Monthly Archives: December 2018

Having a mentor group means having a second family to Tahoma students

By Jannaya Garcia and Priya Kaur

Staff Writers

When walking around Summit Tahoma, it is a common sight to see students dressed up in their mentor gear. Mentor groups at Tahoma have come up with traditions with their group to create some type of clothing article to represent their group. For example, Audrey Hart’s group all have matching yellow Crocs and sweatshirts; Laura Ochoa’s group all have sweatshirts saying “Blue Strips,” the name they came up with for their group.

High school can often be very stressful for students as they feel they do not have anyone to share their stress with. This is where mentor groups play a role.

Jovanna Garcia, a senior at Tahoma, said, “I feel like mentor groups help because at a regular high school you wouldn’t have a group that’s always with you, or, like I said, someone to lean back on, and, because of it, we are able to go into the community more since we are so involved with each other.”

Mentor groups are a very unique part of Summit Tahoma, a high school in San Jose. It is a system in which students get together with the same group of students, paired with a mentor at the end of each day, all throughout their high school journey.

Students are able to share how they’re feeling with their mentors as well as fellow mentees. Over time, they build very close relationships with one another and are able to trust their groups to be there for them.

Not only do mentor groups help strengthen students’ community skills, they also give students a safe space to communicate with their groups. Having this sort of support system gives Thunderbirds the opportunity to confide in a trusted adult and build a family type of bond with a diverse group of students.

Megan Toyama, the assistant director of Tahoma, provided her insight of what the benefits of having mentor groups are. She said, “I think that mentor groups is one of the most unique and special parts of the Summit education. When mentor groups are created, they are crafted intentionally to be diverse in all aspects. This allows students to form community with students that have a different background. When I was a mentor, I thought it was so cool that two students who were in different friend groups were able to be so close because they were in the same mentor group. Additionally, mentors play the key role of the college counselor for their mentees and support them through the college application process.”

In an interview with Tahoma English teacher Michael Haley, who has no mentor group, he described how he has seen growth in students who reach out to their mentors, but he also explained how mentor groups could be improved. “Sometimes the student could depend too much on the mentor rather than the teacher. More student leadership should come out of the mentor groups,” he said. He also shared insight into how he could help resolve these issues if he had his own group.

He said, “I could bring to the mentee paradigm, more growth mindset in students, more open-mindedness and willingness to accept new ideas, and I also can emphasize the Summit value of curiosity.” Micheal Haley believes that if he were to have a mentor group, he could improve some of the habits that he has seen in mentor groups now that he believes needs work.

Although they participate in many team bonding activities with their groups, how exactly do mentor groups help support students with their academic abilities?

See below for a video where mentors and mentees share their experiences:

Student athletes at Tahoma discover a positive impact

By Vianey Gonzaga, Nick Inman, Sam Leger and Damian Pimentel

Staff Writers

Students here at Tahoma are actively involved in sports, from volleyball to soccer. A popular discussion is how these sports affect students’ lives, both academically and socially.


Mikaela Zavala is one of the captains of the girls’ soccer team at Tahoma. PHOTO CREDIT: Kaitlyn Kelley

Mikaela Zavala, a senior soccer player at Tahoma, spoke with us about how sports affected her. She talked about how during freshman year sports helped her academically because she needed good grades to play, but they declined after the season. In her years since, she’s had good grades year-round, which soccer helped motivate.

Zavala also felt that soccer has helped her learn how to positively lead a team. She believes that the leadership and team skills that she has gained will help her in the future.

Other students that we interviewed resonated with Zavala’s thoughts and feelings.

Jasen Pardilla, a sophomore basketball player, said that sports allowed him to meet new people, and he felt that communicating with his team made him a better leader.

Pardilla’s thoughts were similar to Zavala’s as they both felt that being involved in sports helped elevate their grades, as it made them strive to do better in order to be able to be on the team.

Another student, Anthony Matute, a senior soccer player, expressed that playing soccer has helped him socialize more and that being a captain helped him be a more vocal person.

Matute also brought up that soccer helps him get on-track and finish his projects on-time. He also felt that sports positively affected his future by teaching him leadership skills that will help him with jobs in the long-run.

Jasmine Lewis, another sophomore basketball player, told us that she also felt that sports affected her in a strongly positive way, both with her social life and academics, as well as her future.

In all of our interviews, sports were said to be synonymous with a better social life and improved academic work at school, as well as a strong future. This idea was consistent throughout all genders and sports.

See below for video featuring Tahoma student athletes:



LGBTQ members of the Tahoma community find inconsistent support

By Erick Godinez, Kaitlyn Kelley and Joshua Rivera 

Staff Writers 

At Summit Tahoma, the Human Sexuality Expeditions course put up posters around the campus saying, “Be Yourself Out Loud And Proud,” “The Heart Wants What It Wants” and more encouraging words.

Rebecca Breuer, the Human Sexuality teacher, talked about the inspiration behind these posters. She explained that the project was based around an interview. The students had to talk to three students, one of which had to identify as LGBTQ. “I wanted to make sure it didn’t just stop in the classroom, that the whole Tahoma community could see the support that we had, so we tacked on just making a poster just to have that extra visual representation of making it very clear that this has to be a safe space for absolutely everyone,” Ms. Breuer explained. 

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Here are some examples of posters made by the Human Sexuality Expeditions class PHOTO CREDIT: Kaitlyn Kelley 

She later added, “The people in the class, a lot of them loved it – especially the ones that are in the community; you could see the visible change in them and how happy they were and also the allies, the supporters in the class, were really loving it, and I even noticed the students that were a little more closed-minded were opening up a bit.”

