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Straight Up: Urban Voice Spring 2015

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Column: Have We All Gone Crazy?

By Maggie Gallagher
UJW Staff Writer

Has our world gone crazy? Is everyone just a violent person waiting to pop? Ever since James Holmes brought an AR15, Glock 40 Caliber, and a Remington 870 into an Aurora movie theater, it seems that random acts of violence are committed weekly.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reported that violent crime rate has decreased by 18.7 percent from 2003 to 2012. However, this statistic seems to counter the view of Jay Walsh, 23. “For as long as I can remember there has been public violence…I don’t think that the world was any safer when I was younger, I was just less aware of it,” he said.

If the violent crime rate has diminished, why does it feel like it increased or at least stayed constant? Perhaps the constant coverage of violence by the media could be a cause of our sense of increased violence.

Billy Gardell, a comedian and actor, recently talked about the lack of hope and how it is exemplified in the news in his comedy segment, We Need Hope. The line that stuck out to this author the most is when he said, “Can’t even turn on the news that’ll horrify you, right? Murder, death, rape, child abduction, — economy, oil spill, … good luck.” He continues to then talk about the need for hope saying, “Can’t anybody get a cat out of the tree or something I can hold onto?”

This phenomenon is occurring since the news and media industries are continuing to barrage the world with pictures and videos of violence and despair. This idea is agreed upon by Adria Gallagher, 49, who said, “Yes, I agree the numbers are decreased… [its] coverage has increased-mass murders are the news.”

Because of this constant portrayal of violence, people know now how often their lives could be in danger. After various random acts of violence such as the Boston Marathon, and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut; numerous people began to worry about their safety in schools, marathons, and movie theaters.
Grace Callahan, a Boston resident, commented on this issue by saying, “I feel that public safety has definitely decreased and that things are more dangerous… I don’t feel less safe, but I think there are some people who are more concerned for their well-being and safety.”

Should more people be like Grace and not fear for their safety?

Some may say that violence has become a major issue and worry for everyone due to the media and culture making it the center of attention. Although the number of violent offenses committed has decreased from 1,400,000 cases in 2008 to 1,200,000 cases in 2010; it seems that everything in our culture is centered on violence. The world of video games and movies has come under criticism because of the extreme violence they portray.

Most may not know, but the highest grossing genre of movies is action movies according to Investopedia. The popularity of violence has carried over to video games. The most anticipated games are those that are based on violence, such as Assassins Creed and Call of Duty. Maybe the sense of increased violence is due our culture constantly making people remember the world of violence they often try to forget.

Life is all about our choice to be a citizen of society or let the bad voice in our head rule our world. Maybe not all of us have gone crazy, but those who have change everyone’s world. No one will ever know exactly why people snap, but maybe one day no one will have to worry if their safety is in danger.

Apply today for the 2014 Urban Journalism Workshop!

Tactics for becoming accomplished newspaper, broadcast and multimedia journalists will be taught by award-winning journalists from The Washington Post, the Associated Press, National Public Radio and other media companies during the 2014 Urban Journalism Workshop (UJW) series. Trainers also give high school students an inside look at careers in journalism. The28th annual workshop series, offered by The Washington Post Young Journalists Development Program (YJDP) and the Washington Association of Black Journalists (WABJ), takes place over eight consecutive Saturdays starting March 1 – April 26, 2014 from 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. at various sites across the Washington area.

Who can participate?
The workshop series is FREE and open to high school students across the Washington area, which includes Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland, Washington, D. C., and Northern Virginia. There is no fee to apply. Students should contact their journalism advisor or media instructor for details.

And the winners are…
Three scholarship awards will be presented to seniors who excel during the workshop and demonstrate strong research, reporting and writing ability. Scholarships will be based on an essay, stories produced in the workshop and participation in all eight sessions.

How do I apply?

To download an application and learn more about the Urban Journalism Workshop, click on the link to the right. UJWapp2014

Applications must be postmarked or delivered by Monday, January 13, 2014.

Dakarai I. Aarons, UJW Coordinator
901-491-7511 or wabj.ujw@gmail.com

Jaye P. Linnen, YJDP Coordinator
202-334-4917 or yjdp@washpost.com

Sponsored by The Washington Association of Black Journalists and The Washington Post.

Transgender Student Rights In Focus

By Austin Chavez
UJW Staff Writer

For many adolescents in the transgender community, bullying has become a major concern. A 2012 national study conducted by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reported that almost nine out of ten (89 percent) of transgender adolescents have faced some form of harassment in school.

Almost half (about 46 percent) miss at least a day of school each month because they fear bullying and harassment. The study also concluded that transgender individuals have an increased risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs.

