take these tests, which is how the Opt-Out movement got started on Long Island.  Opting out simply means the student will not sit for these exams.

What began in upstate New York quickly became popular across the state. According to the New York State Allies for Public Education, it is very simple for parents to opt their children out, or refuse the high stakes tests.

All parents have to do is download the refusal letter, which is available in numerous languages. This letter thanks the school district’s administrators for their dedication to the schools, but states that the child will not participate in the testing,  and should be graded as though they refused to take the tests. The letter also asks that an alternative activity be in place for children who are not being tested.

A main concern of the parents and teachers is that teacher evaluations are based on the students’ performance on these high stakes tests.

And although parents do have concerns, there are still students across Long Island who are taking these tests. Our inquiries for comments from these parents in school districts across Long Island have gone unanswered.

Maria Brown, a mother of three and a third grade teacher at South Country Elementary School in the Bay Shore School District, said 17 students, in any combination, must take the tests in math and ELA in order for the teachers to be evaluated.

For years, teachers were evaluated based on observations of their teaching style, lesson plans and effectiveness in the classroom. As of right now, 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation comes from these tests –  20 percent for state tests, and 20 percent for local tests (which districts can choose not to do).  The other 60 percent is based on observations done by the principal or supervisor.  As part of the new state budget, which passed April 1, 2015, Gov. Cuomo has pushed for the high stakes tests to have an even greater impact on teacher evaluations.

Many argue that putting students through all of this stress and anxiety for an exam that is used to evaluate teachers, not the students taking them, is unfair.  Some supporters of the Opt-Out Movement say they believe that students are being used as pawns in the governor’s war on teachers.

The Comsewogue School District has been at the forefront of the Opt-Out Movement since it began in 2013. This year in Comsewogue alone, 82% of third through eighth grade students did not take the reading tests and nearly 85% did not take the math exams.

Beth Dimino, an eighth grade science teacher at the John F. Kennedy Middle School and President of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association equated these tests to something more extreme than stress-inducing.

Child Abuse.

“I will never be put in the position where I cannot help a child,” said Dimino. “As a New York state teacher I am required by state law to be a mandated reporter for child abuse. This, in my opinion, is child abuse. I believe that I contributed to that last year and in the years past when I did administer these tests.”

Dimino says she feels so strongly about the Opt-Out Movement that she is willing to risk losing her job.

“I refused to administer the tests with the full understanding that the district [Comsewogue] can choose not to reassign me,” Dimino said. “This district chose to reassign me, but the district could have chosen to write me up for insubordination and filed charges against me.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, an avid supporter of the Common Core curriculum and the high-stakes testing that go along with it, has said that the tests do nothing for the students taking the tests.

“The grades are meaningless to the students,” Cuomo told parents.  “They can opt out if they want to, but on the other hand if the child takes the test, it’s practice and the score doesn’t count.”

By saying this, it has only angered parents more.

“What sparked a lot of this movement this year and a lot of the explosion of the Opt-Out Movement was Cuomo declaring war on the teachers,” said Deutermann. “That’s the part that he he just has never understood. You cannot hurt teachers without hurting kids. You can’t do it to one without doing another.”

Stony Brook is no exception to mental illness

By Janelle Clausen and Stephen Infantolino

Stony Brook University has been described as affordable, communal, diverse and exceptional, just to name a few. It is considered in the top one percent of universities around the world, ranked number 88 by US News and World Report and roughly 90 percent of its graduates get jobs after graduation.

However, Stony Brook has a less prestigious title, and that is the 11th unhappiest school in the nation among 379 top schools, according to the 2015 edition of the Princeton Review.

And it is certainly not immune to mental illness that plagues other college campuses.

A 2012 survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors showed that 95 percent of college counseling center directors said the “amount of students with significant psychological problems is a growing problem.” SBU was a part of this survey.

But just how many students suffer? Last year, the Statesman reported that 1700 students came to CAPS for help last year, double what it was in 2004. It is open to students from 8:30am to 5pm on most weekdays. It’s unclear, however, how many students CAPS has served this year due to confidentiality.