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Rebecca Breuer, Human Sexuality teacher PHOTO CREDIT: Kaitlyn Kelley

Ms. Breuer added, “We did have some vandalism where people made inappropriate drawings on their drawings, which was upsetting to see, so I made sure that every Expeditions teacher talked to their classes about that and how that’s not OK and other people, I did notice, liked it, and other people were making jokes about it – so it’s a big mix here.”

The Bay Area is ranked as one of the highest LGBTQ populations, according to a 2015 Gallup Poll. However, San Jose, more specifically, has one of the lowest populations, alongside Houston, Cincinnati, Raleigh and Birmingham.

It is no secret that LGBTQ students are subjected to more bullying and harassment; in fact, a 2015 report by GLSEN found that 85 percent of LGBTQ students have faced verbal harassment, 58 percent of LGBTQ youth felt unsafe because of their sexuality and 43 percent felt unsafe because of their gender identity.

We conducted a survey of our own to find how supportive the Summit faculty and Summit students are regarding the LGBTQ community. The results showed that the faculty was rated as being more supportive than the students. 

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Tahoma students shared mixed results on the support from the student body. GRAPHIC CREDIT: Joshua Rivera

Sydney Martinez is a senior at Tahoma who identifies as a non-binary LGBTQ youth. When asked about the results of our survey, they said, “The fact that it is significantly lower than the faculty does make a lot of sense because the faculty make efforts to respect students and to make sure everyone is comfortable and safe. Students don’t necessarily need to. It’s OK, people can be who they are, voice their opinions. But there are people that really need to be, I don’t want to say protected or sheltered or anything, but there are some things you can’t say.”

When asked if the results were surprising, they said, “I expected it; it doesn’t seem very shocking to me. While I don’t see much bullying or people being rude to each other, it does happen. I may not be in the middle of it, but it does happen. So I’m not very surprised it was lower.”

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Tahoma students share feeling more support from the Tahoma staff. GRAPHIC CREDIT: Joshua Rivera

Earlier in the interview, Martinez said, “I think a lot of teachers are really into making sure we all feel safe and that we’re all comfortable around other students and other teachers. Most of the students are really cool here.”

Tahoma sophomore Lilith Flowers identifies as a homoromantic asexual youth. When asked her opinion on equality at school, she said, “I would say no one’s really treated equally. Everyone has their own sense of humor that sort of uses other people as the punchline. So I think the main problem here in this school is that people not knowing that their jokes and their actions can be seen as offensive towards the LGBTQ community. I think that’s the main problem. We are treated equally, but there’s still areas where people don’t understand this isn’t OK to make a joke about.”

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Lilith Flowers, Tahoma sophomore PHOTO CREDIT: Kaitlyn Kelley

She later said, “I think a lot of the students here are pretty OK with it. It’s 2018; everyone’s pretty OK with it. There is, as always, people who, as I’ve been saying, who just don’t know what they’re doing isn’t OK, and when they are confronted with this they respond with ‘what do you mean, it’s a joke.’ They’re teenagers, they’re trying to do funny stuff, and what they don’t realize is while to some people it may be fun, to the vast majority of people, it’s not really funny, and not OK. It’s OK in a way; they’re teenagers, they’re making mistakes. They’re gonna grow up and realize what they did was a teenager thing.”

Tahoma sophomore Lela Caliz, when asked about her feelings toward the LGBTQ community, said, “I was always supportive of it because growing up I was around gay people like my mom was around it all the time, and she would bring me around these people, and I would experience their life with them, and I would see who they are as a person, and that’s really cool, and since then I’ve always accepted people for who they are.”

She further added, “You are who you are, and no one can ever change that.”

Jonathan Stewart, the executive director at Summit Tahoma, was asked what he feels about different gender identities and sexualities. “I will say, personally, I find it interesting how our society’s understanding of it is evolving and it is at the center of the struggle for equity and equality. I’m always curious to hear different people’s perspective and experiences.”


Jonathan Stewart, the executive director at Summit Tahoma PHOTO CREDIT: Summit News

Mr. Stewart talked about his experiences in high school at Edison High School in Fresno, CA. “I can recall the experience of two high school friends of mine who were both gay and because homosexuality and queerness weren’t as accepted back then and where I was. People basically had to make a decision, ‘I’m either gonna be really thick-skinned and tough about this or I’m gonna stay in the closet.’ ”

He went on, “My two friends each made a different decision along those lines. One of them waited until college to come out, and the other one was bold about it. People would call him gay and he would just say, ‘Yeah I’m gay. So what?’ But he had to be thick-skinned and bold about it. He drew a lot of attention for it, but he also relished the attention. It worked OK for him from what I can see. That’s definitely not how everyone’s personality is, and people shouldn’t have to be forced to deal with it in a way like that.”

Mr. Stewart talked about what faculty and administrators do to ensure the safety and equal treatment of LGBTQ students at Tahoma: “We have not done a lot of work specifically for that sub-group of students. We do a lot of work around respecting and compassion in the community, which extends to everyone. We have not taken those specific steps for that group of students, specifically.”

He added, “A few things that we can all recognize is the club on campus. From time to time, there’s a student campaign around the use of language and that is something that we address this fall to the faculty. And, of course, we have the visual symbol, the picnic table right outside the office project, which I supported and provided some guidance on.”

When asked about the results of our survey, Mr. Stewart said, “It concerns me and it doesn’t surprise me. Like I said earlier, I think that the staff who works here are all big-hearted and pretty well-educated on these issues, but I would expect that there would be some divergent opinions among our students.”

He ended the interview with, “The last question asked certainly sets up the question my mind of ‘What more can be done?’ There could be more done around education. Some of that can come from this school, but some of it can also come from student efforts, and I think even reporting on it like this is a really strong example of a student effort that can make a little bit of a difference. It is a long road by the time you’re in high school, some of your opinions are deeply held and informed by how you brought up in your family, but it is a challenge with pursuing.”

