Dumpster Diving Makes for Frugal Feasting

By Katherine Sundt
UJW Staff

WASHINGTON — Often thought of as an activity limited to homeless and poor people desperate to fill their empty stomachs, Dumpster diving has become something more.

A relatively new group of D>umpster divers has emerged: those who don’t necessarily need to Dumpster dive, but who choose to do so in order to reduce waste and merely save money. Organized “dives” have become popular in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Nashville, and Washington, using sites such as Meetup to plan times and locations.

Dumpster diving, or “urban foraging,” as it is sometimes called, usually occurs behind grocery stores or other food establishments where food is thrown out as soon as it reaches its expiration date. It is also a part of “freeganism,” a philosophy that embodies “alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources,” according to freegan.info.

Deborah R., a 42-year-old government employee living in Silver Spring, Md., is an occasional diver. She said she doesn’t do a lot of Dumpster diving, but she still sometimes finds it to be the best choice.

“Dumpster diving is only a last resort,” Deborah said. “But it’s not a bad option. It gets a really bad reputation sometimes ‘cause people think it’s gross, but it’s really not and you can get some awesome fresh food.”

She said she has mostly Dumpster dived in places that don’t have many natural food stores, which often have food outreach programs, and where most grocery store food waste is destroyed in trash compactors.

“I do try not to buy a lot of food,” Deborah said. “The amount of food discarded by stores is huge.”

One critic of the Dumpster diving trend is Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry. According to its website, the organization is a “global campaign for the right to share food.” It is based on the theory that food is a right, not a privilege. Food Not Bombs chapters across the country get food donations from restaurants and grocery stores from which they prepare vegetarian meals for the needy.

Although McHenry said he has Dumpster dived before, he “realized you could actually just talk to store owners.” He said that as an alternative to Dumpster diving, people can simply ask stores for food or other items that they are planning to throw away.

“The issue of the Dumpster diving is that it became popularized as kind of like this cool, hip thing, and it’s not really that necessary, and the ideology is something that we’re trying to get away from,” McHenry said.

He believes that the government is using the concept of Dumpster diving to distract the public from the fact that it is using funds on war-related expenses rather than on feeding those in need.

“Because of the success of Food Not Bombs,” McHenry said, “the media started pretending to be radicals and make it real cool and hip and write like a little essay about how cool it was to get food out of the Dumpster, and things of this nature, until it became sort of a romantic thing to get food out of the Dumpster.”

“The Dumpster diving part is designed so that an average American will go, ‘Oh, that’s out of the garbage, it’s Dumpster dived,’” he said.

Whatever your view is on the Dumpster diving trend, questions remain on its legality. Locally, it seems to be a gray area.

When asked about the laws regarding Dumpster diving, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officials were stumped.

“You can call the U.S. attorney’s office,” one police officer said hurriedly. “We don’t deal with that.”

College Majors: Follow the Heart or Follow the Money?

By Darrin Brown, Jr.
UJW Staff Writer

SPRINGDALE, Md. – In the whirlwind that is most commonly known as senior year, it is almost impossible for a high school senior to go a few days without the question “What are you going to major in?”

But is this economy—with an unemployment rate above 8 percent–requiring students to give that question another thought before answering it?

As students make many important decisions with the constant reminder of others opinions, the decision on what to major in is not an easy one.

Some parents, teachers and counselors to advise students to pursue a degree in science or math because it will likely be easier to get a job after graduation.

Others, however, combat that idea by saying that no matter what, students should always do what they love–even if it doesn’t pay off immediately.

Tom Scercy, who is the Science and Technology Coordinator at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale, Md., said he hopes that many students go into the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

“If you look at the statistics, they’re hiring,” he said.

According to a 2010 report by from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, there were 7.6 million STEM workers in the United States, which represents 1 in 18 workers. Scercy added there is special scholarship money for minorities and women who are pursuing those degrees.

The unemployment rate among students that majored in non-technical fields is generally higher than that of who majored in STEM-related fields.

College graduates with an arts degree have a 11.1 percent unemployment rate and liberal arts majors have a 9.4 percent rate, While the unemployment rate as of 2010 for those with jobs in STEM is 5.3 percent according to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Students have to decide whether or not they will decide to pursue the major that will lead them to their dream career, even if it is not a good prospect for an immediate job.

So should students just grin and bare it while pursuing a degree in one of the STEM fields, even if they don’t desire to?

“No,” said Chauntia Bego, a biology teacher at Charles H. Flowers High School.

Bego, who earned a Biology and Technology degree from Morgan State University in Baltimore, agrees with Scercy that majoring in one of those degrees does put you in a better position to be hired.