Meanwhile, 52 percent of people in a 2007 ACHA survey at Stony Brook University “reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function at least once in the past school year.” More than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition, according to the American College Health Association.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) declined to comment for this story, but some students had plenty to say.

“A lot of people don’t talk about it, and I know there is a lot of depression on campus, and I know it’s really hard to find something that relaxes you because you’re so caught up in your studies and you’re so caught up in what you’re doing,” said Emily Markowitz, 22, a marine science major. “It’s really hard for people to get out of that and remove themselves.”

“They have this really negative ball around them and that travels and that’s contagious,” Markowitz added.

Alex Bouraad, an 18-year old bio-pre med major and fellow trained in recognizing depression symptoms, said that Stony Brook has some- but not enough- resources for people with depression.

“I feel like Stony Brook lacks a lot of the support people with depression need,” Bouraad said. “There are options like going to CAPS, or going to CPO or seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist, but it’s not as readily available as it should be.”

Stony Brook acknowledges that mental health and suicide are a growing issue. Events like “Part of the Pack,” a suicide awareness and prevention program ran by the residence halls, had representatives from CAPS present. Programs like “Let’s Talk”, an extension of CAPS, also try to close the distance, allowing some students in Tabler Quad and West Apartments to talk to someone without journeying far in the evening when CAPS is closed.

And yet, it can still feel like nobody is there to help.

“Sometimes I guess it can be very lonely and quiet,” said Elizabeth Lyton, 21, a senior majoring in health science. “So most people do feel like there are no other students to reach out to.”

“It has more to due with the stress levels,” she added.

But there are options on campus, according to Cathrine Duffy, associate dean of student support on campus. Student Support, she said, works as a “network of other departments” and does a lot of “behind the scenes” work like validating documentation and reaching out to professors in the event of a hospitalization or a death in the family.

“We do this in a way so that students don’t have to repeat their story six different times because that can be traumatizing for them,” Duffy said.

Duffy also pointed out that there are other resources like CAPS, Financial Aid, Disability Support Services and the Academic Success and Tutoring Center that they could refer students to. She noted that when students feel secure academically, they feel happier.

There are also times where students just need to blow off steam, be it at Earthstock, Roth Regatta, Strawberry Fest, community events or clubs on campus.

“College is hard. We recognize that, so we do a lot,” Duffy said. “A lot of student activities, weekend life programming, a lot of the residential hall programming, campus recreation center- the reason these places program so actively is to give students a healthy outlet.”

Undergraduate Student Government’s latest budget shows that clubs receive over one million dollars in funding and the student activities board alone gets over $600,000.

“At this point there’s more than 400 clubs and organizations, so get involved, find something,” Duffy said. “If there’s not a club for you, work with student activities to create something.”

Jacqueline Lennon, 22, is one of many students who recognize that Stony Brook has groups and resources available. But at the end of the day, she said, the university can’t please everybody.

“So I know there is groups and stuff like that,” she said. “But you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. There is only so much you can do.”

Stony Brook Athletics tackles challenges of academics

460,000 NCAA student-athletes have to fit their sports and social lives along with school work into their daily schedules. The problem is, there are only 24 hours in a day.

“It’s very hard. It’s very hard,” Courtney Rickard, Stony Brook’s Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development, said. “I tell every recruit and their families when they come, I would have failed out of school if I had been a Division I student-athlete.”

There are some programs that help their pupils take the easy way out to squeeze sports and school work in, while still getting through the rigors of a college course load.

The University of North Carolina used “fake paper classes” for 18 years, according to multiple media outlets. Student-athletes never had to meet, and they only wrote one paper per semester. Stony Brook Athletics does not want to go down that road.

“We’re not the North Carolina scandal, we’re going to do it right,” Rickard said. “If we’re going to have athletics at Stony Brook, we’re going to do it right.”