Undocumented immigrants face struggle on a day-to-day basis

By Abel Rangel

Staff Writer

At the age of 13, Gloria fled her home because her father’s life was being threatened because of gang rivals.

“We also didn’t go outside of our town where we lived because we thought we could get deported back to Mexico, where my father would most likely be killed. We were scared,” she explained. 

The people interviewed for the purpose of this article, including Gloria, are relatives of mine. They asked to keep their name anonymous; therefore, their names have been changed. Her story reflects what some immigrants have gone through in their life; like her, many people have decided to flee their home and go live in new countries such as the United States.

Immigrants from all over the world are coming to the United States because of job opportunities and the chance to live better lives. However, there are some people that have no other option, so they come to the United States undocumented. If people figure out that this person is an immigrant, there could be mixed results. Some people could be supportive of them, but some people might call immigration to take them away.

Immigration is starting to become a bigger discussion today in our current political climate. Everything we see on the news might be showing us some politicians who believe that all undocumented immigrants are coming into the United States just to commit crimes, kill people, distribute drugs, etc. But a majority of the time, this is just false hysteria.

A majority of undocumented immigrants come here in order to have a better life than what they previously had, and they come here to find jobs. For example, the caravan coming to the United States is being shown by the media as people coming to the country to invade and kill us all. In reality, they’re coming here for a better life and for jobs. But sadly, when these people come to the border to seek asylum, the government reacts with excessive force, like tear gas.

The current president of the United States, Donald Trump, is very vocal about his opinion on undocumented immigrants, believing that a majority of undocumented immigrants are here to cause trouble. As a result of his presidency, Trump has attempted to make immigrating to the United States difficult; he attempts to make the lives of undocumented immigrants who live in the United States difficult; and he said that he will deport every single undocumented immigrant. That brings up a point: What struggles do undocumented immigrants face every day?

Pedro immigrated to the United States in 1993 because he was fed up with his life in Mexico. When Pedro was first thinking about immigrating, he saw that his brother was also going to the United States; so, Pedro decided to tag along with his brother.

But the thing was, Pedro and his brother were both from Mexico, so they had no family in America.  Since they had no family in the country, they couldn’t go to the United States legally. Seen as the only option for them, Pedro and his brother looked for an opportunity to cross the border when nobody was looking. They found their opportunity and made their way through the United States undetected.

Today, Pedro still lives in the United States undocumented, but he now has two children and a wife, his oldest child being 23 years old and his youngest child being 14 years old. Pedro managed to convince his girlfriend to come with him to the United States, but she also came into the country undocumented.

But seeing how they came in 25 years ago, Pedro and his wife are constantly trying to gain their residency in the United States. The immigration process in the United States is starting to become increasingly difficult and time-consuming. The average time it takes to get your residency can take years.

Pedro explained, “I faced a lot of struggles; learning English for me was a difficult thing for me to do, but I had no option because if I wanted to become a U.S. citizen, I should at least learn the language here. My children also have to suffer because of my mistakes as well. They tell me they want to go to places like Disneyland or Universal Studios, but I have to tell them no because we might reach a checkpoint where people will ask us for our papers, then we would get deported.”

He added on, “I also miss my family. Sometimes they visit the U.S. and I go and see them, but my parents haven’t come to the U.S. in eight years because they’re getting really old at this point. I just hope to be able to see them one more time before the inevitable. I call them once a month just to check in on them. From what they’ve told me, they’re still healthy and I should be able to see them within one or two years.”

The final question he answered was, “Has anyone ever threatened to call immigration on you?” His response was, “Sadly, it has happened before. I remember when I lived in Arizona, I was being threatened by one of my old bosses saying that if I quit, they would call immigration on me. I had to flee Arizona and move somewhere far away from them for my own safety.”

Pedro isn’t the only one who has experienced those struggles. Juan and Gloria are siblings who immigrated to the United States undocumented. They were forced to leave because of gang violence, and their father was being threatened by gangs. They used all of the money they had saved to spend on a coyotaje. A coyotaje is when people in Mexico give their money to a “coyote” or a boss in order to smuggle them into the United States.

Juan and Gloria came to the United States in their early teens, which was hard for them since they understood no English. They said, “We wanted to go to so many places since we were in the U.S. now, but we couldn’t because we only spoke Spanish. Thankfully, we had some family in the town we moved into. They gave us a home for a year and we were very thankful for them. “

On top of that, their family was scared to go outside, fearing something could happen to them. “But, we also didn’t go outside of our town where we lived because we thought we could get deported back to Mexico, where my father would most likely be killed. We were scared. We didn’t know if we were going to get deported, or if the gang that threatened my father found us and killed him.”

Since their family was too scared to go outside, thinking something could happen to them, they stayed indoors for a lot of the day. “Instead of going outside, we stayed inside watching American T.V. to try and learn English from shows. While this wasn’t the best thing to do, we learned the common words spoken in English.”

Another problem for them and the family that let them live with them was that they were running out of food quickly because there were nearly 10 people that house, so they needed another way to get food. Gloria said, “My mother found a job that paid minimum wage, but my father didn’t work for the first year we lived in America because we feared for his life. The family members that let us live with them gave us some of their food as well, but it wasn’t enough for everyone living in the house. So, my mother had to find a minimum wage job to support us.”

The fear of being killed or deported stuck with them for a long time; but, after knowing they were safe in the United States, they started to calm down and be more involved with society. “Although we were starting to settle down, we were still scared, but not as much. Thankfully, we have grown out of that fear, and we are now seeking to get our U.S. citizenship. While our English still isn’t the best, it’s much better than what it used to be like.”