But she warns that a student should not pursue one of these degrees if they are not interested in it because “they are not going to put the work in.”

Deshonta Robinson, a mathematics teacher at Charles Herbert Flowers High School, recognizes that her profession as a teacher doesn’t provide a lavish lifestyle but says that you have to be passionate about what you do.

D. Rob., as her students past, and present affectionately call her ,teaches because she loves math and she loves kids.

“Something that you like, you can grow to hate, but something that you love you will always come back to,” she said.

Robinson’s advice is that students who are struggling to decide on a major “major in something that you love.”

Combining your passion, and a major that will guarantee a job is what Nicole Dyke , a senior at Flowers High School, suggests.

Nicole, who is going to Morgan State in the fall, is majoring in Secondary Education Chemistry because she loves chemistry and “there will always be a job for teachers,” she says.

Childhood Obesity a Major Concern

By Celeste Gregory
UJW Staff Writer

SILVER SPRING, Md.—Kenteria Jones is 9 years old and weighs 90 pounds. She often eats rice with sugar and butter for breakfast, sometimes eats hot dogs and fries for lunch, and eats heavily salted Ramen noodles for dinner.

“Mom always cooks those foods because we don’t like vegetables,” Kenteria Jones said.

There are many activities and programs that are offered to young children, just like Kenteria Jones.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign was designed to help decrease the amount of obese and overweight children in America. The First Lady has been advocating for young children to become more active in their schools and also outside of their schools. Obama teamed up with international singing sensation Beyoncé, to help create the music video, “Move Your Body,” which was a remake of Beyoncé’s song, “Get Me Bodied.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.5 million children and teens are obese. The prevalence of obesity among children and teens has tripled since 1980, according to the CDC.

The major causes of childhood obesity are the lack of healthy dietary habits and physical exercise.

Kenteria Jones lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and is a third grader. She does not participate in any sports or extracurricular activities. After school Kentaria comes home to eat and play video games like Pac-Man, her mother Tamika Jones said.

Her mother said that she was open to the idea of encouraging Kenteria to be healthier, but sometimes it’s challenging.

“It’s just so much more convenient and better to buy junk food or heat up some hot dogs,” Tamika Jones said.

Another way to get children more active is through ZumbAtomic, said fitness instructor and owner of Renuvia Dance Fitness, Kelly Knight,. Knight teaches ZumbAtomic to kids ages 4 to 12.

“They love to dance! I’m pretty sure many of them don’t even think about it as exercise because they are having so much fun and that is the best part!” said Knight.

ZumbAtomic is a form of Zumba that is designed for kids. Like Zumba, ZumbAtomic combines Latin style dance and music with fitness.Knight said she thinks programs like ZumbAtomic could help with the fight of childhood obesity.

“Physical education is an area that many schools are choosing to cut back on to save money,” Knight said. “That combined with the poor lunch choices provided in school and kids who would rather stay inside and play video games has led to an obesity epidemic in children. When I was growing up, our idea of fun was going outside and playing.”

Flipping the classroom makes it easier on students

By Luciana Rodrigues
UJW Staff

ACCOKEEK, Md.—For Stacey Roshan’s calculus students, if there’s a concept they don’t understand, they can just rewind the lesson—literally.

Roshan is using a “flipped classroom” to teach advanced mathematical concepts with a model that allows students to view classroom lectures online at home and do homework in class.

For the past two years, Roshan has been able to create a more relaxed atmosphere for her intense AP calculus class at Bullis School in Potomac.

“I would never go back” to a more traditional, lecture style classroom, Roshan said. “The best thing about it is that they get the one on one time with me.” Roshan adds that the flipped classroom “customizes the lesson for students.”

A flipped classroom is one that teaches through a variety of methods that uses computer technology where students go home and watch a lesson. They then go to school with the lesson already learned and are able to do what would normally be homework in class with their teacher present for questions.

Roshan, for example, uses screen capture software to create and edit videos. Her students then are able to access these videos through a website called screencast.com as well as a podcast on iTunes that they can subscribe to.

According to Roshan, this technology allows her students to watch the videos she makes as many times as they need so that they are able to completely grasp the concepts.

The Urban Village Voice was not able to get in contact with Jonathan Bergman, founder of the flipped classroom concept, but according to The Washington Post, Bergman began using this method in his classroom while he was a high school chemistry teacher in Colorado. The Washington Post also reported that Bergman is scheduled to release a book on flipped learning in June and is also planning to launch a nonprofit organization to train teachers in the concept.

Bergman told The Washington Post that the benefits of this concept “are huge.”

