What’s going on with the West Orchestra?
The Case for Latin
By Charlotte Olson
For the past three months, the West orchestra program has been struggling to find stability. On December 6th, students and families in the orchestra received an email that would change the trajectory of the year. Eric Miller wrote, “It is with a broken heart that I am writing this email to let you know that I will be on leave, beginning this week, due to personal health reasons. I do not know at this time if I will be able to return.” Mr. Miller had worked in MMSD for 12 years, beginning his fourth year at West in 2021. He was teaching 5th grade strings at several elementary schools while also teaching at West. Before coming to West, Mr. Miller taught at Cherokee Middle School for two years. Some West orchestra students have had him as a teacher at every school they've attended. Students felt they were in a limbo for the next few weeks after his leave, worried that they had no foreseeable future in orchestra.
The Concert and Philharmonic orchestras shuffled through many different substitutes (including West’s choir teacher, Mr. Cao for a day), finally landing with Randy Swiggum as a temporary substitute who would bridge the gap between the shift of teachers. Mr. Swiggum is titled as the “Teacher Leader-Fine Arts • Curriculum & Instruction'' at MMSD but outside of that position he does a lot of additional work, particularly at Cherokee. Cherokee's orchestra program has struggled in recent years; since Mr. Miller's departure, there has been a new teacher every year. In fact, Cherokee didn’t have an orchestra teacher for the first eight weeks of the 2021-22 school year. Out of all of the current freshmen in the concert orchestra, none of them is from Cherokee. One of Mr. Swiggum’s goals for next year is to turn that around and have students from all middle schools.
West’s hunt for an orchestra teacher was extensive and at times desperate. West administrators even asked students if they knew of anyone who might be interested. Finally, in mid-January, Mr. Swiggum and other West staff found Ben Therrell, who was technically qualified but had never taught before, to teach at the West. Mr. Swiggum noted that “there’s a [staff] shortage in general across the country, not only music teachers but especially strings teachers.” Similar things are happening everywhere. “Plenty of people who are licensed to teach strings but don’t actually play stringed instruments are in teaching positions,” Mr. Swiggum finished.
West got lucky with a teacher who does play a stringed instrument: Mr. Therrell is the resident cellist of the Rabin String Quartet and a doctoral fellow at the Mead Witter School of Music in the Studio of Uri Vardi. Mr. Therrell took over all of Mr. Miller’s teaching jobs across the district, teaching 5th grade strings at Thoreau elementary school and Anana (formerly Falk) elementary school. He directed West’s winter concert in early February, but resigned somewhat suddenly, leaving the orchestra reeling again.
Both the Philharmonic and Concert orchestras had successful performances, due in no small part to Mr. Therrell. The current plan for the rest of the school year is for Mr. Swiggum to be the orchestra teacher at West, and at Cherokee as much as he can.
In answer to the question asked by many Wet students: no, the orchestra program is not falling apart; it is just stretched a little thin. It could even grow stronger than ever. West has proved that it’s not only about the teacher, but more so the community of musicians, colleagues, and friends that gather in the orchestra room.
By Anne Czajkowski
Latin has been a fixture at West for a long time, which made the news that the Latin program will be cut next year even more heartbreaking. On Sunday, February 20, our Latin teacher teacher (who we Latin students fondly call Magistra) informed us in an email that due to budget cuts, she would be fired and West would no longer have a Latin program.
This news came as a shock to all of us: we were planning a trip to Italy in June (which has also been canceled), Latin Club was as active as it had ever been, and we had just been to WJCL (Wisconsin Junior Classical League), a convention where Latin students from all over the state come to Madison to compete in various subjects like mythology and cartamen (Latin trivia), but mostly to mingle and have fun in togas.
Being one of the only non-Catholic school Latin programs, West Latin was something extremely important to us, and made our community unique. Being at a Latin convention as a public school meant that we could show other schools that Latin doesn’t have to be Biblical, elite, or pretentious, and with the help of Magistra, West has made it fun, accessible, and applicable in everyday life. “I think this is a tremendous mistake,” said a West Latin student, “and cutting this program is not only going to impact the Latin students here but the entire state-wide Latin community negatively.”
Breaking the stigma surrounding Latin is one of the goals of the West Latin program and Latin Club, but with the Latin program at our large, public, and well-known school getting cut, we can hardly expect other schools to readily adopt a Latin program.
One of the reasons West Latin is such a special and tight-knit community is our teacher, Magistra Caledonica, or Ms. Bayouth. She made West a safe and welcoming place for me and many other students, and really understood the struggles that we as students go through. I even remember freshman year during code red drills Magistra would have us move all the tables to the door, where she’d stand, ready with a baseball bat. I always felt safe with her and in her classroom. It was little moments like those that made Latin and Magistra so special.