The process to become a U.S. citizen or permanent resident takes an incredibly long time to go through. It can take years, but even after waiting for all of those years, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get your citizenship or residency.

For people who go to the United States undocumented and who want to get their residency, one of the options is to wait until one of their children born in the country is 21 years old and unmarried. Why should it take that long? There are many things that can happen in the timespan of 21 years. The person waiting those 21 years to get their residency could die while in the United States, or they can get deported.

If those immigrants have never gotten in trouble with the law, and they’ve never been in trouble with the law back where they originally came from, why should they have to go through that much struggle?

Facing its stigma by embracing mental health

 By Judy Ly

Rainier Editor-in-Chief 

The aroma of butter and popcorn fills the air. People ranging from toddlers with their parents to a group of college kids line up to buy their movie tickets. A Rainier senior, who asked to remain anonymous, checks the ratings and trailers beforehand, seeking to assure herself that she can handle the movie in theaters.

“I’m constantly avoiding things too, to make sure I don’t have to end up in a depressive state or end up having panic attacks. I can’t go to the movies with my friends unless I have like trigger warnings set out for me, and I look at the ratings and the trailers so I know I can handle it at the theaters. I can’t see things that have possible suicide mentions or anything that can be in any way triggering to me, just in case I end up going down that path again,” she said. This is only one of the many examples of her generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder affecting her daily life.

“That path” refers to her depression: “For my depression, I guess every day I’m just kind of trying to pick myself up because it’s kind of — you’re kind of in a constant state of like you don’t want to be alive and everything is exhausting and everything is just kind of like, ‘I wouldn’t have to do this if I were dead, you know. I wouldn’t have to deal with being paranoid if I was gone, you know, and if my friends hate me, I should probably just die so they don’t have to deal with me,’ and things like that.”

She added, “I feel like I can’t live a normal teenage life because I’m constantly like wrapped in bubble wrap to keep me safe, I guess, so that’s kind of how it affects me.”

On FAFSA Cash Night, Rainier seniors accompanied with their family members slowly trickle into a classroom as one of the teachers starts grilling burgers in the quad. Posters for the following spirit day are stretched out on the asphalt, and seniors line up at a table nearby to get some food.

For Rainier senior Angela Flores, that night was a big deal: she would be the first generation in her family to attend college. 


Rainier senior Angela Flores PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

However, the night turned sour when she was trying to fill out the FASFA form and started having a panic attack. During her panic attack, her dad didn’t understand why she was panicking and became impatient. FAFSA Night wasn’t the first time her dad had reacted negatively to her mental health.

After taking diagnostic quizzes, Flores concluded the scores she received were higher than average. She then went on online chats and talked to multiple therapists.

While online tools can be informative and helpful to be able to identify a cluster of symptoms, Rainier school counselor Tati Pham explained that using them for a diagnosis can be tricky: “Without somebody there or a professional there to help you sort of process, one, you can be misdiagnosing yourself or two, when you get your diagnosis, sometimes it can be very jarring, right. It can be shocking almost to see what the results are, and so without having somebody to kind of walk you through that or process that, you’re just kind of left with just the shock and not more of the optimism or hopefulness, or practicalities that would come — or practical advice rather, that would come from sitting with a professional and getting your diagnosis that way.”


Rainier school counselor Tati Pham PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

In addition, Ms. Pham said, “It is kind of hard to discern whether a website is credible, or the information is credible, or if the information is up-to-date and so that’s why — that’s the other thing why sometimes I would not recommend a student to go that route to get their diagnoses or diagnosis. It’s because we don’t know if that site is credible and so, going on a site that isn’t very credible and then getting a result that you’re now kind of attached to, whether that’s intellectually or emotionally, is not — that’s why. I mean, it could be detrimental.”

One of the next steps Ms. Pham suggested was to reach out to someone with a “professional lens” in the case where there’s some level of severity in the cluster of symptoms. That can be someone such as a counselor, a therapist or even your primary care physician or pediatrician.

This includes online teletherapy too. She added, “That’s still interacting with a professional rather than just like an assessment … So I’m all for online therapy / teletherapy.”  

When asked how to see if an online therapist is credible, Ms. Pham explained that there are databases that would contain information such as where they went to school and what their credentials are, which should be available: “You can ask the therapist also what their credentials are and make a decision that way.”

Regardless, Ms. Pham concluded, “If they are licensed or if they are an intern, it means they took at least some steps to get where they are, and, even if they credible, it doesn’t mean necessarily that you will develop a good therapeutic relationship. There’s still some trial and error in interacting with your clinician or establishing a relationship with them.”  

Flores recalls having her first panic attacks when her grandpa passed when she was nine years old. Growing up in a Hispanic household, she says there’s an expectation of having to be independent and mature at a young age: “I was taught not to seek for help, taught not to cry, or taught to be the bigger person, or taught to solve my problems on my own, and that’s literally everything that anxiety prevents me from doing.”

Similar to the case with Flores and her father, oftentimes mental illness is disregarded rather quickly due to the taboo associated with it. Seham El-Diwany, a pediatrician and director of the teen health center at Kaiser Permanente, gave an example of how someone might not want to seek treatment from a psychiatrist out of fear of having the diagnosis on one’s charge.

Dr. El-Diwany added, “That’s really a myth, and the brain, the mind has its own entity, and the body has its own entity and they both interact with each other. So having a mental issue shouldn’t be a taboo or, having a mental health need should not be a taboo, it should be easy access to.”