“It definitely has to be a collaborative effort,” said Bryce Celotto, Public Policy Assistant at GLSEN. “Students should reach out to teachers, and they, in turn, should reach out to the administrators.”

Though Celotto calls the transgender movement right now as “momentous,” he acknowledges that transgender adolescents still face a great deal of hardships.

And the hardships he knows all too well. Born as Bryanna, Celotto now goes by Bryce and identifies as a transgender man.

Pamela Brumfield believes high school should be a little less about the labels and more about shaping the individual. “We just need to see everyone for who they are–as people,” she said.

Brumfield, 42, of Alexandria, Virginia is the newest principal at Edison High School located in Fairfax County. She believes every pupil who goes to public school has the right and belongs to be there.

“Students are people,” she said. “I don’t want to see any adult talking down, belittling, or embarrassing a student.”

Celotto, a 21-year-old District resident, says that it helped a lot when teachers began addressing his identity and rights. “I felt respected,” he said. He hopes that his work in GLSEN would help provide transgender students across the country with protection from discrimination and bullying.

The District of Columbia and Maryland both have statewide laws that protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment, according to the American Civil Liberties Union Virginia has no state-wide laws that provide such protections.

Asked why might this be the case, Jasmine Purcell, 16, of Lorton, Virginia believes it all of has to do with the society and the time.

“People are afraid of change,” she said.

Purcell supports allowing transgendered individuals to participate in gender-related activities that match their gender identity. She believes this right should be expanded not only to schools, but in other public places.

Others, such as Marisol Chavez, aren’t so certain.

“I just don’t think that the thoughts of transgendered people are their own,” she says, regarding gender identity. “Parents are getting lazy nowadays, and today’s youth receives so much influence from the world.”

The 16 year-old Alexandria resident also believes that society is feeding into the idea of transgendered identity.

Nonetheless, both parties agree that this is an issue that Virginia should pay attention to. Chavez believes parents should keep a closer eye on what influences the youth.

As for Purcell?

“People need to keep up with the times,” she said.

Cursive Disappearing From Schools, But Maybe Not Society?

By Abby Duker
UJW Staff Writer

WARRENTON, Va. — Nina Anderson remembers writing every high school paper in cursive. She recalls how this forced her to think hard about what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it. Neatness counted as much as creativity, and there was no backspace button to serve as a quick-fix. The years of cursive she learned in grade school were constantly put to the test.

Today, Anderson is a teacher at Greenville Elementary School in Nokesville, Va. She has noticed that while cursive is part of the curriculum, it does not receive the focus it did while she was in school.

“Teachers will just teach it for a short while, but unfortunately that is all they do,” Anderson said. “Because of the drive to prepare kids for the SOLs [standardized tests for students enrolled in Virginia public schools], teachers are bound [curriculum-wise]. Handwriting has fallen by the wayside, which is sad because it is such a valuable skill.”

Focus on standardized testing, along with an increasingly technology-oriented society, has contributed to a dwindling emphasis on cursive writing in schools. According to a 2010 research brief by Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Office of Assessment, Research, and Data Analysis (Fla.), “since cursive handwriting is used less and less frequently in modern society, many scholars view its inclusion in the elementary school curriculum as a luxury, based on tradition rather than sound educational principles.”

Though these causes may seem clear to some, the effects of losing this art form are less obvious. Along with cursive, what other values and benefits is society losing?

Some have raised concerns that the loss of cursive may deprive students of some of the benefits that cursive writing offers.

William Klemm, a professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University, believes that “cursive, or handwriting in general, as opposed to printing or typing, makes unique neurophysiological demands that surely ought to benefit brain development in children.”

Klemm manages the blog Memory Medic on PsychologyToday.com. In one post on this blog, he described how writing by hand develops fine motor skills, improves ability to categorize, and allows us to learn and remember universal features of characters.

“Cursive writing, compared to printing, is even more beneficial because the movement tasks are more demanding, the letters are less stereotypical, and the visual recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation,” he said in a March post. “Cursive is also faster and more likely to engage students by providing a better sense of personal style and ownership.”

Kristine Ackerman has also noticed these benefits. Ackerman is a third grade teacher at P.B. Smith Elementary School in Warrenton, Va. who is required to cover cursive instruction with her students. She believes that cursive helps improve the writing skills and creativity of some students.

“There are examples of some kids that their printing is horrendous and then they’re excited about cursive, so then they put more effort into it, and perhaps it’s easier for them,” Ackerman said. “And those that typically already like writing or have good print handwriting tend to enjoy cursive even more, just because they get to be creative with it.”

Ackerman also believes that even if students don’t learn how to write in cursive, basic recognition of the letters is still beneficial.