“Magistra was one of the first adults I connected with when I started at West,” a West Latin student told me. “She made me feel like I belonged somewhere and has always been there for me whenever I needed her.” Another student said “Magistra is probably the best teacher I have ever had in my entire school experience. She is what makes us a family and makes learning fun every single day in class.” I have yet to meet a Latin student who doesn’t love Magistra, and she really does make learning Latin fun; it’s been my favorite class for all three years of high school.
I’ve also been a member of our Latin Club since I started at West, and I even recently got elected to an officer position. Everyone is kind and enthusiastic about learning, and in the short time after coming back from quarantine, we’re starting to feel like a family again. I always look forward to Wednesdays at lunch where I get to geek out with my friends and favorite teacher about mythology and Roman history. A member of Latin Club said the Latin program “has impacted me in many ways—one of them is how the program has become a family to me. Throughout this year, I've grown to love and cherish the community with all of my heart.”
West without Latin and Magistra won’t really feel like West to all of us in the community, and we sincerely hope that the district and Dr. Boran will reconsider their decision.
West’s Library to Move to Resource Hall
The Future of Honors in MMSD
By Emmett Nolan
After 52 years in its current space, West's library and media center is moving. The move stems from a 2021 referendum in which Dane County voters approved a $350 million investment in Madison public schools. Among many other initiatives, all four Madison high schools are using some of the funds to remodel their libraries. The space in which it currently resides will be cordoned off and made into several classrooms.
When West first opened in 1930, the library was located on the second floor of the southwest wing at Ash and Van Hise, where the resource hall currently resides. In 1970, after construction of a new wing of the school was completed, the library was relocated to provide greater space for books and a new computer lab. Today, the excess space is no longer needed. With many students turning to online resources, West's library books–many of them antiquated–have not been checked out in years. Beth Hennes, the school librarian, along with many of her TA's, have been "weeding" the collection of books and removing those that are in poor condition, outdated, or no longer needed.
As the result of an increase in necessary construction time to deal with asbestos, the deadline for moving the library has moved to the beginning of spring break. This has presented Ms. Hennes with her share of challenges. "We're just doing things at double time," she explained. Large boxes of books line the back wall of the library, some to be moved, some to be marked off and gotten rid of at a later time. Books not being kept by the library are placed on a "free books" cart for students to browse and take as they like.
After spring break, boxes and supplies from the library will be stored in the glass room within the resource hall which will serve as an impromptu library for the remainder of the school year. Construction will start late in the year, with the new library space expected to be completed towards the end of May 2023. The space is planned to be fully operational for the 2023-24 school year.
The new library will have three small study spaces and one larger study room, each with glass windows. There will also be a learning station for students to engage in various hands-on activities, such as 3D printing and different games. Being in a smaller space has forced planners and Ms. Hennes to adapt and downsize further. There will be fewer bookshelves, and it is not yet known if the space will have few, if any open study tables. "We are an instructional, recreational reading library. We're not a historical collection."
Despite the daunting logistics, Ms. Hennes remains optimistic. "It's just a temporary thing," she articulated. "My goal when we reopen is that we're welcoming and better than ever."
By Lucia Gadau and Paloma Ortiz-De Ferrari
As some West students may have heard, the Madison Metropolitan School District intends to remove underclassmen honors classes, initially planning to remove ninth grade honors for the 2022-23 school year and 10th grade honors the following year. However, the school board recently voted to put the plan on hold.
According to the district, the reason behind removing honors is to eliminate the disproportionate racial gap between honors and non-honors classes. This disparity is huge: during the 2018-19 school year, while 58% of the student body were students of color, only 41% of them made up honors classes throughout the district, according to the Capital Times. “This is about leveling the playing field and providing access for all,” said Marvin Pryor, the co-chief of secondary schools. However, there could be some negative implications surrounding this transition. For students, expanding the range of learning types and skill levels within a classroom without reducing classroom size could be detrimental. At the same time, teachers working under this model would have an increased workload, having to create multiple lessons in one to fit their wide variety of students.
Merging honors and non-honors courses would mean combining a broad spectrum of learners, which could have a series of negative effects. A teacher for MMSD spoke to us about her perspective on these potential downsides. She began by identifying the different groups of students these new mixed classes would include: there are ‘self-motivated’ students, students that aren’t motivating themselves but have support systems at home to aid them, and students that also need external motivation, but don’t have the parent or home support to fulfill this. With the new system of embedded honors, students could individually choose if they want to pursue this credit; in the words of the MMSD teacher we interviewed, “it doesn’t really serve the purpose of honors, just to appease policymakers and the community so they believe it’s fair for everybody.”