The previously mentioned Rainier senior talked about how the stigma affects her own willingness to get help: “It’s bad and annoying just because this stigma has honestly made my symptoms worse. Even if no one’s ever personally like insulted me or said that they believe certain stereotypes, I still believe them myself. I was in the hospital, and I’m like, ‘I’m crazy now, you know like, ‘I’m in the looney bin’ like I mean like, ‘I’m just insane now’ and it was like, I was scared to let people know I was hospitalized because I was scared they were going to think I’m crazy.”

She continued, “I didn’t want to start meds even though I needed them because I was like, ‘No, ’cause now everyone’s going to think that I’m crazy, they’re going to think that I am like this person that just hallucinates like, ‘straitjackets,’ like all that. So yeah, it’s definitely affected my self-esteem in the past, and it’s made it harder to seek out help from people other than like my mom and my therapist.”

Dr. El-Diwany said a way to help destigmatize mental health is to have those services inside regular clinics. Integrating mental health services shows that “health, mind, and body are very integral parts” and therefore normalizes mental health.

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Seham El-Diwany, a child pediatrician and director of the teen health center at Kaiser Permanente PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

“We can reach out to somebody within reach in our department rather than sending people out and that would be like a one-stop shop. People come, we identify the problem … at least they get their screening and know they need help from an expert in our clinic, and then, if further follow up is needed, that can be on a regular campus, not on a separate campus, or a separate clinic,” Dr. El-Diwany said. “That really destigmatized it and normalized it, and people see it as part of their regular care rather than something very separate.”

Ms. Pham said it’s sad to see there are some really underserved communities where those who need help don’t have access to services. “I think there’s this underlying belief that mental health is a personal or individual problem and not a societal one, and I think until we shift that, I think we’ll kind of stay stuck, you know, in the same ruts.”

She explained that the way to shift those perspectives is to become less fearful of mental health conditions and to destigmatize mental health: “One kind of like big misconceptions that I often see, is that whatever someone’s experiencing isn’t like quote-on-quote bad enough to get help. I see and hear that all the time. People seem to think there is some sort of a threshold that delineates when it’s time to get help and when, you know, and when it’s not. And usually their threshold of where they think the bar is is pretty high, when in fact they could be seeing somebody or receiving help.”

Ms. Pham added, “I think we need to look at it more globally instead of just only personal or individual level at this point, and so if we can just streamline and better utilize spending and also open up who is being served and how that is made accessible.”

According to statistics provided by the National Alliance of Mental Illness, “Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.”  In addition, they also reported, “Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.”

See below for more information from Dr. El-Diwany:  

Effects of mental health on the brain

A group of Kaiser Permanente staff who work in Santa Clara County explained that mental health is largely controlled by connections and chemicals in the brain. The two psychologists and four predoctoral psychology residents interviewed asked to remain anonymous due to company policy. They explained neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to rewire its neurons to form a new connection. Those pathways become stronger the more they’re used, and the pathways that don’t get used often become weaker. Someone who might experience trauma learns how to respond fearfully, and what treatment can do is to help someone learn how to respond differently through new habits and behavior. This would restructure the neuron connections in the brain.

Early intervention is really important to ensure the brain is not developing in a “maladaptive” way. One of the psychologists used an analogy of a foundation of a house. If the foundation of the house isn’t leveled and strong, you’ll continue to have problems as you keep growing; with a weaker foundation, problems will get bigger. Regardless, they added that it’s “never too late to get help.”

Facing cultural differences straight on

Mental health issues are treated differently in different cultural contexts, and that can affect the quality of treatment plans. Sydney Tai is a clinician at Asian American Recovery Services (AARS), a program that aims to serve Eastside San Jose.

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Asian American Recovery Services specializes in providing multilingual and multicultural staff for people who struggle with substance abuse issues and mental health illnesses. PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

Ms. Tai clarified that although initially AARS was started to serve the Asian/Pacific Islanders population, due to their specific cultural differences, they now have expanded outside of that population. “I have a lot of clients that aren’t even able to emotionally and effectively communicate with their own parents because of translation, you know, there’s just so much is lost in translation,” she said.  

The unique aspect of AARS, in addition to the mental health and substance abuse

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Sydney Tai, a clinician at Asian American Recovery Services PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

services they provide, is the multilingual and multicultural staff. Ms. Tai said, “A lot of the clinicians work with their specific ethnic groups. Like one of our clinicians is Filipina, and she works specifically with female Filipinas, right. That is a way to be able to relate to your clients that you don’t find in a lot of the other county agencies, so I think that’s really important.”

She gave an example of how even if the clinician is not from the same background and experiences as the client, with a diverse staff, there might be another clinician who is. This results in a wide variety of perspectives to draw from, instead of just a one-way solution, “There [are] so many different experiences that [for] you as a staff, it’s always more along the lines of, ‘Let me gather as many tools as I can because I don’t know what might work. Let me have a whole bunch of different things to be able to try.’”

Ms. Tai also shared how her job influences her personal life: “When I see one of my clients — when I see one of them sitting and dealing with a feeling. So, you know, like literally, if they’re sitting on this couch and crying, and I get to sit with them and kind of share that space with them, and if they’re kind of reliving a trauma, I get to experience their courage and strength. And I get to sit with them while they’re experiencing that and then when, you know, it’s over, see that it didn’t kill them and have them realize like it didn’t kill them to like feel those feelings again. And that’s definitely one of those things that I get to stay like in awe of the resiliency of the human spirit. I get to experience that. So as much as I try to leave like that situation at work, I definitely get to carry the feeling with me.”

See below for more information from Ms. Tai:  

AARS reinforces the idea that personal connections with clients matter significantly. Here at Rainier, the Respect Lab attempts to build those important connections with the students, in a new and different way.