“Kids learn to become independent learners, they figure out how to learn for themselves. In the old model, who would get the teacher’s attention? The kid who raised his hand, the kid who would do well anyway,” he told The Post. “In this model, everybody gets the teacher’s attention. It humanizes the classroom.”

Mark Hall, principal of an Indiana high school, told The Associated Press that “the real benefit of it is when they’re [students] trying to learn content, they have the teacher to help them.”

But a mathematics blogger from the Detroit area, Michael Paul Goldenberg, does not see this method as very effective.

“I’m hard-pressed to see how flipping things and putting non-interactive lectures onto videos magically or even logically makes things go better,” wrote Goldenberg in a comment that he posted on the Bergman article.

“The key to me isn’t the order in which these things occur, but the quality of the problems and the way the tools and habits of mind are delivered. Lecture, investigation, ‘discovery,’ ‘guided-discovery,’ and other approaches are all potentially effective. Any one of them alone is likely a huge stink bomb for given kids on given days. And bad videos still are bad.”

Knewton, a New York City-based educational technology company, conducted a study that found that more than 50 percent of freshmen failed English and 44 percent failed math in a traditional classroom model at a high school near Detroit. After using a flipped classroom, only 19 percent of freshmen failed English and 13 percent of freshmen failed math.

Roshan did not pick up the flipped classroom model from a specific source. She thought of using this model after attending a technology conference.

She is nearing the end of her second year using this method and believes that her students have reacted very positively to it.

Roshan is the only teacher that uses this as the core teaching method in her class every day. But she said other teachers at the Bullis school are beginning to supplement some of their lessons with similar technology.

The Power of Twitter? All in a Hashtag

By Laurel Hattix
UJW Staff

ASHBURN, Va.—Twitter broke the news of Whitney Houston’s death 27 minutes before the first news organization. The death of Osama Bin Laden was announced play-by-play on Twitter prior to any journalist nabbing the story. Even with the evolution of online newspapers and breaking news alerts, trending topics on Twitter are becoming a substitute and often times more timely than news sources.

But Twitter has not always had trending topics much less the ability to search for key words. Why was the ability to search for key words and find “trends” not an original feature of Twitter?

Simply put, its creators did not invent the technology. They bought it.

Twitter began in 2006, the culmination of work done by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, and Biz Stone. Slow to catch on with social media users, cumulative growth remained under 5 percent over the next year while Facebook blossomed with over 20 million active users. In need of more functionality to increase staying power in the market, Twitter turned to Summize.

Other than technology gurus, few have heard of Summize and its co-founder Jay Virdy. Unlike Facebook, there is no singular figure such as Mark Zuckerburg behind the social networking giant that Twitter has become. This is in part because Twitter’s technology is a culmination of not just several people but several companies.

“Twitter already had product folks and desperately needed software developers to help stabilize Twitter,” Virdy said in an interview from his northern Virginia home. “Twitter and their investors came knocking and quickly bought the company.”

A generic business transaction that set Twitter apart from the status updates and “thumbs ups” that created the ability to track the trend now has over 140 million followers.

“Summize was originally a ‘review search engine’ to help consumers make buying decisions,” Virdy said. “Our initial idea did not work, so we had to go back to the drawing board and pivot to a new idea. We pivoted to develop a real-time search engine using Twitter and we instantly took off like a rocket.”

Twitter users have the ability to see “trending topics” or what topics are being talked about the most through the technology introduced by Virdy’s team.

“Trending topics looks for common words and phrases, in real-time, that millions of people tweet about. If a lot of people are tweeting about a particular subject, such as the iPhone 4s then this shows up on Twitter’s home page as a trending topic,” said Virdy.

Twitter finally had the missing piece. After the merging of technology with Summize and emerging use of Twitter by celebrities such as actor Ashton Kutcher, Twitter more than doubled the number of users in a matter of months.

“Summize identified and created the killer features -search and discovery- needed to make Twitter a success,” Virdy said. “Summize helped by giving Twitter two very valuable news services: Twitter search and trending topics. Both of these services are successfully being monetized by Twitter today.”

In 2008, two years after the buyout of Summize, Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote in a piece for Read Write Web about the impact Twitter was already having.

“There’s a reason why so many journalists, lawyers, moms, animal doctors, students and other normal people are so obsessed with Twitter – and it’s not because they are flighty, superficial people intent on telling the world what they ate for breakfast,” said Kirkpatrick.

He went on to say: “The creators of Twitter deserve big accolades because they have invented what could be compared to a newly discovered, very usable, radio-wave frequency. It’s a new plane of communication. It’s truly world changing.”

Even with the possibility to grow an independent business, Virdy has no regrets.