Furthermore, according to the presentation MMSD leaders made to the school board in favor of this new model, earned honors does not include “additional coursework and/or more in-depth study” of the subject’s material, unlike a standard honors course. As the MMSD teacher puts it, “if [the district] wants more access to kids who would never really be in honors, are we playing down the curriculum just so we can say that they are getting ‘honors’?” The loss of rigor in students’ academic lives is another issue she brought up. According to the West High School course catalog, the level of courses a student takes is the most accurate predictor of what their ACT score will be. Having high level courses and test scores on one’s transcript may be the key to getting certain students the scholarships they need. In our interview, the anonymous MMSD teacher voiced her concerns on this very aspect of the new plan, asking, “the purpose of embedded honors is to make it equitable, but is it really equitable? Who is benefitting? If you want to take honors, you should experience the rigor of the course. With embedded honors, are you getting that experience?”
While students' needs would be left untailored, negatively affecting their learning, it is impossible to leave out how teaching all these students in one class would impact MMSD high school teachers. Combining such a wide range of learners into one classroom would weigh on teachers, requiring them to spend extra hours curating a lesson that fits the needs of all students. What teachers could end up doing is designing a curriculum that focuses more on the median level of students in their classrooms. However, with this back and forth learning environment, not only would teachers have difficulty conducting lessons that fit their teaching style, but they could also have a hard time adapting to most kids' needs. This creates a larger group of struggling students who need additional help, and for students who have little-to-no at-home support in addition to a lack of self motivation, this new model raises a bigger issue. Teachers may have to slow lessons down, or individually persuade more students to work to their full potential. The only way for this model to succeed is if schools were provided with the necessary resources to uphold it, said the teacher we spoke to. Teachers would be able to cater to students’ needs regardless of their ability if classes were half the size they are now, but this would require double the teachers, meaning double the funds.
With this new model raising many questions and concerns, it is important to discuss possible alternatives. One solution to help even out the playing field would be to encourage students to pursue harder classes earlier, by improving counseling in elementary and middle schools to focus more on preparation for high school honors classes. Christina Gomez Schmidt, a MMSD board member, supported this alternative, suggesting that more attention be paid to preparing younger students for more difficult coursework by high school. For now, the model MMSD plans to enforce will only achieve the effect of lessening the racial gap between honors and non-honors courses, creating more problems in the long run, and not necessarily fixing anything in regards to the learning gap.
West High Establishing School Archive
By Amitabha Shatdal
Over the next few years, West High will be changing due to a multi-million dollar remodel. However, West High will not forget its past. Along with these new developments, West High is building a school archive to safe-keep and make readily available for the entire school community its history. Teachers, pupils, staff and alumni are all collaborating to make this archive as accessible and complete as possible.
Although information and artifacts on West’s past are limited, potential for a robust archive remains. After years stored away in the farthest reaches of the school and deep within teachers’ and alumni’s homes, West High memorabilia are finally being rediscovered and appreciated for the beautiful artifacts that they are.
If you possess any West High related artifacts that you would like to contribute, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are especially looking for West High newspapers, audiovisual records, and pictures. If nothing else, the archive's antique yearbooks will give students the opportunity to discover their relatives and notice the temporal changes.
Dealing with a Continuous Pandemic
By Joel Cho
After Covid-19 started on December 12, 2019, and with the new omicron variant first occurring at the end of 2021, the Madison Metropolitan School District has been greatly affected. MMSD even switched to virtual learning for a couple of days after the 2021 winter break. However, just after a week of virtual school, MMSD announced its return to in-person classes. So far, West high school is continuing in-person classes but there is still a question about whether it is safe to remain in-person classes.
According to MMSD’s Covid-19 Case Count Data, the data shows the increase of Covid-19 cases with the increase from 251 to 703 after January 3, 2022, almost matching with the end of the winter break. The covid cases even increased more after January 3, peaking in the next week with 817 reported covid cases. Also, the last data of School Level Covid cases stats by MMSD shows that there were 61 new cases in West High School from January 24 to 31.
The 61 cases is comparably a small number considering the total student population in West high school, however, there is a high possibility that covid-19 is spreading from one person to another through school. In the status quo, the best countermeasure would be being self-aware as a member of the West high school community. All the students and staff should self-check symptoms of covid-19 such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing, body aches, loss of taste or smell, and consider taking covid-19 test, not coming to school for a day if you have these symptoms. Also, West high school provides hand sanitizer to all classrooms. Sanitizing hands frequently is a good way to stop the spread of covid-19. Lastly, and most importantly, don’t forget to always wear masks indoors. CDC’s study shows people who wear masks had more than 50% lower chance to test positive than the one who didn’t wear masks.
Additionally, if you have already completed vaccination, you can take a booster shot. Search for a booster shot to check where and what kind of vaccine you can get. Public Health Madison & Dane Country site provides information about the booster shot.