How Rainier is using Respect Lab to meet its unique needs


Rainier senior Kira Levermore-Rich PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

In kindergarten, Rainier student Kira Levermore-Rich was diagnosed with depression: “Yes, it was very early on when the doctors were able to tell I had some very severe mental health issues.”  Now a high school senior, Levermore-Rich is participating in Rainier’s Respect Lab in addition to attending therapy in response to a diagnosis of depression, ADHD, anxiety and autism.

Levermore-Rich sees the school therapist, a personal therapist and participates in both family and group therapy.

Levermore-Rich explained that many people don’t understand what depression is: “A lot of people see it as like, ‘Oh you’re sad all the time.’ It’s not that; it’s more of like you struggle to get up in the morning because you don’t see the point because we’re all going to die anyway so why do I need to do anything to make a difference?  Because in the long run there is no difference, essentially; it’s like cynicism, essentially, but dialed up to 11, I guess, at least in my experience.”

Levermore-Rich added, “Autism and ADHD technically aren’t mental health disorders, but they do factor into my personal experience of mental health issues of feeling like I’m not like other people, and how no one can understand kind of ‘blah blah blah’ and no one can understand me because my brain is like different than everybody else’s and that’s one of the large factors in that.”

When asked why they felt the Respect Labs are important on a personal level, Levermore-Rich said, “A lot of people don’t see mental health a lot, and a lot of people struggle with mental health, and not talking about it is a detriment to people with mental health issues and if we don’t talk about it, a lot of people will start — will feel alone like, ‘There’s no one else like this. There’s something inherently wrong with me ‘blah blah blah’ kind of thing. So that’s why it’s important to talk about these things, in my opinion.”

Respect Lab was designed to be an immersive environment of restorative and resiliency building in a school setting, where youth influencers directly work with the youth. While this is the first school year the Respect Lab has been fully implemented, this isn’t the first year the campus has heard of this curriculum. Lissa Thiele, a juvenile justice attorney, curriculum designer at the Respect Institute and teacher on Rainier’s campus, piloted the Lab as an Expeditions course, Rainier Respect Lab, in the school year of 2017-18. It now operates as an invite-only small group for those who are recommended by their mentors.


Lissa Thiele, a juvenile justice attorney, curriculum designer at the Respect Institute and a teacher on Rainier’s campus PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

Ms. Thiele enthusiastically recalls the first day and the prompt given to students: “If you were going to write a book about you right this second, what would it be about?  What might you title it?” She recognized how the students did not hesitate to dive deep.

Ms. Thiele added, “The Respect Lab provides like a-day-to-day practices versus like sort of this birds’ eye view of like, ‘Well eventually you’ll get here.’ So it’s like, ‘No, I need to know what I need to do today. How do I practice getting through today?’ And so the Respect Labs give an actual structure – a framework – to be able to just meet life on life’s terms.”


Summit Public Schools’ uses the 16 Habits of Success in an attempt to teach students about emotional and social skills. PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

Summit Public Schools have been using the framework of the 16 Habits of Success to help students recognize and learn emotional and social skills. The three foundational habits are self-regulation, attachment and stress management for healthy development, which Ms. Thiele said are a “core” for school readiness.

“There [are] a few different reasons why Rainier has one,” Ms. Thiele said, “Mr. Avarca and Mr. Roe and the entire front office have recognized that we have a lot of students who are not — don’t have that healthy development level yet, and so they felt like ‘You know what? Like we say in our mission statement ‘every student,’ and so ‘every student’ includes a group of students who struggles with things like different mental health needs, or learning differences needs, or life coaching … So because this is through the mental health research part of this, and because Mr. Avarca and Mr. Roe allow for me to be able to take this here, they were the ones who made it possible for me to bring my Respect Lab through.”

cmacavinta headshot

Courtney Macavinta, CEO and co-founder of the Respect Institute PHOTO CREDIT: Courtney Macavinta

Respect Labs came from the national nonprofit organization, the Respect Institute (Ri). In an interview with Courtney Macavinta, the CEO and co-founder of the organization, she said, “We develop tools and training to help youth build not only their self-respect but their capacity for creating change to make a world in which respect for all is the status quo.”  

The institute came to be when Ms. Macavinta wrote a book about respect for teen girls. Through the promotion of the book, she was able to hear about readers’ stories about how disrespect impacted them. This sparked the expansion in her personal curiosity of, “How could we create a world where everyone respects themselves and each other?” and “What would that look like?”

On their website, they offer a toolkit called Respect 360 that Ms. Macavinta describes as a “program in a box,” and it revolves around their Respect Basics. Through working with sociologists and social justice experts once the institute was formed, they defined the difference between self-esteem and self-respect.

Ms. Macavinta explained, “Where disrespect starts to happen is when our rights and our personhood, you know, isn’t valued equally to others, you know. We shouldn’t be above or below anyone else, and so a lot of like adults, right, when we’re growing up, and we all — you know, everyone comes from different cultures.  I come from like a very mixed culture, like my dad’s Mexican and Filipino, my mom’s Portuguese and white, we have a lot of different religions and different things going on. But one common thing that they both kind of believed growing up and then taught us was that, you know, like respect had to be earned.”

She added that based on the research conducted by the organization, that is not the correct application of respect. “Trust has to be earned, right. Trust is a thing that can go up and down in a relationship, you know, from one day to the next based on people’s behavior,” said Ms. Macavinta, “Respect means to look again at its root, like ‘re’ like rewind, and ‘spect’ like spectacles, like glasses, so it means to look again. So it’s really rooted in like nonjudgment, compassion, [and] equity.”

When asked what makes her so driven to have the Respect Lab, Ms. Thiele replied, “These kids, the alumni of Rainier, are the driving force behind me, and that’s my driving force behind then, all of their siblings and all of our community that comes through. It’s a family thing; this is a family affair. This is not just a – something that happens in a silo. These are people who want the best for each other, who are looking for trusted adults, who are looking to positively influence the, you know, California education system.”