“We were at the right place at the right time to capitalize on the tremendous growth of social media and search,” Virdy said.

Social media’s most prominent and savvy users, young adults, see the ability to find what is “trending” pertinent to the company’s success.

“Trending topics and searches are the backbone of Twitter’s effectiveness,” said avid tweeter Gabriel Yokoe, a 20-year-old college student. “I usually hear news or gather information quicker on Twitter than using any other source.”

Today, a portion of the voices behind the loudest social movements are sitting behind computers and typing on smartphones; not passing out flyers and yelling into megaphones. The irony: millions of the voices behind the movements will have never met.

The Invisible Children campaign, a nonprofit focused on raising awareness of the use of child soldiers, is just one example of Twitter opening the door to a digital bombardment of new ideas, often spurred on by the “trendiness” of it all.

“Kony 2012, the Invisible Children campaign, spread like wildfire,” said tweeter Divya Ramoo, a 18-year-old high school student in northern Virginia. “I think it was trending the same day the video came out. By the end of the week the story was all over major news broadcasts and was getting serious attention.”

While she acknowledges the vast amount of information being dispersed, Ramoo often questions the credibility of the trending ideas.

“It is very good at spreading opinions, rather than facts,” Ramoo said. “Part of the appeal is the lingo. It gives people a sort of unifying goal. If something is trending it entices people to get in the know because most people are interested in what is trendy. I have seen the most ridiculous words that make no sense but seem to catch on quickly if placed behind a hashtag.”

Even with skeptics, Twitter’s continues to grow, but will the social media trend last forever?

“Living in an ‘age of information’, the ability to connect with news and what is going on in the world will never be outdated,” said Yokoe.

Businesses Boom on Social Media

By Corynn Johnson

SPRINGDALE, Md.—When Marc Scher wanted to expand his advertising, he turned to Facebook.

His family’s seventy-nine year old business, located in Pocomoke City,  Md., began using Facebook in August 2009. An icon on the top right corner of the store’s website invites people to visit its Facebook page.

Four years later, Scher’s page has garnered over 3,000 likes on Facebook, more than 200 photos and dozens of positive posts and comments.

“It’s interactive,” said Scher. “I can run an ad on it and people can upload pictures.”

Happy customers have taken to Facebook to express their gratitude.

“All of my gorgeous girls thank you for all of your help, they looked amazing!” wrote Ginnie Sue Sterling, who uploaded a picture of her smiling bridesmaids to Scher’s Bridal Shop Facebook page.

In recent years businesses, like Scher’s have been using social media to advertise their businesses.

According to a study by shop.org, “Forty-two percent of online consumers have “followed” a retailer proactively through Facebook, Twitter or a retailer’s blog, and the average person follows about six retailers.”

“People are looking toward the social media for information and what’s new and hot,” said Amanda Miller Littlejohn, a brand strategist and PR Social media coach. “If they have a product, it is still relatively easier than other advertising and it costs less.”

Scher also uses radio and newspaper advertising.Although he does not know the extent of business he has gained using social media, he believes Facebook is the most successful of his advertising efforts.

“A lot of people see our page on Facebook,” he said.

According to 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report by Michael A. Stelzner, “The number-one advantage of social media marketing is generating more business exposure, as indicated by 88 percent of marketers. Increased traffic (72 percent) and improved search rankings (62 percent) were also major advantages.”

Aisha Jordan, the Owner and Creative Multimedia Producer at Jordan Multimedia Group, said she has noticed an increase in businesses going to the Web for advertising because of the inexpensive cost.

“It’s a cheaper option of getting to an audience, because you automatically have one,” says Jordan.

Opinions clash as Fairfax County considers charter school

By Melanie Aguilar
UJW Staff

FALLS CHURCH, Va.—As Fairfax County’s first charter school proposal prepares to go before the county’s school board this summer, some parents –and students–question whether the charter school is necessary.

The proposal is being led by Eric Welch, a high school teacher at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Va., who he believes there is an achievement gap issue in Fairfax County Public Schools not being addressed by the current educational offerings.

“There are a number of students who, either because they fail or because they are having to take remedial classes in math or English, stay in high school until 19, 20, 21 or don’t even graduate,” Welch said.

According to a report from the Virginia Department of Education, the county’s five-year graduation rate for the Class of 2010 was 92 percent overall, but differed when ethnicity and income were factored in. The county graduated 96 percent of its white students, 90 percent of its Black students, 77 percent of its Hispanic students, 78 percent of students who are English-language learners and 88 percent of students identified as economically disadvantaged.