That has not always been the case for the Seawolves. Way before Stony Brook’s baseball team went to the 2012 College World Series, the men’s basketball team beat the No. 13-ranked squad in the nation at the end of 2014 and the women’s lacrosse team earned a top-five national ranking this year, the Athletics Department found itself in trouble.

According to The New York Times, the school lost 12 and a half athletic scholarships for two seasons based on violations. The report states that, “some academically ineligible students were allowed to compete, some did not have satisfactory grade-point averages, and others did not have enough credit hours for graduation.”

Ever since, Stony Brook Athletics’ administration has worked with its student-athletes to make their two jobs—one as a student and another as an athlete— as successful as possible.

Student-athletes do not only have the pressure of performing in their respective sporting venue, but in the classroom as well. (Andrew Eichenholz)
Student-athletes do not only have the pressure of performing for their respective team, but in the classroom as well. (Andrew Eichenholz)

“You’ve got the athletics piece and you’ve got the academics piece and heaven forbid they want to join a club, they want to be involved in something, that’s a drain on their time,” Rickard said. “Our job really is to try to help alleviate any of that stress and really organize their day.”

Ever since Rickard started as an advisor at Stony Brook in 2003, Seawolves student-athletes have improved in the classroom. The department’s overall grade-point average has risen from a 2.86 in the 2003-2004 academic year to its current number of 3.08.

Stony Brook’s Director of Athletics, Shawn Heilbron, will soon unveil that the department seeks to bring the overall GPA to a 3.15 as part of a larger five year plan, per Rickard.

According to Dr. Richard Laskowski, who was the Dean of Physical Education and Athletics at Stony Brook over a decade ago, departments looking to increase performance both on and off of the field, as Stony Brook is attempting to do, face a challenge.

“You’ve got to bring in good students. But history shows, unfortunately, that generally the higher the level of athletic performance that’s asked for in a university, the more difficult it is to get those students who have high grades,” Laskowski said. “They’re more likely to focus on their athletic ability.”

An example is the University of Notre Dame, where according to Laskowski, who was also a high-ranking administrator at St. John’s University, the Fighting Irish have slightly lowered their standards for the sake of securing students who can help them the most on the playing field.

According to CNN, the academic fraud bug bit them in 2014. “Several University of Notre Dame students, including four football players, are being investigated over academic fraud allegations, the university said.”

Stony Brook's teams win conference championships, send student-athletes to the pros, and more recently, have increased their GPAs. (Andrew Eichenholz)
Stony Brook’s teams win conference championships, send student-athletes to the pros, and more recently, have increased their GPAs. (Andrew Eichenholz)

Stony Brook does not want to sacrifice its academics for anything.

“Because of the high standards we have here at Stony Brook, we always wanted to do that, that was always one of our goals when we were doing a strategic plan or a five-year plan, increase the GPAs,” Laskowski said. “But to do that, it’s hard to also increase the level of your athletic program, it’s not that easy. It’s very challenging.”

That is a struggle that Rickard and company deal with every day.

“Coaches don’t like surprises at the end of the semester,” she said. “but we don’t like surprises during the semester.”

Academic coaches meeting individually with students and teams holding study halls at the Stuart Goldstein Student-Athlete Development Center are some of the efforts made to keep students on track.

“It’s everybody at the table,” Rickard said. “Everyone involved with student athlete welfare coming to the table and working so that the calendar of things they have to do somehow fits in those 24 hours.”

To faculty, it is not about merely helping student-athletes skate by and just earn their degrees, either. Since Heilbron took the job a year ago, much time has been spent focusing on what comes next for the Seawolves.

“That hundred percent placement in something after graduation is going to fall on our shoulders here in student-athlete development and it really always has, but now it’s put into place, it’s written out,” Rickard said. “I think that’s a challenge because that’s a hard task to fill, but at the same time, that’s what our mission is. I always tell people on their recruiting visit, ‘if you come here for four years and you leave and you have no idea what to do after that, I have failed you.’”

Despite the obstacles, Stony Brook Athletics is not failing, but only building upwards.