“Our historical documents are written in cursive and it would be helpful if you could at least recognize that an ‘r’ is an ‘r’,” she said. “Even with computers, they change the fonts of things and so it teaches kids that different letters can look differently depending on what font you use. Many menus, posters, and even signs may be written in cursive.”

However limited, there still exist some real world situations in which the ability to write in cursive is necessary. As a result, some high school students who were not taught cursive in elementary school have actually taught the skill to themselves.

Margaret Swift, a senior at Kettle Run High School in Nokesville, Va. is one such student.

“My mom used to always tell me that printing was too slow,” she said. “I’d never put in the effort to actually write fluidly in cursive, but now that I’ve gotten better at it, it’s definitely a lot faster. Also, it looks nicer and more professional than printing.”

For Swift, and any other student who has taken the SAT college entrance exam, the skill has come in handy at least once. The SAT requires all test takers to write and sign an honor statement in legible cursive.

Blair McAvoy, a junior at Kettle Run, points out that during her SAT, many students struggled to accomplish this task.

“It took people like five minutes just to write the honor statement!” McAvoy said. “It’s just sad, because it seems like something you should be able to do.”

With the SAT being such an important test for college admissions, this raises concerns that the ability to write in cursive may give some students an edge over others. According to a College Board report conducted after the 2006 SAT, essays on the exam written in cursive received slightly higher scores, on average, than those written in print.

If cursive may have an impact on SAT scores, how might a nice John Hancock or the ability to write legibly and artfully affect someone in the real world?

According to business experts, not much.

“I do not believe there is a correlation between having a ‘good signature’ and career success,” Michael Ginzberg, dean of the Kogod School of Business at American University, said. “I know some very successful people who have very unimpressive signatures and some whose signatures are neat and beautiful.”

Ginzberg did suggest that the benefits of cursive may vary depending on occupation.

“I guess if you want to be Secretary of the Treasury or Treasurer of the United States and have your signature on every dollar bill, having a good signature would be valuable,” he said.

Others argue that although a signature or handwriting may not affect one’s success in the workplace, it may influence how certain aspects of them are perceived.

“A person’s writing could impact how a person is perceived from handwritten documents such as their job application or other place where they are writing,” Arlene Hill, director at AU’s business school, said.

Still, Hill maintains that in the business world, legibility of a signature or handwriting should not affect judgements on more than just the quality of one’s handwriting.

“Many people have illegible signatures, partially to make them more difficult to forge,” she said. “Have you ever tried to read your doctor’s writing on a pharmacy pad? Yet I don’t think that the doctor is not equipped to practice medicine or unintelligent because he can’t write a legible signature.”

The Buzz: Cicadas Return to the DMV

By Marcel Adams
UJW Staff Writer

OXON HILL, Md.- Joy Barnes first encountered cicadas in 2004 when one smacked her in in the head and sent her running and screaming home.

“I ran all the way home,” said Barnes, 16, of Suitland. “I freaked out, what was I to do?”

Now, nearly 10-years later, the insects have returned to the Washington, D.C. region.
Cicadas are large insects that live underground, mostly near trees. They emerge from underground in cycles every 13 to 17 years in large swarms.

The insects have long been viewed as a nuisance to their region. They’re loud, clumsy, and don’t forget ugly.

“I will be carrying a flyswatter at all times and hitting every bug I see,” said Barnes

Brood X was the last cicadas to swarm the area which was back in 2004. This year’s cicadas known as Brood II are expected to be smaller in numbers than that of Brood X, but they are still expected to be out in the masses. They have been underground ever since 1996.

Kiara Crawford, 17 of Upper Marlboro, is prepared to battle the attack of the cicada by simply not going outside. She plans on not wearing shorts even in the summer. She remembers her first encounter with cicadas back in Houston in the fourth grade.

“A cicada flew on my skin and I freaked out,” said Crawford. “Then my third grade teacher saw me and picked up the cicada and ate it.”

When the temperature of the region’s soil reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit eight inches below the surface the cicadas will emerge according to Cicadamania.com. The site also says that cicadas located in sunny areas will emerge before those in shady areas.

There are common misconceptions about cicadas according to Dan Mozgai, a blogger for Cicadamania.com.

“A lot of people think they’re locusts, but they’re not. A locust is a grasshopper.” said Mozgai in an email.

Mozgai also said that cicadas drink fluids from trees for nutrients, and that there is also another kind of cicada called annual cicadas that emerge annually.

Cicadas are also edible, according to The National Geographic.

“They’re high in protein, low in fat, no carbs,” said biologist and cicada expert Gene Kritsky in the article. “They’re quite nutritious, a good set of vitamins.”