How Rainier seeks to use the mentor system to meet student needs

Before entering high school, Rainier senior Kalista Brand had struggled with depression and anxiety throughout her middle school years when her aunt passed away a year before seventh grade. She shared that she held her aunt’s hand as she passed away.


Rainier senior Kalista Brand PHOTO CREDIT: Kalista Brand

Brand reminisced about the memories of her aunt, like being taught how to quilt and write cursive. “She was very much my rock in this world, and suddenly that rock was taken away from me and so I just sort of spiraled into this hopelessness of like, ‘I would never recover from this, I will never — I don’t even know why I’m here anymore, she’s not here, I have no one to lean on, what am I going to do with my life? How am I going to get over this?’ And it sort of just kept spiraling down and down until seventh grade when I attempted suicide, and my mom found me trying to slit my wrists, and then she took me to the doctor and she said, ‘Yes, you have depression [and] anxiety.’”

Despite not having a formal treatment plan because she’s still looking for the right counselor and still dealing with her dad’s disbelief in mental illness, Brand has developed coping strategies. Ranging from dancing to Disney music to learning, she said, “I’m very much a learner and a creative mind, I think, when it comes to helping stir myself away from relapses and anxiety and stuff like that.”

Another way she copes with her mental health illness is through the support of her mentor, Rainier history teacher Ricardo Quezada. “In regards of my depression, Quezada, again my biggest supporter, sort of sat me down and said, ‘Let’s just talk,’” said Brand. “It helped to know he was there and that both he and Ms. Hernandez, the teacher resident, was there for me — is there for me, and to make sure that I don’t drown in my mind, if that makes sense.”

While students have reported that the mentor system has been really helpful, they have also reported that there’s been inconsistency. The mentor system is where every student at a Summit school is assigned, in their freshman year, a mentor group and a mentor. Summit faculty, usually teachers, act as a guidance and emotional support system for mentees.

Flores mentioned that her previous mentor seemed to lack a depth of knowledge on mental health: “[In] freshman year, I had a different mentor, and I told them I have anxiety and she said, ‘About what,’ and that’s like one of the misconceptions about having anxiety is that people use the dictionary term of anxiety, like having test anxiety or having anxiety about meeting a new person. That’s anxiety people [have], like everyone has that anxiety doing something new, but when you have anxiety, the mental illness, it’s something that’s constant in your state of mind.”

Fortunately, in her sophomore year, Flores’s mentor group got a new mentor, Rainier English teacher Karren Windsor, and ever since she opened up to her mentor about her anxiety: “She was really supportive of it, and, yeah, I really appreciate her that she’s a patient person, and I really appreciate that she’s very patient with me because not a lot of people usually are with mental illness, so I really, really appreciate that.” 

When asked what can our community be doing to better assist the youth who have fallen under an upbringing of disrespect, Ms. Macavinta concluded, “I think the biggest thing is sort of, you know, we’ve been talking a lot about youth, but the biggest thing is to focus actually on the adults and make sure the adults in these environments have training in around all of these topics we talked about — so the adverse childhood experience study, trauma, how to build protective factors in youth and then those adults also need to know to use the same tools, which is what we do in our Respect Labs, to nurture their own selves, heal themselves because a lot of the times they’ve been through the same or worse you know.”  

Advice for supporting someone living with a mental health illness


Advice for someone experiencing symptoms or living with a mental health illness

Advice for someone experiencing symptoms or living with a mental health illness

Animal hospitals play an impactful role in the community

By Jennifer Rico and Karla Tran

Staff Writers

When you arrive at the VCA Blossom Hill Animal Hospital, located on the south side of San Jose, you see a small animal hospital with calming trees surrounding the area, a large mall behind the building and a small one-story building painted blue and white in front of you. Inside there are animal pictures and posters all around the room, making you and your pet feel comforted.

Once you are greeted with a simple hello, staff employees are there to answer any of your questions and help your needs. They do this on a daily basis, making sure that their service benefits both you and your pet.

If your pet gets injured or sick, what do you do? You take them to an animal hospital or clinic. There you will be greeted by friendly employees who are ready to assist your needs.

See the video below to learn more about your local animal hospitals:

It is important to take care of our animals because they are a vital part of our community. Pets mean a lot to most people, and they bring the most joy to their owners, so keeping them in good health can provide the most comforting life possible to both your pet and you. Bringing them to an animal hospital can help maintain your pet’s long-term health.

Out of all of the animal hospitals we tried to contact, VCA Blossom Hill Animal Hospital was the only who responded to our interview request. However, there are many other options around the community that are available for you. For example, Alum Rock Animal Hospital, VCA Crocker Animal Hospital and San Jose Animal Hospital.

On VCA’s website, they regularly post about events to inform pet owners what to do if their pet ever gets an injury or needs a checkup. They do this to make sure all types of animals can get the care they need.

Bringing your pet to the vet soon after getting them or soon after they are injured is very important, as introducing your new pet to a vet and establishing a relationship is key to maintaining your pet’s lifelong health. Plus, any injury should be further investigated in case it is a major situation.

Animal hospitals are ready for any task that comes to face them with a calm and composed manner. Veterinarians and other employees are the people who make sure that not only your pet is safe but also that you’re taken care of as well. In other non-emergency situations, they are ready to treat you and your pet with the best possible care.

When we arrived, we asked to see if there were any patients available to be shown, and we were shown a sick kitten who suffered from ring worms. It was surrendered by its previous owner and was given to VCA Blossom Hill Animal Hospital. This is just a small example of how the animal shelter helps out the community.