“Those are not good stats,” said Stephanie Grisham, the Senior Communications Consultant for California-based Larson Communications, which specializes in national efforts to educate the public about charter schools. “You guys should be wanting more for your kids. A charter school could come in and offer something for children.”

Despite the graduation gap, the Fairfax school system–Virginia’s largest and the 11th largest in the nation– has a national reputation as academically strong, with its students scoring higher than the national average on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or SAT, a college entrance exam. Fairfax County’s students scored 1654 out of 2400 in 2010, compared with the national average score of 1,509, according to the Washington Examiner.

But these statistics are not enough for charter school proponents.

“I am really concerned for Fairfax County if we don’t try new things over the next 10 years,” said Welch, who is a board member for the proposed Fairfax Leadership Academy. “I think the world is changing and schools around the country are trying to adapt to that. I think Fairfax County needs to be trying to do that.”

As an alternative to the traditional educational methods of FCPS, the charter school proposes longer school days, an extended school year, and a career mentorship program during the school year.

Welch also wants to pair the International Baccalaureate program, which has college-level courses that can earn college credit with the Advancement Via Individual Determination or AVID program. This program is used at 10 Fairfax County high schools already, and is geared to “students who have the potential to succeed in a rigorous academic program if given both opportunity and support,” according to the county’s overview of the AVID program.

But a group of active parents at Falls Church High School, whose parent community was not included in the early proposal discussions with county officials, are worried about potential negative implications for their school if the charter school is approved later this summer.

After learning about the proposal, several parents started a group in October 2011 called UPROAR, United Parents for Renovating Our Academic Resource. According to their website, the group is dedicated to advocating for building renovations, improving academic offerings and opposing the Fairfax Leadership Academy.

The group is critical of the plans for FLA and has created an online petition with over 500 signatures. The school is not offering “anything dramatically different than what the kids at Falls Church (High School) are getting,” said Joan Daly, head of UPROAR. “We think it’s very similar and it’s attracting the same base of kids.”

The Fairfax Leadership Academy would open with grades 7 and 8 and then increase by a grade every year until it reaches 12th grade.

“When we learned about what the focus was and who the target student populations were, we were concerned,” Daly said.

She believes that potential FLA students represent “the bulk of the strong, motivated students at Falls Church” and she doesn’t want to “lose them.”

Welch disagrees, saying the school’s focus is instead on students who are struggling in the traditional middle and high school programs.

“I do feel that the folks at UPROAR and the people signing that petition are just very misinformed,” he said. “I don’t feel like they’re taking the time to understand how and why we are doing this and they’re just jumping immediately to the conclusion that ‘Oh my God, if there’s another school in our area, it’s gonna hurt our high school’.”

However, Welch said he would like the FLA to include students who need more help in core classes like math and English, and who would benefit from a smaller school structure.

“We’re working with social service organizations and we will work within the school district with counselors and families to make sure that they know that the type of student who should go to this school is not a student who is already succeeding at their regular school,” Welch said.
“If they are getting As and Bs at their regular school, then that is obviously working for them.”

Yet, UPROAR is opposed to the charter school in part because there is no guarantee that the students it is targeting would attend. The FLA cannot set requirements for students to apply because it would be part of the Fairfax County Public Schools system. Therefore, it would be open to whoever applied, as long as they live within the school’s attendance boundaries.

Some Falls Church High School students said they have similar concerns.

“We already have a small population, and because of our underpopulated facilities we have to fight for meager renovations,” said Katie Davidson, a junior at Falls Church High School.

“I have considered leaving Falls Church for an environment with better opportunities and resources, but every time, I have backed out because of my ‘family’ at Falls Church,” Davidson added.

Kelly Haynes and Penny Williams, also juniors at FCHS, said they spoke out against FLA’s proposal at a school board meeting in January and remain apprehensive about the consequences that the FLA could bring to their community.

“Falls Church High School is already here,” Haynes said. “We don’t need a new school within walking distance. It will bring less students to our already under-enrolled school.”

Geography is not students’ only concern. Others believe the academy would resemble a selective school, such as Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

“All of the students I’ve talked to are against the charter school or indifferent to it just because they don’t know a lot about it,” said Williams. “I think the charter school will end up being like another T.J.”

Welch disagrees.

“We’re not at all a magnet school and we are not advertising this school for the best kids to get better; we’re advertising it for students who are struggling and not thriving in their conventional school,” he said.

Fairfax County Superintendent Jack D. Dale, took an impartial stance on the proposal when asked if a charter school would be a good or bad choice for students in FCPS.

“It depends on the charter,” he said in an e-mail interview. “If it is providing another, valuable program then perhaps yes. If not, then why approve?”