Despite misconceptions, cicadas are mostly harmless. They feed off of trees and do not bite.

“Periodical cicadas are most damaging to small young trees that have the most desirable branch size for egg laying.” states the publication. “Large, established trees can often have large amounts of flagging but rarely suffer severe damage.”

As cicadas come back, they will be around for about four to eight weeks and then disappear again until 2030.

Found Footage: A Look Into The Horror Genre’s Future

UJW Staff Writer

NOKESVILLE, Va. -Found footage films have been present in the horror genre for more than two decades, but just recently have become a popular trend within the horror genre.

Found footage is a term filmmakers use to describe a film that is shot in a way to look like it was “found” rather than created for the purpose of the movie.

The first known “found footage film” was 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust. The subgenre, however, did not become as popular until the 1999 release of The Blair Witch Project that grossed more than $140 million at the box office in the U.S.

The success of The Blair Witch Project spawned many other found footage films but none were as successful—until Oren Peli’s 2007 film Paranormal Activity .Initially released in just 12 theaters and grossing $77,873 in its opening week, the film went on to gross more than $107 million nationwide and has become a popular series spawning 4 sequels.

Several other found footage box office hits have followed, including Cloverfield, Quarantine, and The Last Exorcism.

“Found footage has grown because of the different approach and it’s cheaper to make,” said Evan Dickson, movie editor for Bloody Disgusting, a website focusing on the horror genre. “There’s a lot less lighting and crew. It’s usually shot in a confined space and with a less expensive camera.”

The estimated budget for Paranormal Activity was $15,000. A horror movie with similar success that didn’t use the found footage approach, Saw, had an estimated budget of $1.2 million.

Found footage is most popular among people from ages 13 to 35, according to Dickson.

“Young people are more likely to seek thrill related activities in order to push their boundaries,” said Kelley Aziz, a sociology instructor at Brentsville District High School in Nokesville, Va .

Aside from the core demographic, the films also target “people who aren’t into horror films because they seem real. It’s a gateway subgenre,” said Dickson.

“There [is] a generation of people who are constantly filming themselves. Uploading videos onto YouTube or Facebook, and when they see films reflecting what they’ve become accustomed to and see it interrupted by [the] paranormal, it becomes personal and scary.”

The plethora of found footage films that have been released lately indicates that this trend is here to stay.

“These films have a large fan base and it looks like many will take this idea and use it in different ways” said Aziz.

Celebrating A Century of Cherry Blossoms

Photo by Selina Dudley

It has been 100 years since the United States received some 3,000 cherry blossom trees as a gift from Japan celebrating the symbol of international friendship.  The eye-catching cherry blossom trees were placed around the District and ring the Tidal Basin.

On April 14, Constitution Avenue was filled with spectators for the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. Families, friends and strangers packed the grandstands and sidewalks, and climbed most every other available piece of architecture in order to see the vibrant, creative and entertaining displays.

“Who doesn’t love a parade?” asked Jennifer Adams of Pittsburgh, who attended the parade with a group of friends … Read more.

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Cultural Threads: Cherry Blossom Fashion
Dylan Lauber showed his appreciation for the cherry blossom trees by dressing in a yukata, a traditional Japanese garment worn in the spring and summer months. His attire consisted of a long brown robe that brushed the ground as he walked, a sash around his waist and sandal-like shoes worn with white socks. … Read more.
Pan-Asian Style Meets American Pop | Fashion in Bloom at Cherry Blossom Parade

Behind the Scenes: A Chance Encounter with Marie Osmond
Behind the chaos of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade were mothers’ tying bows in their dancing daughter’s hair and jittery jump ropers preparing to perform. And then there was Marie Osmond. … Read more.
Meet the Sky Walkers | Cherry Blossom Parade Vendors Ride Tough Times

Crowd Source: People, Places and Faces
An estimated half-million people flanked Constitution Avenue on April 14 to witness the marching bands, celebrities and choral performances. This annual event unites people and traditions from all walks of life, whether foreign or familiar, to the district. … Read more.
Sam and Sam Tourists, Locals Gather to Watch Centennial Celebration



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Journalism 101

Students in front of a map.

Students were asked to point out where they lived on a map as part of an exercise during the Urban Journalism Workshop, Saturday, March 10.

The first lesson for our fledgling reporters? “Get a map,” according to veteran journalist and author Reginald Stewart. Stewart led student correspondents through a Journalism 101 session Saturday, March 10, at National Public Radio. Participants were asked to point out where they lived since, according to Stewart, knowing where you are leads to a better understanding of the nature of your surroundings, which leads to better reporting skills. Try finding that on a GPS.