Both humans and animals can get ringworms by either having skin-to-skin contact or by touching an infected animal or object. This usually looks like a typical rash in the form of a circle around the infected area.

If not treated, the skin can become irritated and painful. Worse, it can spread throughout the body, leading to more irritation and pain. This can make the treatment plan last longer and become highly dangerous for doctors and employees to cope with; hence, it is a highly contagious skin disease.

The kitten was surrendered by its previous owner due to the fact that it had this highly contagious fungal infection which the owner did not want to pay for. This led to the arrival of the kitten at the animal hospital for a treatment plan for its ringworms. The animal hospital hopes that the kitten finds a new home with loving and caring owners where it can thrive freely.

Although it was surrendered, it is still doing well with its treatment as of today. It is recovering with the help of friendly employees and doctors on site to make sure that it will recover quickly provided with medication and a temporary place to call home before discovering a place the kitten can permanently call home.

“At VCA, your pet’s health is our top priority and excellent service is our goal. We strive to provide the very best in medical care, and our hospitals provide a full range of general, surgical and specialized care. This is how our veterinarians would treat their own pets. And we offer nothing less than that to you,” stated the VCA website.

Dr. Catarina Steele, an animal doctor at VCA Blossom Hill, spends her time taking care of animals in need of assistance. “Dr. Catarina Steele earned both her undergraduate degree and her Masters in Animal Science from the University of Florida. She went on to earn her DVM from the Western University of Health Sciences. Originally from Florida, Dr. Steele joined the VCA Blossom Hill team in May of 2014. She has a special interest in feline medicine, and her favorite part of her job is getting to help animals,” stated her VCA online biography.

In about a month and a half, VCA Blossom Hill Animal Hospital is going to move to a different location. They’re doing so because the current building has been there for a long time and is too small for the staff there. They want to move to a bigger space to further help meet their customers’ concerns and to establish a new and fresh beginning, according to Dr. Steele.

“If it comes in as an emergency, we look at the animal; the technicians look at it first to make sure if they’re stable or not, heart rate, we check their respiratory rate, temperature, things like that to assess how serious it is and then go from there,” Dr. Steele explained.

Animal hospitals take all types of animals in, from rabbits to dogs, and their veterinarians dedicate their time to make sure your pet comes out better than before. From minimal to extensive injuries to routine checkups, they make sure that your pet friend is cared for.

Treatment can take from as little as a couple days to weeks and months depending on the pet’s treatment plan. They diagnose and control animal diseases and treat sick and injured animals.

Checksups include general examinations of body, heart rate monitoring, vaccines if needed and tests to see if your pet is healthy. Animal hospitals are important because they save many animals’ lives every day. They are not only heroes to animals, but they are also heroes to people too. When they help out a animal friend, the owner feels sympathy and relief knowing that their pet will come home healthier.

With specialized care, pet owners can rely on animal hospitals to provide the fullest care in order to help animals get better by giving them medicine or performing surgery on them. One of the greatest benefits of bringing your pet friend into a animal hospital is the chance to promote the health and welfare of your pet. You also have the ability to relieve the suffering of animals that have experienced traumatic injuries or chronic illnesses.

Protecting the health of our pets should always be important. No one loves your pet more than yourself, and it is important that you make a difference in the quality of life you and your pet experience together. Thus, we must take care of our animal friends and bring them to a nearby animal hospital when they are in need of care. 



Tahoma emphasizes the importance of representation

By Monique Contreras

Staff Editor

Representation in communities has been hard to achieve for many minorities. Some feel like they aren’t represented enough or at all. At some schools, there aren’t any clubs that represent community for a certain race. That was true at Summit Tahoma prior to this school year.

At Summit Tahoma, several clubs are now brining forward issues that must be fought in order to create change. Regarding race, there are two clubs in particular: Latino Student Union (LSU) and Asian Student Union (ASU). These two clubs focus on problems that surface regarding their race and what they can do as a community to try and make a change.


Tahoma senior Raul Valdez

Raul Valdez Mendoza, a senior at Summit Tahoma, is a co-leader of LSU. Mendoza said, “I believe that LSU acts as a place where people can learn more about the Latin and Hispanic cultures, as well as how we as a culture aren’t so different. LSU also affects our community by bringing into light what real problems Latino and Hispanic communities face in a modern world; as well as teach us how to create a system or improve the system we are in to incorporate us to be more represented and how we should be perceived in the eyes of the public.”

Valdez hopes that this club can be the start of students having an open mind about their culture, and he hopes that students can get involved in celebrating their culture in a non-offensive way that doesn’t rely on stereotypes. For example, he said it’s too common to see people in stereotypical costumes involving sombreros and that the culture is more complex than that.

Valdez also hopes that through club events people will earn a glimpse of the problems the Latinos and Hispanics are going through, whether here in the United States or in their original country.


Tahoma senior Diep Nguyen

Another Tahoma senior, Diep Nguyen, also has co-created a club: ASU. Nguyen shared that the purpose of the club was to have people “learn more about our Asian identity and learn more about where Asian Americans stand in society. Not only that, I wanted this club to encourage Asian Americans to be more empowered and be leaders.”

Nguyen also shared that, “The Asian community is definitely underrepresented because of racism. People have a certain perspective of what ‘Asian’ means and who that would be. They connect certain stereotypes and have that stuck in society. It also doesn’t help that many Asian Americans don’t speak up or even care to have representation.”

Although both clubs honor a different race, they have a similar goal: to be represented and to take away stereotypes that are not true. In each club, there isn’t a community but a family, and this family is willing to accept others who want to learn about their culture and ancestry.

Representation doesn’t start out of thin air but from oneself. With these clubs at Summit Tahoma, it can be inferred that the families they have created will get their representation if they stick together and keep being willing to share their culture with